NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on the surface of Mars in January of 2004. As of Sunday (July 26), the Opportunity rover had driven a total distance of 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Opportunity took the top spot in total off-world distance traveled by surpassing Russia’s Lunokhod 2 lunar rover, which traveled a total distance of 39 kilometers across the surface of the moon between January and May of 1973.
The Russian rover helped to bring about a golden age of space exploration in the 70s. As a sign of respect, the Opportunity rover’s operators decided to commemorate the Russian rover by naming one of the first craters they encountered after it.
The craziest part of this record is that the Opportunity rover was only expected to travel a short distance when it was first sent to Mars in 2004. Here’s John Callas, who manages the Mars Exploration Project at NASA’s Jet-Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California:
“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”
The Opportunity rover is collecting data on Mars as part of a long-term plan for a manned mission to the planet around the year 2030.
The infographic below compares the distances driven by different rovers throughout the years. Click to enlarge (courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech):
But the mood has become a bit more somber with the end of the Cup and the resurgence of the conflict in the Middle East.
In a blog post he wrote for the European Space Agency’s website, Gerst gave insight into the astronauts’ perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His introduction is very powerful:
“Some things that on Earth we see in the news every day and thus almost tend to accept as a ‘given,’ appear very different from our perspective. We do not see any borders from space.
We just see a unique planet with a thin, fragile atmosphere, suspended in a vast and hostile darkness. From up here it is crystal clear that on Earth we are one humanity, we eventually all share the same fate.
What came to my mind at the time of this photo was, if we ever will be visited by another species from somewhere in the universe, how would we explain to them what they might see as the very first thing when they look at our planet?“
How would we explain to them the way we humans treat not only each other but also our fragile blue planet, the only home we have? I do not have an answer for that.”
NASA is confident that underneath Jupiter’s moon Europa there could be more water than in our oceans here on Earth. So naturally, Europa has attracted a lot of attention, encouraging the curious to ask, “Could there be life on Europa?”.
Currently, NASA is aiming to send a new mission to Europa by 2025. The White House’s 2015 federal budget allocates $15 million towards making this Europa mission a reality.
Europa has recently become one of NASA’s main focuses because, out of all the other planetary bodies in our solar system, it has arguably the greatest chance of harboring life.
“Every 10 years, the U.S. National Research Council, a nonprofit organization that advises the government, issues a report that recommends a planetary exploration strategy for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The current report (which covers 2013 to 2022) ranks an exploration of Europa among the highest priority missions. According to the report, the future mission should focus on taking a closer look at the ocean that scientists suspect lies below the surface; characterizing its icy crust and looking for any subsurface liquid water; determining the surface composition and chemistry; examining surface features and identifying landing areas for future missions; and understanding the purpose of its magnetosphere — the magnetic field surrounding the celestial body. NASA officials said the instrument proposals should focus on at least one of these exploration goals. The announcement calls for instruments designed for a spacecraft that will orbit Europa or complete several flybys, since astronomers do not yet have enough data to pinpoint safe landing sites on the icy moon.”
The video below describes Europa in more detail.
NASA hopes that by providing monetary incentives to private parties, they will encourage competition and innovation, leading to affordable development processes for the instruments necessary for new missions like the upcoming one to Europa.
Two of the main challenges for teams developing instruments are overcoming Jupiter’s high levels of radiation and making sure that no organic material from Earth (like microorganisms, for example) is introduced to Europa’s potentially habitable surface.
The competition ends in April 2015. NASA will select the top 20 proposals, rewarding $25 million to each of the selected teams to further advance their designs for their instruments. NASA will also select eight winners whose instruments will be developed and actually used in NASA’s mission to Europa.
This competition is included in NASA’s budget to get to Europa, according to Space.com…
“NASA is in the process of designing a mission that will cost less than $1 billion and will still meet as many of the exploration goals as possible.”
Check out NASA’s full guidelines for Europa mission science instrument ideas here.
You can also learn more about how Europa works in this infographic from Space.com (click to enlarge):
The search for extra-terrestrial life has been one NASA’s most important missions in recent years. NASA has estimated that in our galaxy alone, there are 100 million planets that cold possibly host alien life.
Speaking at their Washington headquarters on Monday, NASA outlined new plans to use current telescope technology to help in the search. They also announced that they would be launching the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017 to aid in the search.
“Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life. Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe,”
said Matt Mountain, who serves as director at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The Institute will be launching the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 to help in the search as well.
Mountain also added,
“What we didn’t know five years ago is that perhaps 10 to 20 per cent of stars around us have Earth-size planets in the habitable zone… It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever.”
NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden also weighed in on the announcement:
“Do we believe there is life beyond Earth? I would venture to say that most of my colleagues here today say it is improbable that in the limitless vastness of the universe we humans stand alone.”
The second man to ever step on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, is endorsing a new project that’s being called “Apollo 45″. The campaign aims to increase awareness about all Apollo missions and Apollo 11’s historic lunar landing.
The 45th anniversary of that monumental landing is this month (July 26). Aldrin feels that,
“We need to remind the world about the Apollo missions and that we can still do impossible things.”
Aldrin, along with fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, launched towards the moon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969.
Collins orbited the moon in the command module as Buzz and Neil set foot on the Moon for the first time in mankind’s history. The pair spent a total of 21.5 hours on the moon’s surface during the mission.
Check out the video below to learn more about the project, including who is currently involved and how you can get involved as well.
“Aldrin is asking people around the world to share their memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing via social media by uploading recollections of the landing to Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #Apollo45. The Apollo 45 YouTube page will be used to promote videos uploaded by people around the world remembering Apollo 11, which touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969.”
“Aldrin will be in the Space.com offices on July 14 for a Google Hangout about the Apollo anniversary. Do you have anything you’d like to ask the moonwalker? Send in your questions via Twitter to @Spacedotcom or you can find us on Facebook and Google+. You can also leave your questions in the comments section below this article.
Aldrin will share special videos celebrating Apollo from July 10 until the anniversary on July 20. You can learn more about the project through the Apollo 45 YouTube page.
Check out some images from the Apollo 11 mission below.
On June 12, 2009, the International Space Station’s orbit happened to take it over the Kuril Islands (northeast Japan).
The Kuril Islands were built by volcanic activity and still have active volcanoes. The most active is Sarychev Peak, located on the northwestern end of Matua Island.
Although Sarychev Peak hadn’t erupted since 1989, it was somewhat overdue for one, considering it had previously erupted in 1986, 1976, 1954, and 1946.
By a stroke of luck, the ISS was flying overhead when Sarychev Peak was in the early stages of its eruption on that June day in 2009, and captured a series of amazing images which were converted into the incredible GIF below:
The images (which you can view frame by frame courtesy of NASA here) are remarkable for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there was little to no shearing wind to spread and disperse the ash plume, so the ISS was able to capture crucial features of the eruption, like the pyroclastic flow at the base.
The small white cloud at the top of the ash plume is known as a pileus cloud. It was formed as the eruption rapidly pushed the moist air above the island upwards with the plume. As this moist air is pushed upwards, it cools and condenses, forming a cloud. When a pileus cloud in above an eruption or explosion, it’s called an “ice cap”.
One of the coolest features of these images has actually caused a bit of controversy in the science world. If you look around the edges of the images, you will see that the ash plume is emerging from a large circular opening in the clouds.
When the photo was originally published, NASA postulated that the hole was “punched” through the clouds by the upward shockwave of the eruption. But this explanation sparked a debate between meteorologists, geoscientists, and volcanologists who viewed the images. SInce then, two other possible theories have been proposed.
One is that the hole has nothing to do with the eruption at all. In areas where islands are surrounded by oceans with cool surface temperature, it is very common for sheets of clouds to form and drift along with the low-level winds.
When these clouds drift over an island, the moist air closer to the surface is pushed up by the island. Since the air above the marine layer (where the clouds form) is dryer and warmer than the air over the water, the portion of the cloud over the island evaporates, leaving a hole.
The final theory is that as the ash plume rises, the air above it flows down its sides, like water flowing off the back of a surfacing whale. As this air falls, it tends to warm, which could also cause an evaporation of the clouds around the volcano plume.
Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree that watching a volcano erupt from space is a truly mesmerizing site.
Check out the original post from NASA’s Earth Observatory here.
The World Cup is in full swing, with billions of people tuning in to watch the games all over the planet. But there are also a couple of guys watching the world’s largest sporting event from space.
To commemorate the start of the tournament, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson joined German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency to create this awesome video of them practicing some moves in zero-G.
Then yesterday they released this video of their best goal celebrations:
This is the second World Cup that astronauts have viewed from the International Space Station (they also tuned in for the 2010 Cup). It’s pretty fitting that the astronauts are watching a tournament that brings together countries from all over the world- the ISS itself was built by five different space agencies representing 15 different countries.
The German and American astronauts actually made a bet over yesterday’s game: if the U.S. won, they could draw a U.S. flag on Gerst’s bald head. But if the U.S. lost, both the American’s had to shave their heads. I hope Gerst isn’t rubbing in that German win too much though.
Last month, on May 2, SpaceX conducted a test flight of their new Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) spacecraft. Check out the video below to see it in action.
The “rocketcams” in the video feature a shot from the nose of the rocket followed by video footage from the ground. The test flight took place in McGregor, Texas under a FAA Experimental Permit.
*The coolest part is the landing in my opinion*
This was a successful 1000m test flight of the F9R, a developing spacecraft that will have the ability to carry astronauts to and from space.
The “steerable fins” included on this spacecraft are unique and allow the rocket to carefully maneuver in mid-air to facilitate a smoother landing. These types of steerable fins have been used on smaller spacecraft by SpaceX earlier this year, but they are now incorporating them on their more important and larger crafts, like the F9R.
The successful testing of the F9R means that SpaceX may soon be sending U.S. astronauts to the ISS (right now we’re contracting Russian shuttles to launch them into orbit). Rocket development and the growth of the space industry are truly in full steam.
Ellen Stofan, is one of NASA’s chief scientists, and is the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency’s science programs, planning and investments.
Yesterday, she sat down for an interview with The Guardian to talk about NASA, Mars, space and the future of space exploration and colonization.
During the interview, the host asked Stofan the following question:
“Is Nasa going to send humans to Mars just to show that it can?”
“Well, I’m biased because I’m a field geologist. Humans can actually read a landscape, go through a lot of rocks – crack them open, throw them, pick up the next one. Rovers are great, they do amazing science, but it is a lot more tedious process – they go much less far than a human can cover in a day. Having humans on the surface is how I think we are going to be able to demonstrate totally conclusively that life did evolve on Mars.”
The interviewer responded with the following:
“There is a lot of talk about settling Mars. Will Nasa be bringing its astronauts back?”
Stofan had this to say:
“We would definitely plan on bringing them back. We like to talk about pioneering Mars rather than just exploring Mars, because once we get to Mars we will set up some sort of permanent presence.”
Stofan also answered questions about NASA’s search for extra-terrestrial life, the risks of contaminating Mars, and space junk, among other things. You can listen to the interview below or read more of the transcripts from The Guardian here.
This November Samantha Cristoforetti, the first female Italian astronaut in space, will deliver the “ISSpresso” to the International Space Station (ISS).
For the first time astronauts aboard the ISS will be able to enjoy freshly brewed cups of coffee. It’s amazing to believe that despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into the ISS, astronauts still don’t have access to a simple cup of Joe.
“the ISSpresso: a specially designed machine created by Italian coffee manufacturer Lavazza and aerospace specialist Argotec that is capable of producing an “authentic Italian espresso” in space.”
Aside from the tremendous costs associated with anything that goes to or from the ISS, one of the main challenges for making coffee in space is overcoming the lack of gravity on the ISS. The last thing you want is scolding coffee droplets floating around in the morning.
Fortunately the “ISSpresso” has been designed to overcome zero gravity and according to The Independent,
“The ISSpresso weighs 20kg and includes “back-ups of all the critical components,” with a heavily-modified design tackling the unique problems of making coffee in a microgravity environment as the ISS hurtles through space nearly 400km above Earth.”
Check out the video below to learn more about the “ISSpresso” …