R.I.P. Bill Anders: Apollo 8 pilot USAF MGen (ret.) William Anders, who took the iconic photograph “Earthrise,” was killed in an airplane crash last week. The cause of the crash is under investigation. For NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’s remarks, see here; for more about the crash, see here; for more about the Apollo 8 mission and crew, see here.

Policy Food for Thought: The scientifically-important “pristine” surface environment of the Moon and Mars can easily be contaminated badly by human activity, even presence. The trapped water at the lunar south pole took billions of years to accumulate; is it OK to use it for a quick visit that has short-term political more than scientific importance, and then it’s lost and gone forever? Such planetary protection issues have caused some scientists to “call for strengthening existing planetary protection policies beyond the space surrounding Earth to include requirements for preserving the Lunar and Martian environments. In addition to biological contamination, they argue that guidelines should be expanded to address more than orbital debris, crowding, and security issues. They also recommend adding compliance incentives to all existing and improved sustainability policies.” Find out more here and here, and for a similar idea …

Planetary Protection Matters! Some of you may remember The Andromeda Strain and the efforts NASA exerted to make sure the Apollo astronauts didn’t bring a pathogen back from the Moon (shades of War of the Worlds!). Planetary Protection is a big deal at NASA, both protecting Earth from Space germs but also protecting the contamination of other places by Earth pollution. Dylan Taylor published an interesting article on the topic in The Space Review recently; you can see it at: https://www.thespacereview.com/article/4798/1! However, …

NASA Supports Commercial Space Activities: NASA has to juggle its concern over Planetary Protection with its obligations under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (that created NASA) called for the new agency to disseminate its technology for public benefit. The entire purpose of NASA’s Technology Transfer office, a standing feature in Air and Space this Week, is to support commercial activities, including those based in Space, some of which require a human presence. To see how NASA is involved, see their webpages starting with: https://www.nasa.gov/humans-in-space/commercial-space.

The Moon and Amaey Shah: I’ve been in the public engagement/education business, in one form or another, for most of my adult life. My work continues in retirement as a member of the JPL Solar System Ambassador volunteer program; Air and Space this Week is part of that effort. Public E/E is quite rewarding, but it is at times frustrating since you seldom ever find out if you made an impact on a young person’s mind.

A story came out recently about the citizen science contribution made by a young boy who was grievously ill. It was a tough situation, but still heartwarming. I won’t telegraph anything more of it and urge you to read it for yourself, here: https://science.nasa.gov/get-involved/citizen-science/the-moon-and-amaey-shah.

Personally, I am heartened to see the citizen science program that helped Amaey. It was developed by a very good friend of mine from my time at NASA, Brian Day, at NASA Ames Research Center. He has served as the Education/Public Outreach lead for at least one of NASA’s missions (LADEE) and he is now the science lead on NASA’s Solar System Treks Project, a set of open-science portals that make it easier to analyze the surfaces of the moons and planets in our Solar System. The SSTP has a citizen science component, called MoonDiff (https://trek.nasa.gov/moondiff), where YOU can search for changes in the Moon’s surface, such as an impact event.

[Brian Day has curly hair and I used to tease him about me confusing him with Brian May, the lead guitarist from Queen who just happens to hold a Ph.D. in astronomy. Little did I know that my successor at NASA would actually be able to help get Brian May to be part of the New Horizons outreach team; he was at APL for the Pluto fly-by celebration. Way to go, LC!]

Amaey’s story is an important example of how Space-related outreach can benefit all of us, and the results are there for all of us to see in real-time.

As only YOU can!

[Sometimes, very rarely, you don’t need to use MoonDiff to see where a recent impact occurred; you might see it in real-time as Daichi Fujii at the Hiratsuka City Museum in Japan did; see here: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/space-rock-slammed-into-moon-the-explosion-was-seen-from-japan/vi-BB1npotF?ocid=msedgntp&pc=HCTS&cvid=6b36d3231f8a4c0686ec7f29bddc17ed&ei=39!]

For Those of You in the Colorado Springs Area: The Space Foundation Discovery Center on Garden of the Gods Avenue has been undergoing a significant expansion and updating, and has reopened as of June 1. Find out more about it at: https://discoverspace.org and more about the Space Foundation at: https://www.spacefoundation.org.

Yerkes Observatory Renovation Update: NASA’s “Great Observatories” are the four satellites NASA launched some 20 or so years ago to study astronomical objects at visible wavelengths and at wavelengths that cannot penetrate Earth’s atmosphere. They are the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Compton and Spitzer are gone, Hubble is suffering gyro problems, and Chandra’s funding future is uncertain.

The “Great Observatories” were described the March 23 and 30, 2020 installments of Air and Space this Week, combining the two into a single Item in the Archive: Past Items page of the A+StW website, here: https://www.airandspacethisweek.com/assets/pdfs/20200323 Great Observatories.pdf.

I also included the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin as the fifth Great Observatory for a variety of reasons. I went to high school not far from Yerkes and had the pleasure of visiting it, it has the largest refracting telescope ever used, the architecture of its buildings is both beautiful and unique, and it’s a favorite of Dave DeVorkin, my friend and colleague from NASM. Alas, it had fallen on hard financial times at the time of the A+StW piece, and its future was somewhat uncertain. I included a 2020 update in the Item, with a hopeful note on Yerkes’ future – it had been acquired by the Yerkes Future Foundation and the Chicago Sun-Times had run a story about the YFF’s plans.

I can now happily report that the Observatory is undergoing renovation, and that the Grainger Company is doing the work. Grainger has posted a corporate feel-good piece about this project, one I’m glad to spotlight since a friend brought it to my attention (THANKS, PC!). Now I’m bringing it to yours; see: https://www.grainger.com/know-how/inspiration/kh-video-yerkes-observatory?gucid=N:N:AP:Paid:OB:CSM-2925:HAHJXF:20511006:APZ_1&gucid=N:N:AP:Paid:OB:CSM-2925:HAHJXF:20511006:APZ_1&dicbo=v4-Vh8xhsp-1080379056! Don’t miss the pictures and YouTube video imbedded within!

Jim Green is At It Again! Mars Sample Return: My über-boss during my stint at NASA a decade ago was Jim Green. A fine leader, scientist, and gentleman, revered by all who know him. He retired as Chief Scientist at NASA a while back, but still is coming up with interesting ideas.

You may recall that NASA is having difficulty acquiring sufficient funds for a Mars Sample Return mission that would pick up the samples Perseverance has been acquiring during its roving at Jezero Crater. NASA had issued a Request for Information in mid-April, looking for innovative ideas to get the samples to Earth more economically. On May 8, Jim gave a talk at the Explore Mars 2024 Humans to Mars Summit conference in Houston. He presented a mission concept during his talk that would involve a single SLS launch that would deliver a 44,000-pound payload to Mars, comprising an inflatable descent aero shell, a propulsive descent module, a two-stage Mars Ascent Vehicle, a rover to collect the samples, and a sample encapsulation system. The mission proposed would be significantly less expensive than earlier estimates.

For more on this really interesting development, see: https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/space/mars-sample-return-option-emerges-2024-humans-mars-summit.

General Aviation Over DC: Quoting from the AVweb website: “About 60 general aviation aircraft will close Reagan National Airport for an hour and go where none have gone for decades May 11 (May 12 weather day) when the National Celebration of General Aviation DC Flyover takes place over the seat of government. The aircraft, chosen to represent the roles and eras of GA since 1939, will commemorate the first proclamation of Aviation Day by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the creation of AOPA 85 years ago. “We want to tell the story of GA,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. Anyone in D.C. will get a great view of the flight from the National Mall area, and for those at home it will be streamed live on AOPA’s YouTube channel with AOPA Live anchor Tom Haines and veteran aviation journalist Miles O’Brien providing commentary starting at 11:45 EDT.

“The aircraft, in 22 different flights, will follow the Potomac River to downtown Washington where they will fly over the National Mall before heading down Independence Ave. They’ll go through airspace that has been closed to anything but military and emergency aircraft since 9/11 and even through the ultra-secure P56 airspace, which has been sealed off for decades. The planes range from antiques to the very newest aircraft, the Piper M700 Fury, which was only certified in March. Recreational, training, amphibious, homebuilt along with military and law enforcement aircraft will be represented. The Titan Aerobatic Team’s formation of four Second World War-era T-6 Texans will provide the finale with a smoke show but without aerobatics.”

I remember the 70th anniversary of V-E Day fly-over, in 2015, with a phalanx of WWII-era planes flying over the edge of the city (images here). It impressed me, and really impressed my WWII-veteran Father-in-Law (an ex-Marine SeaBee)! It also really, really impressed NASM’s then-Director, General Jack Dailey (formerly #2 at both the Marine Corps and also at NASA), who flew in a training P-51’s jump seat in the final wave. Jack had an interesting perspective as his plane pulled up to salute the veterans of the past with “the Missing Man.” 

This event will be impressive, too, for more information about it, see here!

FOLLOW UP: I turned on the news this morning (5/13) when I got up, and was greeted with a very-positive story about the successful overflight on Sunday. AVweb has posted a video of the fly-over, here. Congratulations to all who made it happen!

Space Militarization Concerns: Military satellites are detectable and difficult to defend against hostile action. Recently, Russian spacecraft have been making “unfriendly” maneuvers around some French satellites for years, understandably causing some concern in Paris. For example, Russia launched a satellite named “Luch-Olymp” in 2014, and it tried to intercept signals from the French/Italian military communications satellite Athena-Fidus in 2017. China is also conducting mysterious satellite maneuvers in orbit. Mutual satellite reconnaissance has kept the World safe for decades, so these new developments can be rather unsettling. Find out more about this situation at: https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/space/patrol-spacecraft-are-urgently-needed-french-space-commander-says.

Mining Helium-3 on the Moon? One of the obstacles to finding a commercial reason for going to the Moon is its distance, gravity, and lack of usable or valuable resources. What could possibly be there that would justify the cost of going out and getting it? Answer: Helium-3, an isotope of normal helium, having only one instead of two neutrons in its nucleus. He-3 is important in super-cooling technology, such as quantum computing, and may be an important substance in the development of nuclear fusion power. He-3 is extremely scarce on Earth, but it is present in the solar wind, and has been accumulating in the lunar regolith for eons.

Harrison Schmitt, the Apollo 17 Moonwalker who was the only geologist (to date) to tread on the Moon, recently teamed with two senior ex-managers from Blue Origin to form Interlune, a company striving to build and use robotic He-3 extraction technology to mine the lunar surface for He-3 and return it to the Earth. “Helium-3 is the only element in the Universe that’s expensive enough to warrant going to the Moon and bringing it back to Earth,” according to former Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson. For more on this interesting development, see: https://aviationweek.com/aerospace/commercial-space/former-blue-origin-president-leads-helium-3-moon-mining-mission.

AGU’s Wide. Open. Science. The American Geophysical Union has posted a year-end summary of “how researchers are advancing and expanding the reach of Earth and Space sciences. Check it out at: https://eos.org/agu-news/wide-open-science!


I recently had the privilege of visiting the National Air and Space Museum, both the original building on the National Mall, now undergoing renovation, and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy building at Dulles Airport, where a number of planes and other artifacts normally downtown are now on display. A number of Docents and museum staff get A+StW, and I thought I could expand the Of Special Interest section to include info relating to NASM programming, collection, and research. I hope the new material makes you want to made the trip to see NASM in person!

When you go to NASM’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, be sure to visit the Gossamer Albatross, the subject of this week’s Item, in the Ultralight Aircraft section!

DOCENTS (and all others interested in Solar System exploration history): If you don’t have an on-line copy of Fordham University’s Asif A. Siddiqi’s fabulous book, Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, you should. You can find it at: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/beyond_earth_detail.html.

Check out Space Oddities: “Astronomy and space exploration news, panel discussions, competitions, documentaries, special guests, fun quizzes and more, brought to you by a panel of professionals and enthusiasts who formerly worked together on the radio station Astro Radio. In our new home here on YouTube we will continue with our passion for bringing the Universe to everybody.” Live on YouTube, Mondays at 3 PM EDT. See: https://www.youtube.com/@SpaceOdditiesLive/about!

IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARIES in the next week have been the subject of previous Items of the Week. CHECK THEM OUT (AGAIN) HERE.

Wednesday, June 12, is the 45th anniversary of the first human-powered flight across the English Channel, the subject of this week’s Item, see above. 

Friday, June 14, is the 105th anniversary of the first flight non-stop flight across the Atlantic, by Alcock and Brown in a Vickers Vimy bomber. For info on the first flight across the Atlantic, with stops, see here.

Saturday, June 15, is the 103rd anniversary of Bessie Coleman obtaining her pilot license; she was the first Black woman to do so. And…

Sunday, June 16, is the 61st anniversary of Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman to fly in Space. For more on Bessie’s and Valentina’s accomplishments, see here

Sunday, June 16, is also the 47th anniversary of the passing of Wernher von Braun, the lead of the German team that developed the V-2 rocket in WWII, and who played an instrumental role in the development of the Apollo program and its promotion. For more about him, and the engineers he brought to American with him under “Operation Paperclip,” see here.