Launch of Orion
Launch of Orion
The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 at at 7:05 a.m. EST, Friday, Dec. 5. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

J-2X Gimble Test
J-2X Gimble Test
A closeup shot of the J-2X rocket engine shows how it was gimbaled during a June 14 test on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center. A summer series of tests will be conducted on the advanced rocket engine, being developed for NASA by Aerojet-Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif. The engine will prove upper-stage power for NASA's new heavy-lift Space Launch System vehicle, which will enable missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Image credit: NASA/SSC

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
ATV Albert Einstein, Europe’s supply and support ferry, docked with the International Space Station last Saturday. This image, taken from the Station, reveals the exhaust plumes as the 20-tonne craft fires some of its 24 thrusters to adjust its approach. At the end of this delicate and automated procedure, ESA’s largest spacecraft made contact with humanity’s largest orbital outpost at 14:07 GMT (16:07 CEST) as they travelled at 28 000 km/h. The docking was so precise that Albert Einstein was only 11 mm off centre, hitting its target without touching the surrounding docking cone: “A hole in one,” as controllers remarked at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France. Russian specialists there said they had never seen such precision before. In this image, ATV-4 is lit by the Sun from behind as its solar cells absorb the Sun’s energy. The golden ‘lights’ are the sunlight shining through the solar panel hinges. The vertical antenna at the top is the ‘proximity boom’ that is used to communicate with the Station. ATV Albert Einstein has brought 7 tonnes of supplies, propellants and experiments to the complex. The hatch separating them was opened this morning. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will now oversee the unloading and cataloguing of the cargo of over 1400 individual items. Source: ESA

Debris of Shenzhou-10's escape tower found in China's Inner Mongolia
Debris of Shenzhou-10's escape tower found in China's Inner Mongolia
This is the rocket motor from the launch escape tower on China's Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. The tower is used to pull the crew away from the booster rocket in the event of an emergency. Once the spacecraft has reached a specific height, the tower is no-longer needed and is jettisoned. The tower then continues on in a balistic trajectory eventually crashing back to earth in the desert. Photo Credit: Xinhua

At Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, construction workers continue to remove the flame trench deflector that sits below and between the left and right crawlerway tracks. Launch Pad 39B is being refurbished to support NASA’s Space Launch System and other launch vehicles. The Ground Systems Development and Operations, or GSDO, Program office at Kennedy is leading the center’s transformation to safely handle a variety of rockets and spacecraft. For more information about GSDO, visit: Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossman EDITOR'S NOTE: I understand why they are doing it but it pains me greatly to see it.

The Orbital Sciences launch team monitors the Pegasus XL rocket that will lift NASA's IRIS solar observatory into orbit as the rocket and payload are moved from a hangar onto a transporter at Vandenberg Air Force Base. IRIS, short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, is being prepared for launch from Vandenberg June 26. IRIS will open a new window of discovery by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromospheres and transition region into the sun’s corona using spectrometry and imaging. IRIS fills a crucial gap in our ability to advance studies of the sun-to-Earth connection by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the foundation of the corona and the region around the sun known as the heliosphere. Photo credit: VAFB/Randy Beaudoin

Shenzhou-10 Docks With Tiangong-1
Shenzhou-10 Docks With Tiangong-1
Photo taken on June 13, 2013 shows the screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center as Shenzhou-10 commander Nie Haisheng entering the Tiangong-1 space module. China's Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft successfully completed an automated docking with the orbiting lab at 1:18 p.m. (local time) Thursday. The crew, astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping, opened the hatch of Tiangong-1 later that same day at at 4:17 p.m. (Xinhua/Liu Chan) EDITOR'S NOTE - This is an excelent view of the interior of the Tiangong-1 space lab. The camera was located on the aft bulkhead at the rear of the module.Most of the equipment is on this bulkhead so it can not be seen however the two small white rooms seen on either side of center are the sleeping quarters.

Astronauts Study Fire On ISS
Astronauts Study Fire On ISS
Looking a lot like a nebula against a background of stars, this is a flame in zero-g. Flames, like the one pictured here from the Flame Extinguishing Experiment (FLEX), burn more perfectly in microgravity, helping researchers get a better understanding of the nature of combustion in space and on Earth. FLEX-ICE-GA seeks answers to basic scientific questions that could have significant impact on green fuels here on Earth. "It's a combustion experiment for less polluting kinds of combustion fuels," said European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. "It will study combustion in order to understand how to ameliorate -- to make it better -- so that the results of combustion which normally are toxic substances, how to make them either disappear or reduce them to the minimum." The FLEX-ICE-GA bio-fuels investigation is the result of an agreement between NASA and IM scientists. U.S. and Italian scientists will share the analysis of the data equally between them. Source: NASA

Russia's Progress 51 cargo spacecraft separates from the International Space Station at 9:58 a.m. EDT, June 11, 2013. Fully unloaded and then re-loaded with trash, Progress 51 had to vacate the port to make way for the arrival of Europe's ATV this weekend. The spacecraft will conduct radar experiments for several days before destroying itself in the Earth's atmosphere. Photo Credit: NASA

Shenzhou-10 Payload Fairing
Shenzhou-10 Payload Fairing
This is a section of the Shenzhou-10 payload fairing after plummeting from the sky following launch. The debris were found yesterday in a remote section of China's Yulin Shaanixi province. Photo Credit: China Daily

Shenzhou-10 Crew Walkout
Shenzhou-10 Crew Walkout
Astronauts Nie Haisheng (C), Zhang Xiaoguang (R) and Wang Yaping attend the setting-out ceremony of the manned Shenzhou-10 mission at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, June 11, 2013. (Xinhua/Li Gang) Source: Xinhua

China Launches Manned Spacecraft
China Launches Manned Spacecraft
A Long March-2F rocket carrying China's manned Shenzhou-10 spacecraft has blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, June 11, 2013. The spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong-1 orbiting space lab where it will dock using an automated docking system. The crew will later un-dock and then re-dock using a manual docking system. during their stay at Tiangong-1 the crew will preform a variety of experiments designed to increase China's space fairing knowledge. They will also be testing out improved food, a new toilet, and giving a lessen to students on the ground. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

Shenzhou-10 To Launch June 11
Shenzhou-10 To Launch June 11
Chinese press is reporting the that country plans to launch its next manned spacecraft, Shenzhou-10 to the Tiangong-1 orbiting laboratory on June 11. Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program, told a televised briefing on Monday that the launch will take place at 5:38 pm local time. Shenzhou-10 will carry two men and one woman (Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping) on a 15 day mission designed to test docking procedures and continue experiments and medical tests on-board the Tiangong-1 lab. The crew will also host a lecture to a group of students from inside the Tiangong-1 laboratory. "The launch ground and all control systems are ready. Astronauts are in good and stable condition," Ping said. The photo here captures the seen as the crew train inside the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. Photo Credit: Xinhua

A Comet Factory
A Comet Factory
Astronomers using the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have imaged a region around a young star where dust particles can grow by clumping together. This is the first time that such a dust trap has been clearly observed and modelled. It solves a long-standing mystery about how dust particles in discs grow to larger sizes so that they can eventually form comets, planets and other rocky bodies. The results are published in the journal Science on 7 June 2013. This Annotated image shows the dust trap in the disc that surrounds the system Oph-IRS 48. The dust trap provides a safe haven for the tiny dust particles in the disc, allowing them to clump together and grow to sizes that allow them to survive on their own. The green area is the dust trap, where the bigger particles accumulate. The size of the orbit of Neptune is shown in the upper left corner to show the scale. Photo Credit: ESO

Onboard the International Space Station, Expedition 36 Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy, NASA astronaut, watches from just out of frame as he devotes some time with the long-running SPHERES experiment, also known as Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites. The experiment is run in conjunction with students who program bowling ball-sized satellites using algorithms. The free-floating satellites are programmed to perform maneuvers potentially influencing the design of future missions. Credit: NASA

3D-printed toolbox for Columbus
3D-printed toolbox for Columbus
This purpose-designed 3D-printed toolbox is being launched to the ISS on ESA’s latest ATV resupply spacecraft. The strong, lightweight multitray toolbox was printed in ULTEM 9085 thermoplastic by Thales Alenia Space in Turin through an ESA contract. The toolbox is designed to store tools for maintaining Europe’s Columbus research module. The new toolbox includes little clips to hold the tools in place, just like toolboxes you can buy at a hardware store, instead of the previous Velcro inserts that may lose their stickiness over time. At the same time, the toolbox exterior still has Velcro covering, so astronauts can leave it in place while they work without it drifting away. If any part of the toolbox breaks then the ground has only to reprint and fly up the tray in question. Following this pilot project, future long-duration missions could carry their own 3D printers in space to print out failed parts immediately. Source: ESA Editors Note: There are already plans to place both a food printer and a part printer on ISS. ISS will soon have "replicators" just like Star Trek.

Another Cool Shot From Last Weeks ATV Launch
Another Cool Shot From Last Weeks ATV Launch
On Wednesday 5 June 2013, Ariane 5 VA213 lifted off from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana with ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, Albert Einstein, en route to the International Space Station. At 20 190 kg, ATV Albert Einstein is the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Ariane, beating predecessor ATV Edoardo Amaldi by some 150 kg. ESA’s resupply and reboost vehicle is the largest, most advanced and most capable of the vehicles servicing the orbital outpost. Source: ESA

The North Pole Of Mars
The North Pole Of Mars
The north polar ice cap of Mars, presented as a mosaic of 57 separate images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. The ice cap spans approximately 1000 km and is seen here in polar stereographic projection. The images were taken throughout the entire mission, when Mars Express was at its closest to Mars along its orbit, at about 300-500 km altitude. The mosaic was published as space science image of the week on the occasion of the tenth anniversary since the mission launched on 2 June 2003. Photo Credit: ESA

China To Launch Manned Spacecraft In Mid June
China To Launch Manned Spacecraft In Mid June
China will launch its next manned spacecraft in mid June according to reports in the state run media. Shenzhou 10, along with its Long March 2F booster, was rolled to the launch pad on June 3 indicating that the launch campaign has entered its final phase. Shenzhou-10, which will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, will deliver a crew of three (including a woman) to the Tiangong-1 space laboratory. There they will practice rendezvous and docking techniques and continue with experiments aboard Tiangong-1 that were started by the Shenzhou 9 astronauts last year. The crew is expected to spend about a week or two aboard the orbiting lab docking and un-docking multiple times to test the handling characteristics of their ship. This photo shows the booster insive the Vehicle Assembly Building just before it rolled to the pad. Photo Credit: Xinhua

The Flood Waters Of Mars
The Flood Waters Of Mars
Dramatic flood events carved this impressive channel system on Mars covering 1.55 million square kilometres, shown here in a stunning new mosaic from ESA’s Mars Express. The mosaic, which features the spectacular Kasei Valles, comprises 67 images taken with the spacecraft’s high-resolution stereo camera and is released during the week of the 10th anniversary of the spacecraft’s launch to the Red Planet. Kasei Valles is one of the largest outflow channel systems on Mars – from source to sink, it extends some 3000 km and descends by 3 km in altitude. The scene covered in the mosaic spans 987 km north–south (19–36°N) and 1550 km east–west (280–310°E). The channel originates beyond the southern edge of this image near Valles Marineris, and empties into the vast plains of Chryse Planitia to the east (right). Kasei Valles splits into two main branches that hug a broad island of fractured terrain – Sacra Mensa – rising 2 km above the channels that swerve around it. While weaker materials succumbed to the erosive power of the fast-flowing water, this hardier outcrop has stood the test of time. Slightly further downstream, the flood waters did their best to erase the 100 km-wide Sharonov crater, crumpling its southern rim. Around Sharonov, many small streamlined islands form teardrop shapes rising from the riverbed, carved as water swept around these natural obstacles. The region between Sacra Mensa and Sharonov is seen in close-up detail in the perspective view below, looking downstream from the northern flank of Kasai Valles. Zooming into the valley floor reveals small craters with bright dust ‘tails’ seemingly flowing in the opposite direction to the movement of water. In fact, these craters were formed by impacts that took place after the catastrophic flooding, their delicate tails created by winds blowing in a westwards direction ‘up’ valley. Their raised rims influence wind flow over the crater such that the dust immediately ‘behind’ the crater remains undisturbed in comparison to the surrounding, exposed, plains. Kasei Valles has likely seen floods of many different sizes, brought about by the changing tectonic and volcanic activity in the nearby Tharsis region over 3 billion years ago. The landscape was pulled apart under the strain of these forces, groundwater bursting from its ripped seams to create not only violent floods, but also the unique fracture patterns seen at Sacra Mensa and Sacra Fossae. Snow and ice melted by volcanic eruptions also likely contributed to torrential, muddy outpourings, while glacial activity may have further shaped the channel system. Now silent, one can only imagine from examples on Earth the roar of gushing water that once cascaded through Kasei Valles, undermining cliff faces and engulfing craters, and eventually flooding onto the plains of Chryse Planitia. Source: ESA

NASA Spacecraft Captures Swath of Destruction from Deadly Oklahoma Tornado
NASA Spacecraft Captures Swath of Destruction from Deadly Oklahoma Tornado
The Newcastle-Moore EF-5 tornado ripped through central Oklahoma on May 20, 2013, killing 24 people and leaving behind more than $2 billion in damage. On June 2, 2013, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft captured this image showing the scar left on the landscape by the tornado's deadly track. In this false-color image, vegetation is red, water is dark blue, roads and buildings are gray and white, and bare fields are tan. The tornado track crosses the image from left to right as indicated by the arrows. The image covers an area of 6 by 8.6 miles (9.6 by 13.8 kilometers), and is located at 35.3 degrees north latitude, 97.5 degrees west longitude. With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on Terra. The instrument was built by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A joint U.S./Japan science team is responsible for validation and calibration of the instrument and data products. The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and temporal change. Example applications are: monitoring glacial advances and retreats; monitoring potentially active volcanoes; identifying crop stress; determining cloud morphology and physical properties; wetlands evaluation; thermal pollution monitoring; coral reef degradation; surface temperature mapping of soils and geology; and measuring surface heat balance. The U.S. science team is located at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The Terra mission is part of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Source: NASA

Life and Death In The Stars
Life and Death In The Stars
In what may look to some like an undersea image of coral and seaweed, a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is showing the birth and death of stars. In this view, infrared data from Spitzer are green and blue, while longer-wavelength infrared light from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) are red. The stringy, seaweed-like filaments are the blown out remnants of a star that exploded in a supernova. The billowy clouds seen in pink are sites of massive star formation. Clusters of massive stars can be seen lighting up the clouds, and a bubble carved out from massive stars is seen near the bottom. This region contains portions of what are known as the W3 and W5 star-forming regions. In this image, Spitzer's 3.6- and 4.5-micron data are blue and green, respectively, while WISE's 12-micron data are red. The Spitzer data were taken as part of the mission's Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire 360, or Glimpse 360 project, which is pointing the Spitzer Space Telescope away from the galactic center to complete a full 360-degree scan of the Milky Way plane. WISE all-sky observations are boosting Spitzer's imaging capabilities by providing the longer-wavelength infrared coverage the mission lost when it ran out of coolant, as planned, in 2009. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin

Albert Einstein Set For Launch
Albert Einstein Set For Launch
ALBERT EINSTEIN TOLLS TO THE PAD - The Ariane 5, along with its record-setting heavyweight payload Albert Einstein, has rolled out in French Guiana, setting the stage for Arianespace’s Flight VA213 tomorrow evening with Europe’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle on a servicing mission to the International Space Station. Launch is set for 5:52 pm EDT (US) on June 5, 2013 Source: Arianespace

ILS Proton Launches Satellite
ILS Proton Launches Satellite
An International Launch Services Proton-M booster thunders out of launch complex 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying the SES-6 telecommunications satellite. Lift off took place on time at 13:18 Moscow time on June 3, 2013. The launch was a complete success. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recently flipped an adapter -- no easy feat when you're talking about 1,000 pounds of aluminum -- furthering progress toward Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 in 2014 and providing early experience for Space Launch System (SLS) hardware ahead of the rocket's first flight in 2017. The flip is an important step in finishing the machining work on the adapter, which will attach NASA's Orion spacecraft to a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket that will send Orion to space during EFT-1. The same adapter technology later will connect Orion to SLS -- a new heavy-lift rocket managed and in development at Marshall that will be capable of sending Orion into deep space. During EFT-1, Orion will travel to an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth's surface. By flying Orion out to those distances, NASA will be able to see how the spacecraft performs in and returns from deep space journeys. The flight test also will provide engineers with important data about the adapter's performance before it is flown on SLS. Engineers finished welding on the first of two adapters and flipped it using a Posi-Turner load rotation device and an Assembly Jig, the ring that connects the Posi-Turner to the bottom of the adapter and rotates it. Credit: NASA

Engineers unwrap NASA's IRIS spacecraft after its connection to the nose of an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket that will lift the solar observatory into orbit in June. The work is taking place in a hangar at Vandenberg Air Force Base where IRIS, short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, is being prepared for launch on a Pegasus XL rocket. Scheduled for launch from Vandenberg June 26, IRIS will open a new window of discovery by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromospheres and transition region into the sun’s corona using spectrometry and imaging. IRIS fills a crucial gap in our ability to advance studies of the sun-to-Earth connection by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the foundation of the corona and the region around the sun known as the heliosphere. Photo credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

Orion Test Vehicle Undergoes Second Pyro Bolt Test
Orion Test Vehicle Undergoes Second Pyro Bolt Test
Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians completed a series of pyrotechnic bolt tests on the Orion ground test vehicle (GTA) in the Launch Equipment Test Facility (LETF) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida May 13-17. Earlier in the month, the GTA was transported from the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building to the LETF. During the week, technicians individually tested five frangible, or breakable, nut detonations between the GTA and a launch abort system (LAS) retention and release mechanism. Each test took about four hours to set up and about 30 minutes to test. The purpose of the LAS is to ignite its solid-fueled engines and lift Orion and its crew away from disaster in the unlikely event that the booster fails during the first part of launch. Photo Credit: NASA

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MAVEN – So What’s Up With That?

The other night I was talking with my daughters about exploring Mars. I was telling them about the Viking landers, the Mars Rovers, and I was showing them all the cool pictures that have been returned by the orbiters. So my oldest daughter asks me “what’s next?” and I told her we were getting ready to launch a new orbiter called Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN or just MAVEN for short. She sat and thought about it for a second and then asked “so what’s it going to photograph?” I answered “nothing – it has no cameras”. The two of them in unison replied “that’s stupid!” with the younger one continuing “why would you send something all the way to Mars if your not going to take any pictures?”  Then they both scampered off to watch Vampire Diaries leaving me alone to ponder the question. 

Now anybody who has followed my work knows that Mars has a special place in my heart and the idea that we were sending a probe to Mars without a camera did not sit well with me. I mean, you guys couldn’t have stuck a little one on there just to give us common folk something to look at?  But to understand why MAVEN has no cameras you first need to understand why MAVEN is being sent to Mars. MAVEN is going to Mars to explore something that for the most part no longer exists – the Martian atmosphere.

To date, every other spacecraft that has successfully visited Mars has been designed to explore the Martian surface. MAVEN is different, it’s not even going to look at the surface; it’s going to look at the air. You see there is a great deal of mystery when it comes to the Martian atmosphere. Based on findings from NASA’s Curiosity Rover we now know with certainty that Mars was once a habitable world with a thick atmosphere, temperate climate, and large bodies of liquid water on the surface. But today the atmosphere is thin –very thin. It’s so thin that if you stood on the surface your feet would be one temperature and your head perhaps 50 degrees F colder!  So what happened? How did Mars change from a habitable world to a frozen desert? Could it happen here on Earth? That’s what MAVEN is going to find out. 

There are many theories about why Mars is the way it is. Some say that it’s locked in a global ice age and as a result the atmosphere has frozen to the surface - eventually it will though out and become habitable again. Others say that Mars has died. That the core has cooled and the volcanoes have shut down. Without volcanism the atmosphere could not replenish itself and it simply leaked off into space - never to return. There are other theories about what happened on Mars but there seems to be one central theme. Something happened and the atmosphere became much thinner than it once was. Find out what happened to the atmosphere and you will know how Mars changed from a habitable world to the one we know today. This is why MAVEN has no cameras – what are you going to photograph - the air? 

Instead of cameras, NASA has provided MAVEN with a small arsenal of scientific instruments that can see things that no camera could ever detect. It has a Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, an Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, a device to measure Solar Energetic Particles, a Solar Wind Analyzer, a Solar Wind Electron Analyzer, a device to measure the Super Thermal and Thermal Ion Composition of the atmosphere, a device called Langmuir Probe and Waves, and a Magnetometer. 

Now I don’t know about you but when I see all those big words strung together like that my brain starts to hurt and I feel a little stupid. But it’s not as intimidating as it may seem. Scientists just like to be real descriptive and as a result they often crank out names that are real long and often confusing to the lay person. Basically all of these “things”, taken as a whole, will act as MAVEN’s cameras except instead of creating photos they are going to produce data with each data point acting like a pixel in a photograph. Put enough of them together and a picture emerges of something that hasn’t existed for a billion years – the missing Martian atmosphere.    

For example, you will notice that MAVEN carries with it three instruments that will explore the solar wind – the Solar Energetic Particle experiment, the Solar Energetic Particles device,  and the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles that flows off the surface of the Sun as a result of solar storms. Earth is protected from the solar wind by its magnetic field but Mars has no magnetic field so this wind hits the planet and gradually strips away its atmosphere. By studying the solar wind at Mars scientists can calculate just how fast the atmosphere is being stripped away. This allows them to calculate how much atmosphere disappears each year. Once you know how much is disappearing each year, you can simply work backwards to figure out how long ago it was thick enough to support water on the surface. You have just painted one part of the picture. The other instruments will fill in the rest. 

This is a part of Mars that has never been explored before and the results promise to revolutionize our thinking about our somewhat older and smaller sister. Mars is unique amongst the planets in that it is the only world that we can conclusively state was once Earthlike. This makes it a very special place in that it is the only world where we can make a direct comparison to Earth - one habitable world to another. It offers us a unique cosmic laboratory where we can study how the Earth once was and, quite possibly, what it one day may become. The more we learn about Mars, the more we learn about ourselves and this is the reason we need to send MAVEN to Mars – even without a camera.

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Commercialized Spaceflight In The 21st Century

Back in April of 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama came to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to announce a bold new direction for America’s space program – the commercialization of low Earth orbit. Under this program NASA would no-longer own the spacecraft it flies to Earth orbit. Instead it would buy rides on vehicles owned, developed, and operated, by several competing corporations. 

The crap hit the fan almost as soon as the words left his mouth. Everyone from congressmen to Apollo astronauts began bemoaning what they believed to be the “gutting” of NASA.  They claimed that industry was not ready for such an endeavor and that the project was doomed to failure. But, here we are just three years later, and already we have not one but two brand new and fully operational commercial space systems - the SpaceX Falcon-9/Dragon and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares/Cygnus. What’s more there are no fewer than six manned spacecraft under development – everything from sub-orbital hoppers to inflatable space stations*. Within the next three years NASA will have something that its never had before - an entire fleet of manned spacecraft!  Far from being gutted NASA has been enhanced.  

This is capitalism in action – the economic bedrock upon which the United States was built. It drives everything in this country and the space program is no exception. Who do you think has been building all the rockets and spacecraft anyway? NASA has no manufacturing facilities – it designs the spacecraft and then contracts the job out to industry. Privatization simply works but don’t take my word for it - history can speak for itself. 

Arguably, the U.S. space program began in 1958 with the launch of the first US satellite Explorer-1. From the beginning NASA wanted its satellites to be useful so it began developing a series of “proof of concept” missions. They launched the world’s first weather satellite, the first communications satellite, the first geostationary satellite, the first land satellite, and more. Over and over again NASA was showing the world what could be done with orbiting spacecraft and it did not go unnoticed. 

Almost immediately private companies saw the potential satellites had to offer and began moving ahead with plans to build their own. At first these were launched using NASA’s rockets but with the advent of the Space Shuttle, in the early 1980s, all of NASA’s rockets were scrapped. The Shuttle would now carry the nation’s payloads into space. Following the Challenger disaster, in the mid-1980s, this decision was reversed and it was decided that a mixed fleet of boosters would best guarantee the nation’s access to space. So Lockheed Martin (manufacturer of the Atlas) and Boeing (manufacturer of the Delta) were told to dust off their assembly lines and begin producing rockets again – only this time the boosters and the launch facilities would be totally owned and operated by the companies themselves. The satellite launch market had been privatized. 

Far from destroying NASA’s unmanned space program, which was now totally dependent on these commercial rockets, the move actually enhanced it. 

When Explorer-1 was launched it cost the US tax payer about $1,000,000.00 per pound ** to get it into space. Today, thanks to commercial launch services, this number has dropped to around $7,000.00 per pound. This remarkable drop in cost not only benefited NASA, but it allowed for the creation of entire new industries including satellite television, GPS, the global internet, and more. We’re not talking spin-offs here; these are entire industries that are completely dependent on space travel for their existence. Thanks to these new industries we now live in a world with instant communication anywhere on Earth and a giant global knowledge bank that anybody can access from their phone – private spacecraft had changed the world. 

As demand for launch services to support these new industries skyrocketed, more and more companies began tossing their hats into the ring. Orbital Sciences Corporation developed Antares, Taurus, Minatare, and Pegasus. Lockheed Martin created Athena and the Atlas V family of rockets. Boeing developed the Delta IV family and continues to market its venerable Delta 2, SpaceX developed the Falcon family of rockets and so on. 

If NASA needs a rocket to launch an un-manned spacecraft it simply shops the market for the one best suited to its needs. It then buys it directly from the manufacturer who oversees all aspects of the launch. NASA takes control only after the spacecraft has been inserted into orbit. When the boosters are not being used to launch government payloads they are used to launch private payloads which creates two space programs – a government one and a private one. Today, this private market is a $189.5 billion dollar per year global industry that grew 7% in 2012 outstripping global economic growth which was 2.3% and U.S. economic growth which was 2.2 %. *** 

The number one argument I have heard against spaceflight is that it is academic – there are no “practical” benefits. Well nobody is going to argue that satellites, which NASA showed us how to build and launch and private industry now handles on its own, are not essential to the economy. In fact they are so important that the US military has declared satellites to be U.S. sovereign territory and has made it clear that they are willing to fight to protect them. This is because satellites have become integrated into the national economy. They generate income, create jobs, help keep us safe, and have improved the lives of us all. 

The same thing now needs to happen with the manned spaceflight program. 

Up to this point the manned space program has been based on exploration. Dr Werner von Braun came up with this concept believing that spaceflight should be for the benefit of all mankind. It’s a very noble concept but Thomas Edison didn’t develop the light bulb because it was noble. He did it because he thought it would make him rich. There has to be a reason to invest all this money or the money stops. Exploration that isn’t followed by exploitation is purely academic and in the long run will prove to be unsustainable. 

Commercialization provides us with a justification for the manned space program – expand the human presence out into the solar system. NASA does the exploration and then industry follows with the exploitation. In this way manned spaceflight becomes integrated with the national economy and produces tangible benefits. If the un-manned program has taught us anything it’s that commercialization will lower the cost, increase the efficiency, and lead to the creation of new and hear-to unimagined industries. The exploration opens up the frontier for exploitation and exploitation provides justification for the exploration. It’s symbiotic, its natural, and it is simply how it works. 

NASA was founded on the promise that it would open up a new frontier. Well it has. Low Earth orbit has been explored. We already know how to live and work there. Now we need to own it, to integrate it with our lives and make it a part of who we are. NASA can then use its resources to expand the frontier outward first to the Moon and then into the Solar System finally lifting the human species out of its cradle to establish a permanent and sustainable human presence in space. 


  • * The Manned version of the SpaceX Dragon, Boeings manned CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, XCOR’s suborbital Lynx, Vergin Galactic’s suborbital SpaceShip-2, and Biggelow’s inflatable space station. NASA is also developing Orion so if you count the government ship the real number is 7


  • ** The most conservative and reliable estimate I could find for the cost of the Explorer 1 mission  $30,000,000.00 in 1950 dollars.  Explorer weighed only 30 pounds.



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September 06, 2013
Why Should I Care About Mars?
Mars is over a hundred million miles away – it’s a desert where the temperatures drop so low that carbon dioxide freezes out of the atmosphere at night!  So why should anybody care about Mars?

Over the course of the last year some game changing discoveries have been made about the planet Mars. In my opinion, these discoveries should have been front page news on all the world’s newspapers – but they weren’t. In fact most news outlets didn’t even carry the stories. This begs me to ask the question why? I brought this question up to a group of friends the other night and to my astonishment their reply was simply “why should I care about Mars?” Uh - okay fair question. After all Mars is over a hundred million miles away – it’s a desert where the temperatures drop so low that carbon dioxide freezes out of the atmosphere at night!  So why should anybody care about Mars? 

On August 6, 2012, NASA landed an incredible new rover on Mars. Its formal name was the “Mars Science Laboratory” but most of us knew it simply as Curiosity. Curiosity was sent to Mars not to find out if there was life on the planet; it was sent to find out if Mars ever had an environment that could have supported life. If the planet was never capable of supporting life to begin with, why bother looking for life there in the first place?


To accomplish this task NASA equipped the rover with a battery of scientific instruments and cameras – 19 in all! Among these was a suite of instruments called Sample Analysis at Mars. Sample Analysis at Mars is a miniature science laboratory designed to study samples from the planet, be they from the surface or the atmosphere, and determine their composition in unprecedented detail. NASA also gave the rover a drill so that it could bore several inches into the rocks it found - a depth at which the material would have been un-effected by the solar radiation that bathes the planet unimpeded by its thin atmosphere. 

To land Curiosity on Mars NASA used a new landing technique called “Sky Crane”. As the rover descended towards the surface, a hypersonic parachute was deployed to slow the rover down to the point where it could drop out of its protective aeroshell. A back pack then took over and guided the spacecraft to within a few hundred feet of the surface. It then hovered and a crane lowered the rover down to the ground. This successfully got the rover to the surface but while the back pack was hovering, its rockets blasted the surface and contaminated it with their exhaust.


So once Curiosity landed, the first thing the scientists wanted to do was to drive the rover away from the landing site to an area that was not contaminated. Here they would find a suitable target and then unleash their entire science package on it to make sure all the instruments had survived the trip from Earth and were ready for action. They would then drive to their primary exploration site which was some miles away.


The area they picked was called Yellowknife bay. Not only was the area close by and uncontaminated but as it turned out, it was also very interesting. Yellowknife bay appeared to lie within an ancient stream bed that had long since gone dry. Sedimentary rocks were everywhere and there were what appeared to be white veins of minerals deposited within them. 

The team used the spacecraft’s drill to bore into one of these rocks and to everybody’s surprise, instead of being red like everything else on Mars, the interior of the rock was grey. They next used the robot arm to scrape up a sample of the mysterious grey material and deliver it to the Sample Analysis at Mars suite.  The mysterious grey matter turned out to contain clay. Ok my kid plays with clay what’s so special about clay? Clay is special in this case because it only forms in the presence of clear, fresh, water. Curiosity had just found evidence for the long term presence of drinkable water on Mars! 

But there was more. Sample Analysis at Mars also preformed detailed chemical analyses of the sample and not only did it find organics, the basic building blocks of life, but it also found every chemical ingredient necessary for life to exist! It then analyzed the atmosphere and found that the planets atmosphere had been eking away for eons. By working backwards the team was able to conclude that the planet once possessed a much thicker atmosphere capable of supporting clouds and other forms of weather.


Taken hand in hand with the rest of Curiosity’s findings there was only one logical conclusion – Mars was once a habitable world!  For the first time in history we can now say with certainty that at least at one time, our solar system had two habitable worlds. This is Earth shaking news and this is why people need to care about Mars. 

For over 200,000 years, as long as modern people have been around and probably longer than that, humankind has been asking certain fundamental questions. Who are we? Where do we fit in the greater scheme of things? Are there other worlds like our own?  Now we can at last answer one of those questions. Yes, there are other worlds like our own. In fact there was once one right next door. 

If habitable worlds like our own are so common that the one solar system we can examine in detail produced two, what does that say about the rest of the galaxy?  What does that say about the universe? And what does that say about our place within it?  This is why people should care about Mars.


The question is no longer did Mars once have life? The question now is if Mars does not, and never did have life, why not? Complex life exists on Earth because the Earth has been stable enough, for long enough, to allow evolution to occur. If Mars was once a habitable world then what happened to it? Something stunted its growth.  Was there some sort of cataclysm? Or was it a slow lingering death during which the atmosphere leaked out into space turning Mars into a desert?  What ever it was the big question is could it happen here on Earth? This is why people need to care about Mars.

Mars is the only place in the universe that we know with certainty was once a habitable world. That by itself makes Mars the most Earth like planet in the solar system and the only place we know of where we can study, all be it through an ancient record, a habitable world other than the Earth. This is totally new. Never before have we been able to compare one habitable world to another. What new insights will we find? How will these effect how we view ourselves and our own world? This is why we people should care about Mars. 

Earth, Carl Sagan compared it to a pale blue dot. I think of it more like a sapphire. A tiny but brilliant creation cast upon the thick velvet blackness of space and time. For as long as civilization has existed we have believed her to be alone and unique within the cosmos. We now know this to be untrue. For at one time, at least for a while, the Earth had a sister and her name was Mars. And perhaps above all other reasons this is why people should care about Mars. 

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Production of Key Equipment Paves Way for NASA SLS RS-25 Testing

STENNIS -  NASA plans to begin testing RS-25 engines for its new Space Launch System (SLS) in the fall of 2014, and the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi has a very big -- literally -- item to complete on the preparation checklist.

Fabrication recently began at Stennis on a new 7,755-pound thrust frame adapter for the A-1 Test Stand to enable testing of the engines that will provide core-stage power for NASA's SLS. The stand component is scheduled to be completed and installed by November 2013.

Design image shows a RS-25 rocket engine installed on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center. (NASA/SSC)

"We initially thought we would have to go offsite to have the equipment built," said Gary Benton, RS-25 test project manager at Stennis. "However, the Stennis design team figured out a way to build it here with resulting cost and schedule savings. It’s a big project and a critical one to ensure we obtain accurate data during engine testing."

Each rocket engine type requires a thrust frame adapter unique to its specifications. On the test stand, the adapter is attached to the thrust measurement system. A rocket engine then is attached to the adapter, which must hold the engine in place and absorb the thrust produced during a test, while allowing accurate measurement of the engine performance.

The J-2X equipment installed on the A-1 Test Stand now cannot be used to test RS-25 engines since it does not match the engine specifications and thrust requirements. For instance, the J-2X engine is capable of producing 294,000 pounds of thrust. The RS-25 engine will produce approximately 530,000 pounds of thrust.

NASA and the Lockheed Martin Test Operations Contract Group team worked together in designing the new adapter to make sure such requirements were met. They also communicated closely with the Jacobs Technology welding and machine shop teams to make sure what was being designed actually could be built.

The design had to account for a number of considerations, such as specific stresses on the equipment as an engine is fired and then gimbaled (rotated) during a test; what type and strength of bolts are needed to fully secure the equipment; and what materials can be used to build the adapter.

"This is a very specific process," Benton said. "It is critical that thrust data not be skewed or compromised during a test, so the adapter has to be precisely designed and constructed."

The fabrication process itself involves handling and shaping large segments of certain material, which required welders to receive specialized training. In addition, shop personnel had to create a welding procedure for dealing with the chosen construction material. For instance, the area of material being welded must maintain a heat of 300 degrees in order to ensure welds bond properly. That procedure and other specifications are being incorporated into Stennis standards.

"It's a challenging project," said Kent Morris, RS-25 project manager for Jacobs Technology. "It's similar to the J-2X adapter project, but larger. It will take considerable man hours to perform the welding and machining needed on the material. The material used for the engine mounting block alone is 32 inches in diameter and 20 inches thick."

Physically, the adapter is the largest facility item on the preparation checklist for RS-25 testing, but it is far from the only one, Benton said. Additional modifications will be made to the test stand configuration and equipment once J-2X gimbal testing is complete this summer.

Once testing begins, engineers and test team personnel at Stennis will draw on a wealth of engine testing experience. The RS-25 engines, previously known as the space shuttle main engines were tested at Stennis for more than three decades.

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PARIS -  ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, Albert Einstein, completed a flawless rendezvous with the International Space Station on 15 June when it docked smoothly with orbital outpost at 14:07 GMT (16:07 CEST). The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is now connected to the Space Station.

“Bravo Europe, bravo ESA, bravo ATV. Thank you Member States, thank you industry, thank you CNES, thank you Russian partner,” commented Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA. 

“With the fourth ATV now ready to support and supply the Space Station with essential supplies and scientific experiments, ESA again proves itself to be a reliable partner in the international station upon which the future can be developed.” 

The 20-tonne ferry, the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Europe, flew autonomously and docked with the 420-tonne complex with a precision of a few cm as both circled Earth at 28 000 km/h.

 Albert Einstein nears ISS Photo Credit: NASA TV

“Such a gentle contact between a spacecraft the size of a double-decker bus and a Station 20 times larger is an amazing achievement, highlighting the impressive level of control achieved by this European space system developed by our industry under ESA’s direction,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations. 

“These impressive technological capabilities will live on in the service module of NASA’s upcoming Orion crew vehicle.” 

The rendezvous and docking were performed autonomously by ATV’s own computers, closely monitored by flight controllers from ESA and France’s CNES space agency at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, and by Luca Parmitano and his crewmates on the Station. Like its predecessors, ATV-4 is much more than a simple supply vessel: it is a space tug, a tanker, a freighter and a temporary habitation module.

To compensate for the natural decay in altitude of the Station’s orbit caused by atmospheric drag, it is loaded with 2580 kg of propellant to perform regular reboosts. It can even move the entire space complex out of the path of hazardous space debris. ATV also provides attitude control when other spacecraft are approaching the Station. 

In its tanks, it carries 860 kg of propellant, 100 kg of oxygen and air, and 570 kg of drinking water, all to be pumped into the Station’s tanks. In its pressurised cargo module, it carries more than 1400 items packed into 141 bags, including 2480 kg of dry cargo such as scientific equipment, spare parts, food and clothes for the astronauts.

During its four months attached to the Station, ATV will provide 45 cubic metres of extra crew quarters. On previous missions, the addition was welcomed by the astronauts as “the quietest place in the Station” and was often the preferred area for working. 

At the end of its mission, scheduled for 28 October, ATV-4 will separate from the Station, packed with waste bags. The following day, it will be directed to burn up safely in the atmosphere during reentry over the South Pacific Ocean.

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ESA Developing Dark Matter Telescope

PARIS - The module carrying the telescope and scientific instruments of ESA’s Euclid ‘dark Universe’ mission is now being developed by Astrium in Toulouse, France. 

Euclid will be launched in 2020 to explore dark energy and dark matter in order to understand the evolution of the Universe since the Big Bang and, in particular, its present accelerating expansion.

Dark matter is invisible to our normal telescopes but acts through gravity to play a vital role in forming galaxies and slowing the expansion of the Universe. 

Dark energy, however, causes a force that is overcoming gravity and accelerating the expansion seen around us today. 

Together, these two components are thought to comprise 95% of the mass and energy of the Universe, with ‘normal’ matter, from which stars, planets and we humans are made, making up the remaining small fraction. Their nature remains a profound mystery. 

Euclid Photo Credit: ESA

“Euclid will address the cosmology-themed questions of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 program with advanced payload technologies, enabling Europe to become a world leader in this field of research,” says Thomas Passvogel, Head of the Project Department in ESA’s Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration. 

Astrium will deliver a fully integrated payload module incorporating a 1.2 m-diameter telescope feeding the mission’s two science instruments, which are being developed by the Euclid Consortium. 

The two state-of-the art, wide-field instruments – a visible-light camera and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer – will map the 3D distribution of up to two billion galaxies and the associated dark matter and dark energy, spread over more than a third of the whole sky. 

By surveying galaxies stretched across ten billion light-years, the mission will plot the evolution of the very fabric of the Universe and the structures within it over three-quarters of its history. 

In particular, Euclid will address one of the most important questions in modern cosmology: why is the Universe expanding at an accelerating rate today, rather than slowing down due to the gravitational attraction of all the matter in it? 

The discovery of this cosmic acceleration in 1998 was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011 and yet there is no accepted explanation for it. 

By using Euclid to study its effects on the galaxies and clusters of galaxies across the Universe, astronomers hope to come much closer to understanding the true nature and influence of this mysterious dark energy. 

“We are excited that Euclid has reached this important milestone, allowing us to progress towards launch in 2020, and bringing us ever closer to uncovering some of the Universe’s darkest secrets,” says Giuseppe Racca, ESA’s Euclid Project Manager.

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Mars Water-Ice Clouds Are Key to Odd Thermal Rhythm

PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have found that temperatures in the Martian atmosphere regularly rise and fall not just once each day, but twice.

"We see a temperature maximum in the middle of the day, but we also see a temperature maximum a little after midnight," said Armin Kleinboehl of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who is the lead author of a new report on these findings.

Temperatures swing by as much as 58 degrees Fahrenheit (32 kelvins) in this odd, twice-a-day pattern, as detected by the orbiter's Mars Climate Sounder instrument.


The new set of Mars Climate Sounder observations sampled a range of times of day and night all over Mars. The observations found that the pattern is dominant globally and year-round. The report is being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Global oscillations of wind, temperature and pressure repeating each day or fraction of a day are called atmospheric tides. In contrast to ocean tides, they are driven by variation in heating between day and night. Earth has atmospheric tides, too, but the ones on Earth produce little temperature difference in the lower atmosphere away from the ground. On Mars, which has only about one percent as much atmosphere as Earth, they dominate short-term temperature variations throughout the atmosphere.

Tides that go up and down once per day are called "diurnal." The twice-a-day ones are called "semi-diurnal." The semi-diurnal pattern on Mars was first seen in the 1970s, but until now it had been thought to appear just in dusty seasons, related to sunlight warming dust in the atmosphere.

"We were surprised to find this strong twice-a-day structure in the temperatures of the non-dusty Mars atmosphere," Kleinboehl said. "While the diurnal tide as a dominant temperature response to the day-night cycle of solar heating on Mars has been known for decades, the discovery of a persistent semi-diurnal response even outside of major dust storms was quite unexpected, and caused us to wonder what drove this response."

He and his four co-authors found the answer in the water-ice clouds of Mars. The Martian atmosphere has water-ice clouds for most of the year. Clouds in the equatorial region between about 6 to 19 miles (10 to 30 kilometers) above the surface of Mars absorb infrared light emitted from the surface during daytime. These are relatively transparent clouds, like thin cirrus clouds on Earth. Still, the absorption by these clouds is enough to heat the middle atmosphere each day. The observed semi-diurnal temperature pattern, with its maximum temperature swings occurring away from the tropics, was also unexpected, but has been replicated in Mars climate models when the radiative effects of water-ice clouds are included.

"We think of Mars as a cold and dry world with little water, but there is actually more water vapor in the Martian atmosphere than in the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere," Kleinboehl said. "Water-ice clouds have been known to form in regions of cold temperatures, but the feedback of these clouds on the Mars temperature structure had not been appreciated. We know now that we will have to consider the cloud structure if we want to understand the Martian atmosphere. This is comparable to scientific studies concerning Earth's atmosphere, where we have to better understand clouds to estimate their influence on climate."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, provided the Mars Climate Sounder instrument and manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

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What To Expect From Shenzhou-10

Beijing – The Shenzhou-10 crew, who successfully launched out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center yesterday aboard a modified Long March 2B booster, spent their first full day in space today offering the country Dragon Festival (Chinese New Year) greetings from within the  spacecrafts descent module. Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping appeared on camera around 1pm local time today to thank those who were stuck working because they were in orbit and to send greetings to the rest of the country.


"We wish all Chinese around the world a happy Dragon Boat Festival," the astronauts said while holding a banner reading "Happy Dragon Boat Festival."  Within the next day or two the crew should reach their destination – the Tiangong-1 space laboratory. Chinese technicians describe Tiangong-1 as a “mini Space Station”, a uniquely Chinese construction where Chinese astronauts can begin honing their skills before graduating to a full sized space station before the year 2020.


Tiangong-1 Photo Credit: Xinhua


Tiangong 1 is 35 feet long and is 11 feet in diameter at its widest part. It weighs just 8.5 tons (compare that to the first Russian space station which weighed 25 tons). It is made up of two major modules. At the front is a docking port. Tiangong 1 has been fitted with a modified APAS-89 docking unit. The same unit currently used by Russia and the United States to dock with the International Space Station. It is believed that the Chinese chose this system deliberately in order to make their spacecraft compatible with ISS.


From the docking port, a cone shaped adapter leads to the first module known as the “experiment” module. This is a two steeped pressurized module with the back half being slightly larger than the front. This is the area in which the crew will do most of their work. The experiment module is connected to the second module, known as the resource module, via a second cone like structure. The resource module is a cylinder which contains all of the crew’s life support systems as well as all of the mechanical systems and fuel. Power is generated using two foldable solar panels that attach to the module. There are also at least two maneuvering engines in the back. It is entirely possible that this section is a modified Shenzhou service module. This would be similar to how the Russians used modified Soyuz service modules on their early space stations.


Shenzhou – 10 is the first operational flight of a Shenzhou spacecraft. Up to this point, the Chinese have been using each manned mission to develop certain key technologies. First was to simply fly a man in space, then to fly a crew into space, next was to conduct a spacewalk, and after that was to dock with an orbiting lab (Tiangong-1). Now they are seeking to utilize these key technologies to begin living and working in space.


High on the priority list for Shenzhou-10 will be docking operations. In fact this is mission critical objective. Once Shenzhou-10 reaches Tiangong-1 the crew will attempt to dock with it.  This will be done autonomously from the ground. If Shenzhou-10 fails to dock the mission will be over. Upon docking the crew will enter Shenzhou-10’s orbital module. Unlike the Russian Soyuz and the American Space Shuttle, which normally stay passive during docked operations, Shenzhou-10 will play a very active roll. One of the Unique capabilities of the Shenzhou system is the fact that the orbital module can function independent of the rest of the spacecraft. It acts like a third module housing the kitchen, bathroom, and a single sleep station (two more are on the lab). It is interesting to note that on this particular mission the crew will be using a new and improved toilet as well as testing out new food.


Once the post docking checks are complete the crew will open the hatch and one of them, most likely the commander, will enter the lab. The first thing he will do is give the interior a thorough look over. Tiangong-1 has been in space now for over 600 days, during this time it has only been visited once. Early Russian space stations that were left un-occupied so long were often found to have mold or slime growing on the walls by the next crew. Chinese scientists believe that they have that problem under control but they want to make sure. Following his inspection the commander will invite the other two astronauts inside where they will hold a brief news conference before beginning work.


Over the course of the next few days the crew will work to resupply the station (something the Chinese have never done before) and begin work on science experiments. Earth observations and observations of China’s farm lands will be conducted using a special hyperspectral camera that has been installed inside the experiment module. The camera will enable scientists to monitor such things as heavy metal pollution, pesticide residue, and plant disease. In addition to the camera, the spacecraft comes equipped with facilities to study photonic crystals, a material that is expected to revolutionize information technologies here on Earth, and other experiments involving life sciences.


Taking a que from NASA, the crew plans to host a live broadcast with school children in China. Astronaut Wang Yaping plans to give Chinese primary and middle school students on Earth a lesson in the effects of the zero-gravity environment. This is intended to inspire them to pursue careers in science or mathematics.


After a period of time the crew will once again enter Shenzhou-10 and un-dock from the station. After performing a series of maneuvers meant to simulate relocating a spacecraft from one station port to another, the crew will re-dock with the station only this time they will do it manually.


The crew will spend the rest of the mission finishing up their experiments and packing away the results. During the time between the last Shenzhou visit and this one, the station has been working autonomously so there is a lot of data to collect. The crew will then return to Earth. The entire mission is expected to last 15 days.


This will probably be the last time a Chinese spacecraft visits Tiangong-1. The spacecraft is getting old and China is already working on the Tiangong-2 follow-up module. Tiangong-2 will be more capable and able to support crews for longer stays than Tiangong-1 could. This is expected to be followed by Tiangong-3.


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Marks on Martian Dunes May Be Tracks of Dry-Ice Sleds

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA research indicates hunks of frozen carbon dioxide -- dry ice -- may glide down some Martian sand dunes on cushions of gas similar to miniature hovercraft, plowing furrows as they go.

Researchers deduced this process could explain one enigmatic class of gullies seen on Martian sand dunes by examining images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and performing experiments on sand dunes in Utah and California.

"I have always dreamed of going to Mars," said Serina Diniega, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and lead author of a report published online by the journal Icarus. "Now I dream of snowboarding down a Martian sand dune on a block of dry ice."

The hillside grooves on Mars, called linear gullies, show relatively constant width -- up to a few yards, or meters, across -- with raised banks or levees along the sides. Unlike gullies caused by water flows on Earth and possibly on Mars, they do not have aprons of debris at the downhill end of the gully. Instead, many have pits at the downhill end.

Several types of downhill flow features have been observed on Mars. This image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is an example of a type called "linear gullies." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona 

"In debris flows, you have water carrying sediment downhill, and the material eroded from the top is carried to the bottom and deposited as a fan-shaped apron," said Diniega. "In the linear gullies, you're not transporting material. You're carving out a groove, pushing material to the sides."

Images from MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera show sand dunes with linear gullies covered by carbon-dioxide frost during the Martian winter. The location of the linear gullies is on dunes that spend the Martian winter covered by carbon-dioxide frost. By comparing before-and-after images from different seasons, researchers determined that the grooves are formed during early spring. Some images have even caught bright objects in the gullies.

Scientists theorize the bright objects are pieces of dry ice that have broken away from points higher on the slope. According to the new hypothesis, the pits could result from the blocks of dry ice completely sublimating away into carbon-dioxide gas after they have stopped traveling.

"Linear gullies don't look like gullies on Earth or other gullies on Mars, and this process wouldn't happen on Earth," said Diniega. "You don't get blocks of dry ice on Earth unless you go buy them."

That is exactly what report co-author Candice Hansen, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., did. Hansen has studied other effects of seasonal carbon-dioxide ice on Mars, such as spider-shaped features that result from explosive release of carbon-dioxide gas trapped beneath a sheet of dry ice as the underside of the sheet thaws in spring. She suspected a role for dry ice in forming linear gullies, so she bought some slabs of dry ice at a supermarket and slid them down sand dunes.

That day and in several later experiments, gaseous carbon dioxide from the thawing ice maintained a lubricating layer under the slab and also pushed sand aside into small levees as the slabs glided down even low-angle slopes.

The outdoor tests did not simulate Martian temperature and pressure, but calculations indicate the dry ice would act similarly in early Martian spring where the linear gullies form. Although water ice, too, can sublimate directly to gas under some Martian conditions, it would stay frozen at the temperatures at which these gullies form, the researchers calculate.

"MRO is showing that Mars is a very active planet," Hansen said. "Some of the processes we see on Mars are like processes on Earth, but this one is in the category of uniquely Martian."

Hansen also noted the process could be unique to the linear gullies described on Martian sand dunes.

"There are a variety of different types of features on Mars that sometimes get lumped together as 'gullies,' but they are formed by different processes," she said. "Just because this dry-ice hypothesis looks like a good explanation for one type doesn't mean it applies to others."

The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages MRO for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter. 

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