Ten years after ‘suicide’ mission, NASA thirsts for lunar water

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A decade after NASA sent a rocket crashing into the moon’s south pole, spewing a plume of debris that revealed vast reserves of ice beneath the barren lunar surface, the space agency is racing to pick up where its little-remembered project left off.

The so-called LCROSS mission was hastily carried out 10 years ago Wednesday in a complex orbital dance of two “suicide” spacecraft and one mapping satellite. It proved a milestone in the discovery of a natural lunar resource that could be key to NASA’s plans for renewed human exploration of the moon and ultimately visits to Mars and beyond.

“The LCROSS mission was a game changer,” NASA’s chief Jim Bridenstine told Reuters, adding that once water had been found the United States “should have immediately as a nation changed our direction to the moon so we could figure out how to use it.”

The agency now has the chance to follow up on the pioneering mission, after Vice President Mike Pence in March ordered NASA to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024, accelerating a goal to colonize the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.

Bridenstine says the moon holds billions of tons of water ice, although the exact amount and whether it’s present in large chunks of ice or combined with the lunar soil remains unknown. To find out before astronauts arrive on the moon, NASA is working with a handful of companies to put rovers on the lunar surface by 2022.

“We need next to get on the surface with a rover to prospect for water, drill into it, and determine how suitable it is for extraction,” said Jack Burns, director of the Network for Exploration and Space Science at the University of Colorado.

Instead of launching expensive fuel loads from Earth, scientists say the lunar water could be extracted and broken down into its two main components, hydrogen and oxygen, potentially turning the moon into a fuel arsenal for missions to deeper parts of the solar system.

OPEN KIMONO

Weeks before the LCROSS impact booster struck the moon’s south pole, the mission’s development timeline “was a bad rush to the finish line,” Tony Colaprete, principal investigator for LCROSS, told Reuters.

“We wanted to make as large of a hole as possible to get as much materials out of the shadows and into the sunlight,” Colaprete said, describing an unusually fast-paced program using technology that had never been used in space before.

Engineers and mission leaders used the business phrase “open kimono” about disclosing company information to characterize the program’s breakneck development speed and the need for clear and open lines of communication between contractors and NASA.

“That almost became a mantra for the project,” Colaprete said.

The current lunar program is also “forcing some cultural changes” at NASA, he added, which has undergone a series of high-level management changes and delays with the agency’s commercial crew program, a public-private effort to resume U.S. human spaceflight for the first time since 2011.

“People are coming together in a way like they did on LCROSS.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Richard Pullin)

Explainer: NASA aims to build on moon as a way station for Mars

FILE PHOTO: Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Unlike the Apollo program that put astronauts on the moon 50 years ago, NASA is gearing up for a long term presence on Earth’s satellite that the agency says will eventually enable humans to reach Mars.

“Now, NASA is working to build a sustainable, open architecture that returns humanity to our nearest neighbor,” Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of the U.S. space agency, said in a statement to a Senate committee on Wednesday.

“We are building for the long term, going to the Moon to stay, and moving beyond to Mars.”

The next manned mission to the moon will require leaps in robotic technologies and a plan for NASA to work with private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to help cut the cost of space travel.

Using NASA’s Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket being built for a debut flight in late 2020, the agency is aiming to return humans to the moon by 2024 in an accelerated timeline set in March by the Trump administration.

No humans have launched from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

NASA officials say exploration of the moon and Mars are intertwined, with the moon becoming a testbed for Mars and providing an opportunity to demonstrate new technologies that could help build self-sustaining extraterrestrial outposts.

We are working right now, in fact, to put together a comprehensive plan on how we would conduct a Mars mission using the technologies that we will be proving at the moon,” Bridenstine told reporters on Monday, adding that a mission to the Red Planet could come as soon as 2033.

Technologies that can mine the moon’s subsurface water ice to sustain astronaut crews, but also to be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for use as a rocket propellant, could be crucial for missions to Mars. The planet is reachable in months-long missions when at its closest orbital approach of 35.8 million miles from Earth’s utilization versus curiosity,” said roboticist and research professor at Carnegie Mellon University William Whittaker, comparing the Artemis program, as the new lunar mission has been dubbed, with Apollo. Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.

POLITICAL PRIORITIES

The last manned mission to the moon was almost a half-century ago in 1972, when Cold War-era tensions underscored President John F. Kennedy’s push to prove technologies that landed the first humans on the lunar surface.

“That’s 50 years of non-progress; I think we all ought to be a little ashamed that we can’t do better than that,” said Buzz Aldrin, who joined Neil Armstrong in walking on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Bridenstine said shifting political priorities were the key reason NASA had not returned to the surface of Earth’s natural satellite since then. “If it wasn’t for the political risk, we would be on the moon right now,” said the NASA chief, who is working to woo Republican and Democratic lawmakers to approve additional taxpayer funds for the program.

Development of NASA’s flagship rocket, Space Launch System, whose main contractor is Boeing Co, is taking years longer than expected with cost overruns of nearly $2 billion, a federal audit released in June found. Those delays could push the rocket’s first launch to June 2021, potentially endangering NASA’s plan to reach the moon by 2024.

“Cost and schedule matter,” Bridenstine said. “So we are working rapidly to put together a team that can assess the cost and schedule of these programs and create a realistic baseline that we can work toward.”

Bridenstine, under mounting pressure to meet the White House’s 2024 deadline, demoted two longtime heads of NASA’s human exploration division last week in a slew of administrative shakeups amid dwindling congressional support for the lunar initiative.

Charlie Duke, who piloted the lunar-landing module during the last lunar mission, Apollo 16, said leadership in the Apollo missions was “bold without being careless.”

“Don’t be so risk-averse that you don’t fly,” he said.

He added that the decision to put astronauts on top of a massive Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle used by NASA for the Apollo program, “was a very gutsy call. They went through it carefully and they determined it was OK.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)

Solar eclipse plunges Chile into darkness

A person observes a solar eclipse at Coquimbo, Chile, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of tourists scattered across the north Chilean desert on Tuesday to experience a rare, and irresistible combination for astronomy buffs: a total eclipse of the sun viewed from beneath the world’s clearest skies.

A solar eclipse is observed at Coquimbo, Chile, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

A solar eclipse is observed at Coquimbo, Chile, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, plunging the planet into darkness. It happens only rarely in any given spot across the globe.

The best views this time were from Chile’s sprawling Atacama desert north of the coastal city of La Serena, where a lack of humidity and city lights combine to create the world’s clearest skies.

The region had not seen an eclipse since 1592, according to the Chilean Astronomy Society. The next one is expected in 2165.

Eclipse-watchers in Chile were not disappointed on Tuesday. The 95-mile (150-kilometer) band of total darkness moved eastward across the open Pacific Ocean late in the afternoon, making landfall in Chile at 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT).

Clear skies dominated from the South American country’s northern border with Peru south to the capital of Santiago, where office workers poured from buildings to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

Earlier in the day, a run on special “eclipse-viewing” glasses downtown had led to a shortage in many stores, with street vendors charging as much as $10 for a pair of the disposable, cardboard-framed lenses.

“This is something rare that we may never see again,” said Marcos Sanchez, a 53-year-old pensioner from Santiago who had purchased 16 of the lenses from an informal vendor downtown for himself and his family.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Sandra Maler)

U.S., North Korea in behind-the-scenes talks over third summit, Moon says

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed working-level negotiations that have been stalled since the second such meeting in February, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in attends a press meeting at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden June 14, 2019. Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in attends a press meeting at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden June 14, 2019. Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

Moon, in written answers to questions posed by visiting foreign journalists, said there was no reason to talk of a “stalemate” just because there had been no official dialogue, aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their second meeting in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in February but failed to reach a deal due to differences between U.S. calls for denuclearization and North Korean demands for relief from sanctions.

“Both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit,” Moon said.

“It’s noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other’s position gained through the Hanoi summit.”

The United States had made a proposal for working-level talks, Moon said, urging North Korea to return to the negotiating table “at the earliest date possible”.

North Korea pursued nuclear and missile program for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

Moon has been an ardent champion of efforts to end the confrontation, vowing to play a mediator role in nudging North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for an end to sanctions and security guarantees.

The Hanoi breakdown was a blow for Moon, who days before the summit offered to “ease the burden” of the United States by providing concessions to the North through inter-Korean economic initiatives which he seeks to revive.

Moon did not specify when and how the U.S. proposal was made. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that a recent exchange of letters between Trump and Kim boosted hopes for a restart of talks, calling it a “very real possibility.”

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said on Sunday that Trump’s letter had “excellent content” and Kim would “seriously contemplate” it, without elaborating.

‘NEXT LEVEL’

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea who led working-level talks ahead of the Hanoi summit, is visiting Seoul from Thursday for meetings with South Korean officials before joining Trump, who is due in South Korea this weekend.

Trump is considering visiting the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, where Kim and Moon had their historic first summit last year, a South Korean official said. The two Koreas are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

But a U.S. official said on Tuesday that Trump had no plans to meet Kim during his trip and declined to comment on whether Trump would go to the DMZ.

Trump wanted to travel to the DMZ on a 2017 visit to South Korea but heavy fog prevented it.

“The resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the United States will take it to the next level. I believe everything has now fallen into place for that to happen,” Moon said.

The Hanoi summit cast doubt on Kim’s commitment to denuclearize. There has been little progress since then, with Pyongyang resuming some limited testing of weapons and being aloof toward dialogue offers both from Washington and Seoul.

There is also a gray area over talk about the denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula”, which, by North Korea’s reckoning, includes the regional U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea. The United States only wants North Korea to denuclearize.

Moon said Kim had told him he wanted to “finalize a denuclearization process as soon as possible and to concentrate on economic development”.

Moon called for the North to scrap the “passive stance” it has presented since the Hanoi summit and take action on its past promises.

“By responding to the U.S. proposal for working-level negotiations, it can also show its determination to denuclearize,” he said.

The questions for the written interview were provided by Reuters, AP, AFP, Yonhap, Kyodo, Xinhua and Tass ahead of a symposium on the Korea peace process hosted by Yonhap in Seoul on Thursday.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Quakes show that moon, gradually shrinking, is tectonically active

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The moon may be dynamic and tectonically active like Earth – not the inert world some scientists had believed it to be – based on a new analysis disclosed on Monday of quakes measured by seismometers in operation on the moon from 1969 and 1977.

Researchers examining the seismic data gathered during NASA’s Apollo missions traced the location of some of the quakes to step-shaped cliffs called scarps on the lunar surface that formed relatively recently, in geological terms, due to the ongoing subtle shrinking of the moon as its hot interior cools.

“It means that the moon has somehow managed to remain tectonically active after 4.51 billion years,” said Smithsonian Institution planetary scientist Thomas Watters, who led the research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Earth’s tectonic activity is driven by its hot interior. The moon, which orbits our planet at a distance of about 239,000 miles (385,000 km), has a diameter of about 2,160 miles (3,475 km), a bit more than a quarter of Earth’s diameter.

Images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showed that the moon has delicately shriveled as its interior has cooled over the eons, akin to a plump grape transforming into a smaller raisin. As a result, it has acquired thousands of small surface wrinkles in the form of surface features called thrust fault scarps.

These faults push one part of the lunar crust up and over the adjoining part, said University of Maryland geologist and study co-author Nicholas Schmerr. They can reach up to about 330 feet (100 meters) tall and extend for many miles.

“This is exciting as it wasn’t clear if the moon had already gone through this period billions of years ago and was tectonically dead, or if it was still active in the present,” Schmerr said.

U.S. astronauts placed seismometers on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 missions, recording 28 shallow quakes up to almost 5 magnitude, which is moderate strength. Eight quakes occurred close to faults. Other events such as meteorite impacts can produce quakes, but those would produce different seismic signatures.

Boulder movements and disturbed soil near the scarps also indicated tectonic activity.

Watters said experts must be mindful that quakes may strike near these scarps when planning sites for future lunar exploration and a long-term human presence on the moon.

The moon is not the solar system’s only object shrinking with age. The innermost planet Mercury boasts numerous thrust faults.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Israeli spacecraft nears moon landing and place in elite lunar club

FILE PHOTO: An unmanned spacecraft is seen during a presentation to the media by members of Israeli non-profit group SpaceIL and representatives from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), at the clean room of IAI's space division in Yehud, Israel December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli spacecraft Beresheet made its final maneuver ahead of a planned descent to the moon on Thursday, which, if successful, will propel Israel into an elite group of countries that have mastered the lunar landing.

The unmanned robotic lander dubbed Beresheet – Hebrew for the biblical phrase “in the beginning” – has traveled through space for seven weeks in a series of expanding orbits around Earth before crossing into the moon’s gravity last week.

The final maneuver brought the spacecraft into a tight elliptical orbit around the moon, just 15-17 kilometers (9-10.5 miles) from the surface at its closest. The landing is set to begin late on Thursday, with touchdown expected around 10:25 p.m. in Israel (1925 GMT), the Israeli space team said.

So far, only three other nations have carried out controlled “soft” landings of spacecraft on the lunar surface – the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.

The U.S. Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon – the only ones yet achieved – between 1969 and 1972, and the United States and Soviets conducted a total of about a dozen more robotic landings between them. China made history in January with its Chang’e 4, the first craft to touch down on the dark side of the moon.

If successful, Beresheet would also make the first lunar landing by a craft, not from a government program. It was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries with $100 million furnished almost entirely by private donors.

Shaped like a round table with four carbon-fiber legs, Beresheet stands about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall. It blasted off from Cape Canaveral in the United States on Feb. 21 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and entered Earth’s orbit about 34 minutes after launch.

At launch it weighed 585 kg (1,290 pounds), most of which was fuel burned during its circuitous flight path of around 4 million miles (6.5 million km). A direct route from the Earth to the moon covers roughly 240,000 miles (386,000 km).

Excitement was high over the lunar mission in Israel, where it has been discussed in schools and promoted on television.

(Editing by Frances Kerry)

North Korea quits liaison office in setback for South after new U.S. sanctions

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wave during a car parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin and David Brunnstrom

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea on Friday pulled out of a liaison office with the South, in a major setback for Seoul, just hours after the United States imposed the first new sanctions on the North since the second U.S.-North Korea summit broke down last month.

North Korea said it was quitting the joint liaison office set up in September in the border city of Kaesong after a historic summit between leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in early last year.

“The North’s side pulled out after conveying to us that they are doing so on the instructions from a higher level, during a liaison officials’ contact this morning,” South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told a briefing.

South Korea regrets the decision and urged a swift normalisation of the arrangement, Chun said, adding the South would continue to staff the office, set up as a regular channel of communication to ease hostility between the rivals, which technically remain at war.

The move came after the United States on Thursday blacklisted two Chinese shipping companies it says helped North Korea evade sanctions over its nuclear program and cited 67 vessels it said engaged in illicit trade helping the North.

It was the first such step since a second meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi broke down over conflicting demands by the North for relief from sanctions and from the United States for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

The North’s withdrawal from the office was another blow to Moon, who has seen his standing as a mediator between Pyongyang and Washington deteriorate and divisions grow within his government over how to break the impasse.

Moon’s administration had touted the office as a major feat resulting from his own summit with Kim last year despite U.S. concerns about possible loosening of sanctions.

The South’s Chun said he would not directly link the North’s move to the failed Hanoi summit. But experts saw a pattern in the North lashing out against the South when its crucial strategic position with Washington is in jeopardy.

“The North sees its nuclear issue and ties with the United States as a matter of greater strategic importance, so when they try to assert its position, they sacrifice the ties with the South, which is considered inferior,” said Shin Beom-chul of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

Moon’s office reacted by holding an urgent meeting, headed by his national security adviser, to discuss the withdrawal.

The won weakened about 0.4 percent against the dollar in non-deliverable forward (NDF) trade after the news.

NEW SANCTIONS

The U.S. Treasury Department identified two Chinese firms for new sanctions – Dalian Haibo International Freight Co Ltd and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co Ltd – which had helped the North evade U.S. and international sanctions, it said.

It also cited 67 vessels for engaging in illicit transfers of refined petroleum with North Korean tankers or facilitating the export of the North’s coal.

Reuters was unable to locate contact details for either of the Chinese companies to seek comment.

The U.S. sanctions prohibit U.S. dealings with the designated companies and freezes any assets they have in the United States.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related U.N. Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The latest sanctions showed there was some “leakage” in North Korea sanctions enforcement by China, but it was mostly abiding by U.N. resolutions, a senior U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

While declining to say whether Washington was trying to send a post-summit message to Pyongyang, the official said Trump “has made clear that the door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea.”

LIMBO

U.S.-North Korean engagement has appeared to be in limbo since the Feb. 27-28 summit, despite U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on March 4 he was hopeful he could send a team to North Korea “in the next couple of weeks.”

North Korea has warned it is considering suspending talks and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests, in place since 2017, unless Washington makes concessions.

Activity was detected at the North’s main rocket test facility around the time of the failed summit, fueling concern that Pyongyang may be about to resume weapons development to ratchet up pressure on Washington.

On Monday, two senior U.S. senators called for the Trump administration to correct a slowing pace of American sanctions designations on North Korea, saying such actions had seen a marked decline in the past year of U.S. diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.

They pointed to a recent U.N. report that North Korea continued to defy U.N. sanctions with an increase in smuggling of petroleum products and coal and violation of bans on arms sales.

A U.N. sanctions panel said in the report Liaoning Danxing was suspected of illicitly shipping Mercedes-Benz limousines to North Korea. Last July, the Netherlands seized a cargo of Belarusian vodka, also banned as luxury goods, en route to North Korea via the company, it said.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Additional reporting by Choonsik Yoo in Seoul and Gao Liangping and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Jack Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. eclipse watchers howl at Blood Wolf Moon but bitter cold cancels other festivities

The Moon is seen during a lunar eclipse in Helsinki, Finland January 21, 2019. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari/via REUTERS

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) – Skywatchers howled at the moon at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles when the full lunar eclipse appeared shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday and our celestial neighbor was bathed reddish-orange during a Super Blood Wolf Moon.

People monitor the moon during a total lunar eclipse in Vienna, Austria, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

People monitor the moon during a total lunar eclipse in Vienna, Austria, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

“Amazing. As you can see, it’s a party atmosphere and everyone is just enjoying the spectacle,” said Rosalind Von Wendt from Los Angeles.

More than 1,500 people gathered at the observatory near the city’s famous Hollywood sign to watch the eclipse.

However, not everyone got to watch the cosmic show, with lunar eclipse parties canceled elsewhere due to a flash freeze across the central and northeastern United States. Icy roadways rather than cloudy skies were blamed by astronomers for spoiling the festivities.

In Los Angeles, where the weather was markedly warmer and skies cleared just in time, skywatchers were treated to a full spectacle of the Earth casting its shadow over the moon’s face.

The moon is seen over "Victoria Alada" statue on the top of Metropoli building during a total lunar eclipse, known as the "Super Blood Wolf Moon" in Madrid, Spain, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The moon is seen over “Victoria Alada” statue on the top of Metropoli building during a total lunar eclipse, known as the “Super Blood Wolf Moon” in Madrid, Spain, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

“Oh it was fantastic, it was great,” said Brad Mortensen, from Philadelphia, Pa. “This was a great location. The observatory is always fun to visit so tonight when we heard about this we decided to come up.”

The moon did not vanish entirely during the total eclipse but, at its height, the entire lunar surface was bathed in a reddish-orange glow that gives rise to the “blood moon” description.

The reddish color is due to rays of sunlight passing through Earth’s dusty, polluted atmosphere as the moon falls into our planet’s shadow. The shorter, more pliable blue wavelengths of light are scattered outside the Earth’s shadow and the longer, less bendable red wavelengths are refracted toward the moon.

Adding to the visual effect is the fact that the eclipse occurred at a time when the moon reached a point in its orbit putting it close to Earth, an alignment called a supermoon.

It has also earned the name “wolf moon” because it appears in January when wolves would howl in hunger outside villages early in U.S. history, according to The Farmers Almanac.

The first full moon of 2019 rises off the shore of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Britain January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

The first full moon of 2019 rises off the shore of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Britain January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

DEEP FREEZE SPOILS PARTY

Sunday’s eclipse reached its maximum effect over Los Angeles shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific time (0500 GMT Monday), but not everyone on the West Coast had a clear view. It rained in San Francisco and San Diego had cloudy skies.

Astronomy buffs were urged to watch the eclipse live-streamed online at sites such as AstronomersWithoutBorders.org.

It seemed days earlier that cloudy skies would be the biggest threat to the cosmic fun, but it turned out a wet, wide-ranging snowstorm followed by a deep freeze on Sunday made driving and outdoor activities too hazardous.

Eclipse parties were canceled from Indiana’s Lemon Lake County Park to New Jersey’s Rowan University.

“It’s not the snow or cloudy skies but, rather, the extreme cold and what we fear may be hazardous travel conditions,” said Pennsylvania’s Carbon County Environmental Center, which scrapped its party in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, 54 miles (86 km) northwest of Allentown.

The eclipse was otherwise visible to the naked eye by anyone in the United States where skies were clear. That included Atlanta, Ga., where only the determined went outside in freezing temperatures to watch.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires eye protection to enjoy the view safely, no extra measures need to be taken for hazard-free lunar eclipse watching.

The next chance for Americans to see a total lunar eclipse is 2022.

The best viewing of the one-hour total eclipse was from North and South America, with as many as 2.8 billion people able to see it from the Western Hemisphere, Europe, West Africa and northernmost Russia.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Steve Gorman, Rich McKay and Rollo Ross; Editing by Leslie Adler, Susan Thomas and Paul Tait)

Israeli spacecraft gets final element before 2019 moon launch

By Ari Rabinovitch

YEHUD, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli engineers on Monday added the final element to a spacecraft destined for the moon – a digital time capsule – and said they aimed to land the craft early next year, somewhere between the landing sites of Apollo 15 and 17.

It will be the first mission of its kind since 2013 and, if it is successful, Israel will be the fourth country to carry out a controlled “soft” landing of an unmanned vessel on the moon.

Since 1966, the United States and the former Soviet Union have put around a dozen of them on the moon and China last did so in 2013.

“The spacecraft is completely built, tested … and will be ready to ship to Cape Canaveral in a few weeks,” said Ido Anteby, CEO of the SpaceIL non-profit that has led the project.

Israel has launched satellites before, but this is the first longer-range Israeli spacecraft of its kind.

The craft, called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis, is shaped like a roundtable with four carbon-fiber legs, stands about 1.5 meters tall and weighs 585 kg (1,290 lb) – with fuel accounting for two-thirds of that weight.

It will blast off from Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the next few months after an initial December date was pushed back.

The time capsule is a single, space-resilient disc, roughly the size of a CD, holding digital files of children’s drawings, photographs and information on Israeli culture and the history of humanity.

“The capsule will remain on the moon and stay in the environment of the moon and maybe in a couple tens of years someone will send a spacecraft to bring it back,” Anteby said.

Beresheet is also carrying a device to measure the moon’s magnetic fields.

SpaceIL is backed mainly by private donors, including U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and billionaire Morris Kahn who co-founded Amdocs, one of Israel’s biggest high-tech companies.

SpaceIL was founded in 2011 by a group of engineers with a budget of about $95 million. State-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries has collaborated in the project.

At 60,000 km (37,000 miles) above Earth, the spacecraft will split off from the Falcon launch vehicle. It will at first orbit Earth in expanding ellipses and, about two months later, cross into the moon’s orbit. It will then slow and carry out a soft landing which should cause no damage to the craft.

“Our landing site is located somewhere between the landing sites of Apollo 15 and Apollo 17,” Anteby said. “It’s a flat area. But still, it has small craters and a lot of boulders.”

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Andrew Roche)

‘Space kingdom’ seeks citizens for life beyond Earth very soon

People attend the inauguration ceremony of Asgardia's first Head of Nation in Vienna, Austria June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

VIENNA (Reuters) – Feel like the world is going to the dogs? Want to get away from it all? Here’s a solution: become a citizen of the nation of Asgardia and hope it makes good on its promise to colonize the moon.

Asgardia was founded just 20 months ago, and it already has about 200,000 citizens, a constitution and an elected parliament. It has a leader, Igor Ashurbeyli, who was inaugurated on Monday.

It also has grandiose ambitions. It wants to build up a population of 150 million within 10 years. It plans to set up “space arks” with artificial gravity in outer space where humans could live permanently.

“This day will certainly be recorded in the annals of the greatest events in the history of humankind,” Ashurbeyli said in his inaugural speech to an audience of several hundred in the Hofburg, Vienna’s former imperial palace.

“We have thus established all branches of government. I can therefore declare with confidence that Asgardia – the first space nation of the united humankind – has been born,” said Ashurbeyli, a Russian engineer, computer scientist and businessman.

Asgardia – named after Asgard, a world in the sky in Norse mythology – says its citizens now live in more than 200 countries, outnumbering the United Nations’ 193 member states. Becoming a citizen online is free.

It wants to attract the 2 percent of the world’s population that is “most creative”. Asked how that was working out so far, Ashurbeyli said, “Citizenship selection will continue. It might even involve IQ tests.”

Ashurbeyli said he intends to have satellites providing Internet access around the globe in five to seven years, space arks operating in 10 to 15 years, and finally to establish a permanent settlement on the moon within 25 years.

Asgardians now pay an annual membership fee of 100 euros. It plans to collect taxes on businesses and private income, which it says will be kept very low.

“For this early phase of Asgardian nationhood … I am primarily responsible for its financing, along with a number of other donors who are citizens of Asgardia,” he said.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy and Boris Kavic, editing by Larry King)