Spaceflight roundup

First a bit of potential spaceflight. The Pad Abort system that was to yank the Orion manned capsule off the top of a failing rocket in the Constellation program has been tested in view of the likelihood of a successor to Orion being developed for asteroid and Martian missions.

A NASA satellite has finally identified life – on Earth. The Advanced Land Imager device on the EO-1 satellite has been able to identify the action of a type of bacteria in ice. This of course bodes well for future missions that involve remote sensing of biogenic action.

Another NASA satellite has had a mysterious fault explained. Voyager 2 has been sending back nonsense and it was thought that some of the sensors had died. However, by relaying the data back another way, it has been discovered that it is only the relay system that formats the instrument data into transmit data that has gone wrong.

Meanwhile a NASA engineer has been explaining How Captain Kirk Changed The World, or in another sense, how watching Star Trek inspired him to work on ion propulsion.

And the Herschel Infrared Space Telescope has been putting out its first science results. Prime among them is the story of starbirth across the galaxy and in other galaxies too. This reveals that not only were there more starburst galaxies in the past (ones where the rate of star formation is 10-15 times that of our own galaxy), but an ‘impossible’ star has been sighted. This is a star greater than eight solar masses in the throes of creation. The protostar exists in a cloud called RCM 120 and is ten times the mass of the Sun already. The problem with forming stars greater than eight solar masses is that they become so luminous early on that it was thought they could blast away gas and dust, preventing them from falling in to create a larger star. Recent research has suggested magnetic fields may have a role in feeding these things and creating the up to 130 solar mass monsters we occasionally see, hopefully this is something Herschel can cast some infrared light on. Herschel has also detected ions of water in the clouds around forming stars, once thought to be inhospitable to such molecules.

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