diy in spaaaace!

This by way of NASA Watch:

- Making Your Own Satellites by Chris Boshuizen – Build and launch your own sat for as little at $8,000
- Rocket Men by Charles Platt – Mavericks of the Private Space Industry
- Listening to Satellites by Diana Eng – Tune in to space with a homemade yagi antenna
- Weather Balloon Space Probes by John Baichtal – Sense, signal and snap photos in the stratosphere.
- High Resolution Spectrograph b Simon Quellen Field – Lab-worthy spectrum analysis for cheap
- Five Cool Participatory Space Projects by Ariel Waldman
- Cash Prizes for Space Scientists by John Baichtal – A summary of student and professional challenges
- Space Science Gadgets You Can Make for NASA – by Matthew F. Reyes
- Open Sourcing Space by Dale Dougherty

(picture from a totally unrelated site)

don’t forget to look up!

When I was 8, we were convinced that Skylab was going to land on us, but no such luck.

Anyway, if you’re keeping score at home, this rocket was used to launch the Chang’e 2.

blues for a red planet

Ms. Monstrrr and I have been working our way through Cosmos, which absolutely stands the test of time. Some of the science is a little outdated, but not very much. I credit Carl Sagan for my first experience of awe at the universe, and for much of my assumption that we will be going to space. I can’t imagine why it would be a controversial subject- it’s more like a logical and organic progression.

After watching the episode on Mars, it made me sad that Sagan wasn’t around to see all the exploration of Mars that’s happened since the mid 90′s. So who’s on Mars right now?

For starters, there are the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. They were designed for 90-day missions, but that was 2003 and they’re not dead yet. Spirit is in the deepest sleep it’s ever entered, from which it may not wake up, but Opportunity is still cruising along doing science.

Meanwhile, there are three active orbiters: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

It’s amazing that we have so much happening on Mars (and elsewhere) when so much of NASA is such a mess today. There’s a lot of politics going on about the future of human spaceflight as a NASA project. There’s also a fair amount starting to happen on the commercial side of human spaceflight, but the gap between the two is still huge. More on NASA politics one of these days.

life on mars? no! water on asteroids? yes!

The Sun, ever a bastion of journalistic credibility, ran a big story the other day making a pretty big claim:

NASA scientists last night unveiled compelling evidence of life on Mars.

A special mission to the Red Planet has revealed the likely presence of a form of pond scum – the building blocks of life as we know it.

Of course, the first thing to do when you see a sensational story in the Sun is to disbelieve it, and the second is to look for sources. Lots of people have re-posted this article as fact, or written other articles proclaiming OMG LIFE ON MARS !!!11!, but the only source they can refer to is the Sun.

Fortunately, my friend Mr. Google was able to provide a more reasoned account of the story:

It seems that there’s lots of gypsum and similar types of rock on Mars. Researchers have recently discovered that gypsum on Earth holds lots of microscopic fossils of ocean life:

The scientists said they are impressed by the unexpected discovery of 6-million-year-old fossils in rocks from a time when the Mediterranean Sea was known to have dried up completely.

During a NASA phone briefing Wednesday, J. William Schopf, director of the Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life at UCLA, said the fossil life forms include organisms much like those in the oceans of today – phytoplankton, diatoms, and cyanobacteria, better known in a non-ocean environment as “pond scum.”

So the findings on Earth give scientists a clue where to look for evidence of life on Mars. The Sun reporters (one of whom is listed as “Sun Spaceman”) seem to be a little confused about what was reported. The real story is how this affects future plans for Martian exploration:

It’s much more interesting to look at pictures of rocks when they’re ROCKS ON MARS:


Meanwhile, here’s an actual discovery that doesn’t sound as glamorous, but is pretty significant:

“For a long time the thinking was that you couldn’t find a cup’s worth of water in the entire asteroid belt,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Today we know you not only could quench your thirst, but you just might be able to fill up every pool on Earth – and then some.”

The general spin on this is that it might explain where the Earth’s water came from. More importantly, though, the need for water is one of the major obstacles to humanity getting off the Earth and into the rest of the system. On the other hand, I’ve seen what mining sites look like here. We’d better clean up our act a whole lot before we make our way to the asteroid belt.

This is also pretty interesting:

Do you know about the Oort cloud? It’s pretty awesome.


NASA scientists last night unveiled compelling evidence of life on Mars.

A special mission to the Red Planet has revealed the likely presence of a form of pond scum – the building blocks of life as we know it.

sea and space

Sea Shepherd vs. Japan, round 3- now under way:


And looking up a bit, Burt Rutan & co. unveiled their second generation space ship yesterday. This one is supposed to carry actual paying passengers in the next couple of years:

pirates and space

Two videos and a picture from the week….

And here’s a pretty neat video of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank falling to earth. Unfortunately, jettisoning the tank and allowing it to burn up in re-entry shows off one of the problems with NASA- the tank may not be nearly as valuable or clever as the shuttle, but it’s a pretty substantial piece of construction. Lots of people make noise about how useful the tanks would be in orbit- empty tanks could serve as structural elements for habitats or even (so they say) smaller spacecraft that don’t have to enter the atmosphere. This sounds like a good idea, but I’m not really a rocket scientist. Even if it doesn’t work, however, the mentality of disposable resources should have gone out with the cold war space race.

Oh, another NASA problem is boring announcers.

(by way of NASA Watch)

And finally, this. You should click for the full-sized picture.

NASA news

NASA still doesn’t have a director. I read a rumor somewhere that Obama was waiting for Bill Richardson to be cleared in whatever investigation he’s under, but that was unsourced and unverified. Meanwhile…

It’s always worth posting the NASA Watch entry instead of whatever article it links to:

“Apparently, the view of NASA’s acting Administrator is that the Moon is a box to be checked-off on the way to Mars. Hence, we don’t really need to establish an outpost because we’re just satisfying a political requirement in implementing policy, not conducting a technical experiment to use the Moon to prepare for journeys beyond.”

And today’s news:

NASA trouble

This first story is a week old, but still totaly accurate:

NASA is facing a critical deadline on whether to retire the space shuttle fleet, however, it still lacks an agency chief to make the $230 billion decision.

According to one presidential expert, NASA is so far off the White House radar, it might as well be on Pluto.

“As each day goes by, the need for these decisions becomes greater and greater, and the absence of an administrator becomes more and more an issue,” said John Logsdon, a member of the NASA Advisory Council and former Obama campaign advisor.

And more problems ahead:

So let’s look at some of the decisions that are (or aren’t) being made in  this climate:

“It is time to reconsider whether we want to go ahead with the Constellation program to place a base on the moon. Many of us in the space community would be eager to recreate the thrill of Apollo. However, from the public’s standpoint, going back to the moon in 2020 would not invoke the same sense of awe and inspiration it did 51 years earlier when it was a seemingly impossible task.”

The old men who run NASA are still stuck in the Apollo mentality. We’ve already gone to the moon out of hubris once, and after planting a flag and hitting a golf ball around, we couldn’t remember any good reason to stay there. Now they propose skipping the moon in favor of thrills and out-of-touch notions of inspiration.

Building a spacefaring civilization takes more than thrills and flag-planting. It takes the hard work of learning how to live and work in space. We’re not getting anywhere else for any useful purpose if we don’t use the moon as a stepping-stone.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on NASA alone.

pictures and video from spaaaace!

Backdropped by the blackness of space and the thin line of Earth’s atmosphere, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation.

By way of NASA Watch, here’s the shuttle flying around the ISS:

Jane Poynter and husband Taber MacCallum, Paragon CEO, are well known experts in the closed biological systems communities, and were themselves experimental subjects within a sealed ecosystem as resident scientists in the famous Biosphere 2 project of the early 90′s. Spending two years living with six others in a 3.2 acre greenhouse type structure in Oracle, Arizona, the largest closed system ever built, they emerged as a couple with a newly created company.

Growing the first plant on another world has enormous symbolic importance as well as important scientific research value for creating self contained lunar outposts and eventual settlements. “Plants have been grown in essentially zero gravity and of course in Earth gravity, but never in fractions of gravity,” said Dr. Volker Kern, Paragon’s Director of NASA Human Spaceflight Programs who conducted plant growth experiments in space on the US Space Shuttle. “Scientifically it will be very interesting to understand the effects of the Moon and one sixth gravity on plant growth.”

No pictures for this one, and all the better, really:

space roundup

Here’s a week’s worth of news from space:

Population in Space at Historic High: 13

Here’s the baker’s dozen breakdown of the three spaceships in orbit today [last Thursday, in fact- jfb]:

* Soyuz TMA-14: Three people aboard, including space tourist Charles Simonyi and the new Expedition 19 crew for the station which numbers two, a Russian and an American. Launched Thursday and will arrive at the station Saturday morning.
* Space Shuttle Discovery: Seven people aboard, returning from the space station after delivering the last pair of U.S. solar wings to the orbiting laboratory, boosting it to full power during their STS-119 mission. The shuttle is due to land Saturday in Florida to end a 13-day spaceflight.
* International Space Station: Currently home to three astronauts, one each from the United States, Russia and Japan. Two will return home April 7 with Simonyi to end their Expedition 18 mission.

Half an hour after Prometheus tore into this region of Saturn’s F ring, the Cassini spacecraft snapped this image just as the moon was creating a new streamer in the ring.The dark pattern shaped like an upside down check mark in the lower left of the image is Prometheus and its shadow. The potato shaped moon can just be seen coming back out of the ring.