Ted Cruz Might Actually Be Good for Johnson Space Center

Categories: NASA

HOU_NEWS_CruzNasa.jpg
Image by Monica Fuentes based on photos by pahudson and Daniel Kramer
Sen. Ted Cruz in charge of NASA might actually be good for the Johnson Space Center.

With his fancy new chairmanship, Sen. Ted Cruz is basically in charge of NASA. Shockingly enough, that might actually be a good thing for the Johnson Space Center.

We admit we had some reservations when we learned that Cruz had become chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, the senatorial crew that oversees NASA. After all, his views on things like climate change and other scientific-type stuff are most kindly described as what we've come to expect from the hard-right faithful of the GOP. (He probably doesn't believe that humans used to keep dinosaurs as pets, but we aren't 100 percent sure on that one.) Initially it was easy to look at his chairmanship as the end of any hope of real scientific work at NASA for the foreseeable future.

However, now that Cruz -- someone who belongs in the camp that believes global warming is, in SNL-parodying-Sarah-Palin parlance, just "God hugging us a little bit closer" -- has been charged with figuring out what NASA's priorities will be in coming years, we can see a silver lining for Houston's Johnson Space Center. So far Cruz has done exactly what everyone expected him to do, calling for an end to climate change studies currently in vogue at NASA in favor of space exploration. But the thing is, such a shift in NASA policy could be exactly what's needed to revitalize JSC.


More »

SpaceX (Finally) Launched NASA's Deep Space Weather Observatory

Categories: NASA

dscover_launch_wide.jpg
Photo from NASA
After way too many stops, starts and scrubs, SpaceX launched NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (aka DSCOVR) on Wednesday evening.

DSCOVR is a $340 million project designed to keep an electronic-type eye on solar flares and geomagnetic storms. With DSCOVR -- a project that NASA worked on with the US Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- in its distant orbit, it will become the nation's first operational satellite in deep space, orbiting between Earth and the sun at a location called the first Lagrange point, or L1, according to a NASA release.

More »

While NASA Gets a Bigger Budget, There May Also Be Big Problems

Categories: NASA

apollo12poster.jpg

NASA has been a rudderless ship since the space shuttle program was canceled a few years ago. In fact, it seemed like the space agency's best days were long behind it, but lately things are looking up for NASA. They have plans to go places and do things. They have a president -- if not necessarily a Congress -- who seems inclined to give them money. The signs are so favorable right now, they're even claiming they aren't in decline but are ready to flourish. It would all be so encouraging if there weren't already rumblings from a watchdog group that this whole space travel renaissance is maybe being built on some shaky ground.

So what has changed? Well, as is so often the case, the biggest part of the deal is money. After five years of repeatedly slashing NASA's budget, the White House is actually requesting $500 million more for the space agency for 2016. If, by some miracle, Congress should get behind this proposal, NASA will be working with a budget of $18.5 billion. The money will go toward funding various projects including the asteroid redirect mission (the one where astronauts will lasso an asteroid), an eventual mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, and the one that will send astronauts to the red earth of Mars.


More »

NASA Astronaut's Official Portrait Is Doggone Adorable

Categories: NASA

NASA-astronaut-Leland-D-Melvin-with-his-dogs-Jake-and-Scout.jpg
Photo from NASA
Leland Melvin, a.k.a. our new most-favorite-astronaut-ever, with his dogs Scout and Jake. Because of course an official portrait requires dogs.
We already knew that retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin was pretty awesome. After all, the former NFL player has logged more than 10 million miles in space travel and met the Obamas and Elmo. Then we saw his official astronaut photo, the one with the dogs.

But of course, as with all the best things, NASA didn't exactly mean for this photo to happen. Melvin, who retired from NASA in February 2014, had a pretty long space career, according to the NASA website. He was an 11th-round draft pick in 1986 for the Detroit Lions, but after the NFL didn't work out, Melvin got a job at NASA.

In 1998 he was accepted into the astronaut program and he was on two missions, in 2008 and 2009, on the Space Shuttle Atlantis and orbited the Earth 374 times. However, his career was cut short after he went deaf during an underwater training exercise. He didn't let that stop him, though. Melvin became the head of NASA Education and is the co-chair of a White House Education Task Force to help develop the nation's STEM education plan.

More »

Ways to Check Out the Fancy Big Asteroid Tonight

Categories: NASA

nasaasteroidbig.jpg
Image from NASA

An asteroid is swinging by Earth tonight and even though the massive flying rock (that's a technical term) won't be super visible to the naked eye, NASA has got you covered.

The asteroid, known as 2004 BL86, is scheduled to fly by Earth and it should be closest to us at 10:19 p.m. tonight. While the asteroid, which is about a third of a mile long, will be close enough to the planet to make scientists and other sky-watching types giddy with anticipation, we won't actually be able to see the thing with the naked eye because the asteroid won't be getting brighter until it's already zoomed past us.


More »

NASA Made the Coolest "Vintage" Exoplanet Posters Ever

Categories: NASA

Kepler-186f_39x27.png

After years of hunting with NASA's Kepler spacecraft, researchers announced last week they'd discovered the most Earth-like other worlds yet. Of course, we have no way of getting to any of these other worlds with the current technology -- though the Johnson Space Center work on a Star Trek-esque warp drive and the first test of Orion last month are both good signs for some future of space exploration -- but in the meantime NASA keeps around the kinds of artists who can imagine making those trips, and they've done so in grand style, creating a set of the best posters ever. (If you think we're exagerating, see above awesome poster.)

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California has come out with three travel posters for three existing exoplanets drawn in the style of 1930s WPA "See America" posters. The posters were created on behalf of the "Exoplanet Travel Bureau" by NASA artists who are supposed to be doing exactly this sort of thing -- finding ways to capture the excitement of space exploration so that people like all of us get all giddy about getting to infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say. (Yeah, it's sappy but these posters are so cool it knocked the snark right out of us).


More »

The 2014 Space Review: Is NASA Back From the Dead?

Categories: NASA

rsz_orionlaunch1.jpg
Photo courtesy of NASA
The Orion launch was the highlight in NASA's very good year.

This wasn't a year to moonwalk about, but 2014 still ended up being a pretty nifty year for that final frontier known as space.

It seems like almost everyone got a little piece of the action. Way over in India, the space agency Isro got a low-cost probe in Mars' orbit on the first crack. In fact, Mars was a big theme this year, as trendy with global super powers as the moon was back in the 1960s. NASA had some wins with certain Martian-type things: the rover Curiosity made a few key discoveries while tooling around the red planet this year. For one thing, the rover detected some methane gas spikes on the planet, meaning that there just might possibly be something alive over there and it just might possibly have gas. Curiosity also found a rock sample that had organic material in it. That and the possible evidence of water on Mars are all promising indicators that there could in fact be something on Mars.

Plus, alien enthusiasts have been crawling all over the footage Curiosity is beaming back to Earth and they think they've really found something. Specifically, some are convinced that they've spotted a small, coffin-shaped box on the planet, just the right size for small, gray Martians. Scientists have explained this away, arguing that humans have a habit of seeing familiar things in unfamiliar images, but there are some still chomping at the bit in the hopes that Curiosity will turn around and go take a closer look at that possible alien coffin.


More »

NASA's First Orion Launch Is a Big Deal for Houston

Categories: NASA

rsz_orionlaunch1.jpg
Photo courtesy of NASA
Orion, strapped onto a Delta IV Heavy rocket, took off from Cape Canaveral on Friday morning.

The spacecraft stood there gleaming on the launchpad as the countdown began, the numbers ticked off by a cool, measured voice. On NASA TV, the audibly giddy voice of the announcer took over, his voice raised to an almost-shout. "Three-two one and lift off art dawn, the dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration."

Orion launched on Friday morning and kicked off the start of a new age in space exploration before it had even fully cleared the launchpad.

Despite the scrubbed launch on Thursday morning -- canceled due to high winds, a valve problem and some idiot on an unauthorized boat in the area that we still hate -- thousands of people around the world gathered to watch the second attempt to launch the craft on Friday morning.

Today the wind was good, the spacecraft was go for launch and there were no mystery boats screwing things up. NASA had a two-hour-and-39-minute launch window on Friday, and this time everything clicked into place.

The Delta IV Heavy Rocket lit up and Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was covered in plumes of flame. The Delta IV rocket lifted off the pad and jetted through the sky, and the whole thing was pure joy to watch. But the best part, for the Houston-minded, at least, came in about 15 minutes after, once Orion was safely hurling through space.

More »

NASA's Orion Launch Scrubbed and Twitter Responded

Categories: NASA

rsz_suns_out.jpg
Photo courtesy of NASA
The launch was held due to high winds, some valve issues and a boat.

NASA's first test launch of Orion, the craft that may one day carry astronauts to Mars, had to be scrubbed on Thursday morning after a stray boat, high winds and a valve problem on one or more of the liquid-oxygen tanks forced each launch attempt to be pulled.

This was supposed to be a shining hour for NASA -- one of the space agency's biggest moments since the shuttle program ended in 2011 -- but the fates just would not line up. (And whoever was the dude with the boat, we are not your biggest fans right now.) That was kind of a bummer for the thousands of people all over the world who were hoping to see Orion launch over the course of the two and a half hour window, but people made do. While all the NASA people were busy looking serious, space fans were having a fine and hilarious time of it on social media, particularly the Twitter.

Some people just wanted to help out any way they could, like Ed Hochuli's guns:

And some people -- perhaps those who really, really, really wanted to see Orion blast off, soar 3,600 miles away from Earth, make a couple of loops around the planet and then turn around and splash into the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast -- offered tried and true advice:


More »

Listen to NASA: 4 Best Houston-centric NASA Audio Moments

Categories: NASA

spacewalk.jpg
Photo from NASA
Astronaut Ed White performing the first space walk and giving a shout-out to Houston.

If you're looking for a quick audio overview of NASA's history, the space agency just released about 60 short clips that give us enough historic soundbites and out-of-this-world sounds -- "Earth's Song" is particularly beautiful -- on Souncloud to cover more than 50 years of history.

However, while the Souncloud NASA thing is really cool, listening to it us got us hungering for more Houston-centric audio clips. The craving led us to NASA's section of the Internet Archive (an incredible nonprofit devoted to digitally preserving everything it possibly can to prevent a "digital dark age") where we found a trove of longer audio files about the entire space program.

These days both Houston in general and the Johnson Space Center in particular have been sidelined by NASA. But Houston, Space City, used to be at the center of it all, and you need look no further than these NASA archive recordings to be reminded of the vital role the folks at JSC once played in our quest to send people from the Earth to the moon and to infinity and beyond, to quote Jules Verne and Buzz Lightyear, respectively. (Now we're trying to lasso an asteroid and have some vague aims for heading to Mars even as the commercial spacecrafts we were counting on using have, well, blown up.)

More »
Loading...