Friday, December 05, 2008

Short news bites

I don't have much to add to the conversation on the following news items, but just wanted to throw them out there.

  • The Mars Science Laboratory mission has been delayed for two years. This lab has been a focal point for NASA budget criticism in the past few years. The delay is ostensibly because of some technical problems that will be hard to solve by this fall's planned launch date. And, due to the orbits of Mars and Earth, Mars launch opportunities only come every two years. So, we have to wait. Yes, this costs even more money. But I think that rushing to launch the lab this time likely increases the risk of a failure, and a $2.3 billion failure is unacceptable.
  • The next and final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission has a new launch date: May 12. If you remember, this launch was scheduled for October, but was delayed when a hardware failure on the Hubble occurred right before the launch. The longer delay allows NASA to make sure that the replacement part is in good working order (it wasn't, and needed repairs) and for the astronauts to train on how to do this repair. Like with the Mars Lander, this delay costs money, but again, it is money I think is well-spent. In the meantime, Hubble is back and working as well as it was prior to the October glitch.
  • A team of astronomers announced that a comet orbiting the sun (Comet Machholz 1) may have been born around another star. This conclusion was drawn from the fact that the comet has different amounts of certain chemicals than any other comet. We would expect that all of the comets formed in our Solar System should have roughly the same composition, because the cloud from which the sun formed was well-mixed. This comet is different, and other possible explanations (like the comet got "baked" by going too close to the sun) don't hold up under detail. This isn't proof, though. In order to prove that this comet is from another solar system, we'd probably have to send a spacecraft to run detailed tests on its composition.

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