Engineers hook up the data acquisition system before a test of the landing radar that will guide the next Mars rover, Curiosity, to the surface of the Red Planet in the summer of 2012. This past spring, the radar (you can see it here attached to the nose of helicopter) went through two months of flight tests over desert terrain in Southern California at different altitudes and angles intended to simulate trajectories under consideration for the Mars landing. Preliminary results show that the radar is performing as expected.
Photographer Spencer Lowell shot the recent test for Discover this spring at a small airport near NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs. Lowell: “Steve Lee, the project manager, told me that the system they were so meticulously working on is the nervous system that is responsible for getting the rover safely to the Martian surface. The tests would run the radar through a variety of flight patterns while recording all the hard data which will be used to program the actual descent system. My only restriction while shooting was to not get within three feet of the radar. After asking if they would open the hangar doors (which they did) I backed up as I could to capture the entire scene. In this particular image you can see two of the main engineers checking the connections to the computer system. What I like most about shoots like this is that I get to see firsthand that very precise science, like sending craft to another planet, often starts off looking like a mess.”
What is garbage to one is gold to another. The juicy new title by Blast Books, “Another Science Fiction” is proof. Incredibly, most of the images in this book came from discards from several libraries that were rescued by author and space history buff Megan Prelinger for her library in San Fransico, Prelinger Library. When Prelinger came across these images in magazines (like Aviation Week and Missiles and Rockets) that the Houston public library was throwing away, she was smitten. The book featuring these advertisements from the early space-race years followed.
Prelinger told me how she found featured artist Willi Baum: “He signed his paintings “W. Baum” and for three years I couldn’t find him because I didn’t know his first name. I finally found a reference to him in a commercial art annual from ’62 that listed his full name. I then found that he lives just five miles away from me. I wrote to him, he wrote back the next day, and we became good friends. That’s quite a contrast to my searches for every other artist. Most were not contractually permitted to put signatures on paintings. So they have vanished from the record. Others were deceased.”
Thousands of people have applied to with NASA to be astronauts since 1959, but less than 400 have been chosen. The lucky few must complete about four years of training before getting launched into space. This training includes miles of sustained running in 120-pound space suits while holding weights, enduring extreme temperatures, and being plunged into frigid water, dropped from airplanes, and flung about in motion simulators. All this punishment makes for great pictures, allowing the rest of us to simply watch and perhaps feel a little better about being earthbound.
All images courtesy NASA
1957: The Gimbal Rig was engineered to simulate the tumbling and rolling motions of a space capsule and train the Mercury astronauts to control roll, pitch and yaw by activating nitrogen jets, used as brakes and bring the vehicle back into control. This facility was built at the Lewis Research Center, now John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field.
After six months in the International Space Station, two astronauts, a Russian and an American, returned to earth on Thursday, March 18th, 2010 in the Soyuz TMZ-16. The Soyuz dropped into four feet of snow in a remote region of Kazakhstan. NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, who has been shooting for NASA since 1991, says that one of the hardest parts of shooting a landing is trying to catch the rockets on the spacecraft that are supposed to fire milliseconds prior to landing, in order to cushion it. Ingalls arrived in the first group of recovery helicopters on the scene that circle the landing zone. The same snow that blocked the ground recovery vehicles from reaching the Soyuz also made it difficult for Ingalls to tell how high above the ground the it was, and when the rockets would fire.
He shot at a high shutter speed using motor drive to capture it all. Ingalls had made his shot, but for the astronauts, the journey was hardly over. Coming all the way from outer space back to earth is only part of the commute from the Space Station. After recovery from the snow at the landing site near Arkalyk, these hardy spacemen then traveled two and a half hours by helicopter to Kustanay, Kazakhstan. There they participated in a ceremony at the airport, where the locals presented them with traditional hats. Then they hopped on a plane for another two and a half hour ride before finally coming to rest at Star City, outside of Moscow.
Image courtesy Bill Ingalls/NASA