Science & Astronomy
21. December 2013

There’s so much happening in spaceflight and astronomy at the moment that it’s really hard to keep up, but I just wanted to write a final posting on the subject before the end of the year. The landing of the Chinese Moon probe Chang’e-3 with its Yutu rover, the Jade Rabbit, on December 14th was the most exciting event since Curiosity in 2012. The landing was actually transmitted live by the Chinese state television, but what’s so exciting about a Moon landing – they happen all the time, don’t they? Actually not – this was the first soft landing of a human spacecraft on the Moon since 1976, that’s slightly longer ago than my own lifetime! So seeing the landing play out live was amazing to say the least.

Since the landing it has been a bit difficult to get first-hand information, but Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society has done a great job of gathering the news, images and videos together, like the first colour photoan extensive translation of the recent press briefing and yesterday’s update about the healthy rover and NASA’s LADEE orbiter not noticing the landing at all and a first panorama, still made from low-quality screengrabs. And of course there’s the absolutely awesome landing video, which was put together afterwards from single frames captured by the lander and first appeared on the CNTV website, but was later posted on Universe Today in a corrected version because the original was actually upside down.

Some people are arguing that this is not only the beginning of a new space race, but we’re right in the middle of it with China having painted the Moon red now. But can there really be a race if there is only one participant? China’s Moon mission is not empire building and we are not in the 1960s anymore – of course there’s a fair amount of smugness and bravado on their side, but considering it could also have been NASA taking this step and only politics and finance, but not technical reasons have prevented it, it’s only fair to say that the Chinese deserve all the applause for their successful mission. There’s an interesting article on about the political background of NASA’s non-cooperation with the Chinese space agency – the ESA has even helped the mission with providing communication links through their network of radar dishes. And I’m sure that there will not be a space war on the moon with lasers shooting down satellites and other science-fiction stuff – there are scientists at work and not power-hungry madmen after all. For all Mankind, as the old saying goes.

As I was thinking about writing this article this afternoon, I was watching two American astronauts performing a spacewalk on the ISS to replace the defective cooling pump that had raised the interest of the media in the last week considerably. Nobody really talks about the space station much anymore and everybody takes it for granted – but if only the slightest thing goes wrong, sensationalism takes over and even allusions to the Gravity movie are made. But is everything so bad, is the space station falling to pieces? Not by a long shot – like every facility, the station just needs some occasional repair work.

The best headline came from Universe today, reading Astronauts get three Spacewalks as an early Christmas present – because that’s what it really is. The spacewalks are extremely strenuous, but every chance to go outside of the spacestation is a treasured adventure for the astronauts. And yes, the water leak problem which hindered Luca Parmitanos spacewalk has been fixed according to NASA, and the only problem more than five hours into the first of three spacewalks seems to be that Rick Mastraccio seems to be understandably groggy and has called it a day after the defective pump was removed. There are two more spacewalks on the 23rd and 25th planned, but everything seems to have gone very well and Rick Mastraccio and Mike Hopkins had actually worked ahead of schedule so that the third spacewalk may not be necessary after all.

And last, but not least… remember that Canadian with the guitar? I can’t believe it’s already so long ago, but Universe Today noted that one year ago Chris Hadfield launched into space. The “launchiversary” was also celebrated by the Canadian Space agency with a wonderful little video, but Hadfield is far away from gone – he may have retired from being an astronaut, but he has written a book about his experiences, is currently on a book tour and continues to be a great spaceflight and astronomy communicator.

Some more random bits: It’s the 45th Anniversary of Apollo 8’s flight around the moon – NASA has re-created the famous earthrise in a wonderful video and space historian Amy Shira Teitel is live-tweeting the events in near real-time. Also, happy Winter Solstice – we are over the hill and the days are finally getting longer and the nights shorter again! Unfortunately we did not get a comet for christmas since ISON seems to have been vaporized by the sun after all, but there’s always the Curiosity Rover available as a Lego set now :-).

Of course, there’s much more going on and I haven’t even mentioned Mars in this posting – but if you follow all the usual channels, you may already be up to date. Usually I don’t bother much with this kind of article anymore, but maybe I will continue to do a monthly roundup of space-themed stories. Soon I will also re-post and update my old podcast and hangout recommendations, maybe even before the holidays.

Write a Comment