Tag Archives: space

Packing for Interstellar Space Voyage: What to Bring?

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Contemplating the idea of a manned voyage to another star raises many confounding questions, including one that has been around since the days of the first travelers: What to pack?

To build a closed environment that can sustain astronauts and perhaps their descendants during the long mission is going to require many kinds of technological innovations, some of them needed just to clothe the interstellar travelers, said Karl Aspelund, a professor of textiles, fashion merchandising and design at the University of Rhode Island.

“The longest time anyone has been in space is around 400 days. Now we’re suddenly talking years, decades, possibly even generations,” Aspelund said last week at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, a conference about interstellar space travel. “That changes everything.”

An interstellar mission is most likely going to be a very extended trip, considering the nearest stars are light-years away. Aspelund estimated that every person aboard a ship on a 30-year voyage would need to pack about 100 cubic feet of clothing. For 10 people, that means enough clothes to fill a railcar. Based on current launch costs, so much mass could add $18 million to $36 million to the price tag for the mission simply for shirts, pants and underwear, he calculated.

Clearly, future astronauts will have to pack lighter.

“We might have to rethink the idea of clothing altogether,” Aspelund said. “We might have to really re-evaluate what constitutes being dressed and undressed.”

Aspelund is only half joking when he contemplates sending spaceflyers onto a starship naked. He concedes there are good reasons ? culturally as well as individually ? why humans couldn’t just discard clothes on an interstellar mission.

But researchers will need to find ways for clothes (and everything else astronauts pack) to be used sustainably, he says.

So far NASA hasn’t figured out many good ways to do laundry in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station have been known to rarely change outfits.

“It’s basically a flying dorm room, by the sound of it,” Aspelund said of the space station. “The solution to keeping things clean is exactly the dorm room solution: You stuff it into a hole and you never see it again. That’s not so good if you’re not going to be coming back, or if you’re going to be out there for years.”

Aspelund plans to write a grant and collaborate with other researchers on the issue of cosmic duds and space laundry. The solutions may require completely different types of textiles that are more durable and recyclable, or new ways to clean existing materials.

On an even deeper level, the issue forces people to question just what items are essential for life on Earth and whether those same items are essential in space.

“We have things that are absolutely critical to our well-being on the planet,” Aspelund said. “This project, the 100 Year Starship, inspires a completely fresh look. Suddenly we step back from Earthly concerns.”

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/26/packing-for-space-voyage/

Comet, Earth and Mercury Seen Together in Rare Video

A new video from a NASA spacecraft studying the sun has captured an unexpected sight: a wandering comet posing with the planets Earth and Mercury.

The cosmic view comes from one of NASA’s twin Stereo spacecraft that constantly watch the sun for signs of solar flares and other space weather events. It shows Mercury and Earth as they appeared with the Comet Pan-STARRS, a comet that is currently visible from the Northern Hemisphere during evening twilight.

The probe captured the video of Comet Pan-STARRS, Earth and Mercury together while observing the sun from March 9 to March 12.

According to a NASA description, the video “shows the comet and its fluttering tail as it moves through space.” The Earth appears as a bright stationary object on the right side of the video, while Mercury is visible as a moving light on the left side.

The sun is actually out of the frame in the Stereo-B spacecraft’s video, but its solar wind is visible as a stream of material, NASA officials explained. Meanwhile, the view of Comet Pan-STARRS from space is giving scientists a wealth of data to review, they added.

“Comet scientists say the tail looks quite complex and it will take computer models to help understand exactly what’s happening in STEREO’s observations,” agency officials said in a video description. “The comet should remain visible to the naked eye through the end of March.”

Comet Pan-STARRS is currently visible to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere just after sunset. To see the comet, look low on the western horizon just after the sun has gone down. Comet Pan-STARRS can appear as a bright head with a wispy trail, weather permitting, though some stargazers have said the bright evening twilight can make spotting it tricky.

The Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii. The comet’s official name is C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS).

Scientists estimate that Comet Pan-STARRS takes more than 100 million years to orbit the sun once. The comet crossed into the Northern Hemisphere evening sky last week after months of being visible to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

NASA’s twin Stereo A and B spacecraft (the name is short for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) observe the sun in tandem to provide unparalleled views of how material from solar eruptions makes its way to Earth. The spacecraft launched in 2006 and are part of a fleet of sun-watching spacecraft that monitor solar storms.

Comet Pan-STARRS is one of several comets gracing the night sky in 2013. Pan-STARRS was joined by the Comet Lemmon earlier this year when both were visible together in the Southern Hemisphere sky. Later this year, the sungrazing Comet ISON could put on a potentially dazzling display when it makes its closest approach to the sun in late November.

Homepage image courtesy of Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/03/15/comet-earth-mercury-video/

Amazing Photo Shows Saturn Dwarfing Tiny Moon

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A jaw-dropping picture of the planet Saturn was recently released by NASA’s Cassini probe orbiting the ringed giant.

The black-and-white photo shows the gas giant tilted, with its iconic rings draping striking shadows against the planet’s atmosphere.

A faint dot in the top middle of the image, which you might be forgiven for thinking was a speck on your monitor, is actually Saturn’s moon Mimas. The moon, at 246 miles (396 kilometers) across, is dwarfed by its much larger parent. When seen up close, Mimas is dominated by a giant crater on one side that gives it a strong resemblance to the Death Star in the “Star Wars” films.

The darker dapples along Saturn‘s face are violent storms that rage in the planet’s hydrogen and helium atmosphere, researchers said.

Cassini’s view of Saturn looks up at the unilluminated side of its rings from an angle of about 18 degrees below the ring plane. The north side of the planet itself is up and rotated 27 degrees to the left.

Cassini launched in 1997 along with the Huygens lander. Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and dropped Huygens onto the surface of Saturn’s huge moon Titan in January 2005. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Just last month, Cassini celebrated the 15th anniversary of its launch, and it has logged more than 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion km) during its time in space. The probe has taken more than 300,000 images of the Saturnian system, which includes the ringed planet and its more than 60 known moons.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/07/saturn-tiny-moon-photo/

Facebook Stats Reveal Men Most Interested in Mars Rover Landing

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As space enthusiasts worldwide tuned in online to watch and follow the historic landing of the NASA rover Curiosity on Mars earlier this week, Facebook found that men were significantly more interested in the event than females.

Although Facebook didn’t provide percentages for the male to female ratio, it said men ranked 6.08 on a buzz scale of one to 10, compared to an overall score for women of 4.76.

Using a tool called the Talk Meter, Facebook examined how much buzz the Mars landing generated across the social network and noted trends in age, demographic and location. It tracked search terms such as “Curiosity” and “Mars” and conducted searches during the time period that the rover landed around 10:00 p.m. PT.

“We looked at the increase in the fraction of chatter containing these terms compared to the baseline, which is what the chatter was for these terms one week before,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable. “We take the difference in fractions and hit it with a logarithm scale (1-10).”

Although teenagers expressed the least interest in the landing, Facebook said buzz surrounding Curiosity occurred across all adult age ranges. It was most popular among the 25 to 34 age group.

Due to the local timing, chatter was significantly higher in the Western part of the United States with California, Oregon and Washington state bringing in the most general interest on Facebook. But Washington, D.C. — the home of NASA’s headquarters — brought in similar scores to California, and spikes were also seen in Utah and Colorado.

Meanwhile, U.S. Facebook members cheered on their home country’s journey to Mars more than any other nation, bringing in a buzz score of (5.45). Facebook users from Canada (5.37) showed the second most interest, followed by Costa Rica (5.29), New Zealand (4.94), Australia (4.88), China (4.54) and Israel (4.53).

European countries didn’t top the list because most were asleep while the events took place, Facebook noted.

To put those scores in perspective, Facebook did previous analysis on other major events such as the Royal Wedding in the U.K. (8.4), the U.S. Super Bowl (8.7) and the Hunger Games premiere (6.4).

Did you use social media to follow the rover landing? Which sites did you use? Let us know in the comments.

BONUS: Curiosity Lands on Mars: NASA’s Behind the Scenes Images

Mark Your Calendar for Spring Meteor Showers and Eclipses

Lunar-eclipse

As the Moon passed almost directly through the center of Earth’s shadow on July 16th, sky gazers in the Pacific hemisphere were graced by a lingering lunar eclipse.

From eclipses and planets to meteor showers galore, the northern spring season of 2014 will bring a number of eye-catching celestial sights for stargazers on Earth.

Weather permitting, some of the best spring night sky events could be readily visible without the aid of binoculars or a telescope, even from brightly-lit cities. But you’ll need to know when and where to look to make the most of the season.

I’ve always felt that many astronomers started their careers as perceptive children who responded to the thrill of witnessing a noteworthy astronomical event. So whether you want to impress a youngster, or you’re simply hoping to witness a head-turning astronomical event for yourself, it always helps to be ready in advance by marking your calendar and highlighting a number of these special dates:

April 14 and 15: Mars’ closest approach in 2014 and a total eclipse of the moon

During the overnight hours of April 14 and 15, it will be a night for viewing first Mars and later the full moon.

First, Mars will come to within 57.4 million miles of our planet, making its closest approach to us since Jan. 3, 2008. All through the night, Mars will resemble a dazzling star shining with a steady fiery-colored tint making it a formidable sight; its brightness will match Sirius, the brightest of all the stars.

As a bonus, later that very same night (actually during the early hours of April 15) North America will have a ringside seat to see a total lunar eclipse when the Full Moon becomes transformed into a mottled reddish ball for 78 minutes as it becomes completely immersed in the shadow of the Earth.

This total lunar eclipse will be the first one widely visible from North America in nearly 3.5 years. The Americas will have the best view of this eclipse, although over the Canadian Maritimes, moonset will intervene near the end of totality. Of special interest is the fact that the moon will appear quite near to the bright star Spica, in the constellation Virgo, during the eclipse. They actually will be in conjunction a couple of hours prior to the onset of totality, but they’re still relatively near to each other when the eclipse gets underway.

April 22: The Lyrid meteor shower

Rather favorable circumstances are expected for this year’s Lyrid meteor shower, predicted to be at maximum this morning. The radiant, located near the brilliant bluish-white star Vega, rises in the northeast about the time evening twilight ends, and viewing will improve until light from the last-quarter moon begins to interfere just after 2 a.m. your local time.

Under the best conditions, 10 to 15 members of this shower can be seen in an hour by a single observer. The Lyrids remain about a quarter of their peak number for about two days. These bright meteors are associated with Thatcher’s Comet of 1861.

April 28 and 29: A Ring Eclipse that nobody will see?

It is quite possible that only penguins will witness the annular solar eclipse, also known as a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. That’s because it will occur within the uninhabited region of Wilkes Land in Antarctica.

Those living in southernmost parts of Indonesia as well as Australia (where it will be autumn) will at least get a view of a partial eclipse of the sun. Because the axis of the moon’s antumbral shadow misses the Earth and only its edge grazes Antarctica, it makes an accurate prediction of the duration of annularity all but impossible.

May 6: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower

The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower — “shooting stars” spawned by the famed Halley’s Comet — is scheduled to reach maximum early this morning. It’s usually the year’s richest meteor display for Southern Hemisphere observers, but north of the equator the Eta Aquarid shower is one of the more difficult annual displays to observe.

From mid-northern latitudes, the radiant (from where the meteors appear to emanate) rises about 1:30 a.m. local daylight time, scarcely two hours before morning twilight begins to interfere. At peak activity, about a dozen shower members can be seen per hour by a single observer with good sky conditions from latitude 26 degrees North, but practically zero north of latitude 40 degrees. The shower remains active at roughly one-half peak strength for a couple of days before and after the maximum. Conditions this year are excellent; the moon is absent from the predawn sky for more than a week around maximum.

May 10: Saturn at opposition

The ringed planet Saturn reaches opposition; it rises in the east-southeast at dusk, is due south in the middle of the night and sets in the west-southwest at dawn. Once it gains enough altitude, it appears similarly as bright as the zero-magnitude stars Arcturus and Vega.

Saturn’s famous rings appear much more impressive than in recent years, since they are now tipped by 21.5 degrees from edge on.

May 24: Possible outburst of bright meteors

Perhaps the most dramatic sky event in 2014 could come at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. In the predawn hours of Saturday, May 24, our planet is expected to sweep through a great number of dusty trails left behind in space by the small comet P/209 LINEAR.

This unusual cosmic interaction might possibly result in an amazing, albeit brief display of meteors — popularly known as “shooting stars” — perhaps numbering in the many dozens . . . or even hundreds per hour. Nobody knows exactly how many meteors will be seen, but several meteor scientists believe that because the particles will be unusually large, the meteors will be outstandingly bright.

May 25: Mercury attains its greatest elongation

The planet Mercury will reach its greatest elongation, or greatest angular distance, east of the sun on this night. This is Mercury’s best evening apparition of the year; it sets about 100 minutes after sunset. An hour after sunset, look low above the west-northwest horizon; the speedy planet should be easily visible as a yellowish “star.”

Mercury will appear somewhat brighter up to two weeks before this date, and noticeably dimmer for about a week afterwards.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/01/spring-stargazing-guide/

7 Space Tech Experiments to Launch Friday

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Seven space technology experiments are slated to blast off Friday on a NASA-funded suborbital research flight.

A SpaceLoft sounding rocket, built by Denver-based UP Aerospace Inc., is scheduled to launch from New Mexico’s Spaceport America between 9 a.m. and noon EDT.

The 15-minute flight is expected to reach a maximum altitude of 74 miles (119 kilometers) and provide up to four minutes of weightlessness for the onboard experiments. Landing is targeted for the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, about 320 miles (515 km) from Spaceport America according to NASA officials.

Among the seven payloads aboard the 20-foot-long (6 meters) rocket is the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a tracking device being developed for use in air traffic control systems. Current plans call for all aircraft operating in U.S. airspace to be equipped with ADS-B by 2020.

Two high school science experiments are also riding along on Friday’s flight, as is Diapason, an instrument developed by DTM Technologies in Italy to study the movement of very tiny particles in Earth’s atmosphere. Diapason could help identify and monitor atmospheric pollution and contaminants, NASA officials said.

UP Aerospace isn’t the only company with a NASA contract to make technology-testing suborbital research flights. The space agency has also signed deals with Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.

NASA manages such launches via its Flight Opportunities Program, which matches payloads with flights and pays launch costs (though no funds are provided for development of the payloads). The program should help the burgeoning American private spaceflight industry get off the ground, agency officials say.

“The Flight Opportunities Program fosters the development of the commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry, an important step in the longer-term path that envisions suborbital reusable launch vehicles evolving to provide the nation with much lower-cost, more frequent, and more reliable access to orbital space,” NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program website states.

Image courtesy of Leslie Williams/NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/21/space-experiments-launch/

Curiosity Rover’s Next Mars Adventure: Mount Sharp

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NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to enter a new phase of her life on Mars. After spending six months parked in the same area, the rover will soon embark on the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp.

Since landing on the Red Planet in August, Curiosity has explored a “candy store” of terrain and even confirmed Mars was once suitable for life. So, why leave an area that has proven so rich in resources? Because Curiosity’s biggest discovery may still be waiting.

While NASA scientists admit there’s an urge to “keep driving,” there’s a bigger element of exploration at hand. For humans, Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Rising 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, it’s taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. However, more than that, Mount Sharp contains the answer key to the planet’s puzzling history. It is the mission’s main science destination.

“It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable on Wednesday.

Although NASA scientists have their sights set on Mount Sharp, they won’t hesitate to stop along the way. In fact, Curiosity will take the trip at such a slow pace that scientists can’t even estimate when she will reach the base of Mount Sharp.

“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

As of this week, Curiosity’s route to Mount Sharp is still unknown, but it will likely fall within the area outlined in red.

Scientists will use an orbiting satellite to determine the most diverse route for Curiosity. However, there are two main points of interest along the way (pictured below).

“Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary,” Crisp said. “A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”


Scientists are particularly interested in Point Lake, located in the upper half of this image. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.

Curiosity has already completed her main science goals of scooping soil for analyzation and drilling into a rock. We can expect to see similar types of experiments along the way to Mount Sharp, provided the terrain proves promising enough for the effort.

The rover has a laser and telescope instrument in her head, called ChemCam. ChemCam, a feature Curiosity has already used more than 40,000 times, uses its laser to zap rocks from a distance of about 7 meters. The telescope then analyzes the “excited” gas or plasma that is produced.

Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and ChemCam will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach. However, we will have to wait until Curiosity completes her trek to the mountain’s base to get any idea of the samples she’ll be taking.

“Drill targets are selected as the rover comes across them, so there are no specific locations in mind right now for Mount Sharp,” NASA Social Media Manager Veronica McGregor told Mashable via email. “But they definitely plan to drill.”

Images courtesy of NASA

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/06/nasa-curiosity-mount-sharp/

SpaceX’s Record-Setting Grasshopper Flight Caught on Drone Camera

Private spaceflight company SpaceX has been testing its Grasshopper rocket over the past few months, but it set a record last week with its latest launch in which it flew 2,440.94 feet in the air — the vehicle’s highest leap yet.

Using a single camera hexacopter drone, SpaceX was able to get closer than ever to record the video above, which the company released Monday. As the rocket climbed gracefully into the air, the drone camera — which you can see in the right-hand corner of the frame — adjusted to capture the seemingly slow launch. Grasshopper soared in an almost-perfect straight line — quite different from its August launch, when it leapt sideways.

The 10-story-high Grasshopper is one of SpaceX’s most outside-the-box experiments. Most rockets burn up when reentering Earth’s atmosphere, but Grasshopper is a reusable Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle built to withstand these harsh conditions and return to the planet’s surface intact.

Grasshopper holds the first-stage tank of the Falcon 9 rocket, which boosts SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

SpaceX Releases Inspiring Video of Dragon’s Historic Journey Through Space

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SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first privately-built spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. Now, the company has released a YouTube video that follows its historic journey through space, from liftoff to its return drop in the Pacific Ocean.

The video begins with footage from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22 that carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also features footage of it orbiting the Earth, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit opening Dragon’s hatch and SpaceX’s reaction to the successful mission.


Not only was the Dragon the first privately developed vehicle in history to ever successfully attach to the International Space Station, only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had previously achieved this feat.

SpaceX — which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 supply missions — is gearing up for more launches in the near future. The first contracted cargo flight is scheduled for September.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of SpaceX

BONUS: SpaceX and NASA’s Historic Dragon Capsule ISS Docking in Pictures