Category Archives: Spacecraft

Christmas Eve 1968


Apollo8 Mission patch

 Almost 50 years ago the famous Apollo 8 mission to the Moon was well underway.  It was Christmas Eve 1968 and the spacecraft had just entered lunar orbit that same day. That evening, astronauts Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis. You can relive that historic moment by clicking the video below. Merry Christmas!


Send Your Name on the InSight Mars Lander

In March 2016 NASA’s InSight Mars lander is scheduled to blast off. “InSight: short for (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a NASA Discovery Program mission that will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior.

The solar arrays on NASA's InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.
The solar arrays on NASA’s InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.


InSight will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in March 2016 and land on Mars Sept. 28, 2016.

Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASA’s journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s InSight Mars lander.

“Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you’re showing that you’re part of that journey and the future of space exploration.”

Submissions will be accepted until Sept. 8. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, go to:


New Horizons @ Pluto

Are you ready for the Plutonian system? After more than nine years in route the New Horizons spacecraft will be arriving at Pluto and it’s moons on July 14, 2015. The excitement is building for this historic occasion and the secrets unlocked by New Horizons will surely prove remarkable. At this writing we are 20 days away!

New Horizons Spacecraft and instruments.

The Spacecraft instruments will be searching for answers such as: what Pluto’s atmosphere is made of, how the planet itself behaves, what the surface of Pluto looks like and how the solar wind interacts with Pluto’s atmosphere?

Continue reading New Horizons @ Pluto

Ceres in Sight! Dawn Approaches Dwarf Planet

The largest object located in the main asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) is the dwarf planet named Ceres.  At 590 miles across and with it’s spherical shape Ceres was once referred to as a planet. It’s probably the planet you’ve never heard of and over time it was demoted to asteroid status until 2006 when it was properly branded a “dwarf planet” by the IAU. This mysterious and elusive world was discovered in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, an Italian Catholic priest, mathematician, and astronomer.

Continue reading Ceres in Sight! Dawn Approaches Dwarf Planet

Spotting Earth Orbiting Satellites

Interest in watching for satellites has really increased over the past decade mainly due to the International Space Station being assembled in orbit, growing in size and brightness, etc.  The amount of hardware orbiting over head has also increased. With all this stuff circling around above, your chances of seeing one of these spacecraft glide across the pre-dawn or evening sky only increases. Perhaps you’ve seen a “moving star” yourself and wondered what it might be? An airplane perhaps? But wait, there were no navigation lights blinking to give it away. Maybe it was a UFO? Chances are what you saw was a satellite silently sweeping across the sky, and possibly looking down at you.

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Hitch a ride on the OSIRIS-REx Mission to Asteroid Bennu

OSIRIS-RExThe Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) planetary science mission is scheduled for launch in September 2016. This is the third mission in the New Frontiers Program, along with Juno and New Horizons. OSIRIS-REx will study and return a sample of asteroid 101955 Bennu to Earth in 2023. Material returned is expected to enable scientists to learn more about the time before the formation and evolution of the Solar System, initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds which led to the formation of life.

After traveling about two years, the spacecraft will rendezvous with asteroid Bennu and start to surface map that object at a distance of approximately 3 miles for about a year and half. Interestingly, the spacecraft will be guided down close enough to Bennu to extend its robotic arm to reach out and collect a sample of the asteroid. That sample will be returned to Earth in a capsule ultimately landing in Utah in 2023. The capsule will then be transported to the Johnson Space Center for processing and research.

OSIRIS SpacecraftYou can tag alone with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Well sort of. NASA and The Planetary Society are inviting you to submit your name for a round-trip ride to asteroid Bennu. Your name will hitch a ride to the asteroid, spend 500 days there, and return in the Sample Return Capsule. Plus your name will be on the spacecraft, which will remain in space long after returning the sample return capsule to Earth. Sound like fun?

Sign up here!