‘This Week In Space’ May 22, 2010
The lastest edition of “This Week In Space” is now out! Give us a watch…
Hello, and welcome…
We have a scoop for you this week – an exclusive interview with SpaceX founder Elon Musk – we’ll ask him how things are going as he and his team prep for that high stakes first flight of the Falcon 9 rocket…And we’ll also share with you David Letterman’s reaction to seeing his first shuttle launch…that’s coming up shortly…But first some other space news – and this week in honor of the Falcon 9 countdown and Dave’s first launch – we are doing it top ten list style…
Comes from the fourth rock from the sun. (Miles mutters to himself and counts on his fingers). Mars! Yeah, Mars. On March 20, the rover Opportunity overtook the Viking-1 Lander and is now holds the surface longevity record for NASA probes on Mars. Opportunity is now six years, 116 days and counting into a 3 month mission. But if you are listening Oppy – don’t rest on your laurels. Your sibling Spirit on the other side of the planet is in winter hibernation mode, and if she manages to wake up come Spring, she will grab the record. Spirit landed on Mars about three weeks before Opportunity back in 2004. And as long as we are on Mars – the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory commanded the the Mars Odyssey spacecraft to make a final listen for life signs from the Phoenix Mars Lander this week. Phoenix landed in the Northern polar region back in 2008, and operated successfully for about 6 months until the cold and dark of the Martian winter set in and craft went silent. Mission managers were pretty sure that the lander would not survive the winter, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if they might be able to reestablish communication. Looks like “no dice” though. Rest in Peace, Phoenix.
An update on a manned mission to Mars that is launching next month – had ya there for a minute didn’t I? Actually this is an ersatz trip to Mars that will never get off the ground. I am talking about the Mars 500 SIMULATED mission to the red planet. Liftoff – well actually lock down – is set for early June. Six crew members – two Europeans, one Chinese, and three Russians will spend 520 days locked inside a spacecraft mock-up at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. Mission controllers are doing their best to make this mission as close to the real thing as possible. They’ll have to take all the food they’ll need with them from day one – no ordering in pizza a la Biosphere 2. Communication is limited to email, – and it will be intermittent – just as it would on a really interplanetary voyage, and it will include a delay of as much as 40 minutes. ESA has picked their two crew members. Diego Urbina, who has Italian-Colombian nationality, and Frenchman Romain Charles. The rest of the crew will be announced later this month.
Oil’s not so well in the Gulf of Mexico – and NASA is pitching in to help. The space agency flew its King Air research aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico this week in an effort to help monitor the size and thickness of the BP oil spill…Researchers wondering how the oil might impact sea life. The Langley Based King Air 200 was outfitted with instruments normally used to study clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere – which researchers hope can help them learn more about spills. NASA satellites have also been trained on the oil slick since the drilling rig exploded in April. Crew members aboard the ISS have a unique vantage point to keep an eye on the growing environmental crisis. Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov has been watching the oil spread.
Takes us below the sea…for yet another simulated space mission -two astronauts are embarking on the 14th Expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations – or NEEMO for short. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, and two other crew members, are spending two weeks in the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory off Key Largo. Mock-ups of a lander, rover and robotic arm have been positioned on the sea floor nearby. The crew will venture out on simulated spacewalks to work with the gear and practice setting up a habitat on another planet. Inside, they’ll do some experiments aimed at learning more about human behavior and performance on a long duration space voyage.
Let’s head to the second rock from the sun. (Miles counts on his fingers again. Oh! Venus! Which does not get nearly as much attention as Mars. Why you ask? Does she need a better agent? Well, the simple answer is Venus is a VERY inhospitable place…blistering hot, with crushing surface pressure… in short – hell off earth. But Venus scientists are still very intrigued, and if all goes well – they – will soon know more about our fiery neighbor, thanks to a Japanese spacecraft called Akatsuki. JAXA officials call Akatsuki the first interplanetary weather satellite, and it is rigged with instruments to study study the atmosphere, search for active volcanoes, and image lightning strikes. After the Japanese H-2A rocket deploys Akatsuki, it will also jettison a second payload – a small cylinder housing a solar sail. Once the sail opens, it will stretch nearly 66 feet in diameter, and will fly through space like a kite. But instead of wind pushing it along, pressure from photons of light from the sun will propel it.
Now…from a planet nearby to a galaxy nearby.
Check out this new infrared view of the galaxy Messier 83 - a perfect spiral.
This was taken using an instrument called HAWK-1 on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
Messier 83 is located 15 million light years away in the Constellation Hydra – or the Sea Serpent. Astronomers think this spiral galaxy looks a lot like our own Milky Way.
The latest on the Zombie satellite – known as Galaxy 15. The wayward, unresponsive Intelsat communications satellite is still haunting the geosynchronous neighborhood…other operators had to move two of their birds out of the in order to stay clear of of the Zombie – which could knock them off the air. Galaxy 15 got blasted with a solar storm in early April – it is still transmitting – but ground controllers are unable to control it. So run for your lives — well not exactly.
The much anticipated first flight of Falcon 9. The whole space world will be watching to see how the rocket does in its maiden test voyage. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the builder SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk. I caught up with him via Skype.
The space shuttle Atlantis is finishing strong in space – the six astronauts on OV-104’s last manifested mission accomplished all they set out to on their trip to the station – they installed a new Russian lab – replaced some batteries – and brought up supplies and spare parts – including a backup satellite dish for space to ground communications. Atlantis is not headed straight to a museum to be named later at wheel stop – instead the KSC team will process her to be ready to fly on short notice should one of the final two crews need to be rescued. So there she will be – ready to fly – why not one more flight – with a crew small enough that they could come home on soyuz capsules if need be. Just sayin’…
And now – drumroll please – our number one story for this week in space – Dave Letterman was there for the last scheduled launch of Atlantis – so how was it for him?