Thursday, June 30, 2011

NASA's plans for commercial space travel going forward, 06.30.11

A new dream for space travel that began 20 years ago is being revisited, and could be a reality in less than a decade. The HL-20, a spacecraft created from models made in the early 1980s, is in the process of testing.
Originally designed to serve as a “life raft” for the International Space Station (for which purpose it could still serve), the HL-20 was just recently unveiled by NASA as a commercial enterprise undertaken by their industrial partners.
“We’re only 60 days into CCDev2 (Commercial Crew Development 2), and their progress is right on schedule,” said Phil McAlister, acting director of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development program.        
HL-20. Image credit: NASA.
Credit: NASA. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One of Saturn's moons: Helene. Image credit: NASA.
     On June 18, NASA received this image from their Cassini spacecraft. Helene is an irregularly shaped ice moon in orbit at an average distance of 234,500 miles away from Saturn, and is about 22 miles across. NASA dubbed it Saturn’s “ice queen” when they received the image from Cassini. The moon was discovered March 1, 1980, and is named after the mythical granddaughter of Kronos. Kronos was the Greek version of Rome’s god Saturn. Helene is one of Saturn’s 62 known moons, and one of the 53 actually given formal names.
     Credit: NASA and 

Monday, June 20, 2011

And now, something a little different! 06.17.11

Star clusters fall into two main types: open clusters, which are fairly young, and globular clusters, which can be as old as the Milky Way itself. The older the cluster, the less elements heavier than hydrogen it contains. Open clusters tend to scatter and spread out over time.
So what’s the deal with open cluster NGC 6791? Out of the 2,000-some known clusters, it is different. At 13,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra, and with around 60,000 members, NGC 6791 has both old and new characteristics, the first of its kind. The large open star cluster is twice as enriched in heavy elements as our sun, which makes it about 8 billion years old, but has stars belonging to both types of clusters, red and very blue stars, and bright horizontal branch stars that are normally found in globular clusters.
     It’s an oddball that will keep the astronomers, like Imants Platais of Johns Hopkins University, busy for awhile.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Endeavour’s sonic booms help end crime spree, 06.07.11

A trademark of the space shuttle landing—a double sonic boom—turned out to benefit the residents of Florida last week. It helped end a string of car burglaries.
Last Wednesday morning at 2:31 am, Amanda Kay Way in Kissimmee, Florida, was awoken by the sonic boom produced by the double sonic boom made by the space shuttle re-entering earth’s atmosphere at a velocity higher than the speed of sound. Wide awake, she looked out her window and saw two young men rummaging around inside her car. After police responded to her call, the two men were apprehended and provided information that actually ties them to a string of recent burglaries over the past few weeks. Now that is a triumphant arrival and a good end to a mission!
Xenon lights help lead space shuttle Endeavour home to NASA
Space shuttle Endeavour coming in for a landing. Image credit: NASA.
Sonic booms are created by air pressure and shockwaves as the space shuttle (or any fast jet plane, for that matter) as it accelerates to speeds faster than the speed of sound. Every space shuttle creates a double sonic boom as it comes screeching back to earth, both less than a second apart and created by the shuttle’s nose and tail.
Space shuttle Endeavour returned after its final 16-day mission to the ISS. After a month of decommissioning work, the space shuttle (and all the other shuttles), will go to various large museums around the nation. Only one shuttle launch—Atlantis—remains for the U.S. space program this summer, and will close out the program until further notice.
Credit: NASA.