Say Hello to SpaceX

falcon9

Let’s talk about money.

Space travel is expensive, and money is tight. NASA has to fight for every dollar of funding it can get, and other government agencies are in the same boat. NASA’s current roadmap calls for humans on Mars in the 2030s, but that could all change depending on how the political winds blow. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a steady source of funding, one based on demand and not politics?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a privately-funded space company?

Enter SpaceX, arguably the #1 private spaceflight company in the world. Founded in 2002 by the legendary Elon Musk, headquartered in California, SpaceX is also planning to make human life multiplanetary by the 2030s. Musk himself says he plans to “retire on Mars.”

Now. Let’s talk about rockets.

SpaceX has the Falcon 9 rocket, which has launched their Dragon capsule to the International Space Station no fewer than three times so far. They were scheduled for a fourth launch yesterday, but had to postpone due to a helium leak. (Maybe they were bringing along balloons?) The next possible launch date is this Friday.

They’re also working on a souped-up version called the Falcon Heavy, which would be the second most powerful rocket ever constructed by man (behind the mammoth Saturn V that took Neil Armstrong to the moon). That’s coming in the next year or so.

And then there’s the Grasshopper, a vertical-takeoff vertical-landing (VTVL) modification that allows their rockets to come back to Earth as neatly as a helicopter. Video of that bad boy in action is right here.

This is happening. We’re headed to Mars, one way or another. Excited? You bet I am.

Moon in a Glass

ice sphere

Betsy bought a little mold that makes spherical ice “cubes.” We feel incredibly fancy when we sip water from a glass with one of these inside. (Oh, how do you cool your beverage? With rectangles? How middle-class.) For some reason, there’s something inherently fun about balls of ice.

By that standard, Tethys should be the life of the party.

Tethys

Tethys is a moon of Saturn, and it’s made almost entirely of ice. Strange, isn’t it, to think of a whole giant moon, millions of miles away, that’s basically the same as what we put in our drinks at home. If we had a big enough glass, it would actually float!

In Greek mythology, Tethys was a titaness, daughter of Gaia, mother of rivers. This made her sister to Saturn, which is why a moon of Saturn gets “Tethys” for a name. Neat, huh?

In conclusion: Tethys!

 

Friday Links

“The Expert” – what happens in the business world when somebody actually knows what they’re talking about? Chaos, of course.

cassini

This sweet infographic gives you a rundown of all the active probes currently buzzing around in the solar system. (Make sure you enlarge it so you can read the text.) New Horizons is on its way to Pluto now, arriving next year!

enceladus

Since blog reader applenpear asked about Enceladus yesterday, here’s a quick article from Scientific American with a rundown on just what’s so fascinating about this icy moon of Saturn.

Have a stellar weekend!

Obsessions

saturn hexagon

It turns out Saturn has a hexagon at its north pole.

A hexagon. On a gas giant. Space is so weird.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve gotten a little obsessed with the solar system and the history of space travel lately. I’ve been into it for a couple weeks now, so I give it another week or so to run its course. That’s about how long my obsessions generally last.

Past obsessions have included: flags of the world, A.I., statistics, Morse Code, calligraphy, drawing, Celtic knots, origami, juggling, zen, the history of Africa, geography, Vincent van Gogh, Linux, the board game Go, animation, the website Omegle, Super Mario 64, the art of baiting e-mail scammers, creating a webcomic, the Voynich Manuscript, and Iceland, to name a small percentage.

Some obsessions (A.I., zen, Go) become longer-lived pursuits. Others – most of them – run their course and then fizzle. Hotter flames burn out faster. I really have no idea what makes some stick around and some disappear.

But for now, it’s space, and I’m riding high on my little wave.

Did you know, for instance, that the first hominid in space – a chimpanzee named Ham – was born in Cameroon, and survived his flight none the worse for wear? Or that the first woman in space – Valentina Tereshkova – is still alive, a Russian hero to this day? Or that the Apollo astronauts played practical jokes on each other, slipping Playboy centerfolds into mission documents to be discovered once in orbit? Or that Enceladus – a place most people have never even heard of – is one of the most likely spots in our solar system to harbor life?

Okay, Brian. That’s nice. Take a breath.

What are your obsessions like? How long do they last?

Poem for Wednesday

These
dead-end, dead-end roads
are the ends of
arteries, the sudden sunderings
of vain veins,
the blushing of blood
fresh-minted in the April air.
To
whose ending, whose ending
go we all together, bundled
like children altogether, shuddering
with the breeze?

He’s Got the Whole World…

World

My wife and I received this world map from her aunt for Christmas. We just put it up Saturday. It’s so big, it went up in three separate pieces, and we had to prime the wall and glue it on like wallpaper. By the time we got the supplies and prepared everything, it took several hours. Not easy, but then few cool things ever are.

I can’t get over how giant this thing is. It doesn’t look as big in the photo, but remember, I’m 6’5″. It’s massive.

Well, not massive. I mean, it’s paper. The mass is minimal. But it’s large.

So what are we going to do with this thing?

Maybe we’ll put up Post-It notes to mark cool places, or places we want to visit. (Iceland, here we come!) Or maybe we’ll just stare at it in awe and drag visitors over to make strained compliments. (“My, it certainly is…large?”)

This is the same wall that has the bookshelves, so it’s turning into quite the educational center for our house. But then, we’re geeks like that. We’re thinking of putting the solar system up in the kitchen.

Got any cool stuff on your walls?

Moon Rock and Astronaut Ice Cream

Everything looks more futuristic with a dome.

Everything looks more futuristic with a dome.

Yesterday Betsy and I spent a couple hours at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, birthplace of Neil Armstrong. The museum has a wide range of memorabilia from both Armstrong’s early life and the space program in general. Cool items included:

  • Booklets where young Neil recorded his early flights. Dude got his pilot’s license when he was sixteen!
  • Astronaut uniforms, astronaut food, and lots of other fun astronauty things.
  • A postcard with Orville Wright’s autograph. Anyone else noticed that the first man to fly, and the first man on the moon, were both from Ohio? We rock!
Gemini 8

The Gemini 8 spacecraft, flown by Neil Armstrong as part of the ramp-up to the Apollo 11 moon landing.

But the crown jewel of the museum was the Gemini 8 spacecraft, which Armstrong piloted in the first-ever docking of two spacecraft in orbit. Look at that thing, and imagine two people spending days inside of it. I’m reading the autobiography of Mike Collins (Apollo 11 astronaut), who explained that you literally couldn’t get out of your seat, because there was nowhere to go.

A moon rock!!! Turns out they look pretty much like earth rocks.

A moon rock!!! Turns out they look pretty much like earth rocks.

The moon rock was cool too. And you can go inside that white dome, and there’s a 20-minute video focusing mostly on Apollo 11. I never realized how many close calls Armstrong had in his career: cutting his Gemini 8 flight short due to thruster failure, ejecting from a lunar lander test flight just before it was destroyed, and landing the Eagle on the moon with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining. Guy was intense.

And of course, no trip to the gift shop is complete without astronaut ice cream.

Have you ever eaten ice cream and thought, "I wish this had less flavor and/or moisture"?

Have you ever eaten ice cream and thought, “I wish this had less flavor and/or moisture”?

Not a bad place to visit for a town of 10,000 people.

Got any sweet museums in your area?