Category Archives: Spaceflight

Voyager’s Long-Distance Valentine

This is from a post I originally published in 2010. I’ll keep trotting it out until it’s not cool anymore. (Which I don’t think will ever happen.)

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and are left to right, top to bottom: Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space. And Voyager was still a long ways off from reaching the “edge” of our solar system, the bubble of energy emitted by the Sun in which all of the planets, moons, and asteroids reside. In fact, Voyager 1 still has an expected five years to go before it crosses that boundary and truly enters interstellar space.*

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

– Carl Sagan

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Experience Earthrise with Apollo 8

On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit making astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell the first humans in history to travel around the Moon and see first-hand its hidden far side. During their 10-orbit voyage they captured one of the most well-known and iconic images of the Space Age: the blue-and-white sphere of Earth floating in the blackness of space beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. It was the first time a person had ever taken such a magnificent photo of the two worlds, and thanks to the trove of data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter we can now recreate the exact moments that the historic event took place, down to the position of the Apollo 8 spacecraft and the conversation between the three men aboard.

The video above, released today by NASA, lets us all experience what it was like to catch a glimpse of the Earth from within Apollo 8 45 years ago. Check it out — preferably in full-screen, high-definition. It’s worth it.

“The vast loneliness up here at the Moon is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.”

— Jim Lovell, live Apollo 8 telecast, Dec. 24, 1968

Want to see more photos from Apollo 8? Visit the Project Apollo Image Archive here.

Happy Birthday, ISS!

It’s been 15 years since the first piece of what we now know as the International Space Station left the surface of our planet. It was Russia’s Zarya module, launched aboard a Proton rocket on Nov. 20, 1998, and the U.S. followed suit two weeks later with the Unity module sent aboard the shuttle Endeavour. Since then, in what is truly an international effort, the Station was assembled piece by piece until its ultimate ‘official’ completion in 2011 (more research instruments and upgrades have been added since then, of course.)

iss027e036656Orbiting the planet 16 times every day and consistently occupied since 2000, the ISS is not only an invaluable space research lab but also a testament to what we humans can do when we cooperate successfully and focus our energies and abilities toward a common goal, overcoming the challenges of national politics, economic difficulties, and even the barriers of language and culture. It is a lofty achievement, but the work that is done there each day is for the benefit of everyone.

And don’t forget about the view! Our planet is quite beautiful from 260 miles up — and the video above, assembled from time-lapse photos taken from the ISS and edited by David Peterson, shows that wonderfully. See a collection of photos taken from the Space Station here.

“Station is truly an engineering marvel and a testament to what we can accomplish when we all work together. I think one of the most enduring legacies will be the international cooperation we have achieved in building and operating it. It has provided us the framework for how we will move forward as we explore beyond our home planet, not as explorers from any one country, but as explorers from planet Earth.”

– Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana

Read more about the 15th anniversary of ISS here, and check out a cool infographic of Station facts and figures below:

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No, this isn’t a shot from the film “Gravity” (but it could be)

Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do...

Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do…

I could say “how have I never heard of this!?” but the truth is I wasn’t blogging about space in February 2006 when this image was taken. Still, it’s no less incredible 7 1/2 years later! But if you’re not already familiar with this, it may not be exactly what you think…

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Voyager 1: It’s Officially Out

Voyager 1 has become the first human object to enter interstellar space

Voyager 1 has become the first human object to enter interstellar space

“We made it! 35 years and 13 billion miles.” Those were the words of project scientist Ed Stone today during a NASA news conference about the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which, after traveling the far reaches of our Solar System for decades on end, has finally passed the physical boundaries of the heliosphere and entered interstellar space.* (Yes, for real this time!)

It is truly, as astrophysicist Gary Zank said, “our first step into the galaxy.”

Watch the video below:

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A Frog Makes One Giant Leap for Lunar Exploration

The launch of a Minotaur V rocket with NASA's LADEE mission on Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

The launch of a Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE mission on Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

At 11:27 pm EDT on September 6, 2013, NASA’s LADEE mission lifted off aboard a Minotaur V rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore, a launch visible across the entire northeast coast as it arced beautifully over the Atlantic on its way to the Moon.

Sadly, at least one frog may have been harmed in the making of this mission.

The fate of this splayed amphibian is as yet unknown.

The fate of this splayed amphibian is as yet unknown.

The photo above, taken by an automated camera set up near the launch site, shows Orbital Sciences Minotaur vehicle lifting off on a column of flame and steam. Silhouetted against the backlit exhaust cloud on the right is an airborne frog, likely flung from one of the small ponds near the pad.

According to Nancy Atkinson on Universe Today, Wallops spokesman Jeremy Eggers confirmed the picture is legitimate and was not altered in any way.

Perhaps in memoriam this will become the unofficial mascot of the facility, like the “space bat” that hitched a last ride on a shuttle fuel tank in 2009. He really should get a name… how about “Wally”?


Also, here’s a little tribute song to Rocket Frog, via BurritoJustice and Allesondra Springmann (with apologies to Mr. Bowie):

Ground Control to Major Frog
Commencing countdown engines on
WTF are you doing in the pond
Check ignition and may frog’s love be with you
This is Major Frog to Ground Control
I thought I had a few seconds more
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the pond looks very different today
Can you hear me Major Frog
Can you hear me Major Frog
Can you hear me Major Frog

You Will Love This Animated Space Adventure.

That’s not a suggestion; it’s an order. :)

It doesn’t matter if it’s not scientifically accurate, or that asteroid fields don’t really work like that, or that you can’t “swim” through space. None of that matters with something at this level of cool. Enjoy!

Video and music by Professor Soap


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