In the spirit of Tom Wolfe and John McPhee, The Mission is an exuberant master class of creative nonfiction that reveals how a motley, determined few expanded the horizon of human achievement.
When scientists discovered the first ocean beyond Earth, they had two big questions: “Is it habitable?” and “How do we get there?” To answer the first, they had to solve the second, and so began a vivacious team’s twenty-year odyssey to mount a mission to Europa, the ocean moon of Jupiter.
Standing in their way: NASA, fanatically consumed with landing robots on Mars; the White House, which never saw a science budget it couldn’t cut; Congress, fixated on going to the moon or Mars—anywhere, really, to give astronauts something to do; rivals in academia, who wanted instead to go to Saturn; and even Jupiter itself, which guards Europa in a pulsing, rippling radiation belt—a halo of death whose conditions are like those that follow a detonated thermonuclear bomb.
The Mission is the Homeric, never-before-told story of modern space exploration, and a magnificent portrait of the inner lives of scientists who study the solar system’s mysterious outer planets. David W. Brown chronicles the remarkable saga of how Europa was won, and what it takes to get things done—both down here, and up there.
I think it is safe to say that every space mission goes through a gauntlet these days and is lucky to remain intact at the other end. The James Webb Space Telescope started in the 1990s and only saw the light of day (on a distant exoplanet) earlier this year. Not everyone may have the stomach for the sausage-making behind these missions, but you may want to read this tale if you are looking for modern-day drama in the halls of government and academia that can lead to something meaningful.
It is worth checking out the BBC’s Sky at Night podcast if you want to follow the stars or just listen to astronomers discussing the night sky. Two recent episodes in particular, both related to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), should be on your podcast list.
How James Webb Space Telescope Observes the Universe (broadcast on August 26, 2022): Dr Pamela Klaassen, an instrument scientist, reveals the science behind how JWST studies the cosmos, what its images show us, and the secrets it might uncover. She also discusses her work studying very large stars. Finally, the discussion covers the Square Kilometre Array Organization and how this brand new ground-based observatory will work in tandem with the JWST to unlock the secrets of the Universe.
Exploring Exoplanets with JWST (broadcast on August 22, 2022): Dr Hannah Wakeford from the University of Bristol is part of an international collaboration of exoplanet hunters looking to see how the JWST can reveal the secrets of worlds orbiting stars beyond our solar system. One exoplanet priority for the JWST discussed during the episode is WASP-39b, the results of which were recently shared with the public.
“But why, some say the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why – 35 years ago – why fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon, we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one in which we intend to win, and the others too.“
-Statement by President John F. Kennedy at Rice University in Houston on September 12, 1962 discussing plans to send a man to the Moon. Next month, NASA and Rice University in Houston will host multiple events from September 10-12 celebrating the 60th anniversary of his historic speech.
Even after thunderstorms threatened the Artemis I launchpad over the weekend, everything is still a go for tomorrow’s scheduled launch at 8:33 am EDT of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.
This NASA video shows you the entire plan for the Artemis I unmanned mission around the Moon. A few mission facts from the NASA site are also provided below.
Launch date: Aug. 29, 2022
Mission duration: 42 days, 3 hours, 20 minutes
Total distance traveled: 1.3 million miles
Re-entry speed: 24,500 mph (Mach 32)
Splashdown: Oct. 10, 2022
Now all we can do it await the new day.
Update: Given some engine problems Monday morning, it appears we will need to wait a little longer for this launch. The next window is September 2nd if NASA is ready. We have waited this long, so a few more days will not matter too much. I think the dummies on board are pretty patient.
With the Artemis I mission ready to go on Monday, it is worth taking a moment to remember the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) 60th anniversary. As shown in the NASA graphic below, the KSC has been very busy over the years and has much more to do. This NASA site has more information and memories. This video also highlights some key moments in space history as well as some dreams about the future.