Thirty-five years ago this week, Voyager 1 was launched. Its mission—along with its sister craft, Voyager 2 (which, interestingly enough, was launched two weeks earlier)—was to explore the outer reaches of our solar system and the beginnings of interstellar space. Aboard each craft was a gold-plated audio disc containing sounds, images and messages from Earth, on the off-chance either was ever found by intelligent life from outside the Solar System.
In 1979 and 1980, Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. While there, the craft provided the first high-resolution pictures and conducted other studies of the two planets and their respective satellites. This resulted in the first views of Jupiter’s ring system, discovery of volcanic activity on the moon Io, the first close analysis of the atmosphere of Titan, and detection of complex structures in Saturn’s rings. Article Continues…
Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a planet crossing the face of the Sun!
To be more exact, Venus is making its extremely rare transit in front of the Sun today, at about 5:04pm CDT. During this time, its silhouette will be visible on the Sun’s disc, like a tiny version of an eclipse. In the past, this transit has been used to calculate the size of the solar system. Now, though, it’s just an incredibly rare astronomical event.
How rare is this? Well, that depends; the transit of Venus is on a bit of an odd cycle. These transits happen in pairs eight years apart (the last transit was in 2004). These pairs, however, are separated by spans alternating between 121.5 years and 105.5 years. Prior to the 2004 one, the last Venusian transit was in 1882, 121.5 years earlier. That means the next one will happen in 2117. So if you’re going to see Venus transiting the Sun, this is your only chance.
Of course, you can’t just look up at the sun and see it; you’ll seriously damage your eyes. That’s doubly, triply, and sextuply so for a plain telescope; you might as well just sear your cornea out with a soldering iron. However, there are ways to safely see the transit: Article Continues…
Wrapping up this week’s story, the SpaceX Dragon capsule finally docked with the International Space Station earlier today, making it the first privately-owned craft to dock at the station. Aboard were a number of supplies, experiments and the cremated remains of several people, including those of actor James Doohan, best known as “Scotty” from Star Trek.
The figurative road to the ISS was a bit of a rough one, though. The initial launch had to be aborted due to a pressure irregularity in one of the engines, and the launch was rescheduled for a few days later. Then, as the capsule was being put through maneuvering tests prior to docking, a discrepancy in the information coming from Dragon’s LIDAR sensors and its thermal cameras caused the automatic maneuvering to keep it at a further distance than expected.
On the ground, SpaceX managed to adjust the LIDAR, which was being affected by another component of the ISS. Once the problem was resolved, docking proceeded normally; the capture at just before 10:00a Eastern. Two hours later, and the capsule was reported completely docked and attached to the ISS.
In case you missed the news, SpaceX’s launch attempt for a rendezvous with the International Space Station had to be scrapped just before lift off on Saturday.
According to a press release from the company, the launch “was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the Engine 5 combustion chamber. We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway.”
During inspection after the launch was cancelled, engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the engine which was the cause of the pressure anomaly. The valve has been replaced and the rocket is officially “go” to launch Tuesday, May 22 at 3:44 AM EDT.
Early tomorrow morning (4:55 EDT), SpaceX—the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft—is going to attempt another first: being the first private company to dock a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will propel a cargo-laden Dragon capsule towards the ISS. While none of the cargo aboard is considered mission critical or irreplacable, SpaceX’s mission is part of a comprehensive NASA evaluation of their capability to launch, rendezvous with the ISS and return to earth.
While waiting to dock, astronauts will perform a number of tests on Dragon’s automated controls, including a manual override by the ISS crew. Their success will help land them a contract to become the first commercial carrier to deliver to the ISS.
With the ending of the Space Shuttle program and the scuttling of its successor, the United States is currently reliant on other countries like Russia to get our astronauts and supplies into space. Contracts with companies like SpaceX will play key parts in the United States’ role in the future.