Tag: NASA

InSight at Elysium Planitia

Tuesday, 27 November, 2018

This photo provided by NASA shows an image on Mars taken by the InSight spacecraft using its robotic arm-mounted camera after it landed on the planet yesterday. The spacecraft survived a perilous, supersonic plunge through the Martian red skies, setting off jubilation among scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California who had waited in suspense for confirmation that InSight had journeyed successfully across 100 million miles of space. It’s an historic, inspiring achievement.

InSight on Mars

InSight landed at a place known as Elysium Planitia, which is a relatively flat region free of boulders, craters and other potentially mission-ending obstacles. If all goes well, the spacecraft will probe Mars over the next two Earth years, and scientists hope InSight will help answer questions about how rocky planets become habitable (like Earth) or inhospitable (like Mars). We’ll be watching.


Titanic II and the tabular iceberg

Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

Australian mining tycoon Clive Palmer says his Titanic II cruise ship is set for a 2022 launch. The two-week maiden voyage will be from Dubai to Great Britain, before she begins her regular service, sailing back and forth between Southampton and New York, retracing the route of the original ship, which was not the Titanic I. The Belfast-built ship that was called The Titanic, sank on 15 April 1912 after hitting an Ilulissat Icefjord iceberg during her maiden voyage. She was carrying 2,224 passengers and crew, but had only 16 lifeboats, which held just 1,178 people. Titanic II can accommodate 2,435 passengers and 900 crew and, crucially, will have lifeboats for 2,700 and life rafts for an additional 800. What the ship won’t have, Clive Palmer has suggested, is internet or TV.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Operation IceBridge, a long-running aerial survey of polar ice, flew over the northern Antarctic Peninsula on 16 October and during a scan of several glaciers Jeremy Harbeck spotted a rare tabular iceberg just off of the Larsen C ice shelf. Photo: NASA/Jeremy Harbeck

Iceberg


We’re on the road to Mars!

Wednesday, 7 February, 2018 0 Comments

We will look back and marvel at what Elon Musk did yesterday. In short, his SpaceX company successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world into space. And this was done by a private business at a fraction of a cost of other systems currently being built. SpaceX claims that Falcon Heavy launches will cost about $90 million per flight, while NASA, which is working on its own heavy launch system, called the SLS, estimates it could cost about a billion dollars per flight. But the icing on the cake is that the notion of re-landing reusable rockets, which seemed like science fiction a decade ago, is now reality. SpaceX regularly lands rockets back on land or on a drone ship in the Atlantic. Yesterday, it landed two Falcon 9 rockets simultaneously, each dropping elegantly from the sky with a majestic controlled burn.

Elon Musk is making the future great again. We’re on the way to Mars!


Current reading: The Martian

Monday, 8 December, 2014 0 Comments

The Martian “I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this. We got to Earth orbit the normal way, through an ordinary ship to Hermes. All the Ares missions use Hermes to get to and from Mars. It’s really big and cost a lot so NASA built only one.

Once we got to Hermes, four additional unmanned missions brought us fuel and supplies while we prepared for our trip. Once everything was a go, we set out for Mars. But not very fast. Gone are the days of heavy chemical fuel burns and trans-Mars injection orbits.”

So says the narrator of The Martian by Andy Weir. The book has been a commercial and critical success: The Wall Street Journal called it “the best pure sci-fi novel in years,” and the film version, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, will be released in November next year.

The book is more topical than ever, considering the spectacular success of the Orion spacecraft, which soared into space on Friday before splashing down on target in the Pacific ocean. NASA says that Orion is destined to be the first of a fleet that will carry humans beyond the Moon to Mars. Opponent say that putting humans into space is futile, expensive, dangerous and ultimately harmful to science. They argue that robot craft represent the future of space exploration. It’s a debate that’s bound to get more heated in the coming years and The Martian offers a cautionary message:

The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send peo­ple to another planet for the very first time and expand the hori­zons of humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thing and came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love of the world.

Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. They got a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home.

Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Com­mander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.

What do you know? I’m in command.

I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crew die of old age. I presume they got back to Earth all right. Guys, if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do. In your position I would have done the same thing. I don’t blame you, and I’m glad you survived.


The Rosetta Stone

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014 0 Comments

The stone here is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the Rosetta is the European Space Agency satellite that will drop a robot probe called Philae today onto this clump of icy rock 600 million kilometres above where this blog post is being written. Confirmation of the hoped-for success is expected at around 1600 GMT when Philae sends a tweet about its new surroundings to us back here on Earth.

On 20 July 1969, when the first man walked on the Moon, some 500 million people watched the event on TV. A smaller audience is predicted for today’s landing. There is no Neil Armstrong, after all, and most people cannot pronounce Churyumov-Gerasimenko, never mind finding it in the night sky. Still, there’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for all those who want to follow the progress of the satellite and its probe.

Interest in outer space is not what it used to be. The Cold War rivalry that spurred so much scientific competition has cooled, the costs are alarming, the dangers are real and earthly concerns are more pressing these days. Still, the current cinematic success of Interstellar might help revive enthusiasm for interplanetary adventure. With luck, Philae will do the business today. If it does, ESA will feel entitled to be regarded as a serious player alongside NASA. Philae will have to attract more than 1.7 million followers before it can match the drawing power of Curiosity Rover, however.

Comet landing place


Elon Musk warned about old Russian rocket engines

Wednesday, 29 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s nothing quite like fireworks to light up a front/home page, is there? Background: Yesterday evening, the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded just six seconds after lifting off from the Wallops Island spacepad in Virginia. NASA says that all personnel in the area have been accounted for, and there were no injuries.

Rockets have a history of exploding and the cause of the Antares failure is not yet known, but relying on old Russian engines may not be the wisest use of critical components. Which brings us to Elon Musk, the brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX. Two years ago, to the week, he said the following to Chris Anderson of Wired:

“One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s — I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”

Four days ago, Musk’s Dragon capsule safely landed in the Pacific Ocean, returning some two tons of cargo and science experiments to Earth from the International Space Station. Instead of relying on rusty Russian parts, Musk is making rockets using an advanced technology called stir welding:

“Instead of riveting the ribs and hoops, you use a special machine that softens the metal on both sides of the joint without penetrating it or melting it. Unlike traditional welding, which melts and potentially compromises some metals, this process works well with high-strength aluminum alloys. You wind up with a stiffer, lighter structure than was possible before.”

Yes, SpaceX has had its setbacks, but nothing as spectacular as yesterday’s Antares fail.


Mars and the mundane

Tuesday, 27 May, 2014 0 Comments

In a week from now, NASA will launch its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator test vehicle to Mars. If the experiment works, it could pave the way for much heavier payloads, which would include equipment and people. NASA has said it hopes to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. It all sounds very exciting, but what about those left behind? This rather droll animated short was created by The Brothers McLeod.


‘Tis very warm weather when one’s in bed

Monday, 25 March, 2013 0 Comments

So said the Anglo-Irish writer and satirist Jonathan Swift (1667 — 1745). Coming right up to date, “Extreme cold weather hits Europe” is the headline on a Big Picture photo feature about the deadly climate change that’s been killing people from Vladivostok to Glasgow. In Poland, the interior ministry said 20 people had died in the past 24 hours because of the freezing weather, bringing the toll there so far this year to at least 100. In Serbia, which declared a state of emergency last week, 19 people have died of cold. And for the first time in decades, parts of the Black Sea has frozen near its shores, while the Kerch Strait that links the Azov Sea and the Black Sea has been closed to navigation. According to NASA, the weather pattern is called a “Russian Winter” because the intense cold is triggered by a strong Siberian anticyclone hovering over northern Russia.

A man pushes a bicycle on a snow-covered road near the village of Cotorca, 70km northeast of Bucharest

A man pushes a bicycle on a snow-covered road near the village of Cotorca, 70km northeast of Bucharest


Curiosity tweets a huge step for mankind

Monday, 6 August, 2012

At 1.32 EST, the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, tweeted: “I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL”. Congratulations, NASA.

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