Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year 144

On stage at SXSW, Elon Musk issued yet another incredibly ambitious timeline. During a Q&A session on Sunday, Musk said SpaceX will be ready to fly its Mars rocket in 2019. He said: We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now, and we'll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year. Further reading: Fortune.

Scientists Find Life In 'Mars-Like' Chilean Desert ( 54

An anonymous reader writes: In 1938, CBS radio aired Orson Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds ; the broadcast was livened up by periodic "news bulletins" reporting strange activity on Mars and in New Jersey. There may or may have not been men on Mars at the time, and later opinions also differ on whether the broadcast caused widespread panic across the U.S. Eighty years later, scientists are again claiming to have found evidence on earth of Martian life. Well, not exactly Martian life... Washington State University reports: "For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world's driest desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars. Led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an international team studied the driest corner of South America's Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain. Scientists have long wondered whether microbes in the soil of this hyperarid environment, the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface, are permanent residents or merely dying vestiges of life, blown in by the weather. Billions of years ago, Mars had small oceans and lakes where early lifeforms may have thrived. As the planet dried up and grew colder, these organisms could have evolved many of the adaptations lifeforms in the Atacama soil use to survive on Earth, Schulze-Makuch said. 'We know there is water frozen in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nightly snowfalls and other increased moisture events near the surface,' he said. 'If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today's severely hyper-arid surface.'" The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years ( 150

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.


SpaceX Successfully Lands Two Falcon Heavy Boosters Simultaneously After Rocket Launch [Update] ( 446

After nearly a decade of development, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully launched from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. After reaching orbit, the two side boosters simultaneously landed at Landing Zone One. We do not know the status of the central core of the rocket, which was destined to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship roughly 8:19 minutes into the flight.

According to, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket to launch since NASA's Saturn V -- the iconic vessel that, with 7.5 million pounds of thrust, accomplished the definitive Apollo-era feat of putting astronauts on the moon. Elon Musk says that Falcon Heavy is "twice as powerful as any other booster operating today." As for the payload, it includes a Tesla Roadster electric car. "The Falcon Heavy will send the vehicle around the sun in an elliptical orbit that will extend farther than Mars' orbit," reports

UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed The Verge's reporting that the middle core of SpaceX's Heavy Rocket missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land. "The center core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land, and so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour," reports The Verge. "Two engines on the drone ship were taken out when it crashed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a press call after the rocket launch. It's a small hiccup in an otherwise successful first flight."

SpaceX Has Received Permission From the US Government To Launch Elon Musk's Car Toward Mars ( 225

SpaceX this week is preparing to launch Falcon Heavy, the biggest rocket in the company's history, for the first time. From a report: The 230-foot-tall three-booster launcher is scheduled to blast off Tuesday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET. SpaceX says Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in the world. SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, wanted this test launch to happen as early as 2013, though he recently said it could end in an explosion. Instead of putting a standard "mass simulator" or dummy payload atop Falcon Heavy, Musk -- who once launched a wheel of cheese into orbit -- will put his personal 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster on top of the monster rocket. In an Instagram post over the weekend, Musk also revealed that the car would carry a dummy driver, which Musk is calling "Starman," wearing a SpaceX space suit. "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk said in an Instagram post in December, adding that the company "decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel." However, all rocket payloads need a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch, and Musk's sleek electric car is no exception. The FAA granted SpaceX that permission on Friday in a staunchly formal notice, which Keith Cowing posted on NASA Watch.

Ask Slashdot: What Kind of Societies Will the First Mars Colonies Be? 305

New submitter nyri writes: I'm making a two-part study in what kind of societies humans will build on Mars when we start to colonize the red planet. In first part, I'm trying to approach the question sociologically as rigorously as possible. Sociology being what it is, this also includes informed speculation. So, what does Slashdot think: What sort of colonies will humans build on the red planet? How large will they be? How will they make decisions and select their leaders? What kind of judicial systems will they use? What happens if a colony's population grows larger than they are able to sustain? Will they be religious and if so, how? How will their internal and external economy work? And so on...

A second part of the study is of psychometric nature to explore the kind of personalities be present in first colonies. I also encourage you to take the survey.
The Almighty Buck

Elon Musk To Stay At Tesla For Another Decade ( 92

Thelasko writes: "On Tuesday, Tesla's board announced that it had convinced Musk to stay at the helm for another decade with a truly gargantuan performance-based pay package," reports Ars Technica. The pay package is in a series of 12 milestones based on market capitalization.

[The report notes the possibility that Musk could get nothing for a decade's work as Tesla's CEO if the company's stock never rises above $100 billion. However, Musk will get awarded with $1 billion -- 1 percent of the company's stock -- if the stock reaches a value of $100 billion and the company either achieves revenues of $20 billion or earnings of $1.5 billion.] "If the stock rises to $150 billion (and Musk reaches another revenue or profit target), Musk gets another 1 percent of the stock, which will be worth $1.5 billion," reports Ars. "That pattern continues in $50 billion increments until Tesla's stock rises above $650 billion -- at which point Musk will get a stock award worth $6.5 billion. Musk's stock awards will total $45 billion if he hits all 12 milestones."

I guess Musk will have to wait to move to Mars until 2028...


US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars ( 197

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.

Ice Cliffs Spotted On Mars ( 83

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: Scientists have discovered eight cliffs of nearly pure water ice on Mars, some of which stand nearly 100 meters tall. The discovery points to large stores of underground ice buried only a meter or two below the surface at surprisingly low martian latitudes, in regions where ice had not yet been detected. Each cliff seems to be the naked face of a glacier, tantalizing scientists with the promise of a layer-cake record of past martian climates and space enthusiasts with a potential resource for future human bases. Scientists discovered the cliffs with a high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, revisiting the sites to show their subsequent retreat as a result of vaporization, and their persistence in the martian summer. The hunt should now be on, scientists say, for similar sites closer to the equator. The findings have been reported in this week's issue of Science.

The Biggest Rocket Launches and Space Missions We're Looking Forward To in 2018 ( 112

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Next year is already overflowing with exciting missions to space. NASA is launching a new lander to Mars, as well as a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than ever before. And two of NASA's vehicles already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets: one will rendezvous with a nearby asteroid, while another will pass by a distant space rock billions of miles from Earth. But it's not just NASA that has a busy year ahead; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned, and the launch of one of the world's most anticipated rockets, the Falcon Heavy, is slated for early 2018. And if all goes well, people may finally ride to space on private vehicles. Here's the complete list.

Wired Publishes Fake Christmas Letter By Elon Musk ( 32

Wired's transportation editor just published what he's calling "Elon Musk's Christmas letter" touting the accomplishments of Musk's "family" of companies, "thanks to an anonymous tipster." (Though the story's photo caption suspiciously calls it "an absolutely real and totally not made up holiday message," and at the very bottom of the piece it's tagged as "satire" -- a word which also appears at the end of its URL.)

SpaceX (age 15) Man these companies grow up fast. SpaceX didn't just successfully launch its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station this summer, it upped its ambitions with a pretty detailed plan for colonizing Mars. (OK, as long as it comes home for Thanksgiving and Christmas!) The scheme involves an Interplanetary Transport System the company calls the BFR, or Big Fucking Rocket (you wonder where they get their sense of humor!), which it will definitely have built in just five years.

Tesla (age 14) After promising to start deliveries of its affordable Model 3 sedan this summer, my little automaker went all the way to production hell to make it happen. And boy is the car a wonder, with its huge glass roof, innovative touchscreen interface (so long, dashboard), and all the acceleration you know to expect from Tesla. I'm sure the 400,000 people who have pre-ordered one will agree whenever they get theirs...!

OpenAI and Neuralink (ages 2, 1) I've always thought we should merge our brains with computers, and I'm so glad two of my youngest are dedicated to making it happen... Maybe it'll even find the time to help big brother Tesla with that AI chip it's making for Autopilot.

The Boring Company (age 1) Celebrated its first birthday this month...! Boring knows my views on public transit, and has reassured me these tunnels will be for fancy hyperloops and private cars on electric sleds, only...

So, my friends and fans, comrades and competitors, investors short and long, my best tidings. May your lives be as rich, electrifying, and ambitious as ours.

For its 13th resupply mission of the ISS on December 15th, (the real) SpaceX used a recycled rocket, and Friday (the real) Elon Musk jokingly tweeted a video of the weird trail left behind by SpaceX's latest rocket launch with the caption, "Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea." By late Saturday he'd posted an update. "Having a sinking feeling that most people actually do think it was aliens..."

"So strange that people often believe things inversely proportionate to the evidence."

Elon Musk Shows Off the Tesla Roadster That SpaceX Will Send Beyond Mars ( 118

Elon Musk has released photos of the Tesla Roadster he plans to send to space via a Falcon Heavy rocket. "The series of photos, posted to Instagram, show the Roadster attached to a fitting and placed between the two halves of the payload fairing that caps the rocket," reports The Verge. "The photos were posted just hours after a picture leaked on Reddit that showed a grainy view of the car being readied for its final ride." From the report: This will be the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy, a rocket that SpaceX has been planning for years. The successor to the Falcon 9 , it's essentially (and simply put) three boosters strapped together, all of which will add enough thrust to make it the most powerful rocket in the world. It will give SpaceX the ability to send bigger payloads to space while also helping the company push farther out into the Solar System. But SpaceX doesn't want to put a valuable payload on the very first flight, which even Musk has admitted could end (or begin) with an explosion. So the company plans to use a "dummy payload" instead. "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk wrote on Instagram today. "Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel."

Elon Musk Shows Off Near-Complete Falcon Heavy Rocket ( 150

Eloking quotes a report from New Atlas: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been a long time coming. The successor to its Falcon 9 and the vehicle hoped to carry humans to Mars, this booster will be one of the most powerful ever. And we've just gotten our best look at it yet, with CEO Elon Musk tweeting out photos of an almost complete Falcon 9 Heavy in the hangar ahead of a planned maiden launch next month. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 first stages rolled into one, with a second stage sat atop the middle one. The nine engine cores in each first stage work together to provide thrust equal to eighteen 747 aircraft, making it the most powerful rocket currently in operation and the most powerful since the Saturn V rocket last lifted off in 1973. In a series of tweets, Musk revealed that when the Falcon Heavy does lift off for the first time, it will do so from the same pad used by the Saturn V rocket at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Musk has said recently that the Falcon Heavy will carry his own cherry-red Tesla Roadster as its first payload, but as an earlier tweet professing his love for floors has shown, it's not always easy to tell how serious he is about such matters.

Where in the World is Mars' Water? ( 102

An anonymous reader shares an Axios report: In the beginning, Mars was a water world. But at some point in Mars' distant past, much of that water disappeared, leaving behind polar ice caps and a complex geology. Figuring out just where it went has been a major priority for scientists -- life as we know it can't exist without water, and any future settlers would need a steady supply. A new study, published Wednesday in Nature, suggests that much of what remains might in inaccessible. Some went into space, but even more of it may have sunk into the ground like a sponge, only to become bound up in minerals deep within the planet. "Mars, by virtue of its chemistry, was doomed from the start," study author Jon Wade, of Oxford University, tells Axios.

NASA Uses Its First Recycled SpaceX Rocket For a Re-Supply Mission ( 93

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Post: SpaceX racked up another first on Friday, launching a recycled rocket with a recycled capsule on a grocery run for NASA. The unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off with a just-in-time-for-Christmas delivery for the International Space Station, taking flight again after a six-month turnaround. On board was a Dragon supply ship, also a second-time flier. It was NASA's first use of a reused Falcon rocket and only the second of a previously flown Dragon.

Within 10 minutes of liftoff, the first-stage booster was back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, standing upright on the giant X at SpaceX's landing zone. That's where it landed back in June following its first launch. Double sonic booms thundered across the area. At SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheers erupted outside the company's glassed-in Mission Control, where chief executive Elon Musk joined his employees.

The Dragon reaches the space station Sunday. The capsule last visited the 250-mile-high outpost in 2015. This time, the capsule is hauling nearly 5,000 pounds of goods, including 40 mice for a muscle-wasting study, a first-of-its-kind impact sensor for measuring space debris as minuscule as a grain of sand and barley seeds for a germination experiment by Budweiser, already angling to serve the first beer on Mars.

Also onboard were several hundred Star Wars mission patches created by a partnership between Lucasfilm and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (the non-profit organization managing the ISS National Lab). reports that Elon Musk named the Falcon X after the original Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.

Space Is Not a Void ( 285

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.

Boeing CEO Says Boeing Will Beat SpaceX To Mars ( 128

Boeing's CEO says the megarocket his company is helping to build for NASA will deliver astronauts to the Red Planet before billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. reports: According to Fortune, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was speaking on CNBC today when host Jim Cramer asked whether Boeing or SpaceX would "get a man on Mars first." "Eventually we're going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said, according to Fortune. Boeing is the main contractor for the first stage of NASA's giant Space Launch System , which is designed to launch astronauts on deep-space missions using the space agency's new Orion spacecraft. (United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also SLS contractors.) NASA hopes to build a "Deep Space Gateway" near the moon before using SLS and Orion vehicles to send explorers to Mars. The first test launch is scheduled for 2019. "Do it," Musk tweeted.

The International Space Station is Super Germy ( 88

Thousands of species have colonized the International Space Station -- and only one of them is Homo sapiens. From a report: According to a new study in the journal PeerJ, the interior surfaces of the 17-year-old, 250-mile-high, airtight space station harbor at least 1,000 and perhaps more than 4,000 microbe species (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source ) -- a finding that is actually "reassuring," according to co-author David Coil. "Diversity is generally associated with a healthy ecosystem," said the University of California at Davis microbiologist. A varied population of microscopic inhabitants is probably a signature of a healthy spacecraft, he added. And as humanity considers even longer ventures in space -- such as an 18-month voyage to Mars -- scientists must understand who these microbes are. The samples for Coil's paper were collected in 2014 as part of the citizen science program Project MERCCURI. The initiative, conceived by a group of National Football League and National Basketball Association cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers, involved swabbing down dozens of professional sports stadiums, identifying the microbes in the samples, and sending those species to the ISS to see whether they would thrive. (Bacillus aryabhatti, collected from a practice football field used by the Oakland Raiders, grew fastest.)

SpaceX Plans To Blast a Tesla Roadster Into Orbit Around Mars ( 272

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: Previously, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he intends to launch the "silliest thing we can imagine" on the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy. This is partly because the rocket is experimental -- there is a non-trivial chance the rocket will explode on the launch pad, or shortly after launch. It is also partly because Musk is a master showman who knows how to grab attention. On Friday evening, Musk tweeted what that payload would be -- his "midnight cherry Tesla Roadster."

And the car will be playing Space Oddity, by David Bowie; the song which begins, "Ground Control to Major Tom." Oh, and the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket will send the Tesla into orbit around Mars. "Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn't blow up on ascent," Musk added. Ars was able to confirm Friday night from a company source that this is definitely a legitimate payload. Earlier on Friday, Musk also said the Falcon Heavy launch would come "next month" from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, meaning in January.

"No private company has ever launched a spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit, let alone to another planet," according to the article, adding that SpaceX's new rocket "could play a major role in any plans the agency has to send humans to the Moon." In addition, Musk added on Twitter, "Red car for a red planet."

UPDATE (12/2/17): Saturday Elon Musk told The Verge that he "totally made it up" about sending a Tesla Roadster to Mars. Then in "multiple emails" to Ars Technica --- sent Saturday afternoon -- "Musk confirmed that this plan is, indeed, real."

SpaceX's First Falcon Heavy Launch Will Now Take Place In 2018 ( 131

The launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been delayed to 2018. In an email to Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, "We wanted to fly Heavy this year. We should be able to static fire this year and fly a couple of weeks right after that." Engadget reports: The static fire test will be the first time that all of Heavy's 27 Merlin engines will be fired at once. And if all goes well there, Falcon Heavy should be ready for launch within the first few weeks of 2018. There have been multiple launch delays with Heavy, which Elon Musk has attributed to the development of such a large and powerful rocket being "way, way more difficult" than SpaceX expected. "Falcon Heavy requires the simultaneous ignition of 27 orbit-class engines," Musk said at the ISS R&D conference in July. "There's a lot that can go wrong there." And because of that, Musk has been very clear about where everyone's expectations should be going into Falcon Heavy's first launch. "There's a real good chance that it does not make it to orbit. I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage -- I would consider that a win," he said.

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