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Resources and web links

HELLO FOLKS. My apologies for the lack of updates on SpaceInfo.com.au in recent weeks, but your editor has been away conducting astronomy lectures aboard a cruise ship (the wonderful m/s Oosterdam, of the Holland America Line) on a journey to various tropical paradises scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean. Having now reluctantly returned to reality, it’ll be back to normal with SpaceInfo.

Lots of people aboard the Oosterdam asked me where I got all the incredible images of space that I showed during my lectures, and I promised to post some links. So here we go.

NASA has plenty of great web sites, for adults and children, including these favourites of mine:

NASA home page

NASA Planetary Photojournal

NASA Human Space Flight Gallery

NASA Quest

NASA Kids’ Club

There are lots of amazing images from the Hubble Space Telescope at these sites:

Hubble Space Telescope

European Space Agency Hubble site

There are other telescopes up in space too – here are a few:

Spitzer Space Telescope

Kepler Observatory

Herschel Space Telescope

And then there are all the wonderful ground-based observatories — here’s a small selection:

Australian Astronomical Observatory

Australia Telescope

Square Kilometre Array

Keck Observatory

Gemini Observatory

For keeping an eye on the Sun and solar activity, try these sites:

SOHO spacecraft

Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft

Here are links to some of the spacecraft missions that are exploring the planets of our Solar System:

MESSENGER (Mercury)

LRO (the Moon)

Cassini (Saturn)

Juno (Jupiter)

New Horizons (Pluto)

Curiosity rover (Mars)

Mars Express (Mars)

Mars Odyssey (Mars)

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Mars)

Opportunity rover (Mars)

My thanks to everyone aboard the m/s Oosterdam, both crew and passengers, for making the journey so enjoyable and fulfilling.

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The day we touched the Moon

IN TRIBUTE TO THE LATE Neil Armstrong, a temporary display case was set up in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, D.C. The display included the gloves and visor that Armstrong wore when he first stepped on the surface of the Moon July 20, 1969. They were among the most visible parts of his Apollo 11 spacesuit and were designed specifically to deal with the hazards of working on the lunar surface.

The gloves have blue silicone fingertips and stainless-steel fabric that wraps the hands with a long white gauntlet, with instructions printed on the left one. The visor provided the protection astronauts needed to survive in the absence of the sun-filtering effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. These objects were transferred to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum from NASA in 1971.

Gloves worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong

These gloves were made for and worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. They are made of Chromel-R fabric with insulation for protection against extreme hot and cold, while the fingertips consist of a rubber/neoprene compound to provide sensitivity.

Visor Assembly worn by Neil Armstrong

The A7-L Lunar Extravehicular Visor Assembly was worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission and consists of a polycarbonate shell. This helmet was worn over the pressure helmet and provided the protection needed during moonwalk periods.

 

Spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin

The spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

 

Apollo 11 Command Module

The Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, was the living quarters for the three-person crew during most of the first manned lunar-landing mission. This Command Module, no. 107, manufactured by North American Rockwell, was one of three parts of the complete Apollo spacecraft. The other two parts were the Service Module and the Lunar Module, nicknamed "Eagle." The Service Module contained the main spacecraft propulsion system and consumables while the Lunar Module was the two-person craft used by Armstrong and Aldrin to descend to the moon's surface July 20. The Command Module is the only portion of the spacecraft to return to Earth. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1970 following a NASA-sponsored tour of USA cities.

Adapted from information issued by the Smithsonian Institution. Photos by Dane Penland, Mark Avino and Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum’

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Neil A. Armstrong: 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong, photographed inside the lunar module after landing on the Moon

Neil Armstrong, photographed inside the lunar module after landing on the Moon

THE FOLLOWING is a statement from the Armstrong family regarding the death of former test pilot and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong. He was 82.

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.”

“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.”

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.”

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.”

“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.”

“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden regarding the death of former test pilot and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong.

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my deepest condolences to Carol and the rest of Armstrong family on the passing of Neil Armstrong. As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

“Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.”

“As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero.”

Additional information about Armstrong is available on the Web at:

http://www.nasa.gov/

http://www.neilarmstronginfo.com/

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Curiosity spotted from above

Curiosity Spotted on Parachute by Orbiter

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface.

AN IMAGE FROM THE High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter (MRO) captured the Curiosity rover still connected to its almost 16-metre-wide parachute as it descended towards its landing site at Gale Crater.

“If HiRISE took the image one second before or one second after, we probably would be looking at an empty Martian landscape,” said Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“When you consider that we have been working on this sequence since March and had to upload commands to the spacecraft about 72 hours prior to the image being taken, you begin to realise how challenging this picture was to obtain.”

The image was taken while MRO was 340 kilometres away from the parachuting rover. Curiosity and its rocket-propelled backpack, contained within the conical-shaped back shell, had yet to be deployed. At the time, Curiosity was about three kilometres above the Martian surface.

“Guess you could consider us the closest thing to paparazzi on Mars,” said Milkovich. “We definitely caught NASA’s newest celebrity in the act.”

Map showing Curiosity's landing site

The green diamond shows approximately where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars, a region about 2 kilometres northeast of its target in the centre of the estimated landing region (blue ellipse).

Curiosity’s parachute performed perfectly

HiRISE captured the image while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the centre of the white box; the inset image is an enlargement, adjusted to avoid brightness saturation.

The rover was seen descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp”. From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity were flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.

The parachute appeared fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, are clearly seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen. The bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.

Rover’s second day on Mars

In other Curiosity news, one part of the rover team at the JPL continues to analyse the data from yesterday’s landing while another continues to prepare the one-tonne mobile laboratory for its future explorations of Gale Crater.

One key assignment given to Curiosity for its first full day on Mars is to raise its high-gain antenna. Using this antenna will increase the data rate at which the rover can communicate directly with Earth. The mission will use relays to orbiters as the primary method for sending data home, because that method is much more energy-efficient for the rover.

Image from one of Curiosity's Hazcams

A better version of yesterday's image taken by a rear Hazard-Avoidance camera on NASA's Curiosity rover. The image shows part of the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (the rover's power source), the rear left wheel and a spring that released the dust cover on the Hazard-Avoidance camera. Part of the rim of Gale Crater, which is a feature the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, can be seen at the upper right of the image.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona.

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Curiosity rover lands on Mars

NASA’S MOST ADVANCED Mars rover, Curiosity, has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars on August 6 (Australian time) to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.

Another image of Mars from Curiosity

A Hazcam image of Mars from Curiosity, showing the shadow of the rover.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway manoeuvre of the rocket backpack.

“Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars.  Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030’s, and today’s landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal.”

Rover’s landing a triumph

Curiosity landed at 3:32pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (1:32am US EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain 5.5 kilometres tall and 154 kilometres in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favourable for microbial life.

“The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. “My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission’s team.”

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

Confirmation of Curiosity’s successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Image of Mars from the Curiosity rover

This is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover. It was taken through a "fish-eye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. On the top left, part of the rover's power supply is visible. Some dust appears on the lens even with the dust cover off. The cameras are looking directly into the sun, so the top of the image is saturated. Looking straight into the sun does not harm the cameras. The lines across the top are an artifact called "blooming" that occurs in the camera's detector because of the saturation.

First images from Mars

About two hours after landing on Mars and beaming back its first image, NASA’s Curiosity rover transmitted a higher-resolution image (top of this page) of its new Martian home, Gale Crater. Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, received the image, taken by one of the vehicle’s lower-fidelity, black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras – or Hazcams.

“Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from?  It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.”

While the image is twice as big in pixel size as the first images beamed down from the rover, they are only half the size of full-resolution Hazcam images. During future mission operations, these images will be used by the mission’s navigators and rover drivers to help plan the vehicle’s next drive. Other cameras aboard Curiosity, with colour capability and much higher resolution, are expected to be sent back to Earth over the next several days.

Curiosity’s mission begins in earnest

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater’s interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulphate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history

For more information on the mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars

http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity

http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

Adapted from information issued by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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Mars landing today

Artist's impression of Curiosity about to land on Mars

Artist's impression of Curiosity about to land on Mars.

THE GRAVITATIONAL TUG Mars is now pulling NASA’s car-size geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity, in for a suspenseful landing in just hours.

“After flying more than eight months and 367 million kilometres [350 million miles] since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere,” said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The spacecraft is healthy and on course for delivering the mission’s Curiosity rover close to a Martian mountain at 3:31pm Australian Eastern Standard time on Monday, August 6 (10:31pm Sunday, Aug. 5 US PDT, or 1:31am Monday, Aug. 6 US EDT). That’s the time a signal confirming safe landing could reach Earth, give or take about a minute for the spacecraft’s adjustments to sense changeable atmospheric conditions.

The only way a safe-landing confirmation can arrive during that first opportunity is via a relay by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. Curiosity will not be communicating directly with Earth as it lands, because Earth will set beneath the Martian horizon from Curiosity’s perspective about two minutes before the landing.

“We are expecting Odyssey to relay good news,” said Steve Sell of the JPL engineering team that developed and tested the mission’s complicated “sky crane” landing system. “That moment has been more than eight years in the making.”

WATCH THE LANDING LIVE

The following sites will be streaming live coverage of Curiosity’s landing:

NASA.gov

NASA’s YouTube channel

NASA UStream

All systems go

A dust storm in southern Mars being monitored by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appears to be dissipating. “Mars is cooperating by providing good weather for landing,” said JPL’s Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

Curiosity was approaching Mars at about 12,800 km/h, Saturday morning. By the time the spacecraft hits the top of Mars’ atmosphere, about seven minutes before touchdown, gravity will accelerate it to about 21,000 km/h.

NASA plans to use Curiosity to investigate whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life, including chemical ingredients for life.

“In the first few weeks after landing, we will be ramping up science activities gradually as we complete a series of checkouts and we gain practice at operating this complex robot in Martian conditions,” said JPL’s Richard Cook, deputy project manager for Curiosity.

First pictures

The first Mars pictures expected from Curiosity are reduced-resolution fisheye black-and-white images received either in the first few minutes after touchdown or more than two hours later. Higher resolution and colour images from other cameras could come later in the first week. Plans call for Curiosity to deploy a directional antenna on the first day after landing and raise the camera mast on the second day.

The big hurdle is landing. Under some possible scenarios, Curiosity could land safely, but temporary communication difficulties could delay for hours or even days any confirmation that the rover has survived landing.

The prime mission lasts a full Martian year, which is nearly two Earth years. During that period, researchers plan to drive Curiosity partway up a mountain informally called Mount Sharp. Observations from orbit have identified exposures there of clay and sulphate minerals that formed in wet environments.

Information about the mission and about ways to participate in challenges of the landing, including a new video game:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Transit of Venus – NASA’s live coverage

NASA TELEVISION will air a live program starting at 5:30 p.m. US EDT Tuesday, June 5, showcasing the celestial phenomenon of the planet Venus trekking across the face of the Sun. The rare event, known as the Venus transit, will not occur again until 2117.

The transit occurs when Venus passes directly between Earth and the Sun. Viewers will see Venus as a small dot gliding slowly across our nearest star. Historically, viewed by Captain James Cook and other luminaries, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our Solar System.

There have been 53 transits since 2000 B.C. The last time the event occurred was on June 8, 2004, watched by millions worldwide. This year, observers on six continents and a small portion of Antarctica will be in position to see at least part of it.

NASA TV coverage will include updates from NASA centres across the USA and locations from some of the 148 countries hosting viewing activities. Images taken of the transit from the International Space Station and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Solar Dynamics Observatory also will be aired with scientists sharing their perspectives and the historical significance of the event.

NASA EDGE, a behind-the-scenes, informative webcast, will air the transit live from Mauna Kea, Hawaii. This location offers the best viewing position of the entire transit.

More information about the worldwide events, safety precautions for viewing, educational content and social media activities:

http://venustransit.nasa.gov/

NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

The public can follow the event on Twitter on #venustransit and download a free phone App:

http://venustransit.nasa.gov/2012/multimedia/apps.php

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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In the footsteps of Apollo 11

LRO image of the Apollo 11 landing site

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took this image of the Apollo 11 landing site, showing the equipment left on the surface of the Moon.

NASA’S LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER spacecraft took this amazing image from an altitude of just 24 kilometres above the surface of the Moon. It shows the descent stage of the Apollo 11 lunar module, right where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left it in July 1969. Also visible are the instrument packages the two astronauts set out on the lunar surface not far from the lunar module.

So take that, Moon landing conspiracy theorists!

Visible are dark squiggly lines joining the various man-made objects. These are the tracks left by the astronauts as their boots scuffed up the powdery lunar dust.

The LRRR was the Laser Ranging RetroReflector, a device that contained “corner reflectors”—special lenses that send a light beam back out in the same direction it enters. Scientists fired laser beams at the LRRR and timed how long it took for the signals to return to Earth, enabling them to make incredibly accurate measurements of the distance to the Moon.

And because the LRRR is a passive device with no electrical requirements and no moving parts, it is still used today.

Also visible is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package(PSEP), a seismometer that detected “moonquakes” and the impact of spacecraft and radioed the data back to Earth.

Apollo 11 surface image showing the lunar module and Little West crater

Neil Armstrong (whose shadow can be seen at left) ran over to take a look at Little West crater, about 50 metres from the lunar module.

You can see a trail leading to the crater (called Little West) on the right of the lunar module. This is where Neil Armstrong ran over to take a look. The distance is about 60 metres, and marks the furthest point either of the astronauts ventured from the lunar module.

(Take a look at this Apollo Lunar Surface Journal page for a more detailed image.)

Astronauts on later missions were far less constrained in their movements, as they had more time for their spacewalks. In addition, the final three Apollo mission carried lunar rovers that enabled their astronauts to travel further.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Images courtesy NASA.

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Cargo capsule set for launch

Artist's impression of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit.

Artist's impression of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit.

AT THE CAPE CANAVERAL Air Force Station (adjacent to the Kennedy Space Centre) in Florida, final preparations are being made for a historic launch at the end of this month.

The unmanned Dragon capsule and its Falcon 9 rocket, both privately developed by the SpaceX corporation, are due for launch on April 30 (USA time) on a combined test flight and cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA is providing seed money to SpaceX and a second company, Orbital Sciences, to develop and operate unmanned craft that can keep the ISS resupplied in the post-shuttle era.

SpaceX is intending to field a manned version of Dragon later this decade, capable of taking seven astronauts into low Earth orbit.

More information: NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation System

Dragon capsule is placed atop its cargo ring

Dragon capsule is mated to a "ring" that will sit on top of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Falcon 9 rocket in inside a processing hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Falcon 9 rocket in inside a processing hangar at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon capsule attached on top sits fully fuelled on Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during a launch dress rehearsal.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Images courtesy NASA / Gianni Woods / Jim Grossmann / Kim Shiflett.

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VIDEO: The road to Mars

WHAT DOES IT TAKE to get a spacecraft from Earth all the way to Mars? There are a few key things to consider, as explained in this 60-second video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL / Caltech.

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