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Sunday, July 29, 2012

An artist's concept of the Curiosity Mars rover firing its ChemCam laser at a rock.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

One week from today, the Curiosity rover will make its much-awaited landing at Gale Crater on Mars. Around this time on August 5, NASA will either celebrate another triumph in its Mars exploration program—or it will face a major setback that validates the Obama Administration's proposal to reduce funding for NASA's planetary science division (which manages the Mars program) in the 2013 U.S. federal budget. God forbid on that one...

Want to know just how intense Curiosity's entry, descent and landing at the Red Planet will be in seven days? The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission that Curiosity is a centerpiece of, uploaded this much-publicized video about the "Seven Minutes of Terror" JPL scientists and engineers will experience once the MSL spacecraft carrying Curiosity hits the Martian upper atmosphere around 10:11 PM next Sunday. We won't know what the rover's fate ends up being till twenty minutes after that.

Friday, July 27, 2012

London's Olympic Opening Ceremony concludes with fireworks on July 27, 2012.

Let The Games Begin... Now that the Games of the 30th Olympiad are about to get underway in London, two questions come to mind: Will Michael Phelps become the most decorated athlete in Olympic history? And will LeBron James and Kobe Bryant win a second consecutive gold medal at the expense of every country that plays hoops against Team USA over the next two weeks? Speaking of Team USA's basketball team, here's a Dark Knight-inspired meme that was posted on the Lakers Nation Facebook page yesterday. Ironically [or intentionally? Seeing as how The Dark Knight Rises' July 20 release date was known for like, three years (while London was chosen as the site of the 2012 Summer Games back in 2005)...and maybe director Christopher Nolan wanted to make a shout-out to the Olympics when the script was being written, hah], "Let the games begin" was uttered by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises...for those of you who haven't seen the film yet. I've watched it at the theater three times already. That is all.

Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are ready to wreak havoc in basketball during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Monday, July 23, 2012

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL does hip-hop.

Images of the Day... Here's a funny meme paying homage to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That was a hilarious movie... It probably has as many memorable lines in it as Star Wars does. Don't believe me? Check out the quotes below (despite the fact I already posted these back in 2005):

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

" 'Tis but a scratch."

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

"I don't want to talk to you, no more, you empty-headed animal, food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries."

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

"Ha ha! Hello! Smelly English K...niggets ... and Monsieur Arthur King, who has the brain of a duck, you know."

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

"I wave my private parts at your aunties, you brightly-coloured, mealy-templed, cranberry-smelling, electric donkey-bottom biters."

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

"No chance, English bed-wetting types. We burst our pimples at you, and call your door-opening request a silly thing. You tiny-brained wipers of other people's bottoms!"

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

"Yes, depart a lot at this time, and cut the approaching any more or we fire arrows into the tops of your heads and make castanets of your testicles already."

Script excerpts courtesy of Monty Python's Completely Useless Web Site.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Posing in front of the Tumbler from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES outside of the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises... Yesterday, I went to the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood to watch the much-anticipated film. Needless to say, the movie WAS AWESOME! Props to director Christopher Nolan for ending The Dark Knight trilogy on such an epic and heartfelt note. To make things better, I also got to see in person one of the camouflaged Tumblers from The Dark Knight Rises. It would've been cool if the original black Tumbler (from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and the Batpod were on display as well, but it's all good. Lookin' forward to watching the film again (this time in IMAX) tomorrow.

LINKS: Click here to read my movie review for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (July 23)

Click here to view additional photos I took of the Tumbler at AMC Citywalk

On a serious note, I want to express my deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones in yesterday's deadly shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. First Columbine, and now this— I don't know what it is about Colorado that makes it a breeding ground for such senseless tragedy...

The Tumbler from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on display outside of the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012.

The Tumbler from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on display outside of the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012.

The Tumbler from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on display outside of the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012.

The Tumbler from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on display outside of the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012.

The Tumbler from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on display outside of the AMC Citywalk theater in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Enterprise is displayed inside the Space Shuttle Pavilion at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, on July 19, 2012.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Photos of the Day... After being transported from the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to New York City last April, and arriving at her final home, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum last month, space shuttle Enterprise is now open to the public. Of course, her current location atop the USS Intrepid is only temporary; museum officials plan to display Enterprise inside a more permanent structure next to the decommissioned aircraft carrier sometime in the future.

In terms of other landmarks that will be worth visiting on another trip to the Big Apple, construction continues on the 1 World Trade Center (1 WTC). It should eventually reach its rooftop height of 1,368 feet next month...with its 408-foot tall antenna spire being installed not too long after (bringing the 1 WTC to a symbolic height of 1,776 feet, assuming this controversy is averted).

Construction continues on the 1 World Trade Center in New York City, as of July 11, 2012.
Silverstein Properties / Michael Calcagno

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Saturn's third-largest moon Dione can be seen through the haze of its largest moon, Titan, in this natural-color view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from the Cassini spacecraft, on May 21, 2011.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

Cassini Update... An awesome discovery like the one mentioned below is why NASA should get the budget it needs next year to develop and eventually launch another robotic mission to Saturn and its enigmatic moons Titan and Enceladus. Are you reading this, Obama's White House? You already appeased illegal immigrants with the Dream Act in this election year... How 'bout appeasing the space community by adequately funding NASA's one program (planetary science) that has been immensely successful in capturing the public's attention for the past 15 years or so?

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Cassini Finds Likely Subsurface Ocean on Saturn Moon (Press Release - June 28)

PASADENA, Calif. -- Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have revealed Saturn's moon Titan likely harbors a layer of liquid water under its ice shell.

Researchers saw a large amount of squeezing and stretching as the moon orbited Saturn. They deduced that if Titan were composed entirely of stiff rock, the gravitational attraction of Saturn would cause bulges, or solid "tides," on the moon only 3 feet (1 meter) in height. Spacecraft data show Saturn creates solid tides approximately 30 feet (10 meters) in height, which suggests Titan is not made entirely of solid rocky material. The finding appears in today's edition of the journal Science.

"Cassini's detection of large tides on Titan leads to the almost inescapable conclusion that there is a hidden ocean at depth," said Luciano Iess, the paper's lead author and a Cassini team member at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. "The search for water is an important goal in solar system exploration, and now we've spotted another place where it is abundant."

Titan takes only 16 days to orbit Saturn, and scientists were able to study the moon's shape at different parts of its orbit. Because Titan is not spherical, but slightly elongated like a football, its long axis grew when it was closer to Saturn. Eight days later, when Titan was farther from Saturn, it became less elongated and more nearly round. Cassini measured the gravitational effect of that squeeze and pull.

Scientists were not sure Cassini would be able to detect the bulges caused by Saturn's pull on Titan. By studying six close flybys of Titan from Feb. 27, 2006, to Feb. 18, 2011, researchers were able to determine the moon's internal structure by measuring variations in the gravitational pull of Titan using data returned to NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN).

"We were making ultrasensitive measurements, and thankfully Cassini and the DSN were able to maintain a very stable link," said Sami Asmar, a Cassini team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The tides on Titan pulled up by Saturn aren't huge compared to the pull the biggest planet, Jupiter, has on some of its moons. But, short of being able to drill on Titan's surface, the gravity measurements provide the best data we have of Titan's internal structure."

An ocean layer does not have to be huge or deep to create these tides. A liquid layer between the external, deformable shell and a solid mantle would enable Titan to bulge and compress as it orbits Saturn. Because Titan's surface is mostly made of water ice, which is abundant in moons of the outer solar system, scientists infer Titan's ocean is likely mostly liquid water.

On Earth, tides result from the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun pulling on our surface oceans. In the open oceans, those can be as high as two feet (60 centimeters). While water is easier to move, the gravitational pulling by the sun and moon also causes Earth's crust to bulge in solid tides of about 20 inches (50 centimeters).

The presence of a subsurface layer of liquid water at Titan is not itself an indicator for life. Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan.

"The presence of a liquid water layer in Titan is important because we want to understand how methane is stored in Titan's interior and how it may outgas to the surface," said Jonathan Lunine, a Cassini team member at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "This is important because everything that is unique about Titan derives from the presence of abundant methane, yet the methane in the atmosphere is unstable and will be destroyed on geologically short timescales."

A liquid water ocean, "salted" with ammonia, could produce buoyant ammonia-water liquids that bubble up through the crust and liberate methane from the ice. Such an ocean could serve also as a deep reservoir for storing methane.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. DSN, also managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. Cassini's radio science team is based at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Saturn's rings lie in the distance as the Cassini spacecraft looks toward Titan and its dark region dubbed Shangri-La, on August 9, 2011.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Image of the Day... Yet another meme I stumbled upon on Facebook. I agree with the dudes who were selected to be on this team... Don't know who the brawler is, though.

Chuck Norris, Rambo, MacGyver, Dr. House and Jackie Chan...with Justin Bieber as zombie bait. This is indeed the perfect Zombie Apocalypse Team...

Friday, July 13, 2012

The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 10:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on July 12, 2012.  It is 2.1 billion miles from Earth.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of
10:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on July 12, 2012. It is 2.1 billion miles from Earth.
Click
here to view the official webpage showing where New Horizons is in space.
(AU stands for Astronomical Units, in case you're wondering.)


New Horizons Update... The flight team for NASA's Pluto-bound mission should both be thrilled and annoyed at the Hubble Space Telescope's recent discovery, which was announced on Wednesday. The team should be thrilled in that the number of celestial bodies for New Horizons to observe at the Pluto system (beginning in January of 2015) is slowly increasing. The team should also be annoyed in that this new satellite will force the Pluto close-encounter sequence for July 14, 2015 (which the spacecraft rehearsed out in deep space last May) to be revised. Of course, the team should also be concerned about how crowded (and dangerous) the space around Pluto has become now that it has 5 known moons orbiting it. And there may possibly be a potential 6th satellite revolving around the former 9th planet from the Sun as well...if speculation on the Web turns about to be true. (I'm well aware of the fallacy of that comment.)

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Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto (Press Release - July 11)

A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.

The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system.

"The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls," said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.

The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The favored theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA's New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.

The team is using Hubble's powerful vision to scour the Pluto system to uncover potential hazards to the New Horizons spacecraft. Moving past the dwarf planet at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour, New Horizons could be destroyed in a collision with even a BB-shot-size piece of orbital debris.

"The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system," said Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

"The inventory of the Pluto system we're taking now with Hubble will help the New Horizons team design a safer trajectory for the spacecraft," added Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., the mission's principal investigator.

Pluto's largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 in observations made at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Hubble observations in 2006 uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and Hydra. In 2011 another moon, P4, was found in Hubble data.

Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, the latest moon was detected in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 26, 27, and 29, 2012 and July 7 and 9, 2012.

In the years following the New Horizons Pluto flyby, astronomers plan to use the infrared vision of Hubble's planned successor, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, for follow-up observations. The Webb telescope will be able to measure the surface chemistry of Pluto, its moons, and many other bodies that lie in the distant Kuiper Belt along with Pluto.

The Pluto team members are M. Showalter (SETI Institute), H.A. Weaver (Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University), and S.A. Stern, A.J. Steffl, and M.W. Buie (Southwest Research Institute).

Source: HubbleSite.org

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A Hubble Space Telescope image of Pluto and its 5 known moons.

NEW HORIZONS Blog Entries Archive:

September 26, 2005
December 19, 2005
January 7, 2006
January 17, 2006
January 19, 2006
April 12, 2006
June 15, 2006
February 27, 2007
October 22, 2007
June 8, 2008
October 23, 2008
March 18, 2011
January 20, 2012
July 13, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Steve Nash is now a Los Angeles Laker, as of July 11, 2012.
Ty Nowell / Lakers.com

Steve Nash is officially a Laker... I normally reserve these press release entries for NASA-related stuff, but whatever. As of next season, Steve Nash will make more than $25 million over 3 years playing with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and company on the Los Angeles Lakers. With the former Suns point guard now playing with Phoenix's archrival of many years, and Ray Allen signing with the Boston Celtics' current East Coast nemesis, the Miami Super Friends (a.k.a. the Heat), I guess it's safe to say that this is clearly the Summer of NBA Turncoats (and Missed Opportunities...if the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard decides to play anywhere but L.A.). Carry on.

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Lakers Acquire Steve Nash (Press Release)

EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired two-time MVP Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for first round draft picks in 2013 and 2015 as well as second round draft picks in 2013 and 2014, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Nash, who earned NBA Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back seasons with the Suns (2005 and 2006), is an eight-time NBA All-Star and six-time All-NBA Team selection (First Team 2005-07, Second Team 2008, Third Team 2002-03). The second best free throw shooter in NBA history (.9035) behind Mark Price (.9039) and eighth most accurate three-point shooter of all-time (.428), the 6'3" guard currently ranks fifth on the NBA’s all-time assists list (9,916).

Last season, Nash averaged 12.5 points on .532 shooting from the field while handing out 10.7 assists in 31.6 minutes. Leading all guards in double-doubles (28), Nash also ranked among league leaders in assists (2nd), field goal percentage (10th), 3-point field goal percentage (31st) and free-throw percentage (4th).

The recipient of the 2007 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, Nash is the only player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line in four different seasons after doing so in 2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 (only Nash and Larry Bird have done so at least twice).

Originally selected by the Phoenix Suns in the first round (15th overall) of the 1996 NBA Draft two picks after the Charlotte Hornets' selection of new teammate Kobe Bryant, Nash, a 16-year NBA veteran, has career averages of 14.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists in 31.4 minutes.

Source: Lakers.com

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With Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak standing nearby, Steve Nash presents the jersey that he's going to wear for the next 3 NBA seasons.
Photo courtesy of LA Lakers - Facebook.com

Monday, July 09, 2012

Christine Ha and Becky Reams learn how to cook sea urchin in tonight's episode of MASTERCHEF.
© FOX

MasterChef... While the season finale is still weeks away (although the episode was taped months ago), I'm rooting for Christine Ha and Becky Reams to finish as the last two finalists. Christine taking the top prize—her own cooking book plus a check for $250,000—would definitely be an inspiration to aspiring chefs everywhere...particularly those with some type of physical disability. (Ha is visually impaired.) Becky becoming this year's MasterChef would be awesome because she exudes such great confidence cooking in almost every challenge, mystery box or otherwise, that Chef Gordon Ramsay and company present to her. That, and Becky is pretty hot. Hey— You know it, I know it, and the MasterChef camera guys and video editors know it too.

If there's one reason why I don’t think Becky will become MasterChef, however, it's because she’s very similar to Season 1 winner Whitney Miller and Season 2 top four finalist Suzy Singh in that their strengths lie in cooking dessert and other pastries. (Whitney was known as the "pastry princess" in the first season, Suzy was called the "pastry girl" last year, and Becky was called the "dessert girl" in an episode that aired a few weeks ago.) That, and they're all cute brunettes. Damn it— There I go again. If Becky does end up as the winner of Season 3, I hope she doesn't get creeped out by this androgen-inspired journal entry. (Assuming she reads this, of course. No reason Becky wouldn't... Nothing stays hidden on the Internet for long, haha.) I wouldn't mind attending a cooking demo by her the same way I attended a demo by Whitney in Anaheim almost two years ago. Why yes, I will keep mentioning that in future MasterChef-related Blog entries. That is all.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The USS Iowa prior to her re-dedication ceremony at San Pedro's Berth 87 on July 4, 2012.
Photo courtesy of Chief Brian Cummings - Twitter.com

The Iowa is now opened for business... The re-dedication ceremony for the 45,000-ton battleship was held at Berth 87 in San Pedro last Wednesday, with the public finally being able to take tours of the USS Iowa as of today. Go to the Pacific Battleship Center's website to purchase tickets to visit the historic World War II dreadnought. The general admission price is $18. And no, I wasn't paid to promote San Pedro's newest museum. I'll visit the Iowa soon enough...

Navy veterans and VIP members gather aboard the USS Iowa during her re-dedication ceremony at San Pedro's Berth 87 on July 4, 2012.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Paternoster - Facebook.com

A long line forms as people wait to board the USS Iowa at San Pedro's Berth 87 on July 7, 2012.
Brittany Murray / The Daily Breeze

A crowd gathers on the USS Iowa's bow after it officially became a floating museum at San Pedro's Berth 87, on July 7, 2012.
Brittany Murray / The Daily Breeze

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Katy Perry and her blue-haired alter-ego in KATY PERRY: PART OF ME.

Katy Perry: Part of Me... I'd watch this flick, for free that is. Normally, I'd share a great disdain for self-indulgent films and documentaries that feature flavor-of-the-month music artists (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Britney Spear's Crossroads, Mariah Cary's Glitter, Glee: The 3D Concert Movie and 50 Cents' Get Rich Or Die Tryin'), but I'd give Katy Perry's new movie a shot. Of course, it's probably because I'm thinking with my you-know-what (the word starts with a 'p' and rhymes with 'Venus') and not because I have classy taste in movies. How can I not watch a film that centers on a girl whose 2008 hit song ("I Kissed a Girl") was inspired by her 'lesbian crush' on Megan Fox and Scarlett Johansson (in case you didn't already know this)? And "Teenage Dream" isn't so bad, either.

If there's one film about the life of a music artist that I enjoyed, it's 2002's 8 Mile, starring Eminem. Not only are his songs (both old and recent) a lot better than some of the new crap spewed by other rappers these days, but Eminem can act too. Heck— Music-wise, Slim Shady's 8 Mile anthem "Lose Yourself" won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2003, for cryin' out loud. You da man, Slim. But this journal entry isn't about you. It's about the sexy brunette / blonde / red head / purple or blue-haired chick from Santa Barbara who likes posing provocatively on pink cotton candy.

Katy Perry: Part of Me gets released in theaters today, for those of you planning to movie-hop after watching Ted, Oliver Stone's Savages or The Amazing Spider-Man this weekend. That is all.

(I'm well aware of the disparity between this Blog topic and the NASA-related entry I posted on Tuesday, thankyouverymuch.)

Thank you Katy Perry, for giving me another reason to love cotton candy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Artwork celebrating America's Independence Day and next month's landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Curiosity Update... Just thought I'd share an Independence Day-inspired press release about what NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft needs to perform in order to safely get the Curiosity rover down on the ground a little over a month from now...on August 5. I could hear the buffoonish laughs of Beavis and Butt-Head when I originally read this pyro-related article. "Eh-heh. Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!"

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Fireworks Over Mars: The Spirit of 76 Pyrotechnics (Press Release - July 2)

One month and a day after celebrating its independence with fireworks exhibitions throughout the country, America will carry its penchant for awe-inspiring aerial pyrotechnic displays to the skies of another world. Some pyrotechnics will be as small as the energy released by a box of matches. One packs the same oomph as a stick of TNT. Whether they be large or small, on the evening of August 5th (Pacific time), all 76 must work on cue as NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, carried by the Mars Science Laboratory, streaks through the Red Planet's atmosphere on its way to a landing at Gale Crater.

"We are definitely coming in with a bang – or a series of them," said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "You only get one shot at a Mars landing, and the pyrotechnic charges we are using are great for reliably providing instantaneous, irreversible actions like deploying a parachute or opening a fuel valve."

Explosive pyrotechnic devices predate the space age by about a thousand years. Around 750 A.D., people in China began stuffing an early form of gunpowder into bamboo shoots and throwing them into a fire. At some point, someone interested in taking this new discovery to the next level (probably also from that region), decided aerial explosions would be even cooler, and the "aerial salute" was born. Fireworks were also part of America's very first Independence Day in 1777.

Pyrotechnics, or pyromechanical devices, are a natural but highly-engineered extension of these early fireworks. Instead of a rocket's red glare and bombs bursting in air, the energy from these explosions is contained within a mechanism, where it is used to move, cut, pull or separate something. Controlled explosions are a valuable tool to those who explore beyond Earth's atmosphere because they are quick and reliable.

"When we need valves to open, or things to move or come apart, we want to be confident they will do so within milliseconds of the time we plan for them to do so," said Rich Webster, a pyromechanical engineer at JPL. "With pyros, no electrical motors need to move. No latches need to be unlatched. We blow things apart -- scientifically."

Seventeen minutes before landing, the first 10 of 76 pyros will fire within five milliseconds of each other, releasing the cruise stage that provided the entry capsule (and its cocooned descent vehicle and the Curiosity rover) with power, communications and thermal control support during its 254-day journey to Mars.

"We have essentially three miniature guillotines onboard that, when the pyros fire, cut cabling and metal tubing that run between the cruise stage and the entry capsule," said Luke Dubord, avionics engineer for Mars Science Laboratory at JPL. "Then a retraction pyro pulls them out of the way. Along with that, we've got six pyrotechnic separation nuts, which when fired, will actually accomplish the separation."

One hundred and twenty-five milliseconds later, two more pyros fire, releasing compressed springs that jettison two 165-pounds (75-kilogram) solid tungsten weights. These weights allow the entry capsule to perform history's first planetary lifting body entry (see http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/technology/insituexploration/edl/guidedentry/). A dozen minutes and one fiery, lifting-body atmospheric reentry later, another smaller set of tungsten weights is ejected by pyros to re-adjust the lander's center of mass for the final approach to the surface. A few seconds after that, the largest bang since the spacecraft separated from its Atlas rocket 254 days before is scheduled to occur.

"The Mars Science Lab parachute is the largest used on a planetary mission," said Dubord. "When folded up and in its canister, it's still as big as a trashcan. We have to get that folded-up chute out of its canister and unfolding in a hurry. The best way to do that is get it quickly away from spacecraft and out into the freestream using a mortar."

The best way to do that, the engineers at JPL decided, was to include a pyrotechnic charge equivalent to a stick of TNT.

"When something like this goes off, it makes a lot of noise" said Dubord. "Of course, at 8.7 miles [14 kilometers] up and a little over Mach 1, over Mars, I doubt anybody will be there to hear it."

While the ejection of the parachute is the biggest pyrotechnic display during the crucial entry, descent and landing, it is certainly not the last. The landing system needs to be released from the backshell that helped protect it during entry. The sky crane's descent engines need to be pressurized, and the rover itself needs to be released from the sky crane, where it is lowered on tethers toward the surface. All told, there are another 44 controlled explosions that need to happen at exactly the right time and at absolutely no other time for Curiosity to touch down safely at Gale Crater.

"Excluding the parachute mortar, the total 'explosive' material in all the pyrotechnics aboard the spacecraft is only about 50 to 60 grams," said Webster. "That is about the same amount of combustible material in the air bag in your car's steering wheel. When you do the math, the amount of explosive material in each pyrotechnic is only about what you would get out of a pack of matches.

"The thing is, a pack of matches won't help you land on Mars....pyrotechnics will," Webster added. The Mars Science Laboratory mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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A computer-generated image depicting the Curiosity Mars rover's position out in deep space, on July 2, 2012.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A socialite (Odette Annable) is peeved that Sam Witwicky hit her car in 2007's TRANSFORMERS.

Transformers update... Okay, this isn't really an update, assuming that you've already heard that Michael Bay is back to direct a fourth Transformers flick...and that it will feature a new cast but will continue the storyline established by the first three movies. Anyways, I just found out on the Web yesterday that the cute brunette who gets her face um, hugged by the Steering Wheel Bot in the first Transformers film is none other than Odette Yustman—err, Annable. You'll remember her from Cloverfield and maybe the horror flick The Unborn, and her stint in this year's final season of the hit FOX TV show House. If you've visited my Blog long enough, you'll also know that I devoted a journal entry to her a few years back, haha.

I'll resist the urge to point out that Mrs. Annable should've been in Transformers: Dark of the Moon [FYI, Michael Bay cast actor Glenn Morshower (who played a Secret Service agent on the other hit-but-defunct FOX TV show, 24) in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon, despite the fact Morshower already played a character who died at the beginning of the first movie] instead of the hot Victoria's Secret model who was out of Shia LaBeouf's league. Then again... Carly in the original Transformers cartoons is blonde, so unless Mrs. Annable dyed her hair that color, she obviously wouldn't have fit that role. That, and Megan Fox probably would've been peeved that another brunette was moving in on her dorky on-set squeeze. Hey, at least Bay found a way to get another sexy Hollywood girl in his movies. That's probably one of the main reasons why I'm glad that he's directing Transformers 4. (Okay, maybe not.) And that's why it just occurred to me that Annable can always be cast in this next film, which is scheduled to be released in theaters in 2014. Duh.

The socialite gets her comeuppance when Steering Wheel Bot attacks her in TRANSFORMERS.