Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft Captures Haunting View of Earth in Space

Earth and Moon seen from 3 million miles away on October 2, 2017. (NASA/OSIRIS-REx team and the University of Arizona)

OSIRIS-REx tested its cameras by taking a gorgeous photo of its home planet

The image comes from spacecraft OSIRIS-REx—an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer—which is on a mission to study the asteroid Bennu. When it arrives in December 2018, it will map the space rock, then capture a sample to return to Earth by 2023. The mission will help scientists better understand asteroids, which can provide clues into the formation of our solar system. But the study is also a stepping-stone on NASA’s longer journey to develop the skills and technology to mine asteroids in space.

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016, using Earth as a slingshot the following year for help redirecting its path to Bennu. During the maneuver, it turned its mid-range scientific camera MapCam towards the Earth, snapping some pics of our planet in space.

The above image is a composite of photographs captured on October 2, 2017. The images were taken using three color filters, then the contrast on the moon was stretched to make it brighter and more visible. Although pretty, the true purpose of the photograph was pragmatic, reports Emily Lakdawalla for The Planetary Society: to test the instruments, and to train them on Earth data to help calibrate them in advance of the spacecraft’s arrival at Bennu.

The camera captured the image when the spacecraft was 3,180,000 miles from planet—just over thirteen times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. However, because of of the spacecraft’s angle of retreat, Akshat Rathi calculated for Quartz, duo appear closer together than they actually are.

The simple image is a captivating reminder that each of Earth’s creatures—and every one that came before—all share this delicate outpost in the vast, dark vacuum of space.

OREX Infographic

Test flight by Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin puts company big step closer to offering space tourism

CBS News

Blue Origin engineers check out a New Shepard crew capsule after a successful unpiloted test flight on December 12, 2017, the company’s sixth successful launch in a row; it was the first flight of an upgraded capsule featuring the large windows designed to give future space tourists panoramic views


Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, launched a reusable New Shepard sub-orbital rocket from the company’s west Texas launch site Tuesday, boosting an unpiloted crew capsule out of the dense lower atmosphere for a brief foray into space before a parachuted descent to Earth.

The booster, meanwhile, plunged back to the launch site tail first, re-starting its hydrogen-fueled BE-3 main engine to slow down, deploying four legs and settling to a picture-perfect touchdown on a circular landing pad.

The launching, the first using an upgraded booster and a crew capsule equipped with the large windows that will offer space tourists spectacular panoramic views, was carried out in secrecy, and Blue Origin did not acknowledge the flight until around 11 p.m. EST.

“Successful first flight of #NewShepard today with the largest windows in space and commercial payloads on board,” Blue Origin tweeted. “Wholly successful mission.”

Added Bezos: “#NewShepard had a successful first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0 today. Complete with windows and our instrumented test dummy. He had a great ride.”


The New Shepard rocket returns to Earth with a rocket-powered touchdown on December 12, 2017



The crew capsule was released after the booster’s engine shut down, soaring to an altitude of 322,000 feet — about 61 miles — before arcing back toward Earth. Small drogue chutes deployed to stabilize the spacecraft followed by three large chutes that slowed the ship for a gentle 1-mph touchdown near the launch site.

The booster, flying on its own, steered itself back to a rocket-powered touchdown, kicking up a cloud of dust as it descended to an on-target landing.

It was Blue Origin’s seventh New Shepard flight overall and it’s sixth success in a row. It was the company’s first test flight since a dramatic launch Oct. 5, 2016, that simulated an in-flight abort and its first using a new, upgraded booster and a crew capsule equipped with windows.


The New Shepard crew capsule descends to Earth under parachutes after reaching the edge of space in a sub-orbital test flight on December 12, 2017


“Crew Capsule 2.0 features large windows, measuring 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall,” the company said in a caption to its YouTube video. “(It) also included 12 commercial, research and education payloads onboard.”

Blue Origin is developing the reusable New Shepard rocket and spacecraft to carry up to six space tourists, researchers and/or experiments on brief sub-orbital flights above the discernible atmosphere more than 62 miles up, or 100 kilometers. That’s the somewhat arbitrary but widely recognized “boundary” of space.

Once released from the booster, passengers in the relatively spacious crew cabin will experience four to five minutes of weightlessness as the spacecraft arcs over and begins falling back to Earth, enjoying a spectacular panoramic view through the largest windows ever designed for spaceflight.

Plunging back into the dense lower atmosphere, passengers will experience up to five times the pull of gravity at sea level before the parachutes deploy for landing.

Assuming continued testing goes well, Blue Origin hopes to being launching passengers within the next year-and-a-half or so. No word yet on how much a ticket might cost.


Amazing Space Photos from a few years ago

On September 22, 2010, with the departure of the Expedition 23 crew, Colonel Douglas H. Wheelock assumed command of the International Space Station and the Expedition 25 crew.  He has been tweeting pictures to his followers since he arrived at the space station. We thought that we should put some of them together as a tribute to him and the whole ISS crew.

Discovery launch September, 2010.


Soyuz 23S, “Olympus” docked to the nadir side of the Space Station. This will be our ride back home to planet Earth when our work is complete here. Thought I would tweet this view out of the Cupola, as we were passing over the majestic snow-capped Caucuses. The sun rising and reflecting off the Caspian Sea (9-26-2010). Space Photo: NASA, Astronaut Wheelock.


Western Europe





Patagonia, southern tip of South America


Egypt, Israel, Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea.


Our ‘Progress 39P’ unmanned resupply spaceship on final approach for docking this past Sunday. It was laden with food, fuel, spare parts, and much needed supplies for our orbiting outpost. The greatest gift was just inside the hatch…some bags of fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a wonderful treat after 3 months of eating out of tubes and plastic pouches (9-15-2010)! Space Photo: NASA, Astronaut Wheelock.


Ayers Rock, Australia.  This beast is 2.2 miles long and 1.4 miles wide.


The ‘Cupola’, attached to the nadir side of the Space Station, gives a panoramic view of our beautiful planet. Cosmonaut Fyodor took this picture from the window of the Russian Docking Compartment (Airlock). Here I am in the Cupola preparing a camera for our late evening Hurricane Earl flyover…trying to capture the moment…(8-31-2010). Space Photo: NASA, Astronaut Wheelock.

SpaceX launches Super Secret Military Spacecraft

SpaceX can add another first to its ever-increasing list: On Thursday, it successfully launched the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B experimental spaceplane for the first time. This makes it the only launch provider to accomplish this besides the United Launch Alliance, and should help ensure SpaceX gets more business from U.S, defense contracts in future.

The launch vehicle used was SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which took off from the company’s LC-39A launch facility at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday morning at 10 AM ET (7 AM PT). The Falcon 9 deployed the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, as the payload is officially called, and then its first stage booster returned to Earth for a planned recovery at Cape Canaveral Air Force base via SpaceX’s LZ-1 landing pad. The goal was to get the launch up before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, and they succeeded.

While the specifics of the X-37B’s mission aren’t available to the public, it will be “conducting experiments” post-launch. Its last mission saw it orbit Earth for two years before returning via a landing in May. The X-37B, built by Boeing, is an uncrewed vehicle, but resembles the Space Shuttle on a smaller scale. It’s also designed to land like the Shuttle, using a landing strip like you’d use for an airliner.

The X-37B is the first uncrewed space plane for the U.S., and is designed for reusability at a reasonable cost. It’s aim is to fly and test new tech, and to return experimental results in a way that protects cargo and makes it suitable for post-operation examination. One of the goals with this launch was basically just to prove SpaceX as a viable launch option, which Boeing says will help ensure the flexibility and continued viability of the X-37B for experimental use.

For SpaceX, this marks the 16th recovery of a Falcon 9 first stage. The next mission to reuse a refurbished recovered booster is EchoStar 105’s SES-11 mission, which is taking place in October and which will reuse a booster first used for the CRS-10 ISS resupply mission.