Only 4 More Years…


No, the gringa’s not talking about high hopes for an historical third term of Obama’s presidency to rescue the entire world from the potential disaster of a Trump presidency. The gringa is talking about China and Mars. In just 4 more years China plans to land a rover on Mars.

Now, this may not seem like big news considering that NASA has had a fleet of robotic spacecraft on or around Mars dating back as far as forty years. The significance of China’s contribution is that, well, the more the merrier when it comes to increasing knowledge about Mars and creating the technology necessary for human exploration.

China’s plan is patterned after NASA’s successful Viking I mission that landed the first rover on Mars forty years ago. China intends to orbit the Red Planet, land a rover, perform rover exploration and, once the mission is accomplished, learn from the experience to take another step forward in their own ambitions of a manned mission to Mars.

Like NASA, China’s space program also collaborates with private industry which is not only stimulating their economy, but rapidly advancing their mission objectives. In 2003 they launched their first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou. They also have their very own laboratory and space station orbiting the moon, Tiangong 1. Chinese astronauts aboard Tiangong 1 have performed a space walk and successfully explored the Moon with rover Yutu.

All of this space activity is really preparations for the greater goal, landing a manned mission on Mars. Next month China will launch a mission to deliver the components to recreate Tiangong 1, their experimental space station, into Tiangong 2, a permanent space station. Spacecraft Shenzhou 11 will deliver a 2 person crew who will reside in the space station for several days performing the necessary renovations.

Once China’s space station has successfully been converted to a permanent site, they can plan a manned mission to the Moon and begin rehearsing for a Mars mission. While other countries have slowed their space mission activities, China’s ambitious program has 20 missions planned for 2016. So, keep your eyes turned toward China for interesting developments.

It seems the space race is on to see who gets to Mars first. NASA plans a manned Asteroid Redirect Mission for 2025 and a manned orbit of Mars in the 2030s. The gringa would rather it be a team effort rather than a flag planting competition. However, if a race is what it takes to motivate engineers and scientists to up their game and move full speed ahead in the greatest exploration adventure of the gringa’s lifetime, well, who am I to judge?

Sources & Image Credit: http://www.nasa.gov, http://www.sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/china

 

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A New Moon For A New Age


Most people think Earth’s moon is old news. However, what the public may not realize is that NASA has a rover active on the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LRO). The gringa will call the rover “Elroy” for your reading pleasure.

Elroy has a new exhibit on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. that reveals that our Moon is anything but boring. What with Mars and black holes and parallel universes getting so much attention, it’s easy for our little ol’ Moon to get lost in the mix. The gringa wants to give it some glory that is long overdue.

One thing that is interesting about the Moon is that it undergoes such frequent change. It seems to get blasted all the time by meteors and such. The images on display in the exhibit show the formation of new impact craters (kind of scary when the gringa considers its proximity to home! The Moon may very well be our shield!). Recent volcanic activity has also been detected. And, most curious of all, is evidence that the Moon’s core may be cooling which has caused it to shrink and crack the crust of the Moon’s surface.

Elroy is a busy little rover. So busy, in fact, that there are too many images for this single exhibit. So, in addition to the favorites that were selected for display, there is a large screen which projects lunar images that are updated daily.

Since 2009, in addition to a fabulous photography collection, Elroy has also collected environmental and geological data with the seven other instruments he is equipped with. Elroy’s mission is to map the entire surface of the Moon. Even the legendary “dark side” of the Moon.

You see, one reason the Moon remains so mysterious is because it has a “backside”. Yes, we never get to see the Moon’s rear-end. We always see only one physical side of the Moon. Now, this is not because the Moon hangs suspended in space and never rotates. It’s just that it has a rather peculiar rotation cycle.

Millions of years ago the Moon spun around much faster. The pull of Earth’s gravity has caused it to slow down. So much so that its rotation cycle now matches its orbit cycle.  These cycles take 27.3 Earth days. However, observed from Earth it takes 29.5 days. (Don’t expect the gringa to get into that mystery here! You can research it yourself by clicking on… Understanding the moon phases). So, since the orbit and rotation cycles are exactly matched, as the Moon travels about the Earth, at night, when we see it, the same side is always presented to Earth.

However, for serious stargazers with top-notch telescopes, you can get a peek at a sliver of the hidden aspects of the Moon. Since the Moon is not “round and flat” like a coin but is actually elliptical, like a ball, at just the right time there is a speed differential when the Moon is farthest from Earth, thereby its rotation speeds up a bit because of a little less gravity drag. This causes what scientists call a “rocking” motion and an extra nine percent of the Moon’s surface is visible. But now, thanks to Elroy, all Earthlings can see just exactly what is on the Moon’s backside which is not “dark” after all, except during the cycle of a full moon when the Earth is blocking all sunlight.

Only two years into its mission NASA declared Elroy a complete success. Over four billion measurements were used by Elroy to complete a topographical map of the entire Moon. Elroy’s instruments determined that the coldest spot in our entire solar system is right smack on the Moon. It is found inside the shadows of Hermite crater which is located near the north pole. It is a bitter minus 415 degrees Fahrenheit. The gringa hopes Elroy was wearing his mittens.

Elroy is not just taking photos and temperature readings. The rover is also looking for water deposits, such as ice, and searching for fuel resources such as hydrogen. In preparation for future manned Moon missions, environmental radiation levels are also recorded.

So, the next time you gaze up at the Moon, give Elroy a salute. He is still on the job!

 

Sources: www.nasa.gov, www.moonconnection.com

 

Image Source: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Italy, From Art to Astronauts


My cosmic sister, Bea, hails from Italy and therefore has a special interest in the Italian Space Agency (ASI, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana). So, the gringa dedicates this post to Bea.

Since its inception in 1988, ASI has consistently made significant contributions to space technology development. ASI is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and works closely with NASA as well. Italy has been, and will continue to be, a key player in the international space exploration community. Whether it is technology that gets a manned mission to Mars or technology that helps Earth observers intervene to prevent or respond to environmental disasters, the world can all extend a “brava” to Italy.

Italy has three active space centers. Ten kilometers east of Matera is ASI’s “Space Geodesy Center”, which opened for business in 1983. Earth observation and imaging is the primary mission of the programs at work at SGC. The “Luigi Broglio” Space Center, in operation since the 1960’s, is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean near Malindi, Kenya. It has an Earth segment base and an ocean segment base which launch and control satellites. The center that manages and analyzes all collected scientific data (ASDC) can be found at ASI headquarters in Rome. Not only is data analyzed here but mission monitoring is also conducted at this center.

The primary missions Italy’s has high involvement with are:

  • Created Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules (MPLM) Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello for transporting scientific research necessities to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • Space Habitability – March 2001, Italy became the 3rd nation to launch an element integrated into the ISS, the logistics module “Leonardo”
  • Life Sciences – Biotechnology research to improve knowledge of: the aging process and effective countermeasures, immunology, technologies to enable the colonization of space by humans, therapeutic studies for improving the quality of life for all humanity
  • Bioregenerative Environmental Control Project (CAB) – to put it in plain English, gringa language, scientists learn how to recycle and repurpose just about everything into something useful such as: plant based life support system, water purification through transpiration, space greenhouses, etc.
  • Motor and Cardiorespiratory Control Disturbances Project (DCMC) is a program with the goal of improving the quality of life for people who suffer from neuromotor and cardiorespiratory disabilities.
  • Osteoporosis and Muscular Atrophy Project (OSMA) is of particular interest because of how conditions of reduced gravity cause these debilitations, that are typically linked with aging, to affect young, healthy, physically fit astronauts. The research goal is to understand how gravity controls the functions of bone and muscle.
  • Bed-Rest is a study that simulates the effects of zero gravity by having volunteers stay in bed for 7-120 days in a head-down position so that studies of the cardiovascular and renal systems can be conducted.
  • Earth observation and telecommunication with satellites: Miosat, PRISMA, ROSA, COSMO-SkyMed, PRIMI, and COPERNICUS
  • High Energy Astrophysics study is an Italian only programme that conducts research on the most violent space phenomena that occurs throughout the Universe. Satellites involved in this programmed: GLAST/Fermi, SIMBOL-X, SWIFT, PAMELA, INTEGRAL, AMS, AGILE
  • Cosmology and Fundamental Physics programme studies the evolution of the Universe. Satellites involved in the programme: BOOMERANG, GAIA, EUCLID, GALILEO GALILEI, HERSCHEL, LARES, Olimpo, Planck, Plato, Lisa Pathfinder

Lisa Pathfinder is the most recent success of Italy’s space agency that has made worldwide headline news. Lisa’s purpose is to detect gravitational waves in space. Italy designed the overall architecture of Lisa and is managing the project with the cooperation of Italy’s National Institute of Physics as well as ESA partners.

Lisa launched successfully last month and will lock into its final orbit around mid-February. This is phase one of the future construction of a space observatory that will continue studies of gravitational waves. Project completion is expected to be around the end of 2034. Italian scientists are beside themselves with pride that finally, after Einstein published his theory of general relativity over a century ago, the search for gravitational waves has, at last, begun, thanks, in huge part, to Italy.

And what else does the world have to look forward to from Italy? Of course, the gringa’s favorite space subject, GETTING TO MARS! Italy boasts leadership of both phases of ESA’s two phase EXOMars mission. In 2016 a probe will launch to orbit Mars and study methane and other gases as well as attempt to detect any presence of life. Later, in 2018, a rover will land on Mars and begin analysis of the soil. One more objective is to study any possible risks for future manned missions.

So, Italian suits, Italian shoes, Sophia Loren, Galileo, Michelangelo, and… astronauts, scientists, researchers, technology mavens. THAT IS AMAZING, ITALY!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.asi.it

 

Space For Europe IS the ESA


With ESA Astronaut Tim Peake performing a spacewalk this week on the International Space Station, the gringa thinks it’s only fitting to turn the limelight toward Europe’s space agency and their long history of achievement. The European Space Agency (ESA) is to Europe what NASA is to the United States, JAXA is to Japan and Rocosmos is to Russia. ESA is comprised of 22 member states who collaborate with their financial resources and intellectual talents to provide a gateway to the stars for all of Europe. Members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia all make their own contributions as well through contractual agreements of cooperation.

The goals of the ESA are to discover more about Earth and its surrounding Solar System, as well as the entire Universe. These goals are met while at the same time promoting development of European technologies and sharing these with the world’s other space agencies.

Paris is the location of ESA headquarters. Germany is where ESA’s Astronaut Centre and Space Operations Centre are located. Astronomy Centres are found in Canada and Spain with the Earth Observation centre in Italy. The UK houses the centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications and launch bases are scattered throughout Belgium, the U.S.A., Russia and French Guiana. It can be rather dizzying with all of these operational centres spread all over the world. So, to keep things simple, because the gringa likes simple, for more information about ESA, simply go to their website, www.esa.int, or drop them a line or pick up the phone:

Communication Department
European Space Agency
8-10 rue Mario Nikis
75738 Paris
Cedex 15
France

Tel: + 33 1 5369 7155
Fax: + 33 1 5369 7690

ESA desires to explore space for peaceful purposes. While doing this it wants Europeans to benefit economic growth from the support services required to travel to the stars. Since its conception over thirty years ago, ESA has focused on long-term goals that are adaptable to a world that changes rapidly. The gringa wishes to highlight just a smattering of successful ESA missions:

  • ESRO-4, 1972: The ESRO-4 (European Space Research Organisation) satellite carried five experiments concentrating on Earth’s ionosphere, atmosphere, radiation belts and penetration of solar particle radiation into the magnetosphere. It was launched on 22 November 1972, on a NASA Scout rocket from the Western Test Range in California, and reentered Earth’s atmosphere after a successful mission on 15 April 1974.
  • 1977-2002 Mission Meteosat: launched multiple weather satellites
  • 1979 Mission Ariane: first launch of commercial launcher to secure Europe’s independent space access
  • 1983 Mission Spacelab: launched laboratory module for NASA’s Space Shuttle
  • 1985 Mission Giotto: intercept of Halley’s Comet and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup
  • 1990 Mission Hubble Space Telescope: ESA contribution of solar arrays and Faint Object Camera for Hubble Space Telescope
  • 1998 Mission ARD: launch of first European experimental re-entry vehicle
  • 2003 Mission Mars Express: launch of Europe’s first Red Planet orbiter
  • 2005 Mission Venus Express: launch of Europe’s first Venus orbiter
  • 2008-2012 Mission ATV: launch space truck for ISS re-supply
  • 2015 Mission Lisa Pathfinder: launch of technology to detect gravitational waves

Which brings the gringa to the current ESA Mission, “Principia”.  This six month mission is named after Isaac Newton’s book on physics, “Naturalis Principia Mathematica”. Peake’s mission objectives are to maintain the weightless research laboratory, conduct over thirty scientific experiments, and perform a spacewalk with fellow crewman Astronaut Tim Kopra, working together to replace a Solar Shunt Unit.

Preparing for the spacewalk involves breathing pure oxygen for two hours (to purge nitrogen) before embarking. Once spacesuits are donned, the astronauts enter an airlock where air pressure is gradually reduced until they can safely exit the ISS.

Upon successful completion of Mission Principia, ESA will then turn its attention and efforts to the next scheduled mission, Mission Exomars. Later on this year ESA will launch a Mars orbiter, rover and surface platform to the Red Planet. The gringa is so excited! To Mars! To Mars!

 

Source and Photo Credit:  www.esa.int

 

NASA Needs You!


Do you love anything that flies? Are you also a person who can organize and plan just about anything that, to others, seems a chaotic mess? Then NASA needs you.

Perhaps you like robots. Perhaps you like robots so much you’ve even stepped up your game and have built a few. Maybe you’ve got some big ideas and spectacular dreams but don’t know what to do with them. Well, NASA needs you.

Do you enjoy go-carts? Ever driven them? Worked on them? Built one? Did you enjoy all that tinkering? NASA needs you!

Are you a computer geek? Do you fantasize about putting all that keyboard pecking to use for the future of all humanity? I’m tellin’ you, NASA needs you!

Do you stargaze, with or without a telescope? NASA needs you!

NASA has all sorts of active challenges. These are opportunities for the general public to show the space agency just what they’ve got! Here’s your chance! You’re big break! If you have a crazy lab or workshop that you escape to where you invent all sorts of weird gadgets, you simply must read on because the gringa has got a treat prepared just for you! (Or a friend of yours, you can always pass the info along!)

Listed below are just a few of the current active challenges NASA has extended to the general public. Click on the links and explore NASA’s website if any of these challenges appeal to you!

  • “Sky For All: Air Mobility for 2035 and Beyond”. Develop ideas and technologies for the airspace of the future. Solve problems of air traffic management that will be dealing with crowded skies way beyond what we have today. Consider in your designs autonomous operations and cyber security. As a design for the future, twenty years from now it will not just be commercial airlines in the air. There will also be personal air vehicles, unmanned aircraft (drones), spacecraft and even stationary objects (such as wind turbines).

Future expectations is that air traffic management systems will be managing more than ten million aircraft in the skies. More than anything, this project is about public safety and also plans for poor weather conditions.

This challenge has a payout of $15,000 for the winning design. It is administered by HeroX and sponsored by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). Registration officially opens December 21 and submission deadline is February 26, 2016.

  • “Swarmathon” Challenge is a robotics competition scheduled for April 18-22, 2016, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There are openings for 35 on-site teams and 23 virtual teams. The goal is to create cooperative robots that can operate autonomously on Mars.
  • “Human Exploration Rover” Challenge is open for student teams. It is organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. International team deadline is January 11, 2016. U.S. team registration deadline is February 8, 2016. The competition will take place April 7-9, 2016 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama. High school age and college age students are eligible to compete. They are to design, build and drive a human-powered rover that will navigate an obstacle course that will simulate the terrain of Mars. Interested U.S. students should contact Diedra Williams, (256) 544-5721, or send her an email at a.williams@nasa.gov. International students that are interested should contact Amy McDowell, (256) 544-8411, or send her an email at amy.mcdowell@nasa.gov. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/eduation
  • “Sample Return Robot” Challenge wants innovators to build robots that can operate independently to locate, identify and collect samples, and return them to a location without the need of GPS or other navigation aids, within a specific time. This challenge is sponsored by Centennial Challenges Program. It awards $1.39 million dollars to the winning design. This is an ongoing annual challenge. Registration closes every January until this challenge is won. Level 1 Competition is scheduled for June, 2016 and Level 2 for September, 2016. For more info visit http://wp.wpi.edu/challenge and also visit nasa.gov/robot
  • “Enterprise Search Engine” Challenge seeks to improve search capabilities of its new search engine. The challenge awards $50,200 to the winning design. This specific search engine targets the day to day data gathering requirements of NASA employees. The challenge wants the design to enhance filtering, geolocation, content and imagery, among other things. This challenge closes February 10, 2016. For more information, visit topcoder.com
  • “Aurorasaurus.org” Challenge is for stargazers who enjoy the challenge of finding the aurora and helping others to see it, too. This challenge is sponsored by the National Science Foundation INSPIRE program. Awards are available and monthly badges can be earned. This is an ongoing challenge that is scheduled to be open indefinitely. There is no limit to participation. For more information, visit aurorasaurus.org.

These are not the only challenges that are going on right now. NASA is always updating their website with new challenges. Visit www.nasa.gov/solve to see what is currently happening. If any of this kind of stuff interests you, get involved. Some of these challenges, like the Aurorasaurus challenge, are great family projects. All you need is time and a willingness to sit out under the stars with your loved ones. And that is a challenge the gringa can most certainly win!

 

Source and Photo Credit: www.nasa.gov

 

 

The “Little Green Men” Star


If you happen to be a writer looking for fodder for a great science fiction story, you may want to delve into NASA reports regarding star KIC 8462852. NASA is fascinated by the strange goings on about this star and bears much resemblance to a pulsar named LGM-1 (Little Green Men). This pulsar emitted strange signals that created a stir within NASA and were ultimately determined to be a natural phenomenon. The strange events involving star KIC 8462852 have yet to solved.

Monitoring this star has been the responsibility of the Kepler mission for the past four years. In 2011, and later in 2013, two significant, and as yet unexplained, events took place. What do scientists really know? They know that the star dimmed because “something” passed in front of it large enough to block its light. The gringa says, “What the heck?”

In September scientists finally reported their theory and findings on what could possibly explain these strange events. They are blaming a “swarm” or “family” of comets. The gringa’s imagination begins whirling and thinks, “Or perhaps a fleet of starships.” Another theory suggests a cluster of planetary fragments and asteroids.

Scientists are using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to probe deeper into this mystery. To learn more, scientists, who first studied the star using observations conducted in visible light, then tried using infrared light. This is because if asteroids were involved and actually impacted the star there will be a whole bunch of infrared light surrounding the star and the dusty old bits of gravel from a pulverized asteroid should be at the perfect temperature to glow like a firefly under infrared wavelengths.  And detecting infrared light is one of things the Spitzer Space Telescope is designed to do.

This year the Spitzer took a gander at star KIC 8462852 while looking at hundreds of thousands of stars in its search for planets. One thing in particular that Spitzer was looking for was infrared emission of space dust that encircled stars. Spitzer didn’t find any of this type of dust around star KIC 8462852 so scientists think the asteroid collision theory can probably be scratched.

So, the gringa wants to know just what their thinking is now. What the scientists seem to be leaning toward is the possibility of a “swarm” of cold comets. For such a theory to work, this cluster of comets would need to have an unusually long orbit around the star. They also call this theoretical comet cluster a “family” because it would require a “pack leader” to explain some of the phenomena. The larger “big daddy” that would be in the lead would have been the one to block the star’s light in 2011. In 2013 the rest of the family would have been passing through in front of the star and blocked the light again in the strange pattern that was recorded.  This would explain why in 2015, when Spitzer observed the star again, there were no infrared signatures. The comet “swarm” was long gone and probably around on the other side of the star in its orbit progression.

The gringa must confess to thinking, “Mm hmm. Scout ship shouts, ‘The coast is clear!’ and the support ships soon set a course for the coordinates.” Oh yes, what an imagination! But please don’t judge the gringa! I just couldn’t help myself when NASA itself goes and names a pulsar something like “Little Green Men-1”.

NASA admits that what is going on with this star is strange and not understood. Their interest is extremely piqued so study and research will continue until the curiosity of these scientists are satisfied. And I ask you, is that not the greatest job ever? For every little kid that has lain on their back in the grass in the dark of the night staring up at the stars and wondering if there really are “little green men” out there, is that not just the coolest job ever to grow up and get to do!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

Photographers Named Curiosity & Opportunity


1curiosityAs the dear reader enjoys these other worldly images, please click on them to be swept away to a much larger, more panoramic view (except for one that stays tiny) of the digital Martian landscape artwork of Curiosity and Opportunity, NASA’s premier photographers.

Curiosity and Opportunity are not your average photographers. They are also  “Rover Environmental Monitoring Stations” (REMS). They rove around taking fantastic images of the Red Planet’s landscape while at the same time recording temperature and humidity data and measuring things like spikes of methane gas in the environment or evaluating the organic material in a sample of rock powder it collects with its robotic drill. Their work has discovered that today’s Mars is chemically active and ancient Mars harbored conditions that were favorable for the existence of life.

1st sampling hol mt sharp 9-24-14

When Curiosity landed on Mars, it was near Mount Sharp. There is an ancient lake bed near that mountain that is tens of millions of years old. Here’s a pic of a geological sampling hole drilled and photographed by Curiosity near Mount Sharp, September 24, 2014 (this pic stays this same size if you click on it, unlike the others that give you a much larger and more detailed image).

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Curiosity, NASA’s photographer/geologist took a “selfie” as it prepared to drill and analyze geologic samples at “Windiana”.

 

4curiosity

Curiosity may be getting a bit narcissistic with its celebrity status and is becoming quite adept at taking “selfies”. The gringa just loves this! Back in August, Curiosity prepared to drill for geologic samples from a rock named “Buckskin”.

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Opportunity snapped this image of Hinner’s Point located at the norther edge of Marathon Valley on August, 14, 2015 on day 4,108 of its Martian mission. The summit is named after Noel Hinners (1935-2014) who had an important role in training astronauts for the Apollo program and continued in different leadership roles within NASA throughout his career. Opportunity’s work in Marathon Valley discovered the presence of silica and iron.

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The gringa will close this post with her favorite Martian photo so far, this beautiful sunset. Curiosity snapped this breathtaking image near Gale Crater on April 15, 2015, approximately day 965 of its mission.

Source and Photo credit: http://www.nasa.gov