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Top Space Stories of the Week!
By Doris Elin Salazar   2019-07-13T05:14:46Z Science & Astronomy  

[Image: The asteroid Ryugu, as seen by Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft during its sample-grabbing descent on July 10, 2019.]  
(Image: © JAXA)
A Japanese probe retrieves a second sample from the surface of an asteroid, scientists map the ground damage caused by the two recent earthquakes in Southern California and NASA surprised many in the space industry when it reassigned the longtime head of its human spaceflight program. These are just some of the top stories this week from!

NASA reassigns longtime human spaceflight leader
[Image: Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, testifying at a House hearing July 10. Hours later, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Gerstenmaier and another top exploration systems official were being reassigned.]  

(Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
In a memo to NASA employees issued on Wednesday (July 10), NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that the longtime head of the agency's human spaceflight program, Bill Gerstenmaier, had been reassigned effective immediately. The news surprised many people in the space industry. Former astronaut Ken Bowersox will take over as acting associate administrator for human exploration and operations; Gerstenmaier has been reassigned to serve as a special assistant to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. 

Virgin Galactic merges with investment company
[Image: Virgin Galactic said the several hundred million dollars it raised through the merger with SCH will allow it to move into commercial operations of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle.]  

(Image credit: & Trumbull Studios)
Virgin Galactic will merge with a publicly traded company that raises money for the purpose of acquiring other companies. Social Capital Hedosophia will take a 49 percent stake in the merged company. Virgin Galactic announced the news of the agreement on Tuesday (July 9). 

Mission failure for Vega rocket carrying satellite into orbit
[Image: An Arianespace Vega rocket carrying the FalconEye1 Earth-watching satellite for the United Arab Emirates, shown here at liftoff, suffered a major anomaly after launch, resulting the loss of the rocket and its payload on July 10, 2019.]  

(Image credit: Arianespace)
During a nighttime flight from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, a rocket and its payload were lost. The builder of the booster, Arianespace, made the announcement on Wednesday (July 10). The Vega rocket suffered a "major anomaly" two minutes after liftoff, losing the FalconEye1 Earth-observation satellite for the United Arab Emirates as a result. 

Japanese spacecraft completes second asteroid sampling
[Image: The navigation camera on Hayabusa2 captured this image of the surface of Ryugu during the sampling touchdown conducted on July 10, 2019.]  

(Image credit: JAXA)
Japan's Hayabusa2 mission team spent hours supporting a risky maneuver to retrieve yet another sample from the asteroid it is orbiting, Ryugu. The Wednesday (July 10) maneuver went smoothly and Hayabusa2 will depart at the end of 2019. 

50th anniversary of Apollo 11 to be celebrated next week
[Image: The National Air and Space Museum will use projection mapping to transform the Washington Monument into a Saturn V rocket to mark 50 years since the moon landing, July 16-20, 2019.]  

(Image credit: Smithsonian)
Next week more than 250 events across the United States will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the mission that brought the first humans to the surface of the moon. Celebrations include a projection of the rocket that launched the mission into space on the facade of the Washington Monument and the Apollo 50 Festival run by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and NASA.

Researchers monitor giant seaweed bloom with space tech
[Image: Data from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites revealed the immense size of a record-breaking algal bloom known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt.]  

(Image credit: NASA/Earth Observatory )
The largest seaweed bloom in the world, stretching 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, is visible from space. Its enormity means that satellites, like NASA's Terra and Aqua spacecraft, are very useful for scientists tracking the dynamics of the seaweed over time.

Japanese satellite provides data for NASA earthquake map
[Image: NASA experts used satellite data to map the ground displacement caused by the two major earthquakes that struck Southern California on July 4 and 5, 2019.]  

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Japan's Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS-2) satellite caught the sight of the warped ground caused by two recent earthquakes in Southern California. The tremors occurred on July 4 and 5 with magnitudes of 6.4 and 7.1, respectively, and hit the strongest in the state's Ridgecrest region.

Engineers turn Voyager 2 heater off to save power
[Image: An artist's depiction of one of the twin Voyager probes entering interstellar space.]  

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The Voyager spacecraft have lasted longer than anticipated, and so to ensure they keep providing good science from the outer reaches of the solar system, engineers at NASA have turned off a heater on Voyager 2. This choice was made to make the most of the spacecraft's diminishing power supply. Both Voyager 1 and 2 are in their fifth decade of travel.

Spacecraft using "green" fuel passes first test 
[Image: An artist's depiction of NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission in orbit.]  

(Image credit: Ball Aerospace)
The first test for NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) was a success. The mission's goal is to see if this "green" fuel could replace the hydrazine currently used by most spacecraft, thereby making launches more environmentally friendly. Over the next several months, GPIM will help NASA understand how the new fuel performs in space.

NASA sending a dozen experiments to the moon
[Image: A close-up view of a portion of a "relatively fresh" crater, photographed by the Apollo 15 mission during a lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) on Aug. 2, 1971, near Scarp Crater.]  

(Image credit: NASA/JSC)
Several new science experiments and tech payloads heading to the moon will focus on moondust. To investigate the lunar environment that a crewed mission would face if NASA's Artemis program brings humans back to Earth's natural satellite, the space agency will send a dozen experiments to the moon as part of their Commercial Lunar Payloads Services project. NASA announced the full list of payloads on Monday (July 1).

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