Trump signs memo directing Pentagon to establish Space Command

That’s one small signature for President Trump, one giant leap for the “space force.” President Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum that officially established the United States’ interstellar armed forces. The news was announced by Vice President Mike Pence during a speech Tuesday morning at the SpaceX Rocket Launch event in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “Under … Continue reading “Trump signs memo directing Pentagon to establish Space Command”

That’s one small signature for President Trump, one giant leap for the “space force.”

President Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum that officially established the United States’ interstellar armed forces. The news was announced by Vice President Mike Pence during a speech Tuesday morning at the SpaceX Rocket Launch event in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“Under his leadership the United States is taking steps to ensure that American national security is as dominant in space as it is here on Earth,” Pence said. “It is my privilege to announce that today, President Trump will direct the Department of Defense to establish a combatant command that will oversee all our military activities in space.”

Pence added: “The U.S. Space Command will integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military. It will develop the space doctrine tactics, techniques and procedures that will enable our war fighters to defend our nation in this new era.”

Officially called the United States Space Command, the new command will fall short of becoming a new branch of the armed services – or “space force” as Trump has said previously – but Pence noted in his remarks on Tuesday that Trump is expected to soon sign a policy directive laying out plans and a timeline to make the “space force” the sixth branch of the military.

Video

“We're working as we speak with leaders in both parties in Congress to stand up the United States Space Force before the end of 2020,” Pence said.

Besides establishing the “space force,” Trump’s memo also directs Secretary of Defense James Mattis to select commanding officers for the president’s nomination and for Senate approval.

The U.S. Air Force has operated U.S. Space Command since 1982 at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

The new command raises its profile, putting it on par with the current combatant commands such as U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for U.S. forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and U.S. Cyber Command.

The U.S. Space Command existed in this same capacity from 1982 to 2002. After the 9/11 attacks, it was moved under U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for all of the U.S. military’s nuclear weapons.

Video

Experts told Military.com shortly after Trump first floated the idea over this summer that the space force would need somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 active personnel – augmented by a small army of civilian contractors – and that a service academy like the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or the Air Force Academy in Colorado would need to be established to train its future leaders.

"The most compelling justification for an independent service for space is on the personnel side," said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "A grooming of a space cadre of space professionals … that's where the Air Force has not offered much in the way of reform.”

But maybe the biggest question is: What would the “space force” actually do?

Video

While some online commentators envision something akin to Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, the reality would – at least in the foreseeable future – be more down to earth.

Inside the Pentagon, there is a small but vocal minority pushing programs such as anti-satellite weapons, missile detection capability and space-based solar power to counter mounting space threats from Russia and China. But others argue that the biggest danger to future space exploration is the debris floating around Earth’s orbit now.

Whatever the mission, experts tend to agree that a “space force” won’t be something that will be patrolling the final frontier anytime during Trump’s current presidential term.

“This is something that is going to take a long time to get running, three to five years if things run smoothly and this actually gets through Congress,” John Crassidis, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Buffalo, told Fox News.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlison contributed to this report.

NASA proposes nuclear ‘tunnelbot’ to search for alien life

Europa may be the most likely place to host alien life. Beneath its surface is a salty ocean, warmed by the play of gravity on the moon’s metal core. But how do you peer through sheet ice?

You melt your way down, with a nuclear-powered robot.

At least that’s the proposal put to the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington DC this week.

NASA’s Glenn Research center’s multidisciplinary COMPASS team was established to develop technology to overcome the challenges of space exploration.

Europa poses a big one.

The ice that covers this moon of Jupiter could be anywhere between 2 and 30km thick.

But, beneath, could be life.

And finding it will throw open our understanding of how common life is in our universe, how resilient it is — and how it arises.

NUCLEAR TUNNELBOT

Planetary scientists aren’t even certain Europa has an ocean. But all the signs indicate it has. The most enticing of these are the plumes of liquid-water which periodically erupt from its surface.

The COMPASS team has completed a concept study on the technologies capable of piercing the ice with a suite of sensors and sending the data it collects back to Earth.

The best option, they argue, is a nuclear-powered ‘tunnelbot’.

Nuclear power packs the most energy into a small space.

And it doesn’t even need to be built into a nuclear reactor — though that was one of the concept designs. In its simplest form, radioactive ‘bricks’ would simply radiate a heat source in front of a tube-shaped probe which then gradually sinks as the ice beneath turns to slush.

The power of such nuclear fuel cells have been amply demonstrated by the likes of Voyager 1 and 2, still sending back signals as they cross into interstellar space some 40 years after they were launched.

ICE PIERCER

The nuclear ‘tunnelbot’ would deploy from a lander with a fiber-optic string of data ‘repeaters’ unfurling as it sinks.

Any such a Europa ‘tunnelbot’ would be relatively large. And risky to launch.

“We didn’t worry about how our tunnelbot would make it to Europa or get deployed into the ice,” says University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor Andrew Dombard. “We just assumed it could get there and we focused on how it would work during descent to the ocean.”

Which is the purpose of their mission. Whether or not such a nuclear-powered ‘tunnelbot’ is built and deployed is the next step. But the decision will be based upon an informed study of what it would take to take a peek under Europa’s ice.

Sending a probe to Europa is one of NASA’s major ambitions for the coming decades. But getting the mission past an increasingly skeptical US Congress may not be easy.

ON THIN ICE

The project’s chief advocate was Texas Republican John Culberson, who chaired the subcommittee that funds NASA. The NASA study which produced the nuclear-powered ‘tunnelbot’ is a result of his efforts.

But he lost his seat at the recent midterm elections.

And President Donald Trump’s most recent budget states he has no intention of funding an Europa lander.

Some experts express the fear such an attempt would be a ‘bridge too far’: we simply don’t know enough about the icy moon, yet.

“It’s a mission that came out of Congress as opposed to a mission that came out of the science,” says The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla.

Others argue the long lead-up time for such ambitious missions means now is the time to start working towards the project.

And we’re set to learn more about the mysterious moon anyway.

The Europa Clipper mission — a space probe designed to orbit the moon — has received initial funding. Its goal is to circle as low as 25km for up to three years, mapping Europa’s icy surface and gleaning what it can about chemicals being spewed out in its plumes.

It’s hoped the Clipper will be ready for launch in 2022. It will take six years for the probe to reach Jupiter and establish itself in orbit around Europa.

This story originally appeared in news.com.au.

Mars ‘terror,’ future Moon missions and an epic journey to the Sun: 2018’s year in space

2018 has been a busy year for space exploration. Here are some of the highlights:

MARS LANDER’S ‘SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR’

NASA’s Mars InSight Lander reached the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. The final stage of its descent, however, was fraught with difficulty – NASA engineers characterize landing on Mars as “seven minutes of terror.”

Safely settled on the surface of the planet, sensors on the Lander recently captured the first-ever “sounds” of Martian wind. The probe also used a camera on its robotic arm, to take its first Mars selfie.

NASA’S INSIGHT MARS LANDER ARRIVES ON THE RED PLANET, ENDS SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

The InSight mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data. By studying Mars’ deep interior, the mission is expected to provide valuable information on the formation of rocky worlds, including Earth.

Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

In November, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to reach the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

MASSIVE MARS DISCOVERY

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover found organic molecules on Mars, the space agency revealed in a major announcement in June.

The molecules, which were found in rocks from an ancient lake bed, provide fresh insight into the Red Planet, according to scientists. The rocks are billions of years old, NASA said.

While NASA went to great lengths to explain that it has not discovered life on Mars, the organic molecules could provide vital clues.

MASSIVE MARS DISCOVERY: ORGANIC MOLECULES 'FUNDAMENTAL TO OUR SEARCH FOR LIFE' FOUND BY NASA ROVER

“Organic compounds are fundamental to our search for life,” said Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Goddard, Md.

Described as the most technologically advanced rover ever built, Curiosity launched on Nov. 26, 2011. The rover landed on Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, with the goal of determining whether Mars was ever able to support microbial life.

RENDEZVOUS WITH ASTEROID BENNU

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, reached its orbit at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3 after traveling more than 1 billion miles through space. The spacecraft launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to NASA.

OSIRIS-REx will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit. The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

NASA'S OSIRIS-REX SPACECRAFT REACHES ASTEROID BENNU AFTER EPIC JOURNEY

Scientists recently made a fascinating discovery on the asteroid. They analyzed data from the probe and identified water locked inside the asteroid’s clay, the space agency announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls,” which are molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.

Other countries are also ramping up their efforts to study asteroids. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 spacecraft recently lowered two small rovers onto a distant asteroid. Hayabusa 2 arrived at Ryugu on June 27, 2018, when the asteroid was almost 170 million miles from Earth. The spacecraft, which traveled almost 2 billion miles to reach the space rock, is expected to leave Ryugu at the end of 2019 and return to Earth around the end of 2020.

DRAMATIC LAUNCH ESCAPE

On Oct. 11, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin made a dramatic escape after their Soyuz booster rocket failed just two minutes after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The spacecraft was about 30 miles above Earth’s surface when the crew was forced to make a dangerous “ballistic re-entry” into Earth’s atmosphere. After the successful deployment of its parachute, the rescue capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 30 minutes after the rocket failure.

A Russian investigation attributed the failure to a sensor that was damaged during the rocket's final assembly.

US, RUSSIAN ASTRONAUTS MAKE DANGEROUS BALLISTIC RE-ENTRY INTO EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE AFTER ROCKET FAILS

Less than two months later, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying three astronauts, including one American, successfully docked with the International Space Station. The launch from Kazakhstan was the first successful manned mission to the space lab since the aborted Soyuz launch.

The Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station, but Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.

MYSTERIOUS SPACE STATION LEAK

The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the orbiting space lab. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

The capsule leak caused a flap between the U.S. and Russian space agencies. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing — or in orbit. The space station's commander at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.

SPACE STATION CREW TO INSPECT MYSTERIOUS HOLE ON SPACEWALK

The Russian space chief has since backpedaled on his statement, saying that he never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts and blaming the media for twisting his statement.

Rogozin said recently that the Russian official probe is ongoing. During a grueling spacewalk in December, Russian cosmonauts took samples of the black epoxy sealant protruding from the hole and put insulation over the area. Roscosmos will discuss the probe findings with NASA and other space station partners, according to Rogozin.

NASA ANNOUNCES MOON, MARS MISSION PARTNERS

In November, NASA announced that Lockheed Martin and eight other companies will compete for $2.6 billion worth of contracts to help take American astronauts back to the Moon and Mars.

In addition to Lockheed, which built the Mars InSight lander, NASA's commercial partners include Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space System, Draper, Firefly, Intuitive Machines, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

The contracts could be worth as much as $2.6 billion over a span of 10 years and flights could start as soon as next year, officials said. The original list included more than 30 companies vying for the bids, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

NASA SAYS LOCKHEED MARTIN, 8 OTHER COMPANIES WILL HELP BRING ASTRONAUTS BACK TO THE MOON AND MARS

President Donald Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.

The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.

NASA’s goal is also to send to manned missions into space from U.S. soil during the coming years. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS.

In August, NASA also named nine “American hero” astronauts that will crew the test flights and first space station resupply missions on SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

PARKER SOLAR PROBE’S EPIC JOURNEY TO ‘TOUCH THE SUN’

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasted off on its odyssey from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2018.

The $1.5 billion mission will take humanity closer to the Sun than ever before. Parker is the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere

To withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

NASA'S PARKER SOLAR PROBE BLASTS OFF ON EPIC JOURNEY TO 'TOUCH THE SUN'

Parker will face “brutal” heat and radiation during the epic journey that will take it to within 3.83 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency. This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976.

Harnessing Venus’ gravity, Parker will complete seven flybys over seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer and closer to the Sun. On its closest approach in 2024, the probe will be traveling at approximately 430,000 mph, setting a new speed record for a manmade object.

The Sun’s corona, which can be seen during a total solar eclipse, is usually hidden by the bright light of the star’s surface. The probe, named after pioneering solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, will provide a wealth of invaluable scientific data.

Scientists expect to shed new light on the Sun’s potential to disrupt satellites and spacecraft, as well as electronics and communications on Earth.

In November, the probe snapped a stunning picture of the Sun’s atmosphere.

‘SUPER-EARTH’ DISCOVERY

In March, scientists announced the discovery of 15 new planets, including a “super-Earth” that may have liquid water on its surface.

The planets are orbiting small, cool stars near our solar system, known as “Red Dwarfs.”

One of the brightest Red Dwarfs, K2-155, has three “super-Earths,” one of which, K2-155d, could be within the star’s habitable zone. K2-155d, which has a radius 1.6 times that of Earth, may harbor liquid water, according to three-dimensional global climate simulations.

K2-155 is about 200 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

PLANETS IN GALAXIES BEYOND MILKY WAY SPOTTED FOR FIRST TIME

In February, revealed the discovery, for the first time, of planets in galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a team of astrophysicists from the University of Oklahoma identified the extragalactic planets about 3.8 billion light-years away. The space observatory helped scientists find about 2,000 objects with comparable mass to the Moon and Jupiter.

The Oklahoma University team used a technique called microlensing, which identifies the gravitational signature of planets orbiting extremely distant stars.

MYSTERIOUS INTERSTELLAR OBJECT

Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system, also garnered plenty of attention in 2018. NASA said that Oumuamua is a "metallic or rocky object," while a study from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics speculated that it could be a “lightsail” sent from an ancient civilization.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia, Jennifer Earl, Amy Lieu and the Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Elf on the shelf is living on the International Space Station

If you're a parent with young kids, you've probably struggled where to put The Elf on a Shelf and may eventually run out of places.

Here's an idea – how about putting it in space?

The popular children's book/toy is living on the International Space Station, according to a tweet from NASA astronaut Anne McClain.

NASA ASTRONAUT DESCRIBES 'PROFOUND POTENTIAL' OF BREAKTHROUGH SPACE EXPERIMENTS

"Well, look who showed up on @Space_Station!" McClain tweeted on Tuesday. "I guess we all have to be good now! I hope with his mischievous ways, he doesn’t get into anything TOO important! We will have to wait and see…."

McClain followed that up with another tweet on Wednesday, saying that "Elves must think everything needs ribbon and a bow!"

The ISS just received a delivery from a SpaceX Dragon capsule, which included Christmas dinner and other assorted goodies, according to The Sun. So it's possible the Elf hopped on board and is now one of the most prominent dolls in space.

McClain joined the ISS earlier this month, leaving from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket, along with David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Oleg Kononenko of Russian space agency Roscosmos. Her stint on the space lab is will end June 2019.

Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this report. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

Virgin Galactic set to send its SpaceShipTwo tourism rocket to the edge of space

Virgin Galactic is set to send its tourism rocket to the edge of space during a major test flight on Thursday.

“Our SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, is entering the next stage of testing,” explains Virgin Galactic, on its website. “During this phase of the flight program, we will be expanding the envelope for altitude, air speed, loads, and thermal heating. We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach space for the first time.”

If successful, the test will be a major step toward the long-delayed dream of commercial space tourism.

BRANSON SAYS VIRGIN GALACTIC WILL SEND PEOPLE TO SPACE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Two pilots will take Virgin Space Ship Unity high above California's Mojave Desert Thursday. CEO George Whitesides said Wednesday they will try to exceed an altitude of 50 miles, which Virgin Galactic considers the boundary of space. Whiteside said that's the standard used by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies.

That differs from a long-held view that places the boundary at 62 miles. But Whitesides cited new research that favors the lower altitude and said that as a U.S. company it will use the U.S. standard.

Virgin Galactic tweeted that SpaceShipTwo will be carrying NASA payloads during the test, putting the spacecraft close to an approximate commercial weight

Reaching the edge of space would represent a major milestone for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. A successful test would also demonstrate significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that were promised more than a decade ago. Virgin Galactic's development of its spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

EXPERTS: VIRGIN GALACTIC CRASH WILL CHANGE THE FACE OF SPACE TOURISM

"It's a day that we've been waiting for for a long time," Whitesides said.

The spaceship isn't launched from the ground but is carried beneath a special plane to an altitude of around 50,000 feet. It then detaches from the plane, ignites its rocket engine and climbs. The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb — and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology. The twin tails temporarily rotate upward to increase drag, then return to a normal flying configuration before the craft glides to a landing on a runway.

Fox News’ Christopher Carbone and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander snaps its first stunning selfie

Say "cheese!" NASA’s InSight Mars Lander has snapped its first selfie from the surface of the Red Planet.

Using a camera on its robotic arm, the probe took a selfie that is actually a “mosaic” comprised of 11 images. The selfie was taken on Dec. 6.

In a statement, NASA explained that scientists have also got their first complete look at the Lander’s “workspace” – an approximately 14-by-7-foot crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft.

NASA’S INSIGHT MARS LANDER ARRIVES ON THE RED PLANET, ENDS SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

The InSight mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data. By studying Mars’ deep interior, the mission is expected to provide valuable information on the formation of rocky worlds, including Earth.

A "mosaic" image, composed of 52 individual images from the InSight lander, shows the "workspace" where the spacecraft will set its science instruments. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it'll be extremely safe for our instruments," said InSight's Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in the statement. "This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren't on Mars, but we're glad to see that."

The Mars InSight Lander reached the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. Sensors on the Lander recently captured the first-ever “sounds” of Martian wind.

NASA RELEASES FIRST-EVER AUDIO RECORDING FROM MARS

The United States is the only country to successfully operate a spacecraft on the Martian surface. InSight represents NASA's ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars; only one effort failed.

Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

Last month, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to reach the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Space doesn’t harm this important part of the human body

Research has shown that time in space can increase the risk of cancer and trigger gene mutations. But a new study has found that one crucial part of the human body remains unaffected by zero-gravity.

Living in space didn’t alter an astronaut’s levels of B-cell immunity — the white blood cells that create antibodies to fight off infections. B-cell levels need to be maintained in order to help astronauts fight off disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

The discovery is a welcomed development especially since previous research has found that space travel seriously confuses the immune system. Some cells weaken, while others work overtime and both weaken the body’s ability to effectively fight infection. Researchers were worried this confusion could extend to B-cells as well.

For the study, scientists took blood samples from 23 crew members stationed at the International Space Station for six months, before, during and after their stays. The samples were collected over 18 different ISS missions and included astronauts between 37- and 57-years-old. Results were then compared to a control group that stayed on Earth. The research was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

“This is the first study to comprehensively show that long-duration space flight in human astronauts has a limited effect on B-cell frequency and antibody production,” Dr. John Campbell, a lecturer at the University of Bath, said in a statement. “Our results are good news for current astronauts aboard the ISS…and for all future astronauts who will attempt long-duration space missions.”

The research will help to inform health decisions — such as when vaccines should be administered — for future astronauts embarking on longer missions through space and, hopefully, eventual missions to Mars.

This story originally appeared in the New York Post.

NASA makes amazing discovery on asteroid Bennu

Scientists have made a fascinating discovery on asteroid Bennu thanks to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

Recently analyzed data from the probe has identified water locked inside the asteroid’s clay, the space agency has announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls,” which are molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.

NASA'S OSIRIS-REX SPACECRAFT REACHES ASTEROID BENNU AFTER EPIC JOURNEY

“While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid,” said NASA in a statement.

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to the space agency.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon, OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in the statement. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

NASA RELEASES FIRST-EVER AUDIO RECORDING FROM MARS

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, reached its orbit at asteroid Bennu last week after traveling more than 1 billion miles through space. It launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The spacecraft will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit. The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

This is a busy time for NASA. The space agency’s InSight lander landed successfully on the surface of Mars last month, ending a journey that lasted six months and completed more than 300 million miles. The space agency recently released the first-ever audio recording from the surface of the Red Planet.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Space station crew to inspect mysterious hole on spacewalk

MOSCOW (AP) — Two Russian cosmonauts were preparing to venture outside the International Space Station Tuesday to inspect a section where a mysterious leak has been discovered.

The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev will conduct a six-hour spacewalk to inspect the Soyuz's outer surface. They will uncover the thermal insulation covering the patched hole and take samples that will be studied by experts.

Kononenko, who arrived at the station earlier this month with NASA astronaut Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, said in a pre-flight interview that the spacewalk would be a strenuous effort.

"It's going to be challenging both physically and technically," he said.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in September that the hole could have been drilled during manufacture or while in orbit. He didn't say if he suspected any of the crew, but the statement has caused some bewilderment.

Rogozin has since backpedaled on his statement, saying that he never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts and blaming the media for twisting his statement.

He said recently that the Russian official probe is ongoing and some of the station's crew who are set to come back to Earth on Dec. 20 will take the samples that are collected during the spacewalk. Rogozin added that Roscosmos will discuss the probe findings with NASA and other space station partners.

NASA Voyager 2 enters interstellar space, could become ‘the only trace of human civilization’

NASA has made history once again, as Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space — only the second man-made object ever to do so.

The space probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere, which is the bubble caused by solar wind and encompasses space "far past the orbit of the planets," on Nov. 5, NASA said in a statement. This boundary is known as the heliopause and is "where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium," the government agency also said.

NASA ASTRONAUT DESCRIBES 'PROFOUND POTENTIAL' OF BREAKTHROUGH SPACE EXPERIMENTS

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in the statement. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

Voyager 2's older twin, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, crossed the boundary in August 2012. Unlike its older twin, Voyager 2 still has a working instrument that NASA says "will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space."

Both Voyager space crafts are loaded with memorabilia from Earth's culture, including a Golden Record of Earth, which is comprised of sounds, pictures and messages. NASA said that since the spacecraft could last billions of years, they may one day "be the only traces of human civilization."

NASA was able to determine that Voyager 2 left the heliosphere thanks to the onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), which NASA said stopped working on the Voyager 1 in 1980. The PLS uses the electric current of the plasma to detect different measurements of the solar wind and when it detected a "steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles," a decline that went to 0, scientists are confident the probe has indeed gone into interstellar space.

The spacecraft, which launched Aug. 20, 1977, at a cost of $895 million, was primarily designed to study the outer planets, notably Jupiter and Saturn. But after making several discoveries on these planets, including active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and understanding the intricacies of Saturn's rings, the mission was extended and the craft went on to visit and explore Uranus and Neptune.

It is now more than 11 billion miles from Earth, though NASA is still able to communicate with the craft. However, due to its distance, the lag between sending information and receiving it back on Earth takes approximately 16.5 hours, NASA said.

“There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. in the statement.

HOW AMERICA CAN GET ITS SLICE OF THE $1 TRILLION SPACE ECONOMY

Despite the probe entering interstellar space, Voyager 2, along with Voyager 1, have not left the solar system and won't for quite a while, NASA said. The space agency said Voyager 2 will leave the Oort Cloud, "a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun’s gravity," in approximately 30,000 years, so it is still being influenced by the Sun's gravity to some extent.

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This is what we've all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia