Today we said a bittersweet farewell to the space shuttle orbiter Discovery, as it headed off to retirement at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center atop a special 747.
On its way to Dulles Airport (where it landed just outside DC) from Kennedy Space Center (where it took off from), it made approximately 4 loops around the Washington, DC metro area. There are many spectacular pictures of it, many of them taken by people lucky enough to look up and see it. Check out the #spottheshuttle hash tag on twitter to see some of them.
The official photos from NASA HQ, many taken from the T-38 chase plane, are spectacular. The photo below is from that set.
Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
The shuttle did fly over NASA Goddard and was a beautiful if bittersweet sight. There is a Flickr group that has lots of photos taken by NASA Goddard folks. If you are one of them, consider adding your photos.
We’ll leave with you a couple of photos taken by friends from Goddard.
I had the fortune to be invited last minute to the Tweet-up with Astronaut Ron Garan at NASA Headquarters yesterday, in the place of a co-worker who couldn’t go. And then last minute, I got drafted to actually help out! Sara and I have been to several tweet-ups, but this was the first time I worked one. It was a really cool experience. I got to help check people in and then run around with the microphone for the Q&A which was a challenge since I wanted to stay out of the camera’s way, not block people, but be quick getting to those with questions. And then I felt bad for those who weren’t able to get their questions in. I tried!
I had a great time and I also was often able to get a great view of the speaker, Astronaut Ron Garan. “Astro_Ron”, as he is known on Twitter, was an F-16 pilot (how cool is that?!) who became an astronaut in 2000. He flew on STS-124 to the ISS and on his second mission, spent six months there as a member of Expedition 27. He’s ridden on both the Space Shuttle and the Soyuz. And he had a lot of great stories to tell. He really saw some amazing things like aurorae, sunrises, incoming orbiters, hurricanes, and meteor showers. (You can page through more of his amazing images from space on his Twitpic.)
During nearly an hour of Q&A, Astro Ron also showed us this gag video called “Space Station Blues – The Sequel” that they shot right before he left the Space Station. (He had been told he’d have to stay for two more months, though it only ended up being an extra week.)
We start with a new Hubble result. Using its near-infrared vision to peer 9 billion years back in time, the Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered an extraordinary population of young dwarf galaxies brimming with star formation. While dwarf galaxies are the most common type of galaxy in the universe, the rapid star-birth observed in these newly found examples may force astronomers to reassess their understanding of the ways in which galaxies form.
The galaxies are a hundred times less massive, on average, than the Milky Way, yet churn out stars at such a furious pace that their stellar content would double in just 10 million years. By comparison, the Milky Way would take a thousand times longer to double its star population.
“In addition to the images, Hubble has captured spectra that show us the oxygen in a handful of galaxies and confirmed their extreme star-forming nature,” said co-author Amber Straughn at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Spectra are like fingerprints. They tell us the galaxies’ chemical composition.”
In the hunt for extrasolar planets, we’re interested in finding Earth-like planets… but how about Tatooine-like planets? NASA’s Kepler satellite has discovered a planet that might look a little familiar to Star Wars fans. It’s the first planet scientists have seen that orbits two stars! The planet, called Kepler-16b, is about 200 light-years away, and it’s a little different from the sci-fi home of Luke Skywalker. It’s cold and gaseous, orbiting outside of the star system’s habitable zone. Still, it shows that there’s a whole new class of planetary systems out there – and that sometimes science fact is as exciting as science fiction! Read more »
Preserving the extraordinary moments of history for progeny is all well and good, but so often it’s exactly the unexpected nature of such moments that renders them so priceless – like the spontaneous kiss of a soldier safely returned from World War II or a casual lunch shared while sitting along an I-beam with a rather perilous view of the Big Apple. Planning for the unexpected can prove quite difficult unless you’re Doc Brown with a time-traveling Delorean at your disposal. And so it is all the more commendable that some key figures in NASA’s infancy had the foresight to prepare for the capturing of the inevitable watershed moments to come with President Kennedy’s ambitious challenge.
The NASA|Art exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum
The NASA Art program was started by James Webb – NASA’s 2nd administrator and the namesake of the James Webb Space Telescope – in 1962 as a vehicle for memorializing and conveying NASA’s mission and work to the public. NASA’s scientific and technological contributions over the last 50 years are undeniable, and there was never any question that each nut, screw and equation would be rigorously recorded. But a less quantifiable though no less important contribution over the years has been the awe, inspiration and national pride that NASA’s work has evoked. NASA has done more than produce high-quality science; it has created history and it has inspired the future. Communicating this less tangible aspect of NASA’s work requires a more imaginative medium. Art.
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is currently home to the NASA|Art: 50 Years of Exploration exhibit, which highlights just a fraction of the rich, extensive collection of NASA Art Program over the last 50 years. This beautiful exhibit gives its audience an opportunity to connect with both the technical and human sides of the NASA legacy. Some of the Blueshift staff had the opportunity recently to walk through the exhibit with Senior Curator in Aeronautics Tom Crouch. We had such a wonderful time that we wanted to give you just a little taste of this phenomenal collection.
The James Webb Space Telescope has had a lot of recent milestones. All the primary mirror segments have been polished – and the secondary mirror has just been completed. You can read a NASA web feature all about what Webb’s secondary mirror does and why it’s important. (It’s quite large too – nearly as big as the Spitzer Space Telescope’s primary mirror!)
I think it’s easy for those of us who work at NASA to sometimes forget that WE WORK AT NASA! For many of us, it’s a job, with frustrations and mundane paperwork, just like any other place of employment has. And then we get a reminder of where we actually are. Sometimes it’s in the form of a visiting crew of astronauts. Sometimes it’s seeing real flight hardware. And sometimes it’s because we get to see our jobs through someone else’s eyes.
No, we’re not all astronauts at Goddard (though there are a few here), but the work done here is important and it’s real.
I was reminded again of the inspirational power that NASA has when I got this letter from a friend. She wrote, “With the final shuttle touching down yesterday, NASA has obviously been on my mind a lot lately. I wonder if I could ask you a little favor. I wrote a letter just thanking everybody in the program. There are so many people who make space happen, and with the end of the shuttle era, I wanted to send out my appreciation for everything all of you do. Could you maybe print this and post it somewhere at Goddard, on a bulletin board perhaps, or by a water cooler? It’s not just a thank you to the people who worked on the shuttles, its for all of you. It’s not much, but space is such a part of my life, and you’re the only person I know now who works for NASA in any capacity.”
I was really touched by this, and so I thought I would post her words here (with her permission), so that more people (and hopefully some that work at NASA) could see it and know that they daily touch the lives of many, just by doing what they’re doing. Reminders like this are a good thing, especially when our jobs become just jobs, that NASA really is a special place to be.