Tag Archives: space


Ok, so you all know I’m a huge space-buff and all.  I really like astronomy, but I’ve never been good at identifying stars and constellations in the night sky.  Well I figured someone must have made some software (the math is not very hard) to plot all the stars and planets visible from any given location on earth.  I was never able to find something like that. 

Until now.

Its a nifty little piece of free software called Stellarium.  Takes only a few seconds to install after its downloaded, and its super easy to use. 

The program has tons of features, allowing you to fast forward or reverse time to see when an object will rise or set, it shows major satellites to help find stuff like the ISS, it shows all the constellations, like 600,000 stars and tons of nebula and galaxies that you can zoom in on.  Just let it know where in the world you are viewing from, and it will handle all the rest.

So if you’ve ever wondered where to find a star in the sky, what the constellations are and where they’re located, or figure out when you can see a planet in the sky, check Stellarium out. 

*This is not a paid advertisement.  Although I’d pay for it.


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More on the shuttle retirements

Just real quick, I saw an interesting post with some thoughts on the space shuttle museum plan that I talked about in my post yesterday.  It’s by a guy named Wayne Hale, who is a legend in the US space program.  He was a space shuttle mission controller from the early days of the shuttle program, and he eventually came to be in charge of the whole space shuttle program after the Columbia disaster. 

Anyway, he contends that part of the reason Houston did not get a shuttle was because there just wasn’t that much interest in the Houston area to get one.  He said it seemed like everyone in the Houston area just has a very blase attitude to NASA and Johnson space center, almost a sence of entitlement.  Sounds like a pretty good point to me.

This kinda makes me wonder if it’s reflecting a broader line of thought throughout Texas.  If there is one state in the union that is against the federal government spending money, its Texas.  Maybe Texans are happy with their oil industries and whatever else goes on down there, and isn’t concerned about big government research or space facilities. I dunno. 

But I’m happy Florida is getting one.


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Future of the Space Shuttles

Well, NASA made the announcement about where the remaining space shuttle orbiters are going to end up.  It’s been a long wait, they’ve been discussing this for somewhere around two years now.  The results are:

Discovery is going to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.  She’s the oldest orbiter, and has flown the most of any of them.  I think this is a good decision, as she will have a huge number of people visit, and she is a worthy companion to the Write Flyer, Spirit of Saint Louis, the Apollo 11 CM and SpaceShip One. 

Atlantis will be staying in Florida, at KSC.  Again, I think this is a good decision.  The space center museums and displays here are great, especially the Saturn V center, with a full Saturn V rocket and many other artifacts from the space program over the years.  Also, I think this may save some time and money with the whole shuttle program shutdown.  Atlantis will be the last orbiter to fly, so any equipment needed to transfer her to her final resting place will need to be kept ready for when she’s been all cleaned up.  This way, after Endeavour, Discovery and Enterprise have been moved, they can retire all that extra equipment earlier than if they had to also wait to move Atlantis across the country, instead of down the road.

Endeavour will be moving to the California Science Center.  Also a good move, as this is only about 100 miles from the shuttle landing strip at NASA Dryden, and just down the road from where the orbiters were designed and built.  While it would be nice, I don’t think they’ll be able to save time by just landing Endeavour out there and wheeling her right over to the museum.  She’ll have to spend a lot of time back at KSC, getting all clean and pretty first.

Enterprise, the vehicle that was used to fly the landing tests for the shuttle program back in the 70’s but has never been into space, has been at the Smithsonian these last few decades.  She is going to be moved to the Intrepid Air and Space museum in New York City.  Again, I think this is a pretty good choice.  This museum is one I really want to stop at next time I’m up there.  They have a whole aircraft carrier, and a bunch of aircraft.  It’s also located in the US’s biggest and most famous city, sure to draw huge crowds of visitors.

There are the usual numbers of people complaining about the decisions, because they didn’t get what they wanted.  Whatever, I think these were all very good choice.  A lot of people have wondered why Houston didn’t get one, considering all the astronauts live there, Mission Control is there, etc.  Well, I have to say, having visited the Space Center Houston, it was a good choice.  The place has very few artifacts, not a whole lot of good museum quality displays, and has only decided to put their huge Saturn V rocket under an open air shed in the last decade or so. 

Various other artifacts and shuttle flight simulators are going to museums around the country, so there should be plenty of opportunities to see some of this cool stuff.  I have to say, it’s nice knowing that I made some small contribution to this huge, three decade long program.  Here’s to hoping the next program accomplishes even more.

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Space Update

I haven’t done any space posts in a while, so I’ll include some updates about stuff going on above the atmosphere.  As seen in the picture above, the Expedition 27 crew for the International Space Station launched from Kazakhstan on their way to the ISS.  They are flying on the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft, lifting off from the exact same launchpad that Yuri Gagarin flew from back in 1961. 

And it’s interesting that I mention Yuri, because next Tuesday, the 12th, is Yuri’s Night.   It’s the 50th anniversary of the first time humanity orbited our home planet.  Space organizations and nerds around the globe make it a big night of celebration.  If this sounds interesting, click the link for Yuri’s night above.  They have collected there a ton of parties around the world, so you can find a local one if it sounds like your thing. 

In other news, the space shuttle Endeavour is being readied for launch on April 29th, for her last flight into space.  She’s carrying a bunch of spare parts, as well as a super cool high-energy physics experiment that will be left at the station to do science over the next decade. 

Discovery, having returned to earth for the last time is in the process of being safed and readied for transport to the Smithsonian museum.   I will definitely make a visit to see her once she’s there.  I miss that job.

The MESSENGER spacecraft around Mercury is sending back awesome photos of never-before-seen parts of that planet. 

SpaceX has made of bunch of ripples with an announcement they want to build a big super rocket to launch something like 58 tons to low earth orbit.  Unfortunately, every article I see about this reads exactly like a press release.  I’m all for SpaceX, and I wish them well.  I just wish there was a bit more skepticism out there about their claims for cost to orbit and such.  I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude. 

Not much new from the rovers on Mars.  Spirit is still silent, and I think might be gone for good, while Opportunity continues to drive merrily along on the other side of the red planet.  She’s already passed 17 miles, and is years and years past her expiration date. 

The Dawn spacecraft is due to arrive at the asteroid Vesta this July.  I really like this mission, because it’s doing something no spacecraft has done.  It’s going to arrive at Vesta and go into orbit around that.  Then, after it’s spent about a year there, it will fire up it’s ion engine again, and head off to visit another asteroid, Ceres.  Ceres is the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, and is so large it’s gravity has smooshed it into a perfect sphere, like a planet.  Dawn will spend another year there doing science.  Two asteroids, one spacecraft, lots of science.  What’s not to love?

If there is anything you can think of you’d like to ask about, please do below.  Thanks!

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Wow, tonight is a busy night

I hesitate to say it, but it looks like things are beginning to stabilize at the damaged reactors in Japan.  Brave New Climate has a round-up of the latest.  At least some off-site power is available at the plant, a generator is working, radiation levels are falling, and containment is holding pressure.  Call my extremely cautiously optimistic.

MESSENGER will be entering into orbit around Mercury this evening.  Watch video from the control room here, along with updates of mission milestones. 

And, the UN has passed a resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.  And I’m no diplomat, but it seems to authorize airstrikes as well, stopping short only of calling for an invasion.  I expect Qadhafi’s tanks and artillery to be taking a beating shortly.  Full text here, and BBC overview here

We live in interesting times.

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A few links

Got home a bit late tonight, so I’m just going to post some links to stuff I found interesting.

This Slate article is a few days old, so it doesn’t mention some of the more recent bad news about the nuclear reactors in Japan, but it has some good perspective.

Another blog post with corrections to some common misconceptions about the disaster in Japan.

And good ol’ Scientific American has this article on relative radiation release between coal and nuclear plants.

In non-disaster news, the spacecraft MESSENGER will be going into orbit around Mercury tomorrow, the first time that’s ever been done before. 


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NASA has NOT found alien life.

So Fox News published an exclusive story about a NASA scientist who claims to have discovered evidence for life in a meteorite.  Hate to break anyone’s bubble, but this is another one of those times when a single person obsesses over one particular idea, and sees evidence for that idea everywhere.  The actual paper the guy wrote is here

Now of course, I am not a scientist, and most of the information in that paper is way over my head.  There are lots of cool graphs and pretty pictures.  Unfortunately, cool graphics aren’t everything.  Below are some responses from actual scientists.  Seems there’s not a lot of support out there for this claim.

P.Z Myers, a biologist and professor wrote about this story here and here

Rosie Redfield, a biologist who also debunked the story about the arsenic life in Mono lake give this take

Discover Magazine talks a bit more about it here.

And astronomer, blogger, writer and friend of Mythbuster Adam Savage, Phil Plait talks about it here and here

Long story short, overly enthusiastic scientist with dubious claims publishes a paper in a dubious journal without any kind of peer review, and uses his NASA credentials to increase the visibility.  I think it does illustrate one of the reasons science works so well.  Folks can make any claim they want, but if the claim is not backed up by solid evidence, other scientists will blast holes in the claim.  Claim is discarded, scientists reload their guns, and wait for the next claim to come along.  Maybe that one will hold a bit more water.

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