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!

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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!

Dragon Breathes Fire

The new era of spaceflight has officially begun. SpaceX have launched its Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule to drop supplies off at the International Space Station. It launched, got berthed (note not docked…yet) to the space station and has returned. Remember, this is a private company. This is the future.

One of the unique things with Dragon is that it’s the only vehicle capable of bringing things back from the space station, such as science experiments. Scientists are now able to launch tests, leave them to work on the ISS for a few months and then have them come back for detailed analysis. Brilliant!

It’s all at a significantly cheaper cost too, plus they’re going to be shipping astronauts to and fro as well. Double brilliant! And then there’s the Falcon 9 Heavy, capable of lofting gargantuan satellites into space, again at significantly cheaper prices.

And the best thing of all? This is only the beginning!

Here are some great photos from launch, berthing and landing.

Falcon 9 launches to the ISS with Dragon. Credit: SpaceX

The ISS robotic arm grapples Dragon for berthing. Credit: NASA

Dragon being unberthed. Credit: NASA

Dragon safely back on Earth. Credit: SpaceX