Credit: International Space Station

By Monica Grady, The Open University

Picture this scenario: A politician is appointed to run NASA who thinks its budget is too high and then half its money and a third of its workforce is on its way to evaporating. Public support for a mission to Mars is nonexistent.

It must be in late 2015, after anti-science Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has control of NASA, if you read science media (and then whatever Huffington Post and Slate are).
In space no one can hear you bleed, but what about on a private spacecraft? 

The commercial aviation industry has medical care standards, as does NASA for traditional space missions. Eventually someone is going to tell Elon Musk and Richard Brandon that the commercial space transportation industry will need to define medical care practices as well.

There are well-known risks, of course, but there can be disclaimers 400 pages long and if an attorney stands in front of a jury and talks about what lax safety standards there are, someone with the passionate pleading skill of John Edwards will get a judgment that runs their companies into bankruptcy.

Giving it a go... EPA

By Angelo Niko Grubišić, University of Southampton

SpaceX is attempting a huge feat in spacecraft engineering.

It is seeking to land the first stage of its Falcon 9-R rocket on a floating platform at sea. Normally this would end up at the bottom of the ocean. If successful, SpaceX will shake the rocket launch market, by shaving millions of dollars off launch costs.

A new study shows that plasma waves buffeting the planet's radiation belts are responsible for scattering charged particles into the atmosphere, creating the most detailed analysis so far of the link between these waves and the fallout of electrons from the planet's radiation belts.

The belts are impacted by fluctuations in "space weather" caused by solar activity that can disrupt GPS satellites, communication systems, power grids and manned space exploration.

Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, the Kepler spacecraft is still alive and working and its data has found a new "super-Earth".

NASA's Kepler spacecraft detected planets by looking for transits, when a star dims slightly as a planet crosses in front of it. The smaller the planet, the weaker the dimming, so brightness measurements must be precise and that requires maintaining a steady pointing. Kepler can't really do that any more, its primary functionality came to an end when the second of four reaction wheels used to stabilize the spacecraft failed. Without at least three functioning reaction wheels, Kepler couldn't be pointed accurately.

With the successful flight test of NASA's Orion spacecraft on Dec. 5, a new space era for has started for America and its aerospace industry. Companies engaged in space exploration like Lockheed Martin, which built the Orion spacecraft, learn a valuable lesson from this first and crucial step on a long journey to Mars.

Artistic rendering of the Square Kilometre Array at night. SKA Organisation

By Yves Wiaux, Heriot Watt University and Jason McEwen, University College London