This Week In Space – April 2, 2010

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Discovery. Source: NASA

Hello and welcome –  I am taking the week off – doing some diving with my 17 year old son in the Cayman Islands…would love to be with you – but this one trumps TWIS hands down…So while I am diving – the shuttle Discovery has been getting ready to go in the other direction.

Don’t forget to join us for the launch – we are the best place to watch it all unfold. Our coverage on Spaceflight Now begins at 2am Eastern – 0600 GMT. Ouch. Hey with four launches left – I promise not to complain…

The Mars rover "Spirit." Source: NASA/JPL

The Mars Rover Spirit missed a communications session with with ground controllers this week, which likely means it has gone into hibernation mode as winter descends on Mars’ southern hemisphere.  Spirit’s operators knew this was coming.  The rover has been stuck in a sand it for nearly a year – without a tow truck in sight…  In January, with winter coming, mission managers gave up trying to drive to concentrate on better positioning the rover so that its solar panels would be more optimally tilted toward the sun.  Unfortunately, that didn’t work very well.  The best guess as to what has happened is that Spirit’s batteries have drained and there is not enough sunlight hitting the solar panels to recharge them.   Will the rover survive the long cold winter and wake up six months from now to resume it’s science mission?  We’ll keep you posted.

Expedition 23 Crew

A Soyuz rocket carrying members of the Expedition 23 crew to the International Space Station has blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazhakstan.  Before making their way to the launchpad, Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kominenko, and Tracy Caldwell Dyson ran the gauntlet of Russian pre-launch rituals, which include watching a movie called “White Sun of the Desert” the night before launch, sipping a glass of champagne, signing a door at the Cosmonaut Hotel, getting blessed by a Russian Orthodox priest, and taking a ceremonial leak on the tire of one of the crew buses – women can take a pass on that last one if they want, which was probably a relief to Tracy Caldwell Dyson.  She also may have started a new tradition – singing to her spouse before launch.
Once they arrive at the ISS, the new crew members will only have a few days to settle in before house guests arrive aboard the shuttle Discovery.

Ares I-X Launch. Source: NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

The Obama Administration wants to cancel the Constellation Program to return astronauts to the moon, but until the NASA budget is approved by Congress, that program continues.  Like a dead man walking, perhaps.  But good news for all you taxpayers who think it might be a good idea to mind a few pennies –  NASA’s chief engineer has approved the program’s request to discontinue using the metric system.   According to the NASA Inspector General’s office, it would cost 368 million dollars to make Constellation metric compliant — it seems they are using some older hardware and software developed in a pre-metric era.  The OIG report noted that money could “be better spent mitigating higher priority Program risks.”

Engineers at NASA Langley Research Center are jumping into the Toyota “unintended acceleration” investigation.  Nine staffers from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center will join with the Department of Transportation and National Highway Safety Administration to try to get the bottom of what might be causing a rash of incidents in which Toyota cars have taken off in a runaway manner.  The NASA engineers have specific expertise in vehicle electronics, which is an area where investigators really want to drill down.

Source: Cassini

“Wa-ka, Wa-ka, Wa-ka…” It’s Pacman!  No, it’s Jupiter’s moon Mimas!  No, it’s Pacman! OK, it’s both!  Those are hotspots on Mimas as detected by an infrared spectrometer aboard the Cassini spacecaft during a flyby of the moon on February 13th.  Reds and yellows are warmer areas – “warm” being a relative term, here.  They are about 92 Kelvin, or -294 degrees Fahrenheit.  Why the difference in temperature?  Researchers aren’t sure…but think it could have something to do with different textures on the surface.     The other question remaining – are the ghosts hiding on Jupiter’s other moons?

And speaking of Cassini – check out Canyon Country on Saturn’s moon Titan.  This is a computer-generated image of the surface of Titan, based on radar data from Cassini.  It shows so-called “Karst” topography, similar to parts of Utah, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and China.  The Titan landscape was  formed when liquid methane dissolved rocks, leaving behind hills and valleys.  Hmm…Jamaica and Puerto Rico?  Looks like a good place for a vacation.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, physicists got down to business unlocking the secrets of the universe.  They cranked up the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and smashed some protons together at 7 trillion electron volts.  That’s the highest energy ever achieved by a particle accelerator.  The idea is to recreate the moments just after the Big Bang by smashing these subatomic particles together to look for other particles and forces that have been theorized but not directly observed.  Ultimately they hope to learn more about the mysterious “dark matter” that’s found throughout the universe and find the mystery Higgs boson particle – a particle that would help explain where mass comes from.  The theory is the higgs boson particle gives you and everything around you mass just by interacting with the particles that make you up.  The more something interacts with the theoretical higgs boson particle, the heavier it is.   Note to self – new diet plan – do not interact with Higgs boson particle.

Source:  NASAWhat astronaut worth his salt wouldn’t be looking to work in an April Fools joke on orbit?  Three merry pranksters – led by troublemaker-in-chief TJ Creamer –  decided to see if they could get a smile out of capcom Shannon Lucid.  Check this out!  How’d they do that?

And fittingly, we will end where we began…with the shuttle.    But Atlantis, this time.  That orbiter is still snug in her Orbiter Processing Facility, but workers at the Kennedy Space Center mated her external tank and solid rocket boosters a few days ago.  Atlantis is set to rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building on April 15th, rollout to launch pad 39A about a week later, and lift off on what is scheduled to be her final flight on May 14th.  Godspeed Atlantis.


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4 Responses to “This Week In Space – April 2, 2010”

  1. icowboy Says:

    Enjoy your break Miles.

    But that would be *Saturn’s* moon Mimas right? The one which formerly masqueraded as the Death Star.

  2. thegiftedape Says:

    Thanks Miles!,
    I have been looking for a show such as yours for a long, long time. When I heard that CNN let you go I was somewhat disappointed, as that probably meant NASA, and Space coverage would be coming to an all-time low on the Major Media Syndicates. I am always interested in what these, Rocket Scientist’s and Space Engineer’s etc… will come up with next, and before your show I either had to sit through boring, poorly produced webcasts of MIT lectures, or wait 4-6 months for discovery channel or NatGeo, to come out with a half hearted documentary about something that happend 2 years ago. BTW I lost my job too!(and I thought I was pretty good) can’t donate any money but I wish I could. Good luck on the show, hope you get picked up by somebody, I will be watching.

    ps: interested on your thoughts on global warming as well, maybe not a subject for the show though.

  3. mikemalaska Says:

    A more extensive HD version of the simulated “Canyon Country” (Sikun Labryinthus) Titan flyover sequence can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31678681@N07/4413738157/

    Enjoy!

    -Mike Malaska

  4. thegiftedape Says:

    Wow thanks Mike

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