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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Random Sentimental Post: Farewell, Kirby of '93... Hello, Kirby of 2015!

The Kirby vacuum cleaner that I've had since September of 1993... I think.

So yesterday evening, a salesman randomly stopped by my house to promote a new Kirby vacuum cleaner that was capable of shampooing carpets as well as sucking dirt from them. (Facetiously starting this post off by stating the obvious...) After a couple of demonstrations, the salesman succeeded in selling the product to my family for a price of about $1,500 (he gets to take his wife and kid to Hawaii if he sells one more vacuum cleaner soon). The new vacuum cleaner is shown in the pic at the very bottom of this entry, while the one that my family had for more than 20 years is displayed in the photo above.

So why the heck am I blogging about vacuum cleaners, you ask? Well, from what I can remember, the old Kirby that we had was purchased in September of 1993. [The salesman was gonna take this cleaner back to his office (for training purposes) after selling us the new one.] I recall that it was on a Saturday evening in late '93 when yet another salesman stopped by our house uninvited (of course) to promote what would turn out to be a very reliable device. The reason why I have a good memory of this (for the most part) was that later in the day, I went to my junior high school to attend some event (I forgot what it was... I was in 8th grade at the time) where I ran into Jackie—the girl who I had a crush on when I was in 6th grade (and she was an 8th grader)—and we hugged. This is where this entry gets dicey; I felt that the first time I hugged a girl was with Jackie during this event. However, I recall hugging a couple of cute girls when I attended my 7th/8th Grade Dance earlier that year (I was in 7th grade and also remember embracing some cute 8th grade chicks when the dance ended, hah). So perhaps that September moment was special because this was the very first time I hugged Jackie herself...or the vacuum cleaner was purchased much earlier in '93 (or maybe it was September of '92... I doubt it) when I hugged Jackie weeks before I got touchy-feely with the other girls in my middle school (I probably should've worded that differently). This sure is getting convoluted.

The point of this Blog entry is that even the most mundane objects and moments can be special because they remind us of people who we once cared about (not to get all sentimenta— Oh wait, that's mentioned in the title at the top of this post). Just like how walking down some random hiking trail will remind me of the times I went hiking with Nancy, or eating at the In-N-Out near my house will remind me of the night that I ate at said In-N-Out after coming home from the show where I met Milana for the very first time last month (I didn't mention the burger joint in that entry), a contraption used for house cleaning will bring to me fond memories of an old crush I had in my childhood. I think Jackie is married now, but that's beside the point. Now if you excuse me, I have to vacuum the house. No wait— It's Sunday. I'll vacuum the house next week.

The Kirby vacuum cleaner that my family bought on May 30, 2015.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dawn Update: Getting Ever So Closer to the Dwarf Planet...

An image (inset) of the dwarf planet Ceres that was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers), on May 23, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Dawn Spirals Closer to Ceres, Returns a New View (Press Release - May 28)

A new view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 23, shows finer detail is becoming visible on the dwarf planet. The spacecraft snapped the image at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) with a resolution of 1,600 feet (480 meters) per pixel. The image is part of a sequence taken for navigational purposes.

After transmitting these images to Earth on May 23, Dawn resumed ion-thrusting toward its second mapping orbit. On June 3, Dawn will enter this orbit and spend the rest of the month observing Ceres from 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above the surface. Each orbit during this time will be about three days, allowing the spacecraft to conduct an intensive study of Ceres.

Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct solar system targets. It studied the protoplanet Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, and arrived at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Legacy of the Phoenix Mars Lander: Its Successor Has Taken Shape...

Engineers work on NASA's InSight Mars lander at the Lockheed Martin facility in Denver, Colorado...on April 30, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Lockheed Martin

NASA Begins Testing Mars Lander in Preparation for Next Mission to Red Planet (Press Release - May 27)

Testing is underway on NASA’s next mission on the journey to Mars, a stationary lander scheduled to launch in March 2016.

The lander is called InSight, an abbreviation for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It is about the size of a car and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the interior structure of the Red Planet. Examining the planet's deep interior could reveal clues about how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved.

The current testing will help ensure InSight can operate in and survive deep space travel and the harsh conditions of the Martian surface. The spacecraft will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and land on Mars about six months later.

The technical capabilities and knowledge gained from Insight, and other Mars missions, are crucial to NASA's journey to Mars, which includes sending astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

"Today, our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way, making great progress on the journey to Mars," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Together, humans and robotics will pioneer Mars and the solar system."

During the environmental testing phase at Lockheed Martin's Space Systems facility near Denver, the lander will be exposed to extreme temperatures, vacuum conditions of nearly zero air pressure simulating interplanetary space, and a battery of other tests over the next seven months. The first will be a thermal vacuum test in the spacecraft's "cruise" configuration, which will be used during its seven-month journey to Mars. In the cruise configuration, the lander is stowed inside an aeroshell capsule and the spacecraft's cruise stage – for power, communications, course corrections and other functions on the way to Mars -- is fastened to the capsule.

"The assembly of InSight went very well and now it's time to see how it performs," said Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. "The environmental testing regimen is designed to wring out any issues with the spacecraft so we can resolve them while it's here on Earth. This phase takes nearly as long as assembly, but we want to make sure we deliver a vehicle to NASA that will perform as expected in extreme environments."

Other tests include vibrations simulating launch and checking for electronic interference between different parts of the spacecraft. The testing phase concludes with a second thermal vacuum test in which the spacecraft is exposed to the temperatures and atmospheric pressures it will experience as it operates on the Martian surface.

The mission's science team includes U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies.

"It's great to see the spacecraft put together in its launch configuration," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. "Many teams from across the globe have worked long hours to get their elements of the system delivered for these tests. There still remains much work to do before we are ready for launch, but it is fantastic to get to this critical milestone."

The InSight mission is led by JPL's Bruce Banerdt. The Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, France’s space agency, and the German Aerospace Center are each contributing a science instrument to the two-year scientific mission. InSight's international science team includes researchers from Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company built the lander.

Source: NASA.Gov

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NASA's Phoenix lander with the Martian Northern Plains in the backdrop.
James Canvin / NASA / JPL - Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Onward to Pluto: The Dwarf Planet Gets Nearer and Nearer...

Two images of Pluto that were taken with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on April 16 and May 12, 2015, respectively.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons Sees More Detail as It Draws Closer to Pluto (Press Release)

What a difference 20 million miles makes! Images of Pluto from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft are growing in scale as the spacecraft approaches its mysterious target. The new images, taken May 8-12 using a powerful telescopic camera and downlinked last week, reveal more detail about Pluto's complex and high-contrast surface.

The images were taken from just under 50 million miles (77 million kilometers) away, using the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. Because New Horizons was approximately 20 million miles closer to Pluto in mid-May than in mid-April, the new images contain about twice as many pixels on the object as images made in mid-April.

A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed pictures beamed back to Earth. In the April images, New Horizons scientists determined that Pluto has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap. The newer imagery released here shows finer details. Deconvolution can occasionally produce spurious details, so the finest details in these images will need confirmation from images to be made from closer range in coming weeks.

"These new images show us that Pluto's differing faces are each distinct; likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we'll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region's iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July."

The images New Horizons returns will dramatically improve in coming weeks as the spacecraft speeds closer to its July 14 encounter with the Pluto system, covering about 750,000 miles per day.

"By late June the image resolution will be four times better than the images made May 8-12, and by the time of closest approach, we expect to obtain images with more than 5,000 times the current resolution," said Hal Weaver, the mission's project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Following a January 2006 launch, New Horizons is currently about 2.95 billion miles from home; the spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.

APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Source: New Horizons Website

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An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft traveling past the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
NASA / JHU APL / SwRI / Steve Gribben

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Europa Clipper Mission Is So Close To Becoming Real...

An artist's concept showing NASA's proposed Europa Clipper spacecraft flying above Jupiter's moon Europa and analyzing it.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Europa Mission Begins with Selection of Science Instruments (Press Release)

NASA has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

“Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean, following the amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth.”

NASA’s fiscal year 2016 budget request includes $30 million to formulate a mission to Europa. The mission would send a solar-powered spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around the gas giant Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa over a three-year period. In total, the mission would perform 45 flybys at altitudes ranging from 16 miles to 1,700 miles (25 kilometers to 2,700 kilometers).

The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica. The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon’s magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.

A thermal instrument will scour Europa’s frozen surface in search of recent eruptions of warmer water, while additional instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon’s thin atmosphere. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa in 2012, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes. If the plumes’ existence is confirmed – and they’re linked to a subsurface ocean – it will help scientists investigate the chemical makeup of Europa's potentially habitable environment while minimizing the need to drill through layers of ice.

Last year, NASA invited researchers to submit proposals for instruments to study Europa. Thirty-three were reviewed and, of those, nine were selected for a mission that will launch in the 2020s.

“This is a giant step in our search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard,” said Curt Niebur, Europa program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re confident that this versatile set of science instruments will produce exciting discoveries on a much-anticipated mission.”

The NASA selectees are:

Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) -- principal investigator Dr. Joseph Westlake of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. This instrument works in conjunction with a magnetometer and is key to determining Europa's ice shell thickness, ocean depth, and salinity by correcting the magnetic induction signal for plasma currents around Europa.

Interior Characterization of Europa using Magnetometry (ICEMAG) -- principal investigator Dr. Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. This magnetometer will measure the magnetic field near Europa and – in conjunction with the PIMS instrument – infer the location, thickness and salinity of Europa’s subsurface ocean using multi-frequency electromagnetic sounding.

Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) -- principal investigator Dr. Diana Blaney of JPL. This instrument will probe the composition of Europa, identifying and mapping the distributions of organics, salts, acid hydrates, water ice phases, and other materials to determine the habitability of Europa’s ocean.

Europa Imaging System (EIS) -- principal investigator Dr. Elizabeth Turtle of APL. The wide and narrow angle cameras on this instrument will map most of Europa at 50 meter (164 foot) resolution, and will provide images of areas of Europa’s surface at up to 100 times higher resolution.

Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) -- principal investigator Dr. Donald Blankenship of the University of Texas, Austin. This dual-frequency ice penetrating radar instrument is designed to characterize and sound Europa's icy crust from the near-surface to the ocean, revealing the hidden structure of Europa’s ice shell and potential water within.

Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) -- principal investigator Dr. Philip Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe. This “heat detector” will provide high spatial resolution, multi-spectral thermal imaging of Europa to help detect active sites, such as potential vents erupting plumes of water into space.

MAss SPectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX) -- principal investigator Dr. Jack (Hunter) Waite of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio. This instrument will determine the composition of the surface and subsurface ocean by measuring Europa’s extremely tenuous atmosphere and any surface material ejected into space.

Ultraviolet Spectrograph/Europa (UVS) -- principal investigator Dr. Kurt Retherford of SwRI. This instrument will adopt the same technique used by the Hubble Space Telescope to detect the likely presence of water plumes erupting from Europa’s surface. UVS will be able to detect small plumes and will provide valuable data about the composition and dynamics of the moon’s rarefied atmosphere.

SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA) -- principal investigator Dr. Sascha Kempf of the University of Colorado, Boulder. This instrument will measure the composition of small, solid particles ejected from Europa, providing the opportunity to directly sample the surface and potential plumes on low-altitude flybys.

Separate from the selectees listed above, the SPace Environmental and Composition Investigation near the Europan Surface (SPECIES) instrument has been chosen for further technology development. Led by principal investigator Dr. Mehdi Benna at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, this combined neutral mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph will be developed for other mission opportunities.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and the universe.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

LightSail Lifts Off! (And So Did The X-37B...)

An artist's concept of The Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft orbiting the Earth.
The Planetary Society

Bill Nye & Planetary Society Celebrate LightSail™ Spacecraft Test Launch (Press Release)

Citizen-funded solar sail CubeSat in orbit, awaits sail deployment stage

Cape Canaveral, FL (May 20, 2015) The Planetary Society’s citizen-funded LightSail™ spacecraft has launched into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft is part of a secondary payload dubbed ULTRASat aboard the U.S. Air Force mission AFSPC-5. The mission will test LightSail’s critical functions in low-Earth orbit, a precursor to a second mission set for 2016.

Bill Nye (The Science Guy®), CEO at The Planetary Society, witnessed the launch on site among Planetary Society staff and members. Nye stated:

“Today is an extraordinary day for The Planetary Society, our members, and space enthusiasts around the world: LightSail successfully launched into orbit. Our co-founders dreamt of this day. We've been working to get a solar sail into space since I joined The Planetary Society Board in 1997.

“While we celebrate this step, LightSail’s biggest tests are still ahead. Over the next days, we will be monitoring our CubeSat as we prepare for the big show: the day LightSail deploys its super shiny Mylar sails for flight on sunlight. Stay tuned; the best is about to happen.

“As we await that stage, we just get more excited. After all, we've been working on this for 39 years. LightSail would not be possible without our members, fans and citizens worldwide. We are all in this together. Let's see if we can give space exploration a strong nudge and change the world a little bit.”

Solar sailing works by using sunlight for propulsion. When solar photons strike LightSail's reflective Mylar® sails, their momentum is transferred to the spacecraft, gradually accelerating it through space. While the push from photons is miniscule, it is continuous and unlimited. Solar sails can eventually reach greater speeds than those obtained from chemical rockets.

LightSail is packaged into a small spacecraft called a CubeSat. CubeSats have made low-cost space missions a reality for universities and research groups. However, providing propulsion for these tiny satellites has been a challenge. LightSail will demonstrate the viability of solar sailing for CubeSats. During the May 2015 LightSail test launch, the LightSail team will address any technical issues and apply takeaways to the 2016 mission.

The 2015 test flight will not carry the spacecraft high enough to escape Earth's atmospheric drag, and will thus not demonstrate controlled solar sailing. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will go through a checkout and testing period of about four weeks before deploying its solar sails. After the sails unfurl, LightSail will study the behavior of the sails for a few days before it is pulled back into Earth’s atmosphere. Key images and data on the spacecraft's performance will be sent to ground stations at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Georgia Tech.

The spacecraft was designed by Stellar Exploration, Inc., in San Luis Obispo, Calif. LightSail's lead contractor for integration and testing is Pasadena, Calif.-based Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation, a space avionics and sensor systems firm best known for its popular RocketCam™ family of video systems used on rockets and spacecraft. The LightSail project is managed by Doug Stetson, founder and principal partner of the Space Science and Exploration Consulting Group.

The Planetary Society’s second LightSail spacecraft is scheduled to fly in 2016. This mission will build on the results of the test flight to conduct a full demonstration of solar sailing in Earth orbit. LightSail will be packaged inside a spacecraft called Prox-1 built by students at Georgia Tech. The spacecraft duo will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to an orbit of about 720 kilometers (450 miles).

Citizens around the world can be part of the 2016 LightSail mission. The “Selfies to Space” feature invites people to submit photographs for inclusion aboard the spacecraft at planetary.org/selfie.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a member of The Planetary Society board of directors, joined Nye to launch a LightSail Kickstarter campiagn (planetary.org/kickstarter) in a video announcement, which led to immediate worldwide response. Funded entirely by private citizens, LightSail is the yield of collective support.

The Planetary Society's solar sailing involvement was started by Society co-founder Louis Friedman more than a decade ago. Co-founder Carl Sagan championed solar sailing on a famous 1976 episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. For complete coverage of the LightSail test flight, as well as the second LightSail mission scheduled for 2016, visit sail.planetary.org.

Source: The Planetary Society

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An Atlas V rocket carrying the U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle and The Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft lifts  off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 20, 2015.
United Launch Alliance

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

(The NBA Draft Lottery) Not The Same As Winning A Championship, But Oh Well...

Lakers head coach Byron Scott and head of PR John Black hold up the card and the lucky ping pong balls that brought the #2 NBA Draft pick to Los Angeles...on May 19, 2015.
Lakers.com

No. 2 to the Lakers (Press Release)

Things are looking up in Los Angeles.

It was quite a Tuesday night for the Lakers, who now hold the rights to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft thanks to an improbable Draft Lottery in New York City, when L.A. was the only team to improve upon its chances when they swapped slots with the New York Knicks.

After finishing with the fourth-worst record in the NBA in 2014-15, L.A. was slotted to have the fourth-best odds, and the Knicks the second.

But selections 14 through five went chalk, each of the teams missing the 2015 playoffs staying in their allotted position.

Then, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum drew the Knicks placard, which Lakers fans knew meant they'd moved into the top three.

After an ESPN commercial break, Tatum drew the Sixers at No. 3, and then the Lakers at their No. 2 slot before revealing that the Timberwolves – owners of the league's worst record and thus the best chances – would draft first.

There was only a 12.6 percent chance that the Lakers would get the second pick, but team representative, coach and former Laker himself Byron Scott was more than happy to see his team grab the pick that will be L.A.'s highest since James Worthy went No. 1 in 1982.

There was a better chance that L.A. would lose its selection to Philadelphia (via Phoenix in the Steve Nash trade) by having two teams jump into the top three ahead of them, but it wasn't that kind of night for the Lakers.

L.A., in fact, has been in the lottery only four times in franchise history, resulting in the following haul: Eddie Jones (10th, 1994); Andrew Bynum (10th, 2005); Julius Randle (7th, 2014) and this year (rights to the 2nd pick).

Stay tuned for constant coverage of the potential lottery picks on Lakers.com all the way through June 25, the night of the NBA Draft, when L.A. also holds Houston's No. 1 pick (No. 27) and their own second rounder (No. 34).

Source: Lakers.com

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The Lakers will get the 2nd, 27th and 34th picks during the NBA Draft in New York City on June 25, 2015.
Lakers.com

Sunday, May 17, 2015

(OTHER SPACE) An Improv Show and Q&A Session in Hollywood...

At the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theater in Hollywood to attend a special screening of the Yahoo! web series OTHER SPACE...on May 16, 2015.

So last night, I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Hollywood to attend a special screening of the Yahoo! web series, Other Space. On-hand to do a Q&A session afterwards were four of the show's main actors, Karan Soni, Milana Vayntrub, Neil Casey and Eugene Cordero. Along with answering questions about Other Space (one of them being about when people will find out if Yahoo! approved a second season... The official response by Owen Ellickson, one of the producers who also attended the Q&A: "We're working on it"), the cast members also did two comedy skits before the screening started. Everyone was funny—though Casey and Cordero stole the show (you still rock, Milana).

OTHER SPACE cast members Eugene Cordero, Milana Vayntrub, John Milhiser, Neil Casey and Karan Soni conduct a comedy skit at the UCB Theater in Hollywood...on May 16, 2015.

The Other Space episode that was screened yesterday was "Trouble's Brewing," which is the fifth of eight episodes that make up Season 1...and is also a fan favorite. It was funny to see Coffee Bot (who is voiced by John Milhiser, who was also present at the Q&A) try to take over the UMP Cruiser while Tina Shukshin (Vayntrub) and Michael Newman (Cordero) were stranded on an alien world nearby. That climactic scene where Tina and Michael are teleported back to the ship, with Newman missing a limb because it was devoured by a hungry Shukshin down on the planet's surface, was hilarious! Add that to the fact that Newman, a fellow Filipino (I'm Pinoy, in case you're wondering), got to make out with Tina despite violating the Bro Code [Shukshin is Captain Stewart Lipinksi's (Karan Soni) main crush—and Michael knows it], and you have a feel-good romp that I enjoyed watching. It would be cool if another Q&A screening is held for Other Space...though this time around it would be nice if the cast signed autographs after the session as well. It's all good.

OTHER SPACE producer Owen Ellickson looks on as Karan Soni, Milana Vayntrub, Neil Casey and John Milhiser conduct a comedy skit at the UCB Theater in Hollywood...on May 16, 2015.

OTHER SPACE cast members Karan Soni, Milana Vayntrub, Neil Casey and Eugene Cordero conduct a comedy skit at the UCB Theater in Hollywood...on May 16, 2015.

Owen Ellickson, Ian O'Connor (Coffee Bot puppeteer), Sherry O'Connor (Art puppeteer), Karan Soni, John Milhiser, Milana Vayntrub, Eugene Cordero and Neil Casey conduct a Q&A session after the OTHER SPACE screening at the UCB Theater in Hollywood...on May 16, 2015.

Ian O'Connor, Sherry O'Connor, Karan Soni, John Milhiser, Milana Vayntrub, Eugene Cordero and Neil Casey conduct a Q&A session after the OTHER SPACE screening at the UCB Theater in Hollywood...on May 16, 2015.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Dwarf Planet Flyby: T-Minus 61 Days and Counting...

An animated GIF showing Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra orbiting Pluto...as seen from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between April 25 - May 1, 2015.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons Spots Pluto’s Faintest Known Moons (Press Release - May 12)

It's a complete Pluto family photo – or at least a photo of the family members we've already met.

For the first time, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has photographed Kerberos and Styx – the smallest and faintest of Pluto's five known moons. Following the spacecraft's detection of Pluto's giant moon Charon in July 2013, and Pluto's smaller moons Hydra and Nix in July 2014 and January 2015, respectively, New Horizons is now within sight of all the known members of the Pluto system.

"New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery," said mission science team member John Spencer, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has ever seen before."

Drawing even closer to Pluto in mid-May, New Horizons will begin its first search for new moons or rings that might threaten the spacecraft on its passage through the Pluto system. The images of faint Styx and Kerberos shown here are allowing the search team to refine the techniques they will use to analyze those data, which will push the sensitivity limits even deeper.

Kerberos and Styx were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, by New Horizons team members using the Hubble Space Telescope. Styx, circling Pluto every 20 days between the orbits of Charon and Nix, is likely just 4 to 13 miles (approximately 7 to 21 kilometers) in diameter, and Kerberos, orbiting between Nix and Hydra with a 32-day period, is just 6 to 20 miles (approximately 10 to 30 kilometers) in diameter. Each is 20 to 30 times fainter than Nix and Hydra.

The images detecting Kerberos and Styx shown here were taken with New Horizons' most sensitive camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), from April 25-May 1. Each observation consists of five 10-second exposures that have been added together to make the image in the left panel, and extensively processed to reduce the bright glare of Pluto and Charon and largely remove the dense field of background stars (center and right panels), in order to reveal the faint satellites, whose positions and orbits, along with those of the brighter moons Nix and Hydra, are given in the right panel.

"Detecting these tiny moons from distance of over 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer's team of moon and ring hunters," added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute.

Kerberos is visible in all of the images, though is partially obscured in the second image. Styx is not visible in the first image, only in subsequent ones; on April 25 it was obscured by electronic artifacts in the camera – the black and white streaks extending to the right of the extremely overexposed images of Pluto and Charon in the center of the frame. These artifacts point in different directions in different images due to the varying orientation of the spacecraft. Other unlabeled features in the processed images include the imperfectly removed images of background stars and other residual artifacts.

Although Styx and Kerberos are more visible in some frames than others, perhaps due to brightness fluctuations as they rotate on their axes, their identity is confirmed by their positions being exactly where they are predicted to be (in the center of the circles in the right panel).

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Source: New Horizons Website

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An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft traveling past the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
NASA / JHU APL / SwRI / Steve Gribben

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Yet Another Reason to Make the Europa Clipper Mission a Reality...

A close-up image of salt grains discolored by radiation following exposure in a 'Europa-in-a-can' test setup at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Research Reveals Europa's Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt (Press Release)

NASA laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter's moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation. The presence of sea salt on Europa's surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor -- an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.

The study is accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and is available online.

“We have many questions about Europa, the most important and most difficult to answer being is there life? Research like this is important because it focuses on questions we can definitively answer, like whether or not Europa is inhabitable,” said Curt Niebur, Outer Planets Program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Once we have those answers, we can tackle the bigger question about life in the ocean beneath Europa’s ice shell.”

For more than a decade, scientists have wondered about the nature of the dark material that coats long, linear fractures and other relatively young geological features on Europa’s surface. Its association with young terrains suggests the material has erupted from within Europa, but with limited data available, the material's chemical composition has remained elusive.

"If it's just salt from the ocean below, that would be a simple and elegant solution for what the dark, mysterious material is," said research lead Kevin Hand, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

One certainty is that Europa is bathed in radiation created by Jupiter's powerful magnetic field. Electrons and ions slam into the moon's surface with the intensity of a particle accelerator. Theories proposed to explain the nature of the dark material include this radiation as a likely part of the process that creates it.

Previous studies using data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft, and various telescopes, attributed the discolorations on Europa's surface to compounds containing sulfur and magnesium. While radiation-processed sulfur accounts for some of the colors on Europa, the new experiments reveal that irradiated salts could explain the color within the youngest regions of the moon's surface.

To identify the dark material, Hand and his co-author Robert Carlson, also at JPL, created a simulated patch of Europa's surface in a laboratory test apparatus for testing possible candidate substances. For each material, they collected spectra -- which are like chemical fingerprints -- encoded in the light reflected by the compounds.

"We call it our 'Europa in a can,'" Hand said. "The lab setup mimics conditions on Europa's surface in terms of temperature, pressure and radiation exposure. The spectra of these materials can then be compared to those collected by spacecraft and telescopes."

For this particular research, the scientists tested samples of common salt -- sodium chloride -- along with mixtures of salt and water, in their vacuum chamber at Europa's chilly surface temperature of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 Celsius). They then bombarded the salty samples with an electron beam to simulate the intense radiation on the moon's surface.

After a few tens of hours of exposure to this harsh environment, which corresponds to as long as a century on Europa, the salt samples, which were initially white just like table salt, turned a yellowish-brown color similar to features on the icy moon. The researchers found the color of these samples, as measured in their spectra, showed a strong resemblance to the color within fractures on Europa that were imaged by NASA's Galileo mission.

"This work tells us the chemical signature of radiation-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa's mystery material," Hand said.

Additionally, the longer the samples were exposed to radiation, the darker the resulting color. Hand thinks scientists could use this type of color variation to help determine the ages of geologic features and material ejected from any plumes that might exist on Europa.

Previous telescope observations have shown tantalizing hints of the spectral features seen by the researchers in their irradiated salts. But no telescope on or near Earth can observe Europa with sufficiently high resolving power to identify them with certainty. The researchers suggest this could be accomplished by future observations with a spacecraft visiting Europa.

JPL built and managed NASA's Galileo mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and is developing a concept for a future mission to Europa. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages JPL for NASA.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept showing NASA's proposed Europa Clipper spacecraft flying above Jupiter's moon Europa and analyzing it.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

(OTHER SPACE) Artwork of the Day...

My OTHER SPACE artwork as seen with my trusty Android smartphone.

Just thought I'd share this anime-style drawing that I made two days ago of a few characters from the hilarious Yahoo! web series, Other Space. If you watched all 8 episodes of Paul Feig's brilliant new sci-fi comedy, you'd get the sentiment behind what's going on in this artwork. And if you don't, well it's all good. Tina Shukshin (played by Milana Vayntrub) strikes a pose while Captain Stewart Lipinski (portrayed by Karan Soni)—in his attempt to pose alongside his navigator/longtime crush—gets photobombed (art-bombed? Hm.) by Art (the bathroom-crazed robot voiced by Mystery Science Theater 3000's Trace Beaulieu) and the alien (Sarah Baker) that the crew of the UMP (Universal Mapping Project) Cruiser encounter in the last two episodes of the season. Looking on is Natasha (Conor Leslie), the ship's sultry on-board computer who has a thing or two for trendy wardrobe (though you couldn't tell that by the design I gave it in this artwork, hah). I used my Android smartphone to take a picture of this drawing since my computer scanner is a piece of crap that overexposed the illustration and brought out unwanted details in it (as seen below). Anyways, here's hoping that there will be a second season for Other Space... Make it happen, Yahoo! Happy Hump Day, folks.

My OTHER SPACE artwork as seen with my crappy computer scanner.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

On June 15, 2010 (Japan Standard Time), a small separation camera was jettisoned from IKAROS to photograph the solar sail in its entirety.
JAXA

IKAROS Wakes Up From Hibernation Mode for the 4th Time (Press Release - April 30)

The IKAROS seemed to wake up from its hibernation mode in mid-March 2015, and JAXA searched for it based on its attitude and orbit prediction to receive its radio waves. On April 23 (Thursday), we successfully found the IKAROS, which is flying at a distance of about 120 million kilometers (75 million miles) from the Earth.

We will continue to receive data from the IKAROS until May to confirm its condition and analyze the information.

The IKAROS, launched in May 2010, completed its mission, and is now revolving around the sun about every 10 months. Power generation is insufficient for seven months out of 10 so the IKAROS goes into hibernation mode for this period by shutting down instruments. For the remaining three months, the IKAROS is awake with enough power so that we can receive data from it.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Friday, May 01, 2015

Farewell, MESSENGER!

An artist's concept of NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft orbiting Mercury.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington

NASA Completes MESSENGER Mission with Expected Impact on Mercury's Surface (Press Release - April 30)

A NASA planetary exploration mission came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end Thursday when it slammed into Mercury’s surface at about 8,750 mph and created a new crater on the planet’s surface.

Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, have confirmed NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury, as anticipated, at 3:26 p.m. EDT.

Mission control confirmed end of operations just a few minutes later, at 3:40 p.m., when no signal was detected by NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) station in Goldstone, California, at the time the spacecraft would have emerged from behind the planet. This conclusion was independently confirmed by the DSN’s Radio Science team, which also was monitoring for a signal from MESSENGER.

“Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The MESSENGER mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission--analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unravelling the mysteries of Mercury.”

Prior to impact, MESSENGER’s mission design team predicted the spacecraft would pass a few miles over a lava-filled basin on the planet before striking the surface and creating a crater estimated to be as wide as 50 feet.

MESSENGER’s lonely demise on the small, scorched planet closest to the sun went unobserved because the probe hit the side of the planet facing away from Earth, so ground-based telescopes were not able to capture the moment of impact. Space-based telescopes also were unable to view the impact, as Mercury’s proximity to the sun would damage optics.

MESSENGER’s last day of real-time flight operations began at 11:15 a.m., with initiation of the final delivery of data and images from Mercury via a 230-foot (70-meter) DSN antenna located in Madrid, Spain. After a planned transition to a 111-foot (34-meter) DSN antenna in California, at 2:40 p.m., mission operators later confirmed the switch to a beacon-only communication signal at 3:04 p.m.

The mood in the Mission Operations Center at APL was both somber and celebratory as team members watched MESSENGER’s telemetry drop out for the last time, after more than four years and 4,105 orbits around Mercury.

“We monitored MESSENGER’s beacon signal for about 20 additional minutes,” said mission operations manager Andy Calloway of APL. “It was strange to think during that time MESSENGER had already impacted, but we could not confirm it immediately due to the vast distance across space between Mercury and Earth.”

MESSENGER was launched on Aug. 3, 2004, and began orbiting Mercury on March 17, 2011. Although it completed its primary science objectives by March 2012, the spacecraft’s mission was extended two times, allowing it to capture images and information about the planet in unprecedented detail.

During a final extension of the mission in March, referred to as XM2, the team began a hover campaign that allowed the spacecraft to operate within a narrow band of altitudes from five to 35 kilometers from the planet’s surface.

On Tuesday, the team successfully executed the last of seven daring orbit correction maneuvers that kept MESSENGER aloft long enough for the spacecraft’s instruments to collect critical information on Mercury’s crustal magnetic anomalies and ice-filled polar craters, among other features. After running out of fuel, and with no way to increase its altitude, MESSENGER was finally unable to resist the sun’s gravitational pull on its orbit.

“Today we bid a fond farewell to one of the most resilient and accomplished spacecraft to ever explore our neighboring planets,” said Sean Solomon, MESSENGER’s principal investigator and director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. “A resourceful and committed team of engineers, mission operators, scientists, and managers can be extremely proud that the MESSENGER mission has surpassed all expectations and delivered a stunningly long list of discoveries that have changed our views--not only of one of Earth’s sibling planets, but of the entire inner solar system.”

Among its many accomplishments, the MESSENGER mission determined Mercury’s surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet’s center, and verified its polar deposits are dominantly water ice.

APL built and operated the MESSENGER spacecraft and managed the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A final image that NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft took of Mercury before the probe intentionally crashed into the planet's surface on April 30, 2015.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington