On February 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover will reach Mars, make a harrowing descent through the planet’s atmosphere, and put down in the Jezero Crater. Like it’s sister-rover, Curiosity, this robotic explorer will explore a region that once supported flowing water and poke around with an advanced suite of scientific instruments for signs of microscopic life that may have existed there billions of years ago.
This is no small feat, which is why the rover will be bringing along its Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL). This precision instrument is located at the end of its 2-meter (7 foot) long arm and is powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The PIXL will play a pivotal role in Perseverance‘s mission, using a coring drill to obtain samples that will be cached on the surface that will be returned to Earth by a future mission.
During the Apollo Era, astronauts conducted vital science operations on the Moon, which included bringing samples of lunar rocks back to Earth for study. Thanks to the examination of these rocks, scientists were able to learn a great deal about the formation and evolution of the Moon and even found evidence of lunar water. In the coming years, when NASA sends astronauts back as part of Project Artemis, more samples will be returned.
Recently, NASA put out the call for science white papers to help them design a framework for the kind of science operations the Artemis astronauts will conduct. According to one proposal, the Artemis astronauts should not only bring back samples of lunar regolith or rocks but lunar ice as well. By examining them here on Earth, scientists may finally be able to resolve the mystery of where the Moon’s water came from.
Continue reading “Artemis Missions Should Bring Ice Home From the Moon Too”
When it launches next year, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be the largest, most complex, and most sophisticated observatory ever sent into space. Because of this, the mission has been delayed multiple times as ground crews were forced to put the telescope through a lengthy series of additional tests. All of these are to make sure that the JWST will survive and function in the vacuum and extreme temperature environment of space.
Recently, the testing teams conducted the critical “Ground Segment Test,” where the fully-assembled observatory was powered up and to see how it would respond to commands in space. These commands were issued from its Mission Operations Center at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. Having passed this latest milestone, the JWST is now on track for its scheduled launch next year in October.
Continue reading “James Webb is Working Perfectly! On the Ground. Next Trick: Doing it From Space”
If you’re a fan of science fiction, chances are you encountered a few franchises where humanity has spread throughout the known Universe. The ships that allow them to do this, maybe they use a warp drive, maybe they “fold space,” maybe have a faster-than-light (FTL) or “jump” drive. It’s a cool idea, the thought of “going interstellar!” Unfortunately, the immutable laws of physics tell us that this is simply not possible.
However, the physics that govern our Universe do allow for travel that is close to the speed of light, even though getting to that speed would require a tremendous amount of energy. Those same laws, however, also tell us that near-light-speed travel comes with all sorts of challenges. Luckily for all of us, NASA addresses these in a recently-released animed video that covers all the basics of interstellar travel!
Continue reading “NASA’s New Video Shows You What it’s Like Traveling Close to the Speed of Light”
On May 30th, SpaceX and NASA made history when a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying two astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley) launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and rendezvoused with the International Space Station (ISS). With this one flight, NASA and SpaceX demonstrated that the US once again has domestic launch capability, something they have not enjoyed since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
In one week, Sunday, August 2nd, Robert and Douglas will be returning to Earth using the same Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavour) that took them to the ISS. This is the most crucial part of Demo-2 flight, where the spacecraft is tasked with bringing the astronauts home, safe and sound. As you can imagine, there are a lot of people who are understandably nervous, not the least of which is SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
Continue reading “Astronauts Come Back to Earth on August 2nd, Completing the Full Crew Dragon Test”
In 1996, NASA began working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a next-generation infrared observatory that would be a total game-changer. And next year, after multiple delays, cost overruns, and exhaustive testing, the observatory will finally take to space. Despite an additional delay forced by the outbreak of COVID-19, NASA recently announced that it is targeting Oct. 31st, 2021, as the launch date.
In other good news, teams at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center took advantage of the fact that the JWST is now fully-assembled to conduct the highly-critical software and electrical analysis known as the Comprehensive Systems Test (CST). This was the first time that a full systems-evaluation was conducted on the fully-assembled vehicle, and will help ensure that the JWST will function in space when the time comes!
Continue reading “James Webb Completes a Comprehensive Systems Test for the First Time”
In May of 2020, NASA made the decision to give the next-generation Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST) a proper name. Henceforth, it would be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (or Roman Space Telescope) in honor of NASA’s first Chief Astronomer and a woman’s who tireless work in the field of STEMs research led to the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope – hence her nickname, the “mother of Hubble”).
However, in recent months, the budget environment has not been too favorable to the Roman Space Telescope (RST), as well as education-related programs. But thanks to a recent bill considered by the House Appropriations Commitee, funding has been restored to five NASA science missions and projects – including the RST – that the administration’s budget proposal sought to cancel for the coming year.
Continue reading “Roman Space Telescope and SOFIA Get Their Funding Restored… Again”
This summer – between July 30th and August 15th – NASA’s Perseverance rover will begin its long journey for Mars. Once it arrives (by February of 2021), it will join its sister mission, the Curiosity rover, and a slew of other robotic landers and orbiters that are busy characterizing the atmosphere and surface of the Red Planet. Ultimately, the goal of Perseverance is to determine if Mars once supported life (and maybe still does!)
Just last week (July 7th), the Perseverance rover and all the other elements of the Mars 2020 spacecraft were loaded aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that will send it on its way. This included the aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage, which will be responsible for transporting the Perseverance rover during its six-month journey to Mars and depositing it on the surface.
Continue reading “Perseverance Has Been Put Inside its Atlas V Rocket”
Before this decade is out, NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era and establish a sustainable program of lunar exploration. In order to ensure that future lunar missions are cost-effective and not entirely dependent on Earth for resupply, NASA is looking for ways to leverage lunar resources – everything from water ice to oxygen-rich regolith – to meet their astronauts’ needs.
This process, known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), is a major part of NASA’s plans to explore the Moon in the coming years, as well their long-term plans to send astronauts to Mars. To help them meet this challenge, NASA recently selected 10 proposals through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program to developed ISRU-related technologies.
Continue reading “NASA Chooses 10 Projects that Will Help it Live Off the Land… on the Moon”
NASA is busy preparing to land astronauts around the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin by 2024, which will be the first time astronauts have walked on lunar soil since the Apollo Era. By 2028, they plan to establish the Lunar Gateway and Lunar Base Camp, which will facilitate long-term lunar exploration and also missions to Mars. Naturally, a lot of things need to be figured out beforehand, like seeing to the astronauts’ needs.
This includes shelter from the elements, food, and water, but also electricity. To meet that demand, the NASA Centennial Challenges Program has once again launched an incentive challenge through HeroX to inspire solutions. It’s called the Watts on the Moon Challenge, and in exchange for a prize purse of up to $5 million, NASA is looking for solutions on how to provide a reliable supply of energy for lunar missions.
Continue reading “NASA and HeroX are Looking to Light Up the Moon!”