As NASA debates whether to send more people to the moon, as well as whether, how, and when to try a manned mission to Mars, it has decided to fund a new kind of robot for space exploration: tumbling cubes.
Pluto may not be an official planet anymore—revoking a celestial body’s planet hood still seems a bit harsh—but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking a closer look at, and that’s exactly where NASA’s New Horizon probe is headed. The craft is still a year or so away from arriving at its final destination, but it’s already sending back impressive footage and breaking existing records.
The craft isn’t scheduled to be close enough to close up shots of the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon until July 14 of next year, but while it’s on the way, the team at NASA has pointed its telescope at the target and captured this film of the two bodies in orbit. Comprised of a dozen images taken from July 19 through July 24, this clip shows the moon revolve around the dwarf planet in a way we’ve never seen before.
A few months ago we reported on the NASA’s new Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which looks like a flying saucer and is designed to land large payloads on places such as Mars. The first flight test of the LDSD happened in June at the Kauai Pacific Missile Range Facility, and NASA has just released footage of that flight as recorded by cameras on the craft.
Many aspects of this test flight were unusual. Because the parachute on the LDSD is so large, NASA can’t conduct any testing in a wind tunnel. So this time, they launched the craft with a gigantic, 34-million-cubic-foot balloon, which pulled the it to approximately 120,000 feet. The device’s thrusters then started it spinning, which, while somewhat nausea-inducing, actually improves stability. Then a rocket took over, catapulting the craft to over 180,000 feet in just over a minute. When everything was ready, the decelerator deployed (which looks totally awesome in the high-resolution, high-definition footage).
How time flies. Can you believe the Curiosity Rover has been on Mars for two years already? Sure, Opportunity’s got more than eight years on the younger probe, but age isn’t everything. Curiosity has provided us with information about water on Mars as well as a dramatic landing. And now it’s getting ready to climb Mount Sharp, its main destination.
Mount Sharp is no joke—at 3.4 miles high, it makes Mount Rainier look small. The peak is so massive that the bedrock at its base extends for miles, forming an area called Pahrump Hills. What a great name. Curiosity is less than a mile away from this area, which will give the probe, as well as scientists, the first glimpse at whatever kind of geological structures form the mountain. Curiosity is approximately 2 miles from the mountain itself.
U.S. scientist Guido Fetta devised a microwave thruster called the “Cannae Drive”—a reference to the Battle of Cannae or perhaps to Star Trek’s Scotty—that operates without propellant. After some cajoling, he got NASA to agree to give it a try, and at the recent Joint Propulsion Conference, the space agency presented the results of its validation testing, which confirms that this system, once thought to be impossible, actually works. NASA spent eight days “investigat[ing] and demonstrat[ing] viability of using classical magnetoplasmadynamics to obtain a propulsive momentum transfer via the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”
Comic-Con 2014 is only a week away. Thousands of fans and professionals will descend on San Diego and bury it in a thick coating of nerd several feet deep. There’s really nothing else like it, but the more years pass, the more overwhelming the Con becomes. There’s so much going on, it’s a monumental task just to figure out which of the countless panels and events you want to try and see. Well, we’re here to make your life just a little bit easier. Over the next couple of days, we’ll run down all the panels that should be at the top of your to-do list. Today we’ll start off with the events for Wednesday — “Preview Night” — and Thursday.