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Friday, August 31, 2012

A composite image of the Dawn spacecraft departing from asteroid Vesta.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Bound for Ceres... Have a safe journey, Dawn. NASA's ion-powered spacecraft will reach the dwarf planet in 2015, the same year that New Horizons arrives at the dwarf planet Pluto and its five (as of right now) moons. 2015 will definitely be a good year to be a space nerd.

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NASA's Dawn Prepares for Trek Toward Dwarf Planet (Press Release - August 30)

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on track to become the first probe to orbit and study two distant solar system destinations, to help scientists answer questions about the formation of our solar system. The spacecraft is scheduled to leave the giant asteroid Vesta on Sept. 4 PDT (Sept. 5 EDT) to start its two-and-a-half-year journey to the dwarf planet Ceres.

Dawn began its 3-billion-mile (5-billion kilometer) odyssey to explore the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt in 2007. Dawn arrived at Vesta in July 2011 and will reach Ceres in early 2015. Dawn's targets represent two icons of the asteroid belt that have been witness to much of our solar system's history.

To make its escape from Vesta, the spacecraft will spiral away as gently as it arrived, using a special, hyper-efficient system called ion propulsion. Dawn's ion propulsion system uses electricity to ionize xenon to generate thrust. The 12-inch-wide ion thrusters provide less power than conventional engines, but can maintain thrust for months at a time.

"Thrust is engaged, and we are now climbing away from Vesta atop a blue-green pillar of xenon ions," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We are feeling somewhat wistful about concluding a fantastically productive and exciting exploration of Vesta, but now have our sights set on dwarf planet Ceres.

Dawn's orbit provided close-up views of Vesta, revealing unprecedented detail about the giant asteroid. The mission revealed that Vesta completely melted in the past, forming a layered body with an iron core. The spacecraft also revealed the scarring from titanic collisions Vesta suffered in its southern hemisphere, surviving not one but two colossal impacts in the last two billion years. Without Dawn, scientists would not have known about the dramatic troughs sculpted around Vesta, which are ripples from the two south polar impacts.

"We went to Vesta to fill in the blanks of our knowledge about the early history of our solar system," said Christopher Russell, Dawn's principal investigator, based at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). "Dawn has filled in those pages, and more, revealing to us how special Vesta is as a survivor from the earliest days of the solar system. We can now say with certainty that Vesta resembles a small planet more closely than a typical asteroid."

The mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

UCLA is responsible for the overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are part of the mission's team. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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A Hubble Space Telescope image of dwarf planet Ceres, which the Dawn spacecraft will visit in 2015.
NASA - STScI / ESA

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac... As of this journal entry, Isaac has been downgraded to tropical storm status a few hours ago. But with winds still gusting up to 70 mph, the tempest is still pounding Louisiana and other Gulf Coast States today...which marks the 7-year anniversary since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and wrought significant havoc in the southeast United States. As this photo of Isaac shows, Mother Nature is obviously not to be trifled with. Fortunately, based on online news reports (I'm well aware of the fallacy of that wording) it seems like folks living along the Gulf of Mexico will not experience the kind of devastation that was seen in 2005...thanks to lessons learned by the federal government and cities such as New Orleans from that year. Definitely a good thing.

Hurricane Isaac as seen from Tioga, Louisiana...on August 29, 2012.
Courtesy of Kristy Brossett - Facebook

Monday, August 27, 2012

An artist's concept of the Gliese 581 star system.

Three Light-Years! That’s how far the Hello From Earth message has traveled since being transmitted from a giant NASA antenna in Australia to the exoplanet Gliese 581d exactly three years ago today. As of 7 PM California time tonight (12 PM Sydney time on Tuesday, August 28), the radio signal containing 25,878 goodwill text messages—including one by me—will have ventured across 18 trillion miles (29 trillion kilometers) of deep space...which, as stated at the very start of this Blog entry, equals a distance of three light-years. The signal, despite traveling 186,000 miles per second (or 671 million miles per hour, or um, 1 billion kilometers per hour), will still take 17 years to reach the Gliese 581 star system. Um, I can wait.

On another note, the Sent Forever signal that was transmitted from the United Kingdom at 8:07 PM (California time) on October 5, 2009 is 17 trillion miles (27.4 trillion kilometers) from Earth as of this typing. I stated in past entries that I was gonna submit another message through Sent Forever, but unfortunately, it still looks like this won’t happen. The Sent Forever folks stated on their website back in 2010 that they were unable to renew their transmission license... I shouldn't have waited. But it's all good. Gliese 581d will do.

A satellite dish at the Goonhilly Earth Station in the United Kingdom.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Photo of the Day... The 1 World Trade Center is still weeks (if not months) away from officially being topped off at 104 stories, but as you can see here, it totally dwarfs the rest of the New York skyline. And let's not forget that the 408-foot (124 meters) tall antenna spire still needs to be installed atop the skyscraper sometime next year...

The 1 World Trade Center towers above the New York skyline, on August 23, 2012.
Courtesy of Facebook

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An artist's concept of the Titan Mare Explorer (TIME) floating in a lake on Saturn's moon Titan.
Artwork by Simon - Pale Blue Speck

Images of the Day... Just thought I'd post these two cool pics of the Titan Mare Explorer that I found online. As you can see, I'm still pretty bummed that this mission wasn't selected by NASA to head into space in 2016. "Dare Mighty Things..." That's the motto for the Mars Science Laboratory mission before its Curiosity rover successfully touched down on the Red Planet 16 days ago. The motto should be modified to "Dare Mighty Things...Unless You Don't Have The Money To Pay For Them" when it comes to Monday's safe pick that will have the InSight Mars lander launching four years from now. Oh well.

We'll probably have to wait till 2035 (when Titan will once again be in the perfect celestial position to receive a spacecraft sent from Earth) to get another opportunity to launch a Titan-bound robotic probe that could possibly take a cool night shot of Saturn as illustrated below. What could've been...

An artist's concept of TIME floating in a lake on Titan...with Saturn glowing in the night sky.
ESA / NASA

Monday, August 20, 2012

An artist's concept of the InSight lander on the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL

InSight: JPL folks have another reason to eat peanuts in 2016... About two hours ago, NASA officially announced that it was planning to land another spacecraft on Mars four years from now. Known as InSight, the lander would be based on the successful Phoenix mission that touched down on the Red Planet in 2008. However, unlike Phoenix (as well as the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers), InSight will not look for evidence of water or search for the ingredients of life that have been the main objectives of NASA's Mars exploration program for the past decade or so. Instead, it will study the interior of the Martian crust and try to detect seismic activity, a.k.a. "Marsquakes", underneath the surface. This is all fine and dandy, but I was hoping for the Titan Mare Explorer (TIME) mission to Saturn's moon Titan to be greenlit today. I'm glad that the Entry, Descent and Landing team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will have another reason to eat peanuts (as a good luck gesture) in Mission Control come landing day in September of 2016, but I was totally excited at the prospect of seeing images from the TIME spacecraft as it floated around in an extraterrestrial lake hundreds of millions of miles away. Oh well.

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New NASA Mission to Take First Look Deep Inside Mars (Press Release)

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected a new mission, set to launch in 2016, that will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to see why the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth as one of our solar system's rocky planets.

The new mission, named InSight, will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth's and why Mars' crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like Earth's. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve.

"The exploration of Mars is a top priority for NASA, and the selection of InSight ensures we will continue to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for a future human mission there," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "The recent successful landing of the Curiosity rover has galvanized public interest in space exploration and today's announcement makes clear there are more exciting Mars missions to come."

InSight will be led by W. Bruce Banerdt at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. InSight's science team includes U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies. The French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, and the German Aerospace Center, or DLR, are contributing instruments to InSight, which is scheduled to land on Mars in September 2016 to begin its two-year scientific mission.

InSight is the 12th selection in NASA's series of Discovery-class missions. Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. NASA requested Discovery mission proposals in June 2010 and received 28. InSight was one of three proposed missions selected in May 2011 for funding to conduct preliminary design studies and analyses. The other two proposals were for missions to a comet and Saturn's moon Titan.

InSight builds on spacecraft technology used in NASA's highly successful Phoenix lander mission, which was launched to the Red Planet in 2007 and determined water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions. By incorporating proven systems in the mission, the InSight team demonstrated that the mission concept was low-risk and could stay within the cost-constrained budget of Discovery missions. The cost of the mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.

"Our Discovery Program enables scientists to use innovative approaches to answering fundamental questions about our solar system in the lowest cost mission category," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "InSight will get to the 'core' of the nature of the interior and structure of Mars, well below the observations we've been able to make from orbit or the surface."

InSight will carry four instruments. JPL will provide an onboard geodetic instrument to determine the planet's rotation axis and a robotic arm and two cameras used to deploy and monitor instruments on the Martian surface. CNES is leading an international consortium that is building an instrument to measure seismic waves traveling through the planet's interior. The German Aerospace Center is building a subsurface heat probe to measure the flow of heat from the interior.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Discovery Program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of the Titan Mare Explorer floating in a lake on Saturn's moon Titan.
NASA

Saturday, August 18, 2012



Curiosity Update... I recently created the video above which features footage I took with my digital still camera at Planetfest 2012 in the Pasadena Convention Center on August 5. Check it out (I need to buy a real video camera before NASA lands another spacecraft on Mars, hah)— It's pretty much a sequel to the video I made of Phoenix's arrival at the Red Planet back in 2008. Now onto official news pertaining to the Curiosity rover's mission...

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NASA Curiosity Team Pinpoints Site for First Drive (Press Release - August 17)

PASADENA, Calif. -- The scientists and engineers of NASA's Curiosity rover mission have selected the first driving destination for their one-ton, six-wheeled mobile Mars laboratory. The target area, named Glenelg, is a natural intersection of three kinds of terrain. The choice was described by Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology during a media teleconference on Aug. 17.

"With such a great landing spot in Gale Crater, we literally had every degree of the compass to choose from for our first drive," Grotzinger said. "We had a bunch of strong contenders. It is the kind of dilemma planetary scientists dream of, but you can only go one place for the first drilling for a rock sample on Mars. That first drilling will be a huge moment in the history of Mars exploration."

The trek to Glenelg will send the rover 1,300 feet (400 meters) east-southeast of its landing site. One of the three types of terrain intersecting at Glenelg is layered bedrock, which is attractive as the first drilling target.

"We're about ready to load our new destination into our GPS and head out onto the open road," Grotzinger said. "Our challenge is there is no GPS on Mars, so we have a roomful of rover-driver engineers providing our turn-by-turn navigation for us."

Prior to the rover's trip to Glenelg, the team in charge of Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, is planning to give their mast-mounted, rock-zapping laser and telescope combination a thorough checkout. On Saturday night, Aug. 18, ChemCam is expected to "zap" its first rock in the name of planetary science. It will be the first time such a powerful laser has been used on the surface of another world.

"Rock N165 looks like your typical Mars rock, about three inches wide. It's about 10 feet away," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "We are going to hit it with 14 millijoules of energy 30 times in 10 seconds. It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, it should be pretty cool too."

Mission engineers are devoting more time to planning the first roll of Curiosity. In the coming days, the rover will exercise each of its four steerable (front and back) wheels, turning each of them side-to-side before ending up with each wheel pointing straight ahead. On a later day, the rover will drive forward about one rover-length (10 feet, or 3 meters), turn 90 degrees, and then kick into reverse for about 7 feet (2 meters).

"There will be a lot of important firsts that will be taking place for Curiosity over the next few weeks, but the first motion of its wheels, the first time our roving laboratory on Mars does some actual roving, that will be something special," said Michael Watkins, mission manager for Curiosity from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars at 10:31:45 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5 (1:31:45 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6), which included the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of Caltech. ChemCam was provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory. France provided ChemCam's laser and telescope.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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A Navigation camera image of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars...taken on August 7, 2012 (Pacific Daylight Time).
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Don't let my facial expression fool you... I was in a good mood this day. :)

Levitated Mass... Last Friday, I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to check out Michael Heizer's 340-ton sculpture called Levitated Mass. Consisting of a 21.5-foot tall boulder that was transported from a rock quarry in Riverside County to the L.A. museum earlier this year (on a protracted 107-mile route—despite the fact the quarry is only around 60 miles from LACMA), the sculpture is pretty impressive. Of course, it's not impressive enough for me to take 200 pictures of it like I did at the USS Iowa in San Pedro one week ago, but Levitated Mass was still interesting to see up-close in person. However, I'm probably being generous in this journal entry because I didn't have to pay admission to view Levitated Mass in person. It costs $15 for a general admission ticket to visit LACMA (which excludes the $10 for parking across the street, on a lot that's on the corner of Spaulding Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard); Levitated Mass is displayed in a large granite area behind the museum that isn't fenced off to non-paying attendees. So if you have the chance and aren't jaded enough to smirk at the idea of commuting long distances (if you don't live in or near west L.A.) to stare at a giant rock, then visit Levitated Mass whenever you can. Oh, and I'm sure there are other things to see at LACMA while you're there. As I said earlier, I never dished out that $15. Carry on.

Checking out 'Levitated Mass' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on August 10, 2012.

Approaching 'Levitated Mass' to take a close-up picture of it, on August 10, 2012.

Photographing 'Levitated Mass' from underneath, on August 10, 2012.

Posing for a photo beneath (err— sort of) 'Levitated Mass' on August 10, 2012.

LACMA's way of turning light pollution into an art form at night... :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

London's Olympic Closing Ceremony concludes with fireworks on August 12, 2012.

The London Olympics come to an end... Now that the Games of the 30th Olympiad are over, just thought I'd share a few memorable gold (and silver) moments that Team USA enjoyed over the last two weeks. For those of you peeved that I didn't include photos of other U.S. gold medalists here, the United States won a total of 104 medals (46 of them gold) in the 2012 Summer Games. I could post pics of at least half of the 46 first-place winners, but this would make for a very long journal entry. There are always the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and of course, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I'll get over the fact that I originally thought Sochi was a town in Japan... That is all.

The U.S. men's basketball team celebrates with gold medals after defeating Spain, 107-100, on August 12, 2012.
Harry How / Getty Images

McKayla Maroney makes her now-famous scowl after winning a silver medal for the women's vault final on August 5, 2012.
REUTERS / Brian Snyder

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh conclude their Olympic beach volleyball careers with gold medals on August 8, 2012.
REUTERS

Gabrielle Douglas poses with her gold medal after winning the women's Individual All-Around in gymnastics on August 2, 2012.
London2012.com

On August 4, 2012, Michael Phelps poses with a special trophy recognizing him as the greatest Olympian of all time...with 22 career medals.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwight Howard is now a Los Angeles Laker, as of August 10, 2012.
Ty Nowell / Lakers.com

Let's Party Like It's 1996! For those of you who need a refresher course, 1996 was the year that then-Lakers General Manager Jerry West brought the original NBA Superman (Shaquille O'Neal) and Kobe Bryant to Los Angeles. With the addition of Steve Nash and now Dwight Howard to the Lake Show, next season is gearing up to be a totally awesome one for Lakers fans. Of course, Shaq and Kobe didn't win their first championship together till four years later...and this summer can be a repeat of 2003—when the Lakers totally seemed indestructible with the additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the team roster, only to see this All-Star squad get squashed by the likes of Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince in June of 2004. Whatever. Welcome to the City of Angels, D12!

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Lakers Acquire Dwight Howard (Press Release)

EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in a four-team trade, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. In addition to Howard, the Lakers will receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic while sending Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and a future protected first round and 2015 protected second round draft pick to Orlando. Andrew Bynum will be sent to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Howard, the first player in NBA history to earn three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Awards (2009, 2010, 2011), has been named First Team All-NBA in each of the past five seasons (Third Team in 2006-07), First Team All-Defense in each of the past four seasons (Second Team in 2007-08) and has made six consecutive All-Star appearances for the Eastern Conference (five straight starts).

Selected by the Magic with the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, Howard has appeared in 621 career regular season games, averaging 18.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.01 steals and 2.16 blocks in 36.2 minutes. Owning the fifth best career field goal percentage (.577) in NBA history, Howard has finished ranked among the league's top 10 in field goal accuracy in each of his eight NBA seasons while having led the NBA in total rebounds six times and in blocks twice.

A member of the USA Men's Senior National Team that captured the Gold Medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, this past season, Howard appeared in 54 games, averaging 20.6 points, 2.15 blocks and career-bests in rebounds (14.5), assists (1.9), steals (1.5) and minutes (38.3).

"We'd like to thank Andrew for all he's done for the team and the organization," said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. "Andrew has been with us since we drafted him at seventeen years old and over the last seven years we have watched him develop into an All-Star player who has helped the team win two NBA Championships. He's a special talent with a bright future. We appreciate all of his contributions and wish him well for the remainder of his career."

"We also appreciate the contributions that Josh and Christian made," said Kupchak. "Although they were only with us for a short period of time, they worked hard both on and off the court and were well respected by their teammates. We wish them the best of luck in the future."

Duhon has appeared in 560 career regular season games with Chicago, New York and Orlando, averaging 6.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 26.3 minutes. Drafted by Chicago with the 38th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft after helping Duke to three ACC Championships, two NCAA Final Four appearances and an NCAA National Championship in 2000-01, Duhon finished his four-season collegiate career as the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 800 assists, 475 rebounds, 300 steals and 125 three-pointers. Last season with the Magic, Duhon averaged 3.8 points, 2.4 assists and 19.5 minutes in 63 games.

Drafted by the Phoenix Suns with 14th overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, Clark has averaged 3.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 10.2 minutes in 138 games over three seasons with the Suns and Magic. The 6-10 forward out of Louisville averaged 2.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 12.4 minutes in 45 games with Orlando last season.

Bynum, originally selected by the Lakers with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.93 blocks this past season while earning Second Team All-NBA honors. A seven-year veteran and two-time NBA Champion with the Lakers who was named to his first All-Star Team in February, Bynum averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.60 blocks over 392 career games in Los Angeles.

Source: Lakers.com

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Dwight Howard presents the jersey that he's going to wear this upcoming NBA season.
Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Posing in front of the USS Iowa in San Pedro, California, on August 7, 2012.

The USS Iowa: Up-Close and Personal... Yesterday, I finally drove down to San Pedro to visit the USS Iowa at Berth 87. All I can say is: This thing is BIG! (That's what she said. Sorry, couldn't resist.) The decommissioned battleship, which is 887 feet in length, is obviously huge enough for me to take around 200 pictures with my camera...and this is despite the fact much of the vessel has not been opened to the public yet. Sometime in the future, visitors to the Iowa will get to take a tour below the deck—and see such awesome rooms as the loading area where giant shells were fed up to the three turrets that house the Iowa's famous 16-inch guns. Tourists will also get to eventually view the crew quarters, but I prefer checking out how 2,000-pound projectiles were loaded into the 16-inch cannons before wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting enemy beachhead 24 miles away. This is a warship I'm at, not a cruise liner a la the Queen Mary. Let's see some bad-ass weaponry, darn it.

LINK: Click here to view additional photos I took of the USS Iowa in San Pedro

The only gripe I had when I was at the USS Iowa is the fact that there is not enough dock space towards the front of the ship to photograph the vessel in her entirety (as shown with the pic at the top of this entry). The bow of the Iowa is pretty long, and unfortunately, it's right next to a fence that separates Berth 87 from an adjoining dock. Oh well. Click on the red link above to check out additional images that I took of the "Battleship of Presidents". Will I ever go back to pay another visit to this dreadnought, you ask? The general admission price is only $18 [compared to $87 for a ticket to Disneyland Park in Anaheim (and this excludes a pass to get into Disney California Adventure next door)], so what do you think? Carry on.

The USS Iowa as seen from the parking lot at Berth 87 in San Pedro, California...on August 7, 2012.

Posing in front of a 16-inch gun turret aboard the USS Iowa in San Pedro, California...on August 7, 2012.

Three of the nine 16-inch guns aboard the USS Iowa...looking lethal as heck.

The USS Iowa's bow...as seen from atop her bridge on August 7, 2012.

One of the USS Iowa's four Phalanx anti-aircraft Gatling guns...with the Port of Los Angeles in the background.

Monday, August 06, 2012

An image of Curiosity's shadow with Mount Sharp in the background...taken by one of the rover's hazard-avoidance cameras.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Safely on Mars...again! At 10:32 PM, Pacific Daylight Time yesterday, Mission Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California received official confirmation that the Curiosity rover has successfully touched down on Mars. The landing, from what was shown on NASA TV last night, seemed to proceed without a hitch. In fact, the "Seven Minutes of Terror" that was supposed to happen as Curiosity descended towards Gale Crater appeared to be less eventful and felt quicker than Phoenix's landing on Mars back in 2008. The fact that Curiosity arrived at the Red Planet on such a smooth note can be attributed to all the hard work the fine folks at JPL and around this country [as well as NASA's various international partners who are participating on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission] have performed over the last decade or so. Bravo!

Posing with the Curiosity Mars rover and its descent stage behind me, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on June 6, 2011.

My participation certificate for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

An image of the two microchips bearing the names of 1.25 million people on the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

On a personal note, there's another reason why I'm so relieved that Curiosity has safely joined her three six-wheeled sisters (Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity) on the Martian surface. On the deck of the rover are two microchips bearing the names of 1.25 million people...including that of Yours Truly (as shown with the certificate above). Nice to know that my moniker as well as those of family members and friends whose names I also submitted over the past six years are now on the surface of Mars at two different locations: Gale Crater and the Northern Plains (where Phoenix resides). I hope that MSL controllers will eventually focus Curiosity's main camera (known as the Mastcam) toward the microchips; it's always great to have photographic proof of such a cool achievement!

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Curiosity before it lands on the Martian surface.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / University of Arizona

The European Space Agency (ESA) must be fuming right now. Had NASA remained on ESA's ExoMars project, the U.S. space agency would've provided an Atlas V launch vehicle (which is currently the most reliable expendable rocket in the U.S. inventory...if not the world) and a 'Skycrane' descent stage—the same landing system flawlessly used on Curiosity—to Europe's Mars mission (which will launch on separate flights in 2016 and 2018, respectivel)y. I'll resist the urge to point out how the ExoMars project is essentially doomed now that ESA is relying on Russia to launch its rover and landers to the Red Planet. Russia is good at launching crew and cargo to the International Space Station (fortunately), but sending robotic probes out into deep space? Two words: Fobos-Grunt (which didn't even make it past Earth orbit). Heck, a Russian Proton-M launch ended in failure just a few hours ago...leading to the loss of two telecommunication satellites! Good grief. That is all.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A computer-generated image depicting the Curiosity Mars rover's position out in deep space, on August 4, 2012.

Tomorrow night, Curiosity's moment of truth arrives. Godspeed to the rover's flight team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California... Along with the fact the U.S. currently has the highest medal count (54 medals; with 26 of them gold, 13 that are silver and 15 bronze) in the London Summer Olympic Games, here's hoping that NASA will give the American public another event to cheer about this weekend.

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Mars Tugging on Approaching NASA Rover Curiosity (Press Release)

PASADENA, Calif. - The gravitational tug of Mars is now pulling NASA's car-size geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity, in for a suspenseful landing in less than 40 hours.

"After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere," said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The spacecraft is healthy and on course for delivering the mission's Curiosity rover close to a Martian mountain at 10:31 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6 EDT). That's the time a signal confirming safe landing could reach Earth, give or take about a minute for the spacecraft's adjustments to sense changeable atmospheric conditions.

The only way a safe-landing confirmation can arrive during that first opportunity is via a relay by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. Curiosity will not be communicating directly with Earth as it lands, because Earth will set beneath the Martian horizon from Curiosity's perspective about two minutes before the landing.

"We are expecting Odyssey to relay good news," said Steve Sell of the JPL engineering team that developed and tested the mission's complicated "sky crane" landing system. "That moment has been more than eight years in the making."

A dust storm in southern Mars being monitored by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appears to be dissipating. "Mars is cooperating by providing good weather for landing," said JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

Curiosity was approaching Mars at about 8,000 mph (about 3,600 meters per second) Saturday morning. By the time the spacecraft hits the top of Mars' atmosphere, about seven minutes before touchdown, gravity will accelerate it to about 13,200 mph (5,900 meters per second).

NASA plans to use Curiosity to investigate whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including chemical ingredients for life.

"In the first few weeks after landing, we will be ramping up science activities gradually as we complete a series of checkouts and we gain practice at operating this complex robot in Martian conditions," said JPL's Richard Cook, deputy project manager for Curiosity.

The first Mars pictures expected from Curiosity are reduced-resolution fisheye black-and-white images received either in the first few minutes after touchdown or more than two hours later. Higher resolution and color images from other cameras could come later in the first week. Plans call for Curiosity to deploy a directional antenna on the first day after landing and raise the camera mast on the second day.

The big hurdle is landing. Under some possible scenarios, Curiosity could land safely, but temporary communication difficulties could delay for hours or even days any confirmation that the rover has survived landing.

The prime mission lasts a full Martian year, which is nearly two Earth years. During that period, researchers plan to drive Curiosity partway up a mountain informally called Mount Sharp. Observations from orbit have identified exposures there of clay and sulfate minerals that formed in wet environments.

The Mars Science Laboratory is a project of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Its rover, Curiosity, was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. Information about the mission and about ways to participate in challenges of the landing, including a new video game, is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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A computer-generated image depicting the Curiosity rover approaching Mars, on August 4, 2012.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

So True... Especially if you're an Asian or you have Asian friends on Facebook (which I took this pic from). I'm Filipino, so I can post this. And no, I don't take pictures of my food when I'm at a restaurant. I don't use Instagram... Heck, I don't even have an iPhone.

C'mon Asian Facebook users... I know you can relate to this.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

LOLCat #1.

Images of the Day... Just thought I'd share these LOLCats (found on Facebook) with those of you who are feline lovers. Hope you find them amusing— They don't exactly enhance the reputation of my Blog.


LOLCat #2.