Docents volunteer their passion at the National Air & Space Museum
Visitors tour the National Air and Space Museum in Washington led by a docent.
April 24th, 2012
12:28 PM ET

Docents volunteer their passion at the National Air & Space Museum

Have you ever taken a tour at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington or its sister facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center? Perhaps you heard fascinating stories about the artifacts on display, or had your questions answered by a knowledgeable and engaging docent.

If you have, you've benefited from those individuals' passion for aviation and space, and their willingness to complete extensive training in order to volunteer their time for you, the visitor. (And if you haven't, I encourage you to take a tour!)

The Air and Space Museum's docent program takes all kinds, from 30-year-old nurses to World War II veterans, who successfully apply to the program and complete a training program.

Margy Natalie, the Docent Program Coordinator for the Udvar-Hazy Center, explained the 11-week education, calling it "an extensive course in aviation and space history taught in the classroom by the curators at the National Air and Space Museum ... some of the world's leading experts in their fields."

Don Stout, a current docent candidate, says, "You learn everything-and-then-some as far as the details ... from eight in the morning every Saturday to about five o'clock at night."
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Filed under: Voices
April 24th, 2012
12:20 PM ET

Incredible views of Northern Lights

Today CNN received two amazing new videos of the Northern Lights. One is a view from space, and one is a little closer to home. If you’ve never seen the lights in person then this is the next-best thing. In case you didn’t know, the Aurora Borealis is caused when a solar wind (electrically charged particles emitted by the sun) interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field. These videos make it look more like a work of art than a reaction caused by a solar wind. Have you seen the Northern Lights? Send us your stories in the comments below.

Stars from space – NASA has released an awe-inspiring time-lapse video of Earth taken from the international space station. The Expedition 30 crew captured everything from haunting Northern Lights to stunning thunderstorms over Africa. This will give you a whole new perspective on Earth. Be sure to watch those thunderstorms at :33, and see the Comet Lovejoy around 1:30.

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Filed under: On Earth • Severe Weather
Hubble Peeks inside a Stellar Cloud
April 24th, 2012
10:07 AM ET

Hubble Peeks inside a Stellar Cloud

"Bright stars, shining through what looks like a haze in the night sky, are part of a young stellar grouping in one of the largest known star formation regions of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.

The stellar grouping, known to stargazers as NGC 2040 or LH 88, is a loose star cluster whose stars have a common origin and are drifting together through space. There are three different types of stellar associations defined by their stellar properties. NGC 2040 is an OB association, a grouping that usually contains 10–100 stars of type O and B–these are high-mass stars that have short but brilliant lives. It is thought that most of the stars in the Milky Way were born in OB associations.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Image Processing Competition by contestant Eedresha Sturdivant. Hidden Treasures is an initiative to invite astronomy enthusiasts to search the Hubble archive for stunning images that have never been seen by the general public."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
SpaceX's first launch to ISS delayed again
Falcon 9's second launch.
April 24th, 2012
09:59 AM ET

SpaceX's first launch to ISS delayed again

The launch of SpaceX's Dragon capsule to the International Space Station is eagerly anticipated. A successful mission will mark the first time a commercial spacecraft berths to ISS.

It was supposed to launch April 30, but we're going to have to wait a little longer. May 7 is the new target date, a SpaceX spokesperson said Tuesday.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, tweeted the latest about Dragon's first flight to the International Space Staton: it's delayed, at least a week, so that SpaceX can "do more testing on Dragon docking code."

SpaceX and NASA completed a Flight Readiness Review on April 16, giving the commercial company the green light to launch its Dragon capsule, carrying some 1200 pounds of cargo, atop a Falcon 9 rocket. A successful berthing to ISS would set SpaceX and Dragon on the path to becoming regular visitors to Station.

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Filed under: In Space • News
Company aims to mine resource-rich asteroids
The asteroid Eros was photographed by NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission in 2000.
April 24th, 2012
07:28 AM ET

Company aims to mine resource-rich asteroids

[Updated at 5:26 p.m. ET] Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis pioneered the business of sending millionaire tourists to space. Now they want to mine asteroids for what they say will be tens of billions of dollars worth of resources annually for use on Earth and beyond.

Seattle-area's Planetary Resources, backed by big-money investors including filmmaker James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, said Tuesday it plans to develop and launch a series of robotic systems and unmanned spacecraft, starting with its Arkyd-100 Earth-orbiting space telescopes that it hopes to launch by the end of 2013 to identify candidate near-Earth asteroids.

The company hopes to dispatch swarms of Arkyd-300 prospecting spacecraft, which would orbit candidate asteroids and finish the process of determining what they hold, within 10 years.

The Bellevue, Washington, company would then unveil a new system of spacecraft for the payoff: mining precious metal, such as platinum, for use on Earth; and extracting water, whose elements the company says can be used for fuel and life-support systems in space.

In short, Planetary Resources hopes it will be in a crucial and lucrative position of not only boosting terrestrial industry, but also setting up a network of fuel depots that humanity will need to better explore the solar system and beyond.

"The Earth is feeling a resource pinch, and ultimately we will have the ability to turn that which is scarce into abundant," Diamandis, who co-founded Planetary Resources with Anderson in 2009 but generally kept mum about the project until this month, said at a press event in Seattle on Tuesday.

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Filed under: In Space • News

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