Posts tagged cooperative space exploration

Has USA hit its final frontier in human space exploration?

Still hoping for that Jetsons future?

Ruh-roh, as the Jetsons’ dog, Astro, might put it.

Just six years ago, President Bush laid out a vision of space exploration that harked back to NASA’s halcyon days built on astronauts as explorers. Bush wanted to sling them from low Earth orbit to a base on the moon and then, perhaps, on to a first manned landing on another planet, Mars.

But that was before huge federal deficits arrived, public support failed to show, and unmanned explorers scored successes — namely the Hubble telescope and Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are still sending back signals years after they were expected to expire.

So as we look to the next decade, what sort of human space exploration will we see?

“We are on a path that will not lead to a useful, safe human exploration program,” former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine said when he testified to Congress in September about the blue-ribbon space exploration panel he chaired. “The primary reason is the mismatch between the tasks to be performed and the funds that are available to support those tasks.”

But NASA’s guardians say it’s premature to end the role of the astronaut.

“I do not see this president being the president who presides over the end of human spaceflight,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle pilot, when he spoke Jan. 5 at the American Astronomical Society meeting here. In the speech, Bolden said his agency would stress missions — small ones — with other nations as partners and look to new technologies, not the big chemical rockets of the past, to propel missions.

Read on…

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US official questions China space intentions

A senior US defense official on Wednesday voiced doubts about China’s insistence that its use of space is for peaceful means as Washington appealed for steady military ties with the rising Asian power.

“The Chinese have stated that they oppose the militarization of space. Their actions seem to indicate the contrary intention,” said Wallace Gregson, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of Asia.

“We continue to press the Chinese for explanation,” Gregson told a congressional hearing.

China says its rapidly growing military budget is for defensive purposes. Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged with US President Barack Obama at a November summit to promote the peaceful use of space.

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Mystery Of The Dimming Star Coming To An End? Epsilon Aurigae where are you?

Dimming star mystery artist concept

An artist’s conception of Epsilon Aurigae and its dusty companion. Credit: NASA/JPL Caltech

Epsilon Aurigae is one of the few stars that you can see with your own eyes, even in the washed out, big-city sky. It’s big and very bright — except when it isn’t. Sometimes, it’s just not there.

Epsilon Aurigae is what’s known as an eclipsing star. Every 27 years or so, it dims dramatically. In fact, you would have a hard time finding Epsilon Aurigae right now, because the star began dimming last August — and it won’t be fully visible again for more than a year. That’s one of the longest eclipses known to man.

Astronomers have been puzzling over these drawn-out eclipses ever since they were first recorded early in the 19th century. Now, using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, they’ve come up with a model that sheds new light on this 200-year-old mystery.

Don Hoard led the researchers at the California Institute of Technology, who looked at all the new data. He tells NPR’s Guy Raz that Epsilon Aurigae is actually two stars spinning around each other.

“About two eclipses ago — so in the mid-1950s, early 1960s — astronomers started to develop a picture that there must be something in this system other than just two stars orbiting each other and eclipsing each other,” Hoard says.

“The idea was formed that there’s probably a disc formed of gas and dust that surrounds one of the stars, and the reason the eclipse lasts so long is because this disc is passing in front of the other star — the brighter star in the system — and it just takes a long time to go past.”

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First Earth-Like Planet Spotted Outside Solar System Likely a Volcanic Wasteland

Earth-like planet outside our solar system

How similar is exoplanet CoRoT-7b to Earth? The newly discovered extra-solar planet (depicted in the above artist’s illustration) is the closest physical match yet, with a mass about five Earths and a radius of about 1.7 Earths. Also, the home star to CoRoT-7b, although 500 light years distant, is very similar to our Sun. Unfortunately, the similarities likely end there, as CoRoT-7b orbits its home star well inside the orbit of Mercury, making its year last only 20 hours, and making its peak temperature much hotter than humans might find comfortable. Credit: ESO/L. Calcada

Rocky planets — Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars — make up half the planets in our solar system. Rocky planets are considered better environments to support life than planets that are mainly gaseous, like the other half of the planets in our system: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The rocky planet CoRoT-7 b was discovered circling a star some 480 light years from Earth. It is, however, a forbidding place and unlikely to harbor life. That’s because it is so close to its star that temperatures might be above 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C) on the surface lit by its star and as low as minus 350 F (minus 210 C) on its dark side.

Now scientists led by a University of Washington astronomer say that if CoRoT-7 b’s orbit is not almost perfectly circular, then the planet might also be undergoing fierce volcanic eruptions. It could be even more volcanically active than Jupiter’s moon Io, which has more than 400 volcanoes and is the most geologically active object in our solar system.

“If conditions are what we speculate, then CoRoT-7 b could have multiple volcanoes going off continuously and magma flowing all over the surface,” says Rory Barnes, a UW postdoctoral researcher of astronomy and astrobiology. Any planet where the surface is being remade at such a rate is a place nearly impossible for life to get a foothold, he says.

Read the rest of this breaking news here…

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NASA’s Shuttle, Satellite, and Space Telescope fleet triumph in 2009

For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.

In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.

In a recent interview with NASASpaceFlight.com, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.

“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.

“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”

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3 Astronauts Land on International Space Station

Three astronauts have landed safely on the International Space Station
floating 220 miles away from Earth. The newest residents of the space station are NASA astronaut T.J.

Creamer, Japanese Aerospace
Exploration Agency astronaut and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov. The crew met up with Jeff Williams and Maksim Suraev, who have been on board the ISS since October 2009.

The crew has several projects planned during their stay on the ISS over the next several months. The newest crew is slated to stay until May 2010. Kotov and Suraev are scheduled for a space walk in January with the others beginning work on various other projects.

Williams and Suraev are scheduled to return to Earth in March. Three more crew members from various space agencies
around the world will land on the ISS in April bumping the space crew total to six.

The newcomers brought plenty of Christmas cheer aboard the ISS. They brought a Christmas tree and Santa hats for a family photo aboard the ISS. The astronauts will have the Christmas holiday off before jumping back into work.

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MSNBC +++ Cosmic Log +++ The year in space

The highest highlight of 2009 was clearly the revival of the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission that blended moments of beauty and brute force 350 miles above the earth.

Or was it?

Maybe the top story was the reassessment of NASA’s plans for human spaceflight. After all, tens of billions of dollars could be at stake. Or maybe it was the series of victories in NASA-backed competitions that had gone unwon for years.

See more here…

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Trio of NASA missions in 2010 will probe answers to secrets of the Earth, sun

Earth view from space

Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA

NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.

Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.

All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.

“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”

Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.

Get the full details here…

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Happy Holidays from orbit17.com – All the best to you and yours :)

Geminid shower in California

Geminid meteor pierces the night sky over California’s Mojave Desert Credit: Wally Pacholka, TWAN

Like a silver spear cast from the heavens, the bright streak of a Geminid meteor pierces the night sky over California’s Mojave Desert during the annual meteor shower’s 2009 peak.

Geminids are slower than other shooting stars and are known to make beautiful long arcs across the sky. This could be because they’re born of debris from a dormant comet and so are made mostly of hard, sun-baked rock that takes longer to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, experts suggest.

Geminid Meteor Shower: Rising Star

The Geminids have been historically overlooked, simply because of their timing so close to the busy holiday season and during frigid winter nights, astronomers say.

But that’s beginning to change, thanks to the Geminids’ rising intensity over the past few decades.

In fact, for many astronomers, the December meteors have now dethroned the more popular August Perseid meteor shower as the shooting star event of the year.

“It may come as a surprise to many, but the Geminids are currently richer and are brighter on average,” said Anthony Cook, astronomy observer at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

Why the sudden illumination?

Earth is plowing deeper every year into an ancient stream of rocky debris left behind by a mysterious 3.1-mile-wide (5-kilometer-wide) object that orbits the inner solar system, he said.

When Earth’s atmosphere crosses paths with that debris cloud, the rocks are superheated and burn out—and new Geminids are born.

Geminids’ Mystery Parent

The Geminid meteors all appear to be chips off a mysterious rocky object called 3200 Phaethon.

Other meteor showers come from material shed by melting comets—which are massive chunks of dirty ice and rock—as they pass close to the sun. (See asteroid and comet pictures.)

But no one knows for sure whether the Geminids’ parent object, first identified in 1983, is an asteroid or the core of an ancient comet that simply sputtered out.

Recent observations of Phaethon, though, suggest it’s a nearly dormant comet, and the Geminids’ parent is now officially classified as such by NASA.

The research revealed that Phaethon is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun, according to NASA.

The shooting stars’ rocky, hard exterior—as well as the fact that they, unprotected by ice, get baked by the sun—may help explain why Geminids are slower and last longer in the sky than other shooting stars, said Peter Brown, a meteor expert at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

“They have the ability to penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere,” Brown said, “and burn up at much lower altitudes than meteors associated with the Perseids and Leonids.”

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#NASA Telescope To Spot Nearby Space Neighbors

WISE telescope vision artists conception

This artist’s conception shows the WISE telescope mapping the whole sky in infrared. The mission will unveil hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies. Credit: NASA

NASA is getting ready to launch a new space telescope that will scan the entire sky for the infrared glow of hidden asteroids and stars that are close to Earth but too dim to be easily seen.

Unlike telescopes that look for visible light, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE telescope, will pick up infrared light. All objects that have any heat give off infrared light — and that includes things we normally think of as being cold. WISE will be able to see objects at a wide range of temperatures, from as cold as liquid nitrogen to as hot as molten aluminum, according to NASA.

To make sure WISE isn’t blinded by its own heat, it has to be kept supercold. It will work inside a giant thermos bottle called a cryostat, and hydrogen ice will keep the telescope at -438 degrees Fahrenheit. “We have now 40 pounds of solid hydrogen in our cryostat,” says William Irace, WISE project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. “Some people think it looks like R2D2 without wheels. It’s kind of a funny-looking thing.”

The funny-looking thing is about the size of a polar bear. A rocket will blast it into orbit around the Earth. NASA is targeting launch for Monday morning.

Once it reaches orbit, WISE will spend about six months taking over 1 million images that will be stitched together to create a panoramic, infrared view of the entire sky.

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