Watching the live feed of NASA’s historic mission to the International Space Station gives us pause to consider what science is capable of. At 9:45 pm, this was the scene as the 4-person capsule, the ‘Crew Dragon’ parallel parked with the ISSS. They switched the cameras to an external view while the crew changed their gear into the space station uniforms.
The crew included Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi. Lift-off of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was on Sunday night. So in all, it took about 24 hours to get there.
The spacecraft Crew Dragon is called ‘Resilience’ -a fitting name for all that must go on in the name of science, despite the existential threat we face as a planet. Or perhaps, because of it.
15 years, covering 28 miles on Mars, the Mars Rover Opportunity came to the end of its mission this week. Basically it lost contact with Earth last June; NASA had to finally call it Mission Accomplished. The gutsy little Rover was part of a tag team (Opportunity landed on Jan. 24, 2004, Spirit had arrived a few weeks earlier.)
Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.
Opportunity and it’s cohorts explored the theory that Mars could be (or support) a “habitable environment” Its longevity, and ability to literally dust off its problems showed future explorers that this is possible. It’s very landing inspired future landing innovations to distant planets, while its photographing of blueberry-like rocks gave researchers back on Earth an idea of what hematite means to us.
This spunky robot also has a delightful design. For a few years I would borrow a wheel of (a replica of) its sister bot, Spirit, from the Mars lab at ASU, and display it in my class. It definitely inspired me to take robotics more seriously.
One part Star Wars and two parts Arthur C. Clarke, one of the new things being tested in space is something called ‘Spheres.’
It is the name for three small “free-flying satellites” on board the International Space Station. Students in middle school have been getting involved in using SPHERES (which is an acronym for ‘Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellite’) in micro-gravity experiments. One of the goals of SPHERES has been to see if these small satellites could one day solve the problem of space debris, apart from other future space missions.
Arthur C Clarke was the earliest proponent of communication satellites. His 1945 Proposal was on Geostationary Satellite Communications. This March would be the 10th anniversary of Clarke’s passing.
It always surprises us teachers when students do something outside the guidelines. It’s easy to preach the outside-the-box cliche, but what happens when they color outside the lines – defy the rubric, so to speak?
I asked one of our presenters to help judge the entries from students. The contest challenge was to ‘design a spacesuit of the future.‘ No other limitations except nothing could be bought from a store. The scientist who designs satellites for a living, had a hard time picking 3 entries. So did my Specials team.
Some students interpreted the ‘rules’ and used recycled material. One took the whole astronaut approach, with a diorama. Some focused on the breathing apparatus – after,all they do hear that the air on Mars is not exactly fit for consumption! So here’s what we got. The 1st place went to an entry made entirely of water bottles and tin foil – to the right of the spacesuit (which was the prize.)
This year we have two keynote addresses from NASA scientists:
Dr. Jim Rice, Co-Investigator on the Mars Exploration Rover Project. His work has involved mission experience working on the Mars Odyssey Orbiter and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Projects, the Mars landing site selection for every NASA Mars Mission since Mars Pathfinder in 1995. he is currently involved in manned missions back to the Moon and Mars.
Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, is the Deputy Project Scientist working on the mission of the Mars Curiosity rover. He helps lead an international team of over 400 scientists. His work has involved geologic studies of Mars with regard to surface properties, volatility, and climate history.
Other sessions will be specific to grade levels:
Robots in space
Planets & Liquid Nitrogen
Food in Space
Rockets and launches
Satellites Communication in Space
We could not have done this without the support of:
Cassini, the robotic spacecraft that traveled for nineteen years (and some 948,149,234 miles), came to a sad end today, as it flew into Saturn. It’s demise was planned, however for good reasons.
It was one ambitious mission in 1997. A knowledge excursion to parts of our solar system that were previously beyond our reach. Through Cassini, we learned about and discovered more of Saturn’s moons, we got to see the make up of its spectacular rings, and learned that the gas planet does have its own hurricanes. It carried a probe, which it landed on one of Saturns’ moons using a parachute. It beamed back data through NASA’s Deep Space Network, and as you’d expect from any celebrity now, Cassini had its own Twitter handle, @CassiniSaturn.
Cassini’s full name is Cassini–Huygens, being born of a project collaboration between three space agencies from the US, Italy, and Europe.
Cassini was used for interesting aerial photo-op. It took place on July 19, 2013. The folks who programmed Cassini turned the spacecraft back toward Earth to take a picture of earthlings waving at it. The images were then beamed back and stitched together in a huge mosaic of the Saturn system, itself! More about that event, here.