By now I’m sure you have all heard about Rosetta, and the long awaited arrival at its destination, and you’ve all seen the stunning images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that are being returned to Earth, giving an unprecedented hires insight to a piece of our ancient history. Rosetta’s arrival to its comet is one of those rare happy occasions, when Space achievements are widely reported in general press. Tons of scientific, and not-so-scientific , reports have already been posted all over the internet and dozens of arguably more qualified than me people have explained most of what is to be explained.
I was there at ESA’s ESOC facilities in Darmstadt, Gremany to witness the moment when at 09:30 UTC, the ground based stations received the signal confirming the successful execution of the first of a series of maneuvers that will eventually bring the spacecraft into a 50 klm orbit around the comet. You can view an animation of Rosetta’s maneuvers planned for the coming weeks here. Although clearly the arrival at the comet was not the biggest achievement in this project, I chose to be there because it felt to me as a big moment. A moment to pause and reflect. Reflect on what was done, what it took to do it, and how this fits into the history of the world, into the story of us.
Exploring a comet on location (in situ, as the scientists call it) was a dream conceived three decades ago, inspired by the one of the most fundamental human needs, the need to understand, to explain and thus to explore. Composed from the primordial ingredients of the early Solar System, comets have been roaming interplanetary space since its birth unchanged “by the elements” or by time. They are hoped to contain the answers to our questions. Here is a video created by NASA JPL explaining more on why we think comets are important.
Since the beginning, the Rosetta project had to endure scientific skepticism, political turmoil, financial uncertainties, and unprecedented technological challenges. Yet it succeeded. It survived NASA’s withdrawal from the project, a last minute change in target-comet selection, and a most-feared 2-year-long hibernation during its 10 year and 6.4 billion kilometer journey into the cold inhospitable Solar System. Constructed on what is now considered obsolete technology, by engineers who have long since retired, Rosetta proved to be a marvel of engineering and a triumph of knowledge transfer and process continuity between generations of team members. It became the little space-engine that could, and in the words of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, somewhere between Jupiter and Mars, Rosetta’s drivers proved to be the best drivers in the world.
While the bulk of the engineer’s work is now completed, the mission is far from an end. As eloquently put by ESA representatives, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The scientists’ work is only now starting. I was amazed to hear how must science has already been done on the comet. Comet 67P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is not even the comet originally targeted for, is an unexpected jewel. It’s rubber-duck-like shape indicates that it might actually consist of two pieces (the head and the body) fused together, providing to be a buy-one-get-one-free bonus for research.
Named after astronomers Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, who discovered it in 1969, comet 67P is one of numerous short period comets which have orbital periods of less than 20 years and a low orbital inclination. Since their orbits are controlled by Jupiter’s gravity, they are also called Jupiter Family comets. These comets are believed to originate from the Kuiper Belt, a large reservoir of small icy bodies located just beyond Neptune. As a result of collisions or gravitational perturbations, some of these icy objects are ejected from the Kuiper Belt and fall towards the Sun.
67P has been observed from Earth on seven approaches to the Sun – 1969 (discovery), 1976, 1982, 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2009. As most of these comets, 67P is pitch-black and not reflective, so very difficult to observe. As you are admiring the spectacular photographs, keep in mind that they are false-color images composed for better comprehension of the very subtle color variations observed on the surface. ESA is releasing new images from Rosetta’s navigational camera on a daily basis.
Rosetta scientists have already been able to determine that the comet’s rotation is stable with little or no wobbling, on a tilted rotational axis running down between the head and the body of comet. The spacecraft began feeling the comet’s gravity two weeks ago. Not being a spherical object, 67P’s gravity is not pulling exactly surface-down on most locations, which will prove a challenge for the second stage of the experiment, a hard-docking type of landing on the surface, which is planned for November this year. In the next weeks the comet’s mass and gravity will be precisely calculated by measuring the bending of the spacecraft’s triangular trajectory.
Although still at a distance of more than 140 million klm from the Sun, 67P is already active, venting water gas at a rate of 0.3kg/sec which is the equivalent of a soda can of water per second. Water spectra from the tail of the comet show a Doppler redshift, indicating the direction and speed at which it is moving away from the Earth. They also reveal very little gas activity on the dark side, i.e. the side facing away from the Sun.
The next challenge is choosing a suitable place to land! The computer graphic below was created from Rosetta OSIRIS and NavCam images and shows the first estimations of possible landing sites. Yellow and orange indicate what are so far considered the best landing areas, while the green circles and ellipses mark provisional landing sites. The red areas are parts of the comet’s northern hemisphere in constant sun: the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko summer. The blue areas are now in constant darkness, either due to the weird shape of the comet and/or the side being in the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko winter.
It was originally envisaged that the nucleus of the comet would be rock hard, and so in order to avoid re-bouncing on impact, the lander Philae is designed to immediately transform all kinetic energy in its legs to electric energy, while its harpoons immediately drill in the comet’s surface to secure the lander in position. Now that 67P is within reach, its surface is thought to be more soft than originally expected. The max temperature measured indicates a surface that is porous and has little water. Dust particles from the comet have also started to be analysed, revealing a density equal to or perhaps even higher of that predicted by the models.
But landing on the comet is not the primary objective of Rosetta. And it also is not a sure thing, especially now that 67P has revealed itself to be a more complex structure than ever dreamed of. Rosetta will be orbiting the comet for the next two years as it gets closer and closer to the Sun. Rosetta’s instruments will be measuring the comet’s transformation getting all the data required from the orbiter. Any measurements obtained from the lander, if it manages to successfully dock, will be an added bonus.
Following the tales of this little spacecraft will be a fabulous journey. In an era when space exploration looks rather stagnant, Rosetta is giving us back the hope that the best is yet to come.
Credit for all images on this post belongs to ESA and the Rosetta instrument teams.
Ever since the retirement of the Shuttle and the completion of Station assembly, the most current question in the Space world has been “what’s next?“. The obvious answer in everybody’s mind seems to be “Mars“. Yet, Space organisations around the world, policy makers, and even scientists and astronauts, are going out of their way to offer reasons why Mars, while not excluded, should not be the next step. They go to great lengths to explain why Mars is not the obvious answer.
The reasons offered are logical and well founded in science, economics and politics, yet totally contradictory to actual practice. The same institutions and individuals advocating against Mars are ever more vigorously preparing for taking humans to the Red Planet.
The numbers speak for themselves: Since 1960, there have been seven flyby attempts and seven successful flyby missions; eleven orbit attempts and eight successful orbit missions; seven landing attempts and eight successful landings on Mars, and one on its moon Phovos. During this time, four man-made rovers have walked the surface of Mars.
No other planetary body is being looked at, measured and poked, as much as Mars is.
On this day, Mars is being orbited by three spacecraft, while an equal number of rovers are at work on its surface, all actively researching current and past conditions on the planet and resources available:
The 2001 Mars Odyssey has been mapping minerals and chemical elements, identifying pockets of buried water ice, measuring the surface temperature, determining radiation levels in low-Mars orbit, and supporting ongoing exploration performed by the rovers on the ground.
The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations, and have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.
The Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003. Its main objective is to search for sub-surface water and perform a series of remote-sensing observations designed to shed new light on the Martian atmosphere, the planet’s structure, geology and composition.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is seeking out the history of water on Mars, while also testing a new telecommunications system that serves as the first link in an “interplanetary Internet” between the Earth and the Solar System.
The Curiosity rover, a full-blown laboratory, is analyzing samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks of Mars, to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.
Only two weeks ago, India launched it’s first mission to orbit Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission and, as these lines are being written, NASA is preparing to launch the MAVEN spacecraft which will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind in an effort to acquire insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and its habitability.
And there’s still more to come.
ESA, in partnership with Roscosmos, has now embarked on an ambitious long-term robotic exploration programme, called ExoMars. An ESA-led orbiter – the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – capable of tracing methane in the Martian atmosphere, will be launched in 2016, followed by the Agency’s flagship ExoMars rover, in 2018. ExoMars will have the ability to drill up to 2 metres beneath the Martian surface searching for chemical evidence that might have been preserved from solar radiation.
Also in the near future, NASA’s InSight mission will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).
Clearly, mankind has been going, and is still going to Mars! The scientific objectives of all the above missions may vary in their specifics, yet they all seem to be pointing to the same general goal: sustainability of life on Mars. “Life as we know it”, that is.
At the same time, back on Earth and in orbit, numerous experiments are being performed researching and advancing human ability to withstand long duration space flight from a physiological and psychological perspective. Mars spacesuits are being built and tested. And desert or arctic locations are being used to simulate the inhospitable environment of the Martian surface.
Finally, institutions and industry are racing to develop the technical capabilities to launch us beyond LEO and into the Solar System. NASA next space vehicle, for example, is being built with the explicit parameter of being able to carry humans to Mars.
All the pieces of the puzzle are pointing in one direction: The commitment to put humans on Mars has already been made. The denial phase is over. Let’s move into acceptance.
“Conquering fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done in a lot of different places.“
– Scott Carpenter, May 1st 1925 – October 10, 2013-
One of only two remaining Mercury Program Astronauts from the 60’s, Scott Carpenter, sadly passed beyond the veil on Thursday October 10th 2013 following a stroke in September. He was 88 years of age. Carpenter was one of the earliest pioneers in the infancy of the Space Age. He was the 2nd American to cross the threshold into orbital space on his MA-7 “Aurora 7” spaceflight and the 6th man overall. He also held the unique distinction of being not only an astronaut but an aquanaut following his NASA career in the US Navy’s various Sea Lab projects.
For each last step, there is a first step. Born in Boulder, Colorado, USA on May 1st 1925, Malcolm Scott Carpenter was impressed by planes at the age of 5 when his father took him to his first airshow. His love of flight grew as he continued to build and fly model balsa wood plane kits as a boy. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado, before entering flight school with the US Navy at Pensacola Florida and Corpus Christi Texas. After the Korean War where he flew aerial anti-submarine surveillance and patrols, Carpenter enrolled at Patuxent River’s Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Following this, he was assigned as an Air Intelligence Officer on the USS Hornet. During this time he received special orders to report to Washington DC for an unnamed meeting. That meeting led to his selection in Project Mercury on April 9, 1959, which was instituted as the newly formed NASA’s first step to catch up to the Soviets who had taken an early lead in the rapidly escalating Space Race.
What followed is fabled history. The exhaustive raft of testing of 110 candidates down to what are now known as the “Original Seven” and Carpenter formed part of that elite fraternity of Mercury Astronauts. Their every move was recorded and lauded by the public at large as the nascent American Space Program took its initial steps forward. Due to his communications and navigation experience Carpenter was back-up on his good friend John Glenn’s orbital flight. Upon launch, as Glenn cleared the tower, Carpenter’s words of “Godspeed John Glenn” were recorded and have echoed through the years of spaceflight history. Carpenter repeated this goodwill message when Glenn went into orbit again aboard the Shuttle in 1998.
On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s own flight dubbed “Aurora 7” launched and completed 3 orbits of the Earth. His mission; to prove a human could work in space. This was an important link in the chain of events which ultimately resulted in a manned landing on the moon just 7 short years later. For the first time he demonstrated humans could perform tasks, experiments, communications, navigation and eat solid food in space. Due to some technical faults, inadvertent errors during the mission, all of which Carpenter compensated for, Aurora 7 came home safely but overshot the target landing zone due to fuel mismanagement during the mission. He was found by rescuers almost 5 hours late, 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, coolly relaxing in the life raft alongside his spacecraft. Ever the gentleman astronaut he even offered his rescuers food and water from his survival kit.
As with many space explorers who are comfortable with the risk of space exploration, Carpenter had remarked that his mission realised a long held dream and that “This is something I would gladly give my life for.” In today’s modern world of Google Earth and armchair exploration, we should remember that back then it took a special kind of person to ride fire into the heavens to expand knowledge at risk of their own life. Unlike many of his Mercury astronaut peers who were recovered and debriefed after their space shots relatively quickly, Carpenter had time for introspection and reflection on the events and meaning of his experience on Aurora 7. Carpenter was also blessed with a curious and philosophical mind. Peering through the small periscope of Aurora 7 into the endless night outside, Carpenter remarked,
“From that view … you are a long way away. Everything you see gives you satisfaction of the expectation which involves curiosity. The most important driver in everything we did then was curiosity. Can we make machines do this? Can we put our bodies through this? It’s revelatory. Addictive. Beautiful beyond description. To have been in space is very satisfying of one’s curiosity. It’s instructive. It’s marvellous.”
At the time, some may have perceived those comments and qualities to be extraneous for a test pilot / astronaut, favouring engineering rigour and zero margin of error during those early missions. Consequently, Carpenter never flew in space again. In later years his curiosity and philosophical mind have become more appreciated by his peers.
Following NASA, Carpenter’s curious mind to banish unknowns led him to meeting with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He saw many parallels, between deep space and the deep ocean, with transferable skills, technologies and parallel experiences. But more personally for him, like with his Mercury flight, working beneath the waves to satisfy his curiosity would remove any “unreasoned fears”, just as he had done above the clouds on Aurora 7. As part of the Navy’s Sea Lab II experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days in spring 1965 on the ocean floor of La Jolla as an aquanaut, proving humans could survive in this environment. At one point during his time under the waves, he even spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5 orbiting far overhead. Old Mercury Seven buddy Gordon Cooper was no doubt happy to hear him. His work on the ocean floor has yielded cross benefits for NASA too as Carpenter became the Navy/NASA liaison for underwater zero gravity training – or neutral buoyancy, which has become mandatory for NASA EVA astronaut training. For this work, Carpenter was awarded the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal.
In his later years after retiring from the Navy, Carpenter had remained active on various projects utilising his aerospace and oceanic engineering expertise. From enhancing ocean resource usage, to consulting on underwater, diving and submersibles, and lecturing on the future of technology developments and impacts Scott Carpenter had continued to actively contribute to the quality of our lives here on Earth. Not stopping there, he had also authored three books, one of which is his memoirs “For Spacious Skies” which he wrote with his daughter Kris Stoever. Carpenter remained a staunch advocate of manned spaceflight, and pushing our exploration to Mars.
“We need a goal other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest, support and imagination of people who pay for spaceflight…We need to go to Mars… Mars is interim, but for now that is a goal that NASA and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.”
Looking back, Carpenter remarked that he and John Glenn bonded over common interests, mutual respect and being Air Force boys. Upon hearing of his great friend’s passing, the last remaining torchbearer of that age, Mercury astronaut John Glenn paid tribute with his friend’s simple words and remarked “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.” Carpenter himself has said that he believes he is very fortunate to have lived life during a time when there were so many unknowns to be solved during this century. That had pleased him immensely as he was always a very curious person and he has had a lot of satisfied curiosity in his time.
Meeting Scott Carpenter at Spacefest V in May 2013 in what turned out to be his twilight months, was a special privilege and for myself, the highest honour, to meet a member of the Original Seven. Meeting Scott himself, who truly understood the wider more nuanced experiences of manned spaceflight, the continuing importance of manned exploration and the questing nature of humanity, was even more special to me. The hallmark of his character, curiosity, still burned brightly in his alert eyes even though his health was visibly failing. I briefly asked him about what lessons he has taken with him on his explorations of the ocean and space into his life. Scott merely whispered, as if sharing a secret;
“Be led by your curiosity. And never forget the fun of learning and discovery. It can take you places you have never dreamed”.
Words from a curious but ordinary superman that will stay with me forever. May fair winds be at your back Star Voyager for you have returned to the place where we all came from. You are stardust. We thank you for your bravery, your discoveries, your humanity and your continuing inspiration.
Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.
Of course everyone reading this knows about the #NASASocial event for the launch of the LADEE mission to Lunar orbit happening this week on Thursday (9/5) and Friday (9/6). Follow NASASocial/lists/ladee-launch-social plus @NASA_Wallops, @NASALADEE, @NASAAmes, @NASAGoddard, and also @LRO_NASA for updates.
A nice piece of Wallops history was raised by @TeresaR_WV: “Explorer 9 was the first spacecraft placed in orbit by an all-solid rocket and the first spacecraft successfully launched into orbit from Wallops Island.” (1961, NSSDC).
The LADEE social will be covering a huge range of subjects, including the following.
- LADEE Science
- Minotaur-V launch of LADEE
- Wallops Island Launch Pads and Range Control
- Very High Altitude Balloon fabrication and flying
- Sounding Rocket flying
- Global Hawks Airborne Science
The LADEE mission will be collecting data on the Lunar Exosphere, specifically tightening the boundaries on gas and dust types and quantities found at altitudes under 50 km so that future work can develop an understanding of the surface boundary exospheric processes that occur on inert rocky bodies like the Moon and Mercury. And the LADEE mission will be flight qualifying the LLCD free space optical communications link. Data collection in the Lunar Exosphere will employ three instruments.
The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) determines captured (Lunar Exosphere) gas particle types (element) using a kind of electromagnetic filter called an RF Quadrupole or Quadrupole mass analyzer, or Mass Spectrometer. Instruments very similar to this one have flown on many deep space missions including CASSINI. In determining gas types with fairly high frequency (many per second), gas quantity and distribution can be determined over time.
The Ultraviolet – Visible Spectrometer (UVS) will determine observed (Lunar Exosphere) gas types by the characteristic electromagnetic emission spectra of gas particles impacted by solar radiation. It is also capable of a few additional modes (that I haven’t groked yet) that provide information about gas and dust processes in the exosphere.
The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) captures larger “dust” particles to determine composition and distribution over time, not entirely unlike the NMS. Also not entirely unlike the NMS, it employs an electromagnetic process to do so.
The NMS and LDEX are forward facing, while the UVS is rearward facing, in LADEE’s direction of flight. That is, LADEE flies sideways relative to its Lunar Capture rocket engine which it points out of the way otherwise.
The NASA TV broadcast schedule includes events on Thursday and Friday.
September 5, Thursday
10 -11:30 a.m. – NASA Social for LADEE Mission Live from the Wallops Flight Facility – HQ/WFF (Education Channel)
3 p.m. – LADEE Prelaunch Mission Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)
4 p.m. – LADEE Mission Science and Technology Demonstration Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)
September 6, Friday
6-10 a.m. –Live Interviews on the LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)
4-6 p.m. – Live Interviews on LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)
9:30 p.m. – Live Launch Coverage and Commentary on LADEE Mission – HQ/GSFC/WFF (Public and Media Channels)
9:30 p.m. – Simulcast of NASA EDGE Live Webcast of LADEE Mission and Launch – LARC/HQ/WFF (Education Channel)
September 7, Saturday
2 a.m. – LADEE Post Launch News Conference –HQ/WFF (All Channels)
Just like many of you I have been following many astronauts during training, mission, return and whatever happens after return. For us spacetweeps it is great to see what it means to be an astronaut. What happens during training, how they prepare for their work in space and the launch, how they experience their time in space and how they communicate with those of us that stay behind on the planet? Obviously social media is the perfect way to keep this communication channel open throughout this entire process. We love to follow our astro_’s on Twitter!
When I could not make it to SpaceUp Europe in last september, I jokingly told Damien, a friend who was attending, that maybe we should co-host together the first french SpaceUp. He came back with a list of 4 others ready to join the fun… and asked me if I was still in. Mmmm, not *just* a joke then!
We tried to cover all the bases, so you may have already read it on Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn or the global SpaceUp website… SpaceUp Paris will take place on 25th and 26th May at the European Space Agency (ESA) Headquarters in central Paris. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the SpaceUp concept whereby participants are invited to actively contribute in presentations and talks on a variety of space themes.
The point is… We’d love to meet you there.
But why were we invited to hold the SpaceUp at ESA heaquarters?
Fernando Doblas, Head of ESA’s Communication Department, replies to the question : “Because we can relate to the basic concept of the SpaceUp. ESA, as a space agency depends on cooperation between European states who understood a long time ago the importance of uniting to undertake together space projects far beyond the scope of what could be achieved by any single European country. Cooperation implies a willingness to listen, to be open to others, and to be ready to learn from each other. This is the spirit of ESA, its ADN, and this is also the spirit of SpaceUp. We are pleased to welcome this event, the first of its kind in Paris and at ESA headquarters, where decisions on space for Europe are taken! ”
Equally convinced by this innovative initiative, CNES, the French space agency, invites the SpaceUp attendees to learn more about the future ESA launcher, Ariane 6. On Friday 24th May, engineers from the CNES Launchers Directorate and ESA’s Launchers Directorate will present their work, take part in interactive workshops and submit challenges to the participants.
Apart from those official events, we look forward to evenings of fun between spacetweeps. Sadly, there will be no Endless BBQ… but I’m sure we’ll nevertheless manage to enjoy each other’s company!
Everything you want to know is on the spaceup.fr website (or so we hope!), but if you have questions, do not hesitate to hail us on any social network!