I’m an executive producer at Smithsonian Channel and I had the pleasure of making the documentary Making Tracks on Mars. We made our film feel like an adventure because most people think of Mars as a frontier, but at its core, the story taps into our primal drive to explore.
Able and a squirrel monkey named Baker were the first American animals to enter space and return safely. On May 28, 1959 at Cape Canaveral, Able was placed in the nose cone of Jupiter AM-18 secured by a contour cradle made of fiberglass with sponge rubber lining specifically built for her body. Included in the cradle were multiple electrodes used to collect information on Able’s reaction to noise, acceleration, deceleration, vibration, rotation, and weightlessness. The cradle was then placed in a capsule with a life support system that included oxygen, moisture and CO2 absorbers, and electrical heating and cooling systems to keep the monkey alive. Baker was placed her in own separate capsule in the nose cone.
In 1898, Walter Wellman led an attempt to reach the North Pole using ship and sledge via Franz Josef Land, a group of uninhabited Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean. A journalist who had already made an unsuccessful polar attempt in 1894, Wellman also hoped to discover what had become of Swedish explorer Salomon A. Andrée, who had attempted to reach the Pole via balloon in 1897. Many notable names provided funding for the expedition, including President William McKinley, Vice President Garret Hobart, J.P. Morgan, and William K. Vanderbilt. The expedition arrived at Franz Josef Land in July 1898 and built their headquarters, “Harmsworth House.” Wellman sent Evelyn B. Baldwin, a meteorologist with the United States Weather Bureau and a veteran of one of Robert Peary’s Greenland expeditions, ahead north to establish an outpost to be used in the spring for their push to the Pole.
The newest addition to the Time and Navigation gallery is a life-size bronze statue of a dog named Sydney. Sydney now reclines amiably on the deck of the exhibition’s ship, and our youngest visitors are finding him appealing. On a recent morning, one toddler was observed patting the statue’s head and squealing, “Puppy!” Another clambered onto Sydney’s back and went for an imaginary ride.
The Viking program represents a major effort by the United States to explore Mars, with the particular goal of performing experiments on Martian soil to look for possible evidence of life. Four individual spacecraft were sent to Mars as part of the Viking project, two orbiters and two landers, launched as identical orbiter/lander pairs.
My first word was JET, since we lived near an Air Force base and experienced sonic booms on a regular basis. My fascination with the heavens took off from there. Growing up, my family went camping and backpacking a lot, and one of my clearest memories of that time is looking up at a dark, dark sky and pointing out satellites to each other, those little moving points of light that are sometimes so faint I could only see them in my peripheral vision.
The news that “Vulcan” topped the poll results taken by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California as a possible name for one of the two tiny moons newly discovered to be orbiting Pluto has gotten quite a bit of press this week. In 2012, Mark Showalter of SETI, working with scientists on the New Horizons mission sending a probe to Pluto, found a tiny fifth moon orbiting the icy world.
The recent seventy-fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, stirred up considerable media attention – particularly in light of another expedition to the South Pacific in the hopes of solving the mystery. While the fate of Earhart has enthralled the public since 1937, the story of how Earhart figures into the larger history of air navigation and long-distance flying is often overlooked.