The project is not scheduled to be complete until the 2020s, although prospective astronauts are already preparing for the low gravity mission by training underwater – the most similar circumstances scientists can simulate on earth. They have also finished a replica of the Orion spacecraft, which will transport astronauts to the asteroid.
“We’re working on the techniques and tools we might use someday to explore a small asteroid that was captured from an orbit around the sun and brought back by a robotic spacecraft to orbit around the moon,” Stan Love, one of the astronauts training in the 40-foot deep pool, said in a NASA statement.
“When it’s there, we can send people there to take samples and take a look at it up close. That’s our main task; we’re looking at tools we’d use for that, how we’d take those samples.”
Scientists hope that if they are able to extract samples from an asteroid it will be made up of layers, which could then provide some insight into the current state of the solar system, possibly even information about how it was formed.
One current problem is the tools: reliable Earth tools like a hammer and nails are not adequate in space because of the problems created by an astronaut swinging a heavy weight in front of his thin glass face shield. Another issue is that the necessary spacesuit has yet to be developed. Walking on the moon and climbing on an asteroid are two very different actions, making it necessary for a spacesuit to be durable and dynamic.
“We need some significant modifications to make it easy to translate,” astronaut Steve Bowen said of the spacesuit, as quoted by NASA. “I can’t stretch my arms out quite as far as in the [space station suit]. The work envelop is very small. So as we get through, we look at these tasks. These tasks are outstanding to help us develop what needs to be modified in the suit, as well.”
The quiet announcement comes two years after a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs made waves by telling the public that they hope to develop robotic spacecraft capable of extracting valuable minerals from asteroids. With financial backing from Google bosses Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, as well as British billionaire Richard Branson, the so-called Planetary Resources group was touted as “the future of entrepreneurial space.”
Now, the group has dialed back some of the rhetoric and admitted its new goal is to find water on or near asteroids and process it into fuel that could be used to preserve aging commercial satellites, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“I still consider that mining,” Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson told the newspaper. “We’re going to take the resources of space and turn them into a usable material.”
Both initiatives could use some help when it comes to identifying exactly which asteroids could work. Last year, NASA asked for the public’s help in scoping out some of the 99 percent of asteroids measuring 30 to 40 meters in size – which would be large enough to devastate a city – that have yet to be found.
The initiative was inspired by the 18-meter asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February and will almost certainly assist the plan to land on an asteroid in outer space, according to NASA chief engineer Brian Muirhead.
“What we need to do is increase the frequency of identification of asteroids such that we can also track them and characterize them,” Muirhead told National Geographic. “That will give us a choice [to see] which [asteroid] we want to grab hold of and bring back to the earth-moon system.”
An episode of PBS Frontline focuses on the 2004 decision by New York Times editor Bill Keller to kill a story on the NSA in the run-up to that year’s presidential election. The two-part program is called 'United States of Secrets,' and reveals “the dramatic inside story of the U.S. government’s massive and controversial secret surveillance program—and the lengths they went to trying to keep it hidden from the public.”
The report looks back at what the NSA called 'The Program' - the NSA’s decision to spy on Americans’ electronic interactions by spying on telephones, internet communications, metadata from emails, and almost all forms of electronic communications - all without warrants. Scandal broke out when the secretive agency’s spying techniques were revealed to the world - but not by Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013. The NSA first landed in hot water nearly eight years before the government whistleblower began leaking documents.
On Dec 16, 2005, New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau broke the news to the world of President George W. Bush’s 2002 presidential order authorizing the NSA’s use of The Program. Their source was Department of Justice attorney Thomas Tamm, who questioned its legality from the start, PRI reported in an episode of 'The World.' But Bill Keller, the New York Times editor working with Risen and Lichtblau, decided to run the story past top White House officials to get the government’s side of the issue.
According to Frontline’s Michael Kirk, the government used three arguments to convince the Times not to run the story, including: “It is completely legal; it is a vulnerable secret that, if you reveal it, hundreds of thousands of Americans may die in the next attack; and it is working,” Kirk told The World. So the paper delayed the story from when Tamm first talked to the Times reporters in the summer of 2004 until after the presidential election - 18 months after first contact.
Just half a month after the first of Risen’s NSA stories hit the pages of the Times, reports began to surface of the delay in publication. “The administration first learned that The New York Times had obtained information about the secret eavesdropping program more than a year ago and expressed concern to editors that its disclosure could jeopardize terrorism investigations," one of its own articles stated on December 31, 2005. “The newspaper withheld the article at the time, and the government did not open a leak investigation at that time, presumably because such an inquiry might itself disclose the program.”
But readers cried foul. In an April 2006 website feature, Eric Sullivan asked Keller, “I’d like to know why you sat on the N.S.A. story. You probably changed the course of an election and likely history to come.”
Keller responded, “Whether publishing earlier would have influenced the 2004 election is, I think, hard to say. Judging from the public reaction to the N.S.A. eavesdropping reflected in various polls, one could ask whether earlier disclosure might have helped President Bush more than hurt.”
The World notes that we are still dealing with the impacts of the initial Times report. “We’re continuing to debate the merits of domestic spying. Kirk says the government has yet to prove any of the three arguments it gave to Keller,” producer Bradley Campbell wrote. “And he says it causes some to question the program’s validity. But the spying program continues.”
And while the PBS program focuses on criticism that the New York Times delayed exposing the NSA’s secretive spy program, the Times itself is focusing on a letter written by two Democratic senators criticizing the Obama administration for not being forthright about statements the Justice Department made to the Supreme Court regarding the agency’s warrantless surveillance.
Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., accusing the executive branch of contributing to a “culture of misinformation” about the program, the Times reports. The letter was in response to a December 2013 letter from the Justice Department defending its conduct in the federal court case Clapper v. Amnesty International, in which Amnesty International and a slew of co-plaintiffs contested a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, that lets the NSA silently monitor emails and phone calls as long as the target of the surveillance is a non-citizen located abroad.
In the case, which the highest court in the land dismissed in 2013, Solicitor General Verrilli presented a defense of the amendments on behalf of US President Barack Obama, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not prove their communications had been intercepted. Udall and Wyden have been battling the Justice Department in a series of letters dating back to 2012 to reveal more information on the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans under FISA.
“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Wired’s Danger Room at the time. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”
Tuesday’s letter was a continuation of the theme. In their letter, they argued that the Justice Department misled the Supreme Court in Clapper v. Amnesty International by telling the court that Americans’ international messages must be to or from a target to be collected without a warrant. In December, the Justice Department had argued that its activity of scanning Americans’ international emails and saving any that merely discussed targets (as opposed to being to or from a target) was classified, which meant it was appropriate not to disclose that activity to the High Court.
“What these letters highlight is the extent to which the government was able to take advantage of the fact that the Supreme Court, as much as the American public, was operating in the dark about the scope of the statute and the way the government was using it,” Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said to the Times.
The fire, located southwest of Rancho Bernardo, was sparked around 11:00 a.m. local time, according to NBC 7 news.
As of 4 p.m., the fire had burned 800 acres and caused thousands of families to leave or prepare their homes for later evacuation orders, though no homes have been burned yet, according to reports.
San Diego public safety officials said about 5,000 homes were evacuated at the height of the emergency.
#BernardoFire 5200 homes in the county and 300 in the City of San Diego. No structures lost.
— SDFD (@SDFD) May 14, 2014
County officials say there is about five percent containment of the blaze thus far, the Los Angeles Times reported.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted that he was "closely monitoring the fire situation from the city's Emergency Operations Center.”
Read more of this story at Slashdot.