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August 5, 2013

OUR SPACE: Another two bite the dust

MILLEDGEVILLE — It’s retirement time up there in space — these days we bid our final fondest farewells to two spacecraft loyal OUR SPACE readers will recall from past discussions: ocean explorer Jason 1 and galaxy hunter GALEX.

Jason 1 is quite the superstar among the Earth-observing satellites. Like so many NASA spacecraft it far outlasted its designated life span of three to five years by hanging in there for a full dozen years. As the follow-up mission for the wildly successful TOPEX/ Poseidon oceanographic mission, the heat was on for Jason 1 immediately to measure up and surpass its predecessor. And boy, did it ever!

Jason stands for - well, nothing else, actually. Its name is simply Jason, like the guy who went on big sailing adventures, back in Ancient Greece (yep, with the Argonauts, and all that jazz).  Every 10 days our buddy mapped about 95 percent of the Earth’s oceans, amassing an enormous amount of data over its busy lifetime. You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that global sea levels are rising. You get three guesses as to who brought in the data for that!

While the spacecraft’s science instruments were in perfectly good health it was its transmitters that eventually did it in. It was determined that Jason 1 could still receive radio signals but couldn’t send data back home anymore, when it fell silent on June 21. Engineers turned off its reaction control wheels which cause the satellite to slowly turn away from the sun which will discharge its batteries in about 90 days. Jason 1 will then be stranded in an orbit that will keep it up there for at least another 1,000 years.

So, you won’t have to worry about waking up to a new lawn ornament any time soon.

Almost as old as Jason 1 GALEX was decommissioned after a spectacular career mapping distant galaxies in the ultraviolet spectrum. Granted, it never got quite the cheering crowds that, say, Hubble did, but GALEX did its job very well nonetheless. Because of its special observation wavelength, GALEX was the first one to record a Black Hole munching on a star, and it surprised the world of science with its discovery a ring of new young stars around old, dead galaxies, and, oh yes, independently confirming the existence of dark energy.

GALEX was also the first spacecraft ever that NASA signed over to another entity — CalTech. For the past year CalTech has been operating the space telescope independently with private funds, opening it up to research projects from all over the world.

On June 28th it was officially decommissioned. It will stay in orbit for at least another 65 years — and again, you won’t have to worry about it crushing the daisies in your front yard any time soon.

Both spacecraft have contributed much to our understanding of the universe and our own home sweet home, the Blue Planet. They’ve more than earned a few quiet orbits up there.

Read up on Jason 1 at http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/ and then look at some of GALEX’ images at http://go.nasa.gov/17xAVDd

Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at   our_space2@yahoo.com   

 

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