Endeavour Space Academy
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I cannot remember a time when I haven’t been fascinated with astronomy, the space program, and science fiction. I was a child during the Apollo era, and a young man when the original COSMOS first aired. I cut my teeth on Star Trek, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Larry Niven; Carl Sagan was, and remains to this day, my personal hero. Now that I think about it, I started doing astronomy outreach the moment I got my first cheap telescope in 1968; I showed the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn to the neighbors, and took it with me to summer camp. I had one of those really scary green glass eyepiece solar filters – that got used a lot more than I like to think about! My wife gave me an 8″ Dobsonian telescope for my 40th birthday, that came with a not-scary-at-all solar filter; that telescope has seen a LOT of use in 16 years – so much so, it’s … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Three Lunatic Answers
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This column first ran in The Tablet in July 2009 July 20 – the 21st, in Rome – marks the anniversary of the landing of the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon. Here are a few lunar topics probably not covered by most folks remembering that event… I saw a photo of Pope Paul VI looking at the Apollo 11 Moon landing through a telescope. Why didn’t he watch it on TV like everyone else? For the Moon landings, world leaders were invited to address the astronauts on a world-wide television link-up, and the Pope read his greetings (in front of a TV) from the Vatican Observatory dome in Castel Gandolfo (in the gardens near the Pope’s summer palace). In fact, the system of geosynchronous satellites to send TV pictures live around the world was still pretty new; those of us of a certain age can remember the Beatles introducing All You Need is Love on one of the first Europe/North America … Continue reading

Project Apollo Image Archive
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The Project Apollo Archive is an online repository with thousands of digital images from the historic NASA manned lunar missions. The images reside on a Flickr photostream, and the Project Apollo Archive Page on Facebook frequently posts highlights from the archive. The archive posted 8,434 images in September, and 5,477 images in October of 2015. The first post on the Project Apollo Archive Facebook Page was on September 26, 2015. One week later, on October 3rd, the Facebook page admins posted the following message: Please note that this FB page is for appreciation of space history, and as such, and so as not to detract from a positive experience for all, any recurring abuse in the form of postings and comments disputing the reality of the space program and its history will lead to a permanent ban. Thank you for your cooperation. User: Harrisonicus on Flickr created the following stop-motion animation featuring hundreds of images from the new gallery: Speaking … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Bucks or Buck Rogers?
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This column ran in The Tablet in July, 2006 “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” The phrase, immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book (and the movie) The Right Stuff about the birth of the American human space program, has ever since encapsulated the problem facing everyone who works in a field as gloriously useless as astronomy. Telescopes and space probes cost money. So does the light and heat and toilet paper in our modest offices, even if we use nothing more elaborate than pencil and paper to do our work. This past month [2006] I’ve been facing money issues on many levels. The American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences is holding its annual meeting in October, and I’m on a committee to pass out small travel grants to graduate students. NASA, the source for most of the funding in my field, is going through its annual cycle of evaluating research proposed by academics; to review the proposals and try to decide who best … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Fire and Ice
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Originally published in The Tablet in March, 2006. This year’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston, has been unusually rich. We saw fiery dust from an ice-rich comet; startling images from Mars; a new type of lunar rock… and that was just on Monday morning. By Friday afternoon, I was exhausted. I had already heard the Stardust results (see Across the Universe) at the Sunday welcome cocktail party when one of the mission scientists whispered to me, “We’ve found CAIs!” (Another friend on the team described Stardust Principle Scientist Don Brownlee’s first comment when they finally got the samples: “I can’t believe it actually worked!”) These high-temperature grains of Calcium and Aluminum oxides that appear as Inclusions in certain meteorites are thought to represent the first solid materials to crystallize out from the hot gases that made the sun and planets. How did they wind up wrapped in comet ices, stored in the … Continue reading

Apollo 8 Earthrise
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In December of 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first people to leave our home planet and travel to another body in space. But as crew members Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders all later recalled, the most important thing they discovered was Earth. Using photo mosaics and elevation data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), this video commemorates the 45th anniversary of Apollo 8’s historic flight by recreating the moment when the crew first saw and photographed the Earth rising from behind the Moon. Narrator Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon, sets the scene for a three-minute visualization of the view from both inside and outside the spacecraft accompanied by the onboard audio of the astronauts. The visualization draws on numerous historical sources, including the actual cloud pattern on Earth from the ESSA-7 satellite and dozens of photographs taken by Apollo 8, and it reveals new, historically significant information about the Earthrise photographs. It … Continue reading