M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

35 Years Ago: Remembering the Challenger

January 28, 2021
MThomas

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since the disaster that claimed the lives of all seven Space Shuttle Challenger crew members.

I remember it well. Being sent home early without being told. Watching the TV news at home in silent shock with my parents and younger siblings, tears streaming down our faces.

President Reagan’s speech at Congress, made in the place of the traditional State of the Union address, ended with “they slipped the surly bonds of Earth…and touched the face of God.” Probably the finest and most decent thing he ever did (even my parents, who voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and intensely disliked Reagan and everything he stood for, couldn’t help but be moved by his words that day).

Thoughtless jokes circulated our school the next week or two. (“What’s the last thing Christa MacAuliffe said to her husband? “You feed the dog; I’ll feed the fish.”)

Even today, we focus on the school teacher who died and almost ignore the rest of the crew. Something like three dozen schools now bear her name. But NASA engineers have never forgotten. They just find it so difficult, so painful to write and talk about their friends and colleagues who perished.

There was a morbid fascination with the way in which the Challenger crew met their fate. My friends came up with all sorts of gruesome stories they claimed to have “heard,” mostly about body parts washing up on beaches around the Caribbean.

The fact is, we were traumatized. Kids do all sorts of insane things to hide their fears, insecurity, and general inability to answer the question what am I supposed to feel/do/say about this?

Challenger marked a turning point in the US space program. It set NASA back in many ways but also provided great insight into what needed to be fixed, what needed to be done to push forward our knowledge of space and the great beyond.

There is/was no going back. Humanity is a space-faring race and must continue to strive to reach beyond its grasp…”Or what’s a heaven for?”

Remember, honor.

Emulate.

Onward and upward.

Whatever happened to the “spaceplane”?

January 27, 2021
MThomas

NASA ended the US’s interest in spaceplanes when it scrapped the shuttle fleet a decade ago.

But other space agencies and private companies in other countries are very much in the game. ESA, India, even the UK.

And, of course…

Whichever future the spaceplane does have, it will involve China. “We know very little about the launch [of China’s experimental spaceplane],” says Deville. “But it shows that China is serious about developing its spaceplane concepts.”

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210121-spaceplanes-the-return-of-the-reuseable-spacecraft

Blue Jets, Red Sprites, Trolls, and Elves in Space

January 25, 2021
MThomas

“Blue jets” rise up from clouds.

Above the lightning, “red sprites” can be seen (plasma discharges).

Known about since 1886, not photographed until 1989….and now known to occur on Jupiter.

Check out this page for some amazing photos…

“NASA captures blue jets and red sprites above thunderstorms from space” (somebody needs to help Forbes with its grammar…”from space” is a misplaced modifier…)

A ‘Megasatellite’ Orbiting Ceres Would Make a Fine Home For Humans, Scientist Says

January 22, 2021
MThomas

Ha! I knew it.

Well, OK, I guessed it.

And added miners.

And space pirates.

Whatever.

https://www.sciencealert.com/could-humans-live-in-a-megasatellite-settlement-around-dwarf-planet-ceres?fbclid=IwAR08gSQ8savsJSsMt4aaTYS-DHwy7z-MhzyBR7-btnSejMig-m0anKMk6RI

The One Small Step Act: Only for US?

January 16, 2021
MThomas

It’s a small step. It applies only to companies that are working with NASA; it pertains only to U.S. lunar landing sites; it implements outdated and untested recommendations to protect historic lunar sites implemented by NASA in 2011. However, it offers significant breakthroughs. It is the first legislation from any nation to recognize an off-Earth site as having “outstanding universal value” to humanity, language taken from the unanimously ratified World Heritage Convention.

https://astronomy.com/news/2021/01/neil-armstrongs-bootprint-and-other-lunar-artifacts-are-now-protected-by-us-law

The author believes this shows that “nonpartisan” desire to journey to space and preserve human heritage.

Hmm.

Well, I do agree with the assessment that it’s only a matter of time before the Moon is occupied by multiple political entities (China, India, Russia, the US, ESA…) and probably even a few private enterprises as well. Will the private company-sponsored missions agree to abide by a US law?

We’ll see.

Tardigrads…In…Space…I mean, On the Moon…

December 28, 2020
MThomas

Despite the impact, scientists believe that if anything survived the crash intact, it may well have been the tardigrades. The microscopic creatures were sandwiched between micron-thin sheets of nickel and suspended in epoxy, a resin-like preservative that acts like a jelly — potentially enough to cushion their landing.

https://www.inverse.com/science/tardigrades-may-have-taken-over-the-moon

I, for one, look forward to our lovably cute waterbear overlords…

Amateur Thai astronomer photographs unknown Sungrazer

December 27, 2020
MThomas

This family of comets originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago. The sungrazers continue to orbit around the sun today.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/21/world/new-comet-solar-eclipse-scn/index.html

Now this is something I didn’t know. Learn a new thing ever day…

A sneak peek at the inside of the Red Planet

December 18, 2020
MThomas

Despite the lack of large marsquakes, the researchers were able to estimate how thick Mars’ crust is. They predict it has three layers—but possibly two—that are between 12.4 and 23 miles thick, reports Nature. Mars’ crust is considerably thinner than that of Earth, which can be up to 25 miles thick—and that’s surprising, reports Science.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/robotic-explorer-mars-offers-sneak-peek-mars-inner-layers-180976568/

Lots of small “Marsquakes,” but nothing big. Max M4.5.

A techtonically silent world. Might explain the weak magnetic field which allowed solar winds to rip off its atmosphere long ago.

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