the last astronaut

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Our solar system is a jewel box filled with a glittering variety of beautiful worlds–and not all of them are planets. This week, we present our solar system’s most marvelous moons.

1. Weird Weather: Titan

Saturn’s hazy moon Titan is larger than Mercury, but its size is not the only way it’s like a planet. Titan has a thick atmosphere, complete with its own “water cycle” – except that it’s way too cold on Titan for liquid water. Instead, rains of liquid hydrocarbons like ethane and methane fall onto icy mountains, run into rivers, and gather into great seas. Our Cassini spacecraft mapped the methane seas with radar, and its cameras even caught a glimpse of sunlight reflecting off the seas’ surface. Learn more about Titan:

2. Icy Giant: Ganymede

Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is the largest in the solar system. It’s bigger than Mercury and Pluto, and three-quarters the size of Mars. It’s also the only moon known to have its own magnetic field. Details:

3. Retrograde Rebel: Triton

Triton is Neptune’s largest moon, and the only one in the solar system to orbit in the opposite direction of its planet’s rotation, a retrograde orbit. It may have been captured from the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto orbits. Despite the frigid temperatures there, Triton has cryovolcanic activity – frozen nitrogen sometimes sublimates directly to gas and erupts from geysers on the surface. More on Triton:

4. Cold Faithful: Enceladus

The most famous geysers in our solar system (outside of those on Earth) belong to Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It’s a small, icy body, but Cassini revealed this world to be one of the solar system’s most scientifically interesting destinations. Geyser-like jets spew water vapor and ice particles from an underground ocean beneath the icy crust of Enceladus. With its global ocean, unique chemistry and internal heat, Enceladus has become a promising lead in our search for worlds where life could exist. Get the details:

5. Volcano World: Io

Jupiter’s moon Io is subjected to tremendous gravitational forces that cause its surface to bulge up and down by as much as 330 feet (100 m). The result? Io is the most volcanically active body in the Solar System, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting lava fountains dozens of miles high. More on Io’s volcanoes:

6. Yin and Yang Moon: Iapetus

When Giovanni Cassini discovered Iapetus in 1671, he observed that one side of this moon of Saturn was bright and the other dark. He noted that he could only see Iapetus on the west side of Saturn, and correctly concluded that Iapetus had one side much darker than the other side. Why? Three centuries later, the Cassini spacecraft solved the puzzle. Dark, reddish dust in Iapetus’s orbital path is swept up and lands on the leading face of the moon. The dark areas absorb energy and become warmer, while uncontaminated areas remain cooler. Learn more:

7. A Double World: Charon and Pluto

At half the size of Pluto, Charon is the largest of Pluto’s moons and the largest known satellite relative to its parent body. The moon is so big compared to Pluto that Pluto and Charon are sometimes referred to as a double planet system. Charon’s orbit around Pluto takes 6.4 Earth days, and one Pluto rotation (a Pluto day) takes 6.4 Earth days. So from Pluto’s point of view Charon neither rises nor sets, but hovers over the same spot on Pluto’s surface, and the same side of Charon always faces Pluto. Get the details:

8. “Death Star” Moon: Mimas

Saturn’s moon Mimas has one feature that draws more attention than any other: the crater Herschel, which formed in an impact that nearly shattered the little world. Herschel gives Mimas a distinctive look that prompts an oft-repeated joke. But, yes, it’s a moon. More:

9. Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Just Phobos

In mythology, Mars is a the god of war, so it’s fitting that its two small moons are called Phobos, “fear,” and Deimos, “terror.” Our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught this look at Phobos, which is roughly 17 miles (27 km) wide. In recent years, NASA scientists have come to think that Phobos will be torn apart by its host planet’s gravity. Details:

Learn more about Phobos:

10. The Moon We Know Best

Although decades have passed since astronauts last set foot on its surface, Earth’s moon is far from abandoned. Several robotic missions have continued the exploration. For example, this stunning view of the moon’s famous Tycho crater was captured by our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which continues to map the surface in fine detail today. More:

Discover more lists of 10 things to know about our solar system HERE.

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On April 9, 1959, the Mercury Seven were introduced to the world (and each other) for the first time. Scott Carpenter, Gordo Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton were announced as NASA’s original astronauts, “selected to begin training for orbital space flight.”

I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. It was just a frenzy of light bulbs and questions. It was some kind of roar. I know I stumbled through a couple of answers.

What was the real surprise was watching John Glenn. Someone asked if our wives were behind us. Six of us said, ‘Sure,’ as if that had ever been a real consideration. Glenn piped up with a damn speech about God and family and destiny. We all looked at him, and then each other.”

–Deke Slayton on their first press conference

You’ll need a flow chart!

Radio Times Flow Chart of River Song


1. A Good Man Goes to War (2011) – Melody Pond is born

2. The Impossible Astronaut (2011) – young Melody is raised in an orphanage

3. Day of the Moon (2011) – Melody regenerates into Mels

4. Let’s Kill Hitler (2011) – Mels regenerates into River

5. Closing Time (2011) – River gets her doctorate, is kidnapped by the Silence

6. The Wedding of River Song/The Impossible Astronaut (2011)– River breaks time, marries the Doctor and then helps heal it for the events of The Impossible Astronaut

7. First Night (minisode, 2011) – River is incarcerated for the murder of the Doctor, but goes on her first evening trip with him

8. Last Night (minisode, 2011) – a version of River from five years in the future interacts with her younger self

9. A Good Man Goes to War (2011)

10. The Impossible Astronaut (2011)

11. Day of the Moon (2011)

12. The Pandorica Opens (2010)

13. The Big Bang (2010) – River helps the Doctor save the universe

14. Time of the Angels (2010)

15. Flesh and Stone (2010)

16. Wedding of River Song (2011) – River visits her parents Amy and Rory in their garden

17. Last Night (minisode, 2011) – an older version of River is heading to the towers of Darillium with the Doctor, but he apparently later backs out

18. The Angels Take Manhattan (2012) – River sees her parents trapped in the past

19. The Husbands of River Song (2015) – River teams up with the Twelfth Doctor but doesn’t recognise him

20. Silence in the Library (2008) – River meets the Tenth Doctor, who hasn’t met her yet

21. Forest of the Dead (2008) – River dies, but the Tenth Doctor “saves” her as a data ghost

22. The Name of the Doctor (2013) – River’s data ghost finally says goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor

Last but not least of my three Dragon Age pieces (still in linework stage, colors to come I promise!)  - Cullen Rutherford. I know he’s got both his lovers and haters, and I love him precisely for that complexity - I have always enjoyed how well bioware portrays broken people - but it’s not often that they do a good job developing those characters over the long haul. Cullen’s journey from idealism to torment to hatred and paranoia and slowly, slowly back toward the cautious and determined hope we see in Inquisition is always inspiring to me. He’s messed up (a lot), and he has a (long) way to go yet, but I love that his steps lean more toward redemption these days. (please no cullen hate on my lil art post, thanks!)

Plus he’s my pixel husband, and I’m a sucker for soft romances, ok. 

Anyway, have a tarot inspired by the more angsty parts of cullen’s journey - I wanted to represent the hard journey of both forgiveness (asked and given) and addiction/recovery.

Again, color to come! 

May 15th, 1963 - Gordon Cooper launches aboard Mercury-Atlas 9, Faith 7, and is the last astronaut to fly to space under Project Mercury.

Faith 7’s mission was one of durability and stamina, in order to try and catch up with the Soviets, which had longer lasting missions following Yuri Gagarin’s Vostock 1, whereas the Mercury flights lasted only a few hours. (Thank you to YuriGagarinOfficial for catching my mistake!) 

Gordon Cooper would orbit the Earth 22 times in a mission that lasted over 34 hours before being picked up by the USS Kearsarge in the Pacific Ocean. This would be the last time an American Astronaut would orbit the Earth solo. Cooper’s capsule, Faith 7, is currently on display at Space Center Houston.

Project Mercury would be succeeded by Project Gemini, publicly announced in January 1962.

Planet of the Apes timeline, abbreviated
  • Planet of the Apes (1968): Astronauts on the Icarus spaceship go off-course and crash-land on a strange planet where there are earthlike species but the local apes have overthrown the humans. People here live as mute beasts while the apes have developed speech and live in cities, quoting the Lawgiver and his Sacred Scrolls to justify their mastery over humanity. Eventually, the last surviving astronaut discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty, indicating that he’s really landed in earth’s own future.
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): Another astronaut team gets sent out to search for the missing Icarus crew, and they also end up on future-earth. In addition to apes, they encounter mutated humans living underground and worshiping a nuclear bomb. That bomb goes off, destroying the entire world.
  • No, really.
  • The final shot of the movie is literally a blank screen with an ominous voiceover saying, “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”
  • There are still another 6 movies (and counting!) that would later get made in this franchise. Buckle up.
  • Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971): It’s revealed that several of the apes have been able to use the human astronauts’ technology to build a space shuttle and escape the planet shortly before its destruction, but in blasting away they are sucked into a wormhole and arrive in earth’s past, soon after the Icarus was lost. There they are reluctant to tell humanity what they know about their own history / these humans’ future: that apes will become slaves after a plague wipes out most other lifeforms, and eventually they will learn to speak and rebel against their cruel human masters. But eventually the fact comes out that humans in the future are under ape rule, and people understandably panic, being wrongfully convinced that these particular talking apes are the true originators of that future domination. The members of the ape delegation are all shot and killed – this isn’t a happy franchise – but the newborn chimpanzee killed with them was actually a zoo chimp swapped out in secret. The final descendant of the planet of the apes, now being raised secretly in a traveling zoo, has survived.
  • Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972): In the years since Escape, a lot has changed. The young ape Caesar has grown up, and also that whole plague thing happened and apes are being kept as slaves. There are some indications that this is happening a lot quicker than Caesar’s parents remembered from their histories, perhaps fueled by the public’s newfound fear of apes. Caesar, able to speak since birth, leads an armed ape rebellion to overthrow humanity and also starts teaching other apes to speak.
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973): Ape leader Caesar tries to work out a peace between his people and the decimated human race, amid elements from both sides who want to utterly destroy one another. He’s ultimately successful, and centuries in the future the Lawgiver preaches tolerance to a mixed group of ape and human children. In other words, Caesar and his parents really did create a new timeline, and this planet of the apes is not necessarily going to lead to the situation that the Icarus astronauts found. Some people argue that there’s still enough time between Battle and the time of the original movie for the peace to break and the Lawgiver’s teachings to be corrupted, though.
  • Planet of the Apes (1974): This is a live-action TV show of dubious canonical status. It’s about another group of modern earth astronauts crash-landing on the planet of the apes centuries before the Icarus. Humans can still speak in the society they find, but they’re subservient to apes, which means it’s probably a prequel to the original movie timeline and not a sequel to Battle.
  • Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975-1976): This is an animated cartoon show that is completely non-canonical. The version of the planet of the apes represented here is basically just modern earth but with apes instead of people, and it in no way fits in with any other part of this timeline. The cartoon also featured modern earth astronauts crash-landing on the planet of the apes, because that’s kind of our whole thing, apparently.
  • Planet of the Apes (2001): This is a non-canonical remake of the first film, using the ending from the original 1963 French novel La Planète des Singes. It doesn’t fit in with this timeline either.
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Surprisingly, this film and its direct sequels do fit in with the originally-established movie timelines. They’re prequels to the first movie, basically. This movie shows an ape named Caesar (no relation) undergoing biomedical experimentation, which causes him to grow in intelligence and develop the ability to speak. He uses these abilities to lead an ape rebellion to escape human captivity. TV screens in the background of the movie mention the missing spaceship Icarus, and the movie ends with a plague beginning to spread across the world. A lot of people consider this a soft remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but it’s more properly the beginning of the original series timeline.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014): Ten years after Rise, this new Caesar rules his people, who are largely trying to live in peace apart from humanity. Nevertheless, he finds that there are elements on both sides who seem determined to go to war with one another. This movie borrows a lot from Battle, but it’s nevertheless another original timeline prequel, bringing us one step further along the path from the modern earth of the beginning of Rise to the ape society that the Icarus crew found in the original movie.
  • War for the Planet of the Apes (2017): I haven’t seen this movie yet! It comes out next week and I am super-excited to see what new territory it carves out. I’m personally hoping we get to see some setup to the mutants from Beneath, but a Lawgiver appearance would also be really cool. Another movie has already been greenlit to follow this one, so presumably we’re not going to get all the way up to the Icarus era quite yet.

SpaceX launches rocket from historic NASA launchpad

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Following in trails blazed by Saturn V moon rockets and space shuttles, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Sunday morning from a storied Kennedy Space Center launch site on a mission to resupply the International Space Station.

The 210-foot rocket carrying a Dragon cargo craft quickly disappeared into clouds after the 9:39 a.m. liftoff from KSC’s pad 39A, where Apollo astronauts launched to the moon and shuttle astronauts last set sail nearly six years ago.

Minutes later, the rocket’s first stage did something the historic missions never contemplated, flipping around above the atmosphere and flying back to Cape Canaveral for a soft landing that unleashed powerful sonic booms across the area.

Ad Astra, John Glenn (1921-2016)

An astronaut. 

A pilot. 

A husband. 

A father. 

A United States Senator.

An American hero. 

An original.

John Glenn (1921-2016) was all those things and more. When he rocketed into space on Feb. 20, 1962, to become the first American to orbit Earth, the flight set the nation on course to meet ever-more ambitious goals.

The life and career of Senator Glenn eclipses those of many. In spite of his accomplishments, he was a humble and gracious man (and 4-term U.S. senator).

During Glenn’s first flight, a scheduled 30-minute test to determine whether Glenn could fly the capsule manually became a matter of life and death when the automatic system malfunctioned after the first orbit.

“I went to manual control and continued in that mode during the second and third orbits, and during re-entry,” Glenn recalled later. 

“The malfunction just forced me to prove very rapidly what had been planned over a longer period of time.”

Another problem seemed even more serious – telemetry indicated the spacecraft’s heat shield was loose. It seemed possible that Glenn and the spacecraft would be incinerated on re-entry. 

Glenn left the retrorocket pack in place to steady the heat shield during re-entry. “It made for a very spectacular re-entry from where I was sitting,” he said. Big chunks of the burning material came flying by the window.

He wasn’t sure whether the flaming debris was the rocket pack or the heat shield breaking up. “Fortunately,” he told an interviewer,“ it was the rocket pack – or I wouldn’t be answering these questions.”

In the words of President Obama, who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012: “When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation. And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there’s no limit to the heights we can reach together. With John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend. John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record … The last of America’s first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens.  On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn.”

Glenn left the Astronaut Corps in 1964 and resigned from the Marine Corps in 1965. And, after some time in private industry ran for and was elected ti the U.S. Senate in 1974, carrying all 88 counties of Ohio. He was re-elected in 1980 with the largest margin in Ohio history. Ohio returned him to the Senate for a third term in 1986. In 1992 he was elected again, becoming the first popularly elected senator from his state to win four consecutive terms.

During his last term he was the ranking member of both the Governmental Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Air/Land Forces in the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also served on the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Special Committee on Aging. He was considered one of the Senate’s leading experts on technical and scientific matters, and won wide respect for his work to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1998, Glenn flew on the STS-95 Discovery shuttle flight, a 9-day mission during which the crew supported a variety of research payloads including deployment of the Spartan solar-observing spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, and Glenn’s investigations on space flight and the aging process.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden remembers, “Senator Glenn’s legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching.”

Today, we honor him for all that he stood for and continues to stand for – grace under pressure, humility, ability, strength. 

Godspeed, John Glenn.


Lightning Appreciation Post:

  • There are nearly 500 lightning strikes every second around the world.
  • Only about 100 of these strike the earth, the others are between and within the clouds themselves.
  • Lightning is very visible from space (last gif from Astronaut Reid Wiseman)
  • Besides regular storms (thunder storms, hurricanes, etc.) lightning can be found in volcanoes (gif 3) and even intense forest fires.

In conclusion: nature is fucking awesome!


CPT-USN Eugene A. ‘Gene’ Cernan (14 March 1934 - 16 Jan 2017)

Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17 astronaut, the last man to set foot on the surface of the moon, passed away today at the age of 82. Cernan, a rough, tough Naval Aviator, A-4 jock, became part of NASA Group 3 in 1963. Gemini 9 in June 1966, proved a harrowing experience for Gene, it was one that taught us many invaluable lessons about EVA in space, a crucial step to the moon. Apollo 10 in May 1969, was to be the final test of the LEM ascent and descent stages and of it’s guidance systems from lunar orbit, a vital test flight that paved the way to Apollo 11′s historic first landing later that year. Apollo 17, the last of the historic 6 Apollo Lunar missions, in December 1972, Gene was in role as Commander of the flight, piloting the LEM along side Harrison Schmitt, landing in the mountainous region of the Taurus-Littrow valley. Gene became the last human of only 12 to set foot on the Moon.

sleep well among em’, Gene-o’