NASA’s Opportunity rover celebrates 13 amazing years on Mars

Opportunity looks back at its landing spot within Eagle crater, after leaving tracks behind in the soil. This is where the rover began its journey 13 years ago. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thirteen years. That is how long NASA’s Opportunity rover has now been exploring Meridiani Planum on Mars; not bad for a robot which was designed with a hoped-for nominal 90-day mission. Today marks the 13th anniversary of the landing of Opportunity, on Jan. 24, 2004 PST (Jan. 25, 2004 UTC). The mission since then has been nothing short of incredible, as Opportunity soon found evidence that Meridiani Planum used to be a much wetter place than it is now. It was a place where microbial life could have existed; whether it actually did or not is still unknown but Opportunity continues to provide more clues as it continues exploring vast sandy plains and mountainous crater rims.

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Science fiction no more: humans and robots to explore space together

Head shot of NASA's Robonaut. Kennedy Space Center can be seen reflected in the visor. Credit: NASA/JPL/Joe Bibby

When you hear about robots and space exploration, the first thing many people may think of is R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars. While we may not be quite there yet, robots have become a major, even necessary, part of space missions. The many probes, landers and rovers that have been sent throughout the solar system are essentially robots, which have become more advanced over time. Then there’s the new Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed to assist astronauts with a variety of tasks in space including on the International Space Station, for example. But what is next? That was the subject of a panel discussion last Tuesday at the Von Braun Memorial Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama. The future being planned by the robotics experts involved is one of both humans and robots working together in space. The future is now…

See Universe Today for the full article.

Spaceport America Opens With ‘Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space’

Do you want to buy a ticket to outer space? Fly into orbit for the most breathtaking views of Earth possible? Well, those dreams for many took a step closer to reality yesterday as the world’s first commercial spaceport officially opened with dedication ceremonies for the new home of Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America, in New Mexico. It’s the beginning of a whole new space age…

See Universe Today for the full article.

Freelance writing

On a personal note, I am working on expanding my writing portfolio, and I am available for freelance articles focusing on space exploration, astronomy and related subjects, which I have been involved with my entire life. If you have a need for this, please contact me. Thanks!

Solar System for iPad

For those of you who have an iPad, there is a great new electronic book app called Solar System for iPad which I highly recommend. From publisher Touch Press, the same ones who created the previous popular iPad app The Elements, it includes beautiful graphics, video clips, 3-D objects (over 40 of which are fully-rotatable and pinch-zoomable) and detailed captions. More info here also. At $13.99 (Canadian or US) from the iTunes App Store, it’s bit expensive as apps go, but worth it and a must-have for planetary exploration enthusiasts!

Credit: Touch Press/Apple

Create your own planet!

If you’ve ever wanted to try making your own planet, now you can, on the Extreme Planet Makeover website, part of PlanetQuest at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. You can use the various controls to determine the attributes of your planet and then download a picture of it. Now if they could make an iPhone/iPad app for this, that would be even better!

Credit: NASA/JPL

A room with a view

Just came across this photo on Twitpic, courtesy of @Astro_Wheels (astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock) and @mars-stu (Stuart Atkinson) on Twitter, although posted back on September 26. Not specifically planetary related as such, but as others have mentioned, it is a beautiful shot; astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson is watching the Earth below, from inside the new cupola on the International Space Station. A contemplative view of our own planet…

Credit: Douglas H. Wheelock