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!”



What goes up…

The Apollo 16 Command Module descends under canopy

The Apollo 16 Command Module descends under canopy

Ever heard of Louis-Sébastien Lenormand?

What if I told you that manned spaceflight could never have happened without him, and unmanned flights would all be one-way trips?

In the late 1700’s, he invented and tested the world’s first modern parachute, a concept originally proposed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci.

Without parachutes, no spacecraft could ever be recovered intact, and no astronauts would survive a return to earth.

So how does it work?

When a rocket or capsule is descending after completing the mission, at least one parachute is deployed to slow the craft to the point at which impacting the ground (or water, in the case of manned capsules) will not destroy the craft.

Basically, once the parachute, also called a canopy, opens, it creates a force called “drag”, meaning that it resists the movement of air as the craft moves downward. The larger the parachute, the more drag is created.

So what would happen without a parachute?

An object falling from space without a parachute would reach what is known as “Terminal Velocity”, meaning that it is moving as fast as it can go through the air.

For a falling person, that would mean hitting the ground at about 120 MPH, but depending on their position it could be much faster.

In other words, it would not be the best day ever, but for the craft or astronaut, it would likely be the last.

Think about it. Modern spaceflight depends heavily on an invention that came to be hundreds of years before the first launch was ever even planned.

I wonder if either da Vinci or Lenormand had any idea how much of an impact their visions would have on the world.

So what visions do you have for the future?



Opportunity abounds!

opportunityWhen we say that there’s Opportunity for exploring Mars, we’re more correct than we know.

One of a set of twin Mars rovers, the other being Spirit (which stopped transmitting in 2010 after becoming stuck in 2009), Opportunity has been in continuous operation since January 25th, 2004. Originally intended only to operate for 90 Martian days, or Sols, Oppprtunity has now been gathering data for 3,240 Sols, 36 times longer than expected.

While Opportunity has proven to have an impressive lifespan, it was not built for speed. On average, it travels just under 1/2″ per second. Since touchdown 9 years ago, it has ventured a little over 22 miles.

Designed to collect a variety of geological data, Opportunity is equipped with a wide assortment of instruments, tools, and cameras.

Though it’s still going strong, Opportunity won’t be the last probe to explore Mars. Plans are underway for further missions to investigate the possibility that Mars once supported life.

As those new endeavours grow near, more scientists, technicians, and engineers will be called upon to assist in the efforts.

Maybe you can be one of them.



Fuel for thought

Diagram of a RocketDyne F-1 Engine

Diagram of a RocketDyne F-1 Engine

We’ve looked at exactly what happens in the last moments leading up to a rocket launch, but what about how it flies off the pad?

Well, the “how” depends on the specific rocket in question.

Rocket engines currently fall into 2 basic types: Solid Fuel and Liquid Fuel.

A Solid Fuel engine can be started only once, but it’s very simple and reliable, and is tremendously powerful. Engines like this are usually employed to get the rocket off the pad initially.

In contrast, a Liquid Fuel rocket is more complex, but can be stopped and started as often as needed providing there is still fuel in the tanks, much like the engine in your car, but far more powerful.

So which one should you use on a rocket if you were to build one?

This also depends on the rocket. Most model rockets use Solid Fuel engines that exist as a single unit and can be replaced for each launch. Remember, though, that engines like the ones you can buy in a store aren’t designed to be very powerful.

For example, if the engine you have onhand is intended to lift 6 ounces or less, including the weight of the engine itself, it wouldn’t even get an astronaut’s lunch off the ground, let alone something like a Saturn V rocket, which was used to propel the Apollo missions into orbit and on to the Moon.

What kind of engine was used for that?

A company called RocketDyne produced a Liquid Fuel engine called the F-1 for the Saturn V launches, each of which used 5 of these engines which, when working together, produced 7,500,000 lbs. of thrust, which made the Saturn V the most powerful rocket ever made. These engines are so large that each of them burns over 3,300 gallons of fuel every second!

So we’ve gotten a glimpse of the smallest and the largest engines, and there is huge array of selection in between the two.

A 3rd type, a Nuclear Fuel Engine, is currently being researched for use on future missions.

Rockets as we know them now have been around for many decades, but do you think it’s still the best way to launch a rocket?

What ideas do you have to get a vehicle into orbit?

There’s a lot of room for new concepts.



A piece of the action

snoopySo now that you’ve sent your photo into space and gotten hooked on space collectibles, where do you go from here?

Well, you could always send more photos, of course, but what if you want to go beyond that?

Then you’re in luck.

All manner of collectibles are available, what you can get mostly depends on how much you want to spend. For example, you can get a 3″ NASA patch for $2.99. Just about anyone could afford that. And the NASA “meatball” is only one of many patches available. In fact, you can get them from as far back as the Mercury Program.

But suppose that’s just not flashy or grand enough.

No problem!

How about an autographed photo of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon? Sure, you can have one for $1200.00.

Ok, too much? That’s fine.

A model of the Apollo 11 Command Module or the Mercury Friendship 7 capsule could grace your desk for under $200.00.

Now, you may have noticed that so far only the US Space Program has been mentioned, but you’re not limited to that. You can collect memorabilia from the Soviet space efforts as well.

Where, you ask?

There are many sites on which you can make purchases, but the two I concentrated on for this blog are:


However, and this is important, please bear in mind that Photos to Space does not make any sort of endorsement of either of the two sites, the addresses are provided for your information.

So what grabs your eye? What would look great on your wall, or your desk, or your favorite jacket?



The tribulations of progress

Flight_lunarIt was in December 1903 that the Wright Brothers carried out the first powered flight. It was only 66 years later that the first human set foot on the Moon.

That’s a lot of progress in a short amount of time, isn’t it?

Many of us enjoyed watching as science provided the research and development of the technologies needed to leave Earth, but not everyone was willing to accept the advancement.

A small group of people, primarily influenced by a radical religious group called the Flat Earth Society, accused NASA of staging the entire Apollo Program and faking the Lunar landings on a soundstage, claiming that photos contained inconsistencies, that the radiation encountered during the flight would have been fatal to humans, and that some of the data from the flights are missing.

Naturally, these claims are false, as equipment left on the Moon is visible through telescopes, and a series of laser reflectors left by both the American Apollo missions and Soviet unmanned probes prove that we have indeed been to the Moon.

Ironically, in the late 1960’s, while the technology existed to reach the Moon and return, we did not have the ability to falsify the footage of the Apollo landings. Filmmaking techniques at the time were simply not advanced enough to recreate the conditions on the Lunar surface.

Though not much effort is needed to refute the claims, scientists on the Discovery cable channel show Mythbusters once collaborated with NASA and dedicated an entire episode to addressing the accusations, duplicating as closely as possible the conditions on the Moon, and successfully refuting several of the claims made by the conspiracists.

In short, yes, we did indeed go to the Moon. I’d like to think that someone will return someday.

Maybe you will be that person.



From the ground up

imagesCAB6OK7FWe know, of course, about the large number of satellites overhead, including the International Space Station. Their presence has become almost a matter of second nature.

But how exactly did they get up there? What occurs to get them from the ground to orbit?

Let’s look at the most crucial 9 minutes in the life of a satellite, using the Space Shuttle as an example.

T-9:00 minutes – Strangely enough, the 9th minute before a launch actually lasts about 45 minutes. During this pause, flight controllers examine their data and give their ok for the launch to proceed.

T-7:30 – The countdown resumes and the walkway that astronauts and technicians use to enter the Shuttle is pulled away. If there is an emergency, the walkway can be moved back into position in as little as 15 seconds.

T-5:00 – If everything is going the way it should, the Shuttle Commander turns on the 3 generators, called APUs (for Auxiliary Power Units), which provide power to the Shuttle’s hydraulic systems.

T-2:00 – Members of the crew close the visors on their helmets.

T-0:31 – Countdown control is transferred from Mission Control to the Shuttle’s computers.

T-0:16 – Very large tanks are prepared to release water onto the base of the launch pad to absorb the vibration and shockwaves that the engines create during liftoff.

T-0:06 – The water from the tanks attached to the launch pad begins to flow and the Shuttle’s 3 Main Engines are ignited. Each of these engines produce 418,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff. That’s so powerful that when the Shuttle clears the top of the Launch Tower, it’s already going about 75 MPH. For comparison, that’s faster acceleration than most drag racing cars.

T-0:00 – At the moment of liftoff, the Solid Rocket Boosters attached to the sides of the external fuel tank are ignited. At the same instant, the large bolts that hold the Shuttle in place are released with explosives and the ascent begins!

Now that the Space Shuttle has been retired, new rockets are constantly begin developed to perform tasks like satellite placement and Space Station resupply flights.

Remember, the end of one thing is always the start of another, and there are lots of opportunities coming up for everyone.



R2D, Too

breadspaceWhat do we do when there is a task to perform in a place where humans can’t go?

We send a robot.

A robot is simply a device, usually controlled by a computer, that performs a specific task, usually mundane, repetitive, or hazardous. Chances are that there are robots in your home right now. An automatic bread maker is a good example.

Perhaps 2 of the best known and complex robots in use today are called Curiosity and Opportunity, robotic probes exploring the surface of Mars.

One of the aspects of automation that generates a large amount of confusion is the difference between a robot and an android. Simply put, an Android is a type of robot designed to mimic human appearance and behavior.

All androids are robots, not all robots are androids.

As private space ventures progress, the need for robots, and probably androids also, will continue to grow and need research, development, design, and engineering.

This too could be your future.



Cats have nothing to worry about

CuriosityIt’s very common when someone is writing about space, especially when relating distances, that cars and driving are used as points of reference. There is more than one example of this in my own blogs, when explaining things like the distance to Proxima Centauri.

It’s fitting then that Curiosity, the Mars exploration rover, is roughly the size of a car.

Launched in November 2011, Curiosity touched down on the surface of Mars in August 2012. The calculations for the flight were so precise that after flying 350,000,000 miles, Curiosity touched down only 1.5 miles from the center of the intended landing area.

Curiosity has several tasks to perform during its mission, which currently has no definite end date. As it moves across the Martian landscape, it will record data about geology and climate, the presence of water and the possibility of microscopic life, and the potential for human habitats on future missions, to name a few.

Equipped with a large number of tools and imaging arrays, Curiosity is not likely to run out of things to do.

Despite its versatility, though, Curiosity, is not the only probe slated to investigate Mars. Opportunity, another rover, was already gathering information when Curiosity began its mission.

There will be more still, as another mission is planned for 2020 and some private firms are starting to plan for manned ventures.

Could you be a part of them?


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