For the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, the BBC World Service produced an excellent podcast called 13 Minutes to the Moon, based on interviews and recordings from the people who were there including Michael Collins, Jim Lovell and Poppy Northcutt who was the first woman to work as an engineer in an operational support role in NASA’s Mission Control.
To commemorate the amazing story of Apollo 13, there’s now a second season of programmes which reports on the events as they unfolded. Using both new interviews, archive material and recordings from the time, the episodes tell the story of what happened 200,000 miles from Earth when an oxygen tank exploded in the command module, Odyssey, leaving the spacecraft critically damaged. The interviews with the people who were there are just incredible, including Jim Lovell, his wife Marilyn, Fred Haise, Ken Mattingly and the team in Mission Control. Sadly the third member of the crew, Jack Swigert died in 1982.
As an aside, I was very surprised to discover that the film Apollo 13 is 25 years old now. I watched it recently and it holds up well – the launch sequence is phenomenal.
Photo credit: NASA. Scans by NASA and Ed Hengeveld.
It’s been 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the Sea of Tranquillity and there are many commemorative events coming up to the anniversary on 21st July.
As expected, NASA is celebrating and there’s a whole raft of information and historical footage on a special Apollo 50th section of its website. I particularly like the mission audio that’s presented day-by-day. Listen to day 5 from about 6 mins in for the last few seconds of the descent and as the lunar module lands you hear the immortal words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”
On the watch side, Omega’s Speedmaster Professional is forever associated with space exploration, visiting the moon six times – it’s not called the Moonwatch for nothing. To mark the event, there’s the Apollo 11 Anniversary edition in gold and red. Kind of pricey, mind you.
At the cheaper end of the market, i.e. free, the BBC World Service is joining in on the celebrations with 13 Minutes to the Moon, a series of radio programmes and podcasts based on interviews and recordings from the people who were there including Michael Collins, Jim Lovell and, Poppy Northcutt who was the first woman to work as an engineer in an operational support role in NASA’s Mission Control.
The first episode is available on 13 May but there are a few teasers in the podcast feed already. Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer has done the theme music. This is going to be epic.
NASA is inviting social media users to apply for credentials to attend the launch of the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, aboard United Launch Alliance’s Delta II rocket. The rocket will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California. The target date is no earlier than September 12, 2018.
Attendees at NASA’s ICESat -2 Launch Social at Vandenberg will have the chance to post, blog, tweet, Instagram, snap and more to engage their followers on social media. A maximum of 50 social media users will be selected to attend, and will be given access to similar news media.
NASA Social participants will have the opportunity to:
- Participate in a special televised pre-launch briefing
- Witness the last launch of the Delta II rocket
- Speak with ICESat-2 mission scientists and engineers
- View and take photographs of the Delta II rocket on the launch pad
- Tour facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base
- Interact with NASA social media managers and fellow space & Earth science enthusiasts
Those who are interested can register on the NASA website. Registration opened on July 6, 2018, and will close at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 22, 2018. You must have a social media account to register.
You must be a U.S. citizen to attend the event. To be admitted to the event, you must provide a form of unexpired government-issued identification. It must be a photo ID and match the name provided on the registration. Visit the NASA website for more information.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is in the process of being returned to full activity after undergoing a precautionary stand-down during the July 4th weekend. Its mission has been extended.
The rover put itself into safe mode on July 2, 2016, and engineers are working to determine what caused it to do that. While in safe mode, the rover ceased most of its activities, with the exception of keeping itself healthy and following a prescribed sequence for resuming communications.
The engineers have determined, based on preliminary information, that an unexpected mismatch between the rover’s camera software and data-processing software in the main computer, could potentially be the reason why the rover went into safe mode.
The Curiosity Mars Rover was launched on November 6, 2011. It landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and is still there. The goal of its mission is to determine if Mars was ever able to support microbial life.
NASA has approved an additional two-year extension of the Curiosity rover’s mission. That mission will begin on October 1, 2016. The Mars Science Laboratory developed and operates Curiosity. That team will be working on the near-term steps towards having Curiosity resume full activities, which begins with a request for more diagnostic information from the rover.
Mission Juno was launched on August 5, 2011. It arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Google created a special Google Doodle about it called “Juno reaches Jupiter!” Not all Google Doodles are animated, but this one is.
The Juno spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida about five years ago. The principal goal of Mission Juno is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.
Some of the things Juno will do include:
* Investigate the existence of a solid planetary core
* Map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field
* Measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere
* Observe Jupiter’s auroras
Juno reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Over the next few months, Juno’s mission and science teams will perform final testing on the spacecraft’s subsystems, final calibration of science instruments, and some science collection. Their official science collection phase will begin in October.
NASA released a video of Juno’s approach to Jupiter:
The Juno spacecraft also carries three Lego minifigs. One represents the Roman god Jupiter, who holds a lightning bolt. Another represents Juno, (Jupiter’s wife). She is holding a magnifying glass as a sign for searching for truth. The third minifig represents Galileo Galliei, who holds a telescope. Each of these three special Lego minifigs is made out of aluminum (which can endure the extreme conditions of space).
Supersonic (traveling faster than the speed of sound) flight has been possible for about 70 years. The auditory results of cracking the sound barrier are sometimes heard (and felt) in the form of sonic booms. But what does it look like when an object reaches Mach 1? Often, aircraft are photographed with a visible plume of moisture erupting around them when they reach supersonic speeds. But that’s just part of the picture, as NASA observed with a recent photographic experiment.
NASA used an unlikely process to capture images of supersonic shockwaves created by an Air Force T-38C test plane. Researchers employed a 150-year old technique called schlieren photography. Wikipedia describes this style of photography as:
…a visual process that is used to photograph the flow of fluids of varying density. Invented by the German physicist August Toepler in 1864 to study supersonic motion, it is widely used in aeronautical engineering to photograph the flow of air around objects.
Having access to plenty of modern technology and techniques, NASA used an updated version of this technique called background oriented schlieren (BOS):
First, researchers obtain an image of a speckled background pattern. Next, they collect a series of images of an object in supersonic flow in front of the same pattern. Shock waves are deduced from distortions of the background pattern resulting from the change in refractive index due to density gradients. This method requires very simple optics and a variety of background patterns, including natural ones, may be used. The complexity with this method is in the image processing and not the hardware or positioning, thus making BOS an attractive candidate for obtaining high-spatial-resolution imaging of shock waves in flight.
Detailed explanations of the project (and a few more images) are available at the link above.
Image credit: NASA
NASA has been branching out on social media. It has two verified Twitter accounts. One is @NASA and the other is for the International Space Station @Space_Station. You can also find Twitter accounts for several astronauts. NASA has recently created some Tumblr blogs.
The main NASA Tumblr blog is called NASA. It says “Explore the universe and discover our home planet with the official NASA Tumblr.” At the time I am writing this, the NASA Tumblr blog has a video about the first veggies grown, harvested, and eaten in space at the top of its blog.
There is also a Curiosity Rover Tumblr. The description says “Roving Mars for science. Blogging it for you. Official NASA mission Tumblr”. It has images taken by the Mars Rover (including a selfie). This Tumblr blog also has information about Mars and a link to the recent Curiosity Rover Reddit AMA.
NASA has a third Tumblr blog called Astronaut Peggy Whitson. It has photos and information about the NASA Village. The description says “It takes a NASA Village … to train an astronaut.” This Tumblr blog will follow Peggy Whitson as she trains for a six-month mission on the International Space Station.