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 . Space History News - People and events in development of space travel Space History News - People and events in development of space travel Space History News - People and events in development of space travel  

Space History for July 11

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Born, Joseph Jerome Lefrancais de Lalande, French astronomer

Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro published his memoir about the molecular content of gases.

J. C. Watson discovered asteroid #100 Hekate.

L. Carnera discovered asteroid #472 Roma.

Died, Simon Newcomb, Canadian-American mathematician, astronomer, made important contributions to timekeeping and celestial mechanics

Born, John Paul Stapp (at Bahia, Brazil), Colonel US Air Force, physician, test pilot (USAF), survived 46.2 G deceleration on a rocket sled test (deceased)

Born, Sergei Nikolayevich Vernov, Russian scientist, Director of NII-Yash of Moscow State University 1960-1982; studied cosmic rays

M. Wolf discovered asteroid #895 Helio.

Born, Lawrence James "Larry" DeLucas PhD (at Syracuse, New York, USA), NASA payload specialist astronaut (STS 50)

Astronaut Larry DeLucas, NASA photo

The Surveyor project was started when NASA selected Hughes, North American, Space Technology Laboratory, and McDonnell to study designs for the first Lunar soft landing spacecraft.

Following a long controversy, NASA selected Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) as the fastest, cheapest, and safest mode to accomplish the Apollo mission, rejecting the Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) and Direct Landing options.

1968 19:26:00 GMT
The US Air Force launched an Atlas booster from Vandenburg, California, carrying OV1-15, which studied the relationship between atmospheric density and solar radiation, and OV1-16 Cannonball 1, which performed ionospheric drag tests.

1973 10:04:00 GMT
USSR launched Molniya 2-6 to continue operation of the long range telephone and telegraph radio communication system within the USSR, and transmission of USSR central television programs to stations in the Orbita and participating international networks.

L. Chernykh discovered asteroid #2489 Suvorov.

1975 04:19:00 GMT
USSR launched the Meteor 2-01 weather satellite from Plesetsk for acquisition of meteorological information needed for use by the weather service.

1979 16:37:00 GMT
NASA's Skylab space station disintegrated over Western Australia and the Indian Ocean, casting large pieces of debris in populated areas (fortunately, the only casualty being an Australian cow).

NASA's Skylab (SL), launched 14 May 1973, was an orbiting space station manned by crews arriving via separate launches. Skylab was composed of five parts, the Apollo telescope mount (ATM), the multiple docking adapter (MDA), the airlock module (AM), the instrument unit (IU), and the orbital workshop (OWS). Skylab was in the form of a cylinder, with the ATM being positioned 90 degrees from the longitudinal axis after insertion into orbit. The ATM was a solar observatory, and it provided attitude control and experiment pointing for the rest of the cluster. It was attached to the MDA and AM at one end of the OWS. Installation and retrieval of film used in the ATM was accomplished by astronauts during extravehicular activity (EVA). The MDA served as a dock for the command and service modules of the visiting manned spacecraft which served as personnel taxis to Skylab. The AM provided an airlock between the MDA and the OWS, and contained controls and instrumentation. The IU, which was used only during launch and the initial phases of operation, provided guidance and sequencing functions for the initial deployment of the ATM, solar arrays, etc.

The OWS was actually the refitted S-IVB second stage of a Saturn IB booster (from the AS-212 vehicle), a leftover from the Apollo program originally intended for one of the canceled Apollo Earth orbital missions, modified for long duration manned habitation in orbit. It contained provisions and crew quarters necessary to support three-person crews for periods of up to 84 days each. All parts were also capable of unmanned, in-orbit storage, reactivation, and reuse.

Skylab was originally planned as a minimially-altered S-IVB to be launched on a Saturn IB. The small size of the IB would have required Skylab to double as a rocket stage during launch, only being retrofitted as a space station once it was in orbit. With the cancellation of Apollo missions 18-20, a Saturn V was made available and thus the "Wet Workshop" concept, as it was called, was put aside and Skylab was launched dry and fully outfitted. Skylab's grid flooring system was a highly visible legacy of the wet workshop concept.

Severe damage was sustained during launch, including the loss of the station's micrometeoroid shield/sun shade and one of its main solar panels: An unexpected telemetry indication of meteoroid shield deployment and solar array wing 2 beam fairing separation was received 1 minute and 3 seconds after liftoff. Debris from the lost micrometeroid shield further complicated matters by pinning the remaining solar panel to the side of the station, preventing its deployment, thus leaving the station with a huge power deficit. Without the solar shield, temperatures soared in the station. The station underwent extensive repair during a spacewalk by the first crew; repairs by crews throughout the manned stays led to virtually all mission objectives being met.

The first Skylab crew was aboard from 25 May to 22 June 1973, the crew of the SL-2 mission (73-032A). Next, it was manned during the period 28 July to 25 September 1973, by the crew of the SL-3 mission (73-050A). The final manned period was from 16 November 1973 to 8 February 1974, when it was inhabited by the SL-4 mission (73-090A) crew.

Skylab orbited Earth 2,476 times during the 171 days and 13 hours of its occupation during the three manned Skylab missions; astronauts performed ten spacewalks totalling 42 hours 16 minutes. Skylab logged approximately 2,000 hours of scientific and medical experiments, including eight solar experiments: The coronal holes in the Sun were discovered; many medical experiments were on astronauts' adaptation to extended periods of microgravity. Each successive Skylab mission set a record for the duration of time the astronauts spent in space.

Following the final manned phase of the Skylab mission, ground controllers performed some engineering tests of certain Skylab systems, tests that ground personnel were reluctant to do while men were aboard. Results from these tests helped to determine causes of failures during the mission, and to obtain data on long term degradation of space systems.

Upon completion of the engineering tests, Skylab was positioned into a stable attitude and systems were shut down. It was expected that Skylab would remain in orbit eight to ten years. It was to have been visited by an early shuttle mission, reboosted into a higher orbit, and used by space shuttle crews, but delays in the first flight of the shuttle made this impossible: Increased solar activity heating the outer layers of the Earth's atmosphere, thereby increasing the drag on the station, led to an early reentry on 11 July 1979. Skylab disintegrated over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia after a worldwide scare over its pending crash, casting large pieces of debris in populated areas. Fortunately, the only casualty was a single Australian cow.

Two flight quality Skylabs were built, the second, a backup, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

E. Bowell discovered asteroid #3485 Barucci.

1990 11:00:00 GMT
USSR launched the Gamma 1 astronomy satellite from Baikonur for high-energy (gamma/x-ray) astrophysics research conducted jointly with France and Poland.

A total solar eclipse occurred, observable in Hawaii, Mexico, Central America and across South America, ending over Brazil. At 6 min, 53 sec, it was the longest eclipse that will occur until 13 June 2132.,_1991

Died, Walter Fritz Wiesemann, German/American rocket technician

Walter Wiesemann (30 August 1920 - 11 July 2000) was drafted into the Luftwaffe as a radio operator, then reassigned to Peenmuende and Flakversuchstelle working on rocketry projects. Wiesemann became a member of the German Rocket Team in the United States after World War II, at Fort Bliss and Huntsville with von Braun's group. He worked with the team his entire life, retiring from NASA in 1970.

The Mojave Aerospace White Knight carrier airplane made three Ansari X-prize development flights, including the first flight for SpaceShipOne crew chief, the first flight for SpaceShipOne lead engineer, and Rutan's first flight in White Knight.

An extremely unusual high silica rock fragment dubbed "Lamoose" was photographed by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Curiosity rover.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 15:02:00 UTC (10:02AM EST) on 26 November 2011. The spacecraft flight system had a launch mass of 3,893 kg (8,583 lb), consisting of an Earth-Mars fueled cruise stage (539 kg (1,188 lb)), the entry-descent-landing (EDL) system (2,401 kg (5,293 lb) including 390 kg (860 lb) of landing propellant), and an 899 kg (1,982 lb) mobile rover with an integrated instrument package. On 11 January 2012, the spacecraft successfully refined its trajectory with a three-hour series of thruster-engine firings, advancing the rover's landing time by about 14 hours.

Selection of Gale Crater for the landing during preflight planning had followed consideration of more than thirty locations by more than 100 scientists participating in a series of open workshops. The selection process benefited from examining candidate sites with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and earlier orbiters, and from the rover mission's capability of landing within a target area only about 20 kilometers (12 miles) long. That precision, about a fivefold improvement on earlier Mars landings, made sites eligible that would otherwise be excluded for encompassing nearby unsuitable terrain. The Gale Crater landing site, about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, is so close to the crater wall and Mount Sharp that it would not have been considered safe if the mission were not using this improved precision.

Science findings began months before landing as Curiosity made measurements of radiation levels during the flight from Earth to Mars that will help NASA design for astronaut safety on future human missions to Mars.

The Mars rover Curiosity landed successfully on the floor of Gale Crater at 05:32 UTC on 6 August 2012, at 4.6 degrees south latitude, 137.4 degrees east longitude and minus 4,501 meters (2.8 miles) elevation. Engineers designed the spacecraft to steer itself during descent through Mars' atmosphere with a series of S-curve maneuvers similar to those used by astronauts piloting NASA space shuttles. During the three minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft slowed its descent with a parachute, then used retrorockets mounted around the rim of its upper stage. The parachute descent was observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, see for the image and some notes. In the final seconds of the landing sequence, the upper stage acted as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to land on its wheels. The touchdown site, Bradbury Landing, is near the foot of a layered mountain, Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons). Curiosity landed on target and only 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from its center.

Some low resolution Hazcam images were immediately sent to Earth by relay orbiters confirming the rover's wheels were deployed correctly and on the ground. Three hours later, the rover began transmitting detailed data on its systems' status as well as on its entry, descent and landing experience. On 8 August 2012, Mission Control began upgrading the rover's dual computers by deleting the entry-descent-landing software, then uploading and installing the surface operation software; the switchover was completed by 15 August. On 15 August, the rover began several days of instrument checks and mobility tests. The first laser test of the ChemCam on Mars was performed on a rock, N165 ("Coronation" rock), on 19 August.

In the first few weeks after landing, images from the rover showed that Curiosity touched down right in an area where water once coursed vigorously over the surface. The evidence for stream flow was in rounded pebbles mixed with hardened sand in conglomerate rocks at and near the landing site. Analysis of Mars' atmospheric composition early in the mission provided evidence that the planet has lost much of its original atmosphere by a process favoring loss from the top of the atmosphere rather than interaction with the surface.

In the initial months of the surface mission, the rover team drove Curiosity eastward toward an area of interest called "Glenelg," where three types of terrain intersect. The rover analyzed its first scoops of soil on the way to Glenelg. In the Glenelg area, it collected the first samples of material ever drilled from rocks on Mars. Analysis of the first drilled sample, from a rock target called "John Klein," provided the evidence of conditions favorable for life in Mars' early history: geological and mineralogical evidence for sustained liquid water, other key elemental ingredients for life, a chemical energy source, and water not too acidic or too salty.

Within the first eight months of a planned 23-month primary mission, Curiosity met its major objective of finding evidence of a past environment well suited to supporting microbial life.

On 7 October 2012, a mysterious "bright object" (image) discovered in the sand at Rocknest, drew scientific interest. Several close-up pictures were taken of the object and preliminary interpretations by scientists suggest the object to be "debris from the spacecraft." Further images in the nearby sand detected other "bright particles." The newly discovered objects are presently thought to be "native Martian material". (2015)

On 4 July 2013, Curiosity finished its investigations in the Glenelg area and began a southwestward trek toward an entry point to the lower layers of Mount Sharp. There, at the main destination for the mission, researchers anticipate finding further evidence about habitable past environments and about how the ancient Martian environment evolved to become much drier. As of 29 July 2014, the rover had traveled about 73% of the way, an estimated linear distance of 6.1 km (3.8 mi) of the total 8.4 km (5.2 mi) trip, to the mountain base since leaving its "start" point in Yellowknife Bay. (see also Where is the rover now?)

On 6 August 2013, Curiosity audibly played "Happy Birthday to You" in honor of the one Earth year mark of its Martian landing. This was the first time that a song was played on a foreign planet; making "Happy Birthday" the first song and Curiosity the first device used to play music on a foreign planet. This was also the first time music was transmitted between two planets. On 24 June 2014, Curiosity completed a Martian year (687 Earth days) on Mars.

On 26 September 2013, NASA scientists reported the Mars Curiosity rover detected "abundant, easily accessible" water (1.5 to 3 weight percent) in soil samples at the Rocknest region of Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater.

On 3 June 2014, Curiosity observed the planet Mercury transiting the Sun, marking the first time a planetary transit has been observed from a celestial body besides Earth.

On 11 July 2015, Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photographed an extremely unusual high silica rock fragment dubbed "Lamoose" (image). The rock, about 4 inches (10 centimeters) across, is fine-grained, perhaps finely layered, and apparently etched by the wind. [Ed. note: If I were on Mars and had seen this "rock" I would have picked it up to turn it over to see what the other side looks like.] Other nearby rocks in that portion of the "Marias Pass" area of Mt. Sharp also have unusually high concentrations of silica, first detected in the area by the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) laser spectrometer. This rock was targeted for follow-up study by the MAHLI and the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). Silica is a compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz. It is a primary raw material for Portland cement, many ceramics such as earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain, and is used in the production of glass for windows, bottles, etc. High levels of silica could indicate ideal conditions for preserving ancient organic material, if they are present. (Press release: NASA's Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock, issued 23 July 2015)

For more information about the Curiosity rover and its continuing science experiments and discoveries, visit NASA's Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity Web page or the JPL link below.

-Rover Details-

Curiosity has a mass of 899 kg (1,982 lb) including 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific instruments, including equipment to gather and process samples of rocks and soil, distributing them to onboard test chambers inside analytical instruments. It inherited many design elements from previous rovers, including six-wheel drive, a rocker-bogie suspension system, and cameras mounted on a mast to help the mission's team on Earth select exploration targets and driving routes. The rover is 2.9 m (9.5 ft) long by 2.7 m (8.9 ft) wide by 2.2 m (7.2 ft) in height. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, builder of the Mars Science Laboratory, engineered Curiosity to roll over obstacles up to 65 centimeters (25 inches) high and to travel about 200 meters (660 feet) per day on Martian terrain at a rate up to 90 m (300 ft) per hour.

Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), producing electricity from the heat of plutonium-238's radioactive decay. The RTG gives the mission an operating lifespan on the surface of "a full Mars year (687 Earth days) or more." At launch, the generator provided about 110 watts of electrical power. Warm fluids heated by the generator's excess heat are plumbed throughout the rover to keep electronics and other systems at acceptable operating temperatures. Although the total power from the generator will decline over the course of the mission, it was still providing 105 or more watts a year after landing; it is expected to still be supplying 100 watts after ten years.

Curiosity is equipped with several means of communication, an X band small deep space transponder for communication directly to Earth via NASA's Deep Space Network and a UHF Electra-Lite software-defined radio for communicating with Mars orbiters. The X-band system has one radio, with a 15 W power amplifier, and two antennas: a low-gain omnidirectional antenna that can communicate with Earth at very low data rates (15 bit/s at maximum range), regardless of rover orientation, and a high-gain antenna that can communicate at speeds up to 32 kbit/s, but must be aimed. The UHF system has two radios (approximately 9 W transmit power), sharing one omnidirectional antenna. This can communicate with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Odyssey orbiter (ODY) at speeds up to 2 Mbit/s and 256 kbit/s, respectively, but each orbiter is only able to communicate with Curiosity for about 8 minutes per day. The orbiters have larger antennas and more powerful radios, and can relay data to earth faster than the rover could do directly. Therefore, most of the data returned by Curiosity is via the UHF relay links with MRO and ODY. The data return via the communication infrastructure as implemented at MDL, and the rate observed during the first 10 days was approximately 31 megabytes per day. In 2013, after the first year since Curiosity's landing, the orbiters had already downlinked 190 gigabits of data from Curiosity.

Typically 225 kbit/day of commands are transmitted to the rover directly from Earth, at a data rate of 1–2 kbit/s, during a 15-minute (900 second) transmit window, while the larger volumes of data collected by the rover are returned via satellite relay. The one-way communication delay with Earth varies from 4 to 22 minutes, depending on the planets' relative positions.

-Science Payload-

In April 2004, NASA solicited proposals for specific instruments and investigations to be carried by Mars Science Laboratory. The agency selected eight of the proposals later that year and also reached agreements with Russia and Spain to carry instruments those nations provided. Curiosity carries the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars' surface, a payload more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier Mars rovers. More than 400 scientists from around the world participate in the science operations.

A suite of instruments named Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) analyzes samples of material collected and delivered by the rover's arm, plus atmospheric samples. It includes a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer and a tunable laser spectrometer with combined capabilities to identify a wide range of carbon-containing compounds and determine the ratios of different isotopes of key elements. Isotope ratios are clues to understanding the history of Mars' atmosphere and water.

An X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument called CheMin also examines samples gathered by the robotic arm. It is designed to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils, and to measure bulk composition.

Mounted on the arm, the Mars Hand Lens Imager takes extreme close-up pictures of rocks, soil and, if present, ice, revealing details smaller than the width of a human hair. It can also focus on hard-to-reach objects more than an arm's length away and has taken images assembled into dramatic self-portraits of Curiosity.

Also on the arm, the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer determines the relative abundances of different elements in rocks and soils.

The Mast Camera, mounted at about human-eye height, images the rover's surroundings in high-resolution stereo and color, with the capability to take and store high definition video sequences. It can also be used for viewing materials collected or treated by the arm.

An instrument named ChemCam uses laser pulses to vaporize thin layers of material from Martian rocks or soil targets up to 7 meters (23 feet) away. It includes both a spectrometer to identify the types of atoms excited by the beam, and a telescope to capture detailed images of the area illuminated by the beam. The laser and telescope sit on the rover's mast and share with the Mast Camera the role of informing researchers' choices about which objects in the area make the best targets for approaching to examine with other instruments.

The rover's Radiation Assessment Detector characterizes the radiation environment at the surface of Mars. This information is necessary for planning human exploration of Mars and is relevant to assessing the planet's ability to harbor life.

In the two minutes before landing, the Mars Descent Imager captured color, high-definition video of the landing region to provide geological context for the investigations on the ground and to aid precise determination of the landing site. Pointed toward the ground, it can also be used for surface imaging as the rover explores.

Spain's Ministry of Education and Science provided the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, winds, plus ultraviolet radiation levels.

Russia's Federal Space Agency provided the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument to measure subsurface hydrogen up to 1 meter (3 feet) below the surface. Detections of hydrogen may indicate the presence of water bound in minerals.

In addition to the science payload, equipment of the rover's engineering infrastructure contributes to scientific observations. Like the Mars Exploration Rovers, Curiosity has a stereo Navigation Camera on its mast and low-slung, stereo Hazard-Avoidance cameras. The wide view of the Navigation Camera is also used to aid targeting of other instruments and to survey the sky for clouds and dust. Equipment called the Sample Acquisition/Sample Preparation and Handling System includes tools to remove dust from rock surfaces, scoop up soil, drill into rocks to collect powdered samples from rocks' interiors, sort samples by particle size with sieves, and deliver samples to laboratory instruments.

The Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument Suite was a set of engineering sensors that measured atmospheric conditions and performance of the spacecraft during the arrival-day plunge through the atmosphere, to aid in design of future missions.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, 'Lamoose' high silica rock photographed by Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
Larger image at (1600 x 1191 pixels)

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