posted in Space by Cargo Cult on Friday September 7 2012


Telemetry indicates that the robot naming itself 'MSL Curiosity' has gained self-awareness and is now observing itself using its own imaging hardware.

Fortunately it has yet to figure out that its camera is upside-down, and with the dust-covered lens-cover in place. And, if it starts randomly shooting things with its laser, it's a very long way away. Phew.

Edit 2012-11-03: much clearer (and newer) imagery here!

Sunday Things - accidental space edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday September 2 2012

I was going to create a list of non-space-oriented links, but one thing led to another, and before I knew it I had nothing but. I'm obsessed!

Reprocessed space imagery - courtesy of ugordan, some beautifully composed pictures of gas giants, planetary rings, moons and comets via the raw image archives of Cassini-Huygens and other missions.

Cassini Mission

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Cassini Mission - near-timelapse of some of the aforementioned raw imagery, this time with very little processing. Witness cosmic rays speckling against the CCD, sensor noise and dark current, the faint sunlight flaring in the lenses, end-of-line compression artefacts... A quick behind-the-scenes description.

Manually-controlled ascent to orbit. Sounds accurate?
Lunar Escape Systems - proposal for an emergency escape-to-orbit vehicle for astronauts on (subsequently cancelled) long-duration Apollo missions. Hair-raising, but perhaps preferable to being abandoned on the moon...

Rocket stepladder, anyone?
Saturn 1B - so, you've got a rocket that's got an Apollo-derived manned system on the top, but it's only for reaching low Earth orbit. How to get your shrunken rocket apparatus to interface with a Saturn V's launch tower? Easy!

Bonus Interactive 360º Science corner:

  • Space Shuttle Discovery - full panorama of the decommissioned Shuttle's flight-deck.
  • CERN - exploring various areas deep inside the LHC and elsewhere, complete with ambient audio.
  • MSL Curiosity - full-colour interactive panorama of Bradbury Landing. Rover now on the move!

Neil Armstrong - 1930-2012

posted in Obituaries by Cargo Cult on Sunday August 26 2012

Apollo 11


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Neil Armstrong - 5 August 1930 - 25 August 2012

Sunday Things - nuclear propulsion edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday August 19 2012

While reading up on the oft-mentioned MSL Curiosity and its nuclear-fuelled RTG power supply, I got distracted by some altogether less safe nuclear options starting with the heady days of the Cold War...

No, not MINERVA.
NERVA - or Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application - a programme to develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine, later deemed suitable for a putative manned mission to Mars, and then cancelled in order to avoid the cost of that manned mission to Mars. The test rockets looked terrifying - and of course the Soviets didn't want to be left behind...

Nuclear fallout is someone else's problem.
Project Orion - the mother (and father, and three-headed irradiated child) of potential nuclear rocketry, this would have worked by dropping small nuclear bombs behind the spacecraft, exploding them and riding the resulting shockwave on a gigantic, spring-loaded plate. While it would have succeeded in launching frankly implausible masses into orbit and beyond, it would also have produced plenty of radioactive fallout - though not as much as the nuclear war they were expecting...

All pilots are equipped with Pip-Boy 3000s.
Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion - prior to the invention of the rapid-delivery ICBM, keeping one's nuclear bombs on near-endlessly-flying nuclear bombers seemed like an eminently sensible thing to do. Perhaps fortunately for everyone involved, a test flight with an operational but otherwise unconnected nuclear reactor showed protecting the crew from irradiation was too impractical to warrant further development.

Not developed by the Weyland Yutani Corporation.
Project Prometheus - moving close to the present day, instead of an interstellar mission to disregard sensible quarantine procedures, a bid to combine a nuclear reactor with ion thrusters to send giant, unmanned space probes to the outer solar system. Cancelled, due to budgetary issues. Of course. We did get the solar-powered Juno, currently en route to Jupiter!

Bonus Martian Humour corner:

Sunday Thing - miniature Mars Science Laboratory edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday August 12 2012

Previously, details of landings on alien planets were left to the imagination.

The barest minimum of links this week, thanks to an extended trip to Canada - so, here goes. Want updates on NASA and JPL's daring Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover on Mars? Try the Planetary Society's extensive blogs, complete with gloriously excessive detail and insider information. Need raw imagery for stitching into fancy new panoramas and the like? Look at the Raw Image Library on the MSL site. Would rather see pre-constructed panoramas and other enthusiast-produced visualisations? The Unmanned Spaceflight forums definitely win at that.

One of my Intended Career Paths in the distant past was to become some kind of planetary scientist, exploring the surfaces of our nearby planets. Unlike distant stars or exoplanets, we have the ability to get up close - while walking on the surface of, say, Mars is perhaps many decades away, that doesn't stop us from poking remotely controlled cameras wherever we like, be it Venus, Mars or even Titan...