The Upcoming Transit of Venus

This June, Venus is going to make a rare transit across the disk of the sun as observed from Earth. Transits of Venus are rare. They come in pairs eight years apart, but each pair is separated by 105.5 years or 125.5 years. The upcoming transit is the pair to one that occurred in 2004, so if you miss this one you won’t have a chance to see another until 2117.  (Left, three views of the 2004 transit.)

Since it’s highly unadvisable to look directly at the sun, watching a transit is best done with protective eye gear or by looking at the sunlight reflected off something. That’s what the Hubble Space Telescope is going to do. Like us, Hubble can’t look directly at the sun, so its going to observe the transit of Venus by measuring the light reflected off the Moon. It’s an amazing method, and the observations Hubble makes will go towards answering questions about our planet and our place in the Universe. Read the full story about Hubble’s plans for the transit of Venus at Discovery News.

Apollo 12’s Electrifying Launch

At 11:22 in the morning on Friday November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 launched from Kennedy Space Centre towards the Ocean of Storms on the near side of the Moon. It was a nominal launch, at least for the first 37 seconds. Then all hell broke loose, threatening to end the mission before it had even begun. (Left, the view of Apollo 12 on its Saturn V just before liftoff after NASA had committed to the launch. The dark skies and rainy weather are clearly visible in this shot.) Continue reading “Apollo 12’s Electrifying Launch”

NASA’s LRO: Shedding New Light on Old Mysteries

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter keeps finding interesting things on the moon. Last week, LRO’s camera photographed the landing sites of Luna 23 and 24, two Soviet probes that landed in the 1970s. The images have enabled scientists to solve mysteries about these missions, specifically what happened to Luna 23 and why the samples returned by Luna 24 were drastically different than anticipated. It seems these nearly 40-year-old missions are still unfolding. Read the full article on Motherboard. (Left, the Soviet Luna 16 spacecraft. One of many in the long-lasting program.)

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Animals in Space Before NASA

For most people, early biological testing in space brings to mind Ham the chimp, angrily trying to bit any hand that came near him after his suborbital flight on a Redstone rocket. But Ham was launched on January 31, 1961, nearly a decade after the first monkeys survive surborbital flights. Biological testing in space goes back even further. In the late 1940s, fruit flies became the first animals to survive exposure to spaceflight conditions. (Left, Ham ready for launch in 1961. The system in his capsule designed to reward or shock him for his inflight performance malfunctioned and he was shocked for pushing the right buttons. He was, understandably, irate.)  Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: Animals in Space Before NASA”

On Space

I’m very pleased to be a new contributing writer on Aviation Week and Space Technology’s blog On Space. My first article, which went live this morning, covers a story about the DynaSoar program that didn’t make it into my previous article here on Vintage Space. In 1961, Neil Armstrong was an engineering consultant on loan from NASA to the USAF to work on the program. He was tasked with, and succeeded in, developing the developing the launch abort manoeuvre for DynaSoar. (Left, a full scale mockup of DynaSoar in 1962. Image credit: Boeing.)

NASA’s Manned Mission to Venus

In the mid-1960s, NASA was already looking ahead to what it would do after the Apollo program. Where could the organization send astronauts after the moon that would make use of everything it had learned getting them to our satellite? What emerged was the Apollo Applications Program (AAP), a program designed to give the technologies generated from Apollo direction towards long term objectives in space. AAP goals were varied. They ranged from Earth orbital research, an extended and more permanent lunar exploration program, and manned planetary missions. Within this latter category, Mars was on the table but wasn’t the only target. In 1967, NASA looked at what it would take to send men to Venus (pictured).

Continue reading “NASA’s Manned Mission to Venus”

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?)