The latest edition of “This Week In Space” – hosted by Yours Truly, is out! Watch here!
I gotta admit, I am getting a little tired of launching the program with the latest skirmish in the war over the Obama NASA space budget – it’s not that I don’t care – but frankly I am more interested in learning something new about the Cosmos – not Congress. How about you? So this week, I am starting in the orbit of the moon – where a high tech divining rod built by the U.S. – hitching a ride on an Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 – has found there is a whole lot of water ice down there. And here is the proof…NASA’s Mini-SAR radar is the instrument – and it found the ice in more than 40 small craters where the sun don’t shine. So how much ice is there? 1.3 trillion pounds (600 million metric tons). Another reason to visit the moon – it will be easy to keep the beer cold.
Tempting as a toga party in 1/6th gravity might be – we are not heading back to the moon anytime soon – and the second man to leave footprints up there is just fine with that. Buzz Aldrin is pushing a plan called the Unified Space Vision – which earmarks money to build a heavy lift booster – and a craft that would only operate in space called the Exploration Module – or XM (he’s Sirius about XM). The XM’s would be built from parts left over from space station construction – carried to orbit by shuttles – oh yeah – he wants to fly several more shuttle missions. I Skyped Buzz to hear more. A lot of others are looking to get more funding for NASA – Kay Bailey Hutchison – the Senator from Shuttleland has ginned up a bill that would add 1.3 billion dollars more to the Obama NASA budget. The money would be used to fly the shuttle fleet indefinitely. All of this is grist for the so called “Plan B” team that is working on a compromise plan inside NASA that might bridge the gap between the White House and the Hill. Enough said – stay tuned.
Meanwhile the serious business of launching a shuttle safely moves on in earnest – and in slow motion at the Cape. TWIS Correspondent David Waters was there the other day as Discovery and her entourage – made her way to the pad – like a herd of turtles.
Liftoff is currently targeted for April 5. Please join David, me, and astronaut Leroy Chiao at Spaceflight Now for comprehensive coverage of the launch.
It’s the aerospace equivalent of the Stanley Cup, the Hiesman Trophy or the green blazer at Augusta – it has just been bestowed on the International Space Station team. The National Aeronautic Association in Washington awarding the prestigious Collier trophy to the orbiting outpost. The trophy is named for Robert J. Collier, – of Collier’s magazine fame – which in 1952 and 53 published a seminal illustrated series that popularized the exploration of space – Collier created the trophy in 1910 to recognize the greatest achievements in aviation and aeronautics. ISS joins Glenn Curtis, Orville Wright, both Rutan brohers and Chuck Yeager in the Collier club. Rarefied air indeed. Nice work Station Nation!
A secret military spacecraft is marching toward a mid April launch at Cape Caneveral…The x-37B, which looks like a model rocket builders attempt to knock off the shuttle, will be doing – well – secret stuff – for the Air Force. The unmanned reusable will ride to orbit on the shoulders of an Atlas 5 rocket. After it is done doing whatever it will be doing, it will return for a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But we are not sure when…it’s a secret.
Also from our Cape Canaveral launch desk – word that the not-so-secret Falcon 9 program had a good day the other day…they staged a so called Wet Dress Rehearsal – which doesn’t mean they sang show tunes in the rain. No it means they fueled up their rocket – did a countdown – and had the smoothest test to date – according the their launch director. SpaceX founder Elon Musk declared it a “good day” – the next milestone – a so called hot fire test – which means they will count down and light the engines for three and a half seconds. The inaugural launch is set for no earlier than March 22nd.
There she GOES! NASA launched the 15th Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – or “GOES – P” the other day. The satellite got a ride to space on a Delta 4 rocket. The National Weather Service uses the GOES system to monitor and forecast the weather and researchers use them to better understand climate change. So weather all goes well – is important…
ESA’s Mars Express spcecraft buzzed the Martian moon Phobos the other night at an altitude of only 67 kilometers – or 41 miles – and look at what it saw. Scientists believe Phobos is little more than a a pile of rubble glommed together – with some substantial voids – maybe as much as 25 or 25 per cent porous. They are trying to get precise measurements of Phobus’ gravity field. It is likely Phobos formed after Mars – and will eventually be pulled apart as the planet pulls it closer. Rubble to rubble I guess.
The Stardust spacecraft – which made history by sending some comet bits back to earth 4 years ago – is looking for some more work…and so it will swing by the Comet Temple 1 – on Valentine”s Day next year. You will forgive Temple 1 if it ducks when it sees Stardust coming – as the last spacecraft we sent its way in 2005 – Deep Impact – augured right in to the comet – to see what it is made of. Stardust will just fly by however – to see how Tempel 1 has recovered.
We sure do live on a pretty planet don’t we? You can savor that fact by clicking your way to the Flickr Feed for NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. There you will find a series of the most detailed hi rez images of our little globe ever captured. Most of the images stitched together to make this stunning view were captured by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS – which is bolted onto the Terra satellite in low earth orbit. We may be a knockout of a of a planet – but we have issues – check out these images from the european space agency’s envisat satelltie – it shows a 97 kilometer – 60 mile long – iceberg hitting the Mertz glacier tongue in Antarctica on February 10th. This made a new iceberg. The pair have drifted into an area where dense cold bottom water is normally formed…the bergs could upset that process. In case you hadn’t noticed – the days on earth got a little shorter since our last program – by 1.26 microseconds. The magnitude 8.8 quake in Chile shifted enough mass to slightly change the rate at which the world turns – a milisecond is a millionth of a second…so no wonder I am not getting anything done.
As long as we are marking time here – a global team of researchers has narrowed down the age of the universe to 13.75 billion years – give or take a 170 million. The team led by Stanford’s Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology used a technique called gravitational lensing to get a better handle on how far away distant galaxies are. They measure the light from the distant object as it passes through a closer galaxy – taking more than one path. Measuring the different arrival times of the light is the secret sauce to making more precise measurements of distance – and time.
Time is running out for the space shuttle program – which means people who work on it will soon be laid off. …and more could be laid off if Constellation is indeed canceled. Now a new study shows startling new layoff estimates for the area nicknamed the space Coast. And David Waters says the study shows the majority of layoffs will be for people who don’t work in the space industry.
And more proof of things are winding down for the shuttle program – Dick Covey, the man who runs the prime shuttle contractor, United Space Alliance – is calling it a day – retiring effective March 26th. Covey flew on four shuttle missions – was commander of the return to flight after Challenger – and the first Hubble repair mission. He has been CEO at USA since 2006. A successor is “in work” as they say…
Superstition holds that death comes in threes – well sadly that turned out to be true since our last episode. Three great members of the space community are now among the stars…
Aaron Cohen – the legendary former director of the Johnson Space Center died at the age of 79. He joined NASA in 1963 – and worked also as chief systems engineer for the Apollo Command and Service Module and the Lunar Module, then manager of the Space Shuttle program. He ran JSC in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was in the astronaut office at the time – and said this week – Cohen “provided the critical and calm guidance needed…to successfully recover from the Challenger accident… ”
And the man responsible for some of the iconic images of the moon race has moved onto another orbit as well. Bill Taub was NASA’s first senior photographer – and covered every event from Mercury through Apollo. Here he is getting a blood test so that he could be cleared to be near the quarantined Apollo 11 crew before launch. Taub told an interviewer once “I had the privilege to be there to record it. I made sure I recorded it to the best of my ability, because I have a sense of history.” We can all be glad he had the front row seat to history.
And the brilliant space artist Robert McCall has left us as well. McCall painted stunning grand visions of space exploration – which you probably have seen – including a huge mural in the National Air and Space Museum. Isaac Asimov called him “the nearest thing we have to an artist in residence in outer space.” McCall was 90. He was the artist that everyone figured would fly on the shuttle when the civilians in space program got started in the mid eighties. Of course Challenger ended that dream for him. I had the good fortune to spend some time with him and his wife Lousie at their home in Arizona ten years ago – they were just fabulous – and fun and young at heart. That’s what happens when you pursue your passion with gusto. Robert McCall may be gone – but his vision for the future will live on forever.
Here is an idea and an image that would get Bob McCall’s creative juices – and oil paint flowing…there is new evidence black holes don’t just suck things in – they blow powerful winds out. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory made the finding when scientists pointed its High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer at the galaxy known as NGC 1068. Turns out the supermassive blackhole in that neck of the woods sends out wind at a rate of a million miles an hour – making it a category 50 thousand storm…must be climate change…
Now let’s move over to the Orion constellation – and I am not talking about canceled rockets and spacecraft – I am talking about a place in the cosmos where they aren’t worried about NASA’s budget. The European Southern Observatory aimed at Orion – and got this stunning shot of a little nebula – the gas glows from the light of the young stars that are inside.
Actress Jennifer Aniston – now there’s a name you might not have expected to hear here – is apparently enamored with the stars – and we are not talking about the red carpet variety. The site celebrity gossip.net (what? you don’t have an RSS feed from them?) says Aniston just popped for a three thousand dollar Celestron. A source tells the site Jennifer is alway looking for ways to expand her horizons. Or maybe in pointing big lens at a star – she is trying to understand what its like to be a paparazzo.
Well he may be 80 and have two left feet – but you could never accuse the second man who walked on the moon of shying away from a challenge – or the limelight. Buzz Aldrin will be on Dancing with the Stars this season – he is pared with a 27 year old professional dancer named Ashly Costa. This season premiers on March 22nd. – and I ask Buzz about the Moonwalk.