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
"It comes complete with shout-outs to Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson," reports the Washington Post, which dug into the story behind its creation. Half a million views so far, huh? Best NASA PSA ever.
What a beautiful video by Mark Rober, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "I was able to work on NASA JPL's Curiosity Mars Rover for 7 years. This video is an attempt to capture what it felt like to have 7 years of your life vindicated in the 7 minute landing. Honestly one of the coolest moments of my life so far.
Given a black light, some tonic, some gin or vodka, and pink lemonade concentrate, you can mix a cocktail that looks like the aurora borealis:
Aurora is TCCs black light phosphorescent take on jungle-juice. Originally conceived in 2006, it is a drink that is pink in natural light, but glows aqua-marine in black-light. Thus, it represents the two main colors of the aurora-borealis. So, without further ado here is the recipe. (Originally, the drink was made with just pink-lemonade, but was later modified to use Rose’s Mojito Passion).
Ever wonder what happens if you yo-yo in space? Wonder no more. Rather, stare in wonderment as NASA astronaut Don Pettit uses his downtime to demonstrate the amazing phenomenon of micrgravity yo on a very special episode of Science Off the Sphere.
Science off the Sphere: Yo-Yos in Space (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
There are some topics that inspire an almost universal fascination—weird animal penises, for instance ... or, more SFW-ly, space food. The question, "what do people eat in space?", quickly leads down a rabbit hole of strange preparation machines, esoteric packaging, and futuristic gels. Decades after we gave up on a 1950s idea of what the 21st century would be like, space food remains this sort of weird holdover, combining modern science with the physical/design sensibilities of a different time.
And there's more to it than just freeze-drying some Neapolitan ice cream. Space menus are highly organized things—a function of limited storage space and long missions to the space station. They're also deeply researched. There's no entree, not even a snack, that reaches the space station without a very good reason for it being there. Caloric intake, nutrient content, every aspect has been thoroughly micromanaged.
At Download the Universe, Veronique Greenwood reviews Space Nutrition, a new NASA ebook for iPad that's available for free download online. The book is written with children in mind, but Greenwood says there's enough detail and behind-the-scenes perspective that adults can get something out of it, as well. The formatting is occasionally frustrating (it only works in portrait mode), but for a free book, it's hard to complain too much.
.. the book's primary charm is in the photographs and asides that you can’t find in a Wikipedia article on the subject. One photogallery is full of snapshots taken by excited Nutritional Biochemistry Lab members as they drive to Kennedy Space Center to pick up astronaut blood samples from the ISS, which they use to determine the effects of space flight on nutrient absorption, bones, and muscles. The shots of the Experiment Payload truck that retrieves the samples and of the little blue NASA duffel bags they are carried home in give the process of space research a refreshing physicality.
And spaceflight seen from a food scientist's point of view is endearingly kooky. Crumbs are a big no-no for space foods—they fly around and clog the instruments. Tortillas that last almost a year, on the other hand, are a very exciting development, the authors write, because you would need three hands to make a traditional sandwich with two slices of bread and a slice of baloney in space. The book's history of manned spaceflight missions reads like no other you'll find. Gemini: Shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, pudding, applesauce. Apollo: bread slices, cheddar cheese spread, frankfurters, fruit juice. Skylab: steak, vanilla ice cream.
As regular readers of this blog will recall, I asked a question of the Mars Curiosity team about imaging technologies during the post-landing press conference at NASA JPL a few days ago.
Related: Digital Photography Review now has an interview with the Mars rover camera project manager. Above, the 34mm (115mm equiv.) Mastcam from the Curiosity rover. This was developed by Mike Ravine and his team at Malin Space Science Systems, a contractor for NASA. Ravine explains how they developed the 2MP main imaging cameras used to transmit those breathtaking images back from Mars.
The slow data rates available for broadcasting images back to Earth and the team's familiarity with that family of sensors played a part, says [Ravine], but the biggest factor was the specifications being fixed as far back as 2004. Multi-shot panoramas will see the cameras deliver high-res images, he explains, but not the 3D movies Hollywood director James Cameron had wanted.
'There's a popular belief that projects like this are going to be very advanced but there are things that mitigate against that. These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else. 2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today.'
(thanks, Michael Kammes)
The brightest planets of the solar system are lining up right in the middle of this year's Perseid meteor shower display. The action peaks on the night of August 12. Meteor rates of up to 100 per hour are expected. More details on how to watch them here.
* Note: NBC plans to delay them by 4 hours.
John Streeter, who is a television producer with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, sends this cool video and tells Boing Boing:
NASA.gov link, and here's the video on YouTube.
It is all real, all shot from the International Space Station and all beautiful. It is time-lapse photography that showcases stars, cities at night, lightning storms and the aurora all from the vantage point of the space station. Also, there is a link at the end where you can visit, download and create your own videos if you wish.
The station is a remarkable engineering achievement and this is just a small side benefit of being in orbit. I hope you enjoy.
And you can download it right here, for Mac, Windows, Linux, OS/2, and other open operating systems. About:
Mars24 is a Java application which displays a Mars sunclock, a graphical representation of the planet Mars showing its current sun- and nightsides, along with a numerical readout of the time in 24-hour format. Other displays include a plot showing the relative orbital positions of Mars and Earth and a diagram showing the solar angle and path for a given location on Mars.
Created at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
And for iOS, this looks promising. Haven't tried it, and it's not a NASA product, so YMMV.
Thomas Hayden at science blog The Last Word On Nothing has a wonderful little interview with Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver), who works at JPL as a Mars rover driver. Coolest job ever, right?
I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Maxwell at JPL a few weeks before Curiosity touched down, when I accompanied Miles O'Brien on a shoot about MSL for PBS NewsHour. Loved him, and I love how he describes what makes his job so exhilarating:
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I drove her. It was just a few meters along a simple path — we wouldn’t even bother to yawn at it today — but it was magic to me then, as it’s magic to me now. I went home and should have slept, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling, in awe that right then, on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do. It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.
Read the rest here: SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert : The Last Word On Nothing.
Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory today received and published the first photograph shot by the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover.
It shows the shadow of the rover's now-upright mast in the center, and the arm's shadow at left. The arm itself can be seen in the foreground. The navigation camera is used to help find the sun -- information that is needed for locating, and communicating, with Earth. After the camera pointed at the sun, it turned in the opposite direction and took this picture. The position of the shadow helps confirm the sun's location. The "augmented reality" or AR tag seen in the foreground can be used in the future with smart phones to obtain more information about the mission.
(via spaceref.com. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The Atlantic has a doublewide photo gallery of Associated Press photos from the night of the Mars Landing. I'm in this shot (#13). The whole gallery is a great reminder of the range of emotions and excitement you feel when you're witnessing one of these historic space events. I will never forget this night, as long as I live! And I know I'm not alone in that. If you want to know what joy looks like, click onward.
Remember the bogus takedown of NASA's YouTube footage of the Curiosity landing? It gets worse. Lon Seidman uploaded some clips from the Curiosity landing to his Google+ hangout, only to have them taken down by five takedown requests from various scumbags who play the YouTube content matching system to force people to accept ads on their personal videos, payment from which goes to said scumbags:
Wow now I'm really getting angry over this Content ID disaster from +YouTube regarding the Mars landing. On Sunday night I hosted a live broadcast with contributors from CTTechJunkie.com and NASASpaceflight.com to watch the landing live. We brought in footage provided by NASA, including their live feed of the landing. NASA footage is released into the public domain and can be freely used by anyone.
I just came home to my inbox filled with dispute claims from no less than FIVE news organizations claiming this footage as their own. BS. It's mine. And now Youtube says it might start running ads against content I created and handing that money over to these crooks who are essentially bigger players with the ability to claim rights to content they do not own.
The worst part is that Google clearly is not requiring these "rightsholders" prove they actually own the content. But it's somehow incumbent upon me to prove my innocence. This is outright theft of my content - plain and simple.
Philip Bump put together this great comparison of Earth's Mt. McKinley and Mars' Mt. Sharp (as photographed by the Curiosity rover).
Officially, it's Aeolis Mons, and it stands 18,000 feet above the crater floor. Here's how that compares to Mount McKinley, America's tallest peak at 20,320 feet. The sea levels / floor levels are roughly comparable. But this is just an approximation. Do not make wagers based on this.
[Video Link] It took just minutes for Curiosity to complete her landing sequence on Mars. But the journey to that point took years of work back here on earth. The celebration of the rover's successful landing continues, and the mission itself will continue for 2 years. On this PBS NewsHour segment, Judy Woodruff talks to science correspondent Miles O'Brien and John Grunsfeld of NASA about Curiosity and the years NASA scientists spent planning the journey to Mars.
Related: From Miles' blog, "Why the Curiosity over Mars…"
Ten minutes after NASA posted a video of the Curiosity landing on Mars to its official YouTube channel, the video was taken down again, replaced with a message saying it had been removed due to a copyright claim by Scripps Local News. It's not clear whether Scripps actually filed a takedown notice with YouTube or whether YouTube's "content-match" system was triggered automatically because Scripps registered a clip of its own news footage, incorporating the NASA footage, with YouTube.
Either way, it points out the enormous asymmetry in copyright today, a shoot first, ask questions later presumption of guilt that results in the evidence of billions of dollars of uplifting, tax-funded spectacle being removed from public view because of the grasping and depraved indifference of industries that are programmed to deny the idea that copying can be controlled.
Alex_Pasternack writes on Mother Board:
On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for E.W. Scripps Company, owner of the news service, emailed Motherboard a statement apologizing for the accidental takedown. “We apologize for the temporary inconvenience experienced when trying to upload and view a NASA clip early Monday morning," wrote Michele Roberts. "We made a mistake. We reacted as quickly as possible to make the video viewable again, and we’ve adjusted our workflow processes to remedy the situation in future.”
This isn’t the first time that a claim by the company, Scripps News Service, has grounded a NASA YouTube video: it happened in April, with a video of one of NASA’s Space Shuttles being flown atop a 747. According to Bob Jacobs, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, such blocks happen once a month, and tend to be more common with popular videos.
“Everything from imagery to music gets flagged,” Jacobs told me this morning. "We’ve been working with You Tube in an effort to stop the automatic disabling of videos. So far, it hasn’t helped much.
“The good thing about automation is that you don’t have to involve real people to make decisions. The bad thing about automation is that you don’t have to involve real people to make decisions.”
[Video Link] As the post-landing press conference begins, NASA and JPL MSL leaders high-five and cheer with the Mars rover engineering and flight control team. I shot this last night (on my iPhone, pardon the shakiness) inside the Jet Propulsion Lab, at 11:15pm PDT, about 45 minutes after the rover landed, against all odds, on the surface of Mars.
* Despite the image on the screen behind them, this was not a Microsoft press conference.
They were chanting "Science! Science! Science!" and "NASA! NASA! NASA!" in Times Square last night, as the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars at about 1:30 am Eastern time.
The best parts are yet to come. As chemistry professor and blogger Matthew Hartings pointed out this morning, Curiosity is, fundamentally, a chemistry project. Curiosity will search for the chemical building blocks of life, it will study the make-up of the soil and atmosphere, it will look at planetary water cycles and the effects of cosmic radiation. The long-range goal, as you've probably picked up by now, is to put human beings on Mars—maybe by as soon as the 2030s. Curiosity is the chemistry that will help make that very ambitious sort of awesome possible.
We'll be staying tuned for cool stuff coming in from Curiosity. In the meantime, I wanted to point you toward some swell videos, photos, jokes, and essays that have turned up in the last nine hours.
First off, if you slept through the event or just want to relive the excitement, the video above captures the five minutes before and five minutes after Curiosity made landing. The actual touchdown happens about at about mark 5:30, and the first images come through at 7:30.
And, speaking of images ...
Read the rest
From NASA: "This is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). It was taken through a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel."