Category Archives: Space

Blow It Up!

When I was four and five, my father would drag my butt out of bed at O’Dark Thirty and set me in front of the television to watch the first US astronauts get launched on their “tiny” Redstone and Atlas rockets. (Usually after hours of delays, which was tough at that time of the morning, but I digress.)

Decades later, I wasn’t shy about dragging my kids out of bed before dark, or letting them stay up way too late on a school night, to watch a Shuttle launch or the landing of a rover on Mars.

Tomorrow morning (maybe) there will be a SpaceX launch which will, with any luck, blow to smithereens just over a minute into the launch. It will be at “max Q”, the point of maximum dynamic pressure, when the air pressure on the vehicle will be at its highest and the vehicle will be supersonic and speeding up. It will be spectacular.

Now, of course, it’s unusual to be looking forward to a massive failure of the first stage on launch. Generally that means a “bad day.” But not in this case.

On the nose of the Falcon 9 booster will be a Dragon spacecraft, which SpaceX and NASA hope to start using this year to take astronauts to ISS. It’s been nine years since the Shuttles were retired in 2011 and ever since then we’ve paid for seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get us up to and back down from ISS. (These nine years will forever be known in the vernacular as “too God damn long!“)

One of the final tests that Dragon has to pass before being certified to have humans on board is this launch abort test. What happens if there are people in that spacecraft (there won’t be tomorrow) and the booster fails? The system is designed to have Dragon detach from the booster and have its own emergency escape system fire, carrying it away from the booster to where it can simply deploy its parachutes and land in the ocean. Tomorrow we see if that system works in the real world.

I had my alarms set for 04:30 tonight for a potential 05:00 launch (08:00 in Florida) and I was thinking a lot about getting dragged out of bed to watch Shepherd and Grissom and Glenn. It’s been a really long, busy, tough couple of weeks and going into a three-day weekend with some spare time at last, sleeping in until about 09:00 was sounding like an excellent plan. But I set the alarms anyway.

Late word from SpaceX (thanks, guys, really do appreciate the update!) is that weather concerns are going to having them target the end of the four hour launch window, so launch, if it gets off at all tomorrow, will be more like 11:30 to noon in Florida, 8:30 to 9:00 here on the West Coast. If the weather is too rough to go at all, Sunday looks worse, but Monday looks better. So follow SpaceX on Twitter for the latest.

Whenever it occurs, I’ll be thinking about Dad and Mercury and how far we’ve come. We didn’t have Twitter then to tell us we could sleep in and skip those delays. We also didn’t ever root for a booster to go “boom!”

This one time we will. And then we never want to see it again. But if it does…


Filed under Space

REAL Space Camp For Adults

Something got me going the other night (God knows what it was, but then again, who knows what it ever is – some random piece of BS and my brain is off to the races with my mouth in tow, sometimes the other way around) and I started wondering why adults can’t go to Space Camp®.

I know that there’s an adult version of the famous camp for kids, and it sounds okay. A week away from “the real world” isn’t a bad start to any adventure, and building model rockets, robots, riding a zip line, spinning around until you puke, and going SCUBA diving in an NBL-like (Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory) tank would all be fun.

I don’t want fun. I want to be a couple of steps closer to actually riding the elevator up the gantry next to a few million gallons of supercooled high explosives.

So, what if I don’t want to just spin in the six-axis trainer – but take a flight (or two) in the zero-G training jet? (Otherwise known as the “Vomit Comet.”)

What if I don’t want to sit in a flight simulator in a hanger – but take a flight (or two) in a real, live, supersonic T-38?

What if I don’t want to ride on a glorified merry-go-round – but take a spin up to 6G or 8G in a real centrifuge?

What if I don’t want to SCUBA dive in a pool they’ve put together – but get into a real training space suit and go floating next to the full-sized ISS mock-up in the real NBL?

Expensive? You bet, and it should be worth every penny.

Impossible? At least two of those things are available just about any time if you’ve got the cash, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that you could get the third. That puts us in the ballpark…

How much would a week doing that cost? $10,000? $25,000? More?

Doesn’t matter. I still want it. Of course, I really REALLY want to go all the way and go through some real-life training and then get to ride up that gantry with the next stop being Low Earth Orbit – but in the meantime, I would take this as a substitute.

Why is no one offering this package for idiots like me?

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Filed under Paul, Space

Moon & Venus Conjunction

A couple of gems in our sunset tonight. (tl;dr rant as always – if you missed it tonight, they’ll be there tomorrow night, just a little bit further apart, and Monday night a little further apart…)

I’m glad that this parade of winter storms has paused for an evening to let us see it!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Ice Rings

I went outside to take out the trash, grateful that it had stopped raining, even though it was cold. (As always, that’s “LA cold,” not “real cold.” In other words, 51°, not 11°!) Once I got out I could see that it wasn’t as dark as I had expected, with some moonlight and the clouds breaking up a bit after a week or so of steady rain.

Between the cold, the moon, and the layers of icy, high level clouds, there was the most amazing colored 360° moonbow surrounding the moon overhead.

The cellphone doesn’t do a spectacular job on this type of photo, mainly because of the extreme contract in brightness and the lack of anything solid to focus on.

But you can get an idea of the moonbow. Not as vivid as a rainbow’s colors, but still quite beautiful!

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Venus & Jupiter

As we saw about a week ago, we have a couple of bright planets in our western sky at sunset. Jupiter’s motion is taking it toward the sun from our viewpoint, so it will be heading toward the morning sky in early 2020. But Venus’s motion has it going the other way, heading toward greatest elongation on March 25, 2020. Tonight as their paths converged was their conjunction, or closest approach.

See them there in the sunset, below the wires and above the trees across the street? (Plus Saturn above the wires to their upper left – see comments below about where it’s going.)

They stand out to the eye at sunset, both very bright. Venus is in the lower left, Jupiter in the upper right.

You might have to move around a bit to get a good view between any buildings, trees, or other obstacles on your horizon. If you can get a pair of binoculars, they’ll be amazing looking and you should easily be able to see some of the Galilean moons around Jupiter.

Through the telephoto lens you can lose the perspective with the ground, but you might be able to see Venus as a crescent and detail on Jupiter.

As for those aforementioned Galilean moons, if you take the picture above and click on it to see it full sized, you can see a hint of them being captured. In a line on about a 45° angle, a couple of pixels to the upper left, one on the lower right…

Here’s what it looks like on my monitor.

Here’s the big thing that I’m always repeating at events like these, especially since so much coverage comes from pathetic click-bait run websites – THIS WASN’T AN EVENT THAT ONLY HAPPENED SUNDAY NIGHT!

If you didn’t get to see Jupiter and Venus tonight, go look tomorrow night, or any time the rest of the month, or even into early December! The two planets will be moving further apart from one another from our perspective, but Jupiter will be clearly visible (moving closer and closer to the horizon every day after sunset) until at least December 5th or 7th or even later if you have a clear horizon and dark skies.

Even after that, Venus will be getting higher in the sky every night after sunset until March 25th, and will still be visible through the end of May! Plus, Saturn!

Look at that first picture in this post, the wide angle one – see that dot way up above the phone wires, over to the left a bit from Jupiter and Venus, sort of above the TV antenna on the neighbor’s house? That’s Saturn, trailing behind Jupiter on its way toward our morning sky. It will be passing Venus the week of December 9th, in about two weeks. So watch for a repeat of this sort of spectacle in your evening sky.

Get out there, folks!

These are not things that *BANG!!*, happen, and they’re gone. To be clear, some astronomical events are – eclipses, for example, or occultations where a star, planet, comet, or asteroid disappears behind the moon, planet, or asteroid. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Events related to the planets moving around in the sky drag out over WEEKS! Today might be the closest – but they were close yesterday and they’ll be close tomorrow.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Planets After Sunset

Once again, serendipity rears its ugly head!

A long day at the hangar meant that I was leaving just after sunset with a crystal clear (windy, dry, high fire danger) sky and a gorgeous sunset.

Not only was the gradient stunning, but so were those two bright planets!

That’s Jupiter on top (leaving the evening sky) and Venus on the bottom (entering it). I knew that Mercury might be seen under the right conditions, but was pretty sure that it had either set by this time or was really close to the horizon in the glare and probably not a naked-eye object.

So I checked.

(Image from StarWalkHD for the iPad)

Yeah, Mercury is last week’s news, already on the other side of the Sun, setting before it does. But…

Saturn’s up? I must have forgotten that.

I don’t see it in the photos above, but then, those photos had had the exposure shortened so they would closely resemble what I saw my eye was seeing. I had started by taking a couple of photos and letting the iPhone expose them, which meant they looked way too bright and the colors were all off. But with a longer exposure, maybe…

Click on the image, blow it up to full sized, then look to the upper left, just like in the StarWalk image.

See it?

How about now?

I would note for the record that, according to that image, Pluto is out there just above and to the left of Saturn. But given that I can’t see it even in a dark sky location with my 8″ telescope, I don’t think the iPhone 8 is pulling that one in.

Maybe I need an iPhone 11 Pro?


Filed under Astronomy, CAF, Photography, Space

Weekend Gradient & Reflection

The gradient comes from the lovely sunset colors as I was leaving the CAF hangars tonight.

The reflection is a philosophical one, not a photographic one. It comes along with two probably contradictory lessons.

John Scalzi has said, “The failure mode of ‘clever’ is ‘asshole.’” While I’ve agreed with this for years, it never came home quite so personally as today, when I in a moment that I regretted thirty seconds later, tried to make a joke which sounded much more clever in my head than it came out of my mouth.

This was not the world’s worst faux pas by any means, but it did leave a couple of people looking at me like, “Huh? Was that supposed to be funny?” It bothered me the more I thought about it all day.

The second, related, lesson is, “Don’t beat yourself up unnecessarily.” Before I left I went and found the person who I had made the comment to and apologized. Their response was, “Huh? What are you talking about?” I thought for a minute that I was hallucinating or something, had to remind them of where it was and who they were talking to and what I had said before they said (in essence), “Oh, that? Nothing wrong with that, was there? Didn’t give it a second thought.”

This is not to say that if you stick your foot in your mouth and truly do say something that portrays you to be an asshole that you shouldn’t repent and sincerely apologize and attempt to make amends. (Are you listening, GOP?) But before you beat yourself up all day for being offensive, make sure you actually offended someone.

Finally, if you take a longer, handheld exposure with the iPhone, can you see Jupiter at the upper left, near the edge of the picture? Yes. Yes you can.


Filed under Astronomy, CAF, Photography, Space