NASA Scientists Confirm Water Vapor on Europa

On the left is a view of Europa taken from 2.9 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) away on March 2, 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Next is a color image of Europa taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft during its close encounter on July 9, 1979. On the right is a view of Europa made from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (Credits: NASA/JPL)

By Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft snapped the first closeup images of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons. These revealed brownish cracks slicing the moon’s icy surface, which give Europa the look of a veiny eyeball. Missions to the outer solar system in the decades since have amassed enough additional information about Europa to make it a high-priority target of investigation in NASA’s search for life.


Voyager 2 Enters Interstellar Space

This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.


A Pale Blue Dot, As Seen by a CubeSat

The first image captured by one of NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. The image, which shows both the CubeSat’s unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B on May 9. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Voyager 1 took a classic portrait of Earth from several billion miles away in 1990. Now a class of tiny, boxy spacecraft, known as CubeSats, have just taken their own version of a “pale blue dot” image, capturing Earth and its moon in one shot.

NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 when a pair of CubeSats called Mars Cube One (MarCO) reached 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) from Earth. One of the CubeSats, called MarCO-B (and affectionately known as “Wall-E” to the MarCO team) used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo on May 9. That photo is part of the process used by the engineering team to confirm the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna has properly unfolded.


Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years

Voyager 1 (Credit: NASA)

If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.


Dick Rutan Wins 2016 Inspiration Award

Video Caption: Dick Rutan was the winner of the 2016 Inspiration Award at the Endeavor Awards. Dick is a pilot’s pilot and has inspired us all as he pushes the boundaries of aviation. Congratulations Dick!

NASA’s Year in Review: Amazing Space Science in 2013

This artist's concept shows the Voyager 1 spacecraft entering the space between stars. (Credit: NASA)
This artist’s concept shows the Voyager 1 spacecraft entering the space between stars. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Takes a Look Back at 2013

NASA science this year uncovered new knowledge about our home planet and the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Analysis showed the Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered interstellar space and, at 12 billion miles away, is the most distant man-made object ever created.

Lancaster Shop Shows Antelope Valley’s Aviation and Space Past, Present

American Data Plates gift shop in Lancaster, Calif. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

California’s Antelope Valley is probably the home of more aviation and space firsts than any place else in the world. Within this massive stretch of desert, the sound barrier was broken, space shuttles were built and tested, Voyager took off and landed for its solo around the world trip, and the first privately-funded manned space vehicle soared above the Karman line.

Monuments and tributes to this glorious past and high-tech present can be found scattered all over the valley from suburban Palmdale in the south to the dusty desert outside Randsburg up north. The Antelope Valley’s blue skies are filled with advanced supersonic jets that boom and zoom across the horizon just like Chuck Yeager first did nearly 70 years ago.

I found a very cool place in Lancaster the other day that encompasses the Antelope Valley’s past and present. American Data Plates, which makes products for aircraft and space vehicles, has a gift shop with interesting aviation and space memorabilia and collectibles.


Musk, JPL Honored With Innovation Awards

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Congratulations to SpaceX Founder Elon Musk and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whom Popular Mechanics has honored with 2012 Breakthrough Awards.

Musk was honored with the Leadership Award for his work in space and on electric automobiles. The magazine wrote:

Elon Musk, the man, has every reason to be nervous. At 41, the South African-born billionaire has staked his fortune on businesses that could reshape the future—or implode spectacularly. After creating and selling the Internet payment system PayPal, Musk turned his attention to industries he felt could enhance humanity’s potential: electric cars and affordable spaceflight.

Read an account of Musk’s innovative approaches to business here. The magazine’s editors also sat down with Musk for an interview here.

JPL was honored with the Mechanical Lifetime Achievement Award for the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes, which were launched in 1977. The spacecraft explored the outer planets before heading for interstellar space. The magazine wrote:

Thirty-five years later, both probes are still sending back data, and within the next couple of years Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 will exit the farthest bounds of the solar system. Ed Stone, who has been JPL’s project scientist for the Voyager program for four decades, is awed by the prospect of the probes entering interstellar space. “We have an object made by the human race that’s traveling between the stars,” he says. “It’s not science fiction anymore. It’s real.”

Congratulations to Musk, JPL and all the other winners. Check out the magazines full coverage here.

Burt Rutan Recounts Emotional Voyager Flight

Burt Rutan came home to Mojave over the weekend, nine months after retiring from Scaled Composites and moving to Idaho. He was here to mark the 25th anniversary of Voyager’s non-stop flight around the world that his brother, Dick, and Jeana Yeager flew in 1986.

Burt Rutan spoke for two hours in a conference room in the Mojave Air and Space Port’s administration building on Saturday, holding an overflow crowd spellbound as he recounted the daring 9-day flight completed a quarter century this month.

Rutan gave the talk on Plane Crazy Saturday, a monthly open house held at the airport. The tarmac was filled with planes that Rutan had designed, and the parking lot was overflowing with cars as aviation enthusiasts flocked to Mojave to celebrate the historic flight. Later that day, a dinner was held at the Mariah Country Inn & Suites just outside the airport gates.


After 33 Years, Voyager 1 Outruns the Solar Wind


The 33-year odyssey of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind.

Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 10.8 billion miles from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.

The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1’s passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun’s sphere of influence, and the spacecraft’s upcoming departure from our solar system.


Visions of the Future, Errors of the Past, and to Infinity and Beyond

In The Space Review this week…

Debating the future of human spaceflight
Congress returns to work this week with a NASA authorization bill among the many items up for consideration. Jeff Foust reports on the continued debate about what should be in that legislation, which will shape the future direction of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

The real mistakes of the space shuttle program
As the space shuttle programs winds down, some wonder if the entire program was something of a mistake. Paul Torrance argues the real errors were in the agency’s inability to learn from past experience to prevent accidents.

Review: Voyager
While people frequently refer to space exploration, few think about what exactly it means to explore space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that uses one of the most successful robotic spaceflight missions in history to examine space exploration in a historical context.