Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Carnival of Space #122

Here's a slightly belated suggestion: check out the latest Carnival of Space over at Cumbrian Sky. Stuart has done a great job introducing this week's posts with his usual enthusiasm. I don't know what it's all about, but I felt compelled to re-post his photo of Buzz Aldrin with Photoshopped pink wading boots on the Moon.

Unfortunately I missed the boat on submitting a post to this week's carnival and I probably won't be blogging very much the next couple of months. The fall business travel season is starting soon and there's lots to prepare for my upcoming trips. I'm also closing in on completing my new album, Message from Tomorrow - in stores soon (um, probably not, but probably on iTunes and Amazon sometime in November, with a few songs on MySpace now). Just a few more sessions for final vocals, mixes, and some sort of mastering process and it should be a wrap - unless I decide to add a 14th song or Roger and I want to add horns to a couple of the songs that are "done."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lunar Water Parks?

Everybody's talking about this, so if you care, you probably already know that NASA has found water on the Moon. With concentrations like one liter of water per tonne of lunar regolith, we're talking about wading pools more than water parks (plus it's pretty much frozen). But still - all together there could be billions of liters of water, and it may be much more concentrated in some locations (like shadowed polar craters - LCROSS may give us more data soon). The evidence is spectroscopic, but comes from instruments on three independent spacecraft. Cool!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Astronomy Video Bargains (iTunes)

Videos of PBS Science Specials are available for download through the iTunes Store for only $1.99 per episode, including a couple of great astronomy shows, 400 Years of the Telescope (56  minutes) and Journey to Palomar (1 hour 27 minutes). The DVD versions are typically about $20. Search for "pbs science specials" in the iTunes Store.

Speaking of specials on PBS, I have to remember to watch Nova on October 13 for a new episode called Hubble's Amazing Rescue. It looks really cool.

Carnival of Space #121

Check out the latest Carnival of Space over at Next Big Future. Lots of interesting stuff, but as an optical engineer and space cadet, I was especially interested in the Centauri Dreams post "Lightcraft: A Laser Push to Orbit." To orbit? I've read about ideas like using lasers to push light sails for interplanetary or even interstellar propulsion (which figures in a number of SF stories, including Encounter with Tiber by John Barnes and Buzz Aldrin). But using lasers for propulsion in the atmosphere is a new one for me (and the atmosphere itself plays an important role). What a great application of optics and plasma physics (among other things).

Comets and Human Relations

My friend Rob Simbeck is a renaissance man (officially an author and freelance writer), so naturally he's been observing the night sky for many years. In today's 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, he talks about an incident in a Nashville parking lot in March 1997 during which the comet Hale-Bopp shed more than its faint light could be expected to on the problems of human relations. Listen carefully and you'll hear some of Rob's acoustic guitar noodling, I mean improvisations in the background.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Solar Power Sats

I've written a few times before about space solar power, and I was pleased to see a post about developments in this area on Friday's  Cosmic Log. After reading Alan Boyle's post entitled "making space power pay," I wondered if anyone had yet created an Orbiter add-on to model a solar power satellite. Orbiter add-on developers have simulated many futuristic systems such as space elevators and the Stanford Torus space colony, and solar power satellites are probably a better bet for the next 20 years (Orbiter add-on developers tend to favor manned spacecraft, but there are many examples of historic, current, and futuristic unmanned spacecraft as well).

So I checked on Orbit Hangar and did a Google search. I didn't find a powersat add-on, but I found a request for one in an Orbiter-forum post back in May. The requester was William Maness of PowerSat Corp., whom Alan Boyle quotes in his blog post. Maness was looking to contract an Orbiter add-on developer to create a powersat model for Orbiter that could be used in some visualizations and simulations of their proposed powersat system (a very cool deployable/inflatable concept). There was some interest and a lively discussion, though wasn't clear from the forum discussion whether he got someone to do it. But based on this video from PowerSat, it looks like they did, at least for visual purposes. Some parts of this video really look to me like Orbiter scenes (from 0:31 to 0:57 -  probably enhanced with video editing mainly to show the microwaves beaming down to Earth). Maness mentioned in the post that he hoped to simulate a launch to LEO on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as well as more specific technical aspects such as sun tracking and continuous thrust engines (presumably electric ion engines) to gradually boost the powersat from LEO to to its operational GEO orbit. Orbiter can do that sort of thing with some clever custom add-on programming.

There are obviously many challenges to developing and deploying solar powersats, but it's pretty exciting to be seeing even such early commercial development, and to think that Orbiter may have a small role to play in developing and promoting these systems.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lunar Electric Rover

I just read this Technology Review article on NASA's Lunar Electric Rover (LER) which recently went through extensive "road tests" in the Arizona desert, simulating a two week moon mission. This is no Apollo-type "dune buggy" but more of a pressurized lunar RV. It's got some amazing capabilities. The video shows the assembly of the vehicle (for the presidential inaugural parade in Washington last January) and then some driving footage in some desert-like terrain, including a part where it drives sideways! The way the spacesuits dock to the vehicle is also really cool. I hope to see astronauts driving these things on the moon someday, but the way things are going it's going to be a long wait.

iPod Dinner Dishes Diary

I had a lot of dishes to do tonight, so I was listening to my iPod on shuffle. For no particular reason (you lie!), I started to make little notes on the songs that came up. So here there are. It's funny what comes up when you've got 2700 songs on shuffle.

Honky Tonkin' at the Minibar  (Me) - OK, not random, this is song of mine. I tend to listen a lot to new recordings when I finish them. More later when I get it posted on MySpace, probably tomorrow. It's a funny country song with steel guitar and stuff.
My Stupid Mouth (John Mayer) - Damn, he's a good writer. Even his early stuff is rock solid.
Hole in the World (The Eagles) - They start out sounding pompous, and often they are, but damn, those harmonies are undeniable.
5 to 1 (The Doors) - Brings back memories of high school angst. Cool sounds - Robbie could really play guitar. Jimbo, you were a weird dude, but you made some memorable music.
Oboe Quartet, Second Movement (Mozart K.370) - I prefer to listen to all the movements of a classical piece, but I'm not a purist, and this is one of my faves, so sad and haunting. I'm lucky to have heard this piece a couple of times performed in Salzburg.
Everlasting Everything (Wilco) - From their latest, a simple, moving song that reminds me of me somehow (or I remind me of them?). Something about the voice or the feeling, not sure.
Sitting on Top of the World (Cream) - Simple blues, Clapton rules.
Tiny Dancer (Elton John) - OK, overplayed, but still good. College memories from the early 70's (and also from "Almost Famous" which I wasn't).
Love (John Lennon) - Beautiful simplicity. So real. The piano, the rough acoustic guitar, the voice, the reverb. Nice.
All Apologies (Nirvana) - I'm not a big Nirvana fan, but I like this a lot. Gritty goodness.
Don't Let Me Wait Too Long (George Harrison) - OK song, not one of George's best post-Beatles efforts. Nice harmonies, disappointing slide guitar part (I usually love his slide work).
Late for the Sky (Jackson Browne) - I just one-starred this song (marked for later deletion). I admire him as a writer, but sorry, a lot of his stuff just bores me.
Mean Mr. Mustard (Beatles) - Here's John again. Cool distorted sound on Paul's bass. Awesome harmonies of course.
Screaming Infidelities (Dashboard Confessional) - Yeah, I go for the occasional emo song. I like the open tuning acoustic guitar on this.
Know Your Enemy (Green Day) - What can I say? It rocks. I'm old, but I like what I like.

If you like reading about songs and the music business, check out The Lefsetz Letter (it's a blog now). Bob Lefetz is intensely passionate about music, sometimes annoyingly so, but he's got a lot of great insights and he's never boring.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Buy This For Somebody's Kid!

Yes, buy this for somebody's kid, starting with yours, if you have one!  Here Comes Science is a new music and video project from They Might Be Giants (TMBG). It's supposed to be for kids, but you'll like it too. As an optical engineer and educational outreach kind of guy who is also a songwriter, I am really impressed at how cool this collection of songs about science is. It sounds like music, not "children's music" - and the songs are full of real science information presented through clever lyrics and fun, memorable music. It's funny too. There are songs about biology, chemistry, physics, the solar system, and much more (19 tracks).

I bought the CD/DVD set from Amazon, and I've been listening in my car and watching some of the videos at home. Great stuff, and the Amazon price just dropped to $9.99 (I paid $13.49 a few days ago). You can also see a number of the DVD's on YouTube, like "Roy G Biv" embedded here (that's a mnemonic for remembering the order of colors in the spectrum - a wee bit of optics).

Thanks to astropixie and Bad Astronomy for the tip on this.

The Skinny On Solar System Sizes

Somehow I found myself on Mike Brown's blog (I was actually looking at where some of my many Carnival of Space visitors were coming from, and one thing linked to another). Brown is the Caltech planetary astronomer who has helped discover and name several TNO's (trans-Neptunian objects) in recent years. He wrote a post inspired by a "planetary place mat" that his young daughter has, with planetary art work that gives misleading information about the relative sizes of the planets (and still shows Pluto as a planet, a rather hefty one that no one with a heart could even think about demoting from full planethood - though Pluto is actually the 18th largest known object in the solar system). He gave several examples of how the graphic might be improved, ending up with this one, which is pretty good - it shows every solar system object that orbits the sun and that can be drawn as at least a pixel at that scale (overlapping the objects and only showing part of Jupiter and Saturn really helps and makes a really attractive graphic too).

Then I was reading the comments, and somebody pointed to this 2007 post, which features a huge Photoshop graphic by Alan Taylor showing all the (then) known solar system objects 200 miles (320 km) or more in diameter (this includes moons, not only objects orbiting the sun). This graphic is really cool, though a little unwieldy (11060 x 1000 pixels, 1 MB JPG).  You have to download it and scroll it horizontally in a graphics program to appreciate the detail. He later did a metric-only version (JPG) and an unlabeled version (JPG). Note that the dwarf planet 2005 FY9 is now called Makemake.

UPDATE: Dan Dixon pointed out that his Universe Sandbox program has a feature called "Chart Mode" that makes it easy to compare the sizes, masses, and other features of all the bodies in a simulation. It's not too apparent in the current version - right click on the graphics pane to bring up the controls and click the Chart Mode button. Very cool - you can zoom and pan and really get an idea of how things compare.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nice to Know It Works!

A few years back, I worked with a few far-flung fellow Orbiter enthusiasts to develop an Orbiter add-on package called Mars for Less (MFL). I wrote about it quite a bit in 2006-2008 and even presented a paper (PDF) on it at the 2006 Mars Society Conference in Washington, DC. Fun stuff, especially since Andy McSorley and Mark Paton did most of the heavy lifting (and re-entering). I mostly did a lot of testing and writing (scenarios, blog posts, and the MSC paper). Mark has quite a knack for spacecraft design and especially for EDL (entry, descent, and landing in the trade). Since MFL is all about saving weight (well, it's also about medium-lift boosters, modular orbital construction, and living off the land on Mars), we wanted a very light heat shield. Mark decided to go with an inflatable one. He'd read some stuff about them, and since Orbiter isn't exactly rigorous about the structural integrity of spacecraft models anyway, he decided to give it a shot. It seemed to work within the aerodynamics of Orbiter. I entered the Mars atmosphere and safely landed dozens of times (mostly thanks to Mark's spiffy autopilot work).You can see a bunch of my Mars for Less screen shots on my Flickr site and a nice 7 minute video (not mine) of the MFL mission here.

So I was really pleased to learn recently that someone has actually tried out an inflatable heat shield. NASA did a suborbital flight test of a 10 foot (3 meter) inflatable heat shield and it worked. Of course this is a lot smaller than what we would need for our manned Mars lander, but hey, it's a start!  Thanks to Colony Worlds for the tip and the photo.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Welcome to Carnival of Space #120

Welcome to the Carnival of Space, a weekly collection of recent posts from bloggers who write (mostly) on space and astronomy themes. This blog carnival was started in spring 2007, and here we are at number 120. I’ve found so many interesting blogs and learned so much over the last couple of years that I’ve been following and occasionally hosting the carnival of space. I’m happy to be hosting again.

Hubble: The recent release of the first images and data from the rejuvenated Hubble Space Telescope inspired several bloggers this week. Cosmic Ray was inspired by images from Hubble’s new WFC3, especially the “stars gone wild” in globular star cluster Omega Centauri. Universe Today’s Nancy Atkinson shares some images that graphically demonstrate how much of an improvement the recent Hubble service mission has made. Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait gives an informative and emotional overview of Hubble’s new and improved instruments and talks about the special connection he has with his long lost friend STIS.

Education & Observation: Starts with a Bang!  presents a nice explanation of why sunsets, moonsets, and lunar eclipses show so much red light. Weird Warp offers an excellent post explaining almost everything you might have wanted to know about sunspots. Astroblog talks about finding and observing the Moon in the daytime sky. AstroSwanny discusses the pros and cons of remote or “connected” astronomy. Steve’s Astro Corner tries to improve planet literacy with a mini solar system tour, but unfortunately his daughter’s friends who prompted this remedial effort probably won’t be reading his blog after that party.  And Simostronomy takes a break from the technical aspects of variable star observations to reconnect with the simple exquisite beauty of the night sky.

The Future:
It’s not often that we have a shark specialist contributing to the Carnival of Space, but there is a connection: preserving the planet. David “WhySharksMatter” Shiffman contributes a post on how emerging space-based technologies can improve the lives of everyone on Earth, and alleviate some of the problems facing the oceans. Next  Big Future presents an intriguing post whose title speaks for itself “Mach Effect: Interview with Paul March and an Update on the Work of James Woodward (on Mach Lorentz Propulsion,  Propellentless 1G Space Drive). And  21st Century Waves reports “Private Funding for the Settlement of Mars Has Begun” with the founding of a private venture called the Martian Trust.

Art: Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams reflects on how space art (often coupled with SF) has inspired him and so many others, and he hopes it can help do this again – “Can art reawaken the spirit of exploration that seems so much on the wane?”  CollectSpace revisits the US Post Office’s “first man on the Moon” stamp from 1969 with an interview with the stamp’s designer.

Multimedia: In multimedia, we’re glad that Space Video of the Day has returned, this week with a video profile of physicist Stephen Hawking and the quest for a “theory of everything.”  Cheap Astronomy weighs in this week with the second of a two-part podcast on NASA’s Constellation program. The first one covered the launch vehicle aspects, and the second one focuses on the Orion and Altair spacecraft.

The Rest: Lounge of the Lab Lemming comments on the apparent size of Mars vs. Venus and other (non) amazing astronomical coincidences. Commercial Space reminds us that space is a business and points out that some of the roughly 200 Canadian companies involved with space are doing quite well right now. Habitation Intention says, “welcome to the dip.” This is an interesting approach to trying to understand the public’s general lack of interest in space exploration. Was Apollo a fluke? You’ll have to read and judge for yourself. And in a new post on his re-vamped "Road to Endeavour" blog, Stuart Atkinson looks back at the Mars rover Opportunity's study of a huge and fascinating martian meteorite called "Block Island."

Finally my own entry for the week: Even though I wrote the book on “playing in space” (with Orbiter), I’ve just discovered a new way to play in space called Universe Sandbox. Unlike Brian Wilson’s sandbox, there’s no piano (and actually no sand) in this virtual sandbox, just a whole lot of moons, planets, stars, and galaxies I can fling around. It's actually a very cool gravitational simulation program.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Universe Sandbox: Wow!

I just discovered a new way to play in space - Universe Sandbox. This "interactive space simulator" is essentially a multibody gravitational simulation program (real physics!) with excellent 3D graphics, extensive controls, a friendly user interface, and a good number of sample systems. It also has a simple tutorial system that is completely integrated with the application. This is used for the "basic training" and also for a set of brief activities called "fun things to do." These include many of your favorites like destroying Saturn's rings, blowing up the Death Star, and turning Jupiter into star. Yes, you can blow things up, change the properties of objects, introduce new objects, and change paths to crash things into each other. Go ahead, become a planetary mad scientist and see what havoc you can wreak using only gravity. You can always reset to the original scenario if you mess things up too badly.

This program is similar in some respects to Gravity Simulator, but with 3D graphics (including an optional red/green anaglyph setting for use with 3D glasses), more interactive and intuitive controls, and a generally more playful approach. The physics is there and I'm sure you can learn a lot about gravitational motion by playing with all the parameters you can change for the various objects in the scenarios. You aren't restricted to the planets and moons of the solar system - you can work with stars and galaxies too.

The real beauty of the interface is that it's very easy to control the focus and scale of what you see using just the mouse and mouse wheel. Time is greatly accelerated as is necessary to see something interesting with objects that might take weeks or centuries of real time to move visibly at the scale of a computer screen. You can speed up, slow down, or stop time, and there's an automatic time setting which tends to always show things moving at a sensible rate in simulation time (a second of real time might represent minutes, months, or 50,000 years or more if you're looking at, say, the local group of galaxies).

This program is quite different from Orbiter with its first-person spacecraft-oriented approach to exploring the solar system. Universe Sandbox is much more about the big picture - and it's also sort of a cosmic-scale "third-person shooter," though the "violence" is very stylized. It's great that you can do interesting gravitational experiments in a few minutes, yet there is also a lot of depth. I will probably be writing more about this program as I learn more and use it for educational outreach demos. Universe Sandbox offers a time-limited trial and a "pay what you like" policy for the full version.

Discovery Lands in California

I didn't have much time to follow Discovery's STS-128 mission to the International Space Station this past two weeks, but I did get a chance to watch the final 15 minutes of the approach and landing to Edwards AFB in California just now on NASA TV. Except for the fact that the landing was delayed by a day and diverted to California due to bad weather in Florida, it was a very successful mission and a smooth as silk landing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hubble Remastered! (Beatles Too)

The date "09-09-09" seems so momentous but it's really just another day, right? Well not quite! This is the day that the entire collection of newly remastered Beatles music was released on CD! And the Beatles Rock Band game too! Exciting stuff.  I'm trying not to buy either of those though I am one sorely tempted baby boomer at this moment...

But here's something that's completely new and remastered and you've already paid for it: the Hubble Space Telescope! NASA released the first official images from HST since its "extreme makeover" by visiting STS-125 astronauts back in May. Gorgeous images! New scientific results! A triumph of optics, robotic space flight, and human space flight!


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Here Be (Hard SF?) Dragons

Back in March, I downloaded some free Kindle books to my iPod Touch. These were recent books being promoted by their publisher. One was His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. It didn't look like my kind of book, but it was free at the time and took 10 seconds to download (I like various SF genres but usually not fantasy). Once I started reading it, I was hooked. On one level it's an alternate history novel of the Napoleonic Wars period, in a world where dragons really exist and have been turned into platforms for aerial warfare with human crews, analogous to sailing ships. These dragons are very smart, sentient creatures with distinct personalities and voices (yes, they talk). They bond very closely with their captains (as the commanders of British dragons are called), and the relationship between the dragon Temeraire and Captain Will Laurence is as central to the story as the aerial and naval battle scenes.

Now I'm nearly finished with the second book (not free, so mission accomplished, marketing people). In Throne of Jade, Temeraire discovers his Chinese roots. The characters, relationships and battle scenes are still good, and you also have the clash of two strong cultures circa 1806 (Imperial Britain and Imperial China). As I've been reading this, I realized that this is really more of a "hard SF" book than a fantasy. Despite the fact that dragons figure in a lot of fantasy books, their role here is more as a somewhat alien intelligence (a second race of sentient beings that has evolved on Earth and has been integrated in various ways into human culture) and as a high-tech "military vehicle." They are definitely not "pets," and the different ways in which Europeans and Chinese treat dragons is a major conflict in the story.

"Hard SF" implies the creation of a world in which the laws of physics, biology, chemistry, etc. are followed quite strictly, though various alternate assumptions and phenomena are added to the mix. These might be aliens from space, devices for faster than light communication or travel, advanced AI systems - or talking dragons. Novik has created a quite believable alternate world circa 1806 that happens to have talking dragons, and it works for me as a sort of alternate-history hard SF. Of course it helps that she has also created good characters and a screen-flicking story line!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Carnival of Space #119

The latest Carnival of Space is a special Labor Day edition hosted by Emily Lakdawalla over at the Planetary Society Blog. I especially liked Emily's own contribution, a post on "Saturn ring crossing day" with some cool animations.

Not Just for Girls

I noticed The Girls' Guide to Rocking in the gift shop at the Experience Music Project in Seattle when I was out there recently (great museum, BTW). I wasn't sure if it was serious or not, so I waited to check it out on the web before buying it "for my daughter" (wink, wink).

Turns out it's a fun book, but also quite serious, and despite the title, not just for girls. Author Jessica Hopper covers pretty much all the bases for anyone who might be thinking of picking up an instrument, writing and recording some songs, or forming a band. Topics range from how to select a guitar or drum set to how to deal with conflicts in a band, how to record demos at home, how to promote gigs, and much more. Other topics include musical instruction, lyric writing, producers, managers, touring, stage fright, and the importance of ear protection when you're exposed to amplified music. It's a great book - Hopper covers a lot of useful and practical ground in 224 pages. Most of the quotes in the book are from female musicians (not all of them "rockers"), and there is a lot of encouragement aimed at girls, but this book would be really helpful for anyone trying to get started doing music (other than classical, I suppose).

I wish I had something like this when I was trying to be serious about doing music back in my college days (I was pretty clueless). And I actually do plan to give it to my daughter now that I've read it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Good Article on SpaceX

There's a good article on SpaceX in the current Popular Mechanics, available online here. Written by Michael Belfiore, the article briefly covers the history and some future plans for Elon Musk's private space venture. It includes a "pencast" by SpaceX's propulsion chief, Tom Mueller. This is a narrated motion-capture "whiteboard" video in which Mueller sketches a diagram of his Merlin engine design and explains how it works. There's also a cool photo of a Dragon spacecraft in assembly (better than the November 2008 SpaceX photo shown here).

SpaceX has a contract from NASA to demonstrate cargo delivery to the ISS with the unmanned version of Dragon by the end of 2010. This will be launched on their Falcon 9 rocket for which they also have a number of commercial launches booked. NASA's future in human space flight is really up in the air right now. SpaceX embodies founder Elon Musk's passion for helping to get humans beyond the Earth (his first thought was Mars until he realized how expensive it was to launch things into space and decided to work that problem first). I'm hoping SpaceX and other private space companies will take up the slack through space tourism, launching research projects and astronauts for other countries, and whatever else it takes to keep things moving on the road to a spacefaring society.

PM has a number of other articles on the next 50 years in space online too.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

My Brief Mars Vacation

Mars needs some work as a fun destination. Speaking in virtual terms, I've orbited and landed on Mars countless times in Orbiter, but once you land somewhere in Orbiter, there really isn't much to do (this is not always true - if you use the AMSO add-on to simulate Apollo Moon missions in Orbiter, you can do EVA's, drive the rover, and collect samples). That's OK - Orbiter is all about launches, orbits, and landings.

But what about living on and exploring Mars? I downloaded a free early alpha version of Mars Colony Simulator from HyperKat Games and spent a couple of hours playing with it on my own (there's a new multiplayer aspect that I didn't try). It seems to be directly inspired by Mars Direct, with a two-story tuna can COHAB and a nearby ERV (Earth Return Vehicle). It's got a 3D first-person interface that's fairly intuitive, and you start out in a space suit on the second floor of the COHAB, with several mission 1 objectives to complete.

You have to worry about things like making sure the water separator is running. Of course it's not (because it needs water), and you need to first find water you can drill for, which means you have to walk around outside and take a bunch of GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) readings to find the water. So you go outside and start to do this for a few minutes, but watch out, dust storm warning! Get back inside, get out of your suit and top off the power and oxygen while waiting for the storm to pass. Suit up again and go out, but first you need to clean the dust off the solar panels (both units). Take a few GPR readings until, what's this? Another dust storm? It's accelerated time, but jeeze.

A real Mars crew would be 3 or more people, so I guess multiplayer is the way to go here, but I'm not ready for that. The simulation has food, water, and a bathroom, and you have to watch out for your player's health, sort of like the Sims (I guess). There's also agriculture (I only saw the algae tanks, but there's a greenhouse in mission 2, once you accomplish mission 1 and have a water supply - mission 2 also has a rover). There is some limited documentation. It looks like it will eventually be a cool and educational sim, but it's a bit too alpha for me right now. I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a virtual or real Mars colonist at this point in my life, but I'll keep an eye on this sim as development continues.

Friday, September 04, 2009

MiG-35 and Other Cool Flight Photos

A few weeks back I posted a few pictures on my Flickr site from the Rhode Island Air Show that I attended earlier this summer. Some of those Blue Angels and F-22 shots were pretty good, but for some truly amazing photography of flying machines, check out the August 24 edition of The Big Picture. Many are from recent air shows in Russia (including the MiG-35 above), but there are also many helicopter and aerial fire-fighting shots that are astounding. Many beautiful photos too. In spite of the countless hours I've spent in commercial jets and in light airplanes, flying and the things that fly never cease to fascinate me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Apollo 12 from LRO

Apollo 12 was probably my favorite Apollo mission, partly because of the fun-loving crew of Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, and partly because of the amazing fact that on the second Moon landing (in November 1969), they managed to land just 180 meters from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft and then bring parts of it back to Earth. All this after their Saturn V had been struck by lightning shortly after liftoff! What a crazy mission.

I wrote more about it back in December 2007 when I was reading about Apollo 12 in the book A Man on the Moon and decided to simulate the landing and Surveyor EVA myself using Orbiter and AMSO. I can even recall something of the "snowman" layout of craters that was apparent when I made my final approach to the landing site in Orbiter.

So I was really pleased today when I learned that the first pictures of the Apollo 12 site taken in August by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) had been released. Better pictures will come when LRO gets down to its lower final orbit in a few weeks, but in this one you can see the Lunar Module (Intrepid) descent stage at the top of Surveyor crater (11 o'clock position), with astronaut footprint tracks emanating from it (Surveyor Crater is the "body" of the snowman which is lying on its side with Head Crater to the left). Surveyor itself is at the lower right of Surveyor Crater (4 o'clock). Cool! There's a labeled LRO site picture and a summary of Apollo 12 here. Thanks to Emily at the Planetary Society Blog for the tip.

Note: in the LROC browser window for this image, it opens as a long vertical strip you can zoom with a slider at the bottom. The Apollo 12 site is near the left edge about 60% from the bottom of the long frame in the small locator image.