Saturday, August 31, 2013

Curiosity Drives On Her Own...

A Navigation Camera (Navcam) image of Curiosity after completing her first drive using autonomous navigation on the surface of Mars...on August 27, 2013.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA'S Mars Curiosity Debuts Autonomous Navigation (Press Release - August 27)

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars.

This latest addition to Curiosity's array of capabilities will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where geological layers hold information about environmental changes on ancient Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars.

Using autonomous navigation, or autonav, Curiosity can analyze images it takes during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This enables it to proceed safely even beyond the area that the human rover drivers on Earth can evaluate ahead of time.

On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Curiosity successfully used autonomous navigation to drive onto ground that could not be confirmed safe before the start of the drive. This was a first for Curiosity. In a preparatory test last week, Curiosity plotted part of a drive for itself, but kept within an area that operators had identified in advance as safe.

"Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover's computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain," said Mark Maimone, rover mobility engineer and rover driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one."

The drive on Tuesday, the mission's 376th Martian day, or "sol," took Curiosity across a depression where ground-surface details had not been visible from the location where the previous drive ended. The drive included about 33 feet (10 meters) of autonomous navigation across hidden ground as part of a day's total drive of about 141 feet (43 meters).

"We could see the area before the dip, and we told the rover where to drive on that part. We could see the ground on the other side, where we designated a point for the rover to end the drive, but Curiosity figured out for herself how to drive the uncharted part in between," said JPL's John Wright, a rover driver.

Curiosity is nearly two months into a multi-month trek from the "Glenelg" area, where it worked for the first half of 2013, to an entry point for the mission's major destination: the lower layers of a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mound called Mount Sharp.

The latest drive brought the distance traveled since leaving Glenelg to 0.86 mile (1.39 kilometers). The remaining distance to the Mount Sharp entry point is about 4.46 miles (7.18 kilometers) along a "rapid transit route." That route was plotted on the basis of images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The actual driving route, which will be based on images from Curiosity's own cameras, could be longer or shorter.

Curiosity's science team has picked a few waypoints along the rapid transit route to Mount Sharp where driving may be suspended for a few days for science. The rover has about 0.31 mile (500 meters) left to go before reaching the first of these waypoints, which appears from orbiter images to offer exposed bedrock for inspection.

"Each waypoint represents an opportunity for Curiosity to pause during its long journey to Mount Sharp and study features of local interest," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "These features are geologically interesting, based on HiRISE images, and they lie very close to the path that provides the most expeditious route to the base of Mount Sharp. We'll study each for several sols, perhaps selecting one for drilling if it looks sufficiently interesting."

After landing inside Gale Crater in August 2012, Curiosity drove eastward to the Glenelg area, where it accomplished the mission's major science objective of finding evidence for an ancient wet environment that had conditions favorable for microbial life. The rover's route is now southwestward. At Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale Crater, scientists anticipate finding evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved.

JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


A Navcam image of Curiosity after she drove 110.15 meters (361.39 feet) across the surface of Mars in a single day, on August 22, 2013.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In Case You Couldn't Get Enough of Miley...

And to think, I used to like the former Disney pop star (no, not when she was still playing Hannah Montana) when she was just a cute long-haired brunette who was mostly known for showing sideboob in public and insulting Asians. Oh well. Billy Ray must be proud that his daughter is now featured alongside cows in online memes.

Miley Cyrus impersonates bovines at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hello From Earth!

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

Four Light-Years... That’s how far the Hello From Earth message has traveled since being transmitted from a giant NASA antenna in Australia to the exoplanet Gliese 581d exactly four years ago today. As of 7 PM California time tonight (12 PM Sydney time on Wednesday, August 28), the radio signal containing 25,878 goodwill text messages—including one by me—will have ventured across 24 trillion miles (38 trillion kilometers) of deep space...which, as stated at the very start of this Blog entry, equals a distance of four light-years. The signal, despite traveling 186,000 miles per second (or 671 million miles per hour, or um, 1 billion kilometers per hour), will still take 16 years to reach the Gliese 581 star system. I'll twiddle my thumbs during the wait.

Monday, August 26, 2013

MAVEN Update...

Testing and launch preparations continue on the MAVEN spacecraft inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 21, 2013.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Earlier today, the first and second stage motors for the Atlas V rocket that will launch MAVEN to Mars this November arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. By the start of fall next month, the two motors should be mated together...with NASA's next Mars orbiter, after being encapsulated inside its payload fairing within a few weeks, joining the booster rockets to form the 191-foot-tall vehicle shown in the very last pic of this journal entry. MAVEN itself continues to undergo testing and launch preps at NASA's Kennedy Space Center near CCAFS. It will be around Halloween that the orbiter is brought over to Space Launch Complex 41 (where the Atlas V's pad is located) to begin the final leg of its journey off our world...and the first leg of its voyage to the Red Planet. Can't wait.

The Centaur upper stage (foreground) and the Atlas V first stage motor (background) that will be used to launch the MAVEN spacecraft to Mars arrive at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on August 26, 2013.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

The Atlas V first stage motor that will be used to launch the MAVEN spacecraft to Mars arrives at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on August 26, 2013.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

An Atlas V 401 rocket, which is the same vehicle configuration that will send MAVEN to Mars this November, launches NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to the Moon on June 18, 2009.
NASA / Tom Farrar & Kevin O'Connell

Friday, August 23, 2013

Another Facebook Rant: Unfriending People After Their Birthdays

The title above isn't as messed up as you think—at least for the folks being unfriended on Facebook go! So how many of you have posted 'Happy Birthday' on someone's FB page, only to care (RE: be bored) enough to visit their profile a few hours later...and see that they only clicked 'Like' on the b-day greetings of select people (who are either close friends or family members, which is perfectly understandable)? You care (RE: are bored) enough to visit their page again the following day, and still, only those select people were replied to by the birthday punk/girl (who still had time to post other things on their timeline even if that person was at work). Not to sound overly sensitive, but if folks can't take two seconds to at least click 'Like' on birthday messages by everyone else (even if we haven't talked in person for a couple of years), and they didn't get a ton of well-wishes that they couldn't possibly answer in one sitting (this applies to all of the hot girls on my buddy list who have up to 1,000 FB friends), then that person doesn't need to be on my buddy list. And that spares me from reading some of the inane, annoying crap that you post on my News Feed. DELETE. And possibly 'block.'

On another not-so-unrelated note (yea, it's okay if he doesn't respond back):

It's Kobe Bryant's birthday today... The Mamba turned 35.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Clear Summer Day in New York City...

Just thought I'd post this great pic of the 1 World Trade Center as it stands majestically above the rest of the Manhattan skyline. It's safe to assume that this symbolic structure of freedom will get even more of the attention it deserves next month...on the 12-year anniversary of 9/11.

The 1 World Trade Center in New York seen on August 20, 2013.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Turn of Events for Kepler...

A computer-generated image of the Kepler telescope in space.

NASA Ends Attempts to Fully Recover Kepler Spacecraft, Potential New Missions Considered (Press Release)

Following months of analysis and testing, the Kepler Space Telescope team is ending its attempts to restore the spacecraft to full working order, and now is considering what new science research it can carry out in its current condition.

Two of Kepler's four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, have failed. The first was lost in July 2012, and the second in May. Engineers' efforts to restore at least one of the wheels have been unsuccessful.

Kepler completed its prime mission in November 2012 and began its four-year extended mission at that time. However, the spacecraft needs three functioning wheels to continue its search for Earth-sized exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, orbiting stars like our sun in what's known as the habitable zone -- the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of a planet might be suitable for liquid water. As scientists analyze previously collected data, the Kepler team also is looking into whether the space telescope can conduct a different type of science program, including an exoplanet search, using the remaining two good reaction wheels and thrusters.

"Kepler has made extraordinary discoveries in finding exoplanets including several super-Earths in the habitable zone," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Knowing that Kepler has successfully collected all the data from its prime mission, I am confident that more amazing discoveries are on the horizon."

On Aug. 8, engineers conducted a system-level performance test to evaluate Kepler's current capabilities. They determined wheel 2, which failed last year, can no longer provide the precision pointing necessary for science data collection. The spacecraft was returned to its point rest state, which is a stable configuration where Kepler uses thrusters to control its pointing with minimal fuel use.

"At the beginning of our mission, no one knew if Earth-size planets were abundant in the galaxy. If they were rare, we might be alone," said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Now at the completion of Kepler observations, the data holds the answer to the question that inspired the mission: Are Earths in the habitable zone of stars like our sun common or rare?

An engineering study will be conducted on the modifications required to manage science operations with the spacecraft using a combination of its remaining two good reaction wheels and thrusters for spacecraft attitude control.

Informed by contributions from the broader science community in response to the call for scientific white papers announced Aug. 2, the Kepler project team will perform a study to identify possible science opportunities for a two-wheel Kepler mission.

Depending on the outcome of these studies, which are expected to be completed later this year, NASA will assess the scientific priority of a two-wheel Kepler mission. Such an assessment may include prioritization relative to other NASA astrophysics missions competing for operational funding at the NASA Senior Review board early next year.

From the data collected in the first half of its mission, Kepler has confirmed 135 exoplanets and identified over 3,500 candidates. The team continues to analyze all four years of collected data, expecting hundreds, if not thousands, of new discoveries including the long-awaited Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars. Though the spacecraft will no longer operate with its unparalleled precision pointing, scientists expect Kepler’s most interesting discoveries are still to come.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of Kepler-16b orbiting its two parent stars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / T. Pyle

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Shaq Attack in the City of Industry!

Shaquille O'Neal does an autograph signing at the Frank & Son Collectible Show in City of Industry, California...on August 10, 2013.

"Caaan yoouuu dig it?!" Earlier today, I went to the Frank & Son Collectible Show in the City of Industry, California, to meet none other than the Big Aristotle himself, Shaquille O'Neal. You had to pay to get an autograph and/or a photo op with the 4-time NBA champion, so I just opted to take a picture with Manny Shaquiao. The Big Shaqtus (I can devote an entire journal entry to all of the nicknames that Superman gave himself throughout the past decade or so) was as nice in person as he is tall. Julius Erving, a.k.a. Dr. J, was also at Frank & Son to sign autographs this morning. Didn't know how much the former Philadelphia 76er was charging, so I just took photos from afar (seeing as how Dr. J's team swept the L.A. Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals) while I was in line to meet Shaq Fu. The Big Baryshnikov was about thirty minutes late because he was stuff in traffic on the freeway, but the wait was worth it.

Posing with Shaq at the Frank & Son Collectible Show in City of Industry, California...on August 10, 2013.

Dr. J is about to leave after doing an autograph signing at the Frank & Son Collectible Show in City of Industry, California...on August 10, 2013.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

BB-61: The USS Iowa...

The USS Iowa sails through rough seas in the North Atlantic in this 1987 photo.
Courtesy of Facebook

Just thought I'd share these awesome photos of the Battleship of Presidents...which last month marked one year since becoming the newest attraction in San Pedro, California. These images come courtesy of the Pacific Battleship Center—which was responsible for bringing the USS Iowa to SoCal in 2012.

A Korean War-era photo of the USS Iowa and her sister ship USS New Jersey (background) sailing in the Atlantic.
USN / David Buell

An archival photo of the USS Iowa sailing near the Rock of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean.
Courtesy of Facebook

Sailing with the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga's battle group, the USS Iowa fires her guns during a 1987 naval exercise.
USN / PH2 Robert Sabo

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Marking One Year on Mars (Unless You Live in California)

Despite the fact that Curiosity touched down on Mars around 10 PM, Pacific Daylight Time on August 5, 2012, NASA and everyone else is marking today as the one-year anniversary since the rover reached the Red Planet. Curiosity was 'born' at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (whose historic Space Flight Operations Facility monitored the spacecraft's landing) near Pasadena, one would think that the one-year milestone of the rover's arrival would officially be based on what time it was on the West Coast at that moment. Oh well. We should all just be grateful that this one-ton, nuclear-powered beauty is alive and well on the Martian surface.

Check out this cool photo of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos that Curiosity recently took from her nesting ground at Gale Crater.

A night photo of Phobos (left) and Deimos taken by the Curiosity rover on the surface of August of 2013.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Welcome to Florida, MAVEN!

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is placed inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin launch preparations...on August 3, 2013.
NASA / Tim Jacobs

NASA Begins Launch Preparations for Next Mars Mission (Press Release)

NASA's next spacecraft going to Mars arrived Friday, Aug. 2, at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and is now perched in a cleanroom to begin final preparations for its November launch.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is undergoing detailed testing and fueling prior to being moved to its launch pad. The mission has a 20-day launch period that opens Nov. 18.

The spacecraft will conduct the first mission dedicated to surveying the upper atmosphere of Mars. Scientists expect to obtain unprecedented data that will help them understand how the loss of atmospheric gas to space may have played a part in changing the planet's climate.

"We're excited and proud to ship the spacecraft right on schedule," said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But more critical milestones lie ahead before we accomplish our mission of collecting science data from Mars. I firmly believe the team is up to the task. Now we begin the final push to launch."

Over the weekend, the team confirmed the spacecraft arrived in good condition. They removed the spacecraft from the shipping container and secured it to a rotation fixture in the cleanroom. In the next week, the team will reassemble components previously removed for transport. Further checks prior to launch will include software tests, spin balance tests, and test deployments of the spacecraft's solar panels and booms.

The spacecraft was transported from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., on Friday, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colo., designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for testing, launch processing, and mission operations.

"It's always a mix of excitement and stress when you ship a spacecraft down to the launch site," said Guy Beutelschies, MAVEN program manager at Lockheed Martin. "It's similar to moving your children to college after high school graduation. You're proud of the hard work to get to this point, but you know they still need some help before they're ready to be on their own."

Previous Mars missions detected energetic solar fields and particles that could drive atmospheric gases away from Mars. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a planet-wide magnetic field that would deflect these solar winds. As a result, these winds may have stripped away much of Mars' atmosphere.

MAVEN's data will help scientists reconstruct the planet's past climate. Scientists will use MAVEN data to project how Mars became the cold, dusty desert planet we see today. The planned one-year mission begins with the spacecraft entering the Red Planet's orbit in September 2014.

"MAVEN is not going to detect life," said Bruce Jakosky, planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and MAVEN's principal investigator. "But it will help us understand the climate history, which is the history of its habitability."

MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. The university provides science instruments and leads science operations, education and public outreach.

Goddard manages the project and provides two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provides science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov


NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is about to be transported to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...after arriving at the Space Coast to begin launch preps on August 2, 2013.
NASA / Tim Jacobs

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Quote of the Day...

"I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not f**k, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane."

-― John Green, Looking for Alaska

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Happy August, Everyone!

The 1 World Trade Center in New York seen on July 5, 2013.
Courtesy of Facebook

Just thought I'd start this month off by posting these two cool pics of the 1 World Trade Center...

The 1 World Trade Center in New York seen on July 18, 2013.