I had my first glimpse of the end of the shuttle era in April, three months before Atlantis touched down from the final shuttle mission. Discovery had just completed its last flight, and I had an opportunity to visit Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bay 3, which for years had been Discovery’s home for between-mission servicing. Discovery did not return to Bay 3 after STS-133, moving instead into Bay 1 for post-flight work.
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.”
Here is a riddle: What takes more than 60 locations, 5 years, and 150 scientists to decide? The landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity. Picking the landing site for a spacecraft to land on another planet is always serious business. And the job of finding the best location for Curiosity to set down on Mars was no exception. Curiosity’s mission is geared towards understanding whether Mars could have ever been habitable.
There is a strange looking car parked in the west end of the National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC. For now, it is only visible behind its security screen from the second floor landing above. From that vantage, the vehicle’s six wheels, robotic arm, mast, and other protrusions are clearly visible. But since this is the Air and Space Museum, it must be more than just a normal car. Soon the barriers will be gone and the public will be able to view the vehicle up close and personal. And what they will see is a model of the next Mars rover, NASA’s 2011 Mars Science Laboratory. The rover, dubbed “Curiosity” will be launched to Mars later this year and will begin its mission to explore whether places on the Red Planet were ever habitable.
For the month of June, 30 beautiful images of the solar system are on display on the terrace by the Independence Avenue entrance. They are part of the From Earth to the Solar System exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/Chandra with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
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.
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.
The announcement last year that Bill Moggridge was selected to be the new head of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York gave me pause. In my daily work I tend to stay on a narrow path of aerospace-related topics, but that name sounded familiar. A glance at my bookshelf gave me the answer: before joining the Cooper-Hewitt, Moggridge was a co-founder of the international design firm IDEO, and while there he played a crucial role in the design of the world’s first laptop computer: the GRiD Compass, first marketed in 1982. The unusual capitalization of “GRiD” was a trademark of the company that developed it.