First off — YAY — Our Space is back! Due to the government shutdown most things NASA-related were suspended, but now your column is here again!
So much has happened in the last month, and while a lot of work remained untouched since the majority of the workforce was furloughed, some “mission critical” events were going on, and in order to protect valuable assets there were areas that quite simply could not be shut down, such as the support systems for the International Space Station.
MAVEN, Juno and LADEE team members in particular escaped the furloughs, since their missions were all at critical points that required round-the-clock work or monitoring.
MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) is NASA’s next Mars mission, and the spacecraft will launch in November. Most Our Space readers are aware that you can’t just launch a rocket to another planet any time you like — the planets have to align just right or else you’ll need massive amounts of fuel, which will drive your costs up. MAVEN has to start its journey during a two-hour window Nov. 23; if it doesn’t go then it will have to wait until early 2016. MAVEN will explore the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere.
Juno has been out there for quite a while — since August 2011. Two weeks ago it performed a gravity-assist maneuver around the Earth, gaining a massive boost in velocity, which will finally enable it to speed toward the giant gas planet Jupiter, where it will arrive on July 4, 2016 — something else you can celebrate in all red, white and blue! During its nail-biting flyby the spacecraft suddenly put itself into Safe Mode — usually a sign of a software issue and always cause for worry. Luckily the engineers were on call, and Juno emerged from the encounter unscathed and about 16,000 mph faster than before.
And our new pal LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment Explorer) has made it to the Moon and has started to check out its instruments for demonstrating deep-space laser-linkups. If all goes as planned future missions can use the experience gained from LADEE’s experiments to send data to or from Earth much more efficiently, faster and in far greater quantities than what is possible by radar. Since it requires less energy and smaller terminals spacecraft can be lighter, thus reducing overall costs. And as computers get faster there is ever more data being acquired which needs to make it home for scientists and engineers to use, so laser communications are a win-win arrangement that simply makes sense.
And while the news on those spacecraft is all good, we are also sad to acknowledge the death of Scott Carpenter, America’s second man in space and one of the original “Mercury Seven” — the first US astronauts selected for spaceflight. Now only one of this heroic group — John Glenn — remains. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Carpenter at Kennedy Space Center a few years ago. He was a fascinating, engaging and outgoing gentleman who did much to promote underwater research after his first and only spaceflight. Since we were both scuba divers we had much to talk about. He will be fondly remembered by those who met him and worked with him.
Learn more about Scott Carpenter’s life and work at http://www.scottcarpenter.com/
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 email@example.com