The Science from Columbia

Ten years ago today, my younger self sat down on a bean bag in front of the telly. I tuned into BBC News 24. A Space Shuttle was about to land, and I was going to watch it live.

I was only 12, and had recently been captivated by the Space Shuttle Program. I’d get up in the middle of the night, watch, and record on VHS, shuttle launches. They were enthralling. Now I sat down to watch, what I think should have been, my first shuttle landing. The date: Saturday 1st February 2003.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, but as it progressed there were no pictures of the shuttle passing through 200,000ft. Still, I didn’t know any better. A few minutes later the time remaining to landing hit zero. Then the horrific pictures started to come in. The Space Shuttle Columbia had been lost.

Unlike the majority of Space Shuttle missions at the time, to develop the International Space Station, this mission was purely scientific. It carried the SPACEHAB module, where all of the experiments would be conducted. There were biological sciences, life sciences, combustion sciences, atmospheric sciences, physical sciences experiments and more to be conducted on this mission.

A lot of data was lost when Columbia disintegrated, but some data was downlinked during the mission, some of which is helping us down here today. Some include:

  • Combustion chemistry experiments have helped to develop cleaner burning engines
  • Experiments involving soot and how it can be used as a useful industrial product
  • An atmospheric experiment discovered a new atmospheric phenomena called Transient Ionospheric Glow Emission in Red
  • An experiment looking into the use of fine water mists to aid firefighting techniques
  • An experiment into the development of prostate cancers

The results of these experiments have benefited us down here on Earth, and so I’d like to thank the crew of STS-107 for their efforts to further the human race.

Per Ardua ad Astra

Sources: NASA Space Research, Freestar ReportScience Gained from STS-107

Why are Museum Gift Shops Filled with Non-Scientific Crap?

We all love a good museum or cave system to wander around. At least I do anyway! The history, the geology and even the prehistoric anthropology is astonishing. Your guide takes you around telling you about the immense aeons of time required to make wonder cave systems. You come out with new scientific awe, learning things you never knew before. So was my day with the family today at Kents Cavern. A fantastic place and one of the most important places on the planet with regards to human history. Go visit!

You then find yourself in the gift shop though. What utter crap. Crystals for crystal healing, mood rings, horoscopes and general non-science bullshit. Why? Why do superb scientific centres fill their gift shops with utter crap? I genuinely want an answer?

The same happened when a visited a geological and fossil museum in Glen Coe, Scotland. Wondrous science and then utter crap. Sometimes the crap sits right next the proper science books though.

I end up tutting and seething with anger. Places of scientific enquiry shouldn’t be filled with this stuff.

Someone, please find me an answer!!!

Curiosity’s Mission So Far – In Timelapse

One of the best things about the Curiosity mission is that the folks at JPL make all (and I mean every single last one) of the raw images available to the public to download and play around with. Indeed, this is what a lot of space bloggers have been doing like Emily Lakdawalla and @mars-stu‘s Gale Gazette (both are essential reading). I noticed however that a timelapse had yet to be done.

So, on my day off the other day with nothing much to do, thanks to the rain, I spent a few hours downloading every single (or the majority of) images from Curiosity’s left navigation camera. Slap em together at 6 frames per second, add some music and this is what you get…enjoy.

I am also working on a front hazard camera timelapse, but you will need to wait for more photos to be taken as there haven’t been as many yet. Stay tuned.

Thoughts on Neil Armstrong

These days a lot of people seem to be inspired by musicians and actors, perhaps an athlete from the recent olympics. I find myself in a different boat, inspired by people who achieved their great moments long before I was even born. I find myself inspired by people like Newton, Kepler, Feynman, Sagan and Armstrong.

I recall, many years ago when I was younger, having a CD-ROM of, I think, the encyclopaedia Britannica. It contained a wealth of interesting information. I remember one such aspect of it where you could play around with the Moon’s orbit. A great, unbeknown to me, celestial mechanics lesson. There was also a small section on the Moon landings. I could watch Neil Armstrong’s first steps over and over. And I did. I was enthralled.

Years later my interest and passion for space had developed. I began to truly understand what the Moon landing’s were about, the great energy and determination behind them, the huge risks involved and the human need to explore.

For me, the Moon landings have shown me more about what it is to be human more than anything, and it all began with Neil’s first small step.

Even today when I watch footage of the Moon landings, I feel shivers creeping up my spine, sometimes even a tear develops in the corner of my eye. It’s almost a non-religious numinous experience. I just fill with awe over the grandeur of it all. We really did this, I have to say to myself.

Neil Armstrong

So I was incredibly shocked and saddened to hear about the loss of Neil Armstrong on the 25th August. He had inspired me and many millions of people across the planet. He was a reluctant hero but he embodies the true human spirit of adventure and exploration, and for that, thank you, Neil.

We can hope now that this sad news spurs on our next great adventure, that it enthuses another generation of people to learn STEM subjects and that it urges politicians to develop the worldwide space effort.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings on Neil Armstrong, and if you’d like to share them, please leave a comment below.

There’s a great many literature on the Apollo missions and they’re a great read. There’s a lot I never knew about Apollo that is fascinating. I’ve recently finished Failure Is Not An Option and Apollo 13. I’ve also recently ordered A Man on the Moon, that I understand is the best Apollo book around. You should also check out the great TV series’ From the Earth to the Moon and NASA’s Greatest Missions: When We Left Earth and the film documentaries Moonwalk One and In the Shadow of the Moon.

Thanks again Neil

12 men walked on the surface of the Moon.
No one has returned or ventured farther.

#winkatthemoon

 

Welcome to the new Mars

A nuclear powered rover, the size of a mini, has landed on the surface of Mars. It pulled off one of the most complicated landings ever attempted. I still can’t quite believe they did it. For me this event topped off anything and everything that has happened at this years’ Olympics.

Landing the Mars Science Laboratory rover was, by any measure, the most challenging mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration.

We’ve got at least 2 years of amazing discoveries ahead of us (it could last for a decade or more though). Every time we’ve landed on Mars we’ve seen Mars anew. And here she is:

Welcome to the new Mars

There will be better, full panoramic images to come in the coming days, so be sure to check out the MSL homepage.

And to those of you who think this is a waste of money, that we won’t benefit from this at all, and that the money should have been spent on more ‘worthwhile’ things, please read this.

It is far better to dare mighty things even though we might fail than to stay in the twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

 

 

The Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror

It’s a little over a month until NASA’s new Mars rover, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), lands on the surface of Mars (Anticipated landing time is 0531 GMT, 0631BST on the 6th August – subject to refinement).

The hardest part of this mission? Entry, Descent and Landing. Curiosity will hit the Martian atmosphere at a little over 13,000mph and it’s got to get to 0mph…in 7 minutes. This fantastic video shows you the difficulties that will be faced and the technology designed to overcome it. Trust me, you’ll be impressed!

I’m thankfully on a day off on the said date, and will be getting up early to follow the EDL’s progress and the first pictures that come through. I think the hashtag #MarsCuriosity will be used on Twitter. So join in!

The Pains of House Sharing

I moved to Exeter about a year and a half ago. I had never been to uni so had never lived with anyone else before. My friends dad buys and rents houses, he gave us a special deal. The shenanigans began.

First there were 4 of us, one of them was the most annoying person I have ever met, she left (or we annoyed so much and drove her out). Then two others moved in and another left a few month later. Now there are 4 of us again: Myself, Steve, Clara and Steph (these are pseudonyms).

I like things done my way, so you could say it all starts with me. Nevertheless my housemates do things that utterly nark me off. Steve has the most astoundingly long showers, leaves the power to the shower on and the tap not quite turned off. Washing up is left to be done for days at a time – do it when you’ve finished with it for Christ’s sake! People’s washing is left in the washing machine for even longer, it stinks and needs re-washing, it’s an endless cycle. When it does get to the washing line, it seemingly never comes down. I come back off nights and house lights have been left on for hours while everyone’s sleeping. Steve finishes watching TV in the living room and leaves it on with no intention of turning it off. The bin is always left until it is crammed to the brim, a state where it is impossible to remove the bin bag from the bin without the rubbish going everywhere.

I don’t like causing confrontations though. I grit my teeth and sort it out. Unless, that is, the heating is on. If the weather’s not good enough to dry clothes on the line, they’ll be put on the radiators and the heating switched on and then forgotten about. We all have airers so there is no need for this. I even came back today to find the heating on because ‘it’s cold outside’. It’s June, and whilst I know the weather hasn’t been great, it’s frickin’ 17°C outside. If you ask me, the heating shouldn’t be switched on until the maximum day time temperature is below 8°C.

My housemates are all lovely and we have great laugh though. If only they did things my way!

I’m off to Ethiopia!

I’ve been waiting a while to get this out in the open, waiting for phone calls, confirmations, e-mails and so on has meant I haven’t be able to officially say yet, but now I can. I’M OFF TO ETHIOPIA!

World Challenge are a company providing expeditions involving project work and trekking in the developing world for schools (kids ages 15-18). I went on an expedition with them, through school, back in 2006. We went to Cambodia and Thailand. We worked in a Cambodian orphanage and trekked in the Thai jungle. It was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life and has helped shape the person I am today.

This year the company are celebrating 25 years since their foundation and they’ve offered ex challengers (people who go on expeditions are known as challengers) the opportunity to go to Ethiopia and trek in the Simien mountains. And the best part is that it’s free. Actually, the even better part is that I’M GOING! 12 people have been selected out of a few thousand (I think) and we’ll be leaving in November.

It’s only a short expedition (10 days) but what an opportunity. New people to meet, a new country to explore. What more could you need?

Stay tuned for further updates!

Venus Transit: Some Impressive Pictures

So we’ve seen (well I haven’t as it was cloudy) the last Venus Transit until 2117. Here are some of the pretty incredible photos taken by astronomers across the globe.
They give a grand sense of scale on the enormity of the solar system. (Oh, there’s a fantastic video at the bottom too!)

Venus Transit. Credit Chris Hetlage

Path of the Venus Transit. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Venus Close Up! Credit: JAXA/NASA/Hinode

Film Review: Prometheus

[Update: 8th June] To my surprise this post has been viewed an incredible number of times. Please note that this is my first film review and that it’s pretty damn poor! Perhaps I’ll get better over time!

*CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS*

Ridley Scott has come back to sci-fi and he’s done a bloody good job!

The USCSS Prometheus

I heard about Prometheus about a  year ago and have been inexorably excited ever since. It’s the freakin’ prequel to Alien for christs sake! There’s a cracking cast set up too. There’s Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender who is surely up for an Oscar with his superb acting of the android David.

The plot is what you might expect. Evidence of Aliens (or Engineers) having previously visited Earth have been found in cave paintings indicating a star constellation. Lets go and say hi. It goes wrong. It answers a lot of questions left behind from Alien (such as the space jockey) but leaves more questions being asked. The effects in this film are utterly sublime too. The ship, Prometheus, looks absolutely breathtaking!

Ridley has said in one of his interviews that Prometheus skirts around the truth of what may really be out there. Well, I can assure you, that it skirts so far from the truth there is no resemblance of the truth remaining. It’s a science fiction, that’s it.

Xenomorph?

The one thing in the film that didn’t make sense to me was the presence of this xenomorph-like feature (pictured). I can put together how I think it makes sense, but it doesn’t really. I’ll be going to see it again anyway, so maybe I’ll get the answer a second time round.

It’s possible, and Ridley Scott has talked about it, to there being a sequel (a sequel to the prequel!) If so it looks like it’ll move even farther away from the Alien franchise, and after seeing Prometheus, I think that’ll be a great thing!

Points out of 10? 9.5! The only disappointing factor for me was that it was only a 15 (I know they were under a lot of pressure to only make it a 15) and I’d expect a few more scares and so on. Eitherway it’s a true classic – GO AND SEE IT!

Here’s the trailer to get you more excited if you haven’t seen it yet!