Down to Earth
Legendary astronaut Gene Cernan has died at the age of 82. Captain Cernan had an incredible career in the Navy and then at NASA, where he flew on three important missions: Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17. Gemini 9 had Cernan’s harrowing spacewalk (the second for an American); Apollo 10 was the dress rehearsal for the moon landing, in which Cernan and Stafford got to within just miles of the lunar surface before a planned abort; Apollo 17 is of course known as the final mission to the surface of the moon. If you haven’t read Cernan’s autobiography or seen the recent biography about him (both called The Last Man on the Moon) you should put them both on your list.
NASA administrator Charlie Bolden resigned last Thursday – as is tradition for most presidential appointees – the day before inauguration of president Donald J. Trump. NASA is currently being run by acting administrator Robert Lightfoot.
Andy Weir, author of The Martian, announced on social medial that he will be working with CBS on a new show set in Houston’s mission control.
CBS picked up my TV show pilot! Working with Aditya Sood again (producer of "The Martian") again. Should be fun! https://t.co/9EqCcZGF1P
— Andy Weir (@andyweirauthor) January 17, 2017
A small Japanese rocket, which would have been the smallest ever to make orbit, failed during a launch attempt last Saturday, January 14th. The rocket was carrying a single small cubesat.
However, two rockets did make successful launches within the last week. First, SpaceX had a spectacular return to flight on Saturday, January 14th, placing 10 satellites into orbit for Iridium after a flawless launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg in California. They even stuck the landing on the first stage recovery.
Lastly, on January 20th, United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V carrying a USAF satellite, GEO 3.
Meanwhile, a failure investigation has narrowed down the loss of a Russian Soyuz rocket last month to an oxidizer pump, leading the Russian space agency to make some part replacements on both the next manned and unmanned flights. Hopefully we will see Soyuz rockets flying to the ISS again soon!
Around the Solar System
The Japanese probe in orbit of Venus, Akatsuki, has made observations of a massive standing wave in the planet’s atmosphere.