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?)


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”

Before This Decade is Out: Robotic Mars Edition

Decades make great sales tools. Kennedy used a decade timeframe to sell American on the moon in 1961. Robert Zubrin recently tried the same pitch and called for a manned mission to Mars by the end of a decade (Zubrin’s been pitching a decade-long manned Mars program since the 1980s to no avail). A decade is a nice  round number, and when you’re at the start of a decade – like the year 1961 or 2011 – people (namely Congress and taxpayers) can easily contemplate the end of a decade as a timeframe. But it isn’t  only large-scale manned programs that use a round decade as a sales tool. Recently, the National Research Council’s Committee on Planetary Science in cooperation with NASA released an outline of its planetary goals for the coming decade. Where Mars in concerned, there is a pretty impressive program in the works from 2012 to 2023. But unlike the moon landing, bottomless funding isn’t going to achieve the goals at any cost. Instead, the next decade on Mars (pictured) will face certain challenges to meet the decadal goal.  Continue reading “Before This Decade is Out: Robotic Mars Edition”

Carnival of Space #216

Welcome to another installment of the Carnival of Space! Some neat things on the table this week, so let’s get to it. (Not exactly a hover craft, Dave Scott practices how to manoeuvre in anticipation of an EVA. If you look closely, it appears as though he’s doing this training in a shirt and tie. 1962.) Continue reading “Carnival of Space #216”

RATs and Monuments on Mars

In a previous post, I made the comment that I don’t necessarily think humans ought to colonize other planets; at least, not until we know a lot more about the environment upon which we intend to force ourselves. Manned exploration is another story. Sending men to another planet to survey the environment is much simpler than trying to replicate a man’s honed skills and keen mind in a machine – aside, of course, from the challenges associated with getting him there in the first place. Such tools exist on the recently silent Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity. But the rover’s tools serve an unlikely second purpose. They stand as a tribute to those lost during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. (Left, MER rover Spirit captures its own shadow. Mars, 2004.) Continue reading “RATs and Monuments on Mars”

Carnival of Space #211

Another week ends another Carnival of Space begins! A lot of great writers bringing great articles to the table, so let’s get started. (My unrelated fun photo offering: X-15 pilots enjoy a lighter moment during the program – I guess you can only clown around so much when dealing with this level of technology. Mid-late 1960s.)

Continue reading “Carnival of Space #211”

Nukes in Space

In previous posts, I’ve talked about some of the challenges associated with a proposed manned mission to Mars, particularly the difficulty of landing on the red planet. But getting men to Mars is also difficult, although not impossible.Transit time for a mission to Mars is measured in months instead of days; the fastest transit is currently in the neighbourhood of 180 days or six months. For robotic landers and rovers, this transit time poses no great challenge. As long as batteries can keep the mechanical joints and systems from freezing, a robot doesn’t mind the wait.  (Pictured, an artist’s rendition of a nuclear pulse rocket nearing Jupiter.)

A manned mission is another story. Keeping that crew alive and in good physical form complicates a trip to Mars; its not as simple as providing the astronauts with a heat source. Six months is a long time for a crew to sit and wait in a small cramped spacecraft, exposed to radiation and in a zero-gravity environment.  There are ways to protect the astronauts with radiation shields and spinning the spacecraft to create enough gravity to prevent or at least limit the effects of muscular atrophy. But the best way to overcome the challenges of getting men to Mars is to simply shorten the transit time. This isn’t a new idea, it’s one NASA has been researching for over 50 years. The favoured method is a nuclear rocket.  Continue reading “Nukes in Space”