AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch AFSPC-4 on a Delta 4 - Medium+ rocket from Cape Canaveral AFB, FL scheduled for 26 Jul 14 22:51:00 GMT

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'All Engines Running': 45 Years Since Apollo 11 Changed the World (Part 1)

Captured from a remote camera, this ghostly image records the instant of our species' first steps into the Universe around us. Even humanity's first footfalls on the Red Planet or any other world in the years to come, nothing can ever match the history-making audacity of what Neil Armstrong achieved one hot summer's night in 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

Captured from a remote camera, this ghostly image records the instant of our species’ first steps into the Universe around us. Even humanity’s first footfalls on the Red Planet or any other world in the years to come, nothing can ever match the history-making audacity of what Neil Armstrong achieved one hot summer’s night in 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

Early in July 1969, Jan Armstrong called her friend, Lurton Scott, for help. Only a few days remained before her husband, Neil, blasted off in command of the most pivotal space mission in history: Apollo 11, the voyage which would attempt the first piloted landing on the Moon. Lurton, the wife of astronaut Dave Scott, and Jan had remained good friends ever since their husbands flew together aboard Gemini VIII in March 1966. Jan had already been invited to watch the Apollo 11 launch from a motor cruiser, owned by North American Aviation and moored in the Banana River, and with Scott’s help and contacts she was able to fly from Houston to Cape Kennedy in a corporate jet. When she arrived in Florida, Jan beheld an astonishing, though unsurprising, sight: Over a million people crowded the roads and causeways of the Cape, anxiously awaiting an event whose significance which would never be seen again in their lifetimes. Forty-five years ago, this week, the first human explorers set sail to make our species’ first landfall on the Moon.

Continue reading ‘All Engines Running’: 45 Years Since Apollo 11 Changed the World (Part 1)

Propulsion Issues Put Plans for 'Vintage' ISEE-3 Spacecraft on Ice

From the ISEE-3 Reboot Project: "An artist's rendering depicts the satellite ISEE-3/ICE during its planned lunar fly-by in August 2014." Image Credit: Mark Maxwell/ISEE-3 Reboot Project

From the ISEE-3 Reboot Project: “An artist’s rendering depicts the satellite ISEE-3/ICE during its planned lunar fly-by in August 2014.” Image Credit: Mark Maxwell/ISEE-3 Reboot Project

While the spacecraft may have been frozen in time, the excitement over its reawakening was brand new.

But the effort to re-purpose the long-dormant International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft for an extended science mission hit a snag this week when it was announced that issues with propulsion had developed during a scheduled burn. On the reboot mission’s website, it was theorized that a lack of pressurized nitrogen available in the hydrazine propulsion system may be the culprit. Plans to send the spacecraft back to a desired “halo orbit” at the L1 Sun-Earth Lagrangian point do not appear to be in the cards at this time (ISEE-3 was the first spacecraft to achieve this orbit).

Continue reading Propulsion Issues Put Plans for ‘Vintage’ ISEE-3 Spacecraft on Ice

Janice Voss Returns to Space as ORB-2 Cygnus Stands Ready for Sunday Launch to ISS

Impressive view of the Antares vehicle (left) and the ORB-2 Cygnus, encapsulated within its bulbous payload shroud, pictured in the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Wallops. Photo Credit: Ken Kremer

Impressive view of the Antares vehicle (left) and the ORB-2 Cygnus, encapsulated within its bulbous payload shroud, pictured in the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Wallops. Photo Credit: Ken Kremer

Six months since it last lofted a Cygnus cargo vessel toward the International Space Station (ISS), Orbital Sciences Corp. is primed to fly the second mission (designated “ORB-2″) under its $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Liftoff of the company’s two-stage Antares booster—making its fourth flight in less than 15 months—is presently scheduled to occur from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va., at 12:52 p.m. EDT Sunday, 13 July. Assuming an on-time launch, the already long-delayed ORB-2 flight should produce a rendezvous and berthing at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the station’s Harmony node on Wednesday, 16 July. Named in honor of the late shuttle astronaut Janice Voss, Cygnus will remain attached to the ISS until mid-August and will deliver 3,293 pounds (1,493.8 kg) of equipment and supplies to the incumbent Expedition 40 crew.

Continue reading Janice Voss Returns to Space as ORB-2 Cygnus Stands Ready for Sunday Launch to ISS

Curiosity Celebrates One Martian Year on Mars, Roves Outside Landing Ellipse

1 Martian Year on Mars!  Curiosity treks to Mount Sharp in this photo mosaic view captured on Sol 669, June 24, 2014 -  the day the rover celebrated 1 Martian year since touchdown on the Red Planet. Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

1 Martian Year on Mars!
Curiosity treks to Mount Sharp in this photo mosaic view captured on Sol 669, June 24, 2014, the day the rover celebrated one Martian year since touchdown on the Red Planet. Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s intrepid rover Curiosity is celebrating a pair of milestone achievements in her epic trek across the floor of Gale Crater to reach the foothills of mysterious Mount Sharp on a quest to elucidate the history of Martian habitability.

Continue reading Curiosity Celebrates One Martian Year on Mars, Roves Outside Landing Ellipse

Titan's Hidden Ocean Might Be as Salty as the Dead Sea

Illustration of what Titan's interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s moon Titan is known for its methane seas, lakes, and rivers; surprisingly Earth-like in appearance yet distinctly alien at the same time. But there is also evidence for another ocean, this one of water, below the surface. Little is known about this hidden watery world, but now new results suggest it is likely very saltyas much as the Dead Sea on Earth.

Continue reading Titan’s Hidden Ocean Might Be as Salty as the Dead Sea

Astronomers Discover First Ever Terrestrial Exoplanet in Earth-Type Orbit, Around Red Dwarf Binary Star System

An artist's rendering of the newly discovered exoplanet OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb (far right) orbiting one star (right) of a binary red dwarf star system, from an Earth-type distance of approximately 0.9 Astronomical Units away. Image Credit: Cheongho Han, Chungbuk National University, Republic of Korea

An artist’s rendering of the newly discovered exoplanet OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb (far right) orbiting one star (right) of a binary red dwarf star system, from an Earth-type distance of approximately 0.9 Astronomical Units away. Image Credit: Cheongho Han, Chungbuk National University, Republic of Korea

The discovery of yet another exoplanet orbiting outside of the habitable zone of its star hardly seems newsworthy these days, given the routine nature of new exoplanet findings. Having already discovered thousands of alien worlds within the Milky Way galaxy showcasing a huge diversity in mass, size, orbital characteristics, and possible habitability, astronomers are now focused on finding a true “Earth analog”: a terrestrial planet in an Earth-type orbit, around an Earth-like star. Working toward that goal, four collaborating international teams of astronomers have recently announced the discovery of a seemingly inconspicuous cold terrestrial exoplanet around a binary red dwarf star system. What makes this discovery significant, however, is that this newly found alien world is the first to have an orbit of approximately 1 Astronomical Unit, or AU, from its host star, which is the same distance between the Earth and Sun, indicating that such Earth-type orbits might indeed be common in other exoplanetary systems as well.

Continue reading Astronomers Discover First Ever Terrestrial Exoplanet in Earth-Type Orbit, Around Red Dwarf Binary Star System

New Study Shows How Salts Could Make Liquid Water on Mars

The Phoenix lander was the first mission to land near the Martian north pole. Was it also the first to see evidence of liquid water on Mars? Image Credit: NASA / JPL - Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

The Phoenix lander was the first mission to land near the Martian north pole. Was it also the first to see evidence of liquid water on Mars? Image Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

The search for evidence of water on Mars, past or present, has been one of the driving forces behind the exploration of the Red Planet for several decades now. While orbiters, landers, and rovers have all found abundant evidence for a lot of water in Mars’ ancient history, the question of whether there could still be any of the wet stuff existing today is still open and unanswered. There are hints, but proof is still elusive. Now, a new study provides new information on how liquid water could be found on Mars’ surface today, albeit in small amounts or for brief periods of time.

Continue reading New Study Shows How Salts Could Make Liquid Water on Mars

Wolf V. Vishniac, The First Human to Walk on Mars

An image from one of the first interplanetary explorers, the Viking 2 lander. Dr. Wolf Vishniac was one of Viking's team members, and pioneered the search for life in alien worlds. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An image from one of the first interplanetary explorers, the Viking 2 lander. Dr. Wolf Vishniac was one of Viking’s team members, and he pioneered the search for life in alien worlds. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

He may not be a household name, but remember the name of Dr. Wolf V. Vishniac. A microbiologist by trade, he was the first human to “walk on Mars.” He may have died over 40 years ago, but his legacy can be felt through one of the iconic educational books and accompanying TV shows from the last century (Cosmos, written by Dr. Carl Sagan), his early studies concerning whether the hostile Martian terrain can support life, and current Mars missions. But his journey was not an altogether easy one, nearly felled by budget cuts.

Continue reading Wolf V. Vishniac, The First Human to Walk on Mars

'What's Tab November?': The Independence Day Mission of STS-4 (Part 2)

Columbia roars into orbit on 27 June 1982, kicking off the STS-4 mission. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Columbia roars into orbit on 27 June 1982, kicking off the STS-4 mission. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

More than three decades ago, on Independence Day (4 July) in 1982, Columbia triumphantly touched down at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., concluding the fourth shuttle mission. Aboard the reusable spacecraft were Commander Ken Mattingly and Pilot Hank Hartsfield. Theirs was the final Orbital Test Flight (OFT), after which the shuttle was supposedly to be declared fully “operational” and ready to conduct commercial missions for national and international customers, military missions for the Department of Defense, and scientific research missions with the European-built Spacelab. It was expected that by the end of the 1980s, the four members of the shuttle fleet—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis—would be launching every two weeks, flying more than 20 times each year. However, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, many within NASA doubted that such a feat was ever possible.

Continue reading ‘What’s Tab November?’: The Independence Day Mission of STS-4 (Part 2)

'A Hundred Flights ... ': The Independence Day Mission of STS-4 (Part 1)

Columbia touches down at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on 4 July 1982, concluding the shuttle's fourth and final Orbital Flight Test. Photo Credit: NASA

Columbia touches down at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on 4 July 1982, concluding the shuttle’s fourth and final Orbital Flight Test. Photo Credit: NASA

More than three decades ago, on Independence Day (4 July) in 1982, Columbia triumphantly touched down at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., concluding the fourth shuttle mission. Aboard the reusable spacecraft were Commander Ken Mattingly and Pilot Hank Hartsfield. Theirs was the final Orbital Test Flight (OFT), after which the shuttle was supposed to be declared fully “operational” and ready to conduct commercial missions for national and international customers, military missions for the Department of Defense, and scientific research missions with the European-built Spacelab. It was expected that by the end of the 1980s, the four members of the shuttle fleet—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis—would be launching every two weeks, flying more than 20 times each year. Yet despite this rhetoric, many within NASA doubted that such a feat was ever possible.

Continue reading ‘A Hundred Flights … ‘: The Independence Day Mission of STS-4 (Part 1)