Breaking Atmo: Recent Space News and 2019 Look Ahead

Nancy Grace Roman Passed Away

Nancy Grace Roman in 1962 with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory. Image from

Nancy Grace Roman commonly known as the “Mother of Hubble” passed away at age 93 on December 26. Roman graduated from Swathmore College in 1946 with a BA in Astronomy. (I keep finding out all kinds of interesting people went to Swathmore now that I no longer live a few miles away.) After working professionally at a number of observatories, she joined NASA as first chief of astronomy in NASA’s Office of Space Science in 1961 making her the first woman in an executive role at NASA. During her time at NASA, she worked on a number of programs including a number of orbiting observatories and experiments for Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Spacelab. What she is most remembered for is the early planning work she did for the Hubble Space Telescope, including work to convince the U.S. Congress to fund the program. Roman’s work was celebrated in the LEGO Ideas set 21312 Women of NASA along with Margaret Hamilton, Sally Ride, and Mae Jemison.

LEGO Women of NASA set. Image from


Ultima Thule and Beyond

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The New Horizons probe, which blew all our minds in 2015 when it flew past Pluto, is continuing outwards and passed 2014 MU69 – Ultima Thule (pronounced Tool-ie). This is the farthest object a human-made object has visited! New Horizons collected over 7 GB of data and will take the next 20 months to download; think about that the next time you’re grumbling about slow internet!


To the Moon

Earthrise taken by Bill Anders on Apollo 8 December 1968 Image from

The gear up for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is already under way. Over the Christmas holiday was the anniversary of Apollo 8’s circumlunar flight. This is the flight that the “Earthrise” photo was taken on. In current moon news, China landed the Chang’e 4 rover in the Von Kármán crater on the far side of the Moon, the first soft landing on the far side in history. The mission hopes to reveal new insights into the formation of the moon and solar system. Other missions to the moon this year included India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission, which is an orbiter, lander, and rover trio, with plans to land the lander and rover near the Moon’s South Pole, and SpaceIL’s Sparrow, a lander that was originally part of the Google Lunar X Prize program.


Crewed Launches Returning to the U.S.

After a SEVEN YEAR hiatus, crewed launches are expected to return to Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this year. Space X’s Crewed Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner are both scheduled to make initial uncrewed test flight early in the year followed by crewed missions later in the year. Both programs have overcome a number of issues, and with any new program delays likely will push things back further. The current data is that the Falcon/Dragon Test flight is no earlier than January 17 and the Atlas V/Starliner test flight launch will be sometime in March.

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This post was last modified on January 9, 2019 8:20 pm

Michael J.

Michael is an engineer who likes to build with LEGO bricks and fly model rockets, when not chasing his two boys around, or more when helping to wrangle Cub Scouts.

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