If all goes according to plan, on November 25th the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity will leave the Earth and begin its journey to Mars. Any delays due to weather or other factors should be accommodated by a launch window that extends until December 18th. The spacecraft will use a new landing system to arrive at its landing site on Mars in August, 2012, and the rover carries an impressive array of scientific instruments.
I was thrilled to be a part of the NASA Tweetup for STS-135 July 7 and 8 at Kennedy Space Center. It was exciting — and almost surreal — to be there for the end of the space program that my generation grew up with. We weren’t around for the Moon landings, but we all remember the first time the space shuttle “took off like a rocket and landed like a plane.”
Since Howard McCurdy and I co-authored Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), I have been interested in the possible merger of humans and robots into a single entity to undertake space exploration.
Created by Roger Launius, senior curator for lunar and planetary spacecraft, this five-question quiz will test your knowledge about space exploration and related artifacts in the Museum’s collection. Best of all, it’s not only a fun way to find out how much you know, it’s also a great way to support the National Air and Space Museum. Every question you answer correctly earns ten cents for the Museum, helping support the incredible work that goes into creating a wealth of memorable experiences at both our locations.
May 6th marks the anniversary of the tragic end of the airship Hindenburg, destroyed by fire as it came in for a landing at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, in 1937. Last year, to commemorate the anniversary, we posted the story of Anne "Cookie" Chotzinoff Grossman, who, on October 9th, 1936, spotted the Hindenburg in flight from her Connecticut schoolyard. She took off in hot pursuit along with her brother Blair, but the giant airship got away from them; Cookie and Blair trudged back to school, and Cookie was made to write “I will not follow the Hindenburg” on the blackboard a hundred times.
On the morning of March 2, I got an excited text message from fellow astronomy educator Shelley Witte, telling me that the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Discovery would be coming very close to transiting the Sun from our position at the National Air and Space Museum’s Public Observatory at exactly 3:08 pm.
The first decade of the twenty-first century has offered both serious challenges and enormous potential for the development of new human launch vehicles that could finally achieve the long-held dream of reliable, affordable access to space. But at the end of the decade, the policy questions posed by the 2003 loss of Columbia about the future U.S. human spaceflight still loom large.
Today at 8:45 pm EDT (March 18, 2011, 12:45 am UTC), MESSENGER will become the first spacecraft ever to enter Mercury's orbit. With MESSENGER on the last leg of its journey, I’m reminded how long it has taken to get there. I watched the spacecraft launch in the early morning hours of August 3, 2004, almost six and a half years ago. Now after one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury, the spacecraft will catch up with Mercury again, but this time it will be captured by the planet. You might think as one of our closest neighbors in the Solar System it would take a lot less time to get into Mercury orbit – but because Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, at a distance where the influence of the Sun’s gravity is much greater, it is a challenge to reach and orbit.