53 years ago today (April 12), Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, became the first human to travel into space and change history, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth.

So on April 12, Gagarin, who turned into an international celebrity and hero, is being commemorated for paving the way for future space exploration by the International Day of Human Space Flight (Cosmonautics Day).

I really recommend looking him up. There’s so much to know about him and the history-making flight.

My favourite thing is probably the landing to an unplanned site: A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

Happy International Day of Human Space Flight!

Luca on camera

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano uses a digital still camera during a spacewalk as work continues on the International Space Station. A little more than one hour into the sortie on 16 July, Luca reported water floating inside his helmet. The water was not an immediate health hazard for Luca, but NASA Mission Control decided to end the spacewalk early. Both astronauts are well, and the cause of the leak is still being investigated.

Image credit: NASA/ESA

It was a busy week in spaceflight and many amazing things happened:

  • December 1st, Russia launched new-generation navigation satellite GLONASS-K (Global Navigation Satellite System) into orbit (x)
  • December 2nd, a Japanese (JAXA) launcher blasted off, dispatching Hayabusa 2 probe, a daring six-year expedition to bring a piece of an asteroid back to Earth (x)
  • December 5th, NASA launched Orion’s spaceship designed to carry astronauts far beyond Earth, setting up the possibility of human exploration of Mars (x)
  • December 6th, European Space Agency’s Ariane-5 carrier rocket launched with two telecommunications satellites, one to beam down ultra-sharp television programming into millions of American homes and another craft to give Indian citizens expanded access to information technology (x)

Rocket Science - NASA is going open source, releasing a treasure trough of software for the aspiring rocket scientist. Everything from the Apollo lunar lander guidance system software to star tracker algorithms is up for grabs, license/royalty free. The release is part of a Presidential directive for all agencies to release their work and encourage others to build on it.

This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions — and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people — the rocket guidance system, for instance — but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees.

Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.

It’s all part of a White House-directed push to open up the federal government, which is the country’s largest creator of public domain code, but also a complete laggard when it comes to sharing software. Three years ago, President Obama ordered federal agencies to speed up tech transfer programs like this. 


50 years ago Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Initially both Vostok 5 and 6, which flew at the same time, would be piloted by women. Tereshkova would pilot Vostok 5 and Valentina Ponomaryova  Vostok 6. However, due to changes in the Sovjet Spaceflight program, Vostok 5 was flown by Bykovsky and Vostok 6 by Tereshkova. She would remain the only woman to have been in orbit for another 19 years.

MAVEN spacecraft launches to Mars

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1:28 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The trip to Mars takes 10 months, and MAVEN will go into orbit around Mars in September 2014.

Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

If you can’t actually get shot into space, at least you can drown your sorrows in these space themed shot glasses from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild. Each glass commemorates a different animal who pioneered spaceflight long before Yuri and Alan

I hereby declare today: Thirsty Thursday. Bottoms up! 

- Summer


Time Magazine celebrates 50 yrs of women in space

There was less global hoopla when Yang flew than when Ride did, and much less than when Tereshkova did. The fact that human beings travel in space continues to be—and should be—something that delights and even surprises us. The fact that women are among those explorers is, at last, becoming routine.

See the complete gallery and read the complete article


Six Reasons Neil Armstrong was a BADASS

I just wanted to add a bit to all of the discussions surrounding Neil Armstrong. We shouldn’t forget that he was perfect for this mission not only because he was humble and would make a great symbol for our country and the world, but that he was also an amazing, highly skilled, tried by fire, pilot with NERVES OF FREAKING STEEL!

Space is Hard - After 13 years, John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace calls it quits. The space startup has laid off all full-time staff, and John himself has stated he does not intend to invest any more of his own money. Started in 2000, the company was aimed at developing suborbital space tourism capabilities, but now it looks like it won’t make it.

One day after speaking at the QuakeCon in Dallas, John Carmack—the famed video game designer and space entrepreneur—confirmed to Ars that he’s “winding down” his company, Armadillo Aerospace. The private space company began in 2000, and eventually began doing contract work for NASA, but it turned to developing reusable rockets in recent years. “I laid off most of the full-time employees,” Carmack told Ars on Friday.

“[We have a few doing some] minor part-time hours, and there’s one guy still on there. We still have the building, and I own materials there, and I don’t have the funding to continue development.” He said that he’d spent over $1 million a year of his own money to fund the company, which will now be cut significantly. “I’m spending [somewhere] in the couple hundred thousand [dollar range], we still have to pay accountants, lawyers, and pay for insurance. We’re talking to people and we hope that some money shows up, but if not we’ll wind down even further.”

I do hope that the Armadillo will come back from hibernation at some point in the future, but if nothing else this does illustrate the point that it is rocket science after all.

Apollo 11: East crater panorama

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first to walk on the Moon. This panorama of their landing site sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, with their Lunar Module, the Eagle, in the background at the far left. East Crater, about 30 meters wide and 4 meters deep, is on the right, and was so named because it is about 60 meters east of the Lunar Module. Armstrong had piloted the Eagle safely over the crater. Near the end of his stay on the lunar surface Armstrong strayed far enough from the Lunar Module to take the pictures used to construct this wide-angle view, his shadow appearing at the panorama’s left edge. The object near the middle foreground is a stereo close-up camera.

Image credit: Apollo 11 Crew, NASA; Mosaic Assembly: Mike Constantine