Category: space exploration

Happy Apollo Day!

Today is the 50th Anniversary of “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It’s an event worth celebrating, in the same way we celebrate Yuri’s Night.

The holy days — the holidays — that we celebrate say a great deal about us. They shape who we are. The controversies that emerge when we try to add (Martin Luther King) or remove a holiday (Columbus Day) are controversies because they express who we are, and how that could be changing.

Some of these new holidays are silly: Talk Like a Pirate Day, Star Wars Day.

Some of the holidays are happy, some are somber.

Apollo Day could celebrate the engineering achievement, the risks and dangers of exploration, and the sadness that we haven’t been back.

So, the only way to start a holiday is to start a holiday. Start by wishing people a happy Apollo day, and we’ll see if it reaches escape velocity.

Books Worth Reading: Q2 2019 (Apollo Edition)

  • A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin is probably the best of the general histories of the moon landings.
  • Failure is not an Option, by Gene Kranz, who didn’t actually say that during Apollo 13.
  • Marketing The Moon by David Scott and Richard Jurek. I was surprised what a good history this was, and how much it brought in the overall history of the program and put it in context.
  • Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, as mentioned previously.
  • Full Moon. Gorgeous photography, printed from very high quality scans; the author convinced NASA to provide access to first generation negatives. You may need to search on Amazon to find a reasonably priced copy.

Also worthwhile: From the Earth to The Moon (DVD, Blue Ray), and the Museum of Flight Apollo exhibit, in Seattle through September 2nd.


Congratulations to the Hayabusa2 mission team, who flew to an asteroid, dropped multiple rovers, an impactor and a separate camera satellite to observe the impactor. The Hayabusa2 then flew around, to the far side of the asteroid to avoid ejecta from the impactor. In a few weeks, Hayabusa2 will probably land, collect more samples and then fly back to Earth.

For more: Hayabusa 2 page at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and don’t miss the “major onboard instruments page, including an ion engine using 1/10th the power of a chemical propellant, and fixes to malfunctions that happened after 15,000 hours of operation; a better seal on the collection horn and more.
A Japanese spacecraft may have just blown a crater in a distant asteroid (Science Mag)

So cool!

STARS-Me (or Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite – Mini elevator), built by engineers at Shizuoka University in Japan, is comprised of two 10-centimeter cubic satellites connected by a 10-meter-long tether. A small robot representing an elevator car, about 3 centimeters across and 6 centimeters tall, will move up and down the cable using a motor as the experiment floats in space.

Via Science News, “Japan has launched a miniature space elevator,” and “the STARS project.”


This image isn’t Saturn’s Rings, but an image of Saturn from its pole to equator.


Sadly, many of the sites reporting on Cassini’s dive through Saturn’s rings — I’m going to say that again — Cassini’s first dive through Saturn’s rings — don’t explain the photos. I’ll admit it, I thought I was looking at the rings. has the explanations.

More Satellites Than You Can Shake a Stick At

This video is really amazingly inspiring:

Not only does it show more satellites than I’ve ever seen in a single frame of video, but the rocket that took them up was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation, who managed to launch not only the largest satellite constellation ever, but had room for a few more birds in the launch. It’s an impressive achievement, and it (visually) crystalizes a shift in how we approach space. Also, congratulations to the team at Planet, the ability to image all of Earth’s landmass every day.

Launching a micro satellite into low Earth orbit is now accessible to hobbyists. Many readers of this blog could do it. That’s astounding. Stop and think about that for a moment. Our failure to have exciting follow-on missions after Apollo can obscure the fascinating things which are happening in space, as it gets cheap and almost boring to get to low Earth orbit. The Economist has a good summary. That’s not to say that there aren’t things happening further out. This is the year that contestants in the Google Lunar XPrize competition must launch. Two tourists have paid a deposit to fly around the moon.

But what’s happening close to the planet is where the economic changes will be most visible soon. That’s not to say it’s the only thing to watch, but the same engines will enable more complex and daring missions.

For more on what’s happening in India around space exploration and commercialization, this is a fascinating interview with Susmita Mohanty.

Video link: ISRO PSLV-C37 onboard camera view of 104 satellites deployment