August 22, 2020, is the 100th anniversary of science fiction author Ray Bradbury’s birth. To honor the centennial, Museum geologist John Grant reflects on Bradbury’s impact on his career studying Mars.
Much of the Moon is blanketed by a thick layer of dust, built up from the rocky surface over billions of years by the impacts of small meteorites. Hidden beneath the dust is evidence of ancient geologic activity – great volcanic eruptions, tectonic shifts in the crust, and vast deposits of once-molten material hurled outward during the formation of the giant impact basins.
It all started at a special public lecture at the Museum in July 2014 given by Alan Stern, the lead scientist for the New Horizons mission, which will fly past Pluto this July. Among the attendees was William Lowell Putnam IV, sole trustee of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona—the place where Pluto was found in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. It was an exciting evening, not only to learn about the impending flyby but also having a chance to speak with Putnam and the director of the Lowell Observatory, Jeff Hall.
Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, has a special place in the annals of space exploration, having among its graduates 23 (and counting) astronauts, including Gus Grissom, Neil Armstrong, and a host of shuttle crew members, who have flown on more than 40 shuttle missions.
Dr. Vance Marchbanks, Jr. is famous in both the black history and aerospace history communities for his accomplishments as one of the first in his field. He was one of two black MDs to complete the United States Army Air Corps School in Aerospace Medicine at the beginning of World War II. His fame continued through his association with the 99th and 301st Fighter Groups, who later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
When Space X launched the Dragon Spacecraft on Friday, April 18, it was carrying nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to support more than 150 science investigations planned for International Space Station (ISS) Expeditions 39 and 40. Among these materials are some that weigh hardly anything at all—microbes—of which one type was collected right here at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
This September, Larry Crumpler, a research colleague at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, and I were able to fly in the back seats of two weight-shifting ultralight aircraft during a two-hour flight over the McCartys lava flow in central New Mexico.
We are all familiar with the climate on Earth: the seasons, the range of surface temperatures that are just right for being a water world, the oxygen we breathe, the ozone layer that protects us from UV radiation. In short: habitable. So what other bodies in the Solar System might be (or might have been) habitable, and why aren’t they today? Mars probably comes to mind, and for good reason. Mars has the most similar climate to our own, with water ice caps at the poles, seasonal snow, and dust storms. This is because Mars has a similar axial tilt as the Earth, which creates similar seasonal temperature variations.
Our lives are enhanced by technologies developed through the research and development supported by the necessities of spaceflight. NASA has documented since 1976 more than 1,300 technologies that have benefited U.S. citizens, improved our quality of life, and helped to advance the nation’s economic welfare. Of course, much has been made over the years of what NASA calls “spin-offs,” commercial products that had at least some of their origins as a result of spaceflight-related research. Most years the agency puts out a book describing some of the most spectacular, and they range from laser angioplasty to body imaging for medical diagnostics to imaging and data analysis technology. Spin-offs were not Tang and Teflon, neither of which was actually developed for the Apollo program.