Orbital's New Spacecraft Starts 3 Billion-Mile Trip

A NASA spacecraft designed by Dulles-based Orbital Sciences last week began a 3 billion-mile journey through the solar system toward an eventual rendezvous with two asteroids. See the company's statement.

The Dawn spacecraft successfully lifted off on Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida. Early data gathered from the spacecraft after its launch indicted normal operations.

Scientists hope that Dawn will help advance their understanding of the solar system's origin's and development by studying Ceres and Vesta, two of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft, which weighs about a ton, will explore Vesta in 2011, and Ceres in 2015, according to NASA.

The vehicle was built by Orbital over a four-year period for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The company said Dawn is the first space vehicle to use an a new ion propulsion system developed by JPL.

In July, Orbital reported a 40 percent gain in its second quarter profit. A significant portion of its revenue growth during the quarter came from its satellite and space systems division, which recorded an almost 60 percent revenue increase.

"Orbital's entire staff is very excited that it is now on its way to completing a historic, first-of-its-kind mission," Carl Marchetto, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's space systems unit, said in a statement. "With the Dawn mission, we have an excellent opportunity to display our deep space capabilities and look forward to participating in future spacecraft programs."

-- Mike Shepard

By Mike Shepard  |  September 29, 2007; 9:29 AM ET  | Category:  Aerospace & Defense
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Orbital's New Spacecraft Starts 3 Billion-Mile Trip

A NASA spacecraft designed by Dulles-based Orbital Sciences last week began a 3 billion-mile journey through the solar system toward an eventual rendezvous with two asteroids. See the company's statement.


The well-known NASA scientist and author of popular scientific works, Professor Carl Sagan, together with his wife Linda, among other people, wrote the famous Space Message engraved on Pioneer 10 and meant for possible extraterrestrial civilizations which might be discovered -- who knows? -- somewhere in our Galaxy. Professor Sagan is a master of the art of using humor, and he is fond of allegories. That is why Lucien Bonnet wrote to himin the form of a parable on April 10, 1978.

Montreal, April 10, 1978

Dear Dr. Sagan:

It sometimes happens that a dreambecomes a reality. That's the case today. Through Mr. Emil P. Ericksen, Economic Officer of the Consulate General of the United States of America in Montreal, I amin communication with the American scientist whose works and research I most admire.

I would like to address a simple message to Professor Carl Sagan and his wife, who feel, as the year 2000 approaches, that the time is ripe to make our presence known by sending signals to other possible intelligent beings in the Universe. The message, which is the result of my patient research, I formulate as follows:

On the cosmic scale, as on the terrestrial scale, blackness is an integral part of color and light processes.

My purpose is to inform you of this particular subject and the reasons that have led me to carry out my research, in the context of the problems of the very small country, whose history is as tortured as its geography, where I was born and grew up: Haiti, whose name means "land of mountains". This country has been faced for years with the difficulties inherent to any collectivity confronted with a problem of identity. In Canada, where I live and to which I have become acclimatized, this subject still motivates my research, propels my efforts and explains the audacity of my words. In the particular context of a centuries-old conflict, where personal interest and racial origins confront each other, it is essential that we get to the bottom of things. At this point, it would be as well to point out that branch of energy physics, namely optics, where scientific taboos concerning color, darkness and light are furthered and maintained by trade secrets, patents and vested interests. A rational search for original, and even avant-garde, answers on a scientific and intellectual level would seem to be a necessary prerequisite to establishing a balanced situation.

Not being a "scientist" - because "Sometimes, facts are so obvious that they hit you in the eye but, like ostriches, people bury their heads in the sand" - but rather, perhaps the most obscure of all obscure researchers of all obscure ages, I amasking a special favor from Professor Sagan. I would like him to agree to examine my modest results and the demonstration there of, backed up by photos and films. Needless to say, they may be freely used for any purposes deemed necessary to the success of my undertaking. On one film, I wanted to assemble in my own way the elements and conditions that I think are indispensable to the analysis and synthesis of colors. I amsubmitting four films called "color separations" and the color proofs to support this finding.

The sentences I quote below are yours. They are taken from an interview that you gave to a French magazine reporter:

... "after Apollo, scientists were discouraged. Do you know why they were disheartened? Because the sky above the Moon is black. That made them depressed. Do you think this is a joke? Not at all. Scientists are more fragile than they look. But the sky above Mars is rose-colored and that gave them hope."4

4 Delaprée, Catherine "L'homme clef de Viking: Et maintenant il faut tout revoir...",
(Le Point, August 16, 1976, pp. 48,49) [our translation]

I can see you and Mrs. Sagan smiling, seeming to say, "Roses live the life span of a rose, the space of one morning."

The solution to the enigma of Space is not a "one-morning" task. Its darkness of an extraordinary depth, always so secretive and so intriguing, bordering on despair and insanity, fear and disgust, hatred and damnation, a consequence of ignorance or indifference, jealously hides incredible resources that would be of benefit to science, perceived only by such advanced, and wise, researchers as Professor Sagan.

With all due respect to the biblical Genesis, which from generation to generation teaches those who wish to hear it their way that "God divided the light from the darkness" (Gen. 1:4), and with all due respect to Sir Isaac Newton, who showed us all the colors of the rainbow with his prism, but who left us in the dark about the greatest unknown of all times, darkness itself, I insist that darkness -- "the black rose of space", arbitrarily denied as a positive value, always perceived negatively, discreet, hardly envious of the light which it absorbs, the better to conserve it -- has passed for the absence of light, while in reality it is the extension of light.

Since the beginning of time, a harmonious and complementary state has existed between light and darkness, whose equivalent effects are carefully balanced at the cosmic level, making us think, as sages of all ages have suggested, like Lavoisier, that in this coherent universe, "nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed".

The question we ask ourselves most often is this"What would our lives be without light?" All things being equal, and according to the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, we might ask, "What would life be without darkness?" Whether we say "darkness is an absence of light" or .light is an absence of darkness", is this not a simple question of semantics?

Reconciling light with darkness is a simple message that any future human or extraterrestrial space traveler should be able to grasp without too much difficulty. In the interests of any advanced civilization, obtaining a workable combination of visible and invisible forms of matter or energy is a chance to surpass ourselves by extending our own limits.

The so-called luminous part of the Universe, be it ever so brilliant, so forceful, that it seems to eclipse all the rest, while left in the shadow of its over whelming radiance, cannot by itself constitute a whole. The latter is left to the perception and investigation of scientists--but again, we must have the courage to get to the bottom of things.

The bottom of things is often veiled by mentalities. Mentalities depend on the human brain. It is interesting to note that the thing we are most proud of, this wonderful human brain -- physically, without our realizing it -- has always functioned in utter darkness. Man's skull constitutes, without a doubt, the best model of a dark room which has ever been conceived. On the optical as well as the psychological plane, one can easily imagine what roadblocks are likely to be encountered. When we wish to refer to the superior abilities of man, weuse the term "gray matter". Gray matter in a dark room, with or without a prism -- what a delicate situation! Isn't it where all the subtlety lies?

From the gray lunar soil of the Moon and in the concerted harmony of constructive forms, visible and invisible, of channeled light energy, the white rose and the black rose of the Cosmos and the possibility of roses in all color shades -- enough to make the sky of Mars blush red -- represent the true challenge of space and the spaceship in modern times. Inertia, spectral speed, speed equal to or higher than that of light, and the scientifically controlled reversibility of the phenomenon, what a new synthesis, but also what a liberation! To compare is not to prove, but the dark hidden side of the Moon, however mysterious it may be, is not a path of no return.

At the edge of light, there is darkness. At the edge of darkness, we can find light. Reconciling the "Children of Light" (I Thess. 5:5) -- of the zenith, the rising sun and the setting sun -- with the "Children of Darkness" (I Thess. 5:6) could perhaps one day become a question of scientific mentality.

"And there was evening and there was morning..." (Gen. 1:5).

Could this, Professor, be one of the most harmonious aspects of the vital cycle of space?

Thank you for your attention to my letter.

Yours very truly,

Lucien Bonnet

Posted by: Lucien BONNET | September 29, 2007 8:15 PM

Quite frankly I dont think the technology is worth it considering the cost.

The fact that it takes over 4 years one way and is not retrievable, i.e. investment lost, is unexceptable.

The world's aerospace exploration organizations must do a better job of gleening new technologies for space exploration that is based on reusable and long life spacecraft having near light speed capability.

I propose one listed on a website.


Posted by: mthomas | September 30, 2007 8:45 AM

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