krpalmer: (Default)
The news of it having been forty years since the Voyager missions launched might have helped remind me there wasn't much time left until the Cassini space probe, which has spent over a decade among the moons of Saturn the Voyagers flew through in a matter of days, burned up in Saturn's atmosphere (along with the shielded plutonium some people raised a great fuss about before launch a month short of twenty years ago) to make sure no possible microbes from Earth would make an accidental landing on moons now thought to have some chance to support life of their own. As I took in the features leading up to the final dive, I did get a bit conscious that while the probe has sent back plenty of photos over the length of its mission (making multiple gravity assists through the solar system to end up in a slow approach to Saturn suitable for braking into orbit), after a while I wasn't making the effort to keep up with the mission's official sites. Just this morning, though, with a scant few hours left before loss of contact, I did see an official e-book with plenty of good pictures in it and a few discoveries I hadn't quite picked up on before (such as the "propellors," big chunks in Saturn's rings visibly affecting the particles around them). This wealth of images does have me thinking of the previous gas giant orbiter Galileo, whose main antenna never opened properly (and there I'm conscious of swift and sour reminders this probably had something to do with the probe having been meant to be carried into Earth orbit by the space shuttle and the delays resulting from this) and which therefore couldn't send back many pictures. Cassini, in any case, was a regular presence and will hopefully leave lasting impressions.
krpalmer: (Default)
I knew a total solar eclipse was scheduled to cross the United States before I decided to use just about all of my vacation for this year on a cruise around northern Europe. The thought has come to me this is sliding back from the determination I'd managed to find to head to Florida and try to see one of the last space shuttle launches. However, I have managed to also think that in Florida I did see the Kennedy Space Center visitor centre before the contingency time I was able to visit Disney World with; travelling to even the most historically cloudless area for a few minutes of totality wasn't quite as appealing, somehow. I did, anyway, happen to hear in the final leadup to the eclipse another total eclipse will track across part of my home province in 2024: we just have to make it that far, of course.

While contemplating pinhole projectors and the card-shielded binoculars I'd rigged up for the transits of Venus, in visiting Best Buy to buy some external hard drives I happened to see boxes of eclipse glasses at the cash registers. I bought one of them, and spent a good bit of time afterwards wondering if I could really, really trust them to be legitimate and just would indicate the scratches that would require having to discard them. I did make another simple pinhole projector yesterday, just in case.

With the twenty-four news station always kept on at work showing the NASA feed reach totality over Oregon just as the first chip was taken out of the sun over here, I did take whatever risk the glasses meant, if through one open eye. Beyond the bite in the sun, I really did get a sense of the light dimming outside. While I'm still able to see through both eyes this evening, though, I'm trying to remember having seen instructions to build a simple viewer from dollar-store reading glasses.
krpalmer: (Default)
Along with the countdown to the solar eclipse, I've managed to pick up on another occurrence in space by hearing we've reached the fortieth anniversary of the launch of the Voyager probes. This was further distinguished by the probe launched Voyager 2 having been launched on August 20, 1977, only to be passed on the way to Jupiter by Voyager 1, which didn't leave Earth until September.

The Voyagers were "the more detailed follow-up" at Jupiter with Pioneer 10 and 11 having made it past that gas giant's dangerous radiation belts years before the launch we're now marking, and Pioneer 11 took a slow route to Saturn to take a few not especially compelling pictures still in advance of its successors. However, the Voyagers had their own important and impressive part in turning "dots in the sky" into a succession of worlds. I suppose I did experience "these first and once-ever revelations" at Jupiter and Saturn after the fact through National Geographic cover stories (although Voyager 1 had opened up enough of a lead to Saturn the second article only included its pictures, leaving the drama of Voyager 2's camera-aiming gear jamming to books I managed to find later). It wasn't until Voyager 2 got to Uranus (even that had seemed a carefully underplayed "maybe it'll last that long" possibility in the early coverage I've seen) that I was following along in the newspaper. That encounter was unfortunately followed by the fatal last launch of space shuttle Challenger, although getting to Neptune three years later made for a better ending. I have heard Voyager 1 could have been sent to Pluto had it not been sent close by Titan (an important enough target Voyager 2 could have traded Uranus and Neptune for it); in one of the books I've found, though, some program scientists were asked if they "regretted" having taken close-up pictures of a satellite shrouded in peach-coloured clouds only to explain there was more to detect close up than just surface pictures. Whether some pictures of Pluto would have made it harder to dismiss in the next decade as "not big enough to really count, and obviously not interesting," I don't know, but I suppose they wouldn't have been as good as the pictures from the brief encounter of New Horizons.

Beyond that actual ending, of course, the Voyagers have kept sending back information, enduring not just years but decades after their first estimates of longevity to reach uncertain stellar terrain. Beyond that, there's contemplation of the time capsule records attached to them, although I can also consider that in a mere four decades they've gone from "a durable record not quite like one you'd play at home" to "at least they'd long outlast a CD, and they might be easier for even extraterrestrials of unknown mentality to decipher" to "and now vinyl's not just a statement, but an accessible one again."
krpalmer: (Default)
I managed to notice that not only was SpaceX about to launch another satellite, but that launch would use one of the first stages they've begun collecting by managing soft landings on floating barges with in-jokey names or even heading all the way back to where they've started. The launch was scheduled for when I'd have a chance to watch it via streaming video, but I suppose I was conscious of the chance of something going wrong. That thought only got stronger as I saw the Falcon 9 rocket standing on the launch pad repurposed from Apollo's Saturns to the space shuttles and now to another generation of rockets, aware all the same SpaceX had moved in after blowing up a rocket at the launch pad they had used to use.

The rocket lifted off into a clear evening sky, though, and the second stage separated. The first stage was left to descend towards its barge, and I did notice its pop-out stabilizing grids starting to glow from re-entry before the video cut out. To the accompaniment of a very enthusiastic crowd at the SpaceX headquarters, though, the picture returned to show the first stage once more standing in one piece on the barge. Knowing the space shuttles wound up needing a lot more refurbishing in between flights than they were supposed to require, I am still wondering what it'll take in the end to turn the first stage around again, but it is something that it managed to land a second time.
krpalmer: (Default)
I had taken note of the news that SpaceX said it had worked out just why one of its Falcon 9 rockets had exploded on the launch pad (well short of actually trying to launch, not the moment you'd most anticipate unexpected shocks) and was preparing to launch another rocket. Not having worked out the exact moment it would happen, though, I was surprised to see the effort had succeeded through a comment on the day's Peanuts comic strip. Beyond the extra bit of news that another first stage had landed on a seagoing barge, I found an odd sense of heartening interest in knowing the rocket had launched a whole cluster of replacement satellite phone satellites. The "Iridium" network might have found success only after the company that had gone to considerable expense to launch the first satellites had gone out of business, but it's something to know "cell towers spaced across the civilized world" haven't made one use for space altogether obsolete after all.
krpalmer: (smeat)
Having managed to hear a "return to flight" launch was about to happen for one of the space station cargo ships, I turned into the streaming coverage. The engines of the Antares rocket not igniting until an instant or so after "zero" did catch me, but after that things seemed to go well. With the launch happening at night there wasn't much to see (there wasn't "ride-along" camera footage, in any case), but I did stick around for the second stage burn, which was represented by a computer display. The "perigee altitude" caught my attention for being a very large negative number; as the rocket gained speed towards orbital velocity that number ticked down, but it took until the final seconds for it to speed up to a blur that at last turned positive as an "up and down" arc turned into an orbit. It was good to see the Antares rocket working again; although a Cygnus supply craft had been launched using a different rocket since the last one exploded during launch, since the unfortunate accident two different Falcon 9 rockets have exploded, one without being anywhere near launch.

As I was looking up more information on the launch, though, I happened to see a post saying a European Mars probe was just a few days away from arriving, and that it would be dropping off a small lander. It does take time for space probes to get to Mars, but I can't remember if I'd even noticed its launch in the first place. Intent on making up for that, I started following the news a little more closely, but the only reports that arrived said contact had been lost with the lander seconds before landing. I'd noticed the lander didn't have actual legs, just a sort of "crushable pad" underneath, but it now seems the evidence is pointing towards the timing being completely off for the landing rockets.
krpalmer: (Default)
Always looking for my next book to read, I dug into a somewhat older pile and pulled out a library discard I'd managed to buy at a book sale a while ago. Thinking back, I don't suppose I'd have hesitated much at the chance to get an old copy of Gerard K. O'Neill's The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, but I'm pretty sure that once I had the book I only skimmed through it and then left it to sit. You may not have to fear the ominous future "if these immense space colonies aren't built for the good of everyone" sketched out early in the book is now inescapable, or even springboard off to heap blame on familiar agencies for not having your ticket up to "L5" already (as I recall the foreword by someone else to a more modern reprint did), to still dwell on the whole "I resent this gee-whiz technology from popular works in decades past not being available yet" attitude. At the same time, though, I was quite aware there are people other than embittered space buffs who would recognize O'Neill's designs; they were pulled into the setting of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime, adding a distinguishing factor other than "just" "giant piloted robots of a particular design."
Selling a concept versus building a story )
krpalmer: (Default)
It's one small sign of how long I've managed to keep posting things to this journal, and a small illustration of how history keys together too, that I've managed to get from the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon to the fortieth anniversary of Viking 1 landing on Mars. The two are linked on the calendar even if by accident; Viking 1 had been meant to land on the American Bicentennial, but its intended landing site had wound up looking too rough to the improved cameras of its orbiter. When it did make it to the surface, though, it pretty much set expectations; I was surprised and somehow invigorated when Mars Pathfinder had seen more prominent hills on the horizon two decades later, and surprised again whenever another rover doesn't find the sand at its landing site as littered with rocks as the Vikings did. At the same time, though, I did spend at least a bit of today remembering the Soviet probes that had reached the surface before the Vikings, even if the longest-lived of them only sent back a few seconds' worth of an indecipherable picture before it gave out in the dust storm it had managed to touch down in.
krpalmer: (Default)
After some first looks at small worlds last year, it makes for a change to get back to a large world. I had started to pick up on the Juno probe's final approach to Jupiter after a nearly five-year journey from the covers of astronomy magazines, but something about the news pieces in the last days before arrival had me worried about close-in debris or just something else "going wrong," perhaps not with quite the same intensity as with New Horizons but still with concern. The crucial moments would happen at night; I checked first thing in the morning, and was pleased to see things had worked out during that first and apparently most hazardous close approach. Now, it's a matter of remembering to follow up and see just when the public outreach pictures start appearing; I remember hearing the onboard camera isn't expected to last very long in Jupiter's radiation.
krpalmer: (Default)
I knew SpaceX was planning to launch another Falcon 9 rocket, and that another attempt would be made to land the first stage on a barge out at sea, but I had the impression the chances for another success still weren't high. At work yesterday, though, a slug of text on the information-cluttered screen of a local cable news channel reported the landing had happened, and at night no less. That this has been done twice in a row is impressive, but I do wonder about whether "making things look easy" will start to clash against those reported odds against success. I also wonder how long it could be before we find out how much work is needed to refurbish a first stage for use again, knowing how much work the space shuttle orbiters wound up needing (although it's possible they were more complicated machines).
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
I seem to have worked out a pattern for alternating between monthly and bimonthly computer magazine covers from 1977, although I suppose it'll change as other titles enter the fray. I also happened to repost a thoroughly classical arrangement...

Personal Computing, March-April 1977
Kilobaud, March 1977
BYTE, March 1977
Creative Computing, March-April 1977
Kilobaud, April 1977
BYTE, April 1977
Personal Computing, May-June 1977
krpalmer: (Default)
I knew in a general sort of way another Falcon 9 rocket was going to launch another Dragon supply capsule (containing, among other things, the first small "inflatable space structure" I've been hearing plans for for quite a while now) to the space station soon, but my schedules got sort of scrambled when I fell somewhat sick this week. Now that I'm managing to mend I'm paying a bit more attention to the news, but I didn't manage to hear the launch had been a success until it had happened. Then, I noticed reports "the first stage had landed," and supposed it must have been able to fly back to solid ground again, knowing how many explosions there have been on SpaceX's fannishly if somewhat obscurely named barges.

As I checked a bit further into the news reports, though, I saw the stage really had managed to land on a barge; I even managed to see a bit of video showing just how fast the final stage of the landing happens and the barge bobbing back and forth afterwards. Just as it took SpaceX several tries to get a rocket into orbit, perseverance seems to have paid off for once. This pretty much tops "inflatable space structures," at least for the moment.
krpalmer: (Default)
After just about forgetting about promises that the DSCOVR satellite would return regular full-disc images of the Earth, another "Astronomy Picture of the Day" pointed me to a site that already provides enough of an archive to show both poles pointed at the sun. At first glance, it seemed that archive is more accessible using iPad Safari than Macintosh Safari, but I remembered the several different browsers I keep on my computer just in case I need them. (Then, I followed a more roundabout route to the site, and all of a sudden it was working in my regular browser.) Hopefully, I'll be able to remember to keep up with the site, even if not every day will show the moon's shadow tracking across the Earth.
krpalmer: (Default)
I might have become really aware another Falcon 9 rocket launch was upcoming hearing about its launch delays. In becoming aware about it, though, I was able to realise the latest launch attempt was going to happen in the early evening, right when I'd have a chance to follow it through streaming video. As the rocket was "just" lifting a communications satellite up to geostationary orbit, it didn't seem to be featured on NASA's own streaming video, so I went to the SpaceX site itself, which had a good number of on-camera commentators and an enthusiastic crowd in the background.

That the launch itself succeeded was one thing, but I knew yet another attempt was being made to bring the first stage back down to a barge at sea. Just as the stage was coming in, though, the live feed from the barge cut out. While the crowd stayed as noisy as before, I decided to check news reports later only to find something went awry again on touchdown. That seemed to make the experience a bit more familiar.
krpalmer: (smeat)
I managed to be half-surprised by news SpaceX was launching another Falcon 9 rocket. The first thing I checked for was confirmation it had put the satellite on top of it into orbit: that was what really counted, after all. Not that long after that, though, I saw news the first stage had steered back down to another huge barge out at sea, only to explode in the process. That this seemed to stem from the trivial matter of a landing leg not locking into place just seemed to keep convincing me I could leave it be and go ahead with a different plan for making a post to my journal this week, one springing from the post just previous and taking the bold, almost "Tumblr-esque" step of being built around pictures.

To manage that with this journal, though, means uploading pictures to a Photobucket account, and when I tried that I kept getting error messages. This is a much smaller problem than a rocket stage you were hoping to get back in one piece exploding, but somehow it prompted some sympathy for that bigger problem.
krpalmer: (Default)
I did happen to hear SpaceX was getting closer to its own "return to flight" launch, and still using its own Falcon 9 rocket. In taking in that coverage, though, I also began to gather there would be another attempt to bring the first stage in for a soft touchdown, except that this time it would head all the way back to Cape Canaveral. While trying to make a precise lineup with a barge, however large, out in the ocean didn't seem to have worked before, I could still remember how on first hearing the thought of a first stage boosting the second to sufficient velocity but still saving enough fuel to cancel its "downrange" velocity had sort of outraged my sensibilities.

After hearing of a few launch postponements, though, I got around to checking the NASA site itself, and saw a Twitter post congratulating SpaceX on its feat. I suppose I've got to accept the accomplishment. While I've heard questions about how easy it'll be to start refurbishing a kerosene-burning rocket to fly again and I know the space shuttle wound up needing a lot more maintenance than it was supposed to, that SpaceX has managed to work through problems somehow has more of an impact on me than a "private" company coming up with stunning solutions the first time around just because it's "private enterprise."
krpalmer: (Default)
I had dinner in the oven yesterday when I realised the latest scheduled time for the launch of an Atlas V rocket with the replacement Cygnus cargo spacecraft would be before that dinner had finished cooking, and hurried back to my computer and the official NASA streaming video. On Thursday and Friday, I had tried watching the launch coverage (on those days, the shifting launch window had it scheduled for after I'd eaten), but both attempts kept being put off because of bad weather into darkness and the end of the launch windows. Yesterday, the clouds at Cape Canaveral were low, but everything else seemed to work and the rocket blasted off into the clouds; most of the video that followed was from the ridealong camera. I managed to keep watching until the second stage took over, the rocket not having flown all the way into night yet, and then I had to go and put the rest of my dinner together.

The use of an Atlas rocket instead of the specially designed booster used for the Cygnus before that had blown up on liftoff the last time did get my attention, given I've associated it before with the larger and further-going space probes, and I'm wondering if this rocket is more expensive or about the same price. However, I also know the Atlas is being planned to be used to launch a people-carrying capsule, so perhaps this counts as a step to that.
krpalmer: (europa)
The full dataset from New Horizon's Pluto encounter is data-linking back, and even at speeds reminiscent of dial-up modems from the 1980s, or the Galileo mission with its faulty main antenna, there are some interesting pictures coming in. Some of the first ones I saw in the new set looked to have quite a few craters in them at last, even if still juxtaposed against the smoother and fresher plains of ices more exotic and cryogenic than water that first caught my eyes. One that showed up just a little later, though, was more purely "dramatic," and after a little while I started trying to articulate why.

 photo pluto_horizon_zpsevrkoag1.jpg

The rugged mountains were one thing, even if I wonder if they might look as smooth closer up as the moon's meteor-blasted terrain turned out to be after all those years of artists not thinking things other than "atmosphere" could wear things down. More than that, though, it was the rounded horizon of a world where mountains can stand comparatively higher than our own that wound up putting things together. I found myself thinking of warnings that "the vertical scale is exaggerated," and of old-fashioned planet models in science fiction movies and the like. That got me remembering a picture from New Horizon's Jupiter flyby I had decided could be taken to look like Star Wars itself and turned into a journal icon. If the resemblance is non-specific this time around, that just might make it seem more "itself."
krpalmer: (Default)
Just when I was starting to wonder when the Deep Space Climate Observatory would get around to providing full-Earth pictures on the promised "regular" schedule after its first public debut, I ran into another striking one on the Astronomy Picture of the Day site.

 photo earth_and_moon_zpsrykue9e9.jpg

It's almost the same face of Earth as before (and again, I happened to notice there aren't any clouds over the Central Valley of California), but the "guest star" of the picture stands out, even if the far side of the moon isn't as photogenic as the one that's fixed our way. In thinking ahead from the specific to the pictures still to come, though, I did fixate for a moment on a bit of the first blurb I saw that said "about twice a year"; this, however, is just referring to how often the moon will get in the way (just as there isn't a solar eclipse every full moon).
krpalmer: (Default)
While continuing to look for new pictures of Pluto to be radioed back to Earth, I also happened to see that the solar monitoring satellite I recorded the launch of a few months ago has sent its first full-disc picture of Earth back. The blue of the Bahamas banks caught my attention first; I then went looking for my own neighbourhood to see there were clouds over the northwestern Great Lakes but things were clearer over the southeastern ones. It was an attractive picture in total, one that has me thinking about other hemispheres hopefully to come. I can suppose, though, that remembering the "environmental outreach" aspect of it I did pick up on how there were no clouds over California's Central Valley, and also remembered the articles I've been reading about the drought there.

 photo earth-2015-07-06_zpsoanpa0d0.jpg

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