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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mars 2020 Update: Curiosity's Successor Will Be Bristling With Cameras...

An infographic showing all of the cameras that will fly aboard NASA's Mars 2020 rover.
NASA / JPL

Next Mars Rover Will Have 23 'Eyes' (News Release)

When NASA's Mars Pathfinder touched down in 1997, it had five cameras: two on a mast that popped up from the lander, and three on NASA's first rover, Sojourner.

Since then, camera technology has taken a quantum leap. Photo sensors that were improved by the space program have become commercially ubiquitous. Cameras have shrunk in size, increased in quality and are now carried in every cellphone and laptop.

That same evolution has returned to space. NASA's Mars 2020 mission will have more "eyes" than any rover before it: a grand total of 23, to create sweeping panoramas, reveal obstacles, study the atmosphere, and assist science instruments. They will provide dramatic views during the rover's descent to Mars and be the first to capture images of a parachute as it opens on another planet. There will even be a camera inside the rover's body, which will study samples as they're stored and left on the surface for collection by a future mission.

A Snapshot of Some Mars 2020 Cameras

Enhanced Engineering Cameras: Color, higher resolution and wider fields of view than engineering cameras.

Mastcam-Z: An improved version of Curiosity's MASTCAM with a 3:1 zoom lens.

SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI): The highest-resolution remote imager will have color, a change from the imager that flew with Curiosity's ChemCam.

CacheCam: Will watch as rock samples are deposited into the rover's body.

Entry, descent and landing cameras: Six cameras will record the entry, descent and landing process, providing the first video of a parachute opening on another planet.

Lander Vision System Camera: Will use computer vision to guide the landing, using a new technology called terrain relative navigation.

SkyCam: A suite of weather instruments will include a sky-facing camera for studying clouds and the atmosphere.


All these cameras will be incorporated as the Mars 2020 rover is built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. They represent a steady progression since Pathfinder: after that mission, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were designed with 10 cameras each, including on their landers; Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover has 17.

"Camera technology keeps improving," said Justin Maki of JPL, Mars 2020's imaging scientist and deputy principal investigator of the Mastcam-Z instrument. "Each successive mission is able to utilize these improvements, with better performance and lower cost."

That advantage represents a full circle of development, from NASA to the private sector and back. In the 1980s, JPL developed active-pixel sensors that used less power than earlier digital camera technology. These sensors were later commercialized by the Photobit Corporation, founded by former JPL researcher Eric Fossum, now at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

20/20 Vision

The cameras on 2020 will include more color and 3-D imaging than on Curiosity, said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe, principal investigator for 2020's Mastcam-Z. The "Z" stands for "zoom," which will be added to an improved version of Curiosity's high-definition Mastcam, the rover's main eyes.

Mastcam-Z's stereoscopic cameras can support more 3-D images, which are ideal for examining geologic features and scouting potential samples from long distances away. Features like erosion and soil textures can be spotted at the length of a soccer field. Documenting details like these is important: They could reveal geologic clues and serve as "field notes" to contextualize samples for future scientists.

"Routinely using 3-D images at high resolution could pay off in a big way," Bell said. "They're useful for both long-range and near-field science targets."

Finally, in color

The Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers were all designed with engineering cameras for planning drives (Navcams) and avoiding hazards (Hazcams). These produced 1-megapixel images in black and white.

On the new rover, the engineering cameras have been upgraded to acquire high-resolution, 20-megapixel color images.

Their lenses will also have a wider field of view. That's critical for the 2020 mission, which will try to maximize the time spent doing science and collecting samples.

"Our previous Navcams would snap multiple pictures and stitch them together," said Colin McKinney of JPL, product delivery manager for the new engineering cameras. "With the wider field of view, we get the same perspective in one shot."

That means less time spent panning, snapping pictures and stitching. The cameras are also able to reduce motion blur, so they can take photos while the rover is on the move.

A Data Link to Mars

There's a challenge in all this upgrading: It means beaming more data through space.

"The limiting factor in most imaging systems is the telecommunications link," Maki said. "Cameras are capable of acquiring much more data than can be sent back to Earth."

To address that problem, rover cameras have gotten "smarter" over time -- especially regarding compression.

On Spirit and Opportunity, the compression was done using the onboard computer; on Curiosity, much of it was done using electronics built into the camera. That allows for more 3-D imaging, color, and even high-speed video.

NASA has also gotten better at using orbiting spacecraft as data relays. That concept was pioneered for rover missions with Spirit and Opportunity. The idea of using relays started as an experiment with NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, Bell said.

"We were expecting to do that mission on just tens of megabits each Mars day, or sol," he said. "When we got that first Odyssey overflight, and we had about 100 megabits per sol, we realized it was a whole new ballgame."

NASA plans to use existing spacecraft already in orbit at Mars -- the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and the European Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter -- as relays for the Mars 2020 mission, which will support the cameras during the rover's first two years.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Interstellar Interloper...

An animated GIF showing interstellar object A/2017 U1 moving through our solar system on its trip back into deep space.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Small Asteroid or Comet 'Visits' from Beyond the Solar System (News Release - October 26)

A small, recently discovered asteroid -- or perhaps a comet -- appears to have originated from outside the solar system, coming from somewhere else in our galaxy. If so, it would be the first "interstellar object" to be observed and confirmed by astronomers.

This unusual object - for now designated A/2017 U1 - is less than a quarter-mile (400 meters) in diameter and is moving remarkably fast. Astronomers are urgently working to point telescopes around the world and in space at this notable object. Once these data are obtained and analyzed, astronomers may know more about the origin and possibly composition of the object.

A/2017 U1 was discovered Oct. 19 by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, during the course of its nightly search for near-Earth objects for NASA. Rob Weryk, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA), was first to identify the moving object and submit it to the Minor Planet Center. Weryk subsequently searched the Pan-STARRS image archive and found it also was in images taken the previous night, but was not initially identified by the moving object processing.

Weryk immediately realized this was an unusual object. "Its motion could not be explained using either a normal solar system asteroid or comet orbit," he said. Weryk contacted IfA graduate Marco Micheli, who had the same realization using his own follow-up images taken at the European Space Agency's telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. But with the combined data, everything made sense. Said Weryk, "This object came from outside our solar system."

"This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen," said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist at NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back."

The CNEOS team plotted the object's current trajectory and even looked into its future. A/2017 U1 came from the direction of the constellation Lyra, cruising through interstellar space at a brisk clip of 15.8 miles (25.5 kilometers) per second.

The object approached our solar system from almost directly "above" the ecliptic, the approximate plane in space where the planets and most asteroids orbit the Sun, so it did not have any close encounters with the eight major planets during its plunge toward the Sun. On Sept. 2, the small body crossed under the ecliptic plane just inside of Mercury's orbit and then made its closest approach to the Sun on Sept. 9. Pulled by the Sun's gravity, the object made a hairpin turn under our solar system, passing under Earth's orbit on Oct. 14 at a distance of about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) -- about 60 times the distance to the Moon. It has now shot back up above the plane of the planets and, travelling at 27 miles per second (44 kilometers per second) with respect to the Sun, the object is speeding toward the constellation Pegasus.

"We have long suspected that these objects should exist, because during the process of planet formation a lot of material should be ejected from planetary systems. What's most surprising is that we've never seen interstellar objects pass through before," said Karen Meech, an astronomer at the IfA specializing in small bodies and their connection to solar system formation.

The small body has been assigned the temporary designation A/2017 U1 by the Minor Planet Center (MPC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where all observations on small bodies in our solar system -- and now those just passing through -- are collected. Said MPC Director Matt Holman, "This kind of discovery demonstrates the great scientific value of continual wide-field surveys of the sky, coupled with intensive follow-up observations, to find things we wouldn't otherwise know are there."

Since this is the first object of its type ever discovered, rules for naming this type of object will need to be established by the International Astronomical Union.

"We have been waiting for this day for decades," said CNEOS Manager Paul Chodas. "It's long been theorized that such objects exist -- asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system -- but this is the first such detection. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it."

The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) is a wide-field survey observatory operated by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. The Minor Planet Center is hosted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and is a sub-node of NASA's Planetary Data System Small Bodies Node at the University of Maryland (http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/). JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). All are projects of NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, and elements of the agency's Planetary Defense Coordination Office within NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Posing for a photo atop the Haleakala volcanic summit—which is home to the Pan-STARRS telescope that discovered A/2017 U1—during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, in May of 2000.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

JWST Update: Hubble's Successor Deploys Its Shield...

The sunshield for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is fully deployed at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.
Northrop Grumman

Sunshield Deployment and Layers Fully Tensioned on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Press Release)

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – Oct. 26, 2017 – Northrop Grumman Corporation, which designed NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) optics, spacecraft bus, and sunshield for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, has deployed the sunshield subsystem and fully tensioned the five sunshield layers for the first time.

“The first tensioning of the sunshield is a monumental and exciting moment, not only for the program but for the collaborative JWST team,” said Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems “The innovative sunshield is an industry first, and will protect Webb’s optics from heat, making it possible to gather images of the formation of the first stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago.”

In space, the sunshield subsystem divides the JWST observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold space-facing side comprised of the optics and scientific instruments. The sunshield subsystem, which includes the structure and mechanisms required for deploying the five-layer subsystem, was designed, manufactured and assembled by Northrop Grumman, with the five membrane layers manufactured by the NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama.

The flight membranes will be folded, stowed and tensioned again two additional times for testing. The folding and stowing method is how the membranes will be folded and stowed for launch. The sunshield layers, known for being the size of a tennis court, will protect and prevent the background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon from interfering with JWST’s infrared sensors.

The sunshield layers, each as thin as a human hair, work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Moving from the Sun-facing layer to the one closest to the telescope, each successive layer of the sunshield, which is made of Kapton, is cooler than the one below. The sunshield, along with the rest of the spacecraft, will fold origami-style into an Ariane 5 rocket.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the scientific complement to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, will be the premier space observatory of the next decade. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: Northrop Grumman

Monday, October 23, 2017

The F-35A Is Ready to be Deployed Overseas...

An F-35A Lightning II is ready for takeoff at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii...on October 13, 2017.
USAF / Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman

U.S. Air Force's F-35A Lightning II Scheduled for First Operational Deployment to Indo-Asia-Pacific (Press Release)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Approximately 300 Airmen and 12 F-35A Lightning IIs from Hill Air Force Base, Utah’s 34th Fighter Squadron are set to deploy to Kadena Air Base, Japan for a six month rotation. The aircraft and supporting personnel are scheduled to arrive at Kadena in early November.

This marks U.S. Pacific Command’s first operational tasking for the F-35A and builds upon the U.S. Air Force fifth-generation stealth fighter’s successful debut in the Indo-Asia-Pacific at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) earlier this month.

“The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet,” said Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander. “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”

The F-35A is being deployed under U.S. PACOM’s theater security package (TSP) program, which has been in operation since 2004. This long-planned deployment is designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.

While a first in-theater for the F-35A, the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B variant has been stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan since January, 2017.

Source: Pacific Air Forces

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Photos of the Day: An F-35B Conducts Training Exercises at Sea...

An F-35B Lightning II is about to take off from the deck of the USS Essex during a training exercise off the coast of Southern California...on October 22, 2017.
USMC / Lance Cpl. Roderick Jacquote

F-35B Lightning II Carrier Qualifications (News Release)

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, descends to the flight deck of the USS Essex (LHD 2) during Exercise Dawn Blitz in the Pacific Ocean off California Oct. 22, 2017. Dawn Blitz is a scenario-driven amphibious exercise conducted between Expeditionary Strike Group 3 and 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, testing their ability to conduct amphibious operations in response to global crises and to project power ashore as part of a Navy-Marine Corps team.

Source: Defense Video Imagery Distribution System

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An F-35B Lightning II is about to touch down onto the deck of the USS Essex during a training exercise off the coast of Southern California...on October 22, 2017.
USMC / Lance Cpl. Roderick Jacquote

An F-35B Lightning II is about to touch down onto the deck of the USS Essex during a training exercise off the coast of Southern California...on October 22, 2017.
USMC / Lance Cpl. Roderick Jacquote

An F-35B Lightning II is about to touch down onto the deck of the USS Essex during a training exercise off the coast of Southern California...on October 22, 2017.
USMC / Lance Cpl. Roderick Jacquote

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Los Doyers Are Goin' Back to the World Series...

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS)...on October 19, 2017.
Getty Images

29 years after winning their last championship at the expense of the Oakland A's, the Los Angeles Dodgers are headed back to the Fall Classic after laying a smackdown on the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field tonight. Game 1 of the World Series takes place at Dodger Stadium next Tuesday, October 24, against the winner of the American League Championship Series. So by either tomorrow night or Saturday evening, the Los Doyers will be prepping to play the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees in the final round. Chances are, the head honchos at Major League Baseball's main office are hoping it's the latter. Gotta make that dough and the high TV ratings, ya know...

I'm an Angels fan, but being a proud California native who's attended every Lakers parade since 2000 and both parades for the L.A. Kings in 2012 and 2014, respectively, I'll root for any team that continues to make SoCal—and Los Angeles in general—the championship capital of this nation. Keep in mind that the Los Angeles Sparks were so close to winning a WNBA title against the Minnesota Lynx a little over two weeks ago (the Lynx clinched the championship in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals...which took place on my birthday, October 4).

Assuming that the Dodgers win it all by November 1st (which is when a Game 7 would be played—in Los Angeles), the Clippers will be the only team in the City of Angels to not win a championship since the start of this century (the Rams and the Chargers are excluded...for now). I'll wait till the outcome of the World Series to pour haterade on the only title-less team to currently play inside STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles. That is all.

The Los Angeles Dodgers take a group photo after defeating the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the NLCS...on October 19, 2017.
Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Monday, October 16, 2017

Spotting a KILONOVA: An Awesome Discovery in the Cosmos...

A kilonova (box) as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory in optical and infrared light, as well as in X-ray.
NASA / CXC / E. Troja

NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave Event (Press Release)

For the first time, NASA scientists have detected light tied to a gravitational-wave event, thanks to two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra.

Shortly after 8:41 a.m. EDT on Aug. 17, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up a pulse of high-energy light from a powerful explosion, which was immediately reported to astronomers around the globe as a short gamma-ray burst. The scientists at the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves dubbed GW170817 from a pair of smashing stars tied to the gamma-ray burst, encouraging astronomers to look for the aftermath of the explosion. Shortly thereafter, the burst was detected as part of a follow-up analysis by ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) INTEGRAL satellite.

NASA's Swift, Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer missions, along with dozens of ground-based observatories, including the NASA-funded Pan-STARRS survey, later captured the fading glow of the blast's expanding debris.

"This is extremely exciting science," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. "Now, for the first time, we've seen light and gravitational waves produced by the same event. The detection of a gravitational-wave source’s light has revealed details of the event that cannot be determined from gravitational waves alone. The multiplier effect of study with many observatories is incredible."

Neutron stars are the crushed, leftover cores of massive stars that previously exploded as supernovas long ago. The merging stars likely had masses between 10 and 60 percent greater than that of our Sun, but they were no wider than Washington, D.C. The pair whirled around each other hundreds of times a second, producing gravitational waves at the same frequency. As they drew closer and orbited faster, the stars eventually broke apart and merged, producing both a gamma-ray burst and a rarely seen flare-up called a "kilonova."

"This is the one we've all been waiting for," said David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "Neutron star mergers produce a wide variety of light because the objects form a maelstrom of hot debris when they collide. Merging black holes -- the types of events LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo, have previously seen -- very likely consume any matter around them long before they crash, so we don't expect the same kind of light show."

"The favored explanation for short gamma-ray bursts is that they're caused by a jet of debris moving near the speed of light produced in the merger of neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole," said Eric Burns, a member of Fermi's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "LIGO tells us there was a merger of compact objects, and Fermi tells us there was a short gamma-ray burst. Together, we know that what we observed was the merging of two neutron stars, dramatically confirming the relationship."

Within hours of the initial Fermi detection, LIGO and the Virgo detector at the European Gravitational Observatory near Pisa, Italy, greatly refined the event's position in the sky with additional analysis of gravitational wave data. Ground-based observatories then quickly located a new optical and infrared source -- the kilonova -- in NGC 4993.

To Fermi, this appeared to be a typical short gamma-ray burst, but it occurred less than one-tenth as far away as any other short burst with a known distance, making it among the faintest known. Astronomers are still trying to figure out why this burst is so odd, and how this event relates to the more luminous gamma-ray bursts seen at much greater distances.

NASA’s Swift, Hubble and Spitzer missions followed the evolution of the kilonova to better understand the composition of this slower-moving material, while Chandra searched for X-rays associated with the remains of the ultra-fast jet.

When Swift turned to the galaxy shortly after Fermi’s gamma-ray burst detection, it found a bright and quickly fading ultraviolet (UV) source.

"We did not expect a kilonova to produce bright UV emission," said Goddard’s S. Bradley Cenko, principal investigator for Swift. "We think this was produced by the short-lived disk of debris that powered the gamma-ray burst."

Over time, material hurled out by the jet slows and widens as it sweeps up and heats interstellar material, producing so-called afterglow emission that includes X-rays.

But the spacecraft saw no X-rays -- a surprise for an event that produced higher-energy gamma rays.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory clearly detected X-rays nine days after the source was discovered. Scientists think the delay was a result of our viewing angle, and it took time for the jet directed toward Earth to expand into our line of sight.

"The detection of X-rays demonstrates that neutron star mergers can form powerful jets streaming out at near light speed," said Goddard's Eleonora Troja, who led one of the Chandra teams and found the X-ray emission. "We had to wait for nine days to detect it because we viewed it from the side, unlike anything we had seen before."

On Aug. 22, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope began imaging the kilonova and capturing its near-infrared spectrum, which revealed the motion and chemical composition of the expanding debris.

"The spectrum looked exactly like how theoretical physicists had predicted the outcome of the merger of two neutron stars would appear," said Andrew Levan at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, who led one of the proposals for Hubble spectral observations. "It tied this object to the gravitational wave source beyond all reasonable doubt."

Astronomers think a kilonova's visible and infrared light primarily arises through heating from the decay of radioactive elements formed in the neutron-rich debris. Crashing neutron stars may be the universe's dominant source for many of the heaviest elements, including platinum and gold.

Because of its Earth-trailing orbit, Spitzer was uniquely situated to observe the kilonova long after the Sun moved too close to the galaxy for other telescopes to see it. Spitzer's Sept. 30 observation captured the longest-wavelength infrared light from the kilonova, which unveils the quantity of heavy elements forged.

"Spitzer was the last to join the party, but it will have the final word on how much gold was forged," says Mansi Kasliwal, Caltech assistant professor and principal investigator of the Spitzer observing program.

Numerous scientific papers describing and interpreting these observations have been published in Science, Nature, Physical Review Letters and The Astrophysical Journal.

Gravitational waves were directly detected for the first time in 2015 by LIGO, whose architects were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery.

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A kilonova (box), located within the galaxy NGC 4993, as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA and ESA

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wise Words By Kylo Ren (Or Rian Johnson)...

Kylo Ren wants to eliminate his past in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

"Let the past die. Kill it...if you have to. That's the only way to become who you're meant to be."

So are the words spoken by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in the newest trailer for this December's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Overlooking the fact that the preview hints at the aspiring Sith Lord performing matricide (right after committing patricide in 2015's The Force Awakens), this quote applies to the real world as well. As the meme below also shows, sometimes we need to do drastic things to eliminate the past in order to focus on the future. I've been working on this since earlier this year—getting rid of things that I've had since my childhood to be able to look to the present and what lies ahead. I've been a little successful at this so far, hah. But yea, methinks I'm gonna have to try a bit harder in stop dwelling on events that have come and gone and realize that I can't reach my full potential until I concentrate on the here and now.

Oh, Star Wars...always featuring memorable quotes to help guide fans like me as we try to, in the words of Supreme Leader Snoke (and um, Emperor Palpatine before him), fulfill our destiny. Credit The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson for coming up with that noteworthy line at the beginning of this Blog entry. Happy Tuesday!

Let it go.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Farewell, AIM...

Farewell, AOL Instant Messenger.

Just read the sad news that after 20 years, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) will be shut down permanently on December 15. Despite the fact that I haven't used this program in years, I'm bummed to see it go. As stated in this article, one of my fondest memories after obtaining access to the Internet for the first time was using AIM to talk to my high school friends while living at a dorm during my first year in college (Go Beach! That would be Cal State Long Beach). Not just my high school friends, but a couple of girls that I met on the Web as well! Yup, this was back when I was still social—Internet-wise, that is—and cared about having online conversations with my buddies instead of spending time nowadays reading a bunch of news pertaining to NASA, Star Wars and other movies, and how Donald Trump continues to prove that he's a moronic dotard day after day. But that's beside the point. Farewell AIM... Thanks for the online memories from over a decade ago. 1998 to 2005, to be exact.

My screenname on AIM was CoRollaPnOy and thugman77. Or was it thugman_77? Naw, it was thugman77. TGIF!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

InSight Update: Send Your Name to the Red Planet!

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

Another Chance to Put Your Name on Mars (Press Release)

When it lands on Mars in November of 2018, NASA's InSight lander will be carrying several science instruments -- along with hundreds of thousands of names from members of the public.

In 2015, nearly 827,000 people signed up to add their names to a silicon microchip onboard the robotic spacecraft. NASA is now adding a second microchip, giving the public another chance to send their names to Mars.

New submissions will be accepted from Oct. 2 to Nov. 1, 2017, at the following link:

https://mars.nasa.gov/syn/insight

"Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," said Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet."

This fly-your-name opportunity comes with "frequent flier" points reflecting an individual's personal participation in NASA's exploration of Mars. These points span multiple missions and multiple decades. Participants who sent their names on the previous InSight opportunity in 2015 can download a "boarding pass" and see their "frequent flier" miles.

As part of this frequent flier program, a chip carrying the names of 1.38 million people also flew aboard the first flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2014. NASA is building Orion to carry astronauts to deep space destinations that will enable future missions to Mars.

After InSight, the next opportunity to earn frequent flier points will be NASA's Exploration Mission-1, the first flight bringing together the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars and beyond.

InSight will be the first mission to explore Mars' deep interior. The spacecraft will set down a seismometer to detect marsquakes and meteor strikes, using the seismic energy of these phenomena to study material far below the Martian surface. It also will deploy a self-hammering heat probe that will burrow deeper into the ground than any previous device on the Red Planet. These and other InSight investigations will improve our understanding about the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.

InSight is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in May of 2018.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Lockheed Martin engineers take the InSight Mars lander out of temporary storage in June of 2017...to begin testing the spacecraft prior to its launch in May of 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Lockheed Martin

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tragedy in Las Vegas...

Police officers and regular citizens take cover behind a cop car after a gunman opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas...on October 1, 2017.

My heartfelt condolences to the families of the 50+ individuals who lost their lives yesterday...and to the 500+ other people who were injured in last night's horrific shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The white domestic terrorist who committed this atrocious act took his own life before he could be apprehended and answer for his crimes—so may he rot in hell instead. The topic of gun control must once again be brought up, but if the meme below is any indication, the death of dozens of concertgoers last night won't prompt Republicans to grow a pair and stand up to the National Rifle Association by enacting tougher gun laws in our nation. 'Cause you know, as far as the GOP is concerned Americans need their guns but don't deserve to have universal healthcare. Yes, I'm politicizing this.

Another dark and disgraceful day for this country.

Police officers escort children to safety after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

A Weird Dream to Save the World...

So last night, I had an odd but memorable dream where I was part of a ragtag team that had to save the world from...a giant chicken (much bigger than the one that Peter Griffin occasionally scraps with on FOX TV's Family Guy). The team consisted of ex-coworkers, random ladies that I may or may not have met in real life, Jayma Mays from the new film American Made (which I saw at the theater yesterday; great movie) and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. The last thing we did before I woke up (darn it) was dive into a giant underground chasm while riding inside large garbage bags. Again, this was a weird dream. That giant chicken still lurks since we weren't able to complete our adventure... Maybe I'll dream this journey again tonight!

Oh, and the beautiful and talented Milana Vayntrub was in another dream I had last night. No— Nothing creepy; we were on the same team for some math competition or something. Would've been cool if she helped us take on that chicken...fighting as none other than Squirrel Girl. Anyways, Happy October!