Tag Archives: NASA

New New Horizons Kuiper Object Photograph

NASA’s New Horizons space ship has photographed the farthest thing away shown in an actual photograph where you go up to the thing and take a picture (as opposed to looking far away with a telescope or something).

It is an object in the Kuiper Belt. The first shot is shown below on the left, and then, up close… you can really kinda see something:

Just over 24 hours before its closest approach to Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first images that begin to reveal Ultima’s shape. The original images have a pixel size of 6 miles (10 kilometers), not much smaller than Ultima’s estimated size of 20 miles (30 kilometers), so Ultima is only about 3 pixels across (left panel). However, image-sharpening techniques combining multiple images show that it is elongated, perhaps twice as long as it is wide (right panel). This shape roughly matches the outline of Ultima’s shadow that was seen in observations of the object passing in front of a star made from Argentina in 2017 and Senegal in 2018. (NASA)

In just a handful of hours, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will perform the furthest encounter of an object in our solar system. On Jan. 1 at 12:33 a.m., New Horizons is set to fly by 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, and collect images and scientific data to beam back to Earth. Ultima orbits the Sun from a vast region of icy and rocky bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. Studying this primitive world—which has been around, unaltered, since the beginning of the solar system—will provide us with vital insights into the origins and evolution of our celestial neighborhood.

Latest update HERE.

Is There Evidence of Life On Mars?

At present, the evidence suggests that life may have existed in the past on Mars, or not. However, the scientific consensus is that we assume life never arose on Mars, and will continue to do so until evidence pops out and bites us in the mass spectrometer.

There is no evidence of life on Mars right now. Continue reading Is There Evidence of Life On Mars?

Anti-Science Political Hack Named To Run NASA

First, please take two minutes to watch and listen to this, in order to calibrate:

Now, remove all liquid containing vessels from the vicinity, put on your head-desk helmet gear, and watch this:

Then, behold the fact that Jim Bridenstine, who has demanded that President Obama apologize for believing that global warming is real and important, is being appointed to run NASA.

By the way, global warming did not stop in 2003

See this post at Think Progress and this post at Get Energy Smart for more.

Feel like signing a petition? This is the one you should sign.

The Challenge of Space Flight

Suddenly and for the first time I saw Amanda as a little child wide eyed with both awe and fear, among other children some sitting on the floor, some in chairs, some standing behind desks, eyes trained on a TV monitor and their teacher as the sudden realization dawned on all of them that the Space Shuttle Challenger had been consumed in a fiery, deadly explosion.

The teacher on board seemed to have been incinerated before their very eyes. As the explosion developed, shooting out huge arms of smoke, and the voice-over began to acknowledge that something was wrong, NASA’s space program was suddenly transformed, in the eyes of the innocent little children of America almost all of whom were watching the event live, from a somewhat interesting science project to a place where teachers went to die. Seventeen percent of Americans saw it live, 80% learned of it within 60 minutes after it happened.

I had never really visualized Amanda as a little girl before, but a few years ago when this came up, on an earlier Anniversary of the Challenger explosion, this image formed as a lump in my throat.

I’m a few years older than Amanda, so my experience was a little different. I had just returned form the Congo. I had borrowed a car … a Laser, which is a sort of sports car … and driven downtown to a friend’s apartment over an Italian restaurant and tavern, and parked it on a snow bank out front. That’s normal for Upstate New York. By the time morning came, the car was more than a little stuck, so I called Triple-A to pull it out.

I made the call from the tavern, and while doing so I noticed that the Challenger launch was being shown on the TV. So I stood at the bar and watched the launch. And the explosion. When the tow truck came, I mentioned to the driver that the Challenger had just exploded. He thought for a moment and said, shaking his head slowly, “You’re not gonna get me on that thing. No sir!” I thought … yeah, that might be a tough sell from this point forward.

It is said that when NASA started the Shuttle program, they made an estimate of risk of death to those who would be on board. Given the number of flights and the number of deadly events and the number of those killed, they’re apparently right in the expected range. I’ve not been able to confirm that estimate.

In any event, it turns out that space travel is dangerous. We recently remembered the tragic death of three astronauts on the launch pad, during a test, which came to be known as Apollo 1. In a few days from now, we’ll have the anniversary of the deadly destruction of the Columbia shuttle during re-entry. (Phil Plait has a few thoughts about this, here.) Four cosmonauts died during space missions as well.

Story Corps has a video about Ronald McNair, one of the scientists on the Challenger:

Amy Shira Teitel has a summary of January’s historic events in space travel:

Originally posted here, slightly edited.

Image: “Challenger flight 51-l crew” by NASA – NASA Human Space Flight Gallery (image link). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Hottest Year: 2014

NOAA will announce today that 2014 was the warmest year during the instrumental record, which begins in 1880. The announcement, which addresses findings of both NOAA and NASA, will be made today at 11:00 Eastern. Below is the press release from NOAA.

I talked about this and other climate matters in a radio interview at Green Divas:

Michael Mann has made the following statements regarding this news:

2014 Was Earth’s Warmest Year On Record
Three major climate organizations (JMA, NASA, and NOAA) have now released their official estimates for the 2014 Global Mean Surface Temperature. Both JMA and NOAA conclude that 2014 was substantially higher, i.e. outside the margin of error, of previous contenders (1998, 2005, and 2010) while NASA finds 2014 to be warmest, but within the margin of error of 2005 and 2010 (i.e. a “statistical tie”).

Based on the collective reports, it is therefore fair to declare 2014 the warmest year on record. This is significant for a number of reasons. Unlike past record years, 2014 broke the record without the “assist” of a large El Niño event. There was only the weakest semblance of an El Niño and tropical Pacific warmth contributed only moderately to the record 2014 global temperatures. Viewed in context, the record temperatures underscore the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change. It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be seeing a record year, during a record warm decade, during a multidecadal period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled over at least the past millennium, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by fossil fuel burning.

The record temperatures *should* put to rest the absurd notion of a “pause” (what I refer to as the “Faux Pause” in Scientific American in global warming. There is a solid body of research now showing that any apparent slow-down of warming during the past decade was likely due to natural short-term factors (like small changes in solar output and volcanic activity) and internal fluctuations related to e.g. the El Nino phenomenon. The record 2014 temperatures underscore the fact that global warming and associated climate changes continue unabated as we continue to raise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

See also:

  • this post by Laurence Lewis
  • <li><a href="http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/01/explainer-how-do-scientists-measure-global-temperature/">Explainer: How do scientists measure global temperature?</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/jan/16/global-warming-made-2014-record-hot-year">Global warming made 2014 a record hot year – in animated graphics</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/01/16/scientists-react-to-warmest-year-2014-underscores-undeniable-fact-of-human-caused-climate-change/">Scientists react to warmest year: 2014 underscores ‘undeniable fact’ of human-caused climate change</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://mashable.com/2015/01/16/2014-earth-warmest-year-not-random/">There is less than a 1-in-27 million chance that Earth's record hot streak is natural</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/01/16/3612351/noaa-nasa-2014-hottest-year-on-record/">NOAA, NASA: 2014 Is Officially Hottest Year On Record, Driven By Global Warming</a>
    <li><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16/2014-hottest-year-on-record_n_6479896.html">2014 Was The Hottest Year Since At Least 1880, Government Finds</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2014-hottest-year-on-record/">Interesting graphic at Bloomberg</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://blog.ucsusa.org/born-after-1976-you-have-lived-your-entire-life-on-a-hotter-planet-784">Born after 1976? You’ve Lived Your Entire Life on a Hotter Planet</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/2014-hottest-on-record-0459#.VLlDH4rF-6Z">2014 a Record Hot Year</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/2014-hottest-year">2014: ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://climatecrocks.com/2015/01/16/its-official-2014-hottest-year/">It’s Official, 2014 Hottest Year</a></li>

    The Press Release

    NOAA: 2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record
    December 2014 record warm; Global oceans also record warm for 2014

    The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA scientists. The December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was also the highest on record.

    This summary from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    In an independent analysis of the data also released today, NASA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.


        <li>During 2014, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07°F (0.04°C).</li>
        <li>Record warmth was spread around the world, including Far East Russia into western Alaska, the western United States, parts of interior South America most of Europe stretching into northern Africa, parts of eastern and western coastal Australia, much of the northeastern Pacific around the Gulf of Alaska, the central to western equatorial Pacific, large swaths of northwestern and southeastern Atlantic, most of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the central to southern Indian Ocean.</li>
        <li>During 2014, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.80°F (1.00°C) above the 20th century average. This was the fourth highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record.</li>
        <li>During 2014, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.03°F (0.57°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 1998 and 2003 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).</li>
        <li>Looking above Earth’s surface at certain layers of the atmosphere, two different analyses examined NOAA satellite-based data records for the lower and middle troposphere and the lower stratosphere.</li>
    <li>The 2014 temperature for the lower troposphere (roughly the lowest five miles of the atmosphere) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.50°F (0.28°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), and sixth highest on record, at 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS).</li>
                <li><li>The 2014 temperature for the mid-troposphere (roughly two miles to six miles above the surface) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.32°F (0.18°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and sixth highest on record, at 0.25°F (0.14°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS.</li>
                <li><li>The temperature for the lower stratosphere (roughly 10 miles to 13 miles above the surface) was 13th lowest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.56°F (0.31°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and also 13th lowest on record, at 0.41°F (0.23°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS.  The stratospheric temperature is decreasing on average while the lower and middle troposphere temperatures are increasing on average, consistent with expectations in a greenhouse-warmed world.</li></ul>

    According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the average annual Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during 2014 was 24.95 million square miles, and near the middle of the historical record. The first half of 2014 saw generally below-normal snow cover extent, with above-average coverage later in the year.

    Recent polar sea ice extent trends continued in 2014. The average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was 10.99 million square miles, the sixth smallest annual value of the 36-year period of record. The annual Antarctic sea ice extent was record large for the second consecutive year, at 13.08 million square miles.

    December 2014

        <li>During December, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.39°F (0.77°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for December in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous record of 2006 by 0.04°F (0.02°C).</li>
        <li>During December, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.45°F (1.36°C) above the 20th century average. This was the third highest for December in the 1880-2014 record.  </li>
        <li>During December, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.99°F (0.55°C) above the 20th century average. This was also the third highest for December in the 1880-2014 record.</li>
        <li>The average Arctic sea ice extent for December was 210,000 square miles (4.1 percent) below the 1981-2010 average. This was the ninth smallest December extent since records began in 1979, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center based on data from NOAA and NASA.</li>
        <li>Antarctic sea ice during December was 430,000 square miles (9.9 percent) above the 1981-2010 average. This was the fourth largest December Antarctic sea ice extent on record.</li>
        <li>According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during December was 130,000 square miles below the 1981-2010. This was the 20th smallest December Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record.</li>

    A more complete summary of climate conditions and events can be found at: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2014/13

    That Orion Thing Is Great!

    Watch the Orion test flight:


    Why is it great? Well, speaking as a Gemini (not my horoscope sign, but the space program going when I first gained sentience) …

    <li>First, it is big, fast, cool looking.  It actually looks like a rocket that might have been designed a decade before they ever actually made any rockets.  It is almost Deco.</li>
    <li>Second, they got a guy from the 1960s -- with that slightly, nasal, black and white voice people spoke in back then -- to call the <del datetime="2014-12-06T02:10:27+00:00">race</del> <em>launch</em>. </li>
    <li>Third, Orion is really good at taking selfies. </li>
    <li>Fourth, it didn't take long. The whole thing was like literally tl;dr.</li>

    Oh, and fifth: It worked! Didn’t blow up or anything!

    Apparently, the rocket that shot this unit into space is small compared to the one they’ll be using in the future. (More info on the project here.)

    Onward to Mars! Finally!

    James Hansen’s Legacy

    James Hansen, author of “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About The Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity“, recently announced his retirement from his position as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. My friend John Abraham write’s about Hansen’s retirement in his inaugural* post in the new blog “Climate Consensus – The 97%” …

    What does this mean for climate science and the future of the Earth? It is impossible to know now but instead of looking forward, I want to shine a light on what Jim has done for climate science, what he signifies to the larger public, and how he is viewed by current and upcoming scientists.

    John’s post is here: What’s climate scientist James Hansen’s legacy? As the scientist ‘retires’ from his duties at Nasa, John Abraham assesses the impact of a climate change leader. Ho have a look.

    *An earlier post at the Guardian by John has been prepended to this new blog, but this is the first post by him since the blog came into existence last week.

    Photo from the Guardian story.

    NASA’s first deadly disaster: Apollo 1

    I only barely remember the disaster. It was on this day, but in 1967. In recent years, I’ve wondered why my memory of the death of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1 space craft is so vague. I have memories of earlier space activities, but most of those memories are really memories of reading about things in books and magazines, and playing “astronaut” more or less constantly. I had limited access to a TV and TV coverage of every detail of life everywhere all the time had not been invented yet. But really, the main reason I only barely remember the event despite my intense interest in the space program was probably because it was downplayed. I think my parents downplayed it and I think Walter Cronkite downplayed it because it was so horrific.

    If you don’t know about the event, here it is in a nutshell: Three astronauts were caught in a fire in their capsule during a test on the launch pad. The details are actually rather interesting. They were not burned to death (though that certainly would have ultimately happened) but rather suffocated because their breathing supply was interrupted. They were trapped in the capsule and the capsule itself actually ruptured from the pressure built up from the fire. Post hoc analysis tells us that this should never have happened, but of course they clearly did not know that at the time. Further post hoc analysis tells us that they could have known about it at the time had there been more cooperation and openness among scientists and engineers working in the USSR and the USA.

    Amy Shira Teitel has probably written a post about this for the anniversary of the event, on her blog, but since I’m speaking to you now from the recent past (two days ago) I can’t say for sure. Go check it out, and if there isn’t one you can read this post and this post which she put up a couple of days ago.

    Happy 50th Anniversary, Planetary Exploration!

    Fifty years ago to day a space ship passed by the planet Venus. The Earthlings had named the space craft “Mariner 2” and sent it to Venus for purely scientific purposes. Interplanetary domination was never the intention of this or any other Earth mission.

    And that began the story of planetary exploration as we know it.

    I believe Mariner 2 was the 13th exploratory un-personed space mission by NASA.

    Two Space Robots To Crash Into Moon Monday

    Ebb and Flow, the Twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) Space Ships, which have been employed to provide detailed gravitational mapping of the Moon’s geology, have apparently served their purpose and will be reprogrammed in a few hours from now to crash into the moon on Monday.

    PASADENA, Calif. — Twin lunar-orbiting NASA spacecraft that have allowed scientists to learn more about the internal structure and composition of the moon are being prepared for their controlled descent and impact on a mountain near the moon’s north pole at about 2:28 p.m. PST (5:28 p.m. EST) Monday, Dec. 17.

    “Controlled Descent” means “Crash Into the Moon.” At least they might have one final glimpse of Moon Santa before their fateful demise.

    Ebb and Flow, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission probes, are being sent purposely into the lunar surface because their low orbit and low fuel levels preclude further scientific operations. The duo’s successful prime and extended science missions generated the highest-resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

    NASA has one hell of a retirement policy. Take note future Space Robots!

    “It is going to be difficult to say goodbye,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Our little robotic twins have been exemplary members of the GRAIL family, and planetary science has advanced in a major way because of their contributions.”

    If this is what they do to the “exemplary” Space Robots, I’d hate to see what becomes of the slackers.

    The mountain where the two spacecraft will make contact is located near a crater named Goldschmidt. Both spacecraft have been flying in formation around the moon since Jan. 1, 2012.

    That’s “Goldschmidt” as in “Hermann Goldschmidt, a nineteenth century astronomer and painter famous for discovering a bunch of asteroids. I don’t think he saw this coming.

    They were named by elementary school students in Bozeman, Mont., who won a contest. The first probe to reach the moon, Ebb, also will be the first to go down, at 2:28:40 p.m. PST. Flow will follow Ebb about 20 seconds later.

    Clearly, it is not a good idea to name farm animals or Space Robots.

    Both spacecraft will hit the surface at 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second). No imagery of the impact is expected because the region will be in shadow at the time.


    Ebb and Flow will conduct one final experiment before their mission ends. They will fire their main engines until their propellant tanks are empty to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in their tanks. This will help NASA engineers validate fuel consumption computer models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.

    So, their last job is to be a pair of glorified gas station inspectors.

    “Our lunar twins may be in the twilight of their operational lives, but one thing is for sure, they are going down swinging,” said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Even during the last half of their last orbit, we are going to do an engineering experiment that could help future missions operate more efficiently.”

    Because the exact amount of fuel remaining aboard each spacecraft is unknown, mission navigators and engineers designed the depletion burn to allow the probes to descend gradually for several hours and skim the surface of the moon until the elevated terrain of the target mountain gets in their way. The burn that will change the spacecrafts’ orbit and ensure the impact is scheduled to take place Friday morning, Dec. 14.

    That’s interesting. So it’s going to be more of a Wiley Coyote thing, then.

    “Such a unique end-of-mission scenario requires extensive and detailed mission planning and navigation,” said Lehman. “We’ve had our share of challenges during this mission and always come through in flying colors, but nobody I know around here has ever flown into a moon mountain before. It’ll be a first for us, that’s for sure.”

    Boys and their toys.

    The NASA press report is here.

    NASA Press Conference Will Announce Voyager Captured by Alien Craft!

    I’m kidding, I’m kidding, NASA did not say that. But I do think people need to take it down a notch with this whole blaming NASA for doing their press conferences wrong. As far as I know, the Curiosity Martian Laboratory Robot recently approached a non nondescript pile of dirt, analyzed the bejesus out of it as a test of the fancy dancy instruments on board, and everything worked. The pile of dirt was not interesting but they did to that pile of dirt what would have required 3,000 feet of laboratory floor space full of expensive equipment and a dozen technicians working for two months back in the day. But they did it with a Robot. On Mars. In a few days. And everything worked.

    If you don’t think that is overwhelmingly exciting than you are either dead or have no idea how science works. That is incredibly amazing wonderful news.

    So, when a NASA scientist became exuberant over the news that would be reported in the upcoming press conference and said he was really excited, science reporters and bloggers, jaded by the Mono Lake affair no doubt, assumed that only one thing could be that exciting: Martians. Nothing else. And then, when “rumors” went around suggesting that it was probably not Martians, it became time to crucify NASA again. That is not good science reporting, people. Don’t think you’re doing it right and NASA is doing it wrong.

    I also think that the spoof site reporting that a blue plastic necklace had been found on the Angry Red Planet was pretty funny, and I think that NASA having that site killed was unnecessary. Those details are here.

    Take it down a notch, people.

    OK, there really will be a V-ger press conference and a Curiosity press conference in the near future.


    Actually, NASA has press conference all the time. All the time. They’ve been doing this for years. The sudden concern that NASA is doing science by press conference, if it is a real concern, should have been brought up a long time ago. But really, there should not be a concern. The data that are collected on these various NASA Big Science Missions are studied by real live scientists who publish the results in peer reviewed journals. But they also have the press conferences.

    Think about this for one minute. What if NASA had the rule that nothing they did would be reported to the press, but rather, only released via peer reviewed journals, often years after the actual mission activities were carried out, but they’d also let you stand a few miles away and watch launches. That’s it. No press conferences keeping people updated on the various missions as they reach various milestones. What would the people who watch this science and report on it and blog about it do then? They’d whinge about the lack of transparency, the lack of information, they’d say things like “Sure, sure, peer reviewed papers are great, but with this kind of science, with the huge public funding, and given the importance of the public interest, and the various milestones and stuff … well, they should have press conferences now and then, dammit!”

    Yes, that is what would be said.

    So, here, I will present the information on the upcoming press conferences, as provided by NASA, so you can see what it is all about.

    Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    Update Set In San Francisco About Curiosity Mars Rover

    PASADENA, Calif. — The next news conference about the NASA Mars rover Curiosity will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
    Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

    The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars’ Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

    Audio and visuals from the briefing also will be streamed online at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl .

    For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .


    Veronica McGregor/Guy Webster 818-354-9452/ 818-354-6278
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    veronica.c.mcgregor@jpl.nasa.gov/ guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

    Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    NASA to Host Dec. 3 Teleconference About Voyager Mission

    November 29, 2012

    PASADENA, Calif. — NASA will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST) on Monday, Dec. 3, to discuss the latest findings and travels of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.

    Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, have been speeding through the outer reaches of our solar system and sending back unprecedented data about the bubble of charged particles around our sun. They were launched in 1977 and have traveled farther from Earth than any other spacecraft.

    Audio and visuals of the event will be streamed live online at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2 .

    For more information about the Voyager mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager and http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov .

    Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
    NASA Headquarters, Washington


    Photograph of Alien Spacecraft by Flickr user Markusram

    Romney-Ryan Space Plan: Do What Obama Has Been Doing

    But at the same time say that Obama is doing it wrong:

    The campaign’s plan cited four priorities – giving NASA focus, working with the international community, increasing the nation’s capacity to defend its assets in space and easing trade limits on foreign sales of American “space goods.” Romney did not suggest increased space spending — his budget plan would force cuts in domestic programs, including space — but on increased reliance on commercial firms to get Americans and their goods into space. That mirrors the Obama administration’s plan.


    NASA did an amazing thing a few days ago, landing a big giant amazing Science Robot on the Angry Red Planet, Mars. But to get to that point, to have The Ultimate Omelette, as it were, you’ve got to break a few eggs.

    Here is what an egg looks like when NASA breaks it:

    It doesn’t just sit there and burn…it keeps blowing up and stuff, so you may want to watch the whole video if you missed the Fourth of July.

    This is/was the Morpheus Lander.

    Morpheus is a vertical test bed vehicle demonstrating new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology. Designed, developed, manufactured and operated in-house by engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Morpheus Project represents not only a vehicle to advance technologies, but also an opportunity to try out “lean development” engineering practices.

    So, it’s a good thing. I’m sure they’ll get it right, eventually.

    Reminds me of my youth.


    The Mars Science Laboratory Mission has piles of cool equipment on board Curiosity Rover, which is closing in on Mars as we speak. The landing is expected to be next Sunday/Monday, 10:31 p.m. Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Aug. 6 EDT, 05:31 Aug. 6 Universal Time) plus or minus a minute.. But not really, because the event is happening a it far away in spacetime; those are the times that the signals from Mars will arrive on the planet Earth, about 13.8 minutes after the event has happened. The mission is expected to last one Martian year, which is close to two Earth years. The weather at the landing site will be clear and ranging from 90 degrees below zero C to about freezing (-130F to 32F).

    The location of the landing is ner the Martian equator, near the base of Mount Sharp inside the Gale crater.

    The rover is about three meters long not ocuting it’s arm, and just under three meters wide, and 2.1 meters high to its tallest point. The arm is about 2.1 meter long and the wheels are about a half a meter in diameter. It weights just under 4,000 kilos (over four tons). The vehicle is a hybrid of sorts, and will run on a nuclear thermoelectric generator with lithium ion batteries. Batteries are included.

    The instruments Curiosity will carry include: a Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, cameras, a robotic Martian-designed loupe, radiation detectors, environmental monitoring gear and a very fancy chemistry set.

    NASA says this about the scientific investigations:

    NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission will study whether the Gale Crater area of Mars has evidence of past and present habitable environments. These studies will be part of a broader examination of past and present processes in the Martian atmosphere and on its surface. The research will use 10 instrument-based science investigations. The mission’s rover, Curiosity, carries the instruments for these investigations and will support their use by providing overland mobility, sample-acquisition capabilities, power and communications. The primary mission will last one Mars year (98 weeks).

    The payload includes mast-mounted instruments to survey the surroundings and assess potential sampling targets from a distance; instruments on Curiosity’s robotic arm for close-up inspections; laboratory instruments inside the rover for analysis of samples from rocks, soils and atmosphere; and instruments to monitor the environment around the rover. In addition to the science payload, engineering sensors on the heat shield will gather information about Mars’ atmosphere and the spacecraft’s performance during its descent through the atmosphere.

    To make best use of the rover’s science capabilities, a diverse international team of scientists and engineers will make daily decisions about the rover’s activities for the following day. Even if all the rover’s technology performs flawlessly, some types of evidence the mission will seek about past environments may not have persisted in the rock record. While the possibility that life might have existed on Mars provokes great interest, a finding that conditions did not favor life would also pay off with valuable insight about differences and similarities between early Mars and early Earth.

    The landing itself has been dubbed the “seven minutes of terror” because it is so complicated that even engineers will be terrified. Here is a graphic depicting the landing plan:

    Here is a video about the mission:

    There could be H2O ice on Vesta

    Vesta is the second biggest asteroid in the famous asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It has generally been thought that Vesta would get enough sun over its entire surface that water would not survive, but a recent survey of the surface indicates that deeply buried water has a chance of remaining on the asteroid near the poles, or possibly at the bottom of some deep craters.


    Vesta Up Close (image by NASA)

    This is interesting, in part, because of questions about the role of water in the early formation of the solar system. One of the main objectives of the Dawn spacecraft mission is to examine water (or the lack of water) on Vesta and Ceres (another asteroid).

    Dawn is looking for water using the gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) spectrometer, which can identify hydrogen-rich deposits that could be associated with water ice. The spacecraft recently entered a low orbit that is well suited to collecting gamma ray and neutron data.

    “Our perceptions of Vesta have been transformed in a few months as the Dawn spacecraft has entered orbit and spiraled closer to its surface,” says Lucy McFadden, a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard and a Dawn mission co-investigator. “More importantly, our new views of Vesta tell us about the early processes of solar system formation. If we can detect evidence for water beneath the surface, the next question will be is it very old or very young, and that would be exciting to ponder.”

    The modeling done by Stubbs and Wang, for example, relies on information about Vesta’s shape. Before Dawn, the best source of that information was a set of images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1994 and 1996. But now, Dawn and its camera are getting a much closer view of Vesta.

    “The Dawn mission gives researchers a rare opportunity to observe Vesta for an extended period of time, the equivalent of about one season on Vesta,” says Stubbs. “Hopefully, we’ll know in the next few months whether the GRaND spectrometer sees evidence for water ice in Vesta’s regolith. This is an important and exciting time in planetary exploration.”

    NASA press release