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America in Space-November 2008

Posted Sunday, November 16, 2008, at 8:52 PM

PHOTO (NASA)-Under a full Moon, Endeavour's spectacular night launch on November 14, 2008.
October and November mark anniversaries of important events in space history, the end of a historic Mars mission, as well as the beginning of commercialization of earth orbit.

On Sept. 29, the European space shuttle cargo craft, the Jules Verne, full of waste products, entered the earth's atmosphere over the South Pacific, giving scientists information on the characteristics of matter burning up in the atmosphere.

On October 1, NASA marked its 50th anniversary. Soon after the former USSR shocked the world with the first orbiting spacecraft, Sputnik (51 years ago October 4th), President Eisenhower began the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. October 2 marked the 400th anniversary of the announcement of the invention of the telescope.

In October, a private space firm, the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), announces that Flight 4 of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle has successfully launched and achieved Earth orbit. This is the first time a private, non-government firm has launched a liquid fuel rocket into orbit of the Earth.

On October 6, Messenger flies by the planet Mercury for the second time, mapping parts of the planet never seen before by spacecraft, leaving only about 5% to be seen yet close up. After another flyby in September 2009, Messenger will become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury on March 18, 2011.

Closer home, in October, the Hubble Space Telescope, the most sophisticated telescope in the world, in a 400 mile high orbit around the earth, suffered a computer crash, and was unable to transmit data to earth. Fortunately, it had a backup. Turning to the side B after a few glitches, the HST now has no backup should this backup fail. As a result, the shuttle flight, STS-125 to the Hubble, was delayed so a backup here on earth could be tested and flown on this HST repair flight. It will now fly in May 2009 at the earliest.

China, becoming only the third country in the world to launch a human into space just a few months ago, has had two of its astronauts perform the first Chinese space walk in October, on the Shenzhou VII flight.

On October 15, NASA launched the IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) from a Pacific island. It will fly near the earth and map the interaction between solar wind and interstellar wind at the boundary of the Solar System by detecting energetic neutral hydrogen atoms from the edge of the heliosphere.

At the fourth rock from the Sun, Mars, the Phoenix lander, near the north pole of the red planet, sends back data that it has detected snow coming from the clouds, although none has been detected reaching the ground. On November 2, the last signal was received from this highly successful lander, after 5 months of a planned 3-month mission. It lost the ability to get enough power from the Sun as winter is setting in at that location in the Martian "Arctic" area. Before it gave up the ghost, it detected water ice a few inches below the surface, chemistry favorable to possible past life, and Calcium Carbonate and clay soil indicative of past liquid water. In November, the Mars rover (much closer to the equator than Phoenix), Spirit, almost died from dust covering its solar panels, but JPL technicians received a signal last week indicating this hardy rover, along with its twin, Opportunity, are not ready to retire, despite outliving their predicted 3-month lifetime by over 4 years! Despite a bad record of crashes and other problems at Mars by both the American and Russian space programs, often called the Mars jinx, recent probes have been phenomenally successful. Detection of life under the soil may even be a possibility with the next rover, Mars Science Laboratory, to launch next year.

On November 14, NASA launched the 124th flight of the space shuttle for a delivery of supplies to the International Space Station. In a spectacular night launch under a full moon, Endeavour and its crew of 7 will deliver 7 tons of items to the ISS, including a second toilet, a urine to drinking water purifier, and additional sleep quarters, so that the station can have a crew of 6 next year, rather than the current 3. It will then reach its phenomenal potential for scientific research in microgravity. Of the 7 crewmembers, Sandra Mangus will remain on the ISS, replacing Greg Chamitoff on Expedition 18.

Also on the 14th, the space agency of India crashed a probe into the Moon, so an orbiter can detect possible water ice vaporized by the impact at the permanently shadowed craters at the polar area of earth's only natural satellite. It hit Shackleton Crater near the South Pole. This ice would be important for drinking water and fuel for a future colony on the Moon.

612 million times further away than the Moon (even there-one of the CLOSEST stars to the Earth), the first visible light image of a planet around another star was released this month, made by the Hubble Space Telescope of Fomalhaut b. It is 3 times the mass of Jupiter, and a billion times dimmer than its parent star, the bright naked-eye southern star Fomalhaut (pronounced foam-a-lot). The same week this historic image was released, an infrared image of 3 planets around a star in Pegasus was released-the first image of a multiple system. The upcoming infrared space telescope, the James Webb Telescope to be launched in 2013, will dwarf the Hubble.

For a presentation on space for your class or organization, contact the NASA Solar System Ambassadors Program at http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/inde.... My website is http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/prof....

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NASA and space exploration
Kenneth Renshaw
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Kenneth Renshaw NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador/Saturn Observation Campaign Kenneth is one of 494 volunteer educators and astronomers who donate their time to educate America's youth, and the general public, about astronomy and the U.S. space program. Organized in 1999 by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab,it focuses on spacecraft built by the JPL such as Voyager, Mars Rover, Galileo, Cassini as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. Renshaw is one of four ambassadors in Arkansas, and makes presentations to all age and experience groups from pre-school to university science level. His official NASA website it www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/profiles/Kenneth_Renshaw.htm His email address is renshaw@newwavecomm.net