Monday, September 22, 2008

Lunar Looking

While the world greeted Jules Verne’s 1865 book De la Terre à la Lune (translated in 1873 as From the Earth to the Moon) with acclaim and wonder, it was hardly the first fictional speculation about a voyage to our nearest cosmic neighbor. The Greek satirist Lucian had written about such a flight as early as the second century C.E. and the moon, our constant companion, has always been an object of intense fascination.
Its reflected silvery glow bathes the Earth with romance and mystery. Its changing face, as it travels through its monthly cycle, has always commanded our attention, as have its peculiarly human qualities: Unlike the stars, it is pocked, mottled, imperfect. Almost all cultures at all times have seen some sort of face or figure in the features of the moon. Only rather recently have we realized just how important the moon has been in the evolution of our planet. The sun is so intensely brilliant that to gaze at it is to go blind. But the moon, coincidentally the same size in the sky as the sun, shines with harmless reflected light that invites us to gaze and gaze—to become lunatics.

What If We Had No Moon?

It seems like a reasonable question to ask. What if we had no moon? Would it matter? What has the moon done for me lately?
It turns out that the presence of such a large moon as we have is unusual for a terrestrial planet. Mercury and Venus have no moons, and Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. To have a moon roughly 1⁄3 the size of the planet is unique in the inner solar system. Our Moon, for example, is as large as some of the moons of the giant gas planets in the outer solar system. If there were no moon, we would have no ocean tides, and the rotation rate of the earth would not have slowed to its current 24 hours. It is thought that early in the life of the Earth, it rotated once every 6
hours. The moon also appears to stabilize the rotational axis of the Earth. The Moon, in periodically blocking the light from the Sun’s photosphere gives us a view of the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, and it also gave early astronomers clues to the distribution of objects in the solar system.

Our Closest Neighbor : The Moon

It has been more than 30 years since Neil Armstrong stepped from the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander onto the surface of the moon. The moon is still the only celestial body other than the Earth where humans have stood. But why did we go there? Columbus had sailed to a place promising great riches to exploit. The moon, in contrast, was and is a lifeless orb, devoid of water (mostly!), air, sound, weather, trees, or grass. While Columbus’s voyages had their tight moments (he once had to “predict” a solar eclipse to impress the natives), on his return from the fourth and final voyage to the New World, Columbus announced that he had indeed found an Earthly paradise.
But the moon?
From the pictures we’ve all seen, the lunar landscape is one of rock, dust, and desolation. And although the astronauts were seen skipping across its surface, they were clearly happy to return to mother Earth. Why on earth did our nation expend such effort, treasure, and risk to send astronauts to the lunar surface? What have we

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Demise of Mir

After several years of mishaps and close calls, the decision was made to discontinue
use of the Mir Space Station and to concentrate on the collaboration with the international community on the International Space Station. Early in 2001, the Mir Space Station was de-orbited and allowed to crash into the South Pacific Ocean. At 12:55 A.M. EST on March 22, 2001 (05:55 Greenwich Mean Time), the Mir station was 50 km (31 mi) above Earth’s surface. At 12:58 A.M. EST (05:58 GMT, 8:55 A.M. Moscow time) fragments of the station hit the ocean.
Alix Bowles, Project Coordinator for watched the space station break into pieces as it streaked through the sky from a beach in Fiji. “It was a stunning blue steak followed by a sonic boom,” he said. “The pieces had a blue incandescence to them. There was something very peaceful about it,” he added. In its later years, the Mir station had become the butt of late-night television jokes, but, in fact, it was a productive scientific instrument and an important test bed for technology used on the International Space Station. Mir lasted years far longer than its designers had envisioned.


On May 14, 1973, the United States launched its first orbiting space station, Skylab, designed to accommodate teams of astronauts to conduct a variety of experiments in geography, engineering, Earth resources, and biomedicine. Such work was carried out during 1973 and the beginning of 1974. In 1974, the craft’s orbit was adjusted to an altitude believed sufficient to keep Skylab in orbit until 1983, when a visit from the Space Shuttle was contemplated. At that time, the orbit would again be adjusted. Unfortunately, Skylab wandered out of orbit prematurely, in June 1978, and ultimately disintegrated and fell into the Indian Ocean on July 11, 1979.

Space Shuttles and Space Stations

The flight of Apollo 17 in 1972 was the last manned lunar mission, but not the end of the U.S. manned space program. On April 12, 1981, the first Space Shuttle, a reusable spacecraft (the previous space capsules had been one-shot vehicles) was launched. The Shuttle was intended to transport personnel and cargo back and forth from a manned space station, planned for Earth orbit. So far, Shuttle missions have carried out a variety of experiments, have delivered satellites into orbit, and have even repaired and upgraded the Hubble Space. In 1999, it started its most ambitious mission: the construction of an international space station, to be built in conjunction with Russia, Japan, and the European Space Agency (ESA). The realities of politics and economics mean that, in the twenty-first century, countries will be much more likely to cooperate in the race to space.