Category Archives: Space

Moonwalker Down

eugene_cernanThe last man to leave his footprints on the surface of the Moon, Eugene A. Cernan, a crack naval aviator sought out and recruited by NASA as a Moon mission commander, has died today.  He was 82.
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Gene Cernan flew the LM on Apollo 10 down from orbit to fairly close to the lunar surface, (NOT landing) and then did it again on the mission he commanded, Apollo 17, in which he landed and spent three days on the surface.

A graduate of Purdue University’s Electrical Engineering School, he was very generous in his visits and time spent back at the University in later years. He spent many hours with aerospace engineering graduate students like me, answering questions about the technical aspects of his flights. I got to meet him on a number of occasions, and he was always very gracious, humble and rock solid, as one would expect from a naval aviator who slammed hurtling pieces of burning metal onto the decks of aircraft carriers about 200 times. Ice water flowed in his veins, and I was quite sure that he was one of those Apollo commanders for whom space flight was nothing to get excited about. Godspeed, Gene.

Cross-Posted at Nox & Friends.

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Earth To Universe, 1969: “We Come In Peace;” 2015: “Stay Away If You Value Your Sanity”

I’m not going to comment about the movie “The Martian” or its director, Ridley Scott. I liked the book by Andy Weir, but even though I work for NASA, I think it was a bit cheap and tawdry of us to time our recent press releases about water on Mars to promote the movie. Why did we do it? Because the studio asked us, and the studio happens to share a lot of the same political sentiments with the administration that tells NASA what to do.

As for Ridley Scott, he was the subject of the first public hit piece I ever wrote. It was about Scott’s disgusting movie “Kingdom of Heaven” which distorted enough history to make Oliver Stone blush, depicting the butcher Saladin as a wise and just leader and all Crusaders as murderous thugs.

So, I’d much rather comment on Gavin McInnes’ letter to the Martians who may be hiding on Mars in all that water. I think it’s just what they need to hear:
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Welcome to America. We are members of a cultural group called “The West” and it’s generally understood the West is the best. America is known as the best of the best. We’re the ones who sent you the signal and it’s likely we’re the ones you’d most like to deal with from here on out. We’ve been sending out signals for a long time so we’re going to assume you’re at least partly familiar with our culture up until the end of the 20th century. There have been some drastic changes since then, however, and we will try to make them clear.
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Pluto’s Heart Formation Looks Strangely Like…a Cartoon Dog

And why not? Seriously, go over to Space.com at the link below, look at the high-resolution images and see if the heart formation doesn’t look a lot like the right-side profile of a cartoon dog’s face. Possibly Droopy or Snoopy or, yes, even Pluto.
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Space.com – The first age of solar system exploration is in the books.

NASA’s New Horizons probe flew by Pluto this morning (July 14), capturing history’s first up-close looks at the far-flung world — if all went according to plan. (Mission team members won’t declare success until they hear from New Horizons tonight.) Closest approach came at 7:49 a.m. EDT (1149 GMT), when the spacecraft whizzed within 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) of Pluto’s frigid surface. To celebrate, NASA unveiled the latest photo of Pluto, showing a reddish world with a stunning heart-shaped feature on its face.

More than 1,200 scientists, NASA guests and dignitaries — including 200 reporters — watched the flyby live at New Horizons’ mission control center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. They chanted a countdown to the closest approach, then cheered and waved American flags as the big moment occurred. Read more at Space.com.

For other more imaginative interpretations, see XKCD’s preliminary map of Pluto.
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Elon Musk’s 44th Birthday Not Going So Well

The man who made his fortune by founding PayPal and once said that he knew as much about rocket science as any engineer who worked for him, is facing fairly flat Champagne tonight at the celebration of his 44th birthday. His SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after launch today, destroying over 5000 pounds of critical supplies needed by the International Space Station crews, including US astronaut Scott Kelly, who arrived recently. NASA was particularly hoping that this resupply trip would be successful, since the last SpaceX flight was also a failure, and a Russian resupply rocket failed months before that. The space station crew now faces a shortage of supplies by, roughly, October.

The following is an image captured from the NASA telescope video at about two and a half seconds into the flight, at the moment when an explosive plume of gas erupted from the vehicle’s upper stage.
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This is really, really bad news

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US Military Spacecraft Explodes – March 2, 2015
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/11444155/US-military-satellite-explodes-above-Earth.html

The Air Force has confirmed that a [non-critical] U.S. military satellite exploded after detecting an unexplained “sudden spike in temperature” followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control.” Dozens of debris chunks are now orbiting the Earth, putting other satellites at risk. The lost satellite was the 13th to be launched as part of DMSP, designated DMSP-F13, and had been in Earth orbit since 1995.

In absolutely completely unrelated news /sarc:

New Report says China’s Space Plans Threaten U.S. Military Ability – March 2, 2015
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-02/china-space-plans-threaten-u-s-military-ability-report

“China is developing space technologies aimed at blocking U.S. military communications and destroying its ability to win conflicts, according to a report commissioned by a panel created by the U.S. Congress.”

“The little bit of hydrazine remaining on board is extremely safe. There was nothing to explode. That sudden spike in temperature is code-speak for ‘anti-satellite laser weapon being tried out by the Chinese, but we don’t want to accuse anybody’.” – Grunt of Monte Cristo

“Accuse anybody? Obama probably sent them flowers.” – Chrissy the Hyphenated

H/t Mindful Webworker

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Hurtling Through Space

Helical animation of our solar system showing its motion through space relative to some inter-galactic point that some scientist arbitrarily decided is the ‘correct’ one, with some velocity that is impossible to objectively determine. From www.djsadhu.com. Hat tip: The Lonely Libertarian.

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In Case You Missed it this Morning: Orion Test Launch was Flawless

This NASA photo shows the view from the Orion vehicle looking back at Earth during its flight toward a peak altitude of 3600 miles away from the planet.
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Watch the video of the launch here:

The Daily Caller: NASA’s new Orion spacecraft successfully set out on its first maiden voyage shortly after 7 a.m. Friday, embarking on a test flight higher above the planet than any manned spacecraft has been in more than four decades. Orion did two orbits. The early dawn launch was executed flawlessly, launching NASA into what the agency described as “the beginning of the Mars era.”

Orion has so far performed all of its mission objectives, including jettisoning its emergency-abort system; firing its second rocket stage into an orbit and a peak altitude of 3,604 miles above the Earth (14 times higher than the International Space Station); separating from its crew module and the second stage of its Delta IV Heavy rocket; and passing through the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding Earth, testing the crew module’s resistance to heavy radiation the craft will experience on deep space missions. Read more at the Daily Caller.
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ESA Comet Lander Fails to Anchor, Perched on Cliff, But the REAL Story Turns Out to be Criminal Sexism Among ESA Rocket Scientists

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First appeared at the Blog of Monte Cristo.
The world’s first spacecraft to land on a comet has apparently become merely the first craft to ‘bounce’ off of a comet and settle into a precarious perch on a dark comet cliff where it’s batteries may not be able to recharge enough to keep it alive for more than a few days. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission has succeeded in depositing it’s lander, called Philae, on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumox-Gerasimenko Wednesday. The world awaits word on whether this spectacular accomplishment will yield precious data about the comet in coming days.  It may be that very little can be saved after the craft failed to anchor to the comet as planned.

But that has not kept the international community from finding something else gossip-worthy about the mission.  It seems that the wild shirt worn by a British member of the ESA operations team during the landing and a press interview has caused feminists everywhere to start shrieking uncontrollably.  I’m not sure why.  See one of the more insanity-inducing tweets here. Make sure you read the smug comments. They’re a scream.
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Russian Rocket Engines Blamed for Antares Explosion; Russian Sales Girls Blamed for Bonehead Decision to Use Russian Engines

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This is not actually satire. Orbital Sciences Corp has determined that the cause of their Antares rocket explosion last week is closely tied to the turbo pumps in the refurbished 1960-vintage Russian AJ26 rocket engines used on the Antares vehicle.  As a result, they made a statement, reported in the Washington Times, that they would “likely” end use of the engines in their unmanned rockets currently used to resupply the International Space Station.

The decision to use the Russian engines in the first place has been continually controversial and marked by other failures.  In a 2012 interview, competitor Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, mocked the use of the old engine technology, calling it the “punch line to a joke.”  Orbital Sciences, however, is not the only American launch vehicle company to resort to using Russian rocket engines.  The United Launch Alliance’s workhorse rocket, the Atlas V, was designed from the ground up to specifically use Russian RD-180 engines, and that rocket will likely carry crews of astronauts.

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Gross Mismanagement of American Rocket Science Beginning to Show?
The fact that so many U.S. launch programs have resorted to Russian engine technology is a giant red flag in an aerospace industry struggling to shrug off recent failures, political setbacks and accusations about the premature retirement of the Space Shuttle Program. The loss of the Shuttle, in particular, has forced the U.S. to bear the humiliation of being dependent on Russian launch vehicles for rides to the Space Station at a geopolitically hostile time.

The headline’s suggestion that Russian sales girls are responsible for these problems is tongue-in-cheek, of course, though vodka might have been a factor. I (the author) have worked on the Atlas V program alongside Russian rocket engineers, and I greatly admired their professionalism and skill. They are geniuses, every one. But aside from that, I don’t know how to explain the strategically inexcusable decisions that have made U.S. access to space totally dependent on Russian cooperation. This seemed a mistake when the first moves were being made in the 1990s, and it seems the full weight of those mistakes are becoming clear now. The U.S. is simply unprepared to supply all the affordable, dependable rocket engines it now needs, and that is due to catastrophic mismanagement and a drought of foresight. Fixing that will take some time.

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