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Geeky Parent Guide: Revisiting the Amazing Space Odyssey of 2018

If you can’t wrap your head around another new year just yet, let’s take a moment to look back at some incredible 2018 achievements in one of our favorite subjects: space.

Quick geeky parent side note: Whenever I hear or say the word “space,” I almost immediately want to say, “The final frontier.” Okay, friends, what franchise does that urge come from?

Star Wars
Battlestar Galactica
Space: Above and Beyond
Star Trek
Lost in Space
Both C & E

Before I reveal the answer to those who don’t already know and explore why space is such an amazing thing for kids, let’s explore some of the fascinating missions currently underway.


Mars InSight Mission
Launch: May 5th (be with you), 2018 (That’s a clever date!)
Arrival: November 26, 2018

Not only is this another significant effort to travel to, land on, and explore the depths of Mars' surface, literally, the InSight launch happens to be “the first interplanetary launch from the west coast” of the United States from Vandenberg Air Force Base (California).

So, you can understand that this project has already set the tone by setting a record. Now, after a six-month journey through space, InSight executed its landing and displayed itself in all of its glory.




Image: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech



This mission lists two primary scientific objectives: “Understand formation and evolution on Mars” and “Determine the level of tectonic activity on Mars.” To the first goal, NASA is attempting to discover how rocky planets, like Mars, formed and how they came to be. As mentioned, InSight and its instruments will dig into the surface to better understand what Mars is made of. While we know Mars isn’t habitable to people (Yet!), it will possibly help to identify the differences between Mars and Earth in the hopes of learning why that is. This knowledge could provide insight into discovering other Earth-like planets beyond our own system.

Additional Facts:
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport
Mission Length: 728 Days
Experimental Tech: CubeSats are small spacecraft that followed InSight toward Mars and relayed information about the landing back to Earth.


OSIRIS-REx Mission
Launch: September 8, 2016
Arrival: December 3, 2018

When you watched Armageddon in theaters (1998), or maybe you saw it on Netflix, how many actually believed it to be possible to land on an asteroid?

Well, the OSIRIS-REx arrived at its target destination, Bennu, after nearly two years of flying 1.2 billion miles (NASA). Not only does this mission encapsulate the degree of difficulty in a mission, but it also showcases the dedicated time and planning involved in space missions. It took two years to fly to Bennu, and now it must take a significant amount of time flying and carefully mapping the asteroid before it finds the best landing spot to take a sample.

OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.”



Image: Courtesy NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona


Additional Facts:
OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, and Regolith Explorer
Mission Length: 7 Years (2023)
Experimental Defense: With the samples collected, scientists will hopefully better understand the nature behind the movements of asteroids and “which ones could be on a crash-course with our planet” (NASA).



Parker Solar Probe
Launch: August 12, 2018
Record-Breaking Arrival: October 29, 2018

In just 78 days, the Parker Solar Probe flew closer to the Sun than any other spaceship. The mission of the vessel is to collect data that will help our understanding of stars, the impact our own has on Earth, and how that knowledge can enhance any space-faring craft’s ability to survive in space.

To better understand the scope of what the Parker Solar Probe is achieving, let me quote this passage from nasa.gov directly:

“At closest approach, Parker Solar Probe hurtles around the Sun at approximately 430,000 mph (700,000 kph). That’s fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second.

“At closest approach to the sun, the front of the Parker Solar Probe’s solar shield faces temperatures approaching 2,500 F (1,377 C). The spacecraft’s payload will be near room temperature.

“On the final three orbits, Parker Solar Probe flies within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface – more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun.”

In addition to these incredible distances and temperatures, there are other factors that are astounding as well. The November approach allowed the Parker Solar Probe to collect data; however, some of that data has not been relayed as of yet. Because of positioning, some of that data will not be transmitted until April 2019. When you think of space, it’s sometimes easy to forget there are many factors that can prevent signals from connecting.



Image: Courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben


Additional Facts:

Parker Solar Probe: Named after Dr. Eugene Parker who provided theories about the Sun, which guided scientists in their own understanding of stars.
Mission Length: 7 Years


So, when you’re trying to teach your kids about patience and the satisfaction that comes with hard work and dedication, perhaps point them toward the Sun. You can honestly say, “The Parker Solar Probe is busy at work, and we won’t know everything until its ready in the right position to let us know what it’s found out.” It’s an amazing feat to fly to the Sun. It’s another amazing feat to endure the hazardous strains of being so close to a star.

Like all of these missions, they are excellent opportunities to explore science and teamwork with your kids. One of the most fascinating things about space is the constant wonder of the unknown, which isn’t unlike a child growing up in the world looking to learn more new things. Embracing these missions and the advance to better understand our universe will only heighten a child’s intrigue, which very well may lead to their love of fiction that revolve around the same topic.

Yes, I am a huge Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, which should also answer “the final frontier” reference above, but I also know there are a wide assortment of fictional worlds out there that make many wonder about what’s possible in our own future. That’s the incredible impact of space travel and the many people involved in making those missions happen.

To that end, a fascinating 2018 only leads to a more wondrous 2019. As to quote Captain Picard, “Let’s see what’s out there.”

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.