NASA Embarks on Asteroid Capture Mission

NASA Orion Space Craft Capturing Device, Photo Courtesy of NASA

NASA Orion Space Craft Capturing Device, Photo Courtesy of NASA

NASA is developing a mission that will "identify, capture, and redirect" a chosen asteroid and set it in orbit around the moon, according to their website.

Two designs are being considered: one is a large inflatable bag-like system, the other is a robotic arm that would snag a sizable chunk off of a larger asteroid.  Later this year, NASA will decide which approach to start with.

Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will visit the captured asteroid in 2020 and will return with samples in order to study the asteroid's composition.  As well as knowledge for knowledge's sake, this will provide NASA with an opportunity to test out equipment that can be used for a possible mars landing and will also prevent any asteroid/earth collisions, such as the one that killed the dinosaurs or the one featured in Michael Bay's movie Armageddon.

Asteroids are chunks of matter left over from the formation of the solar system, and studying them can lead to new insights on the formation of Earth. As well as looking back, asteroid study can also help us move forward. They can be literal stepping stones for space pioneers set to explore deeper into the solar system and also contain resources such as water that can be of use to astronauts traveling through space.

Since 2010, NASA has been keeping an eye on objects close to our planet via their Near Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study, and last year the Asteroid Initiative was launched which narrowed the focus specifically to asteroids. Since then, they've found about 1,217 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), ranging from the size of a car to larger ones the size of a small moon. Of those identified, six are seen as good candidates for the relocation project.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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NASA's Lunar Orbiter Scheduled for Crash-Landing

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Around Easter, NASA's lunar orbiter is scheduled to complete its eight-month-long mission and crash on the moon. LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) finished both of its objectives -- to gather information on the moon's atmosphere and to shed light on the lunar glow seen in Apollo pictures -- in March. Since then, it's been doing a few victory laps to gather some bonus data.

LADEE spent most of its orbit 12.5 - 31 miles above the moon, but in the final stages has gradually lowered to only one to two miles above the surface. The hope is the craft can be navigated around the moon's craggy terrain until scheduled crash on April 21st. However, even the slightest error at this altitude can result in a premature demise.

LADEE is a combined effort of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, the Ames Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Marshall Space Flight Center. Its aim is to study the moon's environment in order to help understand it and other celestial bodies. The moon's thin atmosphere, known as the surface boundary exosphere, is common throughout the universe.  However, we don't know very much about it because Earth's own atmosphere is much denser.

LADEE is also studying moon dust in order to better understand the glow seen around pictures taken on Apollo missions. It's theorized that solar radiation electrically charges particles, which makes them rise and fall.  This would explain why photos of the moon show a hazy blur around it. A second theory says the glow is caused by ionized sodium gas atoms. The moon naturally releases sodium gas, and solar radiation accelerates the atoms away from the sun, which would form a tail of gas. LADEE will help clear up this mystery.

So far, LADEE has measured variations in Sodium gas and patterns of dust particles and observed Helium and Argon in a lunar context. In the last few weeks of the mission, NASA plans to add much more to this store of data. Next step: Interpreting the findings.

A lunar eclipse on Tuesday will complicate the already tricky final maneuvers of the craft. Earth will block sunlight from reaching the moon, resulting in cooling temperatures and an inability for the craft to rely on solar power. According to NASA, this would expose the craft to "conditions just on the edge of what it was designed to survive." However, experts remain in good spirits. After all, LADEE's gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing data that will shed light on current questions and expanding our pool of knowledge about Earth's closest neighbor. Regardless of what happens next, the mission's been a success.

In fact, NASA is even featuring an online contest requesting participants to guess the date and time of impact. You can participate in the online contest at this link: Guess the LADEE Impact.

Our World, His Music | Armand Amar | Philip Glass

Our World, His Music | Armand Amar | Philip Glass

Much has been written about our world, man's adverse impact on the planet, and what needs to be done to save Earth. No doubt as our species continues to advance, our expansion and incursion into the remaining pristine corners of our planet will accelerate as we seek illusory security through the treasures the earth can yield to us. However, unlike our planet, our lifespan is akin to that of a flea, and like a dog with an itch, we will voluntarily or involuntarily be cast off. This perspective was best expressed by Dr. Iain Stewart's in the 2009 BBC program titled "Earth: The Power of the Planet." Dr. Stewart stated "in the long run, earth can cope with anything we can throw at it. We could clear all the jungles, but a jungle can regrow over a few thousand years. We could burn all earths’ fossil fuels, flooding the atmosphere with carbon dioxide but even then, it will take the planet only a million years or so for the atmosphere to recover even the animals we are wiping out will eventually be replaced by others equally rich in diversity as a relentless work of evolution continues. It’s only a question of time; the earth will be just fine. So all this stuff about saving planet earth, well that is not the problem: planet earth doesn’t need saving, earth is a great survivor. It’s not the planet we should be worrying about, it’s us."

Not withstanding that powerful sentiment, this post is tangentially about environmental issues, but primarily about the brilliant, contemporary composers Armand Amar and Philip Glass. Both of these composers possess unparalleled skills in weaving together the unique voices, languages and cultures of people around the world to tell compelling stories through film scores.

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