Curiosity Descent Caught on Camera by Mars Orbiter

I can never seem to catch our animals, or for that matter, my family members, on camera when they’re in the act of doing something interesting. I always get something blurred, or dull, a few moments later. But NASA does a better job. The Mars Orbiter, with split-second timing, caught this photo of Curiosity on its way down to the planet’s surface.

The inset is a close-up of the landing craft hanging from the huge, supersonic parachute that helped slow Curiosity to a safe landing speed. If this doesn’t win an award for best action photography, I don’t know what will.

  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Details here and here.

Mars Landing in an Hour and a Half!

I’m in my office, working. But Curiosity lands on Mars at about 1:30 a.m. Eastern time, and I don’t intend to miss it. It doesn’t seem that it’s going to be carried on any of the two thousand channels Comcast offers, so I have NASA TV set up via several different URLS, in different browser windows.

In Firefox, I’ve got a feed paused at http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/mars/curiosity_news3.html and another at http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/nasatv/

In Chrome, I’ve got http://www.ustream.tv/nasa set up. At least one of them ought to work!

Just to get in the mood, I rewatched the Seven Minutes of Terror

Sally Ride, 1951 – 2012

America’s first woman astronaut died Monday at the age of 61, of pancreatic cancer. Sally Ride was an inspiration to millions, and not just girls and women. I remember what a triumph it felt to me, back in 1983, when she rode Challenger into space, ending once and for all the perception that American space travel was solely the domain of men. Nowadays, women fly missions all the time, and sometimes command them. It’s easy to forget that as recently as the early 1980’s, women were simply not part of the NASA equation. The Soviet Union had sent a woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space twenty years earlier, but that had not signaled a general welcome of women into the Soviet space program. In the case of Sally Ride, it really was the shattering of a glass ceiling. After the loss of Challenger in 1986, Dr. Ride was named to the presidential commission that investigated the cause of the tragedy. She later went on to found Sally Ride Science, an organization devoted to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology.

Here was a woman who made a difference. It’s sad to see her passing. Godspeed, Sally Ride.

Watch Curiosity Land on Mars in Realie Vision!

NASA’s latest wonder-probe to Mars, Curiosity, is scheduled to land on Mars at 10:31 p.m. EDT, on the night of August 5th. Be there, and don’t even think about being square. NASA has worked out a way for folks online to experience the event using some kind of 3D software on their computers, and even on their Xbox game sets. Who says NASA doesn’t have a sense of wonder? Go here to see all the different activities they’ve worked out for folks to do in connection with the Mars landing, or here to get set up with the Unity Web Player to experience the landing to full effect. They’re encouraging people to start getting set up now, so everyone isn’t crashing the servers getting set up on the night of the 5th. Go here if you want to learn more about the mission.

Just how exciting could this landing be? After all, we’ve landed on Mars before. But not like this. Take a look at this video to see just how difficult this feat really is. If this doesn’t get you pumped, better check to see if you still have pulse. Pop it up to full screen if you can.

If you have trouble viewing it on this page, go to the source.

Venus Video Montage

Mars shouldn’t get all the glory. I used to travel to both planets regularly in my head, via the great stories I read. One of my favorites, when I was about twelve, was the Tom Corbett Space Cadet book, Revolt on Venus.

Venus just made the last transit across the face of the sun that will be visible from Earth this century. Here’s a lovely montage of video images in various wavelengths taken and edited together by NASA. Who says NASA has no poetry in its soul? You can make it full screen for best effect.

View on youtube

And just for fun, here’s a time-lapse shot from the last transit, in 2004, showing the International Space Station and Venus making a transit across the face of the sun, almost as if in formation.

To Mars Via Reality TV?

I wonder what Ray Bradbury would have thought of this. The Mars-One project proposes to send permanent (for the rest of their lives) colonists to Mars, funding coming from reality TV coverage:

View on youtube



They’ve got Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft on board. More on the story from NBC News. I wonder what Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society thinks of it.

We’re Doomed!

Scientists have confirmed: the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is on a collision course with our own Milky Way galaxy. When the centers of the two galaxies collide, or even shear past each other if it’s a near-miss, there’s going to be an awful lot of cosmic smacking around happening. Eventually the two galaxies will probably merge, turning two beautiful spirals into a huge elliptical blob. It’s hard to say what will happen in our corner of the action, about two-thirds of the way out from our galactic center. It’s possible that it’ll just be a mind-blowing light show. But I’m not counting on it.
This could happen in the next four billion years. We’ve still got time to pack. But we’re fools if we don’t get working on that star drive right now.
Here‘s an artist’s conception of what it might look like, mid-tango. See it bigger at Astronomy Picture of the Day. And see what the stages of the collision might look like here, where you can also read more about it.
Seems to me there should be a good science fiction story in this. Probably more than one.

When Mining Asteroids, Don’t Forget Your Trusty Dog

The recent arrival of the privately designed-and-built Dragon space capsule at the International Space Station dovetails nicely with another recent event: the announcement of a privately funded initiative called Planetary Resources, Inc., to seek out and mine near-Earth asteroids.

Both dovetail nicely with my own initiative: the release of my short story “Dog Star” as a standalone ebook. The dovetailing has to do with the fact that “Dog Star” is about a young asteroid miner who finds himself grounded on just such as asteroid, just him and his disabled ship… and his trusty “smartmutt,” an enhanced border collie named Sam. Dogs who can discuss astrophysics with you while thinking about digging on an asteroid aren’t a dime a dozen even in this future. Sam has to prove his mettle while helping his human dig his way out of this life-threatening jam.

This is a reprint of a story that first appeared as part of an online science-oriented anthology of stories called Diamonds in the Sky, which was funded by the National Science Foundation to help further the cause of science education, particularly in astronomy. (This new release has a couple of minor corrections from the text as it was released in the anthology.)

Gretchen, the student who has been working with me, helped get “Dog Star” up for sale on the last day of her interning stint. (Thanks, Gretchen!) It’s now free at Smashwords, and you can also get it in the Kindle and Nook stores.

Kindle | Nook | Smashwords (free!)

“Dog Star” will also appear in my forthcoming short story collection, Reality and Other Fictions, which is rapidly moving toward completion. I hope to make an announcement about that in the next few weeks. It will contain about half my published stories, including a couple not released as standalone ebooks. The other half will follow in Going Alien, soon after.

Mine the Asteroids!

The gold rush has officially begun: the mining of the asteroids. Science fiction writers have been predicting it for decades.* Now some seriously hard-hitting billionaires and technical people are joining forces to make it happen, through a privately funded initiative called Planetary Resources, Inc. Investors include filmmaker and explorer James Cameron (yes, he who just dove the Mariana Trench), the founders of the X-Prize Foundation, Google executives Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot, Jr., and others. Technical people include—well, for example, the chief engineer is Chris Lewicki, who was Flight Director for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars rover missions.

They’re seriously planning to robotically explore and mine near-Earth asteroids, seeking precious metals, such as platinum-family metals, and water (very precious in space, very expensive to lift into orbit). From the Planetary Resources website:

“Initial space resource development will focus on water-rich asteroids. Water is the essence of life and exists in plentiful supply on asteroids. Access to water and other life-supporting volatiles in space provides hydration, breathable air, radiation shielding and even manufacturing capabilities. Water’s elements, hydrogen and oxygen, can also be used to formulate rocket fuel.”

Here’s a summary of a recent report suggesting that the technology to do this is available or nearly so. 

I think this is one of the most exciting developments in space exploration since the Apollo lunar landings. For more details, visit the Planetary Resources website. For a highly readable but expert analysis, read Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog post: Breaking: Private company does indeed plan to mine asteroids… and I think they can do it.

I’m not an investment speculator, but if they were selling shares, I’d be in for a share today.

*My own short story, Dog Star, is based on the premise that we’ll be actively mining near-Earth asteroids; also, on the smarts of border collies.

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