In honour of Nic’s trip out to the NASA Tweetup and the last launch of Atlantis, I thought I would mentioned NASA’s still in the business of space exploration – despite what all the media has had to say to the contrary – and that they’re also going to be performing another first by putting one of their probes in orbit around a protoplanet in the Main Belt.

The Dawn spacecraft after a four-year voyage on its ion thrusters will be entering orbit around Vesta sometime around 10PM PST later tonight. Lying between Mars and Jupiter, the 330-mile-wide protoplanet is thought to have been a possible fifth rocky planet in our Solar system, but never properly coalesced.

Scientists are hoping they can learn how it formed – or didn’t as it were – over the course of the next year before Dawn reactivates its ion thrusters and sets off for its date with the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015.