Over this past weekend, the Orlando Sentinel published an article about a proposed NASA space station at the second Earth-Moon Lagrange Point—beyond the Moon, where the Earth’s and the Moon’s gravity cancel out each other, creating a near-stable zone. At about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, such a base would be the farthest a human being has ever ventured from the planet. Whether it serves a practical purpose or is merely just a “make-work” for NASA’s current Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule, however, is up for debate.
Undeniably, there are some advantages of NASA’s lunar ambitions. For instance, the Earth-Moon L2 point enjoys almost complete radio shielding from Earth, making it an ideal location for an astronomical research station—assuming, of course, that NASA does not want to do it with a much cheaper and practical artificial satellite. A more hands-on advantage to humans, on the other hand, would be to test preventive technologies against deep space radiation and studying the effects of long term deep space exposure on humans, which in fact could be considered as a logical step toward a future Mars mission—however small.
Despite some of its merits, however, disadvantages of this plan are also plenty,
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the twin Voyager spacecrafts that are now approaching the boundaries of interstellar space. Well, yesterday, Voyager 1 turned 35 years old—her big sister, Voyager 2, is actually a couple weeks older. Yet, despite their old age, both spacecrafts are still functioning and sending back data from the farthest place that humanity has ever reached. This is pretty remarkable, reminding me of all the wonders mankind is capable of.
If you have a few minutes, go and learn a little about this marvelous human achievement:
These days when every silly idea can amass huge amounts of money on various kick starter sites, I find myself dumbfounded by the lack of support for those projects that would truly deserve our attention and help. One of these is Uwingu, a new proposal to fund space-related research and educational projects.
Please check out the above link and consider donating. Your money is going to the right hands to support a worthy cause. But, in case if you are not sure, here is a video explaining the thought and intention behind the project:
Ever wondered what it would be like to witness Curiosity’s landing? Well, thanks to the recent cooperation between NASA and Microsoft, you can not only do that now but also control the rover as it descends onto the Red Planet—so to speak. :)
From yesterday morning, the Kinect game “Mars Rover Landing” is available on Xbox Live free of charge. If you own an Xbox with a Kinect sensor, I recommend you go and check it out. The game is fun, looks great, and has quite a bit of educational value, not to mention the potential to get kids excited about science and space exploration!
The cooperation between the space agency and Microsoft, however, does not end with "Mars Rover Landing." The list of real life and online events commemorating Curiosity’s landing—of which I am updating continuously as new information comes out—gained a new entry, as Microsoft will also broadcast the event via Xbox Live!
If you are at all interested in space exploration, you know how important early August will be. If you do not know, here is a little recap: on August 6th 5:31 UTC, Mars Science Laboratory—or Curiosity—the most sophisticated piece of technology ever to land on an alien planet, will arrive at Mars and begins its descent.
While landing spacecrafts has always been a risky business, Curiosity’s fiery, four-stage descent, including the much talked about sky crane, is extraordinarily dangerous. Scientists and space enthusiasts all around the world will bite their nails bloody during the rover’s descent, or as they call it, the “seven minutes of terror.” Here is a short video from NASA introducing the unprecedented maneuver:
If you are among the above mentioned “space enthusiasts,” I am happy to announce that there will be plenty of events going on at the time of Curiosity’s arrival, many of which are open to the public. So, if you got some time off on August 5th or 6th—depending on where you live—here are a few opportunities for you; both real life and virtual on the web:
While the rest of the space community is talking about China’s
successful launch of three astronauts—technically the term is taikonauts, but I
hate this word—to their space station, I would like to avert your attention to
another historic milestone in space exploration:
Two days ago, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory issued a press release,
in which they indicated that Voyager 1, the probe NASA launched in 1977, have reached the edge of interstellar space and began to leave our solar system. At nearly eighteen billion kilometers away from Earth, Voyager entered a region of space where the number of charged particles increased significantly, which made JPL scientists believe that the probe reached the heliosheath, the border of the sun’s protective bubble that marks the end of our solar system. With this historic landmark, the 34-year old spacecraft is the farthest man-made object away from Earth, our true ambassador on a one-way trip to the center of the galaxy. And the best part is that Voyager 1 has an estimated fifteen years left of its energy supply, promising us many more years of incredible data from a region of space, of which we have no knowledge. Pretty exciting!
Did you like the video I posted on March 22, called "We Stopped Dreaming?" Well, it received a second "episode," which I am quite eager to share. This new video also makes use of a speech from Neil deGrasse Tyson, and it is just as touching and thought-provoking as the previous one! If you care even a little about space exploration and/or science in general, make sure you share it!
Elder Sign: Omens is the digital (iOS, Android, and Mac OS X) adaptation of the similarly named board game from Fantasy Flight Games. In it, a group of investigators attempt to stop the awakening of an Ancient One, a supernatural entity from H. P. Lovecraft’s renowned Cthulhu mythos. Players accomplish their goal by completing adventures in an eerie museum setting, some of which reward players with elder signs, which then can be used to stop the Ancient One from waking. To beat these adventures investigators need to match symbols with the ones they generate randomly. In essence, therefore, Elder Sign: Omens is a bit like Yahtzee or a slot machine, only a lot more complex, mixed with puzzle, role-playing, strategy, and exploration elements.
I promised myself I won't post any more space videos here. There are just so many of them, and I don't want my blog to be transformed into a video library. But this one is so powerful that I had to share it (make sure you do too).
All around the Internet, NASA’s recent budget cut stirred up heated debates between those who say we should explore space and those who say that we could spend that money on something "more useful." Up until now, I had only observed these debates from afar, not wanting to get caught in the argument. But I recently had come to a point where I felt compelled to share my views on the topic, views that might not be the most convincing—maybe downright flawed—but they are mine and I stand by them.
Reading people’s arguments about space exploration always made me think, think about why I think space exploration is important. And when I take away the emotional factor—the wonder and awe that, in many of us, is deeply embedded when we think about space—the answer is always just one word: knowledge!
I am not going to write a long post about the recent proposal to cut NASA's planetary exploration budget, mainly because other people have already done so here, here, and here (and many other places as well). I do, however, would like to share a few quotes from these articles that I feel perfectly summarize the issue:
"There is no other country or agency that can do what NASA does—fly extraordinary flagship missions in deep space and land spacecraft on Mars. If this budget is allowed to stand, the United States will walk away from decades of greatness in space science and exploration. But it will lose more than that. The U.S. will lose expertise, capability, and talent. The nation will lose the ability to compete in one of the few areas in which it is still the undisputed number one."
- Bill Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society
". . .Reducing America’s presence in space- which is what the current budget amounts to- is a bold statement to the effect that the US is no longer looking outward. We’re no longer interested in pushing the boundaries of what we can do, because we seem to be more interested in wallowing around in what we can’t. . . . I’m interested in science and engineering and technology, not least because those things make life better for everyone . . . The technology we build today will help feed, clothe, and heal the people of tomorrow. . . ."
After my short visit earlier last year, I would like to once again venture into the colorful world of board games. I recently had the opportunity to take a closer look at the newly released cooperative board game, The Legend of Drizzt from Wizards of the Coast. Although the four or five sessions I played with friends hardly make me an expert, they provided me with enough oversight that I feel confident sharing my impressions of this latest iteration of the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden.
For any of you not familiar with Drizzt Do’Urden—the renegade dark elf and perhaps the most well-known fantasy hero after the Fellowship of the Ring—I highly recommend purchasing a few novels based on his adventures. Although the board game does not require any previous knowledge of the back-story, knowing the underlying universe and the characters certainly gives an extra dimension to the game. Furthermore, thanks to the excellent penmanship of R. A. Salvatore—the author of the Drizzt books—it is hard to imagine any fantasy-loving person walking away dissatisfied from purchasing his books. But let us get back to topic.