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If spacecraft are to visit the outer solar system, they must cross the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Pioneer mission was faced with the question of just how dangerous this asteroid belt would be to a spacecraft passing through it.NASA This illustration made on Nov. 26, 1974, by Rick Giudice shows the Pioneer 10 spacecraft traveling through the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. At the time, it was uncertain whether it would traverse it safely since the density of particles large enough to damage the craft was not yet known, but Pioneer 10 became the first satellite to enter and pass through the asteroid belt.
The mission’s primary goal was to explore Jupiter, its satellites, its magnetic field, and trapped radiation belts. On Nov. 6, 1973, while still 16 million miles from Jupiter, Pioneer 10 began to image the giant planet with its photopolarimeter, and shortly thereafter began to take measurements with its other instruments as well. Twenty days later, the spacecraft passed the front of Jupiter’s bowshock, where the solar wind clashed with the planet’s magnetosphere. By Dec. 1, the spacecraft was returning images of the planet exceeding the best pictures from Earth. Pioneer 10 sent its last signal on Jan. 23, 2003, when it was 7.6 billion miles (12.23 billion kilometers) away from Earth.
Learn about Pioneer and other planetary exploration and scientific satellite research planned for the 1970s in the Seeds of Discovery documentary on NASA+.
Image Credit: NASA
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By European Space Agency
ESA’s Hera asteroid mission has completed acoustic testing, confirming the spacecraft can withstand the sound of its own lift-off into orbit. Testing took place within the Agency’s Large European Acoustic Facility at the ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands. This is Europe’s largest and most powerful sound system, fitted with a quartet of noise horns that can generate more than 154 decibels of extreme noise.
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The SpaceX-29 commercial resupply spacecraft will deliver numerous physical sciences and space biology experiments, along with other cargo, to the International Space Station. The research aboard this resupply services mission will help researchers learn how humans, and the plants needed to sustain them, can thrive in deep space.
The biological and physical sciences investigations headed to the Space Station are:
Plant Water Management-5 and 6 (PWM-5 and 6)
NASA has grown plants on the Space Station even without the help of gravity. But microgravity does present challenges and affects Space Station plants’ ability to receive adequate hydration and nutrition. The Plant Water Management-5 and 6 (PWM-5 and 6) investigation uses the physical properties of fluids, such as surface tension and wetting, as a mechanism to provide hydration and aeration for plants. Results could advance understanding of the physical aspects of fluid flow and inform designs of fluid delivery systems for reduced gravity environments.
Plant Water Management (PWM) Harness and Soil Test Article. NASA Plant Habitat-06 (PH-06)
Plant Habitat-06 investigates whether the spaceflight environment affects the ability of tomato plants to defend themselves against disease-causing microorganisms. The study will investigate whether a hormone called salicylic acid is involved in processes that regulate plant immune system function in microgravity. Results could support the development of strategies to minimize crop loss and low produce quality in future space agricultural settings caused by harmful microbes.
Rodent Research-20 (RR-20)
Extended missions to the Moon and Mars require a critical understanding on the impact of spaceflight to reproductive health for female astronauts. Throughout the course of three shuttle missions, alterations in ovarian function were detected in female mice that could potentially lead to fertility issues. This latest mission to the International Space Station (RR-20) will further probe whether space-flown female mice have temporary or permanent alterations to their reproductive capability and whether dysfunctional hormone signaling is linked with bone loss.
Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion (BAC)
Polymicrobial Biofilm Growth and Control during Spaceflight, Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion (BAC) is a joint space biology and physical sciences payload that explores conditions of multi-species biofilms in microgravity. Microorganisms in biofilms can become resistant to traditional cleaning chemicals, leading to contamination of water treatment systems and potential health risks to astronauts. This investigation identifies bacterial genes used during biofilm growth and examines whether these biofilms can corrode stainless steel, in addition to evaluating the effectiveness of silver-based disinfectants.
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NASA’s Lucy Surprises Again, Observes 1st-ever Contact Binary Orbiting Asteroid
It turns out there is more to the “marvelous” asteroid Dinkinesh and its newly discovered satellite than first meets the eye. As NASA’s Lucy spacecraft continued to return data of its first asteroid encounter on Nov. 1, 2023, the team was surprised to discover that Dinkinesh’s unanticipated satellite is, itself, a contact binary – that is, it is made of two smaller objects touching each other.
This image shows the asteroid Dinkinesh and its satellite as seen by the Lucy Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (L’LORRI) as NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft departed the system. This image was taken at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 UTC) Nov. 1, 2023, about 6 minutes after closest approach, from a range of approximately 1,010 miles (1,630 km). From this perspective, the satellite is revealed to be a contact binary, the first time a contact binary has been seen orbiting another asteroid. NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL In the first downlinked images of Dinkinesh and its satellite, which were taken at closest approach, the two lobes of the contact binary happened to lie one behind the other from Lucy’s point of view. Only when the team downlinked additional images, captured in the minutes around the encounter, was the true nature of this object revealed.
“Contact binaries seem to be fairly common in the solar system,” said John Spencer, Lucy deputy project scientist, of the Boulder, Colorado, branch of the San-Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute. “We haven’t seen many up-close, and we’ve never seen one orbiting another asteroid. We’d been puzzling over odd variations in Dinkinesh’s brightness that we saw on approach, which gave us a hint that Dinkinesh might have a moon of some sort, but we never suspected anything so bizarre!”
Lucy’s primary goal is to survey the never-before-visited Jupiter Trojan asteroids. This first encounter with a small, main belt asteroid was only added to the mission in January 2023, primarily to serve as an in-flight test of the system that allows the spacecraft to continually track and image its asteroid targets as it flies past at high speed. The excellent performance of that system at Dinkinesh allowed the team to capture multiple perspectives on the system, which enabled the team to better understand the asteroids’ shapes and make this unexpected discovery.
“It is puzzling, to say the least,” said Hal Levison, principal investigator for Lucy, also from Southwest Research Institute. “I would have never expected a system that looks like this. In particular, I don’t understand why the two components of the satellite have similar sizes. This is going to be fun for the scientific community to figure out.”
This second image was taken about 6 minutes after closest approach from a distance of approximately 1,010 miles (1,630 km). The spacecraft traveled around 960 miles (1,500 km) between the two released images.
“It’s truly marvelous when nature surprises us with a new puzzle,” said Tom Statler, Lucy program scientist from NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Great science pushes us to ask questions that we never knew we needed to ask.”
A diagram showing the trajectory of the NASA Lucy spacecraft (red) during its flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh and its satellite (gray). “A” marks the location of the spacecraft at 12:55 p.m. EDT (1655 UTC) Nov. 1, 2023, and an inset shows the L’LORRI image captured at that time. “B” marks the spacecraft’s position a few minutes later at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 UTC), and the inset shows the corresponding L’LORRI view at that time. Overall graphic, NASA/Goddard/SwRI; Inset “A,” NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL/NOIRLab); Inset “B,” NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL The team is continuing to downlink and process the remainder of the encounter data from the spacecraft. Dinkinesh and its satellite are the first two of 11 asteroids that Lucy plans to explore over its 12-year journey. After skimming the inner edge of the main asteroid belt, Lucy is now heading back toward Earth for a gravity assist in December 2024. That close flyby will propel the spacecraft back through the main asteroid belt, where it will observe asteroid Donaldjohanson in 2025, and then on to the Trojan asteroids in 2027.
Lucy’s principal investigator is based out of the Boulder, Colorado, branch of Southwest Research Institute, headquartered in San Antonio. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built and operates the spacecraft. Lucy is the 13th mission in NASA’s Discovery Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
For more information about NASA’s Lucy mission, visit:
By Katherine Kretke
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
Nancy N. Jones
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Last Updated Nov 07, 2023 Editor Jamie Adkins Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
Asteroids Goddard Space Flight Center Lucy The Solar System Explore More
3 min read NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Captures its 1st Images of Asteroid Dinkinesh
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft captured its first images with a view of the main belt asteroid…
2 months ago
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