SpaceX Block 5 Launch set for 4:12pm EDT today

Drone Ship: Just Read the Instructions
(Image Credit: SpaceX)
Watch Live – current liftoff target is 5:47pm EDT.

A quick note that the SpaceX Block 5 launch, which we have been tracking and very excited for, is scheduled for 4:12pm EDT this afternoon! It will be launching the Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite for the government of Bangladesh from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The plan is to land this new and improved booster on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” which is stationed in the Atlantic patiently waiting. We hear reports of heavy seas, so hopefully the four diesel powered azimuth thrusters are up to the challenge!

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Launch Preparations

NASA InSight Lander attaches to Atlas 5 Rocket

The InSight Mars Lander has been connected to the Atlas 5 rocket at Space Launch Complex 3-East Vandenberg Air Force Base, with a projected launch window of May 5th – June 8th. Regardless of when during that window the rocket flies, the lander is scheduled to arrive at Mars on November 26th. This close alignment of Earth and Mars which allows for a direct trip, only happens for this window of time once every 26 months.

The mission of the InSight lander (aka Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is to study the crust, mantle and core of the red planet to learn more about the early formation of planets in our solar system. This launch will also send two ‘CubeSat’s to space, where they will follow InSight to Mars and provide essential communication services.

Now that human spaceflight to Mars is seeming more and more realistic, it’s fun to closely observe a new launch like this, and to realize that while it’s still a long trip, it is not a year of travel. Before you even have a chance to get through your collected works of Shakespeare on your tablet or re-calibrate the hydroponics systems to optimize lettuce production, it will be time to buckle up for landing!

(Thanks to for the excellent discussion of this new NASA lander)

Mars – Trace Gas Orbiter

Trace Gas Orbiter
(Paris Air Show, 2015)

The Trace Gas Orbiter, which is part of a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has been orbiting Mars for over a year and is now in position to begin its research. These readings and results started to be gathered on April 21st and are now flowing back home for analysis and review.

Specifically, this probe is investigating the methane which is present in the Martian atmosphere, because it is very often associated with the former (or current!) presence of life. On Earth, an overwhelming percentage of the available methane is the result of biological processes. To add stakes to the game, current scientific understanding of the Martian atmosphere says that what is there should be destroyed by ongoing chemical reactions in several hundred years, though there it remains.

The orbiter has 2 main scientific instruments through which it will make this survey:
* the main spectrometer, NOMAD, operates in the infrared, ultraviolet and visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
* the color camera, CaSSIS, will build detailed 3D maps of the planet’s terrain.

The craft will eventually serve in a new capacity as a communications depot once the ExoMars Rover arrives in 2021, relaying signals from the ground based explorer back to mission control.

Mars Terrain Exhibiting Familiar Earth Effect

Mars Frost Heaves
One of the hesitations to considering life on other worlds, for many, will be how to cope with the truly unsettling experience of leaving behind everything you know in exchange for an alien landscape. Well, our nearby neighbor may be more welcoming than many realize, if only you take the time to appreciate the little things. Take, for example, the new beautiful image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which appears to show a familiar process of frost heaves, which has led to boulders being forced to the surface.

So, now you can have a blue sunset, frost heaves, and a giant statue of Elon Musk in the town square. What more can you ask for.
(Quartz Media LLC)