Astronaut Garriott 1930-2019

Astronaut Owen Garriott has passed away at age 88 at his home in Huntsville, AL. He was an electrical engineer born in Oklahoma and spent 60 days in space in 1973. Garriott also performed three space walks while on the Skylab space station and flew on a Colombia mission in 1983. He was an electronics officer in the United States Navy and completed one year of Air Force Pilot Training. This man lived and breathed space whether it be his Vice Presidency of space programs at Teledyne Brown or voicing a video game as a character looking for a rocket. We can appreciate his sense of humor and his passion for something bigger than himself for years to come.

Center Core Recovery from SpaceX Updates

SpaceX has made history yet again. They recovered all three of their boosters (something they missed in 2018) and the center core of the Falcon Heavy rocket they launched on April 11. This is huge for the reusability of rockets. The more “stuff” we can reuse the less we have to remake and test and ship and spend tons of money and time on. The recovery demonstrated by SpaceX in this launch alone easily saves the company millions of dollars. The hope is that SpaceX can master the reusability technique to make flight to space more cost efficient so more projects and people can make their way out of Earth’s atmosphere. But every great success story has to meet rough waters. Which is actually literally what happened to the center core of the rocket. It was recovered out in the middle of the ocean on a nice little platform where it was then picked up by a drone ship. Weather rained down the great SpaceX empire with huge wave swells and unsafe conditions, resulting in the team deciding to cut its ties with the center core. However, the mission has still proven to give us hope for the future of rockets and a SpaceX spokesperson said “we do not expect future missions to be impacted.” Even with mother nature giving us a hard time, I think we can still write this off as a huge win.

Black Hole Image

We got it! The first image of a black hole! Sure, it is a little fuzzy, but hey so was Jupiter and Pluto and everything else when we first started! Also, I want to reiterate that this isn’t a photograph of a black hole! It is an image. If we were to take a cellphone and get a black hole selfie, we would see absolutely nothing. All light is lost in a black hole. What really happened is tons and tons of information about the black hole was imported into a computer and all that information was used to draw up what a black hole would look like. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is network of telescopes and that gave us all the information we needed. They used a lot of radio waves, x-rays, and images of the surroundings to stitch together the fuzzy piece of amazing history that we have all seen hundreds of times now. The way that the waves reflected back (or didn’t) is what allowed scientists to map the image. Here are some quick facts about the black hole in the picture:

  1. It has been named Powehi which is Hawaiian for embellished dark source of un-ending creation.
  2. This is Katie Bouman’s claim to fame as she has been getting tons of attention for her contribution to the code. Plus, she is only 29 years old. Talk about a success story.
  3. It was discovered in 1999 and has had “mysterious cycles of brightening and dimming” since we first started monitoring it.
  4. The team who created the image named it M87(asterisk) where the “asterisk” is silent. Got love nerd humor.
  5. It is about 53 million light years away in the Messier 87 galaxy (hence the nick name)

Top Space Command Locations

Things are moving for Space Command! The US military just announced their location finalists for the new “Space Force” branch. There are six proposed locations and four, yes four, are in Colorado. That is a 66% chance that the mile-high state will be the new home for Space Command (and a 50% chance for good old Colorado Springs). Here is the list:

  1. Buckley Air Force Base – Denver, CO
  2. Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station – Colorado Springs, CO
  3. Peterson Air Force Base – Colorado Springs, CO
  4. Schriever Air Force Base – Colorado Springs, CO
  5. Army’s Redstone Arsenal – Hunstville, AL
  6. Vandenberg  Air Force Base – Lompoc, CA

This list is not ideal for those pulling for Florida and Texas but looks very good for other Aerospace focused cities. Based on the line up, the US government is looking at where there is already a strong presences of both military and space as well as land to expand.

Huntsville is mostly known as the place where the designs get built and rockets come to life. Vandenberg is a huge space base for the military and is one of the major launch locations for the United States. All the options in Colorado are both military based and right along the new “Aerospace Alley” where many commercial and private companies are setting up headquarters.  This is an exciting time for aerospace work. We will see where the government decides to make space history.

Hawking's Legacy

Often referred to as "modern day Einstein," Stephen Hawking has left us with both amazing scientific discoveries and delightful comedy cameos before he his death last year. Hawking’s number one interest was black holes. His theoretical work has paved the way for virtually all we know about them (which is still very little). That is why it is a shame he won’t be here for April 10th, the unveiling of the world’s first picture of a black hole! All his work as led us to this point and for that we are incredibly grateful. Just to clarify, we did not send a little robot to the edge of a black hole to take a selfie. We are getting this picture using telescopes and radio waves from different locations to stitch together what a black hole looks like. Think of it more like echolocation to map the ocean floor. We basically will be getting a negative of a black hole (if you remember the time of negative photos).

On a different black hole note, Hawking had an interesting theory about dark matter before he died. The quick and dirty of black matter: it is the opposite of what we know as matter (i.e. plants, rocks, the table over there, anything with mass) but is not something we can touch or see like normal matter. Dark matter accounts for around 80% of the universe and is mostly theoretical work. Hawking spent much of his time contemplating dark matter, seeing it as mysterious as black holes. His theory was that an unimaginable number of tiny black holes (less than a Milgram each) popped into existence at the beginning of the universe, before stars could form the larger black holes we know today. And from that, he deduced that dark matter could have been produced by the small black holes billions of years ago. Scientists recently conducted an experiment to test for these black holes (after all they can’t disappear so they would still be here). They expected to see thousands of them flickering in and out of picture for seven hours, but instead they only saw one flicker. While this doesn’t disprove Hawking’s theory, it makes it highly unlikely.

So the hunt for more understanding on black holes and dark matter continues! Even Hawking didn’t have all the answers, but that just means they are still out there. Tune in on April 10th for the first picture of a black hole!

Colorado Space Command Nominee

General John "Jay" Raymond was recently nominated to be the head of the new U.S. Space Command. Gen. Raymond has an impressive career in the Air Force including time as an official at the Pentagon. He is known as the "it" guy for space in the Air Force and most of his time since commission in 1984 has been focused on missiles, satellites, and rockets. Right now Gen. Raymond claims Colorado Springs as home and he works at Peterson Airforce. Not only is this a huge step in him, it is another tally why Colorado should be the home for the new Space Command branch of the U.S. Military!

Artificial Gravity

We are officially working on artificial gravity! There is a study in Germany that is about to begin that involves testing individuals (12 male, 12 female) by keeping them in bed for 60 days. I know it sounds like a dream for many of us, but this has some interesting rules and might be harder than you think. Not only does your head have to remain at 6 degrees below horizontal tilt, you always have to keep one shoulder on the bed... at all times… for two months. This experiment is a common one for anti-gravity (which you feel in space) with research in ways to reduce muscle and bone deterioration through different exercise and food. But the interesting part is they will also be using a centrifuge to show how artificial gravity affects this process.

A centrifuge is a machine that uses centripetal acceleration to spin things at a high rate around a fixed axis. Think like the tornados you can make in a glass if you swirl your spoon (fixed axis) really fast in the center. There are tons of ways to use centrifuge but in this case, they use the centripetal acceleration to mimic gravity through what is known as rotational gravity. Not only can this help keep our astronauts stronger in space through a type of “artificial gravity therapy” throughout their missions, it eventually might be able to be used to mimic gravity on a larger scale for humans living in space. There are a lot of things to research still but it opens up plenty of our sci-fi dreams again.

You can read more about the experiment here

To The Moon! Stat!

The White House tells NASA to step on it! Alabama is hosting a US spaceflight policy meeting on Tuesday (3/26) led by none other than VP of the USA, Mike Pence. This article talks about it more in-depth but here is the run down. Right now, the US has a plan to get the next human to the moon in 2028. Not only is that way too long of a wait, but it has many places for schedule slips which begs the question, will we ever make it to the moon again? Well, other countries have their eyes set on it and they're going to do it faster than us. This meeting will revolve around the US stepping up to the plate and rumor has it Pence will be urging NASA to not only mitigate the slips of the 2028 goal but to move up the timeline. We will see what comes with Tuesday’s meeting but for the time I will just say that I am excited that space is moving up in the rankings for importance to this country.

Story Update! (Post Meeting)

Pence announced today that the new goal is to have humans on the moon again by 2024 and that the first person to set foot on the surface in the 21st century will actually be a woman. Right now, the schedule says the first landing will be 2028. But after the meeting today, it is being rushed to 2024. The Orion capsule is scheduled for a test flight in 2023 and NASA is now working with that project to use the capsule to speed up the lunar landing timeline. The plan right now is to land on the moon's south pole. While even Pence admits it is an ambitious goal, we just need a little faith and a lot of nerd power!

Last Panorama of Mars

Check out Opportunity's last panorama shot of Mars! This is the Perseverance Valley on Mars and this shot was taken sometime last spring before the rover was caught in one of Mars' brutal dust storms. "Oppy" was last heard from on June 10th of 2018 and although NASA kept sending 

Perseverance Valley

thousands of messages, they determined the program over due to the lack of response. But it is hard to be too sad about it because of the raging success of the mission. Opportunity was suppose to last about 90 days and here we are 15 years later, finally closing the book for this rover on Mars. Here's to all we learned from Oppy and all we will learn in the future!