Search results for: "orion"


NASA Launching New Mars Rover On Saturday

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Unlike the Orion project (which will launch three years ahead of schedule), the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission has been delayed two years.  Now, after 8 years of planning, its centerpiece rover will finally launch from Cape Canaveral on Saturday.  The Mars rover Curiosity is being sent on a projected two year mission to assess whether Mars ever did or could support microbial life.  It will touch down in August at the Gale Crater after being lowered to the surface via a rocket-powered sky crane. Yes, you read that right.  The new Mars rover will be lowered to the Martian landscape via a rocket-powered sky crane to lay the groundwork for future searches for (microbial) life on Mars.

Curiosity is a behemoth compared to Spirit and Opportunity, the two rovers that came before it.  Not only does it weigh five times more than its older brothers, it carries twice as many scientific instruments.  In addition to its fancy scientific gadgets, Curiosity has a good old-fashioned drill with which to peek at the insides of Martian rocks.  Instead of traditional solar cells, the new rover has radioisotope thermoelectric generators.  These spiffy generators use radioactive decay of plutonium to generate electricity, which makes Curiosity far better suited to Martian winters than previous rovers.  The combined force of all this makes for what MSL scientist Ashwin Vasavada calls “a Mars scientist’s dream machine”: “This rover is not only the most technically capable rover ever sent to another plaanet, but it’s actually the most capable scientific explorer we’ve ever sent out.”


NASA Returns To Space In 2014

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For an organization that was supposedly going the way of the dodo bird, NASA sure is in the news a lot lately.  They’re announcing new solar sails experiments, working on tractor beams, and (maybe?) getting what funding they still have slashed some more.  Well, here’s another NASA news item:  an unmanned test flight of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, three years earlier than originally planned.  Yes, it’s an unmanned flight, but one with great implications for future human deep space exploration.  The Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) features a new Space Launch System (SLS), which the NASA press release says “will take astronauts farther into space than ever before, create U.S. jobs, and provide the cornerstone for America’s future human spaceflight efforts.”

Orion will be launched into space, orbit twice “to a high-apogee” (basically, to a good distance from the Earth), then bust back through the atmosphere at high speeds.  Orion will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla, and make a water landing after re-entry.  The hope with EFT-1 is that it will provide essential data in figuring out how to design a spacecraft that can survive speeds upwards of 20,000 mph and return astronauts safely from greater distances outside of Earth’s orbit.  NASA says it’s developing Orion to bring humans to the moon, asteroids, Mars, “and other destinations” via SLS, but being able to travel at high speeds and still re-enter safely is also a basic requirement for any kind of craft for manned deep space exploration.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for space exploration and NASA nerds of late, but moving a test flight up instead of postponing it might show there is hope yet.