The Space Race will never end

The Space Race was never really a challenge between superpowers, but an endless marathon for humans to exceed their limits and go beyond the dimensions of our world.

If you’ve been too busy to keep track of various space developments, here’s a look at some of the current missions and discoveries that will keep you dreaming for days. . . and it’s a sure sign that the Space Race is an ongoing function of our civilization.

Cassini at Saturn: Launched in the 1990s, this intrepid spacecraft (my personal favorite) has studied the local Saturn system at close range and revealed astonishing features about the great ringed planet and her many moons. Cassini recently passed by Hyperion at 21,000 miles to study the moon’s porous surface. The spacecraft has been everywhere in this populated neighborhood and taken extraordinary imagery; in 2017 the vehicle will pass between Saturn and her rings.

Dawn at Ceres: The Dawn spacecraft is approximately 2,700 miles over Ceres, a dwarf planet located in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is 598 miles in diameter, something in equivalent like a trip from Washington, D.C. to Canada. The object may reveal some interesting qualities; scientists are baffled by a cluster of bright spots in a Ceres crater roughly 55 miles across, which could be anything from reflective ice to salt.

The Martian missions: Robots have made leaps and bounds in development and functionality. They can also go where humans cannot (like deep space and inhospitable worlds) and collect data for our research. These are the pioneers of the 21st century and any manned exploration in our future is surely to their credit. Take a look at Mars, where the SUV of rovers, Curiosity, is taking a splendid tour of the Red Planet. One of its most spectacular accomplishments is a sequence of sunset images on the 956th Martian day of its mission. Curiosity is a solitary traveler on the surface, but there are plenty of cybernetic colleagues over Mars. According to a recent NASA release,

NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely. Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.

The Martian sunset captured by Curiosity.
The Martian sunset captured by Curiosity.

New Horizon nears Pluto: At the time of this blog post, the New Horizon spacecraft is 31 days, 20 hours, 18 minutes, and 19 seconds from Pluto. Thus far the platform has transmitted exciting images from the distant object and its moons with a Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). Like Cassini at Saturn, we waited this long for an unmanned spacecraft to reach the distant marvel. Imagine what we’ll see when New Horizon skips into Pluto’s back yard!

Orion:  The grandson of the Apollo missions is already built and undergoing rigorous tests. The vehicle was launched last December (Exploration Flight Test-1) on a massive Delta rocket and accomplished a successful orbital flight followed by a graceful return to Earth. This is the platform for future manned spaceflight and will gain even more publicity for upcoming operations. Check out the exciting launch video from Lunar Module 5 here.

Stratosphere found on an exo-planet: According to a NASA release, the atmosphere of distant planet WASP-33b “contains titanium oxide, one of only a few compounds that is a strong absorber of visible and ultraviolet radiation and capable of remaining in gaseous form in an atmosphere as hot as this one.” Detectable atmospheres on faraway planets and moons suggest the possibility of unique environments, like that of Titan, which contains waterways and lakes full of ethane and methane.

Where Soviet shuttles died: The Soviet space program had many remarkable achievements, and was as propelled by competition with Western space programs as much as the need for discovery and technological breakthroughs. The shuttle Buran, an automated reusable orbiter, made its first flight into space in 1988. The program was scrapped after the end of the Cold War, however one enterprising photographer has captured some remarkable shots of two of Buran‘s sister shuttles in a state of decay within a Russian assembly building. Today, Russia’s space program is an essential partner in the International Space Station with regular Soyuz launches to provide resupply and crew rotation. Read this great Popular Mechanics article about how Buran was mechanically unique compared to NASA’s shuttle program.

Photo: NASA.gov

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