When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed in late October, the company attributed the loss to an unidentified "serious anomaly." Now, thanks to the ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, we finally have a clearer picture of what happened 9 miles up in the air that day. According to surviving pilot Peter Siebold, the spacecraft disintegrated around his seat while it was flying at 50,000 feet, almost twice the height of Mt. Everest. The temperature at that altitude is usually below freezing point, around minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and any human without an oxygen mask would pass out due to loss of pressure. Since Siebold wasn’t wearing a spacesuit at the time, that’s exactly what happened to him, though he managed to unbuckle his seatbelt at some point before his parachute automatically opened.

A previous NTSB investigation points to the premature unlocking of SpaceShipTwo’s feather re-entry system as one of the possible causes of the crash. Siebold told authorities he wasn’t aware that co-pilot Michael Alsbury, who sadly didn’t survive, unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s feather braking system earlier than intended. This braking/re-entry method turns the spacecraft’s tail upward in order to slow and stabilize its descent. According to the investigation, Alsbury only unlocked the first lever and left the second one untouched, but the winds tore the spacecraft apart anyway.

As for Siebold, an aerospace physiologist called his survival "extremely remarkable." People don’t usually survive such harsh temperature and pressure conditions, and they usually come out of the ordeal permanently damaged when they do.

[Image credit: Getty Images]

via Virgin Galactic pilot recounts how he survived being ejected at 50,000 feet.

Wreckage of SpaceShipTwo 10-31-2014lVirgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo disintegrated shortly after the vehicle’s tail stabilizers prematurely deployed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Friday’s crash killed co-pilot Michael Asbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold. The exact cause of the accident is still unknown, and acting NTSB Chair Christopher A. Hart cautioned against drawing conclusions from the initial findings.
Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo’s third powered flight

This promotional video from Virgin Galactic shows the third powered flight of SpaceShipTwo, which took place Jan. 10, 2014. The vehicle’s feathering system can be seen in action at 1:46.

via SpaceShipTwo Feathering System Prematurely Deployed before Fatal Breakup | The Planetary Society.

An Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket fell back to the launch pad shortly after liftoff Tuesday night, exploding in a fireball that destroyed the vehicle and damaged its launch pad. The private spaceflight company confirmed all personnel were accounted for, and no one was injured in the mishap.

via [UPDATED] Antares Rocket Explodes Seconds after Liftoff | The Planetary Society.

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will pass within 139,500 km (86,000 miles) of the surface of Mars at 5:51 tomorrow morning (Monday 20 Oct, Sydney time – or 19 October at 18:51 UTC). This means Comet Siding Spring will pass 10 times closer to Mars than any (recorded) comet has flown by Earth! But it will be traveling at 50 km/s which is too fast to be captured by Mars’s gravitational pull.

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust (Photo by Steve Lee (AAO))

astropixie: comet siding spring and mars.

"We’re at the comet!" Rosetta has arrived at comet 67P

After a journey of more than a decade, Rosetta has finally arrived at comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Confirmation of the successful rocket firing came just a few minutes ago on a webcast from ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Congratulations to ESA, to the scientists and engineers on the mission, and all the people of all of ESA’s member nations!

via "We're at the comet!" Rosetta has arrived at comet 67P | The Planetary Society.

NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyl 

Kepler-186f: A Second Earth

The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet orbiting a distant star in the habitable zone—a range of distances from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that Earth-size planets exist in the habitable zone of other stars and signals a significant step closer to finding a world similar to Earth.

via The Habitable Zone of Inhabited Planets | The Planetary Society.

Stars are plotted for 2 a.m. local daylight time as seen from mid-northern latitudes. Image: Sky & Telescope.

One night only, May 23/24, the challenger — Comet 209P/LINEAR dusty debris.

Comet 209P/LINEAR

This May 17, 2014 image of Comet 209/LINEAR is the average of 5, 180-second exposures, taken remotely with the PlaneWave 17″+ Paramount ME+STL-6303E robotic unit of the Virtual Telescope Project. The telescope tracked the comet, so stars are trailing. This comet has the potential to generate an exceptional meteor shower (Camelopardalids) on May 24, 2014.

via One Night Only, a New Meteor Shower that May Be Spectacular? | The Planetary Society.

Egypt made an announcement this week that’s of beer world interest. The country’s minister of antiquities announced that Japanese archeologists have unearthed a 3,000 year old tomb of a beer brewer in the city of Luxor.

The tomb is dated back to the Remesside period. The later part of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties (1292–1069 BC) is known as Ramesside period, after the eleven pharaohs that took the name of Ramesses. The brewer was the chief “maker of beer for the gods of the dead.”

The tomb was located near statesman Amenhotep III, the grandfather of famous pharaoh Tutankhamun. The walls depicted scenes of the life 3,000 years ago including statesman drinking. (Presumably beer, seen above.)

Archeologists Find Tomb of Ancient Beer Brewer | Beer Street Journal.