13 Reasons to Have an Out-of-This-World Friday (the 13th)
1. Not all of humanity is bound to the ground
Since 2000, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied by humans. There, crew members live and work while conducting important research that benefits life on Earth and will even help us eventually travel to deep space destinations, like Mars.
2. We’re working to develop quieter supersonic aircraft that would allow you to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 2 hours
We are working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently. Seventy years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 aircraft, we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy by working to create a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.
3. The spacecraft, rockets and systems developed to send astronauts to low-Earth orbit as part of our Commercial Crew Program is also helping us get to Mars
Changes to the human body during long-duration spaceflight are significant challenges to solve ahead of a mission to Mars and back. The space station allows us to perform long duration missions without leaving Earth’s orbit.
Although they are orbiting Earth, space station astronauts spend months at a time in near-zero gravity, which allows scientists to study several physiological changes and test potential solutions. The more time they spend in space, the more helpful the station crew members can be to those on Earth assembling the plans to go to Mars.
4. We’re launching a spacecraft in 2018 that will go “touch the Sun”
In the summer of 2018, we’re launching Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than any other in human history. Parker Solar Probe will fly directly through the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Getting better measurements of this region is key to understanding our Sun.
For instance, the Sun releases a constant outflow of solar material, called the solar wind. We think the corona is where this solar wind is accelerated out into the solar system, and Parker Solar Probe’s measurements should help us pinpoint how that happens.
5. You can digitally fly along with spacecraft…that are actually in space…in real-time!
NASA’s Eyes are immersive, 3D simulations of real events, spacecraft locations and trajectories. Through this interactive app, you can experience Earth and our solar system, the universe and the spacecraft exploring them. Want to watch as our Juno spacecraft makes its next orbit around Juno? You can! Or relive all of the Voyager mission highlights in real-time? You can do that too! Download the free app HERE to start exploring.
6. When you feel far away from home, you can think of the New Horizons spacecraft as it heads toward the Kuiper Belt, and the Voyager spacecraft are beyond the influence of our sun…billions of miles away
Our New Horizons spacecraft completed its Pluto flyby in July 2015 and has continued on its way toward the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft continues to send back important data as it travels toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, and is ~3.2 billion miles from Earth.
In addition to New Horizons, our twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Continuing on their more-than-37-year journey since their 1977 launches, they are each much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between the stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago.
7. There are humans brave enough to not only travel in space, but venture outside space station to perform important repairs and updates during spacewalks
Just this month (October 2017) we’ve already had two spacewalks on the International Space Station…with another scheduled on Oct. 20.
Spacewalks are important events where crew members repair, maintain and upgrade parts of the International Space Station. These activities can also be referred to as EVAs – Extravehicular Activities. Not only do spacewalks require an enormous amount of work to prepare for, but they are physically demanding on the astronauts. They are working in the vacuum of space in only their spacewalking suit.
8. Smart people are up all night working in control rooms all over NASA to ensure that data keeps flowing from our satellites and spacecraft
Our satellites and spacecraft help scientists study Earth and space. Missions looking toward Earth provide information about clouds, oceans, land and ice. They also measure gases in the atmosphere, such as ozone and carbon dioxide and the amount of energy that Earth absorbs and emits. And satellites monitor wildfires, volcanoes and their smoke.
9. A lot of NASA-developed tech has been transferred for use to the public
Our Technology Transfer Program highlights technologies that were originally designed for our mission needs, but have since been introduced to the public market. HERE are a few spinoff technologies that you might not know about.
10. We have a spacecraft currently traveling to an asteroid to collect a sample and bring it back to Earth
OSIRIS-REx is our first-ever mission that will travel to an asteroid and bring a sample of it back to Earth. Currently, the spacecraft is on its way to asteroid Bennu where it will survey and map the object before it “high-fives” the asteroid with its robotic arm to collect a sample, which it will send to Earth.
If everything goes according to plan, on Sept. 24, 2023, the capsule containing the asteroid sample will make a soft landing in the Utah desert.
11. There are Earth-sized planets outside our solar system that may be habitable
To date, we have confirmed 3,000+ exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system that orbit a Sun-like star. Of these 3,000, some are in the habitable zone – where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist on the surface.
In 1960, the United States put its first Earth-observing environmental satellite into orbit around the planet. Over the decades, these satellites have provided invaluable information, and the vantage point of space has provided new perspectives on Earth.
The beauty of Earth is clear, and the artistry ranges from the surreal to the sublime.
13. We’re building a telescope that will be able to see the first stars ever formed in the universe
Wouldn’t it be neat to see a period of the universe’s history that we’ve never seen before? That’s exactly what the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be able to do…plus more!
Specifically, Webb will see the first objects that formed as the universe cooled down after the Big Bang. We don’t know exactly when the universe made the first stars and galaxies – or how for that matter. That is what we are building Webb to help answer.
Happy Friday the 13th! We hope it’s out-of-this-world!
I keep on seeing people throw around the term “multiverse theory” and I don’t think anyone fully grasps the true meaning on it.
The multiverse theory speculates that there are an infinite number of universes to correlate with an infinite number of possibilities. Infinite by definition means “all”. Multiverse theory doesn’t hold “most” possibilities within it’s infinite universes. It holds, all possibilities.
Meaning somewhere out there in the cosmos there is a version of Earth much like our own, where Naruto and Cloud Strife are in a homosexual relationship and have a son, John Cena, and they are all the presidents of the United States of Gondor.
If you put any stock in the multiverse theory then you must concede that this is not only a possibility, but a stone cold fact. This is why theoretical physics is the most brilliant scientific discipline.
Webb’s giant 6.5-meter diameter primary mirror is part of what gives it superior vision, and it’s coated in gold to optimize it for seeing infrared light.
Why do we want to see infrared light?
Lots of stuff in space emits infrared light, so being able to observe it gives us another tool for understanding the universe. For example, sometimes dust obscures the light from objects we want to study – but if we can see the heat they are emitting, we can still “see” the objects to study them.
It’s like if you were to stick your arm inside a garbage bag. You might not be able to see your arm with your eyes – but if you had an infrared camera, it could see the heat of your arm right through the cooler plastic bag.
We can also see the very first stars and galaxies that formed in the early universe. These objects are so far away that…well, we haven’t actually been able to see them yet. Also, their light has been shifted from visible light to infrared because the universe is expanding, and as the distances between the galaxies stretch, the light from them also stretches towards redder wavelengths.
We call this phenomena “redshift.” This means that for us, these objects can be quite dim at visible wavelengths, but bright at infrared ones. With a powerful enough infrared telescope, we can see these never-before-seen objects.
Because infrared light comes from objects that are warm, in order to detect the super faint heat signals of things that are really, really far away, the telescope itself has to be very cold. How cold does the telescope have to be? Webb’s operating temperature is under 50K (or -370F/-223 C). As a comparison, water freezes at 273K (or 32 F/0 C).
How do we keep the telescope that cold?
Because there is no atmosphere in space, as long as you can keep something out of the Sun, it will get very cold. So Webb, as a whole, doesn’t need freezers or coolers - instead it has a giant sunshield that keeps it in the shade. (We do have one instrument on Webb that does have a cryocooler because it needs to operate at 7K.)
Also, we have to be careful that no nearby bright things can shine into the telescope – Webb is so sensitive to faint infrared light, that bright light could essentially blind it. The sunshield is able to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Earth and Moon, as well as the Sun.
Out at what we call the Second Lagrange point, where the telescope will orbit the Sun in line with the Earth, the sunshield is able to always block the light from bright objects like the Earth, Sun and Moon.
How do we make sure it all works in space?
By lots of testing on the ground before we launch it. Every piece of the telescope was designed to work at the cold temperatures it will operate at in space and was tested in simulated space conditions. The mirrors were tested at cryogenic temperatures after every phase of their manufacturing process.
It will move to Northrop Grumman where it will be mated to the sunshield, as well as the spacecraft bus, which provides support functions like electrical power, attitude control, thermal control, communications, data handling and propulsion to the spacecraft.