From the location where it came to rest after bounces, the Philae lander of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission captured this view of a cliff on the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The feature is called “Perihelion Cliff.” The image is from the lander’s CIVA camera. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
The team guiding Europe’s history-making Rosetta mission to orbit and land on a comet for the first time in human history is planning for even more remarkable science achievements at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in the year ahead, during its primary mission phase, including an extremely close and bold flyby.
Continue reading Rosetta Team Focusing on Upcoming Comet and Lander Science, Planning Ultra Close Flyby
Hanging in the black sky, five degrees above the lunar horizon and with the terminator crossing Africa, this astonishing view of the Home Planet represented the first occasion on which human eyes glimpsed “Earthrise” from the Moon. It is a timeless image which continues to draw inspiration and wonder. Photo Credit: NASA
Forty-six years ago, today, on 21 December 1968, three men were launched atop the most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status—the Saturn V—to begin a mission more adventurous, more audacious, more challenging, and far more dangerous than had ever been attempted in two million years of human evolution. As described in yesterday’s history article, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders roared away from their Home Planet and re-lit the third stage of their launch vehicle in an event somewhat innocuously described as “Trans-Lunar Injection” (TLI). That six-minute firing propelled them out of Earth’s gravitational clutches for the first time in history and set them on course to visit our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon.
Continue reading ‘There Is a Santa Claus': The Voyage of Apollo 8 (Part 2)
NASA’s Orion Crew Capsule back home at KSC after carrying out the EFT-1 mission just a couple weeks prior. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is back home after making its way cross-country from California to the east coast of Florida after a successful experimental test flight, EFT-1, which took place over four hours on Dec. 5. Orion was not expected to arrive back at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) until Christmas, which made its early arrival a treat for those working on the program.
“We are so happy today to announce the homecoming the of the Orion spacecraft,” said NASA commentator Mike Curie as he addressed the media the morning of Friday, Dec. 19.
Continue reading NASA’s Orion EFT-1 Spacecraft Returns Home to Kennedy Space Center
New research merging Fermi data with information from ground-based radar and lightning networks shows that terrestrial gamma-ray flashes arise from an unexpected diversity of storms and may be more common than currently thought. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Gamma rays make up a considerable amount of the cosmos. They can be emitted from objects within our own Milky Way galaxy or come from as far back in time as the Big Bang. Gamma rays are the most energetic kind of radiation, and relate to supermassive black holes, merging neuron stars, streams of hot gas, pulsars, and blazars. NASA scientists want to know what gives birth to the diverse spectrum of gamma rays, and that is where Fermi steps in.
Continue reading NASA’s Fermi Mission Provides More Insight on Thunderstorm Gamma Rays
Watched by a global audience of millions, and seemingly also by a crescent Moon, the first Saturn V ever trusted with human passengers takes flight on the morning of 21 December 1968. Photo Credit: NASA
Since July 1969, astronaut Mike Collins has achieved fame as “the other one” on the first lunar landing crew. A year before making that momentous flight, he might have been aboard Apollo 9, shoulder to shoulder with fellow astronauts Frank Borman and Bill Anders, to perform a high-Earth-orbit test of the Moonship’s command, service, and lunar modules. That mission changed markedly by the time it eventually flew—renamed “Apollo 8″ and with a very different destination—but for Collins the most significant change of all was that in a matter of weeks he had gone from sitting in the senior pilot’s seat … to sitting on the sidelines in Mission Control. Forty-six years ago, today, on 21 December 1968, the first humans in history set sail for another world.
Continue reading ‘Launch Commit': The Voyage of Apollo 8 (Part 1)
The One Year Crew, from left: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: NASA
If humankind is to branch out beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO) into deep space, more must be known about what it’s like to live and work in space for extended periods. In 2015, two space explorers from opposite sides of the ocean will have the opportunity to do just that: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will launch on March 28 as a “One Year Crew” to the International Space Station (ISS) to complete 12 months of scientific investigations. (They will be joined on Soyuz TMA-16M by commander Gennady Padalka.)
On Thursday, Dec. 18, the two were joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen to discuss goals for this “long haul” during a Paris press conference.
Continue reading Long Duration, For All Mankind: Kelly, Kornienko Get Ready for One-Year Mission
An artist’s concept of Voyager 1 against a backdrop of stars. Having crossed into interstellar space, the spacecraft has detected that a shockwave from a Coronal Mass Ejection which was blasted from the Sun more than a year ago, is still travelling outward into the interstellar medium. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Having long ago completed its epic journey of exploration and discovery through the outer Solar System, NASA’s Voyager 1 is the spacecraft that keeps on going more than 37 years after it was launched, while having already taken on its new role as humanity’s first robotic emissary to the stars. This historic passage into interstellar space, which occurred in August 2012, was marked by a steep increase in the levels of cosmic rays coming from interstellar space as measured by Voyager 1’s onboard instruments, accompanied by a sudden drop in the number of solar wind particles that originated from the Sun. Yet, despite having exited the Sun’s magnetic sphere of influence, the spacecraft can still feel the effects of its activity. Ongoing measurements taken throughout 2014 show that a “tsunami wave,” which was generated by the Sun in February, is still flying through interstellar space, providing scientists with new insights about the physics of the interstellar medium.
Continue reading Voyager 1 Detects ‘Tsunami’ Wave From Sun Still Going Strong Beyond the Heliopause
Artist’s conception of super-Earth HIP 116454b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
The Kepler space telescope has found its first new exoplanet, a “super-Earth,” of its secondary mission phase. The discovery adds to a current tally of 996 confirmed exoplanets and 4,183 planetary candidates already found by the revolutionary planet-hunting telescope.
Continue reading Kepler Finds ‘Super-Earth’ Exoplanet in First Discovery of New Mission
Orbital will employ Russian RD-181 engines to replace the failed AJ-26 engines which led to the total loss of the company’s Orb-3 ISS resupply mission for NASA in Oct. 2014. Photo Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation
When an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff on the company’s third contracted NASA resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on Oct. 28, 2014, the first thing that came to everyone’s mind was the 40-year-old Soviet-era Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated as the AJ-26) used to fly the rocket. Antares had flown flawlessly on all four of its missions since 2013, but the liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen-powered AJ-26’s had failed in testing, twice, since 2011, with the most recent failure having caused an engine slated to fly in 2015 to disintegrate on the test stand at Stennis Space Center last spring.
Continue reading Orbital Contracts Russian RD-181 Engines to Launch Future Antares Flights
SpaceX CRS-5 Dragon launch to ISS is now expected to fly NET Jan. 6, 2015. File Photo: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
SpaceX is NO GO to launch a Falcon-9 booster with their unmanned Dragon cargo ship on the company’s fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA this Friday, Dec. 19, and will not do so until at least after the new year. The company’s second CRS-5 launch delay, according to SpaceX, is being blamed on an abundance of caution, this time after a recent customary static test fire/wet dress rehearsal (also known as a practice countdown) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex-40 ended prematurely. Although the exact details of the concern have not been made available, both NASA and SpaceX have decided to push the launch back to give engineers time to review data from the test fire before proceeding with a second test fire and committing to a launch attempt.
Continue reading SpaceX Exercises Caution and Keeps CRS-5 Grounded Until At Least Jan. 6, 2015