Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NASA News - Shuttle Leaves ISS, Vesta Pictures, Happy Birthday John Glenn

Lots of NASA news on the table today.

STS-135 Mission Patch
Space Shuttle Atlantis

First off, the Space Shuttle Atlantis detached from the ISS early this morning (2:38 am EDT) for its final voyage home to Earth. This was the 135th space shuttle mission, named STS-135. STS stands for Space Transport System. In 30 years, the shuttle program has taken 355 astronauts into space. It is a sad moment.

Dawn Mission and Vesta

NASA's Dawn mission was launched 27 September 2007 with the overall mission to study the asteroid belt and help characterize the early solar system.  To accomplish this task, the Dawn spacecraft will observe the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.  Ceres is by far the largest object in the asteroid belt and may have a weak atmosphere with the possibility of frozen water on the surface.  Water means the possibility of life.

Vesta as seen from Dawn on July 17, 2011.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/
Vesta is the 2nd largest object in the asteroid belt behind Ceres.  It is thought to be a remnant protoplanet with a differential interior.  This means the interior of Vesta is thought to partially liquid.  At 05:00 UTC on July 16, Dawn inserted into orbit around Vesta.  On July 17, 2011 the above picture "was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles (15,000 kilometers) away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles (1.4 kilometers)." [quote from JPL website.] Very cool!

John Glenn's 90th Birthday

The former Marine Corps pilot, senator and astronaut turned 90 yesterday.  Famous for being the first astronaut to orbit Earth, he also logged over 200 hours in space and holds the record for being the oldest person to fly in space.  Happy Birthday Senator Glenn!

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