AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch GPS IIF-8 on a Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral AFB, FL
scheduled for:
29 Oct 14 17:21:00 GMT
29 Oct 14 13:21:00 EDT

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A Mission of 'Almosts': Project Gemini's First Rendezvous in Space (Part 1)

Gemini VII, bearing astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell on a record-breaking 14-day mission, is seen through the windows of Gemini VI-A, with fellow spacefarers Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford. This mission, in December 1965, marked the first "true" rendezvous between two piloted vehicles in orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

Gemini VII, bearing astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell on a record-breaking 14-day mission, is seen through the windows of Gemini VI-A, with fellow spacefarers Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford. This mission, in December 1965, marked the first “true” rendezvous between two piloted vehicles in orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

Almost 50 years ago, the United States almost staged its first rendezvous mission between unpiloted and piloted vehicles in low-Earth orbit. An Atlas-Agena target craft was almost successfully launched and two astronauts—Gemini VI crewmen Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford—almost followed it on a voyage which might have pushed America far ahead of the Soviet Union in the race to plant human bootprints on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Almost.

Continue reading A Mission of ‘Almosts': Project Gemini’s First Rendezvous in Space (Part 1)

Super-Hot Venus May Have Heavy Metal Frost

Radar image of bright areas and dark patches in a swath of terrain going from lower to higher elevations. Image Credit: The Geological Society of America/Elise Harrington, Simon Fraser Univ. (LPI undergraduate intern)/Allan Treiman, LPI.

Radar image of bright areas and dark patches in a swath of terrain in Ovda Regio going from lower to higher elevations. Image Credit: The Geological Society of America/Elise Harrington, Simon Fraser Univ. (LPI undergraduate intern)/Allan Treiman, LPI.

Venus is one of the most inhospitable places in the Solar System, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead, crushing air pressure on the surface, and thick, toxic clouds perpetually hiding the planet itself from view. Now new research is helping to solve a long-standing mystery by showing that there may be frost on the surface. Not water frost, of course, given the conditions, but rather a bizarre frost composed of heavy metals.

Continue reading Super-Hot Venus May Have Heavy Metal Frost

Integral Component of Webb Space Telescope Undergoes, Survives 'Deep Freeze' Testing

From NASA: "The view from inside NASA Goddard's Thermal Vacuum Chamber shows the JWST heart being lowered by crane in preparation of weeks of space environment testing." An essential component of the James Webb Space Telescope has just completed vacuum testing in extremely cold conditions. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

From NASA: “The view from inside NASA Goddard’s Thermal Vacuum Chamber shows the JWST [James Webb Space Telescope] heart being lowered by crane in preparation of weeks of space environment testing.” An essential component of the James Webb Space Telescope has just completed and survived vacuum testing in extremely cold conditions. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

You may have survived cold weather (unless, perhaps, you live in Florida, or near the equator), but you haven’t seen a cold snap like this, at least on Earth: -387 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Kelvin), which, according to NASA, is 260 degrees colder than any temperature recorded on our home planet.

Recently, what has been described as the “heart” of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)—the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM), which contains four essential science instruments—underwent and survived a “deep freeze” test inside a thermal vacuum chamber located at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The integral component spent 116 days within the chamber, meant to replicate the harsh conditions the space telescope will undergo as it will be deployed to an environment considered extreme, even for space. This test occurred during the summer months. In July, NASA announced that testing was completed on the telescope’s backplane structure; the completion of these tests are milestones for those working on the project.

Continue reading Integral Component of Webb Space Telescope Undergoes, Survives ‘Deep Freeze’ Testing

NASA's SMAP Mission Arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Begins Final Preparations for Early 2015 Launch

Scheduled for launch in early 2015, NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP mission, will track Earth's water into one of its last hiding places: the soil. SMAP soil moisture data will, among other things, aid in predictions of agricultural productivity, weather and climate. Image Credit: NASA

Scheduled for launch in early 2015, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP mission, will track Earth’s water into one of its last hiding places: the soil. SMAP soil moisture data will, among other things, aid in predictions of agricultural productivity, weather and climate. Image Credit: NASA

“Follow the water”: This theme has driven NASA’s Mars robotic exploration missions in the last 20 years, as part of the space agency’s efforts to understand the role of the life-enabling liquid in the physical processes that have shaped the Red Planet throughout its history. A similar understanding of the importance of water is the focus of another NASA mission, the Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, which will enable the global mapping of the moisture distribution and freeze-thaw state, not of the Martian soil but that of our home planet instead, in unprecedented detail allowing scientists to gain a better understanding of the ways that soil moisture affects Earth’s hydrological, energy, and carbon cycles.

Continue reading NASA’s SMAP Mission Arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Begins Final Preparations for Early 2015 Launch

Saturn's Moon Mimas May Have an Underground Ocean—or Just a Weird Core

Mimas, a cold, icy and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

It wasn’t that long ago that Earth was thought to be the only place in the Solar System capable of having liquid water oceans, but now we know of several moons that do as well, including Europa and Enceladus, and likely Titan and Ganymede as well. In all these cases, the oceans are below ground, similar to ocean water below ice sheets at the Earth’s poles. Now there is yet another moon which might be added to this special list: Saturn’s moon Mimas.

Continue reading Saturn’s Moon Mimas May Have an Underground Ocean—or Just a Weird Core

Russian Cosmonauts Breeze Through Four-Hour EVA

Max Surayev (bottom) and Aleksandr Samokutyayev (top) at the Pirs airlock during their EVA on Wednesday, 22 October. Photo Credit: NASA

Max Surayev (bottom) and Aleksandr Samokutyayev (top) at the Pirs airlock during their EVA on Wednesday, 22 October. Photo Credit: NASA

For the seventh time in 2014—and the third occasion in less than three weeks—a pair of spacewalkers toiled outside the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today (Wednesday, 22 October). Expedition 41 Commander Max Surayev and Flight Engineer Aleksandr Samukutyayev worked briskly for three hours and 38 minutes to remove and discard a scientific experiment package and a pair of unneeded rendezvous antennas, collect samples from the exterior of the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS), and conduct a comprehensive photo-documentation task. Today’s EVA marked the second career excursion for both Surayev and Samokutyayev and is expected to be the final ISS spacewalk of the year.

Continue reading Russian Cosmonauts Breeze Through Four-Hour EVA

ESA Announces Landing Site Naming Contest as Rosetta Gets Best Comet Views

ESA and its Rosetta mission partners are inviting you to suggest a name for the site where lander Philae will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November.  Credit: ESA

ESA and its Rosetta mission partners are inviting you to suggest a name for the site where lander Philae will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November. Credit: ESA

Calling all space enthusiasts! Here’s your chance to participate in Europe’s breathtaking Rosetta comet mission with a ringside seat for history’s first-ever attempt to land on a comet and be among the first to see the images directly at the mission control in Germany.

Continue reading ESA Announces Landing Site Naming Contest as Rosetta Gets Best Comet Views

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Snaps First-Ever Comet Image From Mars' Surface During Comet's Ultra-Close Martian Flyby

NASA’s Opportunity rover snaps this first ever image of a comet (fuzzy object at center) from another planet’s surface during close flyby of Comet Siding Spring with Mars on Oct. 19, 2014.  This pancam raw image was taken on Sol 3817. Inset shows enhanced view revealing more comet detail.    Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/TAMU  Image Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

NASA’s Opportunity rover snaps this first-ever image of a comet (fuzzy object at center) from another planet’s surface during close flyby of Comet Siding Spring with Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. This pancam raw image was taken on Sol 3817. Inset shows enhanced view revealing more comet detail. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/TAMU. Image Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s Opportunity rover snapped the first-ever image of a comet from the surface of Mars during a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as Comet Siding Spring (Comet C/2013 A1) made the closest known flyby of either Earth or Mars in recorded history—missing the Red Planet by a mere 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers).

Opportunity captured the spectacular and history-making view of the “fuzzy” Oort Cloud comet by pointing her camera high up in the pre-dawn Martian sky on Sunday, Oct. 19, said “quite excited” Opportunity science team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, exclusively to AmericaSpace today (Oct. 20). See rover photo above with our enhanced view revealing more comet detail.

Continue reading NASA’s Opportunity Rover Snaps First-Ever Comet Image From Mars’ Surface During Comet’s Ultra-Close Martian Flyby

SLS Core Stage Test Welds Begin at NASA’s Welding Wonder in Michoud

A ring and barrel recently loaded onto the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tool is being used to perform confidence welds prior to welding together the first SLS core stage tanks. Credit: NASA/Michoud

A ring and barrel recently loaded onto the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tool is being used to perform confidence welds prior to welding together the first SLS core stage tanks. Credit: NASA/Michoud

MICHOUD ASSEMBLY FACILITY, NEW ORLEANS, LA — The first pieces of rocket hardware have been loaded onto NASA’s gigantic new weld tool tasked with assembling the core stage fuel tanks for NASA’s mammoth new heavy lift rocket—the Space Launch System (SLS)—that will one day boost “Humans to Mars.”

The road to SLS production and first launch has started, with acceptance testing using parts from the over 34,000 square feet of real metal components already manufactured.

Continue reading SLS Core Stage Test Welds Begin at NASA’s Welding Wonder in Michoud

'The Choreography Was Incredible': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 2)

Columbia roars into orbit at 10:53 a.m. EST on 18 October 1993, 21 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA

Columbia roars into orbit at 10:53 a.m. EST on 18 October 1993, 21 years ago yesterday. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-one years ago, yesterday, on 18 October 1993, the longest flight ever attempted in shuttle history—the 14-day STS-58 mission, carrying the second Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-2) research payload—was launched into orbit. Aboard Columbia were astronauts John Blaha, Rick Searfoss, and Bill McArthur, together with physicians Rhea Seddon and Dave Wolf, biochemist Shannon Lucid, and veterinarian Marty Fettman. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, SLS-2 attracted a measure of controversy, in that it represented the first human space mission to feature the euthanasia and dissection of animals as part of a medical investigation in the microgravity environment.

Continue reading ‘The Choreography Was Incredible': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 2)