Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Vesta And Ceres: The Dawn Of A New Age Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
(Image: Asteroid Vesta in false color. Credit: NASA)

Like a hostile mountain range separating civilization from the wilderness, the asteroid belt divides our Earthen and (future) Martian homes from the Jovian frontier. In this wilderness of floating boulders, lies a region that is often regarded as rubble, forgotten rocks of little beauty and appeal.

But in this unglamorous region of space lies riches untold for those who are willing to discover it, and with NASA heaven bent on sending its own across our star system, our species may be taking its first steps in locating our first asteroid homes.

(The Flame Trench) Mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket, NASA's Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 30. The launch window that day will stretch from 5:13 p.m. to 5:33 p.m.

The spacecraft will be setting sail on a mission to study the solar system's two largest protoplanets, Ceres and Vesta. Flying within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Dawn will swing by Vesta in October 2011 and Ceres in February 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to study two asteroids on the same mission.

Although both of these asteroids differ in composition and nature, both Vesta and Ceres hold much promise as future outpost colonies, especially for future mining industries. Despite its size, Vesta has shown surprising evidence of past geologic activity, which may indicate that heavier metals (and minerals) lie just beneath its surface.

With part of its mantle exposed on the surface, Vesta should provide a wealth of information for geologists, not to mention help "kick start" mining operations in the asteroid belt.

While Vesta provides a financial incentive to harvest the asteroid belt, Ceres may provide the "life necessities" for us to remain there. Rumored to harbor enough "fresh water" to rival our home world, Ceres may live up to its name and allow humanity to one day farm this world, helping to feed those who desire to live in this rocky region of space.

Although NASA's Dawn mission may not appear as glamorous as a visit towards Mars or Jupiter, it may enable us to gain a wealth of information that will inevitably help fund our trip to the stars.

(Image: Ceres cut out, Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild)

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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