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NASA will let tourists visit the International Space Station starting in 2020

NASA plans to allow tourists to visit the International Space Station from 2020 – at an estimated cost of more than $50 million (£39 million) per trip.

Until now, the floating space lab has only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.

In a surprise announcement today, NASA confirmed that it would be “opening the International Space Station for commercial business”.

It means that private companies will be able to take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.

“The agency can accommodate up to two short-duration private astronaut missions per year to the International Space Station,” Nasa explained.

“These missions will be privately funded, dedicated commercial spaceflights.”

Transport will be provided by both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, who are currently developing capsules that can carry humans to the ISS.

It’s expected that a trip will likely cost around $50 million (£39 million) per astronaut, according to early estimates – but could easily rise well above that figure.

The spaceflight to the ISS will account for a large chunk of the cost.

NASA typically pays around $75 million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the ISS, and even paid $82 million per seat in 2015.

However, NASA says seats aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and/or Boeing CST-100 capsules will cost roughly $58 million per seat.

It’s these capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts up to the ISS – but the cost continues to rise after the journey.

Keeping astronauts on board the ISS is a pricey business.

For instance, regenerative life support and toilet cost $11,250 (£8,800) per astronaut each day.

And general supplies – like food and air – cost $22,500 (£17,500) per astronaut each day.

Nasa will get around $35,000 (£27,000) per night that a private astronaut spends on board the ISS.

A large bank balance won’t be enough either: you’ll have to pass Nasa’s rigorous health checks and training procedures.

As part of its “commercialization” of the ISS, Nasa will be making one space station port and utilities available for a private company to “attach a commercial module to”.

And it hopes that in the long-term, there will be lots of private space stations floating just above Earth.

“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”

Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.

Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.

And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organize trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55 million (£43.2 million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

So why is NASA letting tourists travel to the ISS?

The main advantage seems to be keeping costs down, as the ISS is very expensive to run.

But it’s also about continuing to test space travel – to make it safer and cheaper for everyone.

“Market studies identified private astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit as a key element to demonstrate demand and reduce risk for future commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

The long-term plan is to create space stations near Earth that can be used as stop-off points for deeper trips into space.

NASA hopes to set up several “lunar gateways” starting from 2028 that will float near the Moon, and could be used for crewed missions to Mars.

“The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport, again using commercial and international partners, enables us to get to Mars,” said NASA top boss Jim Bridenstine, speaking last year.

“What we don’t want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done. We want to go to stay.

“And the Gateway, in my view – I’ve been convinced – enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars.”

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

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Stone block with mysterious 12,000-year-old engravings discovered at prehistoric hunting site

Archaeologists in France have uncovered a mysterious carved stone block at a prehistoric hunting site.

The stone was found during excavations at Angouleme in southwestern France.  A number of engravings have been carved into the sandstone, including horses, deer and an aurochs, an extinct species of wild cattle.

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

“The most visible engraving, that of a headless horse turned to the right, occupies half the surface,” according to a translated statement from French national archeological research organization Inrap. “The rump and the saddle follow the curves of the natural edge of the stone. Very fine incisions may suggest the coat”.

The area where the stone was found was used as a hunting site by the prehistoric Azilian culture. Other items discovered at the site include tools for stripping carcasses.

Side face of the sandstone block.

Side face of the sandstone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Experts think that the stone is about 12,000 years old. More research will be done to precisely date and gain more information from the artifact.

Other mysterious stones have been grabbing attention in France. A village in Brittany, for example, recently offered a reward to anyone who can decipher a strange inscription on a centuries-old rock.

Last year, archaeologists announced the discovery of 12,000-year-old cave drawings in Eastern France.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and Madeline Farber contributed to this article.  Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Archaeologists find rare writing, and then it vanishes

RareInscription.jpg

Inscriptions on the walls of the ritual bath. (Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists digging for ruins ahead of a new construction project in Jerusalem made an incredible discovery—that immediately began to vanish. During the last hours of a “salvage excavation” two months ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old ritual bath when a stone suddenly disappeared into a black hole, reports Haaretz.

That hole turned out to be the remains of the bath, accessible by a stone staircase, which includes an anteroom with benches and a winepress. Carved into a natural stone cave, the bath itself wasn’t so unusual, but the graffiti that covered the plaster walls was.

Archaeologists were therefore horrified to find the Aramaic inscriptions and paintings in mud and soot, dating to the Second Temple era from 530BC to 70AD, per Discovery News, disappearing within hours of their discovery.

“The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them,” the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved.

Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to “served” and the name “Cohen.” Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus.

The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo. An IAA rep says graffiti in baths may have been “common, but not usually preserved.” (Another recent find: the remnants of a “treasured landmark” destroyed by the Nazis.)

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Climate scientists criticize government paper that erases ‘pause’ in warming

 

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File photo. (REUTERS/Peter Andrews/Files)

Until last week, government data on climate change indicated that the Earth has warmed over the last century, but that the warming slowed dramatically and even stopped at points over the last 17 years.

But a paper released May 28 by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has readjusted the data in a way that makes the reduction in warming disappear, indicating a steady increase in temperature instead. But the study’s readjusted data conflict with many other climate measurements, including data taken by satellites, and some climate scientists aren’t buying the new claim.

“While I’m sure this latest analysis from NOAA will be regarded as politically useful for the Obama administration, I don’t regard it as a particularly useful contribution to our scientific understanding of what is going on,” Judith Curry, a climate science professor at Georgia Tech, wrote in a response to the study.

And in an interview, Curry told FoxNews.com that that the adjusted data doesn’t match other independent measures of temperature.

“The new NOAA dataset disagrees with a UK dataset, which is generally regarded as the gold standard for global sea surface temperature datasets,” she said. “The new dataset also disagrees with ARGO buoys and satellite analyses.”

The NOAA paper, produced by a team of researchers led by Tom Karl, director of the agency’s National Climatic Data Center, found most of its new warming trend by adjusting past measurements of sea temperatures.

 Global ocean temperatures are estimated both by thousands of commercial ships, which record the temperature of the water entering their engines, and by thousands of buoys – floatation devices that sit in the water for years.

The buoys tend to get cooler temperature readings than the ships, likely because ships’ engines warm the water. Meanwhile, in recent years, buoys have become increasingly common. The result, Karl says, is that even if the world’s oceans are warming, the unadjusted data may show it not to be warming because more and more buoys are being used instead of ships. So Karl’s team adjusted the buoy data to make them line up with the ship data. They also double-checked their work by making sure that the readjusted buoy readings matched ships’ recordings of nighttime air temperatures.

The paper came out last week, and there has not been time for skeptical scientists to independently check the adjustments, but some are questioning it because of how much the adjusted data vary from other independent measurements.

First, it disagrees with the readings of more than 3,000 “ARGO buoys,” which are specifically designed to float around the ocean and measure temperature. Some scientists view their data as the most reliable.

The ARGO buoy data do not show much warming in surface temperature since they were introduced in 2003. But Karl’s team left them out of their analysis, saying that they have multiple issues, including lack of measurements near the Arctic.

In an email, Karl told FoxNews.com that the ARGO buoy readings may be added to his data “if scientific methods can be found to line up these two types of temperatures together … (of course after correcting the systematic offsets) … This is part of the cumulative and progressive scientific process.”

Karl’s study also clashes with satellite measurements. Since 1979, NOAA satellites have estimated the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere. They show almost no warming in recent years and closely match the surface data before Karl’s adjustments.

The satellite data is compiled by two separate sets of researchers, whose results match each other closely. One team that compiles the data includes Climate Professors John Christy and Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, both of whom question Karl’s adjusted data.

“The study is one more example that you can get any answer you want when the thermometer data errors are larger than the global warming signal you are looking for,” Spencer told FoxNews.com.

“We believe the satellite measurements since 1979 provide a more robust measure of global temperatures, and both satellite research groups see virtually the same pause in global temperatures for the last 18 years,” he said.

Karl said satellite data also have issues, including “orbital decay, diurnal sampling, instrument calibration target temperatures and more.”

Spencer said he agreed that those are issues, but they are less problematic than using data from thousands of ships and buoys. He added that there are a couple of satellites monitoring temperature at any given time, and that they are used to check each other.

Skeptics say there are yet more measurements, including those coming from balloon data, that line up with existing data more than with Karl’s newly adjusted data. They also note that even with Karl’s adjustments, the warming trend he finds over the last 17 years is below what U.N. models had predicted.

Some climate scientists applaud Karl’s adjustments and say they debunk the idea that the Earth has stopped warming.

“[This] points out just how small and fragile a notion that was,” Peter Frumhoff, director of science & policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told FoxNews.com

Asked about the contradiction with satellite data, he said he trusted the new paper.

“I trust the process of legitimate scientific peer review that this paper has undergone, as well as the care that its authors bring to their respected work,” he said, adding that, “the faux debate over a so-called ‘hiatus’ has been an unfortunate diversion from meaningful dialogue about how best to address the broadly recognized serious problem of climate change.”

But skeptics say Karl’s adjusted data is the outlier that conflicts with everything else. “Color me ‘unconvinced’,” Curry wrote.

Maxim Lott can be reached at www.maximlott.comor at maxim.lott@foxnews.com

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1.8-million-year-old skull shakes mankind’s family tree

1.8-million-year-old skull shakes mankind’s family tree

By Jeremy A. Kaplan

Published October 17, 2013

FoxNews.com
  • early homo skull 5 Georgia.jpg
  • early homo skull 5 Georgia 1.jpgearly homo skull 5 Georgia 4.jpg
  • Dmanisi skulls 1-5 show remarkable differences — and remarkable similarities. (M. PONCE DE LEÓN AND CH. ZOLLIKOFER, UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH, SWITZERLAND)

Some had protruding foreheads, others had short, squashed faces. Some had enormous jaw muscles and big teeth, while others had enormous heads to hold bigger brains. 

They had one thing in common, however: They were family — our ancient family, that is, from around 2 million years ago.

The world’s first completely preserved adult hominid skull from the early Pleistocene era looks surprisingly different from other skulls of the same era, yielding a remarkable insight: Man’s early ancestors appeared as physically diverse as humans do today, researchers said, and our family tree has perhaps fewer branches than today’s schoolbooks teach.

“It’s a really extraordinary find,” said paleoanthropologist Marcia S. Ponce de Leon in a press conference Wednesday announcing the findings. “For the first time, we can see a population from the early Pleistocene. We only had individuals before. Now we can make comparisons and see the range of variation.”

‘The five Dmanisi individuals are no more different from each other than any five modern humans or chimpanzees.’

– Neurobiologist Christoph Zollikofer from the Anthropological Institute and Museum in Zurich 

The skull in question is a complete, 1.8-million-year-old ancestor of man, found in Dmanisi, Georgia, in Eastern Europe. The fifth such skull from the region spanning a period of a few centuries, it’s known at present only as “Skull 5” — it hasn’t received a clever name yet like Lucy, the remarkable African skeleton found in the 70s and dating back 3.4 million years. (Lucy is anAustralopithecus afarensis, an even more distant relative of modern man.)

The rarity of such artifacts makes studying them a challenge; other skulls from about 2 million years ago showed wide enough differences in shape that scientists have so far labeled them different species entirely: Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, for example.

Skull 5 is different, different even than the four other skulls found at Dmanisi. It was found in 2005, and ultimately matched to a jaw found in 2000 to make a complete skull. But after eight years of study, scientists on Thursday published a paper in the journal Sciencerevealing that Skull 5 is simply not that different from others.

“The five Dmanisi individuals are no more different from each other than any five modern humans or chimpanzees,” said neurobiologist Christoph Zollikofer, a co-author of the paper with Ponce de Leon, both of whom work at the Anthropological Institute and Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The brain case is very small — around a third of [the size of] modern humans at 546 cubic centimeters — and at the same time, we have the face that is quite large, and the jaws are quite massive, and the teeth are big and large,” she explained.

“This is a strange combination of features that we didn’t know before in early homo,” Ponce de Leon said. Such a skull shape was previously unseen, yet it was actually more similar to the others than it was different, the team found.

“Dmanisi is the first site where we can really look into and quantify variation in fossil hominid population,” Zollikofer said.

The site itself is an intriguing location that David Lordkipanidze from the Georgian National Museum Tbilisi, Georgia — a third paper author — described as “a medieval city on a hilltop.”

When these early hominids were walking around, 2 million years ago, the climate was temperate and relatively humid, he said. The site was a short distance from water, situated on the remants of a lava flow. Beyond just skulls, some scattered evidence of daily life remained too, as well as a wide variety of plant and animal remains spread over an area spanning about 1.2 acres.

“We found stone tools and cut marks on animal bones, which indicate that hominids were actively involved in meat-processing,” Lordkipanidze said. One of the skulls had a wound on its cheek too, which could have come from a fight following an argument or something as simple as an injury in a fall.

“This was a place with stiff competition between carnivores and hominids. We found almost a hundred carnivores and it seems they were fighting for the carcasses. Fortunately for the hominids — and fortunately for us — they were not always successful.”

But the real revelation is the variation among these ancient creatures, who had long legs and short arms and smaller brains than us. What other secrets does this mountain range hold?

“We still have a lot to discover,” he said.

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Sir Arthur C. Clarke going to outer space

Sir Arthur C. Clarke finally going to outer space on Sunjammer solar sail spacecraft

By Gene J. Koprowski

Published June 20, 2013

FoxNews.com
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    A giant solar sail is unfurled in this artist’s conception of the Sunjammer, with planet Earth retreating in the background. (Space Services Holdings, Inc.)

  • Sunjammer solar sail 4.jpg

    The Sunjammer’s solar sail, with a handful of researchers beneath it for context. (Space Services Holdings, Inc.)

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    A giant solar sail is unfurled in this artist’s conception of the Sunjammer, with planet Earth retreating in the background. (Space Services Holdings, Inc.)

  • Sunjammer solar sail 3.jpg

    The moon and the Earth are reflected in the giant reflective mirror of a solar sail. (Space Services Holdings, Inc.)

Famed science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke is finally headed for space — five years after his death.

Though the author of “2001: A Space Odyssey” died in 2008 in Sri Lanka, scientists from NASA today announced plans to send his DNA into orbit around the sun in 2014 aboard the Sunjammer, an astonishing solar-powered spacecraft.

Called the Sunjammer Cosmic Archive (SCA), the flying time capsule is a first in the history of space travel, carrying digital files of human DNA including Clarke’s aboard the sun-powered space ship.

‘Clarke certainly imagined himself going to space someday, and that day is finally arriving.’

– Stephen Eisele, vice president of Space Services, Inc. 

The DNA is to be contained in a “BioFile.” Other so-called MindFiles, including images, music, voice recordings, and the like, provided by people all around the globe, will also be included in the cosmic archive for future generations — or perhaps other civilizations — to see.

“Clarke certainly imagined himself going to space someday, and that day is finally arriving,” said Stephen Eisele, vice president of Space Services, Inc., a NASA contractor on the project. The name Sunjammer comes from the writings of Clarke, but the goal is all-encompassing.

The Sunjammer Cosmic Archive enables all of us to go to outer space,” he said.

The archive is one part of an amazing new NASA mission based on a vision outlined by astronomer Johannes Kepler, in a letter to Galileo in 1610: deployment of a technology that harnesses the light of the sun to propel spaceships.

”Provide ships or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will brave even that void,” Kepler wrote to Galileo.

In interviews during the days before the Thursday announcement, developers outlined for FoxNews.com the overall scope of the Sunjammer project, which NASA’s mission manager Ron Unger, at the Marshall Space Flight Center, described as a “game changing technology” that could alter mankind’s approach to space travel.

Simply put, the technology is a “solar sail” that gathers light from the sun and turns it into a propulsion source for a spacecraft, Unger said. It seems like something out of Clarke’s sci-fi writings, which is one reason that his DNA, which he left to science upon his death, is the payload for the mission, Eisele said.

This NASA-funded technology demonstration is designed to highlight the efficacy of solar sails for space propulsion applications; it’s now being built by Sunjammer team leader L’Garde, Inc., based in Tustin, Calif.

According to Nathan Barnes, president of L’Garde, the ship will launch in the fall of 2014 on a 1.9-million mile voyage to the sun from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The diminutive spacecraft — it’s literally the size of a standard kitchen dishwasher — will be carried as a secondary spacecraft aboard a Falcon rocket 932,000 miles from Earth, where it will be released into space.

For NASA, Sunjammer will demonstrate deployment and navigation of the solar sail technology at nearly a million miles from Earth. Solar sails, sometimes called light sails or photon sails, are a form of spacecraft propulsion using the radiation pressure of a combination of light and high-speed gasses ejected from the Sun to push large, ultra-thin mirrors to high speeds.

These spacecraft offer NASA the possibility of low-cost operations with lengthy operating lifetimes. They have few moving parts and use no propellant, and they can potentially be used many times for delivery of different payloads.

“Sunjammer will morph — much like a butterfly – into a Space Shuttle-sized ship capable of maneuvering solely by riding the photonic pressure of the Sun,” Barnes tells FoxNews.com.  “Such propellant-less space travel has been the subject of human dreams since at least the time of Galileo, and holds great promise.

Here’s the physics of how it works, in a simplified form: Solar radiation creates a pressure on the sail due to reflection and a small fraction that is absorbed, and this absorbed energy heats the sail, which re-radiates that energy from the front and rear surfaces.

The first formal design of a solar sail was conducted in the 1970s, at the height of Sir Clarke’s fame as a sci-fi writer and futurist, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. A conference on solar sails was held just last month in the U.K., and researchers from NASA, a number of leading British universities, and L’Garde were present, discussing the potential of the Clarke-ian technology.

But now the technology is finally moving toward deployment on a major mission as a result of President Obama’s reorganization of NASA during his first term, and the agency’s search for technologies that can rapidly be commercialized, Eisele  told FoxNews.com.

In addition to the payload including the DNA of Sir Clarke,  scientific experiments will be conducted, once this craft is in space to demonstrate the use of solar sails in monitoring space weather, for example, which could provide early warnings of potentially dangerous solar storms.

To be sure, Clarke would have approved of that additional mission as well, Eisele told FoxNews.com.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/06/20/sir-arthur-c-clarke-going-to-space-sunjammer/?intcmp=features#ixzz2WvQLrleN

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Send Your Dog on $74,000 Vacation!

Pooch package gives your dog a $74,000 vacation

Published June 18, 2013

FoxNews.com
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    This luxury dog vacation package includes surfing lessons for your pet. (VeryFirstTo.com)

This trip is really for the dogs.

A U.K. website has put together the world’s most expensive vacation package for one very lucky pooch that includes a two-week stay at the luxury Paw Seasons Hotel — near Bristol, England, limousine transfers, spa treatments –and even one psychiatry session by an animal behavior expert Stan Rawlinson.

Pet owners have be be prepared to plunk down a whopping $74,000 for the deal, which also comes with a personal chef who will prepare Fido’s every meal and movie screenings of pooch-friendly flicks like “101 Dalmatians and Lassie” (and yes, dog popcorn will be served).

And if this all sounds too good to be true, other perks include surfing lesson (for the dog) and a solid bronze car mascot of the dog and portrait by artist Jo Chambers.

“Being the leaders in luxury breaks for dogs, we wanted to be the first to offer the most spectacular luxury holiday a dog could wish for,” Paw Seasons founder Jenny Hytner-Marriott said in a press release.

The package is offered through the luxury site VeryFirstTo.com, which recently sold the world’s most expensive human holiday.  That trip included a stop to every World Heritage site over two years (that 150 countries) going for $1.2 million per couple.

Sadly, owners won’t be allowed on this holiday, but they able to get updates on their pet’s activities via Facebook and YouTube that will be provided by the Paw Season’s staff.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2013/06/18/pooch-package-gives-your-dog-74000-vacation/#ixzz2WdY5wM8P

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