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Space Is Hard, and So Are the Decks of Drone Ships

On Tuesday, April 14, SpaceX launched its Dragon cargo vehicle aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, sending over two tons of supplies up to the crew of the ISS. While the launch was a success and everything went smoothly for Dragon’s CRS-6 mission (despite a single day’s launch delay due to weather) the experimental landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage onto SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship named “Just Read the Instructions” didn’t work out so well… as you will see in the video above.

UPDATE 4/16: Here’s video footage of the landing attempt from the deck of the ship. So close!

After the landing attempt SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival.” Yeah, now I see what he meant. It’s actually quite surreal to watch – definitely not something you see every day!

Still, it really wasn’t that far off (it did make it onto the ship!) and with a bit more tweaking this concept of a reusable first stage should soon become a reality for the company. It was only the second live attempt, after all, and SpaceX has six more launches to go in its CRS contract with NASA. CRS-7 is slated to launch on June 19…perhaps third time’s the charm?

Watch the launch of the CRS-6 mission below.
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Remembering Huygens’ Titan Landing, Ten Years Later

First color image from the surface of Titan, Jan. 14, 2005 (ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

This incredible image was captured ten years ago today, on January 14, 2005. It shows the murky surface of Saturn’s moon Titan as seen by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe after it made its historic descent through the moon’s thick haze and clouds and landed in a frozen plain of crusty methane mud and icy pebbles. During the descent and after landing Huygens returned data for several hours before communication was lost. The groundbreaking images and information it sent back has proved invaluable to scientists studying this unique and mysterious moon, which is at the same time extremely alien and surprisingly Earth-like.

“It was eerie…we saw bright hills above a dark plain, a weird combination of light and dark. It was like seeing a landscape out of Dante.”

– Jonathan Lunine, Cassini-Huygens mission scientist

Learn more about the Huygens landing here and check out an incredible video below zooming in a billion times from Saturn orbit to Titan’s surface:

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Seven Days Out: ESA’s Historic Landing on a Comet is Just a Week Away

In less than a week, on November 12, 2014, the Philae lander will separate from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft and descend several kilometers down to the dark, dusty and frozen surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its three spindly legs and rocket-powered harpoon are all that will keep the 100-kilogram spacecraft from crashing or bouncing hopelessly back out into space. It will be the culmination of a decade-long voyage across the inner Solar System, a testament to human ingenuity and inventiveness and a shining example of the incredible things we can achieve through collaboration.

Philae is getting ready for his biggest challenge yet!

Philae is getting ready for his biggest challenge yet!

But first, Philae has to get there… to touch down safely in the chosen site (named Agilkia, after a small island in the Nile) and successfully become, as designed, the first human-made object to soft-land on a comet. How will the little spacecraft pull off such a daring maneuver around a tumbling chunk of icy rubble traveling over 18 kilometers a second? The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has released a video about the event, with a finale worthy of the best sci-fi film. Watch it above, and follow along with the landing on Twitter with the hashtag #CometLanding.

Want a more playful version of Rosetta and Philae’s upcoming adventure? Check out the latest animated video from ESA below:

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Happy First Year on Mars, Curiosity!

A "selfie" of Curiosity made from images acquired with its MAHLI instrument in April and May (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

A “selfie” of Curiosity made from images acquired with its MAHLI instrument in April and May (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS). Click here for a full-res version

Sol 669 is here (well, there… on Mars that is…) and that marks the one full year anniversary of Curiosity’s mission exploring Gale Crater! Wait, you say, didn’t Curiosity land on Mars in August of 2012? Shouldn’t we still be approaching the TWO-year anniversary of the MSL mission? Well, yes, here on Earth, but on Mars a year is 1.8808 Earth-years long — that’s 686.9 Earth days to a single Martian year! So from landing day August 5 (August 6 UTC) 2012, 686.9 days Earth days (i.e., one Martian year) later is June 24, 2014 (which it is at the time of this writing, UTC) and thus:

Happy Mars Anniversary, Curiosity!

(Whew!)

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Want to know where we landed on the Moon? This cool vintage NASA map shows you:

Map circa 1972 showing the Apollo landing sites (NASA)

Map circa 1972 showing the Apollo landing sites (NASA)

Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 all successfully delivered men to the Moon between the summer of ’69 and December 1972, but do you know where on the lunar surface they each landed? This awesome vintage map from NASA points each site out (and is a great lunar atlas as well.)

With four of the six planned lunar missions completed, this chart has been prepared to show the various areas of the lunar “nearside” to be visited by astronauts representing the NASA Apollo program. Apollo’s 11, 12, 14 and 15 are shown at their respective landing points. Apollo 16 and Apollo 17, planned for later this year at Descartes and Taurus Littrow, respectively, also are depicted on the map.

The map was created in March 1972, prior to the launches of Apollo 16 and 17.

All I can think is how good it would look printed large and mounted on the wall of my office. Yes…yes…. very good indeed.

Source: NASA: 2Explore on Flickr (Download a hi-res version here.)

This Day in Space History: One Small Step

Note: Reposted/updated article from 2012.

Panorama of the Eagle lunar module by Ed Hengeveld from JSC scans.

“That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”

I’m not sure what else need be said about the significance of what happened on this day in 1969, 44 years ago… it was a shining moment in human history, and will be — should be — remembered forever as an example of what people can achieve when challenged, driven and inspired.

Maybe more giant leaps have been made since then, and undoubtedly more will be made in the future, but this was the first… and to this date, still very much the biggest.
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