Well, it's the first week of June and we've already had some exciting news and discoveries in space exploration. Not only are we about a month away from a historical Pluto mission, but kids now have the opportunity to tell the dwarf planet "hello" when New Horizons gets there.
We also celebrated the first walk taken in space, as well as witnessed the first interspace handshake.
Meanwhile, Rosetta discovered something else we didn't know about comets and we learned that in the right conditions, many microbes found on Earth can not only survive the harsh conditions of space, but can also handle the journey getting there.
"Dear Pluto" campaign launches.
We're just a month away from our first close-up visit of Pluto, and in honor of that, website Janet's Planet, run by Janet Ivey, has launched a campaign to allow kids to say "hi" to Pluto when NASA's New Horizons flies by it. The website encourages kids to write or record a message to the dwarf planet to build anticipation for New Horizons' mission.
"In honor of NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto, Janet's Planet is inviting you (and everyone you know) to share your hopes, your ideas, your thoughts, your beliefs and planetary wisdom in a written or video letter to Pluto, that beloved little planet that is 4 billion miles away from our Sun!" writes Ivey on her website. "It all starts with just two little words: #Dear Pluto! We can't wait to see what you have to say."
NASA celebrates the first space walk.
This week marked a very important anniversary in the history of space exploration: the first walk ever taken in space. On June 3, 1965, astronaut Ed White, who served as a pilot on Gemini 4, went outside his spacecraft and made history by becoming the first man to take a controlled walk in space.
In honor of that, NASA celebrated that achievement by the now-deceased White by offering an award to his daughter.
"In many ways, Ed's spacewalk was the modern day equivalent of Lewis and Clark's portage across the Gates of the Mountains during exploration of the West," says NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. "He had ventured into uncharted territory. That historical achievement is a big part of the reason why Mars is now within our sights, and we will continue to push EVA technological advancements as we move forward on our journey to Mars."
ESA makes the first interspace handshake.
What's it like to shake the hand of a device on the ISS remotely controlled from Earth? This week, NASA astronaut Terry Virts found out when he shook hands with a joystick remote-controlled by a European Space Agency telerobotics specialist in the Netherlands. The joystick is part of a program that lets astronauts in space "feel" objects from afar, apparently, including on Earth. Its twin sits on Earth and moving it there makes it do the same thing on the ISS.
The ESA has high hopes for this technology, which one day could see use from astronauts in space remotely controlling robots on planets, such as Mars.
Rosetta continues to change what we know about comets.
Although the Philae Lander never woke up, as we'd hoped, the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft is still revealing a lot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's secrets. This week, a new discovery surprised scientists as they studied Comet 67P's coma involving how water and carbon dioxide break up there.
Until now, we always thought that this breakup happened because of photons coming from the sun. However, Rosetta uncovered that the actual cause of this molecular breakup is due to electrons close to the surface of the comet.
Shielded microbes could spread life to the stars.
We've already seen that microbes can survive the harsh conditions of space, but this week we learned that they can also probably move around in space, given the right conditions. In a new study, scientists sent dried microbe samples to the ISS, where they stayed on the station's exposure facility (i.e., outside) for nearly two years.
Many of those microbes survived their time in space and prospered. This suggests that microbes could spread life throughout space. This holds implications for space exploration because we now know we must take care in scrubbing spacecraft clean and ridding vehicles of microbes before going out on scientific missions. Otherwise, any life we discover during those missions could very well have originated here on Earth and survived a trip to wherever we take them.
Photo Credit: NASA | Instagram