Posts Tagged ‘Jet Propulsion Laboratory’

'This Week In Space' May 22, 2010

May 23, 2010

The lastest edition of “This Week In Space” is now out!  Give us a watch…

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Hello, and welcome…
We have a scoop for you this week – an exclusive interview with SpaceX founder Elon Musk – we’ll ask him how things are going as he and his team prep for that high stakes first flight of the Falcon 9 rocket…And we’ll also share with you David Letterman’s reaction to seeing his first shuttle launch…that’s coming up shortly…But first some other space news – and this week in honor of the Falcon 9 countdown and Dave’s first launch – we are doing it top ten list style…

Number 10

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

Comes from the fourth rock from the sun.  (Miles mutters to himself and counts on his fingers).  Mars!  Yeah, Mars.  On March 20, the rover Opportunity overtook the Viking-1 Lander and is now holds the surface longevity record for NASA probes on Mars.  Opportunity is now six years, 116 days and counting into a 3 month mission.    But if you are listening Oppy – don’t rest on your laurels.  Your sibling  Spirit on the other side of the planet  is in winter hibernation mode, and if she manages to wake up come Spring, she will grab the record.  Spirit landed on Mars about three weeks before Opportunity back in 2004.  And as long as we are on Mars – the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory commanded the the Mars Odyssey spacecraft to make  a final listen for life signs from the Phoenix Mars Lander this week.  Phoenix landed in the Northern polar region back in 2008, and operated successfully for about 6 months until the cold and dark of the Martian winter set in and craft went silent.  Mission managers were pretty sure that the lander would not survive the winter, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if they might be able to reestablish communication.  Looks like “no dice” though.  Rest in Peace, Phoenix.

Number 9

An update on a manned mission to Mars that is launching next month – had ya there for a minute didn’t I? Actually this is an ersatz trip to Mars that will never get off the ground.  I am talking about the Mars 500 SIMULATED mission to the red planet. Liftoff – well actually lock down – is set for early June.  Six crew members – two Europeans, one Chinese, and three Russians will spend 520 days locked inside a spacecraft mock-up at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow.  Mission controllers are doing their best to make this mission as close to the real thing as possible.  They’ll have to take all the food they’ll need with them from day one – no ordering in pizza a la Biosphere 2.  Communication is limited to email, – and it will be intermittent – just as it would on a really interplanetary voyage, and it will include a delay of as much as 40 minutes.   ESA has picked their two crew members.  Diego Urbina, who has Italian-Colombian nationality, and Frenchman Romain Charles.  The rest of the crew will be announced later this month.

Number 8

Oil’s not so well in the Gulf of Mexico – and NASA is pitching in to help. The space agency flew its King Air  research aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico this week in an effort to help monitor the size and thickness of the BP oil spill…Researchers wondering how the oil might impact sea life.   The Langley Based King Air 200 was outfitted with instruments normally used to study clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere – which researchers hope can help them learn more about spills. NASA satellites have also been trained on the oil slick since the drilling rig exploded in April. Crew members aboard the ISS have a unique vantage point to keep an eye on the growing environmental crisis.  Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov has been watching the oil spread.



This Week in Space – March 19, 2010

March 21, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week in Space” is now available!  Check us out!!  And many thanks to our sponsors, Binary Space and Space Careers!

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Discovery at launchpad 39A. Source: NASA

Two million parts – all of them form the low bidder – as Wally Schirra  once famously quipped – if you put those parts together just right – you’ve got yourself a space shuttle – the problem is – just about every single one of them has to be working perfectly before a shuttle ever clears the tower.  But exceptions can be made….and that is what the shuttle launch team is doing for this next launch. With Discovery sitting on the launch pad for its penultimate flight – a helium valve  failed. The helium is used to make sure there is pressure in the fuel lines that feed the Orbital Maneuvering System engines – which handle the big course changes in orbit. Fixing the valve means a roll back to the the hangar – and a big delay. So the shuttle team will try to verify that some regulators downstream of the valve are working just fine. If so, it means they will have confidence they have only lost one layer of redundancy – and thus give Discovery its launching papers.

Source:  WISENASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer – or WISE has captured an image – Charles Foster Kane would have liked to see – rosebud….
this one is no sled though – it is a cosmic blossom in a cluster of stars in the Berkeley 59 – which sounds a little like a group of sixties anti war radicals…anyway…the blue dots are the stars…and they are formed by the orange dust cloud in the middle – and the green – those are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – of course…you can find those on earth in barbecue pits…for some reason I am hungry…WISE is also hunting for asteroids – and it has found more than a dozen that are near to earth – and we didn’t even know we were there. You’d be WISE to listen to this story – Chicken Littles.


MRO – Safe Mode No More

December 21, 2009
MRO.  Source:  NASA/JPL


NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is on the mend after a long stint in intensive care – what the wizards at the Jet Propulsion Lab call “safe mode.”

Engineers there were able to upload some new software – which they hope will stop MRO’s computers from spontaneously rebooting.  Are they using Vista or something??  Anyway they believe the new software patch has solved the problem and the science should resume in earnest soon. One thing good for Mars lovers – when MRO calls the help desk – it doesn’t end up in voice mail hell.

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Spirit – Wheel Woes

December 21, 2009
Mars Exploration Rover.  Source:  NASA/JPL

Mars Exploration Rover. Source: NASA/JPL

Meanwhile – down on rust colored surface – Spirit is looking a lot like me when I take to the links – that is to say stuck in a sand trap.

The problem is the plucky rover Spirit has a right rear wheel that has gone Tango Uniform (as in Toes Up). Three years ago Spirit’s right front wheel failed – so now the Rover has only one working drive wheel on the right side – making an extrication from the sand unlikely.

But the never say die team at JPL is still working on it – and during a recent troubleshooting session that long-broken front wheel actually moved a bit!

Prospects for any sort of full recovery remain bleak, however.  The best they may be able to do tilt Spirit so its solar arrays will still generate enough juice to stay alive during winter – which comes in May.

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I guess I don't have to change my name to 'Kilometers'

May 30, 2009


Do you all remember the infamous crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter? It was one of two NASA missions to the Red Planet that crashed in 1999 as they reached the end of their long journeys from Earth. Mars Polar Lander made a hole in the rusty dirt in in December – after an on board sensor designed to extinguish the rocket motor once it landed mistook the jolt of the landing gear deploying as a safe touchdown – and shut off the engine while MPL was still 1200 feet above the surface.

MCO was supposed to orbit the Red Planet – but instead entered the atmosphere way too low and burned up in September . The navigation error occurred because the NASA team at the Jet Propulsion Lab in La Canada, CA was using the metric system (newtons) to measure the force created by a thruster – while the Lockheed Martin team in Denver was using imperial units (pound force). One pound force equals approximately 4.45 newtons, and the thruster firings were nothing more than mouse farts, so the discrepency was not obvious just by looking at the numbers. Unfortunately, the two teams never cross-checked their navigantion data. The rest is history – and the ignominous end to then NASA Administrator Dan Goldin’s “Faster, Better, Cheaper” approach to space exploration.

Which brings me to the posting below on NASA is under a mandate to go metric because of the MCO mishap. But the agency is resisting the change for some reason. The irony is it was the JPL/NASA team using the metric system in the first place. LockMart was using pounds.

These days there is a lot of talk about the US remaining competitive in a global economy – and switching to the metric system is something that we should have done a long time ago. Jimmy Carter tried in the 70s…but he apparently didn’t have the newtons to move the masses.

“Following the loss of the Mars Climate Observer, the NASA Office of Inspector General initiated a review of the Agency’s use of the metric system. By law and policy, the metric system is the preferred system of measurement within NASA. However, our review found that use of the metric system is inconsistent across the Agency. A waiver system, which was required by law and put into effect to track metric usage and encourage conversion, is no longer in use. In addition, NASA employees are given little guidance on the Agency’s policy and procedures regarding use of the metric system.”

via NASA Finds The Metric System Too Hard To Implement for Constellation | NASA Watch.