Spacecraft 3D: NASA’s Augmented Reality Smartphone App
avatar

NASA has an app for smartphones that lets you learn about and interact with several different spacecraft that explore our solar system, study the Earth, and observe the cosmos. You can hold a virtual Mars rover in the palm of your hand, or watch as a rocket’s boosters fall away, and its fairing separate! Seeing the Curiosity rover popup in my hand, and being able to rotate it, zoom, and deploy its mast – using my Android – just blew me away! I think students would LOVE this! If you have an iOS/Android phone,download Spacecraft 3D now and experience #AugmentedReality! https://t.co/gPQPe62z6k pic.twitter.com/8RuPfOZktS — : NASA_Eyes (@nasa_eyes) December 8, 2016 A photo target must be used for the app to generate the spacecraft model; the photo can be small enough to fit in your hand, or printed larger for use on a tabletop. The app can email you a link to the AR target (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/apps/images/3dtarget.pdf) which includes some cool Mars pics … Continue reading

Space the final Frontier – World Space Week 2016
avatar

“Space: the final frontier. ” The opening line of the famous quote from Star Trek, the missions aim ” to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before. ” During Spaceweek 2016 I had the opportunity to take 360 children and their teachers on an exploration of moons in our solar system and the very topical planet Mars . Through listening and drawing they experienced a small awakening to the robotic images which are unveiling the beauty of other worlds, increasing our understanding with every single pixel. My workshop Deadly Moons now includes the stunning New Horizons image of Charon Pluto’s largest moon. The children loved the Star Wars names on its craters . They enjoyed linking Charon’s features to familiar books and movies. The workshop also showcases the incredable images of Saturn’s moons taken by the Cassini Spacecraft. In order to make my workshop Marvellous Mars extra interesting for the groups I made a model of Mars … Continue reading

NASA Tests Solid Rocket Boosters for its Space Launch System
avatar

NASA tested a Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) for the world’s most powerful rocket: the Space Launch System (SLS) on the morning of June 28, 2016. This was the second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah, and the last full-scale test of the SRB before the first uncrewed SLS test flight in 2018. This flight will include NASA’s Orion spacecraft, and will mark a key milestone in NASA’s future plans for operations beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and voyages and Mars The booster was tested at 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the low end of its accepted propellant temperature range. After ignition, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The test lasted for two-minutes, and provided NASA with data on 82 qualification objectives needed for flight certification. Solid Rocket Booster Details Length: 177 feet Diameter: 12 feet Weight: 1.6 million pounds each Propellant: polybutadiene acrylonitrile (PBAN) Thrust: 3.6 million pounds each Operational time: 126 seconds SLS Homepage: … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Gift of Tongues
avatar

This column first ran in The Tablet in May, 2012 “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” We heard that reading a week ago, celebrating the feast of the Ascension. At least, I think that’s what I heard; [in 2012], it was in Japanese, in the small cathedral in Niigata, during an international meeting on asteroids, comets, and meteors. Why do we astronomers stand about, looking at the sky? We heard a number of reasons. One scientist described Nasa’s ambitions to send astronauts to asteroids passing near the Earth. Their expressed reasons involve science (where do asteroids, and we, come from?); resources (commercial efforts to exploit asteroids); and planetary safety (how do we nudge an asteroid out of a collision path with Earth?). The unspoken motivation is political: astronauts at an asteroid is the kind of project that is both exciting and achievable, a reason for voters to support NASA’s budget. We know right now … Continue reading

Across the Universe: The Still Voice in the Chaos
avatar

This column first appeared in The Tablet in January, 2010. During the Apollo 17 walk on the Moon, the astronauts collected a rock for the specific purpose of providing samples to pass out to nations around the world. About 200 Apollo 17 samples were distributed in this way. But Robert Pearlman, who runs the space-news website collectspace.com, wrote in 2010 that NASA can now account for only 61 of them. (The one sent to the Vatican resides in our display case at the Vatican Observatory.) I’m not surprised; keeping track of samples is harder than it looks. The humor of the “Night at the Museum” movies comes from the conceit that the specimens in a museum’s display cases are alive, that they get up and move around during the night. Every collector knows that feeling. It’s surprisingly hard to keep our collections in order. One of the little breakthroughs in my own research was finding that a simple measurement of a … Continue reading

NASA Announces Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO)
avatar

NASA has enacted a formal asteroid detection, tracking, and impact response program. = Finally! = This ought to make the folks at AsteroidDay ecstatic; I think I injured myself doing the dance-of-joy! After the Chelyabinsk impact event, I created a lecture about asteroids – what they are, how they formed, famous impact events, and the near total lack of any formal Planetary Defense plans in place. I was a pest to Br. Guy when I was writing this lecture – I asked him so many questions… I got so much good information! The year after Chelyabinsk saw an increase in discussions about asteroids – with testimony given to Congress, at astronomical conferences, multiple online discussions, and an interview with Dr. Ed Lu of the B612 Foundation on 60 Minutes. This was great to see happening, and I had to update my asteroids lecture continuously, but there still wasn’t anyone saying “We acknowledge asteroid impacts are a threat, and we’re going … Continue reading

Travelogue: Orion Spacecraft ESA European Service Module Media Event at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station
avatar

Launches and the conditions in space put incredible stresses on spacecraft components. Before a spacecraft takes flight, it must go through an exhaustive series of testing procedures. Many of those tests are done at Ohio’s NASA Glenn Research Center – Plum Brook Station; stresses akin to those experienced by spacecraft are simulated at this facility. I was fortunate enough to be “media guest” at the Nov. 30th ESA Service Module event – which was broadcast on NASA TV. Below is a NASA press release on the testing that will be done on the ESA European Service Module. After, I’ll share photos of the facility, and comments on discussions I had with NASA officials. NASA is about to begin testing the heart of Orion’s power systems at the world’s largest, most powerful space environment simulation facility early next year. Test engineers at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Space Power Facility (SPF) in Sandusky, Ohio, are preparing to put a full-size test version … Continue reading

NASA Orders SpaceX Commercial Crew Mission to the International Space Station
avatar

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil. This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May. “It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.” Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time … Continue reading

Bright Mountains and Craters on Ceres
avatar

NASA’s Dawn mission, is mapping dwarf planet Ceres from its high altitude mapping orbit (HAMO), and is returning more detailed images of the surface of this enigmatic world in the heart of the main asteroid belt. This 6 km (4 mile) tall conical mountain the northern hemisphere of Ceres has a bright, sharply defined perimeter, with almost no debris accumulated at the base. This image shows a portion of the northern hemisphere of Ceres. Note the crater with bright rim walls, and a splash pattern. I find the double-crater near the center-top of this image particularly interesting – there is little or no crater rim overlap, so it may have been a double-impact, and there appears to be a central peak in the center of the figure 8 structure. Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres Rotating Dawn Images of Ceres now Better Than the Hubble Space Telescope Dawn Inches Ever Closer … Continue reading

Dawn Mission Enters High Altitude Mapping Orbit Over Ceres
avatar

NASA’s DAWN mission has entered into its High Altitude Mapping Orbit over Ceres; in addition to acquiring even higher resolution images of the dwarf planets cratered surface, Dawn will make use its color filters to gather more data about the nature of its surface, and its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will collect spectra to help determine Ceres’ surface composition, temperature, and other properties. The DAWN spacecraft will remain in this orbit until the end of October, when it will engage its ion engine again, and begin spiraling down towards its Low Altitude Mapping Orbit – which it should achieve in mid-December. I’ve completed my spiral descent to my new orbit, #HAMO! Avg altitude 915 mi (1470 km) above #Ceres. I expect to start mapping next week — NASA’s Dawn Mission (@NASA_Dawn) August 13, 2015 Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres Rotating Dawn Images of Ceres now Better Than the Hubble … Continue reading

Send Your Name to Mars on InSight
avatar

Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASA’s journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s InSight Mars lander, scheduled to launch next year. “Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you’re showing that you’re part of that journey and the future of space exploration.” Submissions will be accepted until Sept. 8. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, go to: http://go.usa.gov/3Aj3G The fly-your-name opportunity comes with “frequent-flier” points to reflect an individual’s personal participation in NASA’s journey to Mars, which will span multiple missions and multiple decades. The InSight mission offers the second such opportunity for space exploration fans to collect points by flying their names aboard a NASA mission, with more … Continue reading

NASA to Test Experimental Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator
avatar

Looking every bit like a stereotypical flying saucer, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) would be used to safely decelerate larger and heavier payloads, traveling at supersonic speeds, in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Full-scale parachutes and drag devices will be tested high in Earth’s stratosphere – and you get to watch it streaming on the Internet! Testing will be continue through 2016. From the JPL article: Update, 7:45 p.m. EDT, June 2: Mission managers have postponed Wednesday’s scheduled launch of a high-altitude balloon carrying NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle because of unfavorable conditions. The next launch attempt is Thursday, June 4, no earlier than 1:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 a.m. HST). Latest LDSD blog update. Since Orville Wright first took to the skies over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, experimental flight tests have been a relatively singular affair, with aviators taking their untried machines into the sky in search of good data and a great hangar story. But nowadays, … Continue reading