City of Titusville Astronaut Memorial Ceremony Wraps Up Somber Week of Anniversaries, Remembrances

A single red carnation and, most touchingly, an apple decorate Christa McAuliffe's plaque at Titusville's Sand Point Park Saturday morning. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

A single red carnation and, most touchingly, an apple decorate Christa McAuliffe’s plaque at Titusville’s Sand Point Park Saturday morning. McAuliffe was the first Teacher in Space, but perished aboard Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The dates marked Jan. 27, 28, and Feb. 1 are downcast days in U.S. spaceflight history (and U.S. history, period), but they’re even more significant for the people in and around Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Many space center families, current and past workers, and local residents remember the tremendous personal losses that occurred on these dates all too clearly, despite the passing of the years. On the morning of Saturday, Jan. 30, the City of Titusville—just miles from KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS)—held a memorial ceremony at Sand Point Park honoring the lives of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger (STS-51L), and Columbia (STS-107), wrapping up a week of ceremonies held to honor the late astronauts. This week’s memorials were particularly bittersweet, as NASA marked the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

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'Obviously A Major Malfunction': 30 Years Since the Loss of Challenger (Part 1)

The infamous image, flashed around the world on 28 January 1986, immediately after Challenger's tragic destruction. The disaster stalled the shuttle program for almost three years. Photo Credit: NASA

The infamous image, flashed around the world on 28 January 1986, immediately after Challenger’s tragic destruction. The disaster stalled the shuttle program for almost three years. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, on 28 January 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, 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.

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Data From New Horizons Reveals More Water Ice on Pluto Than Previously Thought

False-color, infrared maps of Pluto from New Horizons, showing regular detection method of water ice on the left and the more sensitive technique on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JHUIAPL/SwRI

False-color, infrared maps of Pluto from New Horizons, showing regular detection method of water ice on the left and the more sensitive technique on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JHUIAPL/SwRI

New Horizons has shown Pluto to be a diverse world, more so than many scientists had anticipated, with tall mountain ranges, vast glaciers, a blue-colored layered atmosphere, and possible ice volcanoes. One thing, however, which seemed to be relatively lacking, was exposed water ice. Not much had been seen on the surface, not even in the glacial regions, which are composed of other ices instead. But now, new data indicates there actually is more water ice than had originally been thought.

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On Challenger's 30th Anniversary, NASA Reflects On its Fallen Heroes

Floral tributes offer a touch of color against the drab grey and black of the Space Mirror Memorial and the day itself. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace

Floral tributes offer a touch of color against the drab gray and black of the Space Mirror Memorial and the day itself. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace

For NASA, the fourth and fifth weeks of each year have always carried a somber mood of reflection and resolve, in which the glories of past successes—including Voyager 2’s triumphant encounter with Uranus—have been juxtaposed with three of the worst tragedies ever to befall the U.S. space program. Thirty years ago, today, at 11:39 a.m. EST, shuttle Challenger disintegrated just 73 seconds into her tenth flight, whilst traveling at twice the speed of sound and having attained an altitude of just nine miles (15 km). All seven astronauts aboard the orbiter, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed in the disaster.

It was not the first time that American citizens had died in the cause of space exploration; 19 years earlier, on 27 January 1967, the three Apollo 1 astronauts were killed during a “plugs-out” test on the launch pad, and, most recently, on 1 February 2003, the seven-strong crew of Columbia was lost, just 16 minutes before their scheduled landing. To commemorate 30 years since Challenger, and to remember all of America’s fallen heroes, NASA’s Day of Remembrance saw a range of nationwide events in honor of employees and the families of those lost whilst furthering our knowledge of the cosmos.

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Incredible Opportunity: '90-Day Rover' Celebrates 12th Anniversary on Mars

Opportunity examining the rock outcrop called "Private John Potts" on the southern side of Marathon Valley. The rover has just passed its 12th anniversary milestone and is still going strong. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity examining the rock outcrop called “Private John Potts” on the southern side of Marathon Valley. The rover has just passed its 12th anniversary milestone and is still going strong. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’ve all seen the commercials for the Energizer Bunny, which keeps going and going and going. … It just never seems to stop. This makes for an interesting analogy with the Opportunity rover, which is just now passing its 12th anniversary on Mars. Not just 90 days, as hoped for, but 12 years and counting. Incredible. And in that time, Opportunity has helped to fundamentally alter our understanding of this fascinating world.

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SpaceX Ready for Ambitious Year of Construction at Texas Launch Site, USAF Certifies Upgraded Falcon-9

Artist's rendering of SpaceX's commercial launch complex in south Texas. Image Credit: SpaceX

Artist’s rendering of SpaceX’s commercial launch complex in south Texas. Image Credit: SpaceX

Sixteen months after ground was initially broken at Boca Chica—located about 20 miles (32 km) east of Brownsville, Texas, just northwest of the mouth of the Rio Grande—SpaceX is ready for an ambitious year of construction work at the place which will form its fourth active orbital launch facility, reportedly capable of 12 commercial missions per annum by 2025.

The Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services provider already supports operations out of Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. and expects to stage the maiden voyage of its mammoth Falcon Heavy vehicle from the newly-refurbished Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the coming months. Present plans call for the Boca Chica site to be completed next year, with its first launch anticipated in 2018. At the same time, on Monday, 25 January, the Air Force updated its baseline configuration for the Falcon 9 to the new “Upgraded Falcon 9”, which made its first flight last month.

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Mysterious World: 30 Years Since Voyager 2's Encounter With Uranus (Part 2)

Uranus and its six largest moons, from left Puck, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon. Image Credit: NASA

Uranus and its six largest moons, from left Puck, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon. Image Credit: NASA

At 12:59 p.m. EST (5:59 p.m. GMT) today, exactly three decades passed since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the first machine fashioned by human hands to visit Uranus, the seventh planet in line from the Sun. Frequently berated as the “butt” of much off-color humor, knowledge of Uranus was a virtual blank before it was explored at close quarters on 24 January 1986, just days before the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger changed the face of space exploration forever. Hurtling silently just 50,640 miles (81,500 km) over the aquamarine-hued Uranian cloud-tops, Voyager 2’s accurate delivery was equivalent to sinking a golf-putt from a distance of 2,250 miles (3,630 km). Less than three hours later, scientists and trajectory planners shrieked with delight as images and data—having traveled across 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion km) to reach the Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna near Canberra in Australia—were translated into data and images at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. A new era of planetary exploration had begun.

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Uncertain Journey: 30 Years Since Voyager 2's Encounter With Uranus (Part 1)

Visible only as a crescent, Uranus recedes from Voyager 2 in the days after Closest Approach. Photo Credit: NASA

Visible only as a crescent, Uranus recedes from Voyager 2 in the days after Closest Approach. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, today and tomorrow, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up glimpse of Uranus. Known for more than two centuries, and frequently the “butt” of many off-color jokes, this giant gaseous world had been discovered by the astronomer William Herschel, but until Voyager 2’s encounter its physical characteristics and its five known moons—Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon, and Miranda—were a virtual blank. In just a few days, the tiny spacecraft revealed far more about the seventh planet in line from the Sun, and the first to be discovered in modern times, than had been achievable through telescopic observations from Earth. And yet Voyager 2’s mission to Uranus might not have happened at all. That it did was the sum of the efforts of scientists, engineers, and trajectory specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., dating back to the 1970s.

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Has 'Planet X' Finally Been Found? A Cautionary Tale

Artist's conception of Planet Nine. Image Credit: Image: Caltech/R Hurt (IPAC)

Artist’s conception of Planet Nine. The new evidence is the best so far that a massive planet exists far past Neptune in the outer Solar System. Image Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

For a long time now, there have been theories and rumors regarding the possible existence of another planet in our Solar System, far beyond Neptune or even Pluto, often referred to as “Planet X.” Unfortunately, there has been little hard evidence to back up any claims made. But now, new evidence has been presented by astronomers at Caltech which increases the likelihood of another, and fairly large, distant planet in the far outer reaches of the Solar System. How does this compare to other discovery claims for Planet X?

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Into the Homestretch: Kelly and Kornienko to Pass 300 Days in Space, Heading for 2 March Return to Earth

At 2:43 p.m. EST on 21 January 2016, Scott Kelly becomes the first American citizen to have spent 300 days, continuously, in space on a single mission. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

At 2:43 p.m. EST on 21 January 2016, Scott Kelly becomes the first American citizen to have spent 300 days, continuously, in space on a single mission. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

At 2:43 p.m. EST today (Thursday, 21 January), NASA astronaut Scott Kelly—incumbent skipper of the International Space Station (ISS), as Commander of Expedition 46—and his Russian crewmate Mikhail Kornienko will pass 300 days in orbit, as they press toward a total mission duration of almost a full year away from the Home Planet. Launched aboard Soyuz TMA-16M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, last 26/27 March, Kelly and Kornienko were joined for their first six months by Russian cosmonaut Gennadi Padalka and have since seen the arrival and departure of nine spacefarers, including representatives of Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Denmark, and, most recently, the United Kingdom. In passing 300 days aloft, Kelly becomes the first American in history to have spent such an extreme period of time, continuously, in space. By the time he and Kornienko land, six weeks hence, they will have positioned themselves within the Top 20 most experienced spacefarers in the world.

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