Plenty of Space

Heart-Shaped Comet Particle from the Stardust MissionHere’s a little heart-shaped piece of a comet, returned to Earth on January 15th by the Stardust probe, sent to meet up with comet Wild 2 about 7 years ago. They’ve found that comets are made of really all sorts of things. Materials that were made only very near the earliest sun’s heat around the formation of our solar system, to materials that are in the furthest, coldest reaches.

NASA has just released a nice little video showing their new space vehicle planned for the upcoming manned moon missions. It’s called “How We’ll Get Back to the Moon“.

I like the new rendezvous in space between the astronauts and the booster taking them to the moon. Hopefully the docking systems will behave a little better than the new Dart system which failed almost spectacularly during it’s first test recently. It seems the problem was the age-old problem of the technical people being pushed to meet deadlines established by people distanced from the actualities.

The new moon missions will also sport a ground landing for the astronauts upon their return to Earth instead of sea-based, though the mission in its entirety appears a little “retro”. Hopefully the parachutes will work a little better than the ones they used for the Genesis probe as well…

The NASA Multimedia Video Gallery also has a video on the decent of the Huygens probe onto Titan several months ago. News from this mission has been very slow in coming, especially considering all the hype around it. I discovered, at a lecture in Flagstaff by one of the USGS leads on the mission, that the probe encountered and exhibited all sorts of wild tragectories on its descent, sending it to and fro and spinning in ways they did not anticipate. Apparently they were working very hard to account for these unexpected turns in the data, and this accounting is taking a very long time.

Saturnian Ring with TitanAs Chris pointed out, there are still amazing images coming in from the Cassini probe as well. In fact, on May 20th it will be performing a very close flyby of Titan – it’s closest yet at just over 1,000 miles distance. Several experiments are planned for this encounter, and NASA has provided a mission description for this encounter as well. Maybe they’ll learn more about the strange cat scratches.

And of course, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has arrived at last, going a bit too fast to perform its truly useful science yet, but will be spinning around Mars for the next few months, dipping into its atmosphere to slow it, until it settles into a nice, comfy low orbit to begin doing some serious scanning sciences upon the distant surface of Mars, and even below (much like the ESA probe recently arrived, only less deep, where they actually expect to find useful water). The MRO has sent back some pictures already though.

So yes, plenty of space lately, at least.