The day my life would change for ever was April 16th, 2013. This was the day that I left planet earth and embarked on one of the most important missions in NASA’s history. I should probably back up though, and explain to you how this came about. April 16th was sunny with only a few clouds in the sky, the smell of spring was in the air and with the end of second semester right around the corner, the quad was packed with people eager to catch some much desired sun rays. Unfortunately for me though I was stuck in astronomy. That day’s topic was our very own planet earth. Dr. Bozyan was lecturing about how planet Earth was actually very wet, that nearly 71% of earths surfaced is covered with water. I learned that while other worlds of the solar system have atmospheres, only Earths contains the oxygen that we humans and animals need to survive. I had really hoped that wasn’t true because I had big aspirations of one day living on mars. We learned about about the greenhouse effect and how clouds, snow, ice and sand reflect about 31% of the incoming sunlight back into space. The earth though also emits radiation into space because of its temperature. Fighting off the urge to day dream about the nice weather, I managed to also learn how Earths magnetic field produces a magnetosphere that traps particles from the solar wind. Like the motions of Earths tectonic plates, Earths magnetic field results from our planets internal heat.
The last thing I wrote down in that class was a few interesting notes about how human activity such as Deforestation, burning of fossil fuels and industrial chemicals are damaging the ozone layer in the stratosphere. As I was seconds away from reaching freedom to the the spring air, Dr. Bozyan approached me and told me that she had a question for me. She was talking though in a soft almost secretive tone. She went on for about 10 minutes how she worked for a top secret NASA program that was interested in sending me on a mission. I laughed at that, it sounded like a calvin and Hobbs comic strip that I see in the Sunday paper. She went on and told me that the the great space race between Russia and the U.S.A. had never ended and that there was a race to gather observations from all nine planets in the solar system. They had top secret technology that would allow for this mission to be completed in only one week. The only catch was that it was so secret that I would be launching out of the URI planetarium that night, and that I couldn’t tell anybody where I was going. Me being the adventurous type decided this would be a great opportunity to become famous and in the process get to see some landmarks like the milky way and the man on the moon. Within hours I was in my very first space shuttle and on my way to the moon.
The fastest time to the moon was 8 hours and 35 minutes by NASA’s New Horizons pluto mission. It was only going to take me 2 hours and 31 minutes and I was only supposed to stop at the moon for fuel because it was determined information about the outer planets was more important and we were trying to complete the mission in the quickest possible time. As the man on the moon figure approached within eye shot, I began to observe and take note of anything I could. Even though NASA had already explored the moon, that was no excuse for me not to absorb any observations of the moon for myself. I quickly began to observe that the moon was very dry and its surface was covered with plains and craters that is caused by the moon being bombarded by meteoric material also known as impact craters. As we touched down I quickly decided to throw on my space suit and check out the moon and its surroundings. I immediately found out that there was no atmosphere and no global magnetic field as it felt as if I were floating and that there was no gravity holding me down. There also appeared to be no liquid water of any kind. I realized that the 3476 km diameter of the moon was really just a spec in the cloudless pitch black sky of space. My last observation of the moon as my shuttle was just about done filling up was that it was pretty cold out. It was about -180 degrees Celsius that night, much colder then I was used too. Luckily though, I also packed my arctic ready winter hat and jacket. Next stop would be Venus. As the count down began to lift off I wondered if Venus had a “man on the moon”.
On my way to Venus I decided that I should probably make myself a well deserved meal. I was gawking into the bag labeled food, in red sharpie that was handed to me right before take off, there was no pop tarts or my favorite barbecue chips . After much debate and thought, I narrowed my choice to a cup of NASA’S finest freeze dried ice cream. As we started to approach what I assumed was Venus but couldn’t tell until we landed because of the clouds that were hiding its surface from view. The first thing that I noticed was the size. It seemed to be about the same size of earth, I had always thought of Venus being smaller then earth. What I also observed, was that practically the whole surface was covered in lava! I felt like I was in some sort of sci-fi movie. Luckily for me I had a space suit because without it, I would have exploded. My Pressure meter on the left arm of my suit was telling me that the pressure was 90 atmospheres, which would be 90 times greater then the average air pressure at sea level on Earth. The temperature of Venus was very hot and I know that that was in my favor because if the temperature wasn’t so hot, the clouds would open up with a rain of sulfuric acid, and believe me I did not want that. I stored these mental snap shots in my head and finished the last of my notes and prepared for take off to Mercury.
Mercury was definitely going to be one of the planets that I had to pay very close attention to when taking notes because only half of its surface had been viewed recently. Mercury was also going to be interesting to see because it has a very unique axis rotation, spinning three times on its axis for every two orbits around the sun. The first thing that I noticed on Mercury was that there was almost no atmosphere on the planet. That was pretty obvious because the planet looked life less and fried. I wrote in my observation notes that Mercury fried, literally because there was no atmosphere to protect against the harsh radiation of the sun. Mercury from my first view out the window reminded me a lot of the moon, there were craters every where. Mercury also from observation was definitely on the smaller side. As my time on Mercury was coming to a end, I realized that Mercury was a very boring planet to look at, only craters and low lying plains and cliffs.
After the short trip from Mercury past Venus, Earth and the moon I approached Mars. I figured I could get a jump start on finding a future plot of land, for when humans were on Mars. As I approached Mars, I could see that the planet was full of craters. I was to stay on Mars for a full 12 hours while my rocket fueled up to make the trip to the outer planets. What I observed in those 12 hours was very interesting to me. I witnessed some incredible sights like vast canyons some 20,000 ft high, giant mountains and sand dunes. The air was very dusty and left a orange tint in the air. I quickly learned also that there was little atmosphere because as night started to fall tempters fell very rapidly and quickly well below 0. My rocket was fueled up again and it was time for take off. As I sat down in my space craft, I noticed that Mars definitely lived up to its nick name of the red planet because my white space suit was now covered in red dust. Just like that though, it was time to leave Mars and head straight to the big guys, Jupiter and Saturn. I quickly learned that Jupiter was just as advertised; very big! I could see Jupiter from my rocket almost the whole trip there. Jupiter was very bright definitely brighter then any star I had ever seen. I noticed the dark and light bands as they appeared from the space craft window, I learned later on that these are called belts( darker bands) and zones( lighter bands). Jupiter was very hard to land because there was no solid surfaces. Using a scientific tool on the space craft I was able to determined that Jupiter made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, with some other trace gases. For this case it was very hard for me to take observations since I could not actually get out and explore Jupiter. For the lack of mobility and time I was quickly just like that on my way to to explore the great ring planet of Saturn. While approaching Saturn the ring that it is most famous for was very visible, I actually managed to take a photo with my space issued camera that was provided to me by NASA. Saturn was also huge although not as big as Jupiter it was definitely the second biggest thing I had ever seen, the first thing obviously being Jupiter. Like Jupiter I was unable to land on Saturn because of the chemical make up being mostly hydrogen and helium but the observations I was able to take away were that Saturn’s rings were made of thousands of narrow, closely spaced ringlets. Uranus and Neptune were next and if I wanted to make this trip in one week, I had to say good bye to the two gas giants and say hello to the trans-Saturnian planets.
The two sister planets Uranus and Pluto were very much alike. My time on both planets were relatively the same experience. I was able to observe that both planets had many moons. Also the atmosphere on both planets was generally the same made up of mostly hydrogen and helium indicated by special tools on board the space craft. The one difference I did notice between these two sisters, is that Uranus actually rotates clock wise
instead of counter clock wise. My visit with Uranus and Neptune was short and sweet. I packed my space craft and prepared it for lift off.
3..2..1 blast off were the words that I heard through the microphone that was hooked up with NASA. I awoke laying in the quad. The sun was high in the sky and there was a slight breeze. I realized that I had accidentally snoozed off in the quad, and what started off with me closing my eyes for 5 minutes to catch some rays ended with a nap that lasted 3 hours. I unfortunately soon realized quickly after that my amazing top secret to space was actually nothing more then a dream. There was no fame to come of it, and my professor never actually gave me the trust to go on this top secret mission. Although my trip to the solar system may not have been real, it will be something though that I will never forget.
Courtney from Study Moose
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