Sunday, December 31, 2017

"Ground Control to Major Tom"...

A few days ago I was privvy to something of a "sneak preview" at the Virginia Living Museum (VLM); an up-close-and-personal look at an actual NASA Mercury Astronaut Space Suit which the team there has been "conserving" for quite a while. This is probably one of the original seven astronauts' training suits and so never flew, but still I must confess to a certain visceral thrill at being able to examine--and briefly even touch--such a relic of our first days in space!

The Mercury suit is meeting the public for the first time today during the VLM's "Noon Years Eve" celebration (1100-1300), and is expected to go on general display next year (2018). I'll certainly be visiting this important piece of our space legacy in the future, but nothng can beat the experience of shaking "hands" with history.

f/Stop: Super Moon Setting, 3 Dec 2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

f/Stop: Space/Ship

The Tanker's Mainmast--And An Extraterrestrial Visitor (to the right)
A few hours ago as twilight faded to dark, I stepped out onto the starboard bridge wing--and my attention was immediately captured by a brilliant point of steady light rising out of the southwest. Given that stars and planets--let alone the Sun and Moon--tend to rise in the east, it seemed a pretty good bet that this Venus-bright object was an artificial satellite, pursuing its orbital path around Earth.

After a minute of watching it rise from beyond the low stratus cloud-layer I was sure that I was seeing the International Space Station (ISS)--a fact that I confirmed a few minutes later online--and hurried back into the chart house to collect my camera.  A little quick fiddling with manual settings, and I got back outside as the longest extant outpost of humanity in the heavens passed over the mainmast as seen from the 'wing.

I consider this photo--rushed as it was, and taken from a moving deck as well--to be a pretty successful off-the-cuff venture. I'll have to keep an eye out for future passages of the ISS--and have camera and tripod ready!

(Want to know when the next passage of the ISS is visible from YOUR bridge wing? Check out "Heavens Above" for satellite tracking information and much more!  )

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Doing Domes

The 20-inch Refractor at the Chabot Center
Regular readers (or anyone who knows me) will confirm that I love visiting Space Places; observatories, planetaria, museums featuring space themes, etc, etc. Its been a fairly consistent theme in my life--if it has anything to do with astronomy, space travel or related subjects I just can't walk past without a look-see.

Up til now this obsession has been pursued in a random, careless fashion. Ill stop by a planetarium in a city I happen to be visiting or an observatory that my route takes me near. This is how I visited the Chabot Center and Palomar in California, Kitt Peak in Arizona and Cranbrook Institute in Michigan.  Its also how Lucy and I came to Green Bank just last month. I’ve been to quite a few Space Places in the course of a lifetime of fascination with the skies and what we can experience of them, but not in any kind of organized manner.

This changes now.

Beginning today, I'm upping my game. From here on out, my intention is to conduct a more focused program, seeking-out and checking-out those great telescopes in their secluded domes, those all-sky projectors, those launch sites and support facilities amenable to visitation.

If a planetarium lies in a town a am visiting, I will make every effort to get there. If an observatory can be reached with a realistic side-trip off the Interstate, Ill give it my best shot. And if a space-related historic site is anywhere near—then I’m there as well.

It’s a quest, you see. Ill never be able to visit all the domes, climb all the mountains, travel to all of the sites where big rockets roar aloft, but I can try.  It should be a lot of fun.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

f/Stop: Sunset Colors Over Hampton Roads

Last night Lucy picked me up at the base; as I walked toward her car I was struck by the deep colors and rays of twilight.  It really DOES pay to carry an actual camera around, non?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Watch a star disappear this Sunday night (05NOV)

Looking for a good show on Sunday evening? Well, the bright star Aldebaran will be occulted
(“eclipsed”) by the Moon, and it’s worth making the effort to watch.  Viewing from eastern Virginia
area the actual disappearance can be seen at +/-0056Z (1956 Local) {check online for local times
if you’re not in Va.}, but it’s best to start checking it out periodically up to an hour beforehand.

An hour before the event the Moon will still be a considerable distance from the star, so if you go
out and look every few minutes after that you’ll be able to actually SEE the orbital motion
of the Moon as it closes-in on Aldebaran.  About ten minutes before the occultation is a good
time to begin watching closely as the separation between Moon and star shrinks to nothing…and
then the star winks out!  Can you catch the exact moment when Aldebaran disappears?

Tip for watching: The Moon will be low in the east, but still pretty bright.  The glare may tend
to drown-out Aldebaran’s orange-ish light.  Use a telescope or a pair of binoculars, focus on
the star and follow it, keeping most of the bright Moon out of the field-of-view except for the
edge (“limb”) creeping in from the upper right.

Watching the disappearance of a bright star in occultation is pretty easy…star and Moon seem to
move together until…lights out!  If you want a REAL challenge, try watching for Aldebaran’s
REAPPEARANCE, when the distant sun seems to wink back into existence!

Here’s a good link for more information about this semi-rare event…

Questions? Drop me a note at  If you DO go out to watch this event
I’d like to hear your comments and observations--I am always up for a conversation on the subject
of star-gazing!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Calling All Junior Birdmen...

The Main Hall of the VASC
I'm like a little kid again whenever Lucy and I visit the Virginia Air and Space Center (VASC), and yesterday's tour was no exception to the rule. This Hampton museum doubles as the visitor's center for NASA Langley, so there is always something interesting going on...

"Yankee Clipper" and the Mercury and Gemini 'test items'
My favorite display, as usual, is the Apollo 12 Command Module, "Yankee Clipper", which orbited the Moon while Lunar Module "Intrepid" made the second manned landing on the lunar surface. (I noticed that they've expanded the "do not touch" perimeter of the display--but I would NEVER try to touch such an artifact. Take it home, maybe...)
Mercury Ascendant

Mercury and Gemini "Test Items" are on-display nearby--these are the capsule mock-ups used for parachute and drop-tests. The "Gemini" has a dozen little parachutes painted on it's side--I'm guessing that the upside-down 'chutes represent less-than-successful deployments!
"Open the Pod Bay Door, HAB..."
Along with a couple of new missiles, there were three major additions to the Center since our last visit a year back; a working demo of an inflatable "HAB" module similar to the one currently being tested on the ISS, an "astronaut training" area complete with simulators for practicing your orbital rendezvous technique or rover driving (I tried that one out and discovered an aptitude for NOT driving off cliffs into Valles Marineris!), and--WOW!--the "Solarium", a theater displaying dramatic imagery of solar activity, up-close and personal! THIS was both Lucy's and my own favorite new display--the ever-changing wide-screen vista is mesmerizing!
Yes, the Moon Rocks. A sample from the Apollo 17 Mission.
Overall, I can't think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon than doing the VASC--if you haven't checked it out yet, it comes highly recommended.

For grown-ups AND born-again kids!

Lucy inspects a mock-up of NASA's "ORION" Crew Module
Hanging in the HAB...