Friday, December 19, 2008

Raccoons are awesome.

You might recall that a couple of months ago, NASA sponsored an "Ask an Astronaut" thing where people videotape or e-mail their questions and the best ones would be given to Greg Chamitoff aboard the ISS.

Here is the best one of all:

While we're on the subject of Lovell...

Can we officially put to rest the notion that Lovell reported a UFO to Mission Control by saying, "There is a Santa Claus"?

First, if a bunch of rocket scientists want to keep UFOs a secret, they're going to come up with a better system than, "Hey, if you see a UFO, say Santa Claus over a non-secured frequency."

Secondly, anyone who has the vaguest notion of the context of the transmission knows what Lovell meant.

At the time of this transmission (Christmas Day, 1968), Apollo 8 was coming back around from the dark side of the moon for the last time. If they didn't make this burn and get out of orbit, well...
For all you Bowie fans, it would have been a whole lot like "Space Oddity."

It was incredibly stressful, make or break.
If they answered Mission Control when they were supposed to, we were going to the moon before 1970. If they didn't, Apollo 8 had become a tragic failure.

Here's an excerpt from the PBS show "Race to the Moon":

Chris Kraft: We lost the signal exactly at the right time, when they went behind the moon, and everybody, at that point, got up and started walking around in the room and I got on my intercom and said, "Look, you guys, do what you want to do but I'm going to sit here and I want to pray a little bit and I'd like to have it quiet here because this is one hell of a tense moment for me and for those guys in the spacecraft. So, for God's sake, be quiet for me."

Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston, Apollo 8, Houston.

Susan Borman: And there was just dead silence. I mean you really could have heard a pin drop. No one was breathing. No one was moving and waiting to hear something. Because all you heard was Mission Control saying "Apollo 8". You know there was a one-way transmission. "Apollo 8, Apollo 8." Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.

Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8. Over.
Mission Control: Hello, Apollo 8. Loud and clear.
Apollo 8: Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.
Mission Control: That's affirmative. You're the best ones to know.

What Lovell said was no different than, "Whew. Dodged that bullet."

40 years ago.

Local astro-celeb Jim Lovell has been doing lots of local interviews lately in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission.
80 years old and still hot.
It defies all logic.


Upcoming Events at Adler

November 24, 2008 - January 4, 2009
Take a journey back in time this holiday season to rediscover the story behind the Star of Bethlehem in the Adler Planetarium's Star of Wonder, the museum's longest-running sky show and one of Chicago's favorite holiday offerings.
Star of Wonder examines the theories behind the celestial event that prompted the Magi to travel to Bethlehem. Was this heavenly light an exploding star, a brilliant comet or an unusual grouping of planets? This holiday sky show presents a surprising and dramatic conclusion based on careful exploration of both ancient astronomical records and modern computer calculations.

December 20, 2008 - January 4, 2009
First 50 visitors on Saturday, December 20 receive a FREE replica Apollo 8 mission patch!*
The Adler is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission with a two-week celebration of space exploration. Come on down to the Adler to join in the fun.
What you can see and do at the Adler during the Adler's Apollo 8 Celebration:
  • View Apollo 8 artifacts including the original flight manual, the historic live Christmas Eve broadcast with footage and Capt. James A. Lovell's flight suit.

January 25, 2009
12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Celebrate the 5th anniversary of the landing of the Mars Rovers on Opportunity's 5th birthday! Launched in 2004, the rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, have survived 20 times longer than the 3 months they were expected to run.
  • Check out 3-D images from the Martian surface and learn about past, present and future rover landings in the Space Visualization Laboratory (SVL)
  • Sign a birthday card to be sent to the rover teams at NASA
  • Enjoy a free piece of birthday cake in Galileo's CafĂ© starting at 1:15 pm (while supplies last)
Activities are free with paid museum admission.
Please note: The activity schedule is subject to change without prior notice.

Are you going to listen to the Ursids?


The Ursid meteor shower caused by Comet 8P/Tuttle peaks this year on Dec. 22nd. About a dozen meteors per hour will fly out of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) as Earth passes through the comet's debris stream. Watching these northern meteors can be a chilling experience, so why not stay inside and listen to them instead? is broadcasting live audio from the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas. When a meteor passes over the radar--"ping"--there is an echo. Give it a try; feedback is welcomed.