Ways to Check Out the Fancy Big Asteroid Tonight

Categories: NASA

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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.


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NASA Made the Coolest "Vintage" Exoplanet Posters Ever

Categories: NASA

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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).


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

Categories: NASA

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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.


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

Categories: NASA

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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.

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NASA's Orion Launch Scrubbed and Twitter Responded

Categories: NASA

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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:


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

Categories: NASA

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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.)

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NASA Rocket Explodes After Launch

Categories: NASA

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Photo from NASA
Before the launch. (And subsequent explosion.)

Well, it looks like the astronauts will have to wait a little longer for their snacks and supplies.
An unmanned NASA rocket exploded shortly after launching on Tuesday evening.

The rocket, an unmanned cargo spacecraft that was slated to dock at the International Space Station, exploded roughly six seconds after the launch at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia.

The launch was originally scheduled to take place Monday but was rescheduled to Tuesday because of a boat down range in the trajectory of where the Orbital's Antares rocket would have flown, according to a NASA release.

But on Tuesday, it blew up.

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NASA Is Working on a Space Submarine. Really.

Categories: NASA

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Image from NASA

NASA still doesn't have a way to get astronauts to outerspace but our national space agency will have a submarine to explore the extraterrestrial waters of Titan someday. Possibly.

This may sound patently ridiculous just now in the days when NASA is a chronically underfunded shell of its former self, but it's a pretty nifty idea.

The Titan submarine, if and when it is created, will plumb the depths of the Titian seas, specifically the Kraken Mare. (Yep, that's kraken as in "release the kraken!") The submarine will plumb the depths of the 720-mile long Kraken Mare and find out all kinds of interesting scientific-type stuff that we so far don't know about, not having been to Titan and all. The proposed mission will be focused on figuring out the hydrocarbon makeup of the Kraken Mare.


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NASA Found a Zombie Star in Space

Categories: NASA

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Photo courtesy of NASA/ESA
The two inset images show before-and-after images captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of Supernova 2012Z in the spiral galaxy NGC 1309. The white X at the top of the main image marks the location of the supernova in the galaxy.

Way out there in the glittering vastness of space, something undead lurks. Yes, NASA astronomers believe they have spotted a zombie star, created in the wake of an unusually weak supernova explosion.

See, the way this usually works is a white dwarf, a dying star, is usually completely obliterated by a supernova, but in this case the explosion was weak. It should have destroyed the white dwarf, but after it was over a husk of a star was left, a zombie star if you will.


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NASA Begins Martian Chronicles (Even Though There's Still No Way to Get to Mars)

Categories: NASA

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Who knows if NASA folks will ever actually get there, but at least they're makinh it look like they intend to.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, NASA still has Martian intentions.

The space program folks made that clear with the release of their latest plans for the next Mars rover. There have been three rovers so far -- Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity -- and the vehicles have been collecting data to figure out whether Mars actually has the ability to support life, while also searching for signs of past Martians. The 2020 rover will focus on making oxygen and looking for potential farmland, more practical steps in the journey toward actually putting human feet on the red planet. Making oxygen could both give astronauts something to, you know, breathe if they ever arrive on the planet. It could also be used to make rocket fuel to allow the astronauts to leave (which sounds significantly better than Eli Musk's one-way ticket plan to land people on Mars.)


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