A pair of NASA spacecraft that were supposed to be dead a year ago are instead flying to the Moon for a breakthrough mission in lunar orbit.

"Their real names are THEMIS P1 and P2, but I call them 'dead spacecraft walking,'" says Vassilis Angelopoulos of UCLA, principal investigator of the THEMIS mission. "Not so long ago, we thought they were goners. Now they are beginning a whole new adventure."

Artemis (artemis, 550px)
An artist's concept of THEMIS-P1 and P2 (since renamed ARTEMIS-P1 and P2) in lunar orbit. [larger image]

The story begins in 2007 when NASA launched a fleet of five spacecraft into Earth's magnetosphere to study the physics of geomagnetic storms. Collectively, they were called THEMIS, short for "Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms." P1 and P2 were the outermost members of the quintet.

Working together, the probes quickly discovered a cornucopia of previously unknown phenomena such as colliding auroras, magnetic spacequakes, and plasma bullets shooting up and down Earth’s magnetic tail. These findings allowed researchers to solve several longstanding mysteries of the Northern Lights.

Artemis (Northern Lights, 200px)
In their previous life, THEMIS-P1 and P2 were on a mission to study Northern Lights. [more]

The mission was going splendidly, except for one thing: Occasionally, P1 and P2 would pass through the shadow of Earth. The solar powered spacecraft were designed to go without sunlight for as much as three hours at a time, so a small amount of shadowing was no problem. But as the mission wore on, their orbits evolved and by 2009 the pair was spending as much as 8 hours a day in the dark.

"The two spacecraft were running out of power and freezing to death," says Angelopoulos. "We had to do something to save them."

The team brainstormed a solution. Because the mission had gone so well, the spacecraft still had an ample supply of fuel--enough to go to the Moon. "We could do some great science from lunar orbit," he says. NASA approved the trip and in late 2009, P1 and P2 headed away from the shadows of Earth.

With a new destination, the mission needed a new name. The team selected ARTEMIS, the Greek goddess of the Moon. It also stands for "Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun."

The first big events of the ARTEMIS mission are underway now. On August 25, 2010, ARTEMIS-P1 reached the L2 Lagrange point on the far side of the Moon. Following close behind, ARTEMIS-P2 entered the opposite L1 Lagrange point on Oct. 22nd. Lagrange points are places where the gravity of Earth and Moon balance, creating a sort of gravitational parking spot for spacecraft.

Artemis (Lagrange Points, 550px)
The ARTEMIS spacecraft are currently located at the L1 and L2 Earth-Moon Lagrange points. [more]

"We're exploring the Earth-Moon Lagrange points for the first time," says Manfred Bester, Mission Operations Manager from the University of California at Berkeley, where the mission is operated. "No other spacecraft have orbited there."

Because they lie just outside Earth's magnetosphere, Lagrange points are excellent places to study the solar wind. Sensors onboard the ARTEMIS probes will have in situ access to solar wind streams and storm clouds as they approach our planet—a possible boon to space weather forecasters. Moreover, working from opposite Lagrange points, the two spacecraft will be able to measure solar wind turbulence on scales never sampled by previous missions.

"ARTEMIS is going to give us a fundamental new understanding of the solar wind," predicts David Sibeck, ARTEMIS project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "And that's just for starters."

ARTEMIS will also explore the Moon's plasma wake—a turbulent cavity carved out of the solar wind by the Moon itself, akin to the wake just behind a speedboat. Sibeck says "this is a giant natural laboratory filled with a whole zoo of plasma waves waiting to be discovered and studied."

Artemis (orbits, 200px)
A Youtube video describes the complex orbits of the two Artemis spacecraft.

Another target of the ARTEMIS mission is Earth's magnetotail. Like a wind sock at a breezy airport, Earth's magnetic field is elongated by the action of the solar wind, forming a tail that stretches to the orbit of the Moon and beyond. Once a month around the time of the full Moon, the ARTEMIS probes will follow the Moon through the magnetotail for in situ observations.

"We are particularly hoping to catch some magnetic reconnection events," says Sibeck. "These are explosions in Earth's magnetotail that mimic solar flares--albeit on a much smaller scale." ARTEMIS might even see giant 'plasmoids' accelerated by the explosions hitting the Moon during magnetic storms.

These far-out explorations may have down-to-Earth applications. Plasma waves and reconnection events pop up on Earth, e.g., in experimental fusion chambers. Fundamental discoveries by ARTEMIS could help advance research in the area of clean renewable energy.

After six months at the Lagrange points, ARTEMIS will move in closer to the Moon—at first only 100 km from the surface and eventually even less than that. From point-blank range, the spacecraft will look to see what the solar wind does to a rocky world when there's no magnetic field to protect it.

"Earth is protected from solar wind by the planetary magnetic field," explains Angelopolous. "The Moon, on the other hand, is utterly exposed. It has no global magnetism."

Studying how the solar wind electrifies, alters and erodes the Moon's surface could reveal valuable information for future explorers and give planetary scientists a hint of what's happening on other unmagnetized worlds around the solar system.

Orbiting the Moon is notoriously tricky, however, because of irregularities in the lunar gravitational field. Enormous concentrations of mass (mascons) hiding just below the surface tug on spacecraft in unexpected ways, causing them over time to veer out of orbit. ARTEMIS will mitigate this problem using highly elongated orbits ranging from tens of km to 18,000 km.

"We'll only be near the lunar surface for a brief time each orbit (accumulating a sizable dataset over the years)," explains Angelopoulos. "Most of the time we'll linger 18,000 km away where we can continue our studies of the solar wind at a safe distance."

The Dead Spacecraft Walking may have a long life, after all.


Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

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IYA 2009 Comes to a Close

Sunday, January 17, 2010 | 3 comments »

An unprecedented yearlong celestial celebration —the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) — officially came to a close on January 9th and 10th in Padua, Italy. The recurring theme of the event, however, was that the groundbreaking year was just a beginning of increased outreach and education activities.

The brainchild of astronomer and former IAU President Franco Pacini, IYA2009 marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s historic observations of the heavens, which took place near to the closing ceremony’s venue at the University of Padua. Galileo himself was watching the recent proceedings from a ceiling fresco in the great hall where he taught mathematics for 17 years, a venue that had the speakers and audience in awe. Even one of Galileo’s telescopes was on hand on its first-ever return to Padua, along with a piece of one of Galileo’s first observational targets — the Moon — brought to Earth by Apollo astronauts.

The historic hall where Galileo taught mathematics for 18 years was the venue for the IYA2009 closing ceremony.
Lee Pullen / IYA2009 / IAU
The IAU president who shepherded the worldwide effort from the beginning through its culmination, Catherine Cesarsky, said no one was sure just what to expect at the earliest meetings where ideas for the year were first considered. But every one of those early ideas had become a reality by year’s end, along with many more innovative ideas from around the world. Cesarsky added that all of the goals set for IYA2009 were reached except one — for every person on Earth to hear or see something about astronomy during 2009. That goal may yet be reached belatedly in the year’s wake as all but one of IYA2009’s own Cornerstone Projects will carry on in some form, along with many Special Projects and countless other programs inspired by the year.

Newly-installed IAU president Robert Williams made the observation that the need for astronomy to reach out to others is nothing new. “Education and outreach has been an important part of this since the beginning”, he said, noting that Galileo himself had to explain his work to the patrons he depended on for funding. From the beginning, IYA2009 was considered to be just the beginning of new education and outreach programs.

Tomasso Maccarno of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics said that the ceremony was not just the end of the year but the beginning of an “International Century of Astronomy.” He further predicted that celebrants at closing ceremony for the century-long festivities in 2110 would declare it the beginning of the “International Millennium of Astronomy”, and promptly declare an end to any more closing ceremonies. Playing on IYA2009’s motto, “The Universe, yours to discover”, Maccarno proclaimed the coming centuries’ motto to be “Countless suns, many worlds, one universe, ours to discover.”

Pedro Russo (presenting results of the year), Catherine Cesarsky, and Lars Lindberg Christensen
Lee Pullen / IYA2009 / IAU
There were data to back up the lofty claims of the astronomy community’s leaders, presented by Pedro Russo, IYA2009 Coordinator, and Lars Lindberg Christensen, IYA2009 Secretariat Manager, and the numbers would impress any skeptic. But the most convincing evidence came in the form of presentations by the leaders of the effort in six diverse countries — Mozambique, Egypt, Honduras, Vietnam, Ukraine and India — who described innovative programs based on local culture and astronomical heritage in addition to featuring the findings of the most recent scientific discoveries.

Ukraine highlighted its many historic observatories, while its government minted two new coins featuring astronomy. Embedded in one of the coins was a 0.2-carat topaz representing the Earth in a diagram of the solar system. India focused on reaching all of its diverse cultures with a national radio channel broadcasting 52 programs on astronomy in 19 languages, mobile planetariums and astro-vans reaching hundreds of remote villages to teach and combat superstition, and a float in the country’s 60th Republic Day celebration parade being seen by one billion of its citizens! But these few examples barely scratched the surface of all that took place during the year in these countries and the rest of the 148 nations that officially participated.

Noting that the increased cooperation of professional and amateur astronomers was one of the greatest accomplishments of the year, IAU president Williams said, "The legacy of the IYA will almost certainly be outreach and education.” Much of the credit for the year’s successes was given to the thousands of amateur astronomers around the world whose participation was an important factor in the year’s success.

The biggest public outreach efforts, such as 100 Hours of Astronomy in April and Galilean Nights in October, were opportunities for amateur astronomy to shine, and millions were given a first look through amateur-owned telescopes in countries worldwide. The worldwide amateur community is energized, in some countries for the first time, and there is a lot more to come as everyone works to maintain the momentum of the year. Along with other continuing and expanding programs, Astronomers Without Borders is organizing a follow-up to the historic 100 Hours of Astronomy with a month-long celebration in April 2010 — Global Astronomy Month — giving amateurs another opportunity to share the sky.

Perhaps Cesarsky will yet see the realization of her goal, albeit belatedly, that every person on Earth hear or see something about astronomy.

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Return of the Mars Hoax

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | | 3 comments »

Just when you thought it was safe to check your email...

For the sixth year in a row, a message about the Red Planet is popping up in email boxes around the world. It instructs readers to go outside after dark on August 27th and behold the sky. "Mars will look as large as the full moon," it says. "No one alive today will ever see this again."

see captionDon't believe it.

Here's what will really happen if you go outside after dark on August 27th. Nothing. Mars won't be there. On that date, the red planet will be nearly 250 million km away from Earth and completely absent from the evening sky.

Right: Only in Photoshop does Mars appear as large as a full Moon.

The Mars Hoax got its start in 2003 when Earth and Mars really did have a close encounter. On Aug. 27th of that year, Mars was only 56 million km away, a 60,000-year record for martian close approaches to Earth. Someone sent an email alerting friends to the event. The message contained some misunderstandings and omissions—but what email doesn't? A piece of advanced technology called the "forward button" did the rest.

Tolerant readers may say that the Mars Hoax is not really a hoax, because it is not an intentional trick. The composer probably believed everything he or she wrote in the message. If that's true, a better name might be the "Mars Misunderstanding" or maybe the "Confusing-Email-About-Mars-You-Should-Delete-and-Not-Forward-to-Anyone-Except-Your-In-Laws."

Another aspect of the Mars Hoax: It says Mars will look as large as the full Moon if you magnify it 75x using a backyard telescope. The italicized text is usually omitted from verbal and written summaries of the Hoax. (For example, see the beginning of this story.) Does this fine print make the Mars Hoax true? After all, if you magnify the tiny disk of Mars 75x, it does subtend an angle about the same as the Moon.

No. Even with magnification, Mars does not look the same as a full Moon.

This has more to do with the mysterious inner workings of the human brain than cold, hard physics. Looking at Mars magnified 75x through a slender black tube (the eyepiece of a telescope) and looking at the full Moon shining unfettered in the open sky are two very different experiences.

see caption

Above: Mars in August 2003 during a 60,000-year record close approach. Even then, the planet resembled a bright star, not a full Moon. Photo credit: John Nemy & Carol Legate of Whistler, B.C.

A good reference is the Moon Illusion. Moons on the horizon look huge; Moons directly overhead look smaller. In both cases, it is the same Moon, but the human mind perceives the size of the Moon differently depending on its surroundings.

Likewise, your perception of Mars is affected by the planet's surroundings. Locate the planet at the end of a little dark tunnel, and it is going to look tiny regardless of magnification.

Bummer!

To see Mars as big as a full Moon, you'll need a rocketship, and that may take some time. Meanwhile, beware the Mars Hoax.

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(CNN) -- On July 23, 1969, as Apollo 11 hurtled back towards Earth, there was a problem -- a problem only a kid could solve.

At age 10, Greg Force reaches his arm into a tiny hole to fix an antenna crucial to Apollo 11.

At age 10, Greg Force reaches his arm into a tiny hole to fix an antenna crucial to Apollo 11.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but that's what it came down to as Apollo 11 sped back towards Earth after landing on the moon in 1969.

It was around 10:00 at night on July 23, and 10-year-old Greg Force was at home with his mom and three brothers. His father, Charles Force, was at work. Charles Force was the director of the NASA tracking station in Guam, where the family was living.

The Guam tracking station was to play a critical role in the return of Apollo 11 to Earth. A powerful antenna there connected NASA communications with Apollo 11, and the antenna was the only way for NASA to make its last communications with the astronauts before splashdown. But at the last minute on that night, a bearing in the antenna failed, rendering it nearly useless.


To properly replace the bearing would have required dismantling the entire antenna, and there was simply no time. So Charles Force thought of a creative solution: If he could get more grease around the failed bearing, it would probably be fine. The only problem was, nobody at the station had an arm small enough to actually reach in through the two-and-a-half inch opening and pack grease around the bearing.

And that's when Greg was called in to save the day. Charles Force sent someone out to his home to pick up Greg. Once at the tracking station, Greg reached into the tiny hole and packed grease around the failed bearing. It worked, and the station was able to successfully complete its communications role in the mission. Apollo 11 splashed down safely the next day.

At the time, Greg didn't think what he was doing was a big deal, and 40 years later, he's still modest about his role in the mission.

"That's all I did, was put my hand in and put grease on it," he says. If he hadn't been there, NASA would not have been able to make its last communications with the mission before splashdown, but Greg says "it wasn't life or death, [from] my understanding."

"My dad explained to me why it was important," he says, "but it kind of caught me by surprise afterwards, all the attention."

That attention came from the media and even the astronauts themselves. Greg's small but important part in Apollo 11 was a story told by news outlets around the world. He even got a nice thank-you note from Neil Armstrong, whom he met when Armstrong went on a tour of NASA stations with the other astronauts to thank the staff after the mission. "To Greg," reads the note, which Armstrong wrote on a newspaper clipping of Greg's story, "with thanks for your help on Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong."

Perhaps not surprisingly, like many other kids who grew up during the Apollo era, Greg dreamed of becoming an astronaut. He says he remembers visiting his dad's office to listen to astronauts communicating with NASA officials on the ground.

"We could sit and listen to the actual communication with the astronauts as it was happening, and it was hard to understand, but I loved to do that," he says. "On Guam we didn't have good television coverage, so I think I listened to the [moon] landing on the radio. To me it was a huge thing."

Greg pursued his dreams of space exploration all the way through college, where he majored in physics. Unfortunately, he was unable to pass the vision test for the space program because of his colorblindness, but even that couldn't squelch his interest. Greg went on to get his pilot's license, and even though his career now as a gymnastics school owner isn't exactly space-related, he says that "ever since then, I've followed the space program."

And as a lover of space exploration, Greg hopes to see more missions to the moon.

"I think it would be an important step as far as going further, like to Mars," he says. "I would love to see us go back to the moon."

But for now, on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, he can remember the small but crucial role he played in bringing Apollo 11 home safely.

"It kind of caught me by surprise," he says, "but I'm real proud to have been even a little tiny part of it."
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A survey of space shuttle Atlantis' outer body has revealed that four tiles on the right side have "some dings" in them, the flight director said Tuesday.

Space shuttle Atlantis launched from Florida Monday on its way to the Hubble telescope.

Space shuttle Atlantis launched from Florida Monday on its way to the Hubble telescope.

"As we were going through the surveys we did see probably about 21 inches in all ... four tiles with some dings in them," Tony Ceccacci told reporters.

"To me, I'm not the tile expert, but they looked very minor."

He said tile experts will examine the dings, which are on the wing.

Ceccacci said an "event" occurred around 103 seconds into Monday's launch.

He said NASA is looking into what may have caused the nicks. Debris that fell off the external fuel tank during liftoff has been the culprit on previous flights.

Atlantis launched Monday afternoon for NASA's fifth and final repair visit to the Hubble Space Telescope, with which it is scheduled to rendezvous on Wednesday.

It has been seven years since NASA's last mission to service the Hubble, which was designed to go only about three years between fixes.

NASA canceled an Atlantis mission to extend Hubble's operational life in January 2004 because the trip was considered too risky in the wake of the 2003 Columbia tragedy, which killed seven astronauts.

That disaster was blamed on a hole punched in the front of the wing by debris during liftoff.

But public pressure and steps taken to increase shuttle safety led the U.S. space agency to reconsider.

Space shuttle Endeavour is on standby at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the unlikely event that NASA will need to rescue the Atlantis crew members during their 11-day mission. Read more!

Last October 16th was a big day for the Chinese astronomical community. Nearly 200 kilometers northeast of Beijing, at the Xinglong Observing Station of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), leaders of the Chinese Academy of Sciences held a ceremony to celebrate the founding of something new and unique: LAMOST, the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope.

LAMOST observatory
The LAMOST observatory buildings, aligned on the meridian.
Renjiang Xie


LAMOST is a survey instrument like no other. It was designed for maximum efficiency for one vital purpose: taking spectra of many millions of individually selected, very faint objects. Its designers had to find the best balance for this purpose between aperture, field of view, and many other factors.

LAMOST's primary mirror
The surface shape of LAMOST's 4-meter segmented primary mirror will be actively controlled, allowing the segments to be thin and light.
Renjiang Xie

The instrument's segmented thin mirror, seen above, has an aperture of 4 meters (160 inches), with the segments controlled by active-optics techniques. This aperture will enable LAMOST to obtain spectra of objects as faint as magnitude 20.5 magnitude in a 1.5-hour exposure.

LAMOST's fiber-optic image detector, seen from behind.
Renjiang Xie

That's not remarkable by today's standards — LAMOST's real power comes from its extraordinary field of view. The working focal plane is an immense 1.75 meters in diameter, corresponding to a 5° field on the sky.

As many as 4,000 optical fibers can be automatically positioned onto selected objects in the field, with each fiber feeding light to a spectral analyzer. As a result, the telescope has the highest spectrum-acquiring rate of any in the world.

Being a survey telescope, LAMOST needs to look only near the sky's north-south meridian to catch, in time, a large fraction of the celestial sphere passing across. As a result the telescope occupies special domes that look less like a traditional observatory than like some spaceport from a sci-fi movie.

“LAMOST’s equipment was completely installed by the end of August after four years’ of building," says Yongheng Zhao, the general manager of the project. "We are now in the stage of doing test observations and refining performance, which may take two years.”

FAST radio telescope
With a diameter of some 500 meters (1,600 feet), FAST will be the world's largest radio dish. Click image for cross-section diagram.
NAOC / Chinese Academy of Sciences
FAST Radio Dish

Meanwhile, the ambitious Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) has been allocated government funds of nearly 700 million RMB yuan (nearly US$100 million). FAST will be built in a limestone karst valley in a sparsely populated mountanous area of Guizhou province about 1,800 kilometers southwest of Beijing.

FAST's dish will be composed of about 2,000 active panels, each 15 meters square, that can reshape into a paraboloidal surface for pointing in any direction as much as 40° from the zenith. Construction has begun and should be finished in 2014. FAST is expected to be 10 times as sensitive as the 300-meter dish radio telescope near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, currently the world's largest.
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In the game of astronomy, size matters. To get crisp, clear images of things billions of light years away, a telescope needs to be big.

"The bigger the better," says astronomer Harley Thronson, who leads advanced concept studies in astronomy at the Goddard Space Flight Center. And he thinks "NASA's new Ares V rocket is going to completely change the rules of the game."

Ares V is the rocket that will deliver NASA's next manned lunar lander to the moon as well as all the cargo needed for a lunar base. Its roomy shroud could hold about eight school buses, and the rocket will pack enough power to boost almost 180,000 kg (396,000 lbs -- about 16 or 17 school buses) into low Earth orbit. Ares V can haul six times more mass and three times the volume the space shuttle can.

"Imagine the kind of telescope a rocket like that could launch," says Thronson. "It could revolutionize astronomy."

Right: The roomy shroud of the Ares V could hold about eight school buses. Credit: NASA

Optical engineer Phil Stahl of the Marshall Space Flight Center offers this example: "Ares V could carry an 8-meter diameter monolithic telescope, something that we already have the technology to build. The risk would be relatively low, and there are some big cost advantages in not having to cram a large telescope into a smaller launcher."

For comparison, he points out that Hubble is only 2.4 meters wide.

An 8-meter monolithic telescope would see things more than three times as sharply as Hubble can. More importantly, in the same amount of observing time, the larger mirror would see objects that are about 11 times fainter than Hubble sees because the 8-meter telescope has 11 times the light collecting area.


But Ares V can go yet bigger. It could transport a huge segmented telescope – one with several separate mirror panels that are folded up for transport like the James Webb Space Telescope--but three times the size!

The Space Telescope Science Institute's Marc Postman has been planning a 16-meter segmented optical/ultraviolet telescope called ATLAST, short for Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope. The science from an aperture its size would be spectacular.

"ATLAST would be nearly 2000 times more sensitive than the Hubble Telescope and would provide images about seven times sharper than either Hubble or James Webb," says Postman. "It could help us find the long sought answer to a very compelling question -- 'Is there life elsewhere in the galaxy?'"

ATLAST's superior sensitivity would allow astronomers to hugely increase their sample size of stars for observation. Then, discovery of planets hospitable to life could be just around the corner!

"With our space-based telescope, we could obtain the spectrum of Earth-mass planets orbiting a huge number of nearby [60 - 70 light years from Earth] stars," says Postman. "We could detect any oxygen and water in the planets' spectral signatures. ATLAST could also precisely determine the birth dates of stars in nearby galaxies, giving us an accurate description of how galaxies assemble their stars."

This telescope could also probe the link between galaxies and black holes. Scientists know that almost all modern galaxies have supermassive black holes in their centers. "There must be a fundamental relationship between the formation of supermassive black holes and the formation of galaxies," explains Postman, "but we don't understand the nature of that relationship. Do black holes form first and act as seeds for the growth of galaxies around them? Or do galaxies form first and serve as incubators for supermassive black holes? A large UV/optical telescope could answer this question: If our telescope finds ancient galaxies that do not have supermassive black holes in their centers, it will mean galaxies can exist without them."

Dan Lester of the University of Texas at Austin envisions another 16-meter telescope, this one for detecting far-infrared wavelengths.

"The far-infrared telescope is quite different from, and quite complementary to, the optical telescopes of Stahl and Postman," says Lester. "In the far-infrared part of the spectrum, we generally aren't looking at starlight itself, but at the glow of warm dust and gas that surrounds the stars. In the very early stages of star formation, the proto-star is surrounded by layers of dust that visible light can't penetrate. Our telescope will allow us to see down into the innards of these giant dense clouds that are forming stars deep inside."

Observations in the far-infrared are especially challenging. These long wavelengths are hundreds of times larger than visible light, so it's hard to get a clear picture. "A very big telescope is necessary for good clarity at IR wavelengths," notes Lester.


Like the telescopes of Stahl and Postman, Lester's Single Aperture Far-Infrared Telescope ('SAFIR' for short), comes in two flavors for the Ares V: an 8-meter monolithic version and a 16-meter segmented version. Lester realized that, with an Ares V, he could launch an 8-meter telescope that didn't need complicated folding and unfolding. "But on the other hand, if we don't mind adding the complexity and cost of folding and still use an Ares V, we could launch a really mammoth telescope," says Lester.

In addition to all the above telescopes, Ares V could boost an 8-meter-class X-ray telescope into space. NASA's highly-successful Chandra X-ray Observatory has a 1 meter diameter mirror, so just imagine what an 8-meter Chandra might reveal!

Roger Brissenden of the Chandra X-ray Center is excited about the possibility of a future 8-meter-class X-ray telescope called Gen-X.

"Gen-X would be an extraordinarily powerful X-ray observatory that could open up new frontiers in astrophysics," he says. "This telescope will observe the very first black holes, stars and galaxies, born just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, and help us determine how these evolve with time. Right now, the study of the young universe is almost purely in the realm of theory, but with Gen-X's extreme sensitivity (more than 1000 times that of Chandra) these early objects would be revealed."

Indeed, Ares V flings shutters open wide on our view of the cosmos. It shakes off the shackles of mass and volume constraints from science missions and sweeps us into deep space to view "...a hundred things/ You have not dreamed of."

"We could get incredible astronomy from this big rocket," says Thronson, a professional dreamer. "I can't wait."
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