Friday, January 28, 2011

Dodge vs. Delta

Another one of those very tall,  large info-graphics images.  This time it's a comparison between a very big truck and a large rocket.  Actually, I'm very impressed with the load capacity of the truck.  It does pretty well compared to the Delta IV Heavy.  Acceleration of the truck is impressive, at least to a point. (Click image for full size)
Although, the Delta IV rocket beats the truck in the total coolness factor of engine startup.  The truck doesn't set itself on fire when it starts!  (See video)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rainy night reprocessing old data.

Just for fun, I opened one of my images from last summer of M27 dumbell nebula to play with.  This is just another very quick processing job, but I tried some of the methods that I learned from Adam Block on my trip to Arizona last month.
This does need some more work (I say that about all my images if you haven't figured that out by now), the star color is kind of strange, sky is a weird gross  color, and there is an ugly gradient on the right side...this was just a fast processing though.
Anyway, I tried working on a grayscale image where I did the cleaning, smoothing, sharpening, and all that usual adjustments.  I then combined it with the RBG color frame and used the gray image as a luminance.  Wow!  More little detail shows up, and I didn't totally destroy it when screwing with the colors.
See the before and after images.  These are both the same data taken on the same night.

My original processing
Processing with my new bag 'o tricks

The rusty remains of Russia's former shuttle site.

A friend sent me this website today (thanks Dave) showing the sad state of the Russian's abandoned space shuttle program.   Our shuttle has been flying 30 years, but the Russians only managed a single flight lasting only about three hours back in November 1988.  I'm assuming this site was abandoned a few years later?
I wish the photos had captions on them, but I guess nobody knows what to say about all that rusty stuff.  From what I can figure out, it looks like it shows the big hanger building where the roof caved in back in 2002 killing 8 workers and destroying the only space flown (Buran) shuttle.  Another photo shows the carrier that the entire shuttle, tank and boosters would ride out to the launch pad in the horizontal position then be tipped up vertically for launch.  That little skinny dog, is that a cousin of Laika?  Someone please toss that poor starving pup a pile of cheeseburgers and a box of Snausages!
Roller coaster escape!
Are those long tubes going up to the launch gantry possibly some kind of escape slide for the crew to slide to the ground in case of a fire?  A similar idea was planned for NASA's now canceled Aries 1 rocket, but with a steep roller coaster device.  I don't know what would be more frightening, being dissolved into a puddle of human goo by a hydrazine leak or riding down the tower in that cart?
Fascinating photos that just bring up more "what is that?!" type of questions.
Let's hope Kennedy Space Center's launch complex 39 doesn't end up like this in a few years.
Here are a few more sites with a lot more information on this mysterious old spacecraft.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Time to collect the bets on the size of the hole.

The US manned program is in a bit of a mess right now, cracked shuttle tank, delayed mission, spacewalker bumped with a broken hip from a bike accident, commander of final shuttle flight's wife shot and replacement commander in place - just in case. I won't get into the problems with the funding for the heavy lift rocket right now.
The unmanned programs are doing great though!  Mark your calendar for Valentines day for the next event.  If all works out, the recycled Stardust spacecraft will fly by comet Temple 1 and take some images of the hole that the Deep Impact spacecraft blasted in the comet's surface.  When the copper chunk was shot at the comet in 2005, the debris cloud was too bright from reflected light that the hole couldn't be seen.  The comet has also made another orbit around the sun since then, so the surface could be different also.  Probably not a Bruce Willis "Armageddon" change, but we'll see.
I wonder how many people at the office would understand if you started a betting pool of the size of the dent in Temple 1?  Erase the words "Seahawks vs. Bears" from that whiteboard and put up "Temple 1" crater size bets.  Most of the people would probably stare at you funny, say "huh?" and back slowly away from you. 
This all depends on the fuel remaining, there is just enough to steer the spacecraft and aim the camera at it, and it is approximately 186 million miles away on the other side of the sun, light distance is 40 minutes.  The first images should be here at about 1:30am (PST) on Feb. 15.
My bet?  I'm saying that Safeco Field could fit in the hole.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

60 more days until spring. Go back to the ocean La Nina!

Artwork by Royaba
It's again been about 3 weeks since the skies have been clear enough to do something outside.  Its been weeks of sitting in the house watching TV in the evenings while La Nina beats on the outside of the house.  Some snow, lot of wind, freezing rain, then just plain soggy rain.  Nina has also been sneaking into the backyard observatory through a small leak in the roof that I finally tracked down and not-so-successfully plugged.  Where is the leak?  Directly above the Meade telescope of course!  Not just that, but directly over the corrector plate.  I did notice it a while ago since there was a puddle on the mount (below the electronics too....ugh!), but things were still working so no damage done.  In addition to the normal bedsheet scope snuggie, I have the fancy end of the scope covered with a garbage bag, topped off with one of those blue Ikea bags on top.  Nothing wet now, but just another project to go after when thing dry out.
Brief clearing tonight but of course I look east an the very big, full, bright moon is just peeking up over the hill blasting the sky with light.  At least the Earth seems happy about seeing the moon!
(Thanks to Phil Plait for posting that photo on his site)  Funniest picture I've seen in a while.
Here is an unfinished image of the Rosette nebula taken the same night as my Orion M42 shot below.  I need to fix the colors a little more since it look kind of green, but a lot of people that saw this image said it was amazing looking.  I just processed this one fairly quickly and posted it, but I got some good comments on it.  Maybe it is good, but my worst critic is myself and I'm never quit satisfied.  That is what keeps me going outside in the cold thinking "maybe 10 more exposures will get me that good shot and the APOD?"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Flying the 747 with shuttle.

A friend just sent me this story in email. I did search around to make sure it was real, and it shows up all over the place when Googled. You never can be too sure with things passed around in email. (Thanks for the story Maxine!).

This was circulated in email at work, from United Technologies corporate.
A quick "trip report" from the pilot of the 747 that flew the shuttle back to Florida after the Hubble repair flight.
A humorous and interesting inside look at what it's like to fly two aircraft at once . . .
(I have decided to adopt one of "Triple Nickel's" phrases :  "That was too close for MY laundry!")
Walt and all,
Well, it's been 48 hours since I landed the 747 with the shuttle Atlantis on top and I am still buzzing from the experience.  I have to say that my whole mind, body and soul went into the professional mode just before engine start in Mississippi, and stayed there, where it all needed to be, until well after the fact, I am not sure if it is all back to normal as I type this email.  The experience was surreal.   Seeing that "thing" on top of an already overly huge aircraft boggles my mind.  The whole mission from takeoff to engine shutdown was unlike anything I had ever done.  It was like a dream... someone else's dream.  
We took off from Columbus AFB on their 12,000 foot runway, of which I used 11,999 1/2  feet to get the wheels off the ground.  We were at 3,500 feet left to go of the runway, throttles full power, nose wheels still hugging the ground, copilot calling out decision speeds, the weight of Atlantis now screaming through my fingers clinched tightly on the controls, tires heating up to their near maximum temperature from the speed and the weight, and not yet at rotation speed, the speed at which I would be pulling on the controls to get the nose to rise.  I just could not wait, and I mean I COULD NOT WAIT, and started pulling early.  If I had waited until rotation speed, we would not have rotated enough to get airborne by the end of the runway.  So I pulled on the controls early and started our rotation to the takeoff attitude.  The wheels finally lifted off as we passed over the stripe marking the end of the runway and my next hurdle (physically) was a line of trees 1,000 feet off the departure end of Runway 16.  All I knew was we were flying and so I directed the gear to be retracted and the flaps to be moved from Flaps 20 to Flaps 10 as I pulled even harder on the controls.  I must say, those trees were beginning to look a lot like those brushes in the drive through car washes so I pulled even harder yet!  I think I saw a bird just fold its wings and fall out of a tree as if to say "Oh just take me".  Okay, we cleared the trees, duh, but it was way too close for my laundry.  As we started to actually climb, at only 100 feet per minute, I smelled something that reminded me of touring the Heineken Brewery in Europe ...I said "is that a skunk I smell?" and the veterans of shuttle carrying looked at me and smiled and said "Tires"!  I said "TIRES???  OURS???"  They smiled and shook their heads as if to call their Captain an amateur...okay, at that point I was.  The tires were so hot you could smell them in the cockpit.  My mind could not get over, from this point on, that this was something I had never experienced.  Where's your mom when you REALLY need her?
The flight down to Florida was an eternity.  We cruised at 250 knots indicated, giving us about 315 knots of ground speed at 15,000'  The miles didn't click by like I am use to them clicking by in a fighter jet at MACH .94.  We were burning fuel at a rate of 40,000 pounds per hour or 130 pounds per mile, or one gallon every length of the fuselage.  The vibration in the cockpit was mild, compared to down below and to the rear of the fuselage where it reminded me of that football game I had as a child where you turned it on and the players vibrated around the board.  I felt like if I had plastic clips on my boots I could have vibrated to any spot in the fuselage I wanted to go without moving my legs...and the noise was deafening.  The 747 flies with its nose 5 degrees up in the air to stay level, and when you bank, it feels like the shuttle is trying to say "hey, let's roll completely over on our back"..not a good thing I kept telling myself.  SO I limited my bank angle to 15 degrees and even though a 180 degree course change took a full zip code to complete, it was the safe way to turn this monster. 
Airliners and even a flight of two F-16s deviated from their flight plans to catch a glimpse of us along the way.  We dodged what was in reality very few clouds and storms, despite what everyone thought, and arrived in Florida with 51,000 pounds of fuel too much to land with.  We can't land heavier than 600,000 pounds total weight and so we had to do something with that fuel.  I had an idea...let's fly low and slow and show this beast off to all the taxpayers in Florida lucky enough to be outside on that Tuesday afternoon.  So at Ormond Beach we let down to 1,000 feet above the ground/water and flew just east of the beach out over the water.  Then, once we reached the NASA airspace of the Kennedy Space Center , we cut over to the Banana/Indian Rivers and flew down the middle of them to show the people of Titusville , Port St.Johns and Melbourne just what a 747 with a shuttle on it looked like.  We stayed at 1,000 feet and since we were dragging our flaps at "Flaps 5", our speed was down to around 190 to 210 knots.  We could see traffic stopping in the middle of roads to take a look.  We heard later that a Little League Baseball game stop to look and everyone cheered as we became their 7th inning stretch.  Oh say can you see...
After reaching Vero Beach , we turned north to follow the coast line back up to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF).  There was not one person laying on the beach...they were all standing and waving!   "What a sight" I thought...and figured they were thinking the same thing.  All this time I was bugging the engineers, all three of them, to re-compute our fuel and tell me when it was time to land.   They kept saying "Not yet Triple, keep showing this thing off" which was not a bad thing to be doing.  However, all this time the thought that the landing, the muscling of this 600,000 pound beast, was getting closer and closer to my reality.  I was pumped up!  We got back to the SLF and were still 10,000 pounds too heavy to land so I said I was going to do a low approach over the SLF going the opposite direction of landing traffic that day.   So at 300 feet, we flew down the runway, rocking our wings like a whale rolling on its side to say "hello" to the people looking on!  One turn out of traffic and back to the runway to land...still 3,000 pounds over gross weight limit.  But the engineers agreed that if the landing were smooth, there would be no problem.  "Oh thanks guys, a little extra pressure is just what I needed!"  So we landed at 603,000 pounds and very smoothly if I have to say so myself.  The landing was so totally controlled and on speed, that it was fun.  There were a few surprises that I dealt with, like the 747 falls like a rock with the orbiter on it if you pull the throttles off at the "normal" point in a landing and secondly, if you thought you could hold the nose off the ground after the mains touch down, think again...IT IS COMING DOWN!!!  So I "flew it down" to the ground and saved what I have seen in videos of a nose slap after landing.  Bob's video supports this!  :8-)
Then I turned on my phone after coming to a full stop only to find 50 bazillion emails and phone messages from all of you who were so super to be watching and cheering us on!  What a treat, I can't thank y'all enough.  For those who watched, you wondered why we sat there so long. Well, the shuttle had very hazardous chemicals on board and we had to be "sniffed" to determine if any had leaked or were leaking.  They checked for Monomethylhydrazine (N2H4 for Charlie Hudson) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4).  Even though we were "clean", it took way too long for them to tow us in to the mate-demate area.  Sorry for those who stuck it out and even waited until we exited the jet.
I am sure I will wake up in the middle of the night here soon, screaming and standing straight up dripping wet with sweat from the realization of what had happened.  It was a thrill of a lifetime.  Again I want to thank everyone for your interest and support.  It felt good to bring Atlantis home in one piece after she had worked so hard getting to the Hubble Space Telescope and back.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Funny amateur astronomy video.

I think this is supposed to funny, but it all seems so realistic and familiar!  I'm sure a few that read this blog might be able to relate.   :-)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Eclipse, eclipse...

After a lunar eclipse, there is often a solar eclipse, most cases it's not total but partial.  This photo has been going all over the internet today, so it may be familiar, but still totally awesome!
Earth's natural satellite (the moon), and our artificial satellite (the ISS) both eclipsing the sun at the same time.  Talk about good timing, the exact location on Earth (Oman in this case), clear skies, and of course the best ISS imager that I know of - Theirry Legault.

(click on image for full size)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Last few hours of 2010 - Orion Nebula....before the fireworks.

New Years Eve, most would be out staring at the Space Needle in large mobs of people pushing and shoving to see the fireworks.  Nope, don't like the crowds, so I spent the evening staring at real space!  First clear night in about 2 months.
Of course the best target in the winter skies is M42. 
This is 30 exposures all at 800 ISO between 20 seconds up to 6 minutes.   I used some tricks from Tony Hallas, and some other things I remember from my trip down to see Adam Block this month.  Here is what I came up with.
(Click for full sized view)