Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Endeavor leaves the Big Loony Bin

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Name that planet!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You can make a real contribution to the exploration of the universe

Monday, October 19, 2009

Opportunity on Mars

If we were a sensible species, we'd be building new countries in the sky instead of blowing up the ones we already have.

Image: See APoD for an explanation of the pic and the mission (not a euphemism for "war" in this case).

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The realities of space travel today

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Here's one for Will McLean

The caption from The Big Picture:
Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 mission commander, floats safely to the ground after an accident during a training session on May 6th, 1968. The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) exploded only seconds before while Armstrong was rehearsing a lunar landing at Ellington Air Force Base near the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC).
According to Craig Nelson, the author of Rocket Men, Armstrong went right back to work, and when someone made a fuss about his near-death experience, said "It's always a sad day when you lose a machine."

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A photo collection celebrating the 40th anniversary of Lunar Landing Day

From The Big Picture. Buzz Aldrin, with Neil Armstrong, photographer, reflected in his visor.

Clic the pic for larger versions.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Hubble over the Cape Verde Islands, from Shuttle Atlantis

And work in progress in the light of a crescent Earth:

Both from the Big Picture.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

ISS above, the Cook Strait below

From the Big Picture. Click on the image for a better view.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Suffering under an early, heavy snowfall, it's consoling to realize that it's even colder in the orbit of Saturn.

Actually, it doesn't help at all.

Image: The rings and their shadows and some "seasonal coloration." The big satellite is Titan.
From Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What does this have to do with the 14th century and robots?

Will McLean explains.

Image: the crater Machaut on Mercury, from a NASA site.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Spaceport Baikonur, Kazakhstan

A collection of pictures of this key Russian-run installation from the Big Picture. As noted on the BP site,

When NASA's last scheduled Space Shuttle mission lands in June of 2010, the United States will not have the capability to get astronauts into space again until the scheduled launch of the new Orion spacecraft in 2015. Over those five years, the U.S. manned space program will be relying heavily on Russia and its Baikonur Cosmodrome facility in Kazakhstan.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

A direct image of an extra-solar planet

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

America, America

On the plus side (from the wonderful The Big Picture).

And on the other, chilling souls across the USA and beyond:

Brad DeLong.

Dymaxion World.

John Cole at Balloon Juice.

I wish I could say, "That is all."

Update: Here's a comment to that Balloon Juice post.

I don't know why I can't link to Balloon Juice but it referred to this.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Back of the envelope

Over at the Planetary Society blog, Emily Lakdawalla writes about using back-of-the-envelope calculations to estimate certain astronomical facts. Is there a historical equivalent to b-o-t-e calculations?

Image: Mercury's surface, from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Picture of a spaceman

From Astronomy Picture of the Day.

(His name is Clay Anderson, and he took this picture of his reflective faceplate.)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Beautiful map of the far side of the moon

This is a geological map of the far side of the moon. I saw it first on Strange Maps, which got it from Wired. There are links to other planetary maps at this Wired article.

Click on the map for the full effect.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Today is the 50th anniversary of the launching of the first artificial Earth satellite, the Soviet Sputnik. There is a reasonably thoughtful article on Sputnik and the Space Age in the Washington Post, but I think it rather underestimates the longer-term impact, presuming, of course, that there is a longer term for humanity.

Next up, on October 13th: the 700th anniversary of the arrest of the Templars!

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Lunar Landing Day -- 2007

It's all still out there, waiting for us, if we have the wit and imagination.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Robert Heinlein was born on July 7, 1907. His centennial inspired this article in Reason Magazine which does a reasonable job of summing up his career and influence.

As someone who like so many others was deeply influenced in my youth by Heinlein, I have a few things I'd like to add to Brian Doherty's article.

First, it's a little unfortunate, but in the United States perhaps unavoidable, that the whole framework for discussing Heinlein is based on how it fits into American cultural obsessions. I like, however, Doherty's final conclusion that Heinlein was a "full-service iconoclast." Well said: whatever your sacred cow, Heinlein could slaughter it with a few well-chosen words or a long, perhaps excessive rant. Whichever way he managed it, he'd make you think -- if not necessarily agree with him.

Second, Doherty says little, except in connection with conscription, of Heinlein's loathing for slavery, and nothing at all about his hatred for racism. A complete and utter rejection of racism was not so common among Americans of the early 20th century, especially those raised in former slave states. As for slavery itself, no child who ever read A Citizen of the Galaxy (a bit of an homage to Kipling's Kim, but smarter) will doubt for a second that slavery is evil or that slavers' excuses for their attempts to own human beings are contemptible.

Third, and perhaps even more important than the second point, Doherty hardly touches on Heinlein's own great obsession, and the lack says a great deal. Heinlein spent most of his life not just writing about space travel, but promoting the real thing, and his influence on government research into rocketry in the late 40s and early 50s is an untold story. Heinlein believed that space exploration and the expansion of the human race throughout the universe was the obvious road to a great future. His extraordinarily influential juvenile novels were so because they made that future expansion -- with its rewards, costs, challenges and unimaginable discoveries -- look real and attainable. He would be appalled that going to Mars is for most people a fantasy, for the American leadership a cheap talking-point to be trotted out once to distract people from the rolling catastrophe.

He might say now, why can't we have the world of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars -- quite a scary place in some ways -- instead of the futility of the Iraq War and Darfur and heads in the sands about global warming?

Soundtrack: Written while listening to a track called They Came in Peace by Tranquility Bass, cablecast by the Galaxie music network of the CBC.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Allen Drury, Advise and Consent

To advise and consent (or not) to various acts and appointments of the president is one of the constitutional duties of the US Senate; it's also the name of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury, of 1959. It focuses on a hard-fought battle to confirm the appointment of a new Secretary of State (foreign minister) in an atmosphere of looming world conflict between the US and the USSR.

It's not quite certain what year this story is supposed to take place, but it's not 1959: perhaps a speculative 1967? No postwar presidents are named, and the entirely unnamed incumbent can't be any of them. The key fact, which emerges only slowly, is that the race to the Moon is almost over, and both superpowers are in a position to launch manned ships -- and they do. Drury started writing this book in 1957, the year of Sputnik, and reflects a pessimistic mood about free societies losing out to communism.

The real identity of the president is not a big mystery to anyone who read Drury's A Senate Journal. He's a figure who takes in all the most important characterstics of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as seen by Drury: a man of vast personal presence and strong character, the "great seducer," a man who has done so much good and so much bad that his contemporaries will never be able to come to a rounded judgment about him. Drury, a half-century after he wrote, has succeeded in piquing my interest in FDR. Whether I'll ever have the time to follow it up, I don't know. Any suggestions on further reading are welcome.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Exolife excitement

In the Daily Telegraph (Australia) there is an article from the Daily Mail (also Australia) which says, way, way down at the bottom:
It is difficult to speculate what - if any - life there is on the planet.
Of course most of the top of the story is filled with just such speculation, including these florid opening lines:

ABOVE a calm, dark ocean, a huge, bloated red sun rises in the sky - a full ten times the size of our Sun as seen from Earth. Small waves lap at a sandy shore and on the beach, something stirs...

Now this surely is a neat discovery and much better news than anything else in the news today, but I have to chuckle and wonder how many readers understand how faint the signals on which the planet's existence and nature.

As an old science fiction fan I'm glad to hear it, but I will get really excited when we go there or they come here.

It's nice to see other people getting excited about something this positive, instead of hate-driven fantasies about what their human neighbors are like.