Buran(s)

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Monday June 15 2015

It's okay, you can all stop emailing me this link now.

Actually, please don't - it's bloody fantastic.

In case you're not aware, a certain Ralph Mirebs somehow got access to a forgotten Baikonur hangar containing an under-construction Buran and a high-fidelity boilerplate stand-in, assuming I've parsed the machine-translated Russian correctly. And, having done so, he took lots of lovely photos.

I thought I knew all about the fate of this Soviet shuttle programme (it proved splendid reference for areas in Portal 2), but apparently they're really good at keeping intriguing things hidden at that Kazakhstan cosmodrome.

Exif tags suggest the images were taken back in May 2010, which kind of adds to the intrigue. How secret are these things?

I think I'm in love.

Covered in slowly-accumulating bird-shit and decades of miscellaneous detritus, but hidden nevertheless.

Glass cockpit? Kind of, if you ignore the holes.

Thanks to Steve K., another Steve K., Paul T., Jeff B., Laura D. and anyone else I've forgotten!

Also, I promise to start posting more regularly here. I'm building up a nice backlog of interesting things...

Analogue

posted in Photography by Cargo Cult on Sunday October 5 2014

That whole 'digital' idiocy was just a passing fad. Everyone, myself included, is going back to tried-and-tested film technology - with self-developed photographic emulsion, a camera older than me and enlargements made with a sodding huge framework of optical equipment and further trays of chemicals.

The monsters that ate Seattle. PCNW FTW, BTW.

Also of note: Agisoft PhotoScan, as used by some gloriously mad Poles to digitise themselves some chunks of environments. ... Please excuse this sudden intrusion of monstrous digital technologies. Ahem.

Intermittent Electronics

posted in Electronics by Cargo Cult on Sunday September 14 2014

Been slacking a bit. Will catch up with this blogging malarkey sooner or later. For now, have an unrepresentative prototype.

Rat's nest of wiring.

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...