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.
When Disney•Pixar approached the National Air and Space Museum about donating the Buzz Lightyear figure that had flown to the International Space Station for 15 months, I was delighted. As the curator for the Museum’s social and cultural space artifacts, I have the unique job of getting to take toys seriously.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wernher von Braun (March 23, 1912-June 16, 1977), one of the most famous rocketeers and advocates of spaceflight that ever lived. Accordingly, it is an appropriate time to reflect on his remarkable life and career. A longstanding “space cadet,” von Braun was an early member of the “Verein fur Raumschiffahrt” (Society for Spaceship Travel, or VfR). Although spaceflight aficionados and technicians had organized at other times and in other places, the VfR emerged soon after its founding on July 5, 1927 as a leading group that both advocated for spaceflight and worked to build rockets. Growing up in the VfR, Wernher von Braun became the quintessential and movingly eloquent advocate for the dream of spaceflight and a leading architect of its technical development.
The Friendship 7 space capsule was designed to orbit the earth and it did just that on February 20, 1962, with John Glenn, Jr. on board. It circled the globe three times before landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Three months later Friendship 7 began its second mission, or what was popularly referred to as its “fourth orbit:” a worldwide exhibition that was organized to promote and represent the United States and its space program in nearly 30 cities around the world.
I received a call from Richard Solash, a reporter with Radio Free Europe about ten days ago to discuss a film being made by Slovene director Ziga Virc and writer Bostjan Virc that alleges that Tito's Yugoslavia had a secret space program and secretly sold space knowledge to NASA, in the process making Tito rich and making if possible for the U.S. to achieve its Apollo program.
If all goes according to plan, on November 25th the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity will leave the Earth and begin its journey to Mars. Any delays due to weather or other factors should be accommodated by a launch window that extends until December 18th. The spacecraft will use a new landing system to arrive at its landing site on Mars in August, 2012, and the rover carries an impressive array of scientific instruments.