Topic

Exploration

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Thu, December 15 2016

Reaction Motors: 75th Anniversary

On December 18, 1941, 11 days after Pearl Harbor, four young members of the American Rocket Society (ARS)—James Wyld, John Shesta, H. Franklin Pierce, and Lovell Lawrence Jr.—officially incorporated Reaction Motors, Inc. (RMI), in New Jersey. The timing was no coincidence: it was one of many patriotic actions Americans took after suddenly finding themselves fighting a war. RMI, which was created to offer assisted-take-off rockets to the military aviation branches, was the first successful American company devoted to liquid-propellant rocketry. In its 31-year lifespan, it developed rocket engines of noteworthy importance, especially for pioneering X-planes. 

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James Hart Wyld
Wed, December 14 2016

An Unlikely Comparison: A Subway Car, the Enterprise, and Mir Space Station

“Doors Closing!” Those of us from the Washington, DC region recognize that phrase whenever we ride the Washington Metro. That recorded voice is typically followed by another stern voice, “STAND CLEAR OF THE DOORS!” It doesn’t seem to do much good; there are always one or two passengers who insist on standing in front of the doors, blocking the way for those who wish to get on or off.

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Inside the Mir Space Station
Thu, December 1 2016

Fifty Years of the Russian Soyuz Spacecraft

It is a remarkable fact that one of the two operational spacecraft that can carry humans into Earth orbit is celebrating its 50th birthday—the other is the Chinese Shenzhou craft. This week, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft turned 50 years old.

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Russian Soyuz
Fri, November 25 2016

Black Hole Friday

Black Friday is upon us. If you are looking for ways to avoid being mauled and crushed at your local Mall, but you want to somehow observe the day in spirit, why not explore what it takes to discover a really massive and dense object, a black hole.

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M87 X-ray
Thu, November 17 2016

How to View Our National Parks from Space

This week is National Geography Awareness Week, an opportunity to reflect on the significance of place and how we affect it. One fantastic way to explore geography is from above. When viewing the Earth from a high altitude or even from space, we can begin to see and record natural and man-made features and events. We can see the remains of civilizations and the aftermath of disasters.

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Grand Canyon
Wed, November 16 2016

Revealing Mercury’s Great Valley

At their core, planetary missions are about exploration, pure and simple. It’s hard to beat the excitement of discovering a new feature on the surface of a planet that’s being imaged by spacecraft for the first time. I had this experience many times during the MESSENGER mission.

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Mercury’s great valley revealed in new digital elevation model
Sun, November 13 2016

The Super Duper Moon

On Monday, November 14, the Moon will be full, and also near its closest approach to Earth. It’s a “supermoon,” appearing slightly bigger than a normal full Moon.

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Micromoon vs Supermoon
Fri, October 7 2016

A Quick History of Launch Escape Systems

Blue Origin, Jeff Bezo’s private rocket company, passed an in-flight test of its launch escape system Wednesday—a method of detaching a crew capsule from a launch rocket. The successful test moves Blue Origin one step closer to its goal of carrying tourists into space. How to bring crews safely back to Earth in the event something goes wrong during a launch has always been a concern. Launch escape systems have been engineered into nearly all ventures into space.

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Artist Rendering of Launch Escape
Thu, October 6 2016

Insights from a Planetary Spacesuit Designer

Pablo de León has been in the space business for nearly 20 years, working as a space project manager and spacesuit designer. De León will be speaking with visitors at the Museum in Washington, DC this Saturday at the Hispanic Heritage Month: Innovators in Aviation and Space Heritage Family Day as part of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s ¡Descubra! Meet the Science Expert series.

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Testing the NDX-1 Spacesuit
Wed, September 28 2016

The Incredible, Still Shrinking Mercury

Being a member of a science team of a planetary mission is like being a starter on a major league baseball team—you’re in the game. That’s how I felt as a member of the MESSENGER mission to Mercury. During the final months of MESSENGER’s time in orbit, before the fuel on the spacecraft was expended and crashed on Mercury’s surface, a decision had to be made—keep the spacecraft in its nominal mapping orbit as long as possible or let the spacecraft altitude drift lower to get as close to the planet as possible.

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Topography of the Northern Hemisphere of Mercury

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