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Chelyabinsk: a Blast From the Not-Too-Distant Past (or, How’s That Space Program Coming Along?)

Dashcam video of the Chelyabinsk meteor exploding on Feb. 15, 2013 (Source: RT.com)

Dashcam video of the Chelyabinsk meteor exploding on Feb. 15, 2013 (Source: RT.com)

Four years ago today an explosion shattered the morning sky over the Chelyabinsk region in southwestern Russia, the result of a 60-foot-wide fragment of an asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere at over 40,000 mph and brilliantly blowing itself to smithereens at 97,000 feet up. Even at that altitude, the resulting flash of light and air blast was powerful enough to cause extensive damage on the ground, shattering windows, knocking in doors, and causing injury to nearly 1,500 people across towns in the area—several of them seriously.

This was the largest observed meteor since the famous 1908 Tunguska event, but thanks to the prevalence today of dashboard and CCTV cameras in Russia this one was well-recorded. (I remember seeing the videos online within an hour after it happened!) The footage has allowed scientists to not only determine the energy of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion—about 500 kilotons—but also the object’s trajectory and origin.

Watch a video below of footage captured from various locations of the Chelyabinsk meteor:

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50 Years Later: What Happened to Apollo 1?

The Apollo 1 prime crew during a test on Jan. 19, 1967, just 8 days before the tragic fire that claimed their lives. (NASA)

The Apollo 1 prime crew during a test on Jan. 19, 1967, just 8 days before the tragic fire that took their lives. (NASA)

Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to befall NASA: the fire that ignited inside the Apollo 1 (Apollo 204) command module during a test at Kennedy Space Center, claiming the lives of primary crew astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

The event is solemnly remembered every January 27.

“We didn’t only lose fellow astronauts. We lost friends. Ed White was my best friend.”
— Buzz Aldrin on Twitter, Jan. 27, 2017

While it’s certainly not a pleasant thing to think about the Apollo 1 disaster had an undeniable impact on NASA’s lunar mission. Although it resulted in the death of three talented young men in the prime of their careers, it demanded engineers redesign the Apollo spacecraft with more safety in mind—features which, ultimately, contributed to the success of the entire program. Without these redesigns, the Apollo 11 Moon landing may not have been a success just a couple of years later. Despite the horror of the event and the tragic loss of lives, Grissom, White and Chaffee’s deaths were not in vain.

To learn what exactly occurred at Cape Canaveral on January 27, 1967, the following is an account of the Apollo 1 fire excerpted from a report on the NASA history site, and watch a CBS Special Report film that aired the day of the event:

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We Still Don’t Know What Exploded Over Tunguska in 1908

This is an article, now updated, that I originally posted in 2009 during my first year of blogging. Since then more research has been done on the famous 1908 Tunguska Event and we even had a remarkably similar type of thing occur in February 2013 over the Chelyabinsk area, not too far from Tunguska, but even today, the 108th anniversary of the event, scientists aren’t in agreement over what it was that violently exploded over the boggy forests of Siberia—asteroid or comet.

tunguska_event

Flattened trees in Siberia from a 1908 atmospheric explosion

Long the subject of debate, with various theories ranging from meteorite impact to a comet to a flying saucer’s sudden engine meltdown, there’s actually strong evidence that the 1908 “Tunguska Event” was likely caused by the explosion of a comet in the upper atmosphere.

This idea has been suggested before, and is supported by Cornell University engineering professor Michael Kelly’s study of – strangely enough – the space shuttle’s exhaust plumes and their effect on high-atmosphere cloud formation.

To those not familiar with the Tunguska Event, something exploded or impacted in the remote area of Russia on June 30, 1908, flattening the forest in an 830-square-mile area, but leaving no visible crater or other obvious sign of what caused the event. Nearby residents reported the sound of a massive explosion, but that’s about it. Whatever it was, the devastation it caused was extensive and undeniable.

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NASA’s First Fallen: Remembering the Tragedy of Apollo 1

This is a reprint of a post from 2013, updated for the 2016 date.
Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Today marks the 49th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to befall NASA and human spaceflight: the fire that broke out in the Apollo 204 (later renamed Apollo 1) command module during a test exercise at Kennedy Space Center in 1967, claiming the lives of primary crew astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

While it’s certainly not a pleasant thing to think upon, the Apollo 1 catastrophe had an undeniable impact on NASA’s Moon mission. Although it resulted in the death of three talented young men in the prime of their careers it forced NASA’s engineers to redesign the Apollo spacecraft with more safety in mind which, ultimately, contributed to the success of the entire program. Without these redesigns the Moon landings might not have occurred just a couple of years later. Despite the horror of what happened on Jan. 27, 1967, Grissom, White, and Chaffee’s tragic deaths were not in vain.

The following is a full account of the Apollo 1 fire, as told on the NASA history site.

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Remembering the Tragedy of Apollo 1

This is a reprint of a post from 2013, updated for the date and now including a map of the lunar farside.
Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Today marks the 48th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to befall NASA and human spaceflight: the fire that broke out in the Apollo 204 (later renamed Apollo 1) command module during a test exercise at Kennedy Space Center in 1967, claiming the lives of primary crew astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

While it’s certainly not a pleasant thing to think upon, the Apollo 1 catastrophe still had an undeniable impact on NASA’s Moon mission. Although it resulted in the death of three talented young men in the prime of their careers it did demand engineers to redesign the Apollo spacecraft with more safety in mind which, ultimately, contributed to the success of the entire program. Without these redesigns, the Moon landings may not have succeeded just a couple of years later. Despite the horror of the event, Grissom, White and Chaffee’s deaths were not in vain.

The following is a full account of the Apollo 1 fire, as told on the NASA history site.

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Spaceflight is Still Hard: Antares Explosion Destroys Station Supplies

Explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vehicle on October 28, 2014. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vehicle on October 28, 2014. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

This past Tuesday, October 28, at 6:22 p.m. EDT, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket lifted off from the shorefront pad at NASA’s Wallops Space Flight Facility in Virginia, the Cygnus vehicle inside its fairing . The third of eight planned launches in Orbital Sciences’ $1.9-billion NASA contract, the Orb-3 mission was to deliver over 5,000 lbs of cargo to the International Space Station after a beautiful nighttime launch that would be visible to viewers up and down the U.S. East Coast.

Except, as you probably know by now, that’s not at all what happened.

Just six seconds after ignition and liftoff from the pad, a series of explosions ran through the Antares rocket. Ablaze, the 133-foot-tall stack stopped in midair and then fell back onto the pad in a fiery smear, where it and its contents of fuels and cargo detonated in an enormous explosion. It was incredible, it was catastrophic, it was awful.

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