Category Archives: Space Travel

Science Sunday – A Year in Space

Continuing this ongoing weekly series, I share a major science news story from the past week, but I let the video tell the story.

This week, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth after spending 340 days on the International Space Station. This mission is especially interesting because Kelly’s twin brother, Mark Kelly, was down here on Earth, and they’re comparing the changes in Scott’s body with his twin. This mission was a year-long experiment to help prepare for the upcoming manned Mars mission. You can read NASA’s story on this mission here.

The video is a bit long, but it shows you the return of Kelly and Kornienko to Earth.

Scott Kelly says that he has mixed feelings about the end of the mission. I can understand that, having mixed feelings about our move to Canada. He’s lived on the station for nearly a year, and it had become his home.

Comments are greatly appreciated! Would you consider spending a year, or even just a month, in space? Let me know in the comments below.

Science Sunday – To Mars In a Few Days

NASA 360 released a video about a week ago talking about new propulsion technology that could propel a robotic space probe to Mars in only a few days. To send a larger manned spacecraft to Mars, it would take about a month. That’s a lot better than the few months it already takes to send a space probe there.

How is it done? Lasers. This video introduces the concept, but you have to go elsewhere to watch the full talk.

Here’s the full talk in Seattle last year. There are several videos that cover different aspects of this topic.

What do you think of this topic? Would you like to see this technology happen? Let me know in the comments below.

Ever Seen a Rocket Stage Separation? Not Like This!

It’s common to see video of rocket stage separations. Rockets have video cameras installed in them so you can watch the separation. Engineers use the video footage to analyse how well the separation happened, and to discover any problems. It’s very useful in failed separations. But take a look at this video of a UP Aerospace launch for NASA to launch the Maraia Earth Return Capsule.

The following video focuses on the separation as viewed from outside the rocket. You can see slow motion, which is quite interesting.

I’ve never seen a stage separation from that angle before. What did you think?

New Horizons Glitch – Will We See Pluto?

While the US was celebrating the Fourth of July, New Horizons was getting itself drunk. Well, there was a glitch. With just ten days to go until the encounter with Pluto, New Horizons shut down its main computer and the backup started up, putting the probe in safe mode.

Safe mode isn’t unusual for space probes, but the timing isn’t very good. Well, it’s not so bad, because not many pictures were expected to be taken over the next couple days. However, New Horizons is 4.5 hours away, and any commands will require 9 hours (4.5 hours confirmation). If they can diagnose it quickly, then it should be working properly in the next couple days. If not, it could take a few days to correct.  I really hope it’ll be corrected soon.  I want my Pluto pictures!

The Planetary Society has a very good write-up on this.

EmDrive – Has NASA Created a Warp Field?

The latest news out of NASA is that the experimental EmDrive has produced some rather interesting results. While the propulsion system, which doesn’t run on any kind of fuel and produces microwaves to provide thrust, is highly experimental and very controversial, it’s created a lot of buzz recently.

NASA did an experiment where they fired lasers through the resonance chamber to where the thrust comes from. It’s still unknown how it does it and where the microwaves come from. But the strange thing is that the lasers appear to travel faster than the speed of light through the resonance chamber. This means it may be producing something similar to a warp field. Crazy, isn’t it?

This is the set up for the Eagleworks Warp-Field Interferometer Test
This is the set up for the Eagleworks Warp-Field Interferometer Test

Well, they need to be able to reproduce this in a vacuum, which is the next step of the experiment.  If it produces the same effect, that is the lasers travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, then this may verify that faster than light travel may be possible. Of course, they’ll keep doing tests to see if they can get consistent results, and also to figure out what the heck is going on.

This is all happening while there’s a strong push to search for extraterrestrial life, on Mars (which has had exciting results recently), on Europa, on Enceladus, and beyond the solar system. Even Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist predicted earlier this month that we’ll discover evidence of alien life by 2025.

Also, in the past few years, we’ve seen the development of technologies such as tablet computers (PADD from Star Trek), teleportation of photons and information (transporter), 3D printers (replicators), the potential for 3D printing of food (food replicators), injections without the use of a needle (hypospray), and even the possibility of developing tractor beams, energy shields, cloaking devices, and more.  Is Star Trek coming true?

You know what I think? Gene Roddenberry was actually from the future. He came back in time to create Star Trek and plant the seeds of all those ideas in the minds of young people so they would invent everything from Star Trek and set in motion the whole Star Trek reality.


What do you think about everything that’s going on?

The Solar System One Probe at a Time

In honour of Dawn’s successful orbit of Ceres and New Horizons’ flyby of the Pluto-Charon system in July, I thought I’d take you all on a tour of the solar system one probe at a time.

What does this mean?  I’m going to go all the way back to the first lunar probe, Luna 1 in 1959, and talk about each probe that was launched from Earth in chronological order.  I’ll look at what they achieved, what they saw, and what happened if they failed.  I’ll even include the ones that never made it out of the atmosphere and crashed back into the ocean.

I will not look at any spacecraft that were only intended to orbit the Earth.  I’ll look at every probe that went to the moon, the planets, asteroids, comets, and even the sun.  Just anywhere but Earth.

I will provide some pictures when available of the probe, as well as some things they took photos of.  I may even embed the launch videos if I can find them.

I hope you’ll enjoy this look back through the history of solar system exploration.

Designing a Starship

In Star Trek, the starships are all very elegant looking and quite beautiful.  They just look really good.  They are also advanced and have had a couple hundred years of history, so the designs tend to be more aesthetically pleasing.

I’m designing a starship for Journey to Ariadne.  I’ve made a sketch which looks a bit clunky, but I’m not entirely satisfied with it.  I don’t want it to look beautiful.  It shouldn’t look beautiful.  It should be built for function, not form.  Take a look at past forms of transportation in their first incarnations.

The first automobile, an 1885 Benz.
The first automobile, an 1885 Benz.
The Wright Flyer, the first airplane from 1903.
The Wright Flyer, the first airplane from 1903.
The Vostok I capsule that brought Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. Photo taken by SiefkinDR and used under Creative Commons License.
The Vostok I capsule that brought Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. Photo taken by SiefkinDR and used under Creative Commons License.

Notice a theme?  None of them are particularly attractive.  They weren’t built to look good.  They were built simply to work.  It’s only in the years and decades after that design became important (cars are now made to look good, planes are made to be aerodynamic and fuel efficient, and the space shuttle ended the utilitarian spacecraft era).  So it’s only logical that the first interstellar spacecraft will look more like a collection of modules connected by a framework and various instruments extending from the main body.  This is what I need to consider when designing a starship.  Think about function first, then refine it a bit.

I’m going to have one ugly spaceship.  And it’ll be a massive one.

The Skies of Mars Are Getting Busy

Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Odyssey are being joined by a pair of probes this week.  There will be five active orbiters around Mars.  That’s certainly a new record.

MAVEN concept art, NASA.
MAVEN concept art, NASA.

Already arrived is NASA’s MAVEN, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. It arrived at Mars on September 22nd, and has assumed orbit.  It will study the atmosphere and try to determine where the water had gone.  What’s interesting is that it’ll study how quickly the atmosphere is being stripped away by solar winds, so they may be able to extrapolate the thickness of the atmosphere billions of years ago, as well as see how much water there was.

Mars Orbiter Mission artist concept, by Nesnad for Wikipedia.
Mars Orbiter Mission artist concept, by Nesnad for Wikipedia.

The second probe arriving at Mars is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), or Mangalyaan. It arrives at Mars today! This mission is exciting not because of what it will do, as much of it is pretty simple compared to what NASA and ESA orbiters have done, but it is the first time India has sent a probe to another planet.  Seeing other countries with successful interplanetary missions is very encouraging.  Apart from testing the technology, which is the primary mission, it also has scientific secondary objectives, including studying the mineralogy, morphology, and atmosphere.  This should be interesting.

Pretty busy at Mars now, isn’t it?  Which mission are you interested in?

SpaceX reveals the new crewed Dragon V2

This is incredible. Although it looks like a typical capsule design, from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s quite advanced. The interior is very sleek with huge touch screen panels. And the landing. You just have to watch the video to see how it lands. It seems so science fiction-like, but this is becoming reality. Visit SelfAwarePatterns to see the full blog post. And please comment there!


Very cool.  SpaceX has been making a lot of news recently, announcing one breakthrough after another.  Their current unmanned Dragon capsule has made multiple successful supply runs to the ISS.  Now they’ve revealed a version that can transport humans.

The most eye popping aspect of it is the SuperDraco rocket engines on the capsule itself that allows it to decelerate and perform a controlled landing on land.

Spaceflight Now has a detailed write up.  Reusability appears to be incorporated into every component of the design.

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Encyclopedia Entry #3 – Space Shuttle Challenger

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger made history.  It was the first manned spacecraft to be destroyed after launch.  That was a big event, but what do we remember about what Challenger did before it was destroyed?  It seems its last moments are ingrained in our memories, but we’ve forgotten about its achievements.

Space Shuttle Challenger being launched on its first mission April 4, 1983. Image is public domain, source Wikipedia.
Space Shuttle Challenger being launched on its first mission April 4, 1983. Image is public domain, source Wikipedia.

The Space Shuttle Challenger was the second space shuttle to be space-worthy.  The first was Columbia, and the Enterprise was only for testing.  Its first mission was on April 4, 1983, and its 10th and final ill-fated mission was on January 28, 1986.  It was named after the HMS Challenger.

5 Interesting Facts

1. First, some statistics about the shuttle.  It’s 56.1 metres tall and 2,030 tonnes.  Its low earth orbit capacity is 24,400 kg.

2. There were some remarkable firsts by Challenger.  On the topic of people, Challenger was host to the first American woman in space (Sally Ride), the first African-American in space (Guion Bluford), the first Canadian in space (Marc Garneau), and the first Dutchman in space (Wubbo Ockels).

3. Challenger also hosted a few first events.  These include the first spacewalk from a shuttle, first night launch and landing by a shuttle, the first untethered spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, and the first spacewalk done by an American woman (Kathryn D. Sullivan).

4. Enterprise was actually planned to be the second shuttle to be fit for space travel.  It was going to be retrofit to be the second shuttle in space, but Challenger was found to be cheaper to retrofit.  Challenger was originally a Structural Test Article.

5. On October 10, 1984, Challenger was hit by a Soviet laser called Terra-3. It was a tracking laser and was used on low power.  The shuttle crew didn’t even know it happened.  However, it caused the United States to file a formal diplomatic complaint. Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau and American astronaut Kathryn Sullivan reported no disruptions.  Source: American Physical Society.

For more Encyclopedia Entries, please see here.