All posts by Steve Shurtleff

Mars or Bust!

Astronaut Abby, from her Facebook page

Astronaut Abby, from her Facebook page

I sometimes think about my teenage years and the way I would pass the time, which was usually off at one friend’s house or another. Like most, I hadn’t really given much thought to what I would do with myself after school was done, I simply meandered, concerned mostly with things like the inevitable weekend parties, etc.

The younger crowd I know today, though that’s a small bunch, doesn’t seem to have changed much, the difference being that now they have video games and cell phones.

However, just as there was in my early years, there are exceptions.

Abigail Harrison is a great example of this.

Better known as “Astronaut Abby”, she is intending to be on the first manned Mars mission, and it looks like she just might succeed.

At 15, she will be serving as the Earth liaison to Luca Parmitano, one of Italy’s foremost astronauts and her mentor for the last 2 years, when he begins his rotation aboard the ISS. In fact, Abby currently has a fundraiser in progress to cover the costs of attending Parmitano’s launch from Kazakhstan.

And she’s not stopping there.

She is also very active in youth outreach, working with other kids to generate interest in space and science. While Parmitano will still be communicating through the ESA, he will also be speaking to kids through Abby.


Well, who would be better at talking to teenagers than another teenager, especially one who is already involved in space efforts?

And, as she is already doing, she is a great inspiration for others who want to…


For more information about Abby, visit:,, and

To make a donation for her trip to Kazakhsan and join her “crew”, visit


This week in Photos

PtS LogoWhat a week! And it’s not over yet…

Joe and I have been conversing extensively lately, working on new ideas and setting up some exciting new concepts.

While a lot of it is still being developed, it looks like we might have some pretty big things coming up, and just maybe some new, though familiar, faces.

Needless to say, we’re all quite excited, and we want you to be excited with us.

So, now more than ever, stay tuned.

And dream.


Which would you choose?

58850_10151670170752868_1850679494_nBack in 1964, Frank Sinatra engaged us with the most well-known recording of “Fly Me to the Moon”.

Do you think he would have made that request if he knew it was a one-way trip? Or if he would be permitted to sing only the first line of any song once he arrived?

NASA has taken the idea one step further with MAVEN, an upcoming unmanned Mars mission, and is offering the public a chance to send their name stored on a dvd to be placed aboard the craft. A contest is also being offered for a chance to send a haiku on the journey as well, but only 3 submissions will be chosen for the flight.

Now, you might think that this competes with what we do at Photos to Space, but it really doesn’t.

First off, our trips are not planned to be one-way, as is the case with the MAVEN flight. The photo you send is returned. Secondly, NASA isn’t sending photos, just as we don’t send your name.

However, as we do return your selection to you, this means we aren’t able to send your photo beyond orbit.


Besides, MAVEN won’t launch until later this year, and we’ve already had several flights.

We may someday have the ability to send your photo to another planet and back, or maybe someday send something other than a photo.

You may even be the one who makes that possible.



Say cheese!

imagesCAT8M76FSay cheese?

With the weather at least hypothetically getting warmer (it’s snowing in Colorado as I write this), we’re coming into the perfect time of year for rocket launches.

Which means that it’s the perfect time to get your cameras ready and get some pictures that you’d like to send into space!

What kinds of photos? You can send a photo of yourself, or someone else, or a pet, or anything you care to, for that matter, into space and back. You can even send a photo of someone you don’t like into space, just remember that it’s a round trip.

For only $6.95, the photo you choose can go into on a sub-orbital flight all the way into outer space and back.

Or, for only $1.49, your photo will go on a near-space flight to an altitude of about 20 miles before returning. Not quite into space, but still 3 times higher than most planes would fly.

Either way, you’ll even receive a record of the flight and a certificate with the photo on it.

Not to mention that there aren’t many other space collectibles you can get for $1.49, or even $6.95, and, as far as we can tell, this is the only one personalized for you.

And you can even give the experience as a gift! Imagine giving someone an adventure that they will remember for their entire life while not going bankrupt in the process.

So for only $6.95, you can venture all the way into space and back. In most places, that wouldn’t even pay for a taxicab ride around the block!

And as always…



And the winner is…

Well, the Blog Contest has come to a close after 2 months, time to announce the finalist.

And the winner is…


Sad to say, nobody has won the contest, because…well…nobody entered.

But all is not lost.

This serves as an excellent example of the commercial space field.

As the field continues to grow, it will become less and less a thing to sit back and watch, and more and more a field to get involved with yourself. NASA is not the only game in town anymore, so there will be all manner of ways you can get involved, and the payoff will be far greater than just having your blog entry posted on the internet.

Since the field is still very young but growing, getting involved now will make it easier for you to even steer the direction it grows in, as well as allow you to steer your own life in new directions.

You can be the leader instead of the one doing the following, though that can also be a good thing. Not everyone wants to be in charge, but if you’re reading this, odds are that you want to be part of it in some way.

The contest itself gave the chance for people to get their ideas out where others can read them, which is what this stage of commercial space is ready for. It needs new thoughts and concepts, and there’s a chance that yours are the ideas that will cause it to go that much further.

For example, just 2 days ago, Joe and I were talking about cooking in space. Granted, we’ve never tried it, but from what we’ve heard, the menu on the ISS isn’t exactly gourmet. So what would it be like to really cook in zero-g? Well, first off, how could that be done? Easy. We postulated something along the lines of an electric frying pan with a secured lid that could cook by convection and conduction at the same time.

Or simply spin part of the station to simulate gravity, but that would take a bit more doing.

In the end, that’s just one of many facets of life in space that will have to be addressed.

How can you address them?




Still think cold showers are unpleasant?

The Chelyabinsk Meteor, February 2013

The Chelyabinsk Meteor, February 2013

Nearly all of us do it.

We get up in the morning, grab some coffee (well, some of us do, anyway), and stagger off towards the shower.

Now, imagine being a planet. It never gets to sleep, doesn’t drink coffee, though it does produce it, and taking a shower means getting pelted by rocks called meteors.

Bear in mind that Earth has been putting up with this for over 4,000,000,000 years, and the shower never really ends.

But it’s not all bad, at least not from our perspective, especially as most burn up and never reach the planet’s surface.

In fact, twice a year, the meteor activity gets so intense that huge numbers of people look to the sky to see the bright trails as the wayward voyagers enter our atmosphere and burn up.

The Perseid Meteor Shower occurs in early to mid August and presents a few meteors every minute.

The second major display, the Leonids, takes place in mid November, but approximately every 33 years, the Leonids become a meteor storm, presenting thousands of meteors every hour.

So what is the difference between a meteor and an asteroid, like 2012 DA14?

Location, location, location.

An asteroid is simply a rock that isn’t a planet or a moon and floats through space. Our solar system contains millions of them.

A meteor is simply a rock that isn’t a planet or a moon that enters a planet’s atmosphere. If it actually reaches the surface of a planet, it then becomes known as a meteorite.

Now, before you ask, let’s look at the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in Febuary 2013. Notice that it’s called a meteor and not a meteorite.


Although pieces of it were found on the surface, it exploded while still over 14 miles above the ground. So while most of it remained a meteor, some small meteorites were produced.

How powerful was the explosion? About 440 kilotons, or about 25 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Even from 14 miles away, the exploding meteor resulted in just under 1,500 injuries.

Remember, though, that events like that are very rare.

The odds of being injured by one are…sorry, there’s no other way to put this…astronomical.

So keeping looking up.

And, as always, dream.


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist

A little over a week ago, I had a conversation with someone who said that he had some ideas for propulsion systems but thought his ideas to be useless because he’s (in his words) “not a rocket scientist”.

I’m going to let you in on a few secrets here.

I’m not a rocket scientist either. Not even close. My background is mostly in the IT field, with some time spent in a few other endeavours, such as operating a crematory and managing a weapons shop for a while. I’ve never even flown a model rocket.

So what qualifies me to be writing, or even working at all, for an aerospace company?

Simple. The same thing that would qualify anyone else.

Now that the space field is becoming privatized, the most important trait needed to be a part of it is:


Wanting to be a part of it is more than enough qualification to do so.

Maybe you haven’t (as I haven’t) gained a degree in aeronautical engineering and aren’t in a position to design rockets. Maybe you haven’t gone to flight school and won’t be piloting a starship.

So what?

That’s not all there is.

Sometimes the most important contribution is simply to have an idea and voice it.

In other words…



Humanity, Party of 7,000,000,000

What Mars may look like if terraformed

What Mars may look like if terraformed

Have you ever tried to get a table after walking into a popular restaurant on a weekend evening and finding that you’re in for a 2 hour wait?

Doing so provides a great lesson in the value of calling ahead.

And so it is with the idea of colonizing other planets or moons. They need to be ready for us to arrive before we get there.

Terraforming is a concept that allows us to do that, in a way. It’s a process of transforming a planet or moon from its current state into one that will allow humans to survive on it.

Obviously, this would take a rather long time.

Scientists are looking at several planets and moons as potential terraforming sites, but the 3 most popular are Mars, Venus, and Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons).

Mars is the most similar to Earth and is thought to have once been capable of supporting life, but nobody is sure yet why it no longer does. It’s also in the “Goldilocks Zone”, meaning that it’s within the right range of distances from the Sun to be a candidate for colonization.

Venus is also considered a potential planet. Terraforming there would involve the daunting task of removing most of the carbon dioxide and reducing the temperature to a more hospitable level.

Europa is a possibility because of the liquid water already present, but Europa is also close to Jupiter’s radiation belt, so terraforming would be possible, though more than a bit difficult.

There could come a day when, if asked where they are from, a person may find themselves having to specify the planet rather than the nation or region.

And that person may be one of your descendants.

Imagine being the last member of your family to be born on Earth.



Don’t touch that dial!

imagesCA5HOF84Though I watch no broadcast or cable channels, having the television set on is still a nearly constant circumstance, as is the dvd player being in use.

So if not watching tv in the traditional sense, what is it that’s playing?

During the day, when working here at the desk, it’s often something having to do with science, even science fiction (though not always).

What exactly is playing?

“Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” is a popular choice. It’s not just limited to space exploration and examines various aspects of science in a way anyone can understand. Besides, who doesn’t like Morgan Freeman?

“The Universe” is also a good option. Clearly aimed at space, it also provides a lot of good information, drawing on today’s top astrophysicists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, and Alex Fillipenko for lessons, just to name a few, who also bear in mind that most of us don’t have doctorates.

Though not as well known, Stephen Hawking himself has a program entitled “Into the Universe”. Even Sam Neill hosted a documentary for the BBC called “Hyperspace”. From the Discovery channel, we have “When We Left Earth”, about the NASA missions.

I recently worked my way through Showtime’s “From the Earth to the Moon”, a docudrama about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights of the 1960’s and 70’s.

As for sci-fi shows and movies, I often lean towards shows about exploration, like the original “Star Trek” series. However, adversaries seem to be the most common plot device, and programs such as “Battlestar Galactica” certainly have that, yet still focus on the characters and the situations they find themselves in more than the battles themselves. “Firefly” also fits nicely into this category, though in a unique way.

But suppose you simply want to be entertained without having to exert a large amount of mental effort? All is not lost, films like “Event Horizon” and “The Black Hole” work well for that.

Which one is right for you? Well, that’s entirely your call. Let your preferences guide you.

Space is limitless, as are the entertainment options.

Or perhaps you have your own ideas for programming.

What do you have in mind?



We are not alone…

149454_585340718161966_2094698763_nWe are not alone…

It occured to me that the commerical space industry is organized somewhat like the Universe.

No, really!

Think about it…it’s full of individual galaxies, all with certain common traits, some drifting together, others apart, but all part of the same cosmos.

The difference, though, is that in commercial space, life in different “galaxies” is actively communicating with life in others. Let’s look at one of the “life forms” the folks at Photos to Space are in touch with.

Everyday Spacer was founded to show the “person on the street” what they can do to get involved in the commercial space industry today. Founded and operated by Pam Hoffman, who has extensive experience in the spaceflight field, Everyday Spacer has already amassed a list of over 100 activities that you can be a part of.

But suppose you know a youngster who’s just starting to develop an interest? No problem! Everyday Spacer can help people of any age with any amount of experience, and of any budget level.

So why not check it out today at You may just find the inspiration to create a “galaxy” of your own.

As Pam tells us, “It’s all about action!”


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