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Seven Days Out: ESA’s Historic Landing on a Comet is Just a Week Away

In less than a week, on November 12, 2014, the Philae lander will separate from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft and descend several kilometers down to the dark, dusty and frozen surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its three spindly legs and rocket-powered harpoon are all that will keep the 100-kilogram spacecraft from crashing or bouncing hopelessly back out into space. It will be the culmination of a decade-long voyage across the inner Solar System, a testament to human ingenuity and inventiveness and a shining example of the incredible things we can achieve through collaboration.

Philae is getting ready for his biggest challenge yet!

Philae is getting ready for his biggest challenge yet!

But first, Philae has to get there… to touch down safely in the chosen site (named Agilkia, after a small island in the Nile) and successfully become, as designed, the first human-made object to soft-land on a comet. How will the little spacecraft pull off such a daring maneuver around a tumbling chunk of icy rubble traveling over 18 kilometers a second? The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has released a video about the event, with a finale worthy of the best sci-fi film. Watch it above, and follow along with the landing on Twitter with the hashtag #CometLanding.

Want a more playful version of Rosetta and Philae’s upcoming adventure? Check out the latest animated video from ESA below:

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Happy First Year on Mars, Curiosity!

A "selfie" of Curiosity made from images acquired with its MAHLI instrument in April and May (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

A “selfie” of Curiosity made from images acquired with its MAHLI instrument in April and May (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS). Click here for a full-res version

Sol 669 is here (well, there… on Mars that is…) and that marks the one full year anniversary of Curiosity’s mission exploring Gale Crater! Wait, you say, didn’t Curiosity land on Mars in August of 2012? Shouldn’t we still be approaching the TWO-year anniversary of the MSL mission? Well, yes, here on Earth, but on Mars a year is 1.8808 Earth-years long — that’s 686.9 Earth days to a single Martian year! So from landing day August 5 (August 6 UTC) 2012, 686.9 days Earth days (i.e., one Martian year) later is June 24, 2014 (which it is at the time of this writing, UTC) and thus:

Happy Mars Anniversary, Curiosity!

(Whew!)

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Want to know where we landed on the Moon? This cool vintage NASA map shows you:

Map circa 1972 showing the Apollo landing sites (NASA)

Map circa 1972 showing the Apollo landing sites (NASA)

Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 all successfully delivered men to the Moon between the summer of ’69 and December 1972, but do you know where on the lunar surface they each landed? This awesome vintage map from NASA points each site out (and is a great lunar atlas as well.)

With four of the six planned lunar missions completed, this chart has been prepared to show the various areas of the lunar “nearside” to be visited by astronauts representing the NASA Apollo program. Apollo’s 11, 12, 14 and 15 are shown at their respective landing points. Apollo 16 and Apollo 17, planned for later this year at Descartes and Taurus Littrow, respectively, also are depicted on the map.

The map was created in March 1972, prior to the launches of Apollo 16 and 17.

All I can think is how good it would look printed large and mounted on the wall of my office. Yes…yes…. very good indeed.

Source: NASA: 2Explore on Flickr (Download a hi-res version here.)

This Day in Space History: One Small Step

Note: Reposted/updated article from 2012.

Panorama of the Eagle lunar module by Ed Hengeveld from JSC scans.

“That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”

I’m not sure what else need be said about the significance of what happened on this day in 1969, 44 years ago… it was a shining moment in human history, and will be — should be — remembered forever as an example of what people can achieve when challenged, driven and inspired.

Maybe more giant leaps have been made since then, and undoubtedly more will be made in the future, but this was the first… and to this date, still very much the biggest.
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Curiosity’s Landing Video in Mind-Blowing HD

Curiosity’s heat shield falls to Mars

This is awesome! The full-resolution images taken by Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) instrument have been downloaded and assembled into a high-def video of the rover’s descent and landing on Mars. From the heat shield falling away to the final, dust-blown touchdown in Gale Crater via sky crane, we finally get a good look at what Curiosity saw when it landed on Mars at 10:31 p.m. PDT on August 5, 2012. Enjoy!

(Can’t see the video above? Click here.)

All images via NASA/JPL-Caltech. Thanks to Fraser at Universe Today for posting this, and to visual effects editor Daniel Fitch for putting it all together.

Landing on Mars – From a Rover’s Point of View

MSL’s descent stage heat shield seen falling away

Ride along with Curiosity as it descends to the surface of Mars in this 4 fps video taken by the rover’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) camera! These images are low-resolution, the full-res versions will be available at a later date. But still the view during the rover’s harrowing descent, showing the heat shield falling away and eventually the surface rising up with dust blowing around, is an amazing and wonderful thing to watch — especially that we now know that Curiosity is performing perfectly!

This mission just never ceases to amaze…

Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech

UPDATE: Here’s a version by Dominic Muller that uses hi-res images, has been smoothed out digitally and played at 25 fps along to a lovely piece of music. Because some people know how to do that. Enjoy:

Curiosity Lands on Mars and Returns First Images

Curiosity’s first two HazCam images (NASA/JPL)

The Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 5 (PDT), to the thrill of millions around the world who watched in tense amazement as the harrowing landing sequence played out step-by-step exactly as designed, showing that we can safely place a 2-ton nuclear-powered vehicle on the surface of another planet and get photos back within minutes! The images above are the first pics from Curiosity, downlinked literally within minutes of landing. Congratulations to the MSL team at JPL and from all the science instrument teams around the world whose hard work made this happen. Go Curiosity, go NASA!

The MSL team at JPL cheers after receiving a signal from Curiosity (NASA TV)

See the latest images returned from Curiosity here.

UPDATE: Here’s a clearer hazcam image from Curiosity showing the central peak of Gale crater, named “Mt. Sharp”, 6.5 km in the distance. I recolored it to look more “Marsy”, so it’s sorta kinda the type of view we might see once the rover’s Mastcam unfolds and begins taking REAL pics!

UPDATE 2: Here’s a REAL color image, the first one taken by Curiosity! It shows Gale crater’s rim in the distance… beyond a dusty lens cover. The image has been placed into context against a computer model of the terrain. More to come!

See more articles on Curiosity’s status here.

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