Monday, December 12, 2016

Geminids to provide year's 'best meteor shower' Wednesday

Geminids will peak on Dec. 13 and 14. (NASA)
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The annual Geminid meteor shower will dazzle stargazers across the United States this week with the peek of the biggest celestial light show featuring nearly 100 shooting stars per hour.

A comet known as 3200 Phaethon will swing across Earth's orbit, it's tail made up of space rocks creating a multitude of meteors across the midnight sky. Once thought to be an asteroid due to its lack of an icy shell, astronomers have learned Phaethon's ice melted due to its several close trips around our Sun.

"The Geminids is usually one of the best meteor showers of the year," said Chief Astronomer David Dundee of the Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta on Monday. "They are usually bright meteors, and the Moon will not interfere this year either."

Observers will forgo the need of a telescope instead placing a blanket or lawn chair in an open area empty of any light pollution. Dundee noted that the celestial event may reach up to of 100 meteors per hour as observers look to the east from around midnight to dawn on Wednesday.

"It usually produces at least 50 meteors per hour, last year we had over 120 per hour," Dundee added. "Fortunately, the Moon will be a waxing crescent during this event; thus, it will set early so its light will not interfere with observations of fainter meteors."

A network of ground cameras sponsored by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office have been busy capturing the Geminids during December providing astronomers key images of the streaking fireballs. The black and white images can detail a meteor's direction of travel, and give astronomers a better count of just how many hit our atmosphere per hour. Six of the fifteen cameras are located in the southeast, including one a top Tellus; four in the Ohio-Pennsylvania region, and five in New Mexico and Arizona.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

NASA astronaut and American legend John Glenn dies at 95

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Col. John H. Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth and long time senator from Ohio, died on Thursday at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He was 95.
John Glenn last week in Washington, D.C. (NASA)

On February 20, 1962, John Herschel Glenn, Jr. became a national treasure as he lifted-off inside his cramped Mercury spacecraft known as Friendship 7 to begin America's first three orbits of manned spaceflight.

“The Ohio State University community deeply mourns the loss of John Glenn, Ohio’s consummate public servant and a true American hero," said Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake. "He leaves an undiminished legacy as one of the great people of our time."

A Marine fighter pilot during World War II, Glenn began his aviation career in 1943 and flew nearly sixty combat flights over the southern Pacific waters. He also served during the Korean War piloting ninety combat flights in both a F9F Panther and a F-86 Sabre jet.

Later at age 77, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space as "six astronauts and one American legend" launched aboard space shuttle Discovery in October 1998. The senior astronaut had remained active in promoting America's space future through 2016, including speaking out on the "premature" cancellation of the shuttle program.

Born in Cambridge, Ohio on July 18, 1921, Glenn later attended Muskingum College earning a Bachelor of Science degree. He is survived by his childhood sweetheart, Anna M. (nee Castor). The couple were married for seventy-three years, resulting in two children and two grandchildren.

Friday, June 24, 2016

MUOS 5 launches to increase secure military mobile communications

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A military satellite for the U.S. Navy designed to increase mobile communications for the military world wide was successfully placed into Earth orbit on Friday following its launch from America's Space Coast.

The fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft will serve as a spare and complete the high quality mobile communications constellation used by troops on the move around the globe. Acting as a massive cell tower in space, the military is using MUOS to connect with isolated troops unavailable by other other transmittable means.

"MUOS 5 is identical to (past) MUOS, and keeping a spare is all part in ensuring that the MUOS capabilty we are delivering will be around for the next 10-plus years," said Commander Peter Sheehy of U.S. Navy Communications Satellite Program Office minutes following the launch. "Launches like what we experienced today require month and months of preparation and that's something we don't want to wait for, and that's why we keep an on-orbit spare."

Lift-off of MUOS 5 occurred on time at 10:30 a.m. EDT, on June 24, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As the countdown reached zero, the launch pad's ground umbilical and hold down posts broke free allowing the powerful United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket to carry the spacecraft toward orbit.

Powered by five solid fuel boosters and a liquid fuel main engine, the Atlas 5 thundered into the blue skies and eastward out over the Atlantic waters. Nearly two minutes later, the nearly 200-foot rocket dropped its spent boosters while its RD-180 core engine continued to burn.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex announces new summer highlights

Exploring space with new simulators and witnessing the thundering launch of a rocket are a few of this summer's highlights designed to educate and excite the public as NASA prepares for interplanetary travel, the Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex announced on Sunday.

Summer plans are in full swing as families look toward America's Space Coast for the excitement of the beaches, and the educational interest of the Kennedy Space Center. The next generation of space explorers are leaving their princess dresses and superhero outfits behind for flight suits and NASA caps to get an up close presence with the strong core STEM (Science, Technology, engineering and Math) values taught in school.

The warm space coast weather will give visitors chills of excitement as no less than eight major rocket launches are planned between June 1 and Labor Day weekend. The first rocket poised to lift-off is the massive Delta IV-Heavy on June 4 with a military payload on board. Space center visitors will be updated on launch times and given suggested locations to view each flight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

SpaceX Dragon to ferry inflatable module, experiments to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A first of its kind expandable space habitat module and several tons of science equipment are poised to lift-off a top a SpaceX Falcon rocket on April 8 on a two-day voyage to resupply the International Space Station, NASA confirmed during a news conference on Monday.

NASA officials said the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has set next Friday for the launch of its Falcon 9 at 4:43 p.m. EDT, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The commercial company's Dragon supply ship will arrive on orbit nearly ten minutes later, deploy its solar arrays, and perform a series of thruster burns as the spacecraft chases down its port-of-call.

"This is a launch that we've been waiting for quite sometime because it's really important to our overall ISS Research Program," chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Dr. Julie Robinson on Monday. "It has about 2000 kg of research equipment and supplies. The big driver on that amount of mass is that we have about 1400 kg of the BEAM module which will be tested on ISS -- that's the heavy one."

This 23rd flight of a Falcon 9 will mark the company's eighth operational Dragon launch under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. The launch will also mark the first flight of a Dragon supply craft since the June 2015 explosion of a Falcon 9 which destroyed its Dragon off America's Space Coast.

Two days following launch, Dragon will be grappled by the station's 57-foot robotic arm at about 7:00 a.m., and slowly maneuvered over to its docking port on the space facing side of the Tranquility module. Dragon will then dock to the orbital outpost three hours later.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Astronaut poised to break endurance record arrives at space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA astronaut destined to become the U.S. record holder for time spent in space and two cosmonauts lifted off from Kazakhstan on Saturday and successfully arrived at their new home aboard the International Space Station.

American Jeff Williams and Russians Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin rode the golden flame of a Soyuz rocket into the black skies above the Baikonur Cosmodrome to begin a nearly six hour voyage on the ocean of space to the orbiting laboratory. Launch occurred on time at 5:26:38 p.m. EDT, on Friday (3:26 a.m. local on March 19) as the space station soared 252 miles above Kazakhstan.

As the rocket climbed toward orbit, its spent core booster separated to allow the second stage to carry the crew higher. "Everything's fine on board. We're feeling fine," the crew radioed mission control in Moscow midway through the dynamic launch.

Ten minutes after lift-off the Soyuz was alone in its planned orbit, its solar arrays and antenna deployed. The crew then began it's four orbit trip to the station.

After a series of course correction burns to chase down the football field-size complex, the Russian Soyuz TMA-20M docked automatically to the outpost without issue at 11:09:55 p.m. The last Soyuz-crew docking attempt three months ago was hampered by a failed docking radar which forced the craft's pilot to switch to manual and dock ten minutes late.

That space crew of American Tim Kopra, Briton Tim Peake and Russian Yuri Malenchenko will join the newly arrived crew. Together, the crew of six will prepare for a busy next few weeks of science experiments, and the arrival of two resupply crafts.

This mission will mark a record third long duration flight by an astronaut as Williams prepares to set another long duration record by an American. "Williams will become the new American record holder for cumulative days in space at 534 surpassing commander Scott Kelly, who wrapped up his one-year mission on March 1," NASA spokesperson Mark Garcia said on Friday. Garcia added that Williams will become the new space station commander on June 4.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Scott Kelly prepares for homecoming after year in space

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly reflected on his past year living aboard the International Space Station on Thursday as he and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko prepare to wrap up their historic space flight next week.

Kelly and Kornienko are packing up their Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft for their journey back to Earth on Tuesday (EST), and preparing their bodies and their minds for the adjustment back to gravity. No American before has spent one year in space, and Kelly's mission will offer NASA the answers for how humans will survive during a long duration mission to Mars.

During a final news conference from inside the orbiting laboratory 255 miles above, Kelly provided inside details of his experiences and insight into his health. Kelly, who will handover his command of the space station to American Tim Kopra on Monday, said on Thursday that flying in space is a privilege in a harsh environment.

"The space station here is a magical place it's a incredible science facility we have... I have been here nearly a year and you don't feel perfectly normal (here)," Kelly began as he spoke inside the Destiny Laboratory module. "It's not exactly uncomfortable but it's a harsh environment, for instance having no running water and then the fact that everything floats makes your daily life just difficult."

With that said, the Orange, N.J. native stated that "I could go another 100 days. I could go another year if he had to -- if it made sense -- however I look forward to getting home next week," Kelly said. He adds that he feels his flight is "another of many stepping stones to us landing on Mars sometime in our future."

Monday, February 15, 2016

ASTRO-H space observatory poised for launch from Japan

An international space observatory designed to perform astronomical observations of the universe using several advanced X-ray telescopes is poised to lift-off on Wednesday from its seaside launch site near southern Japan.

The ASTRO-H observatory will investigate the make up of the universe, including long standing questions, 'how do black holes develop and how are galaxy clusters created?'. The spacecraft will will look deep into space to learn the evolution and structure of the universe.

Designed and built by an international collaboration led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, over 70 institutions contributed to the ASTRO-H observatory in the U.S., Canada and Europe. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the European Space Agency will collaborate by using a few of the four ASTRO-H x-ray instruments.

"ASTRO-H is capable of observing X-ray sources, like galaxy clusters and neutron stars, more than 10 times fainter than its predecessor, Suzaku, which operated (until) 2015," NASA spokesperson Francis Reddy said. "To achieve this, ASTRO-H uses four co-aligned focusing X-ray telescopes and a suite of cutting-edge instruments that provide simultaneous coverage across the observatory's entire energy range."

The X-ray images from ASTRO-H are expected to be more dynamic than the visible light photographs from past space based observatories. JAXA scientists have confirmed that one X-ray photon has between 10,000 to 100,000 times the energy of optical photons.

"We see X-rays from sources throughout the universe, wherever the particles in matter reach sufficiently high energies," Goddard's X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory chief and ASTRO-H project scientist Robert Petre said. "These energies arise in a variety of settings including stellar explosions, extreme magnetic fields or strong gravity; and X-rays let us probe aspects of these phenomena that are inaccessible by instruments observing at other wavelengths."

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Curiosity rover records stunning selfie among Martian dunes

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's Curiosity rover recorded a self portrait recently as it paused from scooping sand samples near an active dune on the Red Planet for an astronomical selfie, the space agency announced on Friday.

The Mars Hand Lens Imager was extended from the end of Curiosity's robotic arm and collected 57 photographs on January 19 as the rover sat poised on Namib Dune. Project engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena then arranged the images to form an impressive true image of the rover.

The selfie mosaic was taken on Sol 1228, Curiosity's 1228 day on Mars, highlights the first complete photograph of the car size rover since it arrived in 2012. Mission scientists paused during the scoop series for an impromptu series of images.

"The mission's current work is the first close-up study of active sand dunes anywhere other than Earth," NASA JPL spokesperson Guy Webster explained. "Investigation of the dunes is providing information about how wind moves and sorts sand particles in conditions with much less atmosphere and less gravity than on Earth."

January's scoop samples are the first taken by the Martian science laboratory since November 2012 as NASA aims to study the different size sand grains. The scooped samples were feed into a sieve which allowed only particles the size of .0006 of an inch to move into an inlet for further examination.

"It was pretty challenging to drive into the sloping sand and then turn on the sand into the position that was the best to study the dunes," said JPL's Curiosity mission planner Michael McHenry on Friday. McHenry added the rover's wheel was first checked the area before making its first scoop on Jan. 14, "The scuff helped give us confidence we have enough sand where we're scooping that the path of the scoop won't hit the ground under the sand."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Challenger's final flight begins enduring mission of inspiration

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- As the space shuttle Challenger rose into the cold blue sky over America's Space Coast, excitement for the first teacher to travel into space turned to stunned disbelief as the vehicle suddenly broke apart - a crew lost - in an event which changed both NASA and the nation thirty years ago on Thursday.

The frigid cold weather created a launch pad coated in thick ice which wrapped itself around the fully fueled space shuttle on the morning of January 28, 1986. Challenger's tenth crew, led by commander Francis Dick Scobee, included NASA's Teacher in Space representative, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, on a very publicized mission flying the first average citizen into space.

America's first "teachernaut" planned to conduct two live classroom sessions, including "The Ultimate Field Trip", a tour through the orbiter; and a lesson on why people explore and work in space from 176 miles above. The broadcasts were to be shown in classrooms around the planet on NASA-Select TV. Christa's excitement and enthusiasm made her a popular role model both in the public school systems and with the media.

This shuttle stack was the heaviest to launch weighing 4.53 million pounds, and carrying the second massive Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS). The SPARTAN satellite, designed to be placed over the side of the shuttle for a free flight close study of the popular visit by Haley's Comet, was to be deployed on day three of the mission and retrieved twenty orbits later.

The freezing temperatures associated with a cold front which moved over the Kennedy Space Center the evening before provided for much discussion inside the space agency. Many engineers were convinced that the below freezing temperatures could harm the spacecraft in unproven ways.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Review: 'Minerals of Georgia' provides indepth geological showcase

ATLANTA -- A new book designed to showcase Georgia's geological beauty while educating amateur geologists on the scientific makeup and locations of the minerals found in the state was released on Thursday during a public event at the Tellus Science Museum.

Minerals of Georgia (University of Georgia Press) by Dr. Robert B. Cook and Julian C. Gray, and edited by Jose Santamaria, accounts for every type of rock, mineral and gem discovered in the Peach State and places them on display using high definition photography. The beautiful imagery spotlights the minerals detailed information and their known locations.

Dr. Cook is a professor emeritus of the Department of Geology and Geography at Auburn University. Gray is executive director of the Rice Northwestern Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, Oregon and a former curator at Tellus. Santamaria is Tellus' executive director and penned an informative Forward for this book.

"The three of us got the mineral collecting bug early when we were kids," Santamaria said as he, Cook and Gray sat down for a candid discussion on Thursday. "We have pursued that interest in various manners, but I think it circles back to this book - a passion of love and interest. Getting it done and getting it into peoples hands was our goal."

This updated project to Dr. Cook's original book of the same name published in 1978 digs deeper into new mineral discoveries; includes a strong scientific narrative of each classification; and adds photographs not included in the first edition. Cook offers this book as his legacy, while Santamaria refers to both editions as "the bible of Georgia mineralogy to mineral collectors."

Friday, January 15, 2016

SpaceX Falcon to launch international ocean monitoring spacecraft Sunday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An advanced ocean monitoring spacecraft designed to gather information on the rise and fall of the planet's oceans including the development of powerful cyclones is scheduled to lift-off on Sunday from central California.

A Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket is poised to place the Jason 3 into a polar orbit on January 17 at the opening of a 30-second window at 10:42:18 a.m. PST, from Vandenberg, AFB. The special orbit will allow the spacecraft to scan nearly 90 percent of the world's water surfaces for nearly five years.

Rain showers associated with the weather phenomena El Nino delayed work by engineers to prepare the Falcon for flight last week. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted the commercial company conducted a successful static test firing of the Falcon's main engines on Monday evening passing that final hurdle before launch.

Jason 3 will also investigate and understand the effects of El Nino and La Nina on the Earth's oceans in order to better forecast environmental conditions early. NOAA officials note the January rise of Hurricane Alex in the northern Atlantic is prime example of why Jason is being placed in space.

"Data from Jason satellites have been invaluable to the study of El Nino and its impacts for the past two decades," said NASA's Jason project scientist Josh Willis on Wednesday. "With the launch of Jason 3, our efforts to better monitor and understand the widespread effects of El Nino around the world will continue for years to come."

The spacecraft was flown from France to its launch site last June in preparation for the start of the international satellite mission on August 8. Partnership of the delayed mission includes NASA, the French Space Agency and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

U.S., British astronauts to perform urgent spacewalk Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake will venture outside the International Space Station on Friday to replace a failed voltage regulator and perform several tasks to prepare the outpost for the arrival of two new docking ports.

Peake will become the first Briton to walk in space as the two Tims perform NASA's 35th spacewalk based from the station's airlock. The nearly seven hour spacewalk is expected to begin at 7:55 a.m. EST.

Friday's planned spacewalk will be the 192nd in support of maintenance and repairs to the outpost since construction began in 1998. Kopra, who will be making his second walk in space in four weeks, will be identified as EV1 and sporting red stripes on his space suit, while Peake will be Extra Vehicular 2.

"I am thrilled at this opportunity for a spacewalk," Peake said from 255 miles above the planet. "Right now we are focusing on preparing the tools, equipment and procedures. If the spacewalk is successful, this will restore the International Space Station to 100% of its operational capability."

Space station commander Scott Kelly will assist the spacewalkers in donning and later removing their bulky suits. Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are currently nine months into a historic one year mission in space, their Soyuz craft set to carry them home in March.

Friday, December 18, 2015

NASA Pluto flyby honored with USPS stamp series

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday previewed a new series of 2016 space-themed stamp sets honoring both the planetary discoveries made by NASA and a stand alone set honoring the exciting views of the dwarf planet Pluto.

One of the space milestones of 2015 was the arrival and flyby of Pluto by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. New Horizons captured thousands of colorful photographs of the farthest planet from the Sun, a place yet unseen by human eyes until last July.

A four stamp sheet will feature two of the color enhanced view of Pluto highlighted by the popular heart shaped region named Tombaugh Regio. The second stamp is an artist's depiction of the spacecraft soaring through space. The Pluto stamps will be available in June.

“The New Horizons project is proud to have such an important honor from the U.S. Postal Service,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said on Wednesday. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see these new stamps join others commemorating first explorations of the planets.”

The Pluto stamps will arrive 25 years after the Postal Service released the first Pluto stamp which featured an artist's rendition of the unseen planet. The 29-cent stamp was titled "Pluto Not Yet Explored". In 2006, NASA launched that stamp aboard New Horizons and today that stamp

Astronauts to perform urgent spacewalk repair Monday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Two NASA astronauts will perform an unscheduled spacewalk next week to help free a stuck cargo transport rail car outside the International Space Station allowing an arriving cargo ship to dock two days later.

Station commander Scott Kelly and flight engineer Tim Kopra will go outside the orbiting laboratory on Monday to release the Mobile Transporter rail car's brake handle which locked during the car's relocation on Wednesday. The rail car became stuck just four inches from its destined work site as flight controllers remotely moved the vehicle along the station's truss located above the U.S. Destiny Laboratory.

"The ISS Mission Management Team met Friday morning and is targeting Monday for the spacewalk, but will meet again in a readiness review Sunday morning," NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries said. "Managers could elect to press ahead for Monday, or take an extra day and conduct the spacewalk Tuesday."

Humphries explained the relocation work is in support of Wednesday's arrival of the newly upgraded Russian Progress MS resupply craft set to Monday and later dock to the Pirs docking module at 5:31 a.m. EST. The mobile transporter has to be locked down and electrically connected prior to the arrival of Progress.

"We can get there in relatively short order and do the task, but while we are going out the hatch we are going to look and see if there is anything in that general area we can go and work on," Space Station operations manager Kenny Todd said of the possibility of additional work for the spacewalking duo. "All that said, our primary objective is to go out and get this mobile transporter secured at the site. The direction we've given the (planning) team is to look at those things that are out there in that general area we might be able to do."

 
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