March 2009

Exploding Russian Space Trash alarms Virginians

Last night on Sunday, March 29th at 9:45pm- a loud BOOM! in the sky along with streaking pale blue lights prompted a flood of 911 calls from Virginian residents. Aliens? Meteors? Supernatural weather? No. The remnants of a Russian rocket carrying crew and American billionaire Charles Simonyi- the world's first two-time space tourist- to the International Space Station high above the rest of our dozing heads. Is space tourism the next big thing? Of course it is... its the natural next step. We'll all be taking trips to the moon in no time aboard a luxury liner spaceship. Aren't they building hotels up there right now? Sea voyages aboard the QE2 will be so passe' in 10 years (maybe sooner). However, exploding space junk and rocket remnants raises a bit of a question for the rest of us on Earth. Atomic bomb-sized booms and meteorite-like lights in the sky, signaling trash slamming in to Earth from SPACE.... as if we didn't make enough of our own down here.... poses a bit of a problem, don't you think? Afterall, there is no telling where it will land. The rocket that took off Sunday was lifting off in Kazakhstan. Though NASA and the U.S.

Space Curry

Feeding astronauts requires science, engineering, and a deft hand with spices. The difficulties of eating in micro gravity include problems of stray crumbs or drops of fluid floating around and lodging in equipment. That means, for instance, that salt and pepper have to be in liquid form. Physiological changes in low gravity include constantly blocked sinuses, which adversely affect human senses of taste and smell. The problems of cooking in very small spaces, with limited access to water, or refrigeration, or even power, and of disposing of packaging materials are also substantial. In space, everyone cleans their plates.

Colbert In Space

As you have no doubt heard, the NASA online poll to name a new space station module has gone in a landslide to the write-in name candidate, "Colbert." NASA never promised to name the space station after the poll results (the poll itself was quite clear on this point), but simply swore to take the poll results "into consideration." The big news here isn't that "Colbert" won. After all, Colbert issued several calls to his viewing audience to stuff the ballot box, and provided a link to the poll on his website. No, the big news in this story is that "Colbert" beat out the write-in candidate "Xenu." I know several people (myself among them) who voted for "Colbert" not because they were particularly fond of the man, or of doing his bidding. But because they simply refused to allow the name "Xenu" to win. Xenu is the pivotal figure in Scientology's founding combination of creation myth and Original Sin. According to Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard, Xenu was the "dictator of the Galactic Confederacy" who brought billions of people to Earth 75 million years ago. He then nuked them, but not into oblivion.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is Shrinking

Astronomers first spotted—and drew pictures of—Jupiter's "Great Red Spot" some 300 years ago. It's that "eye of Sauron" spot on the Southern Hemisphere. In reality, it's a very large, very ancient storm, and as the weather on Jupiter changes, so does the Spot. The Spot really is properly called "Great"; it is so far the largest known storm in our Solar System, with a diameter of 15,400 miles. In other words, just the area covered by the storm on Jupiter is almost twice the size of Earth (and about one-sixth of Jupiter’s diameter). We've been watching the spot long enough now that we can see it is definitely shrinking. What's more, as currents and weather patterns shift, we've witnessed, albeit at a very great distance, new storms and smaller spots appearing in Jupiter's images.

Space: The Boring Frontier

NASA has launched a streaming video channel which feeds from a webcam on the International Space Station. The good news: that's really neat! The bad news: watching the feed from the International Space Station is… rather boring, actually. I watched for some time this morning, when the web cam was pointed in the direction of several astronauts who were making repairs to the exterior of the space station. The audio featured communications between a woman with a Russian accent (who I believe was inside, or possibly at the Russian control center in Moscow) and several unidentified men (who seemed to be working outside). Periodically a man would break in and provide a high-level overview. When I listened, he read off a list of the repairs that had just been made, including "the pivoting and rotation of one of the cassette containers that also contains material samples..." Oh man. Wake me when it's over. NASA has promised that when it's not focused on an active job, the webcam will be pointing towards the Earth.

Alternate Camera View of Apollo 11 Moon Walk

At 02:56 UTC on July 21 (10:56pm EDT, July 20), 1969, Astronaut Neil Armstrong began his descent to the moon's surface, and spoke his now famous line: "One small step for man, one giant leap for all mankind." We've all seen the video:

Recently, the video from the special 16 mm Data Acquisition Camera mounted in the lunar module has been widely available. The camera could be set to normal speed, or to one frame per second, to save film. For the moon walk, the camera was set to normal speed.