Space Science: Exploring Our Universe

By Fisk, Lennard A. | National Forum, Summer 1992 | Go to article overview
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Space Science: Exploring Our Universe


Fisk, Lennard A., National Forum


This year, the International Space Year (ISY), we commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's exploratory voyage to the Americas and the 35th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year, during which humans launched the world's first artificial satellites. Both the public at large and the world's space agencies are joining in the celebration of the themes of the ISY--discovery, exploration, education, and international cooperation.

The International Space Year is a banner year for space science. This year the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is retrieving and analyzing data from more than a dozen operational space science spacecraft. These data are contributing to the rapid development of knowledge of phenomena ranging from the intricacies of the universe to the subtleties of our own planet. In addition, NASA plans to launch twelve new space science missions in 1992, making this year the most active in the history of space science.

The Office of Space Science and Applications (OSSA) plans, directs, executes, and evaluates NASA's space science program. OSSA's space science missions use the unique characteristics of the space environment to conduct a scientific study of the universe, to understand how Earth works as an integrated system, to solve practical problems on Earth, and to provide the foundation of scientific and technological research needed for expanding the human presence beyond Earth orbit into the solar system.

Already this year we have completed the highly successful International Microgravity Laboratory (IML)-1, the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS)-1, and the United States Microgravity Laboratory (USML)-1 Shuttle spacelab missions. These missions charted new territory in low-gravity physical and biological sciences, Earth science, space physics, and microgravity sciences. ATLAS-1 was the first of numerous Spacelab flights in support of the Mission to Planet Earth program, while USML-1 was the first U.S. spacelab mission dedicated to microgravity science research. This year also witnessed two successful launches of space science missions aboard expendable launch vehicles. The first, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE), is studying distant stars during its one-and-one-half-year mission. The second, the Solar, Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX), is studying solar energetic particles and cosmic rays in an effort to expand our knowledge of our closest star, the Sun.

During the course of this summer, NASA will launch several additional space science missions. The joint United States-Japanese Geotail missions in space-plasma physics will be launched aboard an expendable launch vehicle to study the storage and release of energy deep in Earth's geomagnetic tail. And the Tethered Satellite System (TSS)-1, a joint spacelab mission with Italy, will be flown aboard the Shuttle to study electrodynamic processes in the ionosphere. In addition, our French partners will launch the United States-French TOPEX-POSEIDON mission to study global ocean circulation. This spacecraft will collect more information on the Earth's oceans than all the research ships in history have amassed.

The busy pace will continue in the fall, with the launch of another microgravity science mission, the United States Microgravity Payload (USMP)-1, on the Shuttle to study materials and fundamental science. Spacelab-J, a joint mission with Japan, will carry both microgravity and life sciences experiments aboard the Shuttle. We will also continue our exploration of the solar system with the planned September launch of Mars Observer.

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