May 11, 2015
[space] How Spaceships Die
… a look at how satellites and space probes end their working lives … ‘Every craft that we’ve ever sent to another planet is still there, to a greater or lesser extent. Twenty-one objects on Venus, 13 on Mars (including nine landers/rovers) and a startling 76 different lunar craft are all slowly decaying in their new homeworlds, not to mention the Huygens probe on Titan, Shoemaker on the asteroid Eros, Hayabusa on the asteroid 25143 Itkowa and the Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimnko. In total, there are over 476,000 pounds of Earth objects in alien worlds.’
April 24, 2015
[space] That Time the US Accidentally Nuked Britain’s First Satellite
… a fascinating, forgotten fragment of space history … ‘On July 9, 1962, mere weeks after Ariel-1 was put into orbit and had successfully begun transmitting data about the ionosphere back to Earth, British scientists were shocked when the sensors aboard Ariel-1 designed to measure radiation levels suddenly began to give wildly high readings. Initially, they assumed that the satellite’s instruments had failed or were otherwise just malfunctioning. As it turned out, as Ariel-1 was happily free-falling around the Earth, the US military had decided to detonate an experimental 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon named Starfish-Prime in the upper atmosphere…’
April 21, 2015
[apollo] 45 years after Apollo 13: Ars looks at what went wrong and why
… Ars Technica on what caused the explosion on Apollo 13?
… ‘For Apollo 13, keeping calm and working the problems as they appeared allowed three astronauts to escape unharmed from a complex failure. The NASA mindset of simulate, simulate, simulate meant that when things did go wrong, even something of the magnitude of the Apollo 13 explosion, there was always some kind of contingency plan worked out in advance. Controllers had a good gut-level feel for the limits of the spacecraft’s systems when trying to work through emergency problems.’
April 13, 2015
[space] Death in space: The ethics of dealing with astronauts’ bodies.
… fascinating look at how to deal with death in space … ‘The more frequent suggestion for the disposal of bodies is to simply open the airlock and send them off into the cosmos, à la Dr. Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The problem here is that, as Body Back designers Karin Tjerrild Lund and Mikael Ploustrup found out, a U.N. charter forbids littering in space. This includes corpses, even if the astronaut’s expressed wish is to have his or her body launched into open space. This is probably for the better, Wiigh-Mäsak told me, given that these bodies could potentially become hazardous impactors for other spacecraft or end up contaminating pristine extraterrestrial environments—also like Dr. Poole who, following his death in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, “became the first of all men to reach Saturn.”’
April 8, 2015
[apollo] The Armstrong Purse: Flown Apollo 11 Lunar Artifacts
… fascinating look at a bag of miscellaneous “trash” Neil Armstrong brought back from the moon and kept in a closet till he died. ‘…they would describe to mission control the container with the “odds and ends” as, “10 pounds of LM miscellaneous equipment.” It was important they account for the amount and distribution of any added weight so that the return trajectory and entry parameters could be calculated with precision. As far as we know, Neil has never discussed the existence of these items and no one else has seen them in the 45 years since he returned from the Moon. (I asked James Hansen, Neil’s authorized biographer if he had mentioned the items, and he had not.) Each and every item has its own story and significance, and they are described with photographs in extraordinary detail in an addendum to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. But two of the items are especially timely. Both have been placed on display as part of the recently opened temporary exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity. The first is the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to record the historic landing and “one small step” made by Armstrong as humankind first set foot on another world…’
March 28, 2015
[space] Why Does The International Space Station Have Such A Weird Shape?
… ‘ It had to be assembled from pieces that would fit in the Orbiter payload bay or the payload fairing of a Proton rocket. This dictates a maximum length and diameter for each component. We can therefore expect ISS to be composed largely of cylinders, linked together like sausages. Those two delivery vehicles dictate other characteristics. The Space Shuttle Orbiter could deliver a completely unpowered cylinder, remove it from the payload bay and attach it using the robotic arm and attach it to the ISS. But, the Russian Proton rocket deposits its payload in low Earth orbit and that payload then has to fly itself to the ISS. That means each of the Russian modules are self-contained spacecraft. They have to have thrusters and fuel tanks and navigation and communication sensors and antennae.’
March 22, 2015
[space] A Brief History of the Ballpoint Pen and Whether NASA Really Spent Millions Developing a Pressurized Version Instead of Just Using Pencils
… ‘This brings us to these space pens. As the story goes, when the space race was heating up, NASA invested millions (sometimes stated as billions) into developing a pen that would work in orbit. However, when the Russians went into space they just took pencils. It’s a famous story that is mostly false. Although Soviet cosmonauts did use pencils in space for a time, so did the Americans. However, it quickly became clear that pencils were a very bad idea since they had a habit of breaking and sending tiny eye-seeking fragments of pencil lead and wood bits into the air. There were also some concerns over these fragments potentially damaging equipment, even perhaps causing a fire. So there was a need for pens that could work in space…’
March 10, 2015
[space] A Dust Devil on Mars
… go take a look at this amazing picture taken from a satellite orbiting Mars.
February 1, 2015
[space] What Does Space Sound Like?
… It turns out that Space is very noisy … ‘I met NASA astronaut Ron Garan in early 2012, when he had just returned from a six-month mission on board the International Space Station. He explained to me that the sonic environment in a real spacecraft is a long way from being serene. Even outside on a spacewalk (his previous mission had included a walk that lasted six and a half hours), there is no silence. Indeed, it would have been worrying if there had been, because it would have meant that the pumps circulating air for him to breathe had stopped working. Spacecraft are full of noisy mechanical devices, such as refrigerators, air-conditioning units, and fans. Theoretically, the noise could be reduced, but quieter, heavier machines would be expensive to lift into orbit.’
December 12, 2014
[space] NASA’s Other Peanuts Traditions
… a look at the history between NASA and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts … ‘NASA asked Schulz for permissions to use his two famous characters as call signs for the [Apollo 10] mission, something the artist considered a highlight of his career. Some of Schulz’s friends brought up the “what ifs” – what if the mission failed and a crew of dead astronauts was forever synonymous with his characters? Schultz replied simply that if the astronauts could risk their lives on the mission, he could risk his characters. Charlie Brown and Snoopy became semi-official mascots for Apollo 10, even though they weren’t included in the official mission logo. People brought Snoopy dolls in to NASA to lay on top of the crew’s simulators. Apollo 10’s LM is still flying. The crew burned all the LM’s fuel after rendezvousing around the Moon to send it into a wide solar orbit. British astronomer Nick Howes is trying to find it.’
November 21, 2014
[space] An Astronaut Reveals What Life in Space Is Really Like
… ‘It turns out that once you’re actually in orbit, zero-g has some upsides. Without gravity, bodily fluids move toward your head. It’s a great face-lift. Your stomach gets flat. You feel long, because you grow an inch or two. (I thought, “Oh cool, I’ll be tall,” but of course everybody else was taller too.) But zero-g also has some disadvantages. As that fluid shifts north, you get an enormous headache. Your body compensates and loses about a liter of fluid in the first couple of days—you essentially pee the headache away.’
November 16, 2014
[space] Space Shuttle and Space Station Photographed Together
… a stunning photo taken from a Russian supply spacecraft returning to Earth.
November 9, 2014
[space] Buzz Aldrin’s Reddit AMA Was Pretty Badass
… ‘When one user mentioned that there was no Plan B to get him off the moon and asked what his plan if he’d been simply left to die, Aldrin cooly responded: “To continue trying to fix the problem until the lack of oxygen caused us go to sleep.”’
October 13, 2014
[space] Turds in Spaaaace!
… a highlight from the Apollo 10 spaceflight transcript
… ‘Give me a napkin quick. There’s a turd floating through the air.’
August 13, 2014
[space] Modern Art From The Hubble Space Telescope
… ‘This is a genuine frame that Hubble relayed back from an observing session. Hubble uses a Fine Guidance System (FGS) in order to maintain stability whilst performing observations. A set of gyroscopes measures the attitude of the telescope, which is then corrected by a set of reaction wheels. In order to compensate for gyroscopic drift, the FGS locks onto a fixed point in space, which is referred to as a guide star. It is suspected that in this case, Hubble had locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in this remarkable picture of brightly coloured stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288.’
August 7, 2014
[space] Stunning Images from Rosetta Show Closeup Views of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
… go look at this collection of images the Rosetta spacecraft sent back after entering orbit around the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko yesterday.
July 27, 2014
[space] Spacecraft Rosetta Shows Comet has Two Components
… remarkable animated image of a rubber duck shaped comet
taken from the Rosetta Spacecraft
chasing it through space … ‘The comet’s unusual 5-km sized comet nucleus is seen rotating over the course of a few hours, with each frame taken 20-minutes apart. Better images — and hopefully more refined theories — are expected as Rosetta is on track to enter orbit around Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko’s nucleus early next month, and by the end of the year, if possible, land a probe on it.’
July 26, 2014
[space] The Audacious Rescue Plan That Might Have Saved Space Shuttle Columbia
… The untold story of the rescue mission that might have saved the astronauts on board Columbia in 2003
… ‘The mission to rescue Columbia, though, represents the kind of task that NASA, since its beginnings, has demonstrated an unswerving ability to execute. There would have been a clear goal, there would have been hard timing requirements, and the agency’s massive pool of engineering talent would be empowered to accomplish the goal at any cost and without restriction. The will to win would not be lacking, but technical challenges are ignorant of will and drive—look, for example, at the liquid oxygen tank explosion that crippled the Apollo 13 command and service module in 1970. That explosion was the result of a combination of events that occurred prior to launch, with potential blame stretching from the tank’s manufacturer all the way to the crew itself. The error-free rescue of Columbia would have depended not just on the flawless execution of teams at all of the NASA centers but also on an unknown number of events that happened days, weeks, months, or even years in the past leading up to the mission.’
July 25, 2014
[apollo] Twenty Awesome Covers From The US Space Program
… ‘Manuals, guidebooks, press kits, reports, brochures – all with cool artworks and typography. Enjoy!’
July 24, 2014
[space] Riding the Space Shuttle Booster into Orbit (and Back Again)
… ‘A movie from the point of view of the Solid Rocket Booster with sound mixing and enhancement done by the folks at Skywalker Sound. The sound is all from the camera microphones…’ (more…)
July 23, 2014
[space] The Broken Beyond: How Space Turned Into an Office Park – Technology – The Atlantic
… depressing article wondering why all our dreams of exploring space have died …
Space, once a place for governments and dreamers who would really just be civil servants, has become a playground for the hyper-affluent. […] We don’t have flying cars, but we have a billionaire who sells electric cars to millionaires. We don’t have space vacations, but we have another billionaire who will take you on a magic carpet ride for two-hundred large. Today, a kid who says “I want to be an astronaut” is really just saying “I want to be rich.” Isn’t that what everyone wants? All of today’s dreams are dreams of wealth.
The official mission of the final Space Shuttle, STS-135, reads more like a joke from The Office than a science fictional fantasy: “Space Shuttle Atlantis is carrying the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station.” Among its tasks: the delivery of a new tank for a urine recycling system, and the removal of a malfunctioning space sewage pump. If only I’d known in 1982 that astronaut and garbage collector would turn out to be such similar jobs.
July 22, 2014
[apollo] Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program
… turns out a majority of Americans did not think going to the Moon was worth it in the 1960s … ‘The race to the moon may not have been wildly popular among scientists, random Americans, or black political activists, but it was hard to deny the power of the imagery returning from space. Our attention kept getting directed to the heavens — and our technology’s ability to propel humans there. It was pure there, and sublime, even if our rational selves could see we might be better off spending the money on urban infrastructure or cancer research or vocational training.’
July 21, 2014
[comics] Explorers on the Moon 1969
… Tintin and Gang greets Neil Armstrong on the Moon …
July 20, 2014
[apollo] The First Men on the Moon: The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing
… remarkable webapp allowing you to experience the Apollo 11 moon landing minute-by-minute as it happened… ‘Eagle, Houston. If you read, you’re GO for powered descent. Over.’
July 19, 2014
[sapce] Cassini Mission on Vimeo
… wonderful footage set to music of Nasa’s Cassini mission
July 18, 2014
[space] Prometheus Rising Through Saturns F Ring
… go look at this picture of a moon of Saturn
moving through one of the gas giant’s rings.
July 17, 2014
[moon] A Stowaway to the Thanatosphere: My Voyage Beyond Apollo with Norman Mailer, Rex Weiner
… Gonzo-esque tale of two stowaways on a cruise ship voyage to watch the last Apollo Moon launch in 1972 …
Nixon was president, Watergate was still a third-rate burglary, and Tom and I were left feeling anxious, paranoid, and bored. We were both admirers of Mailer—the tough little reefer smoker, contrarian wordsmith, libertarian politico, and no-nonsense ladies’ man—so the story about the Voyage Beyond Apollo stirred our interest.
“They’ve cleverly organized this thing on a ship, you dig, that way no one can crash it,” mused Forcade. He theorized that the cruise was just a cover for an elite conclave conspiring to jettison Earth once they’d totally ravaged it, and establish an exclusive colony for the rich and powerful in space. Everyone else would be left to fight over dwindling resources and perish in the terrestrial ruins. “Mailer is either in on the scam or they’ve suckered him into it. We have got to get on board that ship,” Tom said, “find out what these motherfuckers are up to, blow their cover, and rescue Mailer before it’s too late.”
Under the influence of a fresh shipment of Tom’s Columbian import, I thought it seemed like an entirely reasonable plan…
July 16, 2014
[space] The Extent of Human Radio Broadcasts
… An image showing how far human radio broadcasts have travelled in the Milky Way.
June 1, 2014
[space] Technoarchaeology: How to revive a satellite
… the amazing story of how communication has been re-established with a satellite last communicated with in 1998 … ‘This initial contact indicates that the satellite’s computer and radios are functioning. The next steps are to determine more fully whether its control systems work as expected and test its instrumentation and propulsion. The team must fire its rockets by mid-June to reposition ISEE-3. The next big challenge will come when the satellite swings around the moon onto its shadowed side and is cut off from the sun. The craft will power down for the first time in many years, and the team hopes when it sees it again, it will wake up and resume communications. It has lasted this long, and the group hopes for many more years to come.’
April 30, 2014
[space] SuitSat1: A Spacesuit Floats Free
… slightly disturbing picture of a empty spacesuit floating away from the International Space Station … ‘The unneeded Russian Orlan spacesuit filled mostly with old clothes was fitted with a faint radio transmitter and released to orbit the Earth. The suit circled the Earth twice before its radio signal became unexpectedly weak.’
April 25, 2014
[tech] The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos
… a wonderful story of digital archeology …
The photos were stored with remarkably high fidelity on the tapes, but at the time had to be copied from projection screens onto paper, sometimes at sizes so large that warehouses and even old churches were rented out to hang them up. The results were pretty grainy, but clear enough to identify landing sites and potential hazards. After the low-fi printing, the tapes were shoved into boxes and forgotten.
They changed hands several times over the years, almost getting tossed out before landing in storage in Moorpark, California. Several abortive attempts were made to recover data from the tapes, which were well kept, but it wasn’t until 2005 that NASA engineer Keith Cowing and space entrepreneur Dennis Wingo were able to bring the materials and the technical know how together.
When they learned through a Usenet group that former NASA employee Nancy Evans might have both the tapes and the super-rare Ampex FR-900 drives needed to read them, they jumped into action.
September 26, 2013
[apollo] The Family that Went to the Moon
… How a picture of a family ended up on the moon …‘The portrait shows Charlie, his wife Dorothy, and their two sons Charles and Thomas. It looks like they are sitting on a bench in the summertime.The family photo, gingerly wrapped in clear plastic and slightly crumpled from being stashed in the pocket of a space suit, was left on the Moon. It presumably still sits there today…’
August 28, 2013
[space] Astronaut Recounts His Near-Drowning On Spacewalk
… Who knew you could drown in Space? ‘…he pondered what he would do if the water reached his mouth. The only idea he had, he said, was to open the safety valve on his helmet and let out some of the water. “But making a ‘hole’ in my spacesuit really would be a last resort,” he wrote.’
August 14, 2013
[space] 13 Little Things NASA Did to Get Alan Shepard Ready for Space
… ‘Even the flight surgeon had a little bit of a man crush on the astronauts: “The physiological bradycardia (pulse rate 60 to 70) and normotensive (blood pressure 110/70) state both give some indication of the calm reserved air of confidence which typifies both of these pilots.” I bet they smelled good, too.’
July 20, 2013
[comics] Explorers on the Moon 1969
… Tintin and Gang greets Neil Armstrong on the Moon in 1969 …
January 16, 2013
[space] Skylab 4 Rang in the New Year with Mutiny in Orbit
… the little known story on a mutiny in space … ‘Long work periods and seemingly endless lists of tasks took their toll on the rookie astronauts. The crew found themselves exhausted, falling badly behind schedule. NASA was pushing them too hard, they said, and they couldn’t keep working such long hours. Ground crews in mission control disagreed. They felt that the astronauts were complaining needlessly, that they should be working through their meal times and rest days to catch up. It was expensive having a crew in orbit for 84 days, and NASA intended to get all the work out of the men it could manage. About six weeks into the flight, a few days before New Year’s Eve, the Skylab 4 crew hit their breaking point…’
January 9, 2013
[space] World’s Largest Scale Model of the Solar System Covers Sweden
… fascinating blog post with pictures … ‘The Sweden Solar System is the world’s largest model of our planetary system, built at a scale of 1:20 million and stretches the entire length of the country. The Sun is represented by the Globe arena in Stockholm, the largest spherical building in the world. The planets are placed and sized according to scale with the inner planets being in Stockholm and Jupiter at the International airport Arlanda. The outer planets follow in the same direction with Saturn in Uppsala and Pluto in Delsbo, 300 km from the Globe. The model ends at the Termination shock, 950 km from the Sun.’
September 4, 2012
[space] Gizmodo: All the American Flags On the Moon Are Now White
According to lunar scientist Paul Spudis: For forty-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon’s environment – alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100° C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold -150° C darkness. But even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the pure unfiltered sunlight on the cloth (modal) from which the Apollo flags were made. Even on Earth, the colors of a cloth flag flown in bright sunlight for many years will eventually fade and need to be replaced. So it is likely that these symbols of American achievement have been rendered blank, bleached white by the UV radiation of unfiltered sunlight on the lunar surface. Some of them may even have begun to physically disintegrate under the intense flux.
August 28, 2012
[space] Was Neil Armstrong a real hero?
… ‘The weekend’s retelling of the 1969 moon landing reminded us just how risky it was and how Armstrong’s quick wits and calmness saved the day. The Eagle landing craft contained no more computer power than a modern washing machine, and was heading slightly off course for the rocks when Armstrong took over the controls manually. He landed with 20 seconds’ worth of fuel, and got the Eagle back up again to rendezvous with Apollo 11. There was no backup plan, no way of rescuing the crew. Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat with his spear (well, you never know, do you?), even Achilles might have been grudgingly impressed, though Armstrong’s lack of melodrama would have annoyed him. And therein perhaps lies the clincher for Armstrong’s heroic status. No boasting, no bullying, just a soft-spoken man who insisted he was only doing his job.’
August 21, 2012
[space] Voyager at 35: Break on Through to the Other Side
… ‘Voyager 2 became the longest-operating spacecraft on Aug. 13, 2012, surpassing
Pioneer 6, which launched on Dec. 16, 1965, and sent its last signal back to NASA’s Deep Space Network on Dec. 8, 2000. (It operated for 12,758 days.)’
August 17, 2012
[space] Alone in the Void
… On the meaning of Voyager 1
Even if we could find a way to increase the speed of our spacecraft a hundredfold — about the same ratio of speeds between a horse-drawn cart and a 747 jet plane — they would still take almost a thousand years to reach nearby stars, and as long to return. And while exciting theoretical research is under way into pilotless probes to the stars, the real possibility of large-scale human interstellar culture is considerably less thrilling.
Think about it. No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No release from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind. For as many epochs in the future as there are epochs of human history in the past, we may simply have to make do, get by with what we have and, in the end, learn to get along.
July 2, 2012
[life] What is the most astounding fact about the Universe?
… answered by Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson
… ‘So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…’
June 6, 2012
[space] All the Water on Europa vs. All the Water On Earth
… ‘The subsurface ocean plus ice layer could range from 80 to 170 kilometers in average depth. Adopting an estimate of 100 kilometers depth, if all the water on Europa were gathered into a ball it would have a radius of 877 kilometers.’
June 1, 2012
[space] Methone, an egg in Saturn orbit?
… fascinating blog entry with pictures about a recently discovered moon of Saturn … ‘Methone is really shockingly round. Some of the other small moons that orbit near the rings have a smoothed appearance, but they all still have some craters or some topography. The smoothness probably results from these things collecting dust, a substance that there is a lot of in this part of the Saturn system, but it’s kind of hard to understand what could make the dust slide around to fill every topographic low on this little world, covering it with what’s essentially a global ocean of very puffy dust. I think the roundness tells us that whatever Methone is made of, that material behaves like a liquid — it has no strength to hold any shape whatsoever.’
March 21, 2012
[life] Kevin Kelly – We Are Stardust: ‘Where did we come from? I find the explanation that we were made in stars to be deep, elegant, and beautiful. This explanation says that every atom in each of our bodies was built up out of smaller particles produced in the furnaces of long-gone stars. We are the byproducts of nuclear fusion. The intense pressures and temperatures of these giant stoves thickened collapsing clouds of tiny elemental bits into heavier bits, which once fused, were blown out into space as the furnace died. The heaviest atoms in our bones may have required more than one cycle in the star furnaces to fatten up. Uncountable numbers of built-up atoms congealed into a planet, and a strange disequilibrium called life swept up a subset of those atoms into our mortal shells. We are all collected stardust. And by a most elegant and remarkable transformation, our starstuff is capable of looking into the night sky to perceive other stars shining. They seem remote and distant, but we are really very close to them no matter how many lightyears away. All that we see of each other was born in a star. How beautiful is that?’
January 9, 2012
[tech] Computers in space
… a look at the supposedly antique technology used in space missions … ‘The ISS is packed with processors to keep its crew happy, or at least alive, but at the core of its operational hardware are the Command and Control Computers. They’re 80386SX-20s. But they’ve got 80387 co-processors! A couple even have hard drives!’
January 1, 2012
[best_of_metafilter] A few things we learned on the way to the Moon
… nice collection of links on the Apollo program …‘What about the 800 plus pounds of rocks and dust brought back from the Moon? Surprisingly, they’re similar to Earth rocks, giving weight to the Giant Impact Theory. But the most amazing fact is that with no true atmosphere, there’s no erosion. The Moon rocks, laying on the surface for billions of years, contain information about the universe from early era of the universe, which also reveals the conditions of Earth shortly after it was formed.’