From Texas Standard:

Big news this morning from NASA’s planet-hunting mission: The Kepler Space Telescope at the University of Texas' McDonald Observatory has revealed the most Earthlike planet found to date, researchers say. The planet, called Kepler-452b, lies in the constellation Cygnus, about 1,400 light years from Earth. It qualifies as super-Earth-sized, as it's about 1.6 times larger than Earth, and its orbital period is quite similar to ours, at 385 days.

The Kepler scope was launched in 2009 to detect Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zones of distant stars — planets that have the potential to sustain life like that on Earth.

“We are pushing toward Earth 2.0,” McDonald Observatory astronomer Michael Endl said in a press release. “This planet is probably the most similar to Earth yet found.”

Courtesy of Don Rutledge ©

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Richard Paul, an award-winning independent public radio documentary producer, and Steven Moss, Associate Professor of English at Texas State Technical College, co-authors of ‘We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program.’

NASA's unmanned Orion spacecraft has successfully splashed down about 400 miles west of La Paz, Mexico, in the Pacific Ocean after a liftoff, two orbits and re-entry that lasted just under 4 1/2 hours.

Orion, which could one day take astronauts to Mars, made a "bull's-eye splashdown" at 11:29 a.m. ET, mission control said, after the spacecraft endured a searing 4,000-degree Fahrenheit re-entry and was carried to the ocean surface under four giant red-and-white parachutes.

Update at 9:35 a.m. ET

NASA's Orion spacecraft, which could one day send astronauts to Mars, is stuck on terra firma for at least another day after the space agency's mission control was unable to satisfactorily resolve a number of issues before a 9:45 a.m. ET launch window closed.

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft conducted a 33-minute burn of its six main engines to ease into an orbit around Mars after a nearly yearlong, 442 million-mile voyage from Earth. The probe's mission is to study the red planet's atmosphere.

NASA has chosen Boeing and SpaceX to build the vehicles that will transport its astronauts to the International Space Station, putting the two American companies on a course to take over a job that NASA has recently relied upon Russia to perform: carrying out manned space flights.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says vehicles from the two companies are expected to be ready for service by 2017.

Announcing its decision Tuesday, the space agency included these details:

Spacewalking astronauts have successfully replaced a failed coolant pump on the International Space Station.

NPR's Joe Palca reports that American spacewalkers Michael Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio had to bolt the massive pump in place (on the ground, it weighs 780 pounds), connect four ammonia lines and plug in five electrical cables. The ammonia is a refrigerant used in the station's two-part cooling system, which is necessary to dissipate heat from the onboard electrical equipment.

Matthew Alvarez for KUT News

New unmanned aerial vehicles – better known as drones – could soon roam over the Arctic and Polar regions of the planet. And at the University of Texas, engineering students aren’t working on the planes themselves, but rather the autonomous flight capability of the unmanned aircraft.

UT grad students at the Cockrell School of Engineering recently headed out to an open field with a movable sensor – called a rover –and a small drone aircraft to perform a test flight. The drone was programmed with an operating system that charts a path for performing a task, also known as an algorithm. It instructed the drone to follow the rover, which acted as a moving target.

NASA Mars Science Laboratory

The University of Texas has inked a deal with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to work together in areas such as robotics, miniature satellites and high-precision mapping. The director of UT’s Center for Space Research, Byron Tapley says it will ultimately help to advance space exploration.

“The activities we’re talking about here are built more about the unmanned, or the robotic exploration programs, both of the earth and of the planets themselves," said Tapley. "I would say the excitement of that is every bit, if you look at the excitement generated with the recent landing of the Mars science laboratory.”

The project manager of the team that landed that Curiosity Rover was a graduate of UT.  

The head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Charles Elachi says the new partnership with UT is a logical extension of JPL’s existing relationship with the university.

Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, known for his words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," has died. The first man ever to walk on the moon was 82.

Update at 5:15 p.m. ET:

Armstrong's family has released a statement, saying he died following cardiovascular procedures. NASA published it here. They say, "Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job."


Sally Ride – the first American woman in space – has passed away at the age of 61.

Ride rocketed into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. As NPR notes in its eulogy, Ride died in  La Jolla, California, following a 17-month fight with pancreatic cancer.

NASA Unveils Next Generation 'Monster' Space Rocket

Sep 14, 2011

If things go without a hitch NASA announced that its new Space Launch System could take its first manned test flight in 2017.

The new design looks a lot like the Apollo era rockets that took American astronauts to the moon, but NASA said the new spacecraft is much more powerful than any other rocket they've made before and could set up astronauts for deep space exploration. The SLS will be NASA's first exploration-calss vehicle since the Saturn V took astronauts to the moon.

At the unveiling of the plans Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) called it a "monster rocket."

Photo by Rachel Hobson

Imagine that your two biggest passions are crafting and outer space. What would be the most awesome way to send off the final launch of the Shuttle Atlantis? For former Austinite Rachel Hobson, it was having a print of her embroidery hitch a ride on the spacecraft that went into orbit this morning. She also got to witness the launch in person.

There are 30 years between the bookends of the first and last NASA space shuttle flights. In those three decades, the shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour flew well over 100 missions.

But this summer, the program draws to a close to allow the space agency to dedicate more funding and energy to exploring the farther reaches of space. In the process, NASA hands over greater responsibility to private space companies.

Photo by Matt Largey/KUT News

The Space Shuttle Atlantis will lift off Friday - the last shuttle mission for NASA.

Contractors who work on the shuttle program have been getting pink slips for the past year and a half, as the program winds down. But thousands more in Florida, Alabama and Texas will be out of a job after the final mission. 

USA Today reports on how Florida's Space Coast economy will be impacted by the end of the program.

Photo and caption courtesy of NASA/Bill Ingalls

Discovery Launching Final Time Without Austin Astronaut

All eyes will be on the sky on this historic day for space flight.  Austin Astronaut Timothy Kopra is not taking part in Discovery’s final flight.  Kopra suffered injuries from a bicycle accident last month.  NASA replaced him with another astronaut for the mission.  Discovery’s launching this afternoon from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Report: Border Apprehensions Down