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.
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 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.)
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” →
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.)
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” →
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?)
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” →
This week, three people have approached me wondering why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. My brief explanation of “it doesn’t meet the characteristics of a planet” didn’t set too well; they grew up with Pluto, they want it back! They want their children to grow up with Pluto! I realized after these exchanges that although the fate of Pluto has been a news feature since it’s contestation began a little over a decade ago, not many people know the details behind the decision. Each of the people I spoke to this week suggested I explain the story in more complete detail on my blog. As so, by request: a brief history of the outer planets and the rise and fall of Pluto. (Left, Pluto.) Continue reading “The Life and Times of Pluto” →
Last month, amateur British astronomer Nick Howes announced that he will soon take up the hunt for Snoopy – not the cartoon Beagle whose mission will always be to take down the Red Baron in a dogfight, but Apollo 10’s lunar module of the same name. The ascent stage of the spacecraft was sent into orbit around the sun after it had served its purpose, and its thought to still be out there. Armed with his astronomer’s tool kit – namely looking for a moving dot against a background of stars – and a knowledge of the area where Snoopy might be, Howes hopes to recover the lost artifact of the Apollo program. (The Apollo 10 crew pats their mascot on the nose on their way out to the launch pad. 1969.)
Howes might accomplish something else, too: he might reignite interest in one of the most commonly overlooked missions of the Apollo program. Apollo 10 rarely makes an appearance in the history books. More often that not it is mentioned in passing, lumped into the pre-Apollo 11 missions that form the stepping stone to the moon. And so I thought I’d tell its story in a little more detail – and Snoopy’s while I’m at it. This probably won’t be news to anyone who has studied the space program in detail, but for the more casual reader, I hope this illustrates just how interesting the Apollo missions that didn’t land on the moon really were. (Right, Snoopy after the Red Baron gunned him down.) Continue reading “Even Moon Landings Need Dress Rehearsals” →