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Orion atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster.   Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s Orion EFT-1 spacecraft atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida ahead of launch set for Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

At T MINUS 1 Week on this Thanksgiving Holiday, all launch processing events remain on track for the first blast off of NASA’s new Orion crew vehicle on Dec. 4, 2014 which marks the first step on the long road towards sending Humans to Mars in the 2030s. [click to continue…]

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Visualization of the radiation belts with confined charged particles (blue & yellow) and plasmapause boundary (blue-green surface). Image Credit:  NASA/Goddard

Visualization of the radiation belts with confined charged particles (blue & yellow) and plasmapause boundary (blue-green surface). Credit: NASA/Goddard

It’s a well-known fact that Earth’s ozone layer protects us from a great deal of the Sun’s ultra-violet radiation. Were it not for this protective barrier around our planet, chances are our surface would be similar to the rugged and lifeless landscape we observe on Mars.

Beyond this barrier lies another – a series of shields formed by a layer of energetic charged particles that are held in place by the Earth’s magnetic field. Known as the Van Allen radiation belts, this wall prevents the fastest, most energetic electrons from reaching Earth.

And according to new research from NASA’s Van Allen probes, it now appears that these belts may be nearly impenetrable, a finding which could have serious implications for future space exploration and research. [click to continue…]

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Observations of Comet Siding Spring Oct. 19 by the Mars Orbiter Mission. Credit: Indian Space Research Organisation

Observations of Comet Siding Spring Oct. 19 by the Mars Orbiter Mission. Credit: Indian Space Research Organisation

Feeling lucky? Events such as the Comet Siding Spring approach by Mars in October only happen about once every eight million years, according to NASA.

And after we were treated to spectacular views from the agency’s spacecraft (see Curiosity and Opportunity and MAVEN, for example), we now have fresh pictures this month from an Indian mission. Also, NASA has released science results suggesting that the chemistry of Mars’ atmosphere could be changed forever from the close encounter.

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Artist's impression of Venus Express performing aerobreaking maneuvers in the planet's atmosphere in June and July 2014. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

Artist’s impression of Venus Express performing aerobreaking maneuvers in the planet’s atmosphere in June and July 2014. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

It’s been an interesting year for Venus Express. A few months ago, controllers deliberately dipped the spacecraft into the atmosphere of the planet — for science purposes, of course. The daring maneuver was approved because the spacecraft is near the end of its mission. It’s nearly out of fuel and will fall into Venus — sometime. Likely in 2015. No one knows exactly when, however.

Until Dec. 30, European Space Agency operators are going to boost the spacecraft’s orbit to try to get a little more productivity out of it. After that, all depends on what gas is left in the tank.

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How Do Astronauts Celebrate Thanksgiving On The Space Station?

As Americans get ready for turkey feasts and other Thanksgiving goodies today, let’s take a few moments to think about the crew of six people on board the International Space Station. Two Americans, a European and three Russians are working there now and will be taking most of today (Nov. 26) off for the holiday.

What the heck will they eat? The NASA interview above provides some clues, including a surprise about leftovers. More details below the jump.

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