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September 21, 2012 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
An up-close look at the protoplanet Vesta taken by the Dawn spacecraft reveals signs of water on this oversized asteroid in the middle of the solar system, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. Vesta floats in the middle of the asteroid belt that fills the gap between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. That doughnut of rocky rubble might have coalesced into a whole planet if Jupiter's gravity hadn't gotten in the way. Instead, Vesta's growth was stunted at the protoplanet stage.
September 14, 2012 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
Barely visible in the dense fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a 19-story rocket roared to life and boosted a top-secret satellite into orbit. Little is known about the spacecraft except that it belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office. The secretive federal agency is in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining the nation's spy satellites. At 2:39 p.m. PDT, Thursday, the satellite was lifted into space atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. The mission had been delayed six weeks because of a nagging glitch with equipment on the base northwest of Santa Barbara.
September 8, 2012 | By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
In 1977, Jimmy Carter moved into the White House, "Star Wars" and "Saturday Night Fever" premiered in theaters and the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral to explore the outer solar system. In the years since, there have been five more presidents and five more "Star Wars" movies; disco has given way to punk, grunge and rap; and the Voyagers have flown billions of miles past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Their explorations aren't over yet. As scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge marked the mission's 35th anniversary this week, they marveled that Voyager 1 was poised to leave the solar system - crossing the so-called heliopause and entering the vastness of interstellar space.
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.
August 9, 2012 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
As the rover called Curiosity made its hair-raising, breathtaking descent into the Martian atmosphere Sunday night, the viewers watching NASA's live feed at home seemed to have just one question: Who's that guy with the mohawk?  Flight director Bobak Ferdowsi's eyes were trained on his monitor in the front row of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory control room as the Mars Science Laboratory made it through its final "seven minutes of terror" and touched down on the Red Planet. But many viewers' eyes were fixed on Ferdowsi -- turning the Bay Area native into an online sensation in the ensuing hours and days, drawing some 43,000 Twitter followers and inspiring Internet memes.  Live video hangout: Meet 'Mohawk guy' at 2 p.m. Wearing a blue-and-red plaid shirt that perfectly complemented his hairstyle -- red and blue streaks in his Mohawk, with white stars bleached into the side -- Ferdowsi, 32, chatted Wednesday about his newfound fame, his style and his experiences on this ambitious NASA mission.  What's your job on this NASA mission?
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.
August 6, 2012 | By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
  Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet, stuck its extraordinary landing Sunday night in triumphant and flawless fashion, and is poised to begin its pioneering, two-year hunt for the building blocks of life - signs that Earth's creatures may not be not alone in the universe. NASA's $2.5-billion mission involved the work of more than 5,000 people from 37 states, some of whom had labored for 10 years to hear the two words that Al Chen, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, said inside mission control at 10:32 p.m.: “Touchdown confirmed.” Chen reported that Curiosity was in a “nice flat place,” and as icing on the cake, the spacecraft sent home thumbnail photographs of itself.
August 5, 2012 | By Scott Gold
Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet, appears to have landed on Mars to begin its pioneering, two-year hunt for the building blocks of life - signs that Earth's creatures may not be alone in the universe. The craft was scheduled to land at 10:31 p.m. Pacific time in an ancient geological feature known as Gale Crater. The landing site was 154 million miles from home, enough distance that the spacecraft's elaborate landing sequence had to be automated.
August 4, 2012 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
On a cloudless morning, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stood at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. — where the U.S. dominated human spaceflight for half a century — and revealed plans for the space agency's next chapter. On Friday, NASA handed out $1.1 billion in contracts to three companies to privately develop a new generation of spacecraft that could one day ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Now that the space shuttle fleet has been retired, NASA has no way to travel to the space station other than shelling out $63 million each time one of its astronauts rides on a Russian Soyuz rocket.
July 18, 2012 | By Thomas H. Maugh II
A Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher has solved the so-called Pioneer anomaly -- the unexpected slowing of the two Pioneer spacecraft -- and shown that it is not due to unknown physics, as some theoreticians had speculated. Instead, it is the result of heat radiated by the spacecraft. Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, respectively, on a trajectory toward the edge of the solar system. In the early 1980s, controllers at NASA's JPL detected a slight deceleration in the crafts' speeds.
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