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John Glenn’s parting words to Jeff Bezos

Image: Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos shows off the concept for Blue Origin’s launch system during a 2015 news conference in Florida. Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is headquartered in Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos accepted yet another award tonight for his Blue Originspace effort, but the prize he treasured the most is no doubt an accompanying letter from space hero John Glenn, who passed away 10 days after writing it.

The letter, dated Nov. 28, was made public as Bezos received a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award tonight in Washington, D.C. The first African-American woman to fly in space, Mae Jemison, read Glenn’s tribute to Bezos at the ceremony – only hours after Glenn died in an Ohio hospital.

Blue Origin has successfully sent its New Shepard suborbital rocket ship to outer space and back five times, duplicating Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard’s ride. And it’s gearing up to build New Glenn rockets that will send spacecraft into orbit, just as Glenn went into orbit in 1962.

Glenn wrote that he was “deeply touched” to have a rocket named after him.

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John Glenn, first American in orbit, dies at 95

John Glenn
John Glenn orbited the planet in 1962 and flew on the space shuttle in 1998. (NASA Photo)

Godspeed, John Glenn.

The first American to go into orbit, and the first astronaut to become a senator and presidential candidate, died today in Ohio at the age of 95.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Glenn was surrounded by family, including his wife Annie, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center when he died.

President Barack Obama said that with Glenn’s passing, “our nation has lost an icon, and Michelle and I have lost a friend.”

“John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond — not just to visit, but to stay,” Obama said in a statement.

Glenn made history as one of NASA’s original Mercury 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, when he circled the planet three times. That mission followed up on Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s first-ever orbital flight in 1961 and two U.S. suborbital spaceflights, setting the stage for America to get into the race to the moon in earnest.

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Get a video tour of Apollo moon rocket artifacts

It’s been almost a year since Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos unveiled pieces of the Saturn V rocket engines that propelled Apollo’s astronauts to the moon – and now you can watch a video guide to the goodies, courtesy of Seattle’s Museum of Flight (and GeekWire).

Next spring, the decades-old artifacts will be among the highlights of a remodeled exhibit focusing on the golden age of spaceflight, which reached its climax with the Apollo moon missions.

But for now, they’re sitting in one of the museum’s secure storage areas, ready to be installed once the exhibit space is ready.

After each Saturn V launch, the rocket’s first stage – including its 19-foot-tall F-1 engines – fell into the Atlantic Ocean while the rest of the spacecraft powered onward. If anyone had been there to see the first stage’s plunge, it wouldn’t have been a pretty sight.

“When hot engines hit cold seawater, often the engines just exploded,” said Geoff Nunn, the Museum of Flight’s adjunct curator for space history (and your guide for the video tour).

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Apollo 11 spaceship slated to stop by Seattle

Apollo 11 command module
The Apollo 11 command module, shown here at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is due to go on a road trip in 2019. (Credit: Smithsonian Institution / NASM)

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is laying the groundwork for a 50th-anniversary traveling exhibit featuring Apollo 11 space hardware, including the moon mission’s command module – and Seattle’s Museum of Flight could be a prime stop.

The 2019 road show is the Smithsonian’s preferred solution to an awkward problem: what to do with artifacts from the historic 1969 moon landing while a section of the museum in Washington, D.C., is being renovated.

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Apollo 11 anniversary adds to space appetite

Buzz Aldrin picture on moon
A photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, signed by the astronaut himself, is among the hundreds of items offered at a space-themed auction this week. The print is expected to sell for $2,500 to $3,500. (Credit: NASA via Bonhams)

Forty-seven years ago this week, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission put humans on the moon for the first time – and although we don’t currently have the hardware to do that again, the anniversary offers opportunities to own a piece of past achievements in space.

For example, Bonhams auction house in New York is selling hundreds of artifacts from the U.S. and Russian space programs on Wednesday, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. The big-ticket items include an Apollo 11 navigational chart that moonwalker Buzz Aldrin used during the mission, expected to go for as much as $35,000.

There’s also a Gemini training console, which duplicates the panels that were arrayed in NASA’s Gemini capsules and were used to train astronauts in the early 1960s. That’s expected to sell for $60,000 to $90,000. A Russian-style spacesuit that NASA astronaut Don Pettit wore when he rode a Soyuz craft down to Earth in 2003 has a pre-sale estimate of $25,000 to $30,000.

The live auction takes place in New York on Wednesday, but bids can also be placed online.

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Apollo 10’s moon music mystery revisited

Image: Apollo 10 crew
Apollo 10’s Gene Cernan, Tom Stafford and John Young sit for their official portrait. (Credit: NASA)

Where did the weird, outer-spacey music that Apollo 10’s astronauts heard on the far side of the moon come from? The case was solved decades ago. Or was it???

“NASA’s Unexplained Files,” airing on the Science Channel, leaves the mystery hanging in a show that’s due to air this season. The program also makes it sound as if the case was hushed up until 2008, for fear that its disclosure would unsettle the public.

“Shall we tell them about it?” astronaut John Young is heard saying on an audio recording. Crewmate Gene Cernan replies, “I don’t know. We ought to think about it some.”

The show’s narrator says the mystery continues to this day. “I suspect there’s a very, very clear cause of what they heard on Apollo 10, which maybe we haven’t uncovered yet, ” Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden says in an interview.

But the way NASA and other Apollo astronauts tell it, the mystery was solved soon after Apollo 10’s crew returned from their 1969 round-the-moon trip.

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Apollo 14 moonwalker Edgar Mitchell dies at 85

Image: Edgar Mitchell
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell sits for his official portrait in 1970. Mitchell’s crewmates on the mission in 1971 were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. (Credit: NASA)

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died at the age of 85 after a months-long illness, according to reports that emerged on the 45th anniversary of his first moonwalk.

Members of Mitchell’s family spread the word on Feb. 5 in obituaries published by news outlets in Palm Beach, Fla., where the former astronaut lived. The Palm Beach Post quoted his daughter, Kimberly Mitchell, as saying he died at a local hospice at about 10 p.m. ET the previous night.

“As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon, and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Edgar Mitchell took part in the first lunar mission to follow 1970’s nearly disastrous flight of Apollo 13, and became the sixth human to set foot on the moon.

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30 years after Challenger, legacies linger

Image: Challenger crew
The crew of the shuttle Challenger takes a break during countdown training on Jan. 9, 1986: From left are space teacher Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith and Ellison Onizuka. (NASA photo)

It’s been 30 years since the loss of the shuttle Challenger and its crew on Jan. 28, 1986, but its impact is still being felt – sometimes with sadness, sometimes with hope for the future.

Seven astronauts died when the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, due to the failure of an O-ring seal that led to a burn-through in one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. The result was an explosion that flung the orbiter in pieces into the Atlantic Ocean.

The investigation that followed found that the O-ring became brittle at low temperatures, and that the flight should not have launched on that chilly January morning. Investigators learned that “go fever” led mission managers to overrule the engineers who recommended a delay.

The mission’s commander, Dick Scobee, was born in Cle Elum, Wash. Challenger’s other astronauts were Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Greg Jarvis – and Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.

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Jeff Bezos helps unwrap Apollo engine artifacts

Unwrapping the injector plate
Billionare Jeff Bezos beams as Allison Loveland, a collection specialist at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, unwraps an Apollo F1 rocket engine injection plate. Geoff Nunn, the museum’s adjunct curator for space history, stands by to the left. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Even Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos got misty-eyed at Seattle’s Museum of Flight during Thursday’s unveiling of rocket engine parts from the Apollo moonshots.

“I always do,” he told GeekWire afterward.

It’s not just the fact that Bezos has been a space fan since the age of 5. He funded the Bezos Expeditions voyage that recovered hundreds of parts from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 14,000 feet down – and he was aboard the ship when the mangled 40-year-old parts were brought up from the deep in 2013.

It was Bezos who asked NASA to let some of the artifacts go on exhibit in his hometown museum. This summer, the space agency gave its OK. So Bezos was all smiles when he showed off some of the shrink-wrapped remains from the Saturn V rockets that sent Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 to the moon.

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