“Kepler’s not in a place where I can go up and rescue it, or any other astronaut,” said John Grunsfeld, the head of science at NASA who became famous as an astronaut for his missions to fix the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Kepler telescope, launched in 2009, seemed fine when NASA technicians and scientists communicated with it last Thursday. But on Sunday, the telescope signaled that it had gone into “safe” mode, as it is programmed to do when it has a problem. Although NASA didn’t know conclusively why that happened, on Tuesday engineers discovered that one of the reaction wheels used for steering wouldn’t spin.
The spacecraft has four such wheels. One had failed previously. Now two were inoperative. There is no way to control the pitch, roll and yaw of a spacecraft with just two reaction wheels.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Kepler is permanently crippled. NASA officials vowed in their news conference to try to restart the wheel or find a workaround to allow Kepler to resume planet-hunting. But they admitted that they were saddened by the malfunction, which may bring to an end a planet-hunting mission that, although it already has lived up to its promise and then some, could potentially have continued for a number of years.
If NASA is to land humans on Mars by the 2030s, as President Barack Obama has directed, there’s not much time to settle on a plan and develop the technologies required, agency officials said Monday (May 6).
In the 1960s, America seized an opportunity to go to the moon, and succeeded. A second opportunity for a leap forward in space is upon us now, said NASA chief Charles Bolden at the Humans 2 Mars Summit here at George Washington University.
“Interest in sending humans to Mars I think has never been higher,” Bolden said. “We now stand on the precipice of a second opportunity to press forward to what I think is man’s destiny — to step onto another planet.” [Buzz Aldrin’s Visions for Mars Missions & More (Video)]
NASA’s newest scientific rover is set for testing May 3 through June 8 in the highest part of Greenland.
The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, will roam the frigid landscape collecting measurements to help scientists better understand changes in the massive ice sheet.
This autonomous, solar-powered robot carries a ground-penetrating radar to study how snow accumulates, adding layer upon layer to the ice sheet over time.
Greenland’s surface layer vaulted into the news in summer 2012 when higher than normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97 percent of the ice sheet. Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., expect GROVER to detect the layer of the ice sheet that formed in the aftermath of that extreme melt event.
Research with polar rovers costs less than aircraft or satellites, the usual platforms.
“Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies,” said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard and science advisor on the project.
GROVER will be joined on the ice sheet in June by another robot, named Cool Robot, developed at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., with funding from the National Science Foundation. This rover can tow a variety of instrument packages to conduct glaciological and atmospheric sampling studies.
GROVER was developed in 2010 and 2011 by teams of students participating in summer engineering boot camps at Goddard. The students were interested in building a rover and approached Koenig about whether a rover could aid her studies of snow accumulation on ice sheets. This information typically is gathered by radars carried on snowmobiles and airplanes. Koenig suggested putting a radar on a rover for this work.
Koenig, now a science advisor on the GROVER Project, asked Hans-Peter Marshall, a glaciologist at Boise State University to bring in his expertise in small, low-power, autonomous radars that could be mounted on GROVER. Since its inception at the boot camp, GROVER has been fine-tuned, with NASA funding, at Boise State.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower may have peaked overnight on Sunday and Monday, but if you missed the celestial fireworks show don’t fret. NASA’s got you covered.
Scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., will broadcast live images of the Lyrid meteor shower tonight and early Tuesday (April 22 and 23) for stargazers stuck with bad weather or light-polluted night skies.
The NASA broadcast will begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 April 23) and run throughout the evening. You can watch the Lyrid meteor shower webcast on SPACE.com courtesy of NASA’s MSFC feed.
In orbit around our planet, hundreds of satellites constantly relay a huge amount of data back and forth, not to mention streaming it down to the surface. But the aging system is nearly at capacity, so NASA is planning a secure, robust successor.
Don’t worry — it’s not as if astronauts are having to get by on dial-up during their stay on the International Space Station. In fact, the ISS has a fairly beefy 300-megabit line — more than 10 times faster than what most people can get at home.
Although the current system is suitable for today’s needs, it may not be so for tomorrow’s. Early this month, NASA posted an official request for information, or RFI, to begin technical discussion of the next generation of space communications. NBC News spoke on the phone with NASA’s Philip Liebrecht and James Schier, who work on the space agency’s space communications platforms, about the plans for a replacement.
Here are the details of Curiosity’s discovery of ancient conditions in Yellowknife Bay in Mars’ Gale Crater, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. That’s what the Mars Curiosity turned up in its first major discovery. Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the key chemical ingredients for life — in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.
The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.
The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins.
Curiosity’s drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012. The clay minerals it found are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.
Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red.
Remember when you were a kid and you used to stare up into the clouds and pick out shapes and animals? Well Chris Keegan has taken that timeless exercise to whole new level by applying it to photos of space from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
A London-based illustrator by day, Keegan says he was particularly interested in the way the photos allowed him to play with scale. He usually works with much smaller ideas and objects, so playing with something as big as the stars was liberating.
“In one picture you can see thousands of stars and the idea of having a person or a bird taking up that sort of size was quite unusual,” he says.
James Webb Space Telescope scientist Dr. Amber Straughn answers some frequently asked questions and does a cryogenics demo
This should create some wicked Northern Lights.
Two massive black spots on the sun, known as sunspots, appeared rapidly over the course of Feb. 19-20, 2013, according to NASA. Karen C. Fox, describing the image for interested viewers, noted that the two sunspots are part of the same system and are large enough to consume six Earths whole.
The image above combines images from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) and the Advanced Imaging Assembly (AIA), which are both instruments on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The HMI shoots pictures in visible light that reveal sunspots and the AIA takes pictures in the 304 Angstrom wavelength that reveal the lower atmosphere of the sun.
Sunspots are formed as the magnetic fields on the sun rearrange and realign. NASA scientists observed a giant sunspot form in less than 48 hours over the course of Feb. 19-20, 2013. Since forming, this sunspot has grown to more than six Earth diameters across. However, NASA pointed out that the full size of the sunspot is difficult to measure since the spot lies on a sphere not a flat disk.
NASA also noted that the sunspot could produce a solar flare. For example, the giant sunspot has turned into what’s referred to as a delta region, in which the lighter areas around the sunspot, reveal magnetic fields that point in the opposite direction of those fields in the center. “This is a fairly unstable configuration,” wrote Fox.
A solar flare erupts when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released, according to NASA. Radiation is emitted across “virtually” the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The amount of energy released in a solar flare is the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding simultaneously.
The small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 passed safely by Earth on Feb. 15, 2013. Its closest approach, about 17, 150 miles above the Indian Ocean, came at about 11:25 a.m. PST (2:55 p.m. EST and 1925 UTC). NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office accurately predicted the asteroid’s path and that there was no chance it might collide with Earth. The flyby did provide scientists and astronomers a unique opportunity to study a near-Earth object up close.