MSL Sky Crane on Scientific American’s Guest Blog

Regular readers of Vintage Space will know that I’m fascinated by landings – the challenges of both landing on Earth and on other planets. Within this latter vein, I’ve lately become completely mesmerized with the Mars Science Laboratory’s (MSL’s) Sky Crane. Finally, I’ve found a fantastic outlet for an article I’ve been wanting to write for months about the Sky Crane, where it came from, and how it works. With this pieces, I’m very pleased to be a contributing member to the Scientific American’ Guest Blog! Check out the full article, which includes a video of MSL’s recent launch, on Scientific American’s website. (Pictured, the Sky Crane lowering the SUV-sized rover Curiosity to the surface of Mars. Don’t you want to know all about it?)


NASA’s First Interplanetary Journey: Venus

Venus has always held a certain fascination for sky-gazers. It’s the brightest object aside from the Sun and the Moon and it’s been named for three goddesses of love: the Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, and the Babylonian Ishtar. As naked eye astronomy and myth gave way to scientific observation, Venus took on a different personality. Early Earth-based observations suggested it was a younger world and a tropical paradise, but better technology revealed it was hot and carbon dioxide rich. But there’s no better way to learn about a planet than to visit it. (Left, an artist’s concept of Mariner 2 – the first interplanetary spacecraft.)

In 1967, NASA developed a mission to send men to Venus. But before getting into the proposed manned mission, it’s worth stepping back to look at the state of NASA’s knowledge of Venus and its understanding of the interplanetary space a mission would have to go through to get there. Before this manned mission proposal, NASA had only sent one mission to Venus – Mariner 2.  Continue reading “NASA’s First Interplanetary Journey: Venus”

Vintage Space Fun Fact: First Words of the Second Landing

There must have been immense pressure on Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon. Not just about setting the Lunar Module (LM) down safely or walking on the moon’s surface. The whole world was listening. If he tripped over his first words on the lunar surface, it could be a public relations mess. He didn’t. “One small step for man, one giant leap for man kind” has become one of the most recognized and appropriated phrases. For the second mission to land on the moon, Apollo 12, the pressure was less. But the world was still watching. To mark the occasion, Commander Pete Conrad gave the world somewhat less awe-inspired first words. (Left, Conrad on the Moon. November 19, 1969.) Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: First Words of the Second Landing”

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Rorschach Tests

When faced with a Rorschach test – the famous inkblots cards that are supposed to give a psychologist deep insight into your psyche – how are you supposed to answer? For the Mercury astronaut candidates, they knew their answers could make or break their careers. Most read the cards as truthfully as possible while others gave answers they assumed the doctors wanted. Pete Conrad took a different approach. (Left, Conrad enjoys down time during water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. September 1969.) ‘Vintage Space Fun Facts’ are a new feature. These occasional shorter articles will be a great way to share the anecdotes and human stories I come across in my research.  Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: Rorschach Tests”

Carnival of Space #223

It’s been a busy week for space blogs, so we’ve got a packed Carnival of Space. Let’s look at what’s been going on in my favourite way: starting from way out in deep space and coming all the way back home to Earth. (Fun vintage space picture of the day: the Apollo 1 crew relaxes in a pool during egress training. That looks like a fun day at work!) Continue reading “Carnival of Space #223”

The Problems of Simulating Mars on Earth

The psychological stress of spaceflight has always been a concern. One of the reasons there was so much banter during Apollo missions was because NASA was worried that if the astronauts stopped moving and had an opportunity to really think “I’m standing on the moon!” they would panic. But no one can generate banter for a mission lasting more than 500 days, especially when there is an increasing delay in communications. A crew going to Mars will need to have the mental stability – both as individuals and as a group – to maintain their own sanity and mentally survive going to Mars.  (Left, the Mars 500 Crew in May, 2011.)

This was the goal of the recent Mars 500 study, a joint project of the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Six men were isolated and confined to a mock spacecraft for five hundred and twenty days. The purpose was to  simulate a Martian mission and gauge the participants’ psychological reactions to the mission – simulations are another fascination of mine. Mars 500 “landed” back on Earth on November 4, so it’s still too early to know the long-term effects of the mission. But it’s not too early to question wether or not it was an effective measure of human factors on a long-duration planetary mission, or if there even is an effective way to test man’s psychological reaction to a trip to Mars.  Continue reading “The Problems of Simulating Mars on Earth”

Pluto: It’s Still Out There

My recent post on the history of Pluto got me thinking about why I’m more interested in the story of Pluto than the ongoing debate about its status. I decided to look at some of the bigger and more common issues surrounding Pluto that pop up online – Pluto bloggers, message boarders, and online societies looking to save Pluto. Their arguments vary from the scientific to the ridiculous. The original article can be found at, but I thought it would make a good complement to my last post, so I’ve reblogged the article here and added a few pro-Pluto comics that have been making their way around the internet lately. (Left, Pluto. Still at home in the solar system.) Continue reading “Pluto: It’s Still Out There”