Category Archives: Space

Sixty Years Ago And Six Hours Ago

Sixty years ago today I remember my father dragging me out of bed well before dawn and having me watch the black & white TV coverage of Alan Shepard’s 15-minute suborbital flight.

(All images: NASA)

After hours and hours of delay (including the infamous incident with no provisions for certain bodily functions in long, long unexpected delays), Shepard became the first American in space.

America wouldn’t put an astronaut in orbit until February 20, 1962, seven and a half months after Shepard’s flight.

It was a first step for the United States and NASA, desperately looking to catch up with the Russians in the Cold War symbolism of the Space Race.

Six hours ago, SpaceX finally was able to successfully fly and land one of their Starship spacecraft.

SN15 (Serial Number 15) succeeded after the previous four test vehicles (SN8 through SN11) either landed hard and exploded, landed upright and then caught fire and exploded, or never even made it to the landing pad in anything less than a gazillion pieces (after exploding).

But today was the day they did it. Space is hard.

In a couple weeks they’ll test SN16. It might explode, it might not.

In a couple months they’ll be testing SN-thirty-something. It will have a ton of improvements and probably by that point be starting to carry a full crew interior and life support systems.

By the end of the year they’ll be testing the “Super Heavy” boosters which will be designed to boost the Starships into orbit before landing themselves much like the current Falcon 9 boosters do. (In the next week or so, possibly as early as Friday or Saturday, they’ll fly a Falcon 9 for the tenth time.)

Within a year or so they’ll be flying Starship SN-fifty-or-sixty-something into orbit, and then landing and re-using and re-launching ALL OF IT.

Within two or three years (okay, maybe four or five) they’ll be flying Starship vehicles to the moon, with crews of dozens at a time.

Within ten years (I know, they say four to five…) they’ll be sending cargo Starship vehicles to Mars. Crewed vehicles will follow to Mars soon after.

Where will they be in sixty years?


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Flowers – April 25th

Yesterday I showed that the pink roses were back. In addition to the one that had fully bloomed there was a bud just starting to open.

I don’t know if this one, on the same bosh, will get a chance to display it’s whole rosy goodness. There’s a little rain coming through tonight (which we desperately need) which might mess with it, but more to the point, there’s some strong winds coming through.

That cold front in general and the winds in particular will not only potentially mess with this young rose, but is likely to cause a weather delay in tomorrow’s Atlas V rocket launch out of Vandenberg up the California coast about 150 miles.

I had hoped to go up to see that launch, but given the weather, the way I’m feeling after this weekend (which is a good thing, mind you, but still), the odds of a scrub and delay, my workload this week, my appointments for the rest of the week – it’s a lot, so I’m thinking the smart move might be to skip seeing another launch.


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The Dark & The Light

If you’ve seen my pictures of comets and conjunctions and ISS passes and so on you’ll remember that there’s a really bright, annoying, pain in the ass street light right at the south corner of our front yard.

Suddenly, about a week ago, it went out.

That’s it in the lower left, silhouetted in the dim moonlight and light pollution. No idea why, no clue when they’ll be by to fix it.

So, NOW!! Quick!! Before they fix it! Get out the telescope and cameras! (Although the view of Woodland Hills is nice…)

Except that, OF COURSE, every night since it went out has been cloudy and dark and it’s a big deal to kinda, sorta, maybe see the moon poking through the holes.

Who says that the gods don’t have a sense of humor?

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Aircraft On Mars

I’m assuming that everyone has heard that Ingenuity flew on Mars today, the first controlled, powered flight on another planet. But just in case – here’s the flight, as seen from the Perseverance  rover, parked a hundred yards or so away:

The Martian atmosphere is only 0.06% as thick as Earth’s, which is why most experts had always figured this wasn’t possible. But if you make your vehicle light enough and you spin counterrotating blades fast enough…

Powered up, lifted off, climbed to 3 meters (10 feet), hovered, did a 90° turn to the right, hovered some more, got buffeted about a few feet by the wind, corrected and came back, descended, landed, powered down. Perfectly textbook!

Looking straight down underneath Ingenuity, the navigation cam saw the helicopter’s shadow just a split second before touchdown. You can see the tips of the legs in the upper corners.

As always, it is truly a joy watching the team celebrating after they spent years of their lives planning these missions, building these spacecraft, and now seeing the results of their success.

Congratulations to the team at JPL, NASA, and the anthropomorphic spacecraft 153,000,000 miles from Earth and making history!



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Sixty Years Ago This Minute

Sixty years ago this minute, at 06:07 UTC, 23:07 PST, 02:07 EST, the first human being left the planet.

It was the height of the Cold War and the Space Race was 1% about exploration and 99% about ideology, superiority, and world domination. The Russians had shocked the world by putting the first satellite in orbit in 1957, leaving the Americans in the dust. Everyone knew that the next step would be to put a man into space. (And make no doubt, while today we talk about “crewed” spacecraft and “piloted” spacecraft, in 1961 it was a “manned” spacecraft.)

The Americans had introduced the Mercury 7 astronauts on April 9, 1959, but progress on the launch of the first Mercury astronaut had been troublesome, and public. American rockets blew up on national television.

The Russian space program was cloaked in secrecy. If they had problems, no one knew about it. But when they had success? Yuri Gagarin launched on Vostok 1 for a 108 minute flight, one orbit around the Earth, and became an international star and a name that would go down in human history.

We’ve come a long way. Tonight, ten humans from the US, Russia, and Japan, men and women, black and white, are on the ISS, and it’s been 20+ years of constant habitation.

Happy 60th!!

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Rising Full Moon – March

It was orange, and about 99% full, and bright, and orange, and right there outside the back window and over the hill and the San Fernando Valley.

The iPhone algorithm wants to make the whole scene bright, so it’s a long exposure and horribly overexposes the moon. The good news is that it saves some of the color.

The “good camera” (Canon Rebel XT DSLR with a 75-300 mm Tamron telephoto lens) set at 75mm does the same thing, but I can override that, manually focus, and so on. I just wish that I had had the time to grab and set up a tripod, but it was a complete spur of the moment opportunity.

But the really good part about digital cameras instead of film is that photons are dirt cheap, so if you shoot enough hundreds of photos in the five minutes you have, statistical fluctuations say that you’ll get one that’s decent. And that’s what I got – one.

I’m going to call that a win.

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Is Tomorrow The Big Day For SpaceX’s SN11

It could be – they’ve done a couple of static fires and they seemed to go well, no signs of any engine abnormalities.

There are road closures planned for tomorrow, as well as TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions) for tomorrow and Saturday.

Elon Musk is on his way to Texas.

The notice regarding road closures says that they’re for a static fire and a flight – that’s unusual, since the flight is usually a day or two after the static fire, not later in the day. We’ll see, but who am I to think that something outrageous and never done before won’t be done by SpaceX?

Keep tuned in tomorrow to the Lab Padre feed on YouTube, the NASASpaceflight channel (not actually associated with NASA, BTW) on YouTube, or, about ten minutes before launch, on SpaceX’s own feed on their website at

(I’m betting they launch about 1:45 to 1:55 in the afternoon, just because I’ll be somewhere I can’t watch for a couple hours around that time. Murphy’s Law…)

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ISS Pass – March 18th

Tonight’s pass was fairly low to the horizon and not that bright (low = lots of atmosphere to look through = dimmer), but the winds had died down and while it was cool (52°F), the crescent moon was up there, so let’s give it a try! Practice, practice, practice!

Not bad! Low, almost due west, climbing at a shallow angle up and to the right, where it doesn’t even get high enough to get above that huge pine tree across the street.

Image from

As the prophecy foretold!

Shift a little to the right as the ISS clears the big pine tree, only to watch it fade into orbital night just before it gets to the Italian cypress trees. The airplane track starting just above the cypress trees and heading north (bottom center)? That’s Fedex #1839 from San Diego to Oakland, at 36,000 feet.

But wait – there’s more!

The faint line coming from center upper right to center lower left? That caught my eye just as the ISS was fading. It’s going due north to due south, so it’s got to be some sort of polar satellite. Possibly a weather satellite, or a spy satellite. Possibly ours, possibly theirs. No clue.

But I shot a much longer string of photos, continuing after the polar satellite had faded into darkness. Merging all of them you can get a great view of how stars near Polaris, the North Star, the pole star (at the lower left) don’t appear to move at all in a time lapse photograph like this (they’re dots) while stars much further away from the pole (on the right) will trail into little arcs as the Earth turns beneath them.

Still can’t find Polaris? Here’s your handy-dandy tutorial, learned lo these many decades ago on some Boy Scout camping trip. Find the Big Dipper (outlined in magenta), it’s easy, a big, bright constellation. On the far end of the dipper portion are the two “pointer” stars. Follow the direction they point (green line) about five times the distance between the two pointers, and you’ll se the one semi-decently bright star in the area – that’s Polaris!

Now go back and blow up that first picture up above. Polaris here is to the upper right of the top of the telephone pole. Again, a dot, not an arc. Now look at the stars on the far left side. See how much they appear to have moved in the two minutes of time covered by this series of pictures?

Flat Earth my ass!

(Should be another great pass tomorrow night, much higher, much brighter!)


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ISS Pass – March 17th

As of 18:00 there were a few scattered high clouds and I thought it would be a great night to watch a fantastic ISS pass.

Image from app

At 19:45 I went out – and it was about 90% clouded over. Thin clouds, so I could see the moon and the brighter stars in Orion, Sirius, but that was about it. I figured I wouldn’t see much at all, but what the heck, give it a try, right?

DAMN! I love this new lens. It is a razor sharp light bucket. With the naked eye through those thin clouds I could see about four, maybe five of those stars…

The green blobby thing in the lower left is that damn street light – I would pay good money to be able to switch it off for about twenty minutes.

And that white & red & green streak coming from the bottom, straight to the top? Alaska Airlines #1495, out of LAX to Spokane.

Then the ISS was overhead…

The clouds were much thicker overhead, not nearly as many stars poking through as it headed off to the north (lower left).

Stupid trees. A quick shift of the tripod, and off the ISS went, fading into the orbital night just before it went behind the roof.

If you’re in Los Angeles, there are passes every evening through the 21st, with the best one on Friday night, the 19th at 19:56. (Can’t make this shit up… Some of you will understand. The rest of you – take my word for it.)

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Mars Delivers

In case you somehow missed it, here’s what it looks like to land on Mars:

And as if that wasn’t enough, for the first time ever we could hear what the wind sounded like on another planet:

And while that’s the icing on the cake for the clever critters who sent Perseverance, she’s also getting to work, raising her mastcam and antennae, sending panoramas back home so that the scientists can start to see what they want to look at and the drivers can figure out how to safely get there:

It was indeed a day of wonders. Welcome to Mars. Again.

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