January 25, 2017
[space] Martians Might Be Real. That Makes Mars Exploration Way More Complicated
… A look at the job of the woman whose job at NASA is to make sure we don’t kill Martians before we find them … ‘If alien life exists, researchers will of course want to study how it originated and evolved—to glimpse what planetary scientist Chris McKay calls a “second Genesis.” And to prevent false leads, humans have to be careful not to muddy space with our own trail of bacteria. Another less official rationale for today’s planetary protection policy is ecological—you might even call it anticolonial. Essentially, Conley’s office serves to prevent NASA from doing to Martians what European explorers did to Native Americans with smallpox. Because Mars lacks Earth’s history of abundant life, it has that much more raw material for Earth’s bacterial stowaways to devour—should any of them, say, come into contact with water, find a niche they can survive in, and start to reproduce. “The whole planet is a dinner plate for these organisms,” she says. “They will eat Mars.” Conley wants to make sure we at least know whether Martian life exists before we introduce an invasive species that will wipe it out.’
January 4, 2017
[moon] The Dark Side of the Moon
… go read this powerful profile of Buzz Aldrin …
You smile at him, your face opening the way every single face in the entire world opens when it encounters him. Because he is: Buzz Aldrin. And we are: mankind.
He takes note of your smile, and just as quickly looks past you. It’s the same way with everybody. It’s your pregnant anticipation: I can’t wait to hear the amazing synthesis of moon wisdom you are about to bestow upon me.
He has no idea what to do with that. None. He’s turning 85 this month. He went to the moon when he was 39. Mankind has been coming at him with your same smile ever since. What do you expect him to do with that?
December 28, 2016
[space] The Wold Newton Meteorite
… the history behind a meteorite that crashed into Yorkshire in 1759 and later fell into fiction … ‘In addition to almost killing a farm labourer and kickstarting the modern scientific study of meteorites, the “EXTRAORDINARY STONE” which fell to Earth two centuries ago was also the catalyst for some of the most inventive and influential crossover fiction of the twentieth century. If you’re are a fan of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or even Bryan Talbot’s Grandville, or Showtime’s Penny Dreadful then you have the Wold Newton Meteorite to thank. All these worlds filled with characters from different novels, films, and TV series owe a huge debt (acknowledged by both Newman and Moore, I might add) to the writing of Philip Jose Farmer…’
October 31, 2016
[space] How NASA Fights to Keep Dying Spacecraft Alive
… a look at how the working lives of space probes end … ‘Maybe there’s another way of looking at the “deaths” of NASA’s deep space probes. After all, even after we lose contact with all five, they will still be speeding away from the solar system toward distant stars. In the vacuum of space, there’s nothing to corrode or degrade the spacecraft other than the occasional stray particle, meaning there’s every possibility that these probes will still be out there somewhere millions of years from now. By then, it’s entirely possible that the last humans in existence will be the couple carved onto the Pioneer plaque, those photographed for Voyager’s Golden Record, and Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, an ounce of whose ashes are aboard New Horizons.’
June 24, 2016
[space] The sounds of starships
… Metafilter on using the ambient engine sounds of fictional spaceships as white noise … ‘The background engine noises of iconic science fiction spaceships can be remarkably soothing. That is why Spike Snell created 12-hour sound loops…’
December 14, 2015
[space] American satellite started transmitting 46 years after being abandoned in 1967
… the remarkable story of a derelict satellite that’s starting operating again … ‘Phil Williams G3YPQ from near Bude noticed its peculiar signal drift caused by its tumbling end over end every 4 seconds as the solar panels become shadowed by the engine. ‘This gives the signal a particularly ghostly sound as the voltage from the solar panels fluctuates’ Phil says. It is likely that the on board batteries have now disintegrated and some other component failure has caused the transmitter on 237Mhz, to start up when its in sunlight.’
October 19, 2015
[movies] At Last, the Great Martian Movie
… a look at Martian Movies… ‘Maybe the best reason to anticipate more excellent Mars movies is the planet’s pull on something deep within us. Having emerged from our myths, it still feeds our fantasies. It’s the most interesting motif left in archetypal dreams of escape and adventure in strange, vast realms, of human rejuvenation and transcendence through exodus and hardship.’
August 11, 2015
[space] The Sculpture on the Moon
… fascinating story of the only work of art on the Moon…
‘At 12:18 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on Aug. 2, 1971, Commander David Scott of Apollo 15 placed a 3 1/2-inch-tall aluminum sculpture onto the dusty surface of a small crater near his parked lunar rover. At that moment the moon transformed from an airless ball of rock into the largest exhibition space in the known universe. Scott regarded the moment as tribute to the heroic astronauts and cosmonauts who had given their lives in the space race. Van Hoeydonck was thrilled that his art was pointing the way to a human destiny beyond Earth and expected that he would soon be “bigger than Picasso.”
In reality, van Hoeydonck’s lunar sculpture, called Fallen Astronaut, inspired not celebration but scandal. Within three years, Waddell’s gallery had gone bankrupt. Scott was hounded by a congressional investigation and left NASA on shaky terms. Van Hoeydonck, accused of profiteering from the public space program, retreated to a modest career in his native Belgium. Now both in their 80s, Scott and van Hoeydonck still see themselves unfairly maligned in blogs and Wikipedia pages—to the extent that Fallen Astronaut is remembered at all.’
July 30, 2015
[space] Space missions to look out for
… a list of upcoming space exploration missions … ‘Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM): The world was gripped when the Rosetta mission carried out the incredible feat of landing a spacecraft on a comet. Nasa has hatched an, arguably, even bolder plan to send a robotic spacecraft to grab a four-metre chunk of asteroid, tow it along and place it in orbit about the moon.’
July 20, 2015
[pluto] The Long, Strange Trip to Pluto, and How NASA Nearly Missed It
… the story of how New Horizons got to Pluto … ‘Just after the Jupiter flyby, New Horizons suffered its first computer glitch. For spacecraft outside Earth’s protective atmosphere, high-energy cosmic rays occasionally zip through computer memory, causing a crash and restart. Calculations indicated that there would be one such crash during the nine-and-a-half-year trip to Pluto. Instead, they occurred almost once a year. But none caused lasting damage, and they proved good learning experiences.’
July 19, 2015
[space] The inside story of New Horizons’ ‘Apollo 13’ moment on its way to Pluto
… the story of the shutdown and restart of the New Horizons
spacecraft ten days before it’s Pluto flyby … ‘They ran through the most likely causes of the anomaly. They had two fairly simple scenarios. The first was that, for some reason, the main computer had rebooted itself. That had happened a few times in the past. The second scenario was that the spacecraft sensed something amiss and, as it is programmed to do, powered down the main computer and switched operations to the backup computer. That had never happened before. If the backup computer had, in fact, taken over communications with Earth, it would use a slightly different radio frequency and transmission rate…’
July 18, 2015
[space] Pluto at Last
… On the discoverery of Pluto… ‘Late one February afternoon, 24-year-old Clyde Tombaugh was parked in his spot at Lowell Observatory. A transplant from the farm fields of Kansas, Tombaugh had been assigned the task of searching for Lowell’s elusive planet. He had no formal training in astronomy but had developed a skill for building telescopes, sometimes from old car parts and other improbable items. He was also something of a perfectionist. “When I planted the kafir corn and milo maize,” he wrote in his 1980 memoir, “the rows across the field had to be straight as an arrow or I was unhappy. Later, every planet-suspect, no matter how faint, had to be checked out … It was the most tedious work I’d ever done.” Tombaugh spent about a year searching for the missing world, using an instrument called a blink comparator…’
July 17, 2015
[space] Well-Aimed and Powerful
… more thoughts on the meaning of the Apollo space programme …
Buzz Aldrin once told me that he envies writers their ability to put things into words. Yet one of his first utterances after stepping out of the lunar module, in an attempt to describe the landscape to Mission Control, was the phrase “magnificent desolation.” This is surprisingly poetic for an astronaut, and it has stayed with me ever since I noticed it in a NASA transcript years ago. Every minute of the astronauts’ time on the moon was planned, and they wore printed copies of their schedules on their wrists to keep them on track. But I have to imagine that, once in a while, Neil and Buzz looked up at the far-off mountains at the edge of the Sea of Tranquility and thought to themselves, I am on the moon. This is all happening, right now, on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin said many years later, “Every step on the moon was a virginal experience. Exploring this place that had never before been seen by human eyes, upon which no foot had stepped, or hand touched—was awe-inspiring.”
Neil, Buzz, and Mike traveled farther than anyone ever had and were gone only eight days. The images they brought back are among the most beautiful ever produced—all the more so, perhaps, because none of it was particularly intended to be beautiful. The jettisoned interstage adapter of the Saturn V tumbling, on fire, in a slow-motion ballet toward the gorgeous blue of faraway Earth. Buzz Aldrin smirking in a shaft of pure sunlight streaking through the command module window. Neil Armstrong overbundled in his space suit like a child dressed for cold, standing on the ladder and cautiously dangling one boot above the dusty surface of the Sea of Tranquility. The three astronauts confined to an Airstream trailer for quarantine after their return, smiling out at the president through a picture window. The perfect blue earth, thumb-sized, hanging in a deep black sky.
July 12, 2015
[space] Did You Know There are 9 Secret Items Hidden on Pluto Mission New Horizons?
… ‘A portion of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes were put in a container and attached to the underside of the spacecraft. Here’s the inscription on the container: “Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system’s ‘third zone’ Adelle and Muron’s boy, Patricia’s husband, Annette and Alden’s father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997).”’
July 4, 2015
[ceres] Ceres: Dawn images reveal a 5 km tall mountain.
… some analysis on an odd mountain recently found on Ceres by the orbiting Dawn spacecraft
… ‘Mountains on airless bodies like asteroids (or our Moon) can be made in several ways as well. Giant impacts have mountain ranges around their rim, created by rocks lifted up at the edge of the crater. But this mountain on Ceres is alone. Smaller craters can get central peaks, where the rock rebounds upward after the initial impact (similar to the drop that splashes up in the center of a glass when you pour milk). But there’s no obvious crater around this mountain. Maybe other forces filled it in, or subsequent impacts eroded it away. There’s evidence of landslides on the surface as well, which could eventually erase the features of a crater. This seems most likely to me. We’ve seen other craters on Ceres with central peaks, but I don’t think any yet this size.’
June 25, 2015
[web] 20 years of space photos: an oral history of Astronomy Picture of the Day
… the inside story of APOD
– the remarkably long running daily website … ‘Before we posted our first image we debated this, Jerry and I, as to whether we were going to run out of images in a few days and then say, “Well that was stupid.” But actually there were many images around even back then. And NASA’s Ranger series took tens of thousands of images of the lunar surface, so if we had to we could just start putting up other pictures of the lunar surface. “Here’s another crater that’s a little bit different than yesterday’s crater.” But we never ran out of images. We always had interesting images, and as time went on we were sent more and more images. And now we reject 10 to 1, so for every image you see we’ve rejected 10.’
June 12, 2015
[space] Ceres: Weird white spots are still weird.
… What are the White Spots
on Ceres? … ‘You can bet every penny you have planetary scientists are poring over these images and examining every detail. These bright spots are unique; no other such high-contrast feature is seen on airless, rocky bodies. We know Ceres has a lot of water ice under the surface, so it’s not too far out to think that may be what we’re seeing. A recent impact could’ve dredged up ice (we’ve seen that on Mars, in far smaller craters), splashing it around the crater, and also caused that darker spray. But right in the exact center of that big crater (which is clearly much older)? That seems like a big coincidence. Could it be from some sort of vent?’
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…’