Posts Tagged Soviet Union
Opportunity Breaks NASA’s 40-Year Roving Record
MAY 16, 2013 09:14 PM ET // BY IAN O’NEILL
After nine years of hard Mars roving, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity has broken a 40-year-old extraterrestrial distance record.
On Thursday, the tenacious six-wheeled robot drove 80 meters (263 feet), nudging the total distance traveled since landing on the red planet in 2004 to 35.760 kilometers (22.220 miles). NASA’s previous distance record was held by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt when, in December 1972, they drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 35.744 kilometers (22.210 miles) over the lunar surface.
“The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity,” Cernan told Jim Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Opportunity team member in a conversation about the possibility of the rover exceeding the 40-year-old record a few days ago.
Opportunity may be NASA’s record-breaking hot-rod, but it has a few hundred meters left to go before it smashes the international extraterrestrial land-distance record.
In 1973, the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 remote-controlled moon rover roved 37 kilometers (23 miles) across the lunar surface and, so far, remains the undisputed champion of distance driving on an extraterrestrial surface.
But Opportunity is nearly there. Until recently, the NASA rover has been investigating the “Cape York” area of Endeavour Crater’s rim at Meridiani Planum. It is currently en route to a new location called “Solander Point,” 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) away, so we can expect the international roving record to be smashed within weeks.
Sadly, Opportunity’s sister rover Spirit wasn’t the distance-runner like her sibling. Spirit, although still a highly successful rover mission, conked out at a respectable 7.7 kilometers (4.8 miles) after becoming stuck in a sand trap in Gusev Crater. Spirit was declared lost in 2010. Both rovers have surpassed all expectations, considering their primary mission was only supposed to last three months.
How Far Has Opportunity Really Traveled?
In July 2012, shortly before the exciting landing of NASA’s newest and most sophisticated rover, Curiosity, inside Gale Crater, the MER team wanted to point out that their veteran rover hadalmost rolled a marathon. It still hasn’t quite reached the magic 26.2 mile mark (the official distance of a marathon), I thought it interesting to compare Opportunity’s odometer with some other, more familiar distances.
So, in honor of Opportunity holding the NASA distance record, here are those distances, updated:
Opportunity has traveled…
…almost nine laps of the Daytona Motor Speedway NASCAR track (one lap = 2.5 miles)
…178 furlongs. Which is nearly five-times the distance a horse will run during the British Grand National.
…four-times the distance an active basketball player will run during a game.
…from the coast of South England to the coast of France across the Strait of Dover (21 miles), plus a short detour for a croissant.
…from my house to Hollywood (the scenic route — avoiding the 101 freeway).
Image: On the 3,309th Martian day, or sol, of its mission on Mars (May 15, 2013) NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove 263 feet (80 meters) southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Russia MiG Plane Maker Big ‘Money Loser’
Russia’s aircraft making corporation MiG is a loss-making enterprise, parliamentary defense committee head Vladimir Komoyedov said on Thursday.
“MiG Corporation has been a loss-making enterprise in recent years. The less than optimal distribution of manufacturing infrastructure causes some concern,” he said.
The Defense Ministry has been reducing the share of MiG aircraft, which used to be the core of fighter aviation in the USSR, he said.
He did not elaborate.
A press handout distributed ahead of the committee meeting said MiG has completed modernization of the first six MiG-29 UPG fighter jets for the Indian Air Force, under a contract signed in March 2008.
It also said MiG Corp. has more than 100 standing contracts with 20 countries worth more than $6 billion.
- MiG plane maker big ‘money loser’ (indrus.in)
- MiG-29KUB lands on INS Vikramaditya (indrus.in)
- Indian Aircraft Carrier INS Vikramaditya playing host to Russian MiG-29 KUB fighter aircraft [Wallpaper material] (aame.in)
- Russia to Deploy Fighter Jets in Arctic (theepochtimes.com)
- Syrian Air Force & Air Defense Overview (slideshare.net)
- WARPLANES: Do Not Mess With Mother Russia (strategypage.com)
- WARPLANES: On Top Of The World, Comrade (strategypage.com)
- “Soesterberg we have a problem”: the story of a pilotless Soviet MiG-23 over Belgium (theaviationist.com)
- IAF planning to phase out MiG-27 by 2017 (ibnlive.in.com)
- MiG-29KUB fighter landing on Aircraft Carrier INS Vikramaditya – Cockpit Footage (aame.in)
Curiosity’s Dirty Little Secret
Need to send a rover to Mars? Stop by a Soviet nuclear weapons plant to borrow a cup of plutonium.
By Geoffrey Brumfiel |Posted Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, at 7:15 AM ET
A panorama taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars. The rover’s fuel supply is a relic of the Cold War
I’m as happy as anyone that the Curiosity rover got to Mars; it’s hard not to root for all those NASA geeks in their blue polo shirts. But before you get all American and apple pie about the achievement, there’s something you should know: Curiosity runs on plutonium from a Soviet-era nuclear weapons plant.
Take a look at the back of Curiosity. Other rovers have solar panels, but Curiosity doesn’t. Instead, there’s a little white thing that looks cute, almost like a tail. Inside are eight boxes filled with pellets of nuclear fuel. This stuff is hot, so hot that the boxes glow bright red, and will glow for years to come. Think of it as nuclear charcoal. The fuel will keep the rover toasty on cold Martian nights and supply it with electricity.
It’s a neat trick, and one that NASA has used before. Since the 1960s, the United States has been launching nuclear-powered spacecraft. The first were military satellites. That worked swell, except that when the mission ended, you had a radioactive pile of junk orbiting the planet. And every now and then, one would fail to launch or fall back to Earth. That was bad for PR.
These days, NASA puts nuclear fuel on things that aren’t coming back. The Voyager missions that left the solar system carried it, as did the first Martian missions, the Viking landers. It’s particularly useful when you’re going far from the sun—places where solar panels don’t work.
The particular kind of fuel inside Curiosity is called plutonium-238. It’s the perfect stuff for the job: It’s extremely radioactive, so it gives off plenty of heat, but the type of radioactive particles released by plutonium-238 can’t even penetrate a sheet of paper. As long as you don’t touch it or swallow it, plutonium-238 is safe, and with a half-life of 87.7 years, it decays slowly enough that a fairly small supply can power a spacecraft for a decade or more.
But plutonium-238 isn’t easy to come by. It doesn’t exist in nature, and only two places in the world have made serious quantities of it. Both made something else: nuclear warheads. You see, plutonium-238 is really a byproduct of the process for making another kind of plutonium, known as isotope 239. Plutonium-239 is the real terror: It takes just a couple of pounds of the stuff to make a bomb as powerful as many kilotons of TNT. Almost all modern warheads in the U.S. arsenal use plutoniuim-239 as a trigger. When it explodes, it sets off an even larger thermonuclear device capable of flattening a midsized city (say, Boulder, Colo., or Ann Arbor, Mich.). Russian warheads have even higher yields.
In the 1960s, the United States and Soviet Union were hungry for 239. They built secret reactors that irradiated uranium to create it. Then they dissolved the uranium-plutonium mix in acid and used a slew of toxic chemicals and solvents to isolate the plutonium. The work provided the plutonium-239 for thousands of tiny, high-efficiency warheads—many of which still sit atop missiles today.
Plutonium-238, the stuff in the rover, was an afterthought. NASA asked the Atomic Energy Commission to get some for the agency’s satellites in the 1950s, after falling behind in the space race. The eggheads at the nuke plant came up with a clever way of producing it from unwanted isotopes they were just going to throw away anyway. The Soviets had the same idea. Using a similar system of acids and solvents to dissolve their uranium fuel, the Soviets skimmed plutoniuim-238 off of their production operation at a secret bomb factory in the Ural Mountains. It went on for decades: In came uranium fuel, out went plutonium-239 for the bombs, plutonium-238 for the spacecraft, and many other isotopes for other needs.
The factories churned out something else, too: radioactive waste. At the U.S. plant on the South Carolina-Georgia border, workers dumped tens of millions of gallons of radioactive waste a year into open-air basins. The worst of the stuff, 37 million gallons of radioactive sludge, salt, and liquid waste, was put into underground storage tanks, where it sits to this day. The site, known as Savannah River, is still heavily contaminated, and clean-up operations have run to many billions of dollars.
In Russia, the situation is even grimmer. In true Soviet fashion, the bomb makers secretly dumped unknown quantities of liquid waste into giant reservoirs around the plant. Nobody knows how much radioactive contamination is out there, but a single accident—the explosion of a waste tank in 1957—is thought to have been Chernobyl-like in scale.As recently as the 1990s, the plant was spewing radioactive waste at a rate that makes the leaks of radioactive water from the melted-down Fukushima power plant look like a bubble bath. Residents living around the plant have elevated rates of leukemia and genetic mutations. Their children get cancer.
The United States quit making plutonium in the late 1980s, after it became apparent that both sides had stockpiled enough warheads to destroy civilization. At first, NASA was able to draw on the supply of plutonium-238 left over at Savannah River, but that soon ran out. So it turned to Russia. The first shipment from the Russian plant arrived in the 1990s, and to date, NASA has received about 70 to 90 pounds of plutonium. A few pounds of Stalin’s finest plutonium-238 hitched a ride to Mars on the back of Curiosity.
Even this supply is now running out. Russia has gotten out of the bomb-making business as well, and it’s running low on plutonium-238. NASA is looking for new ways of making it, and this year, it asked Congress for $10 million to investigate the possibility of restarting production at smaller research reactors near Savannah River and in Idaho. This time around, scientists say they’ll do things differently. They’ll be working with smaller quantities in more modern facilities, they’re going to try to find cleaner ways to chemically separate the fuel, and they’ll be subject to environmental regulations—something the old bomb factories avoided by virtue of national security. The circumstances may have changed, but the chemistry and physics haven’t: Making plutonium-238 is still a very sloppy, very radioactive business, and setting up the new facilities won’t be cheap. A review by the National Academies of Science estimates that restarting production will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
There’s nothing wrong with oooh-ing and aaah-ing over Curiosity’s photos. The project is an incredible achievement, and the science it produces will be amazing. But remember this, too: That little rover on Mars has left a big mess back here on Earth.
- Curiosity’s Dirty Little Secret (slate.com)
- How the Curiosity Rover’s Nuclear Battery Works (about-robots.com)
- This is Where NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity is Headed [PICS] (mashable.com)
- Lego version of Mars Curiosity rover moves closer to reality (news.cnet.com)
- Sending a software update through space to the Curiosity Rover on Mars (venturebeat.com)
- Time-Lapse Footage of Curiosity Rover Landing (storiesbywilliams.com)
- Say Cheese! Mars Rover Curiosity Snaps 1st Hi-Res Self-Portrait (livescience.com)
- Pew! Pew! Pew! NASA’s Curiosity Rover Zaps Mars Rock with Laser – Yahoo! News (nadernazemi.com)
- NASA Rover Curiosity Blasts Its First Rock on Mars (dailytech.com)
- NASA rover Curiosity shoots a Mars rock with laser (sacbee.com)
By Ben Rooney
Only 24 people have been close to the moon, and the last of those was nearly 40 years ago. That may be about to change.
U.K.-based space-research company Excalibur Almaz hopes to make trips to the moon if not commonplace, then certainly more routine. It plans to use modernized Soviet-era space vehicles — of which it has six — to take people on missions around the moon.
But CEO Art Dula is keen to stress that this isn’t about space tourism — high-net-worth individuals seeking the ultimate holiday snaps. Some 520 people have taken manned flights into space, but those have all been orbiting the earth.
“The people are not tourists,” he said. “This is much more about private expedition members — conducting expeditions that will go further into space than anyone has before.”
Mr. Dula draws a parallel with the seafaring expeditions undertaken by European colonial powers in days gone by. “It’s exactly in the same vein as the historic exploration that was done by Europe and the British Isles over the last several centuries that resulted in so much growth,” he said at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
This isn’t for the faint-hearted. A mission ticket is going to set you back about $100 million to $150 million and you would have to undergo six months’ training. According to research conducted by Excalibur Almaz, there is a demand for at least 29 such tickets over the next 10 years, a demand Mr. Dula described as very conservative.
“We are going to to do this, and let the market decide,” he said. “We think we can get there faster and cheaper than national systems. It is never going to go back to just being national space programs.”
At the heart of Mr. Dula’s plans are the six Soviet-era space vehicles: four re-useable re-entry vehicles and two Salyut-class 29-ton space stations, each with a capacity of 95 cubic meters. The two spacecraft are equivalent to the Russian Mir core or the International Space Station Zarya module. The Soviet-era electronics have been completely gutted and replaced with modern avionics.
While the costs associated with space are pretty mind-boggling, Mr. Dula said that by using modernized, tried-and-tested equipment rather than developing technology from scratch, the project is saving around $2 billion in development costs. The Russian Proton rocket, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will be used to launch one of the spacecraft into space, where it will remain. Astronauts will use the RRVs to get to and from the spacecraft.
Mr. Dula is adamant that the returns more than justify the huge costs. ”Space is a resource frontier. The resources in space are thousands of times more vast than those on earth,” he said. He cites one example, an asteroid called Apophis. It is believed that the asteroid has very substantial nickel ore deposits.
“Our spacecraft has the ability to get to this asteroid. That one asteroid has more nickel than has been used by the human race since the beginning of civilization,” he said. Nickel sells for about $19,000 a ton.
Mr. Dula makes for an unlikely space explorer. A lawyer by training, he is the literary executor of the Sci Fi author Robert Heinlein. An accident while visiting Russia left Mr. Dula in intensive care for several months. He used the time to listen to a series of lectures about Chinese history, and was inspired by the country’s bold projects, the so-called leaps forward.
He is joined by a former Cosmonaut (and “Hero of Russia”) Valery Tokarev who flew in both the U.S. space shuttle Discovery and the commander of the Soyuz. “I spent about 200 days in the International Space Station,” he said.
Excalibur Almaz is based on the Isle of Man, a self-governing dependency of the U.K. The island is establishing itself as a space-technology cluster. According to Mr. Dula, some 30 of the world’s 54 satellite companies have operations on the island.
- Fly To The Moon In A Used Soviet Spacecraft For Just $155 Million (huffingtonpost.com)
- British firm offers expeditions to the moon (independent.co.uk)
- Fly Me to the Moon (blogs.wsj.com)
- Space Tourist Trips to the Moon May Fly on Recycled Spaceships (space.com)
- Moon holidays: Excalibur Almaz offers lunar trips for £100m (dailymail.co.uk)
- British company offering 500,000 miles around the Moon in space station (scotsman.com)
- Fly to the moon for £100m (mytechnologyworld9.blogspot.com)
- New passenger service to the Moon for $100M (arstechnica.com)
- Britain’s Bringing Back Those Halcyon Space Days, With Men to the Moon and Beyond (gizmodo.co.uk)
- Gallery: Private Space Flights with Excalibur Almaz (space.com)
Newt Gingrich may have ended campaign, but he will remain out of this world
By Dana Milbank, Published: May 2
With “more discipline and more courage to be more outside the mainstream,” Newt Gingrich told USA Today on the eve of ending his presidential bid, “it might have worked better.”
Actually, Mr. Moon Colony was plenty outside the mainstream. But discipline? Yes, that might have helped.
Speaking Wednesday afternoon at an Arlington hotel, the former House speakerformally departed the GOP primary race in much the manner in which he ran his campaign: discursive, chaotic and utterly devoid of self-control.
For 23 desultory minutes in an overheating conference room, Gingrich took the 150 campaign workers and reporters present on a stream-of-consciousness tour of the Newtonian Mind. He spoke, in no particular order, of Capt. John Smith in 1607, mining asteroids, his novels about George Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Ellis the Elephant, the Strait of Hormuz, Alzheimer’s disease, Chinese bondholders, Todd Palin, electromagnetic pulses, radical Islamists, C-SPAN, his high school years, Nixon, Carter, Reagan (both Ronald and Michael), the civil service, the Civil War, autism, holograms, the Soviet Union, nanoscale science, the Federalist Papers and Herman Cain.
He had little to say about the one thing people in the room cared about most — whether he would endorse Mitt Romney, the man Gingrich had dubbed a liar and a fake. Gingrich was tepid. “You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan,” he said. “This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history.”
Gingrich, who enjoys dinosaur fossils and zoos, chose instead to tell his captive audience about his pet projects. “I’m cheerfully going to take back up the issue of space,” he proclaimed. With his wife, Callista, in her usual place at his side, her mauve jacket perfectly matching her nail polish, he acknowledged that she was correct in telling him that his proposal for a moon colony “was probably not my most clever comment in this campaign. I thought, frankly, in my role of providingmaterial for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was helpful.”
About this aspect of the Gingrich campaign there can be no dispute. He gave us child janitors, the Tiffany charge account, algae, a Greek cruise, the mass defection of his campaign staff and the “food-stamp president.” He told us he worked as a “historian” for Fannie Mae, boasted about his speaking fees, and mercilessly condemned Romney as a man who “can’t be honest,” who “looted a company” and who “doesn’t seem capable of inspiring positive turnout.”
After his win in South Carolina, a Gingrich nomination briefly seemed plausible. But that possibility was quickly extinguished to everybody but Gingrich. As recently as two weeks ago, Gingrich was vowing to remain a candidate until the Republican National Convention. The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich caught up with him last week and discovered that he was the only reporter in Gingrich’s entourage. Soon after, even Gingrich’s Secret Service detail abandoned him.
Gingrich exited with typical disorder. First he was preempted by an aide, who announced last week that the candidate would quit. This week, Gingrich preempted himself, making a video on Tuesday to give supporters “insider advance notice.” That left little mystery on Wednesday afternoon, only the contradiction of having Gingrich, who campaigned against Washington and the national media, making his formal announcement inside the Beltway to the national media.
It was, he said, “a truly wild ride . . . all just sort of amazing and astonishing.” Gingrich had the good manners to thank Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who kept his candidacy afloat. He regaled the cameras with a long recitation of his well-known biography and a detailed list of his future plans (“I will focus again on national security in three zones” and “modernize unemployment compensation to attach to it a training component”).
By the time he reached his defense of the moon-colony proposal, most of the reporters in the audience had stopped writing. A sound technician covered a yawn. One man had his chin on his chest, asleep. The former candidate’s granddaughter, standing onstage, exhaled deeply and put an arm around her mother.
“This is not a trivial area,” Gingrich insisted. Perhaps not. But his rambling farewell was a reminder of why his candidacy, like his speakership, was destined to fail: Gingrich occasionally has brilliant ideas and strategies, but they are difficult to find amid the clutter of his mind and oratory, and that makes him seem unpredictable and unstable.
“I’m not totally certain I will get to the moon colony,” Gingrich acknowledged. But one thing is certain: He will always be way out there.
- WATCH: Newt Gingrich Suspends His Presidential Campaign (foxnewsinsider.com)
- It’s Official: Newt Gingrich Bows Out (npr.org)
- Newt Gingrich Officials Drops Out Of GOP Primary, Doesn’t Immediately Endorse Mitt Romney (inquisitr.com)
- Newt Gingrich Ends Presidential Bid (theepochtimes.com)
- Newt Gingrich ends ‘truly wild ride’ of a presidential campaign (bangordailynews.com)
- Newt Gingrich Drops Out of Presidential Race (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Newt Gingrich Ends Presidential Campaign (abcnews.go.com)
- We won’t have Newt Gingrich to kick around anymore (horsesass.org)
- Newt Gingrich officially exits presidential race (boston.com)
- Newt Gingrich pulls plug on ‘wild ride’ White House bid (independent.co.uk)