March 26, 2012

The Very Not Full Moon

That folks is, wait for it, a piece of the moon! The Apollo missions brought back a total of 842 pounds of moon, and at the Kennedy Space Center, they have a few little pieces on display. Most are encased like this one, but they do have this one little bit that you can touch. I touched it. It was awesome. I have touched the moon. Crazy stuff.

March 19, 2012

Kitty Hawk

One of the great spacecraft of the Apollo program. This particular command module is that of Apollo 14. I saw it down in Florida at the KSC. This capsule was launched on the 13th of January 1971 and spend almost exactly 9 days in space. 2 days and 18 hours were spent orbiting the moon. Apollo 14 was the first mission to have an extended stay on the moon, the astronauts spending 9.5 hours outside the lunar module on the lunar surface over the two day period.

It was on this flight that Alan Shepard became the only person to have played golf on another planet. He brought with him two golf balls and a makeshift 6 iron and hit both balls off into the distance. There is a video of him doing this actually.

Bright and shiny at launch, re entry and splashdown in the Pacific gave the burnt up color to the capsule, mainly because it actually was burnt up a bit in the atmosphere, reaching hundreds of degrees as the atmosphere tried to burn it up. It is incredible to see the actual spacecraft that went all the way around the moon...Amazing.

March 18, 2012

Passing in the Night

Venus is no longer below Jupiter in the evening sky. Jupiter has overtaken Venus for the time being in their eternal march across the sky. This particular picture is from the night of the 13th, 5 days ago. From Mount Tolmie there was a great view of the two planets sidling up to each-other. I went for the wide angle with this picture, and surprised myself by actually getting all of Orion in the photo along with the planets. The hunter is joined by the head of Taurus, and by the Pleiades to round out the major participants in this piece of stellar art.

March 17, 2012

An Atlas

At first glance, this might seem like it does not belong in this blog. It does however. This is a picture of much of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. From right to left there is a big building that is important for something, I am just not sure what, then there are four masts things with white bits on top. Those surround launch pad 40. The white bits at the top of the masts are the lightning rod type things which try to attract lightning away from a rocket if one is sitting on the pad. Next are the two tall buildings, each used for vertical assembly of the rockets. To the far left there is another tall building, I think used for keeping rockets in while launch conditions are unfavorable, and finally there is launch pad 41.

At first glance it is much the same as launch pad 40, but this one has a rocket on it. If you click on the picture it gets bigger, so you can see it a little better. At this point it was about 8.3km away from where I was taking the picture. The rocket in the picture is and Atlas 5. The payload it was carrying was the MUOS 1 satellite of the US Navy. It was supposed to launch the day after I took this photo, but the launch ended up being scrubbed a few times for weather, and ended up lifting off about a week and a half later.

I think rockets are really cool, and it was amazing to actually see a real one sitting on the launch pad. Watching the launch online later was even cooler because I had actually seen the exact rocket that was blasting itself into space.

March 16, 2012

Jupiter and Venus, Together

This photo is from the 6th of this month. I took it from near the top of Mt Tolmie. I wanted to try and get a photo with Mercury as well, but the clouds completely blocked it from view. In the picture are Jupiter and Venus. Venus is the lower and brighter of the two white dots. Venus is just nearing its greatest eastern elongation which it will reach on the 27th of March. That is the date when it is the farthest away from the sun in the evening sky, and also the day that it will remain above the horizon the longest. After the 27th it will start appearing closer and closer to the sun until on the 5th and 6th of June it makes a transit of the sun.

Looking through a telescope, you can see that Venus looks like a quarter moon. As the days go on, past the 27th, it will star turning into a sliver and getting smaller and smaller until on the day of inferior conjunction, we cannot see any of the planet illuminated. After that throughout the summer it will get fatter and fatter until on the 15th of August it will be half illuminated again, this time visible in the hours before sunrise. As it continues on, it will continue to get more and more lit up, but it will be going around the sun and getting further and further away and it will get dimmer and closer to the sun once again.

Even with the most advanced telescopes Venus is just a featureless dot. The atmosphere is so thick that to see through it you need to send a space craft there and use radar to map the surface. Venus is so hot and the atmosphere so thick that on the surface there is the same pressure as being a kilometer beneath the ocean on earth at a temperature of  460 degrees celsius. If you had infinite money and resources, you could build cities that floated on the ocean of air at 50km above the surface where the temperature and pressure are just about the same as on earth. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is also made of about 96% carbon dioxide.

March 15, 2012

Atlantis Found

Here is something a bit different to kick things off again. This is OV-104, more commonly known as the Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis. This is how I saw her in February of this year in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis' first flight was on October 3rd 1985. Over the next 26 years, the orbiter travelled to space and back 33 times, spending 307 days in orbit. Atlantis' last flight on July 8th 2011 was also the last flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

All the orbiters are currently being decommissioned to be sent to museums. Atlantis will not have far to go, just a few miles down the road to the space center visitor complex. This year during the decommissioning, the VAB has been opened to tours for the first time since the early 70s. It is the last chance anyone has of seeing an orbiter in their "natural habitat".

My first impression was that they are massive. Just fricking huge. After looking it up, it turns out that they are more than 120 feet from nose to tail, nearly 60 feet tall, and have a wingspan of almost 80 feet. When they were loaded for takeoff, they weighed 240,000 pounds. With the external fuel tank and the two solid rocket boosters, the weight that blasted off the pad was around 4,500,000 pounds. Just crazy to see all that weight rocket off into the sky at thousands of miles an hour.

With the end of the shuttle program, came the end of an era in human spaceflight. Currently, the only way for humans to make it into space is in a Russian Soyuz capsule, a tiny 3 person capsule with a design virtually unchanged since the late 1960s. No longer is there the ability to do complex servicing missions on satellites such as Hubble, nor to construct such a thing as the International Space Station. It was a sad day when the shuttle program ended, but now it is up to commercial companies to design and build the space program of the future.

Viruses and other things

I am very sorry for the lack of posts for the past while. In addition to being busy with school, my computer got a nasty virus that locked me out of most of my Google accounts in addition to slowing down the computer and messing with search engines. I have now had my computer wiped and Windows 7 installed, so I am good to go. I did not lose any of my photos which is awesome, so we should be back in business today!

March 1, 2012

A Bright Moon

The full moon through a tree late last year. You can see the clouds glowing in the light of the moon. The moon was so bright that night that while waiting for an exposure of a few minutes, I sat on a bench reading a book to pass the time. The other pictures I have of that night show it looking like daytime, but with stars. The full moon is a very bright light in the sky.