On July 20, 1969, a whole nation tuned in to see astronaut Neil Armstrong take one small step on the surface of the Moon, ushering in a new era of space exploration. But how did Armstrong and the Apollo 11 astronauts get to the Moon in the first place?
Astronaut Alan “Dex” Poindexter joined fellow Space Shuttle commanders and crewmembers at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center recently to welcome Discovery to its new home in the Smithsonian. Poindexter commanded the next-to-last Discovery mission, STS-131, in 2010. He also served as pilot on Atlantis for the STS-122 mission in 2008. Both shuttle crews delivered equipment for construction of the International Space Station. Poindexter joined the astronaut corps in 1998 in the midst of a distinguished career as a naval aviator, first as a fighter pilot, then as a test pilot. He served two deployments in the Arabian Gulf during operations Desert Storm and Southern Watch in the early 1990s.
“You put an X anyplace in the solar system, and the engineers at NASA can land a spacecraft on it,” so said actor Robert Guillaume in an episode of “Sports Night.” Amen brother, the team that landed Curiosity proved the truth of that statement one more time with the successful landing of a big rover on Mars in the wee morning hours of August 6, 2012! It was a stunning success.
Mars has long held a special fascination for humans—in no small measure because of the possibility that life either presently exists or at some time in the past has existed there. In his classic work Cosmos, Carl Sagan asks an important question: “Why Martians?” Why do Earthlings not similarly obsess over “Saturnarians” or “Plutonians?” As a planet resembling our own, Sagan concludes, Mars “has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our earthly hopes and fears.” NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in the early morning hours of August 6, 2012 EDT. Thus, “Why Mars?” is a question that we will seek to answer for visitors to the National Air and Space Museum.
Unlike many astronauts, Sally Kristen Ride did not dream of going into space since childhood. She was already in her mid-twenties, completing her Ph.D. in physics, when the idea dawned. NASA was recruiting women to apply to become astronauts for a spacecraft that had not yet flown: the Space Shuttle.
Last week, the Museum recognized the 50th anniversary of Telstar, the first “active” satellite (one that can receive a radio signal from a ground station and then immediately re-transmit it to another) and the first technology of any kind that enabled transatlantic television transmissions. In 1962, both accomplishments generated intense interest, excitement, and commentary.
Astronomy enthusiasts around the world are gearing up for Tuesday’s celestial show: the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. The small black dot of Venus, silhouetted against the bright Sun, will be visible with safe solar telescopes and, to those with especially good vision, with the naked eye when protected by eclipse glasses.
Much to the delight of large crowds below, Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), made several passes over the Washington, DC area yesterday. Discovery, the first orbiter retired from NASA's shuttle fleet, completed 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited the Earth 5,830 times, and traveled 148,221,675 miles.
Having grown up less than 90 minutes away from the famous Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, I got the chance at least a few times each summer to see an IMAX movie. I remember the packed seats for the pre-show, everyone clamoring for the best seats right in the middle, but everyone was usually just happy to be escaping the heat for the air conditioned theater. When The Dream Is Alive was released in June 1985, I was just old enough to ride those massive roller coasters, but seeing IMAX films at Cedar Point really left an impression on me: a big impression. Seeing those sweeping views of Earth and space on a gigantic screen made spaceflight seem so real, and utterly amazing.