Monthly Archives: March 2015

Search The Skies for Objects Out to get You

This is how science helps find asteroids, frame by frame. Now you can help them, too. Image from the European Space Agency.

One of my favorite sites, TheVerge.com, covered this year’s SXSW (South By SouthWest) activities. They posted this article about an application NASA and Planetary Resources released during SXSW for public downloading. The application, called Asteroid Data Hunter (ADH-not the greatest name), will allow people to upload images of the stars. Then the application will sift through the images to see if there’s a possible asteroid within them.

That capability, the automated comparison of differences in each picture, seems to be the story about ADH. NASA says the program can identify more asteroids because of a new algorithm developed as part of a related competition.

Why use this application? It’s sort of like a celestial “Neighborhood Watch” program. Knowing what’s normally in your neighborhood allows you to recognize when something different and possibly bad is occurring. ADH will help NASA determine which asteroids might be on a trajectory that intersects with Earth one day. Those asteroids, called Near Earth Objects (NEOs), have gained some notoriety lately, thanks to events such as the asteroid impact near Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. It might be good to be able to identify NEOs, and maybe do something about it.

For Planetary Resources, a participant’s efforts might help them identify asteroids that could one day be mined. Yes, that’s “mined,” as in prospectors looking for and digging up gold, silver, and anything else useful and desirable to humans. No word on whether Planetary Resources would give a percentage of profit to any ADH participants who gave the company a profitable tip. That might actually encourage more participation, by the way.

While the application is free, the intended participants may be more narrow than either NASA or Planetary Resources anticipated. First, if you want to participate, it’s probably helpful if you have a telescope…probably one with a camera mounted to it. You might need special software to help make sure you’re aiming at the right part of the sky, consistently.

But, if you have all of that, then all you need to do is download the application (available right here), search the skies with your telescope, and help save the world AND get someone else rich. Aren’t you the generous hero?

In the meantime, if you don’t have all that equipment, but are interesting in NEOs and what people are doing to possibly keep them from hitting the Earth, then I recommend heading over to the Earth Shield Program website. It’s very interesting.

Another 50th Anniversary Apollo Moment, with Gemini

CBS

Here’s another article I wrote this month in “Space Watch.” The article is about the Gemini 3 (GT-3 for Gemini/Titan-3) mission flown by Gus Grissom and John Young. It’s an important mission for Apollo, as most Gemini missions were intended to be, full of interesting tests for processes, technology…and food. This latest article shows the hungry human side of the very, very brave astronauts as they worked in stressful circumstances while getting ready for the Apollo missions later on.

If you’re still interested then please read: A Beef with the “Molly Brown:” Gemini 3. And have a very happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day this next week.

Baikonur Cosmodrome

There’s something kind of beautiful about this old Soviet rocket design. Notice the arms protruding from the ground? Those arms are what hold the rocket up before launch, using the rocket’s weight to “clamp” it into place. Image from Wikimedia.

I found this 2001 Air & Space article during my research about Sputnik-1, the world’s first artificial satellite. It’s a very good first person account of a visit out to the Baikonur Cosmodrome and some of the run-ups and rituals for launching from there. The writer was there for a launch of the first permanent International Space Station crew (which occurred in November 2000). It’s a neat article, because I love reading about some of the traditions established by the Russians that started with Sputnik-1’s launch. The story is four pages long, so if you have time, give it a read.

Overhead look of some of the launch sites in Baikonur. Image hosted on “Stop Frames of the Planet” blog.

Probably like most space nerds, I’ve known about Baikonur for a long time. It’s a big Russian rocket launch complex. It’s also known by another, perhaps less well-known name: Tyuratam (or Tyura Tam). Either way, the Cosmodrome has a place in space history, as well as missile development history. Like Peenemuende in Germany (some history about that here), it is the site that launched a few space history “firsts.” Probably the most well-known is the launch of Sputnik-1 into space on October 4, 1957 from Baikonur’s “site 1.” Sputnik-1 wasn’t very big, just 23 inches (58 centimeters) in diameter and weighing around 184 pounds (over 83 kilograms).

Almost exactly a month later, Laika the dog was launched in Sputnik-2. Laika, unfortunately, didn’t last long, but the satellite the poor dog was ensconced in was massive when compared to Sputnik-1, weighing in at over 1,120 pounds (about 508 kilograms). Both Sputniks were launched on top of a modified R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)–which was a first as well. The R-7, like the traditions at Baikonur, became well-used. It became a heavily modified rocket design used in space launches even now.

Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur. He was “only” the first man in space. Launched into space on April 12, 1961, we still commemorate that event now with “Yuri’s Night” every year in April. By the way, the organization I work with will be hosting a Yuri’s Night this year (2015). We’re going to have astronauts and others hosting the event, and it will be in our little, but fantastic, museum–the Discovery Center. If you wish to attend, you’ll have to pay, though. If you are close by and wish to attend, just go here.

But back to Baikonur. It is the biggest launch complex in the world. It’s probably also the oldest. The Soviets used to own it, building it in the middle of nowhere (for the most part) so their missile tests wouldn’t inadvertently hurt populated areas. Another consideration for it’s placement in Kazakhstan was to keep Soviet activities away from spying US eyes (although it was photographed by a U-2 within the same year the Soviets started testing ICBMs in 1957). It was a part of the Soviet Union, but now is leased for use by the Russian government from Kazakhstan.

Baikonur is the ONLY place right now that launches humans to the International Space Station. Which makes it the ONLY place that gives humans a physical toehold in space exploration and activities. China might also eventually start placing Taikonauts in their own space station, but until Americans once again have a crew-rated space launch vehicle, the Russians, and Baikonur in particular, are both playing important and historic roles for human space launch.