Space Shuttle Blast Off at Night

The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system that was operated from 1981 to 2011 by the U. S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of the Space Shuttle program. Its official program name was Space Transportation System (STS), taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. In addition to the prototype whose completion was cancelled, five complete Shuttle systems were built and used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011, launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Operational missions launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST); conducted science experiments in orbit; and participated in construction and servicing of the International Space Station. The Shuttle fleet’s total mission time was 1322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds.



In addition, the newly collected data derived from the GRAIL mission helps astronomers redefine the late heavy bombardment--a proposed episode that occurred about 4 billion years ago, during which a heavy shower of projectiles pelted the bodies of the inner Solar System, including Earth and its beloved Moon, creating heavy lunar cratering in the process. The concept of the late heavy bombardment is primarily based on the ages of massive near-side craters that are either within, or adjacent to, dark, lava-flooded basins (lunar maria), that are named Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Imbrium. However, the composition of the material existing on and below the surface of the lunar near-side indicates that the temperatures beneath this area are not representative of Earth's Moon as a whole at the time of the late heavy bombardment. The difference in the temperature profiles may have caused scientists to overestimate the amount of crater-excavating projectiles that characterized the late heavy bombardment. New studies by GRAIL scientists indicate that the size distribution of impact craters on the lunar far-side is a more accurate reflection of the crater-forming history of the inner Solar System than those pock-marking the near-side. A moon is defined as a natural satellite that orbits a larger body--such as a planet--that, in turn, orbits a star. The moon is kept in its position both by the gravity of the object that it circles, as well as by its own gravity. Some planets are orbited by moons; some are not. Some dwarf planets--such as Pluto--possess moons. In fact, one of Pluto's moons, named Charon, is almost half the size of Pluto itself, and some planetary scientists think that Charon is really a chunk of Pluto that was torn off in a disastrous collision with another object very long ago. In addition, some asteroids are also known to be orbited by very small moons. On March 27, 2012, Cassini made its closest flyby yet over Enceladus's "tiger stripes". In a string of enticingly close passes over the dazzling moon, the spacecraft saw more hints that watery jets may be shooting out into Space from an immense subsurface sea. The jets, tearing through cracks in the moon's icy crust, could lead back to a zone harboring living tidbits.