AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch ORB-3 on a Antares rocket from Wallops Island, VA
scheduled for:
27 Oct 14 22:44:00 GMT
27 Oct 14 18:44:00 EDT

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NASA's SMAP Mission Arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Begins Final Preparations for Early 2015 Launch

Scheduled for launch in early 2015, NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP mission, will track Earth's water into one of its last hiding places: the soil. SMAP soil moisture data will, among other things, aid in predictions of agricultural productivity, weather and climate. Image Credit: NASA

Scheduled for launch in early 2015, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP mission, will track Earth’s water into one of its last hiding places: the soil. SMAP soil moisture data will, among other things, aid in predictions of agricultural productivity, weather and climate. Image Credit: NASA

“Follow the water”: This theme has driven NASA’s Mars robotic exploration missions in the last 20 years, as part of the space agency’s efforts to understand the role of the life-enabling liquid in the physical processes that have shaped the Red Planet throughout its history. A similar understanding of the importance of water is the focus of another NASA mission, the Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, which will enable the global mapping of the moisture distribution and freeze-thaw state, not of the Martian soil but that of our home planet instead, in unprecedented detail allowing scientists to gain a better understanding of the ways that soil moisture affects Earth’s hydrological, energy, and carbon cycles.

Continue reading NASA’s SMAP Mission Arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Begins Final Preparations for Early 2015 Launch

Saturn's Moon Mimas May Have an Underground Ocean—or Just a Weird Core

Mimas, a cold, icy and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

It wasn’t that long ago that Earth was thought to be the only place in the Solar System capable of having liquid water oceans, but now we know of several moons that do as well, including Europa and Enceladus, and likely Titan and Ganymede as well. In all these cases, the oceans are below ground, similar to ocean water below ice sheets at the Earth’s poles. Now there is yet another moon which might be added to this special list: Saturn’s moon Mimas.

Continue reading Saturn’s Moon Mimas May Have an Underground Ocean—or Just a Weird Core

Russian Cosmonauts Breeze Through Four-Hour EVA

Max Surayev (bottom) and Aleksandr Samokutyayev (top) at the Pirs airlock during their EVA on Wednesday, 22 October. Photo Credit: NASA

Max Surayev (bottom) and Aleksandr Samokutyayev (top) at the Pirs airlock during their EVA on Wednesday, 22 October. Photo Credit: NASA

For the seventh time in 2014—and the third occasion in less than three weeks—a pair of spacewalkers toiled outside the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today (Wednesday, 22 October). Expedition 41 Commander Max Surayev and Flight Engineer Aleksandr Samukutyayev worked briskly for three hours and 38 minutes to remove and discard a scientific experiment package and a pair of unneeded rendezvous antennas, collect samples from the exterior of the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and conduct a comprehensive photo-documentation task. Today’s EVA marked the second career excursion for both Surayev and Samokutyayev and is expected to be the final ISS spacewalk of the year.

Continue reading Russian Cosmonauts Breeze Through Four-Hour EVA

ESA Announces Landing Site Naming Contest as Rosetta Gets Best Comet Views

ESA and its Rosetta mission partners are inviting you to suggest a name for the site where lander Philae will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November.  Credit: ESA

ESA and its Rosetta mission partners are inviting you to suggest a name for the site where lander Philae will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November. Credit: ESA

Calling all space enthusiasts! Here’s your chance to participate in Europe’s breathtaking Rosetta comet mission with a ringside seat for history’s first-ever attempt to land on a comet and be among the first to see the images directly at the mission control in Germany.

Continue reading ESA Announces Landing Site Naming Contest as Rosetta Gets Best Comet Views

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Snaps First-Ever Comet Image From Mars' Surface During Comet's Ultra-Close Martian Flyby

NASA’s Opportunity rover snaps this first ever image of a comet (fuzzy object at center) from another planet’s surface during close flyby of Comet Siding Spring with Mars on Oct. 19, 2014.  This pancam raw image was taken on Sol 3817. Inset shows enhanced view revealing more comet detail.    Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/TAMU  Image Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

NASA’s Opportunity rover snaps this first-ever image of a comet (fuzzy object at center) from another planet’s surface during close flyby of Comet Siding Spring with Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. This pancam raw image was taken on Sol 3817. Inset shows enhanced view revealing more comet detail. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/TAMU. Image Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s Opportunity rover snapped the first-ever image of a comet from the surface of Mars during a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as Comet Siding Spring (Comet C/2013 A1) made the closest known flyby of either Earth or Mars in recorded history—missing the Red Planet by a mere 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers).

Opportunity captured the spectacular and history-making view of the “fuzzy” Oort Cloud comet by pointing her camera high up in the pre-dawn Martian sky on Sunday, Oct. 19, said “quite excited” Opportunity science team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, exclusively to AmericaSpace today (Oct. 20). See rover photo above with our enhanced view revealing more comet detail.

Continue reading NASA’s Opportunity Rover Snaps First-Ever Comet Image From Mars’ Surface During Comet’s Ultra-Close Martian Flyby

SLS Core Stage Test Welds Begin at NASA’s Welding Wonder in Michoud

A ring and barrel recently loaded onto the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tool is being used to perform confidence welds prior to welding together the first SLS core stage tanks. Credit: NASA/Michoud

A ring and barrel recently loaded onto the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tool is being used to perform confidence welds prior to welding together the first SLS core stage tanks. Credit: NASA/Michoud

MICHOUD ASSEMBLY FACILITY, NEW ORLEANS, LA — The first pieces of rocket hardware have been loaded onto NASA’s gigantic new weld tool tasked with assembling the core stage fuel tanks for NASA’s mammoth new heavy lift rocket—the Space Launch System (SLS)—that will one day boost “Humans to Mars.”

The road to SLS production and first launch has started, with acceptance testing using parts from the over 34,000 square feet of real metal components already manufactured.

Continue reading SLS Core Stage Test Welds Begin at NASA’s Welding Wonder in Michoud

'The Choreography Was Incredible': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 2)

Columbia roars into orbit at 10:53 a.m. EST on 18 October 1993, 21 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA

Columbia roars into orbit at 10:53 a.m. EST on 18 October 1993, 21 years ago yesterday. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-one years ago, yesterday, on 18 October 1993, the longest flight ever attempted in shuttle history—the 14-day STS-58 mission, carrying the second Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-2) research payload—was launched into orbit. Aboard Columbia were astronauts John Blaha, Rick Searfoss, and Bill McArthur, together with physicians Rhea Seddon and Dave Wolf, biochemist Shannon Lucid, and veterinarian Marty Fettman. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, SLS-2 attracted a measure of controversy, in that it represented the first human space mission to feature the euthanasia and dissection of animals as part of a medical investigation in the microgravity environment.

Continue reading ‘The Choreography Was Incredible': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 2)

MESSENGER Takes First Images of Ice Near Mercury's North Pole

Kandinsky_Geology1

Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) image of Kandinsky crater, near Mercury’s north pole, which contains water ice. The original broadband image is on the left (outlined in yellow), and the brightness and contrast-enhanced version is on the right. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The Solar System is full of surprises. Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, is a baking hot world, as would be expected. It is one of the last places where you would think anything would or could be frozen, but things aren’t always as they seem. There has been tantalizing evidence already for water ice deposits in craters at Mercury’s north pole, and now the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around the small planet has visually confirmed it for the first time.

Continue reading MESSENGER Takes First Images of Ice Near Mercury’s North Pole

Reviving a 'Dream Deferred': Remembering the Flight of Apollo 7

From NASA's Human Spaceflight Gallery: "The prime crew of the first manned Apollo space mission, Apollo 7, stands on the deck of the NASA Motor Vessel Retriever after suiting up for water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. Left to right, are astronauts Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, and Walter M. Schirra, Jr." Photo Credit: NASA

From NASA’s Human Spaceflight Gallery: “The prime crew of the first manned Apollo space mission, Apollo 7, stands on the deck of the NASA Motor Vessel Retriever after suiting up for water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. Left to right, are astronauts Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, and Walter M. Schirra, Jr.” Photo Credit: NASA

January 27, 1967, Cape Canaveral, Fla.: At 6:31 p.m. Eastern Time at Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the frantic word “Hey!” was recorded coming from the cockpit of the Apollo 1 capsule, crewed in a “plugs out” test by astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White, II, and space rookie Roger Chaffee. The exclamation was followed by unusual activity recorded inside the capsule by an adjacent camera. A sickening scene would play out for those listening to the transmissions, ending in seconds as the situation grew more desperate inside the capsule as an oxygen-fueled fire ripped through it. It soon transpired that all three astronauts were lost during the accident, culminating in what astronaut chief and colleague Donald K. “Deke” Slayton would call “the worst day” in his book, Deke!, co-authored with Michael Cassutt.

Continue reading Reviving a ‘Dream Deferred': Remembering the Flight of Apollo 7

'A Unique Opportunity': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 1)

Glorious view of the Home Planet from STS-58, with the SLS-2 Spacelab module clearly visible in Columbia's payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA

Glorious view of the Home Planet from STS-58, with the SLS-2 Spacelab module clearly visible in Columbia’s payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA

“John, we’re going to fly you one of these days,” Launch Director Bob Sieck called over the communications loop on 15 October 1993. The disappointment of another scrubbed launch attempt was evident in his voice. “Just hang in there.”

“Nice try,” came the call from astronaut John Blaha on Columbia’s flight deck, as he and his six crewmates prepared to disembark from the orbiter after 2.5 hours on their backs in bulky, uncomfortable pressure suits, harnesses, and parachutes. It was the second time that they had been through this routine in trying to get into space for what was to be NASA’s longest shuttle flight to date, lasting a little over two weeks. For mission STS-58—which finally launched on this day (18 October), 21 years ago—would earn its own reputation, not only for its duration, but for the fact that it controversially featured the first euthanasia and dissection of animals in the microgravity environment.

Continue reading ‘A Unique Opportunity': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 1)