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March 30, 2011 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
The Messenger spacecraft, which entered orbit around Mercury on March 17, sent its first images of the hot planet's surface back to Earth early Tuesday. The first image, received by the Messenger mission team at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., at 5:20 a.m. Eastern time, captures areas near the planet's southern pole that have never been seen before — areas that could host water in the form of ice. It was soon followed by 363 more images over the next six hours.
February 18, 2014 | By Edward C. Stone
The Voyager 1 spacecraft is the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space. Even if defined only by distance, the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory twin Voyagers are America's greatest space adventure. They've been flying successfully for more than 36 years and are billions of miles from home. What isn't widely known is that they almost never made it out there. The first proposed mission in the late 1960s was for four spacecraft to take advantage of a rare alignment of the four outer planets of the solar system; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune would all be on the same side of the sun. However, in December 1971, NASA decided it couldn't afford the $1-billion price tag for a 12-year "grand tour" mission with four spacecraft.
When Pioneer-Venus was launched in 1978, it was designed to orbit our closest planetary neighbor for eight months. The most optimistic predictions for its life span were two to three years. Now, 14 years and 400 billion bits of information later, the spacecraft has finally entered its death throes, providing--even in its final months--surprises and mysteries about Venus.
May 16, 2003 | Ralph Vartabedian and Peter Pae, Times Staff Writers
Max Faget, one of the nation's most important spacecraft designers, says the space shuttle -- which he helped pioneer -- should be retired and the human space program suspended until the nation can build a better vehicle for putting astronauts into orbit.
The prototype of the world's first space ambulance, designed to provide emergency escapes for the crews of the International Space Station after it goes into Earth orbit, made its debut flight Thursday morning. The X-38--a whale-shaped, wingless vehicle with fins that look as if they were inspired by a 1956 Cadillac--is the first new passenger spacecraft to reach the flight-testing stage since the shuttle was developed more than two decades ago.
State tax officials Tuesday shot down an attempt by the Los Angeles County assessor to collect taxes in outer space. In a 5-0 vote, the State Board of Equalization approved a new rule that protects any artificial satellite permanently located in outer space from being taxed by a government in California.
August 8, 2012 | By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
Did Curiosity capture the galactic equivalent of the Zapruder film when it landed on Mars? Seconds after the NASA robot's landing Sunday night, Curiosity managed to squeeze off a handful of fuzzy, black-and-white photographs. One, taken with a device on its rear known as a Hazcam, captured the pebble-strewn ground beneath the rover and one of its wheels - and a blotch, faint but distinctive, on the horizon. The images were relayed by a passing satellite. Two hours later, the satellite passed overhead again.
September 11, 2011 | By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
Shaking off a two-day delay that began with swirling winds on the coast of Florida, NASA launched its GRAIL mission to the moon Saturday, seeking a greater understanding of Earth's nearest neighbor through a promising dual-spacecraft technology. The Delta II rocket carrying the paired washing-machine-sized craft that make up the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory lifted off into a blue sky from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 9:08 a.m. About 90 minutes later, NASA confirmed that GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B had separated from the rocket, unfurled their solar panels and begun a 31/2-month trip to the moon.
September 16, 2011 | By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
As word spread of the greenish, glowing, fast-moving fireball streaking across the southwestern U.S. sky, speculation raged among conspiracy theorists and armchair astronomers. Many took to social media Wednesday night with the theory that it was a spacecraft that suffered a SkyLab-style reentry. Some said it was a piece of low-orbiting space junk. Others went to a far darker place: It was the opening volley of an alien invasion. But experts say none of those scenarios is the most likely explanation.
August 10, 2012 | By Scott Gold and Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
Engineers said Friday that the Curiosity rover happened to catch a picture of its own ride crash-landing on Mars - a wink-of-an-eye serendipity that some dismissed as a statistical impossibility, but appears to have been confirmed by a thorough review of landing data. The final seconds of Curiosity's eight-month-plus journey to Mars called for a spacecraft to lower the rover to the surface using a "sky crane" - three ropes. The ropes were then cut, and the last of the spacecraft, known as the "descent stage," cast itself toward the horizon.
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