Tag Archives: Exploration

New Horizons, Dawn, SpaceX, long ISS stays are top space stories to watch in 2015

4 Jan

The year 2015 is poised to be a busy one for space exploration.

New Horizons arriving at Pluto is perhaps the biggest story in a number of years, and has certainly been a long time coming. Humanity exploring a new world (note I say world, not planet) in our own solar system is a notable event. New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto will be on July 14, 2014 at 7:49:59 a.m. ET.

Ditto Dawn’s arrival at Ceres. The possibilities of what could be found there are very intriguing. Dawn is set to arrive in orbit of Ceres on March 6, 2015.

SpaceX makes the top three for me on account of what they’re going to be trying to accomplish this year in terms of reusable rockets (January 6 launch upcoming Tuesday is definitely one to watch). This is pushing new boundaries in terms of rocket technology. Watching the continued development of Dragon V2 is also significant.

Though along with SpaceX, I consider the ongoing expansion of private space flight truly noteworthy. It will reshape how we view space travel, and the number of people who can achieve it.

Long duration ISS stays are also something to watch, as much as anything because of how they fit into the puzzle that is humans one day reaching Mars.

There’s also a solar eclipse upcoming on March 20, 2015, and two lunar eclipses this year: April 4 and September 28, 2015.

And much much more.

Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon. The craft's miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft's most prominent design feature is a nearly 2.1-meter dish antenna, through which it communicates with Earth from as far as 7.5 billion km away. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon. The craft’s miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto’s atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft’s most prominent design feature is a nearly 2.1-meter dish antenna, through which it communicates with Earth from as far as 7.5 billion km away. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Daydreaming about exploration wearing Mars-coloured glasses

29 Dec

The frontiers of exploration have had many faces throughout history. In ages past, what is today London, England would have been a striking, though desolate, find. Today it’s a central hub of the Western world.

Ditto my hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Just 300 years ago it was wilderness. And you don’t have to venture very far from the city limits to return to that untamed world.

And there are many places around the world that are still, in the truest sense of the word, frontiers of exploration.

Antarctica, the Amazon rainforest, the ocean floor (a massive ‘new world’ right here on Earth), Madagascar, the high Arctic – all places that most human will never venture and no doubt hold secrets that could both amaze and bewilder our understanding of the world and perhaps life itself.

Overlooking the frozen shores of Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario

Overlooking the frozen shores of Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario

Consider for example the extremophiles (life that exists in extreme environments) that live inside rocks many kilometers beneath the surface – far from any sunlight – that use the rock itself as an energy source.

Or the life that persists on volcanos.

Or the life that flourishes in Lake Vostok – an underground Antarctic lake that has been cut-off from the outside world for perhaps 15 million years beneath 4km of snow and ice.

These discoveries have changed how we think about life, and rightly so. We have learned that life can persist – and proliferate – in places that only a few years ago were considered too harsh.

The goldilocks zone right here on Earth has ballooned.

Places that were once thought of as too extreme in some way – too hot, too cold, too dry, too little sun – are now all environments where there is life.

And significantly, they’re not just places where life is theorized. It’s not just that someone says there ‘could be’ life there.

There really is life there. We have seen it. Measured it. Tested it. Compared it.

Our exploration has taught us an important lesson for Planet Earth: life finds a way.

And as I sit in my chair explore the ice world I see out the window of the house Ashley grew up in, those four words stick with me.

Life finds a way.

I know gazing out the window that my view is teeming with life.

In the sky, under the ice, in the snow.

Everywhere there is life, and it’s abundant. Our exploration of Earth has proven this to be true.

Then I put on my Mars-coloured glasses, and start to think…

When the first people arrive on Mars in the next decades, the view they’ll be faced with may be remarkably similar to what I see here, sitting in North Bay on the shore of Lake Nipissing.

A landscape shaped by the cold, by wind, by water – by weather.

It’s a landscape that is utterly beautiful, but also incredibly harsh.

Lake Nipissing or Mars?

Lake Nipissing or Mars?

The one I see is a present day lake and the one on Mars will be an ancient lake – one that has long since dried up. But I’d be willing to bet that the first people to visit Mars will touchdown at a place where we’re confident there used to be water (and maybe still is, just trapped under the surface in permafrost).

Our Martian explorers will lift the veil on some of the secrets of the Red Planet. They will walk and rove. They’ll set up camps and hunker down when dust storms approach. They will keep warm on the cold Martian nights.

And as I think about the incredibleness of discovery that awaits our pioneers, it occurs to me that we’ve been here before. This has already happened.

Dawrin.

Amundsen.

Shackleton.

Magellan.

Earth used to be the undiscovered country (and in a meaningful way, we’ve only scratched the surface of it).

We are born to explore, and now there is a new frontier that tugs at our souls – and our emissaries are already there. But they are only wetting our appetite.

Missions to Mars have been flying for five decades. They have answered some fundamental questions – about water, about canals (or lack thereof), about volcanos, about the atmosphere and ancient environment.

They have also raised poignant questions, the latest of which – the origin of methane spikes detected by MSL – often circle around the question of life.

Was it ever there? What was its nature? When did it emerge? How long did it survive? Is it still there today? Are we related?

The answers to these questions – significant in their own right as they help us to understand the history of Mars – are also fundamental in determining our place in the cosmos.

Are we alone? Does life jump from planet to planet on asteroids? Is the chemistry of life common?

Answering these questions – in either the affirmative or the negative – will have profound impacts.

Exploration in the 21st century will take us to new frontiers, but it will similarly be true to our history. Humans yearn to explore, and this is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago.

The names of the explorers may be different, the frontier’s further afield, and our ships different in appearance, but these are only superficial transformations.

The essence is the same.

We want to explore new challenges, new destinations, new landscapes, new people – new worlds.

What do those places feel like? How do they smell? Is there life? Are there resources that will help people survive and travel on further?

Mars, like Earth, is a place that offers endless possibilities of exploration.

I wonder what we’ll find.

North Bay, Ontario or Nipissing Landing, Mars?

North Bay, Ontario or Nipissing Landing, Mars?

I can’t stop comparing these two images

4 Dec

I realize they don’t look identical, and I realize they’re taken in roughly the same place (so of course they look similar!) — but there’s something more to it than that.

One is Apollo 17 on the launch pad in December 1972, prior to it’s flight – and the last flight that took humans away from home.

The next is Orion on the pad this morning, prior to its first flight into space – part of a major step that will again take us away from home.

Apollo 17 sits atop a Saturn V on the launch pad in December 1972

Apollo 17 sits atop a Saturn V on the launch pad in December 1972

Orion sits atop a Delta IV Heavy on the launch pad in December 2004

Orion sits atop a Delta IV Heavy on the launch pad in December 2004

Just wait for Space Launch System!

feat-rockets

Chang’e-3 lands on the Moon, successfully deploys Yutu rover

14 Dec
Yutu drives off Chang'e-3 lander successfully

Yutu drives off Chang’e-3 lander successfully

It’s the first Moon landing in my lifetime, and if you’re under age 37 it’s the first one in your lifetime as well.

On Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 8:11 a.m. EST the robotic Chinese lander Chang’e-3, and it’s rover named Yutu, touched down safely on the lunar surface. This historic landing is the first Moon landing for China, making them only the third nation to safely land a probe on our closest celestial neighbour.

The Yutu rover successfully separated just after 4:00 p.m. EST.

This is the first object to safely land on the Moon since the Soviet robotic mission Luna 24 landed on August 22, 1976.

The last time humans were on the Moon was December 11-14, 1972 during the last of NASA’s Apollo missions, Apollo 17. This also places added historical significance on today’s date – December 14 – as it is both the last time a human was on the Moon in 1972, and today’s first Chinese landing.

Chang’e-3 launched on December 2 and then took about four days to reach lunar orbit. From December 6-14, the orbit was being adjusted in order to setup today’s descent and landing.

Today’s landing, considered one of the biggest challenges of the mission, consisted of approximately 12-minutes of powered descent towards the surface. When the lander was just a couple meters above the surface, the engine shutdown as planned. This allowed the lander to float down safely, but also minimized the amount of dust that would have been kicked up if powered flight continued all the way to the surface.

After landing the vitally important solar panels deployed successfully and began powering the lander and rover.

When Yutu was deployed, it drove forwards onto a small ramp and was the lowered to the surface. All six of it’s wheels then drove off the ramp and onto the lunar surface, leaving clear tracks behind it as it slowly moved along.

The touchdown happened in an area of the Moon known as The Bay of Rainbow.

China’s first two missions to the Moon, Chang’e 1 and 2, were both orbiters. They had no intention of landing. Chang’e-3 was the country’s first attempt at landing.

In Chinese mythology, Chang’e is a goddess that travels to the Moon. Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, is her companion.

The Yutu rover is expected to operate for about three months while the Chang’e-3 lander should operate for about one year on the surface of the Moon.

This article by Harrison Ruess also appeared on Sun News Network.

Looking down towards the lunar surface from Chang'e-3 during descent

Looking down towards the lunar surface from Chang’e-3 during descent

View from Chang'e-3 shortly after touchdown

View from Chang’e-3 shortly after touchdown

Yutu will drive onto the ramp to be lowered to the surface

Yutu will drive onto the ramp to be lowered to the surface

Yutu on its way down to the surface

Yutu on its way down to the surface

Yutu exiting the ramp and onto the surface of the Moon

Yutu exiting the ramp and onto the surface of the Moon

Yutu on the surface of the Moon

Yutu on the surface of the Moon

The control room

The control room

The landing process

The landing process