Posts Tagged ‘Space Missions’

Voyager 1 has “left our solar system

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Source – NASA / JPL:

You Are Here, Voyager: This artist’s concept puts huge solar system distances in perspective. The scale bar is measured in astronomical units (AU), with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance. Each AU is equal to the distance from the sun to the Earth. It took from 1977 to 2013 for Voyager 1 to reach the edge of interstellar space. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Informally, the term “solar system” is often used to mean the space out to the last planet. Scientific consensus, however, says the solar system goes out to the Oort Cloud, the source of the comets that swing by our sun on long time scales. Beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, the gravity of other stars begins to dominate that of the sun.

The inner edge of the main part of the Oort Cloud could be as close as 1,000 AU from our sun. The outer edge is estimated to be around 100,000 AU.

NASA’s Voyager 1, humankind’s most distant spacecraft, is around 125 AU. Scientists believe it entered interstellar space, or the space between stars, on Aug. 25, 2012. Much of interstellar space is actually inside our solar system. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 1 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly about 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

Alpha Centauri is currently the closest star to our solar system. But, in 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will be closer to the star AC +79 3888 than to our own sun. AC +79 3888 is actually traveling faster toward Voyager 1 than the spacecraft is traveling toward it.

The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The Voyager missions are a part of NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

What’s up for September 2013

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Source – NASA Multimedia:

What’s Up for September. A nighttime lunar launch, comet ISON is spotted again, and the moon meets up with Saturn, Venus, Mars and Jupiter.

NASA | IBEX Provides First View of the Solar System’s Tail

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Source – NASA Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission :

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission science objective is to discover the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system.
IBEX is Roughly the size of a card table, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer is the latest in NASA’s series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorers

It has long been assumed that our solar system, like a comet, has a tail. Just as any object moving through another medium – for example, a meteor traveling through Earth’s atmosphere – causes the particles to form a stream trailing off behind it. But the tail of our solar bubble, called the heliosphere, has never actually been observed, until now.

Signs Changing Fast for Voyager at Solar System Edge

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Source – NASA/JPL:

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

August 03, 2012

Two of three key signs of changes expected to occur at the boundary of interstellar space have changed faster than at any other time in the last seven years, according to new data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.

For the last seven years, Voyager 1 has been exploring the outer layer of the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. In one day, on July 28, data from Voyager 1’s cosmic ray instrument showed the level of high-energy cosmic rays originating from outside our solar system jumped by five percent. During the last half of that same day, the level of lower-energy particles originating from inside our solar system dropped by half. However, in three days, the levels had recovered to near their previous levels.

A third key sign is the direction of the magnetic field, and scientists are eagerly analyzing the data to see whether that has, indeed, changed direction. Scientists expect that all three of these signs will have changed when Voyager 1 has crossed into interstellar space. A preliminary analysis of the latest magnetic field data is expected to be available in the next month.

“These are thrilling times for the Voyager team as we try to understand the quickening pace of changes as Voyager 1 approaches the edge of interstellar space,” said Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. “We are certainly in a new region at the edge of the solar system where things are changing rapidly. But we are not yet able to say that Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space.”

The levels of high-energy cosmic ray particles have been increasing for years, but more slowly than they are now. The last jump — of five percent — took one week in May. The levels of lower-energy particles from inside our solar system have been slowly decreasing for the last two years. Scientists expect that the lower-energy particles will drop close to zero when Voyager 1 finally crosses into interstellar space.

“The increase and the decrease are sharper than we’ve seen before, but that’s also what we said about the May data,” Stone said. “The data are changing in ways that we didn’t expect, but Voyager has always surprised us with new discoveries.”

Voyager 1, which launched on Sept. 5, 1977, is 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun. Voyager 2, which launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is close behind, at 9.3 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) from the sun.

“Our two veteran Voyager spacecraft are hale and healthy as they near the 35th anniversary of their launch,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. “We know they will cross into interstellar space. It’s just a question of when.”

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager .

Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Source – NASA/JPL Mars Science Laboratory:

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity’s drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

NASA has approved the Curiosity science team’s choice to name the landing ground for the influential author, who was born 92 years ago today and died this year. The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

Today’s drive confirmed the health of Curiosity’s mobility system and produced the rover’s first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive. During a news conference today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission’s lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive.

“We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead,” Heverly said.

Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,” said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. “Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.”

The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover’s mast for investigating specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft’s landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.

The instrument’s principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reported that measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition. “These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit,” Weins said.

Curiosity began a two-year prime mission on Mars when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered the car-size rover to its landing target inside Gale Crater on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

His groundbreaking works include “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Dandelion Wine,” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of “Moby Dick,” and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree.”

JPL manages the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about Curiosity is online at:
http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Follow the mission on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

Guy Webster/D.C. Agle 818-354-6278/818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov / agle@jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Neil Armstrong: 1930-2012

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Source – NASA:

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, has died, following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He was 82.

Armstrong’s words “That is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” spoken on July 20, 1969, as he became the first person ever to step onto another planetary body, instantly became a part of history.

Those few words from the Sea of Tranquillity were the climactic fulfillment of the efforts and hopes of millions of people and the expenditure of billions of dollars. A plaque on one of the lander’s legs that concluded “We came in peace for all mankind,” further emphasized that Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were there as representatives of all humans.

Armstrong is survived by his wife, two sons, a stepson, a stepdaughter, 10 grandchildren, and a brother and sister.

“Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time,” said President Barack Obama. “Thank you, Neil, for showing us the power of one small step.”

Armstrong’s family released the following statement on Saturday:

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

The family will be providing further updates at
www.neilarmstronginfo.com .

Curiosity Sends High-Resolution Color Images from Gale Crater

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Source – NASA/JPL Mars Science Laboratory:

NASA’s Curiosity rover has shipped back to Earth high-resolution color images of its surroundings on Mars, sharpening our views of an intriguing channel, layered buttes and a layer of cobbles and pebbles embedded in a finer matrix of material. The images show a landscape closely resembling portions of the southwestern United States, adding to the impression gained from the lower-resolution thumbnail images released earlier this week.

The 79 images that went into the large mosaics were taken on Aug. 8, 2012 PDT (Aug. 9, EDT) by Curiosity’s 34-millimeter Mastcam. The black areas indicate high-resolution images not yet returned by the rover.

The full-resolution images are available at: “http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/.

Curiosity sent lower-resolution versions of these images earlier in the week. The latest versions, sent while Curiosity was undergoing a software “brain transplant” and pausing in its acquisition of new science data, are 1,200 by 1,200 pixels.

In one version of the large mosaic, the colors portrayed are unmodified from those returned by the camera. The view is what a cell phone or camcorder would record, since the Mastcam takes color pictures in the exact same manner that consumer cameras acquire color images. The second version shows the colors modified as if the scene were transported to Earth and illuminated by terrestrial sunlight. This processing, called “white balancing,” is useful for scientists to be able to recognize and distinguish rocks by their color in more familiar lighting.

Smaller mosaics of some of the areas most interesting to science team members are also available. One shows a section on the crater wall north of the landing site, where a network of valleys believed to have formed by water erosion enters Gale Crater from the outside. This is the first view scientists have had of a fluvial system – one relating to a river or stream – from the surface of Mars.

A second section of the mosaic looks south of the landing site, towards Mount Sharp, a peak that is about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) high and taller than Mt. Whitney in California. This provides an overview of the eventual geologic targets Curiosity will explore in the next two years. Close by is a rock-strewn, gravelly surface. Farther away is a dark dune field, and beyond that lie the layered buttes and mesas of the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp.

Another section of the mosaic shows an area excavated by the blast of the Mars Science Laboratory’s descent stage rockets. With the loose debris blasted away by the rockets, details of the underlying materials are clearly seen. Of particular note is a well-defined, topmost layer that contains fragments of rock embedded in a matrix of finer material.

Curiosity continues to be very healthy, with all instruments and engineering subsystems operating as planned. There are no science or instrument activities planned on Sol 5. Last night, the new flight software, which is optimized for surface operations, was tested for the first time and successfully executed all planned Sol 5 rover activities. The test demonstrated that the new software is ready to support the upcoming surface operations mission phase. After an afternoon nap, Curiosity then returned to operating on its previous flight software, as planned. The rover’s primary main computer will be permanently transitioned to the new flight software on Aug. 13.

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Veronica McGregor/Guy Webster
818-354-9452/818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
veronica.mcgregor@jpl.nasa.gov / guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

NASA Unveils Xbox Kinect ‘Mars Rover Landing’ Game (Free)

Monday, August 6th, 2012

I have not tried this yet.

Source – NASA Video Gallery:

Danielle Roosa, granddaughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, demonstrates NASA and Microsoft’s free Kinect interactive Xbox video game, ‘Mars Rover Landing.’ The new game lets players try their skill at landing the Curiosity rover on Mars. The game is available free of charge in the Xbox Live Marketplace and Kinect Central.

What it took to get curiosity to the surface of Mars…

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Touch Down…… For NASA New Rover on Mars…

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Source – NASA:

NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

“Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030’s, and today’s landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal.”

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

“The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. “My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission’s team.”

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

“Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars,” said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives.”

Confirmation of Curiosity’s successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater’s interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information on the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity And http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.

Guy Webster / D.C. Agle 818-354-6278 / 818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov / agle@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

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