Category Archives: Space

Mars Lander Going Into Hybernation

With the oncoming Martian winter reducing the amount of sunlight available for recharging its batteries, the Phoenix Mars Lander is having trouble phoning home.

But not to worry. As soon as Obama becomes President, the whole solar system will be bathed in perpetual sunlight, and all will be well.


Last Hurrah for Hubble

The Hubble Telescope will receive its final upgrade from the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis, which lifts off this month. Hopefully these repairs will keep the orbiting telescope functioning for a few more years, when it will be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope. But the JWST is an infared telescope only, so we will no longer be treated to the stunningly beautiful visual images of deep space that Hubble provided us. That’s sad.

The U. S. space program is struggling. The shuttle program will soon be retired, and its replacement will not be ready until 2015. In the meantime, American space travelers will have to hitch rides on Russian launch vehicles. JFK would be so disappointed to see his vision of space exploration come to this.

NASA’s Most Embarrassing Mistakes

Here is a gallery of NASA’s most embarrassing — and in some cases, spectacular — mishaps. And this gallery does not include the fatal disasters (Challenger, Columbia, etc.)

Given the role that human error played in many of these fiascoes, if I were an astronaut in training for a Mars mission, I think I’d be a little nervous.

An Interplanetary First

What do you see in this picture?

No, it’s not a diamond ring sticking up out of the sand. It’s a picture of the Phoenix Mars Lander and its parachute, during its descent to the Martian surface on Sunday evening. The shot was taken by a high resolution camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, orbiting high above Mars.

The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter marks the first time ever one spacecraft has photographed another one in the act of landing on Mars.

This technology is so cool — when it works. When it doesn’t, we get some pretty embarrassing failures, like these.

(On a personal note: One of my sons is a system administrator for the web hosting service that hosts the web site, including pictures like the one above.)

The Phoenix Has Landed

Cool! So when do we start digging?

Follow the latest updates from NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, which successfully landed yesterday near the Martian north pole, where it will dig for evidence of sub-surface water.

From the site’s picture gallery:

This image shows a polygonal pattern in the ground near NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, similar in appearance to icy ground in the arctic regions of Earth.


Additional information from

Now on the surface, the Phoenix must work quickly. Martian winter begins in three months. The sun will drop below the horizon, and a thick ice of water and carbon dioxide will coat the lander’s solar panels, ending its life.

The Satellite Shoot-Down

The Department of Defense has released this video of Wednesday’s shoot-down of that defunct satellite. The satellite was traveling at 17,000 miles per hour, and the missile nailed it. Wow.

Besides the coolness factor, I suspect our government is publicizing this because it wants the bad guys around the world to know what our military is capable of.

Remembering Columbia

It was five years ago today that the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while returning from a mission. The folks in Nacogdoches remember it well.

It was this town that became the epicenter of the search for whatever was left of the shuttle. More than 85,000 pieces that comprised only about 38 percent of the craft were eventually recovered.

The tragedy has a personal connection for me. My mother lives in Palestine, about 60 miles west of Nacogdoches. Pieces of the shuttle were found there, too, including the small camcorder that recorded the final minutes of the crew as they began re-entry. This article describes the experiences of several residents in the area on the day of the disaster. A good photo gallery of the debris is found here.

In my younger days I spent a lot of time tromping through the piney woods of deep East Texas. Believe me, they will still be finding pieces of the shuttle in that vast forest decades from now.