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Pushing Space Frontiers

  • June 15th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

rosetta-craft-esa.jpegBeyond the clutter of human activity in space, closer to the Earth, two events of the last week gave a reminder of the efforts being made by humankind to probe beyond the solar system.

SLEEPING BERTH FOR LONG-RANGE PROBE

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced it had shut down its Rosetta probe (picture) for two and a half years– leaving it mute and undisturbed until closer to its rendezvous with far-off comets.

The three-tonne craft launched in 2004 obtained gravitational boosts from Earth and Mars, to set it off on its journey of ten years, and over seven billion kilometres.

With surveillance and communications systems closed down, it is being kept warm by solar panels.

An on-board alarm clock will shake it awake in January 2014, a few months before meeting Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko  – some 675 million kilometres out.

The craft has been controlled through NASA stations at Canberra and New Norcia, Western Australia; its mission is to send a probe onto the comet surface, looking for ancient matter, and new clues to the early construction of the universe.

STILL FURTHER OUT

voyager-spacecraft.jpegStill further out, the twin Voyager spacecraft (see Voyager picture) have got to the edge of the Solar System, sending back reports of unexpected disturbances in magnetic fields – correcting theories and expectations about the order of things at that range.

voyager-message-nasa.jpegThe craft carry information about Earth including recordings of voices and a plaque (picture), just in case somebody, or something out there, takes an interest in two spacecraft from a small planet, of a minor star, in a lonely galaxy.

The voyager mission was launched by the United States in 1977.

LAST FLIGHT OF THE ATLANTIS

Back on Earth, preparations continue for the last of the Space Shuttle missions.

The shuttle Atlantis is set for launch on 8.7.11 to take supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.

Five of the vehicles were constructed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, beginning flights in 1981; the program ending a year after its planned termination date last year.

Two of the craft were lost in tragic accidents, in 1986 and 2003; the three remaining ones will po to museums.

Reference

ESA: Space for Europe, Paris, “ESA Rosetta”. http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Rosetta/, (15.6.11) .

NASA , Kennedy Space Centre Florida, “Latest news for space shuttle”, 15.6.11;  Voyager Enters Solar System’s Final Frontier;  Voyager Squashes View of Solar System (image), 5.6.11.     http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html, (15.6.11).

Pictures  esa, nasa

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