Stories tagged nasa


Voyage 2 Image of the Earth and moon
Voyage 2 Image of the Earth and moonCourtesy NASA
NASA has been filling my email inbox with some cool images of late. Here are some of my recent faves.

Juno image of Earth and moon
Juno image of Earth and moonCourtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI
For starters, check out these two images of the Earth and the moon – similar subject and faming separated by 34 years. The first picture represents the first time the Earth and moon were ever captured together by a spacecraft -- was recorded Sept. 18, 1977, by NASA's Voyager 2 when it was 7.25 million miles from Earth. The second photo is from the Juno spacecraft just a couple of weeks ago (August 26, 2011) and also shows the moon (right) and Earth (left) this time from 6 million miles from Earth. I am not sure why the image from 1977 and further away is better than the image from 2011 and closer, though I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the onboard camera for the Juno spacecraft is named JunoCam...ugh. (As an aside, you can follow Voyager 2 on Twitter, where it tweets updates on its distance from Earth.)

Irene, August 22, 2011
Irene, August 22, 2011Courtesy NASA

Irene, New York Landfall
Irene, New York LandfallCourtesy NASA/NOAA GOES Project

KatiaCourtesy NASA
Various images of recent and current hurricanes are awe-inspiring. A recent selection includes Hurricane Irene from the International Space Station as it was forming on August 22, another of Irene taken by the GOES-13 satellite 28 minutes before the storm made landfall in New York, and tropical storm Katia from August 31 as it was forming over the Atlantic Ocean.

Lastly, today NASA released images of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). I think they are super cool.Apollo 17 landing site
Apollo 17 landing siteCourtesy NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU

We don’t have shuttles anymore, but NASA still is doing some amazing stuff.

After many setbacks due to weather, the Space Ship Atlantis launched Friday morning. It will be the closing flight in the space shuttle program. It was a difficult moment for many connected with the program. The end of the program will open the door for a new chapter in NASA's investigation of space. Resource for this article - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on its final mission by

Successful launch bucks odds

The Atlantis left Friday morning at 10:29 EDT from Cape Canaveral, Fla., after delaying it for many days due to bad climate. The shuttle beat the odds as there was only a 30 percent chance it would occur today. The delay was very slight. The retractable arm on the launch pad had a problem causing a two minute delay to take place. It was not a terrible problem. It brought on no danger.

"This is the start of a sentimental journey into history," a NASA commentator said. "Atlantis is flexing its muscles one final time."

Quest STS-135

STS-135, the mission, is going to be the last of the 30 year program making it the 33rd trip. The International Space Station is to be restocked with all the equipment and supplies it needs with the 13-day mission. Russian space crafts will be used to get to the space station in the future. Experts predict that commercial ventures will handle the duty in a decade or so.

Humans and programs in space roles

The equipment being taken to space should be able to tell how programs and humans interact in space through experiments. Robots will become more and more essential the further they are in space, NASA believes. One piece of equipment is meant to see if satellites can be refueled by robots in outer space. This piece of equipment is the size of a washing machine.

"What have we learned in robotics in 30 years? This is it. It's all led up to this," said Brian Roberts, a robotics expert at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We've practiced on the ground, but we need to see how this would work floating around in space. ... We'll learn a lot of what works well and what doesn't work. We're trying to show the capabilities of robots and their abilities to do these tasks."

Try that app out

With Mission STS-135, there will be new technology. An iPhone is going to be brought to the space station. It's going to be used to track experiment outcomes with an app. The app could help with space navigation also.

Other crafts to launch

"This is not the end of human spaceflight," said NASA's Chief Technologist Bobby Braun via Twitter. "It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

There will be a plan for the Dawn spacecraft later this month. The asteroid Vesta will be orbited. Next month, another craft named Juno will lift off. It is going to Jupiter to study how forces work on larger planets in our system. In order to try and choose the size and composition of the core of the moon, the Gravity Recovery and Interior laboratory (GRAIL) mission will launch in Sept.

Articles cited



Universe Today

Huffington Post

MPCV GTACourtesy Lockheed Martin/NASA
Work on the heat shield and thermal protection backshell of the new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) ground test article, or GTA, was completed recently in preparation for environmental testing. This image is of the MPCV at the Lockheed Martin Vertical Test Facility in Colorado. The MPCV will undergo rigorous testing to confirm its ability to safely fly astronauts through all the harsh environments of deep space exploration missions.


Stardust's burn to depletion: On March 24 four rocket motors on NASA's Stardust spacecraft, illustrated in this artist's concept, fired until the spacecraft's fuel was depleted.
Stardust's burn to depletion: On March 24 four rocket motors on NASA's Stardust spacecraft, illustrated in this artist's concept, fired until the spacecraft's fuel was depleted.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
Yesterday NASA's Stardust spacecraft performed a final burn with its main engines which effectively ended the life of NASA's most traveled comet hunter. Called a "burn to depletion", the procedure will help to answer the question of how much fuel Stardust had left in its tank. While it sounds like running your snow blower until it runs out of gas to store it for the summer, this was an important test as no one has invented an entirely reliable fuel gauge for spacecraft. Part of the process of approximating fuel use is looking at the history of the vehicle's flight and how many times and for how long its rocket motors have fired.

Stardust's burn to depletion is expected to be useful especially because the spacecraft has been proverbially "running on empty" for a long time. Stardust has been in space for over 11 years and has flown past an asteroid (Annefrank), collected particle samples from a comet (Wild 2) and returned them to Earth in a sample return capsule in January 2006. Then, after these primary objectives, it was then re-tasked to perform a flyby of comet Tempel 1, a task it completed last month.

Before the burn to depletion Stardust pointed its antenna at Earth and sent information on the burn as it happened. The command ordering the rockets to fire was sent for 45 minutes, but the burn lasted just 146 seconds. 20 minutes after the engines burned out, Stardust's computer commanded its transmitters to turn off. Without fuel to power the spacecraft's attitude control system, Stardust's solar panels will not remain pointed at the sun. When this occurs, the spacecraft's batteries are expected to drain of power and deplete within hours.

Its a fitting end to a very impressive mission for NASA.


Comet Temple 1
Comet Temple 1Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD
The following is from a listserv I am on that I thought was interesting.

On February 14, NASA's Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) mission will encounter Comet Tempel 1, providing a unique opportunity to measure the dust properties of two separate comets (Wild 2 and Tempel 1) with the same instrument for accurate data comparison. The encounter will also provide a comparison between two observations of a single comet, Tempel 1, taken before and after a single orbital pass around the sun.

NASA's Stardust spacecraft will fly within 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) of Comet Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011, at about 8:36 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

NASA's Deep Impact mission observed Comet Tempel 1 in the summer of 2005, as the comet was inbound toward the Sun on its approximately 5.5-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Deep Impact's primary mission was to deliver a special impactor spacecraft into the path of Comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft -- and many ground-based observers -- observed the impact and the ejected material. Scientists were surprised the cloud was composed of a fine, powdery material, not the expected water, ice, and dirt. The spacecraft did find the first evidence of surface ice on the surface of a comet instead of just inside a comet.

The Stardust-NExT mission is a low-cost use of an in-flight spacecraft redirected to a new target. Prior to its tasking for Tempel 1, the Stardust spacecraft successfully flew through the cloud of dust that surrounds the nucleus of comet Wild 2 in Jan. 2004. The particles of cometary material and gathered during this flyby were then returned to Earth aboard a sample return capsule which landed in the Utah desert in January 2006.


SpiritCourtesy xkcd
The current Mars rovers are, not surprisingly, still on Mars. The surprising bit is that one, Opportunity, is still operating, nearly seven years after landing. The other, Spirit, is stuck, possibly in a hibernation mode, and could "wake up" during the Martian summer solstice , this coming March. It’s pretty incredible that these rovers operated so long after they landed – in Opportunity's case 20 times longer and counting.

And, orbiting above the rovers is the Odyssey spacecraft, which last week broke the record for longest-working spacecraft at Mars. The previous record was set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.

And amidst all this history, a little under a year from now, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity will be launched and is scheduled to land in August 2012. Curiosity is also a rover, but is larger than either Opportunity or Spirit. Its mission is to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.


The shores of the alien world: Mono Lake, California, Earth.
The shores of the alien world: Mono Lake, California, Earth.Courtesy Eeek
Big news from NASA today, y'all.

NASA scientists are holding a conference at 2:00 EST today, and I hate to spoil the surprise, but word on the street is that they've discovered life on the planet Earth. Ah... but it's not what you think—word is that they've discovered life that's really different from everything else here.

Last year, I posted about the theory that this sort of thing might exist, but it wasn't until now that it has actually been discovered. Here's the gist: bacteria living in the mud of weirdo Mono Lake have been found to use arsenic as a building block of their bodies. That may not sound like much, but, if it's true, it would mean that these bacteria are different than every other living thing on this planet. Everything else that lives on this planet is made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. These creatures use arsenic instead of phosphorous.

Aside from being super cool and different, the discovery suggests that if life can exist in ways we didn't think was possible, it can exist in places we didn't think life was possible. Like other planets and moons in our own solar system.

More details after the conference, hopefully.

Voting irregularities, proper registration and showing identification at the polls have been growing concerns in recent elections. But here's a case where astronauts at the International Space Station today were able to cast their votes long distance. It makes for absolutely no excuse for those of us here on Earth not to cast our votes today.

Hubble image of Comet 103P/Hartley 2
Hubble image of Comet 103P/Hartley 2Courtesy NASA, ESA, and H. Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Lab)
Periodic comet 103P/Hartley 2is currently visible high in the evening sky. Learn more here.

The Deep Impact spacecraft has been redirected to fly past Comet 103P/Hartley 2 on November 4. Read more about that here.

President Signs NASA Authorization Act: President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 in the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.
President Signs NASA Authorization Act: President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 in the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.Courtesy Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Obama signed the NASA 2010 Authorization Act into law yesterday, giving approval for $58.4 billion to be spent on NASA programs over the next three years.

The details are yet to be ironed out, but we do know that the budget includes one more shuttle flight (meaning there are three now remaining (STS-133 (Discovery), November 1st, 2010; STS-134 (Endeavor) February 26, 2011; and the newly added STS-135 (Atlantis) likely in June 2011), the life of the International Space Station will be extended to at least 2020, and the development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle will start as early as 2011.