Casual space knife
Welcome to THE SPACE KNOWER, our weekly roundup of space news for people who don't have time to follow space news. Got questions, comments, or tips? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voyager 2 reaches interstellar space
Voyager 2, a spacecraft NASA launched in 1977, is now in interstellar space. In other words, it's in the SPACE BETWEEN THE STARS.
Voyager 2 performed what was called "the grand tour," visiting all four outer planets thanks to a rare planetary alignment that only happens every 175 years.
To this day, Voyager 2 is the ONLY spacecraft to have visited Uranus and Neptune. This picture of Uranus? It's from 1986:
And this pic of Neptune? From 1989:
It's a damn shame that we haven't been back.
After the Uranus and Neptune encounters, Voyager 2 just kept going. Both it and its sister spacecraft, Voyager 1, are a really, really long way from home:
I am currently 16 hrs 38 mins 17 secs of light-travel time from Earth (2018:347:000000:2L)— NSFVoyager2 (@NSFVoyager2) December 13, 2018
The solar wind (charged particles coming from the Sun) creates a big bubble around the planets, and NASA says Voyager 2 popped through that bubble last month. Voyager 1 did the same thing back in 2012.
So now what?
Both spacecraft should still operate for about 10 more years, until their nuclear power sources run out. Then, they'll drift through the Milky Way. In 40,272 AD, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of a star in the constellation Ursa Minor. Around the same time, Voyager 2 will come within 1.7 light years of Ross 248, a small star in the Andromeda constellation. Both are still carrying the Golden Record, a library of sights and sounds from Earth — along with instructions on where we live.
A very Russian spacewalk
Let me set you up for this next story with a tweet from Matthew Bodner, a Moscow-based journalist:
How did we arrive at this glorious tweet? As we reported in a previous Space Knower, a pressure drop in the International Space Station led the crew to a tiny hole in a Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz is how crews currently get back and forth to Earth.
Fortunately it was in the vehicle's orbital module, which gets thrown away right before the descent module, carrying the crew, reenters the atmosphere:
So was the hole drilled on the ground, or aboard the station? Was it an accident, or SABOTAGE? At one point, the Russians implied it could have even been a U.S. astronaut trying to make the Russian space program look bad.
To get to the bottom of this, the two cosmonauts aboard the station were ordered to go for a spacewalk. Which leads us to this:
That view was brought to you by a GoPro camera mounted on the outside of one of the cosmonauts' spacesuits. The Soyuz is wrapped in thermal blankets and debris shielding, so to see the inner hull, they had to slice through all that protection like a Thanksgiving turkey.
With knives and scissors. While wearing fabric spacesuits keeping them alive in the vacuum of space.
Eventually they found the hole without killing themselves, which was good:
That black stuff seeping out of the hole was likely part of the epoxy patch the crew installed to seal it. As it stands now, the spacewalk didn't really clear up the mystery at all. The Russians collected samples from the area and will send them home aboard the Soyuz next week. The saga continues!
Virgin Galactic reaches space
Virgin Galactic finally accomplished something they've been trying to do since 2004: fly to space!
Their SpaceShipTwo space plane is designed to carry tourists to the edge of space for $250,000 a pop. On Thursday, during a test flight from Mojave, California, SpaceShipTwo reached 82 kilometers, which was high enough to earn the two pilots FAA commercial astronaut wings.
It's a big milestone not only for Virgin, but for U.S. spaceflight in general: No astronaut has reached space from American soil since 2011, the final flight of the space shuttle program.
Virgin's eventual goal is to move their operations out to Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. When ROCKETGUT! visited in July, things were pretty quiet. Virgin hasn't set a timetable for when that might happen, but they do have two new space planes under construction. Presumably, Thursday's flight gets them a little closer.
That's it for this episode of THE SPACE KNOWER. Got questions, comments, or tips for us? Email us at email@example.com.