Space Lighthouse

ISS@20, Life Amid Stars
Enters Its Third Decade

Here she comes. And there she goes. 16 times a day. The International Space Station, which completed 20 years in orbit last week, is humankind’s friendliest eye in the sky, a silent witness watching over us at every turn of our home planet.
It’s been an amazing ride and view. Just the sheer technological mastery necessary to keep it afloat, and the wealth of scientific data it provides daily, are enough to fulfill its lofty dream of being the space outpost of everyone of us, Earthlings.
Built by 16 nations, it’s been the temporary home to 230 highly trained rocket scientists who could even play some football up there: the ISS is almost as long as the field, or the equivalent of a six-bedroom house. They’re wiser with their time, though.
The station is a scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, from astronomy to meteorology. For instance, the yearlong study monitoring twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Mark in Houston, Texas, and Scott, racing overhead at five miles per second.
Above all, the ISS‘ greatest achievement is being a beacon to our best aspirations, of harmony among nations, working together to build a better future. As such a beautiful dream is far from becoming reality down here, it’s crucial that it survives in space.

A BLUE WORLD, ROUND AS PIE
Watching it sliding soundlessly above high mountains of clouds and vast water mirrors, allows us also into a truly surprising realization: all ground noise we make, tall buildings we erect, and border walls we raise, are invisible and meaningless from the air.
The ISS sees no wars, hate, hunger, tragedy. It does, however, observe the terrible ways we treat Earth, and from above it’s easy to see the pollution of the air, the desertification of land, the smoke of wildfires caused by our abandon. And that’s beyond sad.
From up there, lies and climate change denials can’t be heard either, which is probably good. But not seeing rising sea levels or lines dividing people, doesn’t mean that we’re unaffected by them. All it takes is, well, an astronaut, to report their deadly impact.

THE THIRD BRIGHTEST IN THE SKY
Just like the dream behind its conception, the ISS is also vulnerable: a little debris the size of a quarter can disable it and risk the lives of its dwellers. And it’s also susceptible to the whims of near-sighted (more)
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* Space Droppings
* Heavenly Palace
* Meanwhile, Up There

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Window Seat

In the Vast Universe, There’s
Just One Place for All of Us

Good news for those planning on catching that last rocket out of Earth: you may take my seat. After careful consideration, I decided that I’m not booking that flight. The upside is that I was never really good at packing light. Or committing to a one-way ticket to anywhere.
But don’t get me wrong. Neither I gave up on having a pulse, nor I’m now for comfort over smelling new sights, even it takes smelling bad for months too. Trust me, shreds of my soul would fill the backpacks of those pioneers-slash-refugees boarding the spaceship to a new Terra.
Recent news that not one, but three new exoplanets have potential to surrogate us may have pricked up beaten ears, tired of the minor chords of our final symphony: warmer years, rising tides, growing masses of the starved and homeless. Those who can’t stand this one-note samba, are ready to rock. Ciao.
I wouldn’t maximize my cards just yet, even if this is no figure of speech: collectors have chased me for years. Also, I’m in no rush to make snide comments about silly fools, hahaha, building a fleet toward a breathable future. For it’s what may actually happens.
One thing seems probable: the last to embark will be the hardest at work to make such exodus an option, not an escape plan. And even as a dwindling bunch – hey, who can put up with so many storms before jumping ship? – their wishes match that of the most hospitable place we’ve ever known: right here.
By the way, I’m not one to believe that we’ll be missed. It’s likely that every species, along with nature itself, will be cheering our departure, and the very conditions that made us possible will heal and thrive once we’re out of the picture. Without us, they’ll all do just fine. But with us, chances are that Earth will look like Mars in less than a century.

LIKE PATCHING UP THE TITANIC
Which is as much faith as I’d put on us as anyone would about a virus: it’s ancient, no one knows where it comes from, it’s lethal, and when it leaves, people throw their hands up and give praise. And yet, even viruses can be beneficial, I know, but tell that to those who got on their way. So, am I saying we’re good as plagues? you damned right I am.
That being said, for as long as I breathe I’ll be partial to those fighting for reversing the clock. They used to practice (more)
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* The Undreamed World
* Worlds Away
* Red Shift
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Farewell Dive

Cassini Bids Bye Bye With Last
Jump Into the Rings of Saturn

The spacecraft that’s been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years, is executing its final dive today. It’ll be a grand finale, fireworks and all, as it’ll crash while taking the last of thousands of pictures and videos it already took from the ringed giant.
It was a risky triumph for NASA, for the $3.4 billion, plutonium-powered probe swung up close by us, in 1999, to use Earth’s gravity to shoot up towards Saturn. A mishap could’ve been disastrous, but it was worth: we’ve learned so much with the little probe that will die today.
These expensive and far-reaching missions always prompt questions as to their validity. It’s no different with Cassini. Many doubted its science, and to some politicians its cost-to-dividend ratio could never be compared to, say, another monstrous taxpayer-funded sports arena.
Since it’s hard to quantify the exact impact Cassini‘s will have on our knowledge – apart from, well, so much more than we knew before -, projects like these may be on their way out. While it traveled to Saturn, nanotechnology, for instance, experienced a quantum leap.
Advances in computer science and robotics, as well as the entry of private enthusiasts in the field of space exploration, may assign a different role to organizations such as NASA, and the European and Italian space agencies, that collaborated to make the Cassini project an astounding success.

A TRANSCENDENTAL STEP IN SPACE
For, however be that as it may, the orbiter, and its hitch-hiker, the Huygens lander, dropped on Titan in 2005, represent a staggering milestone. Its secrets will still challenge us long after everyone alive now is gone. That, by the way, is the only form of immortality that makes sense.
It’s the part when space as a metaphor to the human adventure on this planet resounds the most transcendental. That’s how Italian Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and Dutch Christiaan Huygens, both mathematicians, remain alive and even more relevant today than during their XII century existences.
The Cassini journey has also an added benefit: allowing mankind to witness a complete cycle, which started (more)
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* Gatekeeper of Outerspace
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Spacing Out

It Could’ve Been Worst,
But Keep Your Eyes Open

Done complaining? you’re actually very lucky. While you were asleep the other night, Earth almost got hit by an asteroid nobody knew about; you were closed to turn into confetti. See, things are not that bad. In fact, as you whine, a lot keeps happening right above you.
For instance, an old satellite just woke up from its slumber and began beeping, just like that. And you should also count your graces for not being a soon-to-meet-its-maker astronaut: they could accuse your deceased body of spreading microbes to outer worlds.
All this proves is that life, a train The Famous Pale Blue Dot Photo of Earth, Taken by the Voyager 1, on Feb. 14, 1990always ready to take off, keeps on tracking, and you’d better stand clear of its closing doors. Don’t want to be dragged down to a dark and narrow tunnel, watching riders go about their business inside, while you’re handed your papers outside it.
Speaking of tunnels, you may live in one and may not know about this, but since Tuesday, Nov. 8, a heavy fog came down, and a lot of people seem stunned, walking like zombies and foaming at their mouth. Something to do with some bad new – the 11/9, the say -, but don’t quote us on that.
The point is, you may think that it’s all unacceptable, unfair, and you won’t put up with it one little bit. Well, good luck with that; the next few years will be very depressing, indeed. You’ll find plenty of reasons to wallow in pools of disappointment and drown in wells of sorrow.
Or, after mourning the missing opportunities for a sec, you could lift up your chin up and catch a glimpse of the sky; it’s amazing how things are busy up there. For a change, that sobering realization that you are, after all, small and barely count, does put things in perspective.

THE MOUNTAIN THAT MISSED EARTH
Even your jubilant Uncle Bob, who can’t wait to corner you at Thanksgiving to tell you, ‘I told you so,’ knows that, among the infinitude of worlds out there, there’s a rock with our address and a clear mission: wipe out zealots and bigots and racists and misogynists with one swapping gulp.
That you don’t consider yourself ‘them’ makes not an iota of difference; you know you’ll be gone too. So, asteroids and meteorites usually top anyone’s list of civilization killers. On Nov. 1, a previously unknown one ‘almost’ became it. 2016 VA zapped within 0.2 times the moon’s distance from us.
It does seem far, but the thing is, either way, we didn’t know about it until it was too late to do anything. Now, put that ‘sobering realization’ in the context of your troubles, and you may catch a whiff of our drift here. Happens all the time. So, as the Brits say, chin up old chap.

THE GHOST SATELLITE THAT WOKE UP
Truth to be told, we track a lot of space rocks, but it’s impossible to track them all. As if we weren’t busy enough with that, we also track over 500 thousand man-made debris, all traveling at top speed, that we sent aloft and now are menaces to our survival out there.
Among them, are some of the Lincoln Experimental Satellite series, like the LES1 that almost immediately after launch, in 1965, malfunctioned and went dormant for 46 years, at the wrong (more)
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* Space Droppings
* It’s Fly By Us
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Journey to Forever

The Challenger Explosion
& Its Thunderbolt Lessons

It was the U.N. International Year of Peace, and ‘We Are the World’ was a big hit. On its second visit in a century, the Halley Comet was at its closest to Earth when a melting Chernobyl reactor caused the world’s scariest nuclear disaster. But right off the bat, 1986 marked the worst tragedy of the space age.
On January 28, the Challenger Shuttle exploded on live TV, killing all seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to become the first space civilian, but turned out to be the last teacher to be nationally mourned and eulogized in the U.S. It’s been downhill for educators ever since.
It was the Reagan era, and footage of him will probably be all over the airwaves. In a year of yet another flawed immigration law, his administration would be caught selling illegal weapons to Iran and arming the Contras to top Nicaragua’s democratic elected government.
The 30 years that now separate us from the Challenger explosion also equal the entire length of the Space Shuttle Program, which folded in 2011. Before that, another group of astronauts perished in 2003, when the Columbia, the program’s first space-worthy vehicle, tragically disintegrated while reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
These tragedies, along with the program whose many achievements are now part of our daily lives, look now so far back into the past, that even the ideas that inspired it seem remote. NASA doesn’t even have a comprehensive space plan currently running.
A MAJOR MALFUNCTION
It’s also easy to forget how close we all came to believe that space travel would be a new century routine, and many are quick to point that it was exactly that kind of sense of false security that led to the fatal errors causing the Challenger’s demise.
Perhaps. What’s for sure is that, without daring mistakes, we wouldn’t even have gotten to the Moon, and how uninspiring our age really is if our dreams nowadays have to come attached to a mandatory bargain price tag. Unlike weapons and conspiracy theories.
McAuliffe was slated to conduct the first high school science classes from space, to a Internet-less world full of teenagers who still cared about the subject. Instead, children along millions endured her spectacular dead, and that of her co-travelers, broadcast live.

TEACHING CHILDREN WELL
Such brutal awakening may have also marked, at least symbolically, the beginning of the end of Americans’ appreciation for the role of teachers and educators. It’s a curious phenomenon, promoted by half-witted politicians and their austerity policies.
Even though science and innovation was one of the tenets of U.S.’s ascension to its world power position, an entire generation grew apathetic and spoiled by the inventions that surround us. Science school grades have never been so low in average.
That’s probably why, instead of tele-transportation and weekly trips through the Solar System, we’ve got only a better iPhone (more)
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* Farewell Mission
* Waiting For Discovery
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Silly Males

Gary Drinks Gas, Georgio Loves
Rugs, But Huug, He Just Laughs

Pardon our Sanskrit, but here’s another stream of WTF stories. Our files are always bursting with these little gems of human drama we often know not how to dispose of them, and easily grow attached to what they’re about. So let us skip the obvious, the cheap shots and the mean spirited, lest not be us, someday, the object of similarly deflating jeer.
One thing is for sure: we’ve never heard of a 12-step program for gasoline drinkers, a habit made even more lethal if one smokes. Then again, the nefarious Cigarette Man of X-Files fame, is actually a devout waterskiing champ. Who knew? If you like to be stepped on, why not bring your own, favorite rug to help others do the job? Just don’t laugh at that Dutch man: he can’t help it if the joke’s on him.
Perhaps it’s Fall’s arrival, which always catches us off-guard, or the foolishness of pondering about water in another planet. Both concepts are as difficult for us to grasp as climate change: we know both are facts of life, and yet we’re not ready to book a trip to Mars, nor are we prepared to say anything inspiring about winter around the corner.
THE HUMAN LIGHTER
We hear that some people drink too much. That’s a club we got expelled out a long time ago, and are still sore about. Not in our wildest (more)
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* Red Shift

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Fab Four Reunion


Mars, Jupiter, Venus
& Mercury Together!