Category Archives: Space

They Went! Congratulations!

It’s been said about rocket launches that when you get to 0:00:00 on the clock there are a million things that can happen and only one of them is good.

Especially on a first test flight, we knew SpaceX was going to be cautious, and the weather is one of the things they can’t control. But they had a two-hour long window today and they waited out some high-level wind shear issues.

DAMN was it worth it!

This is the full stream of the launch (which occurs at the 22:00 mark), fairing separation (exposing Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster to space at 25:56), and the landing of the two side boosters (at the 30:00 mark).

If you think the video is spectacular…

That one in the lower right might be THE iconic picture of the year.

And this view from the beach:

The video of “Starman” (the mannequin in the space suit in the Tesla Roadster) kept going for over four and a half hours with the Earth getting a bit smaller with every view:

Congratulations, SpaceX!

Now, when do I get to go?


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Go SpaceX! Go Falcon Heavy!

Tomorrow SpaceX will attempt to launch the first Falcon Heavy, which will be the biggest currently flying launch vehicle. The Saturn V was bigger, as was the Space Shuttle – but they’re not flying any more. (Don’t get me started…)

You can watch it online – I might have to have some “executive time” about then to go sit in the car and scream a lot. (It freaks out the office mates.)

What’s SpaceX been up to recently, besides this?

Last week they launched a satellite. Normally these days the recover the first stage booster, but this time they weren’t going to try because the barge they use to land on out in the mid-Atlantic Ocean needed to be used to land one of the three boosters on the Falcon Heavy launch.

Oh, did I forget to mention that they’re going to try to land ALL THREE BOOSTERS from the Falcon Heavy launch tomorrow?

Anyway, because of that they decided to not land the booster last week from the satellite launch. But not ones to waste an opportunity, they experimented with the “landing” anyway. Normally the landing is done by re-lighting one of the nine engines. But what happens if that engine doesn’t re-light correctly? You’re falling like an arrow at a couple thousand miles an hour and you have only seconds before you make a smoking hole.

Maybe you could make up for the delay and the extra speed and the fewer extra seconds by, say, lighting three of the other engines and really freakin’ stomping on the brakes? It’s a high-G maneuver and timing is critical, but on paper it works.

So why not try it when there’s nothing to lose? This booster’s going to be tossed away one way or the other, right? Let’s get the data and fly that profile and have it “land” on the ocean’s surface (no barge) and if we can make it non-violent enough to work if you’re forced to use that method as a backup when there IS a landing spot under you, be it a chunk of Florida coastline or a robot barge.

It landed so gently that it simply tipped over and floated on the surface of the ocean. (Makes sense. If it didn’t crack open it’s 99% empty fuel tanks that that point.)

Even when these folks are deliberately trying to “fail” to get the test data, they still do shit that the rest of us can’t even dream of trying.

Good luck tomorrow, SpaceX! I’ve got an alarm set to try to sneak out of the office.

Give ’em hell.

I’ll be the guy screaming in his car down on the bottom level of the garage.


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Leaving The Planet

Tonight, SpaceX was launching a Falcon 9 rocket with ten Iridium satellites. The launch was out of Vandenberg AFB on the coast a hundred miles or so north of Los Angeles.

We got off work a bit early today and I had thought about trying to drive up to see the launch. But it would have been iffy at best on the timing, especially on a “get out of town” day for the holiday weekend, with the fires still burning up the coast as a bonus traffic problem. I figured the launch might be visible from our front yard.

Holy cow! Wow! Jeez, Louise! Oh my God! What a freaking amazing site!

Flying from the lower right toward the upper left, here’s what it looked like just after first stage separation. That “puffball” in the contrail right about in the middle of the image is where the first stage separation occurred.

The bright light in the upper left is the moon – the bright spot just off the left edge is the first stage, heading toward the Pacific Ocean. (They did not recover this first stage. Why? They’ve gotten so successful at recovering them apparently that they’re overstocked.)

Just a second later, a slightly different angle, you see the second stage to the left of the first stage and the moon. It’s heading toward orbit. (The ten Iridium satellites just finished deploying successfully about five minutes ago.)

After the second stage disappears over the horizon to the south and the first stage has gone down to the Pacific Ocean off of Mexico, the contrail remains, high up in the atmosphere, still lit by the sun.

This was also TOTALLY FREAKING OUT EVERYONE in Los Angeles.

Up close, the detail and filigree of this dispersing cloud is just beautiful.

Download this picture to your computer…

…and this one. Then flip back and forth between them. They were taken four seconds apart, but you can see how the cloud is spreading and flowing.

Finally, as the Earth kept rotating (as planets do) and the sun moved further beyond the horizon (as suns do), the cloud started to dim…

…and disperse.

We got a LOT of folks driving by stopping and asking what it was.

It was SPECTACULAR, that’s what it was!


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Spooky Explained?

A few days ago I posted pictures of “Spooky Finger Clouds“:

Some speculated that it might be contrails or something, but the explanation turns out to be more exotic.

See a day or so later:

Hey, you can see our house from here!

While they’re referred to as “gravity wave clouds,” they’re not in fact (much to my disappointment!) caused by gravity waves like those produced by colliding black holes. They’re caused by oscillations in the atmosphere where a disturbance of some sort causes moist air to rise and fall (due to gravity) much like ripples spreading out from a stone dropped into a pond.

The end result is that you get these rows of linear clouds. They can be extremely spectacular – they’ve even been seen on Mars!

Science! For The Win!

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Do Yourself A Big Favor Today

Watch this video:

I do so dearly love Disturbed version of this song, and I’ve raved about their original video, which is spectacular. But their music and the accompanying video of our planet from space – I could just wallow in that combination of sounds and sights for hours.

Thank you, NASA Johnson! And Disturbed! And Paul Simon!

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I Want A BFR!!

Tonight Elon Musk of SpaceX gave a speech about SpaceX’s vision of their next generation of rockets, the ones that can not only launch satellites ten times larger than the current ones, but which can also let us build a moon base and start going to Mars as early as 2024. (Which might be just a touch aggressively optimistic, but at least they’re trying.)

This next generation, bigger than the Falcon Heavy, bigger than the Saturn V, but 100% reusable an a 100 times cheaper than current rockets, is being referred to as the “BFR.” I’ll leave figuring out what that stands for as an exercise to the student.

I want one. Now. Really, really badly.

I urge you to find the full speech when it’s put up on YouTube later tonight or tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are SpaceX’s tweets that accompanied the speech:

I’m ready to go!

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Heading Off-Planet

The first thought I had, which I was actually writing as a stand-alone thing for tonight, revolves around this from the @GeekxGirls Twitter and FaceBook account:

I love this a lot, but after sharing it on both Twitter and Facebook, it occurred to me – maybe we ARE on a career path toward Starfleet. If we believe that it (or its equivalent in the real world, whatever it will be or be called) will exist and exist in our lifetimes, someone is going to have to be involved in starting it and being the first faculty and/or students.

Why can’t that be us?

Then, just before 23:00 tonight, ULA launched an Atlas 5 (big freakin’ rocket) out of Vandenberg AFB up the coast. I knew of the launch and had thought about driving up to see it, but just have too many other things to do.

I was watching the launch online on my phone, and it occurred to me about 30 seconds into launch that there might be a tiny chance of maybe seeing something of the launch from outside. Vandenberg is over 100 miles to our WNW and I’ve got a big hill to my west, but maybe.

Oh. My. Freakin’. God!

Just as I got out the rocket started to clear the hill with a bright red and orange flame that stretched at least as far as the moon is wide. It was bright enough so that even with the city lights all around and the street lights and security lights at the school up on the corner, people driving down the street were seeing it and stopping to look.

Over the next minute or more, as the rocket climbed out of the atmosphere it also climbed more overhead, directly to our west. The flame trail grew less visible, but the exhaust cone, sort of a bright, curved V-shape, got very bright and spread out. Lots of blue and orange color, just a spectacular sight.

As the rocket kept climbing toward the south I crossed the street to keep it in view over the neighbor’s house. I could clearly see the first stage dim, flash, and cut off, followed by the flash of the second stage ignition. Another few seconds after that and it faded into the haze on the southern horizon.

I need to remember this. If seeing a launch is this moving and emotional and full of elation even when seen from this far away with none of the noise or smoke or other phenomenon present, I can’t wait to see one from a much better and much closer viewpoint.

Heading off-planet, the Earth in our rear-view mirror. Today a display on the horizon, tomorrow an addicting up-close experience, soon to be a career path for all of those waiting to go exploring and working. It would be neat if they named it “Starfleet” just like they named the first Space Shuttle “Enterprise,” but I don’t care what they name it as long as I get to go!


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