Category Archives: Spaceflight

The Hammer-Feather Drop: Watch Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott “Do a Science” on the Moon

On August 2, 1971, at the end of the last EVA of the Apollo 15 mission, Commander David Scott took a few minutes to conduct a classical science experiment in front of the TV camera that had been set up just outside the LM Falcon at the Hadley Rille landing site. Scott, a former Air Force pilot, recreated a famous demonstration often attributed to Galileo (which may or may not have actually been performed by the astronomer in Pisa in 1586) that shows how objects of different masses react the same way to gravity when dropped – that is, they fall at the same rate.

By performing the “acceleration test” in the vacuum environment of space (but where there is still an observable downward pull of gravity) the element of air resistance is negated – especially on such a low-mass and low-density object as a falcon feather – thereby creating a more “pristine” setting for the centuries-old experiment than could ever be achieved on Earth.

According to a report on the mission’s science objectives: “During the final minutes of the third extravehicular activity, a short demonstration experiment was conducted. A heavy object (a 1.32-kg aluminum geological hammer) and a light object (a 0.03-kg falcon feather) were released simultaneously from approximately the same height (approximately 1.6 m) and were allowed to fall to the surface. Within the accuracy of the simultaneous release, the objects were observed to undergo the same acceleration and strike the lunar surface simultaneously, which was a result predicted by well-established theory, but a result nonetheless reassuring considering both the number of viewers that witnessed the experiment and the fact that the homeward journey was based critically on the validity of the particular theory being tested. ” (Joe Allen, NASA SP-289, Apollo 15 Preliminary Science Report, Summary of Scientific Results, p. 2-11. Source.)

Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 was the first of the “J” missions capable of a longer stay time on the moon and greater surface mobility, thanks to the use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).Learn more about the Apollo 15 mission here.

This is Our Best Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon

Panorama from Apollo 11 showing Neil Armstrong at the LM Eagle (NASA)

Panorama from Apollo 11 showing Neil Armstrong at the LM Eagle, with the US flag and Solar Wind Experiment at left. (NASA)

Everyone knows that Apollo 11 commander Neil A. Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the Moon (and if you didn’t know, that occurred on July 20, 1969 – yes, it really happened). It was a momentous, history-making event that many (like myself) consider one of the most impressive achievements of humankind. But oddly enough, even with high-resolution Hasselblad film cameras there on location, there are very few photos showing Armstrong himself on the surface of the Moon. In fact the one above, a panorama captured by fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, really is the best image in existence of Neil on the Moon.

So…why is that?

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Here’s to 50 Years of American Spacewalks

Ed White on the first American spacewalk on June 3, 1965. (NASA)

Ed White on the first American spacewalk on June 3, 1965. (NASA)

Today we mark the 50th anniversary of American spacewalks, or EVAs (for extra-vehicular activity), the first of which was performed by NASA astronaut Edward H. White II in Earth orbit on June 3, 1965 during the Gemini IV mission.

While the United States had been beaten in the spacewalk race by the Soviet Union by almost three months (Aleksei Leonov performed the very first human spacewalk in March of the same year) it was nevertheless an enormous achievement for the country, NASA, and of course for Ed White too!

The video above shows footage of the historic EVA with a narration by White himself. (Sound begins about 30 seconds in.) Sadly, Ed White was killed two years later on Jan. 27, 1967 in the fire that claimed his life and those of fellow Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee. But his legacy will live on each and every time an American astronaut suits up and opens a hatch to venture out into an alien environment, whether it’s in Earth orbit, on the Moon, on Mars, or somewhere we haven’t even thought of yet!

You can see scans of the original film photos from the Gemini IV mission here on ASU’s “March to the Moon” gallery, and check out NASA’s tribute to 50 years of spacewalks gallery here.

Check out Atmospheric Breakup: a Webcomic About the ISS

Webcomic "Atmospheric Breakup" by Andy Warner featuring Ron Garan and the ISS (Source: The Nib)

Webcomic “Atmospheric Breakup” by Andy Warner featuring Ron Garan and the ISS (Source: The Nib)

The International Space Station is the result of an amazing collaboration of many countries and countless individuals from around the world, a research lab and symbol of global peace and partnership put together in space. But recent and growing political tension between the two biggest contributors to the ISS – the United States and Russia – are casting doubt on the status of Station’s future. Will Russia continue its support of the ISS? Or will they build their own space station like some reports have suggested? And if so, what will happen to the current Station?

Ron Garan, former NASA astronaut and ISS crew member, humanitarian, and author of the new book The Orbital Perspective, is featured in a webcomic by Andy Warner (perhaps in honor of Free Comic Book Day?) called “Atmospheric Breakup,” which addresses the significance of the ISS and the challenges facing its future. Check it out on The Nib by clicking the link below or the image above.

By continuing to spread the word about the importance of international collaboration, Ron is showing us that real superheroes wear blue flight suits!

Read the full comic on The Nib here.

Goodbye, MESSENGER. You May Be Gone But You Won’t Be Forgotten!

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. (NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON)

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. Credit: NASA/JHU APL/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

At 3:34 p.m. EDT (19:34 UTC) today, April 30, 2015, after more than ten years in space – and four of them in orbit –  the MESSENGER spacecraft’s operational life came to a conclusive end when it impacted the surface of Mercury, as planned.

After revealing the surface of the innermost planet like no mission ever before, MESSENGER’s last act was to contribute one more crater to Mercury’s battered and Sun-scoured face.

The impact site was out of view (and thus out of communication range) of Earth at the time, but based on the spacecraft’s trajectory and time when its signal was last received it’s known that it very likely struck a low ridge just north of a basin named Shakespeare, near 54.5 degrees north latitude and 210.1 degrees east longitude.

Colliding at a velocity of 8,700 mph, MESSENGER’s impact is estimated to have made a crater about 52 feet (16 meters) across.

“Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The MESSENGER mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission – analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury.”

See MESSENGER’s very last transmitted image below.

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Space Is Hard, and So Are the Decks of Drone Ships

On Tuesday, April 14, SpaceX launched its Dragon cargo vehicle aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, sending over two tons of supplies up to the crew of the ISS. While the launch was a success and everything went smoothly for Dragon’s CRS-6 mission (despite a single day’s launch delay due to weather) the experimental landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage onto SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship named “Just Read the Instructions” didn’t work out so well… as you will see in the video above.

UPDATE 4/16: Here’s video footage of the landing attempt from the deck of the ship. So close!

After the landing attempt SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival.” Yeah, now I see what he meant. It’s actually quite surreal to watch – definitely not something you see every day!

Still, it really wasn’t that far off (it did make it onto the ship!) and with a bit more tweaking this concept of a reusable first stage should soon become a reality for the company. It was only the second live attempt, after all, and SpaceX has six more launches to go in its CRS contract with NASA. CRS-7 is slated to launch on June 19…perhaps third time’s the charm?

Watch the launch of the CRS-6 mission below.
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