Stories tagged space exploration

Aug
07
2014

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen
Comet 67P/Churyumov-GerasimenCourtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Rosetta - a spacecraft launched over ten years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA) - finally reached its goal yesterday, aligning and syching itself up with the orbital path of a comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) speeding around the Sun.

During the course of its trajectory, Rosetta utilized the gravity of both Earth and Mars in several slingshot maneuvers to accelerate and help hurdle the spacecraft toward its destination. The comet is traveling toward the sun at 34,175 mph. After a high-speed chase across nearly 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) of interplanetary space Rosetta had to slam on its brakes over the past to months to reduce its speed (relative to the comet) to just under 2 miles per hour.

"This arrival phase in fact is the most complex and exotic trajectory that we have ever seen," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French Space Agency CNES.

Close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen's surface: Rosetta will send a lander to the surface in November.
Close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen's surface: Rosetta will send a lander to the surface in November.Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The spacecraft will spend the next year or so collecting data and photographing the comet which is roughly 2 miles in diameter and shaped somewhat like a duck. Comets are thought to be composed of the same nebular material present when the Sun and planets first formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta will help increase our knowledge of the solar system's beginnings.

This coming November ESA engineers will command Rosetta's lander, Philae, to set down on the comet's surface to collect even more data, a feat never before attempted. That will certainly be worth watching.

SOURCES
BBC story
Sydney Morning Herald story
Rosetta FAQ
ExtremeTech (more photos)

First lunar landing: Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
First lunar landing: Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.Courtesy Mark Ryan
I remember clearly where I was on this historic day, July 20, in 1969. At around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I was sunning myself on a public beach on Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota when astronaut Neil Armstrong's voice came over my trusty transistor radio to announce that "The Eagle has landed". Apollo 11's Lunar Module (LEM) had set down and mankind had successfully landed on the Moon!

In this post-space shuttle, unmanned, watered-down era of space exploration, it may not seems like such a big deal now, but back then, during the Apollo Program era, it was a truly monumental and remarkable feat to witness especially when you consider it took less than ten years to accomplish from the time President Kennedy had challenged the nation in 1961.

Later that evening, like most of the world, I watched Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, take those amazing first steps and explorations of another celestial body in our universe. For a couple hours at least, while the two astronauts gathered rock samples and set up experiments, our often contentious species was able to put aside all our terrestrial troubles (and there were many at the time) and focus as a unified human family on a single, amazing achievement. When they had completed their historic exploration, Neil and Buzz re-entered the LEM and lifted off to rejoin fellow astronaut Michael Collins in lunar orbit in the command module Columbia, and returned safely back to Earth.

The Moon continues to dominate our night sky and I'm certain we'll travel there again sometime in the future, but those return visits will never be able to equal the excitement and awe felt when mankind first landed there in the tumultuous midst of the 20th century.

LINKS
Forbes interview with Neil and Buzz
Apollo 11 mission
PBS - Race to the Moon

Up and away: SpaceX's Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch today.
Up and away: SpaceX's Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch today.Courtesy Maggie Osterberg via Fiickr (Graphic by Mark Ryan)
The scheduled launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is a go for today at 2:25 CDT*. So, if you want to watch it live, it's easy to do. Just set your alarm and come back here to use the simple link below to view a live video-stream of the event. Hey, folks, it's not rocket science...wait, what?

NASA Public on UStream

*Neither I nor Science Buzz is responsible for launch delays or postponements.

Oct
28
2013

Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.
Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.Courtesy Lockheed Martin
From a NASA press release:

NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

Signs of Curiosity's work at the Rocknest site: Soil samples taken and analyzed from this site have been found to contain Martian water.
Signs of Curiosity's work at the Rocknest site: Soil samples taken and analyzed from this site have been found to contain Martian water.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
After last week's disappointing news that no signs of current life have been found living on Mars, NASA scientists have just confirmed some pretty exciting news: the Mars rover, Curiosity, has found water on the Red Planet. Analysis of dirt and fine soil scooped up from the Rocknest site on the surface of Mars has revealed that it contains water. This is big news. Read here what NASA has to say about it.

You're dead to me!: Recent tests by the Curiosity rover has failed to find signs of current life on Mars,
You're dead to me!: Recent tests by the Curiosity rover has failed to find signs of current life on Mars,Courtesy NASA
Curiosity, one of the robotic explorers currently investigating the Martian environment presented NASA scientists with a bit of a set-back this week with a report that the rover has failed to detect any signs of methane on Mars. Several tests were conducted on the Red Planet over an eight month period but none produced any signs that microbial life was emitting the signature gas into the atmosphere.

"It reduces the probability of current methane-producing Martian microbes, but this addresses only one type of microbial metabolism," said Michael Meyer, NASA's lead scientist for Mars exploration. "As we know, there are many types of terrestrial microbes that don't generate methane."

NASA news release

Earthlings wave to Saturnians
Earthlings wave to SaturniansCourtesy NASA?JPL-Caltech
Remember last month when we posted a photo of the Earth and Moon taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it looked back from its location near the planet Saturn? Well, at the time, NASA made a request of all Earthlings to send in photos of themselves waving back at Saturn, and here are the results made into a collage of our Big Blue Oasis in space:

NASA Mosaic

Click on the globe to see enlargements of the 1400 or so photographs NASA received.

SOURCE and MORE INFO

Artists conception of big photo op
Artists conception of big photo opCourtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
Hey, everybody. Heads up! Today (July 19, 2013), at approximately 4:27 CDT the Cassini spacecraft, which is 898 million miles away, will take a snapshot from the other side of Saturn that will include not only the ringed planet but our very own planet Earth. The photo op will last for about 15 minutes. Perfect time for a photobomb don't you think?

NASA-JPL story

May
31
2013

Radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2
Radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR
Radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2 reveal that the large space rock that's nearing Earth has its own satellite orbiting around it. The pictures were captured a couple days ago by the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. NASA has been tracking the asteroid since its initial discovery in August of 1998, but only recently discovered it had its own bright little moon.

The binary asteroid's primary body is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across while its orbiting satellite is estimated to be about 2000 feet wide. Only about 16 percent of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 200 meters in size are binary or triple systems, making them a fairly rare occurrence. By measuring the tiny moon's orbit, scientists can calculate the mass and density of the larger asteroid body, which can range from being a chunk of solid rock to a pile of rubble held together by gravity.

Thanks to these radar images, NASA scientists led by Marina Brozovic of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are able to more accurately estimate 1998 QE2's characteristics and behaviors, such as the length its rotational period (about 4 hours), its size, shape, and surface features, as well as provide a more precise calculation of the system's orbit around the Earth.

Data and resolution will improve as the asteroid reaches its closest approach to Earth around 3pm (CDT) this afternoon. No need to worry, though, the binary asteroid will be a safe 3.6 million miles away and won't get any closer in the next two hundred years.

SOURCES
NASA/JPL news
NASA's Near Earth Orbit Program

In this video, Chris Hadfield, the commander on the International Space Station, takes a few moments to reflect on his time orbiting the Earth via a re-working of singer David Bowie's 1969 classic song "Space Oddity". There's been a lot of space imagery set to music over the decades but I imagine this must be the first music video actually recorded in space by an astronaut. Commander Hadfield, by the way, is the same guy who gave us some pointers on how everyday activities are done in a zero gravity environment in an earlier Buzz post.