Getting your rocks off…

Hello all you loyal readers out there, sorry for the lack of posts this summer, but it’s just so nice outside and it’s hard to see with the sunlight reflecting off my screen. In any case there’s a lot going on down in Washington regarding budgets and debt and all that good economics stuff (read: things that I don’t really understand or care to), so I figure I’ll just ignore that and talk about some fun space stuff!

  • First off, as this blog has been (or attempting to) chronicling for most of the summer, NASA finally ended the Space Shuttle program after the successful return of the final mission of Atlantis on July 21. The shuttle ran an amazing 30 year history and is still to this day the most sophisticated vehicle ever constructed by man. NASA and the U.S. government now have to wait and hope (with bated breath and some hard finger crossing) that private companies quickly ramp up the development and advancement of private launch capabilities. Several big-time frontrunners in the commercialization of space exploration (SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, etc.) have hit major setbacks, failures, and are going way over budget.
  • Next up, here is a very cool picture from the Opportunity rover on Mars. Yes, that’s right Opportunity found metal on Mars! How cool is that!??!! But yeah, not the giant pieces of scrap metal that are in the background, NASA is actually interested in that strange metallic-looking rock in the foreground to the left. That’s the real prize. The scrap metal (which I  half expected to see wrecked R2-D2 and C-3PO somewhere near…) is not some failed attempt at Martians to reach space, it’s actually Opportunity‘s own heat shielding that was abandoned during the rover’s descent back in 2004. The rock though, found to be made mostly of dense metals iron and nickel, is thought to be just as alien to Mars as Opportunity‘s heat shielding. Scientists believe the rock to be a meteorite much like the vast number found in Antarctica here on Earth.

It’s not the scrap metal here that interests scientists, but the small metallic rock in the left foreground. Credit: APOD

  • In a news story that is too weird to be made up, a man recently released from jail, is finally having the story told of how he stole moon rocks from NASA (similar to the NJ heist?). A new book, Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History by Ben Mezrich (the author of the books Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, the movies behind 21 and The Social Network respectively), focuses on the story of then-24-year-old Thad Roberts, a former Mormon from Utah, who stole an entire safe full (not just the rocks in the safe, but the ENTIRE safe) of moon rocks from a lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston back in 2002. Why, you ask, would the wanna-be astronaut pull off such an audacious crime? For the love of a girl he’d met only three weeks prior…so he claims. In any case the article and book detail the robbery and how the couple celebrated the crime on the 33rd anniversary of first moon walk by being intimate ON the rocks (hence the pun of this post’s title). The short summary is, people are weird, but this book HAS to be a page-turner.

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