Raw image from Cassini’s last-ever flyby of Titan, taken on April 21, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has now officially entered the last phase of its mission – the “Grand Finale,” with the last-ever close flyby of Titan and the first of 22 final orbits which will take the spacecraft closer to Saturn than ever before, passing between the inner rings and the planet itself. Cassini has today just completed the first of these passes (with results pending for a few hours as of this writing), which will culminate on Sept. 15 with the spacecraft plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere to meet its fiery end. It will be a sad but incredible ending to an incredible mission.
Continue reading Cassini Completes Last Flyby of Titan and First Dive Between Saturn and Rings in ‘Grand Finale’
Composite view of the grooved ridge called Rocheport; the images were taken by Opportunity as it was leaving Cape Tribulation. The view extends from the south-east to the north. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
For about the past 30 months, the Opportunity rover has been exploring Cape Tribulation on Mars, a towering ridge on the rim of Endeavour crater. Now, Opportunity has finally left that location, to continue its journey southward down the western side of the crater rim. The views have been scenic from the top of Cape Tribulation, but now it is time to move on, and head to the next major target, an ancient gully not too far to the south-east, also on the crater rim. This gully is thought to have been carved by running water millions or billions of years ago, so scientists are very interested in examining it up close, and the rover is now almost there.
Continue reading Opportunity Rover Approaches Martian Gully After Leaving Cape Tribulation
Apollo 16 Commander John Young salutes the American flag on the surface of the moon. Photo Credit: NASA/Charles Duke
Forty-five years ago, this week, Apollo 16 landed late on the surface of the Moon…and a carefully choreographed flight plan was instantly thrown into disarray. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, a problem had been detected with the big Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine aboard the Command and Service Module (CSM) and only after several hours of deliberations were the crew given the go-ahead to perform a Powered Descent and guide the Lunar Module (LM) down to the surface. By the late evening of 20 April 1972, Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Charlie Duke had touched down on an undulating plain, midway between a pair of craters, nicknamed “North Ray” and “South Ray”.
Against all the odds, humanity’s fifth manned exploration of the Moon was underway.
Continue reading Intruders in a Foreign Land: 45 Years Since Apollo 16 Almost Didn’t Land on the Moon (Part 2)
Apollo 16 Commander John Young gazes across the rugged terrain during humanity’s fifth piloted lunar landing. Two days before this photograph was taken, the chances of Young and Charlie Duke landing on the Moon at all quite literally hung by a thread. Photo Credit: NASA
For anyone born within the last five decades, it is difficult to remember or understand a time when we were landing humans on the surface of the Moon. It is difficult to imagine that the technology was operationally available to deliver our kind across the 240,000-mile (370,000 km) gulf betwixt Earth and our closest celestial neighbor and achieved a controlled landing and on-foot scientific explorations of the hostile lunar terrain. Yet 45 years ago, this weekend, Apollo 16 Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Charlie Duke did just that, as their crewmate, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Ken Mattingly, orbited overhead. On 22 April 1972, Young and Duke wrapped up the second of their three Moonwalks at a mountainous place called Descartes.
It was a moment of triumph, indeed, for their mission came within a whisker of never landing on the Moon at all.
Continue reading Billy Rubin and Typhoid Mary: 45 Years Since Apollo 16 Almost Didn’t Land on the Moon (Part 1)
The Soyuz-FG booster delivers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer smoothly into orbit on Thursday, 20 April. Photo Credit: NASA/Twitter
Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and U.S. astronaut Jack Fischer have launched safely into orbit aboard their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft, bound for a 4.5-month occupancy of the International Space Station (ISS). The duo—who represent the smallest Soyuz crew to be launched over a decade—rocketed away from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:13:43 p.m. local time (3:13:43 a.m EDT) Thursday, 20 April. Within nine minutes, Yurchikhin and Fischer achieved orbit and began a six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” to reach the space station.
At the time of writing, the crew are in the process of executing up to five Delta-Velocity (DV) “burns” of their spacecraft’s maneuvering thrusters to align their orbital parameters with that of the ISS. Docking with the station’s space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module is targeted for 9:23 a.m. EDT. After a couple of hours of pressurization and leak checks, hatches will be opened and Yurchikhin and Fischer will join Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitsky and Thomas Pesquet to round out Expedition 51.
Continue reading Soyuz MS-04 Launches, Begins 4.5-Month Space Station Increment
Artist’s conception of Cassini’s final flyby of Titan on April 21. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This week marks another important milestone in the Cassini mission at Saturn – as of today, the spacecraft is conducting the last Ring-Grazing Orbit of its mission as it prepares for the Grand Finale, which will culminate in the death of the probe on Sept. 15. On April 21, Cassini will do its very last close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Speaking of Titan, Cassini has also apparently solved a perplexing mystery; the unusual “magic island” formations seen in one of the moon’s methane/ethane seas are now thought to be caused by nitrogen bubbles fizzing periodically on the sea’s surface.
Continue reading Cassini Enters ‘Grand Finale’ Phase of Mission and Solves a ‘Bubbling Mystery’ on Titan’s Seas
The OA-7 Cygnus ‘John Glenn’ taking flight atop a ULA Atlas-V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS at 11:11am EDT April 18, 2017, headed to the ISS with tons of fresh cargo, supplies and experiments. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Despite being the “barebones” member of the fleet, the pencil-like Atlas V 401 today cemented its credentials as the most-flown vehicle in United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V inventory. With the spectacular launch of Orbital ATK’s OA-7 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the “401”—so named because it carries a 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) payload fairing, no strap-on rockets and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—has now completed more than 50 percent of all Atlas V launches. Flying its third ISS-bound mission on behalf of Orbital ATK and NASA in only 16 months, the vehicle enjoyed a smooth countdown, punctuated only by a couple of ground anomalies.
Liftoff occurred on-time at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, right on the opening of a 30-minute “window” and took place under beautiful April skies on the Florida coast. Rising from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Atlas V successfully injected Cygnus—nicknamed “Space Ship (S.S.) John Glenn”, honoring the former Project Mercury and shuttle astronaut, who died last year—into low-Earth orbit, where it will perform a rendezvous and berthing at the ISS on Saturday morning. It is fitting the the Atlas V is a modern incarnation of the Atlas-D booster which Glenn himself rode on 20 February 1962 to become the first American citizen to orbit the globe.
Continue reading ‘Godspeed, John Glenn’: Cygnus Soars Atop Atlas-V on Voyage to Space Station
Veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin (left) and “rookie” spacefarer Jack Fischer will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Soyuz MS-04 on Thursday, 20 April. Photo Credit: NASA
The smallest Soyuz crew in more than a decade will rocket towards the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, 20 April, heading for a shorter-than-normal increment of 4.5 months aboard the orbital outpost. Veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin—who becomes only the eighth Russian citizen to chalk up a fifth space mission—and “rookie” NASA astronaut Jack Fischer will launch aboard Soyuz MS-04 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:13 p.m. local time (3:13 a.m. EDT). Although theirs will be the fourth flight of Russia’s upgraded Soyuz-MS vehicle, it will be the first to attempt a same-day rendezvous and docking with the ISS. Assuming an on-time liftoff, Yurchikhin and Fischer will guide Soyuz MS-04 to a docking at the station’s space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module at 7:23 p.m. Baikonur time (9:23 a.m. EDT), where they will form the second half of Expedition 51, under the command of record-breaking U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson.
Continue reading U.S.-Russian Duo Set to Launch Thursday for Multi-Month Space Station Increment
The S-0 truss is maneuvered by Canadarm2 towards its installation position on the U.S. Destiny lab. Photo Credit: NASA
Jerry Ross was already a record-setter before ever launching on his final space mission, STS-110, aboard shuttle Atlantis, on 8 April 2002. For more than three years, he had been the United States’ most experienced spacewalker, with a career total of more than 44 hours of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) across seven excursions. He had participated in Space Station Freedom construction tests in the weeks before the Challenger accident, had saved NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and trialed space station equipment in April 1991 and had led the first three spacewalks to assemble the International Space Station (ISS) in December 1998. On his final mission, STS-110, Ross would bring this experience full-circle, by supporting a mission which would allow the nascent ISS to grow still further into the world-class research laboratory that it is today. In doing so, he also set an as-yet-unbroken record as the first human to launch from Earth into space as many as seven times.
Continue reading Adding Backbone to the Space Station: 15 Years Since STS-110 (Part 2)
Friday’s OA-7 mission will be the third Cygnus to be delivered to orbit via a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V. Photo Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/Twitter
Denied a second spaceflight by then-President John F. Kennedy, reportedly on account of his value to the nation as America’s first man to orbit the Earth, Astronaut John Glenn will launch on his third mission on Tuesday, 18 April, aboard a modern incarnation of his old Atlas rocket. His space-time tally—which currently consists of a five-hour Mercury mission in February 1962 and a nine-day Space Shuttle flight in the fall of 1998—will be extended on a three-month-plus voyage to the International Space Station (ISS).
At least, that is, in spirit.
Last month, Orbital ATK revealed that its next ISS-bound Cygnus cargo mission to the ISS will be named in his honor. “Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, was a lifelong pioneer of human spaceflight,” it recently announced. “Glenn paved the way for America’s space program, from Moon missions to the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. His commitment to America’s human spaceflight program and his distinguished military and political career make him an ideal honoree for the OA-7 mission.”
Continue reading John Glenn to Return to Space ‘In Spirit’ on ISS-Bound OA-7 Cygnus Cargo Mission