Courtesy NASA (via Zonu.com)Back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were making their historic moonwalk, I remember thinking to myself, what would happen if some kind of malfunction on the Lunar Module prevented them from blasting off the Moon's surface back to the Command and Service Module? They would most certainly die, there's no doubt about that, because NASA had no rescue plan in place. But what about Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot who was orbiting the Moon in the mother ship? He was waiting to take his fellow crew members home to Earth. If they didn't show up, he'd be in for a pretty lonely and agonizing three-day trip across the quarter-million miles of empty space back to Earth. I wondered what that would have been like.
Fortunately, Apollo 11 was a tremendous success and all three astronauts made it back safely, as did the 18 Apollo astronauts who followed in their footsteps (including the ill-fated Apollo 13 astronauts), so the tragic scenario never played out.
Courtesy NASABut what would that have been like? Astronaut Al Worden probably came closest to experiencing the profound loneliness of isolation in ourter space, when he was piloting the Command Module for the Apollo 15 mission. While his crew mates were busy walking (and driving!) on the Moon's surface, Worden was circling overhead - all by himself - for 3 days. At times, when his craft disappeared behind the far side of the Moon, he had no communications with anyone - not even Mission Control - and was thousands of miles away from his colleagues, and hundreds of thousands of miles away from any other human beings. He holds the record for being the "most isolated human being" ever.
You might think it must have been an anxious time for the solo astronaut, but his story, which can be found here, might just surprise you.
Hold it there just a second, the reports earlier today that Voyager I has left the solar system may be a bit premature. NASA's team following the spacecraft say that they don't consider it to be outside of the influence of our Sun just yet. Confusing? You can read more about the official NASA position on this matter right here.
Courtesy NASATo paraphrase Capt. Kirk, we've now gone boldly where no one has gone before. After 35 years and 11 billion miles of travel, NASA's Voyager I spacecraft has officially left our solar system. Measuring instruments on the craft no longer defect the movement of solar wind, which is the movement of particles influenced by energy released by our Sun, around Voyager I. Following not too far behind is Voyager II, which as covered about 9.5 billion miles. You can learn more about the milestone by clicking here.
UPDATE: Wait a second, NASA isn't agreeing with this analysis on Voyager I's location. You can read more about this brewing science controversy here. Does Pluto have anything to do with this?
The Mars rover, Curiosity, has made an historic drilling into rock on the surface of Mars. The feat is a first in planetary exploration.
"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America," said John Grotizinger, the mission's lead scientist.“
The next step is to have the extracted gray powdered rock analyzed by Curiosity's on-board laboratory to determine the sample's chemistry and mineralogy,
Courtesy NASACan we expect to get more than 10 years out of our cars today? At best, they get listed as a "late model" vehicle in some classified ads. So how about our space cars?
This week the Mars rover Opportunity is marking its tenth year of rolling around the Red Planet. Not too shabby for something that was designed for just a quick three-month life span. It's partner rover, Spirit, seized up and got permanently stuck in sand three years ago. And now both vehicles are being overshadowed by Curiosity, the high-tech rover that just landed on Mars five months ago.
Like any older vehicle, Opportunity has its quirks. It gets around mostly in reverse these days because one of the front wheels doesn't turn well. Its robot arm needs some extra coaxing from operators to get jobs done. But it's still collecting samples and data. It total, it's logged 22 miles across the Martian terrain. Not too shabby for a late model rover.
Here's a link to NASA's webpage of photos and information that Opportunity has collected over the years.
NASA scientists announced today that analysis of a soil sample scooped up by the Mars rover, Curiosity, and analyzed by its on-board lab shows evidence of organic compounds. However, whether the organics are indigenous to Mars or were brought by the rover to the Red Planet from Earth has not yet been determined, so NASA is keeping the excitement level subdued for the moment. The announcement was made today at a press conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, California.
Wired magazine story
The SpaceX rocket lifted off today from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, becoming the first commercial flight to the International Space Station and marking the beginning of a new era of space exploration. Read about it here.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Ed TruthanMeanwhile, back on Mars, the Curiosity rover has sent back some very cool close-up photos of an intriguing rock outcrop it found on the Red Planet's surface. My first impression looking at the image (which is comprised of several shots stitched together by graphic designer Ed Truthan) is that it looks like it's made up made up of cobbles, and pebbles and sand - the same kind of deposit you find here on Earth left by an old river channel.
Courtesy WikipediaCheck out this nifty homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting Starry Night put together by Alex Parker a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Parker obviously must not have had much research work last April when the Hubble Telescope was celebrating its 22nd birthday, so he spent all the free time putting together this really cool recreation of the Van Gogh astronomical masterpiece using photo-mosaic software and several of Hubble’s stunning Top 100 images found here.
It's been, oh, maybe 3 weeks since I posted the last hi-def POV video of Curiosity's amazing descent to the surface of Mars but this time it's in Ultra High Def and at 30fps! Who wouldn't want to see that? And with audio no less. Not sure if the audio is dubbed in or was actually captured with the video. Compared to Earth Mars doesn't have much of an atmosphere but because sound can travel through several different types of media - air, liquids, solids, etc - audio capture would probably be possible but I'm not sure NASA set the rover up for that. Whatever the case, the imagery is worth seeing.