October 24, 2007

Harmony and Balloons

This is the first article in the new format outlined in the previous post. Hope you enjoy it!

In our Solar System this week I'd like to report on two new exciting changes; Harmony and the big balloon. Most of us know what Harmony is, the newest edition to the International Space Station. It was successfully launched yesterday live on NASA TV, (which, if I have any space fans reading, and I hope I do, is definitely worth a DirectTV bill each month) and the crew is beginning preparations to attach the Harmony module, aptly named by students, the first living space enhancement to the space station since 2001. After the launch, the astronauts could be heard stating the California wildfires were clearly visible from space.

Right now, according to NASAs website, the rendezvous is complete and preparations for the assembly have begun. There are five scheduled spacewalks on this mission; far more than normal on a shuttle mission such as this. The ISS will pave the way back to the Moon for mankind.

In other news, a large solar telescope has been launched on a balloon larger than a Boeing 747. The project, dubbed Sunrise, is an international collaboration to understand the magnetic fields and other atrributes of our Sun.

The ballon will rise more than 120,000 feet in the air, above the denser levels of our atmosphere, and above radiation-blocking water vapor and ozone. The optics on this instrument will be able to document surface features on the Sun to a size of just 19 miles long, which is nearly double the resolution of any current solar telescope (sorry for those of you who shelled out $5000 for a Coronado telescope!)

Balloon-bourne instruments such as this are less expensive to build than traditional spacecraft and their increased availability will likely take us in pursuit of Venus, a planet whose dense atmosphere, poisonous gases, and incendiary temperatures have kept researchers from sending a viable probe to send information back.