Aug 24, 2011

This Week In Outer Space: History Edition!

We've got a few interesting milestones to celebrate this week, so let's get to it!

Forty-five years ago yesterday humanity got their first glimpse of planet Earth as viewed from space.  NASA's Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the above photo on August 23, 1966 from orbit around the moon.  It's a pretty stunning image, even in black and white.  Check out more details about the history and the legacy of the LO1 and it's sweet camera right here.

Five years ago today the solar system lost one of its own.  That's right, it's officially a half-decade since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status.  Lest you pity the poor planetoid, know that he's not totally alone out there.  Pluto is actually one of five dwarf planets in orbit around the sun, along with Ceres, Eris, Haumea and Makemake.  (No, I did not make that last one up, it's named after a Polynesian deity.)  For the record, this is a great example of why I love science; after more than 75 years of saying we live in a nine planet system, we still allow new discoveries to alter our perceptions and challenge our reality.  Nothing is sacred and that which we hold as "fact" is always contingent upon the burden of proof.  For a really great look at the history of Pluto and its subsequent demotion, I recommend Neil deGrasse Tyson's excellent (and short!) book The Pluto Files.

In more current news, a Russian supply ship headed to the International Space Station was lost before achieving orbit this afternoon.  The Progress 44 cargo ship was scheduled to dock with the ISS on Friday and unload approximately 2.9 tons of food, fuel and supplies to the ISS.  The craft has reportedly crashed in a remote area of Siberia, although it is not yet known what sort of damage may have resulted on the ground. Progress 44 was fortunately unmanned and, according to NASA, the final space shuttle mission actually left the ISS oversupplied, so there's no danger of astronauts starving to death in orbit.

Speaking of dead astronauts, I couldn't not include this set of photos featuring an anonymous astronaut in a wide variety of suicidal situations.    Aside from the obvious fish-out-of-water vibe that comes from seeing a full on spacesuit in everyday domestic settings, I think the collection serves has a darkly humorous afterthought to the (temporary) death of the US manned space program.

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