Our solar system is full of some unforgettable landmarks. Jupiter has a storm bigger than our entire home planet. Mars has a mountain that stretches 15+ miles high. Saturn has its unmistakable rings. But what about our innermost planet? If you’re not an astronomer or learning about the planets in grammar school, it’s easy to forget poor old Mercury. Maybe that will change now that they’ve discovered Mickey Mouse on the planet’s surface.
Eight years ago on June 21, 2004, history was made 100km over a small desert airport in New Mexico. Mike Melville flew the first privately-funded spaceflight in Space Ship One, a craft created by visionary aerospace designer Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites. Not only did this achievement put Scaled Composites in the lead on wining the Ansari X-Prize, but it also showed for the first time that multi-billion dollar spacecraft and government involvement weren’t the only way for mankind to reach the boundaries of space.
Rutan says the idea that created Space Ship One dates back to 1996, but full development of the spacecraft started in, appropriately enough, 2001. With a generous investment from philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Scaled Composites started work on the air launched vehicle consisting of the hybrid rocket powered glider Space Ship One and it’s launch plane White Knight One. The idea for the air launched plane is not new, the X-1 series of planes which famous test pilot Chuck Yeager flew were dropped from the belly of a modified B-29 bomber. Where Space Ship One broke new ground was in its feathering atmospheric re-entry design, where a swiveling wing structure uses air resistance to slow down and steady the craft for an unpowered runway landing.
Space exploration has been giving us breathtaking pictures of the universe around us for some time now, but often the most impactful shots are not of far-off galaxies or planets, but of our own home. From the iconic shots of the Earth viewed from the Moon to crazy shots taken from the ISS, we’ve had some talented shutterbugs floating around outside our atmosphere. Add to that history this amazing shot of lightning, as viewed from a perspective few of us will ever get to see: 200-plus miles above the Earth’s surface.
The shot was taken from the International Space Station by ESA astronaut André Kuipers as a storm rolled over west Africa. I’ll say this for the ISS crews: for all the creature comforts they give up to work a stint on the station, they’re sure as hell never lacking for an impressive view out their windows.
DATE: Jun 18, 2012 | BY: David Wharton | Category: Sci-Fi
David Bowie famously sang of life on Mars, but a new kickstarter project wants to take the union of space travel and music to a next, possibly insane level. A new Kickstarter project called “Space Folk Album: Lunar Aid 1985” aims to record an album of folk music…on the Moon. Yes, the actual moon.
With the recent retirement of the Space Shuttle program, a long and worthy chapter of human space exploration has come to an end. While several other nations are developing their own space programs, here in the States NASA is having its budget slashed seemingly without regard to the effect such cuts could have on the development of future technologies and the furthering of science in general. Perhaps the immediate destiny of space exploration will be pushed along by private companies and ambitious dreamers, but it’s still sad to know that there will be no more Shuttles launching, and no immediate replacement for them either.
And while it was easy to become jaded about Shuttle launches in recent years, the sight of a Shuttle riding a pillar of fire and smoke into the heavens was still a beautiful and humbling sight, right up to the last. I regret that I never got to see a launch in person, but I remember, as a teenager, standing in my front yard in the middle of the night and staring up with awe as the shuttle reentered through the skies over Texas, carving a golden arc from horizon to horizon. And now, even in retirement, the Shuttle has found a way to make my jaw drop once again. Check out this amazing footage recorded by cameras on the Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. Turn those speakers up; trust me, you’ve never taken a ride like this.
Mankind’s short history of space exploration has produced some truly amazing images. The first shots of the Earth viewed from the Moon. The barren deserts of Mars. And now a new batch of photographs can be added to the tally thanks to astronaut Don Pettit, who has uploaded some breathtaking photographs to NASA’s Johnson Space Center Flickr page.