An unmanned spacecraft from India — that most worldly and yet otherworldly of nations — is on its way to the moon. For the first time since man and his rockets began trespassing on outer space, a vessel has gone up from a country whose people actually regard the moon as a god.
The Chandrayaan (or “moon craft”) is the closest India has got to the moon since the epic Hindu sage, Narada, tried to reach it on a ladder of considerable (but insufficient) length — as my grandmother’s bedtime version of events would have it. So think of this as a modern Indian pilgrimage to the moon.… Seguir leyendo »
Among the many tough decisions facing the next president is the future of our civilian space program. There are conflicts over how long to fly the space shuttle, which are linked to questions about continued American access to the international space station -- built at the cost of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars -- and whether U.S. astronauts will return to the moon before 2020.
The premiere this week of the PBS "Nova" documentary "Space Shuttle Disaster" brings many of these questions to the fore. The 2003 Columbia Accident Investigation Board, of which I was a member, concluded that the United States should "replace the shuttle as soon as possible as the primary means for transporting humans to and from Earth orbit."… Seguir leyendo »
As we face $4.50 a gallon gas, we also know that alternative energy sources — coal, oil shale, ethanol, wind and ground-based solar — are either of limited potential, very expensive, require huge energy storage systems or harm the environment. There is, however, one potential future energy source that is environmentally friendly, has essentially unlimited potential and can be cost competitive with any renewable source: space solar power.
Science fiction? Actually, no — the technology already exists. A space solar power system would involve building large solar energy collectors in orbit around the Earth. These panels would collect far more energy than land-based units, which are hampered by weather, low angles of the sun in northern climes and, of course, the darkness of night.… Seguir leyendo »
The triumphant landing of the Phoenix craft on Mars is a tribute to the team of engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California - one of whom, Peter Smith, was a colleague of mine on the Beagle 2 mission to the planet in 2003. Using the Mars reconnaissance orbiter, they selected an excellent place to land, and were able to use thrusters to hit the spot safely and softly.
But it's also a tribute to the perseverance of Nasa, which has launched missions to the planet every 26 months. They have built at least 23 orbiting spacecraft, and have now had three successful landings.… Seguir leyendo »
It is more than 35 years since Harrison Schmidt and Eugene Cernan, the last men on the Moon, returned to Earth. The Apollo programme now seems a remote historical episode: children all over the world learn that America landed men on the Moon, just as they learn that the Egyptians built the Pyramids; but the motivations seem almost as bizarre in the one case as in the other.
The recent film In the Shadow of the Moon depicted these historic - indeed heroic - events, but to today's young audiences the outdated gadgetry and the “right stuff” values seemed almost as antiquated as a traditional Western.… Seguir leyendo »
Fifty years ago this week, America was shaken out of technological complacency by a beeping 180-pound aluminum ball orbiting overhead. Sputnik was a shock because we had always assumed that Russia was nothing but a big, lumbering and all-brawn bear. He could wear down the Nazis and produce mountains of steel but had none of our savvy or sophistication. Then one day we wake up and he has beaten us into space, placing overhead the first satellite to orbit the Earth since God placed the moon where it could give us lovely sailing tides.
At the time, all thoughts were about the Soviets overwhelming us technologically.… Seguir leyendo »
Fifty years ago, on October 4 1957, my father, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, was waiting for a call from Kazakhstan: the designer, Sergei Korolev, was due to report on the launch of the world's first satellite. My father was in Ukraine, on military business, and that evening he dined with Ukrainian leaders. I sat at the end of the table, not paying attention to their conversation. Around midnight my father was asked to take a phone call. When he came back, he was smiling: Sputnik's launch had been successful.
Soviet engineers began designing Sputnik in January 1956. The plan was to launch it with an intercontinental ballistic missile in development since 1954.… Seguir leyendo »
Decades ago, a shift in NASA priorities sidelined progress in human space exploration. As momentum gathers to reinvigorate human space missions to the moon and Mars, we risk hurting ourselves, and Earth, in the long run. Our planet -- not the moon or Mars -- is under significant threat from the consequences of rapid climate change. Yet the changing NASA priorities will threaten exploration here at home.
NASA not only launches shuttles and builds space stations, it also builds and operates our nation's satellites that observe and monitor the Earth. These satellites collect crucial global data on winds, ice and oceans.… Seguir leyendo »
By Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist, the leader of the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission and director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 20/02/07):
AFTER years of spending our nation’s space budget building an orbiting space station of questionable utility, serviced by an operationally expensive space shuttle of unsafe design, NASA has set a new direction for the future of human spaceflight. Once again, we have our sights on the Moon ... and beyond. We are finally, bodily, going to make our way into space, this time to stay.
It is an opinion long and widely held within the space-exploration community that the Nixon administration’s termination of the program that built the Saturn V Moon rocket was a gargantuan mistake.… Seguir leyendo »
By Ben Macintyre (THE TIMES, 08/12/06):
The Moon was always the reflection of our dreams. Only in the most recent fraction of human history have we known that it is a place, a rock, a thing, rather than an idea, a phenomenon or a god.
The moon was a veiled ghost, the deity of time and madness. It pulled the tides, measured out our months and perhaps too the ovulation of woman, the origin of human life itself.
We gave the Moon names, in every culture, and for every season: Harvest Moon, Blue Moon, Strawberry Moon. The Sun has no equivalent adjectival richness.… Seguir leyendo »
A Marte sin billete de vuelta. Paul Davies es profesor de Historia Natural del Centro Australiano de Astrobiología (EL MUNDO, 17/01/04).
Cien años de Astronáutica. Martín J. Gamero Castro-Mansilla, ingeniero aeronáutico (EL MUNDO, 06/01/04).