Monday, December 8, 2014

Textbook launch for NASA’s Orion spacecraft

Running a day late, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket roared to life and vaulted into orbit Friday, boosting NASA’s first Orion deep space exploration craft into space for a long-awaited unmanned test of the vehicle the agency hopes will one day carry astronauts to an asteroid and, eventually, to Mars.

Coming nearly three-and-a-half years after the final space shuttle launch, the maiden flight of Orion marked a major milestone for NASA, the first test of a new U.S. spacecraft designed to carry astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit since the final Apollo moon mission more than four decades ago.

While NASA’s budget is constrained and flights to Mars are not expected before the mid-2030s (at the earliest), the launch Friday generated widespread interest and served as a major morale-booster for NASA and its contractor workforce.

“Its biggest significance is symbolic,” space historian John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told CBS News. “This is the first time a piece of hardware intended to take humans beyond low-Earth orbit is being tested or used, for 42 years, since Apollo 17.

“It’s a very small but real, tangible step towards eventually sending people out to the moon, beyond and eventually to Mars.”

Speaking from orbit Thursday, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, commander of the International Space Station, said the Orion mission was “a thrilling prospect when you think about actually exploring the solar system.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Philae lander sends back first ever image from comet surface

The European Space Agency’s Philae lander has sent back the first ever image from the surface of a comet.

The picture shows the cracked, bumpy surface in monochrome, with one of Philae’s three legs in the bottom left of the frame. It is not yet clear whether the leg in the image is actually touching the surface. What is certain is that Philae is not level, and may be wedged into a pit.

“We’re either looking into a ditch or we are against a wall,” said ESA Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor.

Comets are often described as “dirty snowballs”, irregular blocks of ice covered with dust and rocks, but no human craft has ever reached the surface of one before.

Scientists re-established communications with Philae on Thursday after an anxious overnight wait while its mothership Rosetta, which relays the signals to Earth, dipped below the comet’s horizon.

Magnetic field data from Philae’s ROMAP instrument analysed overnight revealed three ‘landings’. The first was almost exactly on the expected arrival time of 15:33 GMT. But the anchoring harpoons did not fire and Philae rebounded.

In the weak gravity of the comet it took about 2 hours for the lander to return to the surface. It touched down for a second time at 17:26 GMT, then bounced again before finally coming to rest at 17:33.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

NASA’s Voyager Probes Still Healthy After Nearly 4 Decades in Space

NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft are still going strong after nearly 37 years in space.

“Both spacecraft are still operating, still very healthy. I guess as healthy as we are at the table right now,” Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said, drawing a big laugh from the audience at the SpaceFest VI conference in Pasadena, California, on May 11.

Dodd was fresh out of college in 1985 when JPL recruited her as it geared up for Voyager 2’s upcoming encounter with Uranus. Nearly 30 years later, she is project manager of the Voyager Interstellar Mission under which the two spacecraft continue to explore the vast expanse of space beyond the planets.

Dodd was actually the youngster on the Voyager reunion panel. She was joined by Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone and retired Voyager Mission Design Manager Charley Kohlhase, who were both on the project when it was in the planning stages in the early 1970s.

When the Voyagers were launched in 1977, NASA expected them to last four or five years, long enough to get them through close encounters with Jupiter and Saturn. But, they just kept going and going.

Voyager 2 went on to flybys of Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. It is now about 105 astronomical units from Earth. (One AU is the average distance between the Earth and sun, about 92 million miles.) Voyager 1, which flew out of the plane of the solar system after its 1980 flyby of Saturn, is in interstellar space at 127 AUs.

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NASA’s Lost Satellite Just Made Its First Contact With Earth in 17 Years

It’s official: ISEE-3, the 36-year-old satellite that NASA left for dead over a decade ago, is back in touch with humankind. This afternoon, a group of citizen scientists who raised almost $160,000 to fund the process of taking control of ISEE-3 announced that two-way contact has been established with the little satellite that could. So what’s next?

“Over the coming days and weeks our team will make an assessment of the spacecraft’s overall health and refine the techniques required to fire its engines and bring it back to an orbit near Earth,” explained the Reboot team in a triumphant comment released today. Contact was made at Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico, where scientists collaborated with a worldwide network of like-minded space fans to fund and engineer the project.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Nasa says Mars mystery rock that ‘appeared’ from nowhere is ‘like nothing we’ve seen before’

mars-mystery.jpg

Squyres said his team had two theories on how the rock got there - that there’s “a smoking hole in the ground somewhere nearby” and it was caused by a meteor, or that it was “somehow flicked out of the ground by a wheel” as the rover went by.

“We had driven a metre or two away from here, and I think the idea that somehow we mysteriously flicked it with a wheel is the best explanation,” Squyres said.

Yet the story got even stranger when Opportunity investigated further. Squyres explained: “We are as we speak situated with the rover’s instruments deployed making measurements of this rock.

“We’ve taken pictures of both the doughnut and jelly parts, and the got the first data on the composition of the jelly yesterday.

“It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “It’s very high in sulphur, it’s very high in magnesium, it’s got twice as much manganese as we’ve ever seen in anything on Mars.

“I don’t know what any of this means. We’re completely confused, and everyone in the team is arguing and fighting (over what it means).

“That’s the beauty of this mission… what I’ve realised is that we will never be finished. There will always be something tantalising, something wonderful just beyond our reach that we didn’t quite get to - and that’s the nature of exploration.”

[Read More…]

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