Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking revealed a plan today to send small robotic spacecraft 4.37 light years away to our closest neighbor solar system, Alpha Centauri, and send back pictures.
The basic idea is to send thousands of probes into space and then propel them forward with powerful laser beams from Earth. The nanocraft could then accelerate to 1/5th the speed of light and reach Alpha Centauri in approximately 20 years.
Of course there are 10’s of billions of dollars to raise for the mission and countless details to be worked out like building robust light sails, circuits that can withstand radiation in space and high gravity, and a suite of high powered lasers that work in perfect unison. However, if successful, we might get actual close-up pictures of a new solar system. Alpha centauri hosts three different stars and at least 1 known planet (and likely many more).
We all may be alive to see the launch, but we’ll have to wait about 20 years + whatever time it takes to beam back the images to see the fruits of the mission. Exciting nonetheless!
Direction-Space! is a project by Russian-born photographer, Maria Gruzdeva. The photographs depict relics from the Soviet-era space industry in all their 20th century glory. Two iconic sites, Star City and Baikonur (previously blogged here), are featured prominently in the images.
A blurb from the artist:
“Direction–Space! series explore the reality of the space community at first hand, investigating the physical and psychological space as well as the routine and lives of its residents and their habitat. Generation of cosmonauts have trained in these surroundings and because of the reticence and insularity of this world the physical space and its spirit have been preserved. The series reveals these traces of history, power and ghost-like presence left behind. It is this space that holds the weight of the past and shapes the reality of people who live and work there currently. Direction–Space! offers a new insight into the subject central to the Cold War history of the Soviet Union and raises questions over attitudes and perceptions that have been formed over the past decades.”
And without further ado, here’s a sample of the fascinating collection:
If you are interested in the history of the Soviet space program, she put the collection of images in a book:
Sunita Williams guides us through life on the International Space Station in this 30-minute video, which was filmed back in 2012 as part of mission 32/33. It’s really fascinating to observe the adaptations that must be made to live in a gravity-free environment… from the bathroom operations to exercise needed to maintain bone density. Human life really isn’t made for life in space, but these researchers are actively searching for the best methods to make it function. Current work on the ISS will undoubtedly pave the way to our journey to Mars and beyond.
The energy in this video is all you need to feel to understand the importance of SpaceX’s recent landing of the Falcon 9 rocket from orbit. It’s truly history in the making.
If you were curious about the difference between this launch and the recent launch by Blue Origin, take a quick look at this quick video describing sub-orbital and orbital flight:
Blue Origin went up about 62 miles, and then came straight back down to Earth. SpaceX went all the way into orbit (>100 miles up) and many miles across the surface of the Earth, reaching about 3,500 miles per hour, then the rocket did a crazy flip and returned back to the exact launch spot where it started.
It’s an impressive technological feat and the impact will be wide-reaching. This is going to reduce the cost of putting satellites into orbit so much that global satellite WiFi has become a real possibility. However, the next crucial step is to see if the booster that was returned to the launch site can actually be used again for further launches. The materials have to stand up to repeated use, and that is not easy. Nonetheless, it was a great day for space technology.
The Saturn V was a NASA rocket used between 1966 and 1973. It is the only launch vehicle that has been able to transport humans beyond low Earth orbit, making it responsible for bringing 24 different astronauts to the Moon.
I love these sort of infographics because they give you a sense of the design and engineering that went into these colossal machines. This illustration comes from a Stephen Biesty Incredible Cross-Sections book. Looking through these books is giving me a strong rush of nostalgia for the countless hours spent in my youth pouring over all of these intricate details.