This week in (mostly) Space News

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by Jill Cassidy

What to say when you’re sitting in traffic …

Green lights are so much better.  Skycorp would agree.  On Wednesday, NASA signed an agreement with the space technology company, allowing them to attempt to communicate with a more-than-5-year-old spacecraft.

Back up. What?  In mid-April, Skycorp, along with Space College and SpaceRef, launched a crowdfunding operation to reboot NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3), a spacecraft that was launched in 1978 and deactivated in 1997 (read: left floating in space).  It got funded.

Okay, tell me more.  ISEE-3 (later renamed International Cometary Explorer) was the first satellite to study the flow of solar wind streaming toward Earth. Monitoring that wind helped scientists better understand the interconnected sun-Earth system, which affects our satellites.  ISEE-3 was also the first artificial object placed in a halo orbit about the Sun-Earth L1 point, proving that such a suspension between gravitational fields was possible.  It was later transferred to a heliocentric orbit ahead of the Earth in order to study interactions between solar winds and a cometary atmosphere.

So what happened to it?  NASA eventually ended the mission and deactivated the probe.  Fast-forward to 2008…NASA successfully relocated the spacecraft, and a status check revealed that all but one of its 13 experiments were still functioning.  NASA scientists considered reusing the probe to observe additional comets in 2017 or 2018, but $$$ problems got in the way.  Cue the citizen scientists, who want to resume the spacecraft’s original mission.  Their crowdfunding goal was $125,000.  Luckily, it was tax refund time, and people were feeling generous.

Got it.  One sentence now on why this is a big deal?  This is the first time NASA has worked out this kind of agreement regarding a spacecraft the agency is no longer using or ever planned to use again.  Crowdfunders: 1.

Quote of the Week

“What do you do with your free time in space?”  “The #1 thing we all like to do is look out the window.” — NASA astronaut Steve Swanson taking CNN’s readers’ questions from the International Space Station on Tuesday.  Most of the questions were from kids, and they were all adorable.

What to say when your 8-year-old asks where babies come from …

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is asking tough questions, too. Like ‘How did the terrestrial planets form?’ In hopes of someday answering that, on Monday, NASA announced that construction would begin on a new Mars lander whose mission will be to study the interior of the Martian surface. Launch is scheduled for March 2016.

What to say when a question about the Magna Carta graces trivia night …

I need a history refresher?! Us, too. Here it goes.  This week in aviation history, on May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart embarked on her solo transatlantic flight, making her the first woman to fly nonstop and alone over the Atlantic Ocean (and only the second person overall, the first being Charles Lindbergh in 1927).  The journey from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland to Londonderry, Northern Ireland took 15 hours.

What to say when your best friend asks if you want to see Godzilla this weekend …

I’d rather wait for a remake worth seeing. National Geographic asked 5W Infographics to update its 50 Years of Exploration graphic, four years later. The hi-res infographic has been updated to include new missions, and new color coding includes the paths of both successful and failed missions, as well as the nation that led them. Thanks, NatGeo for keeping it awesome.

What to say when your grandfather cites the Old Farmer’s Almanac …

Does is say anything about fog? Researchers at MIT are engaging in fog harvesting in Chile’s Atacama Desert to provide local communities with water for drinking and agricultural use.  The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on the planet, so this technology has the potential to vastly improve the quality of life in the region.

In other news:

An American, a German and a Russian walk into a bar …  Not #ClassicJokeWednesday, just another day in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, as Expedition 40’s crew preps for next week’s Soyuz launch to the International Space Station.  Currently there are only three people in space.

NASA astronauts continue to take beautiful pictures of Earth.

Russia and China are creating a joint high-level working group for strategic space cooperation projects.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hit the 2 million mark for Twitter followers.  Science is cool, y’all.

Non-profit group Deep Space Alliance launched a cool website on Thursday about, you guessed it, deep space.  The smoke from the rocket moves around the page.  Try it, you’ll like it.

NASA JSC has a great sense of humor, or at least the Morpheus Lander team does, quoting Lil Jon in preparation for the lander’s first autonomous flight test on Thursday.  The Morpheus Lander is a prototype planetary lander capable of vertical takeoff and landing.

You can Street View the Balkans. No joke.


(Always give credit where credit is due. I owe everything I know about writing to theSkimm. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re missing out.)

Image Credit: NASA

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