Category Archives: Space
Tids and Bits
Thirty years. Ten billion dollars. Launching on Christmas morning, the Webb telescope is finally off the earth and on its way to a point in space one million miles away where it will point its eighteen gold-plated mirrors into deep space, hoping to look back in time to the beginning of the universe. The Webb is far more sensitive, especially at the low infrared radiation frequencies than the Hubble Space Telescope. It is hoped it will succeed and surpass that amazing instrument to study the formation of the universe and the most distant worlds. It will take about six months to maneuver into position and be calibrated, ready for its first observations. Bon Voyage Webb.Read more
Ginny and Percy
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission. Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.
So “Ginny,” her primary proof of concept mission over, will serve as a scout for “Percy,” flying ahead of the rover to survey locations Perseverance will investigate in its search for life on Mars. It will also help mission planners plot the best routes for Percy to follow. She’ll fly ahead and land and wait for the rover to catch up. That’s Teamwork.
It got crowded on the International Space Station with the arrival of “Crew-2,” SpaceX’s second regular and third actual flight taking humans to the ISS (there was a test mission known as “Demo-2”). There hadn’t been eleven people on board since the Space Shuttle era.
There were other milestones as well. This was SpaceX’s first reused crew capsule to reach the orbiting platform and the first crewed mission with a reused Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew-2 astronauts themselves made history when they started boarding. This was the first time SpaceX had carried passengers from three different agencies (NASA, ESA and JAXA).
The overcrowding on the ISS came to an end just a few days later with the spectacular nighttime landing of SpaceX’s Crew-1 “Resilience” capsule with four astronauts on board. They landed in the gulf of Mexico just before 3am Eastern Time. But with cameras tuned for night the scene was clearly visible in spite of the pitch dark ocean lighting.
Crew Dragon Resilience will add to its time in space on its next mission launching the privately-funded Inspiration4 crew on a multi-day Earth orbit mission targeted for September.
Helicoptering on Mars – Really
A team of very smart humans flew a helicopter by remote control off the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021. It is easier to type that sentence than it is to truly appreciate the accomplishment.
The Mars Helicopter, named Ingenuity, weighs just four pounds. It is a proof of concept demonstration. That means it’s mission is just to prove that it works. It did. And it was the first time humans have achieved powered and controlled flight on another planet.Read more
We Can Still Persevere
In the middle of this challenging time of pandemic and politics, a group of dedicated scientists on February 18, 2021 landed a car-sized rover designed to explore the crater Jezero on the surface of Mars. The picture above might look like one of NASA’s animations depicting the event. But it is not. The picture is real, taken by the HiRISE high resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the planet since March 10, 2006. The photo clearly shows the rover, named Perseverance, beneath its huge parachute. To take this photo, the crew directing the Orbiter had to calculate in advance the precise timing and position so they could instruct the Orbiter to aim its camera and catch Perseverance in flight.
The Entry, Descent and Landing phase of the mission is nicknamed the “seven minutes of terror.” It started when Perseverance entered the thin Mars atmosphere, travelling at almost 12,500 miles per hour. It ended seven minutes later when the rover, executing a Rube Goldberg machine-like series of maneuvers, touched down at a speed of less than two miles per hour. Anything faster and Perseverance would have been shattered into a collection of worthless parts spread across the Martian surface.Read more
It seems a little strange to mourn an inanimate object. Perhaps it is the ideas the object represented that I am mourning.
The picture above shows, in all its glory, the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center in Puerto Rico, more commonly known as the Arecibo observatory. It was built in the 1960s with money from the Defense Department. Through the course of history, governments often favor their military when it comes to money and it should not be a surprise that much of the scientific research funded by the United States is funded by the Pentagon.Read more
Updates and tidbits
Back from Space
SpaceX’s Dragon Demo-2 flight has ended with the successful return to earth of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley after spending more than two months on the International Space Station. As I wrote at the time of their launch, this flight marks the return to America of the ability to send humans into space.
After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2000, Americans who wanted to go the the ISS had to buy a seat on a Russian rocket. NASA began, during the Obama-Biden administration, what is called the “Commercial Crew” program effectively outsourcing this task to private industry. SpaceX is the first to successfully demonstrate this capability. This flight was named “Demo-2.” The first regularly contracted flight of the Crew Dragon is set to take four astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, to the space station later this year.
As they left the capsule Behnken and Hurley thanks the SpaceX team. The SpaceX communicator said, “Thanks for riding SpaceX.” For America’s space program, a new day has begun.Read more