Archive for the ‘Space Missions’ Category

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

BritainAstronautCall-07e18

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?

crater

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

4-8-nrc-evaluates-nasas-orbital-debris-programs

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

interstellar.black_.hole

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

13philae-master1050-v2

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.

The Ultimate Risk   Leave a comment

Virgin-Galactic-02

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Everyone knew the risks.

Saturday’s tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s space plan over the Mojave Desert was inevitable.  Two highly regarded pilots subjected a new technology to a test that partially failed.  I say “partially” because the launch plane lived to see another day, while the space-skimming component didn’t.

As horrific as it must have been to watch the crash, again, I say, all knew it was a definite possibility.  Anyone who flirts with the impossible does.  Is it wrong to test fate?  Certainly not.  It’s expected.  Demanded, even, if humankind’s going to stretch its limits to infinite levels.

Long before the days of Icarus, the absence of wings from the human anatomy led the drive to create the next best thing.  Someone’s always thought up of a way to fly without success, but it wasn’t until November 1783 that two French citizens, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes, took flight in a hot air balloon created in 1782 by  Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier.  That’s when the earthbound soul could gaze upon the world in an entirely new perspective.

For the next 100+ years, serious study involving the physics of lift and sustained flight occurred.  Notably, Sir George Caley’s work led to the first manned, controllable glider capable of sustained flight in 1853.  Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, important research and experimentation regarding steam-propelled flight occurred.  In 1874 Félix du Temple created an aluminum plane with a 13-meter wingspan.  After launching from a ramp under steam power, it remained airborne for a short but significant hop, causing it to be the first hop achieved powered by an engine.  In 1875 Thomas Moy set into flight an tandem-winged monoplane dubbed “The Aerial Steamer.”  Alexander Mozhaiski, a Russian, built a steam-powered monoplane and in 1884, managed to launch it from a ramp and it remained aloft for 98 feet.

Each of these experiments edged pilots closer to their goal of sustained flight with the use of power to achieve it.  Here’s where the controversy comes in.  Gustave Whitehead fans know for sure it was he who took to the air on August 14, 1901 in Fairfield, Connecticut and stayed there using his Number 21 Monoplane.  It was an event reported in the Bridgeport Sunday Herald. In January 1903 he claimed to repeat his feat two more times.  Even Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft stated in 2013 Whitehead was first.

On the other hand, the Smithsonian Institution is sticking to its guns saying that the Wright Brothers, using their unstable, nearly unmanageable aircraft, took flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.  Each brother had his turn, with Orville flying 120 feet in 12 seconds, and Wilbur beating his brother by going 852 feet in 59 seconds.

All these contributions were significant.  In ten years’ time, flying machines progressed to such a level they became not instruments of how humans can soar with the birds, but shoot them down like game.  World War I pilots became famous and infamous, as their canvas and wood planes were capable of killing not just the enemy, but anyone who was brave enough to fly them.

After the war, flight technology progressed rapidly.  Aviators pushed the limits as quickly as the engineers who built the planes they flew.  Charles Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic without stopping, and Charles Kingford-Smith was the first to cross the Pacific uninterrupted.  In 1924 the first aerial circumnavigation was conducted by the United States Army Air Service using a team of pilots.

Of course we all know what came next.  World War II brought on unparalleled use of planes as weapons, with the first jet coming from Germany at the end of the war.  That led to a combination of supersonic planes and the development of rocketry.  Far more pilots died as a result of war than as a result of experimentation of new technology, but it is although through the applied usage of flight that humans have created new boundaries to serve new purposes.

Planes launched a powerless Enterprise, the first American space shuttle.  Eventually, rockets got them into space.  The missions also met with tragedy twice.  But look what those missions gave us: a new understanding to what is possible, and what might be.

My heart goes out to the families whose members made the ultimate sacrifice for pushing the boundaries.  Their contributions are not forgotten.  Their deaths are not in vain, but will one day serve as an example of what can be ultimately achieved when one bravely steps out to take the ultimate risk.

 

 

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