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NASA is Back in the Game – A New Era in Space Exploration

Today was a historic day for American spaceflight.  After more than forty years America finally has a launch vehicle to take humans beyond low-Earth orbit.  It’s not as if we’ve wasted our time hanging out in LEO since 1972, we’ve learned some truly amazing things about space as an environment since then.  After the Apollo program ended we built Skylab where humans had their first extended stays in space and began the study of the effect of micro gravity on the human body, animals, and plants.  Skylab led to Mir, the Russian space station, we sent up the venerable Hubble Space Telescope, performed many incredible experiments with the space shuttle, built the International Space Station and much more up until now.  Now we have turned the page on all that we’ve accomplished since Gene Cernan climbed back into the LEM a final time in 1972.  We’re not leaving all those accomplishments behind, we’re simply moving forward, and upward.

Space Launch System (SLS) test flight of the unmanned Orion capsule (Credit:  CNN)

Space Launch System (SLS) test flight of the unmanned Orion capsule (Credit: CNN)

Today was the first test flight of the Orion Crew Module (OCM) on board a Delta IV Heavy Rocket.  The whole unit together comprises the Space Launch System (SLS).  Today’s test flight was unmanned so instead of astronauts the OCM was packed with sensors to monitor the performance of the capsule’s performance during every second of the 4 hour flight.  The SLS looks very similar to the Apollo-era Saturn V rockets.  While not quite as tall it is certainly more powerful than the rockets that carried Neil Armstrong to the moon in 1969.  SLS features three separate booster engines compared to the Saturn V’s three engines in one block.  The goal is more usable fuel to go deeper into space.

No human has left low-Earth orbit in over forty years but today’s test flight took us one step closer to that achievement.  The OCM was blasted 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface.  For reference the Hubble telescope which was at the upper limit of the space shuttle’s range orbits at 347 miles.  At an altitude of 3,600 miles you could see most of the Earth out the window.  The photo below was taken from the OCM and is probably very familiar if you’re old enough to remember the days of the Apollo missions when we first left the Earth behind.  Now four decades removed from those heady days an entire generation has grown up without seeing these kind of images shown on the news.  It’s my hope that as the SLS-Orion program moves forward the American public will rediscover a love for space exploration that its parents and grandparents had which made our country great.

An image we haven't seen live for over 40 years.  (Credit NASA)

An image we haven’t seen live for over 40 years. (Credit NASA)

The seeds of success have been sown by hard work, determination, and talent from all the people who have thus far worked on the SLS-Orion program.  Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13 wrote in his book Lost Moon, “I look up at the moon and wonder when we’ll be going back and who that will be?”  We’ve yet to answer that question but right now we can at least say, “Soon.”

Here’s the XT10i

So here it is! The XT10i is all assembled and set up and ready to go! Only problem is it’s snowing outside…crap! Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow night because I’m dying to take this baby out. Thanks to Company Seven Astro-Optics Division for getting me set up with this beautiful scope! That’s all for today. Cheers!

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My First Telescope

The wait is almost over!  Friday I’m buying my first telescope, an Orion XT8 Dobsonian.  I’m pretty excited about it because up until Friday, all of my sky observations have been done with my 15×70 binoculars.  I love my binoculars though!  I think every astronomer needs to have a good pair of binoculars to compliment their strongest telescope.  However, the

The XT8

binoculars have acted like a springboard just waiting to launch me into the deep end.  I don’t mean the deep end in the traditional sense when it implies being in over one’s head, but as a bit of a play on words referring to the viewing of deep sky objects.  While I understand that the XT8 is by and large a beginner’s scope, the reviews I’ve read about it typically rave about its performance for planetary viewing and deep sky viewing.  I recently read a review on Cloudy Nights rating the XT8 a 10/10.  The authors of The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide classified the XT8 as the perfect scope for a beginner and the best performance for the price.  It’s an 8″ Newtonian reflector set on the sturdy Dobsonian mount.  The apperature seams good enough to gather enough light to do some serious planetary viewing, which I’m really excited about.  The price is not steep at all.  Orion has it listed at $349.  I’ve yet to call the dealer in my area to find out their pricing but I can’t imagine it’s much different.  If you live in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area there’s a dealer that sells all sorts of telescopes and accessories called Company Seven, they’re located in Laurel, MD.  The reason for the strange name is that the guys who started the shop were all a part of Company Seven at the local firehouse.  Firefighters turned astronomers, pretty cool!

Anyway, that’s my spiel on the soon-to-be new purchase.  It’s supposed to be cloudy the next couple of nights here so I’m praying that Friday night is clear!  I’ll be sure to post a nice review of the scope once I’ve gotten my legs under me.  In the meantime, here’s a couple helpful websites that offer telescope reviews.  Peace.

Cloudy Nights Telescope Reviews

Scopereviews.com

Sky And Telescope…Although they aren’t dedicated to reviews they do have some world-class experts who frequently do reviews and other editorial features

Great Night for Stargazing

If you live in Maryland and are looking to do some stargazing tonight is a GREAT night for it!  We’re looking at an overnight low of 40° which is extraordinarily mild for this time of year!  On top of that it’s a clear night.  The only draw back is that the moon is almost full tonight, but you’ll get some incredible views of the moon if you have a nice pair of binoculars!  Jupiter is still high in the sky along with the Crab Nebula to the lower right of the moon.  Those three objects are all relatively close to one another and should provide some excellent viewing.  As always during the winter the Orion constellation and its brilliant nebula are visible until a couple hours before dawn.  This will be, hands down, a great night for some Ball So Hard stargazing!  To God be the glory!

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