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By the Gazette Editorial Board

Ryugu, Hayabusa and Mascot may largely sound unfamiliar words, but they nevertheless are three names that will continue to retain special status in the history of scientific thinking and space exploration.

The first is the name of a diamond-shaped asteroid with a tiny radius of no more than 400 metres orbiting the sun at approximately a 290-million-kilometre distance from Earth. It is neither a well-sighted moon nor as huge a planet as Mars to draw wide scientific community appeal. And as far as common knowledge is concerned, only a minimum level, if any at all, of public awareness of the existence of this small space rock has existed.

The second, Hayabusa, is the name of the Japanese spacecraft that drew close to Ryugu last week after a long journey that had started four years earlier, exactly on December 3, 2014. For nearly four years since then, Hayabusa has travelled in full speed to cover the 290-million-kilometre-long distance. And for nearly a year and a half as of now, Hayabusa will survey the asteroid’s surface and dig a crater there in the hope of gathering data and building authentic knowledge of the composition of the asteroid. Some of us may question the wisdom of dedicating such a strenuous effort for five and a half years to closing in on such a tiny space object at a time when space exploration is obviously proceeding somehow slowly and shyly to reach large and Earth-like planets. Then comes Mascot, abbreviating Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, a German-built instrument specifically designed for the survey and sample collection tasks that Hayabusa will undertake.

There certainly and clearly is something amazing about the Hayabusa mission. For the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to spend four years tracking and monitoring Hayabusa as it travelled the 290-million-kilometre journey to its destination, let alone the very many years it took to design and build the spacecraft and the funds it allocated to the project, means that the effort must have been conceived of as scientifically and technologically worth it. Literature available online suggests that since asteroids are believed to be essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the Solar System, a study of real samples collected from Ryugu would most likely unveil some clues to understanding how the Solar System, of which our planet is a part, originated and the modalities of the building process of at least some planets. Such clues may probably not be monetisable, at least for the foreseeable future. Epistemologically, however, the value of the pursuit is almost immeasurable. An insightful reading of the Ryugu-Hayabusa-Mascot mission would unveil that underlying the engagement in such an amazing scientific and technological endeavour is the time-old human longing for getting to know the physics of life on Earth and in the outer space. It is the same longing that stands behind almost all the major scientific theories and discoveries that our world has come to know.

Journeys of the future

By the Gazette Editorial Board

AS global media outlets were soaked in such suspense-charged stories as the looming trade war and the chances of a US-North Korea summit convening in Singapore next week, the steppes of Kazakhstan were the scene of a momentous and very significant event. There, at 12:39GMT on Sunday, a trio of a Russian cosmonaut, an American astronaut and a third from Japan disembarked from a Soyuz capsule that brought them back to the Earth after having spent more than five months on the International Space Station (ISS). For those of us who followed the video footages, the scene was magnificent indeed. The glamour part apart, it was a trailer, to borrow a cinematographic term, of what the future of humanity may look like should all goes well, not only on the ISS which has been orbiting Earth at a speed of some 28,000 kilometres per hour since 1999 but also on the land mass of our planet and the human life on it.

 

Two of the event’s multiple implications deserve special attention. First, the trio’s mission in space was characteristically one of conducting scientific research and experiments. A Russian, an American and a Japanese were doing a job that was never marred by political orientations. It was a real service to the humankind. The kind of international co-operation that has existed on deck of the ISS for two decades does foretell the advent of a super-model of international relations that prioritises the loftier interests of humanity and the building of a better knowledge of the space over economic, political, cultural and other variations. Should this trend be let to grow, space exploration may in a foreseeable future help advance the quality of life for humans, considering that it is now commonly known that the findings and conclusions of space research translate in a matter of less than two decades into usable applications and advances in health, urban life and the management of resources on Earth.

 

Quite interesting and also of profound relevance to the multi-national character of ISS tasks and crew composition has been the story of the football that the ISS crew members were using for practicing and the returning trio brought back with them. The story goes that after the capsule had landed, Russian cosmonaut Shkaplerov carried the ball with him on the trip to Moscow and that the ball would be used during the opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow on June 14. Though there been no confirmation from the FIFA so far, the mere floating of this story asserts the universal character of the ISS mission.

 

Secondly, the successful landing of the capsule that brought the space trio back ‘home’ clearly indicates that the age of space travel is drawing near. Augmenting this prediction is the observation that as the ISS trio were being escorted out of the Soyuz capsule, another trio composed of a NASA astronaut, a European Space Agency astronaut and a Russian Roscosmos astronaut were readying for a launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, tomorrow to join two NASA and one Russian crew members on the ISS. The frequency of the trips to and from the space station suggests that, barring major eventualities, it would not be too long before space travel establishes itself as a normal practice, as much normal in fact as air travel now is.

AS global media outlets were soaked in such suspense-charged stories as the looming trade war and the chances of a US-North Korea summit convening in Singapore next week, the steppes of Kazakhstan were the scene of a momentous and very significant event. There, at 12:39GMT on Sunday, a trio of a Russian cosmonaut, an American astronaut and a third from Japan disembarked from a Soyuz capsule that brought them back to the Earth after having spent more than five months on the International Space Station (ISS). For those of us who followed the video footages, the scene was magnificent indeed. The glamour part apart, it was a trailer, to borrow a cinematographic term, of what the future of humanity may look like should all goes well, not only on the ISS which has been orbiting Earth at a speed of some 28,000 kilometres per hour since 1999 but also on the land mass of our planet and the human life on it.

 

Two of the event’s multiple implications deserve special attention. First, the trio’s mission in space was characteristically one of conducting scientific research and experiments. A Russian, an American and a Japanese were doing a job that was never marred by political orientations. It was a real service to the humankind. The kind of international co-operation that has existed on deck of the ISS for two decades does foretell the advent of a super-model of international relations that prioritises the loftier interests of humanity and the building of a better knowledge of the space over economic, political, cultural and other variations. Should this trend be let to grow, space exploration may in a foreseeable future help advance the quality of life for humans, considering that it is now commonly known that the findings and conclusions of space research translate in a matter of less than two decades into usable applications and advances in health, urban life and the management of resources on Earth.

 

Quite interesting and also of profound relevance to the multi-national character of ISS tasks and crew composition has been the story of the football that the ISS crew members were using for practicing and the returning trio brought back with them. The story goes that after the capsule had landed, Russian cosmonaut Shkaplerov carried the ball with him on the trip to Moscow and that the ball would be used during the opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow on June 14. Though there been no confirmation from the FIFA so far, the mere floating of this story asserts the universal character of the ISS mission.

 

Secondly, the successful landing of the capsule that brought the space trio back ‘home’ clearly indicates that the age of space travel is drawing near. Augmenting this prediction is the observation that as the ISS trio were being escorted out of the Soyuz capsule, another trio composed of a NASA astronaut, a European Space Agency astronaut and a Russian Roscosmos astronaut were readying for a launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, tomorrow to join two NASA and one Russian crew members on the ISS. The frequency of the trips to and from the space station suggests that, barring major eventualities, it would not be too long before space travel establishes itself as a normal practice, as much normal in fact as air travel now is.

STEVENAGE, April, 27, 2018 (Reuters) - The European Space Agency's mission to search for life on Mars has reached an important milestone with its six-wheeled surface rover prototype ready for its "shake and bake".

Built by Airbus Defence and Space just north of London in Stevenage, Britain's unlikely "Space City", the so-called Structural Thermal Model is being packed off to Toulouse, France, for a raft of tests to ensure the real ExoMars rover handles anything the red planet can throw at it.

If the 2020 mission goes to plan it would be Europe’s first rover on Mars, following several successful NASA landings.

Europe's last attempt to land a rover vehicle on the surface of Mars ended in disappointment in 2016 when Schiaparelli span out of control and slammed into the red sand.

The ESA rover will be more sophisticated though, featuring a two-metre exploration drill and an autonomous navigation system.

"That's the most exciting thing that hasn't been done before, we've got a huge two metre drill so it can go into the crust which is where we think life would be if it was still surviving," ExoMars Delivery Manager Abbie Hutty told Reuters.

"At the surface the radiation is extreme and conditions too hostile. Down below different layers of rock, maybe in a fissure where there may be water deposits could be a nice place for life to still be surviving."

Hutty will keep a close eye on the prototype tests in Toulouse where the launch from a Russian rocket will be simulated as well as the massive temperature variations it will endure 54 million km away on Mars.

Data sent back from the ESA's Mars Express satellite are helping scientists choose the most suitable landing site.

The ExoMars Rover's autonomous navigation, which will enable it to steer itself rather than wait 24 minutes for instructions from Earth, has been undergoing testing at Airbus's Mars Yard.

The Stevenage centre has a mock-up of the planet's surface complete with specially dried sand, boulders and Mars-like light intensity, if not the radiation.

Its six "wafer wheels" made of thin strips of metal and unique suspension system means it can scale rocks and roll across the sandy landscape.

"The cool thing about the wheels is that they are fully metallic and give us the traction and grip of a rubber wheel without taking anything organic from earth. They will be able climb over rocks and also dig through deep sand," Hutty said.

Once testing is completed in France, work will begin on building the finished rover as well as a twin that will stay in Stevenage.

SHANGHAI, April 2 (Reuters) - China’s Tiangong-1 space station re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and burnt up over the South Pacific on Monday, the Chinese space authority said.
The “vast majority” of the craft burnt up on re-entry, at around 8:15 a.m. (0015 GMT), the authority said in a brief statement on its website, without saying exactly where any pieces might have landed.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University, said the remnants of Tiangong-1 appeared to have landed about 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Tahiti.

“Small bits definitely will have made it to the surface,” he told Reuters, adding that while about 90 percent would have burnt up in the atmosphere and just 10 percent made it to the ground, that fraction still amounted to 700 kg (1,543 lb) to 800 kg (1,764 lb).