Category: News Posts

The Physics Nobel Goes To The Detection Of Ripples In Space And Time

The way the Nobel Committee tells it, the story of this year’s physics prize begins like a certain 1970s space opera.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, two massive black holes engaged in a deadly dance,” said physicist and Nobel committee member Olga Botner at today’s prize announcement.

The pair spiraled toward each other, colliding to form an even bigger black hole with a mass 62 times that of Earth’s sun.

The impact shook the universe, generating ripples known as gravitational waves that warped the fabric of spacetime as they pulsed through.

By the time the collision’s reverberations reached Earth, they had quieted to a quiver.

Some 1.3 billion years after that ferocious black hole do-si-do, physicists at two observatories in the US simultaneously detected a ripple as a tiny compression and expansion in length in their machines.

This first detection of a gravitational wave took four decades of calculations, simulations, and engineering—and more than a billion dollars of US taxpayer money.

Today, physicists Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the pioneering work that led to this discovery.

They’ll split 9 million Swedish krona in prize money, or 1.1 million dollars; Weiss will receive half the prize while Barish and Thorne will split the other half.

Weiss and Thorne began to search for gravitational waves back in the ’70s, 50 years after Albert Einstein first predicted their existence in his theory of general relativity.

No one had seen a gravitational wave yet, so it was possible that Einstein had gotten some of his theory wrong.

Weiss, working at MIT, and Thorne, at Caltech, developed prototypes of a laser interferometer—a machine that could measure minuscule fluctuations in length.

Weiss brought the craftsmanship and engineering, while Thorne specialized in theoretical calculations.

Their designs led to machines that could detect compressions in spacetime thousands of times smaller than the width of a proton.

The descendants of those prototypes, one located in Louisiana and the other in Washington, detected the first gravitational wave in 2015.

But a sophisticated machine is only as clever as its operators. The Nobel Committee credits Barish, a physicist at Caltech, for assembling and managing the team—the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory collaboration—that made the discovery.

When Barish became LIGO’s leader in 1994, he expanded the group from about 40 researchers to more than a thousand people from all over the world.

He gathered experts specializing in black holes, gravity, lasers, statistics, vacuum systems, and everything else that goes into a giant, L-shaped observatory that can measure tiny contractions in its two 2.5-mile-long arms.

Since that first detection in 2015, LIGO has identified three other gravitational waves, also from black hole collisions. So far, all the measurements confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Now, physicists are trying to learn more details about these collisions and the black holes that produce them. This August, a similar observatory called VIRGO came online in Italy to collaborate with LIGO.

With VIRGO’s additional data, physicists will be able to more precisely locate where gravitational waves originate.

They want to find spacetime-warping effects from other types of collisions, such as ones between collapsed stars, known as neutron stars.

They want to observe tens of these per year and investigate their paths as they ripple toward Earth.

By studying how they move through space, physicists think they might be able to observe the waves interacting with new astronomical objects previously invisible to telescopes.

A hundred years after Einstein predicted their existence, the story of gravitational waves and their effects on the fabric of spacetime is only just beginning.

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Mysterious Bright Spots On Ceres Are Probably Salt

The verdict is in — mostly. The bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are probably made of salt, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has found.

Mixed with the salt are bits of rock and frozen water. When sunlight hits the blend, the ice sublimates into a misty haze above two of Ceres’s craters, researchers report in the 10 December issue of Nature.

But mission scientists are not sure how the salt, ice and haze are interlinked.

The whole picture we do not have yet,” says Andreas Nathues, a planetary scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Goettingen, Germany, and the paper’s lead author.

Dawn has also found ammonia-rich clays on Ceres, a second Nature paper reports. Ammonia is more common in the frigid outer Solar System than in the asteroid belt where Ceres reigns.

The discovery suggests that Ceres may have collected bits of outer Solar System material — or even that it was born near Neptune before migrating inward.

Both papers are the first major published results from Dawn.

At 950 kilometres across, Ceres is not only the largest asteroid in the Solar System, but also a protoplanet whose origin and evolution may help researchers to better understand how other planets formed.

Scientists previously calculated that roughly one-quarter of Ceres is water, which may lurk as an icy shell beneath the dwarf planet’s dark surface.

The bright spots are the first direct glimpse of that underground ice. Dawn has catalogued more than 130 such spots, most of them within impact craters.

The brightest lies in the 90.5-kilometre-wide Occator Crater, and the second-brightest is in the 10-kilometre-wide Oxo Crater. (Features on Ceres are named after agricultural deities.)

Dawn spotted haze only in Occator and Oxo, Nathues says. The spacecraft’s camera captured it glimmering beneath the rims of the craters in the morning sun, then vanishing by afternoon.

The haze probably forms when sunlight warms the surface, causing ice to sublimate and carry dust and ice particles upward. When the surface cools, the sublimation ceases and the haze disappears.

In 2014, researchers analysing measurements made by the Herschel Space Observatory reported water vapour in the atmosphere of Ceres near Occator.

Some kind of geological process seems to continually feed ice to the surface, replenishing what is lost, Nathues says.

Occator and Oxo are both relatively young craters, and the other bright spots on Ceres might represent older impacts where outgassing has stopped.

Dawn will never be able to spot the haze again. The spacecraft could only photograph it from an oblique angle as it first approached Ceres.

Nathues’ team also looked at spectra of light reflecting off the bright spots. Those measurements suggest that the spots contain salt, which is most likely to be a type of magnesium sulfate.

Many questions remain. De Sanctis and her colleagues are analysing new spectral data on the bright spots, which may support or rule out the presence of salts. “It’s really enticing,” she says.

Dawn is currently spiralling down to its final mapping orbit, which it will reach on or before 18 December.

From there it will study Ceres from a distance of about 385 kilometres until the mission runs out of money to operate the spacecraft or it can no longer point itself in the right direction.

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Experimental Implants Done Despite No Approval For Human Use

Experimental implants that should only have been used in laboratory or animal tests were sent abroad and used on patients who were treated like human guinea pigs, an inquiry at one of Britain’s leading universities has found.

An artificial windpipe, an arterial graft and a synthetic tear duct manufactured by scientists at University College London were used in operations despite not being approved for use in humans, according to the inquiry’s report.

Stephen Wigmore, the professor of transplantation surgery at the University of Edinburgh who chaired the inquiry, said the findings were “quite frightening” and that patients had been essentially used as “guinea pigs”.

In one case, a 26-year-old man, a drug addict living in Tehran, was implanted with a graft to bypass the femoral artery, the report said.

This amounted to clinical negligence, an expert in vascular medicine told the inquiry.

In [the expert’s] opinion it was almost inevitable that that would result in the patient would lose their limb or their life,” said Wigmore. The outcome of the procedure was not established.

The plastic scaffold used in the first operation, on a 36-year-old Eritrean man, was constructed by a former UCL professor, Alexander Seifalian, who was dismissed in 2016 after a tribunal in an unrelated case found that he had dishonestly obtained £24,000 from an overseas student.

Seifalian’s laboratory was not licensed to make clinical grade devices, the inquiry found, and no permission had been sought from the health regulator to use an unlicensed device.

Normally the MHRA only grants such approval in compassionate use cases or in a medically urgent situation where there are no suitable alternative treatments.

There is no suggestion that the 2014 death of the patient, called Andemariam Beyene, was linked to failings by UCL scientists, but Wigmore said that due to the oversight UCL is now seeking advice about whether the university could be held legally liable.

The inquiry also uncovered paperwork describing an operation in which a male 26-year-old drug addict was given an 18cm polymer graft, apparently prepared by Seifalian’s team.

The implant was used to bypass the femoral artery, the body’s second largest artery, because the vessel had become chronically infected and had an aneurysm, the report said.

George Hamilton, a professor of vascular surgery at UCL, told the inquiry that in these circumstances the implant would inevitably become contaminated, which could spread the infection and lead to above-the-knee amputation or even death.

The inquiry did not establish what had happened to the man.

In another breach of rules, an artificial tear duct made in the same laboratory was implanted into a patient in Zurich.

The implant, a tiny plastic tube, was manufactured by Karla Chaloupka, a Swiss ophthalmologist who was doing a part-time PhD under the joint supervision of Seifalian and Hamilton.

Responding to questions by email, Seifalian and Hamilton each said they were supportive of the project’s ultimate aim – to bring the device to clinic – but both claim to have only been informed that the operation had taken place after the event.

The report is strongly critical of Seifalian, who is facing two ongoing research misconduct inquiries. The former professor claims that he has been unfairly singled out.

Many people were involved in the regenerative medicine work with me but I have been dismissed and [they are] using me as a scapegoat for the work carried out,” said Seifalian, who now runs a company called Nanoregmed.

The inquiry report recommended the cases outlined should be reported immediately to the MHRA for further investigation.

The inquiry has made no recommendation that any additional research misconduct investigations are required into any current UCL staff.

Prof David Price, UCL vice-provost for research, said: “As a world-leading university, UCL takes the integrity of its research very seriously.

The recommendations of the inquiry will help us to continue building on our culture of research excellence and innovation, to address global health challenges in a responsible and ethical manner.

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Life On Earth May Have Begun 300 Million Years Earlier Than Previously Thought

Living organisms may have existed on Earth as long as 4.1bn years ago – 300m years earlier than was previously thought, new research has shown.

If confirmed, the discovery means life emerged a remarkably short time after the Earth was formed from a primordial disc of dust and gas surrounding the sun 4.6bn years ago.

Researchers discovered the evidence in specks of graphite trapped within immensely old zircon crystals from Jack Hills, Western Australia.

Atoms in the graphite, a crystalline form of carbon, bore the hallmark of biological origin. They were enriched with 12C, a “light” carbon isotope, or atomic strain, normally associated with living things.

It suggests that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged on Earth as early as 4.1bn years ago, said the scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The US scientists, led by Dr Mark Harrison, from the University of California at Los Angeles, said the graphite was completely encased in zircon that was crack-free and could not have been contaminated despite the passing of aeons.

They wrote: “This study extends the terrestrial carbon isotope record around 300m years beyond the previously oldest-measured samples from south-west Greenland.

Some non-biological processes could also produce the light form of carbon, notably meteorite impacts, said the researchers.

But the amount of extra-terrestrial carbon needed to account for the findings made meteorites an unlikely source.

A biogenic origin seems at least as plausible,” the scientists added.

Confirming the connection with early life would represent “a potentially transformational scientific advance” they said.

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3 Americans Win Nobel Prize In Medicine For Uncovering The Science Behind Our Biological Clocks

A trio of American scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for revealing the mechanisms of the cellular clock that regulates biological changes in complex organisms across a 24-hour span.

Working at Brandeis University in the 1980s, Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash uncovered the genetic basis of circadian rhythms in fruit flies.

Michael W. Young collaborated with Hall and Rosbash from Rockefeller University to isolate the key gene, which had been named “period” by scientists who had surmised its existence.

Hall, Rosbash and Young would go on to discover a variety of genetic and cellular mechanisms that keep the circadian clocks of living things ticking in sync with the Earth’s daily rotation.

Rosbash remains on the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where Hall is a professor emeritus of biology. Young is still at Rockefeller University in New York City.

For some years, a team led by Hall and Rosbash competed against a team led by Young to be the first to clone the genes the group discovered.

But the threesome, now friends, have been widely recognized as the co-discoverers of the genetic mechanism underlying the circadian clock in complex organisms.

They were awarded the Hong Kong-based Shaw Prize in life sciences and medicine in 2013, an honor that may have paved the way for the Nobel Committee’s recognition.

The work honored Monday sheds light on how all multicellular creatures undergo regular changes in body temperature, hormones, metabolism and behavior that keep time with different phases of the day.

While the scientists conducted much of their pioneering work on fruit flies, the circadian clock is a powerful factor in human health as well.

It helps explain how jet lag and other disruptions to our evolved cycles of sleeping and waking can wear us down and contribute to disease.

Their research has laid the foundation for research into how the time of day influences everything from the way we think to how our bodies store calories or respond to medications.

In a world that’s open for business 24/7, research has shown that people who try to defy their circadian rhythms will eventually come up against the biological limits of their cells’ internal clocks.

Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and well-being,” the Nobel committee said in its announcement Monday in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the trio’s work “is informing treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, and other health problems.” The NIH has invested more than $30 million in their studies.

The work also underscores the sustained influence of our common environment on creatures up and down the evolutionary ladder.

The genetic mechanisms that keep fruit flies on a 24-hour cycle governed by day and night are the same as those for humans.

The research is “a great example of how studying fundamental biological processes in model organisms such as fruit flies reveals important principles that translate into a deeper understanding of human biology and disease,” said Jon R. Lorsch, director of the NIH’s National Institute on General Medical Sciences.

In its citation for the $1.1-million prize, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said the researchers “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings.

That process unfolded in many steps.

Hall, Rosbash and Young isolated the period gene in 1984.

It would take several more years for Hall and Rosbash to see that the protein encoded by that gene — called PER — went through a daily cycle of accumulating during the night and depleting over the course of the day.

How was that rhythm sustained? Hall and Rosbash surmised that some feedback loop was at work, whereby the buildup of PER protein inside the cell might dial down the period gene’s activity.

But they puzzled over how that shutoff signal was sent from the cytoplasm, where PER protein was produced, to the cell nucleus, where the genetic machinery was located.

That mystery was solved in 1994, with Young’s discovery of a second clock gene, which he called “timeless.” That gene also appeared to be required for organisms to maintain normal circadian rhythm, by encoding the production of a protein called TIM.

Young’s “elegant work,” the Nobel Committee wrote, showed that when the TIM and PER proteins were bound together, they were able to enter the cell nucleus.

There, they blocked the activity of the period gene and closed the feedback loop.

Over time, Young would go on to find a third timekeeper gene, which he dubbed “doubletime,” that would allow a more precise alignment of protein levels with a 24-hour cycle.

Hall, Rosbash and Young have identified additional proteins required for the activation of the period gene, as well as for the mechanism by which light can synchronize the clock.

Rosbash explained that the day-night cycle was the original environmental influence on humans and other living beings.

Before the atmosphere has its current constitution and before nutrition was anything like it is today, the Earth rotated on its axis and the light-dark cycle impinged on the beginnings of life,” he said Monday in an interview with Nobel officials.

Rosbash added that when he received the predawn call from Stockholm, he was so shocked that his wife had to remind him to breathe.

Young, too, said he struggled to digest the news.

I’d go and I’d pick up the shoes, and then I’d realize I need the socks,” he said during a news conference. “And then I realized I needed to put my pants on first.

The award brings the number of U.S.-born Nobel laureates to 259.

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Engineering Mosquito Gut Bacteria To Fight Malaria

A malarial mosquito is a flying factory for Plasmodium – a parasite that fills its guts, and storms the blood of every person it bites. By hosting and spreading these parasites, mosquitoes kill 1.2 million people every year.

But Plasmodium isn’t the only thing living inside a mosquito’s guts. Just as our bowels are home to trillions of bacteria, mosquitoes also carry their own microscopic menageries.

Now, Sibao Wang from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has transformed one of these bacterial associates into the latest recruit in our war against malaria.

By loading it with genes that destroy malarial parasites, Wang has turned the friend of our enemy into our friend.

Many groups of scientists have tried to beat malaria by genetically modifying the species of mosquito that carries it – Anopheles gambiae.

Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, who led Wang’s new study, has been at the forefront of these efforts. In 2002, his team loaded mosquitoes with a modified gene so that their guts produce a substance that kills off Plasmodium.

The approach worked very well in the laboratory,” says Jacobs-Lorena, but it would be impossible to load wild mosquitoes with the anti-malarial gene.

Instead, you’d have to ensure that the modified mosquitoes could out-compete their wild peers, so that the gene passes from one generation to the next via natural breeding.

It must also do so quickly before the parasite can evolve a countermeasure.

That’s very difficult to guarantee, especially given our limited understanding of the mating habits and ecology of mosquitoes.

Jacobs-Lorena found an alternative. He would sneak the Plasmodium-killing gene into the bacteria that live inside a mosquito’s guts, rather than the insect’s own genome.

We thought that it would be easier to introduce bacteria than genes into mosquitoes in the field,” he says.

The strategy has one big advantage: the gut is the most vulnerable part of Plasmodium’s complicated shape-shifting life cycle.

When the mosquito bites an infected human, it sucks up thousands of Plasmodium sex cells, which mate with each other to form fertilised eggs called ookinetes.

These invade the lining of the insect’s gut and become factories called oocysts. Each one manufactures thousands of long, worm-like sporozoites that swim into the mosquito’s salivary glands, ready to jump into a new person.

The oocyst stage is the bottleneck in this process. Even if a mosquito swallows thousands of Plasmodium cells, it typically ends up with far fewer oocysts in its gut.

In such small numbers, they make an attractive target, and it just so happens that the gut contains potential collaborators – bacteria.

Pantoea agglomerans is among the most common of these partners. It’s co-exists harmlessly with the mosquito and we still don’t know what, if any, role it performs.

Wang, a member of Jacobs-Lorena’s team, engineered P.agglomerans to make several proteins that turn the mosquito’s gut into a hostile zone for Plasmodium.

Some of these proteins interact the mosquito’s gut to prevent the young Plasmodium parasites from invading it, while others (including one derived from scorpion venom) tear the parasite apart.

The bacteria secrete these weapons into the gut where they get to work upon any invading Plasmodium.

It also helps that when a mosquito drinks blood, the numbers of P.agglomerans within it shoot up by over 100 times, creating a defence force that’s ready for the incoming parasites.

Wang found that the engineered bacteria slashed the numbers of oocysts in mosquitoes by 85 to 98 per cent.

Just 14 to 18 per cent of the insects carrying the defensive microbes became infected with Plasmodium after drinking contaminated blood, down from a typical proportion of 90 per cent.

Scientists who are trying to use GM-mosquitoes to fight dengue fever in Brazil and the US have already encountered severe hostility. The bacterial approach might fare even worse.

It relies on a GM bacterium which can’t be contained once released in mosquito populations, and will easily end up in the food chain and eventually also on peoples plates,” says Dimopoulos.

While such bacteria may not pose a hazard to humans and animals, the work required to prove, educate and finally convince various stakeholders that the implementation is safe will be lengthy and challenging.”

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China Plans To Launch Space Exploration Rockets From Sea Freighters And Planes

China is planning to use large sea-going freighters and heavy military transport planes to launch space exploration rockets starting next year.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) will reportedly use 10,000-ton freighters as launch pads for its Long March 11 launch rocket. The Long March 11 can carry up to 1,100 pounds into low-earth orbit.

“Eastern Arsenal” bloggers Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer say the idea is use freighters to fire the rockets near the equator to save on fuel and loft bigger payloads.

The other option is for an airborne launch.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology announced this month that they’re developing a solid-fueled space launch rocket to be dropped from the Y-20, a heavy Chinese military transport plane.

The rocket itself is expected to weigh about 60 tons (the Y-20’s payload is 66 tons) and has a low Earth orbit payload of 220 pounds.

If you’re dropping a rocket from an airplane, as opposed to the launching from ground, the rocket’s first stage can be smaller, which means it’ll be more efficient and could handle a larger payload.

That means greater flexibility and a potentially quicker launch — both considerable military advantages.

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What Exactly Is The Eyeball Tattoos?

Warning: If the idea of a tattoo artist sticking a hypodermic needle filled with ink into the white of someone’s eyeball really, really grosses you out, you probably should skip the rest of this article and read something a little less unsettling.

Okay, you’re still reading, so you must not be that squeamish.

So let’s begin.

Corneal tattooing or eyeball tattoo is the practice of tattooing the cornea of the human eye.

Reasons for this practice include improvement of cosmetic appearance and the improvement of sight.

Many different methods and procedures exist today, and there are varying opinions concerning the safety or success of this practice.

Causes or reasons for corneal tattooing vary from patient to patient. Most patients receive treatment to alter the cosmetic appearance of their eyes following disease or accident.

Others receive treatment for optical purposes, including decreasing circumstantial glare within the iris. Corneal opacities are the leading reason for undergoing cosmetic tattooing.

The leading reason for corneal tattooing is to alter the appearance of the eye cosmetically. Usually, the need for this alteration stems from corneal opacities.

Corneal opacities may be caused by leucoma, keratitis or cataracts. Such opacities can be cosmetically disruptive for patients in their everyday lives.

Tattooing the cornea can alter a discoloration, blending an opacity into the normal eye color.

Most physicians agree that the procedure should only be performed on patients who have lost their vision or who do not expect to recover it.

Occasionally, corneal tattooing is performed when it might improve eyesight.

According to Dr. Samuel Lewis Ziegler, indications for treatment include albinism, aniridia, coloboma, iridodialysis, keratoconus, or diffused nebulae of the cornea.

Corneal tattooing is also performed on patients who still have vision to reduce symptomatic glare associated with large iridectomies or traumatic iris loss

Corneal tattooing has been practiced for almost 2000 years, first mentioned in history by Galen, a 2nd-century physician.

Methods of corneal tattooing have at times been practiced often and at other times faded into obscurity, but overall, the methods have evolved throughout history.

Galen of Pergamum, a Roman physician and philosopher, first described corneal tattooing in 150 AD, and the same procedure was later described by Aetius in 450 AD as an attempt to mask the leukomatous opacities of the eye.

Both physicians would cauterize the corneal surface with a heated stilet.

After the cauterization, they would apply the dye to the eye, using a variety of dyes, such as powdered nutgalls and iron or pulverized pomegranate bark mixed with copper salt.

This would then stain the cornea, correcting the cosmetic appearance for the patient. Other sources have mentioned that Galen might have used copper sulphate.

This procedure was probably only used on those patients with an unsightly corneal leukoma.

After Galen’s reference to corneal tattooing in the 2nd century, the practice is not mentioned until 1869, when oculoplastic surgeon Louis Von Wecker introduced a new method.

De Wecker, as he was also known, was the first to use black India ink to tattoo a leukoma of the eye.

He applied cocaine to the eye as a topical anesthetic, coated the cornea with a thick solution of ink, and inserted pigment into the corneal tissue obliquely with a grooved needle.

His method has influenced all subsequent methods.

New advances in technology have decreased the actual practice of corneal tattooing over the years. Instead, some of the following methods are used to disguise any corneal scarring: corneal grafting, keratoplasty techniques, and tinted contact lenses.

Also, advances in technology have decreased the probability of developing a dense corneal leucoma, such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, and the avoidance of “heroic measures of therapy.”

Although such advances in technology have decreased the popularity of corneal tattooing, some do practice it still.

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SpaceX Wants To Build One Rocket To Rule Them All

Elon Musk gave a keynote address yesterday to the International Aeronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

During the 43 minute talk, which is embedded above, Musk laid out SpaceX’s future including colonizing Mars and building one rocket to rule them all.

The talk is fantastic. Elon was Elon and revealed countless details about future SpaceX plans. This is why he’s celebrated in certain circles.

He doesn’t hold back whether on Twitter or during interviews. Unlike other Silicon Valley companies, he seemingly keeps fewer details secret and is more willing to talk about things his companies are building.

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U.S. and Russia Teaming Up For Space Station Near The Moon With Plans To Put Humans On Mars

If the U.S. and Russia can’t get along on earth, maybe they will have better luck near the moon.

The countries’ space agencies on Wednesday announced an agreement to build the first lunar-orbiting space station. NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, both hope to put humans on Mars and see a lunar station as a “gateway” toward future deep-space goals.

The new station, which would reside inside the moon’s orbit, may eventually replace the aging International Space Station.

At a station within the moon’s orbit, astronauts could test systems in a “true deep space environment” like they would experience near Mars, but get back to Earth quickly if they need to, NASA officials explained in March.

The American organization has been vocal about their goals to send humans to Mars within the next two decades.

However, in the past few months, Russian leaders have been uncertain about collaborating on such a project, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Instead, Russian leaders have considered working on a different project with China, which, according to, has the largest fleet of spacecraft in orbit after the U.S.

But the NASA’s signed agreement with Roscosmos at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, secured the deal.

Russia and the U.S. will team up, with more minor players such as Japan, the European Space Agency and Canada still in discussion about joining the team.

While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release.

Statements such as this one signed with Roscosmos show the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable.

The agreement didn’t give details about funding or engineering specifics, but the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. were reportedly asked to create risk-reduction and construction plans for the new station.

The International Space Station, which has been orbiting Earth since 1998, is supposed to go out of service in 2024 and would ideally be replaced by the lunar station.

But Boeing, the current station’s main contractor, warned that until the replacement is built, it is hard to predict when the current station will be put out of service.

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