NASA in the News

It was a pretty eventful March for NASA. The MESSENGER space probe wrapped up its mission to Mercury, a project that has yielded new maps that support the hypothesis that there may be ice lurking in the innermost planet’s craters:

The mission also revealed a new estimate for how much of the planet is actually core: 85% (Earth is about 17% core). There also appears to be a solid layer of iron sulfide wrapped around Mercury’s core:

The MESSENGER space probe was initially launched in 2004 and first encountered Mercury in 2008 and entered its orbit around the planet in 2011. The probe could have reached Mercury earlier if it had taken a direct course to the planet but such an approach vector would have put the probe under the influence of the sun’s gravitational pull which would have made orbital insertion nearly impossible. Instead, MESSENGER used gravitational assistance from Earth and Venus as it flew by these planets to slingshot the probe into its circuitous trajectory to reach Mercury:

http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/the_mission/movies/encounters/od131cruiseorbitsandtimeline.mov

This, of course, was preceded by the announcement that NASA and Finland-based Rovio Entertainment cooperated on the game Angry Birds Space, a collaboration aimed at not only entertaining but also educating about concepts such as microgravity:

NASA closed out the month by firing 5 sub-orbital rockets to study the upper jet stream.  

April, however, was a different story as NASA found itself connected to two controversial topics. The Huffington Post published an uneven and journalistically (is that a word?) lazy article covering the “story” of 49 former NASA scientists and astronauts who signed a letter “blasting the agency for making unwarranted claims about the role of carbon dioxide in global warming.” The reactions from around the web were less than enthusiastic. This prompted the Huffington Post to publish a more in-depth post, a mea culpa of sorts, two days later exposing the holes in the climate change denialism argument while also pointing out the political agendas and connections of some of the former NASA astronauts and scientists. Then, just earlier this week came allegations that an ex-NASA employee was fired over his beliefs in intelligent design.

Here’s to a controversy-free May for NASA.

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