April 15, 2010
“Well I can’t say that this thing hasn’t been filled with excitement,” said astronaut Jim Lovell as Apollo 13′s crew crowded into the Command Module Odyssey—following the explosion of an onboard tank in the Service Module—and headed back to Earth. CapCom immediately joked, “Well, James, if you can’t take any better care of a spacecraft than that, then we might not give you another one.”
Exactly 40 years after the events of Apollo 13, Bonhams held its annual space history auction. Included in the 290 items auctioned were the flight notes of Jim Lovell and Fred Haise (left), used during their nerve-wracking return to Earth. The notes, which sold for $45,750, include such reminders as “Turn LM up link squelch off” (written in red ink by Lovell), and comments about various circuit breakers (written in black ink by Haise).
The auction also included memorabilia from Apollo 11, such as this flight plan (right), which was signed by Neil Armstrong on August 9, 1969, while the crew was in quarantine after splashdown. The sheet, which sold for $152,000, includes Armstrong’s famous quote: “One small step for a man—one giant leap for mankind.”
March 18, 2010
Planetary scientists at the Vernadsky Institute in Moscow have also been playing with the LRO images. Be sure to click on the amazing Lunokhod panoramas at the bottom of their web page.
December 16, 2009
In 1982, the idea that a chunk of rock could be hurled from the moon to Earth by a lunar impact was considered pretty far out. For one thing, wouldn’t such a massive, high-energy explosion destroy the evidence by turning the excavated rocks to glass? Besides, meteorites were well known to come from small bodies like asteroids.
On January 18 of that year, a pair of geologists hunting for meteorites on the icy ground in Antarctica’s Allan Hills region came across a greenish-tan sample they tagged as ALHA81005. It was the last stone they found that day before returning to camp—in fact, the last one of 373 specimens collected during the 1981-82 field season.
Back in the lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, scientists immediately recognized the rock as unusual. When a thin section was sent to the Smithsonian’s Brian Mason, an internationally known expert on lunar geochemistry, he commented in a scientific bulletin: “Some of the clasts resemble the anorthositic clasts described from lunar rocks.” Mason, who died last week at the age of 92, was the first to make a connection between a meteorite found on Earth and the samples returned by the Apollo astronauts a decade earlier.
Later analysis confirmed Mason’s suspicion. The types of glass particles in the meteorite matched those in lunar rocks exactly, as did the ratios of iron and manganese. Impact experts even came up with an explanation for how ALHA81005 got here in one piece. It turns out that rocks lying close to the moon’s surface would be spared the worst shock effects in an impact. In fact, the lunar meteorite was no more damaged than other rocks Apollo astronauts had picked off the ground, even though it blasted off the moon at a speed exceeding 1.5 miles per second (lunar escape velocity).
When scientists presented these and other results at a conference more than a year later, “No one in the large crowd even stood to object to the provocative claim,” according to Science magazine. “The psychological barrier to the idea that meteorites can originate on large bodies [including Mars] had been broken.”
November 30, 2009
Today’s offering is a post-Thanksgiving smorgasbord of stories (okay, I’ll stop with the alliteration).
- First, a lovely NASA video of an aurora shimmering above Saturn, with commentary by Caltech planetary scientist Andy Ingersoll, who’s been exploring the outer solar system since the Pioneer 10 and 11 missions of the 1970s:
- Next, a Russian team enters the Google Lunar X-Prize race with a rover called Selenokhod. The robot’s much larger ancestor, Lunokhod-3 (below), is now in a museum at NPO Lavochkin, the company that built it back in the 1960s.
- Finally, a fascinating Associated Press story about the long, involved search for the remains of U.S. Navy pilot Scott Speicher, who was shot down during the Gulf War, and whose remains were only recovered last summer.
November 13, 2009
Congratulations and apologies are due. The LCROSS team, who endured much grumbling from Internet viewers after last month’s crash into the moon failed to produce a big visible plume, is reporting what they say is clear evidence of water in a lunar crater. Not just a thimbleful, either—at least 24 gallons, and probably more, from a crater 20 to 30 meters wide. The spectral signature from two different instruments is “very real,” said a smiling principal investigator Anthony Colaprete.
The results from LCROSS lend credence to the idea that the rest of the hydrogen detected a decade ago at the moon’s poles is water ice, too, according to Greg Delory, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. Read about the LCROSS results here.
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