Thursday, March 31, 2011

MESSENGER Images from Orbit of Mercury-NASA Information

MESSENGER has delivered its first image since entering orbit about Mercury on March 17. It was taken today at 5:20 am EDT by the Mercury Dual Imaging System as the spacecraft sailed high above Mercury’s south pole, and provides a glimpse of portions of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft. The image was acquired as part of the orbital commissioning phase of the MESSENGER mission. Continuous global mapping of Mercury will begin on April 4.

“The entire MESSENGER team is thrilled that spacecraft and instrument checkout has been proceeding according to plan,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “The first images from orbit and the first measurements from MESSENGER’s other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year. The orbital exploration of the Solar System’s innermost planet has begun.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NASA's Mars Rover Goes Silent After Getting Stuck in Sand Trap

One of NASA's Mars Rovers is no longer responding, and NASA is thinking about calling it quits and leaving it in the sandy bed.

NASA said it will make one last effort before ditching all efforts to “wake-up” the Mars Rover “Spirit.” Spirit fell silent nearly a year ago, and NASA engineers believe something is seriously wrong with Spirit— something more than just a power issue.

Spirit, a solar-powered Rover, sunk into a sand trap in 2009 during a routine drive. NASA attempted to wiggle it free, but Spirit remained stuck. And since it was unable to tilt itself toward the sun, the Rover went into hibernation.

NASA engineers had expected the rover to “wake up” once there was maximum sunlight filtrating the location where it's trapped, but that moment came and went earlier in March, and Spirit remained silent.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NASA scraps plan for 3D camera on Mars Rover

NASA has given up on the hope to build a 3D camera for the next robotic rover that the space agency will send to Mars.

Time simply ran out on efforts to develop the system and get it sufficiently tested before the Mars Science Laboratory rover, which has been dubbed Curiosity, is scheduled to launch later this year.

Movie director James Cameron, of Avatar and Titanic fame, has been helping to build the new camera, which would have both zoom and 3D capabilities.

Cameron has been working with Malin Space Science Systems of San Diego to build what would have been a 3D upgrade to the camera, dubbed Mastcam, already installed on Curiosity.

"With the Mastcam that was installed last year and the rover's other instruments, Curiosity can accomplish its ambitious research goals," Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger said in a written statement.

"The possibility for an upgrade was very much worth pursuing, but time became too short for the levels of testing that would be needed for them to confidently replace the existing cameras," Grotzinger.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Water-Powered Spaceship Could Make Mars Trip on the Cheap

water space craft
Spaceships powered primarily by water could open up the solar system to exploration, making flights to Mars and other far-flung locales far cheaper, a recent study has found.

A journey to Mars and back in a water-fueled vehicle could cost as little as one space shuttle launch costs today, researchers said. And the idea is to keep these "space coaches" in orbit between trips, so their relative value would grow over time, as the vehicles reduce the need for expensive one-off missions that launch from Earth.

The water-powered space coach is just a concept at the moment, but it could become a reality soon enough, researchers said. [Video: Space Engines: The New Generation]

"It's really a systems integration challenge," said study lead author Brian McConnell, a software engineer and technology entrepreneur. "The fundamental technology is already there."

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Friday, March 25, 2011

What's next for NASA: A new space shuttle? A mission to Mars?

With Discovery's retirement, this year marks a turning point in NASA's history. At the end of the year, the familiar orca-like space shuttle will depart from the public eye as NASA looks to create something that can take a person deeper into space than ever before.

Last year, Obama lit the fuse for NASA's blastoff into the post-shuttle world with a renewed commitment to explore deep-space destinations (like Mars) and to create jobs in the process. With a $6 billion budget over the next five years -- on top of $50 million worth of NASA contracts awarded to commercial companies like Boeing -- we should expect great things. Here are some of the projects in the works:

Orion Spacecraft
First announced by President Bush in 2004 as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) for President Bush's Project Constellation, the Orion spacecraft will carry an astronaut back to the moon. Bush's original goal was for a 2015 lunar landing, but because of program reviews under the Obama administration, Orion is scheduled to make its first launch into Earth's orbit without passengers in 2014 -- a mission to the moon would likely happen five years later. Designed by Lockheed Martin for NASA, the spacecraft very much resembles the familiar Apollo spacecrafts that carried man to the moon nearly 50 years ago and can carry a crew of four astronauts.

Mars Science Laboratory
Scheduled to be launched this November and land on Mars in August 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory is exactly what it sounds like. With the help of a new rover named Curiosity, the lab's chief mission is to determine whether Mars is habitable, and with a sophisticated set of drills, shovels, cameras and sensors, it carries over 10 times the weight of instruments as previous Mars rovers.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Delivers Treasure Trove of Data

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team released Tuesday the final set of data from the mission's exploration phase along with the first measurements from its new life as a science satellite. With this fifth release of data, striking new images and maps have been added to the already comprehensive collection of raw lunar data and high-level products, including mosaic images, that LRO has made possible. The spacecraft's seven instruments delivered more than 192 terabytes of data with an unprecedented level of detail. It would take approximately 41,000 typical DVDs to hold the new LRO data set.

"The release of such a comprehensive and rich collection of data, maps and images reinforces the tremendous success we have had with LRO in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and with lunar science," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Among the latest products is a global map with a resolution of 100 meters per pixel from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). To enhance the topography of the moon, this map was made from images collected when the sun angle was low on the horizon. Armchair astronauts can zoom in to full resolution with any of the mosaics—quite a feat considering that each is 34,748 pixels by 34,748 pixels, or approximately 1.1 gigabytes."Because the moon is so close and because we have a dedicated ground station, we are able to bring back as much data from LRO as from all the other planetary missions combined,"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NASA's Orion begins road to space travel

Lockheed Martin unveiled a new spacecraft this week that was originally meant to ferry astronauts to the moon but may first be used as an emergency escape vehicle for the International Space Station.

At the same time that the company was taking the wraps off of Orion, it also was showing off a new massive test facility near Denver. The 41,000-square-foot facility is designed to simulate deep-space environments, as well as missions to an asteroid or the moon.

Slated to conduct its first orbital flight test as early as 2013, the Orion spacecraft is set to undergo testing in the new facility to make sure it's able to endure the harsh environments of deep space.

Orion is on track to begin running real space missions by 2016.

John Karas, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin's Human Space Flight programs, said in a statement, "Our nation's next bold step in exploration could begin by 2016."

"Orion was designed from inception to fly multiple, deep-space missions," Karas said. "The spacecraft is an incredibly robust, technically advanced vehicle capable of safely transporting humans to asteroids, Lagrange Points and other deep space destinations that will put us on an affordable and sustainable path to Mars."

Orion was first conceived as part of NASA's Constellation program, which was geared to return humans to the moon by 2020. However, last year the Obama administration scrapped the over-budget and behind-schedule Constellation program, deciding instead to focus on sending astronauts to Mars and further into the solar system.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NASA tests Mars space suit in Argentine Antarctica

A NASA team has tested a space suit in a setting with extreme conditions akin to some of those found on Mars -- an Argentine base in Antarctica -- for possible use on a visit to the Red Planet.

The NDX-1 space suit, designed by Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon, endured frigid temperatures and winds of more than 47 mph as researchers tried out techniques for collecting soil samples on Mars.

"This was the first time we took the suit to such an extreme, isolated environment so that if something went wrong we couldn't just go to the store" and buy a repair kit, De Leon told Reuters recently after returning from the one week expedition.

The $100,000 prototype suit, created with NASA funds, is made out of more than 350 materials, including tough honeycomb Kevlar and carbon fibers to reduce its weight without losing resistance.

During the "Mars in Marambio" mission, named after the Argentine air force base, a team of NASA scientists went on simulated spacewalks, operated drills and collected samples while wearing the gear.

De Leon himself wore the pressurized suit, which he said was bound to make anyone feel claustrophobic with its helmet and built-in headset for communicating with the outside world.

The researchers chose Marambio because compared with other Antarctic bases, they had easier access to permafrost, or soil that stays frozen most of the year.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Lean U.S. missions to Mars, Jupiter moon recommended

For the decade 2013-2022, five separate panels of scientists and experts agreed on a suite of missions that would get the greatest scientific return from money spent, recognizing that even these projects could be budget busters.

"We have a long history in the planetary (exploration) program ... of generating cost numbers that are too optimistic," said astronomer Steven Squyers of Cornell University, who led the group that crafted the report and its recommendations.

"The people who truly believe in some project tend to be by nature optimistic and ... that comes back to bite us sometimes," Squyers said in a telephone interview.

This latest decadal survey of planetary science missions included input from an independent contractor to make sure the budgets were in line with what NASA has projected -- to be, as Squyers put it, "brutally realistic."

NASA's proposed budget for fiscal 2011 is $18.7 billion, but Congress is still wrangling over it.

Human space flight, which accounted for about $3.2 billion of the space agency budget in 2010, was not considered in this review.

President Barack Obama followed earlier administrations in recognizing the end of the space shuttle era -- the final mission is due to occur later this year.

He also canceled his predecessor's Constellation moon program, angering some lawmakers and former astronauts who argued that it would make the United States a second or third-rate power in space.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Will the Oregon Coast See the Super Full Moon?

Super Moon
Saturday, March 19 is presenting a “Super Full Moon” as it will appear larger than usual that night – for the last time in 30 years. It will be brighter and bigger, what NASA called of “rare size and beauty.”

Of course, the ability see this on the Oregon coast or anywhere else in Oregon is dependent on the weather, and that’s the big question for the region. With this full moon, however, comes some extra wonders for the coast as well in the form of tides.

If you know the Oregon coast, then you know weather systems change a lot more drastically and a lot quicker than inland spots like Portland or Eugene – especially in spring. According to The Weather Channel and, the Oregon coast will be mostly cloudy that night, with some rain and a chance of thunder storms. Considering the coast’s penchant for constant change in the skies, this will likely translate into periods when you can see the moon in its full glory, alternating with times when it’s completely covered over and periods when it’s visible through the clouds.

Apparently, the coast will largely share the same weather, which includes towns like Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Newport and Yachats. Even Wheeler and Nehalem, which are just inland enough to often get less clouds, will be looking at the same forecast.

"Scattered showers and a slight chance of thunderstorms in the evening,” said in its forecast. “Then a slight chance of showers after midnight. Lows 35 to 40. Southeast wind 5 to 10 mph. Rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch. Except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms."

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Super moon spectacle will light up skies tomorrow night (but there's no need to worry about lunacy)

Tomorrow's event will be the closest full moon in almost 20 years

Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies tomorrow night - a full moon of rare size and beauty will rise in the east at sunset.

The natural phenomenon happens when the full Moon coincides with when it travels closest to Earth on its orbit.

'The last full Moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993,' said Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory in Washington DC.

'I'd say it's worth a look.'
Full Moons vary in size because of the elliptical (or oval) shape of the Moon's orbit. At its furthest point (the apogee) it is around 252,731miles away from us, but it is only around 226,426miles at its closest point (the perigee).

So nearby perigee moons, like the one we will see tomorrow night, is around 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon's orbit

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 19: Is ‘super moon’ a myth or science?

super moon
On March 19, 2011, the moon will be 3,56,577km away from the earth, its closest in 18 years. The average distance of a normal lunar perigee (moon's closest point to earth) is 364,397 kilometers. In other words, compared to its distance on other lunar perigees, the moon will be 7,600 kilometers closer to the earth on March 19. Moreover, the moon will appear about 14% larger than normal in size when the full moon rises in the sky. It is because of its large size that it is called the 'Super Moon'.

Though Super Moons are natural phenomenon, many people, including astrologers, link their occurrence to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami and hurricanes. The recent quake in Japan that was followed by a powerful tsunami has once again sparked a debate on the role of the 'Super Moon' in causing disasters. To find out more about the celestial phenomenon, DNA spoke to Dr Narendra Bhandari, who was Senior Professor at Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad for almost 40 years.

He is currently Honorary Scientist of INSA, Delhi.

Bhandari said that a Super Moon alone cannot cause disasters on earth. He said that the moon exercises a gravitation pull on the waters of the ocean which cause high tides every day. Lunar gravity also causes changes in atmospheric pressure. "But that is about all that can be said about the visible effects of the moon on earth," he said.

In addition, the Super Moon can exercise a minor gravitational pull on the molten lava beneath the earth's crust but it does not have the energy to cause volcanic eruptions, Bhandari said. Similarly, the moon cannot cause tsunamis on earth but can increase the height of tidal waves if a tsunami were to occur when the moon is at its closest to earth. "A tsunami which occurs during Super Moon can have higher waves and cause more damage," the scientist said.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finally! NASA Prepares To Orbit Mercury

On March 17th, NASA's MESSENGER probe will become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. It's a seminal moment in planetary exploration. Researchers can finally take a good long look at a rocky world that is both akin to Earth and shockingly alien.

There's just one question: What's taken so long? Mercury is one of the closest planets to Earth and, at first glance, would seem to be readily accessible. Jim McAdams, mission design lead engineer, explains the problem:

"Mercury is going so much faster than Earth that a spacecraft must gain about 65,000 mph to catch it. And once you get there, you're face to face with the searing heat of the sun."

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Moon to get ‘up, close and personal’ with earth!

On March 19, 2011 the Moon will pass by Earth at a distance of 356,577 kilometers - the closest pass in 18 years.

This is known as lunar perigee and a normal lunar perigee averaging a distance of 364,397 kilometers (226,425 miles) happens once every orbital period. The term "Supermoon" was coined by the astrologer Richard Nolle.
in short, Earth, Moon and Sun are all in a line, with Moon in its nearest approach to Earth.

The Supermoon occurred in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005 were amazing.

It is a scientific fact that when the Moon is at perigee there is more gravitational pull, creating higher tides or significant variations in high and low tides.

In addition, the tidal effect of the Sun’s gravitational field increases the Moon’s orbital eccentricity when the orbit’s major axis is aligned with the Sun-Earth vector.

The average tidal bulge closely follows the Moon in its orbit, and the Earth rotates under this tidal bulge in just over a day. Generally Tidal forces contribute to ocean currents, which moderate global temperatures by transporting heat energy toward the poles.

It has been suggested that in addition to other factors, harmonic beat variations in tidal forcing may contribute to climate changes.

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'Weirdest planet' Mercury to get NASA close-up

Earth is about to get better acquainted with its oddball planetary cousin, Mercury, a rocky wonderland of extremes.

Sure, Mars may fascinate science fiction authors, Jupiter looms large and Saturn has stunning rings, but tiny Mercury can claim the title as weirdest planet in the solar system. It has the wildest extremes from hot to cold. A day on Mercury somehow lasts longer than its year. And maybe strangest of all, scientists think it holds tons of ice in dark craters despite being the planet closest to the sun.

On St. Patrick's Day, for the first time, a small NASA spacecraft called Messenger will enter into Mercury's orbit, circling at times as close as 125 miles from the planet's surface. And by coincidence, a few days before that will be the best time all year for people on Earth to see Mercury with the naked eye.

Barely bigger than our moon but much more distant, Mercury is not easy to see without a telescope. An odd pairing with giant Jupiter will make it easier to spot starting Sunday - probably the best opportunity for a year, said Geoff Chester at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington.

Chester said people in the Northern Hemisphere should look to the west after sunset. Jupiter will be about 10 degrees above the western horizon. Mercury will be about finger's width to the right of Jupiter.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Google activates Person Finder for Japan quake, tsunami

Google Inc. has just activated a Person Finder page to help people concerned about loved ones in the area affected by Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The Person Finder page can be found at and it is available both in English and Japanese.

The Mountain View company has activated the Person Finder service for other recent quakes, such as February's quake in Christchurch in Australia.

Facebook also has a standing Global Disaster Relief page to help spotlight relief efforts. Facebook also noted that the Al Jazeera English was streaming live reports from Japan right on the network's Facebook page.

Twitter users were also turning to the microblogging service for up to the second news, making #prayforjapan, #tsunami and Tokyo Disneyland the top trending topics. As reported, tweets from Japan were topping out at 1,200 per second.

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Anaglyph of Vesta Model

This anaglyph -- best viewed through red-blue glasses -- shows a 3-D model of the protoplanet Vesta, using scientists' best guess to date of what the surface of the protoplanet might look like. It was created as part of an exercise for NASA's Dawn mission involving mission planners at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and science team members at the Planetary Science Institute in Tuscon, Ariz.

The images incorporate the best data on dimples and bulges of the protoplanet Vesta from ground-based telescopes and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The cratering and small-scale surface variations are computer-generated, based on the patterns seen on the Earth's moon, an inner solar system object with a surface appearance that may be similar to Vesta.

Vesta, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, formed very early in the history of the solar system and has one of the oldest surfaces in the system. Scientists are eager to get their first close-up look so they can better understand this early chapter.

Dawn science planners have used images like these to ensure optimal images when Dawn gets into orbit around Vesta in July 2011.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. It is a project of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

NASA should concentrate on Mars

Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa should be NASA's main areas of focus over the coming decade, according to a report from the National Research Council.
But, it warns, budgetary constraints may mean that these major missions should be delayed, while smaller ones such as those in its New Frontiers and Discovery programs should go ahead first.
"Our recommendations are science-driven, and they offer a balanced mix of missions - large, medium, and small - that have the potential to greatly expand our knowledge of the solar system," says Steven W Squyres, a Cornell professor and chair of the committee that wrote the report.
"However, in these tough economic times, some difficult choices may have to be made. With that in mind, our priority missions were carefully selected based on their potential to yield the most scientific benefit per dollar spent."
Top of the list should be the Mars Astrobiology Explorer Cacher (MAX-C), a Mars mission to examine whether the planet ever supported life and answer questions about its geologic and climatic history. But, says the report, the mission should go ahead only if NASA can keep its costs under $2.5 billion - $1 billion less than the independent estimates provided to the committee.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

China to put man on the moon by 2030

China plans to make a manned moon landing by 2030, but the purpose of exploration of the moon should be seen as "peaceful" rather than a threat, a top scientist has said.

Ye Peijian, chief scientist of deep space exploration at the China Academy of Space Technology, said China's space technology still lags far behind the US and Russia, according to China Daily.

China's three-phase moon exploration plan began in October 2010 with the launch of the Chang'e-2. The second phase will see the Chang'e-3 land on the moon in 2013. Then, in 2017, a sample of rock from the moon will be sent to Earth.

China will launch a space module - the 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1 (or Heavenly Palace-1) - in 2011, after which two manned spacecraft would dock with the module in 2012, said a spokesman for the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
The Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X spacecraft will blast off in 2012 for manned docking with Tiangong-1.

Training of astronauts for the manned missions has begun. China has also recruited its first two women astronauts for training.

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