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Max Q: SpaceX sets a date with history in May

This week in space was pretty active, with some startup news – including timing for a historic first – as well as scientific discoveries and innovation in the time of lockdown.

Who better than NASA to demonstrate how science can get done remotely, since the agency is used to conducting experiments from millions of miles away.

SpaceX and NASA are now targeting a specific date and time for their first ever astronaut launch, the final demonstration mission in the Commercial Crew program before SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is fully certified for regular transport of human passengers to the International Space Station. The launch will happen on May 27, at 4:32 PM EDT if all stays on target.

The first-ever mission to use a dedicated vehicle to extend the life of a satellite on orbit worked as planned. Northrop Grumman’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) has successfully changed the orbit of an Intelsat spacecraft, extending its useful life another five years.

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA plans to bring back a piece of Mars with its next robotic rover mission to the red planet, and now it’s explained how it proposes to do that. It’s a mission that will involve many firsts, including the first-ever spacecraft launch from the surface of Mars.

The Mars rover for that sample collection mission is called ‘Perseverance,’ and NASA is persevering wits plans to launch that mission, with preparations continuing despite the COVID-19 pandemic. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine went into a bit more detail in a new interview about what work continues, along with why and how.

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s current Mars rover, Curiosity, is operating actively despite work-from-home restrictions – with NASA engineers actually running the rover on the red planet from their home office setups. Rover was already remotely operated, so moving from the control room to the living room isn’t that much of an additional stretch.

It hits the sweet spot for both size and temperature, but we still have a lot to learn about new exoplanet Kepler-1649c before we can say for certain whether it has all the conditions that would enable life. Chief among those is the composition of its atmosphere, but the discovery of the planet on its own is still cause for scientific celebration.

Intuitive Machines is set to be the first private company to send a lunar lander to the Moon, as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The launch will aim for a spot in the Moon’s largest valley, and carry instruments that will provide valuable info and testing for our own human return to the lunar surface in 2024.

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