The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition designed to inspire young scientists and engineers to build a robot and safely land it on the lunar surface while on a strict budget. (Photo credit: Google Lunar XPRIZE)
A total of $5.25 million in Milestone Prizes was awarded to five teams this week, Monday, Jan. 26, after successfully demonstrating their robots in three categories necessary to completing a Google Lunar XPRIZE Mission. Teams were to test and analyze essential software and hardware of each robot in the categories of imaging mobility and lander systems, and overcome key technical risks.
Continue reading Moon Bound Google Lunar XPRIZE Awards $5.25 Million in Milestone Prizes
11 Years on Mars!
New mountain top view from NASA’s Opportunity rover taken on the day of her 11th anniversary exploring the Red Planet on Sol 3911, Jan. 24, 2015, since Martian touchdown on Jan. 24, 2004. The view from atop Cape Tribulation was taken just after departing the summit and shows the down slope road ahead to next science destination at Marathon Valley some 200 meters away. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3911 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
Magnificent science treasures lie dead ahead for NASA’s world-famous Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover, as she celebrates an astonishing 11th year alive on the Red Planet atop a Martian mountain named Cape Tribulation on Jan. 24, 2015.
Just how unfathomable is that astounding accomplishment?
“It’s about 10.5 more years on Mars than I ever thought we’d get!” Prof. Steve Squyres, the rover’s Science Principal Investigator of Cornell University, said exclusively to AmericaSpace.
Continue reading Mars Science Treasure Dead Ahead as Opportunity Celebrates 11th Year Alive Roving Martian Mountain
Challenger’s final crew, as they should be remembered: positive and brilliant individuals, happily striving to explore space and further humanity’s reach into the Universe. In the back row (left to right) are Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row (left to right) are Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. Image Credit: NASA
On this day, 28 January, in 1986, one of the worst and most public disasters in U.S. space history unfolded with horrifying suddenness in the skies above Cape Canaveral. The sight of Challenger exploding, just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crew members, is so harrowing that for all of us who witnessed it live—including myself—it still carries the power to haunt. Over the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years to come, it would be played out again and again via television and later the Internet. The ramifications of the Challenger accident were so profound that they entirely reshaped the subsequent history of the shuttle program. An innocence, astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson once said, was lost on 28 January 1986, and never again would words such as “safe” or “routine” or “easy” be employed to describe the fleet of reusable orbiters, the brave souls who flew them, or the work they did. The loss of Challenger served as a stark reminder of the sheer dangers involved in space exploration and the unforgiving nature of high technology.
Continue reading ‘Major Malfunction': Remembering the Final Launch of Challenger
The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft undergoes checkout in Astrotech’s payload processing facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Photo Credit: ULA
For the 153rd time in its quarter-century of operational service, the thunderous roar of a Delta II booster will rattle Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Thursday, 29 January, carrying NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft into a near-circular orbit of about 425 miles (685 km), inclined 98.116 degrees to the equator. Liftoff of the Delta II—which is flying under the auspices of Centennial, Colo.-based United Launch Alliance (ULA)—is scheduled to occur from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex (SLC)-2 during a 180-second “window”, which opens at 6:20:42 a.m. PST. It will be the second of 13 missions planned by ULA in 2015 and comes hard on the heels of last week’s highly successful MUOS-3 flight. When it attains operational status, SMAP will become one of NASA’s first Earth observation satellites in response to the National Research Council’s Decadal Survey.
Continue reading NASA’s SMAP Environmental Watcher Ready for Thursday Launch Atop Delta II
After the first cry from Roger Chaffee (left), even super-fit Ed White (center) was unable to even fully release the first bolt from the command module’s inner hatch before he was overcome by fumes. The most likely origin of the fire was somewhere beneath the seat of Gus Grissom (right). Photo Credit: NASA
Almost five decades have now passed since one of the worst tragedies in the history of U.S. human space exploration. Alongside the loss of Challenger during ascent and the demise of Columbia during re-entry, the fire which tore through the command module of Apollo 1, during a “plugs-out” systems test on the evening of 27 January 1967, killing astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, played a pivotal role in refocusing awareness of the inherent hazards of launching humans away from the Home Planet and fundamentally reshaped America’s future goals in space. Forty-eight years later, it still remains remarkable that from the ashes of tragedy, the NASA family was able to recover, rebuild, and—fulfilling President John F. Kennedy’s pledge—land a man on the Moon by the decade’s end.
Continue reading ‘Fire in the Cockpit': Remembering the Sacrifice of Apollo 1
Fueling IXV: “The IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is being prepared for launch at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. IXV will be launched 320 km into space on top of a Vega rocket, climbing up to 420 km before beginning a long glide back through the atmosphere. In the process, IXV will gather data on reentry conditions to help guide the design of future spaceplanes.” Photo Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG – P.Piron
The European Space Agency (ESA) is gearing up for its planned Feb. 11 launch of the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) from Kourou, French Guiana, atop a Vega launch vehicle. The flight was postponed from November last year; according to ESA, engineers wanted to “allow for additional analyses of the Vega flight trajectory.”
Continue reading ‘Ready to Fly': Europe’s IXV Spaceplane Geared Up for Feb. 11 Launch
SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell responds to a question, as Boeing’s John Elbon and NASA’s Kathy Lueders look on. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace
Four months after NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX as the winners of the Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program—with total contracts valued at $6.8 billion—six key leaders from NASA and its industrial partners discussed both the current state of affairs and the next steps today (Monday, 26 January), as America prepares to once more launch U.S. astronauts aboard a U.S. spacecraft from U.S. soil by 2017. It was specifically highlighted that both companies are on track with their respective vehicles and are expected to play a significant role in low-Earth orbit operations over the next decade, with Boeing expected to fly the U.S. Crew Vehicle (USCV)-1 mission in 2018.
Continue reading At T-2 Years, NASA, SpaceX, and Boeing Discuss Return of US Human Spaceflight Capability
NASA JPL Earth Science Senior Research Scientist Dr. Simon Yueh has played an important role in several Earth Science missions, including the upcoming SMAP mission launching from Vandenberg AFB on Jan. 29. Photo Credit: Chris Howell / AmericaSpace
A meeting in two parts with NASA/JPL’s SMAP Project Scientist/Aquarius Project Scientist (scatterometer) Dr. Simon Yueh
In a three-year follow up on the Aquarius spacecraft and its mission to map ocean salinity and soil moisture from low-Earth orbit, we spoke with JPL Project Scientist Simon Yueh on how weather patterns emerge through Earth’s dynamic water cycle; how soil moisture is a vital component within the cycle, a key to predicting crop yield, rain fall, flooding, and drought; how Aquarius has been working in concert with ESA’s Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity spacecraft, SMOS; and how Aquarius’ data will compliment the high-resolution soil moisture mapping of SMAP, NASA/JPL’s soon to launch Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft.
Continue reading SMAP, Aquarius, and Our Planet’s Water Cycle: Another Step Forward in Solving Climate Puzzle
An artist illustration of the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander on its mission to the Moon.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Moon Express Inc.
A private commercial space company headquartered in California recently announced it has signed an agreement to use the historic Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The agreement leads to an immediate creation of about 25-50 new jobs, with the potential for hundreds of direct/indirect new jobs over the next five years. A number of robotic spacecraft will be launched to the Moon for exploration and commercial development under the company known as Moon Express, or MoonEx.
Continue reading Moon Express Puts Space Launch Complex-36 Back in Business
Since the conception of the Manned Spaceflight Engineer (MSE) program, the intent was to fly a dedicated officer aboard each classified flight. For Mission 51C, it would be Air Force Major Gary Payton (back left). The other NASA crew members were Loren Shriver (front left) and Ken Mattingly (front right), with Jim Buchli and Ellison Onizuka behind. Photo Credit: NASA
Thirty years ago, this week, the crew of Discovery—Commander Ken Mattingly, Pilot Loren Shriver, Mission Specialists Ellison Onizuka and Jim Buchli, and Payload Specialist Gary Payton—flew the first wholly classified voyage of the shuttle era. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the astronauts’ training had been unusual, in that it was conducted in near-total secrecy, and even the precise launch time did not become apparent to the general public until the countdown clock emerged from its pre-planned hold at T-9 minutes. Until then, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) beheld a blank face on the famous countdown clock. Then, at 2:41 p.m. EST on 24 January 1985, the communications blackout abruptly ended with a statement:
“ … T-9 minutes and counting. The launch events are now being controlled by the ground launch sequencer … ”
Continue reading The Lunacy of Secrecy: 30 Years Since Mission 51C (Part 2)