Space and flight

Most of the history of astronomy consists of observing electromagnetic radiation from outside our planet. That includes the light which shines off the sun and reflects from bodies in the solar system, as well as radio waves produced by phenomena around the universe including pulsars. Now that we also have neutrino detectors and gravitational wave […]

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Among the immortal Simpsons lines (and the triumph of engineers over fighter jocks): “I might remind you both I did design that racer. The driver is essentially ballast.”

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It’s possible to perform orbital maneuvers which would normally require fuel using instead the momentum of sunlight. Via the incomparable Scott Manley: Lightsail 2 Sails On Sunlight At Last

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I have long been skeptical about the prospects for off-world human colonies. Given that the International Space Station is the most expensive thing we have ever built and it is entirely reliant on supplies from Earth, it would be a gigantic leap just to make a self-sustaining closed life support system. Beyond that are many […]

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Andy Weir’s hard sci-fi novel The Martian has a protagonist whose sense of humour was part of why he was selected as part of a crew for a Mars mission: “They all showed signs of stress and moodiness. Mark was no exception, but the way he showed it was to crack more jokes and get […]

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The first Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) was lost on the way to space because of fraudulent metal provided by a supplier. The OCO was rebuilt at OCO-2, which has since collected data on the spatial distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth. OCO-3 will be attached to the International Space Station, which will further fill in […]

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A worldwide effort by the Event Horizon Telescope has produced the first false-colour image of a black hole.

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Of course, the Columbia and Challenger accidents have reminded us we need to be ever vigilant. Despite more than two years of careful work to prevent foam shedding from the shuttle’s main tank, my STS-114 mission lost a large piece of foam on ascent, in a circumstance very similar to what happened to Columbia on […]

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One big surprise from Michael Leinbach and Jonathan Ward’s Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew is the claim that people at NASA hadn’t anticipated the catastrophic loss of a Shuttle during reentry. That despite of the delicacy of the thermal protective tiles and the fatal consequences expected […]

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A tweet of mine, written in a moment of irritability aggravated by the sound of jets roaring overhead, has gotten some attention by virtue of being incorporated into some news articles about social media commentary on the Toronto Air Show. In addition to my standard gripes about the wastefulness of jet engine use, the undesirability […]

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