You can thank — or blame — NASA for social network LinkedIn’s first TV commercial. The ad, which will air during the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday night, uses imagery from the agency and was inspired by LinkedIn’s research that found that nearly 3 million of its 400 million users matched the professional qualifications for being a NASA astronaut.

“The astronaut is a universal symbol of a dream job,” said a company executive. Landing that job, however, is likely a little more complicated than just pestering NASA officials with LinkedIn invites.

NASA’s latest call for astronauts, which closed last week, received more than 18,300 applications, shattering the old record of 8,000 set in 1978 and about three times the number received in the previous round in 2011.

Of those 18,300,  several hundred will qualify for additional reviews and interviews. By mid-2017, NASA will select 8 to 14 to train as astronauts. [Mashable]

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SpaceX postponed the launch of the SES-9 satellite last night. In a statement, the company said it delayed the launch by a day “out of an abundance of caution” in order to chill the rocket’s liquid oxygen propellant to the desired temperature. The upgraded Falcon 9 uses liquid oxygen cooled to near its freezing point to make the propellant denser, improving the rocket’s performance. The launch is now scheduled for 6:46 p.m. Eastern tonight, with an 80-percent chance of acceptable weather. [SpaceNews]

NASA has assigned SpaceX five additional ISS cargo missions under its current contract. The assignment, part of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract awarded in 2008, brings the total number of Dragon missions to the International Space Station that are covered by the CRS contract to 20. Industry sources valued the additional missions at about $700 million. The awards, made in late December, did not include any additional missions for Orbital ATK, the other company with a CRS contract. The awards extend cargo services for the station until the CRS-2 contracts, awarded last month, start in late 2019. [SpaceNews]

An experimental reusable spaceplane is the biggest space program in DARPA’s proposed budget. The agency is seeking $50 million for its Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) program, up from $30 million in its 2016 request. XS-1 is intended to develop a reusable first stage that can fly up to Mach 10, as well as fly 10 times in 10 days. DARPA awarded study contracts to three industry teams in 2014, but has yet to select one to build a vehicle. The DARPA request also includes $45 million for a deployable communications antenna for cubesats and $33 million for a satellite servicing program. [SpaceNews]
The head of Boeing’s defense and space division is abruptly retiring. Chris Chadwick, who led Boeing Defense, Space & Security since late 2013, will retire from the company effective March 1, the company announced Wednesday. He will be replaced by Leanne Caret, the head that division’s Global Services & Support unit. [Bloomberg]

JAXA has signed a contract with a Japanese company to do commercial research on the space station. The agreement announced this week with PeptiDream, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, covers protein crystal growth experiments to be conducted in the station’s Kibo module over the next year and a half. JAXA has been performing protein crystal growth experiments in Kibo since 2009, including a previous experiment with PeptiDream. [JAXA]

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ESA’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft is ready to start its scientific mission. The agency said that two test masses inside the spacecraft are now floating free, and the spacecraft is maneuvering around them to react to the faint gravitational forces on the two cubes. LISA Pathfinder’s formal science mission, a precursor to future missions designed to detect gravitational waves, will begin March 1. [ESA]

If NASA is interested in finding life on Mars, it should follow the salt, not the water. Astrobiologists argue in a recent paper that, if life existed early in the planet’s history when conditions were more habitable, it most likely would have survived to the present day if it adapted to living in salt deposits. Scientists have seen similar behaviors in microbes in dry environments on the Earth. Such salt deposits are thought to exist on Mars in its southern highlands, including two of the eight candidate landing sites for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. [New Scientist]


A radio burst may have identified some of the missing mass in the universe. Astronomers detected a mysterious “fast radio burst” last April, and trained several telescopes on the source. That allowed astronomers to identify the source of the burst and its distance, while other astronomers measured the delay in the arrival of radio signals at different frequencies, a way of measuring much mass the radio waves passed through. That matched calculations based on models that predict half the mass of the universe is in previously unseen clouds of gas between galaxies. [The Guardian]

Images of the Moon taken by a NASA spacecraft are also works of art. A gallery of dozens of images from the main camera on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will open Friday at the National Air and Space Museum. The exhibit is based on an earlier one in Phoenix that had its origin in a conversation between a gallery owner and Arizona State University professor Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for the camera. “If it wouldn’t embarrass him, he really is the Rembrandt of capturing just the right kind of lighting,” a museum curator said of Robinson. [Arizona State Univ.]

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...