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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Final Post of 2016...

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! Just thought I'd mark the final day of this equally memorable and tumultuous year by sharing this screengrab that I found on Facebook two days ago. The person who posted this is either a seasoned troll or a flat-out moron. If it's the latter, then that would be the saddest thing in the world. Of course, Donald Trump is now president (and this person probably voted for him), so expect more ignorant crap like this to pop up on the Web as we ring in the New Year. And that dreaded event (Inauguration Day...on January 20) gets closer. Politically, 2017 looks to be as much a shit-fest as 2016 was... Bummer.

Anyways, have fun and stay safe tonight, folks! Carry on.

The person who posted this on Facebook is either a troll or a Trump supporter. Or both.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

A Christmas light exhibition at the City Blessing Church in Walnut, CA.

Just thought I'd celebrate the holiday by posting these photos that I took at an Indonesian church located only a few blocks from my house. What better to mark the birth of Jeebus than by having a cool light exhibition that racks up the electricity bill during the winter? Happy Xmas!

The Christmas light exhibition at the City Blessing Church in Walnut, CA.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Shaq To Be Immortalized By The Lakers Next Spring...

A composite image depicting Shaquille O'Neal's statue outside of STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Lakers.com

Shaquille O'Neal Statue to be Unveiled At STAPLES Center (Press Release - December 20)

A bronze statue of legendary Los Angeles Lakers and NBA Hall of Fame player Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal will be unveiled in Star Plaza at STAPLES Center prior to the Lakers game on March 24, 2017.

As a tribute to the larger-than-life Laker great, whose career with the organization produced three NBA Championships, the Los Angeles Lakers, STAPLES Center, and AEG organizations commissioned the creation of a 1,200 pound, nine-foot bronze statue of the NBA Hall of Fame member. O’Neal’s statue will be connected to STAPLES Center, suspended 10 feet above the ground, at Star Plaza.

O’Neal was a member of the Lakers from 1996-2004, leading the team to three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000-2002, winning the NBA Finals MVP award each time. A seven-time All-Star for the Purple & Gold, O’Neal was also named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2000.

The statue, created by renowned sculptors/artists Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany, will join other iconic sculptures of celebrated sports superstars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wayne Gretzky, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Jerry West. Abdul-Jabbar’s statue (dedicated November 16, 2012), Johnson’s statue (dedicated February 11, 2004), Hearn’s statue (dedicated April 20, 2010), and West’s statue (dedicated February 17, 2011) were also created by Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany.

The ceremony, which is open free to the public, will be highlighted by speeches from Shaquille O’Neal, his teammates, colleagues and friends from his unprecedented career, and will conclude with a spectacular unveiling of the statue.

WHEN

Friday, March 24, 2017
5:00pm - Ceremony Begins
6:05pm (approximately) - Unveiling

WHERE

The ceremony will take place at the permanent location of the statue: Star Plaza at STAPLES Center (Just west of Figueroa Street & Chick Hearn Court intersection)

Source: Lakers.com

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Photo of the Day: A Snowy Day in Hawaii...

In honor of today being the first day of winter, just thought I'd share this pic that one of my brothers texted me during his trip to Hawaii last night. He's currently chillin' on the Big Island, and was able to venture up to the summit of Mauna Kea (despite the threat of road closures due to heavy snow on both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa near the city of Hilo) even though only the visitor center was open. All I can say is...I'm jealous! I'd plan my own trip to Hawaii (the Big Island, that is) to see the Keck Observatory in person, if not for the fact that I'm saving my money to return to Kennedy Space Center in 2018. It's during the summer of that year that I'll hopefully see NASA's Space Launch System rocket on the pad (assuming a certain billionaire-turned-U.S. president doesn't cancel it)—in preparation for its maiden flight, Exploration Mission 1. Happy Winter Solstice!

A photo that my brother took at Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii...on December 20, 2016.
V. T. Par

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

ERG Update #2: Japan's "Arase" Spacecraft Is Now Headed to the Van Allen Radiation Belts!

An Epsilon-2 rocket carrying Japan's ERG satellite (now known as 'Arase') launches from Uchinoura Space Center at the southern tip of the country on December 20, 2016.
JAXA

Onboard the Arase spacecraft are two aluminum plates bearing the names of people who submitted their monikers online earlier this year...including Yours Truly! Presumably.

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Success of Epsilon-2 Launch with ERG Aboard (Press Release)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency successfully launched the second Epsilon Launch Vehicle with Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) aboard at 8:00 p.m. on December 20, 2016 (JST) from the Uchinoura Space Center. The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately 13 minutes and 27 seconds after liftoff, the separation of ERG was confirmed.

The weather at the time of the launch was fine, the wind speed was 0.7 meters/second, from the SSE, and the temperature was 17.0 degrees Celsius.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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The Arase spacecraft on display to the media several months before its launch on December 20, 2016.
JAXA

An illustration showing the location of the two aluminum plates bearing the names of people (including Yours Truly) aboard the Arase spacecraft.
JAXA

The 'passport' that I received for submitting my name to fly aboard the Arase spacecraft.
JAXA

Monday, December 19, 2016

Europe Will Move Forward With Building The ExoMars Rover Despite Schiaparelli's Setback...

An artist's concept of the European Space Agency's ExoMars 2020 rover.
ESA

ExoMars 2020 Thales Alenia Space Signs Contract with ESA to Complete Activities for the 2020 Mission to Search for Life on the Red Planet (Press Release - December 16)

Rome, December 16, 2016 – Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales and Leonardo-Finmeccanica, announced today that it has signed the final contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to complete activities concerning the ExoMars 2020 mission.

The signing ceremony took place in Ottagona hall at the Roman Museum of the Baths of Diocletian during the opening of an exhibition on Mars organized by the Italian space agency ASI in collaboration with the Ministry of Cultural and Artistic Heritage. Attending the ceremony were David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, Roberto Battiston, President of ASI, Mauro Moretti, CEO and General Manager of Leonardo-Finmeccanica SpA, and Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italy and Deputy CEO of Thales Alenia Space.

Following recent decision by the ESA Ministerial Council to approve additional funding needed to pursue ExoMars programme, this last tranche of the industrial contract awarded to Thales Alenia Space, prime contractor, marks a key step forward to carry out final work for the ExoMars 2020 mission. ExoMars is a joint program between ESA, the Russian space agency Roscosmos and ASI, with NASA also playing a major role.

As in 2016, the second ExoMars mission will also be led by ESA and Roscosmos, who will be taking a more extensive role than on the previous mission. The ExoMars 2020 spacecraft comprises a Carrier Module (CM), a Descent Module (DM) and a 300-kg rover, carried by a Landing Platform (LP) and capable of exploring the planet’s surface for 218 Martian days, or about 230 Earth days.

Thales Alenia Space Italy is responsible for the entire design phase of both ExoMars missions and is leading an European industrial consortium. For the 2016 mission, it produced the EDM Schiaparelli entry and descent module, plus the Trace Gas Orbiter, now in orbit around Mars and already taking scientific readings of the Martian atmosphere. On the 2020 mission, the company will take charge of the design of the entire system, final inspection, the development of the CM navigation and guidance system and the DM entry, descent and landing system, the rover, including the creation of the Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD) as well as supplying basic parts of the DM, including the radar altimeter. Thales Alenia Space will be strongly supported in particular by OHB in charge to develop the CM as well as several instruments of the rover, itself provided by Airbus Defense and Space UK.

“ExoMars is a cornerstone of ESA’s exploration programme. Using its miniaturised life search laboratory and advanced robotic technology, the ExoMars 2020 mission will explore the red planet in search of new evidence to answer questions that have long fascinated humanity. Following the renewed support demonstrated by ESA member states in the ESA council at Ministerial Level on 1 and 2 December, this new contract allows us to complete the flight models of the European elements and keeps us on track for a July 2020 launch,” says David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.

“The steadfastness and tenacity of both the European and Italian space agencies has reassured all program partners, and enabled us to continue our production work so we can go ahead with this new and very complex mission,” said Donato Amoroso, Deputy CEO of Thales Alenia Space.

The 2020 mission is now at an advanced development stage, leading up to the system Critical Design Review (CDR) by the end of 2017. Parts of the DM will be delivered in early 2018, followed by the CM and the Rover, so that the spacecraft can be integrated for a launch currently scheduled for the window between July 25 and August 13, 2020.

For the 2020 mission, ALTEC – Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering, a Thales Alenia Space Italy and ASI company – will also be responsible for the design, development and maintenance of the ROCC (Rover Operation Control Center) and for controlling the rover on the Martian surface.

The chronology of the 2020 mission can be summarized as follows: entry into the Martian atmosphere and the subsequent descent and landing of the Descent Module and its Rover, weighing approximately 2 metric tons, drawing on the experience gained with the EDM during the 2016 mission; the arrival of a landing platform and egress of the rover; exploration by the rover of a vast area of Mars, with geological/scientific sampling of both the planet’s surface and subsoil, by taking and analyzing soil samples to a depth of 2 meters; search for present or past forms of life in the soil samples that will be processed on the spacecraft; geochemical and atmospheric studies of the surface and underground environments.

Source: Thales Alenia Space

Sunday, December 18, 2016

ERG Update: T-Minus 2 Days Till Lift-Off...

Japan's Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) satellite is scheduled to launch at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2016 (Japan Standard Time).
JAXA

Time of Launch of Epsilon-2 with ERG on Board (Press Release)

JAXA, National Research and Development Agency (or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) announces the time of launch of the second Epsilon Launch Vehicle with Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) aboard as follows:

Launch Date: December 20, 2016 (JST)

Time of Launch: 8:00:00 p.m. (Japan Standard Time, JST)

Launch Window: 8:00 p.m. through 9:00 p.m. (JST)

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Japan's ERG satellite is scheduled to launch at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2016 (JST).
JAXA

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dawn Update: Ice on a Dwarf Planet...

Images of asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres...with hydrogen data (shaded in red) taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft overlaid on both celestial bodies.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / PSI

Where is the Ice on Ceres? New NASA Dawn Findings (News Release)

At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts -- not ice. But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

"These studies support the idea that ice separated from rock early in Ceres' history, forming an ice-rich crustal layer, and that ice has remained near the surface over the history of the solar system," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Water ice on other planetary bodies is important because it is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. "By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system," Raymond said.

Ice is everywhere on Ceres

Ceres' uppermost surface is rich in hydrogen, with higher concentrations at mid-to-high latitudes -- consistent with broad expanses of water ice, according to a new study in the journal Science.

"On Ceres, ice is not just localized to a few craters. It's everywhere, and nearer to the surface with higher latitudes," said Thomas Prettyman, principal investigator of Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND), based at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

Researchers used the GRaND instrument to determine the concentrations of hydrogen, iron and potassium in the uppermost yard (or meter) of Ceres. GRaND measures the number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons emanating from Ceres. Neutrons are produced as galactic cosmic rays interact with Ceres' surface. Some neutrons get absorbed into the surface, while others escape. Since hydrogen slows down neutrons, it is associated with fewer neutrons escaping. On Ceres, hydrogen is likely to be in the form of frozen water (which is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom).

Rather than a solid ice layer, there is likely to be a porous mixture of rocky materials in which ice fills the pores, researchers found. The GRaND data show that the mixture is about 10 percent ice by weight.

"These results confirm predictions made nearly three decades ago that ice can survive for billions of years just beneath the surface of Ceres," Prettyman said. "The evidence strengthens the case for the presence of near-surface water ice on other main belt asteroids."

Clues to Ceres' inner life

Concentrations of iron, hydrogen, potassium and carbon provide further evidence that the top layer of material covering Ceres was altered by liquid water in Ceres' interior. Scientists theorize that the decay of radioactive elements within Ceres produced heat that drove this alteration process, separating Ceres into a rocky interior and icy outer shell. Separation of ice and rock would lead to differences in the chemical composition of Ceres' surface and interior.

Because meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites were also altered by water, scientists are interested in comparing them to Ceres. These meteorites probably come from bodies that were smaller than Ceres, but had limited fluid flow, so they may provide clues to Ceres' interior history. The Science study shows that Ceres has more hydrogen and less iron than these meteorites, perhaps because denser particles sunk while brine-rich materials rose to the surface. Alternatively, Ceres or its components may have formed in a different region of the solar system than the meteorites.

Ice in permanent shadow

A second study, led by Thomas Platz of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, and published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused on craters that are persistently in shadow in Ceres' northern hemisphere. Scientists closely examined hundreds of cold, dark craters called "cold traps" -- at less than minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (110 Kelvin), they are so chilly that very little of the ice turns into vapor in the course of a billion years. Researchers found deposits of bright material in 10 of these craters. In one crater that is partially sunlit, Dawn's infrared mapping spectrometer confirmed the presence of ice.

This suggests that water ice can be stored in cold, dark craters on Ceres. Ice in cold traps has previously been spotted on Mercury and, in a few cases, on the moon. All of these bodies have small tilts with respect to their axes of rotation, so their poles are extremely cold and peppered with persistently shadowed craters. Scientists believe impacting bodies may have delivered ice to Mercury and the moon. The origins of Ceres' ice in cold traps are more mysterious, however.

"We are interested in how this ice got there and how it managed to last so long," said co-author Norbert Schorghofer of the University of Hawaii. "It could have come from Ceres' ice-rich crust, or it could have been delivered from space."

Regardless of its origin, water molecules on Ceres have the ability to hop around from warmer regions to the poles. A tenuous water atmosphere has been suggested by previous research, including the Herschel Space Observatory's observations of water vapor at Ceres in 2012-13. Water molecules that leave the surface would fall back onto Ceres, and could land in cold traps. With every hop there is a chance the molecule is lost to space, but a fraction of them ends up in the cold traps, where they accumulate.

'Bright spots' get names

Ceres' brightest area, in the northern-hemisphere crater Occator, does not shine because of ice, but rather because of highly reflective salts. A new video (shown at the bottom of this entry) produced by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin simulates the experience of flying around this crater and exploring its topography. Occator's central bright region, which includes a dome with fractures, has recently been named Cerealia Facula. The crater's cluster of less reflective spots to the east of center is called Vinalia Faculae.

"The unique interior of Occator may have formed in a combination of processes that we are currently investigating," said Ralf Jaumann, planetary scientist and Dawn co-investigator at DLR. "The impact that created the crater could have triggered the upwelling of liquid from inside Ceres, which left behind the salts."

Dawn's next steps

Dawn began its extended mission phase in July, and is currently flying in an elliptical orbit more than 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from Ceres. During the primary mission, Dawn orbited and accomplished all of its original objectives at Ceres and protoplanet Vesta, which the spacecraft visited from July 2011 to September 2012.

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

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Curiosity Update: An Awesome New Discovery by the Mars Rover...

An animated GIF depicting the same location at Gale Crater at two points in time: now and billions of years ago.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Mars Rock-Ingredient Stew Seen as Plus for Habitability (News Release)

NASA's Curiosity rover is climbing a layered Martian mountain and finding evidence of how ancient lakes and wet underground environments changed, billions of years ago, creating more diverse chemical environments that affected their favorability for microbial life.

Hematite, clay minerals and boron are among the ingredients found to be more abundant in layers farther uphill, compared with lower, older layers examined earlier in the mission. Scientists are discussing what these and other variations tell about conditions under which sediments were initially deposited, and about how groundwater moving later through the accumulated layers altered and transported ingredients.

Effects of this groundwater movement are most evident in mineral veins. The veins formed where cracks in the layers were filled with chemicals that had been dissolved in groundwater. The water with its dissolved contents also interacted with the rock matrix surrounding the veins, altering the chemistry both in the rock and in the water.

"There is so much variability in the composition at different elevations, we've hit a jackpot," said John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, California. He and other members of Curiosity's science team presented an update about the mission Tuesday, Dec. 13, in San Francisco during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. As the rover examines higher, younger layers, researchers are impressed by the complexity of the lake environments when clay-bearing sediments were being deposited, and also the complexity of the groundwater interactions after the sediments were buried.

'Chemical Reactor'

"A sedimentary basin such as this is a chemical reactor," Grotzinger said. "Elements get rearranged. New minerals form and old ones dissolve. Electrons get redistributed. On Earth, these reactions support life."

Whether Martian life has ever existed is still unknown. No compelling evidence for it has been found. When Curiosity landed in Mars' Gale Crater in 2012, the mission's main goal was to determine whether the area ever offered an environment favorable for microbes.

The crater's main appeal for scientists is geological layering exposed in the lower portion of its central mound, Mount Sharp. These exposures offer access to rocks that hold a record of environmental conditions from many stages of early Martian history, each layer younger than the one beneath it. The mission succeeded in its first year, finding that an ancient Martian lake environment had all the key chemical ingredients needed for life, plus chemical energy available for life. Now, the rover is climbing lower on Mount Sharp to investigate how ancient environmental conditions changed over time.

"We are well into the layers that were the main reason Gale Crater was chosen as the landing site," said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Joy Crisp of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. "We are now using a strategy of drilling samples at regular intervals as the rover climbs Mount Sharp. Earlier we chose drilling targets based on each site's special characteristics. Now that we're driving continuously through the thick basal layer of the mountain, a series of drill holes will build a complete picture."

Four recent drilling sites, from "Oudam" this past June through "Sebina" in October, are each spaced about 80 feet (about 25 meters) apart in elevation. This uphill pattern allows the science team to sample progressively younger layers that reveal Mount Sharp's ancient environmental history.

Changing Environments

One clue to changing ancient conditions is the mineral hematite. It has replaced less-oxidized magnetite as the dominant iron oxide in rocks Curiosity has drilled recently, compared with the site where Curiosity first found lakebed sediments. "Both samples are mudstone deposited at the bottom of a lake, but the hematite may suggest warmer conditions, or more interaction between the atmosphere and the sediments," said Thomas Bristow of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. He helps operate the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) laboratory instrument inside the rover, which identifies minerals in collected samples.

Chemical reactivity occurs on a gradient of chemical ingredients' strength at donating or receiving electrons. Transfer of electrons due to this gradient can provide energy for life. An increase in hematite relative to magnetite indicates an environmental change in the direction of tugging electrons more strongly, causing a greater degree of oxidation in iron.

Another ingredient increasing in recent measurements by Curiosity is the element boron, which the rover's laser-shooting Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument has been detecting within mineral veins that are mainly calcium sulfate. "No prior mission has detected boron on Mars," said Patrick Gasda of the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. "We're seeing a sharp increase in boron in vein targets inspected in the past several months." The instrument is quite sensitive; even at the increased level, boron makes up only about one-tenth of one percent of the rock composition.

'Dynamic System'

Boron is famously associated with arid sites where much water has evaporated away -- think of the borax that mule teams once hauled from Death Valley. However, environmental implications of the minor amount of boron found by Curiosity are less straightforward than for the increase in hematite.

Scientists are considering at least two possibilities for the source of boron that groundwater left in the veins. Perhaps evaporation of a lake formed a boron-containing deposit in an overlying layer, not yet reached by Curiosity, then water later re-dissolved the boron and carried it down through a fracture network into older layers, where it accumulated along with fracture-filling vein minerals. Or perhaps changes in the chemistry of clay-bearing deposits, such as evidenced by the increased hematite, affected how groundwater picked up and dropped off boron within the local sediments.

"Variations in these minerals and elements indicate a dynamic system," Grotzinger said. "They interact with groundwater as well as surface water. The water influences the chemistry of the clays, but the composition of the water also changes. We are seeing chemical complexity indicating a long, interactive history with the water. The more complicated the chemistry is, the better it is for habitability. The boron, hematite and clay minerals underline the mobility of elements and electrons, and that is good for life."

Curiosity is part of NASA's ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Caltech manages JPL, and JPL manages the Curiosity mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Many Benefits of America's Space Program...

NASA technology made devices such as smartphones possible.
NASA / JPL

NASA Technology is all Around You (News Release)

Next time you share an amazing GoPro video with a friend, consider that NASA made that technology possible.

The image sensors that would later be used in GoPros -- and in all modern digital cameras, including those in cell phones -- were first developed in the early 1990s at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Those rudimentary sensor arrays used less power and were easier to mass produce than the standard methods of the time, helping to kickstart an entire industry.

Complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor technology, which grew out of NASA's efforts during that time to create "faster, better, cheaper" spacecraft, is just one of many tech transfer examples in the 2017 issue of Spinoff. This annual publication highlights how space technology has been adopted by commercial industries, leading to benefits for people on Earth.

This year's Spinoff includes several unique success stories from JPL and other NASA centers.

Digital imaging made wingsuit videos possible

In the 1980s, spacecraft imaging was done using charge coupled device (CCD) technology, which was integral to founding the digital camera industry. CCD acts as a kind of "bucket brigade," passing along a light-generated charge from pixel to pixel in a microchip's array. When the charge reaches the end of the array, it gets amplified and recorded.

A JPL engineer named Eric Fossum thought there was a better way. CMOS technology, which had changed microprocessors, allowed each pixel to also serve as a charge amplifier, using less energy and making each pixel more sensitive.

Major companies like Kodak and AT&T Bell Labs eventually licensed the technology. Fossum, along with several JPL colleagues, founded a company called Photobit to develop it further. By the end of the decade, CMOS sensors had become the standard in the digital camera industry.

GoPro would later leverage the unique, low-power capabilities of CMOS to make cameras even smaller. That allowed video to be shot from the front of surfboards, the tops of helmets, and just about any place else you can imagine.

"It was a great example of a truly disruptive technology," said Sandor Barna, now vice president of core technologies at GoPro and a former employee at Photobit.

Making dental X-rays safer and cheaper

CMOS imaging was also incorporated into dental X-rays by David Schick of Schick Technologies in Long Island City, New York. The high sensitivity of CMOS sensors meant lower doses of radiation were required per X-ray. There was also no need to develop film, making turnaround quicker and eliminating the need to handle the toxic chemicals used in film development.

The fact that CMOS sensor chips could be made smaller led to the development of X-ray sensors that could fit directly inside the patient's mouth.

Increasing crop yield with self-driving tractors

Farmers have been using self-driving tractors for more than a decade, largely due to a partnership between JPL and John Deere. Combining highly accurate, real-time GPS data with sensors on these tractors has led to "precision agriculture" -- using location data to determine how much of a harvest is coming from each part of a field. The result is lower costs to farmers and increased crop yields for each harvest.

Uncorrected GPS can be off by up to 30 feet due to data errors and other factors. By combining satellite and sensor data (which tracks things like soil moisture), accuracy increased to within four inches.

Though John Deere now operates its own precision guidance system, its early partnership with JPL helped the industry eliminate wasted seed, fertilizer and pesticide, while decreasing the amount of time it takes to harvest a field.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Super Force...

A former astronaut-turned-futuristic vigilante fires lasers at hapless criminals in SUPER FORCE.

In a tradition that started six years ago today, here's another Blog entry devoted to a TV show that I enjoyed watching when I was a wee middle schooler. It was a futuristic cop series called Super Force...which aired on KTLA (Channel 5 here in Los Angeles) and lasted only two seasons, from 1990 to 1992. Super Force is about a former NASA astronaut (Zachary Stone, played by Ken Olandt) who—after returning from a trip to Mars—becomes a police officer when he finds out that his brother is (supposedly) murdered. This man enlists the help of a scientist (F.X. Spinner, portrayed by Larry B. Scott) who develops an advanced armored suit that Stone wears as he finds the people who he thought killed his sibling (who I recall revealed himself to still be alive in the Season One finale...and having his own Super Force suit to boot). Not only does Stone wear armor that can create its own force field and shoot lasers from a Boba Fett-type headpiece that lowers into place over his Master Chief-type helmet's visor, but he also drives a badass motorcycle while doing so.



It's too bad that Super Force didn't last long on television. I remember drawing the suit and motorcycle so many times during its first season (when I was in 5th grade). I've been browsing online, but unfortunately, this show isn't officially on DVD. I found one webpage that sells a DVD (which a couple of other fans apparently bought) with the series burned on it, but I don't know if I should dish out cash for this disc and hope that the video quality will actually be decent. The seller is currently selling it for $24 (with shipping included), so we'll see. I've squandered my money on worse things...

So to sum things up: Super Force is awesome! Don't be surprised to see an artwork that I drew of this cool Halo/Star Wars-y vigilante on this Blog in the near future. Happy First Day of December!

Ken Olandt played Zachary Stone, a former astronaut-turned-futuristic vigilante in SUPER FORCE.

A promo pic of SUPER FORCE and his awesome motorcycle.

The awesome HALO/STAR WARS-y helmet of SUPER FORCE.

The prototype armor initially worn by Zachary Stone on SUPER FORCE.

The final armor worn by Zachary Stone on SUPER FORCE.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Designated Survivor...

The main cast of DESIGNATED SURVIVOR.

Just thought I'd end this month by raving about my favorite new TV drama, Designated Survivor. After so many years of saving U.S. presidents by breaking arms and shooting bad guys as Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland is now saving America by being the POTUS himself. It's intriguing to watch Sutherland play President Tom Kirkman with the sort of dignity and charisma that will be missing from the real White House come January 20, 2017 (yes, I went there)...depicting a character that is the complete opposite of what Sutherland portrayed for nine seasons on FOX's 24 (this includes the 2014 mini-series 24: Live Another Day). Instead of solving political problems through brute strength, firearms and fury, Kirkman solves issues through diplomatic prowess and strong leadership... qualities that people underestimated in him early on in this season.

Designated Survivor has such a great cast surrounding Sutherland—with Natascha McElhone (who was previously on Showtime's Californication) as his wife Alex, Adan Canto as his chief of staff Aaron Shore, Italia Ricci (who was great as the villainous Silver Banshee on the former-CBS/now-The CW TV series Supergirl) as White House consultant Emily Rhodes, LaMonica Garrett as Secret Service agent Mike Ritter, Maggie Q as FBI agent Hannah Wells, Malik Yoba as FBI director Jason Atwood, Virginia Madsen as congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten (I just realized how weird that name sounds) and Kal Penn (who actually worked for President Obama in the White House) as press secretary Seth Wright. And let's not forget the main villain himself (spoiler alert): congressman Peter MacLeish, played by Ashley Zukerman, who looks like he could be the twin brother of either Jake Gyllenhaal or The Office's B.J. Novak.

With the winter finale airing next Wednesday (December 7), I can't wait to see how Designated Survivor will end in a mid-season cliffhanger. Will Peter MacLeish finally become vice president? Will Hannah Wells finally find herself in mortal danger (I'm glad she made it through tonight's episode in one piece...what with that guy in the car watching her snoop on Jason Atwood and that MacLeish conspirator on the rooftop)? Will there be another controversy unfold for the Kirkman family even after the mystery surrounding Leo's (Tanner Buchanan) biological father was resolved? (Spoiler alert: It's President Kirkman.) And just who is that whistleblower shown in the sneak preview for next week's finale? We shall see.

It's the awesome suspense in Designated Survivor, that—like 24 before it—makes me take Wednesdays off from work just to see how ABC's hit political drama continues to unfold. Along with Sutherland, fellow 24 alumnus Sean Callery also returned to compose Survivor's music score. (Kal Penn played a regular character in 'Day 6' of 24 ten years ago.) And like 24, Designated Survivor is compelling because it deals with timely issues that affect our country right now. Whereas 24's focus on terrorism was potent considering that it made its debut on television around the same time as the September 11 attacks in 2001, Designated Survivor's focus on a man who's learning the ropes after having the U.S. presidency thrust upon him applies to real life as well.

I'm not gonna fully elaborate on that last sentence above (otherwise, this entry will have six more paragraphs), but the man who most of America (unfortunately) voted for as president on November 8 showed numerous signs that he doesn't really want to be Commander In Chief. If footage of his meeting with President Obama two days after election night is any indication, Donald Trump is overwhelmed and stunned at the fact that he will (unfortunately) lead this country for the next four years. (Unless a miracle happens and he eventually emulates Richard Nixon...) It's sad that I myself watch Designated Survivor for the personal comfort of seeing a fictional president do a better job in the Oval Office than what the real president-elect will do come next January. Am I underestimating Trump? All signs points to no. If only Tom Kirkman were a real person, hah. But enough of the dreary real-world comparisons between actual American politics and a successful TV show... Designated Survivor is awesome. I can't wait to see what next week's episode, the second half of this season (and subsequent seasons, hopefully) will hold for this series. Hail to the Chief! That chief being President Kirkman, that is. Carry on.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Photos of the Day: Getting Up-Close and Personal with the Gray Ghost...

The YF-23 Gray Ghost on display at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!!! Just thought I'd share these pics that I took when I visited the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance yesterday. The aircraft shown here is none other than the YF-23 Gray Ghost...which was the sole competitor of the YF-22 Lightning II (the prototype to the F-22 Raptor) during the U.S. Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program more than 25 years ago. With Lockheed Martin (the F-22's main contractor) winning the Pentagon contract to build the USAF's newest air superiority fighter, Northrop Grumman (which constructed the YF-23) was left with turning the two aircraft that it built for the ATF competition into museum artifacts. While the Gray Ghost resides 20-plus miles south of Los Angeles, her sister ship—the Black Widow II—is on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Posing with the YF-23 Gray Ghost (and the F-14 Tomcat behind it) at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

Also on display at the Western Museum of Flight is an F-14 Tomcat, a NASA T-38 Talon, an F-5A Freedom Fighter, an A-4A Skyhawk and the YF-17 Cobra (the prototype to the F/A-18 Hornet). I'd post individual photos of these jets in this entry as well, but you know, it's all about the Gray Ghost. Have a great holiday, folks!

LINK: More photos I took of the YF-23 and other aircraft at the Western Museum of Flight

The YF-23 Gray Ghost on display at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

The YF-23 Gray Ghost  (with the A-4A Skyhawk visible underneath it) on display at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

The YF-23 Gray Ghost on display at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

The YF-23 Gray Ghost on display (with the NASA T-38 Talon in front of it) at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016. The YF-23 Gray Ghost on display (with the YF-17 Cobra visible in the background) at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

The YF-23 Gray Ghost on display (with the F-14 Tomcat in the background) at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA...on November 23, 2016.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

More Awesome Watery News from the Red Planet...

Based on radar data obtained by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, this view of Mars' Utopia Planitia region shows features that may indicate underground water ice.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

Mars Ice Deposit Holds as Much Water as Lake Superior (Press Release)

Frozen beneath a region of cracked and pitted plains on Mars lies about as much water as what's in Lake Superior, largest of the Great Lakes, researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have determined.

Scientists examined part of Mars' Utopia Planitia region, in the mid-northern latitudes, with the orbiter's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument. Analyses of data from more than 600 overhead passes with the onboard radar instrument reveal a deposit more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico. The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet (80 meters) to about 560 feet (170 meters), with a composition that's 50 to 85 percent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles.

At the latitude of this deposit -- about halfway from the equator to the pole -- water ice cannot persist on the surface of Mars today. It sublimes into water vapor in the planet's thin, dry atmosphere. The Utopia deposit is shielded from the atmosphere by a soil covering estimated to be about 3 to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters) thick.

"This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet's axis was more tilted than it is today," said Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, Austin. She is the lead author of a report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Mars today, with an axial tilt of 25 degrees, accumulates large amounts of water ice at the poles. In cycles lasting about 120,000 years, the tilt varies to nearly twice that much, heating the poles and driving ice to middle latitudes. Climate modeling and previous findings of buried, mid-latitude ice indicate that frozen water accumulates away from the poles during high-tilt periods.

Martian Water as a Future Resource

The name Utopia Planitia translates loosely as the "plains of paradise." The newly surveyed ice deposit spans latitudes from 39 to 49 degrees within the plains. It represents less than one percent of all known water ice on Mars, but it more than doubles the volume of thick, buried ice sheets known in the northern plains. Ice deposits close to the surface are being considered as a resource for astronauts.

"This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice," said Jack Holt of the University of Texas, a co-author of the Utopia paper who is a SHARAD co-investigator and has previously used radar to study Martian ice in buried glaciers and the polar caps.

The Utopian water is all frozen now. If there were a melted layer -- which would be significant for the possibility of life on Mars -- it would have been evident in the radar scans. However, some melting can't be ruled out during different climate conditions when the planet's axis was more tilted. "Where water ice has been around for a long time, we just don't know whether there could have been enough liquid water at some point for supporting microbial life," Holt said.

Utopia Planitia is a basin with a diameter of about 2,050 miles (3,300 kilometers), resulting from a major impact early in Mars' history and subsequently filled. NASA sent the Viking 2 Lander to a site near the center of Utopia in 1976. The portion examined by Stuurman and colleagues lies southwest of that long-silent lander.

Use of the Italian-built SHARAD instrument for examining part of Utopia Planitia was prompted by Gordon Osinski at Western University in Ontario, Canada, a co-author of the study. For many years, he and other researchers have been intrigued by ground-surface patterns there such as polygonal cracking and rimless pits called scalloped depressions -- "like someone took an ice-cream scoop to the ground," said Stuurman, who started this project while a student at Western.

Clue from Canada

In the Canadian Arctic, similar landforms are indicative of ground ice, Osinski noted, "but there was an outstanding question as to whether any ice was still present at the Martian Utopia or whether it had been lost over the millions of years since the formation of these polygons and depressions."

The large volume of ice detected with SHARAD advances understanding about Mars' history and identifies a possible resource for future use.

"It's important to expand what we know about the distribution and quantity of Martian water," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We know early Mars had enough liquid water on the surface for rivers and lakes. Where did it go? Much of it left the planet from the top of the atmosphere. Other missions have been examining that process. But there's also a large quantity that is now underground ice, and we want to keep learning more about that."

Joe Levy of the University of Texas, a co-author of the new study, said, "The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren't just an exploration resource, they're also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars. We don't understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others. Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages."

SHARAD is one of six science instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which began its prime science phase 10 years ago this month. The mission's longevity is enabling studies of features and active processes all around Mars, from subsurface to upper atmosphere. The Italian Space Agency provided the SHARAD instrument and Sapienza University of Rome leads its operations. The Planetary Science Institute, based in Tucson, Arizona, leads U.S. involvement in SHARAD. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the orbiter mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver built the spacecraft and supports its operations.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Friday, November 18, 2016

Dawn Update: A(n Approximate) True Color Image of Ceres Is Finally Revealed...

Using data from the Dawn spacecraft's first science orbit in 2015, this image of Ceres approximates how the dwarf planet's colors would appear to the human eye.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

New Ceres Views as Dawn Moves Higher (Press Release)

The brightest area on Ceres stands out amid shadowy, cratered terrain in a dramatic new view (shown below) from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, taken as it looked off to the side of the dwarf planet. Dawn snapped this image on Oct. 16, from its fifth science orbit, in which the angle of the sun was different from that in previous orbits. Dawn was about 920 miles (1,480 kilometers) above Ceres when this image was taken -- an altitude the spacecraft had reached in early October.

Occator Crater, with its central bright region and secondary, less-reflective areas, appears quite prominent near the limb, or edge, of Ceres. At 57 miles (92 kilometers) wide and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep, Occator displays evidence of recent geologic activity. The latest research suggests that the bright material in this crater is comprised of salts left behind after a briny liquid emerged from below, froze and then sublimated, meaning it turned from ice into vapor.

The impact that formed the crater millions of years ago unearthed material that blanketed the area outside the crater, and may have triggered the upwelling of salty liquid.

"This image captures the wonder of soaring above this fascinating, unique world that Dawn is the first to explore," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Dawn scientists also have released an image of Ceres that approximates how the dwarf planet's colors would appear to the human eye. This view, produced by the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, combines images taken from Dawn's first science orbit in 2015, using the framing camera's red, green and blue filters. The color was calculated based on the way Ceres reflects different wavelengths of light.

The spacecraft has gathered tens of thousands of images and other information from Ceres since arriving in orbit on March 6, 2015. After spending more than eight months studying Ceres at an altitude of about 240 miles (385 kilometers), closer than the International Space Station is to Earth, Dawn headed for a higher vantage point in August. In October, while the spacecraft was at its 920-mile altitude, it returned images and other valuable insights about Ceres.

On Nov. 4, Dawn began making its way to a sixth science orbit, which will be over 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from Ceres. While Dawn needed to make several changes in its direction while spiraling between most previous orbits at Ceres, engineers have figured out a way for the spacecraft to arrive at this next orbit while the ion engine thrusts in the same direction that Dawn is already going. This uses less hydrazine and xenon fuel than Dawn's normal spiral maneuvers. Dawn should reach this next orbit in early December.

One goal of Dawn's sixth science orbit is to refine previously collected measurements. The spacecraft's gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which has been investigating the composition of Ceres' surface, will characterize the radiation from cosmic rays unrelated to Ceres. This will allow scientists to subtract "noise" from measurements of Ceres, making the information more precise.

The spacecraft is healthy as it continues to operate in its extended mission phase, which began in July. During the primary mission, Dawn orbited and accomplished all of its original objectives at Ceres and protoplanet Vesta, which the spacecraft visited from July 2011 to September 2012.

Dawn's mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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

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An image of Ceres' Occator Crater that was taken by the Dawn spacecraft on October 16, 2016.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Quick Note: ERG Gets A Launch Date...

Japan's Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) satellite is scheduled to launch on December 20, 2016 (Japan Standard Time).
JAXA

Launch of the Second Epsilon Launch Vehicle with the Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace on Board (Press Release)

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch the second Epsilon Launch Vehicle with the Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) on board. The launch schedule is as follows.

Launch date: December 20, 2016 (JST)

Launch time: 8:00 p.m. through 9:00 p.m. (JST)

Launch window: December 21, 2016 through January 31, 2017

Launch site: Uchinoura Space Center

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Japan's ERG satellite is scheduled to launch on December 20, 2016 (Japan Standard Time).
JAXA

Friday, November 11, 2016

Happy Veterans Day!

A photo that I took of an F-35B Lightning II at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, CA...on September 24, 2016.

Along with today's holiday, yesterday marked the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps. To commemorate, here are two photos that I took of an F-35B Lightning II (the USMC's variant of the Joint Strike Fighter) at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego almost two months ago. Oorah!

Another photo that I took of an F-35B Lightning II at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego...on September 24, 2016.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

THIS MAN Should've Been President...


U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders posted the tweet above that was a warning to Donald Trump if he actually tried to keep true to the divisive rhetoric that he spouted during the presidential race. Sanders also posted this notice yesterday...

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Sanders Statement on Trump (Press Release - November 9)

BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 9 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement Wednesday after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States:

“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids - all while the very rich become much richer.

“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

Source: Sanders.Senate.gov

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

GODDAMN IT.

Donald Trump addresses his supporters after (unfortunately) being elected as the President of the United States on November 8, 2016.

Donald Trump has been elected as the next President of the United States. Thanks for the huge fuckin' fail, America. Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange must both be smoking cigars right now... The angry, possibly-unemployed, non-college-educated Caucasian males (RE: white trash dumbasses. You fuckin' heard me) living in the Rust Belt feel vindicated... FBI Director James Comey either feels guilty or indifferent over this debacle partly being his fault... Muslim, Latino and female voters are getting teary-eyed because of the fact that the nation just voted for a person who has little respect for them... And Gary Johnson and Jill Stein must both be proud that they pulled a Ralph Nader 2.0 in this election. (Friggin' assholes.) Oh, and folks who voted for Hillary (like I did) are trying to grasp the notion that a KKK-endorsed candidate was elected into the Oval Office eight years after the White House became home to the first-ever African-American president. Completely outrageous.

Inauguration Day is on January 20. A little over two months remain before we find out just how much of an absolute clusterfuck this will be. Of course, if last night and his presidential campaign in general are any indication, Trump may just prove us wrong and actually be the leader who might "make America great again." *Remembers how the three presidential debates went a few weeks ago* Oh who am I fuckin' kidding? The demise of America began yesterday.

I reckon Dumbfuckistan's capital is somewhere in its penis (a.k.a. Florida).

PS: KOST 103.5 FM started playing Christmas music here in Los Angeles this morning. Thanksgiving is still 15 days away. As if this week couldn't get any shittier...

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Moment of Reckoning Has Arrived...

We'll see if my fellow Americans take heed of this pic that I stumbled upon on Facebook and vote for the most-qualified candidate today. If past elections are any indication (George Dubya in 2000, Ah-nold Schwarzenegger during the California recall in 2003), the answer will be a resounding 'no.'

The Germans know a thing or two about the dangers of having a fascist run their country.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Hubble's Successor Is All But Complete...

The sunshield for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is completed at Northrop Grumman’s Space Park facility in Redondo Beach, California.
Northrop Grumman

Final Sunshield Layer Completed for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (News Release - October 31)

The last of the five sunshield layers responsible for protecting the optics and instruments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is now complete.

Designed by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, the Webb telescope’s sunshield will prevent the background heat from the sun from interfering with the telescope’s infrared sensors. The five sunshield membrane layers, designed and manufactured by the NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama, are each as thin as a human hair. The layers work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Each successive layer of the sunshield, made of kapton, is cooler than the one below. The fifth and final layer was delivered on Sept. 29, 2016 to Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Space Park facility in Redondo Beach.

“The completed sunshield membranes are the culmination of years of collaborative effort by the NeXolve, Northrop Grumman and NASA team," said James Cooper, Webb telescope Sunshield manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "All five layers are beautifully executed and exceed their requirements. This is another big milestone for the Webb telescope project.”

Northrop Grumman, who also designed the Webb telescope’s optics and spacecraft bus for NASA Goddard will integrate the final flight layers into the sunshield subsystem to conduct folding and deployment testing as part of the final system validation process.

“The groundbreaking sunshield design will assist in providing the imaging of the formation of stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago,” said Jim Flynn, Webb sunshield manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “The delivery of this final flight sunshield membrane is a significant milestone as we prepare for 2018 launch.”

The sunshield is the size of a tennis court, helping solidify the Webb telescope as the largest ever built for space. The sunshield, along with the rest of the spacecraft, will fold origami-style into an Ariane 5 rocket.

“The five tennis court-sized sunshield membranes took more than three years to complete and represents a decade of design, development and manufacturing,” said Greg Laue, sunshield program manager at NeXolve.

The Webb telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Webb telescope will observe distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The Webb Telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The primary mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope is displayed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Photo of the Day: The Curse Has Been Lifted!

Chicago Cubs players celebrate after they win their first World Series title in 108 years...on November 2, 2016 (Pacific Time).
Matt Slocum / Associated Press

Much props to the Chicago Cubs for winning Game 7 of the World Series tonight! This title marked their first championship in 108 years...the last victory being when the Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the World Series on October 14, 1908. Anyways— Sorry about that, Cleveland Indians. You and your fans can always stare at the NBA championship banner that now hangs inside Quicken Loans Arena whenever you attend a Cavaliers game. Carry on!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The F-35B Begins New Tests at Sea...

An F-35B Lightning II is about to take off from the amphibious assault ship USS America, on October 28, 2016.
U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Wooddy

F-35 Lightning II Testing Begins on USS America (Press Release - October 31)

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Five Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft landed on the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) on Friday, October 28.

America will embark seven F-35Bs -- two are scheduled to begin the third shipboard phase of developmental test (DT-III) and five are scheduled to conduct operational testing.

America, the first ship of its class, is an aviation-centric platform that incorporates key design elements to accommodate the fifth-generation fighter.

The ship's design features several aviation capabilities enhanced beyond previous amphibious assault ships which include an enlarged hangar deck, realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities, a significant increase in available stowage of parts and equipment, as well as increased aviation fuel capacity.

America is capable of accommodating F-35Bs, MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and a complement of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters.

The third test phase will evaluate F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) operations in a high-sea state, shipboard landings, and night operations. The cadre of flight test pilots, engineers, maintainers, and support personnel from the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) are assigned to Air Test & Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

"It's exciting to start the execution phase of our detachment with VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1) on USS America," said Lt. Col. Tom "Sally" Fields, F-35 Patuxent River ITF Government Flight Test director assigned to VX-23. "During the next three weeks, we will be completing critical flight test for both Developmental Test (DT) and Operational Test (OT). The F-35 Pax River ITF and VX-23 will be conducting DT work that will establish the boundaries of safe operation for the F-35B in the 3F configuration. VMX-1 will be conducting OT operations focused on preparing maintenance crews and pilots for the first deployment of the F-35B aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1), scheduled to start in just over a year."

The operational testing will also include simulating extensive maintenance aboard a ship, said Col. George Rowell, commanding officer of VMX-1, based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

Rowell stated one of the VMX jets on board will be placed in the hangar bay, taken apart, and put together again, just to make sure everything goes well.

The maintenance work will include the replacement of a lift fan, the specialized equipment made by Rolls Royce and Pratt and Whitney that gives the F-35B variant its short take-off, "jump jet" capability, Rowell said.

The Marine Corps variant of the F-35 Lightning II reached the fleet first, with the service declaring initial operational capability July 2015.

"The F-35 Lightning II is the most versatile, agile, and technologically-advanced aircraft in the skies today, enabling our Corps to be the nation's force in readiness -- regardless of the threat, and regardless of the location of the battle," said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, Marine Corps. "As we modernize our fixed-wing aviation assets for the future, the continued development and fielding of the short take-off and vertical landing, the F-35B remains the centerpiece of this effort."

"The America class of amphibious assault ship design enables it to carry a larger and more diverse complement of aircraft, including the tiltrotor MV-22 Osprey, the new F-35 Lightning II, and a mix of cargo and assault helicopters," added Davis. "America is able to support a wide spectrum of military operations and missions, including putting Marines ashore for combat operations, launching air strikes, keeping sea lanes free and open for the movement of global commerce, and delivering humanitarian aid following a natural disaster."

Source: United States Navy

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A photo I took with an F-35B Lightning II parked on the tarmac at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Images of the Day: Destroying the Invincible...

Attacking the Star Destroyer Invincible after I destroyed its two shield generators during Tour of Duty 1: Mission 3 in the STAR WARS: X-WING video game.

Happy Halloween, everyone!! Nothing's cooler (unless I actually had my life priorities straight) than blowing up a Star Destroyer during a mission in which I don't need to blow it up in order to achieve the objectives at hand. That would be Tour of Duty 1: Mission 3 in the Star Wars: X-Wing video game. Yes, two years after I've purchased it online, I still play this awesome game on my laptop. Death to the Invincible!

Needless to say, Tour of Duty 1: Mission 3 was a huge success.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

New Horizons Update: All Data From The Pluto Flyby Have Been Sent Home!

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft transmitting data back to Earth.
NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

New Horizons Returns Last Bits of 2015 Flyby Data to Earth (News Release)

NASA’s New Horizons mission reached a major milestone this week when the last bits of science data from the Pluto flyby – stored on the spacecraft’s digital recorders since July 2015 – arrived safely on Earth.

Having traveled from the New Horizons spacecraft over 3.4 billion miles, or 5.5 billion kilometers (five hours, eight minutes at light speed), the final item – a segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager – arrived at mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, at 5:48 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25. The downlink came via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. It was the last of the 50-plus total gigabits of Pluto system data transmitted to Earth by New Horizons over the past 15 months.

“The Pluto system data that New Horizons collected has amazed us over and over again with the beauty and complexity of Pluto and its system of moons,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “There’s a great deal of work ahead for us to understand the 400-plus scientific observations that have all been sent to Earth. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do—after all, who knows when the next data from a spacecraft visiting Pluto will be sent?”

Because it had only one shot at its target, New Horizons was designed to gather as much data as it could, as quickly as it could – taking about 100 times more data on close approach to Pluto and its moons than it could have sent home before flying onward. The spacecraft was programmed to send select, high-priority datasets home in the days just before and after close approach, and began returning the vast amount of remaining stored data in September 2015.

“We have our pot of gold,” said Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, of APL.

Bowman said the team will conduct a final data-verification review before erasing the two onboard recorders, and clearing space for new data to be taken during the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission (KEM) that will include a series of distant Kuiper Belt object observations and a close encounter with a small Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 4:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on October 27, 2016.  It is 3.5 billion miles from Earth.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 4:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on October 27, 2016. It is 3.5 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.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Red Planet As Seen In Ultraviolet...

An ultraviolet image of Mars that was taken by NASA's MAVEN spacecraft on July 9-10, 2016.
NASA / MAVEN / University of Colorado

NASA's MAVEN Mission Gives Unprecedented Ultraviolet View of Mars (Press Release - October 17)

New global images of Mars from the MAVEN mission show the ultraviolet glow from the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail, revealing dynamic, previously invisible behavior. They include the first images of "nightglow" that can be used to show how winds circulate at high altitudes. Additionally, dayside ultraviolet imagery from the spacecraft shows how ozone amounts change over the seasons and how afternoon clouds form over giant Martian volcanoes. The images were taken by the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN).

"MAVEN obtained hundreds of such images in recent months, giving some of the best high-resolution ultraviolet coverage of Mars ever obtained," said Nick Schneider of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Schneider is presenting these results Oct. 19 at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California.

Nightside images show ultraviolet (UV) "nightglow" emission from nitric oxide (abbreviated NO). Nightglow is a common planetary phenomenon in which the sky faintly glows even in the complete absence of external light. Mars' nightside atmosphere emits light in the ultraviolet due to chemical reactions that start on Mars' dayside. Ultraviolet light from the sun breaks down molecules of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and the resulting atoms are carried around the planet by high-altitude wind patterns that encircle the planet. On the nightside, these winds bring the atoms down to lower altitudes where nitrogen and oxygen atoms collide to form nitric oxide molecules. The recombination releases extra energy, which comes out as ultraviolet light.

Scientists predicted NO nightglow at Mars, and prior missions detected its presence, but MAVEN has returned the first images of this phenomenon in the Martian atmosphere. Splotches and streaks appearing in these images occur where NO recombination is enhanced by winds. Such concentrations are clear evidence of strong irregularities in Mars' high altitude winds and circulation patterns. These winds control how Mars' atmosphere responds to its very strong seasonal cycles. These first images will lead to an improved determination of the circulation patterns that control the behavior of the atmosphere from approximately 37 to 62 miles (about 60 to 100 kilometers) high.

Dayside images show the atmosphere and surface near Mars' south pole in unprecedented ultraviolet detail. They were obtained as spring comes to the southern hemisphere. Ozone is destroyed when water vapor is present, so ozone accumulates in the winter polar region where the water vapor has frozen out of the atmosphere. The images show ozone lasting into spring, indicating that global winds are inhibiting the spread of water vapor from the rest of the planet into winter polar regions. Wave patterns in the images, revealed by UV absorption from ozone concentrations, are critical to understanding the wind patterns, giving scientists an additional means to study the chemistry and global circulation of the atmosphere.

MAVEN observations also show afternoon cloud formation over the four giant volcanoes on Mars, much as clouds form over mountain ranges on Earth. IUVS images of cloud formation are among the best ever taken showing the development of clouds throughout the day. Clouds are a key to understanding a planet's energy balance and water vapor inventory, so these observations will be valuable in understanding the daily and seasonal behavior of the atmosphere.

"MAVEN's elliptical orbit is just right," said Justin Deighan of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the observations. "It rises high enough to take a global picture, but still orbits fast enough to get multiple views as Mars rotates over the course of a day."

MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Martian hemispheres as seen in the ultraviolet by NASA's MAVEN spacecraft on July 9-10, 2016.
NASA / MAVEN / University of Colorado