Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Brief History of the Soviet Space Shuttle Buran, Part One: Guest Post by Jay Chladek

Occasionally this blog features writing by other space historians and figures. During the next two weeks, I am proud and honored to present a history of the Soviet Buran space shuttle by someone who knows an awful lot about it. Here's the dirt on everybody's favorite shuttle, by space historian Jay Chladek:
 
A Brief History of Soviet Space Shuttle Buran, Part One (CLICK FOR MORE AFTER THE JUMP!) 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Viking Vibes and Mars Memories: Viking Forty Years Later, Part Three

NASA image: "Mariner 4 image, the first close-up image ever taken of Mars. This shows an area about 330 km across by 1200 km from limb to bottom of frame, centered at 37 N, 187 W. The area is near the boundary of Elysium Planitia to the west and Arcadia Planitia to the east. The hazy area barely visible above the limb on the left side of the image may be clouds. This portion of the feature has been enhanced in image m04_01h to bring out more of the haze-like features. The resolution of this image is roughly 5 km and north is up. (Mariner 4, frame 01D)"
More Space Myths Busted: There Were Mars Missions Years Before Viking

I was reading an online article recently (source redacted) that characterized the Vikings as the first robotic missions to visit Mars. While the Vikings made the first successful landings (read: returning useful data) upon the Red Planet, they were far from the first spacecraft to explore our planetary neighbor.

Several efforts to investigate Mars had been made by both the United States and the Soviet Union well over a decade before Viking 1 sent back its first image (of its foot!) on July 20th, 1976. This blog post seeks to survey these missions, and their results (successful, or not). 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Viking Vibes and Mars Memories: Viking Forty Years Later, Part Two - Did Viking Discover Life On Mars?

Viking 1 surveys the "Big Joe" rock at Chryse Planitia. NASA image.
You should go there, it is so nice, Mars.
You should be there, it's out of sight, Mars.
You should see it, it ain't so high, Mars.
You should be there, up in the sky, Mars.
- Title track from Dexter Wansel’s Life On Mars LP, 1976

Throughout the 1970s, pop culture references to “life on Mars” were inescapable. The late David Bowie sang about it on his album Hunky Dory, and musician Dexter Wansel even made a sci-fi funk album called Life On Mars, released in 1976 (the year of Viking). Science fiction, of course, had bandied about the possibility of “little green men” on our neighboring planet for decades.

But did Viking really discover life on Mars, in any way, shape, or form? Did the “little green men” exist on a microbial level? This debate continues to this day. Read on, and make your decision:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Viking Vibes and Mars Memories: Viking Forty Years Later, Part One

From NASA: "Taken by the Viking 1 lander shortly after it touched down on Mars, this image is the first photograph ever taken from the surface of Mars. It was taken on July 20, 1976." Image Credit: NASA 
“Time and time again I repeat, ‘It’s incredible.’ And it truly is. Nothing before or after can compare. It is transparent, brilliant, boundless. An explorer would understand. We have stood on the surface of Mars.” - The late Thomas A. “Tim” Mutch, leader of the Viking Lander Imaging Team, discussing his reaction upon seeing Viking 1’s first image
I can’t speak for others, but for me, the Viking program had the biggest cultural impact on how I viewed planetary spaceflight. While the Viking landers weren’t able to rove beyond their landing sites, and couldn’t take cool “selfies” upon the Martian surface, the images from school science books and the January 1977 issue of National Geographic forever made an impact on my mind: something from Earth had made it to a neighboring planet, landed successfully, and made its home there permanently. Along with the two Voyagers and ESA’s Giotto, the Vikings fired my imagination, making it seem as if the Solar System was wholly explorable. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Space Myths Busted: Buran Isn't This New Thing, People Have Known About This For Decades, And No, I Won't Write A Feature-Length Article About It

From Wikipedia: "Visitors at the 38th Paris International Air and Space Show at Le Bourget Airfield line up to tour a Soviet An-225 Mechta aircraft that is carrying the Space Shuttle Buran on its back." Posted by Master Sgt. Dave Casey on Wikipedia Commons.
I figured while I still have an audience after Spacefest VII (praise the Lort, I didn’t scare anyone off), I might as well address the dozens of links many have seen on Space Hipsters concerning the Soviet Buran space shuttle, and the copious requests I’ve received to write an article/articles about that subject. I’ll proceed with this anatomy of a year-long struggle, and underscore how one space program caused me to lose some sleep, not enjoy life anymore, and cause me to inadvertently amass what is probably the largest Buran paraphernalia collection in the United States… CLICK HERE, YOU WON’T EVEN BELIEVE WHAT IS UNDER THE JUMP! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

You All Need To Know: Skylab Had A Superbadass Solar Telescope

From NASA: "This photograph of the sun, taken on Dec. 19, 1973, during the third and final manned Skylab mission (Skylab 4), shows one of the most spectacular solar flares ever recorded, spanning more than 588,000 kilometers (365,000 miles) across the solar surface."
Although its images are largely superseded by ones obtained by modern solar observatories (such as NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory), America’s first space station, Skylab, returned some pretty badass images of our closest star for its time, and had a pretty superbadass, human-helmed solar observatory, the first ever (and only, as far as I know) of its kind.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Remembering The World's Greatest All-Electric Flying Machine: An Interview with "Into The Black" Author Rowland White

From NASA, March 1981 photo: "The space shuttle orbiter Columbia is showered with lights in this nocturnal scene at Launch Pad 39A, as preparations are underway for the first flight (STS-1) of NASA's new reusable spacecraft system. Astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen are in training for the flight." 
Today, we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the launch of the first U.S. space shuttle mission, STS-1. While many associate this historic event with John W. Young and Bob Crippen, often major players in space shuttle development (both human and machine) are lost in the program's dense, decades-long history. 
Rowland White's book Into The Black launches on Tuesday, April 19th, days after the 35th anniversary of Columbia's iconic first flight. Photo Credit: Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster
Enter author Rowland White, whose book, Into The Black, will be published in hardcover by Touchstone Books on Tuesday, April 19th. The book's foreword was written by astronaut Richard Truly, himself an STS-1 backup crew member. His book gives due credit to the figures who were, in many ways, just as responsible for the success of the first, very risky "test" flight. In addition, the book examines the complicated relationship between the "black" National Reconnaissance Office and how it contributed to one of NASA's finest missions (which, very possibly, could have turned into a tragedy). 

This Space Available was fortunate to interview White about Into The Black. Note: minor book spoilers included.