Sampling the Moon: Remembering the Lost Moonwalks of Apollo 13 (Part 2)

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise participate in lunar surface training in February 1970. Their target was the Moon’s Fra Mauro foothills. Photo Credit: NASA

In an alternate universe, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise should have been the fifth and sixth sons of humanity to have walked the surface of an alien world. In April 1970, the pair—joined by their Apollo 13 crewmate Jack Swigert—launched on the fifth piloted mission to the Moon, with an expectation that Lovell and Haise would land in a hilly region called Fra Mauro. As outlined in last week’s AmericaSpace history article, the site lay to the south of the 750-mile-wide (1,200 km) Imbrium basin, an ancient impact feature, and it was hoped that Apollo 13’s explorations would yield new clues into the composition of the early lunar crust. After touching down on the Moon, aboard their Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius, Lovell and Haise would spend 33.5 hours on the surface and perform two sessions of Extravehicular Activity (EVA), each baselined at four to five hours in duration.

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PHOTOS: SpaceX Launches TESS on Hunt for Earths Around Other Stars

Liftoff of NASA’s planet-hunting TESS spacecraft on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket April 18, 2018. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

A spacecraft on a quest to discover Earth-like and potentially habitable worlds in other solar systems around other stars took to space on April 18, 2018, riding atop a shiny new SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, will pick up where the Kepler spacecraft leaves off, as Kepler’s mission will soon end as the telescope’s fuel runs out.

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SpaceX to Launch NASA's TESS Spacecraft Monday in Quest to Discover Other Earths

Conceptualized artist’s illustration of TESS in space. Image Credit: MIT

The discovery of thousands of exoplanets in recent years is one of the most exciting developments in space exploration, and the future promises the detection of thousands more. Many of those have come from the Kepler Space Telescope, including Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of their stars, but that mission will soon be coming to an end as the telescope runs out of fuel. But not to worry, it will be replaced by the next generation of planet-hunting space telescopes. The next one of these, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), will be launching much sooner than Kepler ends – this coming Monday in fact, on April 16. TESS will further revolutionize our knowledge of these far-off worlds.

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Sampling the Moon: Remembering the Lost Moonwalks of Apollo 13 (Part 1)

Artist’s concept of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise exploring Fra Mauro. The Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius is visible in the background. Their lost surface explorations subsequently passed to Apollo 14 crewmen Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell. Image Credit: Teledyne Brown

Had the cruelty of fate not intervened, almost a half-century ago, this month, the fifth and sixth humans ever to set foot on another world would twice have walked on the dusty surface of the Moon. Following their launch aboard Apollo 13, and a four-day voyage across 240,000 miles (370,000 km) of cislunar space, on 16 April 1970 Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise would have boarded the Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius and accomplished humanity’s third piloted landing on our closest celestial neighbor. If near-disaster had not radically altered their mission, Lovell and Haise would have performed two Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) at a place called Fra Mauro, becoming the first Apollo astronauts to explore a hilly upland lunar site. “It was driven by confidence in the LM capability and steerage,” Haise told the NASA Oral History Project of the site selection, years later, “but also, if you’re going to properly sample the Moon…you had to become more diverse in…where you went to get a proper sampling.”

And Fra Mauro was nothing if not diverse.

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Rarely Used Heavyweight Atlas V Delivers Military AFSPC-11 Payload to High Orbit

Late day launch for ULA today, April 14, 2018, as Atlas V delivered the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)-11 mission to orbit from Florida’s Space Coast. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Pummeling the ground with an estimated 2.5 million pounds (1.1 million kg) of thrust, the largest and most powerful member of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V fleet roared aloft earlier tonight (Saturday, 14 April), to deliver a multi-purpose payload into orbit on behalf of the U.S. Air Force Space Command. Liftoff of the Atlas V 551—equipped with a 17-foot-wide (5-meter) payload fairing, five strap-on solid-fueled rockets and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—occurred from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 7:13 p.m. EDT, right on the opening of tonight’s two-hour “window”. The AFSPC-11 complement reportedly includes a classified primary customer, together with a geostationary-bound research satellite and a group of other technology demonstration, on-orbit imaging and risk-reduction payloads.

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'Even Better at Night': 25 Years Since the Artificial Sunrise of STS-56

Twenty-five years ago, after one false start, Discovery roared into space to begin a mission of exploration for the Home Planet. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/

Twenty-five years ago, tonight, in the seconds leading up to 1:29 a.m. EDT on 8 April 1993, all eyes were on the three dark bells of Discovery’s Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), as they were readied for ignition. It would be the 16th mission by an orbiter which went on to become the most-flown member of NASA’s shuttle fleet, but STS-56 came after several fraught days at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Two weeks earlier, shuttle Columbia had endured a harrowing, on-the-pad shutdown of her engines, just a few seconds before liftoff, and Discovery’s own mission had been similarly hit by the gremlins of misfortune. Yet astronauts Ken Cameron, Steve Oswald, Mike Foale, Ken Cockrell and Ellen Ochoa would turn night into day across the marshy environs of the Space Coast and complete a spectacular mission of scientific discovery, focused on the Home Planet.

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Could There Be Microbes Floating in Venus' Clouds? New Research Paper Bolsters Incredible Possibility

Venus as seen in ultraviolet light by NASA’s Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft in 1979. The dark patches in the upper atmosphere have been a mystery for nearly a century. Could they actually contain living microbes? Photo Credit: NASA

When it comes to searching for evidence of life elsewhere in the Solar System, certain places will always make the top of the list, such as Mars, Europa, Enceladus and Titan. They are considered to be the planet and moons most likely to biologically active, either now or in the distant past. But there is one more planet which, at first thought, would be one of the least likely environments – Venus. This hellish inferno has never been seriously considered a top contender, for obvious reasons. That view is starting to change now however, and it may just turn out that our first glimpse of alien life will come from Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. A new paper just published in Astrobiology supports this contention, that maybe we have been looking at unearthly life all along, and just didn’t recognize it at first.

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CRS-14 Dragon Kicks Off Multiple-Mission Month of Launches for SpaceX

A reused Upgraded Falcon 9 first stage and a reused Dragon take flight at 4:30 p.m. EDT Monday, 2 April 2018. Photo Credit: John Kraus/AmericaSpace

Kicking off a planned month-long run of missions from the East and West Coasts, which could see as many as five Upgraded Falcon 9 boosters spear for the heavens in the next 28 days, SpaceX has successfully delivered the CRS-14 Dragon mission into orbit, as part of its ongoing Commercial Resupply Services commitment to NASA. Liftoff of the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket occurred during an “instantaneous” window at 4:30:38 p.m. EDT on Monday, 2 April, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The Dragon—which is laden with some 5,800 pounds (2,600 kg)—of payloads, experiments and supplies for the incumbent Expedition 55 crew, will arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, 4 April, and remain for about a month. Both the Upgraded Falcon 9’s first stage and the Dragon itself were “used”, the former having seen previous service on the CRS-12 mission in August 2017 and the latter having visited the space station on CRS-8 in April 2016.

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The Day the Saturn V Almost Failed: 50 Years Since Apollo 6

The all-white Apollo 6 spacecraft rises from Pad 39A on 6 April 1968 for the Saturn V’s second unmanned test-flight. Photo Credit: NASA

Throughout its stellar 13-flight career, between November 1967 and May 1973, the mighty Saturn V—which still retains a place as the largest and most powerful rocket ever to reach operational service—never once failed to complete its assigned mission. It boosted two unmanned and one manned Apollo spacecraft into low-Earth orbit, sent nine teams of explorers to the Moon and lofted America’s first space station, Skylab. None of those flights were entirely without incident, of course, with Skylab’s tortured ride to orbit leading to an all-out repair effort by its first crew and Apollo 13 suffering an engine-out situation during ascent. Yet one mission about which less is known was the unmanned Apollo 6 flight, launched 50 years ago this week, on 4 April 1968, whose difficult journey into space gave NASA pause to consider if the goal of landing a man on the Moon before the decade’s end was really achievable. Significantly, on the very same day in Memphis, Tenn., the acclaimed civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated, casting a truly dark shadow across U.S. history.

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One Year, Ten Reflown Boosters: Iridium NEXT-5 Hitches Ride to Orbit on Used Falcon 9

Atop the noticeably charred first stage of its Upgraded Falcon 9, Iridium NEXT-5 takes flight on Friday, 30 March. This was SpaceX’s tenth flight out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., since September 2013. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

Today (Friday 30 March), SpaceX marks one year since it became the first launch provider to deliver a payload to orbit on a flight-proven booster. The triumphant success of the SES-10 mission in 2017 was further strengthened by the fact that its scorched first-stage hardware returned a second time to a smooth oceanic landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) and an intact splashdown of the bulbous payload fairing was achieved. Each of these steps forms part of SpaceX’s overall plan to enhance the reusability characteristics of its Upgraded Falcon 9 fleet in an effort to bring launch costs down.

Since then, several other boosters have completed repeat missions and at 7:13 a.m. PST today marks the tenth occasion in a single year that a “used” booster has been blasted back into orbit on a second occasion. In doing so, this morning’s mission from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., delivered the Iridium NEXT-5 batch of ten spacecraft aloft, bringing to 50 the total number of these global mobile communications satellites currently in orbit. With an expectation that SpaceX will launch 75 Iridium NEXT birds by August 2018, its delivery rate now stands at almost 67 percent of the full constellation already in space.

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