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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says a steel strut is the most likely cause of last month's explosion of an unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

"The preliminary conclusion is that the failure arose from a strut in the second stage liquid oxygen tank," Musk said Monday at a news conference.

He said one of the steel struts that held a helium bottle broke free during flight, likely causing the bottle to shoot to the top of the tank at high speed.

Researchers in Switzerland say they've solved a nearly 100-year-old astronomical mystery by discovering what's in the wispy cloud of gas that floats in the space between the stars.

Scientists have unveiled the best photos of Pluto and its moons that humanity is likely to see for at least a generation. These images were taken Tuesday by NASA's New Horizons space probe as it hurtled past Pluto at more than 30,000 miles per hour.

Since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has revealed itself to be an oddball world. It's smaller than our own moon, and it orbits at an angle relative to the plane of the solar system. Because of its size and distance, even the Hubble Space Telescope could only make it out as a brown smudge, billions of miles away.

New images of Pluto have arrived from a NASA space probe, and they're already allowing scientists to update what we know about the dwarf planet — such as its size. NASA's New Horizons probe has traveled more than 3 billion miles to send photos and data about Pluto back to Earth.

Christian Cultee, a student at the Northwest Indian College, with a rocket that broke the sound barrier.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Chris Cultee will have a close-up view when NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flies past Pluto on Tuesday.

Cultee, who attends the Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Reservation near Bellingham, is an intern at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center this summer. He tweeted Monday about his experiences at @NASASunEarth with the hash tag #RaceOnTech. 

It has taken nearly a decade and 3 billion miles to get there, but scientists are about to get their first look at Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft is closing fast on the tiny world once thought to be at the edge of our solar system. On Tuesday the probe will begin an intensive nine-day scientific study of Pluto and its moons.

New images of Ceres are the clearest ever taken, but NASA's scientists still haven't figured out the enigmatic dwarf planet. The agency's latest photos of Ceres show multiple bright spots — and a "pyramid-shaped peak towering over a relatively flat landscape."

That's according to an update posted by the space agency, saying that Ceres and its bright spots "continue to mystify."

Last November, the European Space Agency wasn't sure if it would ever hear from its Philae lander again after the probe's unfortunate landing spot on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko left it in the shadow of a cliff, starving its solar panels of the faint sunlight needed to produce power.

In the NFL, something that behaves like Pluto's football-shaped moons might be called a wobbly duck. NASA simply calls them astonishing.

Instead of steadily rotating through their orbits, two of Pluto's moons "wobble unpredictably," the space agency says, citing new analysis of data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

A new glimpse of what the universe looked like in its youth has been captured, thanks to researchers who determined that light from the galaxy known as EGS-zs8-1 has spent more than 13 billion years traveling to reach us here on Earth.

The blue galaxy, which was named for its coloration after its initial discovery by the Hubble telescope, was studied by a team of astronomers based at Yale University and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Mike Massimino is one of the last people to ever see the Hubble Space Telescope in person.

From inside his orbiting space shuttle, the telescope first appeared on the horizon as a star, says Massimino, who was an astronaut on the final mission to service the space telescope in 2009.

The space shuttle twin solid rocket boosters separate from the orbiter and land in the ocean, where they are collected for reuse by NASA.
Flickr Photo/NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with Geekwire's Todd Bishop about the latest frontier in the race between space entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos: landing a rocket on a floating barge in the open ocean.

In space, all they have is instant.

"For an instant coffee, it's an excellent instant coffee," says Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply for NASA. Astronauts are allotted up to three freeze-dried cups (pouches, actually) a day, and Kloeris says it's "extremely popular."

But, she adds, "Can it compete with brewed espresso? No."

Early risers (very early on the U.S. West Coast) who had clear skies might have caught a view of today's lunar eclipse — the third in a cycle of four that had its premiere nearly a year ago.

Those of us on the East Coast (this writer included) got to see a partial eclipse before the moon set in the west.

With recent news headlines proclaiming that dozens of people have been selected as finalists for a Martian astronaut corps, it might seem like a trip to this alien world might finally be close at hand.

But let's have a little reality check. What are the chances that we really will see people on the Red Planet in the next couple of decades?

Surely, you've heard of making food in space. Astronauts have to eat, right?

But perhaps you hadn't considered making space out of food. Navid Baraty, a freelance photographer in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, arranges common pantry items to create strikingly accurate-looking photos of an imaginary cosmos.

"I'm a really big space geek," Baraty tells The Salt. "I'll look at NASA images or Hubble images to see how things were placed in the sky, and I try to make things as realistic as possible."

Saturn's moon Enceladus is a mystery. From Earth it looks tiny and cold, and yet it's not a dead hunk of rock. Passing spacecraft see trenches and ridges, similar to Earth's, and in 2005 NASA's Cassini mission spotted ice geysers streaming from its south pole.

Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET.

This morning, a plucky NASA spacecraft has entered the orbit of one of the oddest little worlds in our solar system.

Ceres is round like a planet, but really small. Its total surface would cover just a third of the United States.

Dragon, SpaceX's version of an astronaut taxi to the International Space Station. The company announced it would be opening up a new office in Seattle for 1,000 employees.  Boeing is also getting in the space technology game with a rival spacecraft.
Wikipedia Photo/NASA

Marcie Sillman talks with GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop about the new frontiers of space technology and what that industry will mean for Seattle. 

SpaceX via Twitter

Billionaire Elon Musk says he’s setting up an engineering center in Seattle that could have 1,000 workers within three or four years.

Musk is CEO of Space Exploration Technologies. He made his name as co-founder of PayPal and designer of the Tesla electric car. He made the announcement in a conference call with journalists at Bloomberg.

Hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, a man-made object was flung at a comet Wednesday — and now it's sticking to the rock as it hurtles through space.

"We are on the comet," Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager, announced Wednesday, marking a historic achievement.

Humans have never landed anything on a comet's surface. That may change tomorrow.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission is poised to send out a small probe to land on a comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta spent 10 years chasing the comet before arriving in August.

KUOW Photo/Jimmy Lovaas

Tonight is the first night in the new moon’s cycle, which means the moon is almost completely dark.

That’s great news if you want to look at the night sky through a telescope.

”Full moons are really disastrous for observing because they light up all the atmosphere, they’re very bright. It’s one of the worst light polluters,” said Jonathan Fay.

Space is a dangerous place. That message resonated again on Monday, when the Russian Federal Space Agency — Roscosmos — announced that a team of experimental geckos tasked with copulating while in orbit did not survive their journey.

"All geckos, unfortunately, died," the space agency said in a terse statement.

Roscosmos is launching an investigation into the exact circumstances surrounding the geckos' deaths, but the mission seemed star-crossed from the start.

Flickr Photo/NASA Goddard Photo (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds talks with astrophysics professor Adam Frank about what a plasma cloud is, the chances of one hitting Earth and what that means for our civilization. Spoiler: All the answers are scary. 

After a decade of travel, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft arrived at a comet early this morning.

"Ten years we've been waiting in the car to get to scientific Disneyland," ESA's Mark McCaughrean said. "It's a wonderful moment."

In November of 1969, astronaut Alan Bean became the fourth man to walk on the moon. His mission, Apollo 12, arrived at the moon a few months after Apollo 11 made the first moon landing. That historic event celebrates its 45th anniversary Sunday.

Apollo 12 got off to a dramatic start: A storm rolled in as the rocket was scheduled to launch. Bean, with fellow astronauts Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon, sat inside the spacecraft while the bad weather threatened the operation.

A gung-ho group of space enthusiasts has started the process of putting a vintage NASA spacecraft on a new flight path, so that this venerable piece of hardware will be able to do useful science once again.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne. The International Space Station is getting a real coffee maker. Not surprisingly, this first-ever, zero-gravity espresso machine is Italian, developed by the coffee company Lavazza. Up until now, astronauts made do with the instant stuff. The brewer should be there in time for the arrival this fall of Italy's first woman astronaut. She tweeted her excitement - I'll get to operate the first space espresso machine. It's MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

This month, NASA revealed new details of the plan to send humans to Mars by 2030. It's an elaborate and expensive mission, involving a giant deep-space rocket, and roping an asteroid into the moon's orbit to use as a stepping stone to Mars.

But there are still some serious questions about a manned expedition to Mars. Namely, is it safe? That's where astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly come in. The Kelly brothers are identical twins, and the only siblings ever to both fly in space.

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