AirToob Lightning

Tags  →  space exploration

Different Worlds

The magnificent sight on the left (more about which can be found here) summarizes everything that the space science and engineering community is about, and everything that the insane persons in the White House and the GOP are not.

I once had the immense privilege of meeting the Chief Engineer of the ground segment of the US's Space Program. He is one of the few people who can fully appreciate how the work, knowledge and care of thousands of people in many organizations in different countries leads to what we can see here.

In space, reality can seriously bite you in the ass.

I am waiting hopefully for it to do the same to some people on the planet below.

Watching the brilliant white dot that is the International Space Station (ISS) transit the sky in a few minutes is a great experience, especially if you are following what's going on up there.

It can only be seen properly around sunrise and sunset, so that you can catch the sunlight reflecting off its huge solar arrays against a dark enough sky. Wherever you live, you can find your next opportunity to see it by clicking the image above (or even better, get the ISS Detector Pro App).

Watching the ISS transit became much more interesting to people in the UK when Tim Peake became the first British ESA astronaut to go on board the ISS.

Before, during and after his 6-month mission his activities have been followed with great interest by children and adults alike. Watching that brilliant white dot traversing from horizon to horizon, a little over 250 miles up and moving at 17,100 miles per hour, became extra special when we knew one of the people up there.

Tim's trip up to the ISS in the Soyuz was shown live on UK TV, with expert (and highly appreciated) commentary by the retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Tim's arrival at the ISS involved manual docking and prolonged safety checks, and taught us that manoeuvering in orbit is much more counter-intuitive than some space epics would suggest!

If you like this...

[A video tour of the International Space Station]
[The International Space Station and the docked Space Shuttle]
[Enjoying the view of Earth from the ISS Cupola]

This book is a nail-biting masterpiece of ingenuity, perserverance and human spirit - not to mention considerable humour in the face of major adversity.

Short version of the plot: an authentic survival adventure in the spirit of Apollo 13, the main action taking place on a very real Mars.

Longer version: click the image to the right!


(1) This book has been described as “hard sci-fi” but is really “hard engineering”. For me, it captures perfectly the co-operative human qualities and engineering skills that make space exploration very unlike (say) politics in Washington (some thoughts on that here). However, if technical details of what it takes to stay alive in a hostile environment are not your thing, the book may not be for you - but you might want to take a risk with it anyway!

(2) If you have to go to work next morning, don't start reading it the night before...

(Found for me by Karenak, whose help pages anyone new to Categorian should visit - but there is much more to her pages than help!)

PS: I see that Ridley Scott is making a film of this book starring Matt Damon, due for release 25 November 2015.

If you like science fiction...

[The SF section of my books page]

...or the real thing...

[Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, screenshots from NASA TV with my commentary from watching it live]
[Mars Curiosity Rover on Facebook]
[NASA JPL on Facebook]

A celebration of the Curiosity Rover Mission, with beautiful images and music

Thanks to ensemble5 (whose beautiful pages are well worth visiting).

[How far is it to Mars? (nice video animation)]

A Splendor Seldom Seen

From the page:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.) In addition to the visual splendor, this special, very-high-phase viewing geometry lets scientists study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase... More...

Thanks to Fourteenth for this one!

If you like this...

[BBC Audio Slideshow: Splendour of Saturn]

Trees on Mars?

A HiRISE image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing trees on Mars... or so it appears!
Click the image for full-size version

(Image from this page - check out the "subimage")

Explanation from the page:

There is a vast region of sand dunes at high northern latitudes on Mars. In the winter, a layer of carbon dioxide ice covers the dunes, and in the spring as the sun warms the ice it evaporates. This is a very active process, and sand dislodged from the crests of the dunes cascades down, forming dark streaks.

Another discovery on the fine pages of batchbatcharak.

If you like this...

[More about HiRISE (High-resolution Image Science Experiment)]
[More examples of carbon dioxide fans from HiRISE]
[Polar Geology on Mars (science theme from the HiRISE site)]
[Awesome desktop wallpaper images from HiRISE]

From the page:

This image was taken by Curiosity’s MAHLI camera, which sits on the end of the rover’s extendable arm. MAHLI snapped 55 pictures from different locations. The different positions overlapped just enough so that the arm couldn’t be seen in the final result.

What can be seen are tire tracks, scoops in the Martian dust that Curiosity made, and the foothills of the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp in the background, which Curiosity will be driving up in the coming years. The rover will be investigating this area for signs of habitability in the Martian past or present. NASA will present new results about the Martian atmosphere at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern, which may include analysis of methane on Mars, a possible indicator of geologic or biological activity.

I cut out two relatively tiny images from the high-resolution original in order to show the detail that it contains:

Curiosity’s “eye” at the top with a reflection of Mars and the rover’s arm

Fine detail of the wheel and surface

Click any of the above images if you want to see the original... thanks, Bordertourista!

If you like this...

[My coverage of Curiosity's landing on Mars, taken from live NASA TV]

In her final days as Commander of the International Space Station, Sunita (Suni) Williams of NASA recorded an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory and downlinked the video on Nov. 18, just hours before she, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency departed in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan. The tour includes scenes of each of the station's modules and research facilities with a running narrative by Williams of the work that has taken place and which is ongoing aboard the orbital outpost.

Suni, who is of Indian and Slovenian extraction, is a Captain in the US Navy, where she was a helicopter test pilot, and (I discovered) has a very impressive career in both the USN and NASA.

Click on any screenshot to play the video... 25 minutes of privileged viewing not to be missed!

Columbus, the European Laboratory, one of many on the Space Station (this one on the right hand side) where a lot of medical experiments are done

A sleep station module, containing 4 of these sleep stations...

"It's sort of like a little phone booth. It's also like a little office, with a computer and some toys and books and other things that make it sort of like home"

No gravity, so each of the 4 sleep stations...

...are in a separate wall

One of the space suits in storage, a miniature space vehicle...

"...your head turns inside the fixed helmet, you need a wide angle of vision and usually it's pretty sunny out there, so you need sunglasses, which make you look pretty cool"

A tour of a space toilet...

...with more information on cleaning up null-gravity messes than you may want to know!

Heading down from here, we get to "one of the coolest places on the Space Station, like a glass bottom boat"

You might want to take a look at this link (opens in a separate window)...

[Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola Module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below]

...the Cupola, with windows all around... (over Africa at the moment)

"That's the Soyuz spacecraft that's taking us home to Planet Earth today"

After showing us the exercise equipment, Sunita heads for the Soyuz spacecraft (a long way!)

A diversion to fly down the PMM, a big silver canister when seen from the outside - essentially a closet where things are stowed, "and a lot of fun to play in - and much bigger than the Soyuz"

Entering the Russian segment (Kevin, the next Commander, is doing the filming) "you don't need a passport either"

A long way, passing Yevgeny coming in the other direction

The Russian segment was the first section to come up to the Space Station, in 1988. The Station has been manned 12 years, and been up in space 14 years.

After another long passage... "here we are in the heart of the Space Station, really - the Service Module or Central Post". The service module is also the place to come when there's an emergency (fire, depressurization, toxic atmosphere) - "we gather here to figure out how to deal with whatever it is".

Controls to help fly in visiting spacecraft if they need it, and Russian and American computers that "help to control anything we need to on the Space Station"

Two Russian crew members, and on the wall behind them, pictures of Russian heroes of the space programme "which reminds us of our roots"

After showing us a lot of other stuff, Sunita heads down another long stretch to the Soyuz spacecraft that will take her home later today

...and at the end of that passage, she drops down another long shaft, arriving at...

...the docking probe which incoming spacecraft use to dock to the ISS (and we get an explanation of that, too)

Squeezing into the top section of the Soyuz (this part gets burnt up on re-entry - in a few hours time, in fact)

Looking up, that's Kevin, the next ISS Commander, looking down into the Soyuz

Squished into the tiny Descent Module, which has been getting made ready over the past couple of days, Sunita sitting in one of the three personalized custom-made seats (which she'll be using later today for real). "It's a pretty safe ride home... behind us is the parachute, all of our survival gear just in case we land in some strange place on the planet and nobody's there to rescue us right away..."

Some of the instruments, including hand controllers you can fly the module with

Listening to this lady, you would think she is talking about taking the bus home after a day at the office, instead of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in a tiny capsule after a few months commanding one of humanity's outstanding political and scientific achievements. (She did get home safely, by the way.)

I take my hat off to her, and to NASA for providing us with the privilege of seeing so much detail of what goes on up there.

(Thanks so much to ensemble5 for this share.)

If you like this...

[A view of Endeavour docked to the International Space Station - and some thoughts to go with it]

Neil Armstrong
August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012

Picture from NASA's Biography of Neil Armstrong

Like many people, I will always remember what I was doing at 02:56 UTC (GMT) on July 21st, 1969, when Neil Armstrong made his famous "one giant leap for mankind" in the Sea of Tranquility (I was watching a very small black and white TV in a small flat in London).

A true American hero of the "final frontier", he was a shy and modest man as well as a superb and very brave pilot. I am sure that he would want people also to remember Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, his companions in Apollo 11, and the many, many people who worked together in the extraordinary endeavour that was the Apollo Program.

I don't suppose that I will live long enough to see manned spaceflight again, other than this variety (which is going to become really interesting in the next few years, I think).

For now, JPL's Curiosity Rover is doing a fantastic job on Mars.

You're on Mars... take a look around!

Thanks to Fourteenth (whose pages are well worth visiting) for sharing this one.

If you like this...

[More from Mars...]

I have just watched the successful touchdown of the Mars Curiosity Rover, streamed live on NASA TV... here are some of my screenshots from this truly historic event (click any image to get to the site where I watched).

When this sequence starts, it is too late for control signals to get from Earth to Mars in time to influence anything, so everything is happening automatically at the Mars end.

JPL are getting signals about 15 minutes behind actual events, even with signals travelling at the speed of light, relayed from Odyssey, the Mars orbiter, which is circling Mars.

(There is nothing accidental about the timing - the Lander's touchdown needs to happen when one of the orbiters is in line of sight.)

At some point in this sequence, telemetry changes to tones and "heartbeats". The heartbeats confirm everthing is proceeding as expected.

(Nostalgia - I once programmed a thing called a "watchdog timer" which generated an electronic heartbeat so long as the equipment was working succesfully... in a slightly more modest application!)

This is live computer simulation, showing the team what the computer calculates should be happening at this moment

Reporting that Mars is pulling Curiosity in... speeding up to 5.1 km/sec, as expected



This is no longer simulation - this is a computer presentation of actual telemetry data coming in!

In the next sequence, we hear that tones report start of guided entry 12 to 13 earth Gs deceleration... signal from Odyssey received... then data... Mach 2.4, flying almost like a plane... heartbeat tones again... parachute expected Mach 1.7...

Parachute deploy! Ground radar active... 82 m/s... Just a few km away...

We hear that Sky Crane has started (see my previous post)... then touchdown confirmed!

Heads up... first images coming down... the first one is a low res thumbnail of the Lander's wheel

...then a higher res thumbnail...

A new image on the left, showing the shadow cast by Curiosity on the surface of Mars

...and now we can see the dust particles that are partially obscuring the view, dust in the Martian air that was blown by the descent engines (dust on the Moon settled immediately in hard vacuum)

I am blown away too... The landing was at Pacific Daylight Time 10:32PM on Sunday 5th August 2012 (Monday in England) - a time to remember

At this point most viewers are probably losing interest as the team starts systematically checking through a zillion pieces of telemetry data, and it's all about Ohms and Volts and what each reading means... but for me, this is still exciting

My mind truly boggles at this achievement - so many things that so many people had to do, and so many bits of different technology made by so many people, that all had to work perfectly - and did.

Last words from this part of the broadcast: "Let the science begin."

(See my previous post for more about the Curiosity Mission.)

If you like this...

[Curiosity's Facebook Page]
[NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Website]
[Did putting man on the Moon really cost America anything?]
[All of my posts about space exploration]

With the London Olympics going on, it would be easy to miss seeing a truly amazing team achievement that is due to happen (if it is successful) on Monday, 6th August at 6:51 AM British Summer time, 5 hours earlier (Eastern) or 8 hours earlier on Sunday evening (Pacific) if you are in the USA.

It's the most ambitious landing on Mars yet - a huge Mars explorer that will be landed using a "sky crane".

The video is an animation by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and provides a very realistic view of what will happen on Mars (hopefully) after that amazing landing, as well as the landing itself. If you want to travel around on Mars, watching this video is the closest that most of us will come!

I can't find any programme listings for the landing on my TV channels, but I'll definitely be up early on Monday to follow it live on this site.

(I was! See my next post above.)

"The Sagan Series is a collection of tribute vidoes dedicated to the late, great Carl Sagan. Breath-taking cinematography and a mesmerising soundtrack lends a powerful scenery to Sagan's narration from his hit TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage."

Thanks for this one, Elegantlady (Roberta)!

(Original post: August 7th, 2011)

From the page:

ISS027-E-036801 (23 May 2011) --- This image of the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). The pictures taken by Nespoli are the first taken of a shuttle docked to the International Space Station from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Onboard the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Coleman and Nespoli were both flight engineers. The three landed in Kazakhstan later that day, completing 159 days in space.

This picture (reduced by me as carefully as possible from the awesome full-size hi-res version, which you have to download specially) is a reminder of the incredible achievement that the space shuttle programme represents. Up here, lives depend on the work of so many people in so many industries and organisations being done perfectly, with total co-operation with each other. It's such a sharp contrast with the dysfunctional unintelligent mess going on in many parts of the planet below - in Washington DC, for example.

It also reminds me that in space, the need for scientific accuracy is a matter of life and death. The kind of "science" imagined by Creationists on the planet below, for example, does not contain the kind of truths that would pass the test up here.

From the page:

"On September 22, 2010, with the departure of the Expedition 23 crew, Colonel Douglas H. Wheelock assumed command of the International Space Station and the Expedition 25 crew. He is also known as @Astro_Wheels on twitter, where he has been tweeting space photos to his followers since he arrived at the space station."

One of many of his photos to be found here:

"Aurora Borealis"

In the distance on this beautiful night over Europe the Strait of Dover is pretty clear as is Paris, the City of Lights. A little fog over the western part of England and London. It is incredible to see the lights of the cities and small towns against the backdrop of deep space. I am going to miss this view of our wonderful world...

Thanks to dragonisrider for this one!

From space, the aurora is a crown of light that circles each of Earth's poles. The IMAGE satellite captured this view of the aurora australis (southern lights) on September 11, 2005, four days after a record-setting solar flare sent plasma - an ionized gas of protons and electrons - flying towards the Earth. The ring of light that the solar storm generated over Antarctica glows green in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, shown in this image. The IMAGE observations of the aurora are overlaid onto NASA's satellite-based Blue Marble image. From the Earth's surface, the ring would appear as a curtain of light shimmering across the night sky...

One of so many beautiful and interesting things to be found on the pages of Field-Daisy.

From the page:

It is one of the most dramatic images ever to emerge from Mars.

In fact, this extraordinary photograph is so clear that even the sand dunes at the base of the half-mile wide canyon are visible.

Experts even believe that they can see the tracks of a Mars lander on the left-hand corner of the Victoria Crater.

This image of the Victoria Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The reduced image above does no justice to the original. Check out the original hi res images from NASA/JPL, and visit the HiRISE link if you would like to see some more truly awesome stuff.

Thanks to dayseye for this one - one of many beautiful and fascinating things to be found on her pages.

If you like this...

[Slide show of Saturn - commentary on images from the Cassini spacecraft]

Just two of many extraordinary images taken from the Cassini spacecraft. I have added a red arrow to the first image to point to a tiny speck - our own planet Earth.

It's mind-boggling to think that these images were transmitted successfully to several infinitely more tiny dishes on that tiny speck, taking up to 90 minutes at the speed of light to get there, and that we (tinier still) are somewhere on that tiny speck looking at them... and that some of us, working together, were capable of this great achievement.

In this really interesting slide show, Carl Murray, a member of the Cassini Imaging Team from Queen Mary College London, takes us on a tour of Saturn, its arcs and moons - including Titan, which appears to have geological features similar to Earth's.

[More on the Cassini mission]
[Some more of my space exploration favourites]

A literally wonderful web site for the Cassini Equinox Mission to explore the Saturn system, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.