NASA's Mars Opportunity rover sets a new driving record, beats an old Soviet one

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The NASA Opportunity Mars rover landed on Mars ten years ago, and was not expected to be trucking along in the dust an entire decade later. But truck along it has, and NASA this week announced that Opportunity now "holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving." The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.

"Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance."

A drive of 157 feet (48 meters) on July 27 put Opportunity's total odometry at 25.01 miles (40.25 kilometers). This month's driving brought the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover had driven more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater's rim containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less acidic water than those examined at Opportunity's landing site.

More at NASA JPL website.

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Apollo 11's Michael Collins on the view from space

From a classic FAQ by Michael Collins, command module pilot for Apollo 11, which splashed down 45 years ago today after carrying the first human beings to the moon:

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Largest slice of the moon on Earth

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In celebration of today's Apollo 11 launch anniversary, BB pal and space enthusiast Steve Jurvetson shares this photo of the largest slice of the moon on Earth, on display in his office, and other Apollo 11 images, artifacts, and memories.

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GIF of the day: NASA satellite images reveal air pollution improvement in US

Nitrogen dioxide pollution, averaged yearly from 2005-2011, has decreased across the United States. Image: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/T. Schindler


Nitrogen dioxide pollution, averaged yearly from 2005-2011, has decreased across the United States.
Image: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/T. Schindler

NASA satellite images released this week in animated GIF form show how air pollution has decreased across the United States over the past decade.

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover completes its first Martian year today

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- spent exploring the Red Planet. [NASA/JPL]


NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- spent exploring the Red Planet. [NASA/JPL]

NASA shares a Mars Curiosity mission update with us. The little rover that could completes one Martian year today.

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Hello, World: NASA transmits video from space via laser

This week, NASA beamed a high-def video from the International Space Station to Earth, a distance of 260 miles, using a new laser communications instrument. The "Hello, World!" video was the first video message transmitted from space to earth using Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), "a technology demonstration that allows NASA to test methods for communication with future spacecraft using higher bandwidth than radio waves."

More about the video transmission, and the system it uses:

"The International Space Station is a test bed for a host of technologies that are helping us increase our knowledge of how we operate in space and enable us to explore even farther into the solar system," said Sam Scimemi, International Space Station division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Using the space station to investigate ways we can improve communication rates with spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit is another example of how the orbital complex serves as a stepping stone to human deep space exploration."

Optical communication tools like OPALS use focused laser energy to reach data rates between 10 and 1,000 times higher than current space communications, which rely on radio portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Because the space station orbits Earth at 17,500 mph, transmitting data from the space station to Earth requires extremely precise targeting. The process can be equated to a person aiming a laser pointer at the end of a human hair 30 feet away and keeping it there while walking.

To achieve this extreme precision during Thursday’s demonstration, OPALS locked onto a laser beacon emitted by the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory ground station at the Table Mountain Observatory in Wrightwood, California, and began to modulate the beam from its 2.5-watt, 1,550-nanometer laser to transmit the video. The entire transmission lasted 148 seconds and reached a maximum data transmission rate of 50 megabits per second. It took OPALS 3.5 seconds to transmit each copy of the "Hello World!" video message, which would have taken more than 10 minutes using traditional downlink methods.

"It's incredible to see this magnificent beam of light arriving from our tiny payload on the space station," said Matt Abrahamson, OPALS mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We look forward to experimenting with OPALS over the coming months in hopes that our findings will lead to optical communications capabilities for future deep space exploration missions."

The OPALS Project Office is based at JPL, where the instrument was built. OPALS arrived at the space station April 20 aboard SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft and is slated to run for a prime mission of 90 days.

NASA spaceflight review concludes agency lacks ability to get humans to Mars

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Washington Post: "A sweeping review of NASA’s human spaceflight program has concluded that the agency has an unsustainable and unsafe strategy that will prevent the United States from achieving a human landing on Mars in the foreseeable future. The 286-page National Research Council report, the culmination of an 18-month, $3.2 million investigation mandated by Congress, says that to continue on the present course under budgets that don’t keep pace with inflation 'is to invite failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best.'”

More here.

The report bolsters the case for manned missions to the moon, which President Obama oppose. “I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before,” the president said in a space policy speech in 2010.

Vintage photos of NASA Apollo astronauts training in Hawaii

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In the 1960s and 1970s, NASA astronauts spent time training in the moon-like volcanic landscape of Hawaii's Big Island; the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems dug out fantastic photos from NASA's archives (thanks, Bob Pescovitz!).

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These entries in a NASA kid space art contest are the best thing ever

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The NASA Langley Research Center held a space art contest for kids K-23 in the Hampton Roads, VA region, and their Flickr Pool of entries provide me with endless happy web browsing.

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Violent birth of a star, as seen from NASA Hubble Space Telescope

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An image released from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows IRAS 14568-6304, a young star shrouded in golden gas and dust.

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Spaceship docks with ISS, astronaut immediately tweets awesome photos

A Russian spacecraft carrying three people docked successfully at the International Space Station today after a flawless launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Our guy in space, NASA's Reid Wiseman, got right to work tweeting totally awesome photographs that masterfully convey the wonder and beauty of being, holy crap, an astronaut in space.

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Russian Soyuz rocket launches 3 crewmembers on trip to ISS

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A Russian Soyuz rocket today launched three new crewmembers toward the International Space Station.

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NASA to space nerds: you may now drive this space probe

ISEE-3, artist's rendition.


ISEE-3, artist's rendition.

NASA is giving a group of citizen scientists permission to take over ISEE-3, a 36-year-old decommissioned robotic space probe that will fly by the Earth in August.

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NASA releases 'Global Selfie'

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Here's a larger size, and a zoomable 3.2 gigapixel version, which you really have to see to appreciate the whole thing.

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What the US tornado outbreak looks like from space (video)

This animated video created with data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite shows the creation and movement of a weather system that spawned tornadoes affecting seven central and southern states in the US this week.

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