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Another Moonwalker Gone: Apollo 14 Astronaut Ed Mitchell Has Died at 85

Edgar Mitchell poses next to the U.S. flag on the Moon during Apollo 14, Feb. 1971 (NASA)

Edgar Mitchell poses next to the U.S. flag on the Moon during Apollo 14, Feb. 1971 (NASA)

The world has lost one of its special treasures: retired Navy captain and former NASA astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, LM pilot for Apollo 14 and one of the 12 men who walked on the Moon, died on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 at the age of 85.

His passing brings the number of humans alive who have stood on the surface of another world down to 7 and, as of Feb. 4, none of them from Apollo 14.
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There’s More Water Ice on Pluto Than First Thought

Initial scans of Pluto's water ice (left) and new interpretations taking into account other elements and compounds (right). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Initial scans of Pluto’s pure water ice (color data, left) and new interpretations taking into account other elements and compounds (right). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

When New Horizons made its close pass pf Pluto on July 14, 2015, it did much more than just take pretty pictures; it was also scanning the planet with a suite of science instruments designed to determine the nature of its surface, atmosphere, composition, and other key characteristics. One of these instruments was the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA), an infrared scanner that can detect the unique molecular “fingerprints” of particular elements and compounds like methane, nitrogen, carbon monoxide… and water (one of our favorites!)

At first the data returned from LEISA showed only a surprisingly small amount of water ice across Pluto’s surface. But that was water ice in its pure form; when researchers took into consideration ice containing a mixture of water and other materials they found a much more widespread distribution across the surface area visible to New Horizons.

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NASA’s First Fallen: Remembering the Tragedy of Apollo 1

This is a reprint of a post from 2013, updated for the 2016 date.
Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Today marks the 49th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to befall NASA and human spaceflight: the fire that broke out in the Apollo 204 (later renamed Apollo 1) command module during a test exercise at Kennedy Space Center in 1967, claiming the lives of primary crew astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

While it’s certainly not a pleasant thing to think upon, the Apollo 1 catastrophe had an undeniable impact on NASA’s Moon mission. Although it resulted in the death of three talented young men in the prime of their careers it forced NASA’s engineers to redesign the Apollo spacecraft with more safety in mind which, ultimately, contributed to the success of the entire program. Without these redesigns the Moon landings might not have occurred just a couple of years later. Despite the horror of what happened on Jan. 27, 1967, Grissom, White, and Chaffee’s tragic deaths were not in vain.

The following is a full account of the Apollo 1 fire, as told on the NASA history site.

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Opportunity Marks 12 Years of Roving Mars

A recent view of Opportunity's robotic arm extended to remove surface crust from a rock target called "Private John Potts," named for a member of Lewis and Clark's expedition. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A recent view of Opportunity’s robotic arm extended to remove surface crust from a rock target called “Private John Potts,” named for a member of Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Curiosity rover may be getting all the attention on Mars these days but the real overachiever is Opportunity — it’s been busy exploring, studying, and traveling across the planet’s surface for over 12 years now and still going strong!

Launched July 7, 2003, the rover is currently in its 4,270th sol — 4,180 past “warranty.” (Pretty impressive for a mission that was only planned to last 90 days!)

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The Old Charon in the New Charon’s Arms

A crescent Charon imaged by New Horizons on July 17, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A crescent Charon imaged by New Horizons on July 17, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

An image like this could only be captured by an observer who’d traveled the 3.2 billion miles to take it beyond the orbit of Pluto! Luckily for us, in July 2015 we had exactly that: the New Horizons spacecraft, which had spent the previous nine and a half years soaring across the Solar System.

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This Giant Ice Volcano on Pluto is All Wright

New Horizons image of "Wright Mons," a cryovolcano on Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizons LORRI image of “Wright Mons,” a cryovolcano on Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This bumpy wrinkled pucker is actually an enormous ice volcano — i.e., a cryovolcano — on the surface of Pluto, imaged by the passing New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. Informally called Wright Mons, the feature is about 90 miles (150 km) across and 2.5 miles (4 km) high, about as high as some of the tallest Alps. The entire volcanic mountain spans an area half the width of the state of Massachusetts!

See the region in context on a global view of Pluto below:

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