Intermittent Things - Soviet Space edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday November 17 2013

Why, hello. Remember this, where I'd post interesting links to interesting things on a regular basis? Perhaps restricting itself to posting in a purely arbitrary manner, it's back. And it has some things for us.

A '60s camper-van - in space!
Prior to the monstrous space-fungus infestation.
Galina Balashova, Space Architect - ever wonder how the curiously homely and retro-futuristic interiors of the Soyuz and other Soviet-era spacecraft came to be? Demonstrating that (despite countless other problems) the Soviet Union had the best visual designers, this curious archive of a near-forgotten architect's designs provides an intriguing glimpse into this cosmonautical age. Includes her watercolour paintings of Earthly scenes to comfort homesick cosmonauts...

Vyacheslav Mescherin Orchestra - EasyUSSR!

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Vyacheslav Mescherin Orchestra - the perfect backing tracks for viewing the above space-architecture, here's some authentic (and ridiculous) Soviet space music, via an entertainingly random BBC Radio 4 documentary. Cosmonaut and pioneer spacewalker Alexey Leonov, a personal friend of Mescherin, describes taking tapes of this stuff up into orbit. Awesome.

Dr. Bullock isn't crashing this one.

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Soyuz undocking, reentry and landing explained - most importantly, includes footage from inside the Soyuz capsule during re-entry and landing. Fancy. See also: the European ATV-4 burning up in the Earth's atmosphere, as seen from the ISS...

Bonus RJP Biological Horror Corner:

Gravity

posted in Media by Cargo Cult on Sunday October 6 2013

SPOILER WARNING: this article indirectly mentions major plot points in the film!

Alfonso Cuarón may not realise it, but he's a director of video game movies. But he's definitely no Uwe Boll.

I have a bad feeling about this mission...

As his Children of Men was the perfect film adaptation of Valve's Half-Life 2, effortlessly capturing its underlying world and themes, Cuarón's new Gravity is the perfect film adaptation of ... Kerbal Space Program. It somehow captures the grand-scale engineering, splendid vistas, the impossible rescues and the get-out-and-push attitudes present in the game. Oh, and the ever-present risk of everything going kerbal, this time helped along by the suitably named Kessler syndrome...

Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

A surprisingly small and intimate film, the impossibly massive visual design of disaster, void and engineering is somehow dwarfed by a single character - whose redemption is the very heart of the story. For all the expectations of it being a turgid, deadly serious semi-documentary about real-world spaceflight, it's a remarkably quirky, human and, in places, really funny film.

Go see it in 3D. Go see it for Cuarón's trademark impossibly-long-takes combined with absolutely cutting-edge CGI and aggressively perfect sound design - the first few minutes of the film are entirely silent, the first time I've ever heard a typically noisy American cinema audience almost perfectly noiseless. In space, no-one can hear you scream - and Houston ain't listening either.

At a guess, roughly 95% of the film is CGI. It's mostly a big long computer animation with bits of some actors occasionally composited into the scene. But you can't tell.

Hatch in background added for plot purposes.

Readers may have noticed that I'm something of a space nut. So one of my biggest questions going into the film was how accurate was it going to be. The answer? If you consider it to be taking place in a parallel universe, with a manned space program similar (but by no means identical) to our own, then it's quite accurate to whatever their space program might involve. Commentators have pointed out the impossibility of an easy orbital transfer between our Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station, but in a universe where Space Shuttle Explorer is capable of orbital flight, Soyuz has an extra escape hatch, Sokol space suits have detachable helmets, umbilicals and flexibility in vacuum, and Tiangong is bloody enormous - perhaps they launched such craft into near-identical orbits? I was half-expecting this to be lampshaded with a line about it making rescue much easier should a shuttle be damaged.

Samantha Cristoforetti showing how it's done.

There are plenty of deviations from 'real' spaceflight. But it was quite obvious the necessary homework had been done, and facts carefully tweaked to better suit the story. Yes, there were a few instances of orbital mechanics don't work that way, but in a way, the film isn't about spaceflight. The plot is small, but the film is only 91 minutes long - perhaps intentionally close to the orbital period of the International Space Station.

I have this strange sensation of it being an understated, beautiful little art-house tale about loss and recovery, impossibly given life through the most terrifyingly vast engineering and vistas imaginable. I suppose it's no coincidence that this monster has a tiny, arty sibling.

I need to see Gravity again. Before I'm tempted to recreate the whole thing in KSP...

Sunday Things - catchup edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Thursday October 3 2013

Oh hello. This still on? Apologies for the extended silence - no real excuse, beyond being busy with loads of stuff at work and in my spare time. Working on a personal Flickr-replacement for one. With that vague justification, have some links!

Box. Not a companion cube. Box.

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Box - some kind of Aperture Laboratories space-folding super-experiment? Effectively an advert for some super-fancy motion control robotic arms. Possibly used on Gravity.
NOT A PUNCTURE NOT A PUNCTURE
Yes, there seems to be a hole in Curiosity's left front wheel, and no, that's not a problem - absolutely nothing to worry about. That Mars Science Laboratory robot can run just fine on oval wheels, square wheels or just the titanium spokes, thanks to some seriously torque-y motors. It's really been motoring recently. Also, while NASA is partially closed, JPL's still going!

The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral

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Digital Grotesque - 3D printed architecture. Giger meets gothic, pretty much.
Please don't switch the ASAS off again!
Real-life Jebediah Kerman - most definitely in possession of the Right Stuff, sadly he never made it to orbit due to a severe back injury.

Bonus Buran Corner:

  • The life and death of Buran, the USSR shuttle built on faulty assumptions - nice summary of the one-flight Soviet marvel. Why did the USSR need a Shuttle? Well, the Americans had one, and presumably they knew what they were doing. (Spoilers: they didn't.)
  • Buran - nice compendium of Buran, Energia and Polyus footage. With inexplicable techno. unf unf unf unf unf
  • Energia: The Last Big Rocket - Buran was just a payload. Giant wall of text about the underlying launch system, including why it was so important to the aforementioned MSL Curiosity...

Sunday Things - Monday edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Monday September 9 2013

Is this Sunday Things late - or exceptionally early? You decide. I still have four minutes left of Monday. So there!

In media news, go see Upstream Colour, from the creator of Primer. People claim it's inscrutable and overly mysterious; I found it fantastic and pretty straightforward to follow. Probably because I've already been fascinated by slightly-spoilery stuff on Wikipedia.

I wonder if today's technology will ever look this strange.
Stalin's Rope Roads - the mining town of Chiatura, Georgia (no, not that one) is laced together with elderly, Soviet-era cablecars. Lovely.
Nuclear suburbia.
The Cold War Bunker That Offered Subterranean Suburbia Below Las Vegas - like something straight out of Fallout, this bunker would allow its occupants to live out the apocalypse in style. The British approach was far less luxurious.
Coming soon to BBC Four - Danish sci-fi?
Rocket Shop - eat your heart out, Kerbal Space Program - Copenhagen Suborbitals is here, and making their own spacesuits. I've yet to decide if this inexpensive suborbital space programme is amazing or terrifying. Possibly both. via phuzz

Bonus Analogue Video corner:

  • Scan Processor Studies - whatever a 'Rutt-Etra Scan Processor' is, I want one.
  • Synaesthesia - 'a Grass Valley video switcher console with input from a studio camera aimed at a monitor' - again, I don't think it's supposed to do that...

Sunday Things - glory to Arstotzka edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday September 1 2013

Been busy simulating US border control, thanks to the glorious Papers, Please. Anyhow. Sunday things!

Clever girls.
Use of location (relative direction and distance) information by jumping spiders (Araneae, Salticidae, Phidippus) during movement toward prey and other sighted objectives (PDF) - in other words, a huge paper on quite how clever jumping spiders are, and how they might be using their decidedly nifty visual systems. Their prey-following abilities seem distinctly reminiscent of computer game NPC AI for a start. BBC News Online recently claimed jumping spiders' '"adjustable silk tension" could provide "biological inspiration" for future manoeuvrable robot design'. Oh yeah.

Claustrophobia, anyone?

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How to put on a space suit - great footage of Russian Orlan spacesuit training. I love the wood panelled corridors and the Soviet-era instrument panels. Star City!
As terrifying as it looks.
Remember the NAR Lunar Flying Unit from last week? Yeah, I built it in Kerbal Space Program. Ridiculously dangerous, but I managed to fly it 50km-plus across the Mün before safely landing near to another lander. Wahey! I've been getting pretty good at landing things up there...

Bonus Death and Gravity corner:

  • Gravity - "I've Got You" - small, terrifying smidgen of Alfonso Cuarón's upcoming space-o-matic film. May be considered vaguely spoilery.
  • Gravity - "Detached" - more space! It probably says something that I discovered the existence of these new videos via an ESA blog.