In the rings on the left, the moon Daphnis (5 miles across) affects ring material as it orbits. The material on the inner edge of Daphnis orbits faster than the moon, and the material on the outer edge orbits more slowly, which causes the waves. On the right, Pan (17 miles across) also causes waves. Image taken June 3, 2010.
Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Jupiter and Two of Its Moons
A “fire and ice” pair of Jupiter’s large moons — volcanic Io (lower left) and ice-sheathed Europa, which possesses a global ocean (upper right) — orbit across the face of the giant planet.
Credit: NASA; JPL; Paul Geissler; Michael Benson
Space Station Flying by the Moon
The International Space Station can be seen as a small object in upper left of this image of the moon in the early evening Jan. 4 in the skies over the Houston area flying at an altitude of 390.8 kilometers (242.8 miles). The space station can occasionally be seen in the night sky with the naked eye and a pair of field binoculars.
Image credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett
The Rings and Moons of Saturn
The Lunar Horizon
The Von Karman, Leibnitz and Oppenheimer Craters on the Moon.
The Moon’s vast Mare Orientale impact crater is 200 miles wide, one of the largest in the solar system. The outermost circle of the crater is the Cordillera Mountain scarp, a line of cliffs about 560 miles wide. At 3.5 miles high in places, these are the highest mountains on the Moon.
Credit: NASA RPIF; Michael Benson
One Giant Leap for Mankind
In one of the many iconic photos from the Apollo 11 mission of July 1969, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the moon, is pictured standing by the American flag. In all, six of NASA’s Apollo missions landed astronauts on the moon between 1969 and 1972.
The Six Places on Earth That Most Resemble Other Planets
1. Red Planet in Canada
The Haughton Mars Project tested equipment and people bound for Mars - at a much more convenient location. Devon Island, Canada, is the world’s largest uninhabited island, home to the Haughton crater, which is a 12-mile diameter impact area where a meteorite hit Earth 23 million years ago. The rocky Arctic polar desert setting, geologic features and biological attributes of the site offer unique insights into the possible evolution of Mars, say the researchers - in particular, the history of water and of past climates on Mars, the effects of impacts on Earth and on other planets, and the possibilities and limits of life in extreme environments. While no environment can come close to Mars’ extremes in minimum temperature, dryness, low atmospheric pressure and harsh radiation conditions, the Arctic desert is just about as close as scientists can get.
Pictured: Dr. Jeff Jones of NASA Johnson Space Center tests a space suit prototype in a late-night simulation.
2. At Home in the Desert
NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) program works on developing human and robotic systems in the desert of Arizona. The dry, dusty terrain and extreme temperature swings make the desert a good place to test rovers and habitation units that will eventually be used on the surface of other planets. The testing has happened in the same desert location since 1998. Last year, the gear tested included a high-tech space truck for drives on a planetary surface, a robotic rover assistant, astronaut habitats, space suits and deep-space communication systems.
One new technology was the Space Exploration Vehicle - a transforming car that can be configured to fly freely through space, or can sit atop a 12-wheeled chassis to become a burly, capable rover about the size of a pickup truck. Its pressurized cabin can carry two astronauts on 14-day trips, according to NASA. Also tested was NASA’s Centaur rover, a gleaming gold vehicle that can carry the agency’s dexterous humanoid robot helper, Robonaut. Other tools, such as digging implements, could also be affixed to the Centaur. All of this is for good reason: NASA also has an asteroid sample-return mission in the works. This effort, known as Osiris-Rex, should bring pieces of the asteroid 1999 RQ36 back to Earth in 2023.
Pictured: Astronaut Scott Tingle performing an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) during D-RATS 2011 testing.
3. Volcano Geology in Hawaii
Even though most people prefer its beaches or lush greenery, Hawaii has some pretty rugged landscape, especially on the side of Mauna Kea, a remote and cold dormant volcano on the “Big Island” of Hawaii. On the lower slope of Mauna Kea, at a site that resembles a lunar crater, NASA and its international partners are advancing future space exploration. Researchers there are looking at ways to search for water ice in lunar or planetary environments, and ways to extract, store, and use minerals, metals, and sunlight.
In 2010, a project dug up oxygen-rich soils, similar to those present on the moon. To utilize that natural resource, Canadian engineers developed a Regolith Excavator. On Mauna Kea, the excavator digs and then delivers volcanic material, called tephra, to a device that melts and processes the material with methane to produce water. The water is then electrolyzed, or split, into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is liquefied and stored for later use, and the hydrogen is used to regenerate the methane reactant or stored and used to power other experiments with a fuel cell.
4. Origins of Life in a Chilly Extraterrestrial Lake
Deep under the waters of Pavilion Lake in British Columbia, Canada, NASA has teamed up with international organizations to study the origin of the freshwater microbialites - present-day cousins some of the earliest remnants of life on ancient Earth. Astrobiologists are applying findings from this research to the search for life in our solar system and beyond. In Pavilion Lake, researchers use DeepWorker subs to mimic the ways a robotic precursor mission would explore a near Earth asteroid. Refining the process, including managing challenges like a communications delay, in the context of the lake will make it easier when humans reach an asteroid surface.
Pictured: A Deepworker sub looks out the window at microbialites and the UBC-Gavia Autonomous Underwater Vehicle
5. Extreme Ocean Operations
Living on the floor of the ocean in Florida can be a good way to simulate what it’s like to be on the International Space Station - at least that’s what NASA thinks. Aquarius is the world’s only permanent underwater habitat and laboratory, and it lies about 3.5 miles off the Key Largo coast. Long-duration missions, which last up to three weeks, help astronauts find out what it’s like to live on a spacecraft and execute undersea space walks and rover-drives. This summer, they will undertake a week-long mission to replicate conditions on an asteroid.
Pictured: NEEMO 12 crew members pose for a group photo at their undersea habitat as they begin the 12th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations mission.
6. Burping Sulfur on the Moons of Jupiter
The Sulfur Springs of Borup Fiord Pass, Ellesmere Island - about 1,000 miles north of the Haughton Crater — provide an ideal habitat to prepare for a geological study of Jupiter’s moons. The Planetary Society has funded a research project there to learn more about the biology, geology and chemistry of the spring. It’s unique on Earth: waters flow or seep onto the surfaces of glaciers, and elemental sulfur, gypsum, and calcite precipitate from their waters. At the same time, hydrogen sulfide gas is released to the air. The deposits stain the surface of the ice and leave telltale landforms behind. The unusual chemistry, in combination with the extremely cold and dry environment, make these springs an analog for hydrothermal sites beneath ice on Mars and Europa.
Pictured: Researcher Stephen Grasby samples sulfur spring discharge at Borup Fiord Pass.
Saturn’s two largest moons, captured in tandem
Saturn has 62 known moons. Pictured here are the biggest of the lot, arranged as two crescents, one sitting atop the other.
The one you’ve probably heard of before is Titan [click here for hi-res]. Within our solar system, the massive orb is second only to Jupiter’s Ganymede in size. It’s also the only moon with a dense, fully developed atmosphere, the haze of which is clearly visible here, even from a photographed distance of 1.2-million miles.
Much less substantial is the “atmosphere” of Rhea, shown here looming 400,000 miles closer than its sibling. But Rhea will surprise you. In 2010, measurements made by NASA’s Cassini orbiter (the same spacecraft that took this photograph), revealed what researchers described as a tenuous, oxygen/carbon dioxide atmosphere. Rhea is made up mostly of water ice; when this ice is irradiated by charged particles from Saturn, it decomposes into hydrogen and oxygen. But don’t plan on popping the hatch on your spacecraft next time you find yourself marooned there — Rhea’s atmosphere may be 70% O2, but it’s still trillions of times less abundant than what you’ll find here on Earth.
Like the researchers said: when it comes to wimpy atmospheres like Rhea’s, the key word is tenuous.
The Moon, Venus and Jupiter over Los Angeles
Credit: Jackson Pharris
Skywatcher Jackson Pharris took this photo of the moon, Venus and Jupiter over Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 2012.
Read the speech Nixon prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts died on the moon
The 1969 moon landing was one of humanity’s most impressive achievements, but there was always a chance that things could go terribly wrong. But if the worst happened, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were commended to the void of space, Nixon had a stirring speech prepared, one that celebrated the spirit of exploration and the nobility of our lunar dreams. The Apollo 11 mission was not without uncertainty.
NASA feared that Armstrong and Aldrin would not be able to launch the lunar module from the moon to join the command module. If the module failed to launch, Armstrong and Aldrin would have been stuck on the moon, condemned to run out of air hundreds of thousands of kilometers from home.
Thankfully, it never came to that, but just in case, William Safire, Nixon’s speech writer who would later write the “On Language” column for the New York Times Magazine, penned a short but lovely speech. Even though it was never used, the speech is a fitting tribute to the men who were willing to give their lives to the cause of exploration, one whose tone is full of wonder rather than despair.
IN THE EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT: The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, at the point when NASA ends communications with the men: A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.
The Brick Moon
One of the Strange Forgotten Space Station Concepts That Never Flew
The earliest concept for a space station is from an article called “The Brick Moon” by Edward Everett Hale. Published in 1868 in the Atlantic Monthly, Hale’s article described the construction of a 200-foot-diameter sphere made of bricks that is accidentally launched into space with people aboard.
Hale envisioned the brick moon as a possible navigational aide. It could have served as a fixed reference point above the prime meridian to help travelers calculate longitude, analogous to the North Star’s use in determining latitude.
While certainly impervious to being blown down by big bad space wolves, the brick moon was mostly fantasy. But Hale’s funny concept did foresee one major aspect of space station design: the astronomical price. In the story, the narrator calculates that the brick moon would require 12 million bricks and cost $250,000 (a tidy sum in those days).
Moon and Space Station Eclipse the Sun
uesday morning’s partial solar eclipse produced a gorgeous crescent sunrise in Europe, Africa and Asia as the moon blocked most of the sun’s disk. But for a split second, the sun was also partially blocked by another satellite: the International Space Station.
French astrophotographer Thierry Legault traveled to Oman to snap this mind-blowing photo of the sun, moon and space station all lined up. The space station took just 0.86 seconds to cross the sun.
Image: Thierry Legault