The Past, Present, and Future of American Space Exploration

International Space Station

This has been an interesting stretch for space travel in our country, with the joint NASA-SpaceX launch of the manned Dragon spacecraft being a highlight of what has proved to be a difficult year. Also of note, June 3 was the 55th anniversary of the first American spacewalk. And June 30 is one of those fun holidays often celebrated by educators in order to promote scientific learning, Asteroid Day. In honor of these achievements and recognitions, we in Government Publications wanted to point out some aspects of NASA’s history of space exploration and share some resources that may serve as a jumping off point to any studies in these topics.

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

 ISS: The International Space Station

The International Space Station, or ISS, is mankind’s first concerted effort to collaborate outside of Earth. This satellite, which initially launched in 1998, moves at an average pace of about 17,150 mph, orbits our planet approximately 16 times every 24 hours, and is home to astronauts of differing nationalities. The ISS and its crew sustain a successful environment where progress in scientific experiments further the knowledge of space and other scientific research. At the time of this posting, there are currently 5 people living on board the ISS. Two of which, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, recently completed a historic spaceflight which ended with their boarding of the ISS utilizing the SpaceX “Crew Dragon” spacecraft.

The experiments conducted on the ISS further the achievements of mankind and prove to be consistently astounding. In the document “International Space Station: Benefits for Humanity” these experiments and the ways in which they help better life on Earth are listed. One of the experiments documented shows the progress in which the results of the tests performed on the ISS betters water filtration on Earth.

A fun fact about the ISS is that it is the third brightest object in the sky and can be seen with a pair of binoculars! To figure out if the ISS is flying overhead, NASA has set up a handy website aptly titled “Spot the Station” where one can find out the window of time that the ISS can be viewed over a particular location.

As of right now, the International Space Station is set to remain commissioned and functional above the Earth until at least 2030. Until then we can also enjoy images from the ISS and pictures of the satellite itself thanks to NASA’s generous collection of images.

One can also take a tour of the ISS alongside astronaut Suni Williams here.

Artemis

NASA’s newest mission, named after the twin sister of Apollo, is Artemis. Its primary mission will focus on getting the first woman and next man on the South Pole of the moon (by 2024) in its first lunar landing mission since Apollo 17 in 1972. In addition to this, all missions that include lunar landings will also serve as missions to build knowledge and understanding of the moon and how we may use it to move forward in space exploration.

For these missions, the South Pole of the moon (chosen for its abundance of water) is the primary area of focus for the future Artemis astronauts. NASA states that one of the tasks of the Artemis missions will be to locate this water and ice and be able to utilize it.  Though the ultimate goals of the Artemis missions are not only to put the first woman on the moon, but also to eventually put the collective eyes of humanity on moving toward putting the first humans on Mars.

While many publications and materials are most likely going to be released closer to the execution of the program’s first missions, the Government Publishing Office and NASA have recently released a small promotional booklet and an activity book for ages 4-12 to help the public learn about the program (both of which are available for checkout at the McWherter Library, and the activity book can also be found online in our catalog if you don’t want to come in person!). NASA’s website is another wonderful resource to fulfill any kind of curiosity about the program.

Landsat

Since 1972, the Landsat missions have provided NASA, the USGS, and countless others with data that reflects the changes to our planet’s landscape as humans continue to modify the Earth’s landscape as the decades move forward. Originally known as the “Earth Resources Technology Satellite”, Landsat has about 8, soon to be 9 different models that have adapted to ever changing technology and scientific standards.

Landsat is responsible for more than 8 million images of the Earth’s surface and provides valuable data on human movement, the effects of nature and natural disasters, among so many other sections of scientific development. Its images have even helped scientists discover new species of flora and fauna!

One of the more distinct applications of Landsat is the use of its images to compare ideal landmasses that are identical to the surface of Mars so mission planners can create scenario in preparation for potential habitation of the planet. The land picked for this research just so happened to be on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

Another wonderful contribution that is available to the public through NASA and Landsat is a plethora of at home activities that can satisfy anyone’s knowledge of Landsat or anyone’s need to be occupied. These activities among others can be found here.

Voyager 1

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

NASA’s Journeys into the Outer Solar System

With the recent launch of two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station by a joint effort between the government agency and the private company SpaceX, the first mission of this sort launched from American soil since 2011, there exists the possibility of renewed interest in our nation’s efforts at space travel and exploration, both to (relatively) nearby places such as our Moon and to the far reaches of our solar system. The history of NASA’s unmanned missions to the outer planets, which include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Uranus, and, once upon a time, Pluto, along with moons of the aforementioned planets, is a storied one. Pioneer 10, the first of these missions, was launched in 1973 and provided information about the solar system beyond Mars, including the first photographs of Jupiter. Check out the NASA website’s page on Pioneer 10 to learn more details about this historic mission, including a clock of how long it has been in space.

Subsequent missions have performed flybys of the other outer planets, along with other firsts for deep space exploration. The Voyager program, the first of its two probes launched in 1977, have sent back invaluable information on the outer planets, and continue to function in this regard in the far reaches of our solar system and beyond. According to NASA’s website, Voyager 1 and 2 became the third and fourth manmade objects, along with Pioneer 10 and 11, to move beyond the “gravitational influence of the Sun.” In 2005, the Cassini-Huygens mission accomplished the first successful probe landing in the outer solar system, on Saturn’s largest moon Titan. One interesting fun fact is that the New Horizons probe was launched in 2006 with the intent of a flyby of Pluto; by the time it reached this goal in 2015, Pluto had been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Nonetheless, the pictures sent back of Pluto’s surface are worth examination, and can be seen here along with more details of the mission at large. And with future missions planned, such as Europa Clipper (which is destined for Jupiter’s moon Europa), NASA will continue to be on the forefront in learning more about the still mysterious outer planets and their moons.

Interested in learning more about this ongoing chapter in NASA’s history? Here are a few resources available through Government Publications that can expand your understanding of these exciting and important missions into deep space.

 

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