Sunday, June 14, 2009

We're Finally Going Back to the Moon

With the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States of America began. Each tried to do something new in space before the other. In the beginning the Soviets were well ahead. They even got the first person into space, but this didn’t deter the Americans.

Before America put a single person into orbit they had created the Apollo program to send people to the Moon. This wasn’t just for science or for exploration; it was to show America's superiority over Russia and the world.

Later, when the United States’ Space Shuttle program started, the Soviets tried to keep up, but the Soviet Union crumbled and all plans were abandoned. This effectively ended the space race. After that, the United States and Russia have cooperated in low Earth orbit with the Russian Mir space station and more recently the International Space Station.

There hasn’t been any political motivation to reach farther, go back to the Moon, visit the asteroids, or go to Mars. NASA is currently planned to return to the Moon in 2020 and to go to Mars by the late 2030’s. It won’t be a space race, but it will still be exciting as the first person leaves Earth, crosses millions of miles of empty space, and sets foot on another planet for the very first time.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the first NASA spacecraft sent to the moon in many years, is expected to launch June 17, 2009. It will spend its time orbiting the Moon, mapping its surface in high detail and searching for water hidden in the dark lunar craters near the southern and northern poles. It carries with it a probe which will impact the moon. The dust plume that will result from the impact will be examined for water and other compounds.

NASA's Constellation program is making fairly good progress with the first test launch of the Ares I-X rocket planned for this summer. The rocket will test the main rockets and will have weight added to the top to simulate the crew and a payload. It will fly on a ballistic trajectory and land in the Atlantic Ocean. The first manned flight of the Ares-I will occur no earlier than 2014 and the first test flight of the Ares-V heavy lift rocket will happen no earlier than 2018.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Immensity of the Universe is Staggering

This video puts the size of the planets, stars, and the universe in perspective for anyone who believes that they live at the center of the universe.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's Up? What Does it Take to Become an Astronaut?

Welcome back to What's Up?

Last month, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched, carrying Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk along with two other astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This brings the ISS crew up to six for the first time ever. Another first was having a member from all five contributing space agencies in space at the same time. They are NASA (United States), the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japanese space agency (JAXA), and the Russian space agency (RKA).

Astronauts are routinely seen on the news floating around, smiling, and generally having a good time. It sometimes looks like it would be rather easy to become an astronaut. This brings up the question, what does it actually take to become an astronaut?

In order to apply to be a Canadian astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) you must be in great physical condition. To meet the minimum physical and medical requirements you must be between five feet and six feet three inches tall, have 20/20 vision (glasses are allowed), great hearing, and you must have a healthy blood pressure (and preferably not prone to panic attacks).

On the intellectual side you must either have a license to practice medicine, a bachelor's degree in science or engineering, or preferably, a PhD (highest degree possible) in a scientific field. Having a pilot license or being a fighter pilot can really help.

After the applicants are narrowed down to a few hundred, many psychological tests are done to see who is fit to spend long durations of time in a confined space with other people.

Once that is done, more psychological tests are done, as well as physical tests, such as swimming, running, strength, endurance, etc. Mental tests as well as emergency training drills dealing with fire, being trapped underwater, and survival tests are conducted.

The CSA then narrows the choices down to 16 highly skilled people. They get to go through parts of astronaut training. More physical and mental tests are conducted, until finally, after months of testing, two astronauts are chosen.

The CSA just selected two new astronauts on May 13 from a list of over 5000 applicants. It was the first Canadian astronaut recruitment in 16 years. The two selected Canadians are extremely intelligent, physically fit, and are already highly accomplished people.

The two new astronauts are Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques.

Jeremy Hanson, from London, Ontario, has a Bachelor of Science in Space Science and is an award-winning fighter pilot and is currently working as a combat operations officer in Cold Lake, Alberta.

The other astronaut chosen, David Saint-Jacques has a PhD in astrophysics and is currently a medical doctor working in Quebec.

Half of the 16 candidates are military pilots, some have a medical degree, and nearly all have a degree in science or engineering.

Any person who wishes to become an astronaut must be highly intelligent, physically fit, a great team worker, and a very skilled problem solver.

These are the people who are risking their lives to move humankind from this speck of dust we call Earth, to the final frontier.

There is nothing stopping those of us who wish to look upward, so let's see what's up this month.

The Space Shuttle will launch this month, on June 13 and will head up to the International Space Station.

NASA is also set to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 17. It is the first probe that NASA has sent to the Moon in many years. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will map the moon in detail and look for water ice that may be lurking in deep craters near the north and south poles of the moon.

The moon will start off the month as a full moon on June 7. This will change to a new moon by June 22.

Saturn will spend the month in the south-western sky after sunset. It has been dimming and will continue to dim for the next few months. If you have access to a telescope this month, check out the rings, they are very close to being edge on and appear much thinner than usual.

Jupiter will be rising shortly after midnight and will be the brightest object in the sky (except for the moon) at the time.

Venus and Mars will spend the month next to each other in the east just before sunrise. Venus will be a brilliant white or yellow while Mars will be a dim orange.

Starting June 17, the Athena Community Astronomy Club will be spending every Wednesday evening this summer on the Summerside boardwalk near the shipyard market. Come by for a peek through a telescope at Saturn, the Moon, or whatever else may be up in the sky that night.

Finally, the monthly club meeting will be held on June 28 at the Wilmot Community Center.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
One of the Mars rovers, named Spirit, a remote controlled vehicle with cameras, is stuck in very slippery sand. They used the robotic arm with a camera at the end to take a look at how far the wheels have sunken into the sand. As well as being stuck, the solar panels that Spirit uses to get energy from the sun were covered in dust. Recently a gentle gust of wind blew them clean. It appears that Spirit has a good chance of getting unstuck. Just remember, when traveling to Mars, make sure you bring your winter tires.