Friday, August 31, 2007
The excitement at NASA is palpable. Preparations are underway to launch
Discovery on 23 Oct 07, but this is not just another $2 billion trip to
low-Earth orbit. STS-120 will deliver the Italian-built Harmony node to
the ISS. The name was chosen from a competition involving 2,200 school
children from 32 states. Great huh? It's the second of three connectors
between major ISS modules, making the ISS as big as a five bedroom house.
Astronauts can now do nothing in twice as much space. Excited? Wait!
There's more: Discovery will also carry Luke Skywalker's lightsaber to the
ISS and back, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film Star Wars. On
Tuesday, Chewbacca (so help me!) delivered the lightsaber to the Johnson
Space Center. If you hurry, it's on display at the Visitor Center through
Labor Day, replacing a bunch of old moon rocks. Nobody could make this up.
According to today's issue of the journal Science, Japan expects to launch
its much delayed Kaguya lunar orbiter (formerly Selene) in two weeks. It
will map the distribution of elements and minerals over the entire lunar
surface to test the magma ocean hypothesis. China is expected to launch
Chang'e 1 a few weeks later. Chinese scientists have sought a lunar
exploration program since the early 1990's, but the government got hung up
on the old-fashioned idea of human space flight. They've done that, so
now they can get on with the real science of mapping the Moon's
topography. They plan a robotic lander in about 5 years. In April, India
will launch Chandrayaan-1, a suicide robot. As it plunges into the Moon,
it will take high-resolution images and measure the atmospheric profile.
India will follow with a rover mission in 2010. The planned U.S. role in
this effort is to continue demonstrating the folly of human space
exploration. Vaughn Monroe's 1941 theme song "Racing with the moon,"
ended with, "Till I overtake the moon and you."
Also in Science this week was an update on exploration into the origin of
the universe. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva will
start up in the spring, and there will be a zoo of particles to sort
through. Meanwhile, at Fermilab, the last dedicated particle physics lab
in the U.S., they're hoping to get started on a humongous International
Linear Collider (ILC). That's kinda iffy, so they have a backup plan:
Build a segment of the ILC to supply protons for neutrino studies until
they can build the whole thing.