Navy’s MUOS-4 Hoisted Atop ULA’s Most Powerful Atlas Rocket for Launch Next Week

The U.S. Navy's fourth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite, encapsulated in a 5-meter payload fairing, is mated to an Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex-41. Credits: ULA

The U.S. Navy’s fourth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite, encapsulated in a 5-meter payload fairing, is mated to an Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-41. Credits: ULA

The fourth in a Lockheed Martin-built, five-ship fleet for a next-generation, narrowband tactical military satellite communications system is now stacked atop its 206-foot-tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket for an early morning twilight liftoff attempt from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. next Monday.

The U.S. Navy’s flight-ready 15,000 pound Mobile User Objective System-4 (MUOS-4) satellite, encapsulated in its 5.4-meter (17.7-foot) bullet-like payload fairing, was transported from Astrotech Space Operations (where it had undergone final testing and preparations for flight) to the Atlas Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) on the morning of Aug. 19.

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'Eight Days in a Garbage Can': 50 Years Since Gemini V (Part 2)

Glorious view of Baja California, with the nose of Gemini V visible at bottom right. Photo Credit: NASA

Glorious view of Baja California, with the nose of Gemini V visible at bottom right. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades have now passed since a mission which Pete Conrad once described as “the longest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” Gemini V was the third manned flight of NASA’s two-man spacecraft, destined to clear many of the hurdles on the road to the first piloted lunar landing. Those hurdles included rendezvous, docking, spacewalking, a precision re-entry … and long durations of between eight and 14 days, the minimum and maximum anticipated lengths of a return trip to the Moon. On 21 August 1965, Conrad and his Gemini V command pilot, Gordon Cooper, blasted off on a mission which they had lightheartedly dubbed “Eight Days or Bust.” Privately, they would come to refer to it, somewhat disparagingly, as “Eight Days in a Garbage Can.”

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On Course to the Stars: James Webb Space Telescope Shaping Up for 2018 Launch

From ESA: "This image shows two polished test mirror segments being inspected by an optical engineer: one segment with the gold coating already applied, the other without. In the meantime, the coating of all 18 mirrors has been completed." Photo Credit: NASA/C. Gunn

From ESA: “This image shows two polished test mirror segments being inspected by an optical engineer: one segment with the gold coating already applied, the other without. In the meantime, the coating of all 18 mirrors has been completed.” Photo Credit: NASA/C. Gunn

While the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) recently celebrated 25 years in orbit and keeps returning astounding images of our universe, another space telescope continues to undergo rounds of testing and design throughout this year. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), recently completed its first round of “pathfinder” tests. In addition, a NASA publication announced that the telescope’s Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) has entered its final sequence of pre-delivery environmental tests, while Northrop Grumman has made further progress on designing the primary mirror’s backplane support structure.

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'Eight Days in a Garbage Can': 50 Years Since Gemini V (Part 1)

Illustrating the cramped nature of their eight-day home, astronauts Pete Conrad (background) and Gordo Cooper are in jubilant spirits ahead of their 21 August 1965 launch. Photo Credit: NASA

Illustrating the cramped nature of their eight-day home, astronauts Pete Conrad (background) and Gordo Cooper are in jubilant spirits ahead of their 21 August 1965 launch. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, this week, astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad experienced “the longest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” Gemini V was the third manned flight of NASA’s two-man spacecraft, destined to clear many of the hurdles on the road to the first piloted lunar landing. Those hurdles included rendezvous, docking, spacewalking, a precision re-entry … and long durations of between eight and 14 days, the minimum and maximum anticipated lengths of a return trip to the Moon. On 21 August 1965, Conrad and his Gemini V command pilot, Gordo Cooper, blasted off on a mission which they had lightheartedly dubbed “Eight Days or Bust.” Privately, they would come to refer to it, somewhat disparagingly, as “Eight Days in a Garbage Can.”

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Two Years From Today: Get Ready For the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017

A total eclipse of the Sun, showing the Sun's atmosphere, or corona, stretching out, which is not normally visible during daylight. Photo Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

A total eclipse of the Sun, showing the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona, stretching out into space, which is not normally visible during daylight. Photo Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Exactly two years from today, on Aug. 21, 2017, a rare total solar eclipse will be seen again in the skies of the United States, racing east from Oregon to South Carolina. For a brief couple of minutes, the skies will darken as the Moon passes in front of the Sun, revealing the Sun’s corona, which is not normally visible in daylight, to millions of people as it crosses coast to coast for the first time in nearly a century. A total solar eclipse is one of the greatest sights in nature, not to be missed, and many are already making plans to witness the event.

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The Early Solar System Could Have Hosted a Fifth Giant Planet, According to New Study

Artist's impression of a rogue gas giant planet, free-floating in interstellar space. According to a new study, the early Solar System hosted a fifth gas giant planet besides Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which was eventually ejected into interstellar space through the gravitational interactions with the rest of the Solar System's giant planets. Image Credit: Southwest Research Institute

Artist’s impression of a rogue gas giant planet, free-floating in interstellar space. According to a new study, the early Solar System hosted a fifth gas giant planet besides Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, which was eventually ejected into interstellar space through the gravitational interactions with the rest of the Solar System’s giant planets. Image Credit: Southwest Research Institute

In terms of its planetary population, our Solar System is one of the most crowded ones, as evidenced by the discoveries of thousands of exoplanetary systems during the last couple of decades. Yet, according to a series of theoretical studies conducted through the years, our planetary family was even more populous early on in its history. A new such study draws a similar conclusion, by suggesting that no less than five gas giant planets roamed the Solar System during the first hundred million years after it was formed, only to be expelled into interstellar space, thus helping to give rise to the planetary arrangement we know today.

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Curiosity Rover Continues Journey Up Mount Sharp After Science Observations at 'Marias Pass'

New low-angle "selfie" of the Curiosity rover taken while it was in Marias Pass. It consists of multiple images stitched together. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

New low-angle “selfie” of the Curiosity rover taken while it was in Marias Pass, consisting of multiple images stitched together. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After extensive investigations of rock layers in Marias Pass, a shallow valley near the base of Mount Sharp, the Curiosity rover is now heading southwest again, to continue gradually climbing the lower slopes of the mountain. Marias Pass is a region with rocks and ground which contain high levels of silica and hydrogen, more evidence that there used to be a lot more water here than there is now.

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First Successful Mars Landing Mission: 40 Years Since the Launch of Viking 1

 

The first "clear" image of the surface of Mars, captured by Viking 1 in July 1976. The lander and its orbiter were launched 40 years ago, today, on 20 August 1975. Photo Credit: NASA

The first “clear” image of the surface of Mars, captured by Viking 1 in July 1976. The lander and its orbiter were launched 40 years ago, today, on 20 August 1975. Photo Credit: NASA

In the second decade of the 21st century, we have grown accustomed to a steady output of scientific data and imagery from our robotic emissaries in orbit and upon the surface of Mars. Spacecraft from the United States, Russia, Europe and India have circled this seemingly most Earth-like of worlds, whilst a flotilla of stationary and mobile landing vehicles have alighted on its ochre-hued plains, revealing tantalizing clues of ancient lakes and oceans, past volcanism and geology which originated in wet environments. Today, in 2015, no fewer than seven spacecraft are operational in orbit around the Red Planet or on its surface. These run the gamut from the oldest to the youngest arrivals—the 2001-launched Mars Odyssey to last year’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)—and also encompass the sole remaining Mars Exploration Rover (MER), Opportunity, together with Europe’s hugely successful Mars Express, the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater and the multi-role Mars Reconaissance Orbiter (MRO). Yet 40 years ago, today, the case was quite different. A handful of U.S. and Soviet spacecraft had secured promising results, but repeated efforts to reach the Red Planet met with failure and frustration, and on 20 August 1975 NASA began an audacious attempt to deliver an orbiter and soft-land a stationary vehicle. The findings of Viking 1, and its twin, Viking 2, launched a few weeks later, would literally rewrite the textbooks and reveal Mars in a wholly different light.

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The Coming of the Cosmic Old Age: New Survey Finds the Universe's Energy Output Is Decreasing With Time

A composite image of a galaxy as seen in different wavelengths by the GAMA survey. The results of the survey, which studied more than 200,000 galaxies in the local Universe, revealed that the latter's total energy output has decreased by at least 50 percent during the last 2 billion years. Image Credit: ICRAR/GAMA and ESO

A composite image of a galaxy as seen in different wavelengths by the GAMA survey. The results of the survey, which studied more than 200,000 galaxies in the local Universe, revealed that the latter’s total energy output has decreased by at least 50 percent during the last 2 billion years. Image Credit: ICRAR/GAMA and ESO

Even though the rumors of the Universe’s eventual demise, as recently reported in the media, have been greatly exaggerated, one thing is certain: The Cosmos has well passed its prime many billions of years ago and is currently settling into middle age. A new study by an international team of astronomers has now observed in the most comprehensive way to date that the Universe is becoming even less energetic with the passage of cosmic time and will eventually enter into an eternal old age where it will slowly but steadily fade to black entirely.

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Our 'Glowing Moon': LADEE Spacecraft Discovers Neon in Lunar Atmosphere

Artist's conception of the LADEE spacecraft orbiting the Moon. It's findings will help scientists to better understand thin exospheres, such as the one our own Moon has. Image Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry

Artist’s conception of the LADEE spacecraft orbiting the Moon. Its findings will help scientists to better understand thin exospheres, such as the one our own Moon has. Image Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry

The existence of neon gas in our Moon’s ultra-thin atmosphere has been confirmed for the first time, by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. Its presence had been theorized for decades, but has now finally been confirmed and found to be relatively abundant, even though it’s not nearly enough for the Moon to actually glow like a neon sign.

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