'Familiar to Millions of Americans': 45 Years Since Apollo 14 (Part 4)

Bathed by the intense lunar sunlight, Antares sits on the undulating plain of Fra Mauro in February 1971. Photo Credit: NASA

Bathed by the intense lunar sunlight, Antares sits on the undulating plain of Fra Mauro in February 1971. Photo Credit: NASA

For those of us born within the last four decades, the notion of looking up at the Moon and knowing that fellow human beings are living and working there has been as alien as the dusty surface itself. But for a short handful of years, between July 1969 and December 1972, six teams of astronauts—12 humans in total—landed on our closest celestial neighbor and performed our species’ first in-situ reconnaissance of another world. Forty-five years ago, last week, Apollo 14 Moonwalkers Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell completed an arduous two days of exploration at the Fra Mauro foothills, a place originally destined to be the landing site for the ill-fated Apollo 13, whilst their crewmate Stu Roosa performed his own program of lunar science from orbit.

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Goodnight, Sweet Philae: Bid to Reawaken Rosetta's Lander Near Impossible

From ESA, "Welcome to a Comet": "Philae's view of the cliffs at Abydos. One of the lander's three feet can be seen in the foreground." Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

From ESA, “Welcome to a Comet”: “Philae’s view of the cliffs at Abydos. One of the lander’s three feet can be seen in the foreground.” Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

It would have been a heroic coda to an already ambitious, historic mission, but alas, it was not meant to be. For the past few months, controllers at Germany’s DLR (the German Aerospace Center) have been sending commands to Philae, Rosetta’s lander, which touched down not once, but three times upon the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014. In June 2015, they miraculously did manage to get short bursts of data from the plucky refrigerator-sized lander. However, at present time, attempts to contact and once again “reawaken” Philae have been labeled in vain as the comet moves farther away from the Sun, creating conditions not optimal for lander survival. Stephan Ulamec, DLR’s Philae project manager, stated this week that the team is no longer sending commands: “The chances for Philae to contact our team at our lander control center are unfortunately getting close to zero.”

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'It's Been A Long Way': 45 Years Since Apollo 14 (Part 3)

The desolation of the Fra Mauro site and the tracks of the Mobile Equipment Transporter (MET), as captured by one of the Apollo 14 astronauts. Photo Credit: NASA

The desolation of the Fra Mauro site and the tracks of the Mobile Equipment Transporter (MET), as captured by one of the Apollo 14 astronauts. Photo Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, last week, the sixth team of Apollo lunar explorers—and only the third to accomplish a landing on the Moon’s dusty surface—headed back to Earth after a mission which restored confidence in America’s space program after the near-disastrous Apollo 13. Astronauts Al Shepard, Stu Roosa and Ed Mitchell brought a scientific yield back home which illustrated that the Moon was a far more complex celestial body than previously believed. As outlined in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history articles, the mission of Apollo 14 itself was extraordinarily complex, but it was also a very human story of one man’s battle against almost impossible odds to regain flight status, a story which carried more than its fair share of highs and lows…and the story of the Moon’s first golfer.

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The 'Floating Hills' of Pluto: Icebergs In a Frozen Nitrogen Sea

Icebergs on Pluto: the large blocks of water ice float in a "sea" of nitrogen ice and are thought to have broken off from the rugged and mountainous highlands. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Icebergs on Pluto: The large blocks of water ice float in a “sea” of nitrogen ice and are thought to have broken off from the rugged and mountainous highlands. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto is a tiny world and incredibly distant from the Sun, so it was a pleasant surprise for scientists last summer when the New Horizons spacecraft found that it is such a geologically active and dynamic place, with vast “seas” of nitrogen ice and glaciers, tall mountains of rock-hard water ice, and possible ice volcanoes. A new update this week focuses on some of the most interesting features discovered: iceberg-like blocks of water ice which “float” in the “seas” of softer nitrogen ice.

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'We did it!' Gravitational Waves Confirmed for First Time After Being Predicted by Einstein

Computer simulation of gravity waves produced by the collision of two black holes. Image Credit: NASA

Computer simulation of gravity waves produced by the collision of two black holes. Image Credit: NASA

Today was a big day for physicists and space science, with the announcement of the first confirmed detection of gravitational waves, 100 years after they had been predicted by Albert Einstein as a major aspect of his general theory of relativity. The gravitational waves detected were produced the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes, creating a single, more massive spinning black hole. The news marks nothing less than a revolution in physics.

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NASA's FYI 2017 Budget Request May Delay SLS Europa Mission Several Years

We are finally going back to Europa, but it may be a little later than planned. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

We are finally going back to Europa, but it may be a little later than originally planned. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The recently announced new mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, a highly anticipated return to this ocean world, may face a launch delay from 2022 to the late 2020s. The news comes amid the release yesterday of NASA’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, which provides substantially less funding than Congress had mandated last year.

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A Year of DSCOVR-y: Joint NASA/NOAA Earth-Watcher Celebrates 12 Months of Operations

 

The lunar farside begins its transit of the sunlit Earth, as seen by the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) in July 2015. Photo Credit: NASA/NOAA

The lunar farside begins its transit of the sunlit Earth, as seen by the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) in July 2015. Photo Credit: NASA/NOAA

At first glance, it appeared to be an impressive PhotoShop image. The view of the Moon, passing in front of the sunlit face of Earth in July 2015—and revealing the fully illuminated lunar farside—looked contrived; more than a little artificial. Yet it was a true perspective of the cradle of humanity and our nearest celestial neighbor, from a distance of 930,000 miles (1.5 million km), as seen by the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Launched on 11 February 2015, this joint effort between NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) originated in the dream of a former U.S. Vice President, but was disparagingly nicknamed a “multi-million-dollar screensaver” and delayed for years by rapidly spiraling program costs. However, today, DSCOVR marks not only a full year of operations, but represents a critical U.S. asset for Earth observation and space weather forecasting.

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ULA & USAF Dazzle West Coast with Delta-IV Night Launch of NRO-45 Topaz-4 Satellite

A top secret 8-ton National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)/Boeing Topaz imaging radar satellite was successfully launched into a retrograde polar orbit before dawn Feb. 10 from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. atop a ULA Delta-IV Medium. Mission NROL-45. Photo Credit: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace

A top secret 8-ton National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)/Boeing Topaz imaging radar satellite was successfully launched into a retrograde polar orbit before dawn Feb. 10 from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., atop a ULA Delta-IV Medium. Mission NROL-45. Photo Credit: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace

A top secret, 8-ton National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)/Boeing Topaz imaging radar satellite was successfully launched into a retrograde polar orbit before dawn Feb. 10 from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The mission used a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Medium+ with two solid rocket boosters and 5 meter (16.4 ft.) fairing. It marked only the second time a Delta IV Medium+ 4,2 version has been used, following its first flight to launch Topaz-2 in April 2012.

The new spacecraft was placed into about a 680-mile circular polar retrograde orbit inclined 123 degrees to the equator. It demonstrated the power of the Delta IV because any spacecraft launched beyond 90 degree inclination must overcome more of the natural force imparted by the Earth’s rotation at liftoff.

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Is 'Planet 9' Really a Second Massive Kuiper Belt?

The Kupier Belt is a massive collection of dwarf planet and asteroid-sized worlds orbiting far past Neptune. Is the hypothetical Planet 9 really a second such belt? Image Credit: T. Pyle (SSC)/JPL-Caltech/NASA

The Kuiper Belt is a massive collection of dwarf planet- and asteroid-sized worlds orbiting far past Neptune. Is the hypothetical Planet 9 really a second such belt? Image Credit: T. Pyle (SSC)/JPL-Caltech/NASA

The announcement of a possible large ninth planet in our Solar System way beyond Neptune last month caused a lot of excitement, needless to say. If confirmed, it may be similar to “super-Earth” type exoplanets which have been found to be plentiful around other stars, although none, that we knew of, around ours. At this point, however, it is still a well-presented theory. Now, there’s another possibility which has been offered to explain the weird orbits of some of the small Kuiper Belt objects: not a large planet, but rather a second Kuiper Belt consisting of many smaller objects.

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Vandenberg Readies Secret NRO Topaz Imaging Radar Satellite for ULA Delta-IV Launch Feb. 10

ULA is set to launch NROL45 on a Delta-IV from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA at 3:39 a.m. PST Feb 10. The mission will deliver the NRO/Boeing Topaz imaging radar reconnaissance satellite to orbit. Image Credit: ULA

ULA is set to launch NROL45 on a Delta-IV from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 3:39 a.m. PST Feb. 10. The mission will deliver the NRO/Boeing Topaz imaging radar reconnaissance satellite to orbit. Image Credit: ULA

A top secret, 8-ton National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)/Boeing Topaz imaging radar reconnaissance satellite is poised for liftoff Feb. 10 from Space Launch Complex (SLC-6) at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., on an Air Force/United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Medium rocket with two solid rocket boosters.

The planned 3:39 a.m. PST (6:39 a.m. EST) Vandenberg liftoff of the Delta-IV Medium + (5,2)/NROL 45 mission is to come just five days after ULA launched the GPS 2F-12 spacecraft from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas-V 401 booster. The launch window for the Delta-IV 521 radar satellite mission lasts about 90 minutes.

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