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Category archives for Breaking Orbit

Space Shuttle Atlantis Rolls to Retirement

Kennedy Space Center said goodbye to their final departing space shuttle orbiter on Friday, though Atlantis only had to travel 9.8 miles (15.8 km) to her new home just off-site in the process. “It’s bittersweet seeing her go,” said one NASA employee, “but at least she’ll be nearby.” The same can’t be said for the…

Dragon Spits Shooting Stars

This long weekend skywatchers get to see the annual peak of the Draconid meteor shower. While not the most prolific cosmic fireworks show it reliably puts on a nice display and this year with the moon out of the way – sky conditions are set to be ideal. Like other meteor showers the Draconids get…

How to Drive a Mars Rover

From 120 million miles away, a team at “drivers” must tell the Mars rover Curiosity where to go as it approaches a steep, rocky slope. They work their computer screens with an arcade-like intensity—you almost expect them to reach for the joystick. But that’s not how you drive on Mars. It’s much more complicated than that, and the stakes could hardly be higher.

Discovering the World’s Astronomical Heritage

What places best describe humankind’s fascination with the universe? Try Navajo star ceilings, the Temple of Isis in Egypt, or Stonehenge. Maybe it’s Qing Dynasty instruments at the Beijing Ancient Observatory or mountaintop telescopes in Chile. These places are now recognized as astronomical heritage sites as part of a joint initiative of UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union.

Inside the Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

This week, when the space shuttle Endeavour flies from Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles and its new home at the California Science Center, it also means the retirement of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that has been responsible for transporting all the space shuttles for over 35 years.

Neil Armstrong’s Legacy for Astronomers

Not many people can say they’ve met the first man on the moon. But mingle with astronomers gathered in Beijing for a conference and you’ll come across one or two—even at breakfast—who can reflect personally about Neil Armstrong.

Primetime Gazing at Our Most Distant Planet

Planets like Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are easy to spot when they shine at their brightest but the outermost planet, Neptune, is a bit of a challenge even when at its best. Now is the best viewing prospects of the year for Neptune as it reaches opposition on August 24th – meaning the gas…

Scene of a Martian Landing

It has the feel of a crime scene shot—a grainy black-and-white photo with arrows pointing to where the salient evidence was found. But the absorbing image is instead a marvel of space science, an actual photo that shows where the five portions of the now celebrated Mars Science Lab/Curiosity descent capsule landed.

Curiosity Landing on Mars Greeted with Whoops and Tears of Jubilation

Breaking Orbit guest blogger Marc Kaufman describes the joyful atmosphere, relief and pride inside the NASA Jet Propulsion Jet Laboratory a few hours ago, when scientists, engineers and technicians got confirmation from Mars that after years of hard work and a nail-biting descent their roving science laboratory Curiosity had been placed on the Red Planet apparently exactly as planned.

Mission to Mars: Why Curiosity’s Landing is a Moment to Savor

By dropping the one-ton rover Curiosity into a Martian crater (with a three-mile high mountain nearby!), and equipping it to search over two years for the building blocks of possible extraterrestrial life; humans are once again at a great moment of adventure and exploration to savor.

Meet the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower

While not as famous as some other annual meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids are a reliable sky show, and they are set to peak this weekend.  Skywatchers will have to be real night owls to get the most out of this celestial event. With the moon setting after midnight local time, the darkest skies and…

All Eyes on Mars

Near midnight of August 5, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft will enter the Martian atmosphere at some 13,200 miles per hour. It has at most seven minutes to lose all that speed or the Curiosity rover it’s carrying will face a very hard landing. Millions of people will be holding their collective breaths as the moment of entry arrives. Why all the sudden interest in Mars? Three basic reasons.

Deep-Space Menu: Shrimp Paella and More

For the lucky few get to travel to space, the food isn’t exactly, well, out of this world. Most space cuisine consists of a limited selection of pre-packaged food prepared by adding water—possibly leading to “menu fatigue” that could compromise the crew’s health. Enter the “gastronauts”—a team of scientists with the NASA-funded Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation project (HI-SEAS) who are working to develop more appetizing and healthy foods for long-term space travel. Think shrimp paella, curry chicken crepes, and chocolate pudding with raspberries.

Did You Hear the Northern Lights?

Next time you are lucky enough to witness an aurora borealis, you may want to also listen carefully for some faint applause. According to a new study announced this week, colorful displays of northern lights may actually produce audible clapping sounds. Finnish researcher Unto K. Laine from Aalto University has been studying the phenomenon for…

Ready for Blast-off

I’m writing this by way of introduction as Victoria Jaggard, the founder and curator of Breaking Orbit, heads to new frontiers (see her post below).  We met, most appropriately, at an event at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and quickly discovered a mutual fondness for rockets and astronomy.  I’m excited to be joining…