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Mars missions scaled back in April because of sun

April 4, 2013 12:39 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

It's the Martian version of spring break: Curiosity and Opportunity, along with their spacecraft friends circling overhead, will take it easy this month because of the sun's interference. For much of April, the sun blocks the line of sight between Earth and Mars. This celestial alignment—called a Mars solar conjunction—makes it difficult for engineers to send instructions or hear from the flotilla in orbit and on the surface.

NASA team investigates complex chemistry at Titan

April 3, 2013 6:06 pm | News | Comments

A laboratory experiment at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., simulating the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan suggests complex organic chemistry that could eventually lead to the building blocks of life extends lower in the atmosphere than previously thought. The results now point out another region on the moon that could brew up prebiotic materials.

Measuring Mars: The MAVEN magnetometer takes shape

March 27, 2013 7:40 am | by Claire De Saravia, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Scheduled for launch in late 2013, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will carry a sensitive magnetic-field instrument built and tested by a team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Very little magnetic field traces remain on Mars, which is forcing NASA to eliminate all magnetic traces from its spacecraft. The magnetometer may help determine the history of the loss of atmospheric gases to space through time, providing answers about Mars’ climate evolution.

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SpaceX Dragon cargo ship splashes into Pacific

March 26, 2013 7:26 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

The SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth on Tuesday with a full science load from the International Space Station—and a bunch of well-used children's Legos. The privately owned cargo ship splashed down in the Pacific right on target, 250 miles off the coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, five hours after leaving the orbiting lab. The California-based SpaceX confirmed the Dragon's safe arrival via Twitter.

Amazon CEO recovers Apollo engines from Atlantic

March 21, 2013 8:54 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Rusted pieces of two Apollo-era rocket engines that helped boost astronauts to the moon have been fished out of the murky depths of the Atlantic by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos. A privately funded expedition led by Bezos raised the main engine parts during three weeks at sea, about 360 miles from Cape Canaveral. The engine parts were resting nearly 3 miles deep in the Atlantic

Voyager 1 has left the solar system

March 20, 2013 2:56 pm | News | Comments

After taking measurements of sudden, drastic changes in radiation levels, researchers have reported that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, now more than 11 billion miles from the Sun, left the heliosphere dominated by the Sun and has passed outside our solar system. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, all but vanished, dropping to less than 1% of previous amounts.

NASA's lunar orbiter sees GRAIL's explosive farewell

March 20, 2013 9:25 am | News | Comments

NASA's twin GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) spacecraft went out in a blaze of glory Dec. 17, 2012, when they were intentionally crashed into a mountain near the moon's north pole. GRAIL had company—NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mapping satellite was orbiting the moon as well. With just three weeks notice, the LRO team scrambled to get LRO in the right place at the right time to witness GRAIL's fiery finale

NASA’s first laser communication system ready for launch

March 15, 2013 10:33 am | by Dewayne Washington, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

The space terminal for the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), NASA's first high-data-rate laser communication system, was recently integrated onto the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. LLCD will demonstrate laser communications from lunar orbit to Earth at six times the rate of the best modern-day advanced radio communication systems.

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Mars rover shows planet could have supported life

March 13, 2013 12:26 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Drilling into a rock near its landing spot, the Curiosity rover has answered a key question about Mars: The red planet long ago harbored some of the ingredients needed for primitive life to thrive. Topping the list is evidence of water and basic elements that teeny organisms could feed on, scientists said Tuesday.

NASA to reveal contents of drilled Martian rock

March 12, 2013 12:54 pm | by ALICIA CHANG - AP Science Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

The Mars rover Curiosity drilled into its first rock a month ago. Now scientists will reveal what's inside. Gathering at NASA headquarters Tuesday, the rover team will detail the minerals and chemicals found in a pinch of ground-up rock. The results come seven months after Curiosity made a dramatic landing in an ancient crater near the equator.

Curiosity sleeps as solar blast races toward Mars

March 7, 2013 9:47 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

NASA’s Martian rover hunkered down Wednesday after the sun unleashed a blast that raced toward Mars. While Curiosity was designed to withstand punishing space weather, its handlers decided to power it down as a precaution since it suffered a recent computer problem. While the hardy rover slept, the Opportunity rover and two NASA spacecraft circling overhead carried on with normal activities.

Supply ship meets space station after shaky start

March 4, 2013 7:58 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

A private Earth-to-orbit delivery service made good on its latest shipment to the International Space Station on Sunday, overcoming mechanical difficulty and delivering a ton of supplies with high-flying finesse. The Dragon's arrival couldn't have been sweeter—and not because of the fresh fruit on board for the six-man station crew. Coming a full day late, the 250-mile-high linkup above Ukraine culminated a two-day chase that got off to a shaky, almost dead-ending start.

Private SpaceX rocket launched to space station

March 1, 2013 10:57 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

A commercial cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Friday under a billion-dollar contract with NASA that could lead to astronaut rides in just a few years. Launch controllers applauded and gave high-fives to one another once the spacecraft safely reached orbit. The rocket successfully separated from the white Dragon capsule, which contains more than a ton of food, tools, computer hardware, and science experiments.

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Fermi's motion produces a study in spirograph

February 28, 2013 12:33 pm | News | Comments

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope orbits our planet every 95 minutes, building up increasingly deeper views of the universe with every circuit. Its wide-eyed Large Area Telescope (LAT) sweeps across the entire sky every three hours, capturing gamma rays from sources across the universe. A Fermi scientist has transformed LAT data of a famous pulsar into a mesmerizing movie that visually encapsulates the spacecraft's complex motion.

NuSTAR helps solve riddle of black hole spin

February 27, 2013 3:06 pm | News | Comments

An international team including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists has definitively measured the spin rate of a supermassive black hole for the first time. The findings, made by the two X-ray space observatories, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, solve a long-standing debate about similar measurements in other black holes and will lead to a better understanding of how black holes and galaxies evolve.

SwRI ultraviolet instrument selected for ESA's JUICE mission

February 22, 2013 2:07 pm | News | Comments

An ultraviolet spectrograph designed by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been selected for flight on the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE). NASA is funding development of the instrument, which will observe ultraviolet emissions from the Jovian system.

Curiosity takes a self-portrait

February 22, 2013 11:46 am | News | Comments

In a remarkable demonstration of the imaging abilities of the Mars Hand Lens Imager and Mastcam aboard NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity rover operators recently captured a panoramic self-portrait that includes a sweeping view of the Gale Crater region. Visibly in the photo is Curiosity's recent drilling activities.

NASA rover prepares to analyze Mars rock dust

February 20, 2013 3:21 pm | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

Fresh off drilling into a rock for the first time, the Mars rover Curiosity is prepping for the next step—dissecting the pulverized rock to determine what it's made of. NASA said Wednesday it received confirmation that Curiosity successfully collected a tablespoon of powder from the drilling two weeks ago and was poised to transfer a pinch to its onboard laboratories. It's the first time a spacecraft has bored into a rock on Mars to retrieve a sample from the interior.

Researchers replicate ice crystal icing formation in aircraft engine

February 20, 2013 9:02 am | News | Comments

For the first time, researchers are demonstrating ice crystal icing formation in a full-scale engine test facility at NASA's Glenn Research Center. The tests duplicate the natural event of cloud formation, ingestion by an aircraft engine of ice crystals created by the cloud, and the reduction of engine power that can result. This phenomenon is being studied to gain an understanding of the physics behind ice crystal formation in a turbine engine.

Russian scientists recover meteor fragments

February 18, 2013 10:32 am | News | Comments

Scientists have found more than 50 tiny fragments of a meteor that exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains with the power of dozens of atomic bombs. Most are less than a centimeter in diameter, but locals saw a big meteorite fall into the lake on Friday, leaving a 6-m-wide hole in the ice. A meteor up to 50-60 cm could eventually be found in the lake.

Curiosity rover completes first drill into Mars rock

February 11, 2013 8:32 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

In a Mars first, the Curiosity rover drilled into a rock and prepared to dump an aspirin-sized pinch of powder into its onboard laboratories for closer inspection. Using the drill at the end of its 7-foot-long robotic arm, Curiosity on Friday chipped away at a flat, veined rock bearing numerous signs of past water flow.  The exercise was so complex that engineers spent several days commanding Curiosity to tap the rock outcrop, drill test holes and perform a "mini-drill" in anticipation of the real show.

High-tech cargo airship being built in California

January 30, 2013 9:09 am | by Raquel Maria Dillon, Associated Press | News | Comments

A new massive blimp-like aircraft was recently hovering just a dozen feet off a military hangar floor during flight testing south of Los Angeles. The fact that the hulking Aeroscraft could fly for just a few minutes represents a step forward in aviation, according to the engineers who developed it. According to the Department of Defense and NASA, their prototype could one day carry more cargo than any other aircraft to disaster zones and forward military bases.

NASA testing vintage engine from Apollo 11 rocket

January 28, 2013 9:46 am | by Jay Reeves, Associated Press | News | Comments

Young engineers who weren't even born when the last Saturn V rocket took off for the moon are testing a vintage engine from the Apollo program. The engine, known to NASA engineers as No. F-6049, was grounded because of a glitch during a test in Mississippi and later sent to the Smithsonian Institution. Now, NASA engineers are using to get ideas on how to develop the next generation of rockets for future missions to the moon and beyond.

Martian crater may once have held groundwater-fed lake

January 21, 2013 11:46 am | News | Comments

New information coming from researchers analyzing spectrometer data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which looked down on the floor of McLaughlin Crater on the Red Planet’s surface, suggests the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater. The depth of the crater may have helped allow the lake to form.

Space station to get $18 million balloon-like room

January 17, 2013 3:07 pm | by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press | News | Comments

NASA is partnering with a commercial space company in a bid to replace the cumbersome "metal cans" that now serve as astronauts' homes in space with inflatable bounce-house-like habitats that can be deployed on the cheap. A $17.8 million test project will send to the International Space Station an inflatable room that can be compressed into a 7-foot tube for delivery.

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