NASA renames DC headquarters after Mary W. Jackson

Mary W. Jackson was one of the black women mathematicians at NASA whose contributions to the space race were made in a segregated and sexist environment and left unsung until the publication of Margot Lee Shetterly's book Hidden Figures [Amazon]. Jackson's name will now grace NASA's D.C. headquarters, permanently honoring a "human computer" who made the moon landing possible.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Wednesday the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., will be named after Mary W. Jackson, the first African American female engineer at NASA.

Jackson started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” said Bridenstine. “Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.”

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NASA delivers first grant in 30 years to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

NASA has funded a new research collaborative research effort between Harvard, the Smithsonian Institutions, and the University of Rochester to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). This is the first NASA grant for SETI in three decades and the first ever to search for signs of ET that aren't radio transmissions. Instead, the scientists will look for technosignatures in the atmosphere that reveal the use of advanced technology on other planets. From Harvard:

"Technosignatures relate to signatures of advanced alien technologies similar to, or perhaps more sophisticated than, what we possess," said Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard. "Such signatures might include industrial pollution of atmospheres, city lights, photovoltaic cells (solar panels), megastructures, or swarms of satellites." [...]

"We pollute Earth’s atmosphere with our industrial activity," said Loeb. “If another civilization had been doing it for much longer than we have, then their planet's atmosphere might show detectable signs of artificially produced molecules that nature is very unlikely to produce spontaneously, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)." The presence of CFCs—or refrigerant—therefore, could indicate the presence of industrial activity. [...]

"My hope is that, using this grant, we will quantify new ways to probe signs of alien technological civilizations that are similar to or much more advanced than our own," said Loeb. "The fundamental question we are trying to address is: are we alone? But I would add to that: even if we are alone right now, were we alone in the past?"

image: "3D rendering of a Dyson sphere utilizing large, orbiting panels," Kevin Gill (CC BY 2.0 Read the rest

Enjoy watching the NASA astronauts spacewalk

Things on Earth are a mess, but it's fun watching these NASA Astronauts at work on a 24/7 live feed from the International Space Station.

You can see Earth from the International Space Station in these videos, and it looks so calm from up there. Read the rest

The SpaceX Dragon docks with Space Station to "Blue Danube"

OK, I really need this. It's the SpaceX Dragon rendezvousing and docking with the International Space Station with "Blue Danube" as the soundtrack. Holy 2001, Batman!

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SCRUBBED: How to watch the historic SpaceX/NASA launch today!

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to weather just a few minutes before launch. See you Saturday for another try!

Today, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to shuttle two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. This will be the first time humans will launch to space from the United States since 2011 and the first time a private company will take humans offworld. Intrepid science journalist Nadia Drake is at the launchpad reporting on the mission for National Geographic and ABC News. Tune in above for Nadia's live reporting. Liftoff is set for 4:33pm ET, weather and technology permitting. From Nadia's coverage at National Geographic:

The Demo-2 mission is slated to lift off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A—the same pad in Florida that hosted Apollo 11 and STS-135, the last flight of a space shuttle. However, next week's mission represents a new way of getting humans to orbit, in which agencies including NASA purchase rides to space from private companies. For astronauts [Doug] Hurley, 53, and [Bob] Behnken, 49, the Demo-2 flight also presents a rare opportunity: to be the first people to fly in a new type of spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley were specially selected for NASA’s commercial crew program back in 2015. Both men are former military test pilots—Hurley in the Marines and Behnken in the Air Force. Both are married to fellow astronauts, and the two have been colleagues since joining NASA in 2000 as part of Astronaut Group 18.

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How to wash your hands... in space

Astronaut Chris Hadfield explains how astronauts wash their hands in the microgravity of space. Formerly the commander of the International Space Station, Hadfield spent nearly six months offworld.

(via The Kid Should See This) Read the rest

Help Wanted: participants for a NASA social isolation experiment inside a Russian lab

NASA is looking to pay US citizens to spend eight months in social isolation inside a Russian laboratory. The goal is to simulate the longterm social distancing that astronauts will endure on future missions to Mars. The location is "a unique multi-compartment facility used as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions" located in the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. From NASA's announcement of the opportunity:
NASA is looking for highly motivated U.S. citizens who are 30-55 years old and are proficient in both Russian and English languages. Requirements are: M.S., PhD., M.D. or completion of military officer training. Participants with a Bachelor’s degree and other certain qualifications (e.g., relevant additional education, military, or professional experience) may be acceptable candidates as well.

Participants will experience environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars. A small international crew will live together in isolation for eight months conducting scientific research, using virtual reality and performing robotic operations among a number of other tasks during the lunar mission. The research will be conducted to study the effects of isolation and confinement as participants work to successfully complete their simulated space mission. Results from ground-based missions like this help NASA prepare for the real-life challenges of space exploration and provide important scientific data to solve some of these problems and to develop countermeasures.

Compensation is available for participating in the mission. There are different levels of compensation depending upon whether or not you are associated with NASA or if you are a NASA employee or contractor.

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NASA picks Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, & Dynetics to build lunar landing systems for manned moon mission

On Thursday, NASA announced that it has selected commercial space technology firms firms SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics to build lunar landing systems that can carry astronauts to the moon by 2024. Read the rest

Astronaut and artist Nicole Stott has advice for us about social distancing

Nicole Stott is a talented artist and retired astronaut who spent more than 100 days living in space on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. Stott is one of several astronauts who in recent days has been asked to share their advice on isolation and social distancing.

"Nothing beats that first hug after landing," Stott says.

From the New York Times:

[In the video above, Stott] reflects on the three months she spent on the International Space Station, far from her husband and 7-year-old son. Living on the space station, being alone on a spacewalk, watching lightning storms crisscross the planet — all these experiences taught her that we’re all inherently connected, even when we’re physically far away.

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Enormous and “potentially hazardous" asteroid will fly by Earth tomorrow

Tomorrow, an asteroid that's at least a mile wide will pass by Earth. While NASA considers the object, named 1998 Or2, to be "potentially hazardous," it won't hit us. This time. It won't get closer than around four million miles away. Above is a time lapse of the asteroid captured through a telescope by amateur astronomer Ingvars Tomsons in Riga, Latvia. As the asteroid and Earth continue to orbit our sun, it'll continue to be a risk. And this rock is not the only one that could someday sock it to us. At National Geographic, Nadia Drake explains the risk of a catastrophic astronaut impact and NASA's fascinating planetary defense plan, including their Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) planned for next year. From National Geographic:

“[The object that will pass us tomorrow] just a whopping big asteroid,” says Amy Mainzer of the University of Arizona, one of the planet’s leading scientists in asteroid detection and planetary defense. “It’s smaller than the thing thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but it is easily capable of causing a lot of damage.”

An asteroid passing relatively close to Earth is more common than most people realize. Every year, dozens of asteroids that are big enough to cause regional devastation pass within five million miles of Earth—the cutoff for potentially hazardous asteroids. On average, one or two space rocks large enough to cataclysmically impact a continent pass by each year.

Earth will almost certainly confront a space rock large enough to obliterate a city, or worse, at some point in its future.

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Gloriously colorful new geologic map of the moon

These images are from the new Unified Geologic Map of the Moon, the most detailed lunar map ever created. Just released by the U.S. Geological Survey, it melds data from last century's Apollo mission era with fresh information captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s SELENE lunar orbiter. From Science News:

Each splash of color identifies a discrete rock or sediment formation, including craters, basins and ancient lava fields. For instance, “the darker, more earth tones are these highland-type terrains, and the reds and the purples tend to be more of these volcanic and lava flow materials,” says geologist James Skinner, who oversees the production of standardized maps for solar system bodies at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. [...]

Detailed observations from the lunar orbiters were especially helpful for clearing up uncertainties in how different craters overlapped with each other, which revealed the craters’ relative ages. Hammering out crater formation timelines gives insight into the moon’s history.

The new map could also inform future human missions to the moon by revealing regions that may be rich in useful resources or areas that need more detailed mapping to land a spacecraft there safely.

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NASA released this astonishing image in celebration of Hubble's 30th anniversary

Thirty year ago today, the space shuttle Discovery carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, opening up a new vista on our place in the universe.

In celebration of the anniversary, NASA released this astounding Hubble image of a region where stars are born in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies to our own at 163,000 light-years away. The image depicts a giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and a smaller blue nebula (NGC 2020).

According to NASA, "the image is nicknamed the 'Cosmic Reef,' because it resembles an undersea world."

"Hubble has given us stunning insights about the universe, from nearby planets to the farthest galaxies we have seen so far," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science.

More about the image in the below video: Read the rest

This NASA joystick used during lunar orbit just sold for $56,000

In 1969, astronaut Richard Gordon used this hand controller to steer the Apollo 12 command and service module Yankee Clipper around the moon while his colleagues frolicked on the lunar surface. The controller, complete with trigger switch, just sold at auction for $56,000. I hope the buyer is using it to mod a vintage Lunar Lander arcade machine. From the RR Auction "Space and Aviation Auction":

...Measuring 2.75″ x 4.75″ x 2.5″ overall, with affixed “Class III, Not For Flight” label and underside of base marked with part numbers: “S/N 16, 10022865-101, 94580.” The controller, with trigger switch, is secured to a walnut 4.75″ x 8″ x 1″ base with upper and lower plaques, “Apollo 12, Nov. 14-24, 1969” and “Rotational Hand Controller,” with handwritten notation to underside: “RG, 93-002b.” This spring-loaded hand controller was used to control pitch, roll, and yaw while Gordon navigated in lunar orbit. In fine condition.

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When NASA quarantined the astronauts

Right after astronauts Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, they were brought aboard the USS Hornet (CVS-12) and immediately entered a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) along with a NASA flight surgeon and recovery engineer. See below for a photo of when President Richard Nixon popped by to say hello. (You can visit the USS Hornet and see a prototype MQF!) A few days later, the group arrived at Houston's Johnson Space Center where they were locked down in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) to continue a 21-day quarantine. While inside, the astronauts wrote reports, conducted debriefs, and enjoyed a surprise birthday party for Armstrong who turned 39 in quarantine.

According to NASA, "Flight surgeon Dr. William R. Carpentier monitored their health status on a daily basis, and when they showed no signs of any illnesses they were cleared to be released from quarantine."

From NASA:

On the evening of Aug. 10, MSC Director of Medical Research and Operations Dr. Charles A. Berry opened the door to the LRL’s Crew Reception Area (CRA), and Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins stepped out into the hallway. They were welcomed by MSC Director Robert L. Gilruth, other NASA officials and colleagues, and a swarm of reporters once they stepped outside the building into the hot and muggy Houston night. It was the first time they could freely interact with the outside world since their preflight quarantine began more than a month before.

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The Eagle Nebula's astonishing Pillars of Creation, now in infrared

The majestic image below of the Eagle Nebula's "Pillars of Creation," captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, has become an iconic astronomical photograph. It depicts the visible light, meaning the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that the human eye can see. In this new take above, NASA scientists present the same view of the pillars but in infrared light "which pierces through obscuring dust and gas." From NASA:

In this ethereal view the entire frame is peppered with bright stars and baby stars are revealed being formed within the pillars themselves. The ghostly outlines of the pillars seem much more delicate, and are silhouetted against an eerie blue haze.

Image credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team Read the rest

NASA's Mars helicopter almost ready for take off

The new Mars rover Perseverance, set to launch in July for a February 2021 landing, will be outfitted with its own small helicopter. NASA engineers at Kennedy Space Station recently put the chopper through its paces, marking the last time they'll spin it up before landing on the red planet. From Kennedy Space Center:

The functional test (50 RPM spin) was executed on the stand in the airlock. This marked the last time the rotor blades will be operated until the rover reaches the Martian surface.

The NASA Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will remain encapsulated after landing, deploying once mission managers determine an acceptable area to conduct test flights.

And from NASA:

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If the small craft encounters difficulties, the science-gathering of the Mars 2020 mission won't be impacted. If the helicopter does take flight as designed, future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

"Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere," said JPL's MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager. "Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet."

Along with investigating difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, they could carry small science instruments or act as scouts for human and robotic explorers.

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"Old gas blob from Uranus found in vintage Voyager 2 data"

Yes, that is actually Space.com's brilliant headline on this story about a new discovery from data collected in 1986 by NASA's intrepid spacecraft. When the probe neared Uranus (heh heh), it measured the planet's surrounding magnetic field. Recently, NASA scientists Gina DiBraccio and Daniel Gershman analyzing Voyager's old data found a "wobble" in Uranus's magnetosphere indicating a plasmoid, a bubble of plasma traveling away from the planet. From Space.com:

Scientists have studied these structures at Earth and nearby planets, but never at Uranus or its neighbor Neptune, since Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to date ever to visit those planets.

Scientists want to know about plasmoids because these structures can pull charged particles out of a planet's atmosphere and fling them into space. And if you change a planet's atmosphere, you change the planet itself.

And from the "plain language summary" of their scientific paper published in Geophysical Research Letters:

Uranus possesses an intrinsic magnetic field that encircles the planet and influences the local space environment. The solar wind plasma, made up of charged particles, flows away from the Sun and interacts with Uranus' magnetic field to form what is called a “planetary magnetosphere.” By understanding dynamics of the magnetosphere, we are able to learn how changes in the Sun can impact the planet's space environment but also how magnetic fields and plasma are circulated throughout the system. In this work, we analyze data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft during the Uranus flyby in 1986. The data revealed a helical bundle of magnetic flux containing planetary plasma, known as a “plasmoid,” in the tail of the magnetosphere.

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