NASA put the first man on the moon, built an international space station, made the Hubble Space Telescope (which still gives us gorgeous shots of the universe), yadda yadda. Those are old news, right? But then, as I’ve recently been thinking about it, I realize the people at NASA just never seem to run out of surprises throughout the decades. They went surprisingly sustainable, announcing the launch of a recycled supply rocket. They went surprisingly cute, making their satellites capture pictures of more than a million penguins. They even have a (non-surprisingly) fantastic podcast.
Another one is coming from NASA in a tiny gift box. A four-pound autonomous space helicopter will be launched alongside their 2020 rover mission to Mars. And the experimental device is only the size of a softball!
Traveling at the speed of light, it’ll still take several minutes for any commands sent from Earth to reach the helicopter, so the flying rover will have to be at least partially autonomous as it provides scientists and other autonomous vehicles with the first long-term bird’s-eye view of the planet.
NASA made the tiny space helicopter carry batteries and other hardware that were customized to be as light as possible. And aside from being incredibly light, the device also needs to have incredibly fast mechanisms or functions in order to survive the conditions in Mars.
[T]he Martian atmosphere is practically non-existent. The air pressure at the planet’s surface is lower than it is at a helicopter’s maximum altitude when flying above Earth. In order to take off, the tiny flying robot needs to spin it’s two blades ten times faster — 3,000 times per minute — than it would on Earth[.]
Once the new rover and its passenger — the tiny space helicopter — reach Mars in 2021, they will be scanning for signs of life, identifying hazards for future astronauts, and assisting other ground-based rovers in ongoing geology research.
By then, all of us should prepare for more Martian surprises in store. Again, care of NASA’s coolness.
NASA has more cause to celebrate than discovering the possibility of life on Saturn’s Moon and four earth-sized planets. This year, the 28th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope is marked by gorgeous images and a fly-through video of a breathtaking accomplishment: the Lagoon Nebula.
Hubble, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), launched on April 24, 1990. The ESA’s Hubble site describes the Lagoon Nebula as a “colossal object” that’s 55 light-years in width and 20 light-years in height. Even though it is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, it is three times larger in the sky than the full Moon.
The entirety of the Lagoon Nebula cannot be completely captured by the images NASA released, showing only its heart. But the magnificence we can glimpse at is still mind-blowing. It joins a stellar line-up of the previous years’ anniversary explorations of the Hubble Space Telescope, including the Bubble Nebula and a pair of spiral galaxies. As part of the celebration, the Hubble site also publicizes some trivia for us:
Since its launch, the space telescope has made over 163,500 trips around Earth, more than 1.5 million observations of over 43,500 celestial objects and generated 153 terabytes of data.
28 years ago, the scientists and astronomers that were part of the core team for this project had soaring ambitions, and yet they probably never imagined the heights their Hubble Space Telescope would reach. What a remarkable feat for science. And today, with another dazzling nebula, what a remarkable reminder of how science allows us to see the beauty of the universe.
Do you want to hear astronauts themselves talk about the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, the adventures of planet protection officers against alien microbes, and other real stories that could have come from science fiction books but definitely didn’t? You might want to check out NASA’s official website for their fantastic podcast.
The podcast features plenty of astronauts reliving their greatest accomplishments and talking about their rigorous training. Recent episodes bring you audio from inside the Orion, the capsule that NASA is developing to carry a crew of four astronauts into deep space, and along Scott Tingle’s path from test pilot to astronaut.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center launched “Houston, We Have a Podcast” last July 2017 and has since released more than 40 episodes on its official site. The cleverly-titled podcast is revitalized every week, which means you only have to wait that long to get your new fill of amazing space-related content.
The show overflows with the voices of the engineers, researchers and mission control flight directors who develop and test NASA’s most complex technology and protect astronauts during their flights. There’s historical information on pioneering missions and space explorers, too.
While on the way home from work, shopping at the grocery, or making dinner, you might want to relive your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. Thanks to the podcast form, it has never been this contemporary and accessible.
While NASA is busy trying to ward off aliens, Russian scientist Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli is considering other options. The rocket scientist is behind Asgardia, the world’s first space community which has launched its first satellite into orbit late last year.
[The nanosat] contains 0.5 TB of data belonging to 18,000 of Asgardia’s citizens, such as family photographs, as well as digital representations of the space nation’s flag, coat of arms and constitution.
Talk about getting serious! Asgardia may not be NASA’s brainchild, but the agency is on board as a partner. Currently, 114,000 people are cleared for citizenship in the independent space nation. Asgardia’s physical platforms will hover close to Earth in low orbits, and will be home to its first inhabitants in just eight years. While the UN remains skeptical about the space nation, as they should, Ashurbeyli is more than optimistic.
“We have to be like a normal country. All countries have problems, and soon we will have the same problems,” he says. “But we will have more than normal countries because we are not on earth.”
I myself have doubts, but with the many technological breakthroughs by humans that were previously thought of as impossible, I am assured that at least, a person can dream. And pursue that dream scientifically. It may be a long ways away for Dr. Ashurbeyli, but if I’m still around by the time he successfully puts Asgardia up in the air, I might just look into applying as a citizen.
Preparing for life on Mars has become increasingly tedious, especially after discoveries of snow on the planet. Nevertheless, places like the UAE are eager to push forward the limits of space study, building a massive Mars metropolis. You know — just in case. But clearly, it’s MIT engineers who are coming out on top after snatching the top prize at the Mars City Design contest for their dome habitats.
MIT’s winning design, which the team calls Redwood Forest, is a collection of “tree habitats” connected through a system of tunnels called “roots.” The roots would provide safe access to other tree habitats, private spaces and “shirt-sleeve transportation,”
If the designs make it to Mars, each dome would house up to 50 inhabitants. Realistically, the ambitious tech team hopes to build 200, which guarantees 10,000 hopefuls a spot on life beyond Earth.
“On Mars, our city will physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life,” MIT postdoctoral researcher Valentina Sumini said.
It’s a daunting prospect, if it does happen. Hopefully MIT’s “forest” will make future residents feel right at home.
For NASA, 2017 has been bustling, looking to save the planet from a threatening volcano and maybe ward off aliens on the side. Topping off the year with an impressive first, the agency is launching a previously-used Falcon 9 rocket into space.
SpaceX will launch 2.5 tons of supplies to the ISS from pad 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral, and it’ll do so with a rocket booster that’s been used before.
Normally, ships discard booster rockets in space, where they float off to… somewhere. Landing boosters back into Earth will potentially save millions on production and labor. That being said, NASA still remains meticulous about safety measures, despite SpaceX’s constant success.
“Some [rocket booster] components are removed and some new components are added,” Gerstenmaier [of the spaceflight committee] said… “There’s a detailed list of what inspections need to be done. They did a detailed test program. They did a detailed plan.”
It’s painstaking, but NASA is committed to running case-by-case checks. True enough, nobody wants a loose rocket hurtling back into the atmosphere.
Holding on to its promise of saving the world, NASA has a lot to prove to the public. Now may be a good time to breathe a sigh of relief, as the space agency successfully communicated with a faraway spacecraft. 13 billion miles away, to be exact.
Last week, ground controllers sent commands to fire backup thrusters on Voyager 1, our most distant spacecraft. The thrusters had been idle for 37 years, since Voyager 1 flew past Saturn.
Voyager 1 then pinged a signal back to the Jet Propulsion Lab, received after a 19-hour wait. At 40-years-old, the senior spacecraft is the only one floating outside of our own solar system. A team at NASA conducted a thorough study of its original software, which (obviously) remained mostly intact.
“The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” he said in a statement.
If further testing proves successful, the decrepit Voyager 1 may see extra years of potential hovering.
When student Alex Pietrow photographed Jupiter with a Game Boy, it was just a matter of time until a new satellite came around. Beating NASA to the punch, British companies Earth-i and and Surrey Satellite Tech built a complete and total gem. At only 100 kilograms, the CARBONITE-2 can capture HD images of Earth — in color!
We can collect up to 50 frames per second which is a lot of information,” Richard Blain, CEO of Earth-i [said]… “That allows us to stack the individual images and increase our effective resolution, achieving somewhere around 65 centimeters to 75 centimeters [25 to 29 inches].”
What makes the seemingly perfect machine even more impressive is that it’s just a prototype. Yes, it’s successor will be far more advanced, sending images back in mere minutes.
“The Vivid-i Constellation will provide capabilities we haven’t seen before including full-color video, and an assured stream of high-quality data from space to help improve both our planet and our lives on Earth,” Josef Aschbacher, director of Earth Observation Programmes at the European Space Agency (ESA), said.
Sure, HD satellites may seem trivial, like enjoying a film in 720p instead of the usual 360. But hey, if the world won’t be holding up for much longer, a pretty good selfie wouldn’t hurt.