Wonder Wednesday

Pale Blue Dot, 1990, taken 6 billion km from earth by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the last photograph it took during its mission, enhanced by modern computing techniques in 2020.

The Day the Earth Smiled, 2013, taken from the orbit of Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft.

Link to a wonderful article describing how both photos came to be.

And if you’ve not heard Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot thoughts, do so here:

Last Orbit

Sad news today, hearing that Michael Collins passed away.  He is one of my absolute favourite astronauts; every time I saw him speak, he always radiated an authentic zest for life, mixed serious capability with a twinkle of humour & amusement, and he was profoundly connected with our shared humanity. If you can pardon the pun, he seemed someone who was very down to earth, being humble, earnest, eager, excited, and kind.

If you haven’t seen the documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon” do yourself a favour and check it out.  It’s a wonderful piece that captures the Apollo program through the astronauts own words and, most importantly, their experiences.  Rather than focus on the technical bits and the historical contexts, which, don’t get me wrong, are great and I love that bit too, but this one’s uniquely focused on the astronauts as people and that’s what makes it really special to watch.  And watch Michael Collins, who embodies all I said above.

Rest in Peace, Mr Collins.  You led us to the moon and back, and left our spirits forever looking towards the stars.

Wonder Wednesday

Ohhh yes, more Perseverance! Starting with these amazing videos of the landing, taken from the descent ship, sky crane, and the rover itself:

And then this 360 degree panorama of the Martian landscape that Perseverance finds itself in:

And to cap it off, this wonderful little bit… turns out the descent chute had a hidden message in it!

Which has already been decoded by internet sleuths (it was in binary):

“Dare Mighty Things.”  The motto of the JPL, and boy, they dared and did a great thing indeed.

 

Wonder Saturday (from Thursday)

Another amazing achievement by NASA and JPL in landing the Perseverance rover on Mars!  I watched the livestream just as I did during the descent of Curiosity back in 2015, and it was just as exciting.  And doubly so to see ‘familiar faces’ in the control room who also worked on Curiosity.  Also fun to note the differences several years of tech have made, with better telemetry and images coming in much sooner after touchdown.

And as if that wasn’t amazing enough… the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter managed to capture a picture of the descent, with the rover capsule dangling beneath its (largest ever, supersonic) parachute!

Wickedly cool all around.

Wonder Wednesday

It may seem incongruous to see a congratulatory text at the bottom of a screen showing a big pile of flaming wreckage… and indeed, this first flight test of SpaceX’s new Starship did end in one of their patented Rapid Unscheduled Disassemblies, aka a RUD, aka “A loud boom and parts everywhere.”

BUT! This was in so many ways an amazing test and a crazy success.  The thing took off, held aloft by three fully burning Raptor engines (making this the first flight of a Methane/LOX engine, perhaps?), soaring upward to 12.5km or nearly 8 miles in altitude (the view from the downward camera was intense), then “skydiving” gracefully back down towards the landing pad before, in the ultimate pièce de résistance, flipping itself back vertical with an engine relight, all well aimed for a pad touchdown.  Not everything went perfect (looks at the image above again… clearly) but for a first try this was incredible.

Unfortunately, I missed watching it it live (I watched live yesterday when they had their last second abort, and I swear earlier I saw that the next attempt wasn’t going to be today but apparently it was) but I’ve watched the replay a couple of times now and it was still intense.  WordPress tends to strips out the proper time link, so go to about 1 hour, 46 minutes into the video to arrive just before the launch :

Even if you’re not interested in space and rockets I still invite you to check it out, it’s impressive enough and there are a couple of moments that’ll make your brain try and figure out what crazy thing it is watching.  And if you really aren’t interested, then I submit to you at least to watch the landing flip, which is captured even more amazingly from this on-the-pad camera:

As for the destruction of the test vehicle, well, not a problem.  They’ve got the next one just about complete, and two more readied right up behind it.  I can’t wait to see them hit orbit.

Wonder Saturday

I have almost no regrets in life.

One regret I do have though is that I once, through a friend who had an astronaut friend going up in the shuttle, had an opportunity to go and watch that shuttle launch, from NASA grounds, in front of that iconic countdown clock.  Yet for a series of reasons I did not do the work to make it all work out so that I could go.  I missed the launch.

That was an err.

This morning, however, I did at least partially rectify that:

Yes!  I headed down to Vandenberg to watch SpaceX launch a Falcon 9… and then bring that first stage right back for a landing a mere couple of hundred feet from where it started.

And it. Was. GLORIOUS.  The skies were (as you can see) almost perfectly clear, and were treated to a grand view of the takeoff (once it cleared the hills the pad sits behind), the ascent, the beautiful fan tail as it hit altitude, the stage separation, the boostback burn, the entry burn, and then the giddiness-inducing landing burn all the way back behind that hill.  Followed a moment later by one heck of a grand sonic boom.  We all were cheering like crazy.

Hours later I’m still all fired up (pun intended).  That flame is bright in a way that no camera can do justice to.  It just sears into you (in a good way).  And those 9 Merlin engines make an absolutely delicious growl — deep thrumming, with a slight crackle, oh it’s divine.  The whole ascent also feels so much quicker than it does watching the webcast; the two minutes until first stage sep goes by so fast.  And coming back, wow, right from the entry burn that booster grew in size in the binocular’s field of view at an amazing rate.  That thing comes back hard and fast and it really gives a sense of what that landing burn is accomplishing to set down so gently onto the pad.

With the pièce de résistence being the sonic krackthoom that rolls across the landscape.

Want to hear it?  Well feast your ears on this audio capture of the whole event! (Quick content note: there is some very excited swearing throughout, because, well, excitement!)

Great day.  Totally loved it.  I’m 100% convinced I need to go watch another launch.  With the reduced cadence at Vandenberg (especially now that polar launches are a thing from Cape Canaveral) I don’t know when that might be, but I will make it out again.

photo above taken by Calvin, who was standing beside me as we marveled in awe at the flight