Tag Archive: spacecraft

Google Gagarin

It Was 50 Years Ago, Today

…when mankind left the gravitational confines of our Earth.

Google Gagarin

Google Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin

A poor boy from the steppes, Yuri Gagarin, simultaneously became the first man in space and the first man to leave Earth and orbit it completely.  (This is something that took NASA several steps before John Glenn finally emulated the feat).

While of humble background (like Jesus), his father was a carpenter (like Jesus) and his mother read voraciously (as Jesus knew the scriptures).  Obviously, Gagarin wasn’t Jesus, but he did die in his mid-thirties which parallels Jesus’s early death.

Gagarin Launch

Gagarin Launch

I was alive when Gagarin stunned the world by being shot into space.  I remember very few photos of the man or the event.  The West was naturally very embarrassed by being overshadowed by a dictator-led communist state.  Most scientists were just astonished.  Most politicians and the mainstream media were extremely alarmist in public (and fully actioned in private) because the inter-continental aspect of chucking a nuclear weapon sized piece of machinery aloft at the height of the cold war was paramount in their minds.

What struck me then and since was the fact that Gagarin always seemed to have a happy cheeriness about him.  When we now see his pre-flight pictures, his confidence is astounding, because remember, before the voyage, mankind had conflicting ideas about the very survivability for a man in the entirely hostile and unforgiving environment of space.  Some said that a man would die within half and hour from radiation….

Of course, the Soviet scientists had tested these theories with mammals (dogs & ape) and knew that even though the animals died on their space-flights (and were destined to die, by design), they knew that a man could survive the flight and if a return to Earth could be made, he’d live to see another day.  They’d also done a small step-by-step approach to their rocketry so even though the rocket was made primarily as an ICBM, its designer was actually more interested in getting men into space and had designed accordingly.  (see this article on Sergei Korolev and his space-flight dreams).

This, Gagarin duly did, by re-entering the atmosphere in his capsule and then, when the speed had sufficiently reduced, by opening his capsule and leaping from it to then descend on a conventional parachute.

Amazingly, this all worked, perfectly.

International Space Station

International Space Station

We now see the benefits of this early Soviet work because for the next few years, transport of people to the International Space Station (ISS) will be done by the Russian Soyuz spacecraft alone now that the NASA Space Shuttle is grounded for good.

The Soyuz is a direct descendant of Gagarin’s early capsule and the subsequent work and deaths of Soviet cosmonauts.  Later joint work with NASA and their own accidents and astronaut deaths have made the Soyuz platform very reliable, in space flight terms.  See this Wikipedia article for a full introduction to space-flight of all kinds.

Google Celebration

Google, characteristically, have celebrated Gagarin’s achievement (and that it was, make no mistake, he was a very, very, brave man), with a decorated main page which I’ve copied for posterity above.

Hooray For Gagarin.

So it was 50 years ago today.  An event that changed the world and our perception of it and ourselves  in the universe.

It’s only people some years older than myself who actually remember the previous world where people remained fixed to the planet and could only dream and wonder about the reality beyond.  For myself and folks younger than me, we can only to imagine what that world was like because we are part of the world that Gagarin’s bravery opened up for us..

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Whales and Space Demonstrate Contrasts In Humanity


Two items on today’s news demonstrated the vast contrasts in our humanity. Stardust probe finds ‘subdued’ comet crater & Japan halts whale hunt after chase by protesters.

Our Absolute Ingenuity and Progress

Four views of comet Tempel 1 as the Stardust spacecraft swept past.

Four views of comet Tempel 1 as the Stardust spacecraft swept past.

The absolute ingenuity of us humans and how far we have come since our cave-dwelling days is supremely demonstrated by the return of pictures by the spacecraft, Stardust.

In this case, 12 years ago, Stardust was launched to look at an asteroid then collect samples from the dust of a comet, Wild 2It did all of this wonderfully.

Then, in the meantime, another spacecraft, Deep Impact, had been launched which crashed a small craft into another comet, Tempel, back in 2005, creating a crater.

The fantastic demonstration of our technical expertise is that almost on a whim, it was decided to get the first craft, Stardust, to have a look at this crater and beam the picture back to us – and it did all of this automatically, 336 million km from Earth, which a radio signal takes 18 minutes to travel!

Evidence of the crater: Left shows a Deep Impact photo from 2005; Right shows Stardust's image with a small extra crater.

Evidence of the crater: Left shows a Deep Impact photo from 2005; Right shows Stardust’s image with a small extra crater.

Our Reluctance to Depart from our Hunter-gatherer Past

Dead Minke Whales On the Nisshin Maru research factory ship

Dead Minke On the Nisshin Maru “research factory ship”

Some people still hunt for sport.  Some nations dress hunting up with weasel words and hide their blood-lust behind the veil of science.  Such a nation is Japan which kills whales for “scientific research” (900-odd this year) yet openly reveals this research as a fraud with with the real goals of short-term monetary gain and blood lust .

Whale for Sale: Sales of whalemeat have fallen, despite promotion

Whale for Sale: Sales of whalemeat have fallen, despite promotion

Here we see an advert for the “research” results.

mmm yummy.

It’s a desperate thing to see this because the Japanese claim that there lots of whales to eat – which was exactly what was said about the blue whale, right whale etc, all of which are now rarities of the ocean when once, they were plentiful.

It’s now being revealed by real research, that the more diverse an ecosystem is (and we live in one, you know), the more chance we will have of surviving all manner of disasters – disease, drought, climate change etc.

Thank Goodness For Bravery

Whalers clash with Conservationists

Whalers clash with Conservationists

So we should all thank the people from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who have peacefully risked their lives “for the bigger picture”.

It’s another aspect of humanity revealed to me today, in the news.

Bravery & Courage.

Ady Gil and Shonan Maru 2 confrontation

Ady Gil and Shonan Maru 2 confrontation

The whalers say constant harassment has forced them to suspend operations – well dah!

That’s the definition of bravery, as seen in these dramatic shots.

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Copenhagen Congress on Climate Change

In this stark summary from a meeting of 2.5k scientists from across the globe, we find that not only is anthropomorphic climate change real, not only is it getting worse, but also, within the error margins for the ‘hockey stick‘ predictions of only a few years back, recent measurements put the actual effects at the top of the predicted range!

Kongres Logo

Copenhagen, Denmark: Following a successful International Scientific Congress Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions

Many years ago I read a book (actually in a few volumes) by the late climatologist from East Anglia, H.H.Lamb called Climate Present Past and Future (ISBN 0-06-473881-7).  It’s extremely hard to get hold of now, but I recall that nearly everything Professor Lamb wrote is now coming true.

Many of the scientific concepts he wrote about are being used in the so-called ‘climate debate’ between various vested interests.  Check out the apologists for freedom at The Heartland Institute (you can’t make it up, can you?) or Climate Change Fraud (who change their hyperlinks regularly to avoid comebacks).  Several lone souls tackle these monsters of misleading fact-providers, such as Greenfyre’s and the Ecogeek.

The amount of cloud cover and water vapour is always a good red herring for the deniers.  As Prof. Lamb pointed out 30 years ago and is perfectly obvious to any observer, clouds are both insulators and reflectors of heat.  It just depends where they are, if it’s night or day, and where you, the observer are!  For instance:

  • cold day, -> clouds move in and night falls = cold night as cold trapped at ground level
  • cold day, -> no clouds at night = even colder night as heat radiates out to space
  • cold night, -> cloudy day = cold day as cold trapped under clouds and sun’s heat is reflected back to space
  • cold night, -> sunny day = warm day as sun warms earth’s surface

These temps are all relative, of course.  But throw in a bit of dirt into the clouds or let dirt fall on snow (another good reflector and insulator) and the picture changes because dark clouds and snow absorb more heat.  What is clear is that cloud and snow cover, like continuous volcanic eruptions, and like CO2 and CH4, are critical positive feedback agents.  Like trying to slowly push a light switch to stop in the middle, eventually all the slow forcing you do makes it flip to it’s other stable state.

Any worldary wobbling that the deniers use is also a red herring.  The wobble cycles tie in with ice-ages as Professor Lamb pointed out.  We’ve at least 20k years until the next one.  Bothered?  No.  Thought not.

The fact is that there are many scenarios for cloud behaviour and it’s influence – the climate change deniers just tend to use one (like the wobbles) as the basis of their arguments.  But even back in 1977, Professor Lamb’s models basically predicted the climate forcing we are witnessing now although at the time, a swing in the other direction looked possible.

But now we do know!

A recent exploration to the Arctic has been forced back because there’s no safe ice to walk on!  Coral is dying.  Floral and faunal species are being made extinct at an E.L.E. rate.  Make no mistake, it’s our fault and if we don’t pay now we or our children will pay in the future.  We need land and food to live on, not equities and price to earnings ratios.  A week of reduced fuel supplies in the UK and Europe and the continuing travails of African economic migrants revealed a tiny window on our probable future as billions, globally, seek somewhere to live and breed.  A few street riots will be the least of everyone’s worries.

I just wish that the OCO spacecraft had made it

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Hi Man! What? You Still Here?

Problem –  a Time Bomb.


"Hi!" (or is it "bye" )

Unfortunately, it’s not “the bomb” that’s the problem. Today’s news that mammals are going extinct at a faster rate than…er…well ever, actually, would hopefully make people sit up and pay attention.

Mammals facing extinction threat

The last time I looked (warm blood, nipples, live birth) I was a mammal and that headline fills me with a small amount of worry.

Q. So why only small?

A. I’m pretty certain that barring a very large meteor or similar global Extinction Level Event, even a dinosaur killing KT-type episode or a Permian freeze won’t wipe out our species.  This is because like shrews and rats and badgers, we can eat almost anything. We have our intelligence, forward vision, omnivorous appetites and opposing thumb which should see us in good stead.  WE have the ability to modify our environment for our own benefitQ.E.D. Quad erat demonstrandum.

However, it’ll be a pretty piss-poor existence.

Because there won’t be many of us and the world will be a pretty empty place.  The man gesturing “hi” (or is it “bye” ) on the Pioneer Spacecraft plaque above, may be our only lasting achievement. The current environmental crisis is likened by many to an extinction event on it’s own.

Because of the generally slow pace of geological deposition, our own species’ time will be just a sliver of sediment in the rocks of the future.  Any future being examining them will see the termination of many animals and plants. Many educated people are now are calling our time,

The Holocene extinction event!!! pdficon_large.gifRed List of Endangered Species

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

  • All we must do is ensure we don’t gobble up our world like simple hunter-gatherers stuffing their faces as they walk through the bramble bushes.
  • We must live within the energy budget of the Sun as it arrives on our world (this is plenty by a long chalk) not by digging up stored solar energy from the rocks and basing whole civilisations on the products.

Now, at this time of global financial woe, is the ideal check to our civilisation, and to ensure it fits within the bounds of our world.  It really is a most wonderful opportunity.  The problems that we’ve made in our past are now laid before us, stark and bare.  It’s clear that we cannot repeat those mistakes.

We must live sustainably if we want any sort of civilised future. This is now the time to make real changes, employing people constructively in our world, not destructively.  We must stop the ludicrous situation where both the United States of America and Europe each need 10 whole Earths to sustain themselves.   We must ensure that no-one seeks to emulate them.

It’s truly the logic of the mad house that must end now.

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Mars Phoenix Promises Astonishing Hope for The Future of Mankind

How so?

As I write this post, a little spaceship is sat on Mars, basking in the relative warmth of the sun but still, in a very physically hostile place.

I am (slightly) older than the “space age”, which most people would say started with the Russian Sputnik launch in 1957, so I have grown up watching astonishing feats of bravery, skill and ingenuity, so much so, that like most other people, I’ve become blase about the whole thing.

It’s only the odd explosion that attracts the attention. For most people, the world of the internet is just click and browse and chat – the physics and technology that allows instantaneous communication around the globe is just hidden away – “oh! it’s another Intelsat launch – hmm”

However, two pictures from The Phoenix program showed and reminded me just how far we as a species have come and what we are capable of… It’s not the pictures from the surface of another heavenly body that I’m thinking about – we’ve had them since the sixties. They are old hat! ;-)

It's a Parachute!

It's a Parachute!

No, the first one is at the left.

Currently orbiting Mars is another spaceship, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It took the picture of Phoenix dropping down to the Martian surface, suspended beneath it’s parachute. That single picture summarised, for me, just how good we’ve become.

Mars is millions of miles away, and yet we can take a picture from one craft, remotely, of another craft, miles away, in so much detail that we can actually see the parachute chords!

Remember, we didn’t remote control the craft – the radio waves take too long to reach Mars for direct radio control… We programmed the craft to do it!

On the Surface!

On the Surface!

The next picture is the craft on the Martian surface, viewed from the orbiting spacecraft. We can even see the solar panels unfurled!

Truly, if we as a species are capable of this, then we can do anything we put our minds to! I do not see the energy crisis as an insurmountable problem. Or global hunger. Or global conflicts. Or global warfare.

The problem is purely of people’s creation and the problem lies within our minds. If we decide it’s NOT a problem but is in fact a simple task that enables us all to keep living, then we can do these little tasks. We can see parachute chords on other worlds – we can surely keep the trees growing.

If we can’t do these tasks, then because Mars is a much less tectonically active place than the Earth, in a billion years the only evidence that humans existed on Earth won’t be on Earth, it’ll be on Mars!


Phoenix descends past Martian Crater

The proof that Mars is tectonically inactive lies in this picture. The spaceship is floating down on it’s parachute in line of sight of a huge Martian crater.

Statistically, the inner worlds of Earth, Venus and Mars have been whacked by meteorites at the same rate. The only reason the Earth isn’t covered in meteorite scars is that crustal movements and weathering erode them away – quickly, (in geological time-speak). Craters like this have been made many times on Earth. We only see small remnants left now – until the next one arrives.

This picture also shows something of the immense time-spans that I’m talking about. This crater could be a billion years old!

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