Faking a moon landing disaster

This July saw the 50th annivesary of the moon landing, and I shared a number of landing related links, including one about a speech for President Nixon in case the worst should happen, titled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.”

Well, it’s been given the deepfake treatment.

A deepfake Nixon delivers eulogy for the Apollo 11 astronautsKottke
Fifty years ago, not even Stanley Kubrick could have faked the Moon landing. But today, visual effects and techniques driven by machine learning are so good that it might be relatively simple, at least the television broadcast part of it. In a short demonstration of that technical supremacy, a group from MIT has created a deepfake version of Nixon delivering that disaster speech. …

The implications of being able to so convincingly fake the televised appearance of a former US President are left as an exercise to the reader.

In event of moon disaster – Nixon deepfake clipsYouTube

Being an astronaut isn’t plain sailing

One way of escaping our worries here on Earth could be to take a trip to the International Space Station. That might not work out so well, though.

Life on the Space Station is about to get really weird and lonelyWired UK
Right now, there are six astronauts aboard the International Space Station, floating 408km above our heads. But soon things could be about to get a lot lonelier up there. Delays in building new spacecraft to get astronauts into space mean that the next trio of astronauts set to join the ISS in April 2020 are facing the possibility of being the space station’s lone occupants for six months.

Space can make your blood flow backwardsBGR
On Earth, gravity aids in draining blood from the head and ensuring a steady flow. In space, that assistance just isn’t there, and slow-moving or stagnant blood can cause clotting. In fact, two of the crew members were found to have clots or partial clots in their left internal jugular vein. Blood clotting is incredibly dangerous when it happens within the body, and if a clot were to form and then travel to the lungs it could create a pulmonary embolism, which is a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate treatment.

Gathering moondust

NASA went to extraordinary lengths to show that what was brought back from the moon that time was safe.

NASA fed some of its precious Apollo 11 lunar samples to cockroaches
“We had to prove that we weren’t going to contaminate not only human beings, but we weren’t going to contaminate fish and birds and animals and plants and you name it,” said Charles Berry, head of medical operations during Apollo, in an oral history. “Any of the Earth’s biosphere, we had to prove we weren’t going to affect it. So we had to develop an amazing program that was carried off really for three flights’ worth. A lot of trouble.”

50 years later, those samples are still studied.

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How NASA has preserved Apollo moon rocks for 50 years
“May I hold it?” I ask Krysher. No dice. I had to ask, even though Zeigler had warned me in an e-mail before I arrived: “We have pretty strict rules about people putting their (gloved) hands in the cabinets to touch samples. Basically, it’s an only-if-you-walked-on-the-moon rule.”

Keeping pristine samples away from curious fingers allowed scientists to make one of the most surprising lunar discoveries of the last 50 years: The moon is wet. Over the last decade, scientists have found hundreds of times more water in lunar samples than researchers in the Apollo era realized existed.

A visit to NASA’s moon rock central
Science News astronomy writer Lisa Grossman went behind the scenes at NASA’s pristine sample lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston this spring and saw moon rocks up close — or as close as non-astronauts can get.

“Liftoff, we have a liftoff!”

It’s the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 today, blasting off on July 16, 1969 to start its three-day trip to the moon.

That landing, though.

Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary: NASA legends remember the nerve-wracking moments
“It was a very large crater,” Armstrong told Ed Bradley and “60 Minutes” in 2005. “Steep slopes on the crater, covered with very large rocks about the size of automobiles. That was not the kind of place I wanted to try to make the first landing.”

Armstrong, flying manually, had to improvise. He had roughly one minute of fuel to find a safe place to land … “The tension was through the roof,” said Charlie Duke, also in Mission Control, who was the man telling Armstrong he was flying on fumes. Duke said the tension was so great at Mission Control there was dead silence. “I’d never heard Mission Control so quiet. So that tension, it was palpable. You could feel it.”

Armstrong finally spotted smooth terrain: “And we finally landed with nobody knows exactly how much fuel. Some estimates have it at 20 seconds’ [worth].”

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

An absolutely incredible journey. The risks were staggering. It could have all gone very differently.

50 facts about the Apollo 11 moon landing for its 50th anniversary
5. Richard Nixon had a speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts never came home.
As with many historic undertakings, President Nixon had to prepare for the possibility that a tragedy might occur during the Apollo 11 mission. So his speechwriter, William Safire, wrote two different speeches: one to celebrate the mission’s victory, another titled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.” It stated:

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”

Thankfully, the mission was a success, though some thought the soundtrack could be improved.

Brian Eno’s soundtrack for the Apollo 11 moon landing
In the months that followed, the same few seconds of Neil Armstrong’s small steps played on an endless loop on TV as anchors and journalists offered their analysis and patriotic platitudes as a soundtrack. The experts, he later wrote, “[obscured] the grandeur and strangeness of the event with a patina of down-to-earth chatter.”

In 01983, Eno decided to add his own soundtrack to the momentous event.

Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent) (Remastered 2019)

It’s not the only moon out there, of course.

The Atlas of Moons
Our solar system collectively hosts nearly 200 known moons, some of which are vibrant worlds in their own right. Take a tour of the major moons in our celestial menagerie, including those that are among the most mystifying—or scientifically intriguing—places in our local neighborhood.

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Update 17/07/19

Can’t resist just adding another article here, though I’ve mentioned some of these before.

The greatest photos ever? Why the moon landing shots are artistic masterpieces
The legacy of Earthrise has never stopped growing – and the Earth, as seen by unmanned spacecraft, has never stopped shrinking. When Nasa’s Voyager probe reached the edge of the solar system it turned to take a picture of a tiny Earth alongside its neighbouring planets. The Hubble telescope and its like have shown us a sublime, colourful universe whose light-filled dust clouds are light years across.

Yet the photographs taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts and the handful of humans who followed them remain unique. They are still the only portraits of our species on another world.

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I didn’t realise you could see Buzz Aldrin’s face in that photo.

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And here’s one more, on the exhilaration of the event.

The sublime Romanticism of the moon landing
Virtually alone among contemporary observers in seeing the true significance of the lunar landing was Vladimir Nabokov, who rented a television set for the occasion. Asked by The New York Times for his reaction, the author of Pale Fire wrote of:

…[T]hat gentle little minuet that despite their awkward suits the two men danced with such grace to the tune of lunar gravity was a lovely sight. It was also a moment when a flag means to one more than a flag usually does. I am puzzled and pained by the fact that the English weeklies ignored the absolutely overwhelming excitement of the adventure, the strange sensual exhilaration of palpating those precious pebbles, of seeing our marbled globe in the black sky, of feeling along one’s spine the shiver and wonder of it. After all, Englishmen should understand that thrill, they who have been the greatest, the purest explorers. Why then drag in such irrelevant matters as wasted dollars and power politics?

The grit of space

We’re all fascinated by images of space (and from space), but their polish and stillness can sometimes hide the fuller picture.

Celebrating the rough, the raw and the human in hardcore space science
Images of space and the solar system have a powerful appeal, and amaze with their vibrant otherworldly vistas. But it’s easy to forget just how processed they are: the colours are often added for effect, and digital editing makes these pictures pop. So it’s worth remembering the human process behind space as we know it. This is precisely the aim of Black Rain, which transforms raw scientific data into pulsating audiovisual art. … Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – aka Semiconductor, the UK artist duo behind the video – say the images are a reminder of ‘the human observer, who endeavours to extend our perceptions and knowledge through technological innovation’.

A few more videos in keeping with that grainy, black and white vibe.

Solar Eclipse (1900) – the first moving image of an astronomical phenomenon

Universe

(And yes, I know that I’ve linked to that Universe video before. It’s too good to only show once.)

Pics in space

So black holes are really real, then?

The first photo of a black hole
We have the first photo of a supermassive black hole, from imagery taken two years ago of the elliptical galaxy M87 (in the constellation Virgo) by the Event Horizon Telescope project. The EHT team is a group of 200 scientist that has been working on this project for two decades. The image was created using data captured from radio telescopes from Hawaii to the South Pole and beyond using very long baseline interferometry.

This animation, via the Event Horizon Telescope project website, explains what we’re looking at.

Zooming into a simulated black hole accretion system in M87

As always with space stuff, I have a problem with scale. This helps enormously, though.

xkcd: M87 Black Hole Size Comparison

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That’s pretty big. But how about these images of Jupiter.

NASA has released new images of Jupiter, taken by the Juno Spacecraft
Favourite comment: “God I wish Vincent van Gogh was alive to see this”

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Yes, I can just imagine Van Gogh looking at these with a ‘told you so’ smile on his face. NASA has some more images from their Juno mission.

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So, farewell then, Opportunity

15 years. That’s not bad at all.

NASA’s record-setting Opportunity Rover mission on Mars comes to end
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

Nasa confirms Mars rover Opportunity is dead
“We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power,” Callas said. “What we didn’t expect was that wind would come along periodically and blow the dust off the arrays. It allowed us to survive not just the first winter, but all the winters we experienced on Mars.”

A dust storm has killed NASA’s longest-lived Mars rover
In 2005, Opportunity overcame a sand trap and the loss of one wheel to arrive at the Victoria crater, a 2,400-foot hole that it explored for two years, finding features at its bottom again shaped by ancient water. It next explored the Endeavor crater, 13 miles away, starting in 2011. Most recently it had traversed a narrow valley leading down into the larger Endurance crater.

As this video from NASA shows, the Rover had been on an incredible trek these last 15 years.

Opportunity: NASA Rover completes Mars mission

Here’s xkcd’s surprisingly moving take on it.

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xkcd: Opportunity Rover
Thanks for bringing us along.

Absolutely.

NASA’s impossible images

You know those Golden Records NASA sent into space in the 70s, on the Voyager spacecrafts? They contained images, music and sounds from Earth, as well as greetings in 55 languages. If any alien were to come across these disks, accessing their contents is far from straightforward.

Decoding images from the Golden Record
You might think that the images were included in some printed or digital form, such as a .jpeg or .tiff. But back in 1977, there was no technology available to put images on analog disks. Voyager’s computer systems could only hold 69 kilobytes of information, barely enough for one image, let alone 115. So NASA invented a way to include image data on the LPs.

By projecting images onto a screen, recording them with a television camera, and then turning those video signals into audio waveforms, the images could be properly pressed onto the records. The reversal process — turning that image data back into images — is what any extraterrestrial (or curious human) would have to figure out how to do.

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Nevermind the contents of these records, the instructions alone will have the aliens scratching their heads. If they have heads, of course.

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It’s getting crowded up there

The Economist has a very effective, scrolling infographic on the changing pattern of states and companies that are filling up our skies.

The space race is dominated by new contenders
Some 4,500 satellites circle Earth, providing communications services and navigational tools, monitoring weather, observing the universe, spying and doing more besides. Getting them there was once the business of the superpowers’ armed forces and space agencies. Now it is mostly done by companies and the governments of developing countries.

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In the past decade the West’s space-launch market has become more competitive thanks to an innovative new entrant, SpaceX. But state-run programmes still lead the way in emerging markets. In 2003 China became the third country to put a person into orbit; India plans to follow suit in 2022. Both sell launch services to private clients. China did legalise private space flight in 2014, but no companies based there have yet reached orbit on their own.

But looking at this, you wonder if there’s any space left up there.

A beehive of satellites
The launch of the first artificial satellite by the then Soviet Union in 1957 marked the beginning of the utilization of space for science and commercial activity. During the Cold War, space was a prime area of competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

In 1964 the first TV satellite was launched into a geostationary orbit to transmit the Olympic games from Tokyo. Later, Russian launch activities declined while other nations set up their own space programs. Thus, the number of objects in Earth orbit has increased steadily – by 200 per year on average.

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The debris objects shown in the images are an artist’s impression based on actual density data. However, the debris objects are shown at an exaggerated size to make them visible at the scale shown.

Thanks for clearing that up.

To the moon… and beyond!

Fresh from our trip to Kielder, my son’s very excited about this news story.

The lunar gateway: a shortcut to Mars?
“The moon has lain virtually undisturbed for the last 4.5bn years,” says Parker. “It is a museum of the history of our solar system. And yes, we visited it when we briefly landed Apollo spacecraft there. However, that was the equivalent of going to a museum, heading straight to the gift shop and then leaving. It is the dusty corners of a museum where you find the really interesting stuff – and that is where we are going to go with Gateway.”

And our boy’s keen to go, too, on his way to Mars. That may take some time, though.

How far is it to Mars?
If the Earth were 100 pixels wide, the moon would be 3000 pixels away. Mars, at its closest, would be 428,000 pixels away.

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And who knows what else is out there.

The unending hunt for Planet Nine, our solar system’s hidden world
Astronomers are deeply divided, but intent on finding the truth. They’re using the world’s largest telescopes and most powerful supercomputers, and enlisting the help of thousands of amateurs like Forbes, who plays her part in this epic, astronomical search in between episodes of Love Island. Together, they will either pinpoint the location of this mysterious world and give the solar system a ninth planet, or rule out its existence once and for all.

The search for homes far from home

Some more links following our recent trip to the Kielder Observatory, for their talk on exoplanets. There seems to be a lot going on.

NASA’s TESS spacecraft begins its search for exoplanets
TESS is a follow-up to Kepler, a spacecraft that has spent the last nine years searching for Earth-like exoplanets near Sun-like stars. Though it may be on its last legs, Kepler has already found 2,650 confirmed exoplanets and even more are expected to be discovered from the data it has collected. But Kepler was designed to focus on a small section of the sky and while it spotted many exoplanets, a lot of them were very far away from Earth. TESS, however, will eventually map about 85 percent of the sky and it will attempt to spot exoplanets a bit closer to Earth — which allow other telescopes to study them more thoroughly.

How NASA’s newest planet hunter scans the sky

A little less bombastic than its previous video.

The search for new worlds is here

So what kind of new worlds are being discovered? And when can we visit?

Visions of the future
Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.

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What about those planets closer to home?

Cool, there’s water on Mars. But does it make good pickles?
Deep under the ice cap of Mars’s southern pole, there could be a store of water, the first stable body of liquid water ever found on the planet. After the paper announcing this discovery came out, reporters described a “lake of liquid water,” about 12 miles in diameter. Hearing that phrase, it’s easy, perhaps even natural, to imagine a bubble of crystal-clear water, hidden under the cap of frozen water and carbon dioxide, pure and sweet and waiting. But the reality would be less appealing.

Never mind the summer heat: Earth is at its greatest distance from the sun
“I find it amusing that the common misconception about Earth’s seasons is actually true if you are on Mars,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “School children on Mars will need to be taught differently.”

Worth bearing in mind.

Seeing further, better

It felt right that those first images of and from the moon were so blurred and grainy — it was a quarter of a million miles away, after all. But that wasn’t the full picture.

McMoon: How the earliest images of the moon were so much better than we realised
Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from.

If it’s image size you’re after…

365-gigapixel panorama of Mont Blanc becomes the world’s largest photo
Say hello to the new largest photo in the world. An international team led by photographer Filippo Blengini has published a gigantic panoramic photograph of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. This new record-holding image weighs in at a staggering 365 gigapixels.

Overview Effect. Spaceship Earth. Home

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

There’s more about this at www.overviewthemovie.com.