Category Archives: Space Exploration

For All Mankind

All too often these days the labels “hero” and “legend” are bandied about far too cheaply. A footballer is labelled a hero for scoring a last minute goal for his team, thus getting them promoted, winning them a cup or saving them from relegation, or a rock star is called a legend for being around since 1980. These people may be legends and heroes within their own field – and I am both a football fan and a rock music fan – but, when it comes down to real heroism and real legendary status they have nothing on people who make history, who have risked their lives in the advancement of exploration and science.
Neil Armstrong, who died on 25th August 2012 at the age of 82, was one such person. He and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins, flew to the Moon, not knowing whether they could land there and, if they did succeed in landing the lunar module, whether they would be able to take off again – and failure to do so would have certainly resulted in their deaths. Not only did they succeed, they made history and Armstrong and Aldrin remain two of only twelve people to have walked on the surface of another world.

The Apollo missions, the last of which, Apollo 17, landed in the Pacific on 19th December 1972, showed the best side of the human race, and what we could do as a species when we put our minds to the more noble things, such as science and exploration, rather than trying to kill each other and other species. Without wanting to delve too much into politics and suchlike, it is a huge shame and a terrible waste, bordering on criminal, that the human race didn’t press on, establishing a Moon base and going on to Mars and the rest of the Solar System from there. Instead, the Americans, knowing they’d beaten the Soviet Union to putting a person on the Moon, did a ‘dog peeing on a lamp-post’ trick by leaving a flag, some footprints and bits of lander and left, never to return. If only serious money went into countries’ space exploration programmes rather than into defence budgets…

I don’t have many personal heroes, and the Apollo 11 mission occurred 6 months before I was born, but Neil Armstrong and his astronaut colleagues are among them. They are people to be proud of, unlike the fake ‘celebrities’ who are lauded these days. One UK newspaper website, on the Saturday evening Armstrong’s death was announced, featured an item about it alongside an item on Manchester Utd footballer Wayne Rooney’s (admittedly nasty) leg injury…I don’t think that Rooney deserves to be on the same page as Armstrong, let alone sharing headline space with him. In these times of fake heroes, dubious ‘celebrities’ and thieving politicians, people such as Armstrong should be celebrated and held up as a prime example of what we, as a species, are capable of…these are the people kids should look up to, not royalty, not models, not vacuous non-entities famous only for sleeping with footballers, rapping badly or kicking a ball.

Neil Armstrong was an American – and the Americans are lucky to have had such a wonderful space program – but he and his astronaut colleagues went to the Moon on behalf of us all – ‘For All Mankind’. RIP Neil Armstrong, a real hero and genuine legend.

The next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink” – Neil Armstrong’s family

Observing 9th March 2011

Date: 9th March 2011
Conditions: Chilly, no wind at first but increased later on. Waxing crescent Moon was a bit of a nuisance and interfered slightly. Some drifting cloud
Seeing I
Transparency III-IV
Equipment: 12″ Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x)

NGC 2129, open cluster in Gemini – Totally dominated by 2 8th mag stars; the rest are much fainter (11th mag) plus some much fainter ones. At 69x it’s hazy but is resolved at 101x. Bright, not scattered, quite compact. 69x, 101x

NGC 2266, open cluster in Gemini – Triangular haze with three slightly brighter stars in a line along SE side. One bright star at tip. Compressed, quite rich and partly resolved using averted vision at 101x. 69x, 101x

NGC 2304, open cluster in Gemini – Scattering of stars in semi-circle. There are 4 or 5 brighter stars with more scattered around. Fairly bright. 69x, 101x.

NGC 2355, open cluster in Gemini – Faint at 69x. Irregular. 69x shows dozens of faint stars on a misty background. At 101x the misty background has a vague S-shape. 69x, 101x.

NGC 2395, open cluster in Gemini – Irregular group of fairly bright stars plus fainter ones. Not rich. About 15 bright stars plus a couple of dozen or so fainter ones. Elongated N-S. 69x, 101x.

NGC 2420, open cluster in Gemini – Moderately faint patch. Rich, concentrated, fairly large. At 69x it’s mostly unresolved mist but at 101x there are 14 or so brighter stars scattered across a background of unresolved stars. 69x, 101x.

Packed up at 2100 because the sky was getting murkier. I have now finished the H400 in Gemini, these were what was left over from last year.


Space shuttle Discovery returned to Earth for the last time yesterday. The shuttle program is nearly at an end, with only an Endeavour mission and a possible Atlantis mission, both to the ISS, left. It’s a shame that, when Atlantis lands for the final time (if her mission gets approved), the shuttles will never fly in space again, instead finding themselves as museum pieces.

Fourth of July

Firstly, I would like to wish my American friends a very happy Fourth of July! I hope you all have a great day. 🙂

It was clear last night but, as it’s only the beginning of July, it still isn’t 100% dark, so I didn’t take the 12 inch outside (although once the shed’s up and the scope installed, that will change as I won’t have the effort of lugging it in and out of my room) but I did do a quick binocular session.
My first interesting object – two objects in fact – wasn’t a natural celestial body but the International Space Station, at 2300 BST (2200 UT). The ISS flight path takes it over here and you see it about every 90 minutes on a clear night, not much of a big deal these days as it’s familiar enough. However, in front of the ISS was a smaller, fainter, satellite on the same course and moving at the same speed. I knew it wasn’t the Shuttle, as none are in space at the moment (and soon, sadly, none will be ever again 🙁 ) so I did wonder what it was, until I remembered an item I’d seen on the BBC News website earlier in the day about the Russian Progress cargo ship which was supposed to dock with the ISS but which had malfunctioned. Progress had overtaken the ISS while the mission controllers were working out how to fix the problem. I asked about it on Facebook and, apparently, it was Progress I saw.

I went back outside later, at midnight, with my 8×42 binoculars and just scanned around once I’d got dark adapted. I just looked for Messier objects and I saw M81, M82, M4, M22, M16, M17, M20, M8, M103, M11, M39, M10, M12 and M24. Ok, I know it’s not exactly hard core deep sky observing, but it’ll do me for now until observing can properly begin again later in the month.

In Astronomy Now last month it was stated that M7 is not visible from the United Kingdom. That may be true further north but not true on the Isle of Wight. I can’t see it from the back garden here because of a low hill with trees on the top of it about quarter of a mile away (last night, I stood on a garden chair to see if I could spot M7 in between the trees on the hill but without success) but, at -34 declination it is certainly visible, if a little murky from being so low down, from the island. I have seen it from the Vectis AS observatory site just down the road and I have seen it from the Military Road. So, yes, it is visible from the UK.

The new ‘observatory’ is finally under way. At left is the miniscule progress so far. With help – I have a dodgy back and worse knees and my aunt has arthritis! – this should be done this week and the shed assembled.

ISS and Space Shuttle

On Wednesday evening, I watched on NASA TV the launch of shuttle Endeavour on her mission to the International Space Station. I am always impressed by rocket launches, although sadly I have never seen one in the flesh, and it’s even more impressive when you log into a tracking page to see that the shuttle is directly above your home twenty minutes later! I did dash outside to try and see the moving space shuttle dot, but it was still cloudy. Pity, as there would have been two dots – one dot being the shuttle orbiter itself, the other the jettisoned external fuel tank.

On Friday night, I watched the ISS (with shuttle attached) come over. It orbits the earth from west to east and is now very bright as all the relevant bits and pieces are now attached.

On a related note, I read in the paper that Britain is – finally!!! – going to allow its citizens to fly on manned space missions. Up until now any Briton in space had to go as a ‘space tourist’ (Helen Sharman) or change their nationality (Michael Foale, Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick) because that old bag Thatcher vetoed the UK funding manned space exploration thus effectively barring UK citizens becoming astronauts. Up until now the UK had always said that the £180 million it pays into ESA should not be used for funding manned space exploration. How short sighted and stupid is that? Fortunately Lord Drayson, the current science minister, has reversed that stupid policy and before long, we should see British astronauts in their own right. This country has deteriorated a lot in the past couple of decades and it would be nice to have something to be proud of again.

Pity I am too old – 40 in January – and too unfit (dodgy ears and mild asthma)… 🙁