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Aug. 25th, 2012

Curiosity's success, the choice of InSight for the next NASA Discovery mission, and listening to a lot of dire NASA budget news, Symphony of Science, and SF podcasts has put me in a contemplative news. Neil Armstrong's death struck me like this:

Consider that of all the human beings that have lived to this point, only a dozen of us have ever set foot on another world, with another dozen who have flown there. We just lost one today. And it seems more and more possible that someday in the future, we'll have a planet full of humans, none of whom have ever journeyed to another world, except via our robots.

Aug. 1st, 2012


So, in less than a week, the Curiosity Rover will land on Mars, at approximately 1:30 AM on August 6th Eastern US Time. Cornell is doing a 'watch NASA TV with the local Mars experts*' thing, but given the time (coverage extends from 11:30 PM on the 5th to 3 or 4 AM), I might stay home. Since, otherwise I'd probably end up sleeping on the couch in the grad student lounge. Which is not a bad place to sleep and sure beats my desk, but is less preferable than my bed. (Or, for that matter, my own couch.)

So, internet people, would there be interest in me hosting a Mars party over the Internet from 11:30 PM until I pass out at my desk? I have Skype and IRC, and could easily just hang out there and answer questions and make smartass comments about NASA TV (which is streaming over the web so you can watch NASA people try to figure out what to talk about, especially since who knows when the first pictures will come down**.)

* Probably Shoshe the grad student, since last time Dr. Squyres was on CNN instead.
** As soon as the rover lands, it'll send a 'I made it' signal to NASA, which we'll get 14 minutes later because the speed of light is finite and Mars is far away. Then we all cheer and toast Curiosity. But that's not a picture; it just means the rover did not make what we euphemistically call a 'hard landing'.

Pictures depend on when the rover can contact the satellites we have in Mars orbit and start dumping all the stuff it saved on the way down. I think the first picture it'll send is a thumbnail taken by the hazard cameras on the front of the rover, that handle the 'steer round the rocks' bit of rover driving automatically (but can also be used as low-res black and white pictures). Whether this comes on the first pass of the satellite or not depends on many things.
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May. 25th, 2012

Because all historical events should be commemorated in image macro form.

The ISS crew grabs the Dragon space capsule, making it the first commercial vehicle to be docked to the ISS. Here's Dragon and the ISS's robotic arm.

(Well, getting it berthed is in progress as I type...)

May. 18th, 2012

Heck, yeah, space travel!

So, tomorrow, if all goes well, SpaceX (a private aerospace company) will launch an uncrewed capsule which will dock with the International Space Station. This is the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS -- so far it's all been Space Shuttles and Soyuz crafts.

Now, when the Space Shuttle was slated to retire, the idea was that the US could pay private companies to pick up the slack. Which... well, I actually think it's a great idea. Basically, NASA should be encouraging private companies to take all the sweet technology developed from years of working for governments and see if they can make it commercially feasible without making it a flying deathtrap. Meanwhile, NASA can put more of its budget into building me more robots... I mean, doing new and innovating things in space exploration.

On the other hand, I would have liked the government to time it better, as the earliest commercial launch with actual humans on board isn't planned until 2015. (The US government has strong feelings about the safety of anything that will carry humans into space to visit their very expensive space station.)

Anyway, so, this launch tomorrow. NASA TV is covering it, and there's a 70% chance the weather will be good. It should be routine -- rocket goes up, drops off capsule, capsule orbits for a bit, catching up with the ISS and they dock. The Dragon capsule has been tested back in late 2010 and is the first commercial spacecraft to go up, orbit and come back down in one piece. Heck, only three nations have done this*.

Unfortunately, the launch is at 4:55 AM Eastern time, so I'm going to be asleep for it, probably. But you can watch a simulation here

* Plenty of stuff has gone up and not come down, or come down in little bits of space debris (preferably after it did its thing). But you really got to stick the landing in this business.

Jan. 26th, 2012

I have thoughts about Newt Gingrich

Well, yes, I have many thoughts. Some of which are full of colorful language. These thoughts in particular about his whole 'space program thing'.

So, for my non-American readers, the Republican Party is currently trying to decide who they want to run as the official Republican nominee for President in November. Most of my thoughts on the candidates involve 'gentlemen, your policies are 99% bigoted garbage that I think will be horrible for America, and you seem engaged in a contest to see who can be the worst human being'.

But, Newt Gingrich, in an effort to distinguish himself from Mitt Romney*, decided he was going to be all 'Space is awesome, you guys!'.  )

Jul. 8th, 2011

Happy birthday Neptune!

So, I promised you all a story, so hearken to my tale of the discovery of Neptune.

Uranus was discovered by observation -- William Herschel was poking around with his telescope and discovered something that was neither a comet nor part of the fixed stars. Neptune was first predicted by mathematics, then confirmed via observations. )

Jan. 1st, 2010

Hope all of you had a nice New Year's Eve. Ours was spent trying to stay awake and trying to figure out if any of the New Years programming was worth watching. Well, that and watching Fox and the local cable company square off -- they didn't get the contract renewed in time, so it was likely that Fox would go off the air at midnight*. Fox is using the fact that the local college team is playing in a bowl game in the evening as a bit of leverage, as people will be upset if they can't see the Gators play.

Plus, there was arguing over when the decade starts -- I kind of like [livejournal.com profile] swan_tower's suggestion based on Mesoamerican calendars. The last day of the month is the 'seating' of the next. The last five days of the year** -- which tended to annoy ancient people because 365 was hard to split up evenly, while 360 was so easy -- were the seating of the next year. So any XXX0 year would be the last year of the decade, and the seating year of the next decade.

It also seems like my caffeine tolerance has progressed enough that I can have tea after dinner when tired, as long as I don't overdo it. There were fireworks on the beach, as well. Earlier, during daylight, we walked along the beach to look at the birds and stuff. There was supposed to be a manatee handing out by the pier, but he had left. I did see sea turtles, though.

2009 and 2010 )

Speaking of interesting milestones, Spirit the rover is coming up on six years on Mars on the 3rd. Though it's still stuck in a sand dune and two wheels are broken. Its sister-rover, Opportunity will have its six-year milestone later in January, and is currently cruising south to look at another crater. The New Horizons mission crossed the distance halfway mark on the 29th -- it is now closer to Pluto than it is to Earth, though its time halfway mark is later. (It slows down as it coasts away from the Sun, just like a ball thrown upward -- except this ball got a kick from Jupiter, so it's never coming back down towards the Sun.)

* Turns out that they decided to let it sit for a couple of hours.
** Or six, for leap years.
*** Though right now, my shoulder has been unhappy with me -- I must have did something on Tuesday to it. If it's still hurting when I get back to New York, I'm going to have to call into the Health Center and have someone check to rule out anything I need to be in a cast for, or need set.

Nov. 11th, 2008

A moment of silence...

I nearly typed 'a moment of science', which could be appropriate, but far more than a moment will be needed.

Mars Phoenix Lander has fallen silent

The Phoenix lander was sent to the Martian Arctic to look at the ice there, one of the places where we knew there would be water on Mars. It practically landed on a patch of ice, and was able to spend five months (longer than the 90-days most Mars missions are planned for) analyzing the ice and soil it found, watching the weather and so on. We already know some new things about Mars from Phoenix, and no doubt more will be learned as scientists pore over the data.

But, a solar-powered spacecraft was not meant to survive the Arctic winter, even on Earth. Phoenix had it worse, as things got cold enough to crack its circuits, it needed to have more power to heat the spacecraft. The attempts to prolong the spacecraft life by turning off everything slowly were all for naught when a combination of a storm and the worsening conditions knocked Phoenix for a loop. It flailed for a bit, using its daily dose of power to try to re-contact Earth through our satellites around Mars, but eventually fell silent on 2nd November. Yesterday, NASA declared the mission dead, though they still were trying to contact the lander, and would continue through November.

I have to say, NASA could learn some thins about outreach from Phoenix as well -- it was given a voice through Twitter and even had some blog posts. The robot was given more personality than some people, and I'd far rather follow the Adventures of Phoenix Lander, not to mention Spirit and Opportunity Rovers and the Cassini Orbiter and New Horizons than the gossip-rag celebrities. Yes, I am a sucker for cute robots -- I'm in the right line of work for it. (Now, if they could do something with NASA TV that made it worth watching beyond for a launch or landing.)

Goodnight, sweet prince, and may flights of angels sing you to your rest.

(In other cool news, I learned from Ryan that they can now forecast weather on Mars enough to tell Spirit to suspend operations while there's a dust storm.)
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May. 26th, 2008

More on Phoenix (Or, how I spent my Memorial Day Weekend)

So, the Phoenix Landing party we had at Cornell had packed the largest room in the astronomy building -- to the point where we were out of chairs, despite the building manager digging out our supply of folding chairs. This is a room we can fit the entire Astronomy Department in, for the record. Briony and Ryan were even interviewed for the local paper, since Dr. Bell and Dr. Squyres were out of town -- in Dr. Squyres' case, it was because CNN wanted to interview him for the landing. Heck, half the people we had for the landing came back to see the first pictures come down, about an hour and a half later.

Cut for coolness. And also Mars! )

In more mundane news, I've cleaned my apartment, except for my closest, craft corner, and the pile of summer clothing by my bed. I also discovered another cat that will eat bread -- in addition to my mother's cat, Geno, Dr. Haynes's cat, Gigi decided she was going to tear open the bag of rolls and take little cat-sized bites out of one.

Jan. 17th, 2008

Sexy, Sexy Mercury

So, MESSENGER (with caps because it's a Cute NASA Acronym -- stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging probe) did its first flyby of Mercury this week, and we got some cool pictures, including parts of Mercury we've never seen before.


There is Education beneath here )