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Go, Orion! NASA set to launch spacecraft on first step toward manned flights to Mars [Update: Delayed! Launched!]

Final preparations are under way for NASA’s Dec. 4 launch of the Orion spacecraft. Not since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011 has there been so much excitement around American space flight. Sawyer Rosenstein reports from Cape Canaveral.

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Atlantis returns to Kennedy: a review of the space shuttle's new permanent exhibit

Space educator Sawyer “@thenasaman” Rosenstein, 19, is a hardcore space fan. His enthusiasm for space flight was captured in a 2011 Boing Boing special feature, and shines weekly in his “Talking Space” podcast. He traveled to Florida for the opening of the new permanent exhibit of Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, and shared photos with us. All images in this review are Sawyer’s. —Xeni Jardin.

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Vintage futures: Next Stop Mars, 1952

In the Boing Boing Flickr Pool, reader JMV shares this wonderful scan of a 1952 feature from the Vancouver Sun's "Weekend Picture Magazine" on the coming age of travel to Mars.

Illustration by Edgar Ainsworth.

"It will probably be some 50 years before any safe space flight from Earth to another planet and back is made, but there seems now to be very little doubt that the dreams of Roger Bacon in AD 1249 and Albertus Magnus in 1280 have left the realm of Wellsian imaginings and become a practical proposition."

Here's a larger size. Guess they didn't think of Rovers!

Cats free-falling from space

Created by combatcameraman on b3ta. Felix the cat! (Via: crackajack.de. Thanks, Tara McGinley)

The Stratos jump, in LEGO

Video: Lego reenactment of the Stratos jump from this morning. Scale 1:350. That was fast!

An airship boom in Southern California

Photo: the Aeroscraft in a hangar in CA. Image: Worldwide Aeros, Inc.

In the Los Angeles Times, an article about an aerospace industry boom of sorts in Southern California, involving new twists on an old technology: airships. Who's buying? The military, and other government agencies, primarily for defense and surveillance purposes.

[I]n recent years, the affordability of airships as well as developments in high-definition cameras, high-powered sensors and other unmanned technologies have turned these oddball aircraft from curiosities of a bygone era to must-have items for today's military. And airships increasingly are being used for civilian purposes.

The federal government is buying blimps, zeppelins and spy balloons, and many of these new-generation hybrid "lighter than air" aircraft are taking shape across California.

"So much is going on with airships in California now," Pasternak said. "It wasn't this way 10 years ago."

Of note, the difference between airships, blimps, and zeppelins:

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New Cassini eye candy: the changing seasons of Saturn

Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and director of CICLOPS in Boulder, CO, writes:

For no other reason than that they are gorgeous, the Cassini imaging team is releasing today a set of fabulous images of Saturn and Titan...in living color...for your day-dreaming enjoyment. Note that our presence at Saturn for the last 8 years has made possible the sighting of subtle changes with time, and one such change is obvious here. As the seasons have advanced, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south throughout the Saturn system, the azure blue in the northern winter Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading; and it is now the southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, that is taking on a bluish hue.

[B]ack here on Earth, the Cassini mission was recently given rave reviews by a panel of planetary scientists and NASA program managers for its contributions to our understanding of the solar system, a circumstance that bodes well for a well-funded continuing mission over the next 5 years. Despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will bring us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous.

Photo above: "A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft."

More beautiful images from Cassini here.

Hellooooo, new desktop.

Steve Jurvetson, on the recurring nightmare Neil Armstrong had for two years leading up to Apollo 11

Venture capitalist, photographer, and master-level space fanatic Steve Jurvetson has been digging in to his archives for snapshots and relics related to the life and legacy of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. For instance: above, a vintage 11”x 14” X-ray of Armstrong's lunar EVA spacesuit boots dated 7-7-69, only 9 days before the launch.

You can scroll through more photos here, on Steve's Facebook page.

Steve shared some amazing conversations with the "First Man," from what I can tell. Here's one:

Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. “We did not use it on the Apollo missions.”

I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? (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?....)

He gave a detailed answer about the hypergolic fuel mixing system for the lunar module. Rather than an ignition system, they had two substances that would ignite upon contact. Instead of an electric pump, he wished he had a big simple lever to mechanically initiate mixing.

That seemed a bit odd to me at first. So, I asked if he gave that answer because it really was the most likely point of failure, or because it symbolizes a vivid nightmare – having completed the moon mission, pushing the button... and the engines just wont start.

He responded that he had dreams about that for two years prior to the launch.

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Mars Curiosity rover: NASA's John Grunsfeld and Miles O'Brien on PBS NewsHour

[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…"

Mars Curiosity Rover: Boing Boing's $2.5 billion dollar question about image file types, answered by JPL

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)


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a magical place to be last night, as engineers, flight specialists, NASA administrators, space celebrities, and scientists from many fields gathered to witness the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Those seven minutes of terror ended in a picture-perfect landing: an amazing machine went through a crazy Rube Goldbergian descent sequence, and plopped down about two meters away from its planned destination on the Red Planet's surface.

We witnessed history. It seemed impossible. It was awesome.

I sat in on the post-landing press conference, and live-tweeted the evening at @boingboing. During the press conference, after the high-fives and screams of joy subsided, I asked MSL engineer Adam Steltzner a question about those first two all-important thumbnail images Curiosity sent back—critical because the data they contained would tell NASA if the rover had touched down in a safe spot.

[Video of that Q&A moment here.]

Given the great distance and technical challenges involved in transmitting timely data back from Mars, what file type and image compression algorithm(s) did they use for those first "rush" thumbnails? There's a 14 minute delay involved for any signals from Mars to Earth.

A dorky question, perhaps, but I was curious, and figured nobody else would ask. Things like, "Hey how do you guys feel right now," and "What will Curiosity do next," I knew others would tackle.

Mr. Steltzner didn't have details handy about the image file types used, and he referred me to Mars mission image specialist Justin Maki. Today I checked in with Mr. Maki and his JPL colleagues whose work focuses on data compression and interplanetary data transmission. Here's what I learned.

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When Curiosity was born: a peek at Mars rover during construction at JPL, one year ago

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In April, 2011, the engineers at JPL gave Boing Boing permission to visit the clean room where the next Mars rover, Curiosity, had just been completed, for an exclusive first look.

Photographer Joseph Linaschke made the trek (and donned the bunny suit) on our behalf, and brought back breathtaking photos of the magnificent martian machine.

The full Boing Boing photo gallery is here, with caption assist from JPL.

Above, the Mars Science Laboratory's descent stage, which files the rover down to Mars' surface using eight rockets, and lowers it on a tether for landing. The orange spheres are propellant tanks.

Here's a roundup of ways to watch, as Curiosity attempts landing the night of Aug 5 (that's tomorrow).

* There are even more images on Joseph's site (pssst: news orgs, they're available for licensing, ask him.)

Are we all Martians? The curious hunt for life on Mars

NASA's newest rover Curiosity, is zipping through space, slated to enter the Martian atmosphere early morning eastern time on Monday, August 6. (Image: NASA)


At the PBS NewsHour site, space journalist Miles O'Brien recounts the history of human exploration of the red planet, leading up to this Sunday's planned landing by the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. It's gonna be a nail-biter. Snip:

Ralph Harvey is a professor of planetary minerals at Case University. He spends a lot of time looking for Mars meteors in Antarctica. He has not yet seen anything that says "life" to him:

"When we argue about signs of possible life on Mars it's always the most subtle thing you can imagine," he told me a few years ago. "Something at the very edge of measurability, and life did not proceed that way on earth. Life is in your face. Life is something we have to scrape off the rocks to get to the story of the rocks. And I don't see that on Mars. I don't have that sense about Mars. So life on Mars is going to have to get in my face for me to believe it."

But what if life on Mars is hiding deep beneath the surface -- say in an underground aquifer? Could there be an underground habitable zone on Mars today?

Are We All Martians? The Curious Hunt for Life on Mars (pbs.org)

Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity headed for Mars landing. Are you ready?

NASA JPL's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover will try to land at the foot of a 3-mile-high mountain on Mars this Sunday night (technically, early Monday morning) to learn more about the possible building blocks of life there.

The rover is about the size of a car. The whole project costs about $2.5 billion. As you can see from JPL's now-viral "Seven Minutes of Terror" video, the landing process is something of a Rube Goldberg scheme. It'll be amazing if this works. It'll really suck for JPL, and the immediate future of space exploration funding, if it doesn't.

Here's how to follow the Mars rover's journey.

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OMGCATSINSPACE

A Tumblog of Greatness: OMGCATSINSPACE.

(thanks, @sbethm)

Miles O'Brien: Ride, Sally Ride

At the PBS Newshour website, a post by Miles O'Brien about one of his encounters with the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. He writes about the night of January 28, 2003, when Dr. Ride knocked on the door of his house in Atlanta. She was one of the guests of honor at his home that night to celebrate the opening of a new Challenger Learning Center. And at the time, Miles (then a reporter with CNN) had just closed a deal with NASA to become the first journalist in space, on a forthcoming shuttle mission. Snip:

I normally do not ask people for autographs or inscriptions, but on this night I made an exception. I handed her my copy of the book, and she wrote: "Hope you're the first journalist in space!"

Nice words from someone who knows what it means to be first.

While she was signing, and we were celebrating, the STS-107 crew was orbiting a few hundred miles over our head-- unaware of the fatal breach in the reinforced carbon heat shield on the leading edge of Columbia's wing.

In four days, everything would change for the people in my house that night. Columbia, of course, did not make it home. Sally Ride would soon be serving on her second commission investigating the loss of a space shuttle and its crew.

Read the rest: Ride, Sally Ride: My Dinner with the First American Woman in Space (PBS NewsHour)

Update: Here's a video segment from tonight's show, with Miles talking with Judy Woodruff about Dr. Ride's legacy. Alternate [YouTube Link].

Sally Ride's sister, on the quiet acknowledgement of her orientation: "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay."

Astronaut, physicist, and American science hero Sally Ride died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, at 61. Dr. Ride was the first American female in space, and left a vast legacy of scientific accomplishments. When her astronaut days ended, she worked to promote space and science literacy to young people around the world through Sally Ride Science.

As friends and professional associates knew, and as was quietly noted in the obituary released on her website, Ms. Ride had been in a committed relationship with a woman for some 27 years. She met her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy nearly 50 years ago. Neither her cancer diagnosis nor her orientation were publicly shared, prior to her death.

Sally Ride's sister, Bear Ride, addressed this very personal aspect of Sally's very private life in comments to Buzzfeed today. "We consider Tam a member of the family," she told Chris Geidner.

"The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same," Bear, who identifies as gay, told Buzzfeed. "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them."

Asked about those who would have opposed legal recognition of her sister's relationship, Bear Ride bluntly replied, "Who cares about them, really? There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family."

The rest of the interview is well worth a read. More about Dr. Ride in our post from the day she died.

Sally Ride, first American woman in space, has died

Dr. Sally Ride, an American physicist and former NASA astronaut, has died of pancreatic cancer. She joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman to travel into space. From a statement on her website:

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

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Character from Valve's Portal 2 game is "going to actual space"

"Wheatley," an orb-shaped robot pal in Valve Software's popular 2011 game Portal 2, is on his way to space. The unauthorized stowaway is on a Japanese spacecraft now in Earth orbit, heading to the the International Space Station (ISS).

Robert Pearlman reports:

[Wheatley] is flying aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) that launched on Friday (July 20) to resupply the space station. The character, in miniature two-dimensional (2-D) form, is soaring through real space thanks to an unnamed NASA worker.

Valve announced on its website's blog that "thanks to an anonymous tech at NASA, Wheatley is actually going to actual space."

The one-eyed sphere, or "personality core" as referred to in the video game, is given its voice by English actor and comedian Stephen Merchant. On board the HTV, which is nicknamed "Kounotori or "white stork", the robot's voice is offered in the form of a phrase engraved under Wheatley's likeness — "In spaaaaaaace!" (Portal 2 players may associate that quote with another of the game's personality cores, the so-called "Space Core," though Valve attributes it to Wheatley on their blog.)

Photo: this image posted on Valve's website shows "what appears to be a circuit board with Wheatley's likeness laser-inscribed in one corner," according to Pearlman. We don't know the scale of the component, or the instrument it's part of.

How the Eagle Landed: Grumman Construction Log, and a message to space (Apollo 11)

On the anniversary of Apollo 11, Steve Jurvetson posted an amazing, never-before-seen series of space artifacts. He writes:

On July 20, 1969, Eagle landed on the moon. These are the handwritten notes from the Grumman engineers as they pushed to complete Lunar Module LM-5 in 1968. On the last page, they learn than this particular Lunar Module would be the one to bring the first humans to the moon.

The Grumman Engineering Log served not only as an engineering notebook but also as an intercom between the day and night shift – separate teams that needed to push the ball forward from where the other left off. So we are offered a rare peek into the concerns, uncertainties and conversations that might have otherwise been quietly undocumented.

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"We are on the fucking moon" (video)

[Video Link] Yesterday was the anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon in 1969, the first time humans ever set foot on another world. Today, we discover this long-lost footage and audio from that historic moment. (thanks, inkfumes!)

Space Shuttle Enterprise floats to a new home: New York's Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum (photos)

Photo: C.S. MUNCY

The Space Shuttle Enterprise (OV-101) floated to its "retirement home" today, Wednesday June 6, 2012: the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. The museum's Space Shuttle Pavillion will open on July 19. The arrival of Enterprise was planned for 24 hours earlier, but weather delayed. During its voyage by water, the barge carrying Enterprise moved too close to the Jamaica Bay Bridge and clipped the Shuttle's wing. Ouch. But, you know: sadly, it's not like they're gonna need that wing for space travel now.

Special thanks to photographer C.S. Muncy, who is pretty intrepid himself—we understand these terrific shots cost him quite a sunburn.

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SpaceX readies for launch this Saturday, May 19, 2012

If all goes according to plan, tomorrow, Saturday, May 19th, SpaceX will become the first commercial space flight company in history to head for the International Space Station. You can watch online, live, at SpaceX.com starting at 1:15 AM Pacific / 4:15 AM Eastern / 08:15 UTC. You can also follow SpaceX founder and CEO @elonmusk on Twitter. He'll live-tweet from mission control during launch.

Veteran space journalist Miles O'Brien covered the story in a recent PBS NewsHour segment.

And below, Miles and NewsHour host Hari Sreenivasan talk about the details of the mission, the engineering challenges and the other spaceflight companies vying for a chance at delivering cargo and people to low-Earth orbit.

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Video: Kittens in Space, by Jonathan "Song A Day" Mann

[Video Link]. I'm recovering from yesterday's chemo infusion (my fifth!), and feeling kind of lousy. Jonathan Mann asked me this morning if he could write a song for me as his daily song project, and if so, if I had any theme requests. I was like, duh! Kittens, and space. And like a beautiful internet miracle, bam! Just hours later, he created the wonderful video above: "Kittens in Space."

More about Jonathan: YouTube channel, Facebook, Downloads, Twitter, mailing list, Soundcloud, blog, G+, app.

Lyrics follow.

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Virgin Galactic launches world's first commercial spaceport with performance by gravity-defying Project Bandaloop


[Video Link]

Man, if there's one thing Richard Branson knows better than anyone, it's how to put on an amazing launch event. Above, video from the Virgin Galactic kickoff for the world's first commercial spaceport, Spaceport America (alternate link), today in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Project Bandaloop did an aerial choreography performance from the side of the structure. Looked kind of like a really classy strip club in the sky. Branson himself joined the fun, and rappelled off the building during the ceremonies. The man knows how to have a good time.

Press release and photos from the event are here. From the sound of this Associated Press item, must have been a blast. (images: Mark Greenberg).

Previously on BB: "Virgin Galactic to unveil world's first commercial spaceport."

Atlantis: photos, video of final shuttle mission landing

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Space shuttle Atlantis STS-135 lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 21, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis glided home through a moonlit sky for its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, completing a 30-year odyssey for NASA's shuttle fleet. (REUTERS/Scott Audette)

[Video Link] "Wheel stop. Think about that."--my friend and fellow space fan Mike Outmesguine.

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Photo: Father and son at first and last Space Shuttle launches, 30 years apart

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"Father and Son: STS-1 and STS-135," a photo by Chris Bray, who is the younger of the two in these side-by-side captures from the very first shuttle launch thirty years ago, and the final one, last Friday. "The picture we waited 30 years to complete."

(Flickr, via Reddit and Laughing Squid.)

Cassini: "space fan"-made film, using NASA footage

CASSINI MISSION from cabbas on Vimeo.

Filmmaker Chris Abbas created the beautiful short film above, and explains:
I truly enjoy outer space. It's absolutely amazing that we now have the ability to send instruments out into the void of the universe to observe all sorts of interesting things. Asteroids! Moons! Planets! Dark matter! This is the perfect opportunity for a Carl Sagan quote: "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." The footage in this little film was captured by the hardworking men and women at NASA with the Cassini Imaging Science System. If you're interested in learning more about Cassini and the on-going Cassini Solstice Mission, check it out at NASA's website.

(via Colin Peters)

The last Shuttle spacewalkers

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This image, from NASA, documents the last spacewalk of the STS-134 mission, and the final spacewalkers in the 30-year shuttle program.

NASA astronaut Michael Fincke worked outside the station during the fourth and final spacewalk of the STS-134 mission, which lasted more than 7 hours. Fincke and fellow astronaut Greg Chamitoff completed the primary objectives for the spacewalk, including stowing the 50-foot-long boom and adding a power and data grapple fixture to make it the Enhanced International Space Station Boom Assembly, available to extend the reach of the space station's robotic arm.
Below, with components of the International Space Station in the view, NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel (right) and Michael Fincke are pictured during the STS-134 mission's third spacewalk.

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NASA to launch new robotic science mission to asteroid in 2016

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Conceptual image of OSIRIS-REx. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA today announced a new space exploration mission: to launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016, and "use a robotic arm to pluck samples that could better explain our solar system's formation and how life began." The mission will be titled Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, and will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth. There's an animation here, illustrating how this will work.

Boing Boing's science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker and I are on a NASA conference call as I type this post; look for a longer report by Maggie on this news. Lockheed Martin will build the craft; the launches will take place at Kennedy Space Center. The cost of the mission is estimated around 1 billion dollars.

A copy of the NASA press release announcing the mission follows.

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50 years since Kennedy's "moon shot" speech

Fifty years ago today, a few weeks after the first American astronaut flew into space, President John F. Kennedy gave a now historic speech in which he outlined a mission for NASA: send a man to the moon by the end of that decade.

On this date in 1961, Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress, with a worldwide television audience, and announced, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." This was seen as a bold mandate because America's experience up to this point was Alan Shepard's suborbital Freedom 7 mission, which launched just a few weeks earlier and lasted about 15 minutes.

More at the NASA website. NASA also today alerted reporters to an announcement to come later today about a new science mission "that will usher in a new era in planetary exploration." More on that here on Boing Boing soon.