Tag Archives: space

Why NASA Redesigned Its Website


The new NASA.gov has a light blue color palette, one you may not immediately associate with deep space. The agency rolled out a website redesign over the weekend, which included tossing out the black background that shadowed NASA‘s website for years.

“The common complaint about our design was that there was too much going on,” NASA Internet Services Manager Brian Dunbar told Mashable via email. “The lighter color palette seemed to open things up without us having to remove too much content. So far the reaction has been mixed, as is often the case.”

Heavy text and a column of navigational buttons made NASA.gov — which had not been updated since 2007 — feel cluttered. Dunbar fixed this by grouping all those icons into one drop-down menu.


NASA.gov Website 2012
NASA.gov homepage on May 13, 2012.


NASA Website July 2013
NASA.gov homepage on July 1, 2013.

NASA also asked the public what they wanted in a redesign, and one of the top responses was a dedicated area on the homepage for live events.

“We were able to increase the emphasis on live events on the homepage. We did an Ideascale implementation late last year to solicit input on changes to the site, and people told us more than anything they wanted to know more about what’s happening ‘right now’ at NASA,” Dunbar said. “We had it on the site, but apparently it wasn’t that visible to a lot of users.”

While the aesthetic switches may be the most obvious change to NASA’s website, the design team completely overhauled NASA.gov’s infrastructure. According to Dunbar, NASA switched from an old proprietary CMS to a customized Drupal implementation and replaced NASA’s commercial on-demand video service with a YouTube-based approach.

The most impressive figure of the redesign, however, is hidden from the eye. The redesign only took 13 weeks to complete — a highly efficient timeline for a government agency.

“We started that whole effort in earnest in late March,” Dunbar said. “We had been experimenting with the graphical changes for a few weeks before that.”

The short timeline had a catch-22, though. The team wasn’t able to optimize the website for discovering and sharing content on social media, which took a backseat in this initial rollout.

“Those considerations will be part of the upcoming redesign,” Dunbar said. “We want to be able to share our content across platforms, but we’ve also got user data that clearly shows we have a web audience that doesn’t really use social media and is distinct from our social media audience.”

As with most trickle-down redesigns, NASA.gov — which logs about 12 million visits per month — still has a long way to go. Expect to see a few 404 errors while browsing around as the team makes piecemeal changes through September.

Dunbar noted that this first transition is only a small part the massive changes to NASA.gov coming early next year. “When we’re done, we expect to have a vastly improved site, both for users and editors,” he said.

NASA.gov in 1997

NASA Website 1997
NASA.gov homepage on Jan. 5, 1997.

In 1999

NASA Website 1999
NASA.gov homepage on April 17, 1999.

In 2007

NASA Website 2007
NASA.gov homepage on Jan. 3, 2007.

Mashable composite; images courtesy of NASA/JPL

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/01/nasa-website-redesign/

5 Great Space Explorers (Who Weren’t Human)

Animals have always been there to brave new worlds and cross the boundaries of knowledge…whether they wanted to or not. In other words, they have always been used to try out new things to see how dangerous they were for humans. Aeronautic exploration was no different. Ever since the time of the Montgolfier brothers and their hot air balloon, animals have been sent up as high as possible before humans. Obviously, when the transition was made from testing our own skies to outer space, animals again had to rise to the challenge. Their sacrifice made human exploration of space possible. Here’s to the animals that went before us!

1. Laika the Dog


Stamps of Hungary, 001-07

Image caption: Hungarian stamp honoring Laika by Hungarian Post Office via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed by CC.

Laika is definitely the most famous non-human space explorer. Sent up by the Russians in 1957, Laika became the first animal to orbit the Earth. Her main mission was to show exactly what kind of effects spaceflight would have on a living thing because, at the time, we really didn’t know what to expect. Some considered that outer space conditions were not survivable for humans while others didn’t think we would even be able to survive the launch.

There still was one problem, though. At the time, the technology to de-orbit a spacecraft wasn’t really finished yet. All other animals up until that point were recovered because they were still in our atmosphere. Laika, on the other hand, basically went on a suicide mission without anybody telling her. The official story was that Laika lasted for 6 days in orbit after which she was euthanized before her oxygen ran out. Later, it was reported that there was no euthanasia system in place. She simply died of suffocation after the 6 days.


Laika ac Laika (6836480284)

Image caption: Monument to Laika in the United States by Laika ac via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed by CC.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the actual truth came out. It turned out that the orbiter failed which caused it to overheat and poor Laika actually died a few hours after launch. Still, it was enough to show us that exploring the depths of space was a feasible endeavor and, consequently, built a legacy unrivaled by almost any other dog in history. Not too bad for a stray mutt off the streets of Moscow.


2. Albert II the Monkey


Image caption: Albert getting ready for his flight by NASA. Licensed by CC.

Obviously, being the first animal in space would be a worthy achievement and would merit a mention on this list. Unfortunately, the first animals sent into space in 1947 were fruit flies. There was a bunch of them, they didn’t really have names so there wouldn’t be much else to say. They did survive their trip, though. After them we sent up some moss so…yeah. Same problem.

Ok, let’s move on to Albert II, the first monkey in space. Just 2 years after the fruit flies, the United States sent up Albert, a rhesus monkey, to observe the effects of radiation on a larger organism. Albert went up to a height of 83 miles (134 kilometers) in a V2 rocket. Unfortunately, a parachute failure occurred on the way down and Albert didn’t survive his trip.

In case you were wondering what happened to Albert I, pretty much the same thing. The rocket failed during its ascent and the monkey made it only about 30 miles (48 km) in the air. Several other Alberts followed through the years, but they all met similar unfortunate fates. The first one to survive the rocket flight was Albert VI who was sent up along with 11 mice in 1951. He lasted a whole 2 hours after landing before dying.

3. Miss Baker the Monkey


Image caption: Miss Baker by NASA. Licensed by CC.

It’s unfortunate that loss of life was so prevalent in the early stages of space exploration. Space exploration is difficult and dangerous and without their sacrifices we wouldn’t understand the universe around us like we do today. Let’s lighten the mood a bit with a look at a space pioneer who not only survived her flight, but lived well into old age and got to enjoy the fame earned by her heroic achievements.



Her name was Miss Baker and she was a squirrel monkey sent up into space in 1959. By this time, there was a lot of pressure on the United States to send up animals that actually survived their trips. This came not only from animal rights groups, but also from the USSR, who already managed to send several dogs that came back and survived.

Miss Baker with Certificate of Merit

Image caption: Miss Baker with certificate of merit by NASA via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed by CC.

Fortunately for them (and the monkey), Miss Baker spent around 16 minutes in space, afterwards making a gentle landing. She was actually accompanied on the trip by a rhesus monkey called Miss Able who, despite surviving the trip, died four days later. Miss Baker, however, died in 1984 at the ripe old age of 27. She became a celebrity. She was awarded a certificate of merit by the ASPCA, she was on the cover of Life magazine and was even married twice. She lived long enough to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her famous flight.

4. Strelka the Dog


Belka & Strelka 50 Years Flight Stump

Image caption: Russian stamp celebrating Belka and Strelka by Russian Post via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed by CC.

Belka and Strelka, two Russian dogs, became the first creatures to make a safe trip into orbit and return alive in 1960. They were sent up along with one rabbit, 2 rats, 42 mice, lots of flies and some plants, too. For once, everyone made it out alive.



Like Miss Baker, the two dogs became something of a media sensation, not just in Russia, but all over the world. Strelka actually went to have a long and happy life along with Pushok, another cosmo-dog who was used for ground experiments but never got to go up in space. They had several pups together and one of them, Pushinka (Russian for Fluffy) was gifted by Russian President Nikita Khrushchev to JFK as a present for his daughter. Pushinka then went on to have her own romance with another of the Kennedy dogs and had her own pups. The bloodline is maintained today, and Strelka’s descendants are still alive.

5. Ham the Chimp

Ham receives his well deserved apple

Image caption: Ham receives his well-deserved apple by NASA via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed by CC.

Chimps are closely related to humans so it was to be expected that, eventually, a few of them would make the trip to space before we did. Thus, in 1961, Ham became the first hominid to go into space. He made the cut out of 40 potential candidates. Back then, his only designation was #65. In case the flight went wrong, they didn’t want to name him. After his successful landing, the chimp was named Ham as an acronym for the lab where he was prepared (Holloman Aerospace Medical center).



Ham was 5 years old when he went into space and lived for 22 more years afterwards at the National Zoo in D.C. and then the North Carolina Zoo. After his death, a necropsy was performed on his body and the plan was to have him stuffed like the Soviets did with Strelka. However, the public didn’t like this idea and the plan was scrapped. His remains were buried and his skeleton was preserved at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

This article was republished from GeeKiez.com. To read the original article, go here.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/5-great-space-explorers-who-weren-t-human

Space Shuttle Enterprise Damaged by Superstorm Sandy


Superstorm Sandy, the storm that continues to wreck havoc across the American northeast on Tuesday, caused intense flooding and wind damage across the tri-state area, leaving several people dead. Among its apparent victims: The Space Shuttle Enterprise.

The Enterprise has been housed under a protective structure at New York’s Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum since July. That structure appears to have gone completely missing in the storm’s aftermath, leaving the Enterprise exposed to the elements.

Image Credit: John de Guzman

Image Credit: Denise Chow

Oddly, the Intrepid Museum’s own “live webcam” shows the structure still intact. Most likely, the camera stopped updating as the storm was rolling in.

Despite the loss of the protective structure, the Enterprise looks to be mostly fine, save some possible damage to the vertical stabilizer. Mashable has several messages out to the museum about the status of the Enterprise, and we’ll update this post with any response.

For reference, here’s what the Enterprise looked like under the protective shell:

Juno Spacecraft Passes By Earth And Moon

Juno Spacecraft Passes By Earth And Moon

The space age may be in its infancy, but it’s still here. 

NASA‘s Juno spacecraft is traveling to Jupiter, and is set to reach the gassy planet by July of 2016. The craft is outfitted with a slew of special equipment to track, test, and observe space. 

One sensor is a special camera “optimized to track faint stars” which recently had a very unique view of the Earth and our moon.

From 600,000 miles away, Juno captured one frame at a time and sent the footage back to Earth to be processed into this very special video. 

Already, the clip has amassed over half a million views!


Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2013/12/12/juno-spacecraft-passes-by-earth-and-moon/

Don’t Miss The Geminid Meteor Shower This Weekend

Stargazers are in for a treat on Sunday and Monday as the Geminid meteor shower puts on a show.

After 10 p.m. ET (3 a.m. GMT) on the nights of December 13 and 14 you should be able to see a Geminid meteor every one or two minutes on average, Sky & Telescope predicts. NASA has also created a handy tool for you to calculate the activity at your chosen location at a particular time.

The Geminids will appear to radiate out of the Gemini constellation, hence the name. However, the meteors will appear from all corners of the sky, so you dont have to look in a particular direction.

As ever with viewing meteor showers, it always easier to see them if its a clear night and youre far away from the artificial glow of cities and streetlights. Its also good to go outside half an hour before the shower starts so your eyes become acclimatized to seeing in low light.

When you see a meteor, you are witnessing bits of debris burning up as they hitEarths atmosphere at over 127,100 kilometers per hour (79,000 miles per hour). The specks of cosmic dust are fragments from the 3200 Phaethon comet. This comet, which is just1.6 kilometers (3 miles) wide, makes an orbit around the Sun every 1.4 years.

Check out the NASA website for moreinformation.

Main image credit:Henry Lee/Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/dont-miss-geminid-meteor-shower-sunday-and-monday

Hubble Spies Huge Explosion on Faraway Star


NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers a rare look at an enormous stellar eruption, allowing them to map out the aftermath of such blasts in unprecedented detail.

Hubble photographed an April 2011 explosion in the double-star system T Pyxidis (T Pyx for short), which goes off every 12 to 50 years. The new images reveal that material ejected by previous T Pyx outbursts did not escape into space, instead sticking around to form a debris disk about 1 light-year wide around the system.

This information came as a surprise to the research team.

“We fully expected this to be a spherical shell,” study co-author Arlin Crotts of Columbia University said in a statement. “This observation shows it is a disk, and it is populated with fast-moving ejecta from previous outbursts.”

The erupting T Pyx star is a white dwarf, the burned-out core of a star much like our own sun. White dwarfs are small but incredibly dense, often packing the mass of the sun into a volume the size of Earth.

T Pyx’s white dwarf has a companion star, from which it siphons off hydrogen fuel. When enough of this hydrogen builds up on the white dwarf’s surface, it detonates like a gigantic hydrogen bomb, increasing the white dwarf’s brightness by a factor of 10,000 over a single day or so.

This happens again and again. T Pyx is known to have erupted in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944, and 1966, in addition to the 2011 event.

Such recurrent outbursts are known as nova explosions. (Nova is Latin for “new,” referring to how suddenly novas appear in the sky.) Novas are distinct from supernovas, even more dramatic blasts that involve the destruction of an entire star.

The new study clarifies just what happens to the material ejected by such outbursts.

“We’ve all seen how light from fireworks shells during the grand finale will light up the smoke and soot from shells earlier in the show,” co-author Stephen Lawrence of Hofstra University said in a statement. “In an analogous way, we’re using light from T Pyx’s latest outburst and its propagation at the speed of light to dissect its fireworks displays from decades past.”

The study represents the first time the area around an erupting star has been mapped in three dimensions, researchers said.

The new Hubble Space Telescope observations also help refine the distance to T Pyx, pegging it at 15,600 light-years from Earth. (Past estimates have ranged between 6,500 and 16,000 light-years.)

The team presented its results on June 4 at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis. The study will also be published in the June 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, A. Crotts, J. Sokoloski, and H. Uthas (Columbia University) and S. Lawrence (Hofstra University)

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/05/hubble-star-explosion/

Radiation Exposure Won’t Stop a Manned Mission to Mars


The risk of radiation exposure is not a show-stopper for a long-term manned mission to Mars, new results from NASA’s Curiosity rover suggest.

A mission consisting of a 180-day cruise to Mars, a 500-day stay on the Red Planet and a 180-day return flight to Earth would expose astronauts to a cumulative radiation dose of about 1.01 sieverts, measurements by Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument indicate.

To put that in perspective: The European Space Agency generally limits its astronauts to a total career radiation dose of 1 sievert, which is associated with a 5% increase in lifetime fatal cancer risk.

“It’s certainly a manageable number,” said RAD principal investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., lead author of a study that reports the results Monday in the journal Science.

A 1-sievert dose from radiation on Mars would violate NASA’s current standards, which cap astronauts’ excess-cancer risk at 3 percent. But those guidelines were drawn up with missions to low-Earth orbit in mind, and adjustments to accommodate trips farther afield may be in the offing, Hassler said.

“NASA is working with the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine to evaluate what appropriate limits would be for a deep-space mission, such as a mission to Mars,” Hassler told SPACE.com. “So that’s an exciting activity.”

The new results represent the most complete picture yet of the radiation environment en route to Mars and on the Red Planet’s surface. They incorporate data that RAD gathered during Curiosity’s eight-month cruise through space and the rover’s first 300 days on Mars, where it touched down in August 2012.

The RAD measurements cover two different types of energetic-particle radiation — galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are accelerated to incredible speeds by far-off supernova explosions, and solar energetic particles (SEPs), which are blasted into space by storms on our own sun.

RAD’s data show that astronauts exploring the Martian surface would accumulate about 0.64 millisieverts of radiation per day. The dose rate is nearly three times greater during the journey to Mars, at 1.84 millisieverts per day.

But Mars’ radiation environment is dynamic, so Curiosity’s measurements thus far should not be viewed as the final word, Hassler stressed. For example, RAD’s data have been gathered near the peak of the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, a time when the GCR flux is relatively low (because solar plasma tends to scatter galactic cosmic rays).

Curiosity’s radiation measurements should help NASA plan out a manned mission to Mars, which the space agency hopes to pull off by the mid-2030s, Hassler said. And they should also inform the search for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet — another top NASA priority.

For example, the new RAD results suggest that microbial life is unlikely to exist right at the Martian surface, Hassler said. But future missions may not have to drill too deeply underground to find pockets of Mars life, if it ever existed.

“These measurements do tell us that we think it could be viable to find signs of possible extant or past life as shallow as 1 meter deep,” Hassler said.

The new study is one of six papers published in Science Monday that report new results from Curiosity. Most of the other studies present evidence that the rover has found an ancient freshwater lake that could have supported microbial life for tens of thousands, and perhaps millions, of years.

Image: Euclid vanderkroew

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/12/09/radiation-mars-curiosity-rover/

Canyon Of Fire On The Sun Is Glorious

Canyon Of Fire On The Sun Is Glorious

The official NASA YouTube channel published this awe-inspiring video of a solar eruption last month. 

A 200,000 mile long magnetic filament exploded from the sun’s atmosphere, leaving behind an apparent canyon of fire. The new video is going viral with over 150,000 views so far.


Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2013/10/25/canyon-of-fire-on-the-sun-is-glorious/

Rebooted NASA Spacecraft Begins a New Mission 36 Years After Launch


Artist’s concept image of ISEE-3 (ICE) spacecraft.
Image: NASA

A 36-year-old NASA spacecraft began a new interplanetary science mission on Sunday when it made a close pass by the moon.

The privately controlled International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 spacecraft, also called ISEE-3, flew by the moon at approximately 2:16 p.m. EDT.

The ISEE-3 spacecraft is under the control of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, a private team of engineers who took control of the probe earlier this year under an agreement with NASA. The team initially hoped to move the NASA probe into a stable orbit near the Earth. But attempts failed when the team discovered that the spacecraft, which NASA launched in 1978, was out of the nitrogen pressurant needed to get the job done.

Now, ISEE-3 Reboot Project engineers are focusing their efforts on an interplanetary science mission, since at least some of the probe’s 13 instruments are still working. By using a network of individual radio dishes across the world, the team will listen to the ISEE-3 spacecraft for most of its orbit around the sun.

Officials announced this week that they would collaborate with Google to offer live spacecraft data at the site SpacecraftForAll.com. Financial terms were not disclosed. Chris Lintott, of the BBC’s “The Sky at Night,” moderated a Google Hangout on ISEE-3.

“The main feature of this is a new website developed by Google Creative Lab in collaboration with the ISEE-3 Reboot Project team that features a history of the ISEE-3 mission as well as a presentation of data currently being received from ISEE-3,” co-founder Keith Cowing said in a statement.

The spacecraft was originally launched in 1978 to study the sun, and was retasked for other science missions such as looking at comets. NASA put ISEE-3 into hibernation in 1998, where it remained until the private group reactivated it this year under a Space Act Agreement.

Members raised about $160,000 through crowdfunding, most of which is gone due to the need to rent dish time at NASA’s Deep Space Network to listen in, and to fly team members to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico for communications.

To learn more about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, visit: http://spacecollege.org/.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/11/isee-3-buzzes-moon/

See Venus and Saturn Shine Together Early Tuesday


Early Tuesday morning (Nov. 27), you’ll be able to watch two planets that will pass each other in the dawn.

The planets in question are Venus and Saturn. One planet will be slowly descending into eventual obscurity, while the other will become increasingly prominent in the days and weeks to come.

Look for Venus and Saturn shortly after 4:30 a.m. local time. The planets will appear very low above the east-southeast horizon, weather permitting. Brilliant Venus, shining with a steady silvery-white glow, will be passing about 0.6 degrees below and to the right of the much dimmer and yellower Saturn. (Your closed fist held at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the night sky.)

About an hour later, at 5:30 a.m. local time, Saturn will high enough for good views through a telescope of its breathtakingly beautiful rings. The tilt of the rings continues to slowly increase and is now almost 18 degrees from edgewise. As for Venus, it displays a rather small gibbous shaped disk, 87% illuminated by the sun. Venus is about 70% brighter than Saturn’s larger, but duller, disk and rings.

After Tuesday morning’s rendezvous, which is known as a conjunction, the two planets will slowly go their separate ways.

Venus, which was so prominent during the summertime, is now rising later and appearing lower to the horizon in the dawn twilight. It has about another two months to go before it ultimately drops down into the bright morning twilight and disappears from our view, eventually transitioning into the evening sky by early next spring.

Saturn, on the other hand, will climb progressively higher and rise earlier, eventually becoming a prominent and well-placed evening object by the middle of spring.

If you look at both Venus and Saturn through a telescope, Venus is unquestionably the brighter of the two objects. But you might wonder how this is possible. After all, both planets are perpetually covered with clouds and their respective albedos — the proportion of the incident sunlight reflected by those clouds — are exactly the same at 76%.

Why then does Saturn appear so much duller than Venus if both are reflecting the same proportion of sunlight back toward the Earth?

The key is their distances from the sun. Compared to Venus, Saturn is 13.59 times farther away from the sun. And if we use the inverse square law — which states that the intensity of reflected sunlight is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the sun — then 13.59 multiplied by 13.59 shows that sunlight striking Saturn’s cloud tops, is 184.69 times weaker compared to sunlight striking the cloud tops of Venus.

In any case, arise early on Tuesday and take a peek as the Venus, the Goddess of Beauty, snuggles up to Saturn, the God of Time.

Homepage image via iStockphoto, fpm.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/26/watch-venus-saturn/