It’s a journey spanning 85 years and billions of miles: humanity’s first-ever encounter with the dwarf planet system of Pluto and Charon, located in the frozen far reaches of our Solar System where our entire planet is a barely-visible pale blue dot — just a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Launched in 2006, the New Horizons spacecraft will pass by Pluto in July 2015 and send back images and data in unprecedented detail, 85 years after its discovery. With the flyby just about a year and a half away, the excitement in the space community is rapidly building even now.
The video above is a “teaser” for the event from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University — check it out. (Warning: may contain scenes of intense scientific discovery!) Also, watch a longer documentary below on the history of Pluto and the New Horizons mission:
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Kidding aside, the internet science world is abuzz with the anticipation of some big news from the Mars Science Laboratory team, spurring many on Twitter to make up their own amusing suggestions. (Martian Twinkies??) What that news could be — organic compounds? water ice? methane outgassings? — is still anyone’s guess. But since this IS Mars we’re talking about, any “big news” is of course awaited with bated breath.
Stay tuned for more!
(And if you don’t know the story that inspired the picture above, click here.)
UPDATE: Apparently the NPR article that spurred rumors of big discoveries from Curiosity was a misunderstanding… while data from the rover is “one for the history books,” that pertains to the mission as a whole — not any individual discovery. It was not made entirely clear, but the internet ran with the more exciting option. Another example of why you can’t always believe what you hear. Still, news from the MSL mission will be delivered very soon.
“Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect… at this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.” – JPL news release, 29 Nov. 2012
Read more here.
Our Moon. It lights up our nights, governs our tides and has inspired millions — perhaps billions -– of people throughout history to contemplate its nature, its influence on our lives (if any) and, of course, where it may have come from.
The currently accepted theory is that over four and a half billion years ago our newly-formed planet was impacted by a Mars-sized body, a catastrophic collision that flung molten bits of Earth’s mantle into space and created a ring of debris. This gradually gathered together to create our Moon… but, according to some new models created by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, it may have actually created two moons. But if this is indeed the case, what happened to the other one?
“It’s tiny out there…it’s inconsequential. It’s ironic that we had come to study the Moon and it was really discovering the Earth.”
– Bill Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut
When We Left Earth is a fantastic six-part series by Discovery Channel that features hours of new footage from NASA and interviews with many of those personally involved in the space program over the past 50 years. It tells the story of our journey into space, from the original Mercury program to the Gemini spacewalks, to the breathtaking lunar missions of Apollo… and then beyond to Skylab and the hardworking shuttles that would open Hubble’s eyes to the Universe and ultimately help create the International Space Station.
It came out in 2010… if you haven’t seen these yet, I suggest you check them out. Narrated by Gary Sinise, they tell a dramatic story of exploration – both of space and our planet and moon, but also of the people who made it all happen through hard work, talent, guts and not a small amount of sheer luck.
Plus the HD footage – especially from the first missions of the 1960s – is really wonderful to watch.
The video above (if you don’t see it click here) is from the episode Landing the Eagle, which goes through the Apollo missions, from the tragedy of Apollo 1 to the first orbit of the Moon achieved by Apollo 8 to the landing of Eagle with Apollo 11. Watching this and hearing the astronauts’ first-hand accounts of what they experienced, as well as the concerns of the controllers on the ground – not to mention the astronauts’ wives! – really puts a human perspective on the incredible achievements that were made.
If anything, I’d hope that shows like this might inspire a new generation to push the boundaries of what we think we can do and what’s safe and comfortable and by doing so, achieve greater things than are thought possible. Those guys did it, and with a heck of a lot less fancy technology.
50 years of space flight…in the first ten we went to the Moon. Where will the next 10, 20, 50 take us? And who will be telling stories like this 50 years from now? That’s entirely up to us.
In honor of the end of NASA’s shuttle program (with only two flights remaining) CNN videographers have assembled a wonderful montage of the 133 launches over the past 30 years and put them together in the video below. Check it out! (There may be a brief advertisement at the beginning…that’s embedded in the CNN video.)
Warming: you may find yourself experiencing stronger emotions than expected.
Can’t see the video below? Click here.
During a shuttle launch, the two white solid rocket boosters (SRB’s) attached to the main orange tank detach first* and fall back to Earth, landing in the Atlantic. These are retrieved by NASA ships and ferried back to be refurbished and refilled for the next mission…a process that requires the efforts of many experienced professionals, to say the least. The video above is the first to be released by NASA of the entire process is high-definition, showing the fall to Earth and retrieval of both SRBs from the Discovery STS-133 launch. Very cool!
Just goes to show that there’s a lot more people involved in the shuttle program than astronauts and scientists!
*The main solid rocket tank detaches from the shuttle at a later point and is mostly burnt up in the atmosphere during its fall. It is not reused. For a video of the May 2010 STS-132 shuttle launch, showing a booster’s-eye-view of the entire event, click here.
At 2:14pm EST today the space shuttle Discovery successfully docked with the International Space Station, 220 miles above Australia. This will be the last time Discovery will visit the space station, indeed the last time it will fly at all in its long and illustrious career.
The image above was pulled from live video feed of the docking procedure via NASA HD TV on Ustream. I rotated the image 90º for a better view….the shuttle was actually positioned nose-cone pointing Earthward when it docked. (You can make out a bit of the NASA TV logo at the lower right corner.)
Traveling nearly 24,000 mph, the ISS and Discovery docked above Australia and were flying over Central America 40 minutes later. Within another 25 minutes they were over nighttime Europe! Incredible.
Because of some transference of momentum from the shuttle to the ISS, which is currently “heavy” at 1.2 million pounds of mass, it took about half an hour to allow for natural dampening of the movement created by the docking procedure.
Discovery (OV-103), the third of NASA’s fleet of reusable, winged spaceships, arrived at Kennedy Space Center in November 1983. It was launched on its first mission, flight 41-D, on August 30, 1984.
Best of luck to the STS-133 mission crew! Their work is just beginning.
Image: NASA TV