Sunday, January 31, 2010

Upcoming Shuttle/ISS mission posters.

Not the "official" mission photos for the flights, but these are always a lot of fun!

Friday, January 29, 2010

NASA Day of Remembrance - Friday January 29

"If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
 -- Gus Grissom

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What do you call a rover that is stuck? Answer: A LANDER!

Sadly, it seems that our little rover, Spirit, is pretty much stuck in the sands of Mars and unable to dig itself out.  But Spirit isn't dead, just stuck.  A clip from the official NASA press release:

After six years of unprecedented exploration of the Red Planet, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit no longer will be a fully mobile robot. NASA has designated the once-roving scientific explorer a stationary science platform after efforts during the past several months to free it from a sand trap have been unsuccessful. The venerable robot's primary task in the next few weeks will be to position itself to combat the severe Martian winter. If Spirit survives, it will continue conducting significant new science from its final location.
 Rather than trying to crawl out of the trap, the rover drivers will attempt to tilt the rover enough to maintain a better solar panel angle to the sun.  If not, the rover may go to sleep sometime in May.  Will it bet totally dead?  Possibly not, it may simply go into hibernation.
I won't go into the details too deep, Emily at The Planetary Society has a good detailed description of how this might work.  While Spirit hunkers down for the winter, her sister Oppy is running across the dunes like a dog chasing a stick!  Next stop is Concepcion crater which appears to be a fairly new impact crater.
Can't complain too much, this is quite a way past the 90 day warranty!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Here comes Mars......

Get out and see Mars, you can't miss it these days.  No! It's not as big as the full moon, and don't even think of believing that nonsense.

Tomorrow Mars is at opposition, which means it's at it's closest point to the Earth, only 99 million km (or about 61.5 million miles).  When it's at opposition, it is directly in line with the Earth and sun, and opposite of the sun in the sky. So it will rise and sunset, and set at sunrise.  It's nice and high in the sky around midnight, but still a small view due to the distance (not like the full moon!!).  Still, if you have stable, transparent skies, you should be able to make out the polar cap as well as surface features.  Mars is nearing it's farthest point in it's elliptical orbit, so the view will be small.  This will be our best view until 2016 since next time around it will be even farther and smaller.  Here in Seattle, we just sit and hope for a break, but will more likely be shaking a clenched fist at the obscured skies.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Universe Today Guide to Messier objects.

Here is a good page to add to your astro-bookmarks.  Tammy Plotner from has written up a guide to all the Messier objects.  Several photos of each, sky charts, links and other goodies about each of the 110 objects.  Now if skies would just clear in Seattle for a view of M42....

Friday, January 15, 2010

Discounted shuttles after 2010.

I guess the hard times of the slow economy are hitting the market for used space shuttles.  NASA has reduced the price on Atlantis and Endeavour (The Smithsonian has already been promised to claim Discovery) from $42 millon, down to the bargain price of only $28 million for a shuttle.  Of course you can't just buy one for your backyard, the offer is only for museums.
So I'm hoping this will increase the chance that we'll get one here in Seattle, but then again, it may just make the competition for a shuttle more vicious!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010 AL30 misses Earth on Wednesday.

A 30-50 foot chunk of space stuff whizzed past the Earth the other day.  Most likely just an asteroid, but there has been some speculation that it could possibly be the booster from the Venus Express mission.  Seems that it's more likely just a rock.
If the thing hit Earth, it probably would have just created a nice fireworks show and possibly broken up in smaller chunks that could have made it all the way down.  Similar to the asteroid that hit the Sudan last year.  Here is a graphic showing the distance it passed relative to the moon and other familiar stuff.  Compare that with the life destroying 99942 Apophis which was originally thought to bring us doom on 4/13/2029, but recently was downgraded to just a passing rock.  (But the world ends in 2012 anyway!)
Here is a animated photo by Patrick Wiggins in Utah (Right).  I"m pretty confident that I could have done this also with our 12" out in back, but the Seattle skies refuse to clear anytime something like this happens.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Will Phoenix wake up and rise from the dead?

Starting on January 18, the Mars Odyssey orbiter will pass over the frozen carcass of the Phoenix lander and take a listen for any signals from the spacecraft.  There is a slight chance that the lander could come to life again since the sun is getting higher in the sky and there could be a remote chance that the solar panels could produce enough power to wake it up and send a signal out.  The orbiter would pass over the site about 10 times a day and if there is anything to hear, it might pick it up. 
The lander froze to death (and didn't have enough power from the sun) back in November 2008 when we last heard from it.  What will it say when it wakes up?
Nothing is expected, but with the toughness of our recent Mars spacecraft, who knows what will happen!?

Lander seen on January 6th

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Russian Buran bail out shuttle after next year??

I saw this interesting article today.  An idea to use the Russian's  Buran shuttle to bail out NASA after our fleet is grounded and on display in museums.
Unlikely.  The only flown Buran was destroyed in 2003 when the hanger roof collapsed on it bashing it into tiny bits.  The other non-flown vehicles are in a museum in Germany or wasting away in Gorky park.
This would be the equivalent of trying to fly a Saturn V again.   Interesting and somewhat amusing article at


Friday, January 8, 2010

January 7, 1610 - Jupiter's moons discovered.

Last year was the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope (IYA 2009), and today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's 4 largest moons.  January 7, 1610, Galileo first observed the fast moving "stars" around Jupiter and later figured out that they were moons around the planet.
Here is the page from his observing journal, but if you can't read that, see the translation here.
Pretty amazing what he was able to accomplish with that little telescope he made.  I wonder if it performs better than the modern "Galileo" telescopes you can buy at Wallmart?  Turn around and leave the store if you see these scopes!
Four centuries later, we go from his sketches and scribbled notes to actually "being there". 
Here is a video by Dr. Paul Schenk from Io image data.  Nice "Star Wars" effect, reminds me of the Millenium Falcon blasting it's way out of Mos Eisley

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

That didn't work.....

Woke up early this morning at 5:45 to get on NASA's site and claim a causeway pass for the STS-130 launch next month.  Wasn't as bad as the final moments of an Ebay bidding war, but it was frustrating.
I guess the waiting room was a good idea, but then once you get into the buying screen (I sat until about 6:05am before I got in) it didn't go well.  I selected 1 pass for the causeway thinking all was well, hit [continue] and get the "server experiencing high traffic, try again" message.  Few tries later, there was just a visitor center pass option.
I'd rather eat a full cupcake with frosting and chocolate chip on the top than just lick the paper if you know what I mean!
Seeing this bird fly it's last few times may be just as hard as going to the Vancouver Olympics I'm thinking now.  Gaaaghh!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Get your tickets, shuttle flights ending in 2010.

2010 brings on a new year, but also brings the end of our Space Shuttle program.  The future is just a big question mark after that.  Just one more year to see a shuttle launch before they are grounded forever.  I've seen one launch in person, and it's amazing.  The amount of power in front of you is freaking terrifying, but you can't look away. Fantastic stuff! Just thought I would post some information that I just read on site about buying tickets for the causeway for shuttle launch viewing.  (Thanks to Robert Perlman for posting this).

Due to the expected retirement of the space shuttle in 2010, an increased interest in space shuttle launches has created a higher demand for NASA Causeway tickets. These tickets are limited in quantity. The following changes have been made to the ticketing system in order to handle an increasing volume of interest around this particular ticket:
  1. A new virtual waiting room will open at 8:45 a.m. ET - guests can enter any time between 8:45 a.m. and 8:59 a.m. ET. The time of entry into the waiting room does not give any priority to NASA Causeway tickets.
  2. Launch ticket sales will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET - guests will be randomly selected to proceed to the ticket selection page. Entry into the waiting room does not guarantee you NASA Causeway tickets.
  3. A Captcha verification will be used to reduce the impact of automated systems.
Tickets, a vehicle placard and a launch information sheet will be shipped via Fed Ex. Print-at-home tickets are not currently available. Your shipping address must match the billing address on your credit card statement. We cannot ship to a P.O. Box.
Seems like a good idea to me.  This would reduce the stress level down when trying to buy a ticket, at least a little bit.  Just sit there and hope you get picked to get in line, rather than that frantic clicking like the end of a hot Ebay auction for the unbent Wookie action figure!
I am determined to be present for at least one more launch, so get in line behind me.

UPDATE:  Tickets are on sale tomorrow am at 9am (EST).