Kennedy’s Public and Private Thoughts on Apollo

Kennedy during the famous speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962. The full video of the speech is at the end of this article. Image via John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Online

On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy gave his famous speech at Rice University in Texas proclaiming that Americans take on lofty goals like landing a man on the Moon not because it is easy but because it is hard. It’s a speech that still resonates with spaceflight enthusiasts half a century later, often considered indicative of a time when NASA had clear goals and the necessary support to achieve them. But Kennedy’s own feelings about going to the Moon might have been different than the stirring words he said at Rice. In private conversations in the months and years that followed, he expressed worries over the cost of Apollo, raised questions regarding NASA’s commitment to a lunar program, and disappointment that the lunar landing wouldn’t happen within his presidential tenure.  [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.

More Mystery Surrounding Venus

I’ve always been fascinated with Venus, the planet closest to Earth in size that is different in every other respect. It rotates in the opposite direction, not just from Earth but from every planet in the Solar System. A day on Venus is longer than a year – its day is 243 Earth days while its year is only 225. It’s also hot with an average surface temperature of 460 degrees Celsius. (Left, Venus.)

Now, a new piece of Venus’ mysterious puzzle has come to light. The planet’s rotation is slowing down. Its day has gotten 6.5 minutes longer in the last 16 years. The rate of a planet’s rotation varies, but this is a significant change for so short a time. So what exactly is going on with Venus? Check out my full article on Motherboard.

NASA’s Manned Mission to Venus

In the mid-1960s, NASA was already looking ahead to what it would do after the Apollo program. Where could the organization send astronauts after the moon that would make use of everything it had learned getting them to our satellite? What emerged was the Apollo Applications Program (AAP), a program designed to give the technologies generated from Apollo direction towards long term objectives in space. AAP goals were varied. They ranged from Earth orbital research, an extended and more permanent lunar exploration program, and manned planetary missions. Within this latter category, Mars was on the table but wasn’t the only target. In 1967, NASA looked at what it would take to send men to Venus (pictured).

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NASA’s First Interplanetary Journey: Venus

Venus has always held a certain fascination for sky-gazers. It’s the brightest object aside from the Sun and the Moon and it’s been named for three goddesses of love: the Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, and the Babylonian Ishtar. As naked eye astronomy and myth gave way to scientific observation, Venus took on a different personality. Early Earth-based observations suggested it was a younger world and a tropical paradise, but better technology revealed it was hot and carbon dioxide rich. But there’s no better way to learn about a planet than to visit it. (Left, an artist’s concept of Mariner 2 – the first interplanetary spacecraft.)

In 1967, NASA developed a mission to send men to Venus. But before getting into the proposed manned mission, it’s worth stepping back to look at the state of NASA’s knowledge of Venus and its understanding of the interplanetary space a mission would have to go through to get there. Before this manned mission proposal, NASA had only sent one mission to Venus – Mariner 2.  [Read more...]

Unraveling Venus

Whenever anyone gets me talking about space and spaceflight, they invariably ask what got me started on ‘all of this space stuff’ in the first place. The short answer is Venus. I became captivated by the planet researching a second grade science project and my interest has continued growing from there. It is a planet, sometimes referred to as Earth’s twin but really more like the Earth turned inside out, that and I can see in the sky! But it’s never been the object that truly captivates me; it’s the hunt to learn about the object. [Read more...]