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A behind-the-scenes peek at the Apollo Command Module scale model at the NASA Goddard Visitor Center

Recent, gogblog went to visit the life-size model of the Apollo Command Module in the rocket garden behind the Goddard Visitor Center. Amidst the hardware of the historic Aerobee and Delta launch systems dating to the dawn of the space age, Visitor Center program manager Bill Buckingham gave us an exclusive tour of command module model — a pretty good replica of the object that carried three humans to the moon back in the 60s.

The funnest part was squirming into the thing and getting a feel, literally, for the environment in which three full-grown men spent a week traveling to and from the Moon: working, eating, sleeping, and defecating in a space the size of a large closet. It gives you a new appreciation for the meaning of the word “hero.” I call that “Three men doing their business in a closet for a week.”

The command module model, among the most popular attractions at the Visitor Center, is feeling its age. Water seepage has taken its toll, and Bill is hoping to attract contributions from volunteers to restore the model to better shape. Here’s what Bill has to say about it.


New Comet Lovejoy video from SDO/SOHO Picture of the Week

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment



Steele Hill, NASA Goddard’s herald of all things heliospheric, just posted his latest  release of imagery, courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Steele creates these images and videos for display in science museums and other public places. The video and image in this post combined solar imagery from both SDO and SOHO of the rounding of the sun by Comet Lovejoy last week. Steele’s  descriptive text (below) explains the details.

And by the way, Steele and his colleagues have just surpassed their 500th solar “Picture of the Week.” It took 10 years. Congratulations!

“Comet Lovejoy came into view on Dec. 14 as a bright, white streak, skimmed across the Sun’s edge about 140,000 km above the surface late Dec. 15 and early Dec. 16, 2011, furiously brightening and vaporizing as it approached the Sun. It exited our field of view on Dec. 18. It was the brightest sun-grazing comet that SOHO had ever seen, with a nucleus about twice as wide as a football field. It unexpectedly survived the pass and cruised out from behind the Sun some hours later. Comets are ancient balls of dust and ice.

“In this still and movie, we combine views from SOHO’s two different coronagraphs (which block out the Sun) with solar Dynamics Observatory’s view of the Sun itself.  Note how the tail of the comet always turns away from the Sun due to the forces of the solar wind.”






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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Before NASA: When Jack Townsend met Dave Schaefer: Building the Vanguard telemetry system

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment
John Townsend in 2008.

John Townsend in 2008.

John (Jack) Townsend, one of the founders of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, passed away on Saturday, October 29. Among many other things, Townsend helped to develop the Vanguard satellite program, before NASA even existed. That was a long time ago, but many people are still around who worked with Townsend in those days.

Dave Schaefer is such a man. About a year ago, it was my pleasure to make the short drive to Dave’s home in the leafy outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland. I was accompanied by NASA computer scientist James Fischer, who, like Dave, spent decades developing Goddard’s high-performance computing capabilities.

Dave Schaefer stands by the rug in his home office woven with the image of Explorer 12, a spacecrft he helped to design.

Dave Schaefer stands by the rug in his home office woven with the image of Explorer 12, a spacecraft he helped to design.

Dave was a member of the team that developed an important component of the Vanguard satellite: the telemetry system, which captured data from the satellite’s sensors, stored it temporarily, and relayed it to Earth.

Vanguard began as a program at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and transferred over to NASA (along with many of its personnel) after the agency was founded by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

Vanguard was the first civilian satellite program, established for the International Geophysical year of 1957.  “Vanguard was supposed to orbit the very first artificial satellite,” Schaefer says. “It had its troubles.” Sputnik took over the honor, in October 1957, of becoming the first artificial Earth satellite.

But years before Sputnik was even a gleam in the eye of the Soviet politburo, Dave Schaefer and fellow staff scientist Robert Rochelle went to work at the Naval Research Laboratory, helping to lay the foundations for the U.S. civilian space program. That was in 1949.

Dave and Jack first met later, in 1955. It was all because of a radio broadcast heard in a car bound for Kansas. Schaefer told us the story this way:

“I was out in Kansas coming back from having taken two cousins of mine out there, on this auto trip. It was 1955, and here we had the radio on, and here there was a broadcast and it said mankind was going to do the greatest, most wonderful thing that had ever been done!” he says, raising his voice to preacher tone for dramatic emphasis.

“We were going to orbit an artificial moon. My God! And this was going to be done at a place called the Naval Research Lab. Well, I was already working at NRL on magnetic amplifiers. I had been there since March in 1949.

“Well I went to Whitney Matthews, who was my boss’s boss, whose name should show up in the annals of Vanguard, and I said to Whitney, “Why are we working on stupid magnetic amplifiers when the greatest thing that mankind has ever done is being done two buildings down?” And I slammed the door. I could have been out of a job, but I wasn’t.

“So two days later Whitney came to me, he said, “I have invited someone from the satellite project over to talk to us. His name is John Townsend. Jack is going to come over and talk to us tomorrow afternoon.”

“So he arrived and he said, ‘We need a telemetry system.’ He said if we go out commercially to get it, it will weigh 20 lbs. We need one that weighs — I think he said four pounds or something. And he didn’t say a lot more. He said to us, “You all think you can do it?”

“And of course we said yes, yes, yes! We made sure he went down to the elevator. We made sure he was on his way back to his office two buildings down. Then you know what we did? We ran to the nearest dictionary to figure out what in heaven’s name a telemetry system, was!

“He’d said I’ll be back in a week to see how you’re doing.  He was back in a week, because of our knowledge of magnetics, our group had a telemetry system operating for him.  And it only weighed 8 ounces, including the batteries. It met the specs, and in fact it used so little power we didn’t need to turn it off at all.” Schaefer says Bob Rochelle was the main person responsible for this achievement.

Dave Schaefer points to the portion of the Vanguard electronics core he helped to build in the late 1950s. This was an actual working model of the electronics package built for the Vanguard satellites.

Dave Schaefer points to the portion of the Vanguard electronics core he helped to build in the late 1950s. This was an actual working model of the electronics package built for the Vanguard satellites.

The United States — with the help of Dave Schaefer, Bob Rochelle, Jack Townsend, and many other people — attempted 11 Vanguard launches from 1958-59. They achieved orbit three times.

The grapefruit-sized Vanguard 1, the world’s first solar-powered satellite, launched St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) 1958 weighed just 3.35 pounds. It remains the oldest artificial objects orbiting Earth to this day.  The Rochelle telemetry system flew on Vanguard 3, launched on September 18, 1959.  This satellite is slated to remain in orbit for 300 years.

That same year, 1959, Jack Townsend jumped ship to the new civilian aerospace program, NASA, and helped establish Goddard Space Flight Center, assuming the role of Assistant Director for Space Science and Satellite Applications.

The rest is history — our history at Goddard Space Flight Center, and the origins of the nation’s aerospace agency. As Schaefer wryly points out, “The Vanguard telemetry system, the results of a ‘dare’ of Jack Townsend’s, will be in space, remembering him, for 300 years.”

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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The latest findings on the star-eating black hole

swift star eater


Phil Evans, an X-ray astronomer in England and frequent guest blogger for Geeked On Goddard, sends us this report on some exciting new findings of the NASA Swift observatory.

Back in March this year the Swift satellite detected a massive explosion in space. That in itself is nothing new. Indeed, it’s what Swift was designed to do. But, as I posted back in April, this one was a bit strange. Whereas Gamma Ray Bursts — Swift’s bread-and-butter (how cool, by the way, to be describing the most powerful explosions known in such an off-hand way) — explode and then fade away, this object flared up again, and again and then a fourth time, and even now is a bright source of X-rays.

So what was it? As I noted in that post, just 3 weeks after the event, a consensus has already formed that this was an extremely rare event: a star being torn apart by a black hole. Two papers have today (August 25) been published in the journal Nature, arguing for this interpretation, one of them led by Prof. David Burrows — the head of the X-ray Telescope (XRT) team on the Swift satellite. Here is a University of Leicester press release on the discovery.

The aftermath of such an event has been seen before (occasionally), but only well after the event, where all that can be seen are the last dregs of material being gobbled up: the black hole licking its lips, if you like. With Swift, for the first time, we’ve now seen the process actually starting, the black hole taking its first bite.

And, in doing so, we found something new: the light we saw can’t be explained by the standard models of a star being torn apart by a black hole. Incidentally, the black hole was a few million times more massive than the Sun!

Instead, the process must have resulted in the light coming out along a narrow ‘jet’ of material. Keen followers of Swift will notice that this is also how Gamma Ray Bursts emit their light.

Setting GRBs aside, jets from black holes at the center of a galaxy are a very common phenomenon, seen in Active Galactic Nucleii for example, but we’ve never seen such a jet actually ‘turn on’, until now. This once again highlights how awesome it is to working on Swift. At any moment I could be interrupted by an SMS from the spacecraft. Maybe it will be ‘only’ a huge explosion from the other side of the universe. Or maybe it will be something completely new.

Follow Phil Evans on twitter: @swift_phil


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Watching the Juno launch at NASA Goddard



Here are more than 200 of us at NASA/Goddard watching the Juno Mission blast off to Jupiter. A team of our scientists and engineers built an instrument Juno will use to study Jupiter’s mighty magnetic field.

To learn all the amazing stuff Juno will do when it reaches Jupiter in 5 years, see the excellent and detailed web feature by my friend Liz Zubritsky.


atlas rocket launching juno mission

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Paul Richards took one look at the first Space Shuttle launch and thought, "That's my ride."

NASA Goddard engineer Paul Richards in 2001, spaking to the media about his upcoming flight on the Space Shuttle mission STS-102.

NASA Goddard engineer Paul Richards in 2001, speaking to the media about his upcoming flight on the Space Shuttle mission STS-102.

What did the Space Shuttle program mean to you?

NASA engineer Paul Richards knew from the moment he saw the first one roar off the pad in 1981.

“The first launch was 1981. I was a junior in high school. I wanted to be an astronaut since I was 5 years old. So as soon as I saw that first Shuttle launch, my thoughts were, ‘That’s my ride. I’m going up on that thing.'”

And he did — once — in 2001. It changed his life.

Yesterday, Richards was one of the speakers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who recalled their experiences and contributions to the U.S. Space Transportation System, a.k.a., the Space Shuttle. Richards, currently Observatory Manager of the GOES-R satellite program at Goddard, flew in space in 2001 on the STS-102 mission to the International Space Station.

The video below, about 15 minutes long, contains the portion of Richards talk where he walks through his changing “perspectives” on the Shuttle, starting with that first launch in 1981: hearing of the Challenger accident while in college; coming to Goddard and using the Shuttle to launch payloads; getting to know the astronauts; becoming an astronaut; watching friends and colleagues die in the 2003 Columbia accident. And finally, yesterday, watching the final Shuttle land.

Richards was candid, honest, and humble in his storytelling. It seems to me that he and others like him are one of the most precious legacies of the Shuttle era — the NASA people who did great things and took great risks to be true to their belief in the redeeming adventure of human spaceflight.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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How it works: Building the Helioviewer "back end" with JPEG2000

Post 1 of 5: Explore the sun on your desktop with Helioviewer
Post 2 of 5: Getting Started with Helioviewer.org
Post 3 of 5: Explore the sun in depth with JHelioviewer
Post 4 of 5: How it works: building the Helioviewer “back end” with JPEG2000


New interactive visualization tools developed by the NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Helioviewer Project allow scientists and the general public to explore images captured by solar observing spacecraft. Previous posts explained the origins and aims of the Helioviewer Project, and the basics of a Web-based app called Helioviewer.org. This post looks at the behind-the-scenes technology that makes Helioviewer possible.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory captures hi-def images of the sun and beams them down to Earth at a rate of one every few seconds.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory beams data to Earth at a rate of 150 Mb per second.


The Helioviewer.org Web app and the JHelioviewer software are the on-screen interfaces that users see. But there is also a critical data-processing “back end” that required just as much effort to develop. The challenge was this: How do you acquire and manipulate solar images quickly enough so that the process is truly “real time,” without long waiting times for downloads and glacial refresh rates on the image view every time you make a change, like zooming in on a feature of interest?

This is particularly challenging when working with high-resolution images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. SDO sends down images that are 4,000 by 4,000 pixels, approximately the same number of pixels as in a 13 by 13 inch photographic print.

Google Maps and Google Earth overcame this issue by “tiling” large images into a checkerboard of smaller segments that could be quickly assembled into an image at the scale a user requested.

A Google Maps for the sun
The prototype of Helioviewer took this approach, too, following Google’s lead. “Google Maps was the original inspiration for it,” Helioviewer Project co-founder Jack Ireland says.

In the prototype of Helioviewer.org, each stage of a zoom-in required a complete set of tiles. The system retrieved the tiles it needed to build the view requested by the user with every click of the mouse. The trouble is, as you zoom in it requires an ever-increasing number of small tiles (numbering in the hundreds) to build the new image. Each tile is a separate file, and they all have to be labeled, stored, and pulled from storage and assembled when needed.

Then Helioviewer met JPEG2000, a standard for compressing images to make them extremely small while maintaining very good image quality. Also, JPEG2000 can extract sub-regions of the compressed image file without having to open the whole file.

In other words, the system generates only the part of the image you really want to see. If you have ever downloaded or extracted a very large compressed image file, you understand the time saving that JPEG2000 offers.

“One thing that changed early on that made a huge difference and made all this really possible is that we use this JPEG2000 technology,” Helioviewer Project co-founder Keith Hughitt explains. “Instead of generating all the possible tiles for every single image, we wait until the user asks for a tile and generate it right then, and only generate the ones we need. We were able to develop a way to do that quickly enough that you can do it right on the Web page.”

Data pipeline from Palo Alto
Lockheed Martin’s Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, based  in Palo Alto, California, that built the Atmospheric Imaging Instrument aboard SDO, uses JPEG2000 to compress every third new SDO image (i.e. one every few seconds) and then sends them through a data pipeline to Goddard. The image can be available on Helioviewer’s server at Goddard in as little as 20 minutes.

The system needs to store this one compressed master file, not hundreds of tiles. That one image file — or a portion of it — can be quickly decompressed and displayed at the resolution needed.

For example, as you click the little “plus sign” icon on Helioviewer to zoom in on a flare on the surface of the sun, the back end of the system decompresses the same file multiple times at increasing resolution — like a telephoto lens capturing an image at ever higher magnification — and displays it on your computer screen.

This “on the fly” manipulation also applies to time-lapse videos made with JHelioviewer. “JHelioviewer tells the server which portion of the images it is interested in, and the video-stream is updated in real time so that only those bits are transmitted back to JHelioviewer,” Hughitt explains. “The result is a sort of ‘dynamic’ movie stream that you can create, and then adjust as you are playing it.”

This means that as the video plays, you can zoom, pan, sharpen, brighten, or follow a specific feature across the sun. If you choose to download the video, the server renders the final product at whatever settings you choose.

If not for JPEG2000, you would need to download an entirely new version of the video – amounting to gigabytes of data – every time you made a change.  Another way of saying this is “the Web back in the 1990s.”



LEARN MORE

Helioviewer.org (Web app)

A collection of video highlights from 2011 (so far) created by Helioviewer.org users.

See a Helioviewer.org video made by “citizen scientist” LudzikLegoTechnics on YouTube.

The Helioviewer Project Wiki

JHelioviewer (downloadable software)

Read a Web feature about JHelioviewer and its capabilities

The JHelioviewer online handbook

JHelioviewer video tutorial on YouTube HD

ESA Web feature about JHelioviewer.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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SDO first-light anniversary webtastic mashup: Here (again!) are all the images and videos in one place

April 21, 2011 4 comments

sdo image mosaic

Here is a one-stop-shopping collection of our efforts this week to celebrate the one-year “first light” anniversary of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Check out this “best of” compilation of video stunners from SDO’s first year at work and vote for your favorite. Voting is open until May 5. Pick the best SDO video of the year




They’re talking about us in Wales! At a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers announced some new insights into what unleashed the powerful 2011 “Valentine’s Day” solar flare — with help from SDO.




Feast your eyes on this Flickr slideshow of SDO beauty shots.


flickr_image_475

And while you’re at it, see the past year of Solar Dynamics Observatory “pick of the week” beauty shots.




Did you miss the “Ask SDO” Twitter Q&A event on Tuesday? No problem: Experience the whole thing here on a Storify feature created by Goddard science writer Liz Zubritsky.


storify_image_475

A year ago, NASA scientists gathered to announce the first crop of amazing SDO images to the world. But you can still watch the press conference.


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Last but not least, browse the original SDO first-light image releases a year ago on the Goddard SDO website.


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Cream of the crop: See the past year of Solar Dynamics Observatory "pick of the week" beauty shots and vote for the best video of the year


screen shot from pick of the week site

The website for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory here at Goddard has a really cool feature called Pick of the Week. Starting on May 21 last year, shortly after SDO saw first light, the curators of Pick of the Week have chosen an image to feature, whether for its scientific interest of sheer drama or beauty. Here is a slide show of the pick-of-the-week images from SDO’s first year.

Steele Hill, SOHO/STEREO/SDO Media Specialist here at Goddard, chooses the pick-of-the-week images, researches the science, writes the captions, and posts the content online. These images are often displayed at science centers and museums across the country.





AND DON”T FORGET to pick your favorite video for the SDO First Light Anniversary Video Contest. Choose from 10 different videos released over the past year.



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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Goddard's First Homegrown Satellite, Explorer 10, Was Launched 50 Years Ago Today: We Talk to the Father of Explorer 10, James Heppner, About the 'Opportunity Years' at the Dawn of NASA


photo of Earl Angulo (at left) and Ron Browning examining an Explorer-10 model attached to a test fixture
This photo from the early 1960s shows Goddard employees Earl Angulo (at left) and Ron Browning examining an Explorer 10 model attached to a test fixture. They were responsible for the mechanical engineering and testing of the satellite.


Fifty years ago today, Goddard’s first homegrown scientific satellite roared off the pad at Cape Canaveral on a Thor-Delta rocket. Although key components came from outside the gates, Explorer 10 was the first satellite to be designed, assembled, tested, and flown from Goddard Space Flight Center.

James Heppner, a young space physicist (barely 30 then) and one of NASA’s early employees, conceived of the mission that came to be called Explorer 10. Heppner functioned as a sort of one-man band — Project Manager, Project Scientist, and Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instruments on the satellite.

Before NASA was founded, Heppner worked for the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It was there he developed methods to measure Earth’s magnetic field. At NRL he used sounding rockets to study charged particles and magnetic fields high in Earth’s atmosphere. His earlier research in Alaska focused on the aurora and its effects on radio wave propagation, and was the basis for his Caltech PhD thesis.

Heppner calls these times the “opportunity years,” a period when methods and technology for measuring magnetic fields and space plasma — the bread and butter of space physics — were being invented. He was at the right place at precisely the right time.

In late 1958, as Heppner and many of his colleagues were being “handed over” to the nation’s new aerospace agency, he had already helped create a magnetometer for the Vanguard program. Vanguard, an NRL project, was created to loft the first civilian scientific payloads into space for the International Geophysical year of 1957-58. Heppner’s proton magnetometer went into space aboard Vanguard 3 on September 18, 1959.

NASA satellite P-14 was renamed Explorer 10

NASA satellite P-14 was renamed Explorer 10

At the time of the transition to NASA, Heppner today recalls, he conceived of a satellite to measure the magnetic field of the moon. The mission, then called P-14, would accomplish its goal by extreme measures:

“I originally proposed Explorer 10 when NASA was formed,” explains Heppner, 83, who spoke with me recently from his home in New Market, Maryland. “And the intent was to try to hit the moon and measure the moon’s magnetic field on the way in.”

The original plan was deferred. The truth is, hitting the moon — even intentionally — was no simple trick in those days. It wasn’t clear the Thor-Delta launch system would accomplish the task, and even tracking a spacecraft to the moon was straining the technical capabilities of the time.

“With time we realized that the odds of hitting the moon would be extremely low, from the vehicle performance and ability to track, things like that,” Heppner explains. “I was told that with the odds of hitting the moon being so low, it would be embarrassing to even try. So I was essentially directed by NASA headquarters to make sure that the trajectory was such that it couldn’t be interpreted as an attempt to hit the moon.”

The new mission goal was to measure magnetism and plasma particles in space from outside of Earth’s protective magnetic bubble, or magnetosphere. This had been attempted previously, but not with great success. To do it required launching P-14/Explorer 10 into a highly elliptical orbit that would take it a great distance from Earth, dozens of time the planet’s radius.

The satellite weighed approximately the same as a space physicist: 79 kilograms, or 178 pounds. “It was very light,” Heppner says. “We were trying to get distance.” An engineering model hangs in the Smithsonian if you care to look at the real thing..

For the records, here is the complete entry in the NASA/National Space Science Data Center mission database:

“Explorer 10 was a cylindrical, battery-powered spacecraft instrumented with two fluxgate magnetometers and one rubidium vapor magnetometer extending from the main spacecraft body, and a Faraday cup plasma probe. The mission objective was to investigate the magnetic fields and plasma as the spacecraft passed through the earth’s magnetosphere and into cislunar space. The satellite was launched into a highly elliptical orbit. It was spin stabilized with a spin period of 0.548 s. The direction of its spin vector was 71 deg right ascension and minus 15 deg declination. Because of the limited lifetime of the spacecraft batteries, the only useful data were transmitted in real time for 52 h on the ascending portion of the first orbit. The distance from the earth when the last bit of useful information was transmitted was 42.3 earth radii, and the local time at this point was 2200 h. All transmission ceased several hours later. “


On March 25, 1961, a rocket similar to this one launched Explorer 10 into space. This historic Delta rocket stands in the Goddard Visitor Center's "rocket garden." (Image: Wikipedia RadioFan)

On March 25, 1961, a rocket similar to this one launched Explorer 10 into space. This historic Delta rocket stands in the Goddard Visitor Center's "rocket garden." (Image: RadioFan)

Rubidium vapor magnetometers could measure extremely weak magnetic fields, and were a totally new technology, Heppner says. They were invented at a company called Varian Associates in Palo Alto, California. The Faraday cup plasma instrument, which measured particles streaming off the sun’s “solar wind,” came courtesy of a team of scientists at MIT led by the pioneering X-ray astronomer and plasma physicist Bruno Rossi.

Finally the big day came on March 25, 1961. The launch managers for the Thor-Delta rocket worked in “the block house” at the Cape, while Heppner and his colleagues were encamped in a machine shop, peering at oscilloscopes to assess the health of their satellite and staying in contact with the blockhouse, and the other scientists and engineers, by telephone.

Explorer 10, as was typical in those days, was powered by a expendable battery. The craft radioed back data for 52 hours as it swooped through and outside of the magnetosphere, travelling for 42.3 Earth radii — about 167,466 miles — before the battery dimmed and the craft shut down. (For comparison, consider that the average distance form Earth to the moon is 238,857 miles.)

After launch, tracking stations record data on tapes and send them to the scientists. Heppner published a number of scientific papers from the data. He headed the Goddard Magnetic Fields Group, and worked on many major missions over the succeeding years.

The next big missions for Heppner after Explorer 10 were the Orbiting Geophysical Observatories, which grew substantially in mass and capability. He retired from the civil service in 1989, but continued to work as a contractor until 1996.

How were those days different from the later, larger, more complex place NASA has become? What was it like in the opportunity years?

“It was a very busy period in the sense that the technology was developing,” Heppner explains. “The early satellites weren’t very sophisticated because everything was new.”

But things moved fast. Heppner summed it up best in a chapter he wrote for a 1997 book, Discovery of the Magnetosphere.

“Opportunities for new endeavors were plentiful and the time between conception and results was unbelievably short when viewed in the light of today’s space programs.”

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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