All posts by Steve Shurtleff

Moving starward

proxima centauriHere on Earth, we know that life is made possible by our nearest star, the Sun, also sometimes called Sol. We also know that the Sun is one of billions of stars in this galaxy.

So which is the next closest?

Proxima Centauri, in the Alpha Centauri solar system, is about 4 light-years away, which means that light from this star takes 4 years to reach Earth.

So how far away is that?

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, so over the space of 4 years, it covers about 23,462,784,000,000 miles.

So what does that mean in everyday terms?

If you got in your car and could drive there non-stop at 60 mph, it would take you 44,640,000 years to cover the distance. In other words, make sure you eat your breakfast, pack a lunch, and grab your favorite 8-track before starting on the trip.

Obviously, we won’t be able to get there with the vehicles we have today, but research is being done on the technologies that will one day take us there.

Earth is our beginning, but everyone travels at one point or another.



Looking up

Most of us, myself included, have a person, or perhaps a list of people we look up to for guidance or inspiration. They could be those who we just admire. Maybe we even call them “heroes”.

So what does someone have to do for me to consider them a hero? Anyone who can accomplish a major feat when so many around them tell them it can’t be done is a hero.

Chuck YeagerChuck Yeager comes to mind. On October 14th, 1947, he became the fastest man in the world when he broked the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 “Glamorous Glynnis”. Yeager was not the first to attempt it, though, and more than one pilot before him had been killed in the attempt. In fact, even some of the engineers and scientists working on the project said the sound barrier would never be broken.

tuskegeeairmenI also consider the 332nd Fighter Escort Group of WWII to be heroic. You may know them as the Tuskegee Airmen. The 332nd was the first fighter squadron composed of black pilots. Take into account the period of history. At that time, black people in general were considered somehow inferior, and even in the military, they were seen as incapable of operating combat aircraft. Their flight training was seen as simply an experiment. So what did they do? They not only proved that they could become effective pilots, when assigned to bomber escort duty, not one bomber under their care was lost to enemy action – a claim that no “white” fighter squadron could make. And they did it with a huge group of people saying they couldn’t. Heroes? Most definitely.

collageWhile not quite a hero, I also admire Anthony Bourdain for his ability to entertain. Though not the first “rock star chef”, he is one of the most visible personalities working to make cooking “cool”. I look at Betty White in a similar way for her personality, as well as George Takei for his sense of humor, and Mr. Spaid (my favorite teacher – ever) for his unfailiing ability to pun.

So who do you look to for inspiration?

Who is your hero?



Punching the clock

timeclockDo you remember when starting your workday meant punching a time card?

I’m going to show my age here and say that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a punch clock, and longer still since I’ve had to use one.

They’re still in use today, though, in all kinds of workplaces, like warehouses, kitchens, and construction sites, just to name a few.

All of the above are going to be workplaces in space also.

Not everyone who works in space is going to be flying a ship, conducting experiments, or taking spacewalks.

Someone still has to get the food ready, manage parts inventories, and build the shelters. You get the idea.

So if you’re watching the activity and wish you had a place in it, but don’t think you have the skills, think again.

There’s a time card up there with your name on it.

Space needs you.



Zephram Cochrane

Glenn Corbett as Zephram Cochrane

Glenn Corbett as Zephram Cochrane

Back on 1/24, I posted a blog about scientific advances following the lead of fiction. Earlier today, Joe suggested expanding on one aspect of this, namely the likelihood that the world of Star Trek will ever become a reality.

So I became curious about what may be the most well-known element of that universe and looked up Zephram Cochrane.

In case the name doesn’t sound familiar, he was said to be the inventor of the Warp Drive, and according to Star Trek lore, he was (will be?) born this year.

Now, those who enjoy Star Trek as much as I do know that, while there is a good job of character development, the show and movies tend to revolve more around the technology and what the characters do with it than the characters themselves.

In the blog mentioned earlier, I had mentioned that at least some of the technology suggested by Gene Roddenberry is currently being developed.

Czech scientists have created a small-scale tractor beam.

Another group of scientists have successfully “transported” a photon from one point to another

Stephen Hawking himself really is doing research on making Warp Drive a reality.

Many of us encounter talking computers nearly every day.

Think about how many other pieces of technology are depicted. Shuttlecraft. Tricorders. Phasers. Holodecks.

Will those become real too?

That could be up to you.


Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount Pictures.


Procrastinate later!

space clockSome say that my blogs come across as being a bit “pushy”. They’re right.

This is done deliberately.

While Commercial Space is a newborn field, the birth has indeed occured, and this particular infant is growing exceptionally quickly. Any parent could also tell you that young ones need constant attention in order to grow and be healthy.

In other words, now is the time to lend a hand, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or engineer to help out. Granted, we don’t all have a lot of free time, but any that you can spare will help, even if it’s something as simple as just pondering your future or encouraging your own children to think about their futures as the private space industry develops.

By doing that, you take steps to shape the future of all.

Besides, have you ever seen a child’s face the first time they watch a rocket leave the pad?

Don’t miss out on the future.



Four Leaf Clovers

four-leaf-cloverIrish legend states that a Four Leaf Clover brings luck, hope, and/or good fortune.

Ever looked closely at one? It couldn’t be more well-named. It has, conveniently enough, four leaves, and like other plants, sprouts these four leaves at the top of a stem.

There is a new kind of stem being talked about lately which also supports four amazing “leaves”, and still represents hope.

The STEM Initiative is a project designed to promote education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (hence STEM), especially for children.

This is becoming increasingly important. Let’s face it, education in general lately isn’t what it once was. Schools are falling behind. Ironically, though, technology isn’t slowing down in the slightest, and it’s highly dependent on science, engineering, and mathematics. It’s a symbiosis, much in the same way that plants, including four leaf clovers, are symbiotic with people.

And just because you breathe, you’re a part of it.

For more information, visit



2012 DA 14

2012da14_sMeteor. Deep Impact. Armageddon.

Like me, you’ve probably seen at least one of these films. Hollywood just loves movies about the destruction of the Earth due to planetary impact, and based on ticket sales, so do many movie-goers.

Remember, though, that these are all works of fiction.

But they’re also all based in reality. The fact is that Earth gets hit by wayward rocks every day.

And so it will be on Friday, February 15th. But there’s one that, while it will be close, will simply pass us by. The asteroid 2012 DA 14 will pass within 17,000 miles of the Earth’s surface. How close is that? It will pass within the orbits of our geosynchronous satellites, which circle overhead at an altitude of about 26,200 miles.

That’s right, it will come closer to us than some of our own satellites.

However, don’t be in too much of a rush to build that emergency bunker; it’s not going to hit the surface. Dozens of scientists have been keeping an eye on it for well over a year now, and we’re not in any danger.

In fact, in North America, it won’t even be visible when it passes by. After that, there won’t be another close pass for at least another 30 years.

So are going to go the way of the dinosaurs? Maybe.

But not this year.

Dream easy.


What are the odds?

UniverseNot to state the obvious, but Earth is one planet, orbiting one star.

This may also seem obvious, but the Sun is not the only star. The Milky Way galaxy alone contains about 300 billion stars. If that’s correct, it means that the odds of Earth being the only planet in this galaxy with life on it are 300,000,000,000 to 1.

And the Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy. The information we have now places the estimated number of galaxies in the universe as high as 500 billion. In other words, for every star in the Milky Way, there could be another entire galaxy.

Obviously, this changes the odds. If both of the above are true, that means that (assuming my math is correct, it was never my best subject) the odds of Earth being the only planet with life are now 150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1.

Pretty lopsided odds, yes?

So do I think there is life on other planets?

No. I don’t think there is.

I know there is.

There’s no dreaming involved in this one.


Know your place!

Jay Looking SkywardKids don’t stay kids forever, and progress, by nature, doesn’t stand still.

This is especially true of the commercial space field. NASA, as outstanding a job as it has done, is no longer the only outfit sending people off the planet. There are new companies being created on a weekly basis, some aimed at passenger travel, others at cargo delivery, and still others at ongoing research and development.

Given these advancements, the younger crowd is going to have opportunities that past and even many present generations simply haven’t had. And not all of them will even involve getting aboard a spacecraft.

It won’t be long at all before a multitude of new engineers, designers, technicians will be called on to steer the industry in new directions, and when that call comes, it will be aimed at the same people who are playing with Legos and studying their schoolbooks today.

So, young ones, where will you fit into the picture? Designing and building new ships, maybe? Or perhaps managing a team of flight controllers? Actually sitting in the pilot’s chair?

Any and all of these are within reach.



Trees just don’t grow in a vacuum

spacetreeSpace holds a lot of wonderous phenomena.

Trees, amazing as they are, aren’t among them. One might even go so far as to say that there’s no real place in space for things that would ordinarily be used to fell one.

Historically as well, and speaking of trees, males are most often thought of when it comes to lumberjacking, and also when most consider astronauts.

However, this has no resemblance to reality.

Astronauts, and I’m willing to bet lumberjacks, are both male and female. Neither gender possesses any unique traits that make it better suited to either job, much in the same way both men and women seek positions as lifeguards and firefighters. Men and women both have every right to explore space.

And so, Photos to Space encourages both males and females to take part in the exploration. Even if another aspect of commercial spaceflight, such as space mining or ground operations, is of more interest to you than tourism (even virtual tourism), we support completely learning all that you can about that aspect, and contributing all that you can in whatever way you see fit.

As private-sector space grows, there will be countless opportunities for learning. Colleges and Universities will be adapting to the growth as well, offering all-new programs in engineering, flight operations, and even navigation. Early ocean-based exploration utilized the stars to find their way; imagine using the stars while you’re among them.

As always, Dream!

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