Category: launch

Science Launching to Station Looks Forward and…

Some of the earliest human explorers used mechanical tools called sextants to navigate vast oceans and discover new lands. Today, high-tech tools navigate microscopic DNA to discover previously unidentified organisms. Scientists aboard the International Space Station soon will have both types of tools at their disposal.

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Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch its ninth contracted cargo resupply mission to the space station no earlier than May 21. Sending crucial science, supplies and cargo to the crew of six humans living and working on the orbiting laboratory.

Our Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft, and designers built a sextant into Apollo vehicles as a lost-communications navigation backup. The Sextant Navigation investigation tests use of a hand-held sextant for emergency navigation on missions in deep space as humans begin to travel farther from Earth.

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Jim Lovell (far left) demonstrated on Apollo 8 that sextant navigation could return a space vehicle home. 

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The remoteness and constrained resources of living in space require simple but effective processes and procedures to monitor the presence of microbial life, some of which might be harmful. Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) advances the use of sequencing processes to identify microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect and to assess mutations in the microbial genome that may be due to spaceflight.  

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Genes in Space 3 performed in-flight identification of bacteria on the station for the first time. BEST takes that one step farther, identifying unknown microbial organisms using a process that sequences directly from a sample with minimal preparation, rather than with the traditional technique that requires growing a culture from the sample.

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Adding these new processes to the proven technology opens new avenues for inflight research, such as how microorganisms on the station change or adapt to spaceflight.

The investigation’s sequencing components provide important information on the station’s microbial occupants, including which organisms are present and how they respond to the spaceflight environment – insight that could help protect humans during future space exploration. Knowledge gained from BEST could also provide new ways to monitor the presence of microbes in remote locations on Earth.

Moving on to science at a scale even smaller than a microbe, the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) facility could help answer some big questions in modern physics.

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CAL creates a temperature ten billion (Yup. BILLION) times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless. CAL makes it possible to observe these ultra-cold atoms for much longer in the microgravity environment on the space station than would be possible on the ground.

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Results of this research could potentially lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.

A partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Space Application Services (SpaceAps), The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, uses a sliding framework permanently installed on the space station and “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes.

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The Experiment Cubes are easy to install and remove, come in different sizes and can be built with commercial off-the-shelf components, significantly reducing the cost and time to develop experiments.

ICE Cubes removes barriers that limit access to space, providing more people access to flight opportunities. Potential fields of research range from pharmaceutical development to experiments on stem cells, radiation, and microbiology, fluid sciences, and more.

For daily nerd outs, follow @ISS_Research on Twitter!

Watch the Launch + More!

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What’s On Board Briefing

Join scientists and researchers as they discuss some of the investigations that will be delivered to the station on Saturday, May 19 at 1 p.m. EDT at nasa.gov/live. Have questions? Use #askNASA

CubeSat Facebook Live

The International Space Station is often used to deploy small satellites, a low-cost way to test technology and science techniques in space. On board this time, for deployment later this summer, are three CubeSats that will help us monitor rain and snow, study weather and detect and filter radio frequency interference (RFI). 

Join us on Facebook Live on Saturday, May 19 at 3:30 p.m. EDT on the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility page to hear from experts and ask them your questions about these small satellites. 

Pre-Launch Briefing

Tune in live at nasa.gov/live as mission managers provide an overview and status of launch operations at 11 a.m. EDT on Sunday, May 20. Have questions? Use #askNASA

LIFTOFF!

Live launch coverage will begin on Monday, May 21 4:00 a.m. on NASA Television, nasa.gov/live, Facebook Live, Periscope, Twitch, Ustream and YouTube. Liftoff is slated for 4:39 a.m.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

Meet Our Latest CubeSats

When the next Orbital ATK cargo mission to the International Space Station blasts off from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on May 20 at 5:04 a.m. EDT carrying science and supplies, the Cygnus spacecraft will also be carrying a few of our latest CubeSats.

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The International Space Station is often used to deploy small satellites, a low-cost way to test technology and science techniques in space.

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On board this time, for deployment later this summer, are…

The ‘Rabbit’ in the RainCube

As its name suggests, RainCube will use radar to measure rain and snowfall. CubeSats are measured in increments of 1U (A CubeSat unit, or 1U, is roughly equivalent to a 4-inch box, or 10x10x10 centimeters). The RainCube antenna has to be small enough to be crammed into a 1.5U container; the entire satellite is about as big as a cereal box.

“It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat,” said Nacer Chahat, a specialist in antenna design at our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Shrinking the size of the radar is a challenge for us. As space engineers, we usually have lots of volume, so building antennas packed into a small volume isn’t something we’re trained to do.”

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That small antenna will deploy in space, like an upside-down umbrella. To maintain its small size, the antenna relies on the high-frequency Ka-band wavelength – good for profiling rain and snow. Ka-band also allows for an exponential increase in sending data over long distances, making it the perfect tool for telecommunications.

Peering Into Clouds

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TEMPEST-D will also study weather. Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems – Demonstration (TEMPEST-D) has satellite technology with the potential to measure cloud and precipitation processes on a global basis. These measurements help improve understanding of Earth’s water cycle and weather predictions, particularly conditions inside storms.

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TEMPEST-D millimeter-wave observations have the ability to penetrate into clouds to where precipitation initiation occurs. By measuring the evolution of clouds from the moment of the onset of precipitation, a future TEMPEST constellation mission could improve weather forecasting and improve our understanding of cloud processes, essential to understanding climate change.

Cutting Through the Noise

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CubeRRT, also the size of a cereal box, will space test a small component designed to detect and filter radio frequency interference (RFI). RFI is everywhere, from cellphones, radio and TV transmissions, satellite broadcasts and other sources. You probably recognize it as that annoying static when you can’t seem to get your favorite radio station to come in clearly because another station is nearby on the dial.

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The same interference that causes radio static also affects the quality of data that instruments like microwave radiometers collect. As the number of RFI-causing devices increases globally, our satellite instruments – specifically, microwave radiometers that gather data on soil moisture, meteorology, climate and more – will be more challenged in collecting high-quality data.

That’s where CubeSat Radiometer Radio frequency interference Technology (CubeRRT) comes in. The small satellite will be carrying a new technology to detect and filter any RFI the satellite encounters in real-time from space. This will reduce the amount of data that needs to be transmitted back to Earth – increasing the quality of important weather and climate measurements.

Searching the Halo of the Milky Way

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Did you know that we’re still looking for half of the normal matter that makes up the universe? Scientists have taken a census of all the stars, galaxies and clusters of galaxies — and we’re coming up short, based on what we know about the early days of the cosmos.

That missing matter might be hiding in tendrils of hot gas between galaxies. Or it might be in the halos of hot gas around individual galaxies like our own Milky Way. But if it’s there, why haven’t we seen it? It could be that it’s so hot that it glows in a spectrum of X-rays we haven’t looked at before.

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Image Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies

Enter HaloSat. Led by the University of Iowa, HaloSat will search the halo of the Milky Way for the emissions oxygen gives off at these very high temperatures. Most other X-ray satellites look at narrow patches of the sky and at individual sources. HaloSat will look at large swaths of the sky at a time, which will help us figure out the geometry of the halo — whether it surrounds the galaxy more like a fried egg or a sphere. Knowing the halo’s shape will in turn help us figure out the mass, which may help us discover if the universe’s missing matter is in galactic halos.

CubeSats for All

Small satellites benefit Earth and its people (us!) in multiple ways. From Earth imaging satellites that help meteorologists to predict storm strengths and direction, to satellites that focus on technology demonstrations to help determine what materials function best in a microgravity environment, the science enabled by CubeSats is diverse. 

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They are also a pathway to space science for students. Our CubeSat Launch initiative (CSLI) provides access to space for small satellites developed by our Centers and programs, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Since the program began, more than 50 educational CubeSats have flown. In 2016, students built the first CubeSat deployed into space by an elementary school.

Learn more about CubeSats HERE

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Astronaut Journal Entry – Pre-Launch

Currently, six humans are living and working on the International Space Station, which orbits 250 miles above our planet at 17,500mph. Below you will find a real journal entry written by NASA astronaut Scott Tingle.

To read more entires from this series, visit our Space Blogs on Tumblr.

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Our crew just finished the final training event before the launch. Tomorrow, at 13:20 local time (Baikonur), we will strap the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft to our backs and fly it to low Earth orbit. We will spend 2.5 days in low Earth orbit before docking to the MRM-1 docking port on the International Space Station (ISS). There we will begin approximately 168 days of maintenance, service and science aboard one of the greatest engineering marvels that humans have ever created.

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Today was bittersweet. Ending a 2-year process of intense training was welcomed by all of us. We are very tired. Seeing our families for the last time was difficult. I am pretty lucky, though. My wife, Raynette, and the kids have grown up around military service and are conditioned to endure the time spent apart during extended calls-to-duty. We are also very much anticipating the good times we will have upon my return in June. Sean and Amy showed me a few videos of them mucking it up at Red Square before flying out to Baikonur. Eric was impressed with the Russian guards marching in to relieve the watch at Red Square. Raynette was taking it all in stride and did not seem surprised by any of it. I think I might have a family of mutants who are comfortable anywhere. Nice! And, by the way, I am VERY proud of all of them!

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Tomorrow’s schedule includes a wake-up at 04:00, followed by an immediate medical exam and light breakfast. Upon returning to our quarters, we will undergo a few simple medical procedures that should help make the 2.5-day journey to ISS a little more comfortable. I’ve begun prepping with motion sickness medication that should limit the nausea associated with the first phases of spaceflight. I will continue this effort through docking. This being my first flight, I’m not sure how my body will respond and am taking all precautions to maintain a good working capability. The commander will need my help operating the vehicle, and I need to not be puking into a bag during the busy times. We suit up at 09:30 and then report to the State Commission as “Готовы к Полёту”, or “Ready for Flight”. We’ll enter the bus, wave goodbye to our friends and family, and then head out to the launch pad. Approximately 2 kilometers from the launch pad, the bus will stop. 

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The crew will get out, pee on the bus’s tire, and then complete the last part of the drive to the launch pad. This is a traditional event first done by Yuri Gagarin during his historic first flight and repeated in his honor to this day. We will then strap in and prepare the systems for launch. Next is a waiting game of approximately 2 hours. Ouch. The crew provided five songs each to help pass the time. My playlist included “Born to Run” (Springsteen), “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns and Roses), “Cliffs of Dover” (Eric Johnson), “More than a Feeling” (Boston), and “Touch the Sky” (Rainbow Bridge, Russian). Launch will happen precisely at 13:20.

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I think this sets the stage. It’s 21:30, only 6.5 hours until duty calls. Time to get some sleep. If I could only lower my level of excitement!

Find more ‘Captain’s Log’ entries HERE.

Follow NASA astronaut Scott Tingle on Instagram and Twitter.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

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10 Things: Journey to the Center of Mars

May the fifth be with you because history is about to be made: As early as May 5, 2018, we’re set to launch Mars InSight, the very first mission to study the deep interior of Mars. We’ve been roaming the surface of Mars for a while now, but when InSight lands on Nov. 26, 2018, we’re going in for a deeper look. Below, 10 things to know as we head to the heart of Mars.

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Coverage of prelaunch and launch activities begins Thursday, May 3, on NASA Television and our homepage.

1. What’s in a name? 

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“Insight” is to see the inner nature of something, and the InSight lander—a.k.a. Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport—will do just that. InSight will take the “vital signs” of Mars: its pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow) and reflexes (radio science). It will be the first thorough check-up since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago.

2. Marsquakes. 

You read that right: earthquakes, except on Mars. Scientists have seen a lot of evidence suggesting Mars has quakes, and InSight will try to detect marsquakes for the first time. By studying how seismic waves pass through the different layers of the planet (the crust, mantle and core), scientists can deduce the depths of these layers and what they’re made of. In this way, seismology is like taking an X-ray of the interior of Mars.

Want to know more? Check out this one-minute video.

3. More than Mars. 

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InSight is a Mars mission, but it’s also so much more than that. By studying the deep interior of Mars, we hope to learn how other rocky planets form. Earth and Mars were molded from the same primordial stuff more than 4.5 billion years ago, but then became quite different. Why didn’t they share the same fate? When it comes to rocky planets, we’ve only studied one in great detail: Earth. By comparing Earth’s interior to that of Mars, InSight’s team hopes to better understand our solar system. What they learn might even aid the search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system, narrowing down which ones might be able to support life.

4. Robot testing. 

InSight looks a bit like an oversized crane game: When it lands on Mars this November, its robotic arm will be used to grasp and move objects on another planet for the first time. And like any crane game, practice makes it easier to capture the prize.

Want to see what a Mars robot test lab is like? Take a 360 tour.

5. The gang’s all here. 

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InSight will be traveling with a number of instruments, from cameras and antennas to the heat flow probe. Get up close and personal with each one in our instrument profiles.

6. Trifecta. 

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InSight has three major parts that make up the spacecraft: Cruise Stage; Entry, Descent, and Landing System; and the Lander. Find out what each one does here.

7. Solar wings. 

Mars has weak sunlight because of its long distance from the Sun and a dusty, thin atmosphere. So InSight’s fan-like solar panels were specially designed to power InSight in this environment for at least one Martian year, or two Earth years.

8. Clues in the crust. 

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Our scientists have found evidence that Mars’ crust is not as dense as previously thought, a clue that could help researchers better understand the Red Planet’s interior structure and evolution. “The crust is the end-result of everything that happened during a planet’s history, so a lower density could have important implications about Mars’ formation and evolution,” said Sander Goossens of our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

9. Passengers. 

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InSight won’t be flying solo—it will have two microchips on board inscribed with more than 2.4 million names submitted by the public. “It’s a fun way for the public to feel personally invested in the mission,” said Bruce Banerdt of our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the mission’s principal investigator. “We’re happy to have them along for the ride.”

10. Tiny CubeSats, huge firsts. 

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The rocket that will loft InSight beyond Earth will also launch a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These suitcase-sized CubeSats will fly on their own path to Mars behindInSight. Their goal is to test new miniaturized deep space communication equipment and, if the MarCOs make it to Mars, may relay back InSight data as it enters the Martian atmosphere and lands. This will be a first test of miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet, which researchers hope can offer new capabilities to future missions.

Check out the full version of ‘Solar System: 10 Thing to Know This Week’ HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com. 

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The launch of Apollo 13.

The launch of Apollo 13.

The Hunt for New Worlds Continues with TESS

We’re getting ready to start our next mission to find new worlds! The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will find thousands of planets beyond our solar system for us to study in more detail. It’s preparing to launch from our Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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Once it launches, TESS will look for new planets that orbit bright stars relatively close to Earth. We’re expecting to find giant planets, like Jupiter, but we’re also predicting we’ll find Earth-sized planets. Most of those planets will be within 300 light-years of Earth, which will make follow-up studies easier for other observatories.

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TESS will find these new exoplanets by looking for their transits. A transit is a temporary dip in a star’s brightness that happens with predictable timing when a planet crosses between us and the star. The information we get from transits can tell us about the size of the planet relative to the size of its star. We’ve found nearly 3,000 planets using the transit method, many with our Kepler space telescope. That’s over 75% of all the exoplanets we’ve found so far!

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TESS will look at nearly the entire sky (about 85%) over two years. The mission divides the sky into 26 sectors. TESS will look at 13 of them in the southern sky during its first year before scanning the northern sky the year after.

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What makes TESS different from the other planet-hunting missions that have come before it? The Kepler mission (yellow) looked continually at one small patch of sky, spotting dim stars and their planets that are between 300 and 3,000 light-years away. TESS (blue) will look at almost the whole sky in sections, finding bright stars and their planets that are between 30 and 300 light-years away.

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TESS will also have a brand new kind of orbit (visualized below). Once it reaches its final trajectory, TESS will finish one pass around Earth every 13.7 days (blue), which is half the time it takes for the Moon (gray) to orbit. This position maximizes the amount of time TESS can stare at each sector, and the satellite will transmit its data back to us each time its orbit takes it closest to Earth (orange).

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Kepler’s goal was to figure out how common Earth-size planets might be. TESS’s mission is to find exoplanets around bright, nearby stars so future missions, like our James Webb Space Telescope, and ground-based observatories can learn what they’re made of and potentially even study their atmospheres. TESS will provide a catalog of thousands of new subjects for us to learn about and explore.

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The TESS mission is led by MIT and came together with the help of many different partners. Learn more about TESS and how it will further our knowledge of exoplanets, or check out some more awesome images and videos of the spacecraft. And stay tuned for more exciting TESS news as the spacecraft launches!

Watch the Launch + More!

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Sunday, April 15
11 a.m. EDT – NASA Social Mission Overview

Join mission experts to learn more about TESS, how it will search for worlds beyond our solar system and what scientists hope to find! Have questions? Use #askNASA to have them answered live during the broadcast.

Watch HERE


1 p.m. EDT – Prelaunch News Conference

Get an update on the spacecraft, the rocket and the liftoff operations ahead of the April 16 launch! Have questions? Use #askNASA to have them answered live during the broadcast.

Watch HERE.


3 p.m. EDT – Science News Conference

Hear from mission scientists and experts about the science behind the TESS mission. Have questions? Use #askNASA to have them answered live during the broadcast. 

Watch HERE.


4 p.m. EDT – TESS Facebook Live

This live show will dive into the science behind the TESS spacecraft, explain how we search for planets outside our solar system and will allow you to ask your questions to members of the TESS team. 

Watch HERE


Monday, April 16
10 a.m. EDT – NASA EDGE: TESS Facebook Live

This half-hour live show will discuss the TESS spacecraft, the science of searching for planets outside our solar system, and the launch from Cape Canaveral.

Watch HERE.

1 p.m. EDT – Reddit AMA

Join us live on Reddit for a Science AMA to discuss the hunt for exoplanets and the upcoming launch of TESS!

Join in HERE.


6 p.m. EDT – Launch Coverage!

TESS is slated to launch at 6:32 p.m. EDT on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Watch HERE.

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Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

2—Four Hundred Elephants…The Saturn V rocket stood about the height of a 36-story-tall building, and 60 feet (18 meters) taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds (2.8 million kilograms), or the weight of about 400 elephants.Rockets We Love-Saturn V

Fifty years ago, with President Kennedy’s Moon landing deadline looming, the powerful Saturn V had to perform. And perform it did—hurling 24 humans to the Moon.

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The race to land astronauts on the Moon was getting tense 50 years ago this week. Apollo 6, the final uncrewed test flight of America’s powerful Moon rocket, launched on April 4, 1968. Several technical issues made for a less-than-perfect launch, but the test flight nonetheless convinced NASA managers that the rocket was up to the task of carrying humans. Less than two years remained to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s goal to put humans on the Moon before the decade was out, meaning the Saturn V rocket had to perform.

1—“The only chance to get to the Moon before the end of 1969.”

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After the April 1968 Apollo 6 test flight (pictured above), the words of Deke Slayton (one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts) and intense competition with a rival team in the Soviet Union propelled a 12-member panel to unanimously vote for a Christmas 1968 crewed mission to orbit the Moon.

2—Four Hundred Elephants…

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The Saturn V rocket stood about the height of a 36-story-tall building, and 60 feet (18 meters) taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds (2.8 million kilograms), or the weight of about 400 elephants.

3—…and Busloads of Thrust

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Stand back, Ms. Frizzle. The Saturn V generated 7.6 million pounds (34.5 million newtons) of thrust at launch, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams. It could launch about 130 tons (118,000 kilograms) into Earth orbit. That’s about as much weight as 10 school buses. The Saturn V could launch about 50 tons (43,500 kilograms) to the Moon. That’s about the same as four school buses.

4—Christmas at the Moon

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On Christmas Eve 1968, the Saturn V delivered on engineers’ promises by hurling Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders into lunar orbit. The trio became the first human beings to orbit another world. The Apollo 8 crew broadcast a special holiday greeting from lunar orbit and also snapped the iconic earthrise image of our home planet rising over the lunar landscape.

5—Gumdrop and Spider

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The crew of Apollo 9 proved that they could pull the lunar module out of the top of the Saturn V’s third stage and maneuver it in space (in this case high above Earth). The crew named their command module “Gumdrop.” The Lunar Module was named “Spider.”

6—The Whole Enchilada

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Saturn-V AS-505 provided the ride for the second dry run to the Moon in 1969. Tom Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young rode Command Module “Charlie Brown” to lunar orbit and then took Lunar Module “Snoopy” on a test run in lunar orbit. Apollo 10 did everything but land on the Moon, setting the stage for the main event a few months later. Young and Cernan returned to walk on the Moon aboard Apollo 16 and 17 respectively. Cernan, who died in 2017, was the last human being (so far) to set foot on the Moon.

7—The Main Event

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The launch of Apollo 11—the first mission to land humans on the Moon—provided another iconic visual as Saturn-V AS-506 roared to life on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Three days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first of many bootprints in the lunar dust (supported from orbit by Michael Collins).

8—Moon Men

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Saturn V rockets carried 24 humans to the Moon, and 12 of them walked on its surface between 1969 and 1972. Thirteen are still alive today. The youngest, all in their early 80s, are moonwalkers Charles Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17) and Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly (Apollo 16, and also one of the heroes who helped rescue Apollo 13). There is no single image of all the humans who have visited the Moon.

9—The Flexible Saturn V

The Saturn V’s swan song was to lay the groundwork for establishing a permanent human presence in space. Skylab, launched into Earth orbit in 1973, was America’s first space station, a precursor to the current International Space Station. Skylab’s ride to orbit was a Saturn IV-B 3rd stage, launched by a Saturn 1-C and SII Saturn V stages.

This was the last launch of a Saturn V, but you can still see the three remaining giant rockets at the visitor centers at Johnson Space Center in Texas and Kennedy Space Center in Florida and at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Alabama (near Marshall Space Flight Center, one of the birthplaces of the Saturn V).

10—The Next Generation

The Saturn V was retired in 1973. Work is now underway on a fleet of rockets. We are planning an uncrewed flight test of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to travel beyond the Moon called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). “This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known,” said Mike Sarafin, EM-1 mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Read the web version of this 10 Things to Know article HERE

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A Hitchhiker’s Ride to Space

This month, we are set to launch the latest weather satellite from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, satellite will provide essential data for timely and accurate weather forecasts and for tracking environmental events such as forest fires and droughts.

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Image Credit: Ball Aerospace

JPSS-1 is the primary satellite launching, but four tiny satellites will also be hitchhiking a ride into Earth orbit. These shoebox-sized satellites (part of our CubeSat Launch Initiative) were developed in partnership with university students and used for education, research and development. Here are 4 reasons why MiRaTA, one of the hitchhikers, is particularly interesting…

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Miniaturized Weather Satellite Technology

The Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration (MiRaTA) CubeSat is set to orbit the Earth to prove that a small satellite can advance the technology necessary to reduce the cost and size of future weather satellites. At less than 10 pounds, these nanosatellites are faster and more cost-effective to build and launch since they have been constructed by Principal Investigator Kerri Cahoy’s students at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (with lots of help). There’s even a chance it could be put into operation with forecasters.

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The Antenna? It’s a Measuring Tape

That long skinny piece coming out of the bottom right side under MiRaTA’s solar panel? That’s a measuring tape. It’s doubling as a communications antenna. MiRaTA will measure temperature, water vapor and cloud ice in Earth’s atmosphere. These measurements are used to track major storms, including hurricanes, as well as everyday weather. If this test flight is successful, the new, smaller technology will likely be incorporated into future weather satellites – part of our national infrastructure.

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Tiny Package Packing a Punch

MiRaTA will also test a new technique using radio signals received from GPS satellites in a higher orbit. They will be used to measure the temperature of the same volume of atmosphere that the radiometer is viewing. The GPS satellite measurement can then be used for calibrating the radiometer. “In physics class, you learn that a pencil submerged in water looks like it’s broken in half because light bends differently in the water than in the air,” Principal Investigator Kerri Cahoy said. “Radio waves are like light in that they refract when they go through changing densities of air, and we can use the magnitude of the refraction to calculate the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere with near-perfect accuracy and use this to calibrate a radiometer.” 

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What’s Next?

In the best-case scenario, three weeks after launch MiRaTA will be fully operational, and within three months the team will have obtained enough data to study if this technology concept is working. The big goal for the mission—declaring the technology demonstration a success—would be confirmed a bit farther down the road, at least half a year away, following the data analysis. If MiRaTA’s technology validation is successful, Cahoy said she envisions an eventual constellation of these CubeSats orbiting the entire Earth, taking snapshots of the atmosphere and weather every 15 minutes—frequent enough to track storms, from blizzards to hurricanes, in real time.

Learn more about MiRaTA

Watch the launch!

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The mission is scheduled to launch this month (no sooner than Nov. 14), with JPSS-1 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket lifting off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. You’ll be able to watch on NASA TV or at nasa.gov/live.

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Watch the launch live HERE on Nov. 14, liftoff is scheduled for Tuesday, 4:47 a.m.! 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.