By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, designed to fly astronauts to the moon, asteroids and eventually Mars, likely will not have its debut test flight until November 2018, nearly a year later than previous estimates, agency officials said on Wednesday. NASA is 70 percent confident of making a November 2018 launch date, given the technical, financial and management hurdles the Space Launch System faces on the road to development, NASA associate administrators Robert Lightfoot and Bill Gerstenmaier told reporters on a conference call. NASA estimates it could spend almost $12 billion developing the first of three variations of the rocket and associated ground systems through the debut flight, and potentially billions more to build and fly heavier-lift next-generation boosters, a July 2014 General Accountability Office report on the program said. While the rocket might be ready for a test flight in December 2017, as previously planned, the new assessment showed the odds of that were “significantly less” than the 70 percent confidence level NASA requires of new programs, Gerstenmaier said.
By Vladimir Soldatkin VOSTOCHNY Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered construction sped up on a multi-billion-dollar spaceport in Russia's Far East that he said would break reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and launch future missions to the Moon and Mars. Putin flew in a helicopter over the sprawling building site in Vostochny at a time when conflict with Ukraine, maker of Zenit and Dnepr rockets, is highlighting the fragility of Russia's dependence on former Soviet republics in defense and space. Building a new launchpad on its own soil is central to Putin's effort to reform a once-pioneering space industry hobbled by years of budget cuts and a brain drain in the 1990s. "Our own space infrastructure and modern network of cosmodromes ... will allow Russia to strengthen its standing as a leading space superpower and guarantee the independence of space activities," Putin said at Vostochny, near Russia's border with China.
By Sharon Begley NEW YORK (Reuters) - Belying their reputation as the dumb cousins of early modern humans, Neanderthals created cave art, an activity regarded as a major cognitive step in the evolution of humankind, scientists reported on Monday in a paper describing the first discovery of artwork by this extinct species. The discovery is "a major contribution to the redefinition of our perception of Neanderthal culture," said prehistorian William Rendu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was not involved in the work. In recent years researchers have discovered that Neanderthals buried their dead, adorned themselves with black and red pigments, wore shell and feather jewelry and cared for the elderly and infirm, all evidence of complex thought. The new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could change that.
By Alex Dobuzinskis LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A solution to the longstanding mystery of why rocks move erratically across an isolated patch of California's Death Valley finally emerged on Thursday, when researchers published a study showing the driving force was sheets of wind-driven ice. Trails from the movement of the rocks, which show them changing direction suddenly in their movement across the so-called Racetrack Playa, have long befuddled scientists and the general public. Paleobiologist Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who led the study, saw the rare phenomenon first-hand last December while standing with his cousin, engineer James Norris, at the spot.
By Lisa Maria Garza DALLAS (Reuters) - A North Texas family, who discovered the skeleton of a 20,000- to 40,000-year-old mammoth while mining through sediment on their farm, is preparing to turn over the remains to a local museum. In May, Wayne McEwen and his family were gathering material from a gravel pit on their property, south of Dallas, when his son struck a 6-foot (1.8 meter) tusk while operating an excavator. The rest of the near-complete skeleton was unearthed by a team from a nearby community college, who determined it was a Columbian mammoth - a slightly larger, less hairy version of the more famous woolly mammoth. The family decided to donate the remains to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.