Happy birthday to Neil Armstrong

Steve Jurvetson (of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson) posts this photograph of himself with "the true Armstrong hero," on the occasion of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong's birthday -- which was yesterday, August 5, same as mine! From Steve's post:

At Kelly's house, I had the chance to ask him a question about the first landing on the moon that provoked a response that seemed poignant and awe-inspiring.

I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? He had spoken about the frequently failing autopilot... the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out... the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby...

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Mars Rover mission team at JPL celebrates a birthday

Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)


One year ago today, a one-ton, SUV-sized spacecraft "blasted into the Mars atmosphere at more than 13,000 miles an hour, deployed a supersonic parachute, fired eight rocket engines, unfurled a giant sky crane and lowered itself to the Martian soil." PBS NewsHour's Jenny Marder has a post up today looking back at that incredible milestone. Yours truly was there, and it was an amazing thing to witness. (HT: Aileen Graef)

X-ray of a space suit

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The above image is an x-ray of an experimental space suit from 1968. This x-ray and others are on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum as part of "Suited for Space," a special exhibit about the history of astronaut outerwear. (via National Geographic)

Onion accurately predicts GOP opposition to anti-asteroid initiative


Congressional Republicans are fighting Obama's plan to put a base on the moon and use it to launch an asteroid-capture program which would give NASA some practice in deflecting future asteroid-strikes -- as well as setting the stage for more ambitious missions, such as one to Mars. This whole kerfuffle was predicted by the Onion, two years ago, in a story called "Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth."

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Jupiter layer cake


Cakecrumbs, creator of the amazing Earth Cake, has topped that marvel with a Jupiter layer cake whose layers reveal the theoretical makeup of the gas giant. Its multiple layers represent "a core comprised mostly of rock and ice... surrounded by a layer liquid metallic hydrogen, and the outer layer is composed of molecular hydrogen."

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Steampunk armada made from recycled plastic bottles

IZ Reloaded sez, "Spotted at Singapore Mini Maker Faire 2013! Using discarded plastic bottles, bits of old toys, disassembled computers and other recycled unwanted items, David Liew of the Sleeping Iron foundry has created an armada of steampunk inspired spaceships known as the Bottle Fleet. Each model has been sculpted and painted to the level similar to that of movie production models and miniatures."

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Maggie talking space exploration on KCRW's "To the Point"

I got to join in a great conversation yesterday on KCRW's "To the Point" with guest host Madeleine Brand and several people involved in the future of space travel — especially commercial space travel. I was there to talk about my recent NYT Magazine story on the risks of boredom in space, but the rest of the conversation was also great, ranging from the profit motives of space exploration to Brand's excellent questioning of the founder of Mars One.

The least desirable addresses in the Universe

Can I interest you in a summer home on COROT-7b? Sure, the estimated surface temperature is 4,580 degrees F, the year is only 20 hours long, and it's probably just lousy with volcanoes. But, when it rains on COROT-7b, it rains rocks. No takers? Just in case, you should check out Lee Billings' slideshow on fantastically horrible planets.

Video is a "waltz around Saturn"

Fabio Di Donato made this gorgeous video from photos of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft between 2004 and 2012. "Around Saturn"

Warp 0: Why warp drive technologies might never happen

Theoretical cosmologist Richard Easther has an interesting essay on the theoretical physics of warp drive technologies and why — despite the fact that they could work quite reasonably alongside relativity — they still might not ever make it to reality.

Toolbox on the International Space Station


British ISS astronaut Tim Peake has a Flickr gallery of pics of the drawers on an ISS toolchest, each an obsessive, knolled marvel of foam cutouts and the everyday life of a spaceperson.

ISS Toolbox (via Crazy Abalone)

Bezos Expeditions confirms recovered F-1 engine was Apollo 11

"44 years ago tomorrow Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and now we have recovered a critical technological marvel that made it all possible," says Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. One of the conservators working with his team to scan objects recovered from the sea floor near Cape Canveral, Florida, has made a new discovery: “2044,” stenciled in black paint on the side of one of the massive thrust chambers.

2044 is the Rocketdyne serial number that correlates to NASA number 6044, which is the serial number for F-1 Engine #5 from Apollo 11. The intrepid conservator kept digging for more evidence, and after removing more corrosion at the base of the same thrust chamber, he found it – "Unit No 2044" – stamped into the metal surface.

F-1 Engine Recovery Update, and more in our previous coverage of the recovery mission. [Bezos Expeditions]

Astronauts debate provenance of turd floating in Apollo 10


A declassified mission transcript from Apollo 10 (PDF) includes a passage in which the spacemen argue about whose turd is floating weightlessly through the capsule.

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

In the future, astronauts might play MMORPGs to fend off boredom

My newest column for The New York Times Magazine is about the risks associated with boredom on long-distance space journeys, like the one astronauts might someday take to Mars. It's hard to imagine being bored in that scenario, but many experts think boredom is one of the key issues we need to address in order to make a mission like that succeed.

That's because, unlike on the ISS, astronauts traveling to Mars won't have constant contact with mission control or their families. They won't have virtual visits from celebrities to look forward to, and they'll be lacking the mesmerizing views of their home planet that keep current astronauts remarkably entertained. Particularly after the halfway point in a journey, and on the way home from Mars, researchers worry that the mundane reality of life on a spaceship could push some astronauts into a state of chronic boredom — a situation that's associated with symptoms of depression and attention deficit disorders. Neither of which you really want to experience in a place where small mistakes or overlooked responsibilities could lead to catastrophe.

So how will we deal with boredom in space? There are several cool strategies that didn't make it into the final New York Times piece and I thought you all might be particularly interested in one proposed by Sheryl Bishop, who studies human performance in extreme environments at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She thinks games will have an important role to play in keeping astronauts sharp and alert on long missions.

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How do you get a water leak in a spacesuit helmet?

Astronaut Luca Parmitano had to cut short his spacewalk yesterday, after his helmet flooded with more than a liter of water. How's that happen? Initially, Parmitano suspected a leak in his 32 oz. drink bag, which is fitted into the front of the suit and connects to the helmet via a tube and built-in drinking valve, writes Thomas Jones at Popular Mechanics. But the actual culprit is likely to be the suit's cooling system — a series of water-filled tubes that run all around the astronaut's body.