Space news roundup
The shuttle Discovery is approaching the end of its nine-day stay at the space station. Hatches connecting the International Space Station to the shuttle are due to be closed off on Tuesday, with departure scheduled for Wednesday.
On Sunday, astronauts completed the mission’s final spacewalk, replacing an empty gas tank and collecting a sample of dusty debris from a joint on one of the station’s solar panel units. Nasa is hoping the debris will give it clues about why another joint is malfunctioning.
The new Japanese-built components of the station are coming online, with the robotic arm being unfolded for the first time. The 10m-long crane is part of the Kibo laboratory. Next year, NASA plans to launch an outdoor platform with telescopes and experiments that will extend Kibo.
On Mars, the Phoenix lander continues to carry out it’s mission. However, the unexpected “clumpy” nature of the soil on the Martian northern plains has frustrated efforts to carry out some of experiments.
A sample delivered to a mini-lab oven failed to make it through a sorting filter, and attempts to vibrate the filter have had little effect. Researchers working on the mission are now practising various motions to sprinkle the further material with the robotic scoop. This will hopefully produce a finer-grained sample and allow some material to pass beyond the filter.
Meanwhile closer to home, tests on UK-led technology at the heart of a proposed Moon mission have been a successful. Three penetrator missiles were fired into a sand bunker in Wales, designed to mimic the lunar surface. According to Professor Alan Smith, of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, the results had exceeded expectations. He is a leading figure in the MoonLITE mission, which hopes to fire instruments into the Moon in 2013.