Testing the escape

I just saw a video where the Attitude Control Motor for the Orion Crew Vehicle Launch Abort System was tested, and I was pretty impressed with how the exhaust of the rocket was controlled. On the other hand, since it's part of the escape system when something goes drastically wrong with a launch, I find myself hoping that it never actually needs to be used ...

Global map of Mercury

It is still more than a year before the MESSENGER spacecraft goes into orbit around Mercury. But along with images taken by Mariner 10 more than thirty years ago that observed less than half of Mercury's surface, images taken during the three flybys of MESSENGER were enough for nearly complete spacecraft images of the planet's surface. For the first time, we have a nearly complete global map of the surface of Mercury taken in visible light. That would be cool enough: the map is also going to be useful when MESSENGER goes into orbit around Mercury, which is when it can really start studying the planet.

Global map of Mercury

By the way, I can't help but be drawn by the dark band that seems to span the whole planet in the north-south direction. Anyone know what it is?

Akatsuki to Venus

Japan will become the fourth "nation" after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Union (which isn't a nation, but saying "the 30th nation" sounds all wrong) to send a spacecraft to Venus. It will be the Venus Climate Orbiter AKATSUKI, which obviously will study the climate of Venus' carbon-dioxide-laden atmosphere.

They also happen to be sending an aluminum plate with messages from all over the world along with the spacecraft. If you want, you could send your own message to Venus. My own message was "Greetings from Blue Star to Gold Star" (I really would have liked to put a couple of "Wandering"s in there, but it wouldn't fit the 40 character limit). In return, I got a ticket for a ride on the Venus Climate Orbiter: valid for up to 3 Venus years after launch, but void if I were to get off during the journey. Now if I could just get to the launch pad in time, maybe I could hitch a ride ...

Message to Venus