A Month in Space is a new column that brings you the best in space news, every month. For the October edition, I've looked at one of the biggest announcements of the year in NASA finding water on Mars, and what this means for the future of spaceflight. And speaking of the future of spaceflight: you can now find crowdfunding campaigns for rockets! All this and more (read: aliens, Hasselblad pictures of outer space) below.


Water on Mars

This was the news of the past few months; even non-space-aficionados heard about the NASA press conference from September 28th, where it was announced that "using an imaging spectrometer on MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter), researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet" . But what does that all mean? Well, we already knew that there might have been some water on Mars in the past, or that there might be some frozen water under the surface; but liquid water is a completely different story and a huge deal. As life on Earth is impossible without the presence of water, scientists and non-scientists alike are now speculating upon the possibility that if there is water on Mars, there might be life, too. The prospect of life on Mars would potentially strengthen the need for a manned mission to the Red Planet, maybe even as soon as the 2030s.


Project Apollo Archive

You might not know this, but several missions from the Apollo program (1967-1972) had a Hasselblad camera on board. The astronauts documented their missions extensively, taking photographs both inside the spacecraft and from the lunar surface. Decades later, the Johnson Space Center scanned all the films and, in October 2015, all the photographs were uploaded to flickr under the title "Project Apollo Archive."

I highly recommend flipping through all of these photographs. In spite of NASA's excellent PR in terms of getting people more interested in their space programs, the current state of space exploration sometimes feels alien to me. Through these photos, it's possible to see another side of space missions: the daily life in the spacecraft, astronauts smiling and taking pictures of each other; the Earth seen from the Moon. The Hasselblad film gives the photos a completely different quality than what we're used to: it makes them feel real, more tangible. Some of those will make you smile, and others will make you stop in amazement at the wonderful sight of our planet as seen from space.

And because this is the internet, someone even made a stop-motion movie out of it:


Moonspike: a crowdfunded rocket

Spaceflight is rapidly changing. Government-funded agencies and organisations are opening up and starting to collaborate with the private sector. Take, for example, the Shuttle (NASA) and Dragon (SpaceX). NASA's Space Shuttle Program, active since the '70s and retired in 2011, was a manned launch vehicle program used, among other things, to build the International Space Station (ISS); Dragon was the first ever spacecraft from a private company to reach the ISS, after Shuttle's retirement.

Enter Moonspike - a crowdfunded Moon rocket being designed and built by "ordinary rocket engineers". We tend to forget that not all rocket engineers work for ESA or NASA, and this crowdfunding campaign is a pretty good reminder of that. Should it get fully funded, [ndlr: at time of writing, it had less than a thousand backers for a total of £ 75,000, so roughly an eighth of the total sum] "ordinary people" like you and me will be on the front lines - having access to exclusive photographs and updates, seeing a test launch, or even visiting mission control.


Alien Megastructure

This might have been the second most-talked about story of the past few weeks: NASA's Kepler telescope has discovered a faint star in the Cygnus constellation, KIC 8462852 (sweetly nicknamed the "WTF Star"), that flickers in an unusual way. Usually, when Kepler notices flickering in a star, it means it's being orbited by one (or more) planets; however, in this case the dips in brightness seemed too irregular and with the star's light dropping by as much as 20% in brightness, a simple orbiting planet didn't seem to be the cause of it. If not a planet, then what? We don't know yet - all we know is that it's highly unusual. Scientists have ruled out the hypothesis of a cloud of dust surrounding the star, and think it might not be a storm of comets, either. With all these natural causes excluded, the possibility of a giant structure being built in or even around KIC 8462852, such as a Dyson sphere, arose. Since then, astronomers from SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) have been listening in on radio signals from the star - just in case.


Bonus Video

To Scale: The Solar System. Watch this and have your mind blown by just how far apart the planets in our Solar System really are.