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Space History for September 26

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Died, August Ferdinand Mobius, German mathematician, astronomer (Mobius strip)

M Wolf discovered asteroid #610 Valeska.

F Kaiser discovered asteroids #764 Gedania and #765 Mattiaca.

J Palisa discovered asteroid #795 Fini.

Born, Masatoshi Koshiba, Japanese physicist, Nobel Prize laureate ("for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos")

E Delporte discovered asteroid #1293 Sonja.

Born, Michael V Love, NASA X-24 test pilot (deceased)

L Oterma discovered asteroid #1705 Tapio.

The first launch was made from the US White Sands (New Mexico) Missile Range, a Tiny Tim booster.

Born, Vladimír "Volodya" Remek (at Ceske Budejovice, Czechoslovakia), Soviet cosmonaut (Soyuz 28), first Czech cosmonaut

1958 15:38:00 GMT
The US Navy launched the Vanguard 2D cloud cover satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida, which failed to reach orbit because of an insufficient second stage thrust problem whose cause was unknown.

The Palomar-Leiden Survey discovered asteroid #1778 Alfven.

1968 07:41:00 GMT
A Titan 3C carried four satellites to orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida: OV2-5 for environmental research, OV5-2 to collect particle radiation data, OV5-4 examined heat transfer in liquids in zero-g, and the LES 6 experimental commsat.

T Smirnova discovered asteroids #2217 Eltigen and #2280 Kunikov.

E F Helin discovered asteroids #2128 Wetherill and #2143 Jimarnold; L Chernykh discovered asteroid #2755 Avicenna.

L Zhuravleva discovered asteroids #2283 Bunke, #2310 Olshaniya and #2740.

1975 00:17:00 GMT
Intelsat 4A F-1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and positioned in geosynchronous orbit over the Atlantic Ocean at 25 deg W 1975-1981; 18.5 deg W 1982-1983; 30 deg W 1983-1986.

Harvard College discovered asteroid #2978; L Zhuravleva discovered asteroids #2702, #2771, #2890 Vilyujsk, #3039 Yangel, #3190 Aposhanskij, #3410, #3558, #3586, #3600, #3655 and #3657.

Purple Mountain Observatory discovered asteroid #3443.

B A Skiff and N G Thomas discovered asteroid #3256 Daguerre.

1980 15:54:00 GMT
USSR's Soyuz 38 landed, returning the seventh international crew under the INTERCOSMOS program from the Salyut 6 space station.

B A Skiff and N G Thomas discovered asteroid #2557 Putnam; N G Thomas discovered asteroids #2558 Viv, #3467 Bernheim and #3621; T Seki discovered asteroid #2582 Harimaya-Bashi.

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

P Wild discovered asteroid #3552.

1983 19:37:00 GMT
USSR attempted to launch Soyuz T-10-1 from Baikonur, but the launch vehicle blew up on the pad at Tyuratam. The crew, Gennadi Strekalov and Vladimir Titov, was saved by the abort system.

1985 09:51:00 GMT
USSR's Soyuz T-13 landed with the crew of Dzhanibekov and Grechko aboard, returning from the Salyut 7 space station.

E Bowell discovered asteroid #3736.

Biosphere 2 opened, a "closed" ecosystem built in Oracle, Arizona, to test how people could live in a closed biosphere, to explore the possible use of closed biospheres in space colonization, and to allow biosphere manipulation without harming the Earth.

1991 23:43:00 GMT
An Ariane 44P launched from Kourou carried Canada's Anik E1 communications satellite to space, which was positioned in geosynchronous orbit at 111 deg W.

1993 01:45:00 GMT
An Ariane 4 launched from Kourou carried seven satellites to space: France's SPOT 3 landsat and Stella laser reflector, SateLife's Healthsat 2 commsat, and four amateur radio satellites, from South Korea, Portugal, Italy and the US.

1996 08:13:15 EDT (GMT -4:00:00)
NASA's STS 79 (Atlantis 17, 79th Shuttle mission) ended after flying to space for the fourth Shuttle-Mir docking mission.

STS 79 was launched 16 September 1996. Aboard Atlantis in the payload bay were the Orbiter Docking System, the modified Long Tunnel, and the Spacehab Double Module, containing supplies for the Mir.

The launch, originally set for 31 July, slipped when mission managers decided to switch out Atlantis' twin solid rocket boosters because the STS 79 boosters were assembled using the same new adhesive as the boosters flown on the previous mission, STS 78, in which a hot gas path into the J-joints of the motor field joints was observed during post-retrieval inspection. Although managers concluded the original STS 79 boosters were safe to fly, they decided to replace them with a set slated for STS 80 that used the original adhesive. The booster changeout took place after Atlantis was already back in the Vehicle Assembly Building due to the threat from Hurricane Bertha. A new launch date of 12 September was targeted, and Atlantis was returned to the pad. That launch date was delayed to 16 September when the Shuttle was returned to the VAB due to the threat from Hurricane Fran, marking the first time a Shuttle was rolled back twice in single processing flow due to hurricane threats. The countdown proceeded smoothly to an ontime liftoff on 16 September. Approximately 13 minutes into flight, auxiliary power unit number 2 went down prematurely. After review and analysis, the Mission Management Team concluded the mission could proceed to the nominal end-of-mission as planned.

STS 79 was highlighted by the return to Earth of US astronaut Shannon Lucid after 188 days in space, the first US crew exchange aboard the Russian Space Station Mir, and fourth Shuttle-Mir docking. Lucid's long-duration spaceflight set a new US record, as well as world record for a woman. She embarked to Mir on 22 March in the STS 76 mission. Succeeding her on Mir for an approximately four month stay was John Blaha, who returned in January 1997 with the STS 81 crew.

During her approximately six month stay on Mir, Lucid conducted research in the following fields: advanced technology, Earth sciences, fundamental biology, human life sciences, microgravity research and space sciences. Specific experiments included: Environmental Radiation Measurements to ascertain ionizing radiation levels aboard Mir; Greenhouse-Integrated Plant Experiments, to study effect of microgravity on plants, specifically dwarf wheat; and Assessment of Humoral Immune Function During Long-Duration Space Flight, to gather data on the effect of long-term spaceflight on the human immune system, involving collection of blood serum and saliva samples. Some research was conducted in the newest and final Mir module, Priroda, which arrived at the station during Lucid's stay.

STS 79 also marked the second flight of the SPACEHAB module in support of Shuttle-Mir activities and the first flight of the SPACEHAB Double Module configuration. The Shuttle-Mir linkup occurred at 11:13 PM EDT on 18 September, following an R-bar approach. The hatches were opened at 1:40 AM EDT 19 September, and Blaha and Lucid exchanged places at 7 AM EDT. Awaiting Blaha on Mir were Valery Korzun, Mir 22 commander, and Alexander Kaleri, flight engineer.

During five days of mated operations, the two crews transferred more than 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of supplies to Mir, including logistics and food, and water generated by the orbiter fuel cells. Three experiments also were transferred: Biotechnology System (BTS) for study of cartilage development; Material in Devices as Superconductors (MIDAS) to measure electrical properties of high-temperature superconductor materials; and Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA), containing several smaller experiments, including self-contained aquatic systems.

About 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of experiment samples and equipment were transferred from Mir to Atlantis; the total logistical transfer to and from the station of more than 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) was the most extensive to date. Atlantis undocked from the Mir complex on 23 September at 7:33 PM EDT.

Three experiments remained on Atlantis: Extreme Temperature Translation Furnace (ETTF), a new furnace design allowing space-based processing up to 871 degrees Centigrade (1,600 degrees Fahrenheit) and above; Commercial Protein Crystal Growth (CPCG) complement of 128 individual samples involving 12 different proteins; and Mechanics of Granular Materials, designed to further understanding of behavior of cohesionless granular materials, which could in turn lead to better understanding of how the Earth's surface responds during earthquakes and landslides.

As with all Shuttle-Mir flights, risk-mitigation experiments were conducted to help reduce development risk for the International Space Station. Flying for the first time was the Active Rack Isolation System (ARIS), an experiment rack designed to cushion payloads from vibration and other disturbances.

Conducted near the end of flight was a test using the orbiter's small vernier jets to lower Atlantis' orbit, in preparation for the second Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, STS 82, to re-boost Hubble to a higher orbit while still in the orbiter payload bay.

On 25 September, Atlantis closed its payload bay doors, and at 11:06 GMT fired its OMS engines for a three minute long deorbit burn. After entry interface at 11:42 GMT, the spaceship flew across Canada and the US. STS 79 ended on 26 September 1996 when Atlantis landed on revolution 160 on Runway 15, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on the first opportunity at KSC. Rollout distance: 10,981 feet (3,347 meters). Rollout time: one minute, two seconds. Orbit altitude: 196-245 statute miles. Orbit inclination: 51.6 degrees. Mission duration: ten days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 26 seconds. Miles Traveled: 3.9 million. Lucid was able to walk off the orbiter into the Crew Transport Vehicle with assistance, and later the same day received a congratulatory call from President Clinton.

The flight crew for STS 79 was: William F. Readdy, Commander; Terrence W. Wilcutt, Pilot; Thomas D. Akers, Mission Specialist; John E. Blaha, Mission Specialist (returned on STS 81); Jay Apt, Mission Specialist; Carl E. Walz, Mission specialist; Shannon W. Lucid, Mission Specialist returned from Mir (launched on STS 81).

1996 17:50:53 GMT
Russia launched the Express 12 communications satellite from Baikonur, which was positioned in geosynchronous orbit at 80 deg E.

1999 22:30:00 GMT
Lockheed Martin's LMI-1 communications satellite was launched from Baikonur, and positioned in geosynchronous orbit at 75 deg E.

2000 10:05:00 GMT
A Russian Dnepr rocket launched from Baikonur carried five satellites to space: research satellites from Malaysia (Tiungsat-1) and Italy (MegSat-1 and UniSat), and two Saudi amateur radio satellites (Saudisat 1A and 1B).

2002 15:30:00 GMT
Russia launched the Nadezhda 7 (Nadezhda-M) navigation satellite, to participate in the international search and rescue (SAR) network, known as COSPAS-SARSAT, for ships at sea.

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.

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.

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