Tag Archives: space exploration

The Spectacular Feat of Accomplishing Rendezvous With a Comet

This did make a bunch of headlines today, but I want to highlight just how phenomenally cool and under-appreciated this event is.  For the first time in human history, a spacecraft has made rendezvous with a comet.  It’s actually a lot of firsts/bests in one, in the rendezvous department – farthest object away, first rendezvous with a comet, I could go on and on.  Ok, I am going to go on and on here.  There’s going to be a bit of gushing, because this is really, incredibly exciting.

This required some serious planning, and some overwhelmingly complex orbital mechanics.  The European Space Agency pulled of an amazing feat here, and they deserve major kudos.  Rosetta has been on its way from Earth to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Chury for short) for ten and a half years.  It launched when I was a senior in college, and now it has, after a very long and complex journey, arrived.

In order to get out to Chury, Rosetta made multiple maneuvers over the last decade.  It flew past the Earth several times, gave Mars a pass, and in an elegant and carefully planned dance, traveled billions of miles to intercept a body that’s on its own 6.5 year orbit around the sun.  The complexity involved in this whole endeavor is mind-blowing.  It makes the orbital mechanics for the Apollo missions look like child’s play.   The journey looked like this:

And they’re not even done!  For their next trick, the ESA will have Rosetta continue to orbit, and launch the Philae Lander – oh no, folks, rendezvous is not enough, studying the comet up close and collecting data isn’t enough, they are also going to put a lander on the comet.  Philae has all kinds of sensors, but also can drill and take samples.

These guys do not think small.  They are going big, and I will be waiting with breath held and fingers crossed when Philae goes to land.  That event is currently scheduled for 11 November, once a good landing site has been selected.

And if all my rambling doesn’t get you excited about this mission, this video should:

I expect Rosetta to continue with its pioneering firsts.  I can’t wait for the pictures and data and other new discoveries to start hitting the news in the days to come.  If you’d like to know more, there are some really great resources at the ESA Rosetta page, and this Guardian article is also quite good.

Did I mention I’m excited about this?

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Filed under Geeking out

We Want YOU to Contribute to the Future of Manned Spaceflight.

The fact that the U.S. currently has no capability to put a human in space breaks my heart.  It’s especially awful because it’s something we had and lost, and something we didn’t care enough to preserve.  In this age of budget cuts and hard times for many, it’s hard to think about things like space travel and exploration, but it’s absolutely necessary if we want a future still filled with amazing new innovations seemingly every day.

When we stop exploring, we stagnate.  We lose our edge, our drive, our ability to find new and creative solutions to problems, even if that’s not even what we set out to do.  NASA’s spinoff technology alone is enough to justify the cost of the manned spaceflight program, in my book.  And I think it really, really sucks that we have to bum rides on a half-century-plus-old Russian rocket at ridiculously inflated prices just to get to our own (really awesome) space station.

So where does this leave us?  NASA’s budget is smaller than ever, so commercial spaceflight is basically the only way to go for our country right now.  It’s up to good old capitalism to get us back into space now, and there are lots of ways to contribute to that.

Contributing your time and efforts:

You can contribute first and foremost by making it your passion – even if it’s too late for you to be an engineer, scientist, or astronaut, it’s not too late to inspire someone else to be.  Participate in a STEM outreach event, encourage your kids to be creative and excel in school, and share info with your friends about the latest advances and innovations.  Let your friends know what you think about spaceflight and all the good things that come of it – satellite imagery to help us locate a missing plane, that GPS system they are so fond of, Tang, Velcro, great Tom Hanks movies, you name it.  Spaceflight has given us a lot of very good things that most people have forgotten about.

If you have a moment, write to your representative and Senator – and even the president – about how important you think space exploration is.  Thankfully we do have a robust unmanned space program going right now, with exciting missions that can capture the human imagination, such as the Mars Rovers.  Not as PR-friendly as an actual astronaut, but pretty cool.  Tell your congressperson that you believe continuing to fund NASA (and fund them better!) is important to you.

Contributing more tangible things:

If you happen to be fortunate enough to have a little in the way of dollars available for donations, you can send them to organizations such as the National Space Society and the The Planetary Society.  These folks do great work in terms of outreach, education, research, and activism.  Also, The Planetary Society has Bill Nye the Science Guy as CEO.  How awesome is that?  The memberships have some pretty neat perks, such as cool magazines and discounted or freebie admission at a lot of space museums and attractions.

There are also some great places to invest your money that will help support space exploration.  Companies competing in the commercial crew program such as Orbital Sciences and Sierra Nevada.  Smaller, niche companies such as Ball Aerospace.  Big-name satellite builders such as Space Systems Loral.  Defense contractors who do launch vehicles and big space jobs such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  And the companies that build a lot of their key components, such as Honeywell and L-3 Communications.    Many of the bigger companies offer their own STEM outreach programs, too.

I wish I could buy stock in SpaceX, but alas, Elon Musk’s space brainchild cannot yet be bought – but his other company Tesla can, and that might also be an interesting (and possibly lucrative) place to invest some money towards new technology.  Scaled Composites, maker of x-prize winner Spaceship One, is also sadly not for sale, but you can buy a ticket on Virgin Galactic if you’re completely loaded and have that kind of money to spare (which I would totally do first if I were ever filthy rich).

The space industry has a lot of ups and downs and may not always be the safest investment, but it could also be incredibly lucrative if you are lucky.  If not, at least you contributed something that might allow for some engineer in a cubicle somewhere to figure out the next crucial thing for spaceflight.

We need commercial spaceflight to be  resounding success.  We lack the national drive of the space race era to get ourselves ahead.  Nowadays, a new country launches a human and we just shrug.  At least money might be enough to make it happen when prestige and even curiosity are not nearly enough.

What are some other ways you can think of to support efforts to get the U.S. back into space?

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Filed under Opinion pieces