24 Mar 2012

Amateur astrophotographer Wayne Jaeschke of Pennsylvania captured an image of this 'terminator projection' rising from the edge of the Martian disk at the 1 o'clock position March 22.  For more info see Exosky.net, Jaeschke's website.  South is up, north on the bottom.

Mars has returned to our evening skies as it does every two years.  This time it is getting even more attention and buzz than it normally would. Amateur astronomer Wayne Jaeschke of West Chester Pennsylvania noticed an unusual protrusion in the planet's southern hemisphere, preceding the sunrise terminator.

He first noticed this formation on the evening of March 20th.  Jaeschke alerted the international Mars observing community about the odd "extension" at 190.5° east, 43.7° south, just before the area that rotates into daylight.  The odd feature was visible in all color-filtered exposures from near-infrared to blue light.  Jaeschke produced the animation below.  

23 Mar 2012

The sky is falling  or at least an unknown object from outer space has.  A metal object the size of a small car was been discovered in a remote village in Siberia.  Local residents assumed it fell to Earth from space, however Russian space officials examined the object stating it "is not related to space technology."

The object is 440 pounds (200-kilograms).  It is cylindrical and has a dome on one end.  It was found in the woods near the village of Otradnesnky.  Apparently the residents attached it to a trailer and dragged it through the snow to the village.  After alerting the Moscow authorities on March 18th it was promptly taken away for investigation.  A final conclusion will be made once its studied further by experts.  They were able to determine it is made in part, of titanium and was not radioactive. 

23 Mar 2012

The historic launch of the first commercially built space capsule sent to the International Space Station (ISS) is to occur April 30th.  SpaceX, a California based commercial company is going to launch the unmanned Dragon spacecraft on a demonstration flight to ISS at 12:22 p.m. EDT (1622 GMT) on April 30th as of right now.

Originally this mission was to occur in early February but had to be delayed for further testing.

The Dragon capsule will sit on top of the Falcon 9 rocket.  If SpaceX succeeds, they will become the first private company to dock with the International Space Station.

The ISS crew will grab onto the Dragon capsule as it nears the station using the space stations robotic arm.  It will connect on the Harmony node, an Earth facing portion of ISS. 

Dragon had been successfully launched in December 2010.  It orbited twice before splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.  That marked the first time a private company launched a vehicle into orbit and returned it safely.

SpaceX also hopes to use a version of the Dragon capsule to transport paying customers to low orbit.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

This launch and docking will be a momentous occasion for spaceflight, possibly ranking as high as the first space flights from 50 years ago.  The importance of the privatization of space can not be underestimated.  It is both necessary and inevitable.  We simply can't rely on the government for funding and development of space exploration.  Space exploration should be both a private and government funded effort.  This means organizations like NASA should continue to work with private companies to help accelerate our development of space technology and reach for the stars, which is ultimately humanity's destiny.

UPDATE:

As of 4/24/12, the SpaceX launch of the Dragon Capsule to ISS has been delayed at least a week, possibly as late as May 7th.  They required more time to finish hardware testing and review data for the docking.


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21 Mar 2012

An artist's impression of the SpaceX Dragon capsule landing on Mars, as early as 2018 some say.

SpaceX CEO, California entrepreneur, Elon Musk believes he can get the cost of a round trip to Mars to around a half million dollars and has worked out how to do it and possibly get there by 2018.  He says that he will reveal these details later this year or early 2013.

SpaceX is one of NASA's key private commercial partners, one that will be pivotal in getting our astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in years to come.  They expect to give a full demonstration of going to ISS next month.  To do so they use the Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon vessel.

Musk's vision to Mars can be heard in Scott's Legacy, a BBC Radio 4 program or via this player.  

20 Mar 2012

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) sits a-top a Delta IV Heavy, ready for a test flight, one of the first ever to reach this deep into space since the Apollo missions of 1972.  The year of the test is 2014.  The video below breaks down the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) from launch until splashdown.

We have a real need for such space craft right now, especially in the even of an asteroid threat, but unfortunately, as always, budget constraints keep pushing the future of the space program and exploration into the future.  Hopefully 2014 will at least be the year of the test.  See the simulation of the test in the video below.  

19 Mar 2012

From Star Wars to real sound of rockets:  Skywalker Sound, the George Lucas audio department has created a sound effects mix of the real sound of a Rocket Booster from the moment of lift-off until splashdown, about 400 seconds worth of space shuttle goodness.  This via the NASA Glenn Research Center.


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16 Mar 2012

Felix Baumgarter took a practice jump at 13.6 miles (around 71,580 feet) above New Mexico from his pressurized capsule which was carried by hot air balloon.  He is more than halfway towards his goal of setting the world record highest jump, aiming for 23 miles this summer.  The current record is held by Joe Kittinger who jumped from 19.5 miles in 1960.  See below for the video. 

15 Mar 2012

(Image Credit: Philipp Salzgeber)

Space.com is reporting that Russia plans on sending cosmonauts to the moon as well as unmanned spacecrafts to Mars, Jupiter and Venus by 2030.  To date, the United States is still the only country who has successfully landed landers on Mars.  Considering the recent launch failures in Russia, these plans seem very ambitious.

These plans were detailed in a strategy document by Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscomos), according to the Russian Newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday March 13th.

In addition they want a new rocket called Angara to become their main launch vehicle by 2020 that will replace Soyuz and Proton rockets (that have been around since the 1960s).  Soyuz is only a 3 passenger spaceship, while Angara will have a 6 seat spaceship.  Roscosmos is also considering building a space station around the Moon by 2030.  Russia is still our key partner with the $100 billion International Space Station, which is only supposed to remain active until 2020.


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