Category Archives: Space

National Museum of the Air Force

by Melanie and Jim 

You may have seen some of our posts about our travel to Yellowstone and back. That’s only one of the four road trips we’ve done in the past few weeks. Recently we also headed the other direction, to southern Ohio. On the way we visited the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton.

The museum has a number of galleries inside. The interior collections include the early years of flight, aircraft from World Wars One and Two, Korea and Vietnam, and current times. There are cargo planes, a variety of fighters and spy planes, intercontinental missiles, and experimental craft. Presidential and other executive transport planes, space travel, and Cold War air memorabilia are shown. Outside the huge hangars are more planes and a memorial park.

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Smithsonian | Udvar-Hazy Center

by Jim and Melanie

When we get a chance, we enjoy visiting the National Mall in Washington, DC. Over time we’ve experienced many of the museums and monuments. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one we have visited several times. It is full of thousands of artifacts documenting the history of aviation and space exploration. Did you know about their companion facility the Udvar-Hazy Center? It is located near Dulles airport west of the DC area in Chantilly, VA. It consists of two hangars with some iconic space and aviation exhibits. We finally got to visit and urge you to do the same if you have an interest in aviation and space.


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The Mercury 13

by Melanie

Have you ever heard of the Mercury 13? I hadn’t until recently. While visiting an air and space museum, I noticed an exhibit on this amazing group of aerospace pioneers.

In 1959 NASA began the process of identifying the nation’s first astronauts. From an applicant pool of more than 500 men, extensive physical and mental exams led to selecting the first seven astronauts. All of them were military pilots, and they were known as the “Mercury 7.”

A doctor who helped develop the tests for those men, Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace, wondered how women would perform on the same tests. In 1960, he began a study to find out. He invited a noted female pilot, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, to participate in his study. After she passed all three phases of testing, other women pilots were invited into the study.

According to Wally Funk, one of those selected, “The women were to be under 35 years of age, in good health, hold a second class medical, four year college education, a commercial rating or better and have over 2,000 hours of flying time.” Many of the pilots were members of a group called the “Ninety-Nines,” an organization established in 1929 of female pilots, which continues to this day.

Thirteen women, the Mercury 13, passed the tests available and were chosen to continue in the program. They were Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Janey Hart, Gene Nora Stumbough (Jessen), Jerri Sloan (Truhill), Rhea Hurrle (Woltman), Sarah Gorelick (Ratley), Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich and Jean Hixson.

Unfortunately, the women and their program were never officially part of NASA. Twelve of the 13 were not allowed to complete the Phase III testing. Their program was cancelled.

After lobbying of both President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, congressional hearings were held in 1962 about the gender discrimination involved in canceling the program. According to WIRED Magazine,

The would-be Mercury 13 astronauts would ultimately be held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Some NASA officials speculated that female performance could be impaired by menstruation. Others wanted pilots who had already flown experimental military aircraft — something only men could have done, since women were barred from the Air Force.

It was not until Sally Ride‘s shuttle flight in 1983 that an American woman flew into space. This despite the qualifications of thirteen remarkable women more than 20 years earlier.

Members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs, also known as the “Mercury 13”), these seven women who once aspired to fly into space stand outside Launch Pad 39B near the Space Shuttle Discovery in this photograph from 1995. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed. Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander, are (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Image credit: NASA

Pluto | Discoveries by New Horizons

How I See It

My previous post about the New Horizons flyby of Pluto was dated a few hours before the event of 14 July 2015. Communication with Earth by the spacecraft was turned off so it could execute a large number of commands during the few hours of flyby. The data is to be transmitted to Earth in the months to come. Late in the day, New Horizons phoned home to say it was healthy and did succeed in carrying out the commands. It continues to gather data and return data sets each day. Where is New Horizons now? It is coasting beyond Pluto into the Kuiper Belt. It has more work to do.

There are 50 gigabytes of data stored onboard. It will take 500 days to send it to Earth. People wonder why it will take so long? They want to see the results NOW! Here is the answer from…

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Asteroid Flyby | Did You Miss It?

How I See It

Asteroid 2004 BL86 traveled by Earth January 26, 2015. It was about 3x farther from Earth than our Moon. There was no danger. It was an interesting event. It happened during the daylight hours for me. It was also clouded over. There was no chance to see it with my own equipment. So, I visited an online broadcast from Europe. The Virtual Telescope Project successfully tracked it.

The event was hosted by Gian Masi, astrophysicist and science communicator. They posted a 28 minute YouTube video. Broken clouds interrupted the view at times. Their telescope tracked the asteroid at the center of the window. A 10 second time exposure captured an image. Each 15 seconds, a new image was scanned over the old one. The asteroid remains centered. The star field moves slightly. I extracted a brief clip from one cloud-free interval if you don’t want to watch the entire…

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Space Music | Data Sonification

How I See It

Data streams from experiments as 1 and 0 digits. It arrives at very high rates and is stored for later study. From spacecraft, it is used to make images, produce video, and make sense of the universe. Analysis of the digits simply as visual information is great for most of us. Think of the images from Hubble. But, there are other ways we humans are equipped to perceive our world. These rich data sources can also be converted into sounds. Such a process is called data sonification.

Here is an audio file example (20 sec) from U of IA researcher Don Gurnett. It is called a whistler. They result from lightning strikes which send electromagnetic waves along the magnetic field lines of Earth. This image is the spectrum of a whistler comparing frequency to time of signal. The audio adds a lot to the interpretation of this…

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Cosmic Distance Ladder – Part 4 of 4

The final part of the Cosmic Distance Ladder series.

How I See It

On March 15,1929, Edwin Hubble presented a paper to the National Academy of Sciences. A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae stated that the 24 objects he studied were receding from Earth in a specific pattern. The farther ones were receding faster. In fact, the distance vs recessional velocity was a linear direct proportion. This finding has had profound consequences on our understanding of the nature of the universe, when it originated, how large it is, and what future course it will take.

This is the final part of the series Cosmic Distance Ladder. Here are links to part 1part 2, and part 3. As promised, the arguments and information will be presented as conceptually as possible without emphasis on the mathematical details. The goal of this series has been to assist the non-technically trained reader to understand more about how we…

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Space Station Transits Sun 08-17-2013

See video of this rare event.

How I See It

I received an email notice earlier in the week from CalSky about the upcoming visible passes of the International Space Station for my location. Contact me or comment below if you would like to set up your own email notices. Normally, the passes are during the evening after sunset or in the morning before sunrise. This week’s notice included a special event. The ISS was going to pass in front of the Sun along a 5 mile wide path across this part of Iowa. The centerline was to be very near me. It was to occur Saturday August 17 at 5:33:26 CDT. I contacted a couple of friends and told them about it. One of them who lived nearby agreed to meet me at the local school yard.

Bob and I met and quickly set up my video camera on the tripod. I had started a countdown timer on my iPod…

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Cosmic Distance Ladder – Part 3

How I See It

Part 3 of the Cosmic Distance Ladder series is a little longer than the previous two. We will see which tools astronomers use to find the distances to objects much beyond our own home galaxy. There will be some discussion of supernovae and black holes.

The first part of this post advances up the distance ladder by telling the remarkable story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Her contributions to the study of Cepheid variable stars led to a method to know intergalactic distances millions of light years from our Milky Way. The previous Cosmic Distance Ladder – Part 2 discussed stellar parallax and main sequence fitting as methods to determine distances to objects within the confines of the Milky Way vicinity. If you wish to see parts 1 & 2, they are linked here and here.

The Harvard Calculators

Henrietta was the daughter of Congregational church minister George Roswell Leavitt and Henrietta Swan…

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