"Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive… If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds." 
— Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (Chapter 21, p.371 )

"Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive… If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds." 

Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (Chapter 21, p.371 )

Orbiter is a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran, published in 2003 by DC Comics under their Vertigo imprint.

It is a hard science fiction story set in the early 21st Century about a team of specialists employed to understand the mysterious reappearance of the space shuttle Venture. The shuttle crashed back to Earth after disappearing ten years earlier with its crew missing, save for the catatonic pilot, and alien technology on board.

Ellis and Doran are both space flight enthusiasts and dedicated Orbiter to the “lives, memories and legacies” of the astronauts who died in the 2003 Columbia disaster. Warren Ellis received an Eisner Award nomination as Best Writer for his 2004 works including Orbiter

Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Originally built by Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, California, the space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) worked together with the solid rocket boosters to push the shuttle from launch pad to orbit. Powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the large, orange external tank, the three SSMEs propelled the shuttle with over one and a half million pounds of thrust. When the SSMEs finished firing eight and a half minutes after launch, their work for the entire shuttle mission was done. The external tank that fed propellants to the SSMEs detached from the orbiter and fell into the ocean.
After the orbiter’s return to Earth, the SSMEs were removed for service. Because the SSMEs could be swapped between orbiters, NASA maintained nine engines ready to fly on any launch day—three for the shuttle to be launched, three for an alternate orbiter in case a rescue mission was needed, and three to use as spares. A total of 51 SSMEs flew over the course of the shuttle program—35 of them on Endeavour.
Because the SSMEs are still the most advanced, efficient large rocket engine in the world, NASA plans to reuse the SSMEs on the Space Launch System, which will push space travel beyond Earth orbit and out into the solar system.
Fun Facts:
The energy released by three SSMEs is equal to the output of 13 Hoover Dams.
If water were pumped through the SSMEs instead of fuel, the three engines could drain an average family-sized swimming pool in 25 seconds.
Because the propellants for the SSMEs are hydrogen and oxygen, when they combust in the engine the only exhaust is water


Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Originally built by Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, California, the space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) worked together with the solid rocket boosters to push the shuttle from launch pad to orbit. Powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the large, orange external tank, the three SSMEs propelled the shuttle with over one and a half million pounds of thrust. When the SSMEs finished firing eight and a half minutes after launch, their work for the entire shuttle mission was done. The external tank that fed propellants to the SSMEs detached from the orbiter and fell into the ocean.

After the orbiter’s return to Earth, the SSMEs were removed for service. Because the SSMEs could be swapped between orbiters, NASA maintained nine engines ready to fly on any launch day—three for the shuttle to be launched, three for an alternate orbiter in case a rescue mission was needed, and three to use as spares. A total of 51 SSMEs flew over the course of the shuttle program—35 of them on Endeavour.

Because the SSMEs are still the most advanced, efficient large rocket engine in the world, NASA plans to reuse the SSMEs on the Space Launch System, which will push space travel beyond Earth orbit and out into the solar system.

Fun Facts:

  • The energy released by three SSMEs is equal to the output of 13 Hoover Dams.
  • If water were pumped through the SSMEs instead of fuel, the three engines could drain an average family-sized swimming pool in 25 seconds.
  • Because the propellants for the SSMEs are hydrogen and oxygen, when they combust in the engine the only exhaust is water

Credit: NASA

The Last Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour has retired from service, and for the moment NASA is reliant on Russian rockets to keep the International Space Station stocked up and operating. NASA is developing a replacement for the Shuttle – the Orion CEV – but for the moment, lets take a look at the Shuttle and remember the many years of sterling service it has given us.

Image credit: Dan Winters

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Launch

Discovery, known as the workhorse of the fleet, is stained and streaked with age. It has flown more missions and carried more crew members than any other shuttle. It was the return-to-flight shuttle after both the Columbia and Challenger disasters.

Image Credit: Dan Winters

Servicing Mission 2

After a successful first mission to correct Hubble’s vision in 1993, a second Servicing Mission (STS-82) was launched to the space telescope in February 1997. The goal of this 10-day operation was to enhance Hubble’s scientific capabilities for discovery by conducting a number of maintenance tasks and refurbishing the existing systems.

STS-82 included the installation of two technologically advanced instruments by a crew of astronauts who reached Hubble aboard the Discovery Space Shuttle. Both devices featured technology that was not available when the first designs of the Hubble Space Telescope were produced.

The Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) replaced the Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS) and the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS) respectively.

NICMOS has enabled astronomers to dig into the nature of dusty galactic centres and to gain valuable knowledge of star and planet formation. Consisting of three cameras, NICMOS has proven effective at providing infrared and spectroscopic observations of cosmological objects. One of NICMOS’s key contributions is having presented the world with the first image of our Universe at near-infrared wavelengths. These wavelengths are not observable to the human eye, but allow us to probe the distant Universe. Endowed with powerful detectors, NICMOS has been able to offer views of our Universe that no other previous optical or ultraviolet device has ever been capable of.

STIS is a powerful spectroscopic device sensitive to light in ultraviolet wavelengths. It employs two-dimensional detectors that gather 30 times more spectral data and 500 times more spatial data than the first generation Hubble spectrographs. STIS is considered to be the most complex scientific instrument built for space science. With its high sensitivity and resolution, scientists have studied the distribution of mass across the Universe, star formation in faraway galaxies, and supermassive blackholes.

The seven-member crew of astronauts who conducted five spacewalks during this mission were equipped with more than 150 crew aids and tools.

Credit: NASA/ESA

Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster Explained (Infographic)

On Feb. 1, 2003, the shuttle Columbia  was returning to Earth after a successful 16-day trip to orbit, where the crew conducted more than 80 science experiments ranging from biology to fluid physics. However, the seemingly healthy orbiter had suffered critical damage during its launch, when foam from the fuel tank’s insulation fell off and hit Columbia’s left wing, tearing a hole in it that later analysis suggested might have been as large as a dinner plate.

The damage occurred just after Columbia’s liftoff on Jan. 16, but went undetected. During re-entry, the hole in a heat-resistant reinforced carbon carbon panel on Columbia’s left wing leading edge allowed super-hot atmospheric gases into the orbiter’s wing, leading to its destruction. 

Killed in the Columbia shuttle disaster were STS-107 mission commander Rick Husband and included pilot Willie McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and David Brown, payload commander Michael Anderson and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. 

A subsequent inquiry by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) faulted NASA’s internal culture as much as the foam strike as causes of the shuttle disaster. The Columbia accident ultimately led then-President George W. Bush to announce plans to retire NASA’s space shuttle fleet (which was more than 20 years old at the time) once construction of the International Space Station was complete. A capsule-based spacecraft was planned to replace the shuttles. [Photos: The Columbia Space Shuttle Tragedy]

NASA’s space shuttle fleet resumed launches in July 2005, after spending more than two years developing safety improvements and repair tools and techniques to avoid a repeat of the Columbia disaster. In 2011, NASA launched the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, to complete the shuttle fleet’s role in space station construction. 

Video: Remembering Columbia’s Crew - ‘In Their Own Words’

In 2012, NASA’s three remaining shuttles - Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour - were delivered to museums in Washington, D.C., Florida and California, while the test shuttle Enterprise was delivered to New York City. Under President Barack Obama, NASA was directed to rely on private spacecraft to launch Americans to the International Space Station and return them to Earth. NASA, meanwhile, is developing a new giant rocket - the Space Launch System - and the Orion space capsule for future deep-space missions to an asteroid, the moon and Mars.

Full size Infographic

Credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com Infographics Artist

The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

27 years ago today, one of the most tragic events in the history of the United States space program occurred.  The Space Shuttle Challenger, on what would have been its 10th mission to space, broke apart 73 seconds after takeoff, ending the mission and the lives of all 7 crew members aboard.  But what exactly caused the space shuttle to explode?

The Challenger Space Shuttle (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-099) went on nine successful space flight missions before the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986.  A little over one minute after takeoff, the shuttle began breaking apart.  The issues compounded, and eventually the spacecraft reached complete structural failure and crashed.

While several variables ultimately led to the disaster, the originating cause is believed to be due to an o-ring on the right solid-fuel booster.  Such o-rings are used to form seals between the various fuel compartments on the boosters.  The failure of such an o-ring and the volatility of the fuels surrounding it caused fire to erupt at incorrect places, causing more failures on the Challenger.  More fires erupted and explosions occurred, eventually causing the spacecraft to change course in its upward flight.  At mach 1.92, it is essential that the space shuttle fly at the proper angle to handle the aerodynamic forces being undertaken.  Unfortunately, the correct angle was eventually lost, causing the Challenger to ultimately and catastrophically break apart.

Image Credit: NASA

Seven craters on the Moon were named for the Challenger astronauts. They all sit in a vast basin named Apollo. 
In a Week of Space Tragedy Anniversaries, We Must Continue to Venture Onward
Today marks the second in a week of three tragic anniversaries in space exploration. On Jan. 27, 1967, we lost three astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire. On Feb. 1, 2003, seven astronauts died when Columbia broke apart upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. And Jan. 28, 1986 is when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts on board.

All three of these events were horrible. All three were the results of unlikely chains of events that seemed inevitable afterward. All three sparked immense debate over the dangers and value of exploring space.


And all three should show us how important it is that we carry on that exploration.


There are two ways to look at why slipping loose the surly bonds of Earth is so critical. One is practical. Going into space has given us tremendous advantages in life. Global communication. Weather forecasting. Technology spinoffs that have generated vast economies. The list goes on and on. How many dangerous regimes have collapsed because we can directly see and talk to those being oppressed? How many lives have been saved by advance knowledge of crippling weather events? How much have our lives improved due to the wonderful technology generated? The money spent on space exploration has literally paid us back many fold.


That argument alone is more than enough to support both automated and crewed space exploration. But there’s more.


We are a species of explorers. It’s in our blood, in our makeup. We crave to see what’s around the next corner, what’s over that hill, what’s next in our adventure. Sometimes we learn something massively important, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we come home to tell the tale, and sometimes we don’t. Exploration has fantastic rewards, and grave dangers. But fulfilling our need to explore is its own goal.


The practical benefits of exploration are our sustenance, but the adventure itself is the flavor. The price we pay for this, sometimes, is counted in human lives. And it’s a terrible price. But we must continue to explore because it’s a part of us.


The very fact that so many people are so deeply affected by these events shows just how profoundly space exploration reaches into us. Any event involving large multiple deaths in a single, searing moment is going to resonate with us, and certainly watching it live on television will magnify that feeling. But in this case, we hold astronauts to a higher level. Like with any dangerous occupation that makes life better for others, risking their lives is part of the job requirement.


At first, it feels like this makes these losses cut even more. But it’s ironic: The astronauts themselves knew the risks and downplayed the significance of them potentially being killed. They thought it was worth the risk, or else they wouldn’t have done what they did. That doesn’t make their loss any easier, but it shows us that we must carry on—who could convey that message better than the ones who themselves sit on top of those rockets?


There are many reasons we lose lives exploring space. It’s inherently difficult and dangerous, a hostile environment that takes supreme and envelope-pushing effort even to reach. And there will always be human errors, those caused by carelessness, rush, politics, greed, and simple mistakes. We can minimize these risks in many ways, but over time, the odds of these mistakes leading to tragedy become inevitable.


The only way to absolutely minimize these risks is to stop exploring. And that’s unacceptable. Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.


So, for Grissom, Chaffee, and White; for Scobee, Smith, McAuliffe, Onizuka, Resnick, McNair, and Jarvis; for Brown, Husband, Clark, Chawla, Anderson, McCool, and Ramon, and for all the others who gave their lives for this great adventure:


I hope that we have learned from your experience, I hope that we have become better through your experience, and that, while we will never forget what happened to you, we will also remember what you were trying to do, and what you did do.

Credit: Phil Plait

Seven craters on the Moon were named for the Challenger astronauts. They all sit in a vast basin named Apollo.

In a Week of Space Tragedy Anniversaries, We Must Continue to Venture Onward

Today marks the second in a week of three tragic anniversaries in space exploration. On Jan. 27, 1967, we lost three astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire. On Feb. 1, 2003, seven astronauts died when Columbia broke apart upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. And Jan. 28, 1986 is when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts on board.

All three of these events were horrible. All three were the results of unlikely chains of events that seemed inevitable afterward. All three sparked immense debate over the dangers and value of exploring space.

And all three should show us how important it is that we carry on that exploration.

There are two ways to look at why slipping loose the surly bonds of Earth is so critical. One is practical. Going into space has given us tremendous advantages in life. Global communication. Weather forecasting. Technology spinoffs that have generated vast economies. The list goes on and on. How many dangerous regimes have collapsed because we can directly see and talk to those being oppressed? How many lives have been saved by advance knowledge of crippling weather events? How much have our lives improved due to the wonderful technology generated? The money spent on space exploration has literally paid us back many fold.

That argument alone is more than enough to support both automated and crewed space exploration. But there’s more.

We are a species of explorers. It’s in our blood, in our makeup. We crave to see what’s around the next corner, what’s over that hill, what’s next in our adventure. Sometimes we learn something massively important, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we come home to tell the tale, and sometimes we don’t. Exploration has fantastic rewards, and grave dangers. But fulfilling our need to explore is its own goal.

The practical benefits of exploration are our sustenance, but the adventure itself is the flavor. The price we pay for this, sometimes, is counted in human lives. And it’s a terrible price. But we must continue to explore because it’s a part of us.

The very fact that so many people are so deeply affected by these events shows just how profoundly space exploration reaches into us. Any event involving large multiple deaths in a single, searing moment is going to resonate with us, and certainly watching it live on television will magnify that feeling. But in this case, we hold astronauts to a higher level. Like with any dangerous occupation that makes life better for others, risking their lives is part of the job requirement.

At first, it feels like this makes these losses cut even more. But it’s ironic: The astronauts themselves knew the risks and downplayed the significance of them potentially being killed. They thought it was worth the risk, or else they wouldn’t have done what they did. That doesn’t make their loss any easier, but it shows us that we must carry on—who could convey that message better than the ones who themselves sit on top of those rockets?

There are many reasons we lose lives exploring space. It’s inherently difficult and dangerous, a hostile environment that takes supreme and envelope-pushing effort even to reach. And there will always be human errors, those caused by carelessness, rush, politics, greed, and simple mistakes. We can minimize these risks in many ways, but over time, the odds of these mistakes leading to tragedy become inevitable.

The only way to absolutely minimize these risks is to stop exploring. And that’s unacceptable. Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.

I hope that we have learned from your experience, I hope that we have become better through your experience, and that, while we will never forget what happened to you, we will also remember what you were trying to do, and what you did do.

Credit:

 International Space Station Fly-Around
The STS-119 crew captured these dramatic images of the International Space Station on March 19, 2009 as Discovery flew around the orbiting complex after undocking.

International Space Station Fly-Around

The STS-119 crew captured these dramatic images of the International Space Station on March 19, 2009 as Discovery flew around the orbiting complex after undocking.

Above the Clouds

Space Shuttle Endeavour being ferried by NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as it departs KSC. NASA pilots Jeff Moultrie and Bill Rieke are at the controls of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Photo taken by NASA photographer Robert Markowitz in the backseat of a NASA T-38 chase plane with NASA pilot Greg C. Johnson at the controls.

Source: NASA - Flickr

Above the Clouds

Space Shuttle Endeavour being ferried by NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as it departs KSC. NASA pilots Jeff Moultrie and Bill Rieke are at the controls of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Photo taken by NASA photographer Robert Markowitz in the backseat of a NASA T-38 chase plane with NASA pilot Greg C. Johnson at the controls.

Source: NASA - Flickr

Vintage Russian and Romanian stamps from the Communist era. (Part 2.)

Vintage Russian/Romanian stamps from the Communist era and one from the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.

Saturn V
The Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn Five”) was an American human-rated expendable rocket used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs from 1967 until 1973. A multistage liquid-fueled launch vehicle, NASA launched 13 Saturn Vs from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida with no loss of crew or payload. It remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status and still holds the record for the heaviest launch vehicle payload.
To date, the Saturn V is the only launch vehicle to transport human beings beyond low Earth orbit. A total of 24 astronauts were launched to the Moon, three of them more than once, in the four years spanning December 1968 through December 1972.

Image credit: NASA

Saturn V

The Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn Five”) was an American human-rated expendable rocket used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs from 1967 until 1973. A multistage liquid-fueled launch vehicle, NASA launched 13 Saturn Vs from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida with no loss of crew or payload. It remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status and still holds the record for the heaviest launch vehicle payload.

To date, the Saturn V is the only launch vehicle to transport human beings beyond low Earth orbit. A total of 24 astronauts were launched to the Moon, three of them more than once, in the four years spanning December 1968 through December 1972.

Image credit: NASA

Mission 26 The Big Endeavour from Givot on Vimeo.


This stunning new time-lapse video of the space shuttle Endeavour’s shuffle through the streets of Los Angeles is quite simply, the best.
Credit: Matt Givot