Inside NASA's rubber room

If a Saturn V rocket had ever exploded on the launchpad, it would have been a catastrophic event. NASA engineers once calculated that the resulting fireball would have been 1048 feet wide and would have hit temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. In the hopes of not losing astronauts or launch crew to the inferno, NASA tricked out the Apollo launchpad with some safety systems that still exist today, including an underground, rubber-lined bunker that was accessible from the launch platform via a 200-foot twisty slide. (Which almost sounds like fun, until you consider the context.)

Amy Shira Teitel is one of the few people who have been inside the rubber room recently. In the video above, and she shares photos and stories about it in the video above, at her blog, and on Discovery.com.

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Do you have what it takes to get in bed with NASA?

Are you the kind of person who could lie in bed for 70 days for science? If so, you could make $18,000 in a NASA study of microgravity. The catch (because lying on your back for 70 days wasn't already enough of a catch): The bed will be tilted 6 degrees towards your head, forcing bodily fluids upwards and replicating what happens to your cardiovascular system in microgravity environments.

Peak plutonium and a fuel shortage in space

Whether or not Voyager I has actually left the solar system, one thing is certain — it never would have made it far enough to have a debate if it weren't for the help of plutonium-238. The isotope has been crucial for powering spacecraft — there's 10 pounds of the stuff in the batteries of Curiosity. But supplies are very, very limited. In fact, the US scientific stockpile is down to 36 pounds. All of it spoken for. What happens to space exploration when there's no more plutonium-238? Dave Mosher investigates at Wired.

Unfortunate Frog was not the first amphibian to have bad luck with the US space program

By now, you've seen the amphibian invariably referred to in the press as "an unfortunate frog" being lifted towards the heavens after it wandered too close to a NASA launch pad in Virginia. But did you know that this frog was not the first to try (and fail) to reach space?

At The Guardian, Jason Goldman writes about the history of frogs in space (or, at least, frogs that were briefly pointed at space), which dates all the way back to September 19, 1959, when the US Air Force attempted to send up two frogs on board a Jupiter AM-23 rocket. Why frogs? Goldman explains:

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Breathtaking animation of the Moon's rotation

This stunning animation of the Moon's rotation was made from images captured by NASA's Lunar Reconissance Orbiter's Wide Angle Camera (WAC). "A Unique View of the Moon" (Arizona State University)

Megan Prelinger: Art, Advertising, and Outer Space

Rogue librarian Megan Prelinger is co-founder of the incredible Prelinger Library, an independent, public research library of outré ephemera, (un)popular culture, curious maps, forgotten periodicals, and other 19th and 20th century high weirdness on paper. Megan is also a space geek who explored her offworld interests by examining the mid-20th century space race through its impact on advertising, corporate messaging, and graphic design. Megan synthesized that research into a magnificent book titled Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957 - 1962. That book served as the launch pad for Megan's fascinating, inspiring, and beautiful talk at our Boing Boing: Ingenuity theatrical event in San Francisco on August 18.

Boing Boing: Ingenuity in partnership with Ford C-Max.

Being an astronaut can help you fix a BBQ on Earth

Don Petit is one of my favorite American astronauts. He's made some great science videos during three different trips to the International Space Station. This video was made on Planet Earth, but it's still fascinating. When Pettit's fellow astronaut Mike Massimino found himself with a broken BBQ grill, he called up Pettit to come help fix it. Why call an astronaut to fix your BBQ? Because experiments in understanding the fundamentals of combustion and space station safety gave Pettit an edge in figuring out how to make the Earth-bound grill work.

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Frog and rocket lift off, simultaneously

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That's one giant leap for a frog beside NASA's LADEE spacecraft lifting off last Friday at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (via @NASA on Instagram)

How an amateur astronomer mapped the Moon 59 years before Apollo 11

In 1910, Walter Goodacre published a map of the Moon, created over the course of several decades using nothing more high-tech than a good quality backyard telescope. Goodacre was an amateur astronomer. He didn't have access to top-of-the-line observatory. But he did have a knack for detail and willingness to painstakingly record his observations of the Moon with pen and paper, eventually producing a map that's accurate to a few kilometers. (In contrast, the high-definition images that we get today from lunar orbiters show details at a scale of a few meters.)

University College London has an explorable version of Goodacre's map on their website, along with scans from his 1910 book that broke the map up into sections. (As art, the sections are almost more intriguing than the full, stitched-together image.) It's all part of a larger collection of historic space images, photos from the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus.

This is the Space Age


Annalee Newitz's Stop pretending we aren't living in the Space Age is a magnificent rant on the incredibly achievements of modern space programs, and a savage indictment of the lack of imagination underpinning complaints about the failure of humans to return to the moon in force.

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What's your favorite space probe up to this month?

Since October of 2010, "What's Up In the Solar System" has provided monthly updates on the various locations of humanity's many space probes. The picture above is for September 2013. It's a nice reminder of two sort of mind blowing facts. First, we have a LOT more probes out there than you probably remember off the top of your head, all collecting data and representing on behalf of this planet. Second, almost half those probes are clustered around two places — the Earth and Mars. We have come so far. We still have so far to go.

The search for a greener rocket fuel

Hydrazine has powered rockets since WWII. Unfortunately, it's also highly toxic. Researchers in the U.S. and Sweden are working to create a better alternative, and may have a couple new fuels that could do the same job with less risk.

NASA had Apollo-era plans to send humans to Mars and Venus

In an alternate universe — one where Americans had a LOT more enthusiasm for spending money on massive space projects than we've ever actually demonstrated — the 1970s and 1980s might have been the era of manned missions to Mars and Venus. Amy Shira Teitel writes about how this could have been possible, using only the now-antiquated technology that got us to the Moon and back.

Voyager I: Maybe still in our solar system, maybe not

Call it Schrödinger's space probe: Voyager I may or may not have left our Solar System. Some of the information the probe has collected suggests that it's slipped the surly bonds of the Sun, while other incoming data leaves scientists believing it hasn't yet crossed that boundary. Both Xeni and I have written about this in the last couple years. At Nature, Alexandra Witze explains why we probably won't know exactly when Voyager leaves the Solar System. Instead, we'll only figure it out when the probe is well past the System limits sign.

Astronaut Luca Parmitano's first-person account of almost drowning in space

Who needs coffee when you have this little horror story to wake you up in the morning? Money quote: "I think the liquid is too cold to be sweat, and more importantly, I can feel it increasing."