Vintage Space Videos

Vintage Space now has videos! These short clips are not only a way to bring Vintage Space content to the visually oriented, they’re also a way for me to answer your questions. Check out the Vintage Space Videos page for more, but for now watch the first installment of what will become a regular series right here.

Carnival of Space #255

Some very exciting things going on in space right now, and this week’s carnival is bringing you a slice of the action. From lakes on Titan to strange formations on Mars and Chinese women in space, it’s a good week for space enthusiasts. (This edition’s fun vintage space photo is astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. chomping on a cigar after Gemini 6’s successful liftoff. At the time, Shepard was grounded with Meniere’s Disease and serving as chief of the astronaut office at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. December 15, 1965. Credit: NASA)  [Read more...]

Vintage Space Fun Fact: NASA’s Canadian Contingent

Director of the Space Task Group Robert Gilruth (second from left) with, from left to right, chief assistants Charles Donlan, Maxime Faget, and Robert Piland. Here, these original members of the Space Task Group discuss contractors to study feasibility of a manned circumlunar mission. August, 1960. Credit: NASA

On February 20, 1959, 14,000 Canadians found themselves suddenly unemployed. Weeks previously, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker had cancelled continued work on the Arrow, a high performance interceptor aircraft built by A.V. Roe (AVRO) poised to break speed records. Fortunately for the 4,000 who had designed and built the aircraft, their talents made them highly desirable in the aerospace market, particularly to the young American agency working on how to put a man in space. [Read more...]

First Woman

Valentina Tereshkova. Credit: RIA Novosti

China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft successfully reached orbit yesterday, and tomorrow it will dock with the Tiangong 1 prototype space station the nation launched last September. But it’s the crew that’s commanding the most attention on this mission, namely pilot Liu Yang who became the first female taikonaut (Chinese astronaut) yesterday.

There’s another woman to celebrate for her role in space today: on June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became history’s first woman in space. Her flight has been called little more than a propaganda stunt; launching a woman outwardly showed that the Soviet Union placed equal value on its women as it did its men. This isn’t to say she wasn’t highly intelligent and a skilled parachutist (her standout qualification for the spaceflight) when she was selected for the job, but, like Gagarin before her, it was Tereshkova’s pedigree that made her the ideal candidate for the historic flight. For more about the first woman in space, read my full article on Motherboard.

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Unnoticed Lunar Wordplay

Bean steps off Intrepid's ladder onto the surface of the Moon. November 19, 1969. Credit: NASA

Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad and lunar module pilot Alan Bean had perhaps the most colourful wrist checklists of any crew. The checklists served as cheat sheets; astronauts referred to these small booklets attached to their lunar EVA suits to make sure they didn’t miss anything during their sojourns on the surface. In Bean’s case, he only missed one item: a prank so subtle that he didn’t see it for 30 years.  [Read more...]

The X-15’s First Glide

Crossfield stands in front of the X-15. Credit: The Scott Crossfield Foundation online

It was a chilly morning on June 8, 1959 when Scott Crossfield climbed into the cockpit of the X-15 rocket aircraft. By 8:30, he was airborne, and the aircraft  was nestled under the wing of the larger B-52 launch plane. Pilots Captain Charles Bock and Captain Jack Allavie kept a steady conversation with Crossfield about the X-15’s status. The B-52 was scheduled to launch the X-15 that morning at 8:40. More men than just the three in the air hoped nothing would prevent Crossfield making this maiden voyage.  [Read more...]

Venus’ Transits Through History

Venus passing into the disk of the Sun during the 2004 transit. Credit: NASA

In a matter of hours, lucky observers with clear skies will be able to watch Venus pass in front of the Sun. Transits of Venus are rare – this is the last one until 2117 – but that’s not the only reason you should find a way to watch it. This astronomical event is historically very significant. Since the 17th century astronomers have used Venus transits to better understand the Universe and our place within in, and the upcoming transit doesn’t break this centuries-old tradition.

Over the course of astronomy’s history, Venus transits have shaped and given size to our Solar System. Now, transits are helping us understand our place in the Universe relative not only to other planets and stars but to other possible worlds and life forms. Read my full article on the historical significance of Venus transits on Scientific American’s Guest Blog. Context, I firmly believe, gives us all a much greater appreciation for a cosmic event on such a huge scale.

Stepping into Space, and History

White floating around the Gemini 4 spacecraft on June 3, 1965. Credit: NASA

On June 3, 1965, Ed White stood on his seat in the Gemini 4 capsule with his head sticking out of the spacecraft anxiously waiting for Houston to give him a ‘go’ for America’s first EVA. It was a relatively simple EVA in that White didn’t have any tasks beyond testing the suit and various means of manoeuvering in orbit for later missions. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. White did face some challenges on NASA’s first EVA, but overall it was a stunning success.

The EVA was developed in secret; the American people and many within NASA didn’t find out about the mission objective until two weeks before launch. Once he was out, the historic mission was broadcast live for the nation to hear. Read more about it on Discovery News.

NASA’s Manned Venus Orbital Mission

Venus seen from orbit. Photo credit: NASA/STS-30 Crew

In the late 1960s, NASA was considering future applications for its Apollo hardware under the aptly named Apollo Applications program. One popular target for an AAP mission was Venus, our cosmic neighbour that was a scientific enigma at the time; admittedly our knowledge of Venus still isn’t complete. The space agency briefly looked at a plan that would see a crew of astronauts sent into orbit around Venus.  [Read more...]