Space exploration in 2008
While NASA had remained an uncontested leader in space exploration with its breakthrough science from faraway corners of the Solar System, other space powers continued extending their reach beyond Earth in 2008. The International Space Station had finally received its long-delayed European and Japanese-built laboratories, Chinese "taikonauts" mastered art of walking in space and Indian probe joined Japanese and Chinese spacecraft in the lunar orbit.
TOP 10 SPACE EXPLORATION ACHIEVEMENTS OF 2008:
1. Phoenix smells Martian water
Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which successfully landed on the Red Planet on May 25, have identified water in a soil sample. It was the first time ever "Martian water has been touched and tasted," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, instrument onboard the lander.
2. Cassini spies on geysers of Enceladus, lakes of Titan
During 2008, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has pinpointed precisely where the icy jets erupt from the surface of Saturn's geologically active moon Enceladus. A series of carefully targeted pictures taken during the August 11 flyby of the moon revealed exquisite details in the prominent south polar "tiger stripe" fractures from which the jets emanate. The images revealed 300 meters-deep canyons, with V-shaped inner walls.
In the meantime, data from Cassini showed that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified the presence of ethane. This makes Titan the only body in our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface.
3. NASA returns to Mercury
On Jan 14 and Oct. 6, NASA's Messenger spacecraft flew by Mercury revealing never before seen regions of the planet closest to the Sun.
4. COROT reveals planet around Sun-like star
A team of European scientists working with the COROT space telescope have discovered an exoplanet orbiting a star slightly more massive than the Sun.
5. Rosetta images ancient space rock
On Sept. 5, ESA's comet chaser, Rosetta, flew by a small body in the main asteroid belt, asteroid Steins, delivering first view and data about this rare type of minor Solar System body.
On Sept. 25, after almost a three-year gap in manned missions, the Chinese Shenzhou-7 spacecraft with a crew of three blasted off from Jiuquan launch site.Two days into the mission, Zhai Zhigang conducted the first spacewalk in the Chinese space program. The astronaut spent around 14 minutes outside of the spacecraft, while his crewmate, Liu Boming, briefly got his head and upper torso out of the hatch of the orbital module. He handed Zhigang a Chinese flag, which spurred numerous applauds among countless viewers on the ground, who watched the event on numerous displays installed on the streets of Chinese cities.
Around two hours after the spacewalk, the Shenzhou-7 released a small satellite, which was apparently intended to facilitate the practice of docking maneuvers, which was planned to be achieved in 2010. "The task (of the satellite) will test our ability to observe and control two satellites in relative motion," said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the country's manned space program, in an earlier interview with China's official Xinhua news agency.
7. India reaches the Moon
In its first attempt, India successfully placed probe into the lunar orbit and sends an impactor onto the surface of the Moon, joining Japan and China in the unmanned exploration of the Moon.
8. Europeans in space: so close, so far
In 2008, Europe launched the ATV cargo ship to the International Space Station, coming ever closer to sending a man in space. However hopes for Russian-European cooperation on the next generation manned spacecraft or for the aggressive European manned project did not materialize, as European ministers adopted a snail pace for the venture during a November conference.
9. Just two billion years late: a probe data hints long-standing oceans on Mars
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed Martian rocks containing a hydrated mineral similar to opal. The presence of opal in these relatively young rocks tells scientists that water, possibly as rivers and small ponds, interacted with the surface as recently as two billion years ago, one billion years later than scientists had expected.
10. Far and wide: Mars Odyssey confirms expansive water world of Mars
An international team of scientists who analyzed data from the Gamma Ray Spectrometer onboard NASA's Mars Odyssey reported new evidence for the controversial idea that oceans once covered about a third of ancient Mars.
OTHER MAJOR SPACE EVENTS OF 2008:
The Cold War returns… in a multifaceted way
If worsening US-Russian relations, and Chinese anti-satellite tests in 2007 were not enough to re-ignite a global arms race, events of the following year went a long way to correct that. But unlike the 20th century Cold War fought by only two superpowers, this time, the world stage seemed crowded with egomaniacs vying for global or regional domination.
Iranian rocket launch
On Feb. 4, 2008, Iran launched what it said to be a research rocket dubbed Kavoshgar (Explorer) on a ballistic trajectory as high as 200 or 250 kilometers.
This “space shot” was condemned not only by the West, but even by Russia, Iran’s traditional ally. Russian diplomats found themselves in the awkward position of expressing concern about Iranian intentions, while at the same time arguing that the planned US missile defense shield had no justification, aside from undermining Russian security.
Iran promised to follow this ballistic flight with an orbital launch in the summer of 2008. On Feb. 17, wire reports, quoting Mohsen Mir Shams, the deputy head of Iran's space organization, said that the Iranian rocket launched on Feb. 4 “was transmitting” data from space. On Aug. 17, Iran did fire what appeared to be a satellite launch vehicle, however by most accounts, it failed to reach orbit.
On Feb. 14, the US government announced it would destroy a failed military satellite. The Bush administration explained the move as a measure to protect the world from dangerous space junk containing frozen hydrazine fuel.
Repeating its unscrupulous reporting on "weapons of mass destruction" in the run-up to the Iraq War, the New York Times once again led the American media in disseminating official myths without much scrutiny. It prophesized that a spacecraft "the size of a school bus" could rain down its toxic debris onto populated areas. In reality, the culprit satellite was launched by a medium-lift Delta rocket, which could not carry anything close to a school bus or, for that matter, anything in size that could produce large debris reaching the ground.
The New York Times also believed a government claim that a fuel tank with toxic propellant (onboard doomed satellite) "was sturdy enough to survive reentry, based on studies of the fuel tank that fell to earth after the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003." It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that fuel tanks from Columbia made it to the ground only because they were inside a 100-ton vehicle protected by a massive layer of thermal tiles designed to withstand multiple reentries. Despite a fatal breach in its wing, Columbia’s heat shield still preserved the vehicle during the initial phase of reentry, preventing its massive debris from completely burning up before reaching the ground. This situation can not be possibly compared to the reentry of a 2.5-ton satellite, which would simply evaporate in the searing heat of plasma, high in the stratosphere, if it was left to decay from its orbit naturally.
Most observers inside and outside the United States described the anti-satellite test as a thinly veiled demonstration of force (and cowboy mentality) to China and Russia. In the process, this decision also revealed the unexpected capabilities of the Standard Missile-3, used in the intercept. It was officially developed specifically for an anti-missile role and observers did not realize it could fly high enough to destroy an orbiting satellite.
Amazingly, the US government, which just a year ago denounced China for littering space with dangerous debris, claimed that the American satellite intercept would not produce space junk endangering functional satellites. Yet, at the same time, a Navy destroyer assigned to conduct the intercept had to hold fire, until the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a mission to the International Space Station, returned home on February 20.
Just a few hours after Atlantis’ landing, the Navy vessel fired a Standard Missile-3 and apparently scored a hit, "successfully" completing the mission and sending an untold number of debris in every direction, possibly into higher long-lasting orbits.
Despite being an impressive engineering achievement, a satellite kill is less difficult than the intercept of an incoming ballistic missile. Unlike the enemy missile, the satellite’s orbit can be predicted long in advance of the actual intercept. Thus, it is possible to speculate that the US intercept has served as an additional incentive for the Russian government to accelerate its already ongoing efforts to perfect its ballistic missiles.
ORBITAL LAUNCH ATTEMPTS IN 2008 (as of August 3, 2023 ):
The 2008 space launch score card (as of August 3, 2023 ):
2008: Russia to launch the TNS-O No. 2 nano-satellite developed by RNII KP in cooperation with the University of Bremen for testing flight control systems via Globalstar network and mobile phones.
End of 2008: Russia to launch the TNS-1 nano-satellite developed by RNII KP for testing technologies for a medium-resolution remote-sensing system.
Dnepr to launch Ukraine's Sich-2 remote-sensing satellite.
An Iranian rocket dubbed Kavoshgar (Explorer) shortly before launch on Feb. 4, 2008. Credit: BBC
After many delays, the Soyuz rocket finally launched, GIOVE B (GSTB V2) a second test version of Europe's Galileo navigation satellite on April 27, 2008. EADS Astrium consortium displayed at scale model of the spacecraft in 2005. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
ILA-2008 air and space show took place in Berlin, Germany, on May 29-June 1, 2008, highlighting Europe's space hopes in the wake of the Columbus laboratory's and ATV cargo ship's inauguration. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Along with magnificent views of Enceladus, NASA's Cassini spacecraft delivered fascinating scientific data about this remarkable natural moon of Saturn during 2008. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
Martian surface near the planet's north pole, where NASA's Phoenix spacecraft found water ice, following its treacherous landing on May 25, 2008. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
On Sept. 5, 2008, Europe's Rosetta spacecraft, flew by an asteroid Steins, revealing a previously unseen view of a diamond-shaped space rock. Credit: ESA
On Sept. 27, Zhai Zhigang conducted the first spacewalk in the Chinese space flight. As a number of other elements of the nation's space program, the spacesuit used in the mission closely resembled Russian hardware.
On Sept. 27, Shenzhou-7 spacecraft took the first "self-portrait" by means of a small "Companionsat," which was launched by the crew a couple of hours after the first Chinese spacewalk. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A spectacular image taken on Oct. 6, by NASA's Messenger spacecraft reveals a giant 80-kilometer-wide crater with bright rays of impact debris extending hundreds of kilometers across ancient surface of Mercury. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/APL
India's Chandrayaan-1 mission lifts off on its way to the Moon on Oct. 22. Click to enlarge. Credit: ISRO