Saturday, June 26, 2004

A great week in Space

Did you notice the excellent events in Space this week?

Early on Monday morning SpaceshipOne rocketed to above 100 kilometers altitude, making it the first privately flown manned spaceflight.

Meanwhile out near Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft is nearing its target, flying past its first Saturnian satellites as it prepares for the Saturn Orbit Insertion maneuver on June 30 (now less than a week away!). A lot of my friends are crossing their fingers that the 96 minute rocket engine burn will go off without a hitch and the spacecraft will drop into orbit to begin an exciting mission to unlock the secrets of the 2nd largest planet in our solar system. Early results from the flyby of the Saturnian moon Phoebe suggests that this moon originated in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. If this is confirmed, it is the 2nd closeup look at what one of those distant objects is like - Voyager 2 flew past Neptune back in 1989 and got a closeup look at Triton which may well have originated there as well and is very similar in size and distance from the Sun as Pluto.

On Mars, a couple of hardy little robots are expanding our knowledge of the red planet with new discoveries daily. At the base of the Columbia Hills, the Spirit rover discovered Hematite in an unusual looking rock nicknamed appropriately The Pot of Gold. Meanwhile, halfway around the planet, Opportunity has been carefully creeping farther down into the Endurance crater, studying the rock outcrops there.

Back on Earth, it still seems like forever since we last saw a Space Shuttle launch, but NASA has just announced a reorganization that hopefully will help it to achieve the lofty Space Exploration Initiative goals.

This is my first blog - I'm planning to focus my posts here on Space mostly, since I'm a regular Space Nerd. My interest in science grew out of watching the Apollo Astronauts explore the moon when I was a child, so the nickname I'm using is appropriately "ApolloGeek" since I love to study every tiny detail of the Apollo space program and look forward to the day that we again have humans walking on the Moons surface and kicking the rust colored soil of Mars as well.



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