Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Curiosity Right Over

Unlike the Russians, at least we can get our Mars missions out of Earth’s orbit.

NASA launches super-size Mars rover to red planet

The world’s biggest extraterrestrial explorer, NASA’s Curiosity rover, rocketed toward Mars on Saturday on a search for evidence that the red planet might once have been home to itsy-bitsy life.

It will take 8½ months for Curiosity to reach Mars following a journey of 354 million miles.

An unmanned Atlas V rocket hoisted the rover, officially known as Mars Science Laboratory, into a cloudy late morning sky. A Mars frenzy gripped the launch site, with more than 13,000 guests jamming the space center for NASA’s first launch to Earth’s next-door neighbor in four years, and the first send-off of a Martian rover in eight years.

See also:
NASA Rover Begins Long Cruise to Mars
For NASA’s rover Curiosity, it’s ‘Mars or Bust!’
NASA Launches Hefty Curiosity Rover to Mars
NASA launches $2.5 billion rover to Red Planet
Super-size Mars rover blasts off, biggest robotic explorer ever built to roam another planet
Launch of Nasa Curiosity Mars rover could lead to human mission by 2030
NASA launches super-size rover to Mars: ‘Go, Go!’
NASA rover launched to seek out life clues on Mars
Nasa rover begins journey in search of life on Mars
Curiosity on its way to Mars – November 26, 2011
NASA Rover to Begin Journey to Mars
Curiosity Starts Nine Month Journey to Mars
NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity Takes Off
Will NASA’s Curiosity rover find signs of life on Mars?
Mars Science Laboratory
Mars Science Laboratory
Mars Science Laboratory

Well, so far so good, the mission is off to a good start. Of course, there’s still plenty of thing that could go wrong, the landing sequence for setting Curiosity down on the Martian surface looks to be extremely complex, like something Rube Goldberg would come up with.

/for $2.5 billion, Curiosity had better perform as advertised and discover something spectacular

Air Force Mystery Toy, The Sequel

Up and into orbit it goes, what it does, nobody knows. Although, the fact that it’s a military and not a civilian program should be a big clue.

2nd Boeing-built Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B Begins Flight

Boeing . . . today announced the successful launch of the second Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO). The OTV was launched on an Atlas V rocket into a low-Earth orbit today at 5:46 p.m. Eastern time from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41.

“History was made in December when the X-37B became the United States’ first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems. “The success of that mission validated this reusable and effective way to test new technologies in space and return them for examination.

“Today, we took another important step with the successful launch of the second OTV, enabling the RCO to further experiment with the vehicle and its ability to operate in low-Earth orbit,” Cooning continued. “Close teamwork between the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the United Launch Alliance Atlas team, and the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station made this launch a success.”

See also:
Space weaponry in focus as US Air Force launches mysterious X-37B robotic plane
Second Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B Begins Flight
Air Force X-37B space plane launched into orbit
Air Force launches unmanned spacecraft
X-37B, super-secret experimental Air Force space plane, launches into orbit
The Air Force’s X-37B space plane reaches orbit for the second time
Second x37b Super-Secret Mission Launched into Space
The X 37B: Unmanned ‘Classified’ Space Plane Launched – Why?
Secretive plane raises flags as it heads for orbit
U.S. ‘space plane’ in orbit
Secret space mission blasts off
Atlas V Rocket Roars Toward Space
Atlas 5 rocket rumbles into sunny sky
X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle
Boeing X-37
It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s A Mystery Toy!
The Mystery Toy Comes Home To Roost

Well, today’s Air Force launch certainly went better than Thursday’s NASA launch.

/and that’s all you’ll hear about the X-37B until it comes back down to Earth sometime in the next nine months

Back To The Moon

NASA heads back to the moon

Nearly 5-1/2 years after former President Bush decided to send US astronauts back to the moon by 2020, America is set to launch the first mission supporting that goal.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and a companion spacecraft are set for launch Thursday aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. The $504-million mission is scheduled to take off as early as 5:12 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

After a four-day journey, and another 66 days of testing and easing the spacecraft into its final orbit, the LRO will circle the moon some 31 miles above its surface, building the most detailed atlas yet of Earth’s companion. The data will help planners figure out where to send astronauts when it’s time to put boots back on the lunar surface.

After the first year, the orbiter will continue working for an additional year or two with emphasis on answering basic questions about the moon – about the composition of the moon’s “seas” and highlands, and its geologic history written in the rocks exposed in crater walls.

“This is exploration and science working together,” says Mike Wargo, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) chief lunar scientist.

The orbiter will gather images of objects as small as 18 inches across, build contour maps of the lunar surface accurate to within about three feet, and map surface temperatures at different latitudes and through the moon’s subtle seasonal changes. It will gather information on radiation hazards from the sun, from cosmic rays from deep space, and from energetic neutrons those rays kick up when they strike the lunar surface. It will also map the distribution of surface minerals.

From the standpoint of establishing lunar outposts, a key task is hunting for water ice that may lurk in the permanent, frigid darkness at the bottom of craters at the moon’s poles. Past spacecraft have yielded evidence of water. But the signs have been vague.

That’s why the mission includes some fall fireworks. In October, the orbiter’s companion craft, the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), is destined for a lunar smack-down. The craft – actually a guidance-and-instrument package mated to the Atlas rocket’s upper stage – will steer the stage toward a head-on collision with the bottom of a polar crater. One NASA scientist has likened it to a VW bug pushing a school bus.

At the right moment, the package will release the spent upper stage and follow it down, measuring the results as the collision kicks material from the dark crater floor back into sunlight. Scientists say they expect the plume to extend to some four miles above the crater rim. Shortly after the upper stage augers in, the guidance package also will end up as rubble on the crater’s floor.

“This is the crescendo event,” says Dan Andrews, the project manager for LCROSS.

Space-based telescopes, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, India’s lunar orbiter, and several ground-base observatories will try to tease out the material’s composition with an eye toward capturing the signatures of water ice, if it’s there. The event also is likely to be visible to amateur astronomers with the right-sized telescope.


See also:
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
En Route to Moon!
Mission Overview
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: NASA Returns To The Moon With First Lunar Launch In A Decade
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
USGS Astrogeology Returns to its Lunar Roots With LRO
Public Can ‘Participate’ In NASA’s Lunar Mission
Moon orbiter faces many risks
NASA Mission to Survey Moon for Return of Astronauts
Moonstruck: Tagalong Probe to Blast Moon in Search for Water
Catherine Peddie, Deputy Project Manager
ASK Talks with Cathy Peddie
Atlas V: Countdown 101
Atlas V

/and hey, coming in at a measly $504 million, the cost of the LRO/LCROSS mission is statistically insignificant compared to the tens of billions we’ve wasted on bailing out Chrysler, GM, and the UAW, and the LRO/LCROSS mission is infinitely more worthwhile