'Lost and Gone Forever': Remembering Clementine's Return to the Moon, 25 Years On

Star-tracker image of the lunar limb, with Venus a bright object in the background, from Clementine. Photo Credit: NASA/U.S. Geological Survey

When a returning Falcon 9 first stage plunged back to Earth and alighted at Landing Zone (LZ)-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., last October—wrapping up SpaceX’s first return-to-launch-site on the West Coast—it did so on a patch of ground used a quarter-century earlier to launch the Clementine spacecraft to the Moon. Excluding Mariner 10, which performed a flyby of our closest celestial neighbor in late 1973, it was the United States’ first dedicated lunar mission since the end of the Apollo era.

And when Clementine launched from what was then Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4W on 25 January 1994, it began a civilian-military voyage which not only extensively mapped the Moon, but also evaluated sensors and technologies for future missions and might—but for an unfortunately-timed spacecraft malfunction—have also performed a flypast of the Earth-crossing asteroid, 1620 Geographos.

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Wham! Meteorite Impacts the Moon During Lunar Eclipse

Photo showing the impact of a meteorite on the Moon as seen during the lunar eclipse on Jan. 20, 2019. Photo Credit: Jose M. Madiedo

The lunar eclipse last Sunday – the so-called “super wolf blood moon” – was spectacular, with thousands of great images being taken by skywatchers. But some keen-eyed observers also noticed something else a bit later when examining their photos – a tiny bright dot of light on the left side of the moon, during totality. What was it?



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Blue Origin Launches 10th Mission, Aims for First Crewed Flight Late This Year

Blue Origin’s ‘New Shepard’ rocket and space capsule launching on Jan 23, 2019 from the company’s west Texas facilities, sending 9 NASA sponsored payloads to space on the NS-10 mission. Photo: Blue Origin

Kent, Wash.-based company Blue Origin conducted another successful flight today, January 23, 2019, at their west Texas facility. But the mission this time, their 10th so far, was not to flight-test their New Shepherd capsule or rocket, but rather to launch a variety of NASA-sponsored research and technology payloads under the agency’s Flight Opportunities program.



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Fincke Joins Starliner Test Flight, Commercial Crew Stands Ready for 2019 Debut

Mike Fincke, pictured during STS-134 in May 2011, has served for several years as head of the Commercial Crew Branch of the Astronaut Office and most recently as assistant to the chief for Commercial Crew. Photo Credit: NASA

Yesterday’s announcement by NASA that astronaut Eric Boe has been removed from the inaugural piloted test-flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner—tentatively scheduled to launch in August—came as a surprising blow for a veteran shuttle flyer who had been intimately involved in the Commercial Crew Program for several years. Boe was initially assigned to work with Boeing and SpaceX back in July 2015, alongside fellow astronauts Sunita Williams, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, and in August 2018 was named as part of a three-member crew for the CST-100 test-flight. His replacement is seasoned shuttle and ISS veteran Mike Fincke and the pair will exchange duties, as Boe assumes the mantle of assistant to the chief for Commercial Crew in the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

The news of the CST-100 crew change came only hours before SpaceX prepared to perform a Static Fire Test of the nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines of its Upgraded Falcon 9. The 230-foot-tall (70-meter) booster was rolled-out to historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) earlier this week. After the static fire test has been completed, another hurdle will have been cleared in readiness for a mid-February launch of the first unpiloted Crew Dragon.

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Saturn's Iconic Rings Surprisingly Young, Cassini Data Show

Saturn’s iconic rings are one of the most stunning phenomena in the Solar System. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s rings are one of the most beautiful and breathtaking sights in the Solar System – but it hasn’t always been that way. New evidence in data sent back by the now-defunct Cassini spacecraft shows that they are much younger than the planet itself, and that Saturn was actually ringless for most of its existence.



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Long-Delayed Delta IV Heavy Lofts Heavyweight NROL-71 Spy Satellite

ULA’s first flight of 2019 sets off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 11:10 a.m. PST Saturday, 19 January. Photo Credit: Brian Sandoval/AmericaSpace

Although relegated last February to second place on the list of the world’s most powerful operational rockets—sitting behind SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy—the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy roared to space earlier today (Saturday, 19 January), more than a month later than planned, due to hydrogen leaks and other technical woes. Already flown on ten occasions, and once in 2018 to loft NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the triple-cored booster rose ponderously from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 11:10 a.m. PST to deliver the classified NROL-71 payload to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. As ULA plans to retire the remainder of its Delta IV Medium fleet in 2019, the Heavy will stand alone as the sole member of the Delta family in operational service, flying about once annually into the 2020s.

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'Old Reliable': 60 Years Since a Weapon of War Became a Rocket for Space

One of the earliest rockets to be launched from Cape Canaveral was the Army’s Redstone missile, which later evolved into the vehicle seen here delivering America’s first man into space. Photo Credit: NASA

Sixty years ago, this week, a weapon of war became a rocket for space. On 8 January 1959, the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) received the go-ahead to convert its fearsome Redstone missile—a direct outgrowth of Nazi Germany’s infamous V-2—into a vehicle which would someday transport the first American astronaut into space.

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SpaceX Completes Iridium NEXT Constellation, Kicks Off Ambitious 2019

A reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking flight with the final set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB, CA on Jan 11, 2019. Photo: Brian Sandoval / AmericaSpace.com

Two years to the week since it began its Iridium NEXT journey, SpaceX has successfully lofted the eighth and final batch of global mobile communications satellites into low polar orbit. Liftoff of the Upgraded Falcon 9—which previously saw service to carry the powerful Telstar 18V communications satellite on its uphill climb to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) last September—occurred during an “instantaneous” window at 7:31 a.m. PST Friday, 11 January, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. This mission represented the 18th occasion since March 2017 that Falcon 9 hardware has been reused and wrapped up the delivery of 75 Iridium NEXT birds under the terms of the largest single commercial launch-services contract ever signed.

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Camera on Hubble Space Telescope Currently Offline Due to Hardware Problem

The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA has temporarily suspended operations of Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope due to a hardware problem, it was reported yesterday.



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A Look Ahead at America in Space in 2019

2019 will mark the highly anticipated return of human spaceflight to U.S. shores, as NASA’s astronauts take flight atop the first commercial vehicles to and from the International Space Station. Pictured here are the first astronauts who will fly the first Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft later this year, posing with their spacecraft as it undergoes processing for flight. From left to right, veteran NASA astronaut Eric Boe, former NASA astronaut and now Boeing Starliner astronaut Chris Ferguson, and NASA rookie astronaut Nicole Aunapu-Mann, an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in over 25 aircraft. Photo: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

Rightly overshadowed by worldwide celebrations of half a century since the first human landing on the Moon, 2019 promises to be a dramatic year for space exploration. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is expected to kick off in earnest, with inaugural test-flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, followed by the first regular trips to the International Space Station (ISS). United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans nine missions, whilst SpaceX has a full plate of launches scheduled, including as many as two flights by the mammoth Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy boosters.

Elsewhere in the United States, 2019 is expected to include test-flights by the Firefly Alpha and Vector-R smallsat launch vehicles, the first manned mission by Blue Origin’s New Shepard-lofted Crew Capsule 2.0 and the maiden orbital voyage of Virgin Orbit’s Launcher-1.

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