Saturday, August 31, 2013

Quote of the Month

"From now on, we live in a world
where man has walked on the Moon.
It's not a miracle;
we just decided to go."

- Tom Hanks

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Much Does NASA Cost?

A study done a few years ago revealed that the average American believe that NASA's annual budget is around 20% of the total U.S. expenditure. That, of course, is ridiculous. NASA's 2011 budget was somewhere around 0.6%, a number that went even further down in recent years. To illustrate how small that amount really is, compare put it next to the military, which was over 900 billion (with a B!) dollars in in the same year! In fact, if you put together every penny the U.S. government has ever spent on NASA over the agency's little over 50 years of operation (which includes all the satellites, the Hubble Space telescope, the mars probes, the Apollo program, and every mission that gave pride to millions of Americans) it would still add up to less than what the U.S. spends on its military in a single year! Another interesting tidbit: the American government had spent more on the 2008 bank bailout than on NASA's in the last 50 years! So next time, when someone tells you that the United States spends too much money on NASA, you will know better. The chart below puts the points discussed in a nice, visual form (special thanks to Steve Heroz for allowing me to re-post his image here).

Lastly, here is a short video from Neil deGrasse Tyson where he addresses the issue in a way I could never dream of (special thanks to youtuber, Evan Schurr, who edited it). Watch it, listen to it, share it!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks in a Few Days

We are only a few days away from the peaking of the Perseid Meteor Shower, the largest annual meteor shower on the planet. The Perseids can produce up to 80 "falling stars" per hour; a spectacular show that is visible from the northern hemisphere and in some southern countries closer to the equator. As in previous years, I urge you to visit Spacedex for tips, tricks, and to find out about optimum viewing conditions in your area.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Future of the CAT Thruster

With a heavy heart I inform you that the CAT thruster for cubesats had failed to reach its goal of 200.000 dollars on Kickstarter. Fortunately it was not a total loss! First of all, considering how small the project was--a university campaign with very limited media access--the nearly $68.000 they did manage to collect I think is remarkable. To me, it shows that people do care about space exploration, similarly to the Arkyd space telescope even though not quite on the same scale. Secondly, and most importantly, the unsuccessful campaign does not mean the end of the project! After the deadline, Benjamin Longmier (project and science lead) published the below open letter, discussing the various possibilities for the future:

Dear Team,

We didn't make it to our funding goal of $200k with kickstarter in this first university funding experiment, though it's been a fun ride. Our team at the University of Michigan has been making great progress on the CAT engine, even since we first launched the kickstarter campaign, and we attracted a lot of attention from a few government and commercial partners. Some of these groups intend to fund this research and we are looking into these options. We are also considering re-listing the kickstarter campaign with a few tweaks, a lower funding goal, and some revised rewards. Please stay tuned as we heard the CATs, and we will keep you posted on the CAT engine research progress as things unfold in our lab. We remain excited about creating the next generation engine for deploying CubeSats around the Earth and sending them off into deep space, and we are quite grateful for your continued interest and participation in this journey.

Best regards,

Monday, August 5, 2013

One Year on Mars!

Exactly one year ago today, Curiosity has landed on Mars. Followed by the unblinking eyes of millions of people around the world, the rover began its career with a daring, never before seen maneuver: lowered onto the surface from a hovering rocket-powered skycrane. Although the landing was an incredible feat of engineering, it was only the beginning, the first step in an incredible journey to unravel the mysteries of the red planet. For all the science nerds out there, here are a few quick facts about Curiosity's first year on Mars:

Curiosity has...
... sent home over 71,000 images.
... traveled a little over a mile.
... fired more than 75,000 shots from its laser spectrometer.
... drilled into and analyzed 2 martian rocks.
... discovered ancient river beds.
... found evidence of PH-neutral water.

In the coming year, the rover will began its journey to Mount Sharp where layers of sedimentary rock promise a treasure trove of scientific data, a window back to a Mars very different from the one today. Although its destination lies about 5 miles from its current position, engineers at JPL hope to cover the distance in just under a year thanks to Curiosity's newly updated driving software. They will, of course, stop several times to do what they are the best at: science.

Lastly, here are two videos from the JPL team commemorating the landing and the 12 months that followed afterwords: