A power reactant storage and distribution from the space shuttle Columbia has been found at the bottom of a Texas lake. The four-foot diameter PRSD is a tank that provided power and water for shuttle missions. It was found after drought caused the waters of Lake Nacogdoches to recede enough to uncover the unit. Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas on February 1, 2003.
Scientist R.C.W. Ettinger (b.1918) died on July 23. Ettinger is best known as one of the pioneers of the cryonics movement and founded the Cryonics Institute in 1976. His body is the 106th body frozen by the institute. Ettinger was injured during World War II and came up with some of his ideas during his long recuperation and his love of science fiction. Ettinger also published two science fiction stories in 1948 and 1950.
The Herschel spacecraft, launched by the European Space Agency, has determined that water in the upper atmosphere of Saturn comes from the moon Enceladus, which orbits approximately 238,000 km from the planet. Enceladus spews water into space at a rate of 250kg/s. Scientists estimate that between 3-5% of that is captured by Saturn, which is enough to account for the levels of water found in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Astronomers have discovered the first asteroid to orbit in the leading Lagrange point of the Earth. 2010 TK7 is nearly 300m across and has an irregular orbit which can bring it within 20 million kilometers of the Earth. The asteroid was discovered by the Near Earth Orbit project using the WISE satellite, launched in 2009.
Chinese paleontologists have announced a study which determined that archaeopteryx was a dinosaur rather than a bird, contrary to the understanding of the creature’s role in evolution since its discovery in 1861. Rather then being the earliest known bird, scientists believe the archaeopteryx was a feathered dinosaur of the deinonychosaur group, which includes velociraptors. In recent years, many of the avian features found in archaeopteryx have also been found in non-avian dinosaurs.
Images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter may show the crash site of the Lunar Orbiter 2, which helped map potential landing sites for Apollo missions in 1967. After completing its mission, NASA instructed the LO2 to crash into the farside of the moon, although the exact location of its crash was unknown. The LRO was launched in 2009 to fully map the lunar surface and create 3D maps for a potential return to the moon. The LRO has previously mapped all six Apollo landing sites and has found evidence of volcanism on the moon.
The space shuttle Atlantis landed this morning at 5:57:00, completing both STS-135 and the shuttle program. The first shuttle, Columbia was launched in April 1981. Over the intervening thirty years, two shuttles and their crews were lost in flight, five shuttles flew in total, and the crafts traveled a total of 548,049,445 miles. The landing of Atlantis marks the first time in 30 years that the United States has not had the capacity to put humans into space. Atlantis will spend its retirement on display at the Kennedy Space Center.
Scientists have announced the discovery of a fourth moon in orbit around Pluto. Pluto’s first discovered moon, Charon, was found in 1978. Two more moons, Nyx and Hydra, were identified in 2005. The new moon, which is currently called P4, is believed to be between 13 and 34 km in diameter and orbits Pluto every 32 days at a distance of about 59,000 km, between the orbits of Nyx and Hydra.
NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta at 1 am on July 16. This is the first time an asteroid has been orbited by a spacecraft. Dawn will orbit Vesta, which was the fourth asteroid discovered, until July 2012 when the spacecraft will travel to the dwarf planet Ceres, which was the first asteroid discovered.
NASA launched the Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-135, its final mission, and the final mission of the 30 year long shuttle program at 11:29 ET. The mission was delayed with an unexpected hold at T-31 seconds when an error indicated that the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm had not fully retracted. Visual examination showed the error was a computer glitch and the countdown continued. Originally, Atlantis was supposed to have flown its last mission in May, 2010, but the current mission was added on October 11, 2010. The first shuttle launch, of Columbia, occurred on April 12, 1981.