Archive for the ‘Brazilian Space Agency’ Tag

Moonstruck   Leave a comment


The Moon, as photographed by Louis Daguerre, 1839

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been moonstruck since childhood. That’s when my parents dragged me out of bed on one sultry July evening. Mom opened the bedroom door, shook me and said, “Wake up! You have to see this!” Grumpily, I dragged my sleepy self down the hall and into the living room, where my parents, grandparents, sister and brother sat, glued to the TV. My seven-year-old self stared at the screen, impatient. After a few moments, Neil Armstrong hopped out of the LM and into history, followed shortly thereafter by Buzz Aldrin.

The whole concept seemed so wild to me. That giant Saturn rocket shooting them into space. Three men jammed into what seemed not much larger than a Volkswagen Beetle. Being able to see and hear them from an ever increasing distance. And then, the landing. Walter Cronkite’s gushing on air wasn’t much different from everyone in my house. Or the world, for that matter.

I didn’t really think about all the technology, or the training, or the money, or even the space race that evening. Other NASA missions came and went, and my family followed them all. But somehow, this one stood out from the rest. Three guys achieved something no one else has ever done then and since (although that will change shortly).

All I knew was that I wanted to be an astronaut. Desperately.

As the years went by, I shifted my interests to astronomy and learning the constellations, and the shifting planets in the nighttime sky, plus the occasional comet and meteor showers. I never did well in math, so I gave up my dream of becoming an astronomer. But my love for the offworld never faded, and I kept my sweet spot for the moon.

There’s nothing more entrancing than watching the glow of a full moon on a white blanket of snow, as the whitened trees glisten from its brightness. Or how a summer night feels so romantic with the moon sailing over the ocean. How welcoming the moon can be when it peeps out from a clearing sky, or transform into a mysterious red when it eclipses. Or blots out the sun and turns black.

Lots of sci-fi novels and movies use the moon as a backdrop or a plot device. It has religious significance for many. One can be mooned, have a moonface, or eat a moon pie, or wear a moonstone. Or be like Cher and Nicholas Cage and be moonstruck.

If you’re lucky and under the right conditions, you can catch the new moon in the old moon’s arms, or the old moon’s arm around the new moon. That means right before and after a new moon, there’s a thin ribbon of light, the slenderest of crescents, holding the dark side. Through a telescope or good binoculars, you can make out some details of the dark side too. This phase doesn’t last long, as it’s right before sunrise or just after sunset, and the moon is very close to the sun in the sky and very near the horizon.

If you catch it just at the right time, you can see an occultation, or the moon appearing to hide a star or planet. It’s literally now you see it, now you don’t. The moon slides in front of a celestial body, for a matter of minutes or hours. Then the celestial body magically reappears. It’s fascinating to watch.

During daylight, a moonrise might seem as if it’s almost see-through and blue. Spotting a full moon rising from a mountaintop is downright spectacular. You’ll never see something so big in your entire life. Or catching it rising over the ocean – the glow on the horizon, then a tiny, shy peep, as it creeps higher into the sky, a ribbon of light shimmering over the ocean’s surface, until, for a moment, the entire orb appears to be balancing on the horizon itself. Way cool!

I’ve already spent much of last and this week reliving the moon landing and the entire NASA early space mission by watching programs on PBS, or reading articles, or posts on my Twitter feed. I still marvel at this accomplishment.

But most importantly, I remember how unifying this singular moment was for our planet. How we all came together to marvel at such an achievement. It was an accomplished started out of competition and ended in peace. We need, not only as a nation, but as ambassadors of this legacy, to remember what good can come of scientific achievements, and to put aside all that makes us angry and frustrated, in order to move forward to use our discoveries to better the fates of all humankind.


Brazilian Space Agency   Leave a comment


The Brazilian Space Agency’s Control Center at the Alcântara Launch Center (photograph produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency).

Yes, it goes without saying that the United States, Russia and China have space programs.  India’s is growing by leaps and bounds, and not a day goes by when there’s loads of comments flying about saying how they’d rather spend their money launching rockets than feeding their population.

Sure, sure, these nations have a whole lot of resources (i.e., money, engineers) to send just about anything into orbit and back.  But how many of you know about Agência Espacial Brasileira (AFB for short)?

What, you didn’t know Brazil had its own space program?

You’d be surprised how many people out there have absolutely no idea that not only does Brazil have a space program, its launch site is the closest to the equator, offering excellent trajectory for geosynchronous satellites, or those with the same orbital period as the Earth.

There are two launch sites within Brazil:  Alcântara Launch Center and Barreira do Inferno Launch Center.  Alcântara (otherwise known as Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara or CLA) is located in the state of Maranhão on the Alcântara peninsula.  It’s the closest to the equator, next to the sea and in a relatively low populated area.  It’s also the main launch site in Brazil.  The second site, Barreira do Inferno Launch Center (known as Centro de Lançamento da Barreira do Inferno or CLBI) is located in Parnamirim, Rio Grande do Norte state.  Its main purpose is to launch sounding, or research rockets into space as well as support Alcântara.

The AFB has plenty of activity.  Since 1990, they’ve been launching and/or developing a multitude of their own missions, as well as cooperative projects with the United States, Russia, China, Argentina and Japan, even the Ukraine. Brazil’s launched satellites of its own that collect intelligence and weather data.


Marco Pontes is the first Brazilian astronaut.  He shares space cred with both NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency.  Presently, he’s developing and fabricating parts for the International Space Station, and is on standby for future missions.

As the space race ratchets up across the globe, Brazil is poised to be a significant player.  Keep your eye on them…and watch their future launch into the heavens.


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