Saturday, September 29, 2012

Endeavour's last flight and other space and astronomy news

I've delayed long enough in posting the space and astronomy news from last week's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (2012 IgNobel Prizes edition) on Daily Kos, so here it is. The top story is the transcontinental flight of space shuttle Endeavour to its new home in a California museum.

NASA Television on YouTube: Endeavour Goes Cross-Country on This Week @NASA

Atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, Endeavour completes its journey from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles, where it'll go on display at the California Science Center next month. Also, Shuttle Social, Curiosity Cruises, Helping Hangout, Ride Remembered, and more.
I have more from the University of Arizona on YouTube, which was fortunate enough to have a flyover by request.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Flies Over UA Mall
On it's way to retirement at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the space shuttle Endeavour few over the University of Arizona as thousands of students, faculty and staff looked on. Mark Kelly, the last person to command a mission aboard the shuttle, requested the UA visit in honor of his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Viewers on the UA Mall cheered and took photographs of the shuttle as it passed.
This completes the previous chapter in human space flight by the U.S. May there be another one so that our society does not act out the tragic science fiction plot of losing the ability to travel to space as a sign of a declining technological civilization.

More news from the asteroid belt to college campuses over the jump

Arizona Daily Star: Arizona scientists ID Vesta as source of vital asteroids
Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
September 21, 2012 12:00 am
The Dawn spacecraft's recent visit to the giant "proto-planet" Vesta verified that it is the source of many hydrogen-rich asteroids that fell to Earth.

Using an instrument designed and operated for the NASA mission by Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute, scientists deduced that the oldest surfaces of the giant asteroid are covered with carbonaceous chondrites, the type of rocks that may have salted the Earth with the building blocks of life.

GRaND, the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector, was used by a team of scientists led by Tom Prettyman, of the Planetary Science Institute, to provide an elemental map of Vesta during Dawn's 13-month orbit.

Their results were published Thursday in Science Express, the online journal of AAAS, the science society.
Next, Mars.

NASA Television on YouTube: NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Report #7

A NASA's Mars Curiosity rover team member gives an update on developments and status of the planetary exploration mission. The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars at 1:31:45 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, which includes the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light. The rover will conduct a nearly two-year prime mission to investigate whether the Gale Crater region of Mars ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on Mars. Curiosity will use a drill and scoop, which are located at the end of its robotic arm, to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the rover's analytical laboratory instruments.
Florida State University: Florida State University alumna Jennifer Stern follows her curiosity to the Red Planet
Kathleen Laufenberg
09/19/2012 9:16 pm
Jennifer Stern goes to Mars every day. It’s her job.
Stern, a 2005 Florida State University graduate, is a scientist on the Earth-based crew that monitors and directs Curiosity, the space rover now rumbling over the Red Planet more than 34 million miles away. Before she signed up to explore Mars, though, the 36-year-old researcher earned her doctorate in geochemistry at Florida State University and worked daily for nearly four years in the geochemistry program of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at FSU. She left to do her postdoctoral research at the Astrobiology Division of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
“Definitely working with all of the state-of-the-art instruments at the MagLab, getting all that hands-on experience using the mass spectrometers and other tools in geochem, helped me get this job,” Stern said in a phone interview from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “I really got to know the instruments I used at the MagLab inside and out. If you don’t understand the instrument, you don’t understand how good your data is — and that’s especially true when you’re making an instrument for outer space.”
For the last pair of quoted stories, NASA shows how it supports science education for both outer space and inner space.

Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech engineering students' experiments to ride along on NASA rocket into space
BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 20, 2012 – Virginia Tech College of Engineering students will watch their experiments blast into space this Friday when NASA launches a rocket from its Wallops Flight Facility. The spacecraft will climb roughly 99 miles or 160 kilometers into the thermosphere before diving back to Earth for an Atlantic Ocean splash landing via parachute.

The NASA-owned, two-stage, 40-foot long Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket is scheduled to blast off from Wallops Island, Va., at 6 a.m. Sept. 21, carrying a series of experiments created by students from Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, as well as student teams from three other U.S. universities: Baylor University, University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Puerto Rico. The full flight time is expected to be 15 minutes, according to a NASA Wallops website.

“Launches at NASA Wallops are a sight to see,” said Stephen Noel of Christiansburg, Va., and a first-year master’s student in aerospace engineering who also is serving as team leader of the project. Noel recently finished an internship at Wallops Flight Facility and was witness to several previous rocket launches.
Arizona State University: ASU robotics team makes a splash
September 17, 2012
The NASA Space Grant Robotics team at Arizona State University sent 10 team members to Orlando, Fla. in June to compete in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) international robotics competition.

Armed with Koi, a robot capable of functioning 30 feet underwater, the ASU team challenged 22 teams from across the country and across the globe, ranking 11th overall.
The MATE competition, which ASU has competed in since 2009, focuses on ocean-related occupations and real-world industry problems. Each team is judged on their ability to “sell” a design that could solve a real-world crisis or fill an exploratory need.
Finally, DarkSyde on Daily Kos included this stunning photograph of the Aurora Borealis in This week in science: Fall.

That's it for last week's news. Time to begin collecting the science news for this week.

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