The five-day window for the launch of a North Korean rocket mounted with an observation satellite opened Thursday as the rest of the world waits to see if Pyongyang will defy international warnings and go ahead with the controversial mission.
NBC News is in North Korea to observe the launch with space expert James Oberg. With a 22-year career as a space engineer in support of NASA’s spaceflight operations, Oberg has the experience and technical expertise to determine the veracity of North Korea’s claims about this mission.
Oberg answered reader questions for an hour earlier today. The questions and answers were extremely engaging and informative. Click below to replay the chat.
Read some of Oberg's reports on North Korea's space program:
A homemade rocket that blasted off from Nevada's Black Rock Desert captured images of the inky blackness of space from 121,000 feet above Earth, putting an approximately $10,000 prize within its reach.
Derek Deville, an amateur rocket builder, launched his homemade rocket Qu8k (pronounced quake) on Sept. 30. It reached its apogee of 121,000 feet at 92 seconds after launch, then deployed a parachute and floated back down to Earth where it was recovered just three miles from the launch site.
Cameras onboard the rocket captured the views, including the curvature of the Earth and the parachute cord slowly going taut.
While the lack of a GPS reading above 100,00 feet will keep the prize — $5,000 from Carmack and another $5,000 to $5,500 from additional benefactors — unclaimed for now, it appears it won't last for much longer.
Deville had a GPS on board Qu8k, just didn't get the reading he needed. Several other teams are vying for the prize, which is open until the first person or group reaches the goal.
A Delta 2 Heavy rocket rises from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in September, carrying the twin GRAIL spacecraft toward the moon. Scientists say bacteria could turn urine into rocket fuel for future trips beyond Earth orbit.
By John Roach, Contributing Writer, NBC News
The idea of using urine to whiz rockets to the moon and beyond is once again leaking into the realm of possibility.
That's because scientists have begun to crack the code of how bacteria that live without the aid of oxygen convert ammonium — a key chemical in urine — into hydrazine, which is a type of rocket fuel.
"It is a complex of three proteins" that do the trick, Mike Jetten, a microbiologist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, explained to me in an email today.
The urine-to-fuel concept first gained traction in the 1990s when scientists discovered the microbe, called anammox for anaerobic ammonium oxidation, that does this, but the idea stalled out when scientists realized only small quantities of the fuel are produced.
"Now that we understand how hydrazine is made we can try to improve the catalyst," Jetten said. "And we produce millions of tons of ammonium in wastewater every year," he added, suggesting that therein is enough of the material to manufacture rocket fuel.
For now, the microbe is used in wastewater treatment facilities, and the findings reported Sunday in the journal Nature have more realistic and earthly applications there, said Jetten. "The better we know the process, the better we can optimize and design new wastewater treatment systems," he said.
The team is also investigating "a new concept in which waste is converted into methane," Jetten added.