I think it surprises a lot of people that a mission as successful as the Cassini-Huygens Mission would be terminated on purpose. Not just shutting the spacecraft off, but terminated with such style by sending it on a destructive dive into Saturn’s atmosphere. Cassini will burn up and be destroyed in a similar way that a meteorite is broken up in Earth’s atmosphere.
In late March, I traveled to Puerto Rico to conduct observations of Venus using the Arecibo Observatory telescope. It was the second time I traveled to the observatory to make radar measurements of the surface of Venus. Even though it was my second time there, the size and capability of the telescope still impressed me; the telescope is largest single-aperture telescope ever constructed.
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.
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.
As the National Air and Space Museum’s annual Mars Day! celebration approaches, we look to a recent research trip taken by a Smithsonian Summer Intern to investigate the similarities between some of Earth’s most amazing dunes and those found on the ruddy surface of Mars.
Radar instruments play an important role in our study of Earth’s nearest neighbors, such as the Moon, Venus, and Mars. Radar can provide a range of information regarding the materials that make up the surface of a planet and offer a unique perspective on the underlying structure. To get the most out of our research it is important to have a fundamental understanding of the hardware that makes up a radar instrument. What better way to achieve this than build our own.
The recent announcement by NASA that there is evidence of salty, liquid water seeping out of the ground on Mars is both exciting and scientifically puzzling at the same time. As a member of the science team for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I’ve been hearing about these possible seeps, or Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL), for several years now.
Planetary science is one of those fields of research where you can always count on being surprised. The remarkable terrain of Pluto and Charon in images being sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft certainly qualifies. One of my all-time big surprises is from a recent discovery on an object much closer to home—the Moon.
The National Air and Space Museum's full-scale mockup of the Pioneer 10 spacecraft was recently moved to its new location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall as a part of a major renovation to the gallery.