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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Getting Psyched Up Over Psyche's Earlier Launch Date...

An artist's concept of NASA's Psyche spacecraft studying a metal asteroid with the same name.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Arizona State Univ. / Space Systems Loral / Peter Rubin

NASA Moves Up Launch of Psyche Mission to a Metal Asteroid (News Release)

Psyche, NASA's Discovery Mission to a unique metal asteroid, has been moved up one year with launch in the summer of 2022, and with a planned arrival at the main belt asteroid in 2026 -- four years earlier than the original timeline.

“We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost.”

The Discovery program announcement of opportunity had directed teams to propose missions for launch in either 2021 or 2023. The Lucy mission was selected for the first launch opportunity in 2021, and Psyche was to follow in 2023. Shortly after selection in January, NASA gave the direction to the Psyche team to research earlier opportunities.

"The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective," said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe. "We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date. The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner."

The revised trajectory is more efficient, as it eliminates the need for an Earth gravity assist, which ultimately shortens the cruise time. In addition, the new trajectory stays farther from the Sun, reducing the amount of heat protection needed for the spacecraft. The trajectory will still include a Mars gravity assist in 2023.

"The change in plans is a great boost for the team and the mission," said Psyche Project Manager Henry Stone at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Our mission design team did a fantastic job coming up with this ideal launch opportunity."

The Psyche spacecraft is being built by Space Systems Loral (SSL), Palo Alto, California. In order to support the new mission trajectory, SSL redesigned the solar array system from a four-panel array in a straight row on either side of the spacecraft to a more powerful five-panel x-shaped design, commonly used for missions requiring more capability. Much like a sports car, by combining a relatively small spacecraft body with a very high-power solar array design, the Psyche spacecraft will speed to its destination at a faster pace than is typical for a larger spacecraft.

"By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission," said SSL Psyche Program Manager Steve Scott.

The Psyche Mission

Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, is made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal. As such, it offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets.

The Psyche Mission was selected for flight earlier this year under NASA's Discovery Program, a series of lower-cost, highly focused robotic space missions that are exploring the solar system.

The scientific goals of the Psyche mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world. The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earth's core, and what its surface is like. The spacecraft's instrument payload will include magnetometers, multispectral imagers, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Image of the Day: A New Look at America's Next Mars Rover...

An artist's concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Artist’s Concept (News Release)

This artist's concept depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover on the surface of Mars.

The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself.

The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth.

Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July/August 2020, aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Photos of the Day #2: The Wilshire Grand Center Is Lit Up for the (2024) Olympics...

The rooftop sail of the Wilshire Grand Center is lit up in red, orange and yellow to support Los Angeles' bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games...on May 10, 2017.

As I was heading home after attending the book signing by Beth Behrs yesterday, I stopped by downtown Los Angeles to take photos of the Wilshire Grand Center...whose rooftop 'sail' was lit up in red, orange and yellow. Why was it lit up in red, orange and yellow, you ask? Because the LA24 Exploratory Committee wanted to impress the International Olympic Committee (IOC) while it was in SoCal this week to gouge if L.A. will be handed the Summer Games of 2024...as opposed to Paris, L.A.'s only rival in this bid. The IOC will choose the winner sometime this September. Here's hoping that the colorful scheme atop the tallest building west of the Mississippi River will bring the Games of the 33rd Olympiad to the City of Angels seven years from now. Us Angelenos can bitch about the major freeway congestion and overcrowded venues that this event will most definitely bring later.

The rooftop sail of the Wilshire Grand Center is lit up in red, orange and yellow to support Los Angeles' bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games...on May 10, 2017.

And in case you're wondering: No, the Wilshire Grand Center hasn't opened to the public yet. That is all.

The rooftop sail of the Wilshire Grand Center is lit up in red, orange and yellow to support Los Angeles' bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games...on May 10, 2017.

The rooftop sail of the Wilshire Grand Center is lit up in red, orange and yellow to support Los Angeles' bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games...on May 10, 2017.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Photos of the Day: Meeting One of the 2 Broke Girls Tonight...

At The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles to attend a discussion and signing by actress Beth Behrs...on May 10, 2017.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took at the book signing for Beth Behrs, who plays Caroline Channing on the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls, at The Grove in Los Angeles tonight. Behrs was very nice in person...going into detail about what motivated her to write The Total ME‑Tox, and how she employed the routines and recipes in her book when she wasn't on set at Warner Bros. Studio filming a 2 Broke Girls episode. Oh, and she's left-handed too—just like me! Very cool! Though we'll ignore the fact that she's a highly-paid celebrity who's now happily engaged to another dude. Anyways, I'm wondering if Kat Dennings (who plays Caroline's BFF Max Black on 2 Broke Girls) will ever write her own book as well...and of course, promote it at Barnes & Noble at The Grove like Behrs did a few hours ago. We'll see.

Beth Behrs poses with her new publication THE TOTAL ME-TOX at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on May 10, 2017.

I'll be heading back to The Grove next Tuesday to meet an actress on another CBS sitcom that I watch...and it happens to be my favorite show on TV right now! Stay tuned.

Beth Behrs discusses her new publication THE TOTAL ME-TOX at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on May 10, 2017.

Beth Behrs is left-handed...like me!

Posing with Beth Behrs at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on May 10, 2017.

My autographed copy of Beth Behrs' book THE TOTAL ME-TOX.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Welcome Home, OTV-4!

Technicians inspect the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle after it landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida following a 718-day mission in space...on May 7, 2017.
U.S. Air Force

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-4 Lands at Kennedy Space Center (Press Release)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander. “Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”

The OTV-4 conducted on-orbit experiments for 718 days during its mission, extending the total number of days spent on-orbit for the OTV program to 2,085 days.

"The landing of OTV-4 marks another success for the X-37B program and the nation," said Lt. Col. Ron Fehlen, X-37B program manager. "This mission once again set an on-orbit endurance record and marks the vehicle's first landing in the state of Florida. We are incredibly pleased with the performance of the space vehicle and are excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities. We are extremely proud of the dedication and hard work by the entire team."

The X-37B is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

"The hard work of the X-37B OTV team and the 45th Space Wing successfully demonstrated the flexibility and resolve necessary to continue the nation's advancement in space," said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. "The ability to land, refurbish, and launch from the same location further enhances the OTV's ability to rapidly integrate and qualify new space technologies."

The Air Force is preparing to launch the fifth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, later in 2017.

Source: PressReleasePoint

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Technicians inspect the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle after it landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida following a 718-day mission in space...on May 7, 2017.
U.S. Air Force

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Dear Republicans: FUCK YOU...

That's all I have to say. Just...fuck you. I hope House Speaker Ryan and his Republican fucks have karma bite—no, sodomize—them in the asses for passing this fuckin' piece of shit legislation. Medical coverage will plummet, and cancer treatment costs are going to spike because the GOP is a cancer to America. And in case you're wondering why I wish the Republican Party was exterminated at this particular moment, I have a personal reason why I hope Paul Ryan and his conservative band of cocksuckers pay the price for approving a health plan that, since the Congressional Budget Office didn't have a chance to review this new version of the American Health Care Act, will still pose a threat to 24 million (maybe more) Americans.

Once again, FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS.

House-speaking cocksucker Paul Ryan was integral to getting that abomination known as the American Health Care Act passed.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Grand Finale Update: Cassini's First Dive Was Relatively Dust-Free...

An artist's concept of NASA's Cassini spacecraft approaching the inner gap between Saturn and its rings...as Cassini begins the 'Grand Finale' of its 13-year-long mission at the ringed planet.
NASA / JPL -Caltech

Cassini Finds 'The Big Empty' Close to Saturn (Press Release)

As NASA's Cassini spacecraft prepares to shoot the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings for the second time in its Grand Finale, Cassini engineers are delighted, while ring scientists are puzzled, that the region appears to be relatively dust-free. This assessment is based on data Cassini collected during its first dive through the region on April 26.

With this information in hand, the Cassini team will now move forward with its preferred plan of science observations.

"The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently," said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected."

A dustier environment in the gap might have meant the spacecraft's saucer-shaped main antenna would be needed as a shield during most future dives through the ring plane. This would have forced changes to how and when Cassini's instruments would be able to make observations. Fortunately, it appears that the "plan B" option is no longer needed. (There are 21 dives remaining. Four of them pass through the innermost fringes of Saturn's rings, necessitating that the antenna be used as a shield on those orbits.)

Based on images from Cassini, models of the ring particle environment in the approximately 1,200-mile-wide (2,000-kilometer-wide) region between Saturn and its rings suggested the area would not have large particles that would pose a danger to the spacecraft.

But because no spacecraft had ever passed through the region before, Cassini engineers oriented the spacecraft so that its 13-foot-wide (4-meter-wide) antenna pointed in the direction of oncoming ring particles, shielding its delicate instruments as a protective measure during its April 26 dive.

Cassini's Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument was one of two science instruments with sensors that poke out from the protective shield of the antenna (the other being Cassini's magnetometer). RPWS detected the hits of hundreds of ring particles per second when it crossed the ring plane just outside of Saturn's main rings, but only detected a few pings on April 26.

When RPWS data are converted to an audio format, dust particles hitting the instrument's antennas sound like pops and cracks, covering up the usual whistles and squeaks of waves in the charged particle environment that the instrument is designed to detect. The RPWS team expected to hear a lot of pops and cracks on crossing the ring plane inside the gap, but instead, the whistles and squeaks came through surprisingly clearly on April 26.

"It was a bit disorienting -- we weren't hearing what we expected to hear," said William Kurth, RPWS team lead at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. "I've listened to our data from the first dive several times and I can probably count on my hands the number of dust particle impacts I hear."

The team's analysis suggests Cassini only encountered a few particles as it crossed the gap -- none larger than those in smoke (about 1 micron across).

Cassini will next cross through the ring plane Tuesday, May 2, at 12:38 p.m. PDT (3:38 p.m. EDT) in a region very close to where it passed on the previous dive. During this orbit, in advance of the crossing, Cassini's cameras have been looking closely at the rings; in addition, the spacecraft has rotated (or "rolled") faster than engineers have ever allowed it to before, in order to calibrate the magnetometer. As with the first finale dive, Cassini will be out of contact during closest approach to Saturn, and is scheduled to transmit data from this dive on May 3.

More information about Cassini's Grand Finale, including images and video, is available at:

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Photos of the Day: Images from my iStock Portfolio...

A photo I took at Nassau in the Bahamas in August of 2008.

Just thought I'd end this month by sharing some pictures that I posted on iStock.com recently. As of this Blog entry, I have around 400 photos in my online portfolio...which was created on April 18. For those of you who don't know what iStock is, it is one of several websites devoted to microstock photography—generic images that people can purchase online for (legal) personal or business use on the Internet and elsewhere. Folks, like me, who contribute pictures to these websites receive a certain percentage of the profit that is gained when someone buys photos from our portfolios.

A photo I took at Catalina Island in October of 2013.

I signed up with other sites like Shutterstock, but I am currently focusing on boosting the amount of pics I have on iStock (which is now a part of Getty Images) since it has a higher acceptance rate (at least for me). Based on its criteria to approving submitted pics, it seems like I would need to invest in a DSLR camera [the photos I'm currently submitting online were either taken with my Fujifilm and Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot cameras, and (other stock photographers will be disgusted if they read this) my Android smartphone] before I post images on Shutterstock...which has rejected my first two photo uploads as of this entry. I'm in the process of applying to other microstock sites like 123RF and Dreamstime, but I'm also focusing on getting 500 (great) pictures uploaded to my iStock portfolio as quickly as I can. I read online that a contributor needs at least 500 to 1,000 photos on their iStock page (and every other microstock site) to begin earning a decent income from this endeavor. Hopefully that will be the case soon.

A photo I took of a squirrel running down an escalator at Cal State Long Beach, my college alma mater, in January of 2015.

I don't have the funds right now to spare on a Nikkon D3300 (which is one of the cheaper DSLR cameras—at a cost of a little over $400 on some online sites)...so I'll have to make do with what I have now. Anyways, click on the link below to check out (and purchase hi-res photos from) my iStock portfolio! Carry on.

LINK: Richard Par's iStock Photo Portfolio

A photo I took during my flight to Tennessee to do my HALO jump...in April of 2013.

A photo I took of a kitten that I found hiding underneath the hood of my dad's pickup truck in May of 2012 (it was removed safely).

A photo I took of the Wilshire Grand Center and other skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles...in March of 2017.

A photo I took of a duck milling about at a park in Fullerton, California...in December of 2014.

A photo I took at Oxnard Beach Park in Ventura County, California...in May of 2017.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Grand Finale Update: Cassini Makes Its Closest-Ever Approach to Saturn...

An artist's concept of NASA's Cassini spacecraft approaching the inner gap between Saturn and its rings...as Cassini begins the 'Grand Finale' of its 13-year-long mission at the ringed planet.
NASA / JPL -Caltech

NASA Spacecraft Dives Between Saturn and Its Rings (News Release)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth after its successful first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. The spacecraft is in the process of beaming back science and engineering data collected during its passage, via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert. The DSN acquired Cassini's signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26, 2017 (2:56 a.m. EDT on April 27) and data began flowing at 12:01 a.m. PDT (3:01 a.m. EDT) on April 27.

"In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) of Saturn's cloud tops (where the air pressure is 1 bar -- comparable to the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level) and within about 200 miles (300 kilometers) of the innermost visible edge of the rings.

While mission managers were confident Cassini would pass through the gap successfully, they took extra precautions with this first dive, as the region had never been explored.

"No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn's other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like," said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape."

The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn's atmosphere is about 1,500 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide. The best models for the region suggested that if there were ring particles in the area where Cassini crossed the ring plane, they would be tiny, on the scale of smoke particles. The spacecraft zipped through this region at speeds of about 77,000 mph (124,000 kph) relative to the planet, so small particles hitting a sensitive area could potentially have disabled the spacecraft.

As a protective measure, the spacecraft used its large, dish-shaped high-gain antenna (13 feet or 4 meters across) as a shield, orienting it in the direction of oncoming ring particles. This meant that the spacecraft was out of contact with Earth during the ring-plane crossing, which took place at 2 a.m. PDT (5 a.m. EDT) on April 26. Cassini was programmed to collect science data while close to the planet and turn toward Earth to make contact about 20 hours after the crossing.

Cassini's next dive through the gap is scheduled for May 2.

Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004. Following its last close flyby of the large moon Titan on April 21 PDT (April 22 EDT), Cassini began what mission planners are calling its "Grand Finale." During this final chapter, Cassini loops Saturn approximately once per week, making a total of 22 dives between the rings and the planet. Data from this first dive will help engineers understand if and how they will need to protect the spacecraft on its future ring-plane crossings. The spacecraft is on a trajectory that will eventually plunge into Saturn's atmosphere -- and end Cassini's mission -- on Sept. 15, 2017.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An unprocessed image of Saturn's atmosphere that was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 26, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Cassini...

An image of Saturn's moon Titan that was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 21, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

Cassini Completes Final -- and Fateful -- Titan Flyby (Press Release)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has had its last close brush with Saturn's hazy moon Titan and is now beginning its final set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet.

The spacecraft made its 127th and final close approach to Titan on April 21 at 11:08 p.m. PDT (2:08 a.m. EDT on April 22), passing at an altitude of about 608 miles (979 kilometers) above the moon's surface.

Cassini transmitted its images and other data to Earth following the encounter. Scientists with Cassini's radar investigation will be looking this week at their final set of new radar images of the hydrocarbon seas and lakes that spread across Titan's north polar region. The planned imaging coverage includes a region previously seen by Cassini's imaging cameras, but not by radar. The radar team also plans to use the new data to probe the depths and compositions of some of Titan's small lakes for the first (and last) time, and look for further evidence of the evolving feature researchers have dubbed the "magic island."

"Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come," said Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Gateway to the Grand Finale

The flyby also put Cassini on course for its dramatic last act, known as the Grand Finale. As the spacecraft passed over Titan, the moon's gravity bent its path, reshaping the robotic probe's orbit slightly so that instead of passing just outside Saturn's main rings, Cassini will begin a series of 22 dives between the rings and the planet on April 26. The mission will conclude with a science-rich plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15.

"With this flyby we're committed to the Grand Finale," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "The spacecraft is now on a ballistic path, so that even if we were to forgo future small course adjustments using thrusters, we would still enter Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15 no matter what."

Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph (precisely 860.5 meters per second) with respect to Saturn from the close encounter with Titan.

After buzzing Titan, Cassini coasted onward, reaching the farthest point in its orbital path around Saturn at 8:46 p.m. PDT (11:46 p.m. EDT) on April 22. This point, called apoapse, is where each new Cassini lap around Saturn begins. Technically, Cassini began its Grand Finale orbits at this time, but since the excitement of the finale begins in earnest on April 26 with the first ultra-close dive past Saturn, the mission is celebrating the latter milestone as the formal beginning of the finale.

The spacecraft's first finale dive will take place on April 26 at 2 a.m. PDT (5 a.m. EDT). The spacecraft will be out of contact during the dive and for about a day afterward while it makes science observations from close to the planet. The earliest time Cassini is scheduled to make radio contact with Earth is 12:05 a.m. PDT (3:05 a.m. EDT) on April 27. Images and other data are expected to begin flowing in shortly after communication is established.

A new narrated, 360-degree animated video gives viewers a sense of what it might be like to fly alongside Cassini as it makes one of its Grand Finale dives.

Source: NASA.Gov

An animated GIF of Cassini's 'Google doodle.'