Atlantis, Go at Throttle-Up

Atlantis

Atlantis on the pad, the night before STS-132 in May 2010

This week, we all have the opportunity to hear this, one of my favorite phrases in the English Language, one last time.

“<Shuttle>, Houston, go at throttle-up” is the command from NASA Mission Control in Houston to the ascending Space Shuttle to open the throttles of the three Main Engines back up to 104.5% of rated thrust. This event occurs as the shuttle is coming off of Max Q, about a minute-10 into the flight. I grew up listening to Lisa Malone’s voice narrating this radio exchange. Because I’m a huge nerd, I use this phrase in day-to-day life whenever I can.

STS-135, a mission that wasn’t supposed to happen at all, is currently scheduled for Friday at 11:26a Eastern Daylight.

This is the final flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis, and the last one of the entire Space Shuttle program. NASA is taking a back seat to commercial endeavors in the human spaceflight department, instead focusing on heavy-lift capabilities. These heavy-lift rocket(s) will propel robotic missions to far-off places such as asteroids and will hopefully be the technological basis for long-term manned missions, as well.

I have my thoughts about this situation, but that’s not what this is about. This post is about Atlantis. This post is about a workhorse that is fading into history. This post is maybe a little bit about NASA Tweetup, as well, as Tammy and I were part of the STS-132 launch Tweetup. At the time, it was officially the last flight of Atlantis; the first of the last. That is an experience that we will never forget and will always be thankful for. It was an item off my bucket list and a lifelong dream. The launch, however, was almost just the icing on that Tweetup cake—the other activities, the people we met (both other Space Tweeps and NASA personnel), and just the experience of it all were truly what those two days were all about.

The best place to watch peoples’ lives changing (and average Joes being on NASA grounds and rubbing shoulders with others who feel the same way along with the employees that make this happen truly does change lives) in real-time this week is the #NASATweetup hashtag on Twitter. If you’re not a Twitter user (why the hell not?), you can get the feed here. It’s also a good idea to check NASA Buzzroom. It’s down at the moment, and I don’t know if it’s going to be back up for the Launch or not.

Not being all that good at writing is making it hard for me to say what I’m really wanting to say about this. Suffice to say that Friday’s launch is a big deal, both to me, and really, to all of us. I think the space program, the people who forge this trail every day, and even us ardent supporters who watch from the sidelines will have a greater impact on humanity as a whole than any of us can comprehend today.

Godspeed, Atlantis (and Roger Roll!)

Repost: Voyager 2

This post was originally written for my first blog, posted on 12/12/2007. It’s a goofy little post I wrote because the Voyager spacecraft are generally awesome and I’m a huge nerd. OK, that and there was a pretty major milestone passed. I’m reposting now because 25 years ago today, Voyager 2 made its 4.19 radii pass of Uranus (pffft). I know it’s pretty far from SQL Server, but, huge nerd and the Voyagers are awesome.

Images Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

I sort of missed the boat on this when it happened, but back on August 20, Voyager 2 marked its 30th year in space. For 30 years, that little chunk (and its cohort, Voyager 1) has been hurtling through space, measuring plasma levels, temperatures, and taking pictures of crap, among other things.

The Voyager Spacecraft

Voyager

Thirty. Years.

To me, the Voyagers are some of the most memorable and recognizable pieces of equipment that NASA has ever thrown up in the air. I remember 2’s flyby of Neptune in 1989 (map of the planetary flybys is below), and it was one of the targets of my early obsessions with all things aerospace. Sure, the space shuttle was a little more visible, but there was always something special about Voyager.

And here it is, a spacecraft built to run for five years, still going strong after six times that. I guess they don’t make them like they used to, but then again, the Mars Rovers are still going after, what, almost four years now, and they were supposed to go for 30 days? I joke a lot about how we sent men to the moon with chalkboards and slide rules, but man, those Engineers can do anything with just about anything. I mean, NASA did put a square peg in a round hole, once…

Voyager Journey

Voyagers' path within the Solar System

Anyway, Voyager 2 has now reached the edge of the Solar Wind. That’s way out there. Even though I haven’t a clue what most of what you learn from that is about or how it is useful (that’s more of my sister’s area), it’s still pretty cool. I’ve never really thought about the dynamics of the SW on the interstellar gas; I suppose that could be due to how I just thought of the gas as just there, not necessarily an entity that would interact with things within it. This is why I’m in IT and not working at the JPL or something 😉

I can’t help but think about how I zip around far greater patches of space in my little Internet Spaceships in seconds and it’s taken these guys 30 years to get to where they’re at now. I know it’s just a stupid game, but I still believe that someday our technology will have us there, too. I don’t expect to be around to see it of course, but there will be some dreamer like me there to take advantage of it.

Time to stare up at the night sky again

Well, so this didn’t take long for me to break from writing good, useful SQL posts to drop into general geekery.

Long story short, the Earth is as close as we will be to Jupiter until 2022. This makes it very bright in the night sky. If you go outside and look tonight (which you should), you will see a bright thing in the sky to the Southeast of the Moon. That’s Jupiter.

So, that’s fairly cool. But there’s more!

Get some binoculars and look again. Depending on how good your eyes are and how powerful your binocs are, you will see three or four of Jupiter’s four big “Galilean” moons. They’re running in a plane from lower left to upper right. Won’t be able to see any rings without a telescope, but the moons are pretty cool. At midnight it should be more-or-less overhead, which is when everything will be the brightest & easiest to see.

That's no moon...there's four of them (clicky for big)

The pic I took here was with Tammy’s Pentax K10D on a tripod with the crappy 200mm telephoto that we have. I wasn’t even going to do this until @CanSpice said that he had good results, so out I went. Focus ring doesn’t go far enough over to make this really sharp, so between that and, you know, the whole “we’re moving” part, this is as good as I can get with the equipment we have.

Spaceweather.com has some ridiculous pictures posted from other people who have real equipment, along with some more info.

Uranus (heh*) is also in the vicinity (only one degree off), but I wasn’t able to find it–not enough power. All of us (Sun, Earth, Jupiter, Uranus) are all lined up in a row, which is why everything is so close together.

I would expect that there will be another few nights when Jupiter is really visible, so if you don’t see this tonight, all hope is not completely lost.

* I’m sorry, I still, and probably will always, snicker at this