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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NASA (Kind of) Has Asteroid-Retrieval Plans

Categories: NASA

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Screengrab from Asteroids
Who knows if NASA folks will ever actually lasso an asteroid, but at least they have a plan.

Nothing will make people less dubious about NASA's plan to lasso an asteroid like a plan. That must be what the folks at NASA are thinking, but more power to them, because they do indeed have something that is beginning to resemble a plan.

See, NASA isn't sending astronauts to the moon anytime soon, but it is going to fetch an asteroid of its very own in the 2020s (or at least that's the intention, and it will possibly maybe happen) via the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The 2020s are coming up soon, so of course the agency needs to hurry up and figure out how to handle that proverbial asteroid.


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NASA Is Working on a Warp Drive: Five Other Sci-Fi Things They Should Make Real

Categories: NASA

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NASA physicist Harold White is boldly going where no one has gone before with his work on a warp drive. White has been working on the project since 2010 and it's so Star Trek-inspired that the designs are modeled on the Star Trek warp drive. Who knows if an actual warp drive will ever exist, but the project got us thinking about some of the other sci-fi inventions of the mind that we'd like to see in real life.

5. Lightsabers. A sword of pure energy that cauterizes the would even as it cuts off your hand! What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, we know, but we'd still like to see the elegant weapon of the Jedi in real life, because it would be cool. There's pretty much no other reason, but somewhere out there someone must be working on this. We're practicing our cool Jedi sword moves already so we'll be ready when the time comes.

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Giant Asteroid Slid by for NASA Photo-op

Categories: NASA

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Photo from NASA
The asteroid was ready for its closeup, obviously.

Lots of asteroids zoom by the planet over the course of the year (that's why NASA actually tracks and counts all the ones it can find) but one of those asteroids zipped by Earth recently, and this time NASA scientists were ready. Yep, 2014 HQ124 was more ready for its closeup than Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard and NASA scientists managed to capture some of the sharpest radar images of a near-Earth asteroid ever shot, according to the NASA people themselves.


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