There was a bit of a press frenzy last week surrounding the idea of a global flag that could be used in instances of human exploration off our planet, where international collaboration could be celebrated and memorialized on alien worlds rather than the more old-timey nationalistic space races with various countries’ flags dotting remote landscapes across the Solar System. To this end Oskar Pernefeldt, a design student at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, created a proposal for a “Flag for Planet Earth” as a senior project – a flag that could be proudly planted and worn by future astronauts as we expand our presence through space. Various news sites picked up the story, as seen in this article on Verge.com by Jacob Kastrenakes – and it spread from there as “this is the flag we’ll plant” when we land on Mars, an asteroid, the Moon (again), Europa, etc., etc.
The question is: will it really? And more importantly, would we even want it to be? I, for one, would not.
ESA’s comet-chasing Rosetta mission is best known today for its two historic firsts of entering orbit around a comet and sending a lander onto the surface of said comet, in May and November of 2014 respectively. But Rosetta didn’t just go directly from its March 2, 2004 launch to comet 67P; it had to perform several flyby maneuvers beforehand with planets and asteroids on its way out to meet a comet. And now, ESA has shared many of the images acquired during those close passes during its cruise phase in a series of online albums for the public to easily access.
The image above shows the Moon beyond the hazy line of Earth’s atmosphere, acquired on March 4, 2005 during Rosetta’s first gravity-assist flyby of Earth just over a year after its launch. (Rosetta made three such passes by our planet before gathering enough velocity to make it out to 67P!)
See a list of Rosetta’s flybys below and find out how to access the albums.
It’s like something out of a Hollywood film or a science fiction novel: a dark star sneaks up on Earth from just outside the Solar System, discovered too late to do anything about it (and really, what could we do?) and plows through the cloud of comets that surrounds the Sun like a haze of icy gnats, sending them flying everywhere… including on collision courses with Earth. Mass hysteria ensues.
Except that this isn’t just a story concept – scientists think this is actually something that happened 70,000 years ago! Minus the mass hysteria, of course… our ancestors were just beginning to settle down in the fertile lands of the Middle East after wandering out of Africa and would have had no idea what was happening at the edges of the Solar System (besides maybe a bright star occasionally flaring up in the night sky.)
Recently featured on Universe Today, this video of Earth from space assembled by video artist Phil Selmes uses actual photos captured from the Space Station, with some fancy editing to create seamless transitions between views. It’s another beautiful presentation of the fragile oasis we call home.
“I don’t see politics, races, borders, countries, religions or differences,” Selmes said in an article on Universe Today. “I saw one planet, one world, one incredibly beautiful miracle in the absolute vastness of the universe.”
If you’re in love with space exploration then you’ll fall for this: it’s the picture of Earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto in 1990. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, and reminds us that we are all just floating on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
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.)
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.
“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
31 years ago today, on Feb. 7, 1984, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Self-propelled via 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the MMU allowed McCandless (who was instrumental in developing the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel tether-free through space. In the iconic photo above McCandless is seen hovering against the blackness of space, 320 feet (98 meters) away from the Challenger orbiter.
A former U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free flight.
“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!”
– STS-41B Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, Feb. 7, 1984