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 28th 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 however. Ongoing measurements that had been 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 The 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
This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars’ atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan
NASA’s Curiosity rover has made a double dose of exciting discoveries on Mars by detecting a short-term, tenfold spike in atmospheric methane, the simplest organic compound, and also making the first definitive detection of a more complex organic molecule in a rock-powder sample gathered by the robot’s high-speed drill at Gale Crater.
Overall, these new and “hard won” results have the potential to increase the chances that Mars had the right set of habitable conditions to “spawn life” at some time, but much more data and careful analysis is required to answer the life question in any definitive way.
Continue reading NASA Curiosity Rover Discovers Methane and Organics on Mars
A high-resolution color global map of Saturn’s moon Mimas, based on imaging data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. A set of new global maps of Saturn’s largest icy moons reveal the latters’ landscapes in unprecedented detail. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/LPI
The first 50 years of planetary exploration have seen the successful completion of humanity’s epic, first preliminary reconnaissance of almost the entire Solar System, from the scorching-hot innermost planet Mercury to the frigid ice giant Neptune in the doorstep of the vast, uncharted Kuiper Belt. During that time, various robotic spacecraft have also studied the fascinating terrestrial worlds of the inner Solar System in great detail, allowing scientists to construct very high-definition global color maps of their surfaces which have helped to reveal the unique, stark beauty of their never-before-seen planetary vistas. Yet, equally as fascinating, the large icy moons of the outer Solar System are intriguing worlds in their own right. Until recently planetary scientists lacked any similar global-scale mosaics of these distant icy bodies in the outer Solar System, even though the latter had also been visited by various robotic spacecraft in recent decades. This situation began to change in 2010, with the publishing of the first-ever high-resolution global maps of Jupiter’s four largest moons, which were based on the treasure trove of data returned by NASA’s Galileo mission while the latter explored the Jovian system during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, thanks to the Cassini mission which has been studying Saturn for over a decade, scientists have acquired their first detailed color global mosaics of some of the ringed planet’s largest satellites as well.
Continue reading Coloring the Ice: Scientist Compiles First-Ever Global Color Maps of Saturn’s Icy Moons From Cassini Data
MAVEN is observing the upper atmosphere of Mars to help understand climate change on the planet. MAVEN entered its science phase on Nov. 16, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC
NASA’s newest Mars orbiter, MAVEN, has begun its unprecedented mission to unlock the mysteries of Mars’ climate history and determine why the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere over the past four billion years.
Top scientists leading NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission discussed the early results Monday, Dec. 15, at a briefing held at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, Calif.
Continue reading Early Results From NASA’s MAVEN Mars Orbiter Provide Clues Pointing to Atmospheric Loss
Spectacular view of the CRS-4 Dragon cargo ship, pictured berthed at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Harmony node in September 2014. Photo Credit: NASA
Almost three months since its last flight and since winning a $2.6 billion slice of NASA’s Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) “pie,” SpaceX—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services company, headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk—stands primed to launch its seventh Falcon 9 v1.1 booster of 2014. Liftoff of the two-stage rocket from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is currently scheduled to occur no sooner than 1:20 p.m. EST on Friday, 19 December, whereupon the fifth dedicated Dragon cargo ship will embark on a two-day rendezvous profile to reach the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft will deliver more than 3,700 pounds (1,680 kg) of experiments, technology demonstrations, and supplies for the incumbent Expedition 42 crew and will remain berthed at the station for about four weeks.
Continue reading SpaceX to Launch Next Dragon Mission to Space Station on Friday