This Week in Space: Behold, the Super Flower Blood Moon
Good morning, fellow space cadets, and welcome to the latest edition of your weekly space news briefing. It’s finally Friday! This week, NASA has been the main mover and shaker. Today, we’ve got NASA mission updates from Voyager and Perseverance, and an updated launch timetable for Artemis. We’ll hear from the ESA’s Great Mission Control Bake-Off. Finally, we’ll leave you with some can’t-miss photos and video of Sunday’s Super Flower Blood Moon lunar eclipse. (Whew. Say that five times fast!)
Starliner Takes Off For the International Space Station
Yesterday evening, Boeing’s Starliner capsule launched from Canaveral atop an Atlas V rocket. This flight, designation Orbital Flight Test-2, is an uncrewed wet dress rehearsal. But the Starliner capsule still has a passenger: Rosie the Rocketeer.
Rosie is Boeing’s “anthropometric test device,” which is a five-dollar term for a crash test dummy. But she’s technically a crash test rocket scientist. (And her bandanna bears the signature of Mae Krier, an original Rosie the Riveter!) For Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-1, Rosie was buckled into the commander’s chair. This time, she’s plugged right into the whole crew compartment, recording hundreds of data points so that mission engineers can build a model of what astronauts aboard will experience during flight.
At a press conference after the launch, NASA spokespeople explained that two of the rocket’s twelve thrusters had failed. Nevertheless Starliner is on time to dock at the International Space Station shortly after 7pm EDT on Friday, May 20. The capsule will remain at the ISS for a few days, returning with some 600lb of cargo.
Perseverance Chooses a Path
Perseverance has been trundling toward the Three Forks river delta for the better part of a year. But it’s time for our beloved space Roomba to pick a path to the top. Mission engineers have directed the rover towards the Hawksbill Gap, which has a shorter drive time. Perseverance is planning up to five different sample stops along the way, collecting samples for its Delta Front campaign.
NASA has also successfully re-established communication with Ingenuity after its recent hiccup. Mission engineers are analyzing telemetry data to figure out what happened.
Voyager Gets Vertigo
Voyager project scientists are puzzling out why Voyager 1 has started acting like it has a migraine. The probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) is returning telemetry data that can’t be accurate. However, the issue hasn’t yet triggered any of the probe’s onboard fault protection systems. Furthermore, Voyager 1’s signal strength hasn’t wavered. This suggests the probe’s high-gain antenna is still pointed toward Earth, just as it should be.
All signs suggest that the AACS is still working, but it’s returning data that “may appear to be randomly generated, or does not reflect any possible state the AACS could be in.”
“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2. “The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”
There’s movement from Artemis, too. In a news release, NASA laid out possible launch dates running from July of this year through the middle of 2023.
After three failed “wet dress” launches, the beleaguered SLS rocket is in the Vehicle Assembly Building for mods and troubleshooting. At a Friday morning press conference, Tim Sanders of NASA’s Marshall Space Center also described safety and structural tests the SLS will undergo. Mission engineers are testing the rocket’s performance under “shake, rattle and roll” — mechanical stresses that could jeopardize the spacecraft mid-flight.
Meanwhile: In celebration of Artemis’ coming launch, the ESA has launched their very own Great Mission Control Bake-off, complete with a truly otherworldly recipe challenge. Any and all bakers are welcome to try out a special banana bread recipe that contains “the main chemical elements found on the Moon.”
“While banana and chocolate will add in the magnesium, oats will stick on some silica and iron, with the baking powder bringing up the oxygen,” the agency explained. “Yoghurt and almonds will transport us to the calcium on the Moon.” And the banana slices look like impact craters! Adorkable.
But wait — there’s more! The Great ESA Mission Control Bake-Off and its attendant social media challenge kicked off on May 17th, inspired by World Baking Day. Bakers, mad scientists, food chemists, and all others who wish to enter can find instructions in the ESA’s official Bake The Moon invitation. The contest closes May 24th.
Beauty Shots of the ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’ Lunar Eclipse
Last but not least, ICYMI, here are some choice photos of Sunday night’s total lunar eclipse. First, a dramatic time-lapse series by Italian photographer Giuseppe Donatiello. Here, the moon goes from its pearlescent full face to a sliver of garnet, before slipping into the black of totality.
This eclipse happened as the full moon made its closest approach to the Earth for the month, making it a ‘supermoon.’ And it was a blood moon indeed. From our latitude in the Great Lakes, it was the color of a blood orange, hanging luminous in the silent sky. Here it is, as seen from Houston:
The moon took on this rich hue because of particulate and pollution in the atmosphere. Small particles absorb the shorter, bluer wavelengths, but they allow redder wavelengths through to our eyes.
Here’s the official NASA stream of the eclipse, from start to finish, with expert commentary:
That’s all for now, folks. But if you’d like to see NASA’s official stream of Starliner docking with the ISS, tune in to NASA Live Friday evening at 7PM EDT. Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you next week.