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Archive for the ‘space program’ Category

Forty Years Ago.

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Almost exactly 40 years ago in 1969 the world watched with excitement and anxiety as the Saturn V rocket of Apollo 11 shot skyward from Kennedy Space Center. The launch of this rocket was the first step in Apollo 11’s mission of putting NASA astronauts on the Moon, the commitment of a nation to deliver on President Kennedy’s call to do so not eight years previously in 1961. Obviously, this endeavor was incredibly risky, and the astronauts knew very well that there was a significant reality that they would never return. The entire world knew this, too. And yet, we sent them, and they went willingly.

I was born in January of that year, and was almost six months old when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would conduct the first ever moonwalk. Obviously, I cannot remember the event, but this single human achievement has played an enormous role, and been of huge influence, on my entire life. It is exciting to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, and I am amazed at how absolutely relevant this achievement still is. I will spare you the history lesson, as there is an abundance of these seemingly everywhere. I will say, though, that it is interesting how things have developed since this historic moment.

Not Yet Four Days Ago.

In a case of either appropriate or ironic timing, depending on your perspective, NASA launched Space Shuttle mission STS-127 on July 15th after several delays. The Space Shuttle has been an important program for NASA, and for all of us, really, but in the shadow of the achievements reached by the thousands of people who were part of the effort to put humans on the moon you cannot help but feel that, for NASA, time has gone backwards. Regardless, the video below of the launch of STS-127 is incredible, and I am pleased that we are still sending brave people into space to help us learn, dream, and explore, even if they never actually leave Earth’s orbit.

Stunning Lunar Flyover

Friday, June 5th, 2009

On September 14, 2007 the (JAXA) launched the Kaguya mission to the moon to obtain scientific data relating to both the lunar origin and evolution. Kaguya is also helping JAXA develop technology for future lunar exploration. The video above is from a recent overflight from earlier this year of the lunar surface by one of the three lunar satellites that make up the Kaguya mission. Incredible detail. You are looking at the actual lunar surface.

Thanks to for sharing this video.

Release The Planet Hunter

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Tomorrow evening, at about 9:50PM CST, NASA is launching (depicted in the animation above), its new planet-hunting space telescope on a mission to find Earth-sized and Earth-like planets that might have liquid water.  This is important, of course, because it means that these planets could be home to life. It is also important as this means these planets might be “habitable”. To understand the significance of this quest, I point you to the recent TED Talks presentation by , which is well worth the time to watch:

At the heart of this mission is the effort to determine just how common planets such as our own are. Some fear we are a unique occurrence in the universe, others believe that earths are possibly quite common. Kepler is departing to bring some resolution to this schism.

The Kepler mission is named after , astronomer and author of .

Latest Cassini Eye Candy

Sunday, March 1st, 2009


The Cassini robotic explorer continues to send back incredible imagery from its mission amongst Saturn and its moons. The latest series of images are part of the Equinox mission to observe the changing seasons on Saturn, and are rendered to expose the incredible detail of the stormy atmosphere underneath the signature rings of the planet. If you look at the lower left corner in the image above you will see an especially well defined storm, seen essentially as a blue dot in Saturn’s atmosphere.

This image was taken with the wide-angle camera on-board Cassini on Dec. 29, 2008 at a distance of approximately 680,000 miles from Saturn.

More on the . More on the . More on my own following of Cassini here on schneiderism.

A Step Closer to The Space Elevator

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the concept of a space elevator, and provided some background and motivation for NASA’s pursuit of this very cost effective access to Earth orbit. Quite realistically, if we truly want to create a substantive human presence beyond the surface of our planet it will take something akin to the space elevator to make it happen. Launching rockets into orbit is expensive, time consuming, dangerous, and wasteful. The space elevator will probably be expensive at first, but once it is built and ostensibly powered by solar energy the cost and danger of accessing Earth orbit are enormously reduced, and with the added benefit of much greater frequency. So, the space elevator is potentially a perfect solution for orbital access. It seems we have taken an important step closer with the development of light, long, and stretchy by scientists at Cambridge University. This is an important development, as the tether for the space elevator would require upwards of 144,000 miles of these nanotubes. At present, the scientists at Cambridge are able to develop about 1 gram of these carbon nanotubes per day, which can be stretched to 18 miles, but it will require work on creating the industrial production of carbon nanotubes to make the 144,000 mile space elevator tether viable.

It is interesting that something that existed essentially only in the realm of science fiction for many decades may now be actualized in the next ten years or so, this being another testament to the power of science fiction in shaping the direction of our technology.

More on long, stretchy carbon nanotubes at

Titan’s Floating Surface

Friday, November 21st, 2008

This is not breaking news, as it dates back to March of this year, but I was excited to read about it earlier this morning. The Cassini team issued a report last March that demonstrated the evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the surface crust of Saturn’s moon Titan. The interesting revelation is that this ocean is thought to be “global” on the moon, and as such indicates that the entire surface crust of Titan is decoupled from the interior of the planet, floating on this ocean. The evidence for this is based on the measurements of how Titan’s crust slides as a result of forces exerted by its atmosphere, as much as a .36 degree shift measured over the course of a year. That is considered to be pretty significant movement.

There is a great article about this at , and it reports that the empirical evidence of the ocean on TItan, already long suspected by scientists, lends credence to the theory that several other icy bodies in our solar system also have hidden interior oceans. Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede are the most probable candidates for this phenomenon. The image above illustrates the proportion of the internal make-up of several of these satellites, and the relationship between these proportions and the existence of an internal ocean. It is thought by scientists that the existence of oceans in icy satellites may be a common occurance in our solar system.

Sadly, Mars Phoenix Has Signed Off

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

The Phoenix Lander on Mars has not been heard from in nearly two weeks. It was originally designed to last for about 90 days, but it lasted for over 5 months delivering to us a treasure trove of images and information from its landing spot on the surface of Mars. The loss of contact with the robotic explorer is due primarily to weather conditions at its location, which have been steadily worsening. At the same time the sunlight available to recharge its batteries has been lessening each day as the sun gets lower in the Martian sky. Officially, it is the position of the Phoenix team that the mission is now complete, though mission control will continue to listen for any signs that Phoenix is still operational.  However, it does not appear there is much hope this is the case. While the Phoenix Lander’s mission of collecting data from Mars appears to be finished, the mission of reviewing, interpreting, and applying the enormous volume of information from Phoenix continues apace, and will continue well into the future given the volume of data collected. Phoenix was an impressive step forward in deepening our knowledge and understanding of Mars, and it was a mission successful beyond everyone’s expectation.

Mars Phoenix will be especially memorable for me, as not only have I written about Mars several times, but I also followed the Mars Phoenix mission very closely. I followed Mars Phoenix on , getting daily insights into what the robotic explorer was up to. I learned of the mission’s discovery of water ice on Mars via Twitter, and subscribed to the NASA image feeds to be among the first to see what incredible images Phoenix was capturing for us. The Mars Phoenix mission was an excellent exercise by NASA in involving all of us in the great work and exploration that is being done. Mars Phoenix helped us to feel as though we were part of the mission.

Industrial Design at NASA

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

I was pretty excited to read at Core77 earlier this week, space exploration and NASA’s latest moon program being large on my personal interest radar. In this piece, Core77 looks at the addition of an industrial design team to the group developing the prototype for the pressurized lunar rover pictured above, a group that appear to exude that “I’ve landed my dream job, I work for NASA” vibe.  NASA has not previously employed an industrial design focus in its efforts, so this is a recent change that appears to already be benefiting the program in a multitude of ways. At NASA, industrial design has previously been relegated to addressing small ergonomic challenges with NASA not having a formal design group at all, the engineers being considered the “designers.” In fact, this industrial design team falls under a larger human factors group. Whatever works to improve the human/machine interface, performance, and user experience.

Part of the Core77 piece is the interview below with team member Evan Twyford (who graduated from RISD in 2005) where he explains their approach to designing the view area of the lunar rover’s cockpit:

Cassini-Huygens. Relentless. Awesome.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Saturn\'s moon Enceladus shot by Cassini on February 16, 2005 with the atmosphere of Saturn as a backdrop.

That I am absolutely fascinated by the exploration of Saturn and its moons being conducted by the is no mystery. There is the fire hose of discovery that Cassini is beaming back to us, discovery that is changing the way we think about our solar system and how it was formed. As if that alone is not enough to justify this mission of space exploration, there is the incredible imagery sent back to blow our minds like the image above of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, shown with the atmosphere of Saturn in the background, captured by Cassini back in 2005, and images like these:

The image above, taken by Cassini on March 12, 2008, provides us great detail of the pock-marked surface of Enceladus. Contrast this image of Enceladus to this one:

This image shows the deep canyon feature of Enceladus and is noticeably missing the impact craters of the previous image. The picture above was snapped by Cassini earlier this month on October 12th.

These images, and more, can be viewed in incredible resolution at .

Rhea Dwarfed by Saturn

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Definitely a beautiful image of Saturn’s second largest moon, Rhea, with the backdrop of Saturn’s murky atmosphere as Rhea “floats” above it. The black line is Saturn’s ring plane which Cassini has captured essentially head-on, about one degree above the ring plane. This image offers an incredible sense of the scale between Saturn and Rhea.

Found this image . I have written previously about Saturn’s icy moon Rhea, check it out.

The Surface of a Star

Monday, October 13th, 2008

I have posted about the sun previously (here and here), but the images I came across today at stopped me in my tracks. Simply amazing. We’re seeing the surface of the sun, our sun, the surface of a star. Images like above, which captures a massive solar flare, and images like this:

This shows the magnetic structures of the sun and was taken by the in the back in 2003. Do yourself a favor and go to and see these images in larger scale (or at least click on them here to see them larger). They’re stunning. I mean, check this out:

You are seeing the roiling, molten surface in detail, the bubble shaped objects packed tight are called “granules”. The dark shape in the upper left is an irregularly shaped sunspot. These are all amazing to me, but then there is the as it projects over a billion tons of matter into space at over a million kilometers per hour:

I am wide-eyed. That is all.

Getting Closer to Mercury

Friday, October 10th, 2008

This week, on October 6th, the robotic explorer made another intimate pass of the planet Mercury, getting as close as 125 miles, and delivered more stunning imagey. This flyby provided Messenger with a gravity assist to allow it to settle into Mercury’s orbit in March of 2011, being the first probe to do so. In the above two pairs of images, the top being from Messenger’s last flyby in January of this year, and the bottom being from the flyby this week, we get the opportunity to contrast two very detailed views of the planet. I’ve been following Messenger’s adventures with Mercury for awhile, and continue to get excited by what Messenger is sending back to us. I found the image above at .

Biggest Canyon in The Solar System

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

More incredible imagery from Mars. This time it is a nice detail image of Ius Chasma, an area within Valles Marineris which is believed to be the largest canyon in the solar system. This recently released image by NASA was snapped by the , one of the many robotic explorers working for us on Mars right now, and shows in pretty stunning detail the stratigraphic layers believed to have been created by both wind and water. I am in awe of the detail of this image and with the frequency and quality of images available to us from Mars. Nice work NASA, the ESA, and all of your partners for all of the Mars missions. I’m a fan.

Hurricanes, As Seen From Space

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Hurricane season is in full swing, so it is only appropriate to check out this incredible series of images at of hurricanes as captured from Earth orbit. These images go far in visually depicting the power and magnitude of hurricanes, something I have posted about previously. You see pretty clouds, I see the release of 600 trillion kilowatt hours of energy. The image above is of Hurricane Ivan and was taken on September 11, 2004 by ISS astronaut Edward Fincke taken from a window onboard the International Space Station. Here’s another favorite from the series of Hurricane Isabel taken from the ISS on September 15th, 2003:

Cassini Provides Enceladus Eye Candy

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I had already posted about Cassini’s August 11th very close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and some of the amazing images it captured, but this mosaic warrants posting as well. It is a composite of eight images from Cassini that have been stitched together. The image above is shown in enhanced color and Enceladus would not actually look like this to the human eye. Enhanced color, in this case achieved using a combination of five different lenses, is used to bring out more feature differentiation and detail for analysis, things like the four south polar sulci (which are surface depressions or fissures, and often referred to as Enceladus’ “tiger stripes”) visible in this mosaic. To the human eye Enceladus would look more like below, the starkly stunning image that led my previous post on Enceladus:

More on these images at

Volcanoes Seen From Orbit

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Came across an incredible series of images at of volcanic eruptions, many of which were captured by astronauts on the International Space Station or from an orbiting Space Shuttle. The picture above is of Sicily’s erupting back in 2002 and shot by astronauts on the ISS. Below, the 1994 eruption of the Kliuchevskoi Volcano in Russia as captured by astronauts onboard the orbitting Space Shuttle Endeavor:

Up Close With Enceladus

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Saturn’s moon , pictured above in a full color image from a flyby in 2005 and written about on schneiderism before, received a close visit from the on August 11th. This flyby allowed Cassini to snap incredible surface detail images. The following are some of the more compelling pictures to come out of this flyby.

Below is an image of “The Mound,” which is the object in the center right of the image which is casting a long shadow to the right. The incredible detail of this photo shows us the complexity of ridges, fissures, and cracks that makes up the surface of Enceladus, looking almost like a close-up image of elephant skin.

One thing that Cassini potentially revealed is evidence of the active venting occurring on Enceladus, venting observed by Cassini on previous missions. The image below appears to show this venting in progress, and in detail. Looking at the center of the image, note the blurred whisps over the whitish fissure feature. Serious speculation suggests that we’re seeing active venting right there:

Cassini was able to get very close to Enceladus, much closer than previous visits, and the images below show the high detail that this made possible. The first was taken by Cassini at a distance of about 1600 miles, the second even closer taken from about 975 miles. Both are incredible.

From 1600 miles:

From 975 miles:

I do not think that we can overstate how incredible it is to be seeing the surface of Enceladus in such rich detail, truly an important and amazing accomplishment. These images are a treasure trove of information for researchers and scientists seeking to learn more about our solar system.

More on Cassini’s August 11th flyby of Enceladus at , and a very informative article on Enceladus can be found at .

Hubble Space Telescope: 18 Years and 100k Orbits Later, Still Ticking

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

There’s milestones, and then there’s MILESTONES. The seems to have achieved quite a few while making it look somewhat easy, though lately it has again run into some technical difficulties. As Hubble rounds out its 18th year in Earth orbit, its orbital counter has passed the 100,000th mark (100,023 at this writing) which is itself an interesting accomplishment. This translates into 2.72 billion miles traveled, which is altogether impressive. All of this, of course, while it has remained just a few miles above the Earth’s surface, snapping pictures like this:

The Mothership

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Lot’s of excitement last week with Virgin Galactic’s unveiling of (WK2), the aircraft that will carry SpaceShipTwo aloft for mid-air launching into orbit, on July 28th. Developed by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, WK2 is an innovative and visually interesting aircraft distinct for its twin fuselage and kinked wing designed to hold SpaceShipTwo for the ride to 48,000 feet. I just came across this video from Virgin Galactic that shows us great detail of the aircraft’s exterior:

I especially like the end of the video which shows Burt Rutan and Richard Branson walking around the craft and smiling widely. This is a big deal, and these two gentlemen are far along in a pioneering effort to begin to make space accessible to a great many more than those that work for governement space agencies. WK2 is an exciting step in this effort, and flight trials of the aircraft are set to begin this fall. Note the functional benefits of WK2’s twin fuselage design. The aircraft can be flown from either side.

A Journey Through NASA’s 50 Years

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

I posted regarding NASA’s 50th anniversary a few days ago but just came across this through NASA’s 50 years of discovery and exploration. Read more about it .