Category Archives: Spaceflight

Voyager 1’s Famous Long-Distance Valentine

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

If you’re in love with space then you’ll fall head over heels for this: it’s a picture of Earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto back in 1990—on Valentine’s Day, no less. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, which reminds us that we are all just riding on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

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Seeds From Space: The Moon Trees of Apollo 14

Splashdown of Apollo 14 in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 9, 1971 (NASA)

Splashdown of Apollo 14 in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 9, 1971. (NASA)

On Feb. 9, 1971, Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Jr., Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell returned to Earth, their command module Kitty Hawk splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 21:05 UT (4:05 p.m. EST). They were recovered by the USS New Orleans (LPH-11) and returned to the U.S. by way of American Samoa. But the three men weren’t the only living creatures to return from space that day… in fact, human astronauts were in the minority.

Al, Stu, and Ed also shared their lunar voyage with nearly 500 trees.

Read the full story on Universe Today here.

A Heck of a Leap: When Bruce McCandless Became the First Human Satellite

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) in February 1984 (NASA)

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) on February 7, 1984 (NASA)

On Feb. 7, 1984, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled via 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the MMU allowed McCandless (who was instrumental in developing the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space. In the iconic photo above McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space, 320 feet (98 meters) away from the Challenger orbiter…and 217 miles (350 km) above the Earth!

A former U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA.

“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!”
– STS-41B Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, Feb. 7, 1984

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New Horizons Fine-Tunes Its Course for MU69

Artist’s concept of New Horizons approaching 2014 MU69 (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A little goes a long way—especially when you’re traveling 51,000 mph! On Feb. 1, 2017 NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a 44-second thruster burn that adjusted its course by just under 1 mph toward its next target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

“One mile per hour may not sound like much,” said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, “but over the next 23 months, as we approach MU69, that maneuver will add up to an aim point refinement of almost six thousand miles (10,000 kilometers).”

New Horizons made its closest pass by Pluto on July 14, 2015. It will perform a similar flyby of the much smaller MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.

Read the full story from NASA here: New Horizons Refines Course for Next Flyby

50 Years Later: What Happened to Apollo 1?

The Apollo 1 prime crew during a test on Jan. 19, 1967, just 8 days before the tragic fire that claimed their lives. (NASA)

The Apollo 1 prime crew during a test on Jan. 19, 1967, just 8 days before the tragic fire that took their lives. (NASA)

Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to befall NASA: the fire that ignited inside the Apollo 1 (Apollo 204) command module during a test at Kennedy Space Center, claiming the lives of primary crew astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

The event is solemnly remembered every January 27.

“We didn’t only lose fellow astronauts. We lost friends. Ed White was my best friend.”
— Buzz Aldrin on Twitter, Jan. 27, 2017

While it’s certainly not a pleasant thing to think about the Apollo 1 disaster had an undeniable impact on NASA’s lunar mission. Although it resulted in the death of three talented young men in the prime of their careers, it demanded engineers redesign the Apollo spacecraft with more safety in mind—features which, ultimately, contributed to the success of the entire program. Without these redesigns, the Apollo 11 Moon landing may not have been a success just a couple of years later. Despite the horror of the event and the tragic loss of lives, Grissom, White and Chaffee’s deaths were not in vain.

To learn what exactly occurred at Cape Canaveral on January 27, 1967, the following is an account of the Apollo 1 fire excerpted from a report on the NASA history site, and watch a CBS Special Report film that aired the day of the event:

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Spaceflight Affects Everything: First Findings In from NASA’s Twins Study

Twin NASA astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. (Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

The first preliminary findings have been announced from NASA’s Twins Study, which used the rare opportunity of having identical twin astronauts—Mark and Scott Kelly—agree to (actually it was their idea!) make “human guinea pigs” of themselves during Scott’s One-Year Mission aboard the Space Station in 2015–2016. The results comparing Mark on Earth to Scott in space show variations in nearly all physiological aspects, from gut microbes to genetic signatures.

“Almost everyone is reporting that we see differences”, said Christopher Mason, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “The data are so fresh that some of them are still coming off the sequencing machines.”

This news comes nearly two years after the study was first reported, when it was suggested that any findings might never get published because of personal security issues over genetic information….and even now the Kellys will have final say over what information is released.

Read the rest of this story by Alexandra Witze on Nature here: Astronaut twin study hints at stress of space travel

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