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What is Your NASA Top 5?

On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Space Aeronautics Act which gave birth to our space exploration program, NASA. Here were are 58 years later and we can look back at some pretty remarkable accomplishments. 

Here at the Museum, our world is filled with astronomy and space lovers. We asked our volunteer and all around space enthusiast Tyler Hutchison to put together his Top 5 NASA moments to help celebrate this momentous occasion in history. 

Top Five Achievements of NASA

5. Mars Science Laboratory (2011- present)

a. Mission: To investigate whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life

b. Launch Date: November 26, 2011, on Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41

c. Landing Date: August 6, 2012, in Gale Crater

d. Design: The rover, Curiosity, was designed to be roughly the size of an SUV. It is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) which produces electricity through heat produced by decaying radioactive isotopes, such as plutonium-238. In order to withstand harsh conditions on the Martian surface, thermal systems provide heat to internal components, and the on-board computers contain radiation resistant memory. The rover contains several telecommunication redundancies and can communicate with the three active relay satellites in Mars orbit or directly with NASA’s Deep Space Network and Mission Operations.

e. Accomplishments: Curiosity found that ancient conditions on Mars were suitable for microbial life, that the basic compounds of life are present in Mars’ soil, that methane is present in Mars’ atmosphere, that ionizing radiation poses severe health risks for human explorers, that Mars contained a thicker atmosphere and more water in the past, and that streams and rivers were present on Mars in the past.

4. Hubble Space Telescope (1990- present)

a. Mission: Ritchey-Chrétien reflecting space telescopic observatory

b. Launch Date: April 24, 1990, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery STS-31

c. Deployment Date: April 25, 1990
    Entered service on May 20, 1990

d. Design: Hubble contains communications antennae responsible for relaying data to scientists on Earth as well as planning and carrying out observations from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. The telescope operates using power generated from photovoltaic solar cells mounted on the spacecraft’s exterior. In addition, Hubble contains many automated computer systems and microprocessors responsible for daily adjustments and operation. Hubble is built to withstand zero gravity conditions as well as experience temperature fluctuations of 100 degrees Fahrenheit during each orbit.

e. Accomplishments: Hubble played a role in many breakthrough scientific discoveries: Hubble observations played a key role in discovering mysterious dark matter, as well as revealing the approximate age of the universe to be 13-14 billion years. Hubble provided scientists with images of the early universe and made observations measuring the atmospheric compositions and masses of multiple exoplanets orbiting other stars. Hubble data was used to discover that supermassive black holes are present all across the universe. Hubble observations confirmed that mysterious gamma-ray bursts originate from galaxies far, far away. Hubble confirmed that quasars reside in the centers of ancient galaxies. Peering into the gaseous clouds of our own galaxy, Hubble revealed that young stars are surrounded by flat disks of gas and dust that form planets over millions of years. In 1994, Hubble provided images of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 colliding with the planet Jupiter. Hubble also proved that no two planetary nebulae are alike, similar to snowflakes. In addition, Hubble provided famous images of the cool planet-forming hydrogen nebulae called the “pillars of creation”.

3. Space Shuttle Program (1981-2011)

a. Mission: The four operational space shuttles (formerly six) were two-stage crewed orbital launch and reentry vehicles used by NASA for transporting astronauts, satellites, space station modules, and science experiments to low earth orbit.

b. Launch Date: April 12, 1981 (first) – July 8, 2011 (last)

c. Landing Date: April 14, 1981 (first) – July 21, 2011 (last)

d. Design: The shuttles were 122 feet long with a wingspan of 184 feet, and weighed as much as 13.4 African elephants. The shuttle operated in low Earth orbit from 115 to 400 miles above sea level and had an average velocity of 17,321 mph.

e. Accomplishments: The many accomplishments of the space shuttle program include: Various physics, astronomy, and chemistry experiments, construction of the international space station, crew transport and servicing of both the ISS and Mir stations, multiple Hubble telescope servicing missions, transportation of various LEO satellites and experiments, transportation of the Chandra X-ray Observatory to high Earth orbit, multiple deployments of defense and communication satellites, and deployment of multiple interplanetary missions such as Ulysses, Galileo, and Magellan.

2. Apollo Program (1961-1972)

a. Mission: Apollo’s primary mission was to accomplish successful manned lunar landings

b. Launch Date: February 26, 1966 (first, unmanned) – December 7, 1972

c. Landing Date: February 26, 1966 (first, unmanned) ) – December 19, 1972

d. Design: The missions used a combination of Command / Service modules and Lunar landing modules. The spacecraft also used a Launch Escape System to ensure that the crew would remain unharmed during a launch emergency. The missions were launched by expendable Saturn V rockets. Each launch of the rocket cost approximately $1.2 billion in 2016 dollars.

c. Accomplishments: The goal of the Apollo program was to “land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth”. This goal was accomplished on July 20, 1969 by Neil A. Armstrong. In addition to the first manned lunar landing, Apollo inspired a generation of scientists, engineers, and astronauts as well as waves of new technology.

1. Voyager Program (1977- present)

a. Mission: A rare alignment of planets in the 1970’s allowed a spacecraft to visit all four giant planets. The Voyager 1 probe was launched with the goal of collecting information on the atmospheres, interiors, satellites, and magnetospheres of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, as well as collect data regarding their satellites and planetary rings. Voyager 2 completed many of the same objectives as Voyager 1, as well as visit and collect data from the planets Uranus and Neptune, along with their moons and rings. In addition, the Voyager probes are now investigating the far outer regions of the Solar System’s helisphere.

b. Launch Date: Voyager 1: September 5, 1977                               
                           Voyager 2: August 20, 1977

c. Arrival Date: Voyager 1: Jupiter: March 1979, Saturn: November 1980                                    Voyager 2: Jupiter: July 1979, Saturn: August 1981, 
                                           Uranus: January 1986, Neptune: August 1989

d. Design: The Voyager probes were identical in design and featured stabilizing systems that keep the high-gain antennae pointed toward Earth. The crafts each weigh approximately 773 kilograms with 105 kilograms of scientific instruments. The Voyagers each contain a Voyager Golden Record with sounds and images portraying culture and diversity of life on Earth. The records are intended for extraterrestrial or future human explorers that might one day find them. The probes are each powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators.

e. Accomplishments: The Voyagers have discovered 22 new satellites (3 at Jupiter, 3 at Saturn, 10 at Uranus, and 6 at Neptune), as well as the discovery of Jupiter’s rings and new information regarding the rings of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Voyager 2 also discovered Uranian and Neptunian magnetospheres. The probes discovered auroral zones on Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, as well as active volcanism on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, and geyser-like structures on Triton, Neptune’s largest moon.

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