World Space Party

Yuri's Night

From the website:

Yuri's Night | World Space Party | April 12

Human Spaceflight became a reality 45 years ago with the launch of a bell-shaped capsule called “Vostok 1.” The capsule was carrying Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who took his place in history as the first human to leave the bounds of Earth and enter outer space.

Exactly 20 years later, the United States embarked on a new era in spaceflight with the inaugural launch of a new type of spaceship -- the Space Shuttle. Designed to carry a larger crew and large volumes of cargo to orbit, the Space Shuttles became synonymous with human spaceflight for an entirely new generation of young people.

When the next 20-year point arrived, that generation (often called “Gen X”) laid a new space milestone by connecting thousands of people around the world to celebrate and honor the past, while building a stairway to the future. That event was Yuri’s Night, and it continues to bring the excitement, passion and promise of space travel closer to people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds.

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Why We're Going Back to the Moon

Paul D. Spudis writes in the Washington Post about Why We're Going Back to the Moon.

The recent release of the details of NASA's proposed plans for human return to the moon in response to President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" last year has drawn much comment -- some positive, some negative and some simply perplexed.

Although the reasons for undertaking the program were clearly articulated in the president's speech, it is important to reexamine why the moon is its cornerstone and what we hope to achieve by returning there.

The moon is important for three reasons: science, inspiration and resources.

[...]

The moon is a stable platform to observe the universe. Its far side is the only known place in the solar system permanently shielded from Earth's radio noise. That allows observation of the sky at radio wavelengths never before seen. Every time we open a new spectral window on the universe, we find unexpected and astounding phenomena; there is no reason to expect anything different from the opening of new windows on the universe from the surface of the moon.

[...]

The moon is close in space (only three days away) yet a separate world filled with mysteries, landscapes and treasures. By embracing the inspiring and difficult task of living and working there, we can learn how to explore a planetary surface and how the combined efforts of both humans and machines can enable new levels of productive exploration.

[...]

Water is an extremely valuable commodity in space -- in its liquid form, it supports human life, and it can be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. These elements make the highest-energy chemical rocket propellant known. Water exists in the dark and cold regions near the poles of the moon. Scientists estimate that each pole contains more than 10 billion tons of water, enough to launch a fully fueled space shuttle once a day, every day, for over 39 years.

[...]

Living on the moon will expand the sphere of human and robotic activity in space beyond low-Earth orbit. To become a multiplanet species, we must master the skills of extracting local resources, build our capability to journey and explore in hostile regions, and create new reservoirs of human culture and experience.

That long journey begins on the moon -- the staging ground, supply station and classroom for our voyage into the universe.

See also: Google Moon

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Return to Flight

This is just a great photograph. Let's hope they all get back OK.

And check out the background on the Shuttle Commander, Eileen Collins: Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury, October 1983), French Legion of Honor, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Space Flight Medals...

Oh, and also the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle and the first woman Shuttle Commander.

Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 10:39 a.m. EDT July 26, 2005, returning to flight more than two years after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy of February 1, 2003. Nine minutes later, Discovery reached orbit. On its 13-day mission the shuttle crew will test new methods of repairing damage to the Space Shuttle and dock with the International Space Station. While docked, the Discovery crew will deliver supplies, install equipment, and replace a faulty gyroscope on the station. Discovery will return to Earth on August 7th.

Link: EO Newsroom: New Images - Return to Flight.

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Astronomers detect '10th planet'

Astronomers in the United States have announced the discovery of the 10th planet to orbit our Sun.

The largest object found in our Solar System since Neptune was discovered in 1846, it was first seen in 2003 but has only now been confirmed as a planet.

Designated 2003 UB313, it is about 3,000km across, a world of rock and ice and somewhat larger than Pluto. Scientists say it is three times as far away as Pluto, in an orbit at an angle to the orbits of the other planets. Astronomers think that at some point in its history, Neptune likely flung it into its highly-inclined 44-degree orbit.

It is currently 97 Earth-Sun distances away - more than twice Pluto's average distance from the Sun.

Its discoverers are Michael Brown of Caltech, Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University.

David Rabinowitz told the BBC News website: "It has been a remarkable day and a remarkable year. 2003 UB313 is probably larger than Pluto. It is fainter than Pluto, but three times farther away. Brought to the same distance from the Sun as Pluto, it would be brighter. So today, the world knows that Pluto is not unique. There are other Plutos, just farther out in the Solar System where they are a little harder to find."

Link: BBC Science.

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Space debris

There is a lot of junk orbiting the Earth and the problem will worsen unless there are changes in how spacecraft operators operate. But it is not all doom and gloom. The first steps toward a comprehensive solution are already well underway including a European code of conduct for space debris mitigation.

According to Dr Ruediger Jehn, a space debris specialist working at ESA's Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, there are several relatively simple measures that will help reduce the amount of debris in space. Some are already being implemented by spacecraft operators at little or no cost.

"These steps," he explains, "are based on common sense and include measures that should be acceptable to any spacecraft operator."

The basic concept is simple: do not make the existing problem worse; reduce or prevent the creation of any new debris; and, in particular, strive to protect the commercially valuable low Earth and geostationary orbits.

The amount of debris created during normal operations can be reduced by not discarding, ejecting or detaching anything that does not have to be discarded, ejected or detached. This includes payload covers, Yo-Yo despinners and instrument covers such as those used to protect the highly sensitive optical windows of sensors during launch. Lastly, minimise break-ups, a major source of small but deadly debris.

[...]

But while technology will likely provide many solutions and many nations are now serious about following a code of behaviour, Dr Jehn and others in ESA's space debris community argue that, ultimately, what is needed is a CoC negotiated at the UN level to push everyone to adhere to standards.

In the meantime, how can the average person become involved?

"Call your space agency," says Dr Jehn, "tell them: 'My kids want to travel in space in 30 years and I don't want you guys spoiling it'. Pressure from the public could help. Once space is polluted it's too late and I wouldn't dare go up there."

Two large fragments of a Delta second stage which re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on 22 January 1997 were recovered in Georgetown, Texas. The large object seen here is the main propellant tank made of stainless steel with a mass of more than 250 kg which landed only 45 metres from a farmer’s home.

Link: ESA - ESOC and thanks (again) to Martin G at Ohpurleese for the steer....

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Voyagers Surpass 10,000 Days Of Operation

The intrepid twin Voyager spacecraft, launched about two weeks apart in the summer of 1977 and now heading out of the solar system, continue making history. On Jan. 5, 2005 the Voyager team noted a milestone with a nice round number: 10,000 days since Voyager 2's launch. On Jan. 21, 2005 Voyager 1 also passed 10,000 days.

Both spacecraft are still going strong and are returning valuable science data. Each Voyagers' cosmic ray detector, magnetometer, plasma wave detector and low-energy charged particle detector all still operational. In addition, the Ultraviolet Spectrometer on Voyager 1 and the Plasma Science instrument on Voyager 2 continue to return data. Both spacecraft are expected to continue to operate and send back valuable data until at least the year 2020.

Their current positions are:

here

Link: Voyager

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Star 'gnome' is nuclear surprise

A shining star has been located that is not much bigger than Jupiter, the biggest planet in our Solar System.

The discovery is fascinating, say scientists, because it shows how small an object can be and still trigger the nuclear reactions for sunshine. The existence of the star, known as OGLE-TR-122B, was confirmed by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

Sited in the Carina constellation, the stellar "gnome" was seen to pass in front of a much bigger companion star. As it did so, it dimmed the companion's light received at the VLT, a facility run by the European Southern Observatory organisation (ESO).

It is not known precisely how big an object needs to be to shine. At some point a gas body will become so massive that the gravitational forces pulling material into its core will initiate fusion reactions - just like those at the core of our Sun that give us light.

What is interesting is that although OGLE-TR-122B is a mere 16% larger than Jupiter, it is actually 96 times more massive.

"Imagine that you add 95 times its own mass to Jupiter and nevertheless end up with a star that is only slightly larger," suggests Claudio Melo, from ESO and member of the team of astronomers who made the study. "The object just shrinks to make room for the additional matter, becoming more and more dense." Indeed, the density of OGLE-TR-122B is more than 50 times greater than that of our own Sun.

Link: BBC Science/Nature.

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Human Hubble mission wins support

Support is growing for a human mission to be sent to repair the Hubble space telescope instead of robots.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) said it endorsed a National Research Council recommendation that Nasa pursue a manned mission to repair Hubble. It said the mission should be launched as early as possible after the space shuttle is ready to fly again.

Scientists have been wrangling over how - or whether - to service the ageing telescope for some months now. The debate over using a human or a robot has grown contentious.

A panel of the National Research Council (NRC), the operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), recently recommended that astronauts make the repairs.

"[The NRC] came down very clearly saying that if you really care about the space telescope, then doing the shuttle mission is the best answer," said Robert Kirshner, Harvard University astronomer and AAS president.

Link: BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Human Hubble mission wins support.

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Europe's eye in space views dark side of moon

Guardian Unlimited;Tim Radford

For the first time, western Europe has seen the far side of the moon. A tiny European spacecraft flying on sci-fi technology will begin its first orbits of the moon in November and a series of spectacular studies of Earth's neighbour.

Smart-1 is the size of a washing machine, with a pair of huge solar panels that fuel its ion-drive technology. The €110m (£75m) mission, backed by British scientists, was launched last year in a series of slow, ever-widening orbits driven by tiny puffs of ionised xenon from the kind of engine that will one day traverse the solar system. Ion drive is 10 times more efficient than chemical exhaust from a traditional rocket. That means future spacecraft could make the same journeys on a tenth of the fuel.

The ride to the moon is driven by an exhaust pressure of seven grams, Bernard Foing, chief scientist of the European Space Agency told the British Association science festival in Exeter yesterday. "That is the weight of a postcard, or the breeze on your hand when you blow on it. But if you blow on it for more than six months, you can reach the moon."

Intensive exploration of the moon ended 35 years ago, with the US Apollo and Russian Luna programmes. Smart-1 will be the first of a flotilla of new lunar explorers. Japanese, Chinese and Indian missions are in preparation, and the Americans plan two more spacecraft.

Neil Armstrong and the Apollo astronauts went directly across the 240,000 miles to the moon in days; Smart-1 has been orbiting Earth in ever-widening ellipses for almost a year, picking up acceleration as it "surfs" the moon's gravitational pull. It survived bombardment in Earth's inner-radiation belt, and it encountered the worst solar storm ever recorded.

"We were a bit knocked out, but we also survived that. A few satellites were killed by that storm," said Prof Foing.

In August, Smart-1 for the first time passed nearer to the moon than to Earth. On November 15, it will become a prisoner of the moon and four days later, scientists will switch off its engine and prepare for a detailed study of Earth's neighbour.

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ET first contact 'within 20 years'

New Scientist

If intelligent life exists elsewhere in our galaxy, advances in computer processing power and radio telescope technology will ensure we detect their transmissions within two decades. That is the bold prediction from a leading light at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, California.

Seth Shostak, the SETI Institute's senior astronomer, based his prediction on accepted assumptions about the likelihood of alien civilisations existing, combined with projected increases in computing power.

Shostak, whose calculations will be published in a forthcoming edition of the space science journal Acta Astronautica, first estimated the number of alien civilisations in our galaxy that might currently be broadcasting radio signals.

For this he used a formula created in 1961 by astronomer Frank Drake which factors in aspects such the number of stars with planets, how many of those planets might be expected to have life, and so on. Shostak came up with an estimate of between 10,000 and one million radio transmitters in the galaxy.

To find them will involve observing and inspecting radio emissions from most of the galaxy's 100 billion stars. The time necessary for this formidable task can be estimated from the capabilities of planned radio telescopes such as SETI's 1-hectare Allen Telescope Array and the internationally run Square Kilometre Array and expected increases in the power of the microchips that sift through radio signals from space.

Shostak assumed that computer processing power will continue to double every 18 months until 2015, as it has done for the past 40 years. From then on, he assumes a more conservative doubling time of 36 months as transistors get too small to scale down as easily as they have till now. Within a generation, radio emissions from enough stars will be observed and analysed to find the first alien civilisation, Shostak estimates. But because they will probably be between 200 and 1000 light years away, sending a radio message back will take centuries.

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