In the middle of the night on June 1, 2011, millions of passengers returned safely to Earth as part of the great conclusion to space shuttle Endeavour's last flight, STS-134. Many of those millions of passengers were part of the Planetary Society's Shuttle LIFE experiment. Five different kinds of creatures from all three domains of life are part of Shuttle LIFE.
Space exploration is an international endeavor and I usually try to speak as a citizen of Earth rather than one of my nation, state, or city, but I'm going to ask you to indulge me in a little local boosterism today.
April 2011 will see MESSENGER begin the science phase of its orbital mission at Mercury, and should, I think, also see the start of Dawn's approach observations of Vesta. At Mars, Opportunity is back on the road again, rolling inexorably toward Endeavour. At Saturn, Cassini will continue its focus on Saturn and Titan science.
The Planetary Society is contributing this thing called the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) to Russia's Phobos sample return mission -- it's basically a sealed puck with dormant microbes inside that'll fly to Mars and back in the return capsule, and biologists will take a look to see what damage the little bugs suffered during their space journey.
In the past week there have been 25th anniversaries of two events in 1986, one great, one terrible: the closest approach of Voyager 2 to Uranus on January 24, and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger upon liftoff on January 28.
Mat Kaplan is at the Kennedy Space Center, 22 hours before shuttle Discovery is due to launch. Parts of the KSC are old and uncared for, while others are at the bleeding edge of space-flight technology.