The Right Stuff: Adam Savage and astronaut Jim Newman talk with Ariel Waldman

On Tested's Offworld, Boing Boing pals Ariel Waldman and Adam Savage talk with astronaut Jim Newman about the 1983 film The Right Stuff, early NASA missions, and how "astronaut culture" has changed over the years.

Alan Shepard: Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up.

Gordon Cooper: I didn't quite copy that. Say again, please.

Alan Shepard: I said everything's A-OK.

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NASA photographer's camera cooked by last week's SpaceX rocket launch

Senior NASA photographer Bill Ingalls apparently set up his Canon EOS 5DS at an unlucky spot near yesterday's SpaceX rocket launch. He placed it outside the pad perimeter yet the launch sparked a small brush fire that cooked the camera. "I had many other cameras much closer to the pad than this and all are safe," Ingalls wrote.

Fortunately, the SD cards didn't melt and he was able to access the final photos taken by the camera before its untimely death. Two of them are below.

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New hi-res scans of NASA's 1970s dreams of space colonies

NASA's groovy imagining of space settlements were put in the public domain in 2007, and now space antropologist Michael Oman-Reagan has shared these remarkable hi-res scans created by David Brandt-Erichsen. Read the rest

NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars

Joining the Mars 2020 rover mission to the Red Planet will be a small helicopter. The Mars Helicopter, with a softball-size fuselage, the autonomous chopper will be solar powered and integrate a small heater so it doesn't seize up at night. From NASA:

Once the rover is on the planet’s surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said (Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.) “Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the (rover on the) ground, and then fly the mission on its own.”

“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” said Zurbuchen. “We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”

Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

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Here's what this week's Mars space mission will observe

NASA successfully launched the InSight mission to Mars this week. This is a great overview of what scientists will be learning about Martian geology. Read the rest

Watch this 'blooper reel' of astronauts falling on the Moon

Gravity isn't always your friend, even when you're on the Moon.

Watch as a series of Apollo mission astronauts fall down on the job in this compilation video by YouTuber Martian Archaeology. The footage is originally from NASA's archive.

(Neatorama, Tastefully Offensive) Read the rest

NASA's new jet will fly faster than the speed of sound without the supersonic boom

NASA recently gave Lockheed Martin 247.5-million dollars to create a supersonic plane – without the supersonic boom. Read the rest

Launching today: NASA's new satellite seeking "alien" Earths

Today, SpaceX expects to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to deliver NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit. Scientists expect TESS to find thousands of exoplanets by detecting when they pass in front of their host stars, briefly blocking the light of those suns.

“A few months after TESS launches, we will be able to point out the first ones of these familiar stars, which host planets that could be like ours,” says Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute.

From Nadia Drake's excellent FAQ on TESS in National Geographic:

The search for life beyond Earth is necessarily constrained by what we know. Life as we don’t know it could be anywhere, and it doesn’t care that we haven’t deigned to imagine it yet. To help focus the hunt, astronomers are starting by looking for something familiar. And we know that at least once, life evolved on a warm, rocky planet orbiting a relatively stable star.

That being said, many of the stars TESS will scrutinize will be smaller and dimmer than our own: the cool, reddish M dwarfs that are the most common types of stars in the Milky Way. Planets orbiting these stars at a distance that’s neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist are going to be snuggled in quite close—orbiting near enough to their stars for scientists to find them on months-long time scales.

In addition, the worlds TESS expects to find will be better situated for observations that could reveal whether alien metabolisms are churning away on their surfaces, beneath their seas, or in their clouds.

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Trippy infrared flyover of Jupiter's swirling north pole

NASA just released this fascinating and gorgeous video of Jupiter's north pole -- and its wild, swirling storms.

They're not some CGI mockup; these are actual images of the real planet. They were taken by Juno probe that's currently orbiting Jupiter; Juno has an infrared mapping device that's able to probe up to 45 miles below Jupiter's surface, capturing this lush 3D detail.

Jupiter's north pole is dominated by a cluster of cyclones: One large central one, surrounded by eight smaller ones – though on Jupiter, "smaller" means these ones are up to 2,900 miles in size. Jupiter is biiiiig man!

This second video zooms out a bit further and lets you see how the main cyclone and the eight smaller ones are positioned ...

These videos are so trippy, I could stare at them all day.

Figuring out how Jupiter works means figuring out what's happening beneath the surface, so this new phase of infrared imaging is crucial. The planet is still awfully mysterious, because as NASA notes, we're still not sure why Jupiter's atmosphere is divided the way it is:

The map Connerney's team made of the dynamo source region revealed unexpected irregularities, regions of surprising magnetic field intensity, and that Jupiter's magnetic field is more complex in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. About halfway between the equator and the north pole lies an area where the magnetic field is intense and positive. It is flanked by areas that are less intense and negative. In the southern hemisphere, however, the magnetic field is consistently negative, becoming more and more intense from the equator to the pole.

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Flat earth-preaching rocketeer finally gets off the ground

You likely read about "Mad" Mike Hughes in the news last year – you know, when you weren't busy stockpiling canned goods and potassium Iodide tablets to help deal with the existential dread that's currently gripping the planet. Hughes is the flat-earth loving, paradoxical science-hating DIY rocket designer who stated that he'd blast himself into the sky in a steam-powered, homemade rocket to prove that the earth isn't round.

That was a mouthful, but there's a lot going on here.

The first time that Hughes attempted to fire himself into the air in a blaze of Darwinism, the Department of Land Management shut him down, as his flight path would have taken him into the airspace over public lands. So, Hughes scrubbed the launch. Yesterday, he took another go.

According to the Associated Press, Hughes's steam-powered death chair was able to carry him to a distance of 1,875 feet into the air before he and his capsule floated back to earth, in relative safety, via parachute. When questioned about how he was feeling after surviving his flight, Hughes seemed happy that it was over and done with, citing that his back hurt, but over all he felt relieved that it was over.

No matter what you believe about Hughes' beliefs about the shape of the earth, of the lunacy it takes to strap yourself to the tip of a homemade rocket, you've got to respect that he pulled it off. Maybe he didn't gain as much altitude as he'd wanted. Read the rest

NASA's got a computer model for predicting landslides

Landslides are bad news. In parts of the world where heavy, sustained rains can rapidly give way to flash flooding, they're responsible for tragic loses of life, property and transportation infrastructure. That the latter can wind up under hundreds of tons of mud and debris makes it far more difficult for first responders to do anything about the former--if you can get to people, you can't save them. Since we can't change the weather, we can't stop landslides. But NASA's churned out new tech that could make the difference between an evacuation and a recovery effort.

According to Space.com, NASA's got a hot new computer model designed to identify landslide hazards around the world, every 30 minutes:

Heavy, sustained rainfall is a key trigger of landslides around the globe. So Kirschbaum and co-author Thomas Stanley, a landslide expert with the Universities Space Research Association at NASA Goddard, built the new model using rainfall data gathered by the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which is run jointly by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The model also employs a "susceptibility map" to determine if areas getting hammered by rain are particularly landslide-prone — for example, if they lie on or near steep slopes and/or tectonic-plate boundaries, or have been subject to significant deforestation.

High-risk areas are identified in "nowcasts," which the new open-source model produces every 30 minutes.

Given the number of lives per year that this computer model's predictions could save, to call this news huge would be an understatement. Read the rest

Humans have left 400,000 pounds of "garbage" on the moon

Humans have left approximately 400,000 pounds (181,000 kilograms) of "trash" on the lunar surface. That includes probes, rovers, landers, a metallic olive branch, a hammer and falcon feather (for a gravity experiment, image below), two golf balls, a javelin, a urine collection assembly (small), various rakes and hammer, a portrait of James Irwin, 100 $2 bills, flags, and so many more items. In fact, here is NASA's list of manmade objects on the moon, although it hasn't been updated in 6 years. From Space.com:

Although many people might call the odds and ends humans have left on the moon "garbage" (what else would you call a used urine-collection assembly?), NASA takes a kinder view.

Researchers can study these objects to see how their materials weathered the radiation and vacuum of space over time, (NASA chief historian William) Barry said. Moreover, some of the objects on the moon are still being used, including a laser-range reflector left by the Apollo 11 crew. [What Does the Top of the Moon Look Like?]

Researchers on Earth can ping this reflector with lasers, which allows them to measure the distance between Earth and the moon, according to NASA. These experiments helped scientists realize that the moon is moving away from the Earth at a rate of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) a year, NASA reported.

The so-called trash left on the moon also has archaeological merit, Barry said. Future lunar visitors may want to view the old Apollo sites and see gear from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian space agency Roscosmos and other countries, Barry said.

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Colorized photo of Pluto

From Nasa; check out the space agency's 3D Pluto globe. Read the rest

Amateur radio astronomer discovers long-lost satellite

In December 2005, NASA lost contact with the IMAGE satellite. After trying to reconnect for two years, the agency gave up. Over a decade later, hobbyist Scott Tilley was able to confirm that IMAGE is not only still in orbit, but also transmitting data.

Tilley stumbled on the find while looking for another satellite named Zuma. Via the Washington Post:

When Tilley caught a signal after a week of searching, on Jan. 20, he almost ignored it. Whatever it was, it was orbiting much higher than Zuma was supposed to be. There are hundreds of active satellites in space, most of which didn't interest him. “I didn't think of it much more,” he wrote on his blog.

But as he continued to scan for Zuma, he came across the signal again — stronger this time — and out of curiosity checked it against a standard catalogue.

The signal matched for IMAGE. But IMAGE was supposed to be dead.

Tilley had to Google the old satellite to find out what it was, as it had been all but forgotten on Earth. Eventually, he came across a decade-old NASA report on the mission's failure.

“Once I read through the failure report and all the geeky language the engineers use, I immediately understood what had happened,” Tilley told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News.

Then he rushed to contact NASA himself.

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It took 83 engines to get to the moon

Amy Shira Teitel of Vintage Space shares lots of cool facts about the golden age of space exploration. Here, she enumerates the engines (and motors) it took Apollo to get to the moon. Read the rest

NASA uses 450,000 gallons of water to shield launch vehicles from acoustic damage

NASA uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water during launches to suppress vibration during liftoff: "a curtain of water around the engines to dampen the loudness of the test and protect the core stage from noise damage". Here's the system being tested!

Water flowed during a test at Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 450,000 gallons of water flowed at high speed from a holding tank through new and modified piping and valves, the flame trench, flame deflector nozzles and mobile launcher interface risers during a wet flow test at Launch Complex 39B. At peak flow, the water reached about 100 feet in the air above the pad surface. The test was a milestone to confirm and baseline the performance of the Ignition Overpressure/Sound Suppression system. During launch of NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, the high-speed water flow will help protect the vehicle from the extreme acoustic and temperature environment during ignition and liftoff.

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LEGO Apollo Saturn V rocket on Amazon for $119

I have been waiting to find the LEGO Ideas NASA Apollo Saturn V 21309 Building Kit for list price. Amazon is selling it now.

This fantastic 1969 piece set looks wonderful. I can not wait to build it with my daughter.

Watch out for scalpers.

LEGO Ideas Nasa Apollo Saturn V 21309 Building Kit via Amazon Read the rest

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