NASA space probe "Dawn" launches toward its goal

Mar 9, 2009
by: daneb

Despite all the problems we humans are dealing with here on earth right now, we are still keeping an optimistic eye pointed out of this world.  Our most recent venture to explore the cosmos is in the form of a Nasa probe called "Dawn" which was launched in 2007 and just passed by Mars last month.  The spacecraft used Mars' gravity to "slingshot" it out toward the asteroid and dwarf planet it is planning on visiting.  When it gets there, Dawn will make observations that astronomers hope will give them clues about the solar system's past.

Dawn's 4.8-billion-kilometer (3-billion-mile) odyssey includes orbiting Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. These two giants of the asteroid belt have been witness to much of our solar system's history. By using Dawn's instruments to study both objects for several months, scientists can more accurately compare and contrast the two. Dawn's science instrument suite will measure geology, elemental and mineral composition, shape, surface topography, geomorphology and tectonic history, and will also seek water-bearing minerals. In addition, the Dawn spacecraft's orbital characteristics around Vesta and Ceres will be used to measure the celestial bodies' masses and gravity fields.

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Finishes Mars Phase

The Dawn spacecraft is also important because of the novel method of propulsion it has employed.  It is using "Electric Rockets" which are far cheaper and require less fuel than their conventional chemical counterparts.  They also can accelerate the spacecraft to greater speeds.

I was one of many in my generation and the generation before mine who wanted to be an Astronaut when I was younger.  Space is magnificient and unknown to children and adults alike.  I think it is important that we keep working for something that seems bigger and more wonderous even though our daily trials keep weighing us down.

Check out the Scientific American Videos below for an animated depiction of Dawn's voyage and an easy-to-understand description of how electric rockets work.