March 12, 2015 2:57 pm

Update from the Frontiers of Human Exploration: Solar Impulse 2 and Dawn

Image of Dawn's "official change of address" from NASA

This was a big week on the frontiers of human exploration.

NASA’s Dawn arrived at Ceres in the asteroid belt on Friday, March 6, 2015, the first time that a human spacecraft has orbited a dwarf planet. But that’s not Dawn’s only accolade. It’s the first spacecraft to orbit two different extraterrestrial targets, having orbited the asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012. Vesta and Ceres are the two largest members of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. You can read more about Dawn here.

Photo of Solar Impulse 2 over Abu Dhabi.

First ever #Si2 test flight in Abu Dhabi | Solar Impulse | Revillard |

Meanwhile, closer to home, Solar Impulse 2 set off on its around the world journey, flying both during the day and at night powered only by the sun. If successful, this will be the first time in history that a crewed solar-powered airplane will circumnavigate the globe. Just yesterday the plane set the distance record for solar-powered planes when it touched down in Ahmedabad, India after flying 1,468 km on that leg of its 35,000 km planned journey. The plane is being solo-piloted in turns by noted explorer Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, both founders of the Solar Impulse project. You can follow the flight and read more about Solar Impulse here.

That’s not all that happened, of course. It’s been a busy week. The Expedition 42 crew came home from the ISS, landing their Soyuz capsule safely in Kazakhstan. NASA successfully “hot fire” tested the solid fuel booster for the SLS (Space Launch System) which will first fly in 2018 and eventually send astronauts to Mars. And a new analysis of data from Cassini has found evidence for hydrothermal activity on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Exciting times, indeed.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Early-Access Videos
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more