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“At the dead hour of the night, when the world is hushed in sleep and all is still; when there is not a sound to be heard save the dead beat escapement of the clock, counting with hollow voice the footsteps of time in ceaseless round, I turn to the Ephemeris and find there, by calculations made years ago, that when that clock tells a certain hour, a star which I never saw will be in the field of the telescope for a moment, flit through and then disappear. The instrument is set; the moment approaches and is intently awaited—I look—the star mute with eloquence that gathers sublimity from the silence of the night, comes smiling and dancing into the field, and at the instant predicted even to the fraction of a second, it makes its transit and is gone. With emotions too deep for the organs of speech, the heart swells out with unutterable anthems; we then see that there is harmony in the heavens above; and though we cannot hear, we feel the ‘music of the spheres.’” — Matthew Fontaine Maury, in an 1849 presentation to the Virginia Historical Society. Maury was superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Read more about Maury and other retro scientists in Caren Cooper's guest posts at the Scientific American blogs.
This silent film clip, posted at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine blog, is one of the most amazing things I've seen in a while.
First off, it shows a 1968 test run of a lunar landing research vehicle—a practice version of the lunar module that would later carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the Moon. It's weird and surreal and very, very awesome to watch an LLRV rising, lowering, and swooping through the sky from the vantage point of someone standing on the ground. In general, a great reminder that we make UFOs right here on Earth.
But the real crazy bit happens at the end of the video, when Neil Armstrong—who was piloting this LLRV—bails out just before the craft plummets to the ground and explodes.
No, seriously. And it leads to this amazing story, which is, in itself, a brilliant tribute to Armstrong.
In his Armstrong biography First Man, author James Hansen recounts how astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, “When did this happen?” About an hour ago, they replied. Bean returned to Armstrong and said, “I just heard the funniest story!” Armstrong said, “What?” “I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.” “Yeah, I did,” replied Armstrong. “I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.” “I can’t think of another person,” Bean recalls, “let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.”
NOTE: We couldn't get the embed code from Air & Space to work for some reason, so we've embedded the same video, but from YouTube, rather than their site.
[Video Link] This is a magnificent thing.
YouTuber hahahaspam explains, "This is the Curiosity Mars Rover descent footage interpolated from ~4 frames per second to 25 frames per second. It is playing back in real time. This took me 4 days straight to put together, so I hope you enjoy it! Music: Kevin Macleod."
(via Joe Sabia)
A few weeks ago, I blogged about my new obsession with early to mid-era Pink Floyd oddities. Following the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong this weekend, the NYT Lede blog points to a special rarity: a moon landing jam session the band recorded at a BBC TV studio during the descent of Apollo 11, the first time human beings ever set foot on another world. David Gilmour in the Guardian:
It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other. I was 23. The programming was a little looser in those days, and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall. Funnily enough I’ve never really heard it since, but it is on YouTube. They were broadcasting the moon landing and they thought that to provide a bit of a break they would show us jamming. It was only about five minutes long. The song was called Moonhead — it’s a nice, atmospheric, spacey 12-bar blues.
The Educo Discovery Rocket is one of those toys I see in gift shops around the world and always think, huh, if that thing wasn't so big and unwieldy, I'd probably take it home. It's basically a nicely built doll-house shaped like a handsome modernist rocket ship. I just spotted another one and went off and read some reviews by people who own 'em, and it sounds like it holds together well, too. I'm thinking Christmas.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon or any other world beyond Earth, died today. The former test pilot and NASA astronaut recently celebrated his 82nd birthday, and underwent heart surgery just weeks ago.
He commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, and radioed back to Earth the historic line, "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." He walked on the moon for nearly 3 hours with fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.
He died today of complications following his cardiac surgery.
That's one giant loss for mankind. Godspeed, Sir.
Artist Rik Allen makes beautiful blown-glass and metal sculptures of retro rocketships, with so much personality and detail. And tiny chairs. Every one of these evinces a ZOMG WANT reaction from me.
Presumably this old Pathe reel showing women getting huge armatures with planetoids on them inserted into their hair by men wielding combs with sparklers on them and strange electric shock devices is some sort of elaborate piss-take. Though maybe I'm wrong and there was a time when the women of Wokingham, Berkshire, really did wear their hair that way.
As Curiosity was landing safely on Mars, many of you noted that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers orchestrating the whole thing were eating an awful lot of peanuts. In fact, each workstation boasted a little commemorative jar of peanuts. Seriously, what is up with all those peanuts?
Discovery News has an answer. And it's surprisingly interesting.
Turns out, this is a JPL-specific tradition, dating back to 1964, when the lab's funding was on the line after the Ranger program—unmanned missions to photograph the Moon—weren't living up to expectations. In fact, six Ranger missions in a row had failed.
This was the heritage leading up to Ranger 7. There was talk that JPL should be shut down, that a university-affiliated center couldn’t handle a rigorous spaceflight program. There were suggestions that the program had been sabotaged -- a worker found a small polyethylene bag with 14 screws and a lock washer in one of the sealed electronic modules in Ranger 7’s television subsystem.
Just before Ranger 7 launched to the moon on July 28, mission manager Harris Schurmeier handed out peanuts to ease tensions. He figured chewing or playing with them on the table would give his team something else to focus on.
The full story is pretty neat. You can read the rest at Discovery News
Via Ed Yong
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up in the sky over Texas, bits and pieces falling onto at least two states. All seven astronauts on board died. As we close in on the 10-year anniversary of the disaster, you can expect lots of media outlets and experts to start offering their take on what happened and what we've learned from it. But there's one voice that you should really be listening to ... and he's speaking already.
Wayne Hale was a flight director on the space shuttle for 40 or 41 missions (His blog says 40, his NASA bio says 41). Flight controllers are the people who manage a space flight—they deal with the logistics, monitor all the various systems of the vehicle, make the decision to launch or abort, and deal with trouble-shooting. In other words, they play a key role in safety, and the flight director is the person in charge of all the flight controllers.
More importantly, Wayne Hale is one of the people who suspected something might be wrong with Columbia before its fatal reentry, and tried to get his superiors at NASA to pay attention to the risks. Here's Dwayne Day writing at The Space Review:
During the Columbia accident investigation I was one of over 100 staff members who worked for the CAIB (not all of them worked simultaneously, and for the many months I was there, the staff probably numbered no more than 50–60). There were so many aspects to the investigation that it was impossible to follow them all, and my responsibility was for policy, history, and budget, and later, some of the issues concerning schedule pressure. But I remember one afternoon when I was talking with an Air Force colonel skilled in aircraft accident investigations when Hale’s name came up and I asked how Hale had been involved in the accident. The colonel explained how Hale had been one of the people who had been concerned about the foam strike during the flight and had tried to obtain on-orbit imagery of the orbiter during its mission, only to be rebuffed by upper level managers. Then, after a short pause, the colonel added: “Hale was one of the good guys.”
But being one of the good guys doesn't mean you don't feel guilty when something goes horribly wrong. On Tuesday, Hale posted on his blog about the Columbia disaster and what is going on in his head as the anniversary creeps closer. It's a sad, poignant post, and Hale promises it's just the beginning of a series of articles addressing his experiences before, during, and after the Challenger disaster:
All of this has brought the searing memories from a decade ago into the forefront of my mind. Not that those memories has ever left me; the memories of early 2003. I was intimately involved in the events leading up to the Columbia tragedy so maybe that is to be expected. But often in the wee hours of the morning when sleep fails, the questions return: why did it happen, how did we allow it to happen, and what could I have done to prevent it.
Some others who lived through those days remember things from different perspectives, they had different experiences, but – somewhat frighteningly – remember events we shared in common in different ways. The passage of time, too, is riddling my memories with holes like Swiss cheese. Names escape me, details are getting fuzzy, and though concentrated thought can bring some things back from the recesses, others are gone forever. Some memories stand out like a lightning bolt in a dark night; many others of those events are gone into the darkness. If I am ever to write down my experience, the time is now.
Basically, you should bookmark Wayne Hale's blog and check it frequently. He'll be posting regularly, over the next several months, and I'm am certain you'll want to read the full series.
Via Alexandra Witze