(Element) 94 (and the future of the Space Age)

http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/lores/AS04-01-410.jpg

11.09.1967
Brazil, Atlantic Ocean, Africa, Sahara and Antarctica seen from Apollo 4
Image from NASA

Element 94 on the Periodic Table is Plutonium. (10-12) “The isotope 233Pu was used in the American Apollo lunar missions to power seismic and other equipment on the lunar surface.”  On page 37 of NASA’s Fiscal Year 2010 -Performance and Accountability report, “the supply of Plutonium-238 (Pu-238) remains a limiting factor in the exploration of the solar system. NASA has already rescoped New Frontiers-3 due to the limited supply of the Pu-238.  NASA requires Pu-238 to make power for missions that travel too far from the Sun for solar power generation. Russia has suspended implementation of its contract with the Department of Energy (DOE) for purchase of Russia’s remaining supplies of Pu-238. NASA continues to explore its options with the DOE but will require appropriation of funds for FY 2011 and FY 2012 to keep the supply of Pu-238, and with it the Planetary Science Program, on track.”

Today Atlantis with its crew of 4 astronauts made the final launch of the 30 year space shuttle program.  During the 12-day mission, they will be bringing supplies to the International Space Station which is orbiting about 350 kilometers (10+2) or 220 miles above earth.  The orbiter will travel at about 28,000 kilometers (10+4) per hour or 17,500 miles per hour.  This means that every 45 minutes the crew will see a sunrise or a sunset!  CBS News reports that “the combined mileage of all five orbiters is 513.7 million miles (826.7 million km or 10+8), or 1.3 times the distance between Earth and Jupiter. Each orbiter, except for Challenger, traveled farther than the distance between Earth and the sun. “  Upon its return, Atlantis will be put on display along with Discovery and Endeavor.

What will happen next?

This chapter of the space age has been completed.  As summed up in the Economist, “every planet has now been visited, and every planet with a solid surface bar Mercury has been landed on.  Asteroids, moons and comets have all been added to the stamp album. “  The price has been steep in achieving these successes.   But hopefully there will be a spark in the next generation of how to go even deeper into outer space since the only direction is up!  For now, we will observe the universe with telescopes and satellites in order to continue to plumb its depths.

To view the launch and read more about the space shuttle program, visit NASA.  Track the final flight Space Transportation Shuttle – 135 for Atlantis in real time on GoogleEarth!

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