Space from the cheap seats

by lestro

A couple of students over at MIT apparently took this picture with a rig that cost them less than $150 total:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

Ridiculous.  So that shot above, what’s the deal with that?

The picture you see above was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took forty minutes to come back to Earth.

And just in case you want to try this at home, they will be posting instructions here.

Amazing. Who needs NASA anyway?

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The final frontier

by lestro

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission, the absolute apex of the human scientific and engineering experience, the 20th century and American achievement all rolled into one.

To celebrate the event, the NY Times has a long, but exceptional article written by the man who covered the space race the first time around, John Noble Wilford, including details of the run-up to Apollo 11 and what it meant to the country and world, as well as the explanation for how he arrived at one of the single most perfect ledes in the history of print:

I get up and read the articles I have written about the mission up to now. Reporters may feel impelled to write of the next day’s events as the culmination of the space race, the achievement of an ambitious national goal, a historic triumph. I swear to myself that I will not use “historic” in my top paragraph.

I reach for my notebook and try several opening sentences. They must be put on a strict diet. I cross out adjectives. I eliminate clauses that are superfluous and sound too much like heavy music for a movie soundtrack. I begin again: “American astronauts landed.” No, too restrictive and chauvinistic; it will be clear soon enough that the astronauts are American and the goal of a decade has been achieved.

I finally get to the irreducible essence in one short sentence: “Men have landed and walked on the moon.”

Literally, the entire world watched and shared in the joy as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on a planetary body that was not our own.

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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a … grease gun?

by lestro

Last week during a space walk, Captain Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper “dropped” a tool bag worth approximately $100,000.

Dropped isn’t really the right word. It barely slipped away from her glove and floated out of reach, but in space, that was enough to put the bag – about the size of a hiker’s backpack – into orbit.

It’s about 1,000 feet in front of the International Space Station and should eventually burn up in the atmosphere. It is currently about 220 miles up and cruising along at about 17,500 mph.

Even better, the bag is now visible from earth. Read more of this post

Hooray! More Flaming Space Garbage!

by twit

Leonid meteor shower image via Eideard

Via MSNBC:

NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, an Expedition 15 flight engineer, tosses a hefty unneeded ammonia tank the size of a refrigerator overboard from the space station during a July 23, 2007 spacewalk. The tank is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 2, 2008.

… Known as the Early Ammonia Servicer, or EAS, the coolant tank is the largest piece of orbital trash ever tossed overboard by hand from the space station.

… Exactly where the tank will inevitably fall is currently unknown, though it is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere Sunday afternoon or later that evening, NASA officials said.

It’s shootin’ time!

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More statement than science

by lestro

The 20th century was defined by the battle between two global superpowers; the United States and The Soviet Union. Aside from the nuclear missiles and mountains of debt, one of the most noticeable strands of the competition between the two nations was the space race.

After the USSR launched Sputnick, the first man-made satellite launched into orbit, the two nations went back and forth, launching rocket after rocket in an attempt to one-up the other.

In 1961, President Kennedy urged us on to the moon – something for which the Soviets were aiming for as well. As the two programs battled neck in neck, it forced NASA to take chances to try and beat the Ruskies, like sending the first Saturn V rocket we tested all the way to the moon with a trio of intensely brave astronauts strapped to the top.

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I told you to go before we left the planet

by lestro

Houston, we have a problem.

Four words you don’t want to hear in space:

“The toilet is broken.”

Space is a long way to try and hold it. Try sitting on the edge of the capsule and crossing your legs.

Russian mission control told the crew — Russian Cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, and Garrett Reisman, a NASA astronaut, to use the toilet on the Soyuz capsule that is attached to the station as a lifeboat. But that system has very limited capacity, and so repairing the system has become an increasingly urgent issue.

“Increasingly urgent.” I like that.

I know when my toilet is busted or the water in my building is turned off for repairs, things can get a bit, um, difficult for me, but at least I am not 217 miles away from the closest toilet. Or tree.

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aliens respond “who is paul and how did he die?”

by lestro

Apparently on Tuesday NASA beamed the song “Across the Universe” toward the North Star. And now, some other people think that by sending them the Beatles, we are asking for trouble. Dig:

“I have no fear that NASA’s latest transmission exposes Earth to any danger from aliens,” he tells The Daily Telegraph.

“However, I do believe that even symbolic transmissions from Earth deserve broad-based discussion before hitting “send.”

“Although one-time transmissions to distant stars stand little chance of being intercepted, they do set a precedent for intentionally making ourselves known to other civilizations.”

“I think the more important question is what we would want to say about ourselves to other worlds, and that’s something deserving of global input,” he says.

First of all, do you know anyone who doesn’t like the Beatles? We don’t want to talk to any aliens who don’t like the Beatles. They’re The Beatles. I mean, come on.

But beyond that, my first thought was that it was a marketing ploy for the movie that was released on DVD tuesday?

It was the anniversary of the song being recorded, but still…