We’ve all seen it in some form or another in science fiction movies: a character suddenly finds themself exposed, sans protective suit, to the vacuum of space. Maybe it was a crack in their suit or helmet, or they were caught in an open airlock, or they were sucked out of a hole in a spacecraft hull—possibly by their own fault or through the accidental or malicious actions of another. (If there’s one thing science fiction has taught us is that space is full of enemies.) From that point on, what happens to them seems to be up to the imagination of the director. Does their head swell and explode? Do they instantly freeze solid? Does the unfiltered UV light from the Sun fry them alive? Or do they just run out of oxygen and black out?
On this day in 1961, May the 5th at 9:34 a.m. Eastern time, 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 splashing down 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 in 1971.)
The video above from YouTube user lunarmodule5 shows Shepard’s historic flight from liftoff to splashdown with views from the pad as well as from inside the Freedom 7 capsule, showing film footage of Shepard and renderings of the capsule in position followed by photographs from splashdown and recovery.
The date of this important event is not coincidentally shared with the newly-dedicated National Astronaut Day, which celebrates America’s brave spacefaring heroes.
Want to learn more about the inimitable Al Shepard? Check out Neal Thompson’s excellent biography Light This Candle — read my review here.
Cassini did it again! On May 2-3, 2017 the spacecraft made its second “ring dive” pass of Saturn, passing through the clear space between the innermost edge of the ring system and the planet itself. The animation above shows a view from Cassini looking back toward Saturn on its outbound flight on May 3, just a few hours after the ringplane crossing. Saturn’s limb is visible at upper left.
What’s more, NASA has released a detailed video from the first ring dive on April 26, showing all of the images that were captured and where on Saturn Cassini’s cameras were pointed. Check it out below.
Like people, stars are found in all colors and sizes. They can range from small, sassy red dwarfs to giant blue beasts. In fact there are seven main types of stars, grouped by their apparent colors (and thus temperatures) and classified as O, B, A, F, G, K, or M in order of hottest to coolest. (Learn more about that here.) The video above, released by The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, gives a brief life history of three of the most common types of stars found in our galaxy: blue O stars, red M dwarfs, and yellow G stars—the latter of which being the class of our own Sun. It’s really fun, cute, and educational—check it out, and also find more videos on The Royal Observatory’s Vimeo page.
It’s all downhill from here! (Well not really, but it was for a little while when Opportunity was at the top of that hill!) The image above is a mosaic I assembled from six color-composites, each made from three separate images acquired in near-infrared, green, and near-ultraviolet color wavelengths on April 21, 2017 (mission sol 4707). It’s been adjusted to appear in approximate true color to what the scene might look like to a human standing on Mars. The view shows a ridge called “Rocheport” located on the western rim of Endeavour Crater (the interior of which would be toward the right in this image) which was the final segment of Opportunity’s last target region of exploration, Cape Tribulation. Opportunity’s wheel tracks can be seen at the bottom center, heading back up the ridge and zig-zagging toward the top (detail below).