Science & Nature
spacecraft grabs cool snapshot of home
This image captured on Dec. 19, 2018, by a camera on
the Osiris-Rex spacecraft shows the asteroid Bennu, top right, about 27
miles (43 kilometers) from the spacecraft, and the Earth and moon,
bottom left, more than 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) away.
(NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin Space via AP)
Fla. (AP) - An asteroid-circling spacecraft
has captured a cool snapshot of home.
spacecraft took the picture days before going into orbit around asteroid
Bennu on New Year’s Eve.
The tiny asteroid -
barely one-third of a mile (500 meters) across - appears as a big bright
blob in the long-exposure photo released last week. Seventy million
miles (110 million kilometers) away, Earth appears as a white dot, with
the moon an even smaller dot but still clearly visible.
Osiris-Rex is the
first spacecraft to orbit such a small celestial body, and from such a
close distance - about a mile (1,600 meters) out.
Osiris-Rex will attempt to gather some samples from the carbon-rich
asteroid, for return to Earth in 2023.
from Florida in 2016.
First private Israeli lunar mission
will launch in February
co-founder Yonatan Winetraub, left, inserts a time capsule into the
SpaceIL lunar module, an unmanned spacecraft, that is on display in a
special “clean room” where the space craft is being developed, during a
press tour of their facility near Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, Dec. 17,
2018. SpaceIL and the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries plan to
launch their unmanned spacecraft to the moon early in 2019. (AP
(AP) - An Israeli nonprofit last month said
it has pushed back the launch of what it hopes will be the first private
spacecraft to land on the moon until February.
SpaceIL and its project partner, the state-owned Israel Aerospace
Industries, announced that the landing craft, dubbed “Beresheet,” or
Genesis, will ship in February to Florida. Propelled by a SpaceX Falcon
rocket launch, the robotic lander will then commence its months-long
voyage to the moon. It had been slated to launch last month.
SpaceIL said it had
no control over the launch’s delay, and that SpaceX, the private space
exploration company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, notified them
that its rocket will now lift off in February 2019 without providing an
Industries manager Opher Doron stressed that the small craft, roughly
the size of a washing machine, faces a “difficult, arduous journey”
because it will have to make several orbits before touching down on the
moon. Upon landing, the craft is to relay photographs and collect data
about the moon’s ever-changing magnetism for research by Israel’s
Weizmann Institute and NASA.
On Monday, SpaceIL
representatives presented a time capsule that will accompany the
spacecraft to the moon.
The capsule, in the
shape of a DVD, holds pictures of the Israeli public, interpretive
drawings by Israeli children and other pieces of national memorabilia,
including stories of Holocaust survivors.
“We hope that far
in the future, when travel to the moon is as common as trans-Atlantic
travel, that children will be able to understand the lives of their
Israeli ancestors through this archive on the moon,” said SpaceIL
co-founder Yonatan Winetraub.
A crowd of Israeli
reporters, clad in sanitized white coats, burst into applause as
Winetraub fastened the capsule to the underbelly of the craft.
SpaceIL was founded
in 2011 and originally vied for Google’s Lunar Xprize, which challenged
private companies to try to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.
But the $20 million
competition was scrapped by the tech giant earlier this year when it
became clear none of the five companies would meet a March deadline.
SpaceIL has vowed
to continue the mission and hopes that its ambitious $95 million
project, largely funded by South African-Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn
and other donors, will spur a new wave of commercial missions to the
moon and jump-start new companies.
Israel would become
the fourth country to land a craft on the moon, after the U.S., the
Soviet Union and China.
China begins first surface exploration
of moon’s far side
photo provided on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, by China National Space
Administration via Xinhua News Agency, Yutu-2, China’s lunar rover,
leaves wheel marks after leaving the lander that touched down on the
surface of the far side of the moon. (China National Space
Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)
Beijing (AP) -
A Chinese space rover has explored the lunar terrain in the world’s
first mission on the surface of the far side of the moon.
Jade Rabbit 2 drove off a ramp on Thursday night,
January 3, and onto the soft, powdery surface after a Chinese spacecraft
made the first-ever soft landing on the moon’s far side. A photo posted
online by China’s space agency showed tracks left by the rover as it
headed away from the spacecraft.
“It’s a small step for the rover, but one giant leap
for the Chinese nation,” Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar
Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV, in a twist of U.S.
astronaut Neil Armstrong’s famous comment when he became the first human
to walk on the moon in 1969. “This giant leap is a decisive move for our
exploration of space and the conquering of the universe.”
Previous moon landings, including America’s six
manned missions from 1969 to 1972, have been on the near side of the
moon, which faces Earth. The far side has been observed many times from
lunar orbits, but never explored on the surface.
China’s space community is taking pride in the
successful landing, which posed technical challenges because the moon
blocks direct communication between the spacecraft and its controllers
on Earth. China has been trying to catch up with the United States and
other nations in space exploration.
“The landing on the far side shows China’s technology
is powerful,” said He Qisong, a space expert at the East China
University of Science and Law in Shanghai.
While China’s space program still lags America’s, He
said “China has already positioned itself at least as good as Russia and
the European Union.”
The news cheered people on the streets of Beijing on
Friday, many of whom said it showed that China can now achieve or even
surpass what the United States has done.
“I think this is very good evidence that we are now
able to compete with the Americans,” said energy company employee Yao
Dajun. “You can get on the moon and so can we - I think this is very
good. It means our science and technology ability is getting stronger
and the country is becoming more powerful.”
The news inspired dreamier thoughts for advertising
employee Shang Yuegang. “Probably after some years ordinary people like
us can also travel up there to take a look,” he said.
The Chinese rover has six powered wheels, allowing it
to continue to operate even if one wheel fails. It has a maximum speed
of 200 meters (220 yards) per hour and can climb a 20-degree hill or an
obstacle up to 20 centimeters (8 inches) tall.
The surface is soft and it is similar to that when
you are walking on the snow,” rover designer Shen Zhenrong of the China
Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said on CCTV.
Exploring the cosmos from the far side of the moon
could eventually help scientists learn more about the early days of the
solar system and even the birth of the universe’s first stars. The far
side is popularly called the “dark side” because it can’t be seen from
Earth and is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.
Named for Roman god of war, Mars isn’t very kind to visitors
composite image made from a series of June 15, 2018 photos shows a
self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover in the Gale Crater. The rover’s
arm which held the camera was positioned out of each of the dozens of shots
which make up the mosaic. A dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility
at the rover’s location. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
(AP) - Mars has a nasty habit of living up to its
mythological name and besting Earth when it comes to accepting visitors.
NASA’s InSight is the
latest spacecraft to come calling, with every intent of digging deeper into
the planet than anything that’s come before.
“We’ve had a number of
successful landings in a row now. But you never know what Mars will throw at
you,” said Rob Grover, lead engineer for the landing team at NASA’s Jet
This image made available by NASA shows a map of the
landing sites for current and past NASA missions to the planet Mars. (NASA
Landing on Mars is
always risky, Grover and other experts stress at every opportunity.
The numbers back him
up. Only about 40 percent of all missions to Mars - named after the Roman
god of war - have succeeded.
“Going to Mars is
really, really hard,” NASA’s top science mission official, Thomas Zurbuchen,
told reporters earlier this week. “As humanity, the explorers all over the
world, we’re batting about 50 percent - or less.”
The United States is
the only country to successfully operate a spacecraft on the Martian
surface. InSight represents NASA’s ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on
Mars; only one effort failed.
The last one - NASA’s
Curiosity rover - is still on the move after six years, with more than 12
miles (20 kilometers) on its odometer. The space agency’s older, smaller
Opportunity was roaming around up there until June, when a global dust storm
knocked it out of service. Flight controllers haven’t given up hope yet that
it will be revived.
60-year history of trying to get to Mars includes attempts to fly past the
red planet for picture-taking without stopping, as well as the vastly more
complicated efforts to put spacecraft into orbit around the red planet and
to actually land.
NASA’s Mariner 4
performed the first successfully flyby of the red planet in 1965, sending
back 21 photos.
Mariner 9 made it into
orbit around Mars and beamed back more than 7,000 photos.
And NASA’s Vikings 1
and 2 not only put spacecraft into orbit around Mars in 1976, but on the
surface, too. The twin Vikings were the first successful landers on Mars
from planet Earth.
The 1990s weren’t as
kind for NASA. A humiliating English-metric conversion screw-up doomed the
Mars Observer in 1993. Another U.S. orbiter later was lost, as well as a
lander and two accompanying probes meant to penetrate the surface.
Despite decades of
trying, Russia, in particular, has had lousy luck at Mars.
The then Soviet Union
was the first to attempt a flyby of Mars, in 1960. The spacecraft never
reached Earth orbit. After more launch failures and flight mishaps, the
Soviets finally got a pair of spacecraft into Mars orbit in 1971 and got
back real data. But the companion landers were a total bust.
And so it’s gone for
the Soviets/Russians through their most recent attempt with China in 2011.
The daunting goal was to land a spacecraft on Mars’ moon Phobos to collect
and return samples, and to put a second spacecraft into orbit around Mars.
Neither made it out of Earth orbit.
Europe also has been
snake-bitten at Mars, as has Japan.
While the European
Space Agency has satellites working around Mars, both of its landing
attempts have flopped. Just two years ago, its lander hit the surface so
fast, it dug out a crater. Japan’s sole Mars spacecraft, launched in 1998,
didn’t make it into orbit.
India, meanwhile, has
been operating a satellite around Mars for four years, its first and only
shot at the red planet.
There’s a heavy
European presence on NASA’s InSight. Germany is in charge of the mechanical
mole that’s designed to burrow 16 feet (5 meters) into the Martian surface
to take underground heat measurements, while France directs the lander’s
On the surface,
Curiosity is the only thing operating on Mars. Currently in orbit: U.S.
Odyssey since 2001, Europe’s Mars Express (2003), U.S. Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter (2006), U.S. Maven (2014), India’s Mangalyaan orbiter (2014) and
Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter (2016).