Wonderful vintage snapshots showing our love for the moon

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first human Moon landing on July 20, Vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson curated a lovely collection of vintage snapshots related to the Moon. I've always gotten a kick out of how TV viewers around the world used to snap photos of their screens to commemorate momentous moments.

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Chuck Klosterman on space rock

In Technology Review, author and essayist Chuck Klosterman delivers a short introduction to the stars of space rock, from Pink Floyd (above) to Hawkwind to Spacemen 3:

Space is a vacuum: the only song capturing the verbatim resonance of space is John Cage’s perfectly silent “4'33".” Any artist purporting to embody the acoustics of the cosmos is projecting a myth. That myth, however, is collective and widely understood. Space has no sound, but certain sounds are “spacey.” Part of this is due to “Space Oddity”; another part comes from cinema, particularly the soundtrack to 2001 (the epic power of classical music by Richard Strauss and György Ligeti). Still another factor is the consistent application of specific instruments, like the ondes martenot (a keyboard that vaguely simulates a human voice, used most famously in the theme to the TV show Star Trek). The shared assumptions about what makes music extraterrestrial are now so accepted that we tend to ignore how strange it is that we all agree on something impossible.

The application of these clichés is most readily seen in the dawn of heavy metal. The 1970 Black Sabbath song “Planet Caravan” processed Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals through a Hammond organ to create a sprawling sense of ethereal distance. Deep Purple’s 1972 “Space Truckin’” used ring modulation to simulate a colossal spacecraft traveling at high speed. The lyrical content of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” is built on Norse mythology, but the dreamlike drone of John Paul Jones’s mellotron and Jimmy Page’s ultra-compressed guitar mirrored the sensation of exploring an alien landscape.

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Rare image of US Air Force's secretive space plane in orbit

Astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh captured an image of the US Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The reusable, uncrewed space vehicle, designated OTV-5, is on a secret testing mission since its launch in September 2017. From Vandebergh's post at Spaceweather.com:

I have been hunting for the OTV-5 since months and saw it visually in May. When I tried to observe it again mid June, it didnt meet the predicted time and path. It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers-network, it was rapidly found in orbit again and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2. This most recent pass was almost overhead. The OTV is a small version of the classic Space Shuttle, it is really a small object, even at only 300 km altitude, so dont expect the detail level of ground based images of the real Space Shuttle. Considering this, the attached images succeeded beyond expectations. We can recognize a bit of the nose, Payload Bay and tail of this mini-shuttle with even a sign of some smaller detail.

Images were taken through a 10 inch F/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera. Tracking was fully manually through a 6x30 finderscope.

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Star Trek's Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols checks out the Space Shuttle Enterprise (1977)

After Star Trek was cancelled, Nichelle Nichols, aka Lieutenant Uhura, volunteered her time to help NASA recruit women and minorities to join the space agency. The 1977 reel above is from that era. In the clip, astronaut Alan Bean and Nichols check out NASA's shiny new Space Shuttle Enterprise. From The Space Archive:

In 1975 Nichols established Women in Motion, Inc., an astronaut recruitment project that helped to find over 1000 minority and 1600 women applicants, and this video reflects her significant efforts in that field. The Space Shuttle program did indeed expand the ranks of astronauts, including Sally Ride, the first woman in space, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and Mae Carol Jemison, the first African American in space, who flew over 190 hours in space and attributed her interest in the field to seeing Nichols on television as a child. The Space Shuttles were the first spacecraft designed for reuse, and the Enterprise (originally named the Constitution until president Gerald Ford was inundated with a letter-writing campaign to change the name), was the first shuttle, performing tests to ensure the spacecraft would be able to function as gliders and land on conventional runways after missions in space.

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NASA successfully tests crew ejection system for use in aborted launches

From Kennedy Space Center:

A fully functional Launch Abort System (LAS) with a test version of the Orion spacecraft attached, launches on NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) atop a Northrop Grumman provided booster on July 2, 2019, at 7 a.m. EDT, from Launch Pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During AA-2, the booster will send the LAS and Orion to an altitude of 31,000 feet at Mach 1.15 (more than 1,000 mph). The flight test will prove that the abort system can pull crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent.

Note that there will be a parachute, they just didn't test it this time around. Read the rest

Mars rover has detected methane that could mean life on the Red Planet

In the New York Times, Kenneth Chang reports that NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars has detected high amounts of methane, a gas that is commonly a signature of life. From the NYT:

“Given this surprising result, we’ve reorganized the weekend to run a follow-up experiment,” Ashwin R. Vasavada, the project scientist for the mission, wrote to the science team in an email that was obtained by The Times.

The mission’s controllers on Earth sent new instructions to the rover on Friday to follow up on the readings, bumping previously planned science work. The results of these observations are expected back on the ground on Monday...

On Earth, microbes known as methanogens thrive in places lacking oxygen, such as rocks deep underground and the digestive tracts of animals, and they release methane as a waste product. However, geothermal reactions devoid of biology can also generate methane.

"NASA Rover on Mars Detects Puff of Gas That Hints at Possibility of Life" (NYT)

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NASA accused of misrepresenting costs in new GAO report, Trump's moon mission now threatened

Trump’s moon mission threatened

Star Trek Starfleet insignia found on Mars

The high resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image in the Red Planet's Hellas Planitia region. According to the University of Arizona researchers who operate the HiRISE camera for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shapes like this "are the result of a complex story of dunes, lava, and wind." But they also note that "enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo."

They add that it's a coincidence, but we know better.

"Dune Footprints in Hellas" (University of Arizona)

Full image below depicts area 5 km across:

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At-a-glance map of current planetary exploration spacecraft

Emily Lakdawalla and her colleagues at one of my favorite science nonprofits The Planetary Society prepared this fascinating map titled "Where We Are: An At-A-Glance Spacecraft Locator." As William S. Burroughs once said, "This is the space age and we are here to go." Read the rest

NASA opening International Space Station to tourists

NASA announced today that the International Space Station is now open to private astronauts for commercial business and, yes, tourism. It ain't budget travel, that's for sure. Kenneth Chang writes in the New York Times:

NASA is not selling space vacations directly, but allowing commercial companies to arrange such trips. The agency plans to charge the companies about $35,000 a night for use of the station’s facilities, including air and water.

The tourist companies would charge much more to cover the rocket flights to and from space, and to make a profit.

Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nev., has already reserved four launches. The company will use SpaceX, the rocket company run by Elon Musk, to take private astronauts. Each flight would have four seats.

Axiom Space of Houston is also arranging flights and hopes to fly tourists next year.

From NASA:

Pricing released Friday is specific to commercial and marketing activities enabled by the new directive, reflects a representative cost to NASA, and is designed to encourage the emergence of new markets. As NASA learns how these new markets respond, the agency will reassess the pricing and amount of available resources approximately every six months and make adjustments as necessary.

To qualify, commercial and marketing activities must either:

• require the unique microgravity environment to enable manufacturing, production or development of a commercial application;

• have a connection to NASA’s mission; or

• support the development of a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy.

NASA’s directive enabling commercial and marketing activities aboard the space station addresses manufacturing, production, transportation, and marketing of commercial resources and goods, including products intended for commercial sale on Earth.

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Astonishing X-ray image of the whole sky

NASA released this incredible image of the sky that depicts 22 months of X-ray data captured from the International Space Station using the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER). From NASA:

“Even with minimal processing, this image reveals the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant about 90 light-years across and thought to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old,” said Keith Gendreau, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’re gradually building up a new X-ray image of the whole sky, and it’s possible NICER’s nighttime sweeps will uncover previously unknown sources.”

NICER’s primary mission is to determine the size of dense remains of dead stars called neutron stars — some of which we see as pulsars — to a precision of 5%. These measurements will finally allow physicists to solve the mystery of what form of matter exists in their incredibly compressed cores. Pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars that appear to “pulse” bright light, are ideally suited to this “mass-radius” research and are some of NICER’s regular targets.

Other frequently visited pulsars are studied as part of NICER's Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment, which uses the precise timing of pulsar X-ray pulses to autonomously determine NICER’s position and speed in space. It’s essentially a galactic GPS system. When mature, this technology will enable spacecraft to navigate themselves throughout the solar system — and beyond.

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Is this the greatest shot in TV journalism?

Here's James Burke reporting on the 20th August 1977 launch of Voyager 2. It ends with an amazing 20-second shot that would be ridiculously difficult to execute with a modern journalistic workflow, but so easy to fake you'd never trust it even if they did.

One chance, and if James Burke had missed, there would have been no chance of a re-shoot. Taken from Connections(1978), Episode 8, "Eat, Drink and be Merry". Copyright BBC, starring James Burke.

His sign-off, "destination Moon ... or Moscow," is really something!

[via @Rainmaker1973]

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Beautiful book, augmented reality, and film about stunning rocket launches

In the realm of rocket geeks and space nerds, filmmakers MaryLiz Bender and Ryan Chylinski have dream jobs. The pair have the equivalent of "backstage passes" to SpaceX, NASA and ULA rocket launches where they capture and share breathtaking videos that convey the power, risk, and thrill of space exploration. The work of their studio, called Cosmic Perspective, is visceral, wondrous, and inspiring. Now Bender and Chylinski are creating a fascinating art book enhanced with augmented reality along with a companion short film "documenting humanity's grand adventure to space." Titled "Guidance Internal: Lessons from Astronauts," the book, film, and their touring Cosmic Perspective show lies at the intersection of science and art "to inspire hope, elevate empathy, and bring people together." They've launched a Kickstarter to support the project and it looks, well, stellar.

From Kickstarter:

The art and the pages in this book come to life immediately teleporting you to rocket launch pads, directly to our intimate interviews with astronauts and the people sending missions to space. We fuse art with science blending our love of high-dynamic range photography with compelling video to capture the emotion, excitement, and gravity of these events. We also give you a front-row seat to transformative performances by artists inspired by these experiences.

We place autonomous high-resolution and ultra-high speed video cameras at the launchpads of SpaceX, NASA, and ULA. These are cameras we place well ahead of the liftoff, design to survive the elements and, since no humans can be anywhere near the rockets, trigger without any human interaction.

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Watch Russian rocket struck by lightning at launch

Lightning hit a Russian Soyuz rocket right after liftoff today. The direct hit resulted in nothing more (and nothing less) than this thrilling video. From Space.com:

The lightning strike occurred during the launch of a Glonass-M navigation satellite from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome about 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of Moscow at 9:23 a.m. Moscow time (0623 GMT). In a statement, officials with Russia's space agency Roscosmos announced that the rocket successfully reached orbit.

"Lightning is not an obstacle for you!" Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter while congratulating the Glonass-M launch team and military Space Forces.

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Jupiter's great red spot "unraveling"

Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a vast storm system visible on the gas giant since at least the 1830s and perhaps the 1660s, is reportedly "unraveling."

“I haven’t seen this before in my 17-or-so years of imaging Jupiter,” reports veteran observer Anthony Wesley of Australia, who photographed a streamer of gas detaching itself from the GRS on May 19th: The plume of gas is enormous, stretching more than 10,000 km from the central storm to a nearby jet stream that appears to be carrying it away. Wesley says that such a streamer is peeling off every week or so.

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NASA launching living things into deep space for the first time (on purpose) in nearly 50 years

Next year, NASA's Artemis 1 mission will carry a baker's dozen of small cubesats to space, including one that's home to a colony of yeast cells. That cubesat, BioSentinel, will orbit the sun to help scientists understand how space radiation affects living organisms outside of Low Earth Orbit. NASA hasn't purposely sent any lifeforms beyond Low Earth Orbit since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972. (Purposely is a key word because of course every probe launched carries some accidental microbial contamination.) From Space.com:

But Apollo 17 lasted less than two weeks. BioSentinel will gather data for nine to 12 months, opening a window on the long-term effects of deep-space radiation on DNA and DNA repair...

The 30-lb. (14 kilograms) satellite will carry two different varieties of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae: the normal "wild type," which is quite radiation-resistant, and a mutant type, which is much more sensitive because it can't repair its DNA nearly as well.

"Importantly, yeast's DNA damage-repair process is highly similar to that of humans, making it a robust translational model," NASA officials wrote on the BioSentinel fact sheet. "BioSentinel's results will be critical for interpreting the effects of space radiation exposure, reducing the risk associated with long-term human exploration and validating existing models of the effects of space radiation on living organisms."

From NASA:

BioSentinel’s microfluidics card (seen above), designed at NASA Ames, will be used to study the impact of interplanetary space radiation on yeast. Once in orbit, the growth and metabolic activity of the yeast will be measured using a 3-color LED detection system and a metabolic indicator dye.

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NASA probe spots the final lunar resting place of the crashed Israeli spacecraft

Last month, Israeli non-profit SpaceIL's Beresheet probe made it to the lunar surface but sadly it wasn't a soft landing. Beresheet was the first private attempt at a lunar landing and they got pretty damn close. A couple weeks after the crash, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter orbited over the area and NASA has released images that show the impact site. From NASA:

LROC took this image from 56 miles (90 kilometers) above the surface. The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact. The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.

From so far away, LROC could not detect whether Beresheet formed a surface crater upon impact. It’s possible the crater is just too small to show up in photos. Another possibility is that Beresheet formed a small indent instead of a crater, given its low angle of approach (around 8.4 degrees relative to the surface), light mass (compared to a dense meteoroid of the same size), and low velocity (again, relative to a meteoroid of the same size; Beresheet’s speed was still faster than most speeding bullets).

The light halo around the smudge could have formed from gas associated with the impact or from fine soil particles blown outward during Beresheet’s descent, which smoothed out the soil around the landing site, making it highly reflective...

Most importantly, we knew the coordinates of the landing site within a few miles thanks to radio tracking of Beresheet, and we have 11 “before” images of the area, spanning a decade, and three “after” images.

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