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NASA VeSpR Rocket Telescope Scours Venus’ Atmosphere For Signs Of Water

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venusWhile the Cassini, Curiosity, and MESSENGER craft have been giving us extensive information about Saturn, Mars, and Mercury, respectively, it’s been a few years since our space program has been able to study Venus with much complexity. But earlier this week, NASA launched the Venus Spectral Rocket Experiment, or VeSpR, the data from which will be used to determine whether or not the planet was ever covered in water. Whatever happened to just politely asking a planet if it had any water?

The VeSpR combines a Terrier missile and a Black Brant Mk1 sounding rocket equipped with a telescope. The rocket was sent up to more than 65 miles above the Earth’ surface, where the atmosphere is thin enough that ultraviolet rays coming off of the upper parts of Venus’s atmosphere can be measured without our planet’s atmosphere getting in the way.

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Kepler Telescope May Soon Function Once More

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KeplerWhile it’s responsible for some of the more amazing exoplanetary discoveries of the last few years, NASA‘s Kepler Telescope has definitely seen its share of woes, having been all but put out to cosmic pasture after two of its gyroscope wheels stopped working, thus making its directional capabilities nonexistent. But many great minds haven’t stopped thinking about ways to utilize the spacecraft, especially since it hasn’t even lasted the projected mission length. Now it’s possible Kepler and Ball Aerospace engineers may have come up with a way to keep Kepler relevant to space exploration, and they don’t even have to fix any wheels.

The new plan is called the K2 mission, and proposes using solar pressure as a substitute for a third functioning positioning wheel. It’s the sun’s photon-based bullying that constantly pushes the spacecraft around, which the precision maneuvering worked to fix. If Kepler can be turned so that the pressure hits all of the craft’s solar panels equally, which would require Kepler being almost parallel to its orbital path around the sun, then it’s possible it could retain the kind of stability needed in order to successfully go exoplanet huntin’.

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NASA Will Try To Grow Plants On The Moon In 2015

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plants on the moonIn President Obama’s 2010 speech on the country’s space program, he undid the previous administration’s plan to send American astronauts back to the moon: “But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there. There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.” My favorite comedy show of all time, Mr. Show (starring Bob Odenkirk and David Cross) has a sketch about blowing up the moon, in which a former Apollo astronaut says, “I walked on the moon. I did a push-up, I ate an egg on it… What else can you do with it?” Well, NASA has an answer to that question — it intends to grow plants on the moon.

The Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team, comprised of NASA scientists, as well as contractors, volunteers, and students, will try to grow a couple of plants such as basil, sunflowers, and turnips in specially constructed cylindrical aluminum planters that contain sensors, cameras, and other equipment that will broadcast images of the plants as the grow (or don’t grow). The plant habitats are intended to be self-sufficient, able to monitor and regular temperature, moisture, and their own power supply.

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3, 2, 1 — Uh Oh, SpaceX Reschedules Falcon 9 Rocket Launch For Thursday

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Falcon 9

Earlier today, SpaceX’s website was counting down, stopping, then counting down again, then stopping again, scrubbing the launch that was scheduled to take place at approximately 5:37pm EST. On Thursday, SpaceX will again attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket for a GEO Transfer Mission. The rocket, which will launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, will put an Orbital Sciences SES-8 satellite, designed to support Southeast Asian communications needs for about 15 years, into a geostationary transfer orbit. Then, about a half-hour after launch, the Falcon 9 will deliver the satellite into geostationary orbit at about 22,000 miles above Earth, roughly 25% of the way to the moon. Many launchers deliver a satellite in two phases, or burns, depending on how long and how much power it takes to reach the first apogee. The transfer to geostatic orbit phase is usually performed via solar power, which reduces overall costs. This launch is SpaceX’s first attempt at putting a communications satellite in orbit.

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Sally Ride Receives Posthumous Presidential Medal Of Freedom

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sally rideToo often, one’s contributions to the world don’t get their just honor until it’s too late. Sally Ride, the first female U.S. astronaut in space, was posthumously honored on Wednesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians. She was one of 16 individual honorees from a wide range of backgrounds, but she was the only one that went to space, so we’re pretty sure she had some of the best stories in the bunch whenever she was still around to tell them. Ride was 61 years old when she passed away last July due to pancreatic cancer, and she got a lot done during those years to help her earn this award, which has been given to over 500 people in the 50 years since President John F. Kennedy brought them into being.

Ride’s partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, was on hand to accept the award on Ride’s behalf, and mother Joyce and sister Karen also attended the ceremony. “I think she belongs there, and I only wish that she had received the honor when she was still alive,” O’Shaughnessy told USA Today, saying that the astronaut was always more interested in getting things done rather than being applauded for her efforts. “But you know what? This is such a big honor. I think she would be quietly very pleased. You’d probably see this little grin on her face, that she thought it was a big deal, too.”

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NASA Animation Shows Ancient Mars As A Lush World

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Mars concept

Scientists know that Mars has changed a lot over the years. It used to be warm and wet, and quite possibly harbor at least microbial life, but now it’s cold, dry, and barren. On Monday, NASA launched the Mars MAVEN, which will spend about a year studying Mars’ atmosphere to gather data important in understanding how and why it has changed so drastically. One of the reasons we’re so captivated by the idea of ancient Mars is that it’s a lot easier to imagine humans living there.

And while we can’t turn back time, we do know that atmospheres can change, either via natural processes or, quite possibly, man-induced ones such as terraforming. In order to catalyze Mars dreams, whether they’re past, present, or future, and in order to get people engaged and excited about MAVEN’s mission, NASA created an animation of how scientists believe Mars may have looked about 4 billion years ago when it had a thick atmosphere.