Monthly Archives: November 2014

Even Working In Space, We’re Human

Where’s the Kaboom? There’s supposed to be a…oh, there it is. What an exploded Titan looks like. Image hosted on

Just a few tidbits today, more to laugh about and maybe learn in the process. Yup, a person can still have fun while learning. These next few articles are good reminders that the human element is ever-present with space operations, and even if that isn’t, then Murphy just decides to take the helm.

Over the weekend, Gizmodo published a post showing some of the few self-inflicted problems that the space industry has faced. And these are the ones that we know about. Just imagine the many, many reviews that went into making sure what happened with the NOAA-19 satellite would never happen again. Imagine just working in that environment, with the extra few “Are you sure’s??” or “How do I know that…?” Uh-huh, great stuff.

As if some of these aren’t already on the lighter side of space (unless you were one of the poor saps involved–still funny though:-)), here’s a Twitter feed you may wish to look at. Called #WhyIGotFiredFromNASA, it’s a fun and light read about theoretical and playful scenarios that would’ve gotten a particular person fired from NASA. There may actually be some true situations in there, but the overall tone is one of fun and the occasional one-upping of each other.

And the last thing, in case you missed it. Quirky stick-figure cartoon XKCD was frantically posting updates to the site during Rosetta’s Philae foray. Thankfully, instead of having to page through the postings page-flip by page-flip, someone put it all together in a nice animated GIF. You can see it all right here on ExplainXKCD. It’s very obvious the artist loved the idea of Philae landing on the comet, and hopefully it catches on a bit more.


Satellite Imagery Provides No Real Help for MH17 (because of Photoshopping?)

Wait, this image is probably not what it looks like. Image is hosted on

I happened on this news story last Friday as I was in research mode at work: MH17 update. It looked interesting, but was also suspicious when I considered the timing of the image’s release corresponding to Putin getting a finger in the chest from the Australian Prime Minister. However, me being at work meant I really couldn’t look into it a bit more to figure out what exactly was going on.

As a reminder, earlier this year Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Passengers and crew on board all died. Some sources were pointing to a surface to air missile shot from a BUK (a vehicle dedicated to carrying and launching rockets), but there hasn’t been any authoritative evidence really set forth for any kind of criminal investigation to contemplate. The image in the Daily Mail’s story shows that a fighter jet of some kind fired off a missile (the line in front of the fighter’s nose is the missile’s contrail) toward some kind of passenger jet. Except maybe that’s not the truth either.

So now I have had time do some searching about this story online, and can’t say I’m too surprised with the stories coming out regarding the image above. Many people with much better eyes and backgrounds in imagery have come out to say the picture’s been cobbled together. This site, Belling¿cat, seems to be a pretty good overall place to go and read about how people have figured out the satellite images are fakes. There are the side-by-side comparisons, plus the obvious grabs for images off the internet by whoever made it. Keep in mind that I’m not very familiar with Belling¿cat, so they may have an agenda for spinning stories a certain way. It seems legit, though.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for the kind of thing that’s pictured in that imagery to have happened, but it seems unlikely–maybe as unlikely as a BUK launching a surface to air missile at an airliner. This story is so convoluted, so tinged by political agendas, I am unsure there will be any kind of truth coming out of this soon, if ever.

But here’s the reality–those people on that Malaysian Airlines MH17 airplane were murdered. Whether it was politics, a guerilla war, one side or the other–someone took a shot at a passenger plane, downed it, then stayed quiet about it. Is this the first time something like this has happened? No, and this Wikipedia list (which I wouldn’t consider a first-hand source), has a list of the unfortunates shot down since passengers have been flying in aircraft.

It’s easy to get cynical about it, saying the thugs in the region have too much control for any truth to get out. I’ve seen some of those comments, and must note that if people go in with that kind of perspective, then such a perspective might perhaps inform the outcome of this tragedy’s investigation, no matter how grounded in history and reality the perspective might be.

Not helping in any of this is the US government. People within the US government made allegations that sounded like they could be substantiated. I wrote a bit about those allegations in this post: Can Top Secret Satellites Aid in International Justice? Overhead military assets like the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) were mentioned, as well as mentions by none other than John Kerry of possible Signals/Communications Intelligence (SIGINT/COMINT) interceptions. But then things seemed to just get quiet. I really haven’t found any reasons why there hasn’t been any other information. But it could be the US is unwilling to divulge any more information that may reveal technical data about the US intelligence collection assets. Even if a judge were given jurisdiction of this case, and subpoenaed the information, I am not sure the US government would divulge the details.

The upshot of this whole thing, though, is nobody seems to believe the image wasn’t doctored, except where it counts: in Russia. This Austin 360 post reiterates this sentiment fairly well at the end of its own story about this image kerfuffle. Sigh!

On Time, On Target? The Rosetta Mission

The next few hours or so will be interesting and hopefully history-making.  The European Space Agency (ESA) team has come so far with the Rosetta mission. If you don’t know what Rosetta is, in short: the Europeans have sent a spacecraft, Rosetta, to successfully intercept a comet over 400,000,000 km (about 250,000,000 miles) from Earth, and plan to land a very small probe, named Philae, on it (you can read some detail about the probe, here).

I hope their planning comes to full, successful, fruition. On 12 Nov, at 1602 UTC, the Philae lander will have hopefully made contact with Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and securely harpooned itself to the comet’s surface. The lander will have already detached from the Rosetta spacecraft about 7 hours (around 0903 UTC) earlier and slowly made its way to the comet during that time.

So, at the risk of putting up a few more videos up on this site for a couple days in a row now, here’s one that ESA put out about two weeks ago. It’s a bit weird, kind of cool, and definitely highlights ESA’s marketing budget. It’s fun, nonetheless, and hopefully you haven’t seen it yet. It might be inspirational:

Then, if you want to watch the Rosetta operations team as they command and wait to see what happens with Philae and Rosetta as it’s all happening, go to this link:

There will be a lot of hurrying up and waiting, since radio communications take awhile between spacecraft and ground stations. If you can’t watch the video, but still want to follow along with the actions of the folks at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), try following them on Twitter:

I wish them the best of luck–although I know they’ve worked hard enough to not just rely on that! As space operators everywhere do.


The Soft Landing?!

Soyuz TMA. Image from RSC Energia.

Below is just a fun little clip one of the people I work with shared. As much fun as the gentleman narrating the clip is having at the expense of Soyuz (it’s all tongue in cheek), we really need to remember one thing: it’s the only way we can get people up to the ISS and back safely right now. An artifact with direct ancestry from the Space Race and Cold War is now helping ferry US astronauts to and from the ISS…

Everything else, the Dragon, the CST-100, is pretty much fiction–until they aren’t any longer. That’s not a knock on SpaceX or Boeing–it’s just the priority the United States government put on a way to transport astronauts to and from the ISS with a US-based system–which is to say none. I am a bit thankful that NASA is trying to get things moving on the commercial side, though.

How long have we known that particular problem would happen, by the way? For me, at least as early as 2004, when instructors noted during one of my classes the retirement of the shuttle with no replacement in sight. Which might have been plenty of time to have done something, but of course history shows just how well the US used that time.

At least there’s always humor to fall back on–enjoy the clip!

Repost: Soviet Dogs and History

Image from the Guardian. Notice Strelka and Belka in the rocket’s windows?

This is a repost of a post from 3 Sept 2014.  For those who just needed a reminder, yesterday was the 57th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s second satellite launched into space.  This time with a dog named Laika on board.  And while the Soviets’ accomplishment of launching the first living being into space shouldn’t be forgottern, there were other dogs involved in the Soviet Space program, all talked about in The Guardian’s posts, linked to from this article.

There were a couple of Soviet space history posts published on The Guardian’s pages on 1 Sept.  Both talk about the dogs for the Soviet space program.  However, this one talks about the Soviet Union’s odd hero-worship of the dogs that were sent into space through their space program.  The post also mentions some of the reasons why dogs were considered a good fit for space testing in the USSR.  The program starts, of course, with Laika, who was launched in space in November 1957.  It was the second successful space launch of a satellite conducted by the Soviet Union.  The United States hadn’t even successfully launched their first satellite into space.

Not only had the Soviets launched a second satellite into space nearly a month after their Sputnik launch, but they launched a satellite with a living being on board.  That history-making being was Laika (Russian for “the barker”), the dog.  According to the post, the Russians admitted in 2002 that Laika did not survive more than a few hours after launch and suffocated.

But other dogs were also used by the USSR to forge ahead into space again in August 1960.  Two of them.  Belka (Little Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow), orbited the Earth 18 times in a Vostok-1 spacecraft, then came back to Earth safely.  They were treated as heroes and toured the USSR.  They apparently lived long lives, and Strelka even had several litters of puppies.  In an odd side note, while Nikita Khrushchev was eating dinner with President and Mrs. Kennedy in June 1961, Khrushcheve bragged about Strelka’s litter of “space” puppies.  Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy joked about the possibility of Khrushchev sending a puppy to her.  Two months later, she received a space puppy from the USSR.

It seems that dogs tend to fare better than the geckos used in Russia’s more recent space experiments.  But it wasn’t all doggy heaven–the dogs unknowingly risked their lives during these experiments.  The Guardian’s post mentions two other dogs by name:  Chaika (Seagull) and Lisichka (Little Fox) were some of the unfortunates who died in the line of duty.  The post doesn’t really mention the other six dogs that also had died before Belka and Strelka, but it’s not the point of the post.

The fascinating hero-worship of the Soviet Space Dogs continues to be focused on in another fine Guardian post, too, this time showing the stamps, toys, postcards, and candies.  Pictures of their space dogs were posted proudly on all these items.  I seem to remember seeing some of these stamps in my earlier days.  I thought they were nifty then, and they are definitely fun to peruse now.  Please go to the Guardian’s page to enjoy the pictures of the Soviet dogs as they help sell some sugary snack to some Soviet citizen.

These dogs helped with Soviet space programs until 1966.  They were pioneers, if not in space, then for manned space programs, taking risks that human astronauts would not.  Plus, they’re kind of cute.  No wonder the Soviets adored them.