Stories tagged space

Sep
18
2010

New space launcher proposal

Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) System
Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) SystemCourtesy NASA

Starting with several existing cutting-edge technologies, NASA might be able to develop a way to catapult satellites and spacecraft into orbit.

An early proposal has emerged that calls for a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets to be launched horizontally on an electrified track or gas-powered sled. The aircraft would fly up to Mach 10, using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket's second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit. The aircraft would come back and land on a runway by the launch site. NASA.gov

Back in the early 1970s, I remember reading a book titled Black Holes: The End of the Universe by author John Taylor. It was my first introduction to those cosmological conundrums, and although at the time I had difficulty comprehending some of the terms the book offered (i.e. event horizon and singularity), the central concept that a star several times larger than our own Sun could theoretically collapse into an object so dense that its gravitation would be so powerful that even light couldn't escape - well that just blew my mind. Since then, much has been learned and theorized about black holes, to the point where it now seems every galaxy - even are own Milky Way - claims to have one at its center sucking up all the matter around it. Nonetheless, I still find them fascinating and you may, too. So, here are some videos that will help you better understand these bizarre bad boys of the universe.

The first two videos give nice illustrations of black holes physics. I particularly like the second by Professor Andrew Hamilton. It's his version of a Black Hole Flight Simulator. The last video was on the American Museum of Natural History's Facebook page today. It presents more of a "what if" scenario. Would it make for a good "B" movie plot? I don't think so.

A professional gift from one astronaut to another: "I give you this rocket, sir." "And I thank you, sir!"
A professional gift from one astronaut to another: "I give you this rocket, sir." "And I thank you, sir!"Courtesy NASA
The headline says it all. One Alan Poindexter, a NASA commander, says that the most intimate of relations* is not allowed on the International Space Station. So if you ever wondered how that works, you can stop.

*I'm not referring to two-player Battletoads. But that isn't allowed on the ISS either.

No, it's not the Green Lantern.: It's Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, as seen from the International Space Station.
No, it's not the Green Lantern.: It's Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, as seen from the International Space Station.Courtesy NASA

Or possibly ever. An aurora over the Indian Ocean, photographed from the International Space Station.

Jun
23
2010

So, this spacecraft that was launched over seven years ago to collect a sample off an asteroid is back? I didn't even know it had left! I am way out of the loop on the activities of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and if this mission is any example, they are doing some sweet stuff.

A Light in the Sky: Hayabusa streaked across the sky through the clouds as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Woomera Test Range in Australia. In Kingoonya, the spacecraft’s re-entry was visible to the human eye for 15 seconds.
A Light in the Sky: Hayabusa streaked across the sky through the clouds as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Woomera Test Range in Australia. In Kingoonya, the spacecraft’s re-entry was visible to the human eye for 15 seconds.Courtesy NASA/Ed Schilling
was launched on May 9, 2003 with the intent of it flying to an asteroid, photographing the bejesus out of it, then "landing" on it, collecting a sample and finally returning to Earth. And it did make it to the asteroid and back - returning to Earth on the 13th of June.

Hayabusa did have some troubles along the way – losing a miniprobe to deep space, the failure of two reaction wheels, the failure to properly land and collect a sample (though a sample may still have been obtained)… It was not a flawless mission, but to achieve what they did is no small feat - pretty amazing if you ask me.

Here are some links to learn more.
The JAXA main site.
Hayabusa JAXA mission page.

May
26
2010

I enjoy working with our team to develop on-line interactive education activities. We are in the final testing of whose goal is to teach about the balance of global water, land coverage, atmosphere and cloudiness required to create a "liveable planet". If you want to play with it and give us feedback - here is the link:

http://profhorn.meteor.wisc.edu/wxwise/climate/makeplanet.html
The goal is to make a habitable planet by adding enough water, atmosphere and clouds to reach a global average temperature of about 15°C (59°F). You can mix and match, add or remove.

* Drag (and drop) an item from the right side to the left to add that element
* Drag (and drop) from the left are back to the right to remove that element
* HINT You must put at least 3 clouds by the planet!!

There is a timer to see how fast you can make the planet livable.

May
20
2010

Atlantis Lifts Off: Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the STS-132 mission to the International Space Station at 2:20 p.m. EDT on May 14.
Atlantis Lifts Off: Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the STS-132 mission to the International Space Station at 2:20 p.m. EDT on May 14.Courtesy NASA
I have been following with interest the last flight of the space shuttle Atlantis. I subscribe to the NASA image of the day site, and since the launch have been providing some cool photos of the mission that are below.

STS-132 (the flight number of the current mission) launched from the Kennedy Space Center on May 14 and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on May 16. The primary payload on board the shuttle is the
Russian Rassvet Mini-Research Module along with an Integrated Cargo Carrier-Vertical Light Deployable (ICC-VLD).

An interesting tidbit: On board Atlantis is a 4-inch long wood sample of Sir Isaac Newton's apple tree. This piece is from the tree that supposedly inspired Newton's theory of gravity.The wood is part of the collection of the Royal Society archives in London, and will be returned there following the flight. Neat. Also weird.

Atlantis Performs a Back Flip: The International Space Station (ISS) crew snapped this image of the underside of Atlantis' crew cabin, during a survey of the approaching space shuttle prior to docking with the ISS.
Atlantis Performs a Back Flip: The International Space Station (ISS) crew snapped this image of the underside of Atlantis' crew cabin, during a survey of the approaching space shuttle prior to docking with the ISS.Courtesy NASA

Atlantis' aft section: This view of Atlantis' aft section includes the main engines, part of the cargo bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system pods and was taken by the ISS crew during a survey as the shuttle approached the station prior to docking.
Atlantis' aft section: This view of Atlantis' aft section includes the main engines, part of the cargo bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system pods and was taken by the ISS crew during a survey as the shuttle approached the station prior to docking.Courtesy NSAS

A Feat of Daring: Astronaut Garrett Reisman continued his work during the first of three planned spacewalks for the last Atlantis mission.
A Feat of Daring: Astronaut Garrett Reisman continued his work during the first of three planned spacewalks for the last Atlantis mission.Courtesy NASA

Docked at the Station: This image features the Atlantis' cabin and forward cargo bay and a section of the International Space Station while the two spacecraft remain docked, photographed during the STS-132 mission's first spacewalk.
Docked at the Station: This image features the Atlantis' cabin and forward cargo bay and a section of the International Space Station while the two spacecraft remain docked, photographed during the STS-132 mission's first spacewalk.Courtesy NASA

I'd say "In case you were wondering exactly how astronauts go to the bathroom in space," except... of course you were wondering that. Thankfully, there's this video to walk you though it, from the alignment camera on the practice toilet, to the thigh restraints and the frightening, hissing pipes of the real thing.

PS—And what about those "Apollo fecal bags"? How come those weren't in Apollo 13 (the movie, not the mission)?