Stories tagged space exploration

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.


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.


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


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.

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.

Ever wondered how astronauts brush their teeth in a zero gravity environment? Or rinse out a wet rag? Or even make a peanut butter and honey sandwich (with a tortilla)? Wonder no more. Canadian astronaut and ISS Commander Chris Hadfield has created several videos that show how astronauts tackle these usually mundane tasks in space. Here are three:


The distant, lonely Earth seen from the Moon
The distant, lonely Earth seen from the MoonCourtesy NASA (via
Back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were making their historic moonwalk, I remember thinking to myself, what would happen if some kind of malfunction on the Lunar Module prevented them from blasting off the Moon's surface back to the Command and Service Module? They would most certainly die, there's no doubt about that, because NASA had no rescue plan in place. But what about Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot who was orbiting the Moon in the mother ship? He was waiting to take his fellow crew members home to Earth. If they didn't show up, he'd be in for a pretty lonely and agonizing three-day trip across the quarter-million miles of empty space back to Earth. I wondered what that would have been like.

Fortunately, Apollo 11 was a tremendous success and all three astronauts made it back safely, as did the 18 Apollo astronauts who followed in their footsteps (including the ill-fated Apollo 13 astronauts), so the tragic scenario never played out.

Lonely Al Worden: Even the loneliest of Maytag repairmen would have nothing on this astronaut.
Lonely Al Worden: Even the loneliest of Maytag repairmen would have nothing on this astronaut.Courtesy NASA
But what would that have been like? Astronaut Al Worden probably came closest to experiencing the profound loneliness of isolation in ourter space, when he was piloting the Command Module for the Apollo 15 mission. While his crew mates were busy walking (and driving!) on the Moon's surface, Worden was circling overhead - all by himself - for 3 days. At times, when his craft disappeared behind the far side of the Moon, he had no communications with anyone - not even Mission Control - and was thousands of miles away from his colleagues, and hundreds of thousands of miles away from any other human beings. He holds the record for being the "most isolated human being" ever.

You might think it must have been an anxious time for the solo astronaut, but his story, which can be found here, might just surprise you.

The Loneliest Human Being
Apollo 15 Mission
Al Worden's webpage