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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.’
December 26, 2011
[space] Jupiter’s heart is dissolving‘New calculations suggest that Jupiter’s rocky core is dissolving like an antacid tablet plopped in water. The work could help explain why its core appears smaller and its atmosphere richer in heavy elements than predicted…’
October 26, 2011
[space] Billion-Ton Comet May Have Missed Earth by a Few Hundred Kilometers in 1883‘On 12th and 13th August 1883, an astronomer at a small observatory in Zacatecas in Mexico made an extraordinary observation. José Bonilla counted some 450 objects, each surrounded by a kind of mist, passing across the face of the Sun…’
September 27, 2011
[space] 10 Weirdest Consumer Products Based on NASA Technology‘Personal Lubricants – Maybe you thought they called it Astroglide because it makes you feel like a star. But no. The clear, water-based lubricant was developed by an engineer named Dan Wray while he was working on the space shuttle’s cooling systems at Edwards Air Force Base in 1977.’
May 18, 2011
[space] The Blue Marble Shot … a look back at the first complete photo of a whole round Earth taken from space which might be the most reproduced photo ever … ‘You can’t see the Earth as a globe unless you get at least twenty thousand miles away from it, and only 24 humans ever went that far into outer space. They were the three-man crews of the nine Apollo missions that traveled to the moon between 1968 and 1972, six of which landed there successfully (three men went twice). But only the last three saw a full Earth.’
March 25, 2011
[space] Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth ‘Crying In Rage’

The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.

March 22, 2011
[space] Spacelog … linkable and searchable NASA transcripts of early space exploration … Apollo 11: ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed. ‘ [via Kottke]
February 17, 2011
[space] James Burke On Thermos Flasks‘You see, all three men had understood that certain gases ignite and that the thermos flask permits you to store vast quantities of those gases safely in the frozen liquid form until you want to ignite them; at which point, you take the top off the flask, the gases evaporate, you apply a light, and boom! Now, two gases do that better than any other. It was Oberth’s assistant, who put them together most efficiently. His name was Wernher von Braun…’



February 16, 2011
[space] Space Stasis … Neal Stephenson takes a fascinating look at path dependence and lock-in within the business, idea and design of rockets… ‘To employ a commonly used metaphor, our current proficiency in rocket-building is the result of a hill-climbing approach; we started at one place on the technological landscape – which must be considered a random pick, given that it was chosen for dubious reasons by a maniac – and climbed the hill from there, looking for small steps that could be taken to increase the size and efficiency of the device. Sixty years and a couple of trillion dollars later, we have reached a place that is infinitesimally close to the top of that hill. Rockets are as close to perfect as they’re ever going to get. For a few more billion dollars we might be able to achieve a microscopic improvement in efficiency or reliability, but to make any game-changing improvements is not merely expensive; it’s a physical impossibility.’
December 18, 2010
[space] Martian Moon Phobos from Mars Express … from Astronomy Picture of the Day‘Phobos orbits so close to Mars that from some places it would appear to rise and set twice a day, but from other places it would not be visible at all. Phobos’ orbit around Mars is continually decaying — it will likely break up with pieces crashing to the Martian surface in about 50 million years.’
October 25, 2010
[space] The Worst Part of Going to Space? Your Fingernails Come Off‘Astronaut gloves are designed to simulate the air pressure on Earth, so they’re made of a pressurized rubber layer embedded in a thick, space-proof shell. Spacewalking astronauts must constantly fight against the bulky pressurized glove to do their work — imagine gripping a wrench while wearing skiing mittens, and you get the idea. This constant bending and flexing causes chafing, blisters and, apparently, fingernail loss.’ [via jwz]
September 8, 2010
[space] Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot‘Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.’
September 6, 2010
[space] Stuart Clark’s top 10 approachable astronomy books‘Understanding the celestial objects and our place within them has been a passion of mine for my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t consumed with curiosity about the universe. These books span the entire history of mankind’s fascination with space. All of them capture the fascination of astronomy and the human stories behind this most noble of sciences.’
August 13, 2010
[space] Go Look: Thirty Five Images of Space Helmet Reflections. [via David McCandless]
August 8, 2010
[space] Lutetia: The Largest Asteroid … fascinating comparison of the size of the largest asteroids so far visited by spacecraft (from Astronomy Picture of the Day).
July 20, 2010
[comics] The Moon Hoax … a great comic strip from Darryl Cunningham debunking some of the moon landing conspiracy theories

Panels from The Moon Hoax By Darryl Cunningham

April 12, 2010
[space] Voyager 1 & 2’s Infinite Playlist‘These songs were etched into a 12-inch, gold plated copper record that was placed aboard the two spaceships in 1977.’ [via Kottke]
April 5, 2010
[space] Neptune May Have Eaten A Planet And Stolen Its Moon‘Neptune may have polished off a super-Earth that once roamed the outer solar system and stolen its moon to boot. The brutal deed could explain mysterious heat radiating from the icy planet and the odd orbit of its moon Triton.’
March 24, 2010
[mars] Abstract And Affecting, The New Mars Pictures Are A Confrontation With The Sublime … Sam Leith On Photographs Of Mars… ‘These photographs inspire not only awe and wonder, but also a sort of longing. None of us alive at this moment – possibly no human ever – will see these landscapes with our own eyes. And yet here are the pictures. For me, they have the same effect as great paintings or photographs – a feeling that something impossible has been made present, while remaining just out of reach.’
March 15, 2010
[ufo] First Contact: The Man Who’ll Welcome Aliens … Jon Ronson meets the chairman of Seti’s Post-Detection Taskgroup

…you can tell the abductees are lying or delusional because their descriptions of the aliens and their craft are always so unimaginative. As he writes in The Eerie Silence, the giveaway is the banality of the aliens’ putative agenda, which seems to consist of grubbing around in fields or meadows, chasing cows or cars like bored teenagers, and abducting humans for Nazi-style experiments.

February 5, 2010
[space] Spectacular Hubble View Of The Aftermath Of An Asteroid Collision … Asteroids collide or spacecraft? You decide…
November 4, 2009
[space] The Average Color of the Universe‘The answer, depicted above, is a conditionally perceived shade of beige.’
October 27, 2009
[space] How Many People Are In Space Right Now?‘6 – all on ISS’
September 24, 2009
[space] The Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life Gets Weird‘For instance, Leitner said, we can send rovers to Mars carrying antibodies that detect traces of chemicals and bacteria that would indicate life. But because we can only make antibodies to known substances, this method will be limited to finding Earth-like life. “When we try to find a definition for life, in most cases, such a definition is more a summary of the specific properties of terrestrial life,” Leitner said. Because life on Earth requires water, most of the search for extraterrestrial life thus far has focused on the “habitable zone,” or the relatively narrow region around a star where liquid water could exist.’
August 7, 2009
[funny] NEIL BEFORE ZOD!

neil before zod

August 3, 2009
[moon] To the Moon – with extreme engineering … a look at the story behind The Lunar Orbiter programme – a series of missions which mapped the moon’s surface before the Apollo landings … ‘The Lunar Orbiter astonishes even today. It had to take pictures, scan and develop the film on board, and broadcast it successfully back to earth. Naturally, the orbiter had to provide its own power, orient itself without intervention from ground control, and maintain precise temperature conditions and air pressure for the film processing, and protect itself from solar radiation and cosmic rays – all within severe size and weight constraints. This was far beyond the capabilities of the newest spy satellites, which back then returned the film to earth in a canister, retrieved by a specially kitted-out plane. The Orbiter challenge was the Apollo challenge in miniature.’
July 21, 2009
[space] Abandoned Space Technology … photos of neglected earthbound US and Russian Apollo Era hardware … ‘Abandoned Russian Shuttle found in Arabian Desert’ [via more(ish)]
July 20, 2009
[apollo] The Giant Apollo 11 Post … Kottke does a big round up of Apollo 11 links of interest on the internet.
July 19, 2009
[apollo] How Michael Collins became the forgotten astronaut of Apollo 11 … profile of Michael Collins and his experience of Apollo 11‘Minutes later, Columbia swept behind the Moon and Collins became Earth’s most distant solo traveller, separated from the rest of humanity by 250,000 miles of space and by the bulk of the Moon, which blocked all radio transmissions to and from mission control. He was out of sight and out of contact with his home planet. “I am now truly alone and absolutely alone from any known life. I am it,” he wrote in his capsule. […] Such solitude would have unnerved most people. But not Collins. He says the emotion that he experienced most during his day alone in lunar orbit was that of exultation.’
July 17, 2009
[apollo] Remembering Apollo 11 … fantastic – as always – photo gallery from The Big Picture.
July 12, 2009
[apollo] Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual To Apollo 11 … fun idea – a Apollo 11 manual done as a DIY Car Maintenance Guide … More on the manual from the Register: ‘Of course, the book doesn’t actually invite you to wander down to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and pop the spark plugs out of the original command module, but it does offer “an insight into the hardware from the first manned mission to land on the moon”.’
July 3, 2009
[apollo] Apollo 11 Moon Landing … another collection of material on the Moon Landing – this time from the Guardian … Tim Radford: ‘Above all, it was a moment of human drama, played out with fragile, gleaming technology against a backcloth of infinity.’
June 25, 2009
[moon] The Moon Landings … The BBC Archive looks back at the Apollo Moon Landings … ‘This BBC Archive collection tells the story of the Apollo moon missions, how they got off the ground and why the missions came to an abrupt end. Through over 40 years of radio and TV broadcasts, we meet some of the men who made that incredible journey and the reporters who brought their stories into our homes.’
May 26, 2009
[space] First TV Image of Mars Ever Was Made With Crayons‘The people at the JPL were so excited to receive the images that they couldn’t wait for them to be processed by the lab’s imager. As the first picture was beamed down as a stream of 8-bit numbers—each point indicating a brightness point—they thought of a quick way to get an image straight away: Print the numbers indicating brightness in paper strips, put them together, and color them with pastel crayons.’ [via As Above]
April 26, 2009
[space] Cassini’s continued mission … The Big Picture on Cassini’s six year voyage around Saturn‘The spacecraft continues to operate in good health, returning amazing images of Saturn, its ring system and moons, and providing new information and science on a regular basis.’
January 13, 2009
[space] Go look: In the Shadow of Saturn‘The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn recently drifted in giant planet’s shadow for about 12 hours and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a view unlike any other…’
October 19, 2008
[space] Ten Mysteries of the Solar System‘Why does Uranus rotate on its side? Strange planet is Uranus. Whilst all the other planets in the Solar System more-or-less have their axis of rotation pointing “up” from the ecliptic plane, Uranus is lying on its side, with an axial tilt of 98 degrees.’ [via Robot Wisdom]
September 4, 2008
[space] 31 Million Miles from Planet Earth‘On July 4th, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft directed a probe to impact the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1. Still cruising through the solar system, earlier this year the robotic spacecraft looked back to record a series of images of its home world 31 million miles (50 million kilometers) away.’
June 12, 2008
[space] How long could you survive in the vacuum of space?‘In the first 30 seconds any fluid on the surface of your body would begin to boil due to lack of ambient pressure, this includes the saliva on your tongue and the moisture in your eyes. Your eardrums would most likely burst due to the pressure in your body trying to equalize with the vacuum outside. Unlike what some science fiction films have suggested, your body would not explode…’ [via Metafilter]
May 17, 2008
[tech] Data Recovered From Melted Columbia Disk Drives … Is is more crazy that you can drop a melted hard drive from orbit and still recover data from it or that they still use DOS on the Space Shuttle? ‘…at the core of the drive, the spinning metal platters that actually store data were not warped. They had been gouged and pitted, but the 340-megabyte drive was only half full, and the damage happened where data had not yet been written. Edwards attributes that to a lucky twist: The computer was running an ancient operating system, DOS, which does not scatter data all over drives as other approaches do.’
April 15, 2008
[apollo] Hollywood Hunts Star to Play First Man on the Moon‘[Neil] Armstrong was 38 when he and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. Matt Damon, star of the Bourne trilogy, will be 38 this year, while Eric Bana, whose credits include Hulk and the next Star Trek movie, is 39. Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jake Gyllenhaal could also be in the running.’
April 8, 2008
[space] YouTube: Buzz Aldrin punches Lunar Landing Conspiracy Theorist Bart Sibrel in the Face.
March 3, 2008
[apollo] The Moon Museum — Apparently, there is a small museum of art on the Moon hidden in the leg of the Apollo 12 lander … ‘[Andy] Warhol’s contribution, which is obscured by the thumb above, is described as “a calligraphic squiggle made up of the initials of his signature. Actually, it’s a drawing of a penis.’ [via Kottke]
February 12, 2008
[space] An astronaut from NASA describes the smell of space: ‘At first I couldn’t quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment. Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as “tastes like chicken.” The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch…’