NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory- Mars Curiosity will host a media teleconference Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19, 2012

Did you know?, World culture/events

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory- Mars Curiosity will host a media teleconference Wednesday, September 19, 2012


On Sol 42 (Sept. 17, 2012), Curiosity drove about 105 feet (32 meters), toward the east-southeast, bringing the mission’s total driving distance to about 850 feet (259 meters). The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument was used at two stops during the drive to check for hydrogen in the soil beneath the rover.

During this sol, the rover used its Mast Camera to observe Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos, as each passed in front of the sun.

Curiosity continues to work in good health. Sol 42, in Mars local mean solar time at Gale Crater, ends at 11:12 a.m. Sept. 18, PDT

NASA will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 19), to provide a status update on the Curiosity rover’s mission to Mars’ Gale Crater.

Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, is 43 days into a two-year mission to investigate whether conditions may have been favorable for microbial life.

Audio and visuals from the telecon will be streamed live to one of JPL’s channels, at: .

Visuals only will be available at the start of the telecon at: .

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., builder of the Mars Science Laboratory, engineered Curiosity to roll over obstacles up to 65 centimeters (25 inches) high and to travel up to about 200 meters (660 feet) per day on Martian terrain.

The mission uses radio relays via Mars orbiters as the principal means of communication between Curiosity and the Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth.


Video: Living on Mars Time September 15, 2012


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Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory -California Institute of Technology

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s history reaches back to the tumultuous years leading up to World War II. Rockets were perceived as devices of fantasy, seen only in movie serials and comic strips like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Despite rocket pioneer Robert Goddard’s successful development of early rockets, he was publicly ridiculed for his work. But in the fall of 1936, a group of enterprising young men in Pasadena, Calif., decided to risk their reputations and give engineering substance to rocket fantasy.

The young rocketeers were encouraged by Caltech professor and aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman. After the mid-November tests, he secured space for them on the Caltech campus. He also insisted that the experimenters know the mathematics that described the performance of their rocket motors.

In 1940, a new facility — across the Arroyo from the original test site — was built in the foothills of Pasadena. Three test stands and tarpaper shacks marked the first buildings of what von Karman would name the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in November 1943.

The first substantial influx of money came from the United States Army Air Corps. The U.S. had not yet entered World War II, but the military wanted small rockets that could lift heavy aircraft off the ground. In August 1941, Frank Malina – one of the original “rocket boys” – headed a group that equipped an Ercoupe plane with rockets. The modified Ercoupe lifted off in half the normal distance. This method was named “Jet Assisted Take-Off,” and the rockets were called JATOs.

After the successful development of this rocket, and the United States’ entry into World War II, the Army asked for other types of rockets. In 1944, JPL began to develop guided missiles. These differed from JPL’s earlier rockets because they would have guidance systems to steer them toward their targets.

JPL’s first completely successful test was achieved with the WAC Corporal, launched Oct. 11, 1945. The rocket reached an altitude of 70 kilometers (almost 44 miles), a record at the time. The Corporal missile system JPL developed for the Army used liquid fuels. Launching a Corporal was quite an event. The fuel, the missiles, the launch equipment and the guidance equipment had to be transported separately. This made for convoys with dozens of trucks. The launch itself took lots of people and many hours of preparation.

JPL simplified its last missile for the Army and called it the Sergeant. Sergeant used a solid fuel that was part of the missile, reducing the number of people and amount of time necessary to launch it. The earliest Sergeant tests were carried out at White Sands, New Mexico, in January 1956. In 1959, however, the Army transferred the project to an industrial contractor, the Sperry Corporation, with JPL maintaining a consulting role for many years.

July 1957 marked the beginning of the International Geophysical Year, when scientists around the world planned to jointly observe various scientific phenomena. It was during this period of scientific cooperation that the Soviet Union stunned the world with the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite ever. On October 4, 1957, the USSR put into orbit a tiny sphere with a radio transmitter that beeped its way into history. The JPL community was surprised that the Soviets could have both a successful launch vehicle and the electronic technology to operate the satellite.
The United States needed an immediate response. The first attempt, the Naval Research Lab’s Vanguard project, failed. Their rocket exploded in full view of the press, embarrassing the nation.

JPL and the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama, then pooled resources and knowledge. In about 80 days a four-stage rocket was assembled. JPL’s canister-shaped Explorer 1 satellite formed the nose of the rocket.

On January 31, 1958, Explorer 1 launched and became the first U.S. satellite, using its single instrument to send back data about the radiation environment high above Earth’s surface.

This started the “space race” with the Soviet Union.

Motivated by Explorer 1’s success, JPL Director William Pickering wanted to move into space exploration. He thought the relatively small, non-profit JPL could never raise the money necessary to remain on the leading edge of rocket technology as much larger aviation companies entered the rocketry business. He convinced the Army and President Eisenhower to make JPL part of the nation’s new space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In that role, JPL, with its links to Caltech’s science community, could lead in the creation of the new realm of space science. In December 1958, the Army formally transferred JPL to NASA, although it remained under Caltech management. 

Motivated by Explorer 1’s success, JPL Director William Pickering wanted to move into space exploration. He thought the relatively small, non-profit JPL could never raise the money necessary to remain on the leading edge of rocket technology as much larger aviation companies entered the rocketry business. He convinced the Army and President Eisenhower to make JPL part of the nation’s new space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In that role, JPL, with its links to Caltech’s science community, could lead in the creation of the new realm of space science. In December 1958, the Army formally transferred JPL to NASA, although it remained under Caltech management.

In 1958, President Eisenhower gave permission for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army to launch two lunar probes each. These “Pioneer” spacecraft were supposed to make close flybys of the moon, taking pictures and collecting radiation data. The Air Force chose the TRW company to build Pioneer 1 and 2, while the Army chose JPL to build Pioneer 3 and 4. Pioneers 1, 2 and 3 all failed to reach their intended lunar flight paths, or trajectories, due to various launch vehicle problems.

Pioneer 4 was the first success, relatively speaking. The launch vehicle put the spacecraft on a trajectory toward the moon on March 3, 1959, but it wasn’t quite the right one. Pioneer 4 passed the Moon at too great a distance, and didn’t return any pictures. The mission did, however, give JPL’s new deep space navigators valuable experience in tracking space objects.

Surveyor 1 landed successfully on June 2, 1966, demonstrating that lunar dust would not simply swallow up a spacecraft, as some had feared. It also returned images and data about the strength of the surface. Five more successful Surveyors followed.

Surveyor 3, launched April 17, 1967, is probably the most famous of the spacecraft in the program. More than two years after the mission, the Apollo 12 astronauts landed their lunar module, Intrepid, near the defunct lander. They partly dismantled Surveyor 3, returning its television camera and other parts to Earth in November 1969. The camera is now at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington , D.C.

In early 1981, the White House Office of Management and Budget demanded deep cuts to NASA’s budget. In response, NASA administrator James M. Beggs proposed terminating the nation’s planetary exploration program. This would, he had pointed out to White House officials, “make the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California surplus to our needs.”

JPL Director Murray organized a political campaign in Washington to save JPL and the planetary program. Murray and allies in Congress succeeded in salvaging the Galileo mission to Jupiter. Acknowledging that this was not enough to preserve JPL for long, Murray also gained Caltech and NASA approval to begin doing Defense Department-sponsored research and development.

After Murray retired in 1982, his successor, Lew Allen, gained three missions from the slowly reviving NASA science program. Two were planetary missions, Mars Observer and Magellan to Venus, and the third an Earth science mission, Topex/Poseidon. Somewhat ironically, JPL reached its historic peak employment in 1987, with more than 7,000 employees and contractors. This was also the year military funding for JPL reached its peak, 35 percent of the lab’s total budget.

Finally, JPL became a significant builder of scientific instruments during the decade. In 1986, NASA held a competition to develop instruments for a new “Mission to Planet Earth” that the lab’s scientists did very well in.

The 1990s brought major changes at JPL. In 1991, Lew Allen retired and Edward C. Stone, the Voyager project scientist, became JPL’s director. The following year, Daniel S. Goldin became NASA administrator. Goldin hated the slow, expensive and not necessarily reliable approach of the past two decades, and set out to reform all of NASA. His favorite targets of ridicule were the failed Mars Observer and a Saturn mission, Cassini/Huygens, which had been recently approved and was expected to cost $3.3 billion. His goal was to reduce the cost of planetary missions all the way down to $150 million. He challenged JPL to adapt itself to his new “faster, better, cheaper” techniques in a 1992 speech.

The result was the most vibrant and exciting period of planetary exploration since the 1960s, and a great deal of pain as Ed Stone and the rest of the lab’s staff tried to find ways to meet Goldin’s challenge. The era ended abruptly in 2000, after JPL lost two more spacecraft, both at Mars.
The Faster, Better, Cheaper Challenge
Goldin, who had been an executive at aerospace giant TRW, thought that by using new management techniques, new technologies and accepting more risk, NASA could dramatically reduce the cost of missions. More could be done without more money.

Doing more with less was important because a major political focus of the Clinton administration was achieving a balanced budget. NASA’s budget shrank 18 percent between 1992 and 1999. Without finding ways to cut costs substantially, JPL faced extinction. The NASA budget would not support enough Cassini-scale missions to keep the lab operating.

In a speech at JPL on May 28, 1992, Goldin laid all this out for JPL’s staff. “We need to stretch ourselves,” he said. “Be bold — take risks. [A] project that’s 20 for 20 isn’t successful. It’s proof that we’re playing it too safe. If the gain is great, risk is warranted. Failure is OK, as long as it’s on a project that’s pushing the frontiers of technology.”

In 1992, NASA inaugurated a new “Discovery” program aimed at producing a series of inexpensive, competitively selected, science-focused missions. NASA chose JPL to manage three of these missions: Mars Pathfinder, Stardust and Genesis. Of these, Mars Pathfinder was unique. It was assigned by NASA like a traditional project, not selected via a competition, and it was built ‘in-house’ at JPL, not by a contractor.

For a total cost of $265 million, project manager Tony Spear and his team were to land a small, short-lived spacecraft on Mars using a new airbag-based landing technique. Pathfinder would also deliver a cigarette-carton-sized ‘microrover’ to the surface. The mission was launched in December 1996 and landed July 4, 1997. Pathfinder, and especially its rover, Sojourner Truth, were hugely popular during the mission’s short life. Its flight team had established one of NASA’s first Web sites, and in the mission’s first week, it drew more than 136 million hits. This confirmed for NASA leaders the popularity of Mars.

The Cassini mission to Saturn was to be the last of NASA’s “flagship” missions: large, expensive and technologically advanced. Its origins were in a 1982 study of possible joint NASA/European Space Agency missions. This had suggested a Saturn orbiter with an atmospheric entry probe intended for the large moon Titan would be a high priority project. But due to both the fiscal climate of the early 1980s and to difficulties in negotiations, the mission was not approved until 1989.

Flagship projects at JPL had the benefit of funding development of new spacecraft technologies that smaller, less expensive missions could not afford. Cassini-funded technologies were adopted by Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Pathfinder and the Spitzer Space Telescope among many others. When Cassini came under attack in 1993 and 1994 for its $3.3 billion price tag, defending it meant protecting these other efforts, too.

Somewhat later in its development, Cassini faced a legal challenge filed by activists opposed to its use of radioisotope thermoelectric generators and mission trajectory involving an Earth swingby. A legal challenge to the mission’s Environmental Impact Statement was filed in federal court in Hawaii right before launch in an attempt to stop the mission. It was rejected by both the federal district court in Hawaii and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, clearing the mission’s path.

A Titan IV rocket hurled Cassini-Huygens on its way to Saturn on Oct. 15, 1997. On Jul., 1 2004, after flybys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter, the spacecraft reached Saturn and attained orbit. This mission is still active.


Video: India celebrates 100th space mission

Scientists in India celebrated the 100th launch of their space mission on September 9, 2012.

India is one of the few developing countries with a space program and the government has spent billions of dollars on the project.

The project has been a milestone achievement for the Indian Space Research Organisation which was established with resources so scarce that some scientists had to operate out of a cow shed.


Video: US-Russian crew return safely to earth in Soyuz spacecraft
A Russian Soyuz capsule has landed safely in Kazakhstan, delivering three crew members from a four-month stint on the International Space Station.


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