Guest blogs from 2014
On Monday, Jason Callahan published an article in The Space Review discussing the importance of aligning the goals of federally funded scientific communities with national priorities. This post highlights some of the main points of the article and suggests a possible role for The Planetary Society.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2014/11/04 10:02 CST
As winds whirled and converged to the west of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity's power dropped dramatically in October, but the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) pressed on. By month's end, the robot field geologist had completed her assignments – including capturing the first close-in shot of a comet from the surface of the Red Planet – and was roving onward through the darkness, driving the mission into the 130th month of what started out more than 10-and-a-half years ago to be a 3-month tour.
Posted by Dante Lauretta on 2014/10/31 11:52 CDT
On October 17-19, 2014, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory on the University of Arizona campus hosted the second annual Art of Planetary Science exhibition. This exhibition featured works of art inspired by the solar system, alongside works by scientists created from their scientific data.
Society Board Member John Logsdon describes how the decisions made by Richard Nixon in late 1969 and early 1970 effectively ended human exploration beyond Earth orbit for the indefinite future.
What do “light” and “dark” mean for an object like Comet 67P/C-G? Here are some details on how Rosetta's NAVCAM images are taken and displayed to make a wide range of surface features possible.
The European satellite Herschel acquired images of Comet Siding Spring before its death in 2013 — thanks to an observing proposal from an amateur astronomer!
Opportunity will become a comet flyby mission beginning in mid-October. The comet Siding Spring will zoom past Mars at a distance of about 135,000 km on October 19.
While the winds of Martian spring blew through Meridiani Planum in September, Opportunity reformatted its Flash memory then continued exploring Wdowiak Ridge on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Even though the Flash-related issues soon returned, the robot field geologist hardly seemed to notice as it sent home two spectacular panoramas, presented the scientists with a rocky Martian mystery, and delivered yet another September to remember for the mission. And that's not all.
How Richard Nixon Changed NASA
John Logsdon's new book shows how the post-Apollo era was defined by Richard Nixon
The end of the Moon race raised the question: what, if anything, was next for NASA? The decisions made by President Nixon in the aftermath of Apollo still impact the space program today.
Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) began its science activities fully on Wednesday with all five science instruments being activated. And on Tuesday, an ISRO-NASA Mars working group was formed which will "seek to identify and implement scientific and technological goals that NASA and ISRO have in common regarding Mars exploration."
NASA's immense reference collection got a makeover at its Washington, D.C. location recently. Jason Callahan gives you a glimpse behind the scenes as guests made their way into the new rooms while enjoying good conversation and, of course, Moon Pies.
There was celebration in the Mars mission control room in Bangalore on Monday following the success of the crucial four-second test firing of the Mars Orbiter Mission’s (MOM) 440-Newton liquid apogee motor. MOM will now go ahead with the nominal plan for the Mars orbit insertion on September 24 at 07:30 IST (02:00 UT / September 23 19:00 PDT).
Nagin Cox, a systems engineer and manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory currently working on the mission operations team for Curiosity, tells us about a trip she took to Pakistan as an ambassador for science and technology.
The Mars Express Flight Control Team at ESOC have been actively preparing for the flyby of comet C/2013 A1/Siding Spring on October 19. Initial estimates gave the possibility that Mars Express might be hit by 2 or 3 high-speed particles. Happily, additional observations by ground and space telescopes have shown the risk to be much lower – and perhaps even as low as zero. In today's blog post, the team explain how this (happy!) real-life, real-time development is affecting their preparations for fly-by.
The history of planetary exploration repeats itself starting with a resurgent program in the 90s and 2000s that launched a new fleet of planetary spacecraft. Like our first story, this great success rewarded by deep budget cuts.
Comet Siding Spring is going to make a very close approach to Mars in October. Any comet dust that reaches Mars has the potential to inflict significant damage on the spacecraft orbiting the planet. As it turns out, however, Mars and its orbiters are likely to see very few, if any, impacts. Why?
The first three decades of planetary exploration tell a story that sounds all-too-familiar to modern day space advocates. Growth, peak, and then collapse of hard-earned capability. This is the story of planetary science for the first half of its existence.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2014/09/03 12:19 CDT
After setting the new off-Earth rover distance record in July, Opportunity roved on in August, driving south along the eastern edge of Endeavour Crater's western rim to Wdowiak Ridge on its journey to the next big destination, Marathon Valley.
Karl Battams highlights the historic discovery, by an Air Force satellite, of a sungrazing comet.
The Rise and Fall (and Rise and Fall) of Planetary Exploration Funding
NASA has explored the planets since the 1960s, but funding has rarely been consistent
NASA has explored the solar system since the 1960s, but it has rarely been the top priority for the space agency. Jason Callahan breaks down how planetary science has been funded over the years within NASA's larger budget.
The Birth of the Modern Universe
Review of Alan Hirshfeld's "Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe"
Amir Alexander reviews Alan Hirshfeld's newest book, "Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe."
Posted by Tanya Harrison on 2014/08/28 11:17 CDT
Tanya Harrison wraps up the final week of Mars sample return analogue mission operations at the Canadian Space Agency.
The Competition for Dollars
What is NASA's main competition for funding within the federal budget? It's not what you think.
We all know NASA needs more money to achieve its goals. But competition for money is intense within the U.S. federal government, and two trends have made it harder for NASA to get what it needs.
Tanya Harrison reports on Canada's efforts to simulate a Mars sample return mission here on Earth.
Opportunity just completed its first drives upslope on its long journey toward the crest of the highest rim segment of Endeavour crater, “Cape Tribulation.” Larry Crumpler gives us an update on what to expect next from the little rover that could.
Jason Perry brings us a report on recent ground-based observations that shed new light on the most powerful of Io’s volcanic eruptions.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2014/08/08 12:13 CDT
It's official: Opportunity has traveled farther and lived longer than any other vehicle on another planet, driving to a place in history with an out-of-this-world distinction no one even imagined when the robot field geologist left Earth 11 years ago.
On October 19, 2014, Comet Siding Spring is going to have an extremely close encounter with the planet Mars. The bottom line: it seems most likely that our Martian spacecraft will be absolutely fine.
Beaming scientists all around, spectacular images on large TV screens, and the best - or at least most exciting - yet to come: such was the extraordinary scene at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, today as the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft reached its cometary destination.
Larry Crumpler updates us on the Opportunity rover, which now holds the distance record for a rover on another planet and is about to climb up its highest crater rim segment yet.
One of the hot topics of the 8th International Conference on Mars was the nature of Mars' ancient past. Abigail Fraeman reports on our updated view of whether Mars was ever warm and wet.
Posted by Dante Lauretta on 2014/07/28 02:04 CDT
The asteroid community recently gathered in Helsinki, Finland for the 12th Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors Conference. As this meeting showed, one of the hottest topics in asteroid science is the study of asteroid families.
Venera 9 and 10 landed on Venus in 1975 and sent back the first images of the planet's surface. Now, Ted Stryk brings new life to these images to show us what it would be like to stand on the Venusian surface.
Several announcements for proposed missions to Mars and on the planning for a NASA return to Europa that highlight the contrasts in planning missions for these two high priority destinations.
Talking to spacecraft is a normal occurrence at Arecibo Observatory, but sometimes the nuts and bolts are a little unconventional.
In 1979, the Voyager 1 probe took a stunning series of images on its final approach to Jupiter. Thirty-five years later, almost to the day, a group of seven Swedish amateur astronomers set out to replicate this odyssey, but with images taken with their own ground-based telescopes.
Opportunity got off to a bumpy start in June, but the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission pressed on, continuing the exploration of Murray Ridge at the western rim of Endeavour Crater.
Posted by Adam Block on 2014/07/02 10:27 CDT
Award-winning astrophotographer Adam Block showcases some of his stunning images of what happens when galaxies get a little too close to each other.
One Number, Two Budgets
The Senate and House have both agreed to increase NASA's budget to $17.9B, but they have very different ways of spending that money
The Senate and House have both agreed to increase NASA's budget to $17.9 billion, but they have very different ways of spending that money. The House bill would add additional funding to almost every category of the Planetary Science budget and would greatly strengthen NASA’s program of planetary exploration. The Senate bill would add substantial funds to the Mars program but pay for this by cuts to other portions of the planetary budget.
Posted by Dante Lauretta on 2014/06/12 06:18 CDT
This week the OSIRIS-REx team gathered at the Lockheed Martin facility in Denver to perform a “Design Reference Mission (DRM)” walkthrough. The DRM is basically the battle plan for OSIRIS-REx for accomplishing our goal of returning pristine samples from asteroid Bennu.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Analysis Group (MEPAG) recently reviewed plans by Europe, the Japanese, and NASA for future Mars exploration. The prognosis is for another exciting decade of Mars exploration.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2014/06/05 10:11 CDT
At the western rim of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity spent the month of May exploring a new clayground along Murray Ridge and the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission trundled into the 125th month of what was originally to be a short, 3-month tour.
Posted by Dante Lauretta on 2014/06/05 09:54 CDT
The construction of OSIRIS-REx has begun! Seeing the core structure being assembled demonstrated that OSIRIS-REx is no longer just a set of drawings and PowerPoint charts, it is starting to become a real spacecraft.
A few people think that when it comes to the Moon, because we’ve “been there, and done that,” there is nothing new left to discover. But that viewpoint could not be farther from the truth!
Posted by Philip Evans on 2014/05/28 11:21 CDT
The Twittersphere has been alive with speculation about a Gamma Ray Burst in the nearby galaxy M31. The problem is, there was never a claim of such an event, and it turns out that the tentative result that triggered this story was overstated.
Joseph O’Rourke summarizes a recently submitted paper on tectonic activity on Pluto after the Charon-forming impact.
NASA selected 21 Participating Scientists to join the Dawn team in 2010, prior to Dawn's arrival at Vesta in 2011. Since that time, Dawn Participating Scientists have made enormous contributions to the mission, as they do for most other NASA missions. But the status of a Participating Scientist program for Dawn at Ceres has been in doubt.
A Reluctant Dance Towards Europa
or, Why A Credible Europa Mission is Likely to Cost ~$2B
For the last two years, NASA has been the shy partner refusing to get on the dance floor, and Congress has been the aggressive partner insisting on a dance now. Recently, NASA has said maybe on another night but only if it’s a cheap date. While NASA says no for now, Congress looks to be willing to slip the band a cool $100M – on top of $150M already paid – to keep the music playing, but (to keep the metaphor going) has not been willing to fully commit itself to paying the bigger bill to rent the dance hall. The dance, of course, is the continuing attempt by Congress to have NASA commit to a mission to explore Europa, and NASA’s attempts to delay a mission well into the 2020s.
New Horizons team member Simon Porter reports on the state of the mission and Pluto system science from the recent science team meeting at the Applied Physics Laboratory.
Less than a year from its rendezvous with dwarf planet Ceres, Dawn is continuing to make excellent progress on its ambitious interplanetary adventure. But once it gets to Ceres, just how will it go into orbit? Marc Rayman explains.
Earth and its solar system compatriots all have nearly circular orbits, but many exoplanets orbit their stars on wildly eccentric paths. Is our home system strange? Or is our sense of the data skewed?
The Mars Exploration Rovers mission cruised toward the Martian spring, Opportunity is powered-up and cleaner than it has been since its first winter on Mars.
Posted by Dante Lauretta on 2014/04/30 07:49 CDT
The OSIRIS-REx Science Team gathered at the University of Arizona from April 22–24, 2014 for their sixth meeting. Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta discusses a few of the highlights.
The Cassini mission has already returned an array of images of other solar system members from Saturn orbit: Earth (and the Moon), Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. It’s time to add another world to that list!
What can a 45-year-old mission to the Moon tell us about a "meteorite" flying past a skydiver on Earth?
How did planets originate? This is a question that has puzzled scientists for centuries, but one which they have been able to tackle directly only in the last few decades, thanks to two major developments: breakthroughs in telescope technology and ever-increasing computing power.
In 2016, The Planetary Society’s LightSail program will take the technology a step further.