On Monday, August 21, 2017, people in North America will have the chance to see an eclipse of the Sun. Anyone within the path of totality may see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights – a total solar eclipse.
Along this path, the Moon will completely cover the Sun, revealing the Sun’s tenuous atmosphere, the corona. The path of totality will stretch from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse, where the Moon covers part of the Sun’s disk. Remember: you can never look at the Sun directly, and an eclipse is no exception – be sure to use a solar filter or indirect viewing method to watch partial phases of the eclipse.
Total solar eclipses are a rare chance to study the Sun and Earth in unique ways. During the total eclipse, scientists can observe the faintest regions of the Sun, as well as study the Sun’s effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere. We’ve been using eclipses to learn more about our solar system for more than 50 years. Let’s take a look back at five notable eclipses of the past five decades.
May 30, 1965
A total eclipse crossed the Pacific Ocean on May 30, 1965, starting near the northern tip of New Zealand and ending in Peru. Totality – when the Moon blocks all of the Sun’s face – lasted for 5 minutes and 15 seconds at peak, making this the 3rd-longest solar eclipse totality in the 20th century. Mexico and parts of the Southwestern United States saw a partial solar eclipse, meaning the Moon only blocked part of the Sun. We sent scientists to the path of totality, stationing researchers on South Pacific islands to study the response of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere to the eclipse.
Additionally, our high-flying jets, scientific balloons, and sounding rockets – suborbital research rockets that fly and collect data for only a few minutes – recorded data in different parts of the atmosphere. A Convair 990 research jet chased the Moon’s shadow as it crossed Earth’s surface, extending totality up to more than nine minutes, and giving scientists aboard more time to collect data. A NASA-funded team of researchers will use the same tactic with two jets to extend totality to more than 7 minutes on Aug. 21, 2017, up from the 2 minutes and 40 seconds observable on the ground.
March 7, 1970
The total solar eclipse of March 7, 1970, was visible in North America and the northwestern part of South America, with totality stretching to 3 minutes and 28 seconds at maximum. This was the first time a total eclipse in the United States passed over a permanent rocket launch facility – NASA’s Wallops Station (now Wallops Flight Facility) on the coast of Virginia. This eclipse offered scientists from NASA, four universities and seven other research organizations a unique way to conduct meteorology, ionospheric and solar physics experiments using 32 sounding rockets.
Also during this eclipse, the Space Electric Propulsion Test, or SERT, mission temporarily shut down because of the lack of sunlight. The experimental spacecraft was unable to restart for two days.
July 10, 1972
Two years later, North America saw another total solar eclipse. This time, totality lasted 2 minutes and 36 seconds at the longest. A pair of scientists from Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, traveled to the Canadian tundra to study the eclipse – specifically, a phenomenon called shadow bands. These are among the most ephemeral phenomena that observers see during the few minutes before and after a total solar eclipse. They appear as a multitude of faint rapidly moving bands that can be seen against a white background, such as a large piece of paper on the ground.
While the details of what causes the bands are not completely understood, the simplest explanation is that they arise from atmospheric turbulence. When light rays pass through eddies in the atmosphere, they are refracted, creating shadow bands.
February 26, 1979
The last total solar eclipse of the 20th century in the contiguous United States was in early 1979. Totality lasted for a maximum of 2 minutes 49 seconds, and the total eclipse was visible on a narrow path stretching from the Pacific Northwest to Greenland. Agencies from Canada and the United States – including NASA – joined forces to build a sounding rocket program to study the atmosphere and ionosphere during the eclipse by observing particles on the edge of space as the Sun’s radiation was suddenly blocked.
July 31, 1981
The USSR got a great view of the Moon passing in front of the Sun in the summer of 1981, with totality lasting just over 2 minutes at maximum. Our scientists partnered with Hawaiian and British researchers to study the Sun’s atmosphere – specifically, a relatively thin region called the chromosphere, which is sandwiched between the Sun’s visible surface and the corona – using an infrared telescope aboard the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. The chromosphere appears as the red rim of the solar disk during a total solar eclipse, whereas the corona has no discernible color to the naked eye.
Watch an Eclipse: August 21, 2017
On August 21, a total solar eclipse will cross the continental United States from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years, and you can watch.
You can also tune into nasa.gov/eclipselive throughout the day on Aug. 21 to see the eclipse like you’ve never seen it before – including a NASA TV show, views from our spacecraft, aircraft, and more than 50 high-altitude balloons.
A Tour of Spaceflight Centers - From Michoud to Marshall
Lovers of history, spaceflight enthusiasts - I spent the first week of May traveling the southeast United States from Austin, Texas and stopping at Space Centers (among other locations of interest) with my significant other. This is what I experienced.
The first stop outside Texas on our first day of travel - Michoud Assembly Facility. This is not open to visitors and we knew this, but it was an extra 20 minutes out of a many hour trip.
There used to be a Saturn V S-IC, originally meant for Apollo 19, out front but it has been moved…
Just a hop and skip later and we ended up in Pearlington, Mississippi and Stennis Space Center’s visitor complex, the Infinity Science Center. There was a heavy emphasis on nature conservation and the environment as well getting students involved with experiments and hands-on learning. The highlight for me was the display of Wernher von Braun’s desk.
And the new home of that Saturn V S-IC that was at Michoud? Infinity Science Center. Recently moved, there is an ongoing effort to raise funds to restore and preserve it.
We drove most of a day to where I grew up, Saint Petersburg, Florida, where the first scheduled airline flight took place on January 1st, 1914. Tony Jannus flew a Benoist flying boat across the bay to Tampa in a trip that lasted a little over 20 minutes.
Walking around sunny St. Petersburg, we stopped at several museums including an old favorite, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, where they have a functional replica of the Benoist flying boat. An original Benoist pennant from 1914 flew aboard OV-103 Discovery on her final flight, STS-133, is also on display.
Following a stay with friends and family, it was off to Kennedy Space Center. There have been many changes since I had last been here, the new Astronaut Memorial and Hall of Fame being the most notable.
The Orion Capsule that flew EFT-1 was also on display, along with a CST-100 Starliner structural test article and Dragon capsule.
A trip though the rocket garden as always. The day had started as a torrential downpour but was now sunny. Florida, weird as always.
Of course, you can’t walk through the garden without getting a picture with the Saturn IB. She learned that you don’t really have a sense of scale to these without getting right up next to it. It was during this time that I learned my girlfriend has a fondness for the Mercury-Redstone - it’s what she pictures when she hears ‘rocket’. Quintessential!
OV-104 Atlantis is always my favorite stop. This time, I had brought my Atlantis flag, and with a friend who joined us we had a wonderful time with my favorite orbiter.
I have not been to KSC since the addition of the Challenger and Columbia display. It was an incredibly moving experience, seeing these pieces, as well as the displays of the Astronauts personal belongings that you see before entering this room.
We said our goodbyes and began a northerly drive up the Florida east coast, stopping in beautiful Saint Augustine for a night, seeing the Castillo and ancient city before going around the mess that is currently Atlanta, GA, and ending up in Huntsville, Alabama - Rocket City, USA. You can see that Saturn V, the only standing Saturn V, for miles.
It also happened to be Star Wars Day - what a lovely coincidence! It was quite a sight to see people dressed as Jedi, Sith, and Storm Troopers walking around a Space Center.
Of course, we were there for NASA, and I, to see Wernher von Braun’s legacy. I am of the belief that without von Braun’s vision, charisma and genius, we would have fallen so far behind on the dream of spaceflight as a nation, or at the very least, never made it to the moon at all. Look for an upcoming, detailed post on von Braun in the future.
Of course, there were many exhibits and displays of a historical nature, showcasing prototype gloves that were in development for Apollo, models of probes and satellites that have given us a more detailed look at our solar system, and Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar to really get a sense of how vast the universe is (this is also shown on the newer Cosmos series, hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson). This History of Space Exploration timeline also gave perspective on the earliest efforts of rocketry by Robert Goddard, to where we are today. Comprehensive to say the least.
On display at the US Space & Rocket Center rocket garden is of course the Saturn V, a Saturn I, Mercury-Redstone, Juno I, among other military missiles.
We toured the Saturn V Center, enjoying the exhibits and displays, including one presented by IBM on the “brain” of the Saturn V, the quarantine trailer the Apollo Astronauts had to spend weeks in because of fears of “space germs”, and the Apollo 16 Capsule.
We concluded the day as it began to rain with a visit to OV-098 Pathfinder. Built in 1977, Pathfinder was a structural test article that weighted the same as the production orbiters would, and had roughly the same dimensions - she was used for fit-checking the various processing facilities that served the Space Shuttles. After her fit-check mission was complete, STA-098 was overhauled and made to look like a real orbiter (or as real as one could surmise), and was sent to Tokyo, Japan for the Great Space Shuttle Exposition in the early 1980s. After being brought back to the United States in the late 1980s, she was set up at the US Space and Rocket Center and given the honorary designation OV-098 and named Pathfinder.
We left as the rain began to fall, but not without stopping by for a visit to Miss Baker. It is customary to leave a banana.
A day later, we ended up in Vicksburg, MS and toured the Civil War battlefield, the USS Cairo gunboat, and stopped by some of the monuments and important sites. It was the last stop on our trip. We pulled into Austin, TX on Friday night, May 5th, exhausted and hungry. The next morning, after getting some breakfast, we visited a site we’ve been meaning to see - the Texas State Cemetery. Gene Cernan, Astronaut, Commander of Apollo 17, lunar land speed record holder, and last man on the moon, was first to be buried on the highest hill in the cemetary, closest to the moon. It was a solemn end to a long journey of history, spaceflight, celebration, tragedy, art, nature, science and exploration.
There are many more photos, and a lot more tales of this trip that aren’t directly related to spaceflight, but I hope my followers enjoy what I’ve shared and have tried to cram into a single posting. This was an incredible experience and it would not be possible without the support and patience of my fiancée, and her camerawork. Most of these photos are hers. Take a look at her blog, especially if you love history, live in Texas, or both!
The As, Gs, Cs and Ts of the Space Station: First In-Space Microbe Identification
Being able to identify microbes in real-time aboard the International
Space Station, without having to send them back to Earth for
identification first, would be totally amazing for the world of
microbiology and space exploration.
in Space 3 team turned that possibility into a reality this year,
when it completed the first-ever sample-to-sequence process entirely aboard the
The ability to identify microbes in space could aid in the
ability to diagnose and treat astronauts in real time, as well as assisting in
the identification of life on other planets. It could also benefit other
experiments aboard the space station.
SCIENCE HINT: Identifying microbes involves isolating the
DNA of samples, and then amplifying – or making lots and lots (and LOTS)
of copies - of that DNA that can then be
sequenced, or identified.
As part of regular
monitoring, petri plates were touched to various surfaces of the space station.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson transferred cells
from growing bacterial colonies on those plates into miniature test tubes,
something that had never been done before in space (first OMG moment!).
Once the cells were successfully collected, it was time to
isolate the DNA and prepare it for sequencing, enabling the identification of
the unknown organisms – another first for space microbiology.
Enter Hurricane Harvey. *thunder booms*
“We started hearing the reports of Hurricane Harvey the
week in between Peggy performing the first part of collecting the sample and
gearing up for the actual sequencing,” said Sarah Wallace, the project’s
With a hurricane wreaking havoc outside, Wallace and Whitson set out to
The data were downlinked to the team in Houston for
analysis and identification.
“Once we actually got the data on the ground we were able
to turn it around and start analyzing it,” said Aaron Burton, the project’s
co-investigator. “You get all these squiggle plots and you have to turn that
into As, Gs, Cs and Ts.”
Those As, Gs, Cs and Ts are more than just a nerdy alphabet – they are
Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine – the four bases that make up each
strand of DNA and can tell you what organism the strand of DNA came from.
“Right away, we saw one microorganism pop up, and then a
second one, and they were things that we find all the time on the space
station,” said Wallace. “The validation of these results would be when we got
the sample back to test on Earth.”
Soon after, the samples returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz
spacecraft, along with Whitson.
With the samples now in the team’s JSC lab, tests were
completed in ground labs to confirm the findings from the space station. They
ran the tests again and again, and then once more, to confirm accuracy. Each
time, the results were exactly the same on the ground as in orbit. (second OMG moment!)
“We did it. Everything worked perfectly,” said Sarah Stahl,
This capability could change future space exploration.
“As a microbiologist,” said Wallace, “My goal is really so
that when we go and we move beyond ISS and we’re headed towards Mars or the
moon or wherever we are headed to, we have a process that the crew can have
that great understanding of the environment, based on molecular technology.”
Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two humans on the Moon. Mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the lunar module Eagle on July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC. Armstrong became the first to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC; Aldrin joined him about 20 minutes later. They spent about two and a quarter hours together outside the spacecraft, and collected 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of lunar material to bring back to Earth. Michael Collins piloted the command module Columbia alone in lunar orbit while they were on the Moon’s surface. Armstrong and Aldrin spent just under a day on the lunar surface before rendezvousing with Columbia in lunar orbit.
Our Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH will host a tour of its Electric Propulsion Lab. This lab is where we test solar propulsion technologies that are critical to powering spacecraft for our deep-space missions. The Electric Propulsion Laboratory houses two huge vacuum chambers that simulate the space environment.
Our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL will host a tour from a Marshall test stand where structural loads testing is performed on parts of our Space Launch System rocket. Once built, this will be the world’s most powerful rocket and will launch humans farther into space than ever before.
Our Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA will host a tour from their aircraft hangar and Simulator Lab where viewers can learn about our X-Planes program. What’s an X-Plane? They are a variety of flight demonstration vehicles that are used to test advanced technologies and revolutionary designs.
Our Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX will take viewers on a virtual exploration trip through the mockups of the International Space Station and inside our deep-space exploration vehicle, the Orion spacecraft!
Our Kennedy Space Center in Florida will bring viewers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building to learn about how we’re preparing for the first launch of America’s next big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
Our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD will discuss the upcoming United States total solar eclipse and host its tour from the Space Weather Lab, a large multi-screen room where data from the sun is analyzed and studied.
Our Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA will bring viewers to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility to learn about robotic exploration of the solar system.
So, make sure to join us for all or part of our virtual tour today, starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT! Discover more about the work we’re doing at NASA and be sure to ask your questions in the comment section of each Facebook Live event!
Additional details and viewing information available HERE.
Illusions in the Cosmic Clouds: Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.
When an image from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.
In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISEs infrared data. What do you see?
NASAs Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.
PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA. NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandras science and flight operations.
Skylab’s Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM), designed and assembled at Marshall Spaceflight Center.
Bottom is telescope package, tentatively called the canister, being nested within the ATM rack itself, where it is fixed to a pair of large gimbal rings that permitted the canisters rotation about it’s axis. This is followed by the functional testing and installation of it’s four solar arrays. The combined outputs of the panels generated somewhere around 1.1kW of power.
Structural Tests Underway for Top of
World’s Most Powerful Rocket
is underway at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on
the agency’s new Space
Launch System, the world’s most powerful rocket. SLS and NASA’s Orion
spacecraft will enable deep-space missions, beginning a new era of
exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.
Engineers at Marshall have stacked four qualification
articles of the upper part of SLS into a 65-foot-tall test stand using more
than 3,000 bolts to hold the hardware together. Tests are currently underway to
ensure the rocket hardware can withstand the pressures of launch and flight.
The integrated tests consists of:
1. Launch Vehicle Adapter
2. Frangible Joint Assembly
3. Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage
4. Orion Stage Adapter
Engineers are using 28 load pistons to push, pull and
twist the rocket hardware, subjecting it to loads up to 40 percent greater than
that expected during flight. More than 100 miles of cables are transmitting measurements
across 1,900 data channels.
The Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, LVSA, connects the
SLS core stage and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, ICPS. The LVSA test
hardware is 26.5 feet tall, with a bottom diameter of 27.5 feet and a top
diameter of 16.8 feet. The frangible joint, located between the LVSA and ICPS,
is used to separate the two pieces of hardware during flight, allowing the ICPS
to provide the thrust to send Orion onto its mission.
The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based
system that will give Orion the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the
moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS in 2018. For this
test series, the fuel tanks are filled with nonflammable liquid nitrogen and
pressurized with gaseous nitrogen to simulate flight conditions. The nitrogen
is chilled to the same temperature as the oxygen and hydrogen under launch conditions.
The Orion Stage Adapter connects the Orion spacecraft
to the ICPS. It is 4.8 feet tall, with a 16.8-foot bottom diameter and 18-foot
The first integrated flight for SLS and Orion will
allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test systems
farther from Earth, and demonstrate Orion can get to a stable orbit in the area
of space near the moon in order to support sending humans to deep space,
including the Journey to Mars.
Fix’d my meatball ‘master’ file, went looking all over for a font I couldn’t name, but knew I had to have as I’d seen it all over dated articles and publications from NASA and others in the 1960s, found out it’s called ‘Alternate Gothic No.1’ and it’s perfect.
NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and their partners around the
world are excited to initiate new, high-value biological research in low-Earth
The Japanese rocket, hauling the
research facility and other cargo via the HTV-7 transfer vehicle, successfully
lifted off at
1:52 p.m. EDT
from Tanegashima Space Center off the coast of
Its launch marks a first for hauling
bulky equipment to space. Roughly the size of a large fish
tank, the Life Sciences Glovebox comes
in at 26 inches high, 35 inches wide and 24 inches deep, with 15 cubic feet of
“The Life Sciences Glovebox
is on its way to the space station to enable a host of biological and
physiological studies, including new research into microgravity’s
long-term impact on the human body,” said Yancy Young, project manager at Marshall. “This
versatile facility not only will help us better protect human explorers on long
voyages into deep space, but it could aid medical and scientific advances
benefiting the whole world.”
Boeing engineers at Marshall modified a
refrigerator-freezer rack to house the core facility, using state-of-the-art,
3D-printing technology to custom design key pieces of the rack to secure the
unit in its protective foam clamshell.
NASA is now determining the roster of science
investigations lined up to make use of the facility, beginning as early as late
2018. “We’ve already got more than a dozen glovebox experiments scheduled
in 2019, with many more to follow,” said Chris Butler, payload integration manager for the glovebox at
The Life Sciences Glovebox will
be transferred to a zero-gravity stowage rack in the station’s Kibo
module, where up to two crew members can conduct experiments simultaneously,
overseen in real-time by project researchers on Earth.
In schools across the country, many students just finished final exams. Now, part of the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is about to feel the pressure of testing time. The first SLS engine section has been moving slowly upriver from Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, but once the barge Pegasus docks at our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the real strength test for the engine section will get started.
The engine section is the first of four of the major parts of the core stage that are being tested to make sure SLS is ready for the challenges of spaceflight.
The engine section is located at the bottom of the rocket. It has a couple of important jobs. It holds the four RS-25 liquid propellant engines, and it serves as one of two attach points for each of the twin solid propellant boosters. This first engine section will be used only for ground testing.
Of all the major parts of the rocket, the engine section gets perhaps the roughest workout during launch. Millions of pounds of core stage are pushing down, while the engines are pushing up with millions of pounds of thrust, and the boosters are tugging at it from both sides. That’s a lot of stress. Maybe that’s why there’s a saying in the rocket business: “Test like you fly, and fly like you test.”
After it was welded at Michoud, technicians installed the thrust structure, engine supports and other internal equipment and loaded it aboard the Pegasus for shipment to Marshall.
Once used to transport space shuttle external tanks, Pegasus was modified for the longer SLS core stage by removing 115 feet out of the middle of the barge and added a new 165-foot section with a reinforced main deck. Now as long as a football field, Pegasus – with the help of two tugboats – will transport core stage test articles to Marshall Space Flight Center as well as completed core stages to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for test firing and then to Kennedy Space Center for launch.
The test article has no engines, cabling, or computers, but it will replicate all the structures that will undergo the extreme physical forces of launch. The test article is more than 30 feet tall, and weighs about 70,000 pounds. About 3,200 sensors attached to the test article will measure the stress during 59 separate tests. Flight-like physical forces will be applied through simulators and adaptors standing in for the liquid hydrogen tank and RS-25 engines.
The test fixture that will surround and secure the engine section weighs about 1.5 million pounds and is taller than a 5-story building. Fifty-five big pistons called “load lines” will impart more than 4.5 million pounds of force vertically and more than 428,000 pounds from the side.
The engineers and their computer design tools say the engine section can handle the stress. It’s the test team’s job prove that it can.
Pegasus Satellite On February 16, 1965, the first Saturn launch vehicle carrying an operational payload lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. SA-9, a Saturn I Block II launch vehicle and the eighth Saturn flight, delivered the first of three Pegasus meteoroid detection satellites into near-Earth orbit. The satellites, developed and managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, electronically recorded the size and frequency of particles in space and compared the performance of protected and unprotected solar cells – results that informed future Apollo flights to the moon. In this image, technicians inspect the satellite’s 96-foot wingspan before launch at the Fairchild-Hiller facility in Hagerstown, Maryland. The Saturn I launch vehicle was built at Marshall’s Fabrication and Assembly Engineering Division.
Date: February 16, 1965