Potential Landing Sites for Mars 2020 Rover Narrowed Down to Eight Locations

Map of the eight proposed landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. Image Credit: NASA/MOLA Science Team

Map of the eight proposed landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. Image Credit: NASA/MOLA Science Team

NASA’s next Mars rover is due to launch in July or August 2020, and the number of potential landing sites has now been narrowed down by scientists to eight locations. Out of an initial list of 21 targets, eight sites have been chosen as candidate landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. Due to land on Mars in February 2021, the rover will search for rocks which could hold possible evidence of past life on the planet.

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'Return to Flight, Not Rush to Flight': 10 Years Since Discovery Came Safely Home to Earth (Part 1)

Discovery sits on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on 9 August 2005, after completing STS-114, the first post-Columbia shuttle mission. Photo Credit: NASA

Discovery sits on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on 9 August 2005, after completing STS-114, the first post-Columbia shuttle mission. Photo Credit: NASA

Ten years have now passed since the first space shuttle streaked safely back to Earth on 9 August 2005, in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster. The crew of STS-114—Commander Eileen Collins, Pilot Jim “Vegas” Kelly, and Mission Specialists Soichi Noguchi of Japan and NASA astronauts Steve Robinson, Wendy Lawrence, Andy Thomas, and Charlie Camarda—prepared to return home after a spectacular 14-day mission to deliver equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) and its incumbent Expedition 11 team of Commander Sergei Krikalev and Flight Engineer John Phillips. In the 2.5-year span since the loss of Columbia, significant changes had been implemented across the shuttle program, most visibly manifested in enhanced systems for inspecting the leading edge of the orbiter’s wings, to ensure damage incurred to the critical Thermal Protection System (TPS) could be picked up and addressed before the fiery onset of re-entry. On 8/9 August 2005, the STS-114 became the first shuttle crew to put these new systems to the test.

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Dawn En Route to Third Science Orbit, New Maps Reveal Astonishing Peaks and Depths

Dawn is using its ion propulsion system to lower its orbit to within 1,000 miles of the dwarf planet Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Dawn is using its ion propulsion system to lower its orbit to within 1,000 miles of the dwarf planet Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Each time dawn appears, the mystery is there in its entirety.” — Rene Daumal

While astronaut Scott Kelly’s “Year in Space” mission helps researchers understand the effects of long-duration space travel on humans, 2015 continues to be a watershed year in the fields of planetary and cometary science. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recently completed the first-ever flyby of Pluto, while ESA’s Rosetta will soon observe a comet at perihelion from the vantage point of an orbiting spacecraft for the first time in spaceflight history. Juno continues its journey to Jupiter, while the Curiosity rover keeps returning incredible science results from Mars’ surface three years after its much-celebrated touchdown.

… But we’re leaving out one essential current mission: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, the first to employ a unique ion propulsion system, also has earned its place in the planetary science canon.

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Frustrated Bolden Urges Congress to Fund Commercial Crew, Announces $490 Million Contract Modification With Russia

Under Wednesday's contract extension with Roscosmos, the Soyuz TMA-M and Soyuz MS spacecraft will continue to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), potentially through 2019. Photo Credit: Samantha Cristoforetti/NASA/Twitter

Under Wednesday’s contract extension with Roscosmos, the Soyuz TMA-M and Soyuz MS spacecraft will continue to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), potentially through 2019. Photo Credit: Samantha Cristoforetti/NASA/Twitter

It was difficult to miss the frustration in NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden’s words, as he submitted a letter to the leadership of the Congressional committees responsible for the space agency’s budget, denouncing the continued lack of adequate funding for the Commercial Crew Program and announcing a modification to the uneasy contract with Russia, which currently provides the United States with its only means of delivering astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). In his letter, dated Wednesday 5 August, Bolden noted that the modification was “due to continued reductions in the President’s funding requests for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program”, that he had been “forced” to extend the contract with Russia and that the cost of continued services “to the U.S. taxpayers” will be approximately $490 million for six Soyuz seats through 2019.

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Curiosity Marks 3rd Anniversary on Mars With Amazing Science Discoveries

Self-portrait of the Curiosity over in Gale crater on Mars. Part of Mount Sharp is in the background. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Self-portrait of the Curiosity over in Gale crater on Mars. Part of Mount Sharp is in the background. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover has just reached its third anniversary milestone on Mars, after landing in Gale crater on Aug. 5, 2012, and since then has made some incredible science discoveries, with more to come in the months and years ahead. NASA is celebrating this achievement and you can take part, too!

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New Study Traces Dark Near-Earth Asteroids Back to Oddball Asteroid Family

Time-lapse view of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA's WISE spacecraft on May 17, 2010. WISE was later renamed to NEOWISE in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Time-lapse view of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE spacecraft on May 17, 2010. WISE was later renamed to NEOWISE in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Near-Earth asteroids, also known as Near Earth Objects (NEOs), are some of the best studied space rocks in the Solar System, primarily due to the fact that they approach the orbit of Earth, making them potentially dangerous to our home planet. Now, a new study has provided evidence that at least some of them, including dark ones which are more difficult to see, originate from the oddball Euphrosyne family of dark asteroids which are at the outer edge of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but have highly inclined orbits well above the plane or “equator” of the Solar System.

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Brigadier General Wayne Monteith Takes Over as New 45th Space Wing Commander

Lt. Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond, commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) and Joint Functional Component Command for Space, presents Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander during a change of command ceremony, Aug. 4, 2015, at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Changes of command are a military tradition representing the transfer of responsibilities from the presiding officials to the upcoming official. Photo and Caption Credit: U.S. Air Force/Matthew Jurgens (Released)

Lt. Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) and Joint Functional Component Command for Space, presents Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander during a change of command ceremony, Aug. 4, 2015, at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Changes of command are a military tradition representing the transfer of responsibilities from the presiding officials to the upcoming official. Photo and Caption Credit: U.S. Air Force/Matthew Jurgens (Released)

This morning (Aug. 4, 2015) Air Force Brigadier General Wayne Monteith officially took on his new role as commander of the 45th Space Wing during a Change of Command ceremony at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. In doing so Monteith is now Director of the Eastern Range for Air Force Space Command, a 15-million-square-mile area which supports an average of 1-2 launches per month aboard a variety of vehicles, including United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta-IV and Atlas-V rockets, as well as SpaceX’s Falcon-9 and Navy and other emerging launch vehicles, such as Small Class Vehicles which will start flying late next year from Kennedy Space Center’s new Launch Complex 39C.

In managing wing launch and range infrastructure supporting NASA, DOD, commercial, and missile test missions, Monteith now leads more than 13,700 military, DOD civilian, and contractor personnel in their responsibilities for the processing and launching of U.S. government and commercial satellites from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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Summer of Discontent: 25 Years Since the Shuttle Hydrogen Leaks (Part 2)

In one of the most historic shuttle-era photographs ever taken, this image shows the STS-38/Atlantis stack (at right) returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for repairs on 9 August 1990. In doing so, it passed the STS-35/Columbia stack (at left), which was returning to the launch pad after several weeks of extensive repair work on its hydrogen disconnect hardware. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

In one of the most historic shuttle-era photographs ever taken, this image shows the STS-38/Atlantis stack (at right) returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for repairs on 9 August 1990. In doing so, it passed the STS-35/Columbia stack (at left), which was returning to the launch pad after several weeks of extensive repair work on its hydrogen disconnect hardware. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty-five years ago, at the beginning of August 1990, no shuttle had speared for the heavens in more than three months, since the STS-31 Hubble Space Telescope (HST) deployment mission. However, NASA’s hopes to stage as many as nine missions by its three surviving orbiters, Columbia, Discovery, and Atlantis—and, in so doing, equal 1985 for the maximum number of U.S. piloted launches in a single calendar year—proved short-lived. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Columbia’s long-awaited STS-35 mission, carrying the ASTRO-1 research payload, was originally targeted for a 16 May liftoff, but was repeatedly postponed, due to a maddening series of hydrogen leaks from the orbiter’s 17-inch-diameter (43 cm) disconnect hardware. Situated in the shuttle’s belly, a pair of massive disconnects served to deliver propellant from the External Tank (ET) to the three liquid-fueled main engines, and their criticality to the safety of flight was profound. Said STS-35 Commander Vance Brand of those agonizing delays: “It just was driving the engineers at the Cape crazy, trying to find the source of the leak.”

Continue reading Summer of Discontent: 25 Years Since the Shuttle Hydrogen Leaks (Part 2)

Summer of Discontent: 25 Years Since the Shuttle Hydrogen Leaks (Part 1)

Pictured in September 1990, the problem-plagued STS-35 stack is shown in the foreground, on Pad 39A, with the STS-41 stack in the background on Pad 39B. Photo Credit: NASA

Pictured in September 1990, the problem-plagued STS-35 stack is shown in the foreground, on Pad 39A, with the STS-41 stack in the background on Pad 39B. Photo Credit: NASA

A quarter-century ago, in the summer of 1990, the shuttle program was in chaos. Less than two years since the resumption of flight operations in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy, the three remaining orbiters—Columbia, Discovery, and Atlantis—had successfully completed 10 missions, totaling almost eight weeks in orbit. Beginning with the STS-26 Return to Flight (RTF) mission in September 1988 and closing out with the spectacular deployment of the long-awaited Hubble Space Telescope (HST) on STS-31 in April 1990, the shuttle’s future seemed assured, as the fleet recovered from the worst disaster in its short history. Following STS-31, six more missions were planned, bringing 1990’s total to nine flights. Had this been achieved, it would have equaled 1985, with the maximum number of shuttle launches in a single calendar year. However, it was not to be, and the summer of 1990 would instead become known for a notorious series of complex hydrogen leaks which left missions grounded, astronauts frustrated, and threw the delicately planned shuttle flight manifest in disarray.

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Philae's First Science Results Highlight an Unexpected Cometary World

From ESA: "Zooming in to a portion of the fractured cliff face imaged by CIVA camera 4 reveals brightness variations in the comet’s surface properties down to centimetre and millimetre scales. The dominant constituents are very dark conglomerates, likely made of organics. The brighter spots could represent mineral grains, perhaps even pointing to ice-rich materials.  The left hand image shows one of the CONSERT antennas in the foreground, which seems to be in contact with the nucleus. The dimensions of the antenna, 5 mm in diameter and 693 mm long, help to provide a scale to the image." Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

From ESA: “Zooming in to a portion of the fractured cliff face imaged by CIVA camera 4 reveals brightness variations in the comet’s surface properties down to centimetre and millimetre scales. The dominant constituents are very dark conglomerates, likely made of organics. The brighter spots could represent mineral grains, perhaps even pointing to ice-rich materials. The left hand image shows one of the CONSERT antennas in the foreground, which seems to be in contact with the nucleus. The dimensions of the antenna, 5 mm in diameter and 693 mm long, help to provide a scale to the image.” Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Just weeks before the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft makes the first observations of a comet at perihelion from the perspective of an orbiting spacecraft, researchers have gotten their first, long-awaited “taste” of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko … and does it reveal some surprises.

As Rosetta continues to orbit Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, early findings from its lander’s first set of scientific observations were published Thursday, July 31, in the journal Science. These findings encompass discoveries including, but not limited to, the composition of the comet, surface features and hardness, temperature, and magnetism. The space agency also released an image sequence underscoring what the lander saw as it descended to the comet’s surface. While Philae has been out of contact with the Rosetta orbiter since early July, it is hoped that these results aren’t the last pieces of information from the lander.

Continue reading Philae’s First Science Results Highlight an Unexpected Cometary World