Over the past week we've seen a lot of space exploration news. Not only has NASA continued to commit itself to manned missions to Mars, but they've also opened up a contest to gather ideas from the public about how to make that happen.

A Russian cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) that malfunctioned a few weeks ago has finally returned to Earth, where it crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX successfully tested the abort system of its Dragon capsule, in preparation for carrying humans to and from space.

Although the Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 25th anniversary in space several weeks ago, it's not resting on its laurels: this week it discovered a halo around the Andromeda Galaxy.

SpaceX successfully tests Dragon's abort system.

Elon Musk's SpaceX recently completed an abort test of its Dragon capsule. The test of the capsule, which will eventually carry astronauts to and from the ISS, is part of Dragon's safety protocols that would keep astronauts safe if an emergency arises during launch. The abort system worked as expected, meaning that the test was a success.

"The flight test is unlike any seen in Florida since the days of Apollo," says NASA. "With its parachutes floating beside it, the spacecraft is waiting for a ship to lift it out of the sea and return it to the Cape. SpaceX controllers will pour over the telemetry and other data recorded during today's flight test to evaluate the launch abort system and SuperDraco engines."

NASA continues commitment to get manned missions to Mars.

At this week's Humans 2 Mars Summit in Washington, DC., NASA head Charles Bolden spoke out about the agency's commitment to get manned missions to Mars by the 2030s, citing NASA's plan as not just realistic, but also "affordable" and "sustainable." NASA has already begun making plans for such journeys, including studying the effects of long term space travel on two astronauts on the ISS who will remain there a year and building the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System, which could carry astronauts to Mars.

NASA wants your help in establishing a Mars colony.

This week, NASA launched a contest looking for ideas to help mankind move away from Earth and become the pioneers of space. The first challenge asks participants to come up with ideas that will help humanity establish a presence on Mars.

"The Solver is asked to describe one or more Mars surface systems/capabilities and operations needed to achieve this goal that are, to the greatest extent possible, technically achievable, economically sustainable, and minimize (ideally, eliminate) reliance on support from Earth," writes NASA on the official challenge website.

The best idea wins $15,000.

Hubble discovers halo around the Andromeda galaxy.

Although some might call Hubble old tech, it's still unveiling mysteries about our Universe, even after 25 years in space. Now, it's spotted a massive halo of gas around the Andromeda galaxy, the galaxy closest to the Milky Way. Although we sort of knew that halo was there, Hubble's data shows that it's a lot bigger than we originally thought: the halo reaches to about a million light-years away from the Andromeda galaxy and could tell us about how spiral galaxies, such as Andromeda and the Milky Way, form.

"Halos are the gaseous atmospheres of galaxies. The properties of these gaseous halos control the rate at which stars form in galaxies according to models of galaxy formation," says Nicolas Lehner of the University of Notre Dame.

Malfunctioning Russian spacecraft crashes back to Earth.

A Russian cargo spacecraft headed to the ISS launched a few weeks ago, but a malfunction caused it to spin out of control. This week, it re-entered Earth's atmosphere and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, expects that most of the spacecraft burned up when it hit the atmosphere.

[Photo Credit: NASA | Instagram]

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Tags: space NASA SpaceX