Reaching into the Low Orbit Frontier

Reaching into the Low Orbit Frontier

One of the great things about working on Astronomy Cast is that sometimes I get to learn about things that I just didn’t fully appreciate in the past. Today I’m preparing for an episode on amateur/community spacecraft. I knew this was something that was going on, but I hadn’t appreciated the sheer diversity of missions that are in the works. In order to try and get my notes straight for today’s episode, I am going to summarize things here so that they are a resource for all of us. I’m sure this will be out of date very quickly, but hopefully it will help you appreciate everything as much as I now do. (image credit: NASA) ARKYD: The actual first public space telescope!  This project raised $1,505,366 with 17,614 backers, exceeding...

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Thank you, Neil Armstrong

Thank you, Neil Armstrong

When I heard Neil Armstrong had died, my first reaction was to stop walking and reread the text, curse once, and realize I had no more words. He is a hero who lived an amazing life, a long life, and will remain an inspiration as so many past heros have remained. Its *sucks* that we lost his input on our future, but we don’t live forever and he didn’t linger in suffering has so many people do. As I walked on, I did find myself pissed off by one thing: We are sooooo close to getting back to the Moon. The Google Lunar X-Prize will get rovers walking, roving, or (in my fantasy world) dancing a happy robot dance across the surface of the moon in the not too distant future. (1 or 2 years I’m guessing). Humans won’t be too far behind once the...

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A Rocket Car Future (for some)

A Rocket Car Future (for some)

Currently I’m attending the Next Generation Sub-Orbital Research (and Education) Conference in Palo Alto, California. I’m staring at all my notes struggling with finding a coherent theme, idea, or even emotion that I can use to tie together my thoughts. I find that I just can’t; this is a conference that simply defies being captured in a straight forward manner. My struggle to find a coherent message comes from half of my brain bouncing up and down shouting “this is so awesome” as it basks in all the goodness that is commercial space, while the other half of my brain says “But this is only for the 1% – and that’s not me…” I’m going to try and explain this mental dichotomy, but I want to say upfront,...

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Kepler First Science

Kepler First Science

This is the morning of Kepler. I’m currently sitting in a the Marriot Ballroom watching the speaker, William J Borucki (NASA/Ames) gear up to announcing planets. This amazing mission has been imaging the same rich stellar field over and over looking for planetary transits: the slight dimming of light from a star that comes from an orbiting planet passing between us and that distance star. After 20 minutes of gearing up, he announced 5 new planets with orbital periods between 3.2 and 4.9 days orbiting stars larger than the sun at orbital distances 4.31 to 18.8 times the size of the Earth’s orbit. Because the stars are bigger than the Sun (by an amount not shown in the table), this is hard to quantify – they could be very near the stellar...

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NASA Tweetup for STS-129: Postscript

NASA Tweetup for STS-129: Postscript

It feels like a lifetime has passed since the Shuttle Launch, but I need to finish telling that story before I can move onto something new. That November the shuttle Atlantis launched flawlessly. It is all a mosaic of moments: the shuttle astronauts drove past and waved; we all piled out for a group picture; speakers came and went and media came and went and we listened and we didn’t and we were interviewed and we laughed. I paused in the middle to record Astronomy Cast – a 10 minute bit for 365 Days of Astronomy actually – and I paused in the middle to work on a grant. There is no escape from real life even when you stand at the edge of the looking glass. At about 2:15pm we went out and staked out our places in the grass. We fussed with cameras...

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NASA Tweetup for STS-129: Day 2

NASA Tweetup for STS-129: Day 2

We’re here. We’re actually here. It is launch day for STS-129, the next to last launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. We settled into our seats at T-3 hours and holding, waiting for the crew to head out the vehicle and load up and get locked in (a new meaning for load & lock?) It is a fair day here in Cape Canaveral, with partial clouds, 4-5 ft seas, and low wind. Chances of launch are currently 70%, but in this room of 101 people from 21 US states, and 4 additional nations (Morocco, New Zealand, UK, and Canada), we are going to keep on believing this-is-happening-right-now until someone makes us stop. As a little girl, one of my earliest memories is watching the shuttle contrails from landings at Edwards Air Force base. From our California home,...

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