Neil Armstrong: RIP

Neil Armstrong: Requiescat in Pace. He died after complications from heart surgery.

The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, died today at 82.  He served as a naval fighter pilot in Korea, flying 78 combat missions.  A test pilot after the war, his feats in that field were legendary, combining strong engineering ability, cold courage and preternatural flight skills.  He was accepted into the astronaut program in 1962.  On July 16, 1969, in the middle of the night in Central Illinois, he set foot on the moon.  My father and I, like most of the country, were riveted to the television screen as we watched a turning point in the history of humanity.  He intended to say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It came out: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Godspeed Mr. Armstrong on the journey you have just embarked upon.

The Daily Mail has a comprehensive article on this news here.


Mars Rover Landing a Success — What Happens Now?

After a yearlong flight and “seven minutes of terror,” Curiosity stretches its legs.

National Geographic:

The rover has landed.

At 1:31 a.m. ET Monday, the Curiosity rover‘s “seven minutes of terror” evaporated in a swirl of fine-grained soil as six aluminum wheels touched the red planet for the first time. NASA had nailed the riskiest Mars landing ever.

Now Curiosity’s two-year search for signs of life begins, with the kind of extended stretch and warm-up you might expect after a cramped, yearlong flight—as detailed here in an excerpt for the new National Geographic e-book Mars Landing 2012.

(Watch live Mars rover landing coverage via NASA TV streaming video.)

If [the rover’s essential systems] are working, then comes a gradual unfolding, deploying, and revving up of the ten science instruments and cameras that are Curiosity’s reason for being.

It’s a process that will take days, and in some cases weeks or months. But the [Curiosity] team will know soon whether the key power and communication systems have sustained any damage during the 352-million-mile [567-million-kilometer] journey or during the high-wire landing.

(Pictures: Mars Rover’s “Crazy” Landing, Step by Step.)

Communication is largely accomplished through relays to three satellites orbiting Mars or through the Deep Space Network, a system of giant interconnected antenna dishes in Madrid, Spain; Canberra, Australia; and the Mojave Desert.

Assuming that communications are established, the first order of business will be to verify the health of the small nuclear battery that will provide power for the rover. Curiosity carries ten pounds of plutonium-238 dioxide as a heat source, which is then used to produce the onboard electricity needed to move the rover, operate the instruments, and keep the frigid nighttime cold at bay.

(Explore an interactive time line of Mars exploration in National Geographic magazine.)

Curiosity Unpacks for a Two-Year Visit

If all is well, what follows will be a highly choreographed unpacking of the rover…

Find out more here.


Falling Metallic Space Balls

A large metallic space ball fell out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia, prompting authorities to contact Nasa and the European space agency.

In the Telegraph:

The hollow ball, which has a circumference of 43 inches, was found near a village in the north of Namibia some 480 miles from the capital Windhoek, according to police forensics director Paul Ludik.

Locals had heard several small explosions a few days beforehand, he said.

With a diameter of 14 inches, the ball has a rough surface and appears to consist of “two halves welded together”.

It was made of a “metal alloy known to man” and weighed 13 pounds, said Ludik.

It was found 59ft from its landing spot, a hole one foot deep and 12ft wide.

Several such balls have reportedly dropped in southern Africa, Australia and Latin America in the past twenty years.

The sphere was discovered mid-November, but authorities first did tests before announcing the find.

Police deputy inspector general Vilho Hifindaka concluded the sphere did not pose any danger.

“It is not an explosive device, but rather hollow, but we had to investigate all this first,” he said.