space

Orion spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral!
Nasa.gov / Nasa.gov

The “Block M” has officially made its way into space.  

This morning at 7:05 a.m. EST, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle carried by the Delta IV heavy rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with a University of Michigan flag on board.

PEPL / University of Michigan

Technology has opened the doors in recent years for do-it-yourselfers to complete scientific projects without help from universities or government agencies. But space exploration is one field that has remained largely out of reach for amateur scientists who don’t have NASA-sized budgets.

One way space enthusiasts have found to get more involved in the last few years is by building little satellites themselves, called cubesats.

Basically just metal boxes about the size of a loaf of bread, cubesats are popular in the DIY space community because they can be built cheaply with off-the-shelf parts and can be stuffed with cameras and all sorts of other instruments depending on the builders’ interests.

They’re usually put together by groups of amateurs or classes who pay to have their cubesat catch a ride on bigger rocket missions and once they’re dropped off, they stay in orbit and transmit pictures or other data back down to Earth.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan say they are working to expand the scientific capabilities of cubesats by giving them a push in new directions, literally.

They want to take the plasma propulsion systems that power big spacecraft, like communication satellites, and shrink them down so that amateurs can send their cubesats into new orbits or even off into the solar system.

*Listen to the full story above

User: Caneles / Flickr

It sounds like the plot of an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster:  the poles on the Sun are flipping.

But why is this polar flip happening? And, what does changing polarity mean for us Earthlings? We talk to MLive Meteorologist Mark Torregrossa about the sun's latest flip-flop. 

J. Gabás Esteban / Flickr

There was once a time when Uncle Sam and NASA opened the wallet to fund space travel and space research.

That was then. This is now.

These days, space scientists have to get much more creative in raising those research dollars.

Case in point: Benjamin Longmier, who's an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. His special area is propulsion, as he seeks to build the kind of thruster that will push a spacecraft out of Earth's orbit and send that space craft to other planets.

We spoke to Benjamin Longmier about his research a few months ago, and now he's moving to the "creative fundraising" stage of things.

Benjamin Longmier joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Lawmakers in Lansing recently approved a $65 million increase in the state's Great Start Readiness Program. That's Michigan's preschool program for 4-year olds at risk of being under-prepared for kindergarten. But, many childhood advocates say that's not enough. We took a look into whether more needs to be done.

We also heard about space exploration 21st century style. We spoke to a Michigan scientist who is using Kickstarter to make his research a reality.

Also, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will preside over the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. We spoke with Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press about what we can expect from the judge.

First on the show, the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing by the city of Detroit has some wondering if Detroit is not an isolated incident. Could other financially struggling cities be on the same path?

To help us answer this question, we turned to Michigan Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee. Kildee represents Flint and Saginaw.

Shawn Malone / Vimeo screen grab

The wonders of our night sky often escape us.

The rainbows of the fleeting Northern Lights or the bright streak of a comet frequently slip behind cloud cover or crowded city skylines, leaving stargazers unrewarded.

But Shawn Malone, of Lake Superior Photo, was luckier than most.

NASA / wiki commons

What would it take to get humans to Mars?

For the last seven months, NASA's rover 'Curiosity' has crawled all over the planet's dusty red Gale Crater.

As it explores, the rover has sent back all sorts of information to Earth for further investigation.

Most recently, a report of a rock sample collected by Curiosity shows that, yes, ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

But let's go one step further. What would it take for human beings to get to Mars?

Ben Longmier is an Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering and researches electric propulsion, spacecraft design and basic plasma physics.

Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty spoke with Longmier about the challenges and possibilities of getting humans on Mars.

Click the link above to hear the full interview.

user lakefxnet / YouTube

Last night, some people in Michigan and in states as far south as Arkansas looked up and saw a spectacular aurora borealis display.

Here's a time lapse look at the lights that were visible last night near Martin, Michigan:

Mariner 10 / NASA

Today is a big day for lovers of the planet Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

NASA's MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) vehicle will start to orbit Mercury today.

Of all the terrestrial planets, Mercury remains one of the most mysterious.

NASA's Mariner 10 took some photos during flybys back in 1974 and 1975. And more recently, MESSENGER took some photos and grabbed some samples on a flyby in 2008.

The New York Times had a piece on what scientists learned about Mercury from the 2008 flyby:

An instrument aboard Messenger sampled Mercury’s surface composition by catching some of the charged atoms that have been knocked into space. Silicon, sodium and sulfur were detected. So was water.

“Which is a real surprise,” said Thomas H. Zurbuchen, an associate professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan and lead author of another paper in Science. “The first time we took a whiff of the planet, it’s right there.”

One possibility is that the water exists as ice in the shaded parts of craters in the polar regions.

Today, MESSENGER will begin orbiting the planet every 12 hours. Engineers at the University of Michigan say "an onboard device dubbed FIPS (Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer), a soda-can sized sensor designed and built at the University of Michigan will take atmospheric measurements, studying the evolution of rocky planets as it orbits Mercury."

Here, Thomas Zurbuchen, the lead engineer from the University of Michigan, talks about FIPS: