Monday, June 22, 2009

Launch to Moon - America in Space -June 2009

America in Space-by Kenneth Renshaw, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, Piggott, Arkansas

June 2009

This month's America in Space will see our nation returning to the Moon after many years of waiting, as well as a postponement of the shuttle launch of Endeavour.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), with the accompanying LCROSS, was launched on June 18, and arrived at the Moon on June 23. In October, an upper rocket stage, about the size of a small bus, will smash into the Moon near its pole (location to yet be determined). The plume from the collision should let scientists know if there is water ice in the permanently shadowed areas within craters at the Moon's poles, providing a valuable resource for drinking, breathing, and fuel for a future manned Moon base. The LCROSS will fly through the plume, chemically analyzing it for water, then, 4 minutes later, also crash into the Moon. The plume from both collisions will be visible in Earth's telescopes, providing further information. The LRO orbiter will continue to orbit the Moon, mapping it in unprecedented detail, providing safe landing areas for future probes. The next generation of manned spacecraft, the Ares I, with its Orion capsule, along with the unmanned Ares V with a lander and cargo attached, will replace the Shuttle in about 2013, with plans for a manned presence on the Moon in about 2020. It'll be the first time man has landed on the moon since the Apollo program in 1969-1972. Speaking of Apollo, this July 20 will be the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969, as well as the 33rd anniversary of Viking I, the first unmanned landing on Mars.

On May 24, the crew of STS-125 landed the Atlantis shuttle, after one of the most spectacular flights in history. Despite conducting some of the most difficult spacewalks of all time, technical problems, and repairs planned that the Hubble was not designed for, the astronauts of STS-125 repaired and upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope for at least 5 more years of research, far beyond the capabilities of the past use of the Hubble or any telescope ever invented. Due to the weather, Atlantis landed in California, causing the need to use a modified 747 jet to return the shuttle to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The next shuttle, STS-127, the Endeavour, was delayed from a June launch to July 11, 2009, due to a hydrogen leak problem. The position of the Sun caused the delay to July. STS-127 will dock with the International Space Station, and complete the JAXA (Japanese Space Agency) module of the station, the KIBO laboratory. The space station (ISS) was upgraded last year so that 6, rather than 3, astronauts regularly occupy it for about 6 months at a time. The ISS is an international cooperation of several nations, including the U.S., Russia, ESA (European Space Agency), and JAXA. When STS-127 docks with the ISS in July, 2 records will occur: 1. 13 people will be in space at once, more than ever in history, and 2. U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy, age 39, will become the 500th human (from any country) to fly in space.

In other space news, Cassini is doing well on a 2-year extended mission, exploring Saturn, its rings, and its moons. Messenger is doing well, on its way to a March 18, 2011 encounter with Mercury, the first spacecraft to orbit the tiny, hot planet. The 2011 Mars Science Laboratory rover has been named "Curiosity", in a contest won by Clara Ma, age 12, of Kansas. To be a part of space history, and put your name on a micro-chip on this rover that will be flown to Mars, go to to these public participation programs, my name is currently on its way to the Moon (on LRO/LCROSS), Pluto (on New Horizons), is on Mars (Phoenix lander), and was smashed into a comet (on Deep Impact).

Speaking of naming contests, a bit of trivia: Pluto, the former 9th planet now considered a dwarf planet, discovered February 18, 1930, was named by a then 11-year-old British girl, Venetia Burney, who passed away this Spring.


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