Tag Archives: Explore

Orion Flight Test

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft is about the engage in its very first unmanned test flight.  A successful test flight for Orion is a big deal for the future of human space exploration.  That’s why we’re paying very close attention to this event.  Here’s what you can expect to happen on Thursday, December 4th.

The scheduled launch time is 7:05 A.M. Eastern Time from Cape Canaveral Florida.  If weather can be a factor to launch fortunately there is a window of 2 hours and 39 minutes to still get the launch off or else it will be postponed to another day.  In the future, Orion will be launched by a different rocket system, but for this test flight it will be riding on a Delta IV Heavy Rocket.  After launch the whole test flight will take 4.5 hours as the spacecraft makes two orbits around the Earth before coming back to ground.

There are several systems that need to be tested during this launch.  First test is the separation or jettison of the protective coverings that keep Orion safe from the atmosphere during launch.  Once in space, these casings are no longer necessary and removing them will lighten the spacecraft.  After an initial orbit, the Upper Stage Rockets will boost the spacecraft into a very high orbit of about 3,600 miles.  The last stage of testing will be the reentry capsule.  NASA needs to see if the capsule can handle the intense temperatures and pressures that the spacecraft will experience on the return to Earth.  The parachutes will also need to deploy successfully to ensure a nice soft landing.  Let’s hope for the best!

If you are not fortunate enough to live close enough to Cape Canaveral to watch the liftoff in person you can watch coverage of the event on NASA TV or http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html# online.

For a look at the detailed sequence of events during the test flight, check out this article:  http://space.io9.com/heres-what-to-expect-during-the-first-orion-test-flight-1654607626/+AnnaleeNewitz

Soundtrack Info: “Running Fanfare” by Kevin MacLeod under the Creative Commons Attribution license. It can be found here: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kevin_MacLeod/Classical_Sampler/Running_Fanfare

What’s a Light Year?

Did you know the nearest star to our sun is 24,942,474,700,000 miles away? The nearest galaxy is about 14,919,633,000,000,000,000 miles away? Those are enormous numbers that are difficult to even imagine or understand!

Proxima Centauri, Our nearest star  Credit NASA/ESA/Hubble

This is why when scientists talk about the distance to nearest stars, they don’t use miles. Instead, they use a measurement known as a light year. Light is the fastest thing in the universe, traveling over 186,000 miles per second! Over the course of one year, it goes about 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000!!!) miles. This is what we know as a light year.

Some things are still really far away even in light years, but it makes it much easier to compare and understand what things are astronomically close to or far away from us. With our new way of measuring, the nearest star is about 4 light years away. The Andromeda Galaxy is 2,560,000 light years away! That’s still a big number, but its easier to understand how much further away it is than the nearest star.

Andromeda Galaxy (Creative Commons/flickr)

Light years have another convenient and very cool meaning. Since the light from a star or galaxy has to get to the Earth for us to see us, it means that the light had to travel here! Looking at that light means that we are looking at the star the way it was 4 years ago. Looking out in space is actually looking back in time, which can teach us lots of things about our universe.

Looking at the Andromeda galaxy, we are looking at it the way it was over 2 million years ago! Using the Hubble telescope, we have been able to look out at galaxies that are over 13 billion light years away, allowing us to look back to very early in the universe.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field Credit NASA/ESA/Hubble

Watch this video that further illustrates enormity of a light year!

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