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Cassini 10 Years at Saturn Top Images


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Cassini 10 Years at Saturn Top Images

The Cassini team is proud to celebrate 10 years since arriving at Saurn with this collection of images selected by members of the team.

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Enceladus North Pole Montage

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Peering Through Titan’s Haze

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Water World

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Created with GIMP

Enceladus Up-Close

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Saturnian Snowman

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A Fractured Pole

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Imminent Approach to Dione

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Red Arcs on Tethys

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Spongy Surface

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Serene Saturn

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Simulations of the Tendrils

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    • By NASA
      With the dress rehearsal completed during Apollo 10 in May 1969, only a few weeks remained until Apollo 11, the actual Moon landing mission to meet President Kennedy’s goal set in 1961. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and their backups James A. Lovell, William A. Anders, and Fred W. Haise entered the final phase of their training, rehearsing their mission in simulators and practicing for the lunar surface activities. Teams in Mission Control supported the simulations. A successful countdown demonstration cleared the way to start the actual countdown leading to launch. In the Pacific Ocean, U.S. Navy and NASA teams prepared for the recovery of the astronauts returning from the Moon, and for their postflight quarantine.
      Apollo 10
      After returning from their successful Moon landing dress rehearsal mission on May 26, 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan passed on their knowledge and lessons learned to the Apollo 11 Moon landing crew during postflight debriefs. On June 8, they accepted Emmy Awards on behalf of all Apollo crews for their television broadcasts from space, with special recognition for Apollo 10’s first use of color TV in space. On June 19, Stafford, Young, and Cernan returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to thank the employees there for getting them safely into orbit. On June 30, President Richard M. Nixon hosted them and their wives at a White House black tie dinner in their honor.

      Left: Apollo 10 astronauts debrief their mission with the Apollo 11 astronauts. Middle: Apollo 10 astronauts John W. Young, left, Eugene A. Cernan, and Thomas P. Stafford hold their Emmy Awards. Right: At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, Stafford, left, Young, and Cernan hold photographs of their launch presented to them by KSC Launch Director Rocco A. Petrone.

      Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, left, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan wave to employees as they ride in a convertible through NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
      Apollo 11

      The document from NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight stating Apollo 11’s primary objective.
      On June 26, Samuel C. Phillips, Apollo Program Director, and George E. Mueller, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., signed the directive stating Apollo 11’s primary objective: perform a manned lunar landing and return. The focus of the crew’s training, and all the other preparatory activities happening across the agency, aimed at accomplishing that seemingly simple, yet in truth extremely complex and never before accomplished, task.

      Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin in the Lunar Module simulator at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Right: Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins in KSC’s Command Module simulator.

      Apollo 11 Flight Directors Eugene F. Kranz, left, Glynn S. Lunney, Clifford E. Charlesworth, Milton L. Windler, and Gerald D. Griffin pose in Mission Control.
      The final weeks leading up to the launch of their historic mission proved quite busy for Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin and their backups Lovell, Anders, and Haise, as well as the ground teams preparing their rocket and spacecraft for flight. To train for the different phases of their mission, the astronauts conducted many sessions in Command Module (CM) and Lunar Module (LM) simulators at both the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and at KSC. For many of these sessions, teams of operators in MSC’s Mission Control monitored their activities as they would during the actual mission. Flight Directors Eugene F. Kranz, left, Glynn S. Lunney, Clifford E. Charlesworth, Milton L. Windler, and Gerald D. Griffin led the Mission Control teams.

      Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin practice their lunar surface activities at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, left, and at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
      Apollo 11 would conduct the first spacewalk on another celestial body and only the second spacewalk of the Apollo program. At training facilities at MSC and KSC, Armstrong and Aldrin practiced setting up a television camera that would relay their activities back to Earth during the 2.5-hour excursion, deploying the three science experiments, and collecting rock and regolith samples for return to Earth.

      Left: Apollo 11 Commander Neil A. Armstrong prepares to fly the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Middle: Armstrong airborne in the LLTV. Right: Apollo 11 backup Commander James A. Lovell following a flight in the LLTV.
      On June 6, NASA managers approved the resumption of astronaut training flights in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base (AFB) near MSC. The LLTV simulated the flight characteristics of the LM and astronauts used it to train for the final 200 feet of the descent to the lunar surface. Managers reached the decision after reviewing findings from the Review Board headed by astronaut Walter M. Schirra that investigated the Dec. 8, 1968 crash of LLTV-1 as well as results from flights in LLTV-2 made by MSC test pilots Harold E. “Bud” Ream and Jere B. Cobb. Between June 14 and 16, Armstrong flew LLTV-2 eight times to complete his training program with the vehicle. He had previously completed 12 simulated Moon landings in the LLTV and its predecessor, the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), narrowly escaping the crash of LLRV-1 in May 1968. Backup Commander Lovell completed four flights in the LLTV between June 19 and July 1. Armstrong, Aldrin, Lovell, and Haise also practiced landings in the Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF) at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

      Left: Senior NASA managers monitor the Apollo 11 Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT) in Firing Room 1 of the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Right: The team of controllers in Firing Room 1 monitor the Apollo 11 CDDT.

      Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, front, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin about to board the transfer van to Launch Pad 39A for the Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT). Middle: Workers in the White Room assist Collins, left, Armstrong, and Aldrin to enter their spacecraft for the CDDT. Right: Armstrong, left, Aldrin, and Collins leave Launch Pad 39A at the conclusion of the CDDT.
      At KSC, engineers completed the three-day Flight Readiness Test on June 6, ensuring the flight readiness of the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo spacecraft perched on Launch Pad 39A. On June 17, top managers from NASA Headquarters and the Directors of MSC, KSC, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, held the Flight Readiness Review at KSC. The meeting reviewed all aspects of readiness for the launch and mission, clearing the way for the next milestone, the Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT). The CDDT, a full dress rehearsal for the actual countdown to launch, consisted of two parts. The “wet” test, conducted from June 27 to July 2, included fueling the rocket as if for flight, with the countdown stopping just prior to first stage engine ignition, and did not involve the flight crew. The “dry” test followed on July 3, an abbreviated countdown without fueling the rocket but with the astronauts boarding the CM as if on launch day. Controllers in Firing Room 1 of the Launch Control Center at Launch Complex 39 monitored all aspects of the CDDT as they would for an actual countdown. The successful test cleared the way for the start of the launch countdown at 8 p.m. EDT on July 10, leading to launch on July 16.

      The three commemorative items carried aboard Apollo 11. Left: The Lunar Flag Assembly. Middle: The stainless steel commemorative plaque. Right: The silicon disc containing messages of goodwill from world leaders.
      On July 2, NASA announced that Armstrong and Aldrin would leave three symbolic items behind on the Moon to commemorate the historic first landing – an American flag, a commemorative plaque, and a silicon disc bearing messages from world leaders. The astronauts would plant the three-by-five-foot flag near their LM during their spacewalk. The stainless steel plaque bore the images of the two hemispheres of the Earth and this inscription,
      HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
      FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
      JULY 1969 A.D.
      WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
      The signatures of the three astronauts and President Richard M. Nixon also appeared on the plaque. Workers mounted it on the forward landing leg strut of the LM. The one-and-one-half-inch silicon disc contained messages of goodwill from 73 world leaders, etched on the disk using the technique to make microcircuits for electronic equipment. The crew placed the disc on the lunar surface at the end of their spacewalk.

      Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins hold a copy of the commemorative plaque they will leave behind on the Moon and their mission patch. Right: The Apollo 11 astronauts in the glass-enclosed room at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.
      During a July 5 press conference in the MSC auditorium, the Apollo 11 astronauts revealed the call signs for their spacecraft. They named their CM Columbia and their LM Eagle. “We selected these as being representative of the flight, the nation’s hope,” said Armstrong. Columbia served as a national symbol represented by a statue atop the Capitol in Washington, D.C. They named the LM after the symbol of the United States, the bald eagle, featured on the Apollo 11 mission patch. In a second event, the astronauts answered reporters’ questions from inside a glass-enclosed conference room at MSC’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL). After their mission, the returning astronauts completed their 21-day quarantine in the LRL to prevent any back contamination of the Earth by any possible lunar microorganisms.

      NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, workers simulate the arrival of the first Moon rocks and other items returned from Apollo 11. Middle: Workers practice docking the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) with the LRL. Right: In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, workers barge the prime and backup MQFs to load them onto the U.S.S. Hornet. Image credit: courtesy U.S. Navy.
      At the LRL, other preparations for the return of the Apollo 11 astronauts from the Moon included a simulation of the arrival and processing of the Moon rocks and other items following the mission. The rocks, crew biological samples, and film would be flown from the prime recovery ship to Houston ahead of the crew. Engineers and technicians also rehearsed the arrival of the crew with a dry run of docking a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) to the LRL’s loading dock. Following the test, workers loaded two MQFs, a prime and a backup, onto a cargo plane for transport to Hawaii and loading onto the prime recovery ship.

      Left: Workers in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, prepare to lift a boilerplate Apollo Command Module onto the U.S.S. Hornet for splashdown and recovery rehearsals. Image credit: courtesy U.S. Navy Bob Fish. Middle: Crews from the U.S.S. Hornet practice recovery operations. Right: Recovery team members dry their Biological Isolation Garments aboard the U.S.S. Hornet following a recovery exercise.
      On June 12, the U.S. Navy notified NASA that it had selected the U.S.S. Hornet (CVS-12) as the prime recovery ship for Apollo 11 to undertake the most complex recovery of an astronaut crew. The same day, with Hornet docked in her home port of Long Beach, California, its commanding officer, Capt. Carl J. Seiberlich, held the first recovery team meeting to review the Apollo Recovery Operations Manual, written by MSC’s Landing and Recovery Division. Between June 12 and 25, Hornet onloaded NASA equipment required for the recovery. On June 27, Hornet left Long Beach for a three-hour stop in San Diego, where air group maintenance and support personnel embarked. The next day, after Hornet left for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, pilots flew the aircraft required to support the recovery onto the carrier. During the cruise to Pearl Harbor, Hornet’s 90-man team detailed for Apollo 11 recovery operations held numerous meetings and table-top simulations. After arriving in Hawaii on July 2, workers loaded a boilerplate Apollo capsule onto the aircraft carrier to be used for recovery practice. The NASA recovery team, the Frogmen swimmers from the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team 11 (UDT-11) who assisted with the recovery, and some media personnel arrived onboard. For the recovery operation, Capt. Seiberlich adopted the motto “Hornet Plus Three,” indicating the goal of a safe recovery of the three astronauts returning from the Moon. On July 3, Capt. Seiberlich introduced the 35-member NASA recovery team to the Hornet’s crew. Donald E. Stullken, Chief of the Recovery Operations Branch at MSC and inventor of the inflatable flotation collar attached by swimmers to the capsule after splashdown, led the NASA team. His assistant John C. Stonesifer oversaw the decontamination and quarantine operations. Stullken and Stonesifer briefed Hornet’s Command Module Retrieval Team on all events associated with the recovery and retrieval of an Apollo capsule and its crew. On July 6, workers loaded the two MQFs aboard Hornet. The prime MQF would house the returning astronauts, a flight surgeon, and an engineer from shortly after splashdown until their arrival at the LRL in Houston several days later. The second MQF served as a backup should a problem arise with the first or if violations of quarantine protocols required additional personnel to be isolated. Along with the MQFs, Navy personnel loaded other equipment necessary for the recovery, including 55 one-gallon containers of sodium hypochlorite to be used as a disinfectant. Between July 7 and 9, the Hornet conducted nine Simulated Recovery Exercises in local Hawaiian waters. Lieutenant Clarence J. “Clancy” Hatleberg led the team as the designated decontamination swimmer with U.S. Navy Frogmen serving as stand-ins for the astronauts, all wearing Biological Isolation Garments as they would on recovery day. The Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor to pick up the rest of the NASA recovery team before setting sail on July 12 for its first recovery position. 
      Apollo 12

      Left: Apollo 12 astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad, left, Alan L. Bean, and Richard F. Gordon prepare to enter their Command Module for an altitude test. Right: Conrad after completing a flight in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle.

      Left: In the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, workers finish attaching the landing gear to the Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM). Middle left: Workers in the MSOB prepare to mate the Apollo 12 Command and Service Modules with the Spacecraft LM Adapter. Middle right: Workers move the assembled Apollo 12 spacecraft from the MSOB to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Right: In the VAB. workers lower the Apollo 12 spacecraft onto its Saturn V rocket.
      With Apollo 11 on its launch pad, workers continued to prepare Apollo 12 for its eventual journey to the Moon, targeting a September launch should Apollo 11 not succeed. If Apollo 11 succeeded in its Moon landing mission, Apollo 12 would fly later, most likely in November, to attempt the second Moon landing at a different location. In KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the three-stage Saturn V stood on its Mobile Launcher, awaiting the arrival of the Apollo spacecraft. In the nearby Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, the Apollo 12 prime crew of Charles “Pete” Conrad, Richard F. Gordon, and Alan L. Bean and their backups David R. Scott, Alfred M. Worden, and James B. Irwin completed altitude chamber tests of the CM and LM during the first two weeks of June. Workers removed the spacecraft from the vacuum chambers, mated them on June 27, and transferred them to the VAB on July 1 for stacking on the Saturn V rocket. At Ellington AFB in Houston, Conrad completed his first flights aboard LLTV-2 on July 9-10.
      Apollo 13

      Left: In the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, workers place the first stage of the Apollo 13 Saturn V rocket onto the Mobile Launcher to begin the stacking process. Middle: The Apollo 13 Command and Service Modules arrive at KSC. Right: The ascent stage of the Apollo 13 Lunar Module arrives at KSC.
      In the event that neither Apollo 11 nor 12 succeeded in landing on the Moon, NASA stood prepared to try a third time with Apollo 13 in November or December, still in time to meet President Kennedy’s deadline. The Apollo 13 Command and Service Modules arrived at KSC on June 26, followed by the LM ascent and descent stages on June 28 and 29, respectively. The Saturn V’s S-IC first stage arrived on June 16 and workers placed it on its Mobile Launcher two days later. The S-IVB third stage and S-II second stage arrived June 13 and 29, respectively, and workers stacked the stages in mid-July.
      To be continued …
      News from around the world in June 1969:
      June 3 – Eric Carle publishes children’s picture book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
      June 3 – The final episode of Star Trek airs on NBC.
      June 5 – The Tupolev Tu-144 became the first passenger jet to fly faster than the speed of sound.
      June 10 – The Nixon Administration cancels the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program.
      June 15 – “Hee Haw,” with Roy Clark and Buck Owens, premieres on CBS.
      June 20 – Georges Pompidou sworn in as the 19th President of France.
      June 20 – 200,000 attend Newport ’69, then largest-ever pop concert, in Northridge, California.
      June 23 – Warren E. Burger sworn in as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice.
      June 28 – Police carry out a raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, beginning the modern LGBT rights movement.
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    • By NASA
      The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) launched together from Cape Canaveral Air Force, now Space Force, Station on June 18, 2009, atop an Atlas V launch vehicle. The primary mission of the LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, involved imaging the entire Moon’s surface to create a 3-D map with ~50-centimeter resolution to aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions. In addition, LRO would map the polar regions and search for the presence of water ice. Although its primary mission intended to last only one year, it continues to operate after 15 years in lunar orbit. The LCROSS, managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, planned to further investigate the presence of water ice in permanently shaded areas of the Moon’s polar regions. The two components of LCROSS, the Centaur upper stage of the launch vehicle and the Shepherding Satellite, planned to deliberately crash into the Moon. Instruments on Earth and aboard LRO and the LCROSS Shepherding Satellite would observe the resulting plumes and analyze them for the presence of water.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), top, silver, and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), bottom, gold, spacecraft during placement inside the launch shroud. Right: Launch of LRO and LCROSS on an Atlas V rocket.
      The LRO spacecraft carries seven scientific instruments:
      the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) to characterize the lunar radiation environment; the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment (DLRE) to identify areas cold enough to trap ice; the Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LMAP) to search for ice in the lunar polar regions; the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) to create a map of hydrogen distribution and to determine the neutron component of the lunar radiation environment; the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) to measure slopes and roughness of potential landing sites; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) consisting of two-narrow angle and one wide-angle camera to take high-resolution images of the lunar surface; and the Mini Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) experiment, an advanced radar system to image the polar regions and search for water ice.
      Left: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and its scientific instruments. Right: Illustration of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and its scientific instruments on panel at left.
      The LCROSS Shepherding Satellite carried nine instruments – five cameras (one visible, two near-infrared, and two mid-infrared); three spectrometers (one visible and two near-infrared); and a photometer. They monitored the plume sent up by the impact of the Centaur upper stage.

      Left: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in lunar orbit. Right: Illustration of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite’s Shepherding Satellite at left and Centaur upper stage at right prior to lunar impact.
      On June 23, 2009, after a four-and-a-half-day journey from Earth, LRO entered an elliptical polar orbit around the Moon. Over the next four days, four engine burns refined the spacecraft’s orbit and engineers on the ground began commissioning its instruments. The LROC returned its first image of the Moon on June 30 of an area near the Mare Nubium. On Sept. 15, 2009, LRO began its primary one-year mission to map the lunar surface from its science orbit 31 miles above the Moon.  
      On Oct. 9, 2009, first the Centaur upper stage followed five minutes later by the LCROSS Shepherding Satellite crashed into the Moon’s Cabeus Crater near the lunar south pole. Although the impacts created smaller plumes than anticipated, instruments detected signs of water in the ejected debris.
      In September 2010, LRO completed its primary mapping mission and began an extended science mission around the Moon. On Dec. 17, NASA released the most detailed topographic map covering more than 98 percent of the Moon’s surface based on data from LRO’s LOLA instrument. The map continues to be updated as new data are received from the spacecraft. On March 15, 2011, LRO had made available more than 192 terabytes of data from its primary mission to the NASA Planetary Data System, or PDS, to make the information available to researchers, students, media, and the general public. LRO  continues to deliver data to the PDS, having generated the largest volume of data from a NASA planetary science mission ever.

      Left: First high-resolution image of the Moon taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Middle: Mosaic of LRO images of the Moon’s near side. Right: Mosaic of LRO images of the Moon’s far side.

      Left: Mosaic of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images of the lunar north pole. Right: Mosaic of LRO images of the lunar south pole.
      The LCROSS data showed that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials, such as hydrogen gas, ammonia, and methane, which could be used to produce fuel for space missions. Large amounts of light metals, such as sodium, mercury, and silver, were discovered. The data revealed that there is perhaps as much as hundreds of millions of tons of frozen water on the Moon, enough to make it an effective oasis for future explorers.
      Thanks to its unique vantage point in a low altitude lunar orbit, LRO’s camera has taken remarkably detailed images of all six Apollo landing sites. The detail is such that not only can the Lunar Module (LM) descent stages be clearly identified, but disturbances of the lunar soil by the astronauts’ boots, the shadows of the American flag are visible at five of the landing sites, and the Lunar Rovers from the last three missions are even visible. The scientific instruments, and in at least three of the landing sites, the U.S. flag left by the astronauts can be discerned. The flag at the Apollo 11 site cannot be seen because it most likely was blown over by the exhaust of the LM’s ascent stage engine when the astronauts lifted off. In addition to the Apollo landing sites, LRO has also imaged crash and soft-landing sites of other American, Soviet, Chinese, Indian, and Israeli spacecraft, including craters left by the deliberate impacts of Apollo S-IVB upper stages. It also imaged a Korean satellite in lunar orbit as the two flew within a few miles of each other at high speed. LRO also turned its camera Earthward to catch stunning Earthrise views, one image with Mars in the background, and the Moon’s shadow on the Earth during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

      Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo 11, left, 12, and 14 landing sites.

      Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo 15, left, 16, and 17 landing sites.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) image of Luna 17 that landed on the Moon on Nov. 17, 1970, and the tracks of the Lunokhod 1 rover that it deployed. Middle: LRO image of the Chang’e 4 lander and Yutu 2 rover that landed on the Moon’s far side on Jan. 3, 2019. Right: LRO image of the Chandrayaan 3 lander taken four days after it landed on the Moon on Aug. 23, 2023.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) image of Odysseus that landed on the Moon on Feb. 22, 2024. Middle: LRO image taken on March 5, 2024, of the Danuri lunar orbiting satellite as the two passed within 3 miles of each other at a relative velocity of 7,200 miles per hour. Right: LRO image of the Chang’e 6 lander on the Moon’s farside, taken on June 7, 2024.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) image of Earthrise over Compton Crater taken Oct. 12, 2015. Middle: LRO image of Earth and Mars taken Oct. 2, 2014. Right: LRO image of the total solar eclipse taken on April 8, 2024.
      The LRO mission continues with the spacecraft returning images and data from its instruments. LRO has enough fuel on board to operate until 2027. The spacecraft can support new robotic lunar activities and the knowledge from the mission will help aid in the return of humans to the lunar surface. 
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    • By NASA
      The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), a joint classified project of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), sought to establish a crewed platform in low Earth orbit to obtain high-resolution photographic imagery of America’s 1960s Cold War adversaries. Approved in 1965, the MOL Program envisioned a series of space stations launched from a new pad in California and placed in low polar Earth orbit. Two-man crews, launching and returning to Earth aboard modified Gemini-B capsules, would work aboard the stations for 30 days at a time. Although the Air Force selected 17 pilots and built prototype hardware, the program faced budget pressures and competition from rapidly advancing technologies in uncrewed reconnaissance capabilities, leading to its cancellation on June 10, 1969.

      Left: Patch of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Program. Middle: Illustration of the MOL as it would have appeared in orbit. Image credit: Courtesy National Air and Space Museum. Right: Space Launch Complex-6 under construction in 1966 at Vandenberg Air Force (now Space Force) Base in California. Image credit: Courtesy National Reconnaissance Office.
      Announced by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in December 1963 and formally approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson in August 1965, the MOL Program envisioned a series of 60-foot-long space stations in low polar Earth orbit, occupied by 2-person crews for 30 days at a time, launching and returning to Earth aboard modified Gemini-B capsules. Externally similar to NASA’s Gemini spacecraft, the MOL version’s major modification involved a hatch cut into the heat shield that allowed the astronauts to internally access the laboratory located behind the spacecraft without the need for a spacewalk. While MOL astronauts would carry out a variety of experiments, a telescope with sophisticated imaging systems for military reconnaissance made up the primary payload in the laboratory. The imaging system, codenamed Dorian and carrying the Keyhole KH-10 designation, included a 72-inch diameter primary mirror designed to provide high resolution images of targets of military interest. To reach their polar orbits, MOLs would launch from Vandenberg Air Force (now Space Force) Base (AFB) in California. Construction of Space Launch Complex-6 (SLC-6) there began in March 1966 to accommodate the Titan-IIIM launch vehicle. The sensitive military nature of MOL resulted in its top-secret classification, not declassified by the NRO until October 2015.

      The three selection groups of Manned Orbiting Laboratory pilots. Left:  Group 1 – Michael J. Adams, Albert H. Crews, John L. Finley, Richard E. Lawyer, Lachlan Macleay, Francis G. Neubeck, James M. Taylor, and Richard H. Truly. Middle: Group 2 – Robert L. Crippen, Robert F. Overmyer, Karol J. Bobko, C. Gordon Fullerton, and Henry W. Hartsfield. Right: Group 3 – Robert T. Herres, Robert H. Lawrence, Donald H. Peterson, and James A. Abrahamson. Image credits: Courtesy U.S. Air Force.
      The USAF selected 17 pilots in three groups for the MOL program. The first group, selected on Nov. 12, 1965, consisted of eight pilots – Michael J. Adams, Albert H. Crews, John L. Finley, Richard E. Lawyer, Lachlan Macleay, Francis G. Neubeck, James M. Taylor, and Richard H. Truly. Adams retired from the MOL program in July 1966 to join the X-15 program. While making his seventh flight, he died in November 1967 when his aircraft crashed. Finley left the program in April 1968, returning to the U.S. Navy. The second group, selected on June 17, 1966, consisted of five pilots – Karol J. “Bo” Bobko, Robert L. Crippen, C. Gordon Fullerton, Henry W. Hartsfield, and Robert F. Overmyer. The third and final group of four pilots, chosen on June 30, 1967, comprised James A. Abrahamson, Robert T. Herres, Robert H. Lawrence, and Donald H. Peterson. Lawrence has the distinction as the first African American selected as an astronaut by any national space program. He died in the crash of an F-104 in December 1967.

      Group photo of 14 of the 15 Manned Orbiting Laboratory pilots still in the program in early 1968 – John L. Finley, front row left, Richard E. Lawyer, James M. Taylor, Albert H. Crews, Francis G. Neubeck, and Richard H. Truly; Robert T. Herres, back row left, James W. Hartsfield, Robert F. Overmyer, C. Gordon Fullerton, Robert L. Crippen, Donald H. Peterson, Karol J. Bobko, and James A. Abrahamson. Michael J. Adams had left the program and died in an X-15 crash, Robert H. Lawrence had died in a F-104 crash, and Lachlan Macleay does not appear for unknown reasons.
      The only space launch in the MOL program occurred on Nov. 3, 1966, when a Titan-IIIC rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force (now Space Force) Station’s Launch Complex 40. The rocket carried a MOL mockup, without the KH-10 imaging payload, and a Gemini-B capsule refurbished after it flew NASA’s uncrewed Gemini 2 suborbital mission in January 1965. This marked the only reflight of an American spacecraft intended for human spaceflight until the advent of the space shuttle. The flight successfully demonstrated the hatch in the heat shield design during the capsule’s reentry after a 33-minute suborbital flight. Sailors aboard the U.S.S. La Salle (LPD-3) recovered the Gemini-B capsule near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean and returned it to the Air Force for postflight inspection. Visitors can view it on display at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Museum. The MOL mockup entered Earth orbit and released three satellites. It also carried a suite of 10 experiments called Manifold, ranging from cell growth studies to tests of new technologies. Although the experiments could have operated for 75 days, the MOL stopped transmitting after 30 days, and decayed from orbit Jan. 9, 1967.

      Left: The only operational launch of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, a Gemini-B capsule and a MOL mockup atop a Titan-IIIC rocket in 1966. Middle: The flown Gemini-B capsule on display at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Museum in Florida. Right: Former MOL and NASA astronaut Robert L. Crippen stands beside the only flown Gemini-B capsule – note the hatch in the heat shield at top.
      By 1969, the MOL program ran several years behind schedule and significantly over budget, and other than the one test flight had not flown any actual hardware. Although no flight hardware yet existed, aside from the long lead time mirrors for the imaging system, plans in May 1969 called for four 30-day MOL missions at 6-month intervals starting in January 1972. However, technology for uncrewed military reconnaissance had advanced to the stage that the KH-10 system proposed for MOL had reached obsolescence. Following a review, the new administration of President Richard M. Nixon, faced with competing priorities for the federal budget, announced the cancellation of the MOL program on June 10, 1969. 

      Left: Prototypes of elements of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) under construction. Middle: Medium fidelity mockup of the MOL crew cabin, with suited crew member and the narrow tunnel leading to the Gemini-B capsule. Right: Former MOL and NASA astronaut Robert L. Crippen stands next to the spacesuit developed for the MOL program. Image credits: Courtesy National Reconnaissance Office.
      Although the sudden cancellation came as a shock to those working on the program, some of the personnel involved as well as some of the hardware developed for it, made their way into other agencies and projects. For example, the Air Force had developed a flexible spacesuit required by the MOL pilots to navigate through the narrow tunnel between the Gemini-B capsule and the laboratory – that technology transferred to NASA for future spacesuit development. The waste management system designed for use by MOL pilots flew aboard Skylab. The MOL laboratory simulator and the special computer to operate it also transferred to NASA. The technology developed for the acquisition and tracking system and the mission development simulator for the KH-10 imaging system found its way into NASA’s earth remote sensing program.

      Official NASA photograph of the Group 7 astronauts – Karol J. Bobko, left, C. Gordon Fullerton, Henry W. Hartsfield, Robert L. Crippen, Donald H. Peterson, Richard H. Truly, and Robert F. Overmyer – transfers from the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program.
      After the cancellation of the MOL program, NASA invited the younger (under 35) MOL pilots to join its astronaut corps. Bobko, Crippen, Fullerton, Hartsfield, Overmyer, Peterson, and Truly transferred to NASA on August 14, 1969, as the Group 7 astronaut class. In 1972, Crippen and Bobko participated in the 56-day ground-based Skylab Medical Experiment Altitude Test, a key activity that contributed to Skylab’s success. Although it took nearly 12 years for the first of the MOL transfers to make it to orbit, all of them went on to fly on the space shuttle in the 1980s, six of them as commanders. In an ironic twist, NASA assigned Crippen to command the first space shuttle polar orbiting mission (STS-62A) that would have launched from the SLC-6 pad at Vandenberg in 1986. But after the January 1986 Challenger accident, the Air Force reduced its reliance on the shuttle as a launch platform and cancelled the mission. Truly served as NASA administrator from 1989 to 1992 and Crippen as the director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from 1992 to 1995. NASA hired Crews, not as an astronaut but as a pilot, and he stayed with the agency until 1994. Of the MOL astronauts that did not meet NASA’s age limit requirement, many went on to have stellar careers. Abrahamson joined NASA in 1981 as associate administrator for manned space flight, then went on to lead the Strategic Defense Initiative from 1984 to 1989. Herres served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1987 to 1990.

      Left: Space shuttle Enterprise during fit checks at the SLC-6 launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force (now Space Force) Base in 1985. Middle: Athena rocket awaits launch on SLC-6 in 1997. Right: Delta-IV Heavy lifts off from SLC-6 in 2011.
      Following cancellation of the MOL program, the Air Force mothballed the nearly completed SLC-6 at Vandenberg. In 1972, the Air Force and NASA began looking at SLC-6 as a pad to launch space shuttles with payloads requiring polar orbits, with the decision made in 1975. Workers began converting SLC-6 to launch the space shuttle in 1979. Although space shuttle Enterprise used SLC-6 for fit checks in 1985, the Challenger accident the following year caused the Air Force to cancel plans to use the space shuttle to launch polar orbiting satellites, and they once again mothballed the pad. Following modifications, small Athena rockets used the pad between 1995 and 1999, the first launches from the facility after 30 years of development and modifications. Another conversion begun in 1999 modified SLC-6 to launch Delta-IV and Delta-IV Heavy rockets starting in 2006, with the last flight in 2022. SpaceX leased SLC-6 in April 2023 to begin launches of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets in 2025.

      Left: Schematic of the optical system of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), including the 72-inch primary mirror at right. Image credit: courtesy: NRO. Right: The Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona, in its original six-mirror configuration using mirrors from the MOL Program. Image credit: Courtesy Multiple Mirror Telescope.
      The NRO transferred six surplus 72-inch mirrors from the cancelled KH-10 program to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for the Multiple-Mirror Telescope (MMT) it built in association with the University of Arizona, located on Mount Hopkins, Arizona. By combining the light of the six mirrors, they achieved an effective light collecting area of a single 177-inch telescope mirror. The MMT operated in this six-mirror configuration for nearly 20 years before a single 215-inch mirror replaced them.
      Read Abrahamson’s, Bobko’s, Crew’s, Crippen’s, Fullerton’s, Hartsfield’s, Peterson’s, and Truly’s recollections of the MOL program in their oral history interviews with the JSC History Office. In 2019, the NRO held a panel discussion with MOL pilots Abrahamson, Bobko, Macleay, Crews, and Crippen, by then free to talk about their experiences during the now declassified program.
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    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Hubble Finds Surprises Around a Star That Erupted 40 Years Ago
      This artist’s concept shows the nova system HM Sagittae (HM Sge), where a white dwarf star is pulling material from its red giant companion. This forms a blazing hot disk around the dwarf, which can unpredictably undergo a spontaneous thermonuclear explosion as the infall of hydrogen from the red giant grows denser and reaches a tipping point. These fireworks between companion stars are fascinating to astronomers by yielding insights into the physics and dynamics of stellar evolution in binary systems. NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI)
      Download this image

      Astronomers have used new data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the retired SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) as well as archival data from other missions to revisit one of the strangest binary star systems in our galaxy – 40 years after it burst onto the scene as a bright and long-lived nova. A nova is a star that suddenly increases its brightness tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity, usually in a few months or years.
      Between April and September 1975, the binary system HM Sagittae (HM Sge) grew 250 times brighter. Even more unusual, it did not rapidly fade away as novae commonly do, but has maintained its luminosity for decades. Recently, observations show that the system has gotten hotter, but paradoxically faded a little.
      HM Sge is a particular kind of symbiotic star where a white dwarf and a bloated, dust-producing giant companion star are in an eccentric orbit around each other, and the white dwarf ingests gas flowing from the giant star. That gas forms a blazing hot disk around the white dwarf, which can unpredictably undergo a spontaneous thermonuclear explosion as the infall of hydrogen from the giant grows denser on the surface until it reaches a tipping point. These fireworks between companion stars fascinate astronomers by yielding insights into the physics and dynamics of stellar evolution in binary systems.
      When I first saw the new data, I went – ‘wow this is what Hubble UV spectroscopy can do!’ – I mean it’s spectacular, really spectacular.
      Ravi Sankrit
      Astronomer
      “In 1975 HM Sge went from being a nondescript star to something all astronomers in the field were looking at, and at some point that flurry of activity slowed down,” said Ravi Sankrit of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. In 2021, Steven Goldman of STScI, Sankrit and collaborators used instruments on Hubble and SOFIA to see what had changed with HM Sge in the last 30 years at wavelengths of light from the infrared to the ultraviolet (UV).
      The 2021 ultraviolet data from Hubble showed a strong emission line of highly ionized magnesium that was not present in earlier published spectra from 1990. Its presence shows that the estimated temperature of the white dwarf and accretion disk increased from less than 400,000 degrees Fahrenheit in 1989 to greater than 450,000 degrees Fahrenheit now. The highly ionized magnesium line is one of many seen in the UV spectrum, which analyzed together will reveal the energetics of the system, and how it has changed in the last three decades.
      “When I first saw the new data,” Sankrit said, “I went – ‘wow this is what Hubble UV spectroscopy can do!’ – I mean it’s spectacular, really spectacular.”
      A Hubble Space Telescope image of the symbiotic star Mira HM Sge. Located 3,400 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta, it consists of a red giant and a white dwarf companion. The stars are too close together to be resolved by Hubble. Material bleeds off the red giant and falls onto the dwarf, making it extremely bright. This system first flared up as a nova in 1975. The red nebulosity is evidence of the stellar wind. The nebula is about one-quarter light-year across. NASA, ESA, Ravi Sankrit (STScI), Steven Goldman (STScI); Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)
      Download this image

      With data from NASA’s flying telescope SOFIA, which retired in 2022, the team was able to detect the water, gas, and dust flowing in and around the system. Infrared spectral data shows that the giant star, which produces copious amounts of dust, returned to its normal behavior within only a couple years of the explosion, but also that it has dimmed in recent years, which is another puzzle to be explained.
      With SOFIA astronomers were able to see water moving at around 18 miles per second, which they suspect is the speed of the sizzling accretion disk around the white dwarf. The bridge of gas connecting the giant star to the white dwarf must presently span about 2 billion miles.
      The team has also been working with the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers), to collaborate with amateur astronomers from around the world who help keep telescopic eyes on HM Sge; their continued monitoring reveals changes that haven’t been seen since its outburst 40 years ago.
      “Symbiotic stars like HM Sge are rare in our galaxy, and witnessing a nova-like explosion is even rarer. This unique event is a treasure for astrophysicists spanning decades,” said Goldman.
      The initial results from the team’s research were published in the Astrophysical Journal, and Sankrit is presenting research focused on the UV spectroscopy at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.
      The Hubble Space Telescope has been operating for over three decades and continues to make ground-breaking discoveries that shape our fundamental understanding of the universe. Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope and mission operations. Lockheed Martin Space, based in Denver, Colorado, also supports mission operations at Goddard. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, conducts Hubble science operations for NASA.
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      Facebook logo @NASAHubble @NASAHubble Instagram logo @NASAHubble Media Contacts:
      Claire Andreoli
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
      claire.andreoli@nasa.gov
      Ray Villard
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
      Science Contacts:
      Ravi Sankrit
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
      Steven Goldman
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
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