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Posts tagged ‘NASA’

Astronomy Hints #2: Your telescope will not see the Apollo remains on the Moon.

Those who know even  little bit about telescopes will be flabbergasted that this question even gets asked, but it does. Every now and then someone asks us in the store or via email  “Will this telescope will let me see the Lunar Lander/Flag on the Moon?”

After first resisting the urge to Facepalm we then go on to explain why this is not going to happen with pretty much any telescope used on Earth, or heck even from telescopes in orbit.

First of all go to Google Images and look for telescope images of the Lunar Lander remains. You won’t find any. The shots that come up from such a search are from the Lunar Reconnaissance  Orbiter that photographed the Lunar      Surface FROM LUNAR ORBIT in 2009. Keep in mind that the LRO was probably in a lower orbit  than the spy satellites we use around Earth and it still has the Lander remains showing up as a few pixels casting a longer shadow. This was all that the probe in Lunar orbit could do. The Hubble couldn’t even do that, and your terrestrial-based telescope can’t either.

Why not? Well it all comes down to a little things called resolution. What that means is how much your telescope can differentiate one object from another, or how small an object you can see. Resolution is measured in parts of a degree called arc seconds. How much this resolution translates to size depends on how far the object being viewed is from you. Close to the telescope and you can count individuals’ buttons on someone’s shirt,  get to deep space and that same resolution now makes up billions of miles.

For the Moon?  Well, a large home telescope (12″ or larger), under perfect circumstances has  maxed out viewing limit of .5 arc seconds. Sounds good (and it is) but once you get just to the Moon that .5 arc seconds is measured in miles. Keep in mind that the Lunar lander was only a few yards across!

Simple logic and common sense should tell most folks this if they think about it, but we are often told tales of spy satellites that can read our license plates from orbit, or have it in our heads that optics work the way we want rather than being governed by certain optical laws. It doesn’t help that cheap department store telescopes often come in boxes that show pictures of the Moon taken from the Apollo landers!

BTW, do not expect to see the flag on the Moon. Ever. The flags were made of plastic and have been bombarded with direct UV for over 40 years. The result has most likely destroyed the flags. The footprints the astronauts left on the moon will last for ages – the plastic flags they hung up? Not so much! UPDATE – 7/31/2012. Seems that is wrong, the flags are still there!


Fare thee well Shuttle Program

STS-135 Landing

And with the landing of STS-135 the NASA Space Shuttle program comes to and end.The Space Shuttles served as the US’s space transport for over 30 years.

Now the shuttles will become museum pieces in the  California Science Center in L.A., The Smithsonian, The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space  Museum in  New York City, and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Shuttle parts and trainers will also be sent to flight museums in Seattle, Ohio, Houston, Huntsville, and other locations.



I was honestly expecting this launch to be delayed again, given the disruptive weather. But the last Space Shuttle launched yesterday.

Paper Space Models!

So, are you the type who likes to make stuff with your hands? Have you ever done Origami? If you have or you haven’t you can still have fun putting together some paper models of NASA Space Probes! You can download any fifteen paper model pdf’s, print them out  and fold them into space probes like the Mars Express shown on the right or probes the Cassini, Galileo, NEAR and others. There is even a balloon powered nanorover (you have to provide the balloon – they are not downloadable yet).

The skill level varies from the simple to the challenging. So start out with a simple Cassini model and work your way up to the challenging Galileo probe! Enjoy!




STS-135, The Last Space Shuttle Flight on July 8th

There’s nothing more to say than to say it: The last Space Shuttle flight will take place on July 8th, 2011. After that it will be some time before American’s are in space via NASA rocketry. The Space Shuttle program first started in the aftermath of the end of the Apollo missions. Part of the concern was the fact that most of the Apollo missions went up on huge rockets and only tiny modules would return. Since the Moon was no longer an objective the Shuttle was designed as a workhorse rocket that would have reusable parts (boosters, the Shuttle itself). After some tests (such as the famous non-operational glider decoupling and landing of the Shuttle Enterprise) the Shuttle first flew in April 12 1981. It would continue for over 30 years.

There were bumps in the road, the Challenger Disaster in 1986 on take-off and the Columbia burn-up in reentry in 2003 were major setbacks that resulted in major delays. The biggest problem was that the shuttle was never the ‘Space Truck’ NASA hoped it would be. Initial plans hoped for dozens on flights each year, instead of an average of  just over flights per year.  But still, it got things done.The fleet is also a bit long in the tooth, and the (accurate) joke about the Shuttle’s computer is that the most powerful computers on board are the laptops the astronauts bring with them. The joke started in the early 90’s to put that in perspective.

Right now NASA is still trying to figure out what will replace the Shuttle program. The previous program was canceled after major delays and cost-overruns turned it into a boondoggle. Time will tell what comes next.

Voyager Space Probes at the edge of our Solar System

Launched in 1977, the Voyager Space Probes I and II are making their merry way out of our Solar System. They are presently hitting a ‘bubble’ of charged particles put out by our sun that most astronomers consider to be the borderline between our Solar System and deep space.

NASA artist rendering of VoyagerVoyager Space probes are expected to still have power until about 2025. After that they will simply be drifting further into interstellar space towards nearby stars, but even at 38,000 mph it will take tens of thousands of years to get there. What shape the probe (besides electronically dead) will be in by that time is anyone’s guess

Read more….


50th Anniversary of Man In Space

50 years ago today Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Until that time, only unmanned satellites and experimental animals had been sent up into space. It was a major coup in the Space Race for the USSR. Less than 1 month later, the USA sent up Alan Shepard , although his flight was suborbital.

There were other differences in the two flights as well: Shepard had some control over his flight, wheras Gagarin’s was completely automated. Shepard also splashed down in the Ocean wheras Gagarin bailed out of his Vostok 1. This detail was kept quiet by the USSR since the required standard for a successful spaceflight was that the craft would land on its own. Although this was a ‘violation’ of the Spaceflight standards of the time,  only a few people have since made much of an issue of it and Yuri is generally considered the first man in a successful spaceflight.

Unlike Shepard, Gagarin also never returned to space, and he died in a plane accident in 1968. In the years since the Soviet Union collapsed, rumors have surfaced that other Cosmonauts were sent into space before Gagarin but did not survive – their failure being hushed up by the tight-lipped Soviet Union. The facts are that such dead cosmonauts were either fictional, died on Earth, or were dismissed for misbehavior.

So here’s to 50th years of Manned (if automated) Spaceflight!