This is really bad….
Apparently the NASA Juno probe
couldn’t use a real-time operating system
because it’s Io bound.
Thanks to @marnanel for that gem.
I found an interesting info-graphic today while browsing one of my favorite science blogs – Bad Astronomy, run by astronomer, author, and debunker of woo, Phil Plait. As everyone has probably heard, SETI, the “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” is being shut down. The issue was budget-related. To be fair, Phil got this from the Microcosmologist blog. A portion of the image is shown below, but you really need to click it and view the whole thing for full effect.
The cost of SETI operations is $2.5 million per year, or the cost of 5 Tomahawk missile. And, from that starting point, costs just spiral out of control. I ask you all, if you believe in this program, then read what both links I provided have to say.
Check out the info-graphic that displays what we spend elsewhere. Sure, things like national-defense are necessary. But, when $1 from every Starbucks customer could fund such great science for years, is that really too much to ask? When a single bank executive could fund SETI with walking-around money, is that too much to ask? Google could fund this project without even missing the money. Hint to any Google execs who read this blog…
Are we alone? It seems unlikely in a universe so vast. Can we find ET? Again, in a universe so vast… But, without SETI, then one of our best chances will disappear. And that, I think, is a real shame. Perhaps SETI needs to sign up for KickStarter….
To conclude our short series of posts on Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit of the Earth in Vostok 1 fifty years’ ago, I thought I might put together a few of the best links that I’ve found on the web for those who want to know more about Yuri and his historic flight.
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments.
Continuing the celebration of Yuri Gagarin’s orbit of the Earth in Vostok 1 back in 1961, First Orbit is a documentary film that joins archive footage of the event with modern shots taken from the International Space Station (ISS). The filmmaker, Christopher Riley, collaborated with the European Space Agency to see if it would be possible to film the same view across the planet that Gagarin saw out of the window of his tiny spacecraft. As you might guess, it was possible, and by filming at particular time on a particular orbit, astronaut Paolo Nespoli captured a re-creation of that historic flight.
The film unfolds in real-time and includes Gagarin’s original communications with ground control, call sign Dawn. Fortunately there are English subtitles if your Russian is a bit rusty. There’s a stirring soundtrack by Philip Sheppard and it’s really quite mesmerising to watch. You almost forget that it happened 50 years ago and the real-time nature of it makes it feel that it’s unfolding as you watch.
The film is available on YouTube (below) but you can also freely download it in a variety of sizes. I’d recommend downloading the 1.9 GB hi-def version, and putting on the big TV. Set aside 108 minutes and become Yuri.
As you’ll know from all the coverage, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic first orbit of the Earth by a human. Back in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, it was a demonstration of superiority by one superpower over another rather than any altruistic motive that sent him into space.
Regardless of how it was viewed then or now, I can’t help but feel we’ve let Yuri down. In the fifty years since then, human exploration has travelled no further than the moon and that was done in the immediate decades after his orbit. There’s no doubt that we extensively use space-based satellites for telecommunications, GPS and a myriad of other functions. And yes, the International Space Station is a remarkable achievement. But we haven’t really gone anywhere.
Let’s look at this another way. In December 1903, the Wright brothers made the first human flight. By the 1930s, there were commercial transatlantic flights and jet airliners took over the route in 1958. So in approximately 50 years, flight went from 850 feet in 1 minute to thousands of miles at hundreds of miles per hour.
The comparison with space travel doesn’t look so good.
I understand well the arguments between human and machine space travel. The latter does give better bang-for-buck and machines can go places that we could not. But has the “PlayStation generation” become so ingrained in our psyche that we have to travel by remote control? Is there still no imperative “to boldly go”?
George Mallory, the mountaineer was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. “Because it’s there” was his reply. His journey wasn’t about the accumulation of scientific knowledge, it was about personal conquest and fighting against the odds. And it ultimately cost Mallory his life.
Physics fights against us. We like our explorers to come back and tourists want a return ticket, but this makes exploration twice as hard as the round trip isn’t always easy to achieve. But I bet you that if NASA offered one way tickets to Mars, there would be no shortage of volunteers.
I’m sure Yuri Gagarin would be disappointed with how little we have achieved now and how little we expect to achieve in the coming years for human space exploration. Regrettably we can’t ask him as he died in 1968 before we reached the moon. Yuri, thanks for freeing us from Earth back in 1961 and I’m sorry we let you down.
This is Real Art was commissioned in 2009 by the satellite operator SES- Astra to document the build of a new bird, the Astra 3B, at their factory in France and its subsequent launch. Collaborating with photographer Simon Norfolk, they’ve produced a stunning series of photographs, a brochure and seven documentaries that show the commerical side of space.
If you want to go on the same journey as they did in producing the material, the best way is to follow their blog articles to the finished products.
Those of us in the UK of a certain age will no doubt recognise the film narrator Johnny Ball, who presented the science television programmes on the BBC when we were younger.
Photos copyright SES Astra, This Is Real Art & Simon Norfolk.
Taken by a tiny camera module launched from IKAROS, the photo was transferred from the camera module to the probe and then on back to earth.
For those not up on what’s going on here, the concept is that a spacecraft can be accelerated slowly by the pressure of photons (light) hitting a solar sail. The idea’s been around for years but no-one’s really been able to test it out.
Amazingly the sail is not kept rigid by booms or struts but rather by the centripetal forces created by tiny masses on the edges of the sail as the craft rotates. JAXA is also going to see if the spacecraft can be steered by adjusting the angle of the sail relative to the sun. There’s a video of the sail technology here. It’s in Japanese but you’ll get the gist.
In earth orbit, satellites can use the concept to reduce their fuel costs maintaining orbit. In theory, spacecraft could travel between solar systems, using the sail to accelerate away from one and on arrival, decelerate using the same technique. Obviously, to achieve any significant acceleration, you’re going to need a really big sail.
It’s science-fiction made real!
The BBC reports that the a team of scientists from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy have found three new species of tiny creatures living over 2 miles down in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s so deep and dark there’s almost no oxygen whatsoever and although only 1mm in size, this is the first time that anything other than bacteria have been found in such places.
Although it wasn’t possible to bring the creatures to the surface alive, eggs from them have been successfully hatched in an oxygen-free environment. The leader of the team admits that it’s a complete mystery as to how these creatures survive and more research will be needed. It’s likely that there’s some kind of animal-microbe relationship but it’s otherwise unclear.
I find this story interesting on two levels. The first is that we’re still making discoveries about the world around us simply by looking. For sure this was far down in the ocean but it’s not really far down – the Marianas trench is about 7 miles deep. Secondly, the implications for different forms of life on both this planet and others is significant, given that multi-cellular life without oxygen now appears to be possible.
Every day’s a new adventure…
The Science Museum, London, is celebrating a century of science and as part of the festivities, it asked visitors to vote for the scientific discovery or invention that most “changed the future”. The ten objects it put forward were:
1. Apollo 10 Capsule
2. DNA Double Helix
3. Electric Telegraph
4. Model T Ford
6. Pilot ACE Computer
7. Steam Engine
8. Stephenson’s Rocket
9. V2 Rocket Engine
10. X-ray Machine
And the winner was……the X-ray Machine, beating penicillin and the DNA double helix into 2nd and 3rd place respectively. The discovery of X-rays in 1895 by Wilhelm Roentgen started a new era of medical diagnosis allowing medics to see inside living people without relying on surgery. Today, the descendants of these first X-ray machines can almost measure what we think.
Amazingly, the particular X-ray machine shown was developed at home in under a year by Russell Reynolds while he was still at school. He was assisted by his father, a general practitioner, and another inventor William Crookes.
Although some doctors were quick to pick up on the new invention it wasn’t until the 1920s that X-ray machines were widely used in medicine.
Making The Modern World is a complementary web site containing over a hundred scientific discoveries which helped shape civilisation. Worth a browse.
What inventions today will have such an impact when we look back from 2109?