September 12th, 2011
04:57 PM ET

Orion comes to life

NASA hasn't built a human-rated spacecraft since 1991, when Endeavour left the factory. But this week, workers at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans made the first weld on the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

This is a big deal. It's a major step towards accomplishing some of the ambitious exploration goals that President Obama and Congress have laid out for the United States. There are Orion MPCV mockups at Johnson Space Center in Houston, for training and design purposes, but this is the first one actually meant for more than earth-bound testing. This MPCV will fly in space.

Once the welding is complete, the capsule will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where its heat shield will be installed. It'll then get finishing touches and be checked out for spaceflight.

Orion is meant to replace the now-retired Space Shuttle program. It can carry a crew of up to six people and is meant for exploration beyond low-earth orbit. That is to say, it can go farther than the International Space Station. The MPCV will be launched atop a heavy-lift rocket (think Apollo) and return to earth blunt-end down to splash down in an ocean, instead of landing like an airplane.

For more on the MPCV, head on over to NASA's site.

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Filed under: In Space • News
September 12th, 2011
03:57 PM ET

GRAIL Heads to the Moon

"Fire and smoke light up a blue sky as a United Launch Alliance Delta II Heavy rocket propels NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission into space. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 17B on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was at 9:08:52 EDT Sept.10.

The spacecraft are embarking on a three-month journey to reach the moon. GRAIL will fly twin spacecraft in tandem around the moon to precisely measure and map variations in the moon's gravitational field. The mission will provide the most accurate global gravity field to date for any planet, including Earth. This detailed information will reveal differences in the density of the moon's crust and mantle and will help answer fundamental questions about the moon's internal structure, thermal evolution, and history of collisions with asteroids. The aim is to map the moon's gravity field so completely that future moon vehicles can safely navigate anywhere on the moon's surface."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Your thoughts on evolution
Researchers found hand bones of an adult female Australopithecus sediba in Malapa, South Africa.
September 12th, 2011
12:56 PM ET

Your thoughts on evolution

We knew our story on a possible human ancestor called Australopithecus sediba would be controversial, but never expected more than 1,900 comments to come in.

The post generated some pretty intense discussions involving readers who do not believe these new findings - or any evidence of human evolution, for that matter - because of their religious beliefs. FULL POST

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Filed under: Human ancestors • On Earth

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