Tag Archives: space

The shuttle program ends, and with it, an era of American tech excellence

Shuttle launch on TV

The last American space shuttle, STS-135, lifted off this morning, bringing to a close a remarkable era in U.S. technological dominance.

I stayed home and watched the launch on TV, just as I watched the very first shuttle launch on TV in 1981. Both events were deeply tied into the computer era.

In 1981, I watched the launch of Columbia on the only television in the house, which normally was only used as a monitor for my Apple II+. As a no-television house, I had to get special permission to use the monitor as a TV, tuning in to a grainy broadcast signal coming over the rabbit ears.

Full story: The shuttle program ends, and with it, an era of American tech excellence | VentureBeat.

First iPhone in space to launch with last shuttle mission

An iPhone floats in front of the space station's cupola, in this rendering by Odyssey Space Research.

 

When the final space shuttle mission launches later this year, two iPhone 4s will be on board.

The iPhones will be running an experimental app called SpaceLab for iOS, designed by Odyssey Space Research. Once the space shuttle Atlantis docks with the International Space Station, crew members will use the iPhones to conduct four experiments, using the iPhones’ cameras, gyroscopes, and other sensors.

Full story: First iPhone in space to launch with last shuttle mission | VentureBeat.

May 25, 1945: Sci-Fi Author Predicts Future by Inventing It

1945: Arthur C. Clarke begins privately circulating copies of a paper that proposes using space satellites for global communications.

It was a bold suggestion for 1945, as the war was just winding down and most people were undoubtedly more concerned about the necessities of life than they were with beaming radio waves down from space. But Clarke, a physicist and budding science-fiction author, had his head firmly in the future. The paper, “The Space-Station: Its Radio Applications,” suggests that space stations could be used for broadcasting television signals (.pdf).

The Space-station was originally conceived as a refueling depot for ships leaving the Earth. As such it may fill an important though transient role in the conquest of space, during the period when chemical fuels are employed…. However, there is at least one purpose for which the station is ideally suited and indeed has no practical alternative. This is the provision of world-wide ultra-high-frequency radio services, including television.

(Television itself was barely a commercial reality at this point, so that’s some forward thinking.)

Clarke followed up on this private paper with an article published in October 1945 in Wireless World titled, “Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?” The paper discusses how rocket technology, such as that used in German V-2s during the war, could be turned to peaceful ends by launching artificial satellites into orbit. All you needed, Clarke argued, was a rocket capable of pushing a payload past an orbital-insertion velocity of 8 km/second [5 miles/second].

However, the smallest orbits — such as those that would be used by the Russian Sputnik satellites in the following decade — would circle the earth in about 90 minutes. Because of basic orbital mechanics, the farther out you could get a satellite, the slower its orbit around the Earth would be. At one point, about 42,000 km [about 26,100 miles] from the center of the Earth, the satellite’s orbit would be exactly 24 hours, the same as the Earth’s rotation. Clarke wrote, in Wireless World:

A body in such an orbit, if its plane coincided with that of the earth’s equator, would revolve with the earth and would thus be stationary above the same spot on the planet. It would remain fixed in the sky of a whole hemisphere and unlike all other heavenly bodies would neither rise nor set.

Clarke wasn’t the first to propose such an orbit, known as geostationary, but his essay did popularize the idea. And while it may have seemed far-fetched in 1945, it was less than 12 years before Sputnik and only 17 years before the first TV broadcast satellite, Telstar. Then, in 1965, Intelsat began launching the first satellite system based on geostationary satellites, and there are more than 300 such satellites in Clarke orbits today. The future of communications evolved much as Clarke had foreseen it.

Although Clarke eventually became more famous as a science-fiction author, penning such classics as 2001and Childhood’s End, he regarded his satellite proposal as more significant. I interviewed Clarke for a profile inMobile PC magazine’s March 2004 issue. The headline referred to him as “The Father of the Star Child.” He replied with this note, handwritten on a reprint of his original Wireless World story:

Appreciate the write-up in March … but I think being ‘father’ of the COMSAT more important than the Star Child!

 

Original post: May 25, 1945: Sci-Fi Author Predicts Future by Inventing It | This Day In Tech | Wired.com.

Video: Spaceship Lands at San Francisco Airport

 

One of the first planes to dock at Virgin America’s new San Francisco International Airport terminal was a spaceship.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo arrived hitched between the twin fuselages of WhiteKnightTwo, its mothership and launch platform.

“For the first time we’ve brought the spaceship and WhiteKnight to a commercial airport…. It’s just a fantastic, exciting day,” says an obviously amped-up Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. Before he was the company’s CEO, Whitesides was one of the first people to sign up for a $200,000 ticket to ride on the space plane.

Commercial flights will begin in a year or two, Whitesides added.

The spaceship/mothership combination landed at SFO in formation with a more typical Virgin vehicle, an Airbus A320, which carried celebrity passengers such as Virgin founder Richard Branson (seen peering out the window in the video above) and pioneering astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Full story: Video: Spaceship Lands at San Francisco Airport | Autopia | Wired.com.