Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Earth vs. Mars: Mars is Winning

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Humans have attempted to send 41 spacecrafts to Mars. Success rate? Yikes. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity Rover is the 42nd Mars mission, and also the largest craft ever sent from Earth to the Red Planet.

Click to see the amazing original at Space.Com!

All the artificial objects on Mars, compliments of NASA, RFSA, ESA and JAXA, come to about 18,000 pounds or 9 tons. It may still sound like a substantial heap of hardware, but it's a meager showing in contrast to other exploration sites.

The USSR sent 16 space crafts to Venus between 1966 and 1985; the USA sent 5 probes, all in 1978. The scattering of capsules, landers and even balloon gondolas, amounts to just under 50,000 pounds or 25 tons. The USA, USSR, Japan, the EU, India, & China now have 73 probes, [intentionally] crashed orbiters, landers, and rovers on the lunar surface, whereby our Moon holds a whopping 393,000 pounds of space crafts, or nearly 200 tons of human-made metal.

Given that Mars is the best option for ancient life or future life, why such a poor comparative showing?

Earth, Moon & Mars size comparison
It's certainly not for lack of trying, but the Mars success rate (even with generous "partial" successes) isn't even 50%! Only 13 out of 41 fulfilled their mission directives, while the majority of crafts have either failed to break Earth atmo, died somewhere along the journey, or suffered communication malfunctions, leaving their fates a mystery.

Even given these stumbles , I don't understand people who say odd things like "Oh my god, the new entry, descent and landing (EDL) sequence is untried!"

Hey, this is exploration. At one point or another, everything was untried.

Mars Orbit
Notable Martian successes include Viking I & II orbiters and landers (1975-82), Pathfinder and Sojourner (1997), Spirit and Opportunity rovers (2004-present), the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006) and the Phoenix lander (2008), which discovered subsurface water ice.

Notable failures... well, how much time you got? Not one single Mars craft sent by the Soviet Union or Russian Federation has ever fulfilled all mission objectives. Their latest didn't even make it past Earth orbit.

As for American missions, the most cringe-worthy was probably the Mars Climate Orbiter (1998-99), where different software outputs of both metric measures and imperial measures caused the craft to go off course into the atmosphere, where it disintegrated. Another major setback was the loss of communication with the Mars Polar Lander (1998-99).

Success or failure? It's always been less than a coin toss. By this time next week, we will know into which category Mars Curiosity shall fall! No pun intended.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Mars Curiosity Landing Parties

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I have a map addiction. I keep making them and people keep tweeting them, so I'll keep at it as long as I infer from this behavioral pattern that they are useful.

Here it is the third draft map of the Mars Curiosity Landing Parties in the United States, Canada, England and Australia! Please let me know of any others, and I will update the map daily as we countdown to the MSL touchdown on Mars, scheduled for August 5th.

Curiosity Rover Landing Parties
WHOA.

Many planetariums, science museums, independent astronomy groups and the Planetary Society are holding special events to watch and celebrate this risky new landing sequence... one thing is for sure, we will all either cry together or cheer together!

On the map, 62 events are noted thus far. PINK represents events by the space agencies, YELLOW indicates independent events by various science-oriented organizations, and GREEN indicates the linked parties being thrown for "Planetfest 2012" by the Planetary Society. (These, in turn, will be linked to the live feed at NASA JPL).

Mars Rover
NASA, in addition, is hosting the first suite of "simultaneous socials" at no less than six space agency centers, in order to start the buzz prior to the landing events:

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - California, lead center for 2-year mission
NASA Ames Research Center - California
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Maryland
NASA Glenn Research Center - Ohio
NASA Johnson Space Center - Texas
NASA Langley Research Center - Virginia

Quite the party! On Friday, August 3rd, varying amounts of invited guests at each site will be using Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus to promote the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), with hashtag #NASASocial.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quips & Quotes V

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"When I was growing up it was really cool to be a scientist or engineer. We need to make science cool again." ~ Sally Ride

"When you advance frontiers, heroes are made." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson


"It matters to me. People don't get in line to get autographs of the land rover." ~ Congressman Frank Wolf, in response to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's statement that it "didn't matter" if America or China got a manned mission to the moon.

"All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct." ~ Carl Sagan

Moon Beer
"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." ~ Author Douglas Adams

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another." ~ Plato

"Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming." ~ Werner von Braun

"It's human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice really: it's an imperative." ~ Astronaut Michael Collins

Astronaut
"We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special." ~ Stephen Hawking

"Every so often, I like to stick my head out the window, look up, and smile for a satellite picture." ~ Comedian Steven Wright

"The Mars research has advanced my life in no capacity. How has it helped your life? Looks like Arizona, tastes like chicken. Billions of dollars. I think we should just blow it up and sniff it as it drifts past." ~ Actor Charlie Sheen

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The End of the Ride

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The first American man in space and the first American woman in space are both gone; this is quite a sad day in United States history.

Sally Kristen Ride was selected in NASA Astronaut Group #8 in January 1978, which included the first six female astronauts. Ironically, this class of candidates was nicknamed "TFNG" -- which stood for "Thirty-Five New Guys".

Sally Ride
Left To Right in this amazing photograph are:
Shannon Lucid - 5 missions, first woman on long duration flight [Mir]
Rhea Seddon - 3 missions
Kathryn Sullivan - 3 missions, first American woman to perform EVA
Judy Resnik - 2 missions, perished aboard Shuttle Challenger
Anna Fisher - 1 mission
Sally Ride - 2 missions, first American woman in space

Those two missions were STS-7 and STS-41-G, both on Space Shuttle Challenger, and both with famed Commander Bob Crippen, in 1983 and 1984, respectively.

Group 8 NASA Astronauts
She was the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company she founded in 2001 that creates science programs and publications for schools, with a particular emphasis on girls, and encouraging them in STEM careers.

Sally Ride was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1988, inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003, and in 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzzeneger presented her with a medal confirming her induction into the California Hall of Fame, located at the California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.

Sally Ride and Arnold Schwarzzeneger
After 17 months of fighting pancreatic cancer, including surgery and chemotherapy, Sally Ride passed peacefully. She is survived by her 27-year partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, COO and Executive Vice President of Sally Ride Science.

RIP Sally. And from ALL the girls, thank you for your inspiration.

Friday, July 20, 2012

No More Moon Trips!

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So, on this Holiest of Days for space geeks everywhere, where we celebrate the landing of Americans on the moon, it may surprise some people to know:

Apollo Moon Landings
That's right. Support for space technology back then was about what support is for space technology now: plentiful among the science junkies, sparse among the average joes, judgmental, skeptical, and resounding with the ever-present squalls of "hey, that's taxpayer money!"

Yes. Yes, it is.

And you have a satellite TV, cellular phone, GPS, easy access to clean water, increased food availability, better weather warning systems, and advanced life-saving medical technology because of those precious tax-payer dollars spent on space. Be prepared to give all that up if you don't believe space is a worthwhile endeavour -- because satellites don't get into orbit by magic.

Terribly Dignified Apollo Astronauts
What, you don't trust us?

In 2003, the Division of Space History in the National Air & Space Museum (part of the Smithsonian Institution) released the "Public opinion polls and perceptions of US human spaceflight" which addresses the notions of massive support for Apollo that has inexplicably waned in modern times.

The somewhat lengthy but entirely-worth-reading (make a sandwich first) spaceflight study includes this stunning paragraph:

"Many people believe Project Apollo was popular, because it garnered significant media attention, but polls do not support a contention that Americans embraced the missions. Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969."


In other words, after a decade of having our asses handed to us by the Soviet space program, the mob only got on board that one day we finally had our own victory!



Where do Astronauts hang out? The Space Bar!
We waved our flags and patted ourselves on the back and smiled for the cameras. Then, everyone went back to bashing space, despite our modern lives being completely and utterly dependent on it.

You know, I was going to throw in some more pictures here and write some commentary about all this, but now I am too depressed to continue. So here's a song by Craftlass I'm downloading and singing along to while I drown my spacey sorrows... words and lyrics for Familiar Frontier are perfect for days like this one.

*sigh* ... Will we ever learn?


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hurr Durr Derp, Da Panits!

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I honestly don't even pretend to know what most of the DERP posters mean... in my day, we just said "DUH"! And the internet wasn't around, so we could share the DUH in person.

I thought this was quite interesting. Someone DERPed the entire solar system! And how gratifying to know that Plooter was included for the sake of the dwarf planet enthusiasts!

Hurr Durr Derp Da Panits
From all all of us here on Da Urff, a big welcome to any potential life on Markey, Veens, Mahz, Joop, Snatter, Anus & Nuptin!

Who knows, after a few more millennia of devolving into "Idiocracy", perhaps these will be the true spelling of our planets! ;)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Space Party ... Planet!

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*GROAN* ... but yeah, so may people have started to PLANET, my new map is growing daily.

Since I put the map online last week and tweeted the Google Link, folks have been sending more and more information -- and the number of Mars Parties have more than doubled!

Mars Curiosity MSL Landing Events
The count is now 56 events across the United States, 3 in Canada, 1 in the United Kingdom and 1 in Australia! I am sure there are more, so please keep those tweets and emails coming... it's not a stretch to think there are closer to 100 once we cover science organizations in every state.

Pink markers show official events by space agencies (NASA and CSA), green markers indicate the PLANETFEST 2012 linked events by the Planetary Society, and yellow markers indicate independent events held by planetariums, museums, universities, public libraries and even a couple of restaurants!

Between August 3rd and August 6th, find the Mars Curiosity Rover Landing Party near you!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Apollo Moon Tree Map

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Another map project! Added to the master list of Solar System walks all over the world, here are all the Apollo Moon Trees planted since 1974. I was very happy to visit 7 sites thus far, but I clearly have a long way to go, since there are 82 total!

Apollo Moon Trees Map
Apollo Moon Trees Map - Click to embiggen!

NASA Goddard has two wonderful pages covering First Generation Apollo Moon Trees, and later Second Generation Moon Trees seeded from the first. In addition, many people update the Moon Tree list on Wikipedia, and a happy group of geocaching adventureres consistently add materials to the Waymarkers Moon Tree Group.

Unfortunately, all the lists are different! While each is a good list to start with, none were complete, so I decided to try to research a comprehensive and updated map, which I will try to keep as current as possible.

Sacramento Capitol Building Moon Tree
Capitol Building Moon Tree, Sacramento, California
Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), 1976

In each listing, the waymark (if there is one) is noted with exact latitude and longitude coordinates, since lone trees can be more difficult to find than other facilities. Inside the map are exact addresses for the nearest street locale, if coordinates are not available.

Sometimes the listings can be confusing, so click into the links to read the stories. For instance, one person recruited to review my initial list told me, "You forgot the New Orleans moon tree!" Actually, I didn't. While NASA notes it being planted, it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and subsequently removed.

Another NASA listing notes a spot in Michigan, where a moon tree was accidentally cut down during building renovations. Yikes! ( Good thing they later applied for a second generation sapling, which was replanted nearby.) It's worth it to click around on the Pillownaut Map Page and the Google Map itself to ensure you have all the information before traveling.

Camilla Corona at Monterey Moon Tree
Mission Plaza Moon Tree, Monterey, California
Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), 1976

Note: My map does NOT list any moon trees at private residences around the country, because this is intended to be a travel guide to trees that are available for public viewing. I'm sure not sending tourists to anyone's back yard! Private residence trees, minus precise locations, are on the Moon Tree map on the NASA.gov server.

For a looks at some of the trees visited by Camilla Corona of NASA Goddard SDO, see this Apollo Moon Tree Picasa Gallery!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Moon Tree Road Trips!

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Seven trees down, 75 to go! I seriously bit off more than I could chew again. When I first learned about the Apollo Moon Trees, and resolved to go visit as many as I could, I figured there were a few dozen. The catalog wasn't all that long in 2009 when the tracking project revived.

Arcata California Moon Trees
Tree Hugger!!
Humboldt Moon Trees, Arcata, California
3 Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), 1974

While mapping all the moon trees in America and abroad, my list stretched to 80 in total! I'm glad to see more companies and universities submitting their records to be counted now, but I've since given up being able to see all of the known plantings.

So far, the most I have managed is six sites in California, one of which had multiple moon trees, and a seventh tucked away in the Grand Canyon State... not easy to find! Many of the resources online only give general whereabouts, so it often requires some detective work to find the right spots.

Folsom California Moon Tree
El Dorado Hills Moon Tree, Folsom, California
Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), 1976

In many cases, the trees are marked with signs, commemorating the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, when NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa took the 500 tree seeds into space; however, many gifted with moon tree saplings in the 1970s lament that their signs have eroded or been stolen over the years. In a few cases, the trees have perished, leaving only the paperwork behind... and in one case, I found a tree that died -- but the plaque was still there.

Happily, the largest contingent are trees that have flourished, growing taller in some cases than the "control trees" planted adjacent or nearby. In the case of all the California Giant Sequoias, micro-gravity clearly had no effect on the seeds! After planting, they thundered upward hundreds of feet, and there is no difference in their health as opposed to trees germinated on Earth.

Flagstaff Arizona Moon Tree
Thorpe Park Moon Tree, Flagstaff, Arizona
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii), 1976

The majority of the trees were planted during various American Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, as noted by their signs. However, the earliest were planted in 1974, and after a sparse smattering in the 80s and 90s, some of the second-generation moon trees were planted as recently as 2011.

The Sycamores seemed the hardiest species in terms of survival, followed by the Redwoods, then the Loblolly Pines and Douglas Firs. The Sweetgums seemed to fare the worst, with only two known specimens left in existence.

San Luis Obispo Moon Tree
Mission Plaza Moon Tree, San Luis Obispo, California
Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), 1976

Next up, I still have some road trips to see the trees in Lockeford and San Dimas; perhaps I'll even head north to see a few in Oregon...

To see all the California moon trees I've visited, and their signs, plus the one I visited in Arizona on the way home from driving to the STS-135 Space Shuttle Launch, go to the Pillownaut Picasa Gallery, or simply click on any of the pictures.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Apollo Moon Trees

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In February of 1971, Apollo 14 returned to Earth after the third lunar landing. Moonwalkers Alan Shepard (who was also the first man to play golf on the moon during the mission) and Ed Mitchell spent about 33 hours on the moon.

Tilden Park - Berkeley, CA Moon Tree
Tilden Park Moon Tree - Berkeley, CA

Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa, who remained in lunar orbit while his cohorts frolicked about Fra Mauro, took hundreds of redwood, sycamore, pine, fir and sweetgum tree seeds aboard the Kitty Hawk capsule, at the request of Forest Service employees. Upon return to Earth, the seeds were distributed to various communities, resulting in the "Moon Trees".

To the delight of many, nearly all attempts at germination resulted in healthy trees! Some were planted as experimental controls, alongside normal seeds, though many decades later there is no visible difference. The majority were distributed as seedlings, and planted in 1976 for bicentennial celebrations, though the List of Moon Trees records plantings from as early as 1973 and as late as 1984.

Bicentennial Moon Tree
Flagstaff, AZ Moon Tree

A few traveled to foreign nations, and still others found their way to universities, NASA centers, national parks and monuments -– including the White House.

The catch? They weren't tracked efficiently. Like the Goodwill Moon Rocks, an abundance of materials led the 1970s handlers to be casual about what would one day become a part of world heritage. To date, only one was ever deliberately removed – a New Orleans pine that was damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

Rosemary Roosa Moon Tree
Rosemary Roosa, beside the tree planted in honor of her father.
(Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia)

NASA.gov ran an article today, detailing the Race Against Time to Find Apollo 14's Lost Voyagers, and asks that everyone help find the Moon Trees that may still be unaccounted for. Despite knowing Roosa had "hundreds of seeds" on Apollo 14, only 68 are listed officially by NASA – and just 40 have been found and photographed by the Waymarkers Moon Tree Group.

If you know the location of any seeds, or where they were planted, curators at the National Space Science Data Center would love to hear from you. Join the Waymarkers to help search for more trees, and email NASA if you find one!