Tag: Space

25-minute tour of International Space Station by astronaut Sunita Williams

On her last day as the Expedition 33 commander aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams filmed a 25-minute tour of the ISS, complete with explanations of how the toilets work, where the food is stored (American, Russian, and Japanese), demonstrations of exercise equipment, and an inside view of the Soyuz return vehicle.

External photos of the ISS against the curve of the Earth and abstract numbers like a length of 72.8 meters, a width of 108.5 meters, or a pressurized volume of 837 cubic meters can never really give you a sense of just how massive humanity’s outpost in low-Earth orbit really is. At the same time, all the tight squeezes and small compartments illustrate just how small it actually is.

In many respects, the ISS is the culmination of human progress, not just technologically but also culturally. Apollo-Soyuz notwithstanding, the level of cooperation across national boundaries between former enemies — the United States, Canada, Japan, various members states of the EU, and Russia — would have been unimaginable for most of the 20th century. (A college friend trains astronauts in Houston. Her business cards are English on one side, Russian on the other.)

Sunita Williams says in the video that she spent a lot of her down time during her stay on the ISS in the Cupola, gazing down at Earth. You can’t see borders between countries from space…

Via Boing Boing.

The cryovolcanoes of Io

There’s something magical about witnessing geological processes we know here on Earth on a moon hundreds of millions of miles beyond our own Moon. In 2007, NASA’s New Horizons space probe (on its way to Pluto) captured a sequence of images of the “cryovolcano” Tvashtar Paterae erupting into space on Jupiter’s moon Io.

I find this animated GIF of the photos mesmerizing…

Animated GIF of Tvashtar Paterae cryovolcano on Io

7 minutes of terror behind us, years of joyful exploration ahead

24 hours ago, I held my breath with the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as they waited for the Mars Curiosity Rover to roar through the Martian atmosphere, deploy its supersonic parachute, fire its rockets, and get lowered to the surface of the Red Planet via “sky crane.”

Afterward, I stayed up to watch the press conference. In his comments, Adam Steltzner, lead engineer for EDL (entry, descent, and landing) said, “We humans are toolmakers, explorers, agriculturalists, pioneers.

Of all the comments made by NASA/JPL team members last night, this brief comment really struck home. Steltzner weaves the story of this landing of one robotic rover into the fabric of our greater human story — from paleolithic toolmaking, neolithic agriculture, and the spread of Homo sapiens across the globe through our next steps to our sister planets and beyond.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden‘s introduction made me proud to be American, but Adam Steltzner made me proud to be a human being.

Here’s one of the first, low-resolution pictures Curiosity took through a dust cover on a “Haz Cam”:

Curiosity Rover picture

And here’s a spectacular photo of Curiosity parachuting down to Mars, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

Curiosity Parachute Landing Spotted by NASA Orbiter [detail]

We can expect high-resolution color photos later this week.

One small step

NASA and space exploration have always been one of the things that makes me proud to be an American. Today in 1969, humans stepped foot on another celestial body for the first time.

Apollo 11 bootprint

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing remains one of the singular achievements of the human race. My hope remains that I will live to see our species send representatives to the Moon again, and then on to Mars.