Saturday, February 13, 2010

What's Up? Did Men Really Visit the Moon?

Welcome back to What's Up?

During the last few months, NASA's plan to get people back to the Moon has been under fire. It is said to be far behind and over budget. There are even rumours that the Obama administration is going to cancel the project altogether. Humankind returning to the Moon is well overdue, the last visit to the Moon was 38 years ago!

There is a growing number of people among the general public that believe NASA never sent astronauts to the Moon. This isn't some small fringe group anymore, there is actually a significant percentage of people who believe that the Moon landings were a big conspiracy.

A study in Russia found that 28% of Russians doubted that Americans had landed on the Moon and another study found 25% of Britons doubted the Moon landings. Even in the United States, about 25% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are not sure the Moon landings actually happened.

There are also quite a few documentaries regarding the possibility of faked Moon landings, but do they actually have any good arguments?

One of the most common arguments against the Moon landings is how the American flag appears to be waving in the wind in photographs. Since there is no air on the Moon, how could the flag stay up and ripple in the wind?

If you carefully examine the pictures of the flag, you'll notice that a rod goes along the top of the flag to hold it up. The reason that the flag looks like it's waving isn't quite so obvious. When the astronauts were opening the flag up the rod didn't extend all of the way and the flag retained its rippled appearance from being folded up in storage. Although the flag shook for a few seconds it stood still afterwards it may still be standing there to this day.

The rippling flag that wasn't actually rippling in the wind! What else do the Moon hoaxers have for evidence against the Moon landings?

In the pictures it has been noted that there are no stars visible in the photographs. Can this be explained?

If you've ever tried to take a picture of something well-lit with a dark background you'll notice that you can't see the background at all. This happens because the camera adjusts its shutter speed so it won't take in too much light and make the well-lit object in the foreground too bright. Since the camera doesn't take in as much light, anything in the background that is too dim will not appear in the image.

Speaking of pictures, why are there no pictures of the lander, rovers, and instruments left on the Moon?

Well, actually, there are! Just last year NASA sent up a probe that is orbiting the Moon taking pictures of the Moon's surface in high detail. In some of these images the lunar lander module can clearly be seen and even trails of footprints can be seen!

The landing gear from the Moon landings was never been imaged before that because the Moon is on average, about 385,000 km (240,000 miles) away. Earth based telescopes can't see details on the Moon much smaller than a kilometer because of Earth's turbulent atmosphere, while the space-based Hubble telescope can't look at the Moon because it's too bright.

The final nail in the coffin for the case against the Moon hoax is the fact that special reflective mirrors were placed on the Moon by the astronauts. When a powerful laser is pointed at these mirrors, the light bounces back and can be detected with a large telescope. When the laser is pointed somewhere else on the Moon, no detectable light reflects back.

While our thoughts are still on the Moon, let's see what's up this month.

There will be a new Moon on Feb. 13 and will swell to a full Moon by Feb. 28.

Mars will be visible high in the south-east while Saturn will be rising in the east after sunset. Jupiter and Venus may be visible setting in the west shortly after the sun.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club's monthly meeting will be on Feb. 28, the last Sunday of the month.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
Remember those Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity? They were originally planned to drive for 90 days but have been going for over six years! Spirit has been having a lot of trouble lately. It recently got stuck in some deep sand and isn't able to get out. It can watch the weather and scientists can still learn some things from the stationary rover. The big issue is winter on Mars. The sun is getting low in the sky and it's going to get very cold. Spirit will spend the winter hibernating and will hopefully wake up in the spring. Keep your fingers crossed for Spirit!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The European Extremely Large Telescope (ESO)

This will, by far, be the largest optical telescope in the world. Capable of detecting Earth-sized planets around other stars, imaging Jupiter sized extrasolar planets, examining the early universe and so much more, this is the telescope of the future. Check out the video above and the link below for more information.

There's a great writeup on here:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Obama's New Plan for NASA - Video

With the release of NASA 2011 budget and within it the plans to cancel Constellation, Obama made some decisions to make NASA operate differently. The new plan will allow NASA to focus on space exploration while encouraging the commercialization of space.

Also, check out this interview of Phil Plait discussing NASA's new budget and why it needs to be pushed through Congress:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Obama's new plan for NASA; Constellation cut

After much waiting and many rumours, it has finally been announced that in the 2011 budget Obama plans on cancelling the Constellation program. This program was designed to bring people back to the Moon but has been criticized for being way behind and lacking in innovation.

The first test-flight of the Ares I is seen in the above photo. The Space Shuttle is to the left. Credit: NASA

The new budget also contains many new ideas and approaches, many of which are supported by the Augustine commission, which Obama assigned to review NASA. This is a completely new path for NASA, one that has been needed since the end of the Apollo program, but has never been an option until now.

The budget outlines plans to use commercially available rockets to bring astronauts to the International Space Station and low earth orbit while NASA focuses on exploring beyond. In the budget, $6 billion dollars is to be invested over the next five years for commercial space flight. This extends the lifetime of the International Space Station to 2020, but will cost much less than it does currently.

There will be prize competitions just like the vertical take off and landing rocket competition in 2009. This will spur innovation and help new start-up companies as well.

These investments should create thousands of new high-tech jobs and should "spin off other new businesses that will seek to take advantage of new and affordable access to space.

Focussing on the Earth for a second (yes, the Earth is a planet too), NASA will be paying more attention to global climate change and its impact on our fragile world. To start, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory will be funded again. This satellite will shed new light on Earth's carbon cycle and monitor the changing amounts of carbon emissions world-wide.

Speaking of climate change, NASA will be focusing on "green aviation" and will work on technologies to "reduce fuel needs, noise, and emissions of aircraft."

Focussing on NASA's future in human space exploration are the following investments:

A $3 billion program over the next five years will feature robotic missions that will scout and explore new sites for humans to visit.

About $3 billion is going towards research and development of heavy lift rocket technology over the next five years. During that time there will also be $7.8 billion spent on new approaches to spaceflight, such as in-orbit fuel depots and propulsion systems for long distance space travel.

A few images of what future space propulsion technologies may look like. Credit: NASA

This is where NASA needs to be involved. NASA is the one that should focus on pushing boundaries and moving beyond current capabilities. The commercial sector will be a great way to shuttle astronauts up and down with just a little oversight from NASA.

SpaceX should be ready to launch astronauts within two, maybe three years. The cost per person? $20 million. That's half of what it costs to use the Russian rockets, and far, far less than the Space Shuttle. SpaceX expects to launch its first unmanned Falcon 9 this year.

Allowing commercial aerospace companies to run the shuttling of astronauts frees up NASA to explore. Exploration is the main purpose of the agency!

Of course, there are a few details to work out, but the overall idea sounds great.

As always, there is the opposition. The Constellation programs employs thousands and thousands of people; it's not going down without a fight.

When discussing Congress' silly ways of dealing with good NASA budgets, Phil Plait clearly states (and I agree):
"I’m pretty damn tired of that, and I’m going to do something about it. I’ll write my Congressmen, and I’ll tell them that the time for bending over backwards is long gone. It’s time to grow a spine, time for boldness, time for innovation. Whether people like it or not, this is the new budget being proposed, and if Congress wheedles over it, then yeah, NASA really will be screwed, and we’ll spend the next four decades circling our planet and gazing at the Moon, wondering when we’ll ever go back."
[Emphasis added]

In any case, if this gets pushed through it will (finally) start up the commercialization of space, bringing down cost and enabling something to get done rather than circling the Earth like a bunch of vultures waiting for NASA to die.

I desperately hope that this gets pushed through Congress. It's time for NASA to leave the front porch, hit the road, head to the Moon, nearby asteroids, and ultimately, Mars.