Alan Stern

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A NASA illustration depicts the New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits one billion miles beyond Pluto

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not. Overnight tonight, on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, an American spacecraft called New Horizons will fly by and explore the most distant place ever visited: a small world called Ultima Thule.

Twenty-five hundred men and women across the United States worked to design and build New Horizons, its rocket and its nuclear power supply, and to launch it into space and to fly it across the solar system. In 2015, New Horizons became the first spacecraft to explore Pluto. Now on Ultima’s doorstep, it is a mind-boggling four billion miles from Earth.…  Seguir leyendo »

A cancer is overtaking our space agency: the routine acquiescence to immense cost increases in projects. Unmistakable new indications of this illness surfaced last month with NASA’s decision to spend at least $100 million more on its poorly-managed, now-over-$2 billion Mars Science Laboratory. This decision to go forward with the project, a robotic rover, was made even though it has tripled in cost since its inception, it is behind schedule, there is no firm estimate of the final cost, and NASA hasn’t disclosed the collateral damage inflicted on other programs and activities that depend on NASA’s limited science budget.

The decision to pour more money into the Mars Science Laboratory, which is scheduled for launching next year, may have been like many I witnessed as NASA’s associate administrator for science.…  Seguir leyendo »