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Posts Tagged ‘NASA

“Fly me to the moon”*…

 

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Do you long to go to space? With space tourism stalled and NASA’s Mars mission years away, you probably won’t be able to get up close and personal with Earth’s neighbors any time soon. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience them, thanks to two new 360-degree views of Mars and the Moon…

Take 360-Degree Tours of Mars and the Moon.”

* Frank Sinatra (lyric from Bart Howard’s composition, originally titled “In Other Words”)

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As we sample the cheese, we might send high-flying birthday greetings to Octave Chanute; he was born on this date in 1832.  A civil engineer who was a pioneer in wood preservation, primarily as applied in the railroad industry, he is better remembered for his application of these techniques first to box kites, then to the struts in the wings of gliders.  Through thousands of letters, he drew geographically-isolated aviation pioneers– including Orville and Wilbur Wright– into an informal international community: he organized sessions of aeronautical papers for the professional engineering societies that he led; attracted fresh talent and new ideas into the field through his lectures; and produced important publications.  At his death he was hailed as the father of aviation and the heavier-than-air flying machine.

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Written by LW

February 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

“To declare that Earth must be the only planet with life in the universe would be inexcusably bigheaded of us”*…

 

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If any intelligent life in our galaxy intercepts the Voyager spacecraft, if they evolved the sense of vision, and if they can decode the instructions provided, these 116 images are all they will know about our species and our planet, which by then could be long gone…

When Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched into space in 1977, their mission was to explore the outer solar system, and over the following decade, they did so admirably.

With an 8-track tape memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket, the two spacecraft sent back an immense amount of imagery and information about the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

But NASA knew that after the planetary tour was complete, the Voyagers would remain on a trajectory toward interstellar space, having gained enough velocity from Jupiter’s gravity to eventually escape the grasp of the sun. Since they will orbit the Milky Way for the foreseeable future, the Voyagers should carry a message from their maker, NASA scientists decided.

The Voyager team tapped famous astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan to compose that message. Sagan’s committee chose a copper phonograph LP as their medium, and over the course of six weeks they produced the “Golden Record”: a collection of sounds and images that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth…

More (including an interactive decoding of the symbols on the disc) at “The 116 photos NASA picked to explain our world to aliens.”

And for an update on NASA”s attempts at interstellar communication, check here.

* Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Death By Black Hole

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As we contemplate co-habitation of the universe, we might send out-of-this-world birthday greetings to Alan B. Shepard; he was born on this date in 1923.  A naval aviator and test pilot, he was selected in the first class of American astronauts, the “Mercury Seven”; in 1961, he piloted the first American manned mission, “Freedom 7,” becoming the first American (and second man, after Yuri Gagarin) into space.  Ten years later, he was part of the Apollo 14 crew, piloting the lunar module for Nasa’s third successful moon landing.

Shepard during the “Freedom 7” flight

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Written by LW

November 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

“This is a credulous age, and the burden of knowledge which we now have to carry is partly responsible”*…

 

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This map, published by South Dakotan Orlando Ferguson in 1893, offers a unique vision of the Earth as a concave field, with a round convex area in the middle. Surrounded by Bible passages arguing against the idea of a spherical Earth and embellished with a small illustration of men grasping desperately onto a spinning globe, the map begs its viewers to order Ferguson’s book on “this Square and Stationary Earth,” which “knocks the globe theory clean out.”

Historian Christine Garwood writes that the idea that people in the medieval period believed in a flat Earth before Columbus roundly disabused the world of that notion is reductive. Some medieval thinkers realized the truth, and people have persisted in believing in a flat Earth far past the time of Columbus. “Flat-earth belief has a chronology far stranger than all the inventions,” she writes. The idea’s resurgence in the 19th century is part of that strangeness.

In the 19th-century United States, pamphleteers and authors of varying levels of credibility debated the flat-Earth theory vigorously. In an issue of the journal Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, published in 1896, the editors included Ferguson’s book in a list of other recent titles questioning the dominant scientific perspective on the nature of the globe. Some of these: Eclectic or Cosmo-Enspheric Astronomy: The firmament a hollow sphere, and we live inside of it (Ulysses G. Morrow, 1894); One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is Not a Globe (William Carpenter, 1885); and Terra Firma. The Earth Does Not Move. Is not a Globe (W.M. Herd, 1890)…

Explore further at “A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map.”

[Comics, courtesy of Dilbert.com]

* George Orwell, inspired to take up this topic by playwright George Bernard Shaw’s 1924 introduction to Saint Joan

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As we contemplate circumnavigation, we might send supersonic birthday greetings to Robert Rowe Gilruth; He was born on this date in 1913.  An aerospace scientist and engineer, Gilruth developed the X-1, the first plane to break the sound barrier, then directed NASA’s Project Mercury– via which he enabled John Glenn to become the first American to orbit the Earth–  and later, the Apollo and Gemini Programs.

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Written by LW

October 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The solar system is off center and consequently man is too”*…

 

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On a dry lake bed in Nevada, a group of friends build the first scale model of the solar system with complete planetary orbits: a true illustration of our place in the universe…

* Harlow Shapley, Through Rugged Ways to the Stars

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As we reach for the stars, we might recall that it was on this date in 1988 that NASA launched the space shuttle Discovery, marking America’s resumption of manned space flight following the 1986 Challenger disaster.  It was the first of Discovery‘s two “Return To Flight” assignments; it flew the “twin” missions in 2005 and 2006 that followed the Columbia disaster in 2003.

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Written by LW

September 29, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance”*…

 

Some guys spend their spare time restoring automobiles, devoting garage space to chocked-up Corvettes and Camaros.  Dave Pares, an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska- Omaha,  is making his own warp drive.

In theory, a warp drive contracts space in front of a space vessel and expands it at the back. The ship itself speeds along inside what is called a “warp bubble.”  As theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre explained in 1994, if such an artificial warping of space — essentially picking up a piece of fabric of space=time at two points and bringing them together — could be accomplished, it would allow a space ship to travel incredible distances incredibly quickly, while avoiding the speed-of-light problem.

NASA has explored the prospect, but been put off by the technical and financial challenges of developing the power source that it believes would be necessary.  But Pares believes he can accomplish warping with low power– indeed, with the voltage available in his garage.

So far, Pares seems primarily to have attracted the attention of UFO enthusiasts; NASA and academic journals have (more and less politely) turned him away.  But retired UN-O physics professor Jack Kasher is cautiously optimistic:

It is so far out there, he’s not going to get funding to do it. If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done in his garage…  A lot of people are going to flat-out dismiss it off the top, but I think he’s crossed some kind of bridge here, just showing this is possible with reasonable energy.  It wouldn’t surprise me if NASA latches on to this.

In any case, as Kasher notes, at a time when the scientific and technical mainstream had written off manned flight, the Wright Brothers took their first critical steps in their Ohio bike shop.

Read more at “Working toward a warp drive: In his garage lab, Omahan aims to bend fabric of space.”  See also: “No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive.”

C.F. also the warp drive’s bizarro twin: the EM Drive (which seems to work in practice… though it doesn’t work in theory).

* Orville Wright

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As we put on our helmets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that Britain’s first “launderette”– self-service, coin-operated laundry– opened on Queensway in London.  The very first coin-op laundry had opened in 1936 in Ft. Worth, Texas (where it was known for a time as a “washateria”).

While these self-service laundries are still known as launderettes in the U.K., they are now widely called “laundromats” in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand (a genericization of the trademark of the coin-op washers and dryers developed and sold by Westinghouse).

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Written by LW

May 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Outer space is so empty”*…

 

At the furthest-most reaches of the observable universe lies one of the most enigmatic mysteries of modern cosmology: the cosmic microwave background (CMB) Cold Spot.

Discovered in 2004, this strange feature etched into the primordial echo of the Big Bang has been the focus of many hypotheses — could it be the presence of another universe? Or is it just instrumental error? Now, astronomers may have acquired strong evidence as to the Cold Spot’s origin and, perhaps unsurprisingly, no multiverse hypothesis is required. But it’s not instrumental error either…

The Cold Spot area resides in the constellation Eridanus in the southern galactic hemisphere. The insets show the environment of this anomalous patch of the sky as mapped using PS1 and WISE data and as observed in the cosmic microwave background temperature data taken by the Planck satellite. The angular diameter of the vast supervoid aligned with the Cold Spot, which exceeds 30 degrees, is marked by the white circles.

 

More at “Mysterious ‘Cold Spot’: Fingerprint of Largest Structure in the Universe?

* Theodore Sturgeon

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As we boldly go, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that NASA launched the Ranger 4, the first U.S. spacecraft to reach another celestial body.  Ranger 4 was designed to transmit pictures to Earth and to test the radar-reflectivity of the lunar surface during a period of 10 minutes of flight prior to crashing upon the Moon, “rough-landing” a seismometer capsule as it did.  In the event, an onboard computer glitch caused failure of the solar panels and navigation systems; as a result the spacecraft crashed on the far side of the Moon three days after it’s launch without returning any scientific data.  Still, the “landing” was a first.

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 Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!

 

Written by LW

April 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth”*…

 

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If the range of habitable radii is sufficiently broad, most inhabited planets are likely to be closer in size to Mars than the Earth. Furthermore, since population density is widely observed to decline with increasing body mass, we conclude that most intelligent species are expected to exceed 300kg…

From the summary of University of Barcelona cosmologist Fergus Simpson‘s paper, “The Nature of Inhabited Planets and their Inhabitants” (which can be downloaded as a PDF here).

* Stephen Hawking

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As we phone home, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that the first weather satellite, TIROS I, was launched from Cape Kennedy (or Canaveral, as then it was) and sent back the first television pictures from space. The first in a long series of launches in the TIROS program (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), it was NASA’s initial step, at a time when the effectiveness of satellite observations was still unproven, in determining if satellites could be useful in the study of the Earth.  In the event, TIROS I and it successors proved extremely useful in weather forecasting.

TIROS I prototype at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

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Written by LW

April 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

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