Tuesday, December 26, 2006

TOP 10 APOLLO HOAX THEORIES. For all of you conspiracy theorists out there... "We went to the Moon to beat the Soviets. If the Soviets had suspected that we faked these missions in any way, they would have been screaming at the top of their lungs." (This article is courtesy of Space.com.)

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands before an American Flag erected on the lunar surface

10.) FLUTTERING FLAG: "The American flag appears to wave in the lunar wind."

The Science: If you look closely, you will notice the flag's edges are pulled taut. This effect, which was done purposely as to not allow the flag to just hang flat, was created by inserting a stiff wire into the fabric. The "flutter" was created as the astronauts worked to erect the flag. As the wire was adjusted, "Old Glory" appeared to wave.

An illustration of the Van Allen Belt surrounding Earth

9.) GLOW-IN-THE-DARK ASTRONAUTS: "If the astronauts had left the safety of the Van Allen Belt the radiation would have killed them."

The Science: The Van Allen Belts are created by Earth's magnetic field, and protect the planet from dangerous solar radiation. The Belts collect this radiation, and traps it in a layer surrounding the Earth. But unless you deliberately caused your spaceship to hover within this layer, for many hours or days, the radiation exposure is well below dangerous levels. The Apollo astronauts passed through the Belts in less than four hours total for the trip. "It's not much more serious than getting a chest x-ray," said Phil Plait, an astronomer at Sonoma University in California. Outside the Belt, the radiation drops to low levels that are only dangerous over extremely long periods of time.

An Apollo astronaut sets up an experiment on the lunar surface

8.) THE SHADOW KNOWS: "Multiple-angle shadows in the Moon photos prove there was more than one source of light, like a large studio lamp."

The Science: The astronauts were taking their photos on a hilly, brightly-lit landscape while the Sun was close to the horizon. Imagine taking a photograph of someone on a rolling, uneven field of snow during a full, low-hanging Moon. The contours of the ground would produce shadows of many different lengths.

Buzz Aldrin poses for the camera

7.) FRIED FILM: In the Sunlight, the Moon’s temperature is a toasty 280 degrees Fahrenheit. The film (among other things) would have melted.

The Science: No one was leaving bare film out on the hot lunar surface. All material was contained in protective canisters. In addition, at the time the Apollo missions landed, they were either at lunar dawn or dusk. As a result, the temperature was more easily manageable.

A footprint created by that 'one small step for man...'

6.) LIQUID WATER ON THE MOON: To leave a footprint requires moisture in the soil, doesn’t it?

The Science: Not always. If you take some dry fine-grained dust such as talcum powder and dump it out, it's easy to make tracks in it that hold their shape. The particles hold their positions due to the friction between them.

Leonid meteors entering the Earth's atmosphere

5.) DEATH BY METEOR: Space is filled with super-fast micro meteors that would punch through the ship and kill the astronauts.

The Science: Space is really amazingly big. While there are indeed an uncountable number of tiny pieces of debris traveling through the Solar System at speeds in the neighborhood of 120,000 MPH, the volume of space keeps the density low. The chance of any given cubic yard of space having a micro-meteor passing through it is incredibly close to zero. Additionally, the astronauts' suits included a layer of Kevlar to protect them from any tiny fragment they might encounter.

A Lunar Excursion Module

4.) NO CRATER AT LANDING SITE: When the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landed, its powerful engine didn’t burrow a deep crater in the "dusty surface".

The Science: Beneath the layer of dust, the Moon is made up of fairly densely-packed rock. What dust and loose dirt there was though, was "kicked up" as referenced by the astronauts and captured in their landing films.

The ascent stage of a lunar module takes off into space

3.) PHANTOM CAMERAMAN: How come in that one video of the LEM leaving the surface, the camera follows it up into the sky? Who was running that camera?

The Science: The camera was controlled remotely from Earth...by Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

An Apollo astronaut cruisin' around on a lunar rover

2.) BIG ROVER: There’s no way that big moon buggy they were driving could have fit into that little landing module!

The Science: The rover was very cleverly constructed to be made out of very light materials, and designed to fold up to about the size of a large suitcase.

Earthrise as seen by the Apollo 11 astronauts

1.) IT’S FULL OF STARS! Space is littered with little points of lights (stars). Why then are they missing from the photographs?

The Science: If you've ever taken a photograph outside at night, you'll notice that faint distant objects don't show up. That's not because the air blocks them—it's because the brightness of the nearby objects washes out the film. In fact if you were standing on the day side of the Moon, you'd have to somehow block the landscape out in order for your eyes to adapt enough to see the stars.

Also, check out any modern-day photograph of a Space Shuttle or the International Space Station in orbit, and you won't see any background stars in those pictures as well. This also applies to images taken by interplanetary spacecraft at Mars, Saturn, Venus and all the other planets.

LEFT IMAGE: Astronauts working outside the International Space Station (July 8, 2006)... RIGHT IMAGE: Saturn in an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft (December 22, 2005)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...completing STS-116 on December 22, 2006.

TWO DOWN, THIRTEEN MORE TO GO... Actually, it's fourteen shuttle missions if you count the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing flight in 2008. Anyways... Because of bad weather at the primary landing sites of Florida's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Edwards Air Force Base in California, White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico was activated as being the potential site where an orbiter landed for only the second time since 1982 (space shuttle Columbia landed there after mission STS-3). Fortunately, the weather cleared up enough over KSC for Discovery to touch down there instead (on its second landing opportunity. The first try was scrubbed due to rain showers near Cape Canaveral)...and thus complete the third and final space shuttle mission of 2006, and only the fourth shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia disaster. The next mission, STS-117, will be with Atlantis and is scheduled for launch on March 16, 2007.

The International Space Station's new look as of December 19, 2006.
ABOVE: The International Space Station's new look as of December 19, 2006.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

INTO THE NIGHT... Following Thursday’s launch scrub due to cloudy weather, space shuttle Discovery finally lifted off into space tonight...and is now set to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Monday afternoon. This is the third and final shuttle flight for this year, with more interesting missions to come in 2007 with the planned additions of Europe’s Columbus, (the first component of) Japan’s Kibo and the United States’ Node 2 modules...plus another set of huge solar panel wings. Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on December 21st. Godspeed, the crew of Discovery...on mission STS-116.

Space shuttle Discovery lights up the night sky on December 9, 2006.

A camera onboard Discovery's external fuel tank captures this footage of the orbiter separating after main engine cut-off following launch.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Hubble Space Telescope following release from a space shuttle during a previous service flight.

HUBBLE MISSION A "GO"... Earlier this morning, NASA chief Michael Griffin officially gave the go-ahead to prepare for one last space shuttle flight to repair the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The orbiter that will rendezvous with it will be Discovery, which launched HST into space in April of 1990. Lift-off for this next flight is set no earlier than May of 2008. Two new scientific instruments will be installed onto the orbiting observatory, and its batteries as well as devices used to point the spacecraft (such as its gyroscopes) will be replaced. Also, HST will be fitted with a docking mechanism that will allow a small rocket module to be attached to the telescope in the future...to guide it to a controlled re-entry of Earth's atmosphere once HST finally stops operating about 5 years after the next servicing flight. This will be the sixth shuttle mission—and fifth servicing flight overall—devoted to the space telescope. Astronauts revisited HST in 1993, ’97, ’99 and 2002, respectively, to upgrade it. The next modifications to Hubble should allow it to last at least till 2013, when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled to launch.

On April 24, 1990, space shuttle Discovery launches on STS-31...the flight to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

The upcoming mission was originally scheduled for 2005...but cancelled in 2004 by then-NASA head honcho Sean O’Keefe following the 2003 Columbia disaster. The reason for this was because astronauts visiting the telescope had no place to seek refuge should a Columbia-type hole be found punctured in Discovery’s heat shield. All shuttles so far have been headed to the International Space Station, where astronauts could seek a safe haven should severe damage be found on their vehicle before the trip home. A rescue mission will be made available for the upcoming Hubble flight...with another shuttle being launched within a one week’s notice should Discovery be deemed unfit to return to Earth. Enough supplies will be placed onboard the spacecraft to allow astronauts to stay in orbit for about 25 days.

Scores of galaxies grace this photo of the Hubble Deep Field...one of the most popular images taken by the space telescope.

In other Discovery-related news, the orbiter is scheduled to be rolled into the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida's Kennedy Space Center no earlier than 7 PM (Pacific Daylight Time) tonight...where it will be mated with its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters for its upcoming flight. Discovery is still scheduled to launch December 7 on the next space station assembly mission, designated STS-116. The 2008 Hubble flight is designated STS-125.

UPDATE (November 1): According to NASASpaceflight.com, Atlantis might be used for the Hubble mission...making this the first time the orbiter flew to the telescope, as well as the very last mission for the vehicle before it is retired in 2008.

An astronaut works on Hubble during the last service mission, which took place with space shuttle Columbia on 2002's STS-109 flight.

One more thing... Happy Halloween, everyone!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Space shuttle Columbia lifts off into the night sky on flight STS-109...which was the last servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002.

BACK TO THE SPACE TELESCOPE... Though NASA won't make an official announcment on this till Halloween Tuesday, online sources are stating that the next servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is all but confirmed. I'll do an official blog on this on Tuesday.

Friday, October 13, 2006

An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft and Lunar Surface Access Module (lunar lander) in Moon orbit.

ORION 13... According to NASASpaceflight.com, a plan is in place that will return astronauts to the moon on the thirteenth overall flight by NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The mission, dubbed Orion 13, will last 21 days...and will see three members of a four-man crew setting foot on the lunar surface for the first time in 47 years (the last moon mission being Apollo 17 in 1972). Orion 13 will blast off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in December of 2019...if everything goes as planned. The first Orion flight will be an unmanned test flight (labeled Ares I-1) in April of 2009, and the first Orion mission with astronauts onboard will be Orion 5...scheduled to launch in September of 2014. The first operational flight to the International Space Station (where both cargo and a 3-astronaut crew will be onboard the spacecraft) will take place with Orion 7 in May of 2015. Go to the NASASpaceflight website for more details.

An artist's concept of ORION astronauts beginning their exploration of the lunar surface.

What’s actually interesting is NASA choosing Orion 13 to be the flight where we return to the moon. If you’re superstitious, you’d know the implications of that number. Of course, when (not ‘if’) Orion 13 becomes a success...that will make up for the drama that took place on Apollo 13 in 1970. Then again, Apollo 13 was deemed a "successful failure" (go watch the 1995 Tom Hanks film to know what I’m talking about), so Orion 13 really has nothing to prove. Except to show that the Vision for Space Exploration plan set about by George Dubya Bush wasn’t just something Dubya came up with while he was stoned on a cold January day in 2004.

The LSAM's ascent stage blasts off into space after the astronauts' sojourn on the lunar surface.

Friday, September 29, 2006

An artist's concept of SPACESHIPTWO.

YESTERDAY, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who owns Virgin Atlantic and the recently-created Virgin Galactic, unveiled in New York City the mock-up of SpaceShipTwo (SS2)...which will be a longer version of the SpaceShipOne vehicle that flew into space in October of 2004. SS2 will ferry eight people (two pilots and six passengers) into suborbital space. Of course, unlike the $300 to $400 plane ticket that you would have to spend going to, say, the Big Apple, you would have to dish out $200,000 to reserve a seat on SS2. Now let’s see— On one hand a person could probably spend that dough on a decent-size house somewhere here in Cali (or a 2006 Ferrari F430 or an ’06 Lamborghini Gallardo), and on the other hand, he or she could join the likes of Paris Hilton and soar nearly 70 miles above Earth. Overlooking the Hilton part (Note to Paris: Don’t try being the first person to have nookie in outer space), I’d choose the latter.

NASA officials take a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.  The O&C will be the facility where the ORION spacecraft is assembled and tested before flight.

On the government side of space travel, NASA officials on Tuesday re-opened the high bay on the western side of the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). What’s so significant about this, you ask? Well, the high bay was the site where the Apollo spacecraft were assembled and tested in the late 1960’s/early 70’s...and will now be the area where Lockheed Martin conducts final assembly on the Orion spacecraft before launch. And yesterday, the first component for the Ares I-1 flight test vehicle (the component being the aft skirt belonging to the first stage solid rocket booster), slated to lift off in April of 2009, was placed in the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility at KSC (shown in the picture below). Indeed, right now is a very exciting time to be a space enthusiast...and not a "cynical young adult". Pretty sad.

The aft skirt that will be part of the first stage solid rocket booster on ARES I-1 is placed inside the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Space shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...completing STS-115 on September 21, 2006.

ONE DOWN, FOURTEEN MORE TO GO... Around 3:21 AM (Pacific Daylight Time) today, space shuttle Atlantis returned safely to Earth after completing the first space station assembly flight in almost four years (the last assembly mission took place in November of 2002). There are officially fourteen more assembly flights left before all the shuttles are scheduled to be retired in 2010 (two additional missions to the space station could take place in October 2009 and July 2010...but only if needed). However, if NASA gives the go-ahead next month, astronauts will return to the Hubble Space Telescope in April of 2008 for one last servicing flight...thus bringing the number of remaining shuttle missions to fifteen. (Do you like how I state the obvious up the wazoo?) Below are before-and-after photos of the International Space Station in regards to Atlantis' just-completed flight. Hopefully, its appearance will change again in February of 2007...when another set of solar arrays will be attached to the starboard side of the orbiting outpost (starboard is to the left-hand side of the station in the second photo). The next shuttle mission will take place with Discovery this December 14...but it's bringing along a measly piece of truss segment...not the cool, giant solar arrays you see in the photos below. I'll shut up now.

Before-and-after photos of the International Space Station, in regards to the just-completed STS-115 flight.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Space shuttle Atlantis launches on mission to the International Space Station on September 9, 2006, at 8:14:55 AM (Pacific Daylight Time).

THE PENGUIN LIFTS OFF! After four delays since August 25th...when lightning struck near its launch pad two days before the original launch date on August 27, Tropical Storm Ernesto loomed the following week and the shuttle had to be rolled off its launch pad to be sent back to the protective confines of the Vehicle Assembly Building—only to be rolled back to the pad again after it was observed Ernesto wouldn’t pose a threat, a faulty fuel cell postponed launch on September 6, and a faulty fuel gauge on the orange external tank postponed launch yesterday, Atlantis finally got off the ground today at 8:15 AM, Pacific Daylight Time. Whew... About friggin’ time! I was getting tired of constantly updating the countdown at the top of this page with new launch dates! Now I can update the countdown with the day and time Atlantis will dock with the International Space Station (ISS)...which will be on Monday, September 11, around 3:46 AM (PDT). Godspeed Atlantis! Or should I say...the crew of STS-115. When Atlantis returns to Earth on September 20th, hopefully the ISS will look completely different from how it appeared since the last assembly flight, which took place with shuttle Endeavour in late 2002.

Media photographers watch as Space shuttle Atlantis launches on mission to the International Space Station on September 9, 2006, at 8:14:55 AM (Pacific Daylight Time).

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I called Atlantis "the penguin"...that’s the nickname workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida gave the orbiter. It’s black and white, but never gets off the ground. Until today.

Astronaut Daniel Burbank, center, adjusts his launch and entry suit while sitting in space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 9, 2006.  Pilot Chris Ferguson, front left, Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean , left, an unidentified NASA worker, top right, and Commander Brent Jett, right , are visible on Atlantis' flightdeck.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


ORION CREW EXPLORATION VEHICLE Update... And the winner is... Yup, you guessed it— The same company that built the F-117A Stealth Fighter, the F/A-22 Raptor, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and...um, NASA's now-defunct X-33 spaceplane. Of course, you probably didn't guess right if you don't know anything about American military aircraft, but oh well. I actually thought Northrop Grumman and Boeing were gonna win the contract, since they’re comprised of old companies that were actually responsible for building the Apollo spacecraft in the 1960’s (although most of the people who built Apollo are obviously not around anymore to lend their experience to building Orion), but whatever. Northrop and Boeing should be used to getting the short end of the stick... What after the YF-23 and Joint Strike Fighter losses (respectively). What’s really cool is that we finally have a contractor that will be responsible for bending metal and doing wiring on the vehicle that will hopefully take us back to the Moon by 2020. Go Lockheed! Don’t screw it up again... We don’t need another X-33 debacle...

NASA management unveils a miniature mock-up of LOCKHEED MARTIN's Orion spacecraft

An artist's concept of the ARES 1 launch vehicle, with Lockheed Martin's version of the ORION spacecraft on top of it.
An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft approaching the International Space Station.
An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft in lunar orbit.
An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft and Lunar Surface Access Module (lunar lander) in Moon orbit.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The mission logo for STS-115.

STS-115 Update... The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis has been delayed to Monday so Kennedy Space Center workers can check for damage after lightning struck at the pad yesterday. The countdown at the top of this page mentions the new liftoff time.

UPDATE (August 27): The launch may be pushed back to this Tuesday because the damage assessment after Friday's lightning strike wasn't completed yesterday, and Hurricane Ernesto may pose a concern for Kennedy Space Center.

UPDATE #2 (August 27): There are unofficial reports that Atlantis may be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for protection from the looming hurricane threat...thus jeopardizing the entire launch window from August 28 through September 7...forcing NASA to wait till either October (where only 2 days are available for launch), or mid-December...which was the time slot reserved for Discovery as it is currently being prepared for mission STS-116.

UPDATE #3 (August 28): Around noon tomorrow, NASA management will make the final call on whether or not to roll Atlantis back to the VAB in preparation of Ernesto's arrival at Florida on Wednesday. If NASA decides to have Atlantis stay at the pad, the shuttle will not be able to launch no sooner than this Sunday. If it's rolled back, Atlantis' next launch opportunity will be on October 26...assuming the Russians don't budge on moving the date of their Soyuz rocket launch to the space station beyond September 14.

NASA returns Atlantis to the launch pad on August 29 after it is determined that Tropical Storm Ernesto will not pose a danger to the space shuttle.

UPDATE #4 (August 30): In a first for the space shuttle program, Atlantis was brought back to the launch pad yesterday after NASA management decided that Tropical Storm Ernesto wouldn't be strong enough to cause major damage when it arrived over Cape Canaveral today. Atlantis was halfway through its journey back to the VAB when the order to cancel rollback was made. Now, the shuttle has from September 6 through September 8 to launch on flight STS-115.

Security camera footage from yesterday shows a bolt striking the lightning mast atop the tower at Launch Pad 39B, where Space Shuttle Atlantis is currently situated.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The ORION logo that will be used by NASA on future Crew Exploration Vehicle missions.

CREW EXPLORATION VEHICLE Update... The logo above wasn't suppose to be revealed till next week, when NASA announces the winning company (Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman/Boeing) that will build the spacecraft. But because current International Space Station astronaut Jeff Williams spilled the beans, NASA confirmed today that Orion will be the new name for the CEV. So much like how the moon missions in the 1960's were labeled Apollo 1, Apollo 11, Apollo 13 and so forth, the next lunar missions will be labeled Orion 1, Orion 11 and Orion 14 (one wonders if NASA will be superstitious enough not to label a CEV mission Orion 13). Of course, that's assuming things stay on track for a 2018-2020 launch of the next moon flight. That, and NASA finds the right launch vehicle to lift the Crew Exploration Vehicle into space. Click here for more details on that.

The Crew Exploration Vehicle...now known as ORION.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The mission logo for STS-115.

Atlantis a "Go" for liftoff... As expected, a green light was given today to launch NASA’s third space shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia disaster, and the first space station assembly mission since 2002. As shown on the countdown at the top of this page (which has been posted there for about a month), liftoff is targeted for 1:30 PM (PDT) on Sunday, August 27. One major issue remains, and that's whether or not engineers should open Atlantis' cargo bay and replace two screws that were inadequately fastened on the vehicle's main communications antenna. If the replacement does need to be done, hopefully it could take place at the launch pad this weekend, and the August 27 liftoff date won't be jeopardized. *Crosses fingers.*

UPDATE (August 20): The bolt replacement job was successfully completed today.

The crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis poses at Launch Pad 39B with the external fuel tank and a solid rocket booster visible in the background.
The crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-115.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

I found the picture below on Google... Overlooking the two dudes strapped together in this pic (like I could throw stones about tandem skydives), I think it's friggin' awesome that a space shuttle launch is visible in the background (the smoke trail to the right if I need to point it out to you. No offense). Don't know what's cooler; skydiving in Florida at the same moment one of the most complex machines ever built by humans is soaring into orbit, or skydiving 30,000 feet above the ground. Hmm... What a dilemma.

Two tandem skydivers pose for the camera just as a space shuttle lifts off into orbit behind them.

UPDATE: Here's another cool picture... This one being of an F-15 fighter jet patrolling the skies above Kennedy Space Center just as a shuttle is lifting off.

An F-15 fighter jet patrols the skies above Kennedy Space Center just as a space shuttle is lifting off.

UPDATE #2: A year ago today, I went skydiving in San Diego. Click here for more details.