You may all indulge yourself.
You may all indulge yourself.
The last scheduled launch of space shuttle Discovery today.
Yeah saw that, glad it made it
this chick looks just like my gfs mom. Freaks me out. o.O
She's coming home safely today, God willing. With a little help from Man of course.
In other news, this is too good not to share.
Interesting to think that this spacecraft has been out there and working longer than many here have been alive. Think of how much computers and technology have changed in 30+ years!
A few more years before V'ger returns!
Voyager continues exploring frontier of the solar system
Controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have commanded one of NASA's daring Voyager probes to spin around this week in a bid to detect a bend in the solar wind at the edge of the solar system, the agency announced Tuesday.
More than three decades since launching from Earth, NASA's Voyager probes continue beaming back scientific data from the unexplored frontier of the solar system.
Flying nearly 11 billion miles from Earth, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is surveying one of the least-known reaches of the solar system -- the region where the sun's influence wanes and interstellar space begins.
Voyager 1's low energy charged particle instrument registered a strange reading last June indicating the speed of the solar wind had dropped to zero. The solar wind, a flow of charged particles, normally streams away from the sun at a million miles per hour.
Scientists know such a measurement is misleading. The solar wind curves in the heliosheath, the outer edge of the solar system where Voyager 1 is now exploring. Inside the heliosheath, the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.
The heliosphere, the area of the sun's influence, is shaped like a bubble in the sun's direction of travel and stretches out like a tail behind.
"Because the direction of the solar wind has changed and its radial speed has dropped to zero, we have to change the orientation of Voyager 1 so the low energy charged particle instrument can act like a kind of weather vane to see which way the wind is now blowing," said Edward Stone, Voyager's project manager at the California Institute of Technology.
The nuclear-powered spacecraft rolled 70 degrees counterclockwise Monday and held that position for more than two-and-a-half hours with its rapidly spinning gyrocopes, according to a JPL press release.
It was the second such roll-and-hold maneuver for Voyager since 1990.
According to JPL, five more such spins are planned over the next seven days to point Voyager 1's charged particle sensor in different directions. Researchers hope to catch a whiff of the solar wind and gauge which way it is turning, but it could be months before results are released.
It takes 16 hours just for Voyager 1's radio signals to reach Earth.
"Knowing the strength and direction of the wind is critical to understanding the shape of our solar bubble and estimating how much farther it is to the edge of interstellar space," Stone said.
More weekly rolls are on tap over the next three months, according to NASA.
"We do whatever we can to make sure the scientists get exactly the kinds of data they need, because only the Voyager spacecraft are still active in this exotic region of space," said Jefferson Hall, Voyager mission operations manager at JPL. "We were delighted to see Voyager still has the capability to acquire unique science data in an area that won't likely be traveled by other spacecraft for decades to come."
Voyager 1 left Earth in September 1977 and flew by Jupiter and Saturn in 1979 and 1980. An identical craft named Voyager 2 also made flyby visits to Uranus and Neptune.
Both spacecraft could pass the heliopause, the border with interstellar space, later this decade. Scientists don't know when the Voyager craft will reach interstellar space, but data from the ongoing roll maneuvers could help researchers make an estimate.
Dang I just came here to post the Voyager news.
Kind of nice to contrast it with the Discovery news as well, Consider the cost vs the benefit effectiveness of it vs the shuttle program.
Robotic probes are the way to go people. when we find or terraform another place for humans we can bother with the costs of getting us out there but it's just not effective right now to send people and it's very effective to send robots.
I'm terrible with keeping up what spacecraft is probing where, friend of mine's more into that, but the BBC are these days broadcasting a somewhat interesting programm called "Wonders of the Universe" which is presented by, and not about, Professor Brian Cox.
Vivi, what are your thoughts about probing Mercury?
A well-traveled NASA probe made history late Thursday (March 17), becoming the first spacecraft ever to enter into orbit around Mercury.
NASA's Messenger spacecraft fired its main thruster in a 15-minute orbital insertion burn Thursday night to slow down by about 1,900 mph (3,058 kph), enough to enter Mercury's gravitational influence and settle into orbit around the planet.
About an hour after the 8:54 p.m. EDT (0054 GMT) engine burn it was official: Messenger was in a looping, 12-hour orbit around the solar system's innermost planet.
Mercury now has an artificial satellite, for the first time ever.
"This is when the real mission begins," said principal investigator Sean Solomon, Messenger's principal investigator at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, after probe arrived at Mercury. "It's just all coming together and we are really ready to learn about one of Earth's nearest neighbors for the first time."
Applause and handshakes broke out in Messenger's mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and carried over into a nearby auditorium, where a live webcast of Messenger's Mercury arrival was being broadcast.
"The mood is fantastic," said NASA's science missions chief Ed Weiler. The whooping and hollering could be heard through the webcast, and it was not unexpected.
After all, it's not every day an emissary from Earth – even if robotic – takes up station around a planet for the very first time.
"It only happens once in human history, and it's just beginning," Weiler said of humanity's first mission to study Mercury from orbit. "We're going to learn a lot more about Mercury than we've ever seen."
By coincidence, Messenger arrived in orbit around Mercury on St. Patrick's Day, with one commentator suggesting some good luck was in order. The spacecraft will soon begin mapping Mercury and studying the planet's composition, geology and tenuous atmosphere from its orbital perch.
"The spacecraft is ready, and the team is ready," Messenger mission operations manager Andy Calloway, of APL, told reporters before the insertion burn. "On April 4, we'll begin prime science." [Photos of Mercury From Messenger Probe]
A long road to Mercury
Messenger's arrival at Mercury marks the end of a long, circuitous journey for the probe, and the start of its main science operations. The Messenger (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) mission first began development about 15 years ago, and the probe launched in August 2004.
Over the past 6 1/2 years, Messenger has been a solar system wanderer, completing 15 orbits of the sun and traveling about 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion km). During this time, it made one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three of Mercury, primarily to slow the probe down in preparation for tonight's orbital insertion maneuver.
Messenger also took pictures and did some science work during these close encounters. Its Mercury observations were the first spacecraft data returned from the planet since NASA's Mariner 10 probe made three flybys in the mid-1970s.
But the Mercury flybys were a prelude to Messenger's chief mission — scrutinizing the planet from orbit for the next 12 months, researchers said.
"The Messenger spacecraft is in orbit around Mercury … we are there," said Eric Finnegan, the mission's systems engineer at APL.
Success wasn't guaranteed
Mission scientists planned for Messenger to slip into a highly eccentric orbit around Mercury. The spacecraft should come as close as 124 miles (200 km) to the planet at times, and retreat to more than 9,300 miles (15,000 km) away at others, researchers said. [Video: Messenger's Mercury Orbit Arrival]
The mission team should begin learning soon — within the next day or so — how well Messenger's actual orbit matches up with the planned one. But just achieving Mercury orbit is a success, and not something to take for granted.
Japan's $300 million Akatsuki probe, for example, failed to enter into Venus orbit in December 2010 when its thrusters conked out early in its insertion burn. Akatsuki is still circling the sun, with another possible shot at Venus coming in late 2016 or early 2017.
Science work begins soon
Over the next 12 months, Messenger will map Mercury's surface in unprecedented detail and investigate the planet's composition, magnetic field, geologic history and thin, tenuous atmosphere, among other features. Scientists hope the probe helps them better understand what makes the tiny planet tick. [Most Enduring Mysteries of Mercury]
"Mercury is a planet where there's many things going on," Solomon said. "What we've learned from the flybys is that all of these things are connected."
The overall goal of Messenger's mission is to use an increased understanding of Mercury to learn more about how our solar system — and solar systems in general — formed and evolved, scientists have said.
Over the next few weeks, the mission team will turn on and check out Messenger's suite of seven science instruments, making sure everything is working properly.
Messenger's first pictures of Mercury from orbit should start trickling out in about two weeks, Solomon said, but the real data flood will come with the official start of the probe's science operations on April 4.
From that point on, Messenger will be beaming home the equivalent of two flybys' worth of information every day, Calloway said.
And while the flybys have given researchers a taste of what to expect, they also fully anticipate some surprises.
"The most exciting stuff will be the stuff we weren't expecting," Weiler said.
I heard of that, and I'm glad that you're probing Mercury instead of probing another planet that's been endlessly probed.