Highlights for 06/26 & 07/3

star cluster
star cluster

Bob Rubin (ORION / Astrophysics Branch)

Paper accepted:


C. Froese Fischer
G. Tachiev
R. H. Rubin
M. Rodr’iguez
2009, ApJ (in press)

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch on detail to HQ)

-LRO Scheduled To Arrive At The Moon Tuesday. Computerworld (6/20, Gaudin) reported, “NASA reported on its Web site that all is going according to plan” after the launch of the LRO and LCROSS spacecraft “and that its flight operations team established communication with both satellites…hours after the launch.” According to the article, the spacecraft is “on schedule to begin orbiting….next Tuesday morning.”

-NASA Gets Two-Pronged Look At Lunar Soils And Their Secrets. Another pair of visitors to the moon got a clean liftoff June 18 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V, as NASA looks for safe landing sites and extends its search for water. It will take four days for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to achieve its polar mapping orbit of the moon, which it will occupy over the next year in a position of continuous sun. The orbit will be from just 50 kilometers (30 miles) above the surface. Developed by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission directorate to create detailed maps for a moon base already in development, LRO will join India’s Chandrayaan and China’s Change’e missions. NASA’s science team has been coordinating with them and with Japan’s Kaguya mapper, which was deliberately plunged into the lunar surface earlier this month after completing its mapping mission (Aerospace DAILY, June 12). One task for LRO, which is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center, is to determine how much the moon has changed since earlier mapping missions prepared the way for Apollo. LRO’s June 18 launch was a month and two days shy of the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s visit to the Sea of Tranquility. The mission has an unusual feature: rather than separating from the Atlas’ Centaur upper stage, the Centaur will be brought along to serve a big role for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). In October, the Centaur will be targeted into the bottom of a shallow crater yet to be chosen in the moon’s south polar region. Coming in at an 85-degree angle, the Centaur is expected to kick up a spray of regolith that LCROSS’s five cameras will image as it follows four minutes behind (Aerospace DAILY, June 18). The goal is to search for evidence of water ice and/or hydrogen frozen in the shadowed soils of the crater. LCROSS is a NASA Ames Research Center/Northrop Grumman mission. LCROSS will meet its own doom in a slightly off center target. Observatories around the world, including five on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and four in California, New Mexico and Arizona will image the impact plume in optical and infrared. Also serving as LCROSS observers will be the Hubble Space Telescope, Sweden’s Oden and Chandrayaan. – Michael Mecham * mecham@aviationweek.com

-Largest Mars Heat Shield Ever Constructed Unveiled. Space.com (6/19) reported, “The largest heat shield ever built for a probe bound for Mars is ready for the new rover Curiosity.” The shield was unveiled by Lockheed Martin this past week. “To withstand the heat, the shield is tiled with a material called a Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator. This will be the first time the heat shield type has flown on a Mars mission.” The material was developed at the Ames Research Center. Rich Hund, program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said, “The Mars Science Laboratory aeroshell is the most complex capsule to fly to Mars.”

-LCROSS Images Impress Because Of Their Distance, If Not Clarity. The AP (6/24) reported, “NASA’s new lunar probe launched less than a week ago has already sent back some shots of the moon.” The LCROSS spacecraft sent the images. Space.com (6/25, Malik) reports, “They may look grainy or overexposed to the untrained eye, but the new images of the moon sent by an unmanned NASA probe early Tuesday left scientists on Earth rejoicing.” The article noted that the images may not be up to the standards of the public “spoiled by recent high-definition movies and photos of the moon,” but LCROSS scientists are “elated,” according to project manager Daniel Andrews. These images “were taken by a camera not designed to shoot the moon from so far out, and they gave scientists a taste of things to come.” The camera was designed to take pictures hundreds instead of thousands of kilometers away from the surface, as the LCROSS was noted to be.

-Diamandis Praises Singularity University’s Facilities At Ames. In the Huffingtonpost.com(7/7), Peter Diamandis writes, “It’s rare to launch a new University these days, so I’m very honored and pleased to have given birth to Singularity University” located at the Ames Research Center. “Our home at NASA Ames, courtesy of Dr. Pete Worden and NASA HQ is tremendous. The facilities are excellent and the setting could not be better.” Diamandis is also “pleased” with the completion of the school’s first week. This year, 40 students are participating in the program. “Next year we will be accepting ~120 students into the program. Also, for the Executives interested in SU, we will be launching our 3-Day and 10-Day Executive Programs starting this November 2009.”