Around the horn…

Although this week’s title is mostly inspired by the fast approach of baseball season, it also characterizes this week’s post. This week’s post is going to update 4 updates in NASA news with a baseball flair. For those of you who aren’t sports fan, an “around the horn” is usually how the baseball gets back to the pitcher after a batter strikes out during an inning. The catcher, having caught the ball, throws it to the third baseman, who throws it to the second baseman, who throws it to the shortstop who throws it back to the pitcher. So here we go:

Catcher) This blog and many like it on the web have been chronicling the final days of the U.S. Space Shuttle program. As I previously posted, Discovery was supposed to have made its final launch back in November, but akin to likes of Michael Jordan and Brett Favre (a joke I prophetically made in the November post), Discovery was approved for “one last” launch to deliver the final module of the U.S. section of the International Space Station. Here are some very patriot photos of Discovery’s launch and a very cool video captured by a passenger on a plane flying over Cape Canaveral.

Third Baseman) Another key objective of Discovery’s final mission is to carry the first humanoid robot to space, Robonaut2. As previously reported here in “Thank you very much, Mr. Robonauto…”, R2 (a joint venture between NASA and GM) is a half-bodied (torso up) humanoid robot with 38 processors and extremely impressive dexterity. R2 is expected to aid the six-member Discovery crew in their mission as part of its preliminary flight testing.  Although some are ripping NASA for overplaying R2’s usefulness and potential, NASA and GM have maintained that R2 is a huge step in advancing space exploration. This wanna-be astronaut just hopes that there’s still room for humans in space.

Second Baseman) NASA has delayed launch of its Glory mission, a low-earth satellite satellite that will focus on collecting “data on the properties of aerosols, including black carbon, in the Earth’s atmosphere” and “data on solar irradiance for the long-term effects on the Earth climate record”. Although it’s cool that this mission exists and that NASA is taking an active approach on climate research, the real interesting side note on this is that the satellite is supposed to launched on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket. As previously posted a number of times, the ever-heating “commercial space race” is well underway and success of Orbital Sciences’ Taurus XL could make things interesting between them and 2010 Limitless Award Winner Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corporation. In any case, every successful launch of a commercial lift vehicle puts another nail in the coffin of the Space Shuttle program, despite NASA’s proposal to extend it to 2017.

Shortstop) The Kepler mission, NASA’s exoplanet-probing telescope previously highlighted in “The first of many…” and “Baseballs, not umbrellas…”, has really gotten going now. In the past month, the NASA spacecraft has discovered five Earth-sized planets in our Milky Way galaxy. All of these planets are orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our Sun, but they do lie in the “habitable zone”, meaning they are all at distances from their parent stars that make the presence of liquid water possible. Kepler also discovered six larger-than-Earth planets orbiting a single Sun-sized star roughly 2,000 lightyears away. More and more findings like this could prove that stellar planetary systems (that is, stars with multiple planets like our own) may not be unlikely in the galaxy. And, of course, every exoplanet we find makes the probability of finding life elsewhere in the universe seem more realistic. To date, Kepler has identified over 1,200 planet candidates and confirmed 15 (the current total confirmed count is 528 exoplanets orbiting 442 different stars).


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One Response to Around the horn…

  1. Jarman says:

    Just happened to see this and thought it was cool…. I’m a huge trekkie and apparently the Star Trek theme song will be played on either day 11 or 12 of the Discovery mission to wake the astronauts.

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