Mission to Earth's Twisted Twin: Remembering the Magellan Voyage to Venus, 25 Years On

The volcano Maat Mons, as viewed by Magellan’s powerful Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). The ambitious mission to radar-map Venus came to an end 25 years ago, this month. Image Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years ago, this month, a tiny spacecraft ended a remarkable mission which successfully mapped over 90 percent of the surface of Venus and, in so doing, unmasked its cloud-obscured surface for the first time and revealed tantalizing truths about a planet so similar to Earth in size, yjet so different in virtually every other aspect. NASA’s Magellan mission—named for the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who first circumnavigated the globe in the early 16th century—had been launched aboard shuttle Atlantis in May 1989 and reached Venus 15 months later in August 1990. It went on to acquire unprecedented Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery of craters, volcanoes, flat plains, hills, ridges and other geological features on a world long described as Earth’s “evil twin”. So impressively comprehensive were Magellan’s results that they revealed more about Venus in four short years than had been achieved in centuries of ground-based observation.



Continue reading Mission to Earth’s Twisted Twin: Remembering the Magellan Voyage to Venus, 25 Years On

Artemis Updates

SLS Core Stage Pathfinder at Stennis B-2 Test Stand. Photo: NASA

This edition of Artemis Updates brings updates on the Artemis 1 SLS Core Stage, Orion, and Exploration funding. Construction of the Artemis 1 SLS Core Stage has been completed, 12 Orions were ordered by NASA, and the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee gave NASA’s Exploration programs (SLS and Orion) large funding increases.



Continue reading Artemis Updates

Spacewalkers Begin Three-Week EVA Marathon to Replace Space Station Batteries

Today’s battery replacement task centered on the P-6 truss segment, circled. Photo Credit: NASA/Twitter

Veteran spacewalkers Christina Koch and Drew Morgan wrapped up a multi-hour session of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) yesterday to begin replacing old nickel-hydrogen batteries in the P-6 truss of the International Space Station (ISS) with upgraded lithium-ion units and associated adapter plates. The two astronauts—both of whom had completed one EVA apiece before—ventured outside the station’s Quest airlock for U.S. EVA-56 at 7:39 a.m. EDT Sunday, 6 October, to begin a series of five U.S. spacewalks over a three-week period to attend to the complicated P-6 battery changeout.



Continue reading Spacewalkers Begin Three-Week EVA Marathon to Replace Space Station Batteries

'Down-the-Throat Geology': Remembering the Fall and Rise of STS-68, 25 Years On (Part 2)

Spectacular “down-the-throat” perspective of the Klyuchevskaya Sopka eruption in Kamchatka, which occurred during the STS-68 mission, 25 years ago. Photo Credit: NASA 

Twenty-five years ago, tonight, six astronauts spent their last night on Earth ahead of a scheduled liftoff early the following morning on a complex mission to radar-map the Home Planet in unprecedented detail. The second Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2)—equipped with the powerful Shuttle Imaging Radar (SIR-C) and the X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (X-SAR)—was flying only a few months after SRL-1, in order to gather data and capture a glimpse of terrestrial change in the late spring and late summer of the year. And it would not be unrealistic to suppose that STS-68 Commander Mike Baker and his crew may have had a fluttering of nerves as they steeled themselves to rocket off the planet next day.



Continue reading ‘Down-the-Throat Geology’: Remembering the Fall and Rise of STS-68, 25 Years On (Part 2)

NASA's InSight Lander 'Hears' Multiple Marsquakes and Other Odd Sounds

InSight imaged clouds moving overhead on April 25, 2019. The dome-covered seismometer, SEIS, is in the foreground. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A few days ago, it was reported that NASA’s InSight lander had found evidence for an oddly pulsating magnetic field, a more magnetic crust than expected and – maybe – the existence of a global reservoir of subsurface water.



Continue reading NASA’s InSight Lander ‘Hears’ Multiple Marsquakes and Other Odd Sounds

'Engines in Post-Shutdown Standby': Remembering the Fall and Rise of STS-68, 25 Years On (Part 1)

The successful launch of STS-68, 25 years ago this week, came six weeks after one of the most harrowing launch aborts in Space Shuttle Program history. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years ago, this summer, America’s Space Shuttle Program sprang from a hearts-in-throats launch abort on the cusp of liftoff to triumphantly executing four flawless missions in as many months. In July 1994, Columbia and her STS-65 crew had set a new duration record for the fleet, after which three other missions would follow in the late summer and early fall, using powerful radar, lidar and other solar and atmospheric physics instrumentation to create a comprehensive picture of Earth’s surface and climate. Within days of STS-65’s return, shuttle Endeavour rolled out to Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, targeting an 18 August liftoff and the second Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2). It was hoped that the STS-68 mission would repeat the observations from SRL-1 a few months earlier, to develop a comprehensive radar picture of Earth’s changeable surface.

But no one could have foreseen as Commander Mike Baker and his crew—Pilot Terry Wilcutt, Payload Commander Tom Jones and Mission Specialists Steve Smith, Dan Bursch and Jeff Wisoff—boarded the shuttle in the pre-dawn darkness that morning that they would fall victim to one of the most harrowing aborts in NASA history. To this day, theirs remains the closest to liftoff a shuttle crew ever reached, without actually breaking the shackles of Earth, igniting the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and launching into space.



Continue reading ‘Engines in Post-Shutdown Standby’: Remembering the Fall and Rise of STS-68, 25 Years On (Part 1)

NASA's InSight Lander on Mars Discovers Odd Magnetic Pulses and... Water?

Artist’s conception of the InSight lander as seen from above. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars is usually thought of as pretty much a dead world, geologically-speaking. But NASA’s InSight lander is finding that may not be exactly true. Some early results from InSight’s investigations of the planet’s interior have shown evidence for an oddly pulsating magnetic field, a more magnetic crust than expected and, maybe, the existence of a global reservoir of subsurface water.



Continue reading NASA’s InSight Lander on Mars Discovers Odd Magnetic Pulses and… Water?

NASA's Jessica Meir, Crewmates Launch to Space Station on Soyuz MS-15

The Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft is launched with Expedition 61 crewmembers Jessica Meir of NASA and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos, and spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo captured by NASA astronaut Christina Koch onboard the ISS.

In a relatively rare occurrence since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in mid-2011, nine individuals will celebrate together tonight aboard the International Space Station (ISS), following Wednesday’s launch and arrival of Soyuz MS-15 crew members Oleg Skripochka, Jessica Meir and Hazza al-Mansouri. The trio launched from Site 1/5 at Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:57 p.m. local time (9:57 a.m. EDT) and followed a smooth six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” to reach the station. Under the expert control of Skripochka, Soyuz MS-15 docked at the aft longitudinal port of the Zvezda module at 3:42 p.m. EDT. And after customary pressurization and leak checks, hatches into the orbital complex were opened at 6:12 p.m. EDT.



Continue reading NASA’s Jessica Meir, Crewmates Launch to Space Station on Soyuz MS-15

Cosmonaut Veteran, NASA Rookie and First UAE Astronaut Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station

Commanding Wednesday’s mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is veteran cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka (center). He will be accompanied by first-time NASA flyer Jessica Meir (right) and the first citizen-astronaut of United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hazza al-Mansouri (right). Photo Credit: Jessica Meir/NASA/Twitter

Three spacefarers from three nations are primed to roar aloft from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan—the exact location from which humanity began its first voyage into the cosmos—on Wednesday, 25 September, to support a multi-month increment on the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff of the Soyuz-FG booster will occur at 6:57 p.m. local time (9:57 a.m. EDT).

Veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka will embark on his third long-duration mission to the ISS, and will be joined aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft by “rookie” NASA flyer Jessica Meir and the first citizen-astronaut of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hazza al-Mansouri. Current plans call for Skripochka and Meir to remain aboard the space station for six months, spanning the final few days of the currently-in-progress Expedition 60 and forming the core of Expeditions 61 and 62, whilst al-Mansouri will return to Earth after eight days.



Continue reading Cosmonaut Veteran, NASA Rookie and First UAE Astronaut Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station

To Save A Space Station: The Unrealized Rescue of Skylab, 40 Years On

Visiting space stations is, and always has been, a complex and challenging endeavor; yet to the layman in the street it carries an element of the “ordinary” these days, as the world sees crews of astronauts and cosmonauts launched periodically throughout the year to begin multi-month increments aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Late in 2019, if all goes well, the first crews will rise from U.S. soil aboard the long-awaited Commercial Crew vehicles. But a very definitive line exists between “visiting” a space station and “rescuing” one from potential, impending disaster. The Soviets did it triumphantly to salvage their out-of-control Salyut 7 in June 1985. And 40 years ago, this fall, had history played out more kindly, the Space Shuttle might have carried out a daring and dramatic rescue of the ailing Skylab space station. Had it flown as intended, a whole new history of the shuttle program could have unfolded.



Continue reading To Save A Space Station: The Unrealized Rescue of Skylab, 40 Years On