SpaceX-3 Commercial Resupply Services flight and Grasshopper test

 

 

 

Mission: SpaceX-3 Commercial Resupply Services flight

Launch Vehicle: Falcon

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

Launch Date: April 14, 4:58 p.m. EDT

 

NASA’s International Space Station resupply mission includes the legs for RobonautOPALS Lasercomm experiment and much more.  I think, however, the most exciting and dramatic portion of the flight is the possible test of  the ‘Grasshopper’ reusablility system.

Read the detailed story of the SpaceX Grasshopper  program.

Grasshopper Demonstration Flight

Reusability: The Key To Making Human Life Multi-Planetary

(SpaceX)

 

The launch will be webcast live, with commentary from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CT at spacex.com/webcast and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at www.nasa.gov/nasatv.

For a detailed description of the mission timeline, overview and SpaceX go to the SpaceX press kit. This is a wonderful resource.

 

 

Discovery: The Great Pink Planet

Pink Planet  GJ 504b

I’m well aware of what today is.  Believe me, I debated on whether or not to make a fake April Fools Day blog posting along the lines of “NASA announces the discovery of intelligent life on planet Eps Eri 04-01a,” or “50,000 year old space ship discovered in Antarctica.”  However, there’s stuff out there in space that’s real and strange enough to bring to light without having to result in phoney gags.  For example, a couple of days back I heard about the discovery of a pink planet way out in space.  So here’s the rundown on the lowest-mass planet ever detected around a star like the sun, GJ 504b that just happens to be pink.

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Discovery of Ocean Waves off Earth?

alien ocean

It seems that just about every week or so scientists are discovering something weird out there in space.  Some of these discoveries are more exciting than others, i.e., finally discovering water ice on Mars or discovering a star that’s potentially the size of the orbit of Saturn.  But then sometimes new discoveries come and go and few people pay attention to them.  I would like to talk about one such discovery:  the discovery of possible ocean waves on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.  Could these possible waves be caused by Titan’s winds or something else that lies beneath?

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Eurpoa…. here we come

“NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter’s watery moon”

Image

(Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

On March 4, 2014 Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, released a statement which includes, “In the coming year, we’ll build on our nation’s record of breathtaking and compelling scientific discoveries and achievements in space, with science missions that will reach far into our solar system, reveal unknown aspects of our universe and provide critical knowledge about our home planet.  It includes funding for missions to Mars and the formulation for a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.”

It looks as though we may finally go to a ‘local’ body that will hold many surprises and in astronomical distances Europa is so very close.

Europa is just begging us to visit and the Europa Clipper is one mission.

This artist’s impression of Europa makes the place look more exotic than Mars.

(Credit: Chris Weeks)

NASA Responds to Lawsuit over Mars Donut

NASA responds to Mars Donut lawsuit

A little while ago I blogged about the mysterious donut-like object that suddenly appeared on the surface of Mars at the base of the Opportunity rover.  NASA concluded that it was only a rock and probably got there by being kicked up from one of Opportunity’s wheels while it moved from point A to point B.  Well, now NASA has a lawsuit brought against them by someone that thinks the object is more than meets the eye and he wants the investigation to go further.

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Send your name to an asteroid!

NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names to be etched on a microchip aboard a spacecraft headed to the asteroid Bennu in 2016. The “Messages to Bennu!” microchip will travel to the asteroid aboard NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. The robotic mission will spend more than two years at the 1,760-foot (500-meter)-wide asteroid. The spacecraft will collect a sample of Bennu’s surface and return it to Earth in a sample return capsule.

NASA is proposing this project as a great opportunity for people to get engaged with the mission. Those wishing to participate in “Messages to Bennu!” should submit their name online no later than 30 September, 2014 at: http://planetary.org/bennu

After a person submits their name, they will be able to download and print a certificate documenting their participation in the OSIRIS-REx mission. So, be part of humankind’s exploration of the solar system –How cool is that?

Participants who “follow” or “like” the mission on Facebook will receive updates on the location of their name in space from launch time until the asteroid samples return to Earth in 2023. Facebook fans also will be kept apprised of mission progress and late-breaking news through regular status updates.

The OSIRIS-REx mission goal is to address basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth. It will collect a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material. Once the sample return capsule deploys, the spacecraft will be placed into a long-term solar orbit around the sun, along with the microchip and every name on it.

For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

Remembering the Challenger Crew

This photo of the Challenger crew was taken on Jan. 9, 1986, just 19 days before the Challenger disaster. Left to right: 1st Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronaut Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Michael J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Image credit: NASA

On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts tragically died when Challenger exploded just after liftoff. It was NASA’s first in-flight disaster and it occurred not only as thousands of spectators watched from Kennedy Space Center but millions of teachers and students were also watching on live T.V. from their classrooms to see Christa McAuliffe, a civilian high school teacher from New Hampshire become NASA’s 1st teacher in space. Christa was scheduled to broadcast two live lessons from space to the nation’s school children just a few days later.
The loss of Challenger was later attributed to a failed seal on one of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. It was determined that cold weather prevented a rubber O-ring from working properly. This allowed hot gas to leak and damage the shuttle’s external fuel tank and the hardware attaching the booster to the shuttle. The right solid rocket booster then separated. The fuel tank broke apart causing the orbiter to be torn apart also. The launch had been postponed two days preceding the disaster due to expected storms preceding the cold front which brought unusually cold temperatures to central Florida.

The following words were left on a handwritten note in the briefcase of Space Shuttle Commander, Dick Scobee. It is from a passage from Vision of the Future by Ben Bova.
We have whole planets to explore. We have new worlds to build. We have a solar system to roam in. And if only a tiny fraction of the human race reaches out toward space, the work they do there will totally change the lives of all the billions of humans who remain on earth, just as the strivings of a handful of colonists in the new world totally changed the lives of everyone in Europe, Asia, and Africa.


That moment 28 years ago today when the seven Challenger astronauts reached out toward space is still ingrained in our memories.

challengerpatch

ICE, ICE EVERYWHERE?

Image

An artist’s conception of the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

With the crazy winter weather warnings today in south Louisiana and even school cancellations for tomorrow, I thought it was an interesting time to find out that the dwarf planet Ceres has an icy surface also. With the help of the Herschel space observatory, scientists have detected an icy surface on the only dwarf planet that resides in the asteroid belt. It was previously suspected that ice existed on Ceres but it had not been conclusively detected until now. Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. This happens in the portion of the dwarf planet’s orbit that takes it closest to the sun. This is a surprise because, while comets are known to have water jets and plumes, objects in the asteroid belt are not. They also believe that if the ice in the interior of Ceres melted, there would be more fresh water than exists on all of Earth!

Ceres is smaller than a planet but, considering it’s the largest object in the asteroid belt, is obviously larger than an asteroid. When first discovered, Ceres was thought to be a comet, then a planet and of course at some point an asteroid. In 2006, The International Astronomical Union reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet.

 

 

The Jelly Donut of Mars

Jelly Donut on Mars

There is no such place as a Mary Lee or Dunkin Donuts over on Mars.  At least, not yet.  But several days ago the Mars Rover Opportunity caught a mysterious object in its lenses that looked awfully like a jelly doughnut.   The strange thing is that it just happened to plop down in front of the camera.  If you look at the picture above you’ll see that it’s obviously a before-and-after shot.  The picture on the left was taken on December 26 of 2013 and the image on the right was taken 13 days later.  The object wasn’t there before.  So how did it get there?

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It’s Time to Look for Orion, the Mighty Hunter

ImageOrion, the hunter, is one of the most popular constellations in the night sky; so you may have already seen him this winter or in late fall. Throughout the year, no matter the season, when I am in schools with our Discovery Dome portable planetarium someone often asks me to point out Orion. The mighty hunter is also one of the largest and easiest constellations to find. Most people find it by locating the three stars that make up Orion’s “belt” which is an asterism or recognizable group of stars that are part of a constellation. The names of the three stars that make up Orion’s belt are Alnitak, Alnilam and Minatka. One of the brightest stars in the sky is on Orion’s right shoulder. It’s called Betelgeuse.

Orion’s belt is the only group of three stars that are spaced so evenly making them very easy to recognize. Once you have found the belt, the hunter easily pops into view especially when it is right overhead during the cold evenings of winter.

Besides being easy to spot, the constellation Orion is also where you will find one of the most beautiful objects in the night sky, the Orion Nebula. Count down to the third bright object in Orion’s sword and you will find not a star but the Orion Nebula. With binoculars focused on this object, you will find many stars rather than one.

So the next time you look for Orion in the night sky be sure to also take a look at the third object in his sword for the giant cloud of gas and dust that makes up this birthplace or stars and solar systems.

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The Orion Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA