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Here’s What It Would Look Like to Land on Pluto’s Heart

A view of Pluto's surface imaged by NASA's New Horizons in July 2015

A view of Pluto’s surface imaged by NASA’s New Horizons in July 2015. The yellow bar is 15 miles across. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

What would it look like to approach Pluto for a landing? Perhaps some day in the future a robotic mission will do exactly that and we’ll know for sure, but for now we have to use our imaginations…luckily we do have some incredible images of Pluto to help with the details, thanks to NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft!

Using images and data acquired by New Horizons during its historic close pass by Pluto on July 14, 2015, researchers have assembled a video simulating an approach to Pluto’s surface, centering in on a “landing site” along the edge of Sputnik Planum: the heart-shaped “sea” of nitrogen ice cells.

Watch the video below:

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SpaceX Nails Another Landing at Sea—This Time in the Pacific!

 

Falcon 9 first stage after a bullseye landing on the deck of Just Read the Instructions on Jan. 14, 2017. (SpaceX live video)

Falcon 9 first stage after a bullseye landing on the deck of Just Read the Instructions on Jan. 14, 2017. (SpaceX live video)

Today, January 14, 2017, SpaceX achieved another commercial launch success with the delivery of ten Iridium satellites to orbit—the first of 70 that will comprise the next generation IridiumNext constellation—as well as a new milestone in its ongoing trek toward reusable launch capability: the first successful landing of a Falcon 9 first-stage booster on its Pacific-based autonomous drone ship, Just Read the Instructions.

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Revisit Our First (and Only) Landing on Titan

View from Huygens’ camera as it descended to the surface of Titan on Jan. 14, 2005. ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

When you think of spacecraft landings on other worlds, you probably first think of Mars, the Moon, Venus, and comet 67P (if you’ve been following along over the past couple of years.) But—in addition to the asteroid Eros and hard impacts on a comet and Mercury—Saturn’s moon Titan was also visited by an alien (i.e., Earthly) spacecraft back in January of 2005. ESA’s Huygens probe, which traveled to Saturn onboard the Cassini orbiter, was deployed to the surface of Titan six months after Cassini arrived in orbit at Saturn. Huygens took 20 days to reach the cloud-covered moon, and during its two-and-a-half hour descent on Jan. 14, 2005 transmitted our first—and last—views from below Titan’s clouds and even from its methane-slush-covered surface. It was the first landing on a moon other than our own and the farthest landing from the Sun, but hopefully not the final time we’ll visit the fascinating surface of this icy moon.

Read more and watch the video of the Huygens probe landing on the Cassini mission site: Huygens: ‘Ground Truth’ from an Alien Moon

NASA Astronaut Returns to Earth After Historic “Year in Space”

Astronaut Mark Kelly after exiting the Soyuz TMA-18M on March 1, 2016. (NASA TV)

Astronaut Mark Kelly after emerging from the Soyuz TMA-18M on March 1, 2016. (NASA TV)

With a smile and an energetic thumbs-up, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly exited the Soyuz TMA-18M capsule shortly after landing on the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at 10:26 p.m. Central time March 1, 2016. It was the return of the Expedition 46 crew, which included Russian cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko, the latter of whom shared Kelly’s historic “One-Year Mission” aboard the ISS.

Launched on March 27, 2015 with Expedition 43, Kelly and Kornienko remained aboard Station for 340 days and through four expedition crews, the longest duration spent on the ISS by anyone to date and, for Kelly, racking up a record-breaking number of career days in space (520) among U.S. astronauts.

The extended stay was specifically designed for advanced research on the effects of long-duration missions in space on the body, which is crucial if humans are ever to embark on a journey to Mars.

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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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