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Month in Space: March 2014
Catch the glare of rockets blasting off into the night sky, plus other outer-space highlights from March 2014.
String of successes
A European Ariane 5 rocket lifts off March 22, 2014, from its launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. The heavy-lift rocket carried two telecommunication satellites into orbit: Astra 5B for the Luxembourg-based SES venture, and Amazonas 4A for the Spanish operator Hispasat. It was the 59th consecutive successful Ariane launch.
24 years for Hubble
NASA released this Hubble Space Telescope image of the Monkey Head Nebula on March 17 to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the telescope's launch in 1990. The nebula is a star-forming region 6,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. This infrared view shows how the dusty cloud is being sculpted by ultraviolet light from hot stars in the center of the nebula.
Play that funky music
NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins holds a long-necked Kazakh lute, also known as a dombra, and wears traditional clothing in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, during a welcome-back ceremony on March 11. Hopkins and two Russian crewmates, Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, rode a Soyuz capsule down to Kazakhstan from the International Space Station.
A hypergiant's glare
Even though it appears red here, the star at the center of this March 12 image, HR 5172, is known as a yellow hypergiant. Only a dozen such stars have been seen in our galaxy. HR 5172 is 1,300 times as large as the sun, making it one of the 10 largest stars found so far. This picture was taken by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope Interferometer in Chile.
Raking for the rover
Ben Nye, an engineer for Airbus Space and Defense, makes adjustments to the Mars Yard in Stevenage, England, on March 27. The yard provides a testbed for prototype rover vehicles that may be used to send data back from the surface of Mars. The European Space Agency is scheduled to launch an ExoMars rover to the Red Planet in 2018.
Black hole's spin
Multiple images of a distant quasar are visible in this composite view from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope, released on March 5. The gravitational lensing effect of a closer galaxy made it possible for scientists to study the spin of the supermassive black hole at the quasar's center. They determined that the black hole is rotating at roughly half the speed of light. The finding provides insights into how the black hole and its host galaxy formed.
Dunes of Mars
The sun lights the crests of sand dunes on Mars in this image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, obtained March 13. The especially bright patches - bluish in enhanced color - are due to seasonal frost that is accumulating as Mars' southern hemisphere approaches winter.
From dream to mini-reality
A model of Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle is displayed on March 25 during a news conference with officials from Sierra Nevada and Lockheed Martin at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans. The Dream Chaser is based on a decades-old NASA design; its outline would fit on one wing of the space shuttle with room to spare. NASA is supporting the Dream Chaser's development as one of the options for transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station as early as 2017.
Connor Johnson, 6, of Denver, works the controls of a space shuttle simulator on March 15 in the Astronaut Training Experience, which is part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Connor, who wants to become an astronaut, launched an online petition in 2013 to save NASA's funding from budget cuts. In appreciation, the space agency arranged for him to meet up with astronauts during his tour of Kennedy Space Center.
All systems go
NASA astronaut Steven Swanson tests a spacesuit during pre-launch preparations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 25. Soon afterward, Swanson and two Russian crewmates were launched into orbit to join the International Space Station's crew.
Rocket's red glare
Flames blast away at the launch pad as a Russian Soyuz rocket ascends from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 26. The rocket sent NASA astronaut Steven Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artyemev on their way to the International Space Station.