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.