The greatest space flight hacks to date

Thursday, 14 August, 2014

Photo by NASA

We all know that the Apollo 13 Moon mission was essentially one long space flight hack that returned the crew safely home, but there have been other instances of space missions going awry for one reason or another, even if the problems have not been of quite the same severity.

In April 1985, nine months before the Challenger disaster, the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery deployed the satellite Leasat-3. With the shuttle doors open, it drifted away. But within minutes it was clear that something was wrong: the satellite’s antennae had failed to deploy. Rather than abandon the $85m satellite, the crew set to work putting together a less-than-sophisticated device that could be used to poke the satellite to activate a lever on its side. Dubbed the “fly swatter”, this improvised space stick was constructed using clear plastic covers from spacecraft manuals, sticky tape and a metal pole.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

A totally partial eclipse of the Sun as seen on Mars

Thursday, 31 July, 2014

Phobos eclipses the Sun, image via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Even though Phobos and Deimos, the two moons – or captured objects as I think of them – of Mars, aren’t especially sizable, solar eclipses, all be they partial, seemingly, still take place. Above is a photo, taken by NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, about a year ago, of a Phobos/Sun occultation.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Pluto, what we know now is not what we’ll know in twelve months

Tuesday, 22 July, 2014

NASA’s New Horizons space probe is now only one year out from its scheduled encounter with former planet Pluto, in the outer reaches of the solar system.

While astronomers have gleaned much information about the distant dwarf planet from Earth based telescopes, it is likely a fair bit of what we know, or think we know, will be turned on its head as New Horizons draws closer. In fact, far from coming up with answers, the abundance of new data brought forth will likely only pose even more questions.

New Horizon’s Pluto visit will transform the science of this small body in a matter of weeks, and it will likely take a long time before all of the data it provides will be unpacked. The only thing that would truly surprise the science team at this point would be if they find no surprises on Pluto, said Stern. It’s a safe bet to assume the probe probably won’t be definitively answering scientific questions so much as raising interesting new problems and providing researchers with many decades of mysteries.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Photos of a tilt-shifted universe

Thursday, 17 July, 2014

Image via Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, STScI

If the images collected by the Hubble Space Telescope were taken with a camera with a tilt-shift lens, this is what they might look like.

Via MetaFilter.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Venus would be a fine place to live… if our heads were in its clouds

Monday, 14 July, 2014

As a people we be must seen as excessively keen to establish colonies on other planets in the solar system if a case is being made to do so on the anything-but-habitable Venus. Of course a base wouldn’t be on the surface, but rather some forty or so kilometres above, in a floating city no less, where conditions are said to be “Mediterranean”.

The second planet from the Sun might seem like a nasty place to build a home, with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere so dense it would feel like being submerged beneath 3000 feet of water. But the air on Venus thins out as you rise above the surface and cools considerably; about 30 miles up you hit the sweet spot for human habitation: Mediterranean temperatures and sea-level barometric pressure. If ever there were a place to build a floating city, this would be it.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

A guide to finding solid ground to stand on in the solar system

Wednesday, 9 July, 2014

Illustration by xkcd

Always good to know where one can locate some terra firma, so to speak, around the solar system… thanks to this surface area graphic from xkcd.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

The illustrated expedition of the 1835 to an inhabited Moon

Monday, 23 June, 2014

1835 illustration from The Sun

In 1835, The Sun, a New York newspaper, published a number of articles about the various lifeforms residing on the Moon.

Apparently it took several weeks until the series was exposed as a hoax.

While those hopeful of encountering an intelligent civilisation beyond the Earth must have been disappointed, the article series did bring forth a pleasing collection of illustrations depicting this… life on the Moon.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Mars, no planet for extroverts, or at least the voyage there that is

Monday, 23 June, 2014

If you’re an extrovert, and wish to travel to Mars, it may be best to make the journey in hibernation, as your need to constantly socialise on the long voyage, in a what would be a relatively confined space, may grate upon the less out going members of the crew.

Lead researcher and DePaul University psychologist Suzanne Bell recently told an American psychological science conference other voyage participants may find extroverts too demanding and intrusive. “Their level of warmth may be undesirable in a confined setting,” Dr Bell said. “You’re talking about a very tiny vehicle, where people are in very isolated, very confined spaces. Extroverts have a little bit of a tough time in that situation.”

It doesn’t seem right that an entire crew consist only of introverts though, and I think more thought needs to be given to catering for differing personality types on long voyages in space.

Read more posts on related topics

, , ,

It may be cold as hell on Mars, but at least there’s no wind chill

Wednesday, 18 June, 2014

I’m always on the look out for reasons to move to Mars, in Mars One style, but to date there aren’t too many items on the list. The snowboarding may be ok, if there’s enough dry ice about, but that hardly makes for a compelling case for setting up base on the red planet.

And while Mars is much cooler than Earth, at least in its pre-terraformed state, it turns out there is next to no wind chill, so if you’re a snowboarder that may prove to be a bonus.

At Mars’s surface, atmospheric pressure is less than 1% that of air pressure on Earth at sea level. That’s about the same pressure as Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of 32 kilometers – or about 2.5 times the cruising heights of jet aircraft, Osczevski says. But air that thin doesn’t do a good job of carrying heat away, even when the winds are blowing at 100 kilometers per hour (as they sometimes do in the Red Planet’s global dust storms). In other words, he notes, on Mars the wind chill – the added cooling effect generated by air sweeping heat away from a body warmer than its environment – is almost nonexistent.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Travel through a wormhole looks to be as colourful as is imagined

Wednesday, 4 June, 2014

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that some astronomers think that what is thought to be a massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy may in fact be a wormhole. Wormholes, if they actually exist, allow travel from one point in space to another, far more distant, place.

So if such wormholes are for real, what then might travel through one of them be like? The Wormhole Actualization Machine, as built by Texas based software engineer Alan Watts, might give us an indication

Read more posts on related topics

, ,