Claudia Alexander was perhaps not well-known to the general public, but within the space and science community she was a valued colleague and friend whose contribution to the field of space exploration was significant and lasting.
As we await the exciting results of New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto on July 14, it is all too easy to think that this mission was inevitable: the capstone to NASA’s spectacular exploration of all the planets (and ex-planets) of the solar system since the 1960s. Yet, it proved extraordinarily difficult to sustain a Pluto project.
It all started at a special public lecture at the Museum in July 2014 given by Alan Stern, the lead scientist for the New Horizons mission, which will fly past Pluto this July. Among the attendees was William Lowell Putnam IV, sole trustee of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona—the place where Pluto was found in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. It was an exciting evening, not only to learn about the impending flyby but also having a chance to speak with Putnam and the director of the Lowell Observatory, Jeff Hall.
A full-size engineering model of the Pioneer 10 /11 spacecraft normally hangs in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air and Space Museum. However, a few weeks ago it was removed and placed in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, while the Milestones gallery undergoes a major renovation in the coming months.
Venus has almost the same diameter as the Earth and is the next closest planet to the Sun. The similarity ends with the weather report, however. The surface temperature is more than 465 o C (870o F) and atmospheric pressure is 90 times that of Earth. The surface is hidden from view by a dense blanket of clouds, so we must use radar systems to “see” the landscape below.
Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from 1976 to 1982, Bruce Murray was a geologist whose vision was never earthbound. He earned his PhD from MIT and served two years in the U.S. Air Force before joining the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1960. Caltech manages JPL for NASA, and soon Murray was working on JPL’s Mariner missions to Mars. During his tenure as director of JPL, the Viking spacecraft landed on Mars and the Voyagers began exploring the outer solar system. He also oversaw Earth orbital missions, including Seasat, the Solar Mesosphere Explorer, and Shuttle Imaging Radar-A.