Category Archives: Spaceflight
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 classic 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 Earthly factor 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 here.
Got the Monday back-to-work blues? Upset by bad news headlines? Concerned about a potential future President Trump? Take a couple of minutes and watch this.
This video, published by The Royal Institution on YouTube in Dec. 2015 and shared again on Twitter today, features an adorable animation about spaceflight with narration taken from a lecture given by Carl Sagan in 1977.
At that time it had been five years since humans had last walked on the Moon, the first Space Shuttle flight was still three and a half years away and the Voyagers had only just passed the orbit of Mars. But Sagan’s confidence and enthusiasm about the future of space exploration and human spaceflight is as inspirational now as it was then…let us continue to remember his words and pass along his message to each new generation that looks up and wonders “what’s out there” and, more importantly, “can I go?”
“Artifacts from Earth are spinning out into the cosmos. I believe the time will come when most human cultures will be engaged in an activity you might describe as a dandelion going to seed.”
— Carl Sagan, 1977
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, an otherwise very nice panorama captured by fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, really is the best image in existence of Armstrong on the Moon.
So…why is that?
Various news outlets today have run with a story about a supposed UFO spotted on live video streamed from the International Space Station, in which a bright object is visible “descending” into Earth’s atmosphere. The video* was shared on YouTube by a self-proclaimed UFO hunter—which basically means someone who stares at ISS feeds on their computers until their eyes melt and any speck of anything seen moving is instantly circled, copied into a slow-mo edited version, and overlaid with ominous music and/or bold text highlights claiming alien visitation and government cover-ups. (Views ensue.)
To help this particular spotting along is the fact that the feed cut out just as the object nears the edge of the atmosphere. Assured proof of a galactic-scale conspiracy by NASA and the NWO, right???
Please. Here’s my two-and-a-half cents:
55 years ago today, at 9:35 a.m. EST on May 5, 1961, NASA astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American to travel into space with the launch of his Freedom 7 vehicle atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Shepard reached an altitude of 116.5 miles during his 15-minute suborbital flight before splashdown in the Atlantic, setting the stage for the first orbital spaceflight by John Glenn on Feb. 20 of the next year and all future Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo lunar missions (the 14th of which Shepard was commander of in 1971.)
The video above by Matthew Travis shows Shepard’s historic flight from liftoff to splashdown with annotated views from the pad as well as from inside the Freedom 7 capsule, showing Shepard and his instrument panel.
The date of this important event is not coincidentally shared with the newly-dedicated National Astronaut Day, which celebrates America’s brave spacefaring heroes. (Do you have a favorite astronaut story? Share it in the comments below.)
Want to learn more about the inimitable Al Shepard? Check out Neal Thompson’s excellent biography Light This Candle — read my review here.
Take a ride across the Moon with Apollo 16 commander John Young in this video, a stabilized version of NASA 16mm film footage captured during the first EVA of the mission on April 21, 1972. In what’s called the “lunar Grand Prix” Young pilots the Lunar Roving Vehicle, or LRV, across the dusty terrain of the Descartes highlands, the vehicle’s metal-mesh wheels kicking up plumes of regolith in the near-vacuum and 1/6th Earth gravity environment of the Moon.
If it looks like Young is just having a “grand” time, I’m sure he is—but he wasn’t just hot-rodding. Part of the mission was to evaluate the performance of the LRV with hard turn maneuvers and sudden stops.
Built for NASA by Boeing, the LRVs were stored in a folded position belowdecks on the descent stage of the Landing Modules during the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions. They allowed astronauts to cover a much wider area, carry more equipment, and collect more samples while exploring the lunar surface than they could on foot—er, boot. During Apollo 16 John Young and Charlie Duke drive a total of 16.6 miles (26.7 km) during over 20 hours of EVAs. Learn more about the Apollo LRVs here.
Video via YouTube user britoca