Shuttle Endeavour mated to Jumbo Jet for Final Flight

Image caption: Endeavour mated to Boeing 747 in the Mate-Demate device at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 14 for Final Ferry Flight to California on Sep. 17. Credit: Ken Kremer

Space Shuttle Endeavour was joined to the 747 Jumbo carrier jet that will carry her majestically on Sept 17 on her final flight to the California Science Center – her permanent new home at the in Los Angeles. Enjoy my photos from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On Friday (Sept. 14), Endeavour was towed a few miles in the predawn darkness from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB ) to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) and the specially modified 747 known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA.

In a day long process, Endeavour departed the VAB at 5:04 a.m. and was hauled into the gantry-like Mate-Demate device, hoisted and then lowered onto the awaiting 747 Jumbo Jet. The pair were joined at about 2:41 p.m.

Image caption: Endeavour towed past waiting Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 14 for Final Ferry Flight to California on Sep. 17. Credit: Ken Kremer

Final work to hard mate NASA’s youngest orbiter to the SCA Jumbo Jet known as NASA 905 is due to be completed by Sunday.

The 747 crew will fly perform multiple, crowd pleasing low flyovers of the Florida space coast region, the KSC Visitor complex and the beaches – giving every spectator a thrilling front row seat to this exciting but bittersweet moment in space history as the shuttle takes flight for the very final time.

Image caption: Endeavour towed out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on the way to the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 14 for Final Ferry Flight to California on Sep. 17. Venus shines to the left. Credit: Ken Kremer –

Everyone involved felt a strong mix of emotions from pride in the tremendous accomplishments of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program to the sad and bittersweet feeling that comes with the retirement of all 3 orbiters barely one third of the way into their design lifetime. All three shuttles could easily have flown tens of millions more miles but for lack of money and political support from Washington D.C.

Image caption: Endeavour mated on top of NASA SCA at Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 14 for Final Ferry Flight to California on Sep. 17. Credit: Ken Kremer

Altogether Endeavour flew 25 missions and traveled 122,883,151 miles during 299 days in space.

Ken Kremer

Image caption: Endeavour gently lowered on top of NASA SCA with Ken Kremer on hand at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 14 for Final Ferry Flight to California on Sep. 17. Credit: Ken Kremer

Editor’s note: Visit John O’Connor’s NASATech website for panoramic views of Endeavour’s mating:

Farewell to a Hero: Photos From Armstrong’s Burial at Sea

Armstrong’s burial service aboard the USS Philippine Sea on September 14, 2012 (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Earlier today, Friday, September 14, 2012, Neil A. Armstrong’s burial at sea service was held aboard the USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) in the Atlantic Ocean. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, died Saturday, August 25. He was 82.

An icon of exploration for all of humanity, he will be missed by millions and remembered forever. Godspeed, sir, and thank you.

See more photos below.

US Navy personnel carry the cremated remains of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong

Members of the US Navy ceremonial guard hold an American flag over Armstrong’s remains

A US Navy firing squad fires three volleys in honor of Neil Armstrong

US Navy Lieutenant Commander Paul Nagy and Carol Armstrong, wife of Neil Armstrong, commit the remains of Neil Armstrong to the sea

US Navy Captain Steve Shinego presents the US flag to Carol Armstrong as Neil’s son, Eric “Rick” Armstrong, looks on.

All photos credit NASA/Bill Ingalls.

See more photos from the service on the Flickr set here.

Neil Alden Armstrong, 1930 – 2012.

Satellite View of Guatemalan Volcano Erupting

A natural-color image captured the eruption of Volcan de Fuego as it occurred. Credit: NASA/Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite.

One of Central American’s most active volcanos erupted on September 13th, 2012 prompting officials to evacuate 35,000 residents in Guatemala. The Volcan de Fuego, or Fire Volcano, began belching out ash at 10 a.m. local time with ash now falling up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the volcano. Residents within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the volcano were being removed from the area in buses and cars.

According to the Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres (CONRED), the eruption included ash emissions to the west and a 500-meter (2,000-foot) long lava flow. CONRED also warned of pyroclastic flows that could descend the mountain in any direction.

This natural-color image captured the eruption just as it occurred, NASA said. The image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite.

Thursday’s eruption was the sixth of the year for this volcano and some officials said it may be the biggest.

NASA said they would publish imagery of Guatemala two times per day on the MODIS Rapid Response web site.

Sources: NASA’s Earth Observatory, CNN

Neil Armstrong Remembered in Memorial Service

Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the Moon, was honored in a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral on September 13, 2012. He was remembered as a quiet but strong hero who led mankind into space. Armstrong died last month at 82 following complications after heart surgery. He will be buried at sea in the Naval tradition today (Friday, September 14, 2012) at an undisclosed site.

“He embodied all that is good and all that is great about America. Neil, wherever you are, you again have shown us a way to the stars,” said Gene Cernan during the memorial. Cernan was commander of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 and the last person to walk on the Moon.

If you missed watching it live, here is a video of the entire service. The National Cathedral was a fitting place to remember Armstrong, as it has one stained glass window, known as the Space Window, which has a piece of Moon rock presented by Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in 1974.

The recessional at the conclusion of a memorial service celebrating the life of Neil Armstrong at the Washington National Cathedral, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Photo Credit:(NASA/Paul E. Alers) Click here to see a gallery of images from the service.

The Cathedral was filled with NASA officials, astronauts, and the general public who wanted to pay their respects to the man who displayed courage and grace under pressure that had made him exceptional, said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.

Cernan provided an example of Armstrong’s “cool under pressure” personality in recounting Armstrong’s response years ago when asked how he felt when he was landing on the Moon with only seconds of fuel remaining.

Cernan recalled Armstrong saying, “Well, when the gauge says empty we all know there is a gallon or two left over,” which drew laughter from the crowd.

At the end of the service, Bolden presented Armstrong’s wife, Carol, with the flag that had flown at half-staff over the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston on August 25, the day Armstrong passed away.

Sonic-Powered Levitation Allows for Zero-G Drug Research

It’s not special effects: researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have developed a way to cancel out the effects of gravity, allowing liquids to be held without containers. The effect is created using sound waves emitted by an acoustic levitator — an instrument designed by NASA for simulating microgravity.

Watch the video. It’s the coolest thing you’ll see all week.

This accomplishes more than just a neat effect; by keeping liquids in place without the need for a physical container, pharmaceutical research can be performed while the drugs are still in their purest, “amorphous” state.

“Most drugs on the market are crystalline – they don’t get fully absorbed by the body and thus we aren’t getting the most efficient use out of them,” said Yash Vaishnav, Argonne Senior Manager for Intellectual Property Development and Commercialization.

When solutions come in contact with the interior surfaces of their containers, evaporation takes place, which can lead to crystallization. In order to find a way to hold liquids without anything coming in contact with them (a tricky task while under the effect of Earth’s pesky gravity) ANL X-ray physicist Chris Benmore looked to NASA’s acoustic levitator.

Using two sets of sound waves emitted at 22khz and precisely aimed at each other, a “standing wave” is established at their center. The resulting acoustic force is strong enough to counter the downward tug of gravity at certain points (at least as far as droplets of liquid are concerned.)

The liquid drugs can then be studied without the problem of crystallization, making this technological parlor trick a powerful analytical tool for pharmaceutical researchers. The ultimate goal is to learn how to reduce the amount of a particular drug but still retain the desired effects — with less of the undesired ones.

Read more here on the Argonne National Lab site.

The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’sOffice of Science.

In Fact It’s Cold As Hell: Mars Isn’t As Earthlike As It Might Look

The slopes of Gale Crater as seen by Curiosity are reminiscent of the American southwest (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Mars ain’t no kind of place to raise your kids; in fact it’s cold as hell” sang Elton John in “Rocket Man”, and although the song was released in 1972 — four years before the first successful landing on Mars — his weather forecast was spot-on. Even though the fantastic images that are being returned from NASA’s Curiosity rover show a rocky, ruddy landscape that could easily be mistaken for an arid region of the American Southwest one must remember three things: this is Mars, we’re looking around the inside of an impact crater billions of years old, and it’s cold out there.

Mars Exploration Program blogger Jeffrey Marlow writes in his latest “Martian Diaries” post:

Over the first 30 sols, air temperature has ranged from approximately -103 degrees Fahrenheit (-75 Celsius) at night to roughly 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) in the afternoon. Two factors conspire to cause such a wide daily range (most day-night fluctuations on Earth are about 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit). The martian atmosphere is very thin; with fewer molecules in the air to heat up and cool down, there’s more solar power to go around during the day, and less atmospheric warmth at night, so the magnitude of temperature shifts is amplified. There is also very little water vapor; water is particularly good at retaining its heat, and the dryness makes the temperature swings even more pronounced. 

In that way Mars is like an Earthly desert; even after a blisteringly hot day the temperatures can plummet at night, leaving an ill-prepared camper shivering beneath the cold glow of starlight. Except on Mars, where the Sun is only 50% as bright as on Earth and the atmosphere only 1% as dense, the nighttime lows dip to Arctic depths.

“Deserts on Earth have very extreme temperature ranges,” says Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Project Scientist, Ashwin Vasavada. “So if you take a desert on Earth and put it in a very thin atmosphere 50% farther from the Sun, you’d have something like what we’re seeing at Gale Crater.”

And although the afternoon temperatures in Gale may climb slightly above freezing that doesn’t mean liquid water will be found pooling about in any large amounts. Curiosity’s in no danger from flash floods on Mars… not these days, anyway.

With atmospheric pressure just above water’s thermodynamic triple point, and temperatures occasionally hovering around the freezing point, it is likely that local niches are seeing above-zero temperatures, and Vasavada acknowledges, “liquid water could exist here over a tiny range of conditions.” But don’t expect a Culligan water plant in Gale Crater any time soon. “We wouldn’t expect for Curiosity to see liquid water, because it would evaporate or re-freeze too quickly,” explains Vasavada. “With so little water vapor in the atmosphere, any liquid water molecules on the surface would quickly turn to gas.”

So when on Mars, drink your coffee quickly. (And pack a blanket.)

“Gale Crater may look like the dusty, basaltic basins of the American southwest, but one look at the thermometer will send you running for the winter coat.”

– Jeffrey Marlow, Martian Diaries

Read Marlow’s full article here.

Image: Sunset on Mars seen by the MER Spirit from Gusev Crater in 2005 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Weekly Space Hangout – Sep. 13, 2012

The Weekly Space Hangout is back from Summer hiatus, with a mountain of space news. This week we tackle:

Host: Fraser Cain

Panel: Jason Major, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Dr. Pamela Gay

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Thursday at 10 am Pacific / 1 pm Eastern. Watch us live on Google+, ask your questions to the gathered space journalists.

Here’s a link to next week’s episode so you can put it in your calendar.

Say Ahhh to Mars

Take a deep breath because this new panorama from Mars enthusiast Stu Atkinson will take it away.

“Anyway, a whole bunch of these came down, like I said, and to my delight they all linked up to form a big, biiiiiiiig panoramic mosaic,” said Stu on his blog “The Gale Gazette.” “And here it is. Obviously you’ll need to click on it to enlarge it… and I’ll warn you, it’s a big image, you can kiss the next few minutes goodbye because you’ll be panning around it for a while…”

Zoom in and you can see actual rocks. Click that little button at the right of the toolbar and Mars will take over your screen.

So far, Curiosity has rolled across a barely dusty plain in Gale Crater. Here’s a look of things to come. In black-and-white image from Curiosity, there appear to be big dunes to cross to get to the foothills of Aeolis Mons, or Mount Sharp.

A black-and-white but still breathtaking view of the dusty terrain between Curiosity’s current location and the foothills of Aeolis Mons, or Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL/Stu Atkinson

Curiosity has nearly finished robotic arm tests. Once complete, the rover will be able to touch and examine its first Mars rock.

“We’re about to drive some more and try to find the right rock to begin doing contact science with the arm,” said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, in a press release.

This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the open inlet where powered rock and soil samples will be funneled down for analysis. It was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Curiosity’s 36th Martian day, or sol, of operations on Mars (Sept. 11, 2012). MAHLI was about 8 inches (20 centimeters) away from the mouth of the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument when it took the picture. The entrance of the funnel is about 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) in diameter. The mesh screen is about 2.3 inches (5.9 centimeters) deep. The mesh size is 0.04 inches (1 millimeter). Once the samples have gone down the funnel, CheMin will be shooting X-rays at the samples to identify and quantify the minerals.

Engineers and scientists use images like these to check out Curiosity’s instruments. This image is a composite of eight MAHLI pictures acquired at different focus positions and merged onboard the instrument before transmission to Earth; this is the first time the MAHLI performed this technique since arriving at Curiosity’s field site inside Gale Crater. The image also shows angular and rounded pebbles and sand that were deposited on the rover deck during landing on Aug. 5, 2012 PDT (Aug. 6, 2012 EDT).

Two science instruments, a camera called Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, that can take close-up color images and a tool called Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) that can determine the elemental composition of a rock, also have passed tests. The instruments are mounted on a turret at the end of the robotic arm and can be placed in contact with target rocks. The adjustable focus MAHLI camera produced images this week of objects near and far; of the underbelly of Curiosity, across inlet ports and a penny that serves as a calibration target on the rover.

This close-up image shows tiny grains of Martian sand that settled on the penny that serves as a calibration target on NASA’s Curiosity rover. The larger grain under Abraham Lincoln’s ear is about 0.2 millimeters across. The grains are classified as fine to very fine sand.

The Mars Hand Lens Imagery (MAHLI) on the Curiosity rover taken by the Mast Camera on the 32nd Martian day, or sol, of operations on the surface. Engineers imaged MAHLI to inspect the dust cover and to ensure that the tool’s LED lights are functional. Scientists enhanced the image to show the scene as it would appear under Earth’s lighting conditions. This helps in analyzing the background terrain.

Check out more images from the Mars Science Laboratory teleconference.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Asteroid 2012 QG42 Zooms by Earth Tonight — Watch Live!

A newly found asteroid will zip past Earth tonight (Sept. 13/14). But don’t worry; at a distance of 2.85 million km (1.7 million miles) Asteroid 2012 QG42 will safely pass by Earth. But that’s close enough for this space rock to be considered a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) which means it may pose a threat in the future. This asteroid is between 190 to 430 meters (625 feet to 1,400 feet) wide and was first spotted by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona on August 26. NASA’s Near Earth Object Office said they will use this opportunity to observe the asteroid with radar – which is a great way to find out about the physical properties and orbits of asteroids.

Closest approach is on September 14 at 05:08 UT (1:08 am EDT)

Amateur and professional astronomers have already been keeping tabs on this asteroid. Above is a timelapse from Peter Lake. And a couple of different live feeds from telescopes will be available to watch the action.

The Virtual Telescope Project run by astronomer Gianluca Masi in Italy is already providing a live video stream at

Additionally, the Slooh Space Camera night sky observing website will provide a live view of asteroid 2012 QG42’s closest approach in a webcast starting at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) on Sept. 13, offering views from at least one of its telescopes at its observatory in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. You can watch the Slooh webcast by visiting their website here:

A view of Asteroid 2012 QG42 from the Siding Spring-Faulkes Telescope South on 2012, September 4, 2012, through a 2.0-m f/10.0 Ritchey-Chretien + CCD, a stack of 4×10-second exposures, taken with the asteroid at magnitude ~15.2 and moving at 4.35″/min. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes & Giovanni Sostero.

Asteroid 2012 QG42’s flyby comes a few months after another recently discovered space rock, asteroid 2012 LZ1, made its closest approach to Earth just days it was discovered.

“Near-Earth objects have been whizzing past us lately, undetected until they have been practically on top of us,” said Bob Berman, Slooh commentator and Astronomy Magazine writer. “This illustrates the need for continued and improved monitoring for our own future safety. It is not a question of if, but when such an object will hit us, and how large and fast it may be going.”

Slooh will be using at least three of its online robotic telescopes to provide live image feeds as the celestial intruder makes its closest approach to Earth throughout the night.

At a magnitude of only 13-14, about the same faintness as the demoted ex-planet Pluto, the asteroid is a challenging target for backyard telescopes. To observe this kind of object requires large telescopes, equipped with ultra-sensitive CCD cameras, carefully set-up to point and track such a fast moving object — Slooh’s Half Meter Telescope at its Canary Islands Observatory is perfect for the task, the Slooh team said.

“To observe them — as we will do live on Thursday evening,” said Berman, “provides instruction and perhaps motivation to keep up our guard, as well as a sense of relief as it speeds safely past at a mere one fifteenth the distance to the nearest planets.”

With the radar images that NASA plans to take, the “echo”measurements can produce two-dimensional images that can provide spatial resolution as fine as a decameter if the echoes are strong enough. With enough data, astronomers can construct detailed three-dimensional models, define the rotation state precisely, and constrain the object’s internal density distribution.

So look for more information on this asteroid after it passes by Earth.

The Moon from Earth As You’ve Never Seen it Before

The Morteus region on the Moon, taken from the suburbs of Paris, France. Credit: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

Think this is an orbital view of the Moon? Guess again. Astrophotographer Thierry Legault took this image from his backyard in the suburbs of Paris, France! He’s taken a series of images of the Moon the past few nights that will blow your mind when you consider they were taken from Earth, within the confines of the metropolis of Paris (largest city in France, 5th largest in the EU, 20th largest in the world). Thierry used a Celestron C14 EdgeHD (356mm) and Skynyx2.2 camera. You definitely want to click on these images for the larger versions on Thierry’s website, and he suggests using a full-HD screen in subdued surroundings.

Additionally, Thierry also recently took images of Mercury and Uranus that include incredible detail.

Plato, Mons Pico and Montes Teneriffe as seen on Sept 8th, 2010, from the suburbs of Paris, France. Credit: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

The clarity and detail are just tremendous. See all of Thierry’s recent lunar images at this link. He has a collection of twelve different images of various regions on the Moon and all are stunning.

Below are his images of Mercury and Uranus. In the image of Mercury, surface details are visible, and the cloud belts are even visible on the images of Uranus:

Incredibly detailed view of Mercury on August 23, 2012, as seen from Blancourt, France. Credit: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

Uranus, as seen on September 9, 2012 from Blancourt, France. Credit: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

Thanks, as always, to Thierry Legault for sharing his images and allowing us to post them. Check out his website: for more wonderful images and information about how he does his amazing astrophotography.