Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Image Credit: NASA/ESA
The most sophisticated and ambitious space-based observatory ever conceived by the human mind continues to take shape through various aerospace centers across the country, where work is progressing steadily with development of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This year, 2015, is a big year for the JWST program; assembly of the actual flight telescope will begin this year, with its structure arriving at Goddard Space Flight Center this summer, followed by installation of the telescope’s 18 gold-coated hexagonal flight mirrors throughout the rest of the year.
The spacecraft bus and sunshield continue to be put together at Northrop-Grumman in California as well, and testing of test equipment at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in preparation for testing of the integrated telescope and instrument module in 2017 will take place throughout the year. However, some of the most difficult days for the JWST program lie ahead.
Continue reading NASA Says Webb Telescope on Budget and On Track for 2018 Launch, GAO Not So Sure
Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka joined their Expedition 43 crewmates Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov, and Samantha Cristoforetti in the Zvezda service module for a crew greeting ceremony. Photo: NASA
SPACE STATION WEEKLY UPDATE March 23 – March 29, 2015 — The International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 43 crew members kept busy last week, continuing work for the station’s ongoing research and science experiments while also preparing for upcoming cargo delivery. They also welcomed three new crew members, including two who will remain in space for nearly a year (342 days), bringing the number of humans living in space back up to six.
Continue reading Ongoing Research and New Crew Arrival Highlight Busy Week on Orbit for Expedition 43
Artist’s conception of the Alpha Centauri binary star system and the exoplanet Alpha Centauri Bb. Our own Sun is also shown in the distance. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger
The closest star system to our own Sun may have two Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting it, a new study has shown based on observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. If confirmed, the discovery would help to illustrate just how common exoplanets are; data from Kepler and other telescopes has also already shown that the vast majority of stars have exoplanets orbiting them, and the number of exoplanets in our galaxy alone is now thought to number in the billions.
Continue reading Two Earth-Sized Exoplanets May Exist in Closest Star System, Hubble Observations Reveal
Marine Gen. John “Jack” R. Dailey (front right), director of the National Air and Space Museum, presents the 2015 Current Achievement Trophy Award to William Borucki (front left) and NASA’s Kepler Mission Team. Photo Credit: NASM
The scientists and engineers searching for potentially habitable planets orbiting distant stars, as well as the exploration of all the planets in our Solar System, headlined the 2015 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum trophy awards for Lifetime and Current Achievement.
The awards were presented Mar. 25 at a glittering black tie ceremony and dinner at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
Continue reading Kepler Planet Hunter and APL Experimenter Krimigis Honored by Smithsonian
Bill Oefelein was one of the first members of his astronaut class to venture into space and the first Alaskan to reach orbit. He turns 50 today. Photo Credit: NASA
Although he forged an unfortunate place in popular culture and gained intense media attention in early 2007 as part of a bizarre “love triangle,” former shuttle astronaut Bill Oefelein—who turns 50 today (Sunday, 29 March)—also became the first Alaskan ever to embark on a space voyage and the first person to write a blog whilst in orbit. Nicknamed “Billy O,” he served as pilot aboard Discovery during STS-116 in December 2006 and, following his departure from NASA in May of the following year, he founded AdventureWrite, a freelance photography and writing company, which he has described as “a venue to chronicle life’s adventurous journey and share that journey with others.” From his birth in Virginia, through his upbringing in Alaska, to flying the shuttle, Oefelein has lived, and continues to live, a life of adventure and exploration.
Continue reading Veteran Shuttle Pilot and Adventurer Bill Oefelein Turns 50 Today
Terry Virts is pictured working on cable-routing activities in support of the future International Docking Adapters (IDAs) during EVA-29 on 21 February 2015. This was the first spacewalk in the 50th anniversary year since Alexei Leonov’s pioneering EVA. Photo Credit: NASA
Less than a month ago, on 1 March 2015, U.S. astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts concluded a spectacular series of three EVAs to prepare the International Space Station (ISS) for its most significant phase of expansion and relocation of hardware since the end of the shuttle era. They laid 340 feet (103 meters) of cables in support of the arrival of two International Docking Adapters (IDAs)—critical for NASA’s future Commercial Crew aspirations—as well as a further 400 feet (122 meters) of cables for the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) architecture and prepared two berthing ports on the Tranquility node for use later in 2015. In concluding the last of these EVAs, Wilmore and Virts completed the 187th spacewalk performed by astronauts and cosmonauts from the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and Italy since December 1998 to assemble and maintain the largest and most complex engineering achievement in human history. It is a mammoth effort which is expected to continue this year and throughout the station’s operational lifetime.
Continue reading Traversing the New Frontier: The First 50 Years of Spacewalking (Part 6)
Rosetta has made the first detection of molecular nitrogen at a comet. The results provide clues about the temperature environment in which Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko formed. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Rosetta, humankind’s first spacecraft to orbit a comet, has now made the first detection of molecular nitrogen (N2) at a comet. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) probe continues searching for signals from Philae, humankind’s first probe to land on the surface of a comet, named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The discovery of molecular nitrogen “provides important clues about the temperature environment in which Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko formed,” says the science team.
Continue reading Rosetta Makes First Detection of Cometary Molecular Nitrogen, Seeks Signals From Philae Lander
A montage of Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, as seen by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on its way to Pluto. The results of a new study indicate that the massive gas giant fundamentally altered the evolution of the early Solar System, by destroying any “Super-Earth”-type planets that may have formed, while opening the way for the formation of the inner terrestrial planets like Earth. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/GSFC
In the religious mythology of classical antiquity, the ancient Greek god Cronus (as well as his Roman counterpart, Saturn) was a member of the first generation of Titans who became the ruler of the Universe and the master of time by overthrowing his father, Uranus. While trying to avoid meeting the same fate by his children, Saturn later swallowed each one of them as they were born, only to be finally defeated by his son Jupiter, who eventually took his father’s place as the god of the sky and the ruler of gods and mortals alike. Akin to the father of his mythological namesake, a wandering Jupiter has probably wreaked a similar havoc early in the Solar System’s history, according to a new study, by throwing into the Sun several primordial “Super-Earth”-type planets that might have already formed, soon after the formation of the Sun. Yet, contrary to ancient myth, the gravity of the newly formed Saturn prevented the planetary king of the Solar System from meeting the same fate, by pulling the gas giant outward. Nevertheless, this inward-and-then-outward journey by Jupiter caused a wide planetary obliteration, which eventually allowed for the formation of a second generation of mass-depleted terrestrial planets, one of which was Earth.
Continue reading Jupiter Might Be Responsible for Our Unusual Solar System, Study Suggests
Story Musgrave works at the end of Endeavour’s mechanical arm during activities to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in December 1993. Photo Credit: NASA
Almost a quarter-century ago, in April 1991, the effort to build today’s International Space Station (ISS) got underway with a pair of spacewalks—one unplanned—outside the shuttle Atlantis. During STS-37, astronauts Jerry Ross and Jay Apt performed the first shuttle-based EVA of the post-Challenger era to manually deploy a balky antenna on the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) and to practice techniques and tools for what was then known as Space Station Freedom and which would eventually morph into today’s International Space Station (ISS). As described in the most recent article in this AmericaSpace series on 50 years of EVA accomplishments, it was a quirk of fate that Ross had embarked on the most recent shuttle-based spacewalk and even stranger, perhaps, that he would go on to put this work to exceptional use on the first ISS assembly mission in December 1998.
Continue reading Ready for Space Station Building: The First 50 Years of Spacewalking (Part 5)
Soyuz TMA-16M roars away from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 1:42 a.m. local time Saturday, 28 March (3:42 p.m. EDT Friday, 27 March), carrying Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly to the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA
The first year-long expedition of the International Space Station (ISS) era is officially underway, following the spectacular launch of Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko, together with U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, aboard Soyuz TMA-16M from Site 1/5 (the famed “Gagarin’s Start”) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launching on time into foggy skies at 1:42 a.m. local time Saturday, 28 March (3:42 p.m. EDT Friday, 27 March), the spacecraft and its powerful Soyuz-FG booster was delivered within nine minutes into low-Earth orbit, ahead of a now-standard six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” regime to dock at the station’s space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module at about 9:36 p.m. EDT. Padalka, Kornienko, and Kelly—who now boast 1,066 days of prior spaceflight experience—have now become the most flight-seasoned crew in history.
Continue reading One-Year Mission Underway With Rousing Soyuz TMA-16M Launch