After drilling through the 800-meter-thick ice sheet that covers subglacial lake Whillans in western Antarctica, a US research team discovered a thriving microbial ecosystem on the lake floor that hasn’t been reached by sunlight possibly for up to a million years. The image shows the view down the bore hole as the drill melted its way through the ice. Image Credit: Reed Scherer/Northern Illinois University
Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? Attempts to answering that age-old question have been increasingly linked in recent years with the continuing discoveries of ecosystems in places on Earth that were previously thought of as overtly inhospitable to any forms of life. The growing realisation during the last few decades that anew category of microorganisms called, extremophiles, thrive in environments that would be detrimental to any other life forms on Earth has led to a paradigm shift in our view of life, forcing us to reconsider the definition of habitable environments on Earth as well as in other places in the Universe. A new fascinating study published earlier this month detailing the surprising discovery of a whole new microbial ecosystem in the waters and sediments of the subglacial lake Whillans in Antarctica, further showcases the tenacity of life on Earth, while offering valuable insights into the possibility of life on other similar environments in the outer Solar System, like the ice-covered oceans that are thought to exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Continue reading Living On The Edge: Life Under The Ice (Part 1)
Astronaut crew exits commercial Dream Chaser after touchdown at Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) or other commercial runways, on return from ISS mission in this artist’s concept. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)
The winged Dream Chaser’s “SUV-like” flexibility to act as both a crew transporter and “specialized research laboratory,” combined with a global “runway landing capability,” offer significant competitive advantages in terms of science and safety in the “new space race” to quickly develop a cost-effective “space taxi” for NASA, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in concluding Part 5 of our exclusive, one-on-one interview series.
Continue reading Dream Chaser’s SUV-Like Flexibility and Runway Landing Offer Competitive Advantages: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 5)
Discovery powers toward orbit on the morning of 30 August 1984, 30 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA
Thirty years ago, this week, the Shuttle Discovery—which would become, in time, the most-flown member of NASA’s fleet of orbiters—embarked on her maiden space voyage, launching from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on 30 August 1984. Aboard Discovery were Commander Hank Hartsfield, Pilot Mike Coats, Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, and Judy Resnik, and Payload Specialist Charlie Walker. During their six days in space, they became the first shuttle crew to deploy as many as three commercial satellites, they extended an experimental solar array “wing,” and they became forever known to history as “The Icebusters.” However, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the 41D mission had already experienced more than its fair share of excitement, before Discovery even departed the launch pad.
Continue reading ‘Icebusters’: 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 2)
Hank Hartsfield (bottom center), surrounded by his STS-41D crewmates on the maiden voyage of Discovery in August 1984. Photo Credit: NASA
Thirty years ago, today (30 August 1984), the Shuttle Discovery—which would become, in time, the most-flown member of NASA’s fleet of orbiters—embarked on her maiden space voyage, launching from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Aboard Discovery were Commander Hank Hartsfield, Pilot Mike Coats, Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, and Judy Resnik, and Payload Specialist Charlie Walker. During their six days in space, they became the first shuttle crew to deploy as many as three commercial satellites, they extended an experimental solar array “wing,” and they became forever known to history as “The Icebusters.” However, as described in a previous AmericaSpace history article, the 41D mission had already experienced more than its fair share of excitement, before Discovery even departed the launch pad.
Continue reading ‘You’d Be Booked Up’: 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 1)
John L. “Jack” Swigert, pictured in a 1971 NASA photo. Photo Credit: NASA
In 2011, waiting for STS-133 to launch on a sunny February afternoon in Titusville, Fla., an out-of-town visitor inquired about Apollo astronauts while talking to a former Cape worker in the proximity of the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, formerly located on the city’s Main Street. She brings up the name “Jack Swigert,” and an embarrassed giggle erupts from the elderly gentleman. “Well, some of those boys were wilder than others,” the man says, smiling broadly and shaking his head, undoubtedly remembering the long-dead astronaut’s adventures in bachelorhood.
Continue reading For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
Artist’s conception of an asteroid collision around the Sun-like star NGC 2547-ID8. Such impacts around young stars lead to planetary formation later on. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Solar systems, including ours, are thought to begin as massive clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars; over billions of years, planets form from repeated impacts of rocky debris. Asteroids and comets are left-over chunks of debris from that process which didn’t coalesce together. Such debris clouds, or protoplanetary disks, have been found around many young stars. These are solar systems still in their infancy. Now, astronomers have been able to observe the actual collision between two large rocky bodies, most likely asteroids, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young, Sun-like star 1,200 light-years away.
Continue reading Astronomers Witness Asteroid Smash-Up Around Sun-Like Star
Global partnerships could one day lead to European or Japanese versions of the Dream Chaser docking at the ISS in this artist’s concept. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)
By amassing “global partnerships with 21 space agencies,” the private Dream Chaser space plane has a solid foundation and “a path to continue” forward, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in Part 4 of our exclusive, one-on-one interview about the company’s efforts to build a cost-effective and potentially international version of their “astronaut taxi” to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as multiple exciting missions beyond!
Continue reading Global Partnerships Pave Path Forward for Private International Dream Chaser for Multiple Purposes: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 4)
Mission 51L Commander Dick Scobee talks to schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe about the instrumentation of the shuttle’s flight deck during pre-launch training. Photo Credit: NASA
Thirty years ago, yesterday, on 27 August 1984, one of the most momentous—and, as circumstances would transpire, also tragic—events in space history unfolded, when President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project (TISP) and directed NASA to find a gifted educator with the ability to communicate his or her enthusiasm to ground-based students from the orbiting shuttle. Over the course of the following months, more than 11,000 U.S. teachers applied and were assessed, culminating in July 1985 with the selection of Christa McAuliffe, a social studies educator from Concord, N.H. Her fateful launch aboard Challenger on Mission 51L on 28 January 1986 brought the shuttle program to its knees, but the spirit of McAuliffe’s unrealized voyage endured and finally came to pass in August 2007, when her backup, Barbara Morgan, flew as a fully-fledged mission specialist on STS-118.
Continue reading Endearing and Enthusiastic: 30 Years Since NASA’s Teacher in Space Project
Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon Charon in 14 July 2015. New Horizons has just completed a major milestone in its mission by crossing the orbit of Neptune on Aug. 25, exactly a quarter-of-a-century after Voyager 2 flew by the ice giant planet in 1989. Image Credit: Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)
They say there’s no such thing in life as chance, but only choice. That certainly holds true for NASA’s New Horizons mission which has been the culmination of more than two decades of efforts by the space agency and the planetary science community alike to study the last unexplored frontier of the Solar System: dwarf planet Pluto and the vast expanses of the Kuiper Belt that lie beyond. Yet, in what can be described as a unique cosmic coincidence, New Horizons, which has been travelling through the outer Solar System for the last 8.5 years to reach its destination, has just passed the orbit of Neptune earlier this week, exactly a quarter-of-a-century after the iconic Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up views of the fascinating ice giant planet, in August 1989. Having completed this major milestone, New Horizons is now in the homestretch of its historic journey toward Pluto, where it will arrive in less than a year, for its long-awaited flyby of this fascinating and mysterious world.
Continue reading Passing the Torch: Twenty-Five Years After Voyager 2, New Horizons Crosses Neptune’s Orbit On Its Way to Pluto
Steve Nagel (1946-2014). Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Veteran shuttle flyer Jerry Ross—the first human being to chalk up as many as seven discrete space missions—spoke touchingly and with humor yesterday (Tuesday, 26 August) at the funeral of his friend, astronaut Steve Nagel, who died from cancer last week, aged 67. Since their first meeting at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., almost four decades ago, Ross and Nagel “discovered we had a lot of things in common” and ended up flying two shuttle missions together. During his eulogy, Ross reflected warmly on the legacy of his former crewmate and their half-joking wish to someday regale each other at an Astronaut Retirement Home. “We would have two rocking chairs next to each other on the front porch,” Ross wrote in his speech, which he has kindly permitted AmericaSpace to use, “and enjoy giving each other a bad time while talking about our ‘similarities’.”
Continue reading Men of Similarity: Jerry Ross Fondly Remembers His Friend, Steve Nagel