Since its inception in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been the face of American space travel and exploration. Countless space trips, moon landings, and explorations to other planets have been the on-going mission NASA has undertaken. But what the latest NASA news on what the agency is actually doing now and what does NASA have planned for the future of American space travel and exploration?
We have the latest NASA news. Follow us into NASA’s present and future of exploration.
NASA REPORTS A PLANET-KILLING ASTEROID IS HEADED TOWARDS EARTH
The latest NASA news is that NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies has identified an object headed towards our planet. It’s an asteroid which is larger than the tallest man-made structure on Earth. They’re calling it as 163373 (2002 PZ39) and it’s traveling towards us at a rate of 34,000 miles per hour.
This particular PHA is 3,250 feet in diameter. The tallest building in the world is currently the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It measures 2,727 feet in height. That size makes it the largest asteroid ever to approach Earth.
Don’t panic, NASA’s news arm reports that current course projections have it missing us… barely.
The asteroid is scheduled to pass Earth in a near-miss on February 15, 2020 at around 6:05 am EST. It’ll pass over the planet missing us by 3.6 million miles. To put that number into context the moon is 238,900 miles from Earth. That means its going to pass at a distance about fifteen times further away than the Moon. That might sound like a lot, but in the vastness of space, that’s actually pretty close.
This asteroid is huge. If its course altered just a little and it impacted Earth, it would trigger a nuclear winter and wipe out all life on the planet. The asteroid is classified as an “Apollo” asteroid, which means it will intersect Earth’s path around the sun. It’s also a PHA or Potentially Hazardous Asteroid which means if it hits us in one of its trips intersecting our path, we’re all dead. Luckily, this time it’ll pass and leave us unharmed.
PALE BLUE DOT
NASA’s news blog reminded us that on February 14, 1990 NASA’s Voyager spacecraft sent home one of the most famous photos of all time. It has become known as Pale Blue Dot, and the image showed what Earth looked like from far, far away. In the image, Earth is nothing more than a tiny speck.
To celebrate the anniversary of that famous image, NASA has used modern technology to reprocess Pale Blue Dot, and give us an even better look at how tiny and insignificant we are in the cosmos. Here’s the new image, processed with modern imaging technology…
The new image does a better job of showing the scattered rays of sunlight streaming through the vast blackness of space. And that tiny, tiny dot captured in one of the rays? That’s you, me, and everyone we’ve ever known and ever will know. Everyone who has ever lived and died all in one, tiny, pale blue dot.
Here’s the original Pale Blue Dot image, before being processed with modern software to clean it up…
NASA NEWS: RETURNING TO THE MOON
The latest is that NASA is going back to the moon next year. And then they’ll go back again, once a year, every year for the next decade.
The American space agency laid out their plans in the news as part of their latest Budget Estimates. The first mission to the moon launches in 2021. That mission would be uncrewed, but they’ll launch their first crewed mission in 2024. NASA news reports are calling this NASA’s Artemis program.
Missions back to the moon have been planned before, only to see them scrapped for various reasons. That’s changing. Now we’re moving faster. NASA planned for the U.S. to head back to the moon by 2028, but Vice President Mike Pence stepped in, instructing NASA to get a man on the moon by 2024. This brings us to the latest news from NASA on the Artemis program.
NASA’s goal with Artemis is many. First, it will establish a human presence back on the moon. Along with this human presence is the announcement that not only will humans once again occupy the moon’s surface, but one of the human’s stepping foot on the moon will be the first woman. It will truly be an amazing time for NASA and Americans alike.
Secondly, NASA plans to explore more of the moon’s surface than ever before. In collaboration with commercial partners as well as international ones, the goal here is to create sustainable exploration that will allow them to plan out NASA’s next big adventure.
Since 1972’s Apollo 17, not one American, in fact not one person, has set foot on the moon. We are talking over 47 years without one human being stepping foot on Earth’s closest neighbor. What gives? According to most pundits, the Cold War is what gives. When America was sending the Apollo crews to the moon, it was pretty much a race against Russia. The Cold War pushed the agenda. Since the last landing, the agenda has obviously shifted.
EXPLAINING THE SCIENCE BEHIND MEMES
The internet has been blowing up with photos and videos of people making their brooms stand up in the middle of the floor without the aid of, well, anything. Apparently, people who hadn’t actually used a broom before, thought this was some kind of magic which only works on February 10th every year, and they pushed that notion by lying and saying their information came from NASA news. Here’s an example of just one of the many thousands of these tweets…
So NASA has stepped in to help explain that it’s really just simple science. They’ve posted the following video on February 11, to help people calm down…
INVESTIGATING OUR SUN
A joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency launched from Cape Canaveral on February 9, 2020 with the goal of investigating our sun. Their Solar Orbiter was delivered into space by one of NASA’s massive, workhorse Atlas rockets. Watch the launch below…
The news is that Solar Orbiter cost a whopping $627 million to build and it contains a complex suite of devices for measuring the sun’s surface and examining the area of space near it. It’ll be two years before the Solar Orbiter actually reaches where it needs to be to begin its mission.
Of the Solar Orbiter’s mission the ESA Director of Science says, “As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm.. by the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the sun’s changing behavior and its influence on our home planet than ever before.”
We can’t actually get very close to our sun without burning up, of course, but thanks to new technology we can get a closer look at it than ever.
The National Science Foundation’s Inouye Solar Telescope is being used to examine our sun and researchers have been able to take the closest ever photo of our sun’s surface. Here it is…
NASA news describes what you’re seeing in the photo this way: “The cell-like structures – each about the size of Texas – are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. Hot solar material (plasma) rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection. In these dark lanes we can also see the tiny, bright markers of magnetic fields. Never before seen to this clarity, these bright specks are thought to channel energy up into the outer layers of the solar atmosphere called the corona. These bright spots may be at the core of why the solar corona is more than a million degrees!”
Until now this was the best ever image we’d been able to get of the sun’s surface…
You’d never guess from that photo that the sun’s surface actually looks like peanut brittle.
SHUTTING DOWN THE SPITZER SPACE TELESCOPE
NASA news reports that the agency shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope this week. The satellite had been taking incredible pictures of our cosmos for more than sixteen years, but on January 30, 2020 the telescope was locked in Safe Mode, not to be reactivated.
Before NASA ended Spitzer’s mission it took one last stunning photo in two different color wavelengths. Here it is…
This annotated version of the image, below, shows the location of Supernova 1987A and the starburst region R136. In these places massive stars form at higher rates than any other place in the galaxy.
The Tarantula Nebula was the first target of the Spitzer Space Telescope when it began its mission back in 2003, so it’s fitting that its also the place where it would end.
NASA NEWS ON EARTH
In addition to their plans for space NASA news reports reveal they are working on projects closer to home. These projects aren’t always space-related as some are intended to help make life on Earth a little easier.
Exploring Earth is an overreaching newsworthy NASA project that begins in space but instead of looking out, it is looking back at Earth. Using the many satellites at its disposal, NASA monitors the Earth’s vital signs in hopes to understand just how the planet is changing. NASA also uses these satellites in conjunction with its many ground-based observation posts to fully monitor the changes in both land and sea.
NASA recently was cleared to move forward on its X-59 Quiet Supersonic Research Aircraft, the first piloted X-plane in over three decades. The excitement for this is that the X-59 will be shaped in such a way to reduce or completely negate the sonic boom it causes when flying. The plan is to fly the X-59 above select U.S. communities and gather data from sensors that will help determine new rules so supersonic commercial air travel can take place over land.
NASA NEWS ON THE RED PLANET
Mars. Not that this is a new adventure, per se, as NASA has had fly-bys and Mars landings in the past. Its Curiosity rover has been on the red planet since 2012, sending back amazing photos and information that NASA has used to gain the knowledge necessary for Mars exploration.
Now, the Mars 2020 rover is on track to launch in the July window. This new rover is similar to the Curiosity, but weighs 278 more and is compared to a mini-Cooper. What separates these two rovers is what they are on the red planet to accomplish. Mars 2020 is designed to do what no other rover can. And that is to take samples of Mars surface and place them in hermetically sealed test tubes. These test tubes will be set down for a future Mars expedition to pick up and bring back to Earth for scientists to study.
As announced to various news outlets NASA plans to drop the Mars 2020 in an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater. A lake filled this crater and the hope is to find evidence of a single-cell organism. Life.
This is not the only mission NASA is working on when it comes to Mars. Their InSight Mission is a Mars lander that plans on studying the inside of Mars, its crust, mantle, and core. NASA wants to answer questions about the formation of the planet by studying its tectonic activity and any meteorite impact they’ve had on the planet. This lander will be using cutting edge equipment to get under the surface of Mars so it can measure its vital signs: the pulse, temperature, and reflexes of the planet. Its an ambitious mission, one that has another goal for NASA.
Along with the lander, NASA also included two mini, briefcase-sized spacecraft they call Mars Cube One. They were launched behind InSight and are testing miniature deep space communication equipment. NASA was excited to say that mission was a success as these deep space comm units were able to relay data back as they entered the Mars atmosphere and when it landed on the planet.
Of course, all this NASA news is set up for a manned mission to Mars. The goal of NASA on the red planet is creating a human habitat for the first Mars manned landing. The red planet has always held a fascination around the world and the push to find life or see if life can be established is a goal that NASA aims to figure out.
ONGOING MISSION: INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (ISS)
For over 19 years the ISS has been occupied by human presence. The first long-term habitation was a three-person crew, astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, on the Expedition 1. This continuous presence is a joint venture of five countries: NASA (United States), ESA (Europe), Roscomos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), and CSA (Canada).
ISS is set in the low Earth orbit, making it viewable with the naked eye. Over its 19 years, countless missions and experiments have been conducted that include astronomy, physical sciences, materials science, meteorology, space weather, and human research which involves life sciences and space medicine.
At the present time, the ISS houses a crew of six from three different countries. These astronauts conduct experiments testing different fire safety measures and materials among the missions they are set to accomplish.
ISS is vital in how humans approach space travel and habitation. Its on-going mission has proven invaluable as not only astronauts have made their way to the space station, but space tourists as well. While the number of tourists is small, the future of space tourism is beginning to grow. In fact, commercial activities on ISS are starting to flourish too.
More than 50 companies have a presence on the space station conducting research and development. NASA is also working to install more than 14 commercial facilities with 10 different companies that support NASA’s research projects.
On top of the commercial projects, in other news NASA has announced it will allow private astronaut missions for a stay of up to 30 days. They say they will be able to accommodate up to two short-duration missions per year, as long as the market can support it, with a planned first mission to go in 2020. The missions will be privately funded but the mission will also use a U.S. spacecraft that will be developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The price, you ask? American engineer Dennis Tito reportedly paid $20 million in 2001 to spend 8 days in space. Guy Laliberté, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, forked over $35 million in 2009 for an ISS trip. Since 2011 when NASA stopped its space shuttles, it has been using the Russian spacecraft Soyuz to rocket astronauts into space. They now hope to end this with their Boeing Starliner capsule and start their “taxi” service to ISS. The seats on Starliner are expected to fetch close to $58 million.
OTHER NEWSWORTHY NASA ADVANCEMENTS
While NASA continues to make news with big missions, they are involved in smaller affairs that are just as important.
The X-57 will be NASA’s first all-electric X-plane. Its goal is to show the benefits of electric propulsion.
Landsat 9 will be launched in 2020. This satellite will continue NASA’s ability to monitor human and natural causes or change on Earth.
Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) launches in 2021 and is a satellite mission jointly developed with Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the United Kingdom Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency (CSA). This mission is set in the hope to get a better understanding of the world’s oceans.
Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) is also a NASA mission. This will use GPS technology (the same used in cars) in eight micro-satellites which will measure wind speeds over Earth’s oceans to allow scientists a better understanding of hurricanes and hopefully the ability to predict when they will form.
NASA is a busy bunch. They touch on every aspect of life on Earth, but their sights are always set higher. It is an exciting time for space exploration, NASA is proving that with its push to answer that one question we all have on our mind: Is there life out there?