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NASA’s Lucy Launches on 12-Year Mission to Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids – The New York Times

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The elaborate journey of the robotic spacecraft will offer close encounters with some of the solar system’s least understood objects.

The spacecraft is designed to study clusters of asteroids along Jupiter’s orbital path, known as the Trojan swarms, as it seeks to answer questions about the origins of the solar system and how life might have emerged on Earth.Ben Smegelsky/NASA

NASA embarked on a 12-year mission to study a group of asteroids on Saturday with the launch of Lucy, a robotic explorer that will meander through the unexplored caverns of deep space to find new clues about the creation of our solar system.

The 5:34 a.m. Eastern time liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop an Atlas 5 rocket from United Launch Alliance was the first step of Lucy’s four-billion mile path into the orbital neighborhood of Jupiter. There, two swarms of asteroids known as the Trojans have hid for billions of years, leftover debris from the solar system’s early formation.

The spacecraft launched before dawn, setting off toward the orbit that will begin its elaborate trajectory. Lucy separated from the rocket’s second stage booster roughly an hour after liftoff and about a half an hour later unfurled two circular solar panels that will power the spacecraft throughout its journey.

Orbiting the sun on each side of Jupiter, the two clouds of dark asteroids have only been scrutinized by scientists from afar. Some 10,000 have been identified of the roughly one million that are estimated to exist. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to dive directly into the clusters to get close-up views of seven unique Trojan asteroids, plus one tiny asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt.

“The last 24 hours has just been a roller coaster of excitement and buildup and everything was a success,” Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator, said on a NASA livestream after launch. “We have one chance really to do this, the planets are literally aligning in order to make this trajectory happen.”

He and the mission’s other scientists hope that the sedan-size spacecraft will uncover pieces of evidence about the migration of planets to their current orbits.

The Lucy spacecraft’s mission will last 12 years and complete encounters with numerous asteroids in the Trojan swarms that share Jupiter’s orbital path.
John Raoux/Associated Press

The Lucy probe, named after the fossilized skeleton of an early hominid ancestor that transformed our understanding of human evolution, will use a suite of scientific instruments to analyze the Trojan asteroids — celestial fossils that the mission’s scientists hope will transform human knowledge about the formation of the solar system.

Managed by the Southwest Research Institute, with a spacecraft built for NASA by Lockheed Martin, the total cost of the mission is $981 million. The spacecraft is roughly the size of a small car and weighs about 3,300 pounds when filled with fuel.

Its scientific instruments include L’TES, or the Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer — a telescope designed to scan asteroid surfaces for infrared radiation and measure how quickly or slowly the space rocks’ surfaces heat up and cool down with exposure to the sun’s heat. Built by scientists at Arizona State University, the gadget is essentially an advanced thermometer. Analyzing how quickly the asteroids build up heat gives scientists an idea of how much dust and rocky material is scatted across their surfaces.

Another device is L’LORRI, or the Lucy Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, built by engineers and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. This telescope will capture black-and-white images of the asteroids’ surfaces, revealing craters and ridges that have long been shrouded in darkness.

Lucy’s third tool, L’Ralph, has both a color camera and an infrared spectrometer. Each instrument is designed to detect bands of light emitted by ices and minerals scientists expect to be present on the asteroids’ surfaces.

Bill Ingalls/NASA, via Associated Press

Touring the Trojan Asteroids

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launched this month on a 12-year mission to study the Trojan asteroids, fragments of the early solar system that are now trapped in gravitationally stable areas near Jupiter.




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Jupiter

L4 swarm of

Trojan asteroids

“Greek camp”

L5 swarm of

Trojan asteroids

“Trojan camp”

Orus

2028

Leucus

2028

Patroclus,

Menoetius

2033

Lucy’s

orbital path,

from Jupiter’s

perspective

Polymele

2027

Eurybates

2027

Donaldjohanson

Asteroid flyby in 2025

Earth

at launch

Sun

ASTEROID

BELT

1-year loop

around sun

2021–22

L2

Jupiter

at launch

2-year loop

around sun

2022–24

Jupiter

L1

L4

L5

Sun

Sun

L3

From the sun’s perspective, above, Lucy will make a series of loops toward Jupiter’s orbit, while Jupiter orbits the sun once every 12 Earth years.

Trojan asteroids are clustered around two of Jupiter’s five Lagrange points, where the gravity of the sun and the planet are balanced.

Jupiter

L4 swarm of

Trojan asteroids

“Greek camp”

L5 swarm of

Trojan asteroids

“Trojan camp”

Leucus

2028

Lucy’s

orbital path,

from Jupiter’s

perspective

Orus

2028

Polymele

2027

Patroclus,

Menoetius

2033

Eurybates

2027

Donaldjohanson

Flyby in 2025

Earth

at launch

Sun

ASTEROID

BELT

L2

Jupiter

at launch

Jupiter

L1

L4

L5

Sun

Sun

L3

From the sun’s perspective, above, Lucy will make a series of loops toward Jupiter’s orbit, while Jupiter orbits the sun once every 12 Earth years.

Trojan asteroids are clustered around two of Jupiter’s Lagrange points, where the gravity of the sun and the planet are balanced.

Eurybates

Flyby in 2027

Polymele

2027

Orus

2028

Leucus

2028

L4 swarm of

Trojan asteroids

“Greek camp”

Donaldjohanson

Flyby in 2025

Earth

at launch

Jupiter

ASTEROID

BELT

Sun

Lucy’s orbital path,

from Jupiter’s

perspective

L5 swarm of

Trojan asteroids

“Trojan camp”

Patroclus and

Menoetius

2033

L2

Jupiter

at launch

Jupiter

L1

L4

L5

Sun

Sun

L3

From the sun’s perspective, above, Lucy will make a series of loops toward Jupiter’s orbit, while Jupiter orbits the sun once every 12 Earth years.

Trojan asteroids cluster around two of Jupiter’s Lagrange points, where the gravity of the sun and the planet are balanced.


By Jonathan Corum | Sources: NASA; Southwest Research Institute; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

The spacecraft will spend 12 years hunting down eight asteroids, embarking on an intricate path that uses Earth’s gravity three times to slingshot itself around the sun and through the two swarms of Trojans under Jupiter’s gravitational influence. As it journeys from one side of Jupiter’s orbital path to the other, Lucy will travel roughly four billion miles during its primary mission.

Lucy’s Targets

The Lucy spacecraft will test its sensors on a small asteroid named after Donald Johanson, discoverer of the Lucy skeleton. The spacecraft will then make six flybys of Trojan asteroids, ranging in size from a tiny moon to a large binary asteroid.




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Donaldjohanson

Flyby in April 2025

Main belt asteroid

Polymele

Sept. 2027

Trojan asteroid

Orus

Nov. 2028

Trojan asteroid

APPROX. 50 MILES

Eurybates

Aug. 2027

Trojan asteroid with

a tiny moon, Queta

Leucus

April 2028

Trojan asteroid

Patroclus

and Menoetius

Flyby in March 2033

Binary Trojan asteroid

Donaldjohanson

Flyby in April 2025

Main belt asteroid

Eurybates

Aug. 2027

Trojan asteroid with

a tiny moon, Queta

Polymele

Sept. 2027

Trojan asteroid

Leucus

April 2028

Trojan asteroid

Orus

Nov. 2028

Trojan asteroid

Patroclus and Menoetius

Flyby in March 2033

Binary Trojan asteroid

APPROX. 50 MILES

Donaldjohanson

Flyby in April 2025

Main belt asteroid

Eurybates

Aug. 2027

Trojan asteroid with

a tiny moon, Queta

Polymele

Sept. 2027

Trojan asteroid

Leucus

April 2028

Trojan asteroid

Orus

Nov. 2028

Trojan asteroid

Patroclus and Menoetius

Flyby in March 2033

Binary Trojan asteroid

APPROX. 50 MILES


By Jonathan Corum | Illustrations are artist’s impressions adapted from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

The Trojan asteroids are swarms of rocky material left over from the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. No spacecraft has ever visited the asteroids, which orbit the sun on each side of Jupiter and in the same orbital path, but at a great distance from the giant planet.

Before it gets to the Trojans, it will fly by an asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter that is named after Donald Johanson, the scientist who discovered the Lucy skeleton. The spacecraft will first visit 52246 Donaldjohanson in April 2025 and will then proceed to its primary destinations.

Lucy will make six flybys of the Trojan asteroids, one of which has a small moon, resulting in seven Trojans visited. The observations should give scientists a diverse set of asteroid material to analyze back on Earth.

The Trojan asteroids have been hidden in darkness and nearly impossible to analyze. Scientists expect them to be an unexplored fount of data to test theoretical models about the solar system’s formation and how the planets ended up in their current orbits around the sun.

Two more asteroid missions will eventually follow Lucy, along with:

  • DART: Launching in November, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission involves crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to nudge it off course. The mission tests out a method of planetary defense that could one day come in handy should an asteroid threaten Earth.

  • James Webb Space Telescope: A roughly $10 billion follow-up to NASA’s well-known Hubble telescope, the Webb is scheduled to, at last, launch in December. It will study planets orbiting distant stars and search for light from the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.

  • Artemis-1: NASA aims in the months ahead to launch an uncrewed Orion astronaut capsule atop its massive Space Launch System rocket around the moon and back. It’s the first mission under the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to one day send American astronauts back to the moon.

  • Psyche: Next year, NASA is scheduled to send a probe to Psyche, a metallic asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter made of nickel and iron that resembles the core of an early planetary body. Like the asteroids of Lucy’s mission, it could provide clues to the formation of our solar system.

  • Europa Clipper: In 2024, NASA intends to send a spacecraft toward Jupiter to scan the icy moon Europa and determine whether its subsurface ocean could harbor life.

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SpaceX Tapped For 3 More Possible Commercial Crew Flights To Space – Forbes

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is just going to get busier shuttling astronauts in the coming years.

NASA announced it intends to issue a sole-source modification to SpaceX’s long-term contract to send astronauts to the International Space Station. This follows an agency call for proposals back in October for more flight options to send people to space.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which is the other major system, is not quite yet ready for humans following a difficult uncrewed test flight in 2019 that never saw the spacecraft reach the ISS. Starliner has spent some time fixing computer glitches and other issues (including a valve problem that delayed an expected 2021 launch) and is now expecting a second uncrewed test flight by 2022.

The October solicitation, NASA noted, confirms SpaceX is the only viable choice for the time being, given the agency’s safety requirements and the need to keep the space station staffed continuously in the coming years.

“It’s critical we begin to secure additional flights to the space station now so we are ready as these missions are needed to maintain a U.S. presence on station,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s space 0perations mission directorate, said in a blog post. “Our U.S. human launch capability is essential to our continued safe operations in orbit and to building our low-Earth orbit economy.”

NASA stated it would use these new flights “as early as 2023”, and that the contract (in securing flights and allowing the agency to task personnel elsewhere) will help them get Boeing’s Starliner system ready to fly astronauts once it’s been certified.

“NASA and Boeing will provide additional updates on the status of Starliner’s next mission as we work through the investigation and verification efforts to determine root cause and effective vehicle remediation,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA, in the same statement.

The latest issue holding up the flight was an oxidizer isolation valve that was found in August, and NASA and Boeing together elected to pull the spacecraft back to the hanger to figure out how to fix the issue before sending the spacecraft aloft.

Another pressing issue for NASA’s future will be extending the planned retirement of the ISS from 2024 to at least 2028, which the agency has said for years it wants to do. It is in negotiations with Congress and with its international partners to do this, and in the meantime, last week the agency also announced it has secured three early-stage contracts for future private space stations to fly late in the 2020s.

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See what food challenges astronauts face in space – CGTN America

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For the first time ever, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency hosted the Deep Space Food Challenge. 

The competition brought universities and companies together to propose solutions on how to feed astronauts on a long mission. Last month, NASA announced that the winners and one of the international winners of the Phase 1 competition came from a group of students in a university in South America. 

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports Colombia.

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Deaf researchers are advancing the field of science — but barriers still hold many back – CBC.ca

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In a scrubby patch of forest near Halifax, Saint Mary’s University professor Linda Campbell and her master’s student, Michael Smith, squelch through mud, looking for lichens. The lichens they’re after can be used as natural biological monitors of pollutants from former gold-mining sites, like this one. 

Smith lifts one piece from a branch. It’s usnea, or beard lichen, which the researchers can use to assess levels of arsenic and mercury in the air. That’s because it absorbs nutrients — and pollutants, if they’re present — from the atmosphere rather than through roots.

Campbell notes that there were once industrial devices used to crush gold-bearing ore at the site where this lichen is now growing. The lichen is absorbing mercury initially released from the ore many years ago, that is still percolating out into the environment. “What took place 100 years ago is still being reflected in the lichen,” she said.

Campbell is a freshwater ecologist — one of a handful of experts in Canada who’s studied how contaminants move through ecosystems, and how to deal with them.

But she’s also part of another minority. Campbell is Deaf, and uses American Sign Language, or ASL, making her part of a group that continues to be underrepresented in science.

WATCH | ASL interpretation of Quirks & Quarks’ Deaf in science: Beyond the range of hearing documentary:

Deaf in science: Beyond the range of hearing [ASL]

5 days ago

American Sign Language interpretation of Deaf in science: Beyond the range of hearing , a radio documentary from Quirks & Quarks about the underrepresentation of deaf researchers in science, and how they’re bringing their unique perspective to the lab and the field. 20:39

Transcript of Quirks & Quarks’ Deaf in science: Beyond the range of hearing documentary

A report from earlier this year by the Royal Society in the U.K., for instance, noted that while about one per cent of the population is deaf, the percentage of STEM undergraduates in that country who are deaf has stagnated at just 0.3 per cent for the past decade. And, a 2017 U.S. study by the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes found that, overall, Deaf people obtain lower levels of education than their hearing peers.

In Canada, there is little formal data, but, anecdotally, Campbell knows of only five other deaf STEM university faculty members.

Campbell attributes the underrepresentation to barriers erected by attitudes among hearing people. 

“When science looks at that as an added cost, and added labour, to include people with disabilities, they’re not recognizing the differences and the successes that can be brought — that diverse thinking can be successful.” 

Barriers rooted in education

Alex Lu recently graduated with a PhD in computer science from the University of Toronto, where he studied Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Lu is Deaf, and uses sign language and lip reading, as well as his own voice.

Growing up, Lu says he always felt comfortable as a Deaf person, but found that hard to reconcile with the attitudes he encountered in his university education. He found people were used to teaching and learning science a certain way — which didn’t always involve working with Deaf people or ASL interpreters.

“I think I’m the first Deaf person in my program. So there was a whole bunch of confusion about how you get ASL interpreters and how they work in classes. There were a lot of professors that had never interacted with an ASL interpreter, or a student that uses an ASL interpreter,” he said.

AI researcher Alex Lu, who is deaf, said that he faced obstacles in his PhD studies at the University of Toronto due to the complications of getting ASL interpreters and instructors who were inexperienced in interacting with deaf students. (Submitted by Alex Lu)

“And then when you start looking into that, you start realizing, well, here are all of the barriers in the way that we’ve been educating deaf people.”

Some of those barriers can be traced back to the fact that, from the late 19th century to the early 1960s, sign language was often forbidden in education, as people believed it prevented Deaf children from learning speech. 

ASL often not built for science

Today, there are few Deaf researchers working in academia, which has led to a problem: much of the technical and specialized language used in STEM hasn’t made its way into signed languages such as ASL.

When there are no signs, interpreters may use fingerspelling — spelling out each letter of a word — or the sign for the word in general English, which can be inaccurate.

Colin Lualdi, a fourth year PhD student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studies photonic quantum information. He said the lack of useful signs can be frustrating and tedious for deaf students, and can produce misunderstandings.

One example was the term “degeneracy,” which he encountered as an undergrad. His ASL interpreter signed using the English word meaning to get worse over time. In fact, in physics this actually refers to two systems with the same amount of energy.

WATCH | Physicist Colin Lualdi defines the physics concept of ‘spin’ in ASL:

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“And by that time, I realized we needed a new sign for it, in order to support the concepts that were being communicated,” he said.

Since then, Lualdi has joined a collaboration between Harvard University and the Learning Center for the Deaf to create signs for terms in quantum science. One of the signs the team has worked on is for electron; the current sign has an index finger circling a closed fist, representing a nucleus.

“It implies that you have an electron always circling a nucleus, right? But that’s not always true,” he said.

Instead, Lualdi and other project members have proposed a sign with just the index finger moving in a circle. 

WATCH | Physicist David Spiecker demonstrates the proposed new ASL sign for the electron:

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They’re now in the process of disseminating this sign and others, as well as syntax the project has been working on to improve communication of physics concepts, to see if they’ll be adopted by the broader community.

Either way, Lualdi says they’ve already made his own work as a scientist easier.

“Everyone wins when we have an improved framework of language and, and the process becomes much more efficient.” 

Bringing a unique perspective to fieldwork

Outside of physics labs, being Deaf in science can present its own challenges and opportunities, as it did for Barbara Spiecker. She came to love fieldwork while pursuing her masters degree in marine biology.

Spiecker, who is now doing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said her experience as a Deaf scientist, and a user of ASL, have honed her powers of observation, and provided her with a different lens to view the natural world. 

During her PhD fieldwork, marine biologist Barbara Spiecker said her advisor was concerned that because she was deaf, it would be unsafe for to work in wet and slippery intertidal beaches. (Submitted by Barbara Spiecker)

“It’s very 3D based, a lot of what I do, and ASL is a 3D language. So often hearing people, when they research, have a different frame of how they see and interpret the world, and what they research. So, that’s what I bring to the table,” Spiecker said.

But Spiecker says being Deaf hasn’t always been seen as a strength. For the first two years of her PhD program, she was not provided an interpreter, which meant she missed out on learning opportunities. Spiecker says she had to fight hard to not have the cost of the interpreter pushed on her lab, which would have cut into their research budget and discouraged them from hiring Deaf students.

“That was quite the battle — if that was allowed, then I wouldn’t have got my PhD.”

In fieldwork, too, she encountered attitudes that could present obstacles. At one point, her work involved extended time on the seaweed carpet of the potentially treacherous intertidal zone. Advisors and potential employers expressed doubt she could be safe in the water.

“I [was] like, ‘there’s really no difference, you probably aren’t relying on your hearing at that point, either.’ My eyes are very vigilant in these situations,” she said.”It just took a little education and explanation, to help them realize there’s really no difference.”

The value of different perspectives

But Alex Lu says there is a difference in once important way — in that Deaf scientists, by virtue of their life experiences, contribute different perspectives.

“The value of having disabled people in science, and marginalized people in science isn’t that you just want to get people who are uniformly going to be superheroes or anything like that,” he says. Instead, he says what’s important is that “we contribute perspectives that are different from mainstream science.”

Back at the former gold mining site, Linda Campbell says science is strengthened by having more people contributing diverse perspectives, such as the issues she works on, challenging legacy contaminants affecting ecosystems.

Beard lichen has no roots and absorbs nutrients from the atmosphere. Since it also will absorb airborne pollutants, ecologist Linda Campbell studies it to determine whether old industrial sites are continuing to emit toxins into the atmosphere. (Moira Donovan/CBC News)

“We’re building many lines of evidence for the research and the potential risks of the tailings and how to manage those risks,” she said. When barriers prevent Deaf scientists from contributing to these kinds of challenges, she said, “you’re losing that whole group of people who have such intense, powerful skills that can advance the field of science.”

And the fact that some Deaf scientists have managed to work and advocate their way into positions working on environmental issues and other aspects of STEM doesn’t mean that the barriers have been removed — instead, she said it should be seen as inspiration for work that is still to come.

“There are many, many more people that could be successful and could contribute to science and make the planet a more healthy place. But they just can’t, because of those very barriers imposed on them,” she said.

“‘If they can do it, you can do it’ — that’s not it. It’s more that ‘they could do it, so we can find a way for you to do it, too.'”

Written and produced by Moira Donovan

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