Students Shaping America’s Next Spacecraft
February 23rd, 2012
11:27 AM ET

Students Shaping America’s Next Spacecraft

"Students from Texas A&M University visited the Orion Medium Fidelity Mockup as part of the SSANS, or Students Shaping America’s Next Spacecraft, program. The students, who are Industrial Engineering majors at Texas A&M, partnered with the Orion Program on two senior design projects: Orion Lighting System hardware for the Orion Full-scale Mockup and the Orion Budget and Planning Project. During their visit on Feb. 22, 2012, the students presented their work as part of the Preliminary Design Review at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. While at the center, they had an opportunity to see the Orion mockups and tour center facilities."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
February 22nd, 2012
02:49 PM ET

Rocket launched into Northern Lights

NASA launches a rocket into the northern lights over Alaska to study electrical activity for future satellites.


Filed under: In Space
Chain of cat feces can harm humans, sea otters
February 22nd, 2012
10:38 AM ET

Chain of cat feces can harm humans, sea otters

There's more to cat excrement than meets the eye, and it may have the potential to cause disease in sea otters and humans alike.

A young cat can shed up to 100 million oocysts – little egg-like structures – in its feces. All it takes is one oocyst to cause an infection of Toxoplasma gondii.

Largely, the parasite is asymptomatic in humans, but it can sometimes cause problems for infants born to infected mothers – including hearing loss, mental disability and blindness. People with compromised immune systems, especially those who have HIV/AIDS, may also develop serious complications.

Researchers are trying to understand why marine mammals in the Pacific Northwest started dying of protozoal diseases starting in 2000; before then, there weren't any documented cases, but samples from the Pacific Northwest have found a rate of about 4% of protozoal disease among stranded animals, says Michael Grigg, investigator at the National Institutes of Health.

FULL STORY

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Filed under: On Earth
Expedition 30 Cosmonauts Perform Spacewalk
February 22nd, 2012
10:20 AM ET

Expedition 30 Cosmonauts Perform Spacewalk

"This image of Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Anton Shkaplerov, both Expedition 30 flight engineers, was taken during a spacewalk on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. During the six-hour, 15-minute spacewalk, Kononenko and Shkaplerov moved the Strela-1 crane from the Pirs Docking Compartment in preparation for replacing it in 2012 with a new laboratory and docking module. The duo used another boom, the Strela-2, to move the hand-operated crane to the Poisk module for future assembly and maintenance work. Both telescoping booms extend like fishing rods and are used to move massive components outside the station. On the exterior of the Poisk Mini-Research Module 2, they also installed the Vinoslivost Materials Sample Experiment, which will investigate the influence of space on the mechanical properties of the materials. The spacewalkers also collected a test sample from underneath the insulation on the Zvezda Service Module to search for any signs of living organisms. Both spacewalkers wore Russian Orlan spacesuits bearing blue stripes and equipped with NASA helmet cameras."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
February 20th, 2012
11:54 AM ET

One stem cell burger: $330,000

If you're concerned about the ethics of livestock production but don't want to become a vegetarian, consider this: It may be possible to grow meat in a petri dish.

Dr. Mark Post, professor of vascular physiology at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, is working on creating meat from bovine stem cells. And he's planning to unveil a burger created this way in October, he said Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.

FULL POST

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Filed under: On Earth
CNN chats with Glenn and Carpenter 50 years after historic orbit
John Glenn, left, lifted off on February 20, 1962 -- the first American to orbit the Earth. Scott Carpenter, right, followed in May.
February 20th, 2012
07:47 AM ET

CNN chats with Glenn and Carpenter 50 years after historic orbit

“It seems like it was two weeks ago,” former Sen. John Glenn told me. Glenn and I stood a few feet from a buffet table in a reception room at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

It was about 30 minutes before the start of a NASA celebration marking his and Scott Carpenter’s historic first U.S. orbital flights.

“Hardly a day goes by, Glenn said, “that someone doesn’t ask me about it.”

For me, this was an amazing moment.

There we were on Saturday night, just the two of us. John Glenn, who 50 years ago today became the first American to sit alone atop a 125-ton rocket and shoot around the world three times at more than 17,000 miles an hour.

Glenn's mission made him a national hero who eventually left NASA and later served four terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio.

But he couldn't stay away. Fourteen years ago, at age 77, he returned to orbit - on a much heralded shuttle mission aboard Discovery that put him in the history books again as the oldest person to travel to space.

Now, at 90, Glenn is still lean and fit.

Would he go again?  “I’d go tomorrow if I could,” he said.

Of course, the shuttle program is over, which Glenn told me he’s not happy about.

Watch fascinating video highlights of Glenn's mission aboard Discovery

The space race

I asked Glenn what was going through his head while he sat in that Mercury capsule waiting to lift off. It seemed like the whole world was talking about the race with Moscow to dominate space and rising Cold War tensions.

No, he said. He didn't feel any pressure from the space race or the Cold War. The Soviet Union had already orbited a man around the world, Glenn told me.

He was absorbed in the task at hand.

“You just wanted to do the best job you could do,” he said.

There was no time then to think about the bigger picture.

Everything was a “change of status,” Glenn said.  “Check the pressures. Change of status. It lights and you’re going, 'Change of status.  Do I have orbital speed?  Change of status.' ”

'Godspeed, John Glenn': 'I didn't hear it'

Gaining orbital speed was a big deal.  Scott Carpenter knew it.

Carpenter - who was Glenn’s back-up for the flight - sat in Mission Control on that day 50 years ago. Three months later, Carpenter would become the second American to orbit the Earth.

In fact, it was Carpenter who uttered those famous words as Glenn lifted off: “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

I asked Carpenter, who was now sitting just a few feet away from where Glenn and I had been chatting, if he'd thought about those words beforehand.

“I never thought about it,” Carpenter told me.  “What John needed that no American had before was speed."  The previous Mercury flights - piloted by Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom - had been suborbital.  They didn’t need the velocity Glenn needed to make it to orbit.

What I didn’t know was that Glenn was on a different communications channel when Carpenter said those historic words.

“I didn’t hear it at the time,” Glenn said.

Watch rare archival highlight film of Glenn's liftoff, orbits and splash down

But 36 years later aboard Discovery, Carpenter was back in Mission Control and said it again, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”  That time Glenn says he heard it in real time.

Astronaut/aquanaut

Carpenter, a Navy man, has a love for outer space and inner space.

When he left NASA, he explored underwater adventures as an aquanaut in the Navy’s Man in the Sea Project - at one point living and working on the ocean floor for 30 days straight. Later Carpenter served as director of the Navy’s Aquanaut Operations.

“I still can’t make up my mind whether I like outer or inner space better,” he said - adding with a smile, “But there’s a difference in glory.”

Watch Glenn and Carpenter answer questions about their historic missions

It was now time for us to leave the reception room and head to the Visitor Complex Rocket Garden.

There - alongside magnificent museum displays of the NASA rockets that conquered space –upward of a thousand people awaited their chance to honor these men.

The two heroes rode to greet the awaiting crowd in a parade of Corvettes, the road chariots of choice for 1960s astronauts.

It was a fitting nod to those fabled times at Cocoa Beach, Florida, when extraordinary men such as Carpenter and Glenn paved the way for human space exploration.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNLightYears

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News • On this Day • People in Orbit
John Glenn's true hero
John Glenn and his wife Annie parade up Broadway's 'Canyon of Heroes' in November 1998.
February 19th, 2012
09:38 AM ET

John Glenn's true hero

Editor's note: CNN contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose books include "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

For half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as a heart-stirring American hero. He lifted the nation's spirits when, as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit around the Earth; the enduring affection for him is so powerful that even now people find themselves misting up at the sight of his face or the sound of his voice.

But for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who he has seen display endless courage of a different kind.

FULL STORY

Follow us on Twitter @CNNLightYears

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News • On this Day • People in Orbit
John Glenn: Rare and unpublished photos
February 19th, 2012
07:48 AM ET

Glenn's historic orbits still inspire you

On Monday, it will be exactly 50 years since the day John Glenn helped America turn the corner in the Space Race with the Soviets.

When Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet, it triggered a celebration and sense of pride that arguably was crucial to astronauts later setting foot on the moon.

So huge was this national mood swing that followers of CNN's Light Years space and science blog still remember it a half-century later. They're sharing their memories about where they were and what they felt on February 20, 1962.

"I was a junior in high school when John Glenn went on his ride around the Earth," wrote OldGoat in Light Years comments. "It seemed amazing at the time that such a thing could be done."

Glenn's 4 hour, 55 minute mission was really a giant tech-game of Cold War "catch-up." See more rare LIFE photos of Glenn during the Space Race.

It's easy to forget that not long before Glenn's three-orbit flight, the public knew NASA more "for its failures and delays than for its space exploration," wrote Tom Streissguth in his Glenn biography. "The Soviet space program was far more successful."

More than ten months before Glenn's flight, Moscow fired the first shot in this battle to dominate human space exploration, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth.

After Washington recovered from the shock, it answered with Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom - America's first and second men in space. But their 15-minute missions blasted off and then splashed down. No orbiting. They paled in comparison to Gagarin's single-orbit around-the-world ride.

Then Moscow embarrassed Washington again when Gherman Titov circled the planet - not once - but 16 times.

It sure looked like America might be on its way to losing the Space Race.

"Everything about the space program was cool back then and really gave the U.S. something to shoot for," said Light Years follower Bob Knippel. "It's not at all like that today, the way it permeated American consciousness."

Leading up to Glenn's mission, there were safety questions about his 125-ton Atlas rocket. Streissguth wrote that during one testing period the rocket "failed four out of every 10 launches."

"People have always asked if I was afraid," Glenn wrote in his 2000 memoir. "I wasn't. Constructive apprehension is more like it."

After many delays, the launch went without a hitch. But during re-entry a false alarm prompted worries about the spacecraft's protective heat shield. Light Years follower Montello recalled CBS news anchor "Walter Cronkite's nonstop commentary during the time Glenn was in space and the elation when he landed safely."

As Light Years commenter The_Mick, put it: "John Glenn's flight put us in the major leagues!" While Judie wrote, "I remember it well and was so proud; I still am!"

Watch rare archival film of Glenn's flight

In fact, the national celebration for Glenn's mission was so intense Washington held a parade for the 40-year-old Marine Corps colonel.

Thousands cheered as he left a White House meeting with President Kennedy and was driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill. There, Glenn addressed Congress saying, "I believe we're on the brink of an era of expansion of knowledge about ourselves and our surroundings that is beyond comprehension." You can see Glenn's handwritten speech notes here.

The emotional momentum spurred by Glenn's successful flight culminated just seven years later, when Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and their colleagues accomplished a lunar landing that many said was impossible.

Now, a half-century after Glenn's flight, Light Years follower Gregory L. Faith told us he still has "a picture of Mr. Glenn in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform with his signature. It is my only prized possession of an era gone by."

Works4me summed up feelings for Glenn in three words.

"My first hero."

Our friends at Time and LIFE offer a glimpse of rare and unpublished images of Glenn by some of LIFE's finest photographers.

These images - some in the gallery above and others at LIFE's website - document a brief period, and some would say perhaps a more naive, less-cynical time, when Glenn and his astronaut colleagues inspired the nation.

What about now?

Who's inspiring the next generation?

And if not space, in what new competitive arenas will they test themselves? Stay tuned.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNLightYears

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Filed under: In Space • On this Day • People in Orbit
'Godspeed,' happy anniversary, John Glenn!
February 17th, 2012
01:40 PM ET

'Godspeed,' happy anniversary, John Glenn!

NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first American in orbit.  

Back in 1959, NASA selected John Glenn as one of the original group of seven astronauts for the Mercury program. 

Three years later, he blasted off to the famous words, "Godspeed John Glenn," becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. To honor this landmark, we’re taking a look back at Glenn’s historic flights into space.

First American to circle the Earth

On February 20, 1962, Glenn made his famous journey around the planet aboard NASA's Friendship 7 spacecraft. During the nearly five-hour mission, he circled the globe three times. The mission wasn't perfect. A trouble indicator light warned that a clamp holding the spacecraft's heat shield had been released too early. Mission controllers feared that the heat shield was loose. The shield was meant to protect Glenn's spacecraft from burning up during re-entry. As a safety measure, a "retropack" that would normally have been jettisoned was allowed to stay on the spacecraft to hold the heat shield. It turned out that warning light was a false alarm. Glenn splashed down safely to much fanfare at home. Watch the incredible archival footage of this historic trip.

Oldest astronaut

Glenn made headlines again in 1998 when he rejoined NASA at age 77 to become the oldest person ever to go into space. Glenn’s trip aboard the shuttle Discovery helped NASA learn about the effects of space flight on older people. Watch him quip about breaking a hip in space.

American legend

Friday, at age 90, Glenn joined fellow “Mercury Seven” astronaut Scott Carpenter to reminisce about their adventures and reflect on the U.S. space program. Appropriately, it was Carpenter who announced those famous words a half century ago: "Godspeed John Glenn." Learn just how dangerous their missions were and what types of concerns that scientists had about Glenn’s health.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNLightYears

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • On this Day • People in Orbit
February 17th, 2012
12:16 PM ET

Fire and brimstone!

The thing that powers all that is living on Earth gets more fascinating the more we learn about it.

Our sun.

Things we know:

–It's big (over 1 million times the size of the Earth)
–It's hot (about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit at its surface)

We also know what it's made out of, its mass, how far away it is, and - contrary to what my boy Aristotle used to think - we know it's the center of our solar system.

What we DON'T know is too long a list to mention here.

But the Solar Dynamics Observatory (aka SDO) is helping unravel some mysteries.

The Earth-orbiting satellite launched two years ago is providing some REALLY cool images of the solar surface.

In fact, NASA just released some of the coolest stuff I've seen.

I suppose part of the reason I'm diggin' on this so much is 'cause the swirls of fire look like TORNADOES.

Now there's no real atmospheric "weather" on the sun, so what you see here is totally different from what Dorothy had to deal with in Kansas.

Here, competing magnetic forces create the vortices where hot plasma swirls upward like a tornado or perhaps more accurately, a dust devil.

Keep in mind this video [which you can view above] is a time-lapse of 30 hours, so it has been sped up dramatically.

But consider the size and height of these hot plasma "tornadoes," just one of these is nearly large enough to engulf our entire planet Earth!

Now THAT'S some fire and brimstone baby!

Follow Rob Marciano on Twitter at @robmarcianoCNN and follow Light Years @CNNLightYears
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