Archive for the ‘Space Missions’ Category

Otherworldly Saturn   Leave a comment

Few places capture our imagination like Saturn. With its myriad of rings and moons, it shines above us in the night sky as it travels along the ecliptic.  It’s always been inspiration for sci-fi fans too. Anyone who’s ever glanced at pulp sci-fi fiction covers might have noticed ringed planets hovering in the background as a elongated oval-shaped finned spaceship rocketed past.

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“Tommy Tomorrow,” created by Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Virgil Finlay, and Howard Sherman, DC Comics

Take, for example, our friend Tommy Tomorrow. Created in 1947, he roamed the heavens in his futuristic 1988 space jet, zipping past a rather featureless Saturn-like planet, as illustrated above, while another Saturn-ish red planet with gold rings spins in the distance.

Systema Saturn

Early drawings of Saturn. From the Systema Saturnium (Fig. 67)

Early astronomers struggled to draw what they’d seen through primitive telescopes. While they seemed to understand that its appearance changed in relation to its orbit around the sun and the earth, they couldn’t always account for its rings. A quick glance tells the viewer that something’s going on with Saturn, but just exactly what, they couldn’t be sure.

As telescopes grew more sophisticated, astronomers were able to recreate more accurate  images of Saturn.

Antique Saturn

19th century Illustration of Saturn

 

And photographers capabilities grew, so did their ability to capture Saturn.

1879 Jupiter and 1885 Saturn

A composite photo of  Jupiter (1879) and Saturn (1885)

In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11. Its mission included photographing Saturn. While previous photos of this planet taken from the Earth resulted in blurry, yellowish images, Pioneer 11’s photos revealed tantalizing clues about its nature, as well as its moons.

Saturn Pioneer 11

NASA image, Saturn and Titan as seen by Pioneer 11

None, though, can compare to the 20-year mission of Cassini. Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative partnership between NASA and ESA to conduct an exhaustive exploration of the ringed jewel of the solar system. The images sent back are like none other.

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NASA, Cassini-Huygens mission image of Saturn

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini mission will come to a fiery end, as it crashes into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending a glorious 13-year run. It’s been an amazing journey, and without a doubt, its legacy will continue to fascinate astronomers and ordinary folk like me. You’ve done well, Cassini!

 

 

When Reality Mirrors Science Fiction, or Vice Versa   Leave a comment

Why make things up when reality is just as entertaining? Here’s a few inspiring snippets for your sci-fi/reality consideration. Become inspired and write your own story based on what you see below!

 

New Horizons Spacecraft

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

New Horizons has left Pluto and gracefully exited out into extended space, lurking around the Kuiper Belt in search of, well, new horizons.

Chinese Riot Robot

Credit: People’s Daily, China

This egg-ish thing is actually a Chinese riot control robot, capable of mowing down people on flat surfaces while ambling along at 11-ish miles per hour and work without complaint (I’m assuming anyway) for 8 hours.

SpaceX Mars Ship

Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX to launch unmanned mission to Mars in 2018. The above ship is no relation to the above Chinese riot control robot.

Hall Thruster

Credit: NASA

Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop an advanced solar electric propulsion system, or SEP, for deep space exploration. Mars, and other exotic extraterrestrial locations.

Hope you found a few good ideas!

Ham Radio and the International Space Station   Leave a comment

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Credit: 15 December 2015 File Photo

Sure, everyone’s done it. You pick up the phone, take a quick glance at a number you’ve never seen before and dialed it. A voice connects at the other end and it sure sounds unfamiliar. Still, you ask for the person you intended to reach, hoping a friend or a wife or a kid answered the phone. And no, they’re not there because you’ve dialed the wrong number.

No biggie. It happens.

Except when that wrong number happens to originate from the International Space Station.

British astronaut Tim Peake mistakenly called someone and later tweeted about his wrong attempt and apology. I’m sure the person at the other end thought it was a bunch of bored kids pranking and though little of it until the story broke in the news. It just goes to show you that no matter who and where you are, accidents happen, even at the ISS.

But here’s something: do you know that anyone can contact the ISS? That’s right. If you’re a licensed ham radio operator, you have an opportunity to contact the ISS when it’s above your neck of the woods.

Last summer, Adrian Lane contacted the ISS while it flew over Britain. After sending out a call signal, Lane’s signal was received. He and an American astronaut spoke for about 45 seconds before contact was broken.

As it turns out, there are three ham radios aboard the ISS: an Ericsson MP-X handheld radio, a Kenwood TM D700 and a Kenwood D710.

John Phillips and Ham Radio

Credit: NASA – John Phillips at an ISS Ham Radio 

Obviously, their frequencies operates on different ones than Houston. Its purpose is exactly the same as Adrian Lane discovered – as a means of public education. Schools, for example, reach out to the inhabitants of the ISS to ask questions.

When astronauts have free time, they choose to make random, unschedule contact with whomever is choosing to reach them. Though their work schedules dictate their availability, an astronaut’s waking period is weekdays between 7:30 am – 7:30 pm UTC during the week, which means during that time they’re generally working. However, at either end of that schedule they might be available, as well as weekends, when more free time is also available.

Crews don’t scan but switch between frequencies, depending upon their location. Since the ISS travels rapidly, a person only has about 45 seconds worth of contact time.

If you are interested in contacting the ISS, visit this excellent website hosted by Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). It details location prediction maps, frequencies, and everything else you’ll need to set up contact and once you do, how to receive a QSL card to prove it! And though it’s entirely random, you might just get lucky like Adrian Lane.

 

 

Space Objects   Leave a comment

Credit: Project Helium Tears

A few weeks ago I wrote about space junk.  This entry’s a bit different.  And yes, while this stuff was deliberately placed there, it’s not your garden-variety space program detritus.  It’s all simply for fun.

My first entry has an awful lot to do with “Star Wars,” which, thanks to Disney utterly saturating the market without mercy, hasn’t quite gone this far to promote their film.  In fact, the producers of this little clever snippet are garnering worldwide attention just to snatch a couple of opening night tickets.  Hey, for what it’s worth, I say these guys deserve it!  Attaching an X-wing fighter to a weather balloon’s a pretty nifty idea and puts a bit of a scientific spin on a sci-fi icon.

But why stop at an X-wing fighter?  Haven’t you ever wondered what would happen if a pink glazed doughnut took a updraft hike?

Credit: Stratolys

Curiosity knows no bounds as a small team of Swedes gather in what appears to be a running track and launched the first doughnut into space.  There’s little fanfare, but it seems the Coast Guard comes to the rescue.

Now that you fought a war and ate a doughnut because you’re starved, how about celebrating your achievements with some space whisky?  Ria Misra from i09 writes about gross-tasting, overpriced whisky that Ardbeg, a single malt Islay Scotch whisky company tested, was sent in space to the ISS in 2011 and returned to earth in 2014.  Hey, it was worth a try, eh?

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Credit: Ardbeg

Clearly, those with enough money and resources know what’s going to capture attention.  Sure, doughnuts and X-wing fighters are great do-it-yourself projects.  But we’re talking classy booze here!  Discriminating palates await!  After a hard day’s walk out into the Great Vacuum, you’re going to relax and take a nip or two.

But for those of us stuck here on the ground, there’s always this:

 

 

Space Junk   Leave a comment

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Credit: NASA

Maybe you read The New York Time’s July 16, 2015 article regarding a fragment of a Russian weather satellite passing near ISS caused one astronaut and two cosmonauts to enter a Soyuz capsule until the all clear was issued.  It wasn’t the first time something like this happened, nor will it be the last.

Take a look at the above picture.  That’s a graphic representation of all of the flotsam and jetsam from the entire planet’s space industries. First, blame it on the United States and Russia. Then, blame it on any nation that dared test the limits of gravity.  Pretty soon, anything as minuscule as a paint fleck to a section of a satellite remained at various levels of orbit, zooming around at 175,000 mph/281,640 km/h.  Occasionally bits fall to earth, succumbing to gravity and burning up harmlessly as they enter the atmosphere.

NASA and the Department of Defense keep an excellent log of anything larger than a softball and if any debris comes close enough to the ISS, both Houston and Moscow work together to plan a strategy to keep the inhabitants safe.  If a threat is deemed plausible, all are instructed to go into the ISS’s lifeboats – the Soyuz capsules – in case a quick getaway is necessary.

But this poses a larger problem: what’s being done to clean up the mess?  Simply ask this question to Google and you’ll get numerous responses on various sites.  Space.com has an article listing 7 Wild Ways.   Popular Mechanics has its own solutions.   Here’s what Mental Floss has to say.

The truth is, nothing’s being done…yet.  Sure, the idea’s been kicked around, maybe even a few plans surfaced.  It seems getting there and back takes priority over all the mess it takes to accomplish our goals.  It’s a junkyard, for sure, and like the neighbor who refuses to let go of all the cars (and their subsequent parts) owned over the past 30 years, it’s unsightly, only getting worse, and isn’t going away.

Of course, there’s been a multitude of sci-fi inspiration drawn from this.  Take, for example, the recent movie “Gravity,” wherein Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan Stone finds herself floating in space untethered thanks to a run-in with remains.  David Brin’s novel, “Existence” tells the story of an alien artifact tucked among the pieces of debris.

Sadly, this is a commentary on how the inhabitants of this planet choose to deal with exploration and conquering the impossible.  Mt. Everest is defiled by the remains of extreme tourism.  Roman ruins scattered about their former empire faced years of abuse from casual visitors seeking an up-close inspection.

SpaceX, to its credit, is developing multistage rockets that return to earth to be used in future missions.  It’s facing challenges with no successes yet, but it’s not giving up and it’s getting closer with each try.  They do seem to be one exception, though.

Until we learn that exploration often results in exploitation and near-irreversable damage, perhaps any further missions might benefit from following SpaceX’s lead.  If not, there won’t be any room up there to put a satellite nor will be be safe to remain in any space station.

 

Interstellar, of Course…   Leave a comment

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Credit: “Interstellar” Media Image – mashable.com

Yes, I’ll admit I’m a geek.  I married one, too.  So of course we felt it necessary to see “Interstellar.”  We read up on it, exchanged speculations on the theories behind it, compared different viewpoints, opinions, reviews, all of that.  After all of this effort, a sensible decision was cast to go and see it, already.

So last night, after first ducking into Target to purchase some chocolates to stick into our pockets so we wouldn’t have to pay the ridiculous price of $4.oo for a $1.oo candy bar, we went.  It was great to go into a theatre filled with our kinds of people, equally geeky and completely silent during the showing, with only the rare murmur of approval over a spectacular scene.

Naturally, we weren’t disappointed.  Both of us loved it and spent the ride home discussing it.  And I could go on about this, that or the other thing regarding the vagaries of space-time travel and the physics behind it.

Why would I?  You know all that anyway.

What got me were the small touches, the little hints of things to come and viewpoints either behind the characters or the writers who invented them.  First on my list were the books on the shelves in Murph’s bedroom.  How many of you took a good look at them?  Here’s two that caught my immediate attention:  “The Stand” and “Outlander.”

“Outlander” caught my eye because Diana Gabaldon wrote this book regarding a portal that transports a woman through time, and Stephen King’s “The Stand” because the human race is nearly killed off in that one.  Both of those elements were the story in “Interstellar.”

Actually, books do figure prominently in the movie.  Take, for example, the school district’s reliance on “corrected versions” of history.  The moonwalk was all propaganda to economically bankrupt the Soviet Union.  After all, the Soviets never made it to the moon, so that propaganda campaign must have worked.  Yet Murph refuses to believe it all and listens to her father, who reinforces the truth.

All that talk about chemical compositions and how it affects environments and circumstances also gave me the goosies.  The way how too much nitrogen in an atmosphere isn’t ideal or any atmosphere’s makeup is so sensitive to various forms of life made me smile.

But really, when you get right down to it, the use of time as a resource and element defined the film.  Everything from the father Cooper as a younger man visiting his daughter Cooper as she lay dying, much older than he (all right, how many of you also knew that was Ellen Burstyn?), to the astronaut left behind for 23 years when Brand and Cooper seemed to be gone only minutes?  Or the gradual shift of Earth from viable to slowly dying, which seemed to take both an interminable and finite amount of time?

I could go on about many, many more things about why we enjoyed “Interstellar” so much, but that would take time, so if you haven’t seen it, take the time and go!

Incredible!   Leave a comment

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Credit: ESA, Artist’s Impression

OMG, this is a BFD!

I, along with everyone else who keeps their eyes on these things, shouted a big hoot of delight this morning when I saw Philae Lander put on a real showstopper of a landing on a duck-shaped comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko just after 11:00 am, EST in the USA.  Released from Rosetta, it marked a real victory for a huge gamble that will reap large rewards for anyone who’s interested in the miracles of our solar system.   I’m sorry, but I’m at a loss for words to describe what an amazing accomplishment this for the ESA, for science, and for our futures, so excuse the sap.

The New York Times posted a series of tweets that a very excited Philae, who couldn’t wait to touch down on the surface of 7P/C-G after journeying ten years to get there (do you blame it?).  The newspaper also has a series of incredible photos that document the comet as detail its landing place.

What makes this such a special event?

Landing on a relatively small target from a great distance notwithstanding, it’s ESA’s and the world’s first opportunity to scientifically examine, up close, just exactly how a comet operates, what it sees, where it goes and what it does for a living.  The pictures indicate that its shape isn’t anything to brag about, but again, it’s the first time anyone has ever set foot on such a heavenly object and it’s a premiere learning experience for all.  NASA has also contributed three instruments to the lander mission, so what makes this even better its international, offworld educational opportunity.

Philae’s got a big job ahead of it.  With only 64 battery hours to get through its tasks initially, it will depend upon solar batteries to provide it with power until March.  That, and it has an awful lot of tweets to send us to let us know how it’s doing!

For a laugh, check out xkcd’s comic on the event.

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