Confessions of a Curiosity Voyeur

Landing on Mars was 50-50 chance.We have just watched, along with millions of other space junkies, NASA’s successful landing of the Curiosity rover on the surface of the planet Mars.  And I must confess that those of us here, and at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, along with millions from around the world, have been ecstatic for hours.

It is one thing to view the Mars crater landing on the faces of the crew working the mission; it is another to see the swiftly delivered almost live photos that they are viewing themselves.  Spectacular thumbnails first seen through transparent lens covers, then through the lenses themselves, made us oooh! and aaah!

Seeing a live broadcast by NASA is now over for the night. And over too is my first voyeuristic adventure with Curiosity.  It has been enormously satisfying.  But now it is back to the canned, replayed stuff from the past.  And soon tonight’s events will also become a part of the past history of the United States space program, a program that has been exciting me for six decades.

On the ends of eras.

Image

‘Tis no more . . . Riding piggy-back to destinations all over the United States, the last shuttles have been retired from service.  All made it to final resting places, to be on display to the public from now on.

The first female astronaut, Sally Ride will be laid to rest soon also. She passed away at age 61, fallen by pancreatic cancer.  Doctor Ride inspired a generation of women to chose careers in Space, as well as careers in other formerly male-dominated fields.  Engineering is no longer just open to men

The NASA channel’s tribute to Sally Ride featured old footage of her first ride on the shuttle, Challenger.  That shuttle blew up shortly after launch many years ago on January 28, 1986.  After a lengthy investigation, NASA shuttles were once again riding piggy-back from California to Florida and other destinations on both coasts.

Now it is 2012 and we are in a new Space era.  One marked by NASA and other international space agencies operating the International Space Station.  People and cargo travel to and fro from the ISS by means other than space shuttles.  The next big arrival, on July 27, to the ISS will be HTV3, a Japanese cargo craft:

The 16.5-ton HTV3, also known as Kounotori3, or “white stork,” is carrying almost 4 tons of supplies, food and experiment hardware for the orbital outpost.

Eras end and new ones begin.  So often the ends of eras bring us deep senses of loss.  But we do our mourning eventually and then move on to the next phase.  Here’s to a safe berthing for JAXA’s “white stork,” next Friday.

Dragon Daring

Space.com just published a new NASA image . . . the picture of a tiny dot whose name is “Dragon.”

spacex-dragon-iss-camera-view

That little dot at the edge of the earth thrills a lot of us, folks who are in the space business, or are mere “space junkies” like me.  It was a historic event according to the story:

The unmanned vehicle, called Dragon, is built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), and is the first commercial spacecraft ever launched toward the space station. During the rendezvous, the spacecraft approached within 1.6 miles (2.5 km) of the outpost. Dragon launched to orbit  from Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Tuesday (May 22) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and is due to arrive at the station on Friday (May 25).

This vehicle is a milestone,  the first commercial cargo carrier to make it to the International Space Station (ISS).  And that is a very big deal for several reasons.

You may also want to visit the site to view a photo series featuring the Space Station’s robotic fleet, of which Dragon is the latest. Space.com also lists the five most promising of the private spaceships.

Russian crash clouds space station operations

The recent Russian Suyoz crash puts the international space program in somewhat of a bind.  Though the International Space Station has enough equipment and supplies to go well into 2012.

The unpiloted Soyuz-U rocket, which fizzled out five minutes after blasting off from the Baikonur launch pad, closely resembles Russia’s Soyuz-FG model used to transport astronauts to the orbital station in the absence of a U.S. shuttle.

 According to MSNBC and Reuters, changing out ISS crew members will not take place on the planned schedule:

The next space station crew launch, which industry sources and foreign officials say will now be postponed from Sept. 22, was to be the first since the U.S. space agency ended its 30 year shuttle program in July.

This crash is another in a series of space craft failures.  A Russian commission will investigate the incident to determine the cause before another attempt at any rocket launches.
And in the U.S. there will be additional pressure on our commercial efforts to fly a cargo supply vessel as soon as possible.  The shuttle program is over; there will be no more of those launches.  Therefore, launching our own crew members into low earth orbit is somewhat further away.  Until then, we remain dependent on the Russians.

Soon there will be another rover headed to Mars

Though we still have one active Mars rover sending us information, NASA is excited by the next phase of Mars exploration via robotics. The new rover, named Curiosity, will be far ahead of its predecessors in size, capacity and complexity. It has 17 cameras, for example.

I cannot wait to see the outcomes!

Amplify’d from www.nasa.gov

NASA’S Next Mars Rover To Land At Gale Crater

WASHINGTON — NASA’s next Mars rover will land at the foot of a layered mountain inside the planet’s Gale crater.
The car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is scheduled to launch late this year and land in August 2012. The target crater spans 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a mountain rising higher from the crater floor than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. Gale is about the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Layering in the mound suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. The crater is named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale.
During a prime mission lasting one Martian year — nearly two Earth years — researchers will use the rover’s tools to study whether the landing region had favorable environmental conditions for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life ever existed.
In 2006, more than 100 scientists began to consider about 30 potential landing sites during worldwide workshops. Four candidates were selected in 2008.
Curiosity is about twice as long and more than five times as heavy as any previous Mars rover. Its 10 science instruments include two for ingesting and analyzing samples of powdered rock that the rover’s robotic arm collects. A radioisotope power source will provide heat and electric power to the rover. A rocket-powered sky crane suspending Curiosity on tethers will lower the rover directly to the Martian surface.

The portion of the crater where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. The layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water.

Curiosity will go beyond the “follow-the-water” strategy of recent Mars exploration. The rover’s science payload can identify other ingredients of life, such as the carbon-based building blocks of biology called organic compounds. Long-term preservation of organic compounds requires special conditions. Certain minerals, including some Curiosity may find in the clay and sulfate-rich layers near the bottom of Gale’s mountain, are good at latching onto organic compounds and protecting them from oxidation.
“Gale gives us attractive possibilities for finding organics, but that is still a long shot,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at agency headquarters. “What adds to Gale’s appeal is that, organics or not, the site holds a diversity of features and layers for investigating changing environmental conditions, some of which could inform a broader understanding of habitability on ancient Mars.”

The rover and other spacecraft components are being assembled and undergoing final testing. The mission is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To view the landing site and for more information about the mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/msl  

Read more at www.nasa.gov

 

Moon-Watchers Welcome at 3 NASA Centers Saturday

Skywatchers with the moon on their minds can get their lunar fix tonight (Sept. 18) at three NASA space centers as part of a global moon-watching event.

NASA centers in California, Alabama and Maryland will welcome the public tonight as part of the first International Observe the Moon Night, a worldwide project to spur interest in the moon among the public. The space centers are just some of the participants in the skywatching event. Some 370 venues across 30 countries are expected to host moon-watching parties of their own, NASA officials said.

"We’re participating in a truly international event to share knowledge and information about the moon," said Kim Newton, a spokeswoman for NASA’s Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala., where scientists will be waiting with telescopes to share moon secrets with the public. "We’re looking forward to a great turnout." [10 Coolest New Moon Discoveries]

Hundreds of other local moon-watching events are planned around the world tonight. To see if an event is planned near your location, visit the International Observe the Moon Night project website: http://www.observethemoonnight.org/getInvolved/attend.cfm

Here’s a look at the three NASA centers opening their doors for moon-lovers tonight:

MARYLAND: Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor Center

The Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor Center in Greenbelt, Md., will hold moon observing events from 6:30-10 p.m. EDT, weather permitting. The events includes guest speakers, hands-on activities and for early attendees a tour of the center’s laser-ranging facility. Tours of the laser-ranging facility, used to help determine the position of the moon and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter currently in orbit around it, are open to the first 100 visitors.

Goddard officials will show photos of the moon taken by the LRO spacecraft, encourage moon observations and discuss the moon’s phases, history and appearance.  For more information on the Goddard events and schedule, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/visitor/events/observe-the-moon.html

Location:

Goddard Space Flight Center
800 Greenbelt Rd.
Greenbelt, Md., 20771

Click here for local directions.

ALABAMA: Marshall Space Flight Center/U.S. Space & Rocket Center

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is teaming up with the Lunar Quest Program to host a moon-watching event at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., from 5-8 p.m. CDT, weather permitting.

Several large amateur telescopes will be available for the public to view the moon, along with an inflatable planetarium and an "astronomy van" that will offer 3-D views of the moon as it would appear through the windows of a spacecraft command module, Marshall center officials said.

Astronomer Rob Suggs, NASA Space Environments Team lead and manager of the Lunar Impact Monitoring Project at Marshall, will be present to discuss the latest moon discoveries with the public. For more information on the Marshall events and schedule, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/news/releases/2010/M10-120.html

Location:

NASA’s Educator Resource Center near the rocket center complex. Take Interstate 565 to exit 15 for Madison Pike toward Sparkman Drive/Bob Wallace Avenue. Keep right at the fork, follow signs to the Space & Rocket Center. Take the first left after the Marriott entrance.

Click here for detailed directions.

CALIFORNIA: Ames Research Center

At NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., event organizers plan to aim more than 40 telescopes at the moon for visiting skywatchers. The event will run from 7-11 p.m. PDT, weather permitting.

NASA scientists will be available to discuss recent lunar discoveries, including the existence of water on the moon, the upcoming Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission and other moon-watching projects.

Speakers will include David Morrison, former director of the National Lunar Science Institute, Barry Blumberg, a Nobel laureate and former director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and Greg Delory, LADEE mission deputy project scientist. For more information on the Ames events and schedule, visit: http://lunarscience.arc.nasa.gov/articles/international-observe-the-moon-night

Location:

NASA Ames Research Center Parade Grounds
Moffett Field, Calif.

Click here for directions.

Think about going if you are anywhere near any of these locations. Take the kids.