NASA completes MESSENGER mission with surface impact

Baltimore MD (SPX) Apr 30, 2015
Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., confirmed today that NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury, as predicted, at 3:26 p.m. EDT this afternoon (3:34 p.m. ground time). Mission controllers were able to confirm the end of operations just a few
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You’ll have to forgive me for posting my face again but my Lunar Mission One T-shirt finally arrived! Lunar Mission One is a crowd funded unmanned mission to the South Pole of the Moon. The concept is very cool, they fund it by selling a “place in space”, i.e. storage space so you can send photos, etc. to be buried in a hole on the Moon! They’re also going to be doing some interesting astronomy up there. They’re going to drill a hole, and I wish I could tell you why but I forgot, and it’s also a fantastic location for radio astronomy! I love the idea of getting the public involved in funding space exploration. It’s also a great way to show how enthusiastic people are about space! (In other news I had an exam today. But we won’t talk about this. Three down, four to go…)

(July 21, 1969) The Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage, with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. aboard, is photographed from the Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit. This view is looking west with the earth rising above the lunar horizon. Astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained with the Command/Service Module in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Moon. The Lunar Module is approaching from below. The mare area in the background is Smyth’s Sea. At right center is International Astronomical Union crater no. 189.

(5 May 1961) — Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., strides across the deck of the U.S. Navy Carrier Champlain following an inspection of his Freedom 7 capsule. Shepard had just completed the first manned U.S. space mission, a 15-minute suborbital flight. (NASA Hq. Photo No., MR3-40) Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

520-Day Simulated Mission to Mars Reveals Critical Data about Sleep and Activity Needs for Astronauts

In the first study of its kind, a team of researchers led by faculty at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Baylor College of Medicine, has analyzed data on the impact of prolonged operational confinement on sleep, performance, and mood in astronauts from a groundbreaking international effort to simulate a 520-day space mission to Mars. The findings, published online-first in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed alterations of life-sustaining sleep patterns and neurobehavioral consequences for crew members that must be addressed for successful adaption to prolonged space missions.

“The success of human interplanetary spaceflight, which is anticipated to be in this century, will depend on the ability of astronauts to remain confined and isolated from Earth much longer than previous missions or simulations,” said David F. Dinges, PhD, professor and chief, Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine, and co-lead author of the new study. “This is the first investigation to pinpoint the crucial role that sleep-wake cycles will play in extended space missions.”

The 520-day simulation, which was developed by the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and sponsored in part by the European Space Agency (ESA), was initiated on June 3, 2010 when the hatches were closed on a 550-cubic-meter IBMP spacecraft-like confinement facility in Russia. The simulated mission, involving an international, six-man team of volunteers, involved more than 90 experiments and realistic scenarios to gather valuable psychological and medical data on the effects of a long-term deep space flight. The 520-day mission was broken into three phases: 250 days for the trip to Mars, 30 days on the surface, and 240 days for the return to Earth.

“As the only U.S. research team involved with the Mars 520-day simulation, the study required international coordination and strong collaborations to ensure that the experiments were conducted in a thorough and rigorous manner,” said Jeffrey P. Sutton, MD, PhD, professor and director, Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and senior study author. The investigators monitored the crew’s rest-activity patterns, performance and psychological responses to determine the extent to which sleep loss, fatigue, stress, mood changes and conflicts occurred during the mission.

Measurements included continuous recordings of body movements using wrist actigraphy (a noninvasive means of estimating sleep and movement intensity), and light exposure and weekly computer-based neurobehavioral assessments to identify changes in the crew’s activity levels, sleep quantity and quality, sleep–wake intervals, alertness performance, and workload throughout the 17 months of mission confinement.

Data from the actigraph devices revealed that crew sedentariness increased across the mission, as illustrated by decreased waking movement and increased sleep and rest times. The majority of crewmembers also experienced one or more disturbances of sleep quality, alertness deficits, or altered sleep–wake intervals and timing, suggesting inadequate circadian synchronization.

“Taken together, these measurements point to the need to identify markers of differential vulnerability to abnormal decrease in muscular movement and sleep– wake changes in crew members during the prolonged isolation of exploration spaceflight and the need to ensure maintenance of the Earth’s natural circadian rhythm, sleep quantity and quality, and optimal activity levels during exploration missions,” said Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc, assistant professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at Penn, and co-lead author.

The research team concludes that successful adaptation to such missions will require crews to transit in spacecraft and live in surface habitats that artificially mimic aspects of Earth’s sleep-wake activity cycles, such as appropriately timed light exposure, food intake, and exercise. This dynamic will be necessary to maintain neurocognition and human behavior throughout the flight.

MESSENGER probe, which has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011, is nearly out of fuel and will smash into the planet tomorrow (April 30). As a tribute, NASA released a new MESSENGER video.

MESSENGER mission (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging), launched in August 2004, has delivered a lot of amazing finds. “The mission discovered a surface rich in diverse chemistry. It sensed a bizarrely offset magnetic field. It photographed strange "hollows” where material seems to have boiled away into space under the scorching sun. It mapped vast volcanic deposits, found that the entire planet has shrunk by as much as 7 kilometers [4.3 miles] in radius, and, of all things, uncovered deposits of water ice in the depths of polar craters where the sun never shines.“

Earlier this week, NASA released these false-color photos showing various surface details to learn more about the minerals and surface processes of the Solar System’s innermost planet.
image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington


On this day in 1961 – Nov. 29 – Enos, a chimpanzee, was launched into space aboard the Project Mercury: Mercury-Atlas 5 Mission.

The name given to “Enos,” the chimp selected to fly the MA-5 mission, in Hebrew means “man”. Enos’s backups were (in order possible call-up) Duane, Jim, Rocky and Ham (the MR-2 veteran). Enos was from Cameroon, Africa, (originally called Chimp # 81), and was purchased by the USAF on April 3, 1960. His flight was preceded by both fellow chimp Ham and astronaut Alan Shepard who had been launched into space but had not orbited the earth.

Simulated Mars Mission Reveals Body’s Sodium Rhythms

Clinical pharmacologist Jens Titze, M.D., knew he had a one-of-a-kind scientific opportunity: the Russians were going to simulate a flight to Mars, and he was invited to study the participating cosmonauts.

Titze, now an associate professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University, wanted to explore long-term sodium balance in humans. He didn’t believe the textbook view – that the salt we eat is rapidly excreted in urine to maintain relatively constant body sodium levels. The “Mars500” simulation gave him the chance to keep salt intake constant and monitor urine sodium levels in humans over a long period of time.

Now, in the Jan. 8 issue of Cell Metabolism, Titze and his colleagues report that – in contrast to the prevailing dogma – sodium levels fluctuate rhythmically with 7-day and monthly cycles. The findings, which demonstrate that sodium is stored in the body, have implications for blood pressure control, hypertension and salt-associated cardiovascular risk.

Titze’s interest in sodium balance was sparked by human space flight simulation studies he conducted in the 1990s that showed rhythmic variations in sodium urine excretion.
“It was so clear to me that sodium must be stored in the body, but no one wanted to hear about that because it was so different from the textbook view,” he said.

He and his team persisted with animal studies and demonstrated that the skin stores sodium and that the immune system regulates sodium release from the skin.

In 2005, planning began for Mars500 – a collaboration between Russia, the European Union and China to prepare for manned spaceflight to Mars. Mars500 was conducted at a research facility in Moscow between 2007 and 2011 in three phases: a 15-day phase to test the equipment, a 105-day phase, and a 520-day phase to simulate a full-length manned mission.

Crews of healthy male cosmonauts volunteered to live and work in an enclosed habitat of sealed interconnecting modules, as if they were on an international space station. Titze and his colleagues organized the food for the mission and secured commitments from the participants to consume all of the food and to collect all urine each day. They studied twelve men: six for the full 105-day phase of the program, and six for the first 205 days of the 520-day phase.

“It was the participants’ stamina to precisely adhere to the daily menu plans and to accurately collect their urine for months that allowed scientific discovery,” Titze said. The researchers found that nearly all (95 percent) of the ingested salt was excreted in the urine, but not on a daily basis. Instead, at constant salt intake, sodium excretion fluctuated with a weekly rhythm, resulting in sodium storage. The levels of the hormones aldosterone (a regulator of sodium excretion) and cortisol (no known major role in sodium balance) also fluctuated weekly.

Changes in total body sodium levels fluctuated on monthly and longer cycles, Titze said. Sodium storage on this longer cycle was independent of salt intake and did not include weight gain, supporting the idea that sodium is stored without accompanying increases in water.

The findings suggest that current medical practice and studies that rely on 24-hour urine samples to determine salt intake are not accurate, he said. “We understand now that there are 7-day and monthly sodium clocks that are ticking, so a one-day snapshot shouldn’t be used to determine salt intake.”

Using newly developed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies to view sodium, Titze and his colleagues have found that humans store sodium in skin (as they found in their animal studies) and in muscle.

The investigators suspect that genes related to the circadian “clock” genes, which regulate daily rhythms, may be involved in sodium storage and release. “We find these long rhythms of sodium storage in the body particularly intriguing,” Titze said. “The observations open up entirely new avenues for research.”





Why should you play Wildstar? Because I’m a magical space cowboy wizard in space, that’s why. Because it’s flippin’ gorgeous and doesn’t take itself remotely seriously right up until you realize how dark, morbid, and eerie it is. Then it’s just /hilarious/.

These are from a mini-mission that riffs on the ALIEN movies series.

Also I’m a magical space cowboy wizard in space.


And a little bit of Mars history for those interested/newly intrigued by the Curiosity rover landing.

1. Picture 1 is the first photograph ever taken of Mars, taken by the Mariner 4 Orbiter on July 14, 1965.

2. Picture 2 is the first photograph ever taken on the surface of Mars, taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter on July 20, 1976.

3. Picture 3 is the first color photograph ever taken on the surface of Mars, taken by the Spirit Rover on January 6, 2004.

Such cool moments of history!! :D

Hubble Sees a Horsehead of a Different Color: Astronomers have used NASAs Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatorys launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.

Hubble has been producing ground-breaking science for two decades. During that time, it has benefited from a slew of upgrades from space shuttle missions, including the 2009 addition of a new imaging workhorse, the high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3 that took the new portrait of the Horsehead.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team


Sarah Brightman has reunited with her ex-husband Andrew Lloyd-Webber to write a song she can perform from space during a planned trip to the International Space Station. The singer, who has been in training in Star City near Moscow, will take part in a tourist flight to the International Space Station on September 1 lasting 10 days. She said singing in space was “very different” to performing on Earth and added she did not want to “promise too much” but told a central London press conference she hoped to sing from the spacecraft.

Cassini’s 10 Years of Exploring Saturn

On July 30, the Cassini spacecraft will celebrate 10 years of exploring Saturn and its neighborhood. After completing its primary mission of four years, the Cassini mission was granted extensions that allowed it to continue exploring Saturn to this day.

During the mission, scientists have acquired a large amount of data (hundreds of gigabytes) and published thousands of articles about the Saturnian system. Some of Cassini’s top discoveries and accomplishments can be found here and the top images can be found here.

For more about Cassini’s 10 years, visit the Cassini mission page.

Image from the Cassini mission page [x].