Wallpaper Wednesday (Sydney Observatory)

28 11 2012

Sydney Observatory, Sydney, Australia. Photo credit: Andrew, HDR Cafe

Today, I’m directing you toward a nice HDR image of the Sydney Observatory. Actually, I’m directing you to something even better; the flashy, crowd-pleasing image is just a diversion. Last night, I stumbled across a small treasure trove. Scattered across the Sydney Observatory’s blog are several reproductions and transcriptions of letters written by past NSW Government Astronomers: G. R. Smalley (1864–1870); H. C. Russell (1870–1907); and H. A. Lenehan (1907–1908). My favorite was the first one I found:

Letter by H. C. Russell, 4 June 1869. Image courtesy: Sydney Observatory

June 4th [186]9


I am directed by the
Government Astronomer to inform
you that he is put to very great
inconvenience by the smoky
state of the chimney in his Computing
Room, the smoke from which
sometimes drives him out of the
Room, while at others
everything in the Room gets covered
with soot and ashes; I am further
directed to ask you to carry into
effect with as little delay as
possible the requisition dated May 18
for the performance of this work.

I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant
H C Russell
for the
Govt Astronomer

The Colonial Architect

Follow this link to read more letters, click on photograph of the observatory to go to the image download page.

Toward a History of the Space Shuttle

27 11 2012

I was very excited to see an announcement from NASA’s Communication Support Services Center in my inbox today, because only good things ever come from that office. Today’s e-mail directed me to the download site for a new NASA e-book, Toward a History of the Space Shuttle: An Annotated Bibliography Part 2, 1992–2011, compiled by Malinda K. Goodrich, Alice R. Buchalter, and Patrick M. Miller of the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

So exciting! If you’ve ever looked at the 1992 edition of Toward a History of the Space Shuttle An Annotated Bibliography compiled by Roger D. Launius and Aaron K. Gillette, you probably have a sense of what’s in this new edition. In short: everything. I’m reproducing the table of contents for you here, just in case you doubt my word (click on each image to make them larger).

Table of Contents, Toward a History of the Space Shuttle: An Annotated Bibliography, 1992

Table of Contents, Toward a History of the Space Shuttle: An Annotated Bibliography Part 2, 1992–2011, 2012

Any book, article, or bulletin even remotely related to the Space Shuttle program is likely to be cited in one or the other volume. The annotations cover popular publications (Popular Science, Washington Post), professional journals (Nature, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society), and technical/government reports (U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Congress).

Some neat things about the second volume: it opens with a list of abbreviations, a necessary tool when you’re reading NASA; it contains annotations for DVDs, so you can get your space on in front of the television; it covers children’s books, so you can get you kids in on it; and most usefully, the new volume has embedded links that connect to the parallel section in the first volume.

Flight 93 National Memorial

26 11 2012

National Veterans Awareness Ride, 2012. Flight 93 National Memorial. Photo credit: JR

A year ago today, I was celebrating one of the milestones of aviation history, the successful launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity, the Mars Rover). Today, I mourned one of aviation history’s greatest tragedies, the deliberate downing of Flight 93 in a field near Lambertsville, Pennsylvania.

If you’d like to see how I experienced the site this morning, you can watch the slideshow here.

Wallpaper Wednesday (Aurora Borealis)

21 11 2012

Aurora Borealis, October 13, 2012, Hadseløya, Norwway. Image credit: Helge Korneliussen

Have you been chasing the northern lights? I’m considering un-following @AuroraMAX on twitter because it keeps taunting me. November has been particularly painful—all those light displays and I’m stuck below the 49th parallel.

If you’ve got a few hours to kill, I suggest doing a flickr search on the word “aurora” (don’t ask me about the kittens, I don’t know why they’re there). If you just want a beautiful image, click on the one above to go to the download page.

Wallpaper Wednesday (Submillimetre Astronomy)

14 11 2012

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), Chajnantor Observatory, Chile. Photo credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

Operating on the theory that I am eventually going to finish writing my first book, I’ve begun doing research for my next large project, on early twentieth-century solar and radio observatories. Flipping through the articles on my desk, I ran across one from the 1960s about instruments for observing in the submillimetre wavelength range.[1] Reading it prompted me to wonder if there was any recent news about the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope. The search for news from APEX led me to today’s wallpaper.

Every time I visit the ESO website, I’m newly impressed with the online archive. I’ve commented on the image collection before, but the instrument documentation is superb as well. So, too, is the video archive. If you want to learn more about millimetre and submillimetre observations, check out the APEX trailer. Or, you can watch it just because it’s beautiful.


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Click on the image at the head of this post to download the wallpaper.
[1] A. E. Salomonovich, “Some Problems and Instrumental Features of Submillimetre Astronomy,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Vol. 264, No. 1150, A Discussion on Infrared Astronomy (Apr. 24, 1969), pp.

Solar Eclipse Online

12 11 2012

Most of the articles I’ve seen regarding tomorrow’s solar eclipse [11/13/12, 3:35 p.m. EST (2035 GMT)] have been pushing the SLOOH website and the USTREAM live eclipse broadcast from Cairns as the best online viewing options. Me, I’m going to try the Hot Air Balloon Cairns broadcast, just because it seems too good to be true.

Soviet Space Stamps, Part I

11 11 2012

April 12, 1986, Cosmonautics Day stamp featuring Konstantin Tsiolovsky

Here are a few examples from a collection of space-themed postage stamps that I bought during my first trip to the Soviet Union in 1988. “Cosmonautics Day” marks the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight on April 12, 1961. You might recognize the portrait of Soviet rocket theorist Konstantin Tsiolovsky (b. 1857-d. 1935) on this stamp from 1986—I’m not sure why, but in every photo I’ve seen, his mouth is open.

I’m also not sure why the 5 kopeck stamp follows a different design than the 10 and 15 kopeck stamps from the same year:

April 12, 1986, Cosmonautics Day stamp featuring Sergei Korolev

S. P. Korolev…hm…his father was Russian, his mother Ukrainian, so I’m not going to pin down his ethnicity, other than to say he spent most of his early life in Ukraine. This stamp is such a whitewash of Soviet atrocities. Korolev looked to have a promising career as an engineer ahead of him, but was arrested by the NKVD in 1938. He ended up in a gulag in Siberia. The positive: he lived to tell the tale. The negative: it ruined his life and health. Eventually, he was “rehabilitated,” i.e., the Soviet state realized it was losing the rocketry war to the Germans because they were killing all the smart people, and was forced to admit it the arrest was a mistake. Much of Soviet space and rocketry (and weaponry) success can be attributed to Korolev’s dedication. Much of Soviet space failure can be attributed to the fact he and other scientists died early deaths due to mistreatment in the gulag. Putting Korolev on a 10-kopeck stamp in 1986 = too little, too late, if you ask me.

April 12, 1986, Cosmonautics Day stamp featuring Yuri Gagarin and Vostok-1

The 15-kopeck stamp features an idealization of Yuri Gagarin on the left and a drawing of his spacecraft, Vostok-1, on the right. The text on the right say XXV Years: The World’s First Manned Space Flight. If you’ve been to VDNKh, you might recognize that rocket swoop on the left.

1984 Twenty-Five Years of Space Television

This 5-kopeck stamps celebrates the 25th anniversary of Luna-3, the USSR’s third lunar probe. Luna-3 deserves a stamp, since it sent back the first ever photos of the far side of the moon. This stamp reminds me how easy it is to get caught up in the early 21st-century narrative of U.S. dominance in space. Dark Side of the Moon, first brought to you by the Soviet Union, only second by Pink Floyd.

That brings me to the next stamp, which I can’t decipher just yet. It also celebrates the 25th anniversary of Luna-3, but seems to be doing it with an image of a space walk for repairs on solar panels. This is a 50-kopeck stamp, which is an incredible amount to pay for postage in 1984. This isn’t a stamp that would ever be used by Soviet citizens (most commemorative stamps weren’t, no matter what country printed them), so maybe it didn’t need to make sense, it only needed look cool so foreigners with hard currency would buy it.

1984, Twenty-Five Years of Space Television

Let me follow that with a set of stamps that has some relevance for current events:

1987 stamp celebrating Joint Soviet-Syrian Space Flight

In 1985, two Syrian astronauts began training for a mission to the Soviet space station Mir (МИР). In July 1987, Colonel Muhammad Ahmad Faris became the first Syrian in space, spending seven days aboard the space station. If that names sounds familiar, it may be because it was in the news recently. This past August, Faris defected to Turkey, declaring himself a member of the opposition. You’d think the Russian government would take that as a suggestion to reconsider its support for the Assad regime…

1987 International Space Flight, USSR-Syria

Probably only interesting to me: the red-and-gold circle in front of the Soviet-Syrian flags in the upper left of the 5-kopeck stamp (above) was also produced as a lapel pin. I know this because I own one. Only after looking at these stamps did I realize the “Intercosmos” symbol was part of the Soviet-Syrian love fest in space.

1987 International Space Flight, USSR-Syria

Without the flags, I wouldn’t have understood the 15-kopeck stamp (above). Nowhere does it say, “Syrians! With us!” but the astronaut on the right has a Syrian flag on his sleeve. I’m not sure whom the statue on the left represents. It looks more like Andrei Gromyko than Konstantin Chernenko, but it’s probably a Soviet rocket scientist, not a politician. I thought possibly cosmonaut Valery Ryumin, since he was the flight director for the joint mission, but the hair isn’t big enough.

1987 International Space Flight, USSR-Syria

This is my favorite Soviet-Syrian stamp. Five astronauts are hanging out on Mir, looking at a high-def image of architecture that looks like cross between the Umayyad Masjid and the Al Madraj building at Damascus University. Just in case you missed the purpose of the mission, arrows direct your attention from small likeness of Mir in the upper right corner to the locations of the USSR and Syria on a map.

I scanned the entire collection, so expect Part II sometime soon.

Wallpaper Wednesday (sort of)

7 11 2012

Today, I found a place that has coffee (!) and electricity (!) but no internet (!). Scouring the web for wallpaper images on my iPhone isn’t my idea of fun (have I mentioned how tired I am?), so I’m just going to  copy a link from my e-mail for you. I hope space.com’s gallery of “Experts’ Favorite Space Photos” lives up to its headline.


5 11 2012

The “Cosmos” Pavilion, VDNKh, Moscow, USSR/”Космос” павииьон, ВДНХ, Москва, СССР, 1988

A few months ago, while looking for something else, my partner came across a set of postcards I bought in the Soviet Union in 1988. They’ve been sitting on my desk ever since, waiting to be scanned, uploaded, and explained. I bought them on the penultimate day of my trip, when I made a solo journey out to VDNKh, or the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (ВДНХ, Выставка Достижений Народного Хозяйства), in the northern suburbs of Moscow. At the time, VDNKh was a massive exhibition grounds dedicated to celebrating the technological and economic of accomplishments of the Soviet government and states. Anyone who has been to a World Expo would have no difficult recognizing the purpose and organization of the grounds—dramatic vistas, state pavilions subsumed into a national narrative, folk music and costumes at every corner, heavy emphasis progress in science and technology. It would’ve been a nice lesson in state propaganda had I not already been immersed in it for weeks. I spent my afternoon in the Cosmos Pavilion (except when I was outside listening to music and eating bubliki, which for some reason weren’t available in Leningrad). I was practically pulsating with energy, a far cry from my usual state of melancholy that summer. It was my first opportunity to see real spacecraft and I was going to do it even if it meant navigating the Metro solo. That the spacecraft happened to be Soviet didn’t matter at all to me. At least, I don’t remember sorting out the exhibits in the Space Pavilion in terms of US vs. USSR, Us vs. Them. I was just excited to see real satellites and a bit awed by their size. A few of the postcards and their captions (click on the images for a larger view):

A citizen of the USSR Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth in a space flight/The carrier rocket of the “Vostok” space ship//Первый космонавт–гражданин СССР Ю. А. Гагарин. Ракета космического корабеля “Восток”

The “Cosmos-1514” specialised biological satellite for the comprehensive study of animals and plants//Специализированный биологический спутник “Космос-1514” для комплексного исследования животных и растений

The “Lunakhod-2” remote-controlled lunar exploration vehicle transmitted 80,000 pictures of the lunar surface to the Earth//Автоматический самоходный аппарат “Луноход-2” передал на Землю 80 тысяч изображений луной поверхности

The Salyut long-term orbital station, docked with a “Soyuz” spaceship and a Progress cargo spacecraft, in flight//Долповременная орбитальная станция “Салют”, состыкованная с кораблем “Союз” и грузовозом “Прогресс” в полете

The “Cosmos-1500” artificial satellite of the earth for studying the World Ocean and the land surface; the “Luna-24” automatic interplanetary station delivered samples of moon rock to the Earth//Иссуственный спутник Земли “Космос-1500” для исследования Мирового океана и поверхности суши; Автоматическая межпланетная станция “Луна-24” обеспечала доставку образцов лунного грунта

I’ll Catch Up

2 11 2012

Power’s back on, internet is up. I planned ahead so I could work without electricity for a few days, but now that I have it, I feel compelled to do some more efficient writing on the book manuscript. I’ll be back by next Wednesday, hopefully with a clear head and some fresh insight into the history of astronomy.

Observatories and Instruments