50 years ago, on April 12th, a human went into space for the first time. Let’s say that again, for emphasis: a human went into space. In a rocket. To space. His name was Yuri Gagarin and he is an undeniable legend.
Sure, his fame might be overshadowed somewhat by those showoff Americans Buzz Adrin and Neil Armstrong (though we still love you guys, big time), and his tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 31 also limited his potential awesomeness, but there’s no man alive who could deny that Yuri was an absolute boss.
A hero in Russia — more than a hero, in fact, more like a god — he’s celebrated to this day, year after year, for his amazing feat of being the first man in space, and for showing those Yanks the Russkies had the power to send a ruddy bloody man into ruddy bloody space.
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The two objects were only identified at the weekend by the Nasa-funded Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, during a routine sky scan.
The first asteroid, christened 2010 RX30, was about 65 feet (20 metres) in diameter and flew past at a distance of 154,000 miles early at 9:51am on Wednesday.
The second, called 2010 RF12, was roughly two-thirds the size of its big brother and estimated to pass within just 49,088 miles of Earth hours later.
While they were visible to many amateur stargazers, space agency researchers said neither asteroid posed a risk to earth.
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An image of Haiti from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in 2000 Credit: NASA
NASA is helping provide information to support disaster recovery efforts in Haiti in the wake of Tuesday’s killer earthquake.
According to the space agency, two NASA Earth monitoring satellites — the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER, and NASA’s Earth Observing-1 ,or EO-1 — are beaming down images of areas hardest hit by the quake. Before-and-after pictures will be used to help damage assessment and recovery efforts.
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After a decade of scanning the universe, NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory has a new lease on life – one that could extend its mission through 2013, and possibly longer.
NASA officially extended the 10-year-old Chandra mission by extending its science support contract by $172 million, which will fund the effort through 2013 and bring its total base cost up to $545 million. Options for two more life extensions for the healthy space telescope could increase its value to $913 million, NASA officials said.
“I think it’s very good news,” said astronomer Roger Brissenden, manager and flight director of the Chandra X-ray Center overseeing the space telescope’s science operations. “It shows they really do have confidence that the spacecraft is healthy and able to do good science.”
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The end is beginning for NASA’s three aging space shuttles, with just five more missions on tap this year before the orbiter fleet retires in the fall.
That is, unless NASA needs a few more months to fly those remaining missions or President Barack Obama chooses to extend the shuttle program to fill a looming gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.
Though the ultimate path forward for NASA has not yet been decided, the space agency is at a turning point after nearly 29 years of shuttle flight.
“Obviously it’s the end of an era,” said Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “There’s a certain amount of nostalgia and a sense of loss, no question.”
The very last space shuttle flight, the STS-133 mission of the shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station, is scheduled for September 2010. The launch will be the 134th shuttle voyage since the fleet’s debut in 1981.
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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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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.
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“…we must choose between two assumptions: either the souls which move the planets are the less active the farther the planet is removed from the sun, or there is only one moving soul in the center of all the orbits, that is the sun, which drives the planet the more vigorously the closer the planet is, but whose force is quasi-exhausted when acting on the outer planets because of the long distance and the weakening of the force which it entails.” (in ref. 1, p 261)
As the story goes, on Christmas night 2,000 years ago, wise men followed a star in the night sky to reach the baby Jesus. NASA-Ames is following the stars too, looking for life on other worlds, and astronomers have a new celestial tool to help them.
“If we’re going to be looking for planets, earth-like planets are the key,” Foothill College Astronomy Department Chair Andrew Fraknoi said.
Fraknoi has loved astronomy since childhood. He says NASA’s Kepler mission is one of the most exciting in quite some time.
“In the last 16 years, we’ve discovered over 400 planets going around other stars, but the methods so far that we have been using only allowed us to find big planets like Jupiter,” Fraknoi said.
Kepler is a telescope designed to find planets orbiting other stars by looking for a break in the star light as a planet moves in front of it.
The challenge now is to find planets that are half to twice the size of the earth in the habitable zone of their stars, where it is possible that water and even life might exist.
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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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NASA is hoping to launch a new infrared space observatory on Friday, but cloudy weather could delay the flight.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is slated to lift off atop a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 11 between 9:09:33 a.m. and 9:23:51 a.m. EST (1409 and 1423 GMT).
Unfortunately, thick clouds and rain are forecasted, prompting NASA to give the weather an 80 percent chance of preventing the launch. Even if liftoff is delayed for 24 hours, the forecast looks to be similar.
“We’ve got some challenging weather ahead of us,” said launch director Chuck Dovale during a Wednesday briefing.