This Week in Space News July 3, 2014

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Quote of the Week

“I prefer to watch #worldcup while hanging from the ceiling.” – Astronaut Reid Wiseman, who’s either three sheets to the wind or currently living on the International Space Station.  (We’re kidding; we know it’s the latter.  #jokes)

by Jill Cassidy

Things That Splashed Down in the Pacific Ocean

Low-Density Supersonic DeceleratorAmerica’s space agency launched this test vehicle from Kauai, Hawaii on Saturday.

Supersonic De-WHAT?  This is getting a little too Dr. Sam Beckett for me.  Please explain.  Landing on Mars without crashing into a million pieces is hard.  And we’re going to want to keep sending expensive equipment there (and eventually people) that NASA would very much like to keep intact.  Saturday’s test was designed to help NASA engineers see how new equipment designed to slow the descent of heavy spacecraft through Mars’ atmosphere performed at high speeds.

How high of speeds?  Mach 4 (aka four times the speed of sound).

So…success?  Yes and no.  The test vehicle’s parachute apparently failed to deploy properly, but NASA scientists were able to recover all the vehicle hardware and data recorders – plus a boatload of lessons learned – so they view it as a good test.


The Earth — from global warming.  Okay, maybe a stretch, but we don’t put anything past him.  In related news, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory launched a satellite Wednesday at 2:56 a.m. Cali time dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide from space.  438 miles above the Earth’s surface, to be precise.

Crunchy; we like.  Tell us more.  The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will help pinpoint key locations on the Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is being emitted and absorbed.  This should give scientists a better understanding of how the greenhouse gas cycles through the Earth system, influencing the climate.  OCO-2’s polar orbit will allow it to cover about 80 percent of the globe.  The mission costs $275 million and should operate for at least two years.

How does it actually work though?  The observatory carries a single instrument — a spectrometer that breaks the sunlight reflected off the Earth’s surface into its basic colors, and then analyses the color spectrum to determine how much carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen is present in specific locations.  Since we’re currently releasing 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere, this mission seems like a good idea.  Japan, France and Germany agree.  Captain Planet would be proud.

Things to Know

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft celebrates a decade in orbit around Saturn this week.

Get your Will Hunting on and read about the guy who came up with this equation, N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L, Frank Drake.  Spoiler: it’s the formula for estimating the number of detectable alien civilizations.  I’ll pause for a minute as you do your best “E.T. phone home” impression.

Wednesday was World U.F.O. Day.  How many times did you work Roswell into conversation?  We maxed out at four.

F is for Frangible & Fairings, aka key components of Orion’s separation events.  Frangible joints are breakable joints used to connect the spacecraft’s protective panels, called fairings, to the rocket.

Galaxies get hungry, too.  And they leave behind crumbs.

(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 Source: Discovery News

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