Image of the Day: July 2014

Image of the Day

NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Test Flight

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Above:NASA successfully launched its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) — a flying saucer-shaped vehicle that could one day be used to help humans land on Mars — on Saturday (June 28) over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii.

The flight was designed to test equipment — including a massive 100-foot-wide (30.5 meters) parachute — that could be used to slow a heavy spacecraft as it descends through Mars' atmosphere. During the weekend test, a high-altitude balloon carried the LDSD vehicle to an altitude of 23 miles (37 kilometers), before dropping it. The vehicle's onboard rocket motor fired according to plan, but NASA engineers say the chute inflated but did not deploy correctly.

Still, agency officials say the test flight was a success. "The test vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives," Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "We have recovered all the vehicle hardware and data records and will be able to apply all of the lessons learned from this information to our future flights."

In this photo, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is being lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel in the Pacific Ocean. [Related: 7 Everyday Things that Happen Strangely In Space]

Red Panda Party!

Red Panda Cubs

(Image credit: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

This year, 10 red panda cubs have been born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. In total, four pairs of red pandas successfully bred and had cubs — seven of which have survived, according to officials at Smithsonian's National Zoo.

Red panda litters typically consist of one to four cubs, and the babies usually remain in the nest for about 90 days, sticking close to their mothers.

This photo shows two cubs, born May 27, to female Yanhua and male Sherman. It was the first litter for both animals. [Related Gallery: World's Cutest Baby Wild Animals]

Independence Day

Fourth of July Fireworks

(Image credit: U.S. Department of the Interior)

Happy Fourth of July!

Today, Americans celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which, on July 4, 1776, announced the intention of the 13 colonies to break free from British rule. The famous document, signed by 56 delegates, changed the course of American history.

Visitors to the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C. can see the Declaration of Independence on display, within a special bulletproof glass case designed to preserve the precious document.

These days, the Fourth of July is characterized by patriotic displays, and Americans commonly spend the federal holiday enjoying barbecues, parades and fireworks. [Related: 50 Fabulous Fourth of July Facts]

Dog Rescued From Kenai Fjords Cliffs

Dog Rescued From Kenai Fjords Cliffs

(Image credit: National Park Service)

National Park Service rangers do amazing things every day. The latest incredible feat is a heartwarming story, and a great example of the work they do on a daily basis.

Early last week, staff members at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska received a report of a dog stranded on a cliff ledge near the edge of Exit Glacier. After gaining the dog’s trust, park rangers pulled the dog to safety and carried her out to the trailhead.

Kenai Fjords National Park lies at the edge of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. It's a land where the ice age lingers and nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield, Kenai Fjords' crowning feature. Wildlife thrives in icy waters and lush forests around this vast expanse of ice.

The area is a tough place to survive, and even tougher if you're a runaway Labradoodle, like Sadie (pictured above). Park rangers say Sadie was at least 20 miles (32 kilometers) from home when she was rescued. Now that she's off the cliffs and back home, the dog is reportedly recovering well, reported the Associated Press. [Related: 8 Amazing National Park Structures]

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Space Station After Hours

International Space Station After Hours

(Image credit: NASA)

Ever wonder what the International Space Station looks like after the astronauts turn in for the day? One of the crewmembers currently living aboard the orbiting outpost snapped this incredible shot of a tranquil (but well-lit) module of the space station.

The photo was reportedly taken while the rest of the space station's Expedition 40 crew was asleep. The view looks into the Destiny Laboratory, with the Harmony Node (or Node 2) visible in the background. The Destiny lab is the primary research laboratory for American experiments aboard the space station. [Related: World's Most Extreme Laboratories]

Psychadelic Star

Visualization of Exploding Supermassive Star

(Image credit: Ke-Jung Chen, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

This mesmerizing image is actually a visualization of the guts of an exploding supermassive star. The computer model represents a slice through the interior of a star that is 55,500 times as massive as the sun.

Some astrophysicists have suggested that supermassive black holes form when hefty stars — those that are more than 10,000 times as massive as the sun — collapse into black holes. Understanding this process could help scientists determine how structures, such as supermassive black holes, formed in the early universe. [Related: The 9 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics]

Fuzzy Flamingo Chicks

Flamingo Chicks Born at Smithsonian's National Zoo

(Image credit: Madelyn Duhon/Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Two adorable flamingo chicks were born this month at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The baby birds were the 100th and 101st flamingo chicks to hatch at the zoo's Bird House.

Since flamingo chicks have a higher survival rate if they are hand-reared, zookeepers are keeping the babies out of the spotlight for now. When they are older, the birds will join the zoo's flock of flamingoes outside, according to Smithsonian officials. [Related Gallery: World's Cutest Baby Wild Animals]

Electric Earth

Lightning Over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming

(Image credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

Lightning creates an electrifying effect in the skies over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. The refuge's name originates from a Shoshone Indian word meaning "rover of the prairie hen," according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge spans 43 square miles (111 square kilometers) in southwestern Wyoming. The shrubs and wetlands are located along 36 miles (58 kilometers) of the Green River, which is an important migration route and nesting area for a variety of bird species.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the refuge lands were once well-traveled trails used by nomadic Indian tribes, fur trappers and early pioneers. [Related: Stunning Images of Lightning]

Earth Flyover

Astronaut Photo of Earth From Space

(Image credit: Reid Wiseman/NASA)

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman snapped this gorgeous photo of Earth from space. In the orbital image, the twinkling lights of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas are visible under a high moon.

Wiseman posted the photo on Twitter and called it his favorite to date. The American spaceflyer is one of six crewmembers currently living aboard the International Space Station. [Related Gallery: Stunning Images from Orbit]

Blasting Off Into History Books

Apollo 11 Launch - July 16, 1969

(Image credit: NASA)

Forty-five years ago today, NASA's Apollo 11 mission launched toward the moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins rocketed into space aboard a Saturn V rocket, which lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Apollo 11 was the first mission to land humans on the moon, and on July 20, 1969, Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the lunar surface. This incredible view of the Apollo 11 liftoff was captured by a launch tower camera. [Related Gallery: Mysterious Objects Spotted on the Moon]

Supermoon Rising

Supermoon Rises Over Arches National Park

(Image credit: National Park Service)

A bright supermoon rises over the stunning landscape of Arches National Park in Utah on July 12. In this beautiful photo, the full moon is framed by Delicate Arch, a 65-foot-tall (20 meters) natural, freestanding structure that is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the state.

Arches National Park is located north of Moab, Utah. As the park's name suggests, the region is characterized by more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. [Related Gallery: The Most Awe-Inspiring Natural Wonders in America]