Launching Into History
June 18th, 2012
11:32 AM ET

Launching Into History

"On June 18, 1983, a young physicist from California took her seat aboard the space shuttle and launched into history. On that date, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as a mission specialist on STS-7. In this image, Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
June 18th, 2012
10:17 AM ET

China sends first female astronaut to space

CNN) - China made history Saturday when it launched a spacecraft sending the nation's first female astronaut in space.

The Shenzhou-9 launched Saturday afternoon, carrying Liu Yang and two male astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. State media aired the launch held at a satellite center in Jiuquan.

Liu, 33, was the deputy head of a flight unit in the nation's air force, according to China's Xinhua news agency.

She is a veteran pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience, and excelled in space testing after two years of training.

If all goes well, the Shenzhou-9 will dock with China's orbiting space laboratory, making the nation the third after the United States and Russia to complete a manned space docking.

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket as seen Saturday in northwest China's Gansu province.

Participation of women in space will aid training, improve flight crew equipment and expand knowledge on the physical and psychological effects of space on women, said Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program.

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Filed under: In Space • News • People in Orbit
Challenger daughter's journey to know her hero dad
Joy McNair enjoys time with her father, NASA mission specialist Ronald McNair, in an undated family photo.
June 16th, 2012
09:00 PM ET

Challenger daughter's journey to know her hero dad

Joy McNair has a wonderful memory of herself as a toddler running toward her astronaut father as he returns home. But it's not her memory. She borrowed it from someone else.

"My mother has told me often that I was quite the daddy's girl," McNair said on the phone Monday. "I would run to his arms when he arrived from work every day."

But beyond that, her memories are murky.

Joy was just 18 months old in 1986 when the unthinkable happened and the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. Her father, astronaut Ronald McNair, and his six colleagues lost their lives, prompting President Reagan to call them true American heroes.

Now a 27-year-old Washington-based attorney, Joy experiences Father's Day very much like any other day.

"I've never had Father's Day to celebrate. So in a weird way it's not something that I feel a loss for."

What Joy McNair knows about her astronaut father comes from family stories and the media.

For countless people who lost their dads before they had a chance to know them, Father's Day can force a confrontation with lingering questions and memory gaps. When the loss is part of a public event, when the world remembers your father in some ways better than you do yourself, the search to truly know your father can become a lifelong quest.


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Filed under: Dear Old Dad • In Space • News
Overheard on Mars rover naming schemes, not-so-tropical space vacations
NASA's Curiosity is set to touch down on Mars in August. The rover is bound for Gale Crater.
June 15th, 2012
07:55 PM ET

Overheard on Mars rover naming schemes, not-so-tropical space vacations

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Looking back over the past week, we've seen some interesting comments about what it would be like to go to other planets and moons. We decided to feature a few of these posts from readers to close out the week.

Rover bound for intriguing crater on Mars

Curiosity, NASA's most advanced rover, is going to search Gale Crater for evidence of life as we know it on Mars. Scientists say they have pinpointed the landing site with greater accuracy than in the past, resulting in a shorter transit to the crater itself. This mission got one reader wondering what it would be like to view Earth from afar.

helenecha: "It must be pretty much interesting to see Earth on Mars. So landing Curiosity to a site on Mars where the rover can see our Earth from Mars whatever makes sense, uh? Good luck to Curiosity! Godspeed to every member of all NASA's rover missions!"

Curiosity follows in the footsteps (or tracks) of the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. All got their names from children's essay contests. Some of our readers conceded they would have used different names if it were up to them.

MrId: "They should be something like 'Conquer,' 'Robotic Death,' or 'Bigfoot.' "

Raymond: "I would have named them all Rover I, Rover II, Rover III, etc., etc. Hey, we keep track of the Super Bowl with Roman Numerals. Why not keep track of these?"

Cedar Rapids: "... the Mars rover, 'Megatron', today arrived at the crater ..."

You may recall that "Spirit" and "Opportunity" were dreamed up by 9-year-old essay writer Sofi Collis of Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2003. Collis was born in Siberia and at one point lived in an orphanage. The rover name Curiosity was the brainchild of Clara Ma of Lenexa, Kansas, in 2009.

If you could name a rover whatever you wanted, what would you call it? Conversely, what would come next in the current series? Please tell us in the comments section.

Some readers have wondered if Mars is the right place to be exploring. Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, was mentioned as a possible place. FULL POST

Filed under: Overheard on
How professors' dads made math fun
Heather Lewis at her Ph.D. graduation with her father.
June 15th, 2012
09:53 AM ET

How professors' dads made math fun

Editor's Note: Matthew Lane is a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at UCLA and is the founder of Math Goes Pop!, a blog focused on the surprisingly rich intersection between mathematics and popular culture. Follow him on Twitter at @mmmaaatttttt. 

There are many misconceptions about mathematicians in popular culture. For example, windows and mirrors do not make for the best writing surfaces, despite what you might assume from "A Beautiful Mind" or "Good Will Hunting."

Mathematicians are also frequently portrayed as painfully socially awkward. And while this is sometimes the case, the true range of personality types is much more varied. Even among the more socially awkward, it is not uncommon for mathematicians to fall in love, marry and start a family.


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Filed under: Dear Old Dad • Math • On Earth
June 14th, 2012
05:07 PM ET

Neanderthals could have been Europe's first cave artists

The first modern humans in Europe perhaps did more than hunt and gather.  They may have been artistically inclined, according to a new study.

Scientists involved in the research, to be released Friday in the journal Science, found cave art that dates back thousands of years earlier than previously thought.  The team of researchers said the findings imply the paintings were created either by the first anatomically modern humans in Europe or, perhaps, by Neanderthals.

"This currently is Europe's oldest dated art by at least 4,000 years," said archaeologist and lead author of the study Alistair Pike in a press conference to reporters.


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Filed under: News
June 14th, 2012
04:32 PM ET

Solving the mystery of black holes

Editor's note: Meg Urry is the Israel Munson professor of physics and astronomy and chairwoman of the department of physics at Yale University, where she is the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. This article was written in association with the Op-Ed Project.

Anchorage, Alaska (CNN) - In Ballroom E of the Den'aina conference center here Wednesday, a small group of astronomers and journalists listened to the NASA feed from Kwajalein island, between Hawaii and Australia, where a Pegasus rocket aboard an L1011 plane was about to launch the NuSTAR space telescope. I was there as a member of the science team for NuSTAR, which is part of NASA's Small Explorer program

Many years in the making, NuSTAR carries an important scientific instrument designed to look for energetic X-rays from cosmic sources like black holes and exploded stars.

Most of us know about X-rays used for diagnostic imaging of broken limbs or for security scans at the airport. They are a high-energy form of light, energetic enough to penetrate clothing or flesh.

Rover bound for intriguing crater on Mars
Curiosity, NASA's most advanced rover, will search Gale Crater for evidence of life as we know it on Mars.
June 14th, 2012
09:50 AM ET

Rover bound for intriguing crater on Mars

Curiosity, NASA's rover bound for Mars, is set to touch down in August. Now, scientists say they know with even more accuracy where it will land.

The summer landing will be the start of a Martian road trip that will take months or possibly a year as Curiosity makes its way toward its final destination, the Gale Crater, said Curiosity contributor James Wray, an assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"The most important thing perhaps is that we are steering to a different place in Gale Crater, which is a giant mountain of sedimentary rock," Wray said. Unlike Curiosity's predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit,  "We are going with the intention of having to drive a long distance before even getting to what we want to study because the mountain is too steep," Wray said.


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Filed under: In Space • Mars
A moon of Saturn may have 'tropical' lakes
This color-enhanced composite image shows Titan's atmosphere encircling the orange moon.
June 13th, 2012
03:52 PM ET

A moon of Saturn may have 'tropical' lakes

They might not be fit for humans to swim in, but "tropical" lakes may exist on one of Saturn's moons that could harbor tiny organisms.

Scientists report Wednesday in the journal Nature that the moon Titan may have methane lakes among the dunes that pervade the tropics, the region of the moon between 20 degrees of latitude north and 20 degrees of latitude south.

Like Earth, Titan has clouds, rain and lakes, though they're made up of methane instead of water.


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Filed under: Discoveries • In Space
June 13th, 2012
10:34 AM ET

Telescope launches to explore black holes

A powerful telescope array is headed for space today. Its starting point wasn't a Cape Canaveral launch pad, but rather a plane that took off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

NuSTAR began its launch process today just after 12 p.m. EST. NuSTAR stands for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array.

NuSTAR, with its specialized "X-ray eyes," has 10 times the resolution and 100 times the sensitivity of similar telescopes. It has the capability to study black holes and explore how exploding stars form the elements from which the universe is composed.


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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space
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