Orion Mission Successful

The first flight of Orion, delayed a day, successfully launched, orbited, and splashed down on Friday, December 5. Orion completed two orbits of the Earth, including one at a distance of 3600 miles, more than 15 times higher than the International Space Station orbits. This is the first time a spaceship designed for humans has traveled that far from Earth since the Apollo missions. A little over four hours after launch, Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

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Comet Touchdown

The Philae lander has touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, marking the first landing on a comet. The Philae was part of the Rosetta mission launched by the European Space Agency. Philae took about seven hours to cross from Rosetta to the comet before it touched down and launched harpoons into the comet’s head to anchor itself. Armed with ten instruments, Philae will help scientists learn more about comets.

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SpaceShipTwo Crashes

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert after reporting an in-flight anomaly during a test flight. Two pilots were on-board and witnesses reported seeing at least one parachute., but the fate of the pilots is currently unknown. One of the two pilots on board was killed and the other injured. Virgin Galactic had hoped that SpaceShipTwo would have made its first extra-atmospheric flight by the end of the year.

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Edited to add fates of the two pilots.

Antares Rocket Explodes on Pad

An Antares rocket exploded during launch at 6:22 EDT at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The unmanned rocket was meant to carry supplies to the International Space Station. Its launch was postponed from October 27 because a sailboat had entered the restricted area down range of the launchpad. Initial reports indicate that damage only occurred to the rocket and launchpad.

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Martian Close Encounter

Three NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars, the Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN, were sent signals to remain in orbit on one side of Mars while comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring passed within 88,000 miles of the planet. NASA feared that particles from the comet could endanger or damage the orbiters during the cometary flyby on October 20. The satellites were also used to gather data on the flyby, as were the rovers currently on the Martian surface.

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India Goes to Mars

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has successfully inserted the Mars Orbital Mission (MOM) into Martian orbit, making it the first country to successfully send an orbiter to Mars on its first attempt. The cost of the mission was also just over $70 million, making it one of the least expensive missions to Mars. The mission will study surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and Martian atmosphere.

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NASA Outsources Transportation

NASA has signed contracts with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to provide transportation for astronauts from the US to the International Space Station. Since July 2011, when Atlantis last docked with the ISS, astronauts have been flying to the ISS on Russian spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. SpaceX and Boeing will be ready for launch in 2017.

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Carl Sagan Medal

Fan and scientist Brother Guy Consolmagno has been award the 2014 Carl Sagan Medal. The Carl Sagan Medal is for presented for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public. Consolmagno, who has been a long-time con attendee, works as an astronomer for the Vatican and has written Brother Astronomer and Turn Left at Orion. The Sagan Medal is presented by the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences.

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Obituary: Frank Asaro

Scientist Frank Asaro (b.1927) died on June 10. Asaro discovered the iridium anomaly in the C-P boundary which led to the Asteroid-Impact Theory created by Asaro, Luis Alvarez, Walter Alvarez, and Helen Michel. Asaro’s research also led to important understandings of trade in ancient civilizations. Asaro’s daughter is SF author Catherine Asaro.

Obituary: Colin Pillinger

British scientist Colin Pillinger (b.1943) died on May 7. Pillinger was the force behind the Beagle 2 space probe sent to Mars in 2003, although the probe burned up in the Martian atmosphere. Prior to that Pillinger had worked studying samples brought back by Apollo 11.