Excitement surrounds space telescope, Moon missions

WASHINGTON — While out to sea and touring the far west for the past 31 days, there has been a lot going on lately with regard to NASA space missions, so I thought I would bring WTOP readers up to speed.

The biggest news to me is that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) recently departed NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and is at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tx. for testing.

I was privileged to see JWST several times at Goddard while the telescope was under construction.

Goddard is managing the JWST project and the Space Telescope Science Institute is responsible for science and mission operations, as well as ground station development.

In 2002, NASA selected Northrop Grumman as the prime contractor to develop the James Webb Space Telescope. Northrop Grumman designed and built the deployable sunshield; it is providing the spacecraft and will integrate the total system.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) have been integral JWST partners to NASA as well.

The telescope will leave Johnson when testing is completed and go to Northrop Grumman Redondo Beach for attachment to the spacecraft. Then there will be more testing.

When completed, JWST will be shipped to French Guinea for subsequent launch aboard an ESA Ariane 5 rocket. The launch date is currently set for October 2018.

The Moon is no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of the solar system. A lot is going on.

SpaceX plans to send two paying passengers to the Moon in 2018.

NASA is participating in a South Korean mission to the Moon, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), by flying an instrument designed to gather more information on Moon water.

Google’s Lunar XPrize is really heating up with 5 teams announcing securing launch contracts.

China has upcoming lunar missions for 2017 and 2018.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter remains the only active lunar mission at present and is returning data and pictures daily.

At the Asteroid Belt, NASA’s Dawn mission is in orbit around Ceres.

NASA has announced two new missions, Lucy and Psyche, to further explore asteroids.

At Mars, six NASA missions are currently studying the Red Planet.

The Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Mars Orbiter Mission continues as does ESA’s Mars Express.

Currently the brightest object in the sky, besides the Moon, is Jupiter. NASA’s Juno mission is providing great pictures and data.

NASA’s nearly two decade long Cassini mission to Saturn is in its ‘Grand Finale.’ The intrepid spacecraft has written the book on Saturn and its system of rings and moons.

Cassini is doing a series of daring orbits that take it between Saturn and its rings. This has been an amazing mission with breathtaking photographs and return of data.

The mission ends Sept. 15, 2017 with Cassini entering Saturn’s atmosphere.

Saturn is visible in the southeast night sky at 11 p.m.

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently in hibernation and on its way to a 2019 New Year rendezvous with Kupier Belt Object. The spacecraft remains healthy after 11-plus years in space and traveling over 3 billion miles!

Remember, you can keep up with all of NASA’s missions via social media. Just follow them on the mission webpage.

In my next segment, I will share with you the latest on NASA’s Plans for “Crewed Missions to Mars.”

In the meantime, I hope you will join me at Shenandoah National Park for my fourth season of “Let’s Talk About Space.

I will also be appearing May 27, 2017 at the Castleton Theatre Festival Building talking about “The Universe and You.”

Follow Greg’s daily blog www.whatsupthespaceplace.com to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email Greg at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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