Geodesy and GOCE: Astrocast.TV with Bente Lilja Bye

In the first episode of A Green Space — A Green Earth at Astrocast.TV, my friend and astrophysicist Bente Lilja Bye gives a superb overview about the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) that was finally launched in March. It’s a captivating show, detailing the history and science behind the study of geodesy (the gravitational field, shape and rotation of the Earth).

You may not be familiar with geodesy, but it is critical to advancing our understanding of the planet we live on. For example, GOCE observations could aid prediction techniques for earthquakes, or refine GPS data; suddenly geodesy has a very real and immediate relevance to us on the ground.

Be sure to check out the video below, it’s a very slick production. Great job Bente!

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In the Cosmos/Iridium Collision, Which Satellite Won?

©Stratfor Global Intellegence

When two satellites collide at 790 km above the Earth’s surface, who really cares which satellite “won”? It’s going to be a mess; chunks of metal and shards of solar panels exploding to life after their once-solid satellite structures impacted at a velocity of 11 km/s (that’s kilometres per second). Both satellites are losers, twisted, shattered remains of their former selves, cluttering Earth-orbit, causing all kinds of stress for other vehicles flying around in orbit.

However, when the Iridium communications satellite was hit by the defunct Russian Cosmos 2251 on February 10th, it turns out there was a “winner” in the satellite demolition derby (although I am using the word “winner” very loosely)…
Continue reading “In the Cosmos/Iridium Collision, Which Satellite Won?”

Colbert Report: Stephen Receives the Bittersweet News About Node 3

The Colbert Report aired last night and astronaut Suni Williams appeared on the show to announce the official name of Node 3. Like breaking news to a 5 year-old that Christmas has been cancelled, Williams did her best to be as gentle as she could be. Fortunately, Stephen Colbert soon cheered up when he found out that the “shoes inside the box” (the new treadmill) would be named after him. As always, very funny.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that “Tranquility” is a little lame. It just adds to the forgettable names of the other nodes I don’t remember…

…what’s the name of that node again?

Thanks Bente for the tip off!

Not “Serenity”, Not “Colbert”… Node 3 Will Be Named “Tranquility”

Node 3 will be called Tranquility (NASA)

Deciding against the popular vote, NASA has made up its mind and gone in a completely different direction (who would have guessed?). The new addition to the International Space Station, will be named “Tranquility” (in honour of the 40th anniversary of the first manned base on the Moon this July), ignoring the clear winner in the “please help us name Node 3” competition. Obviously concerned about the role Stephen Colbert’s celebrity status had securing so many votes, the space agency looked as if they might go for one of the official suggestions, the second place “Serenity”.

This didn’t happen either.

They decided to go with a more suitable public suggestion, about half-way down the top ten chart. Tranquility will join similar nodes called Unity and Harmony, sounding more and more like the components of a Japanese Zen garden every day.

But there is a consolation prize for the award-winning presenter and comedian, the new running machine will be called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (or COLBERT), proving once again that a lot of effort goes into NASA’s acronyms…

For more, check out the news on CollectSPACE.com »

Getting to the Moon More Expensive than Bailing Out AIG?

I’m sure it’s more expensive than bailing me out of my student loan too…

The top stage of the Ares V carries the Altair Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon (NASA)
The top stage of the Ares V carries the Altair Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon (NASA)

In an article written by a columnist in the Orlando Sentinel, NASA’s Constellation Program is compared with the government bail out of AIG. Where’s the correlation? No, I don’t see it either. NASA has its problems (some of the problems are very big problems), but when you begin comparing the woes of a space agency with an ailing financial corporation, you’re not only off target, you’re not quite understanding the true value of space exploration…
Continue reading “Getting to the Moon More Expensive than Bailing Out AIG?”

NASA’s Continuing Foray Into Pop Culture

Guest article by Greg Fish (blog: world of weird things)

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Oh what havoc faux-conservative pundit Stephen Colbert wrought on NASA and the ISS! To think that a little publicity stunt would actually put the U.S. space agency in a jam and incite grudging grumbles from Firefly fans who were sure that Node 3 would be called Serenity. Even a few Congressmen who found time away from dealing with a painful and deep recession that’s put the entire economy in turmoil, are now involved in sorting out this little mess.

But there’s actually an interesting question in this seeming non-story. Should NASA embrace the will of the masses and give nods to pop culture in how it officially names its spacecraft? There are stories of informal call signs for capsules and modules taken from the Peanuts comic strip, but there’s never been an official designation that reflects what’s popular here on Earth at the time of the mission. What would benefit NASA more? Giving in to the power of the fad or staying resolute with timeless names?

Continue reading “NASA’s Continuing Foray Into Pop Culture”

Bad News: Brian the Discovery Bat Was a Heavy Sleeper

Warning: You are about to read news of an upsetting nature. Brian didn’t make it, he was more of a thrill seeker than we gave him credit for…

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)
Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

If you have been following the news about the bat that caused a stir during Sunday’s Space Shuttle Discovery launch, we finally have closure on what actually happened. It is a sad day, Brian the Bat clung on to the shuttle’s exterior tank until lift-off…
Continue reading “Bad News: Brian the Discovery Bat Was a Heavy Sleeper”

Stunning Discovery Post-Launch Video

The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday (©Adam Bojanowski)
The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday creating a bright white cloud (©Adam Bojanowski)

Watch the time-lapse movie after Discovery’s launch »

I compiled the pictures I took into a time lapse movie. The blue cloud appears to grow where the shuttle main engines passed through a particular layer of atmosphere. The cloud grew in coverage and changed from bright white to electric blue as it expanded.” — Adam Bojanowski

Note: The expanding vivid white cloud appears after tiny droplets of water condense and then freeze around particles in Discovery’s exhaust after passing through a saturated layer of atmosphere. The ice in this new cloud preferentially scattered the blue light from the setting Sun (this is called Rayleigh scattering, the same mechanism for giving the sky its blue hue).

Source: SpaceWeather.com

In Memory of Brian, the Discovery Bat

The bat, clinging to Discovery's external tank on Sunday's shuttle launch (©NASA/Collect Space/Brian the Bat)
The bat, clinging to Discovery's external tank on Sunday's shuttle launch (©NASA/Collect Space/Brian the Bat)

As the Sun set over Florida, NASA ground staff hurried to complete preparations for space shuttle Discovery’s launch just before 8pm EST on Sunday. Fortunately, the countdown went as planned and Discovery is now on its way to install the remaining solar panels in the International Space Station’s solar array. The launch itself was strangely captivating, probably because this was the sixth launch date that has been set (continuously postponed due to valve problems and, most recently, a hydrogen leak). However, there was another reason that interested me, a bat had been discovered, hanging onto the the shuttle’s external fuel tank, refusing to budge…
Continue reading “In Memory of Brian, the Discovery Bat”

Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!

discovery_launch

At 19:47 EST, the STS-119 mission began with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been delayed by a week due to a hydrogen leak outside Discovery’s external fuel tank (compounding the extended delay caused by valve problems), but the fault was repaired, allowing NASA to perform a flawless launch today.

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)
Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

STS-119 will install the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the ISS. In May, the space station crew will grow to six, so additional solar power will be required. Interestingly, once completed, the station will become the second brightest object in the night sky.

Good luck Discovery!

For developing news on STS-119, check out the coverage on the Universe Today »