For Cassini, a fleeting look home before its impending doom

NASA

As it continues to make some of its final flybys of the Saturn system, the Cassini spacecraft hasn’t entirely forgone looking back toward its home planet, Earth. And last week the spacecraft’s camera snapped a shot of Earth and the Moon (visible in a close-cropped view) from a distance of 1.4 billion km away.

Some of Saturn’s rings are also visible in the new images, including the A ring (at top) with the Keeler and Encke gaps visible, and the F ring (at bottom). The Sun is behind the disk of Saturn from Cassini’s perspective, so the rings are backlit in this view.

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Russia set to launch a rare two-person Space Station crew on Thursday

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Barring any unexpected technical problems, a Soyuz rocket will launch Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying just two people: first-time NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. The launch will occur during the afternoon, local time, but will come early in the morning in the United States, at 3:13am EDT.

The rocket launch comes amid some uncertainty after a Soyuz rocket carrying an uncrewed Progress spacecraft exploded about six minutes into flight on December 1, 2016, wiping out 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies. This was due to a problem with the rocket’s third-stage engine, the kerosene-fueled RD-0110.

That Progress spacecraft launched on an older Soyuz-U rocket, and crewed launches now take place on a more modern Soyuz-FG rocket,

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NASA set an ignominious record last week—but don’t blame the space agency

(credit: NASA / Wikimedia Commons)

No humans have launched into space from US soil for more than five years, when space shuttle Atlantis made its final voyage. Since that spacecraft landed on July 21, 2011, a total of 2,098 days have passed. Former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale noted on Twitter Tuesday that this gap has now surpassed the previous longest US spaceflight gap—2,089 days—which occurred between the end of the Apollo program and the first space shuttle mission.

The final Apollo mission, which launched in 1975 and featured an in-space rendezvous with a Russian spacecraft, presaged the end of the “space race” and future cooperation between the United States and Russia in space. And since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA has

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Liftoff of Orbital ATK Cargo Mission to International Space Station

The Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized cargo module is carried atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply services mission will deliver 7,600 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific research materials to the International Space Station.… Read the rest