Today’s Tidbits: November 7, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: November 7, 2017

Here are our tidbits for November 7, 2017: Apollo astronaut Dick Gordon dies; the case for Enceladus; Orbital ATK makes progress on new rocket.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Gemini and Apollo Astronaut Dick Gordon Dies

Apollo 12 crew (L-R): Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, Alan Bean. Credit: NASA

Former astronaut Dick Gordon died yesterday at the age of 88.

Selected as an astronaut in 1963, Gordon was the pilot for Gemini 11 in 1966, when he made two spacewalks, and command module pilot for Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission.  He remained in orbit around the Moon while crewmates Charles “Pete” Conrad and Alan Bean walked on the surface.

Gordon did two oral history interviews that are available on NASA’s website:

NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, June 16, 1999

NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, Oct. 17, 1997

After leaving NASA, Gordon was the Executive Vice President of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, and held executive positions at several energy, engineering and technology industries. NASA tweeted its condolences and issued a press release (click the link in the tweet).

How About Enceladus?

A lot of attention and money is focused on sending two probes to Jupiter’s moon Europa to see if it might harbor life in the ocean thought to exist under its icy crust.  NASA is already working on Europa Clipper at congressional direction, and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, is intent on sending a lander there, too.

But there’s at least one other solar system object that also has an ocean under its icy crust, Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

A paper by European and American scientists just published in Nature Astronomy concludes that if Enceladus has a highly porous core, tidal action caused by its orbit around Saturn could generate enough energy to provide an environment conducive to life.  []

The NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission, which just ended, discovered geysers erupting through Enceladus’s icy crust.  Cassini was able to fly through one of geysers to sample some of its basic constituents.  Cassini did not have the type of instruments needed to do detailed studies and some scientists are anxious to send another probe there to do just that.  NASA is in the process of choosing its next New Frontiers mission, a competitive program for building planetary exploration spacecraft in the $1 billion category.  Twelve proposals were submitted, two of which would send probes to Enceladus.

Orbital ATK Makes Progress on its Next Generation Launcher

As Orbital ATK gets ready to launch its Antares rocket on Saturday to send cargo to the International Space Station, it is also making progress on a new rocket, the Next Generation Launch (NGL) system.  The company announced today that on October 27 it “successfully completed the structural acceptance test on the first motor high-strength composite case” for the rocket.  An Orbital ATK fact sheet says that the company and the Air Force “are investing more than $200 million … between 2015 and 2017” and the next step will be when the Air Force awards Launch Service Agreements next year.  If all goes according to plan, the first certification test flight will be in 2021.

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