Introducing Little SDO

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (NASA)

Playing on our love for WALL-E, our amazement for the Pixar Lamp and some great animation, Chris Smith, an employee at NASA Goddard Flight Center, has given the upcoming Solar Dynamics Observatory a personality.

Apart from obviously having too much time on his hands, Smith is a very talented guy (as all NASA employees are) and is showing that, once again, the space agency is doing a fantastic job of reaching out to the public.

As proven by the efforts of the Phoenix Mars Lander team in 2008, communication goes a long way and by harnessing social media, NASA can make its missions household names. Phoenix was tweeting, blogging and podcasting to its hearts content for five months, from touchdown to frozen death; it was Big Brother for robots living on Mars.

Now most NASA missions have Twitter feeds and devoted blogs, ensuring everyone’s interest is piqued. It also helps to have a Twitter feed talking in first-person, giving these brave rovers, landers, orbiters and probes a much needed personality.

So now, Chris Smith has done something very cool with the SDO; he’s given it an animated personality in a short animation reminiscent of a movie teaser for an upcoming Disney-Pixar feature film. Behold, the Little SDO:

It’s a really fun little piece,” says Wade Sisler, a television producer for NASA. “And we’re hoping to use it as a way of waking some kids and folks up to solar science.”

And so NASA should, I like it! It’s going to get people interested in a comparatively small mission, and let’s face it, the satellite lacks character (the boxy 4-eyed robot doesn’t do much for me). However, now that Smith has added squeaky solar panel wings, and blinking “eyes” (without changing the design of the craft at all), he’s boosted the SDO’s likeability. Suddenly I care for the little guy. I hope he doesn’t get hit by a solar flare.

Due for launch in October, the SDO will be inserted into a geosynchronous orbit above New Mexico, gathering data from the Sun, so solar physicists can better understand space weather. The cool thing is that with those four eyes, the SDO will capture high-definition images of the Sun continuously.

It might not have the dazzle of the Phoenix Mars Lander, but it has a personality and people will love him (I await the Twitter feed).

Learn more about the Solar Dynamics Observatory »

Source: Wired Science

Colbert Report: Stephen Receives the Bittersweet News About Node 3

The Colbert Report aired last night and astronaut Suni Williams appeared on the show to announce the official name of Node 3. Like breaking news to a 5 year-old that Christmas has been cancelled, Williams did her best to be as gentle as she could be. Fortunately, Stephen Colbert soon cheered up when he found out that the “shoes inside the box” (the new treadmill) would be named after him. As always, very funny.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that “Tranquility” is a little lame. It just adds to the forgettable names of the other nodes I don’t remember…

…what’s the name of that node again?

Thanks Bente for the tip off!

Not “Serenity”, Not “Colbert”… Node 3 Will Be Named “Tranquility”

Node 3 will be called Tranquility (NASA)

Deciding against the popular vote, NASA has made up its mind and gone in a completely different direction (who would have guessed?). The new addition to the International Space Station, will be named “Tranquility” (in honour of the 40th anniversary of the first manned base on the Moon this July), ignoring the clear winner in the “please help us name Node 3” competition. Obviously concerned about the role Stephen Colbert’s celebrity status had securing so many votes, the space agency looked as if they might go for one of the official suggestions, the second place “Serenity”.

This didn’t happen either.

They decided to go with a more suitable public suggestion, about half-way down the top ten chart. Tranquility will join similar nodes called Unity and Harmony, sounding more and more like the components of a Japanese Zen garden every day.

But there is a consolation prize for the award-winning presenter and comedian, the new running machine will be called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (or COLBERT), proving once again that a lot of effort goes into NASA’s acronyms…

For more, check out the news on CollectSPACE.com »

Getting to the Moon More Expensive than Bailing Out AIG?

I’m sure it’s more expensive than bailing me out of my student loan too…

The top stage of the Ares V carries the Altair Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon (NASA)
The top stage of the Ares V carries the Altair Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon (NASA)

In an article written by a columnist in the Orlando Sentinel, NASA’s Constellation Program is compared with the government bail out of AIG. Where’s the correlation? No, I don’t see it either. NASA has its problems (some of the problems are very big problems), but when you begin comparing the woes of a space agency with an ailing financial corporation, you’re not only off target, you’re not quite understanding the true value of space exploration…
Continue reading “Getting to the Moon More Expensive than Bailing Out AIG?”

NASA’s Continuing Foray Into Pop Culture

Guest article by Greg Fish (blog: world of weird things)

zz_colbert

Oh what havoc faux-conservative pundit Stephen Colbert wrought on NASA and the ISS! To think that a little publicity stunt would actually put the U.S. space agency in a jam and incite grudging grumbles from Firefly fans who were sure that Node 3 would be called Serenity. Even a few Congressmen who found time away from dealing with a painful and deep recession that’s put the entire economy in turmoil, are now involved in sorting out this little mess.

But there’s actually an interesting question in this seeming non-story. Should NASA embrace the will of the masses and give nods to pop culture in how it officially names its spacecraft? There are stories of informal call signs for capsules and modules taken from the Peanuts comic strip, but there’s never been an official designation that reflects what’s popular here on Earth at the time of the mission. What would benefit NASA more? Giving in to the power of the fad or staying resolute with timeless names?

Continue reading “NASA’s Continuing Foray Into Pop Culture”

Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!

discovery_launch

At 19:47 EST, the STS-119 mission began with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been delayed by a week due to a hydrogen leak outside Discovery’s external fuel tank (compounding the extended delay caused by valve problems), but the fault was repaired, allowing NASA to perform a flawless launch today.

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)
Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

STS-119 will install the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the ISS. In May, the space station crew will grow to six, so additional solar power will be required. Interestingly, once completed, the station will become the second brightest object in the night sky.

Good luck Discovery!

For developing news on STS-119, check out the coverage on the Universe Today »

A Short Message for Kepler, from Astroengine.com…

The Delta II ignition: Kepler begins its mission on Friday at 10:49pm EST (© United Launch Alliance)
The Delta II ignition: Kepler began its mission on Friday at 10:49pm EST (© United Launch Alliance)

In the 17th Century, Johannes Kepler defined the laws of planetary motion around our star. Now the Kepler space telescope will define the motion of alien worlds around distant stars. Go find us some exoplanets!

I saw this image on The Write Stuff blog at the Orlando Sentinel, and I had to share. It is the moment of ignition of the Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just before lift-off of NASA’s Kepler mission.

For more information and the original image (this one was slightly adjusted to remove compression artefacts), check out The Write Stuff »

Replacing Warheads With Telescopes

Left: The first ever rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Bumper 2 (based on the V-2 weapon design), was in July 1950. Right: The Kepler space telescope launches onboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral, March 2009 (NASA)
Left: The first ever rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Bumper 2 (based on the V-2 weapon design), was in July 1950. Right: The Kepler space telescope launches onboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral, March 2009 (NASA)

Kepler, the exoplanet-hunting space telescope, successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on top of a Delta II rocket at 10:49 pm EST. In a word: awesome. Unfortunately I missed lift off, but it was good to watch NASA TV as the flames from the first stage receded into the black. Obviously today’s event will come as a huge relief to NASA having lost the Orbital Carbon Observatory (OCO) last month when the Taurus XL upper stage fairing failed to separate, locking the satellite in a doomed sub-orbital trajectory, crashing into the Antarctic Ocean.

The highest any rocket had gone before: A 1947 US V-2 rocket, with nose cone camera, captures the limb of the Earth (NASA)
The highest any rocket had gone before: A 1947 US V-2 rocket, with nose cone camera, captures the limb of the Earth (NASA)

On checking out the NASA homepage, the headline news was obviously about Kepler, but underneath was a fascinating image (left). From the NASA Image of the Day, there’s a vintage piece of spaceflight history. Two images, one facing north, the other south, shows the first view from an altitude of over 100 miles (160 km). The pictures were taken by a camera in the nose cone of an experimental V-2 rocket launched by the US on March 7th, 1947. The V-2 technology, as used by Nazi Germany in World War II, had been captured after the war and developed by US scientists. In this case, the V-2 nose cone housed a camera, rather than an explosive warhead, to carry out the first high altitude atmospheric observations.

The camera returned a series of images to the Earth, and these striking panoramas were constructed, covering a million square miles of our planet’s surface. This was the first time a rocket had been used for rudimentary space science; before this time, rockets only had military applications.

62 years later, almost to the day, a Delta II carries one of the most ambitious NASA projects into orbit, to begin another peaceful application, not studying the atmosphere of our own planet, but to search for other Earths orbiting distant stars.

How far we’ve come

For more about Kepler’s launch and exciting mission, check out Anne Minard’s article on the Universe Today, “Success: Kepler Lifts Off to Look for Other Earths

One Giant Leap… into Obscurity? Not Quite

Forget Bush’s “Vision For Space Exploration”, is it about time for some common sense?

When NASA had purpose: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (NASA)
When NASA had purpose: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (NASA)

Just in case you were wondering about what NASA is supposed to be doing, you’re not alone. On Monday, Buzz Aldrin, Feng Hsu and Ken Cox submitted a scathing draft letter proposing a radical change to ex-President Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, stating that “post-Apollo NASA” has become a “visionless jobs-providing enterprise that achieves little or nothing,” in the field of re-usable, affordable or safe space transportation. The authors also call into question that logic of returning to the lunar surface. Tough words, but are they right?

As it turns out, only yesterday (Wednesday) the word from the White House was that the US will still be returning to the Moon in 2020, regardless of the short-falls of Bush’s 2004 Vision
Continue reading “One Giant Leap… into Obscurity? Not Quite”

Not Just a Satellite: NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory Fails (Update)

The fairing of the Taurus XL rocket upper stage failed to separate correctly, in this morning's OCO launch (Vandenberg Air Force Base/NASA)
The fairing of the Taurus XL rocket upper stage failed to separate correctly in this morning's OCO launch (Vandenberg Air Force Base/NASA)

In the early hours of this morning at 1:55am PST, a carbon dioxide monitoring mission was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) was being carried into a 700 km polar orbit by a Taurus XL rocket. Unfortunately, 12 minutes and 30 seconds into the flight, the rocket upper stage suffered an anomaly, and the fairing failed to separate. Although it appears the rocket attained the desired altitude The vehicle did not attain the desired altitude and the $270 million satellite was doomed, trapped inside the the nose cone. The upper stage fairing was protecting the OCO as it ascended through the atmosphere; once in space it should have separated, peeled off and dropped away. That didn’t happen.
Continue reading “Not Just a Satellite: NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory Fails (Update)”