Sally Ride Receives Posthumous Presidential Medal Of Freedom

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.”


NASA Animation Shows Ancient Mars As A Lush World

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.


TV Review: The Challenger Disaster Is A Surprisingly Compelling And Profound Docudrama

I remember January 28, 1986. I was seven years old. I, like so many other excited students, gathered in the cafeteria of my school just before lunch to watch the Challenger take off. I didn’t know a whole lot about space back then, except that it was far away, huge, and mysterious, and that those qualities also made it pretty cool. I had absorbed by then, though, that going into space was Important. It was one of those adventures that has and hopefully will continue to define humankind. I also knew that on board that ship was a teacher who also happened to be a woman. This brought the mission much closer to home for me, as it did for so many people. I remember watching the liftoff and clapping along with everyone else, even the folks in NASA’s control room.


Mars MAVEN Hopes To Crack The Mystery Of Mars

MAVENIf the weather cooperates, tomorrow will mark another step in our long journey toward the Red Planet, with the launch of MAVEN. Mars has been an object of fascination for thousands of years. Our good friend Copernicus was the first person to postulate that Mars was a planet like Earth, which was one of the details in the heliocentric Solar System theory he published in 1543. From then on, astronomers have been studying the planet, and in 1965, spacecraft and probes joined the party. Mars has raised a multitude of questions, such as whether water exists there; whether little green aliens or some other life form exists or existed there; whether its moons are captured asteroids; and whether the planet could support human life. Key to that last question is Mars’s atmosphere, which is exactly what MAVEN will study.

Mars has changed drastically over time. It used to be warm and wet, likely supporting microbes that may have begun life on Earth, but now it’s a cold and barren desert. How did that happen? Mars used to have a thick, cloud-producing atmosphere, but over time, the atmosphere has all but vanished. Where did it go? Carl Sagan believes it’s trapped in the soil of Mars and that it might even be possible to release the atmosphere back into the sky, which would be one aspect of terraforming. But we don’t know, which is why we’re sending MAVEN to find out.


NASA Finally Reveals Cassini’s Stunning Big Pic Of Saturn

SaturnBack on July 19, NASA turned the Cassini orbiter around so that the craft faced its home world, and took a snapshot of Saturn. Actually, it took a lot of snapshots. The space agency compiled the photos into a single image, the so-called “big pic,” which has now been released, and the back-lit photograph certainly is breathtaking to behold.

Composed of 141 wide-angled photos selected from the hundreds Cassini took, the final image shows the entire width of Saturn’s ring system, a distance of more than 405,000 miles, or 650,000 kilometers. It doesn’t look real, it looks like something painted digitally.


Exoplanet Infographic Tracks All The Worlds Discovered By The Kepler Telescope

KeplerIt’s well past the witching hour here as I write this, and I should really be going to bed. But I can’t. Because I’ve found something awesome. Sure, finding awesome things is pretty much the name of the game when it comes to this gig, but this is the sort of thing that demands I tell the world about it right now, as quickly as possible, so I can go back to fiddling around with it instead of sleeping.

From the time it was launched in 2009 until its untimely demise due to two failed retraction wheels this past summer, NASA’s Kepler space telescope was a badass exoplanet-discovering machine. You could read the reams of NASA data about those planets, but if you’re looking for a more easily digestible survey of Kepler’s accomplishments you can do no better than the gorgeous animated infographic put together by the New York Times. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself: My god, it’s full of stars…