Tag Archive: NASA


Review by C.J. Bunce

Some concept artists light the spark for the visuals of a film or television project.  A few create something truly novel, something that endures.  The late artist and designer Ron Cobb has something of both.  Fans of pop culture know his work even if they don’t know his name.  Now he’s the centerpiece of the next look at the greatest artists and artisans behind the scenes of cinema.  With Titan Books’ new work The Art of Ron Cobb, the publisher adds to the film enthusiast’s bookshelf of sci-fi designers like Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, The Artistry of Dan Curry, Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, and a stack of books on John Eaves, including Star Trek: The Art of John EavesThe Art of Ron Cobb is available for pre-order now here at Amazon.

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It was just eleven years ago we covered America’s last manned NASA space mission here at borg as the 135th and final space shuttle team took Atlantis into space and back again in July 2011.  The end, unexpected for many, was depressing for anyone who grew up excited about space exploration.  But only three years later, in October 2014, we discussed here Nichelle Nichols joining forces with NASA to educate the public about the first step in a planned return of NASA astronauts to space coming that December: Orion.  Check out her message introducing the program below.

Just as promised, in December 2014 after one weather delay the first Orion launch and recovery test was a success (get caught up with the Orion program in our coverage here).  Today nearly eight years later NASA is launching Orion to the Moon from Kennedy Space Center as part of the unmanned Artemis I test mission with the most powerful rocket since the Apollo program’s Saturn V, called simply the “Space Launch System” (yes, couldn’t NASA have created something more interesting to call that great rocket?).

NASA Television’s online coverage of the launch began early this morning as the process of filling the rocket’s giant propellant tanks begins.  Launch time is scheduled for 8:33 a.m. Eastern (local) time today, with September 2 and September 5 as backup delay launch dates.

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Arguably no player of fictional roles did more to further science and the future than Nichelle Nichols.  The actress who played Star Trek crew member Uhura for 54 years in the original series, six movies, and fan films passed away today at age 89.  I first met her in San Francisco in the 1990s and later at other events, and she always was gracious, embraced fans, and was always laughing, smiling, and enjoying her time recounting her personal story.  She probably has the most familiar story of any science fiction actor, as she became an icon of television, science fiction, and science fact.

Her greatest story was recounting how she had decided to leave the Star Trek series until she had a conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr., who informed her just how important it was that a black woman was being seen by an entire nation on television.  She was an equal crew member serving in a prime-time network series, and would go on to help expand the boundaries of race relations, participating in the first on-screen inter-racial kiss, with co-star William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.

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iss_5If there was a best time to be off-planet it would seem to be right now, right?  Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and NASA Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir are the three astronauts of Expedition 62 currently working aboard the International Space Station, in its 20th year of consistently-manned orbit around Earth.  Morgan launched into space July 20, 2019, for an extended duration mission, and Meir and Skripochka left for the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft on Sept. 25, 2019, all well in advance of the current COVID-19 threat.  To date the ISS has been visited by–lived in by–239 men and women from 19 countries.  Follow Meir @Astro_Jessica and Morgan @AstroDrewMorgan via Twitter for advice on living happily in isolation, and get a look at some of the scientific research they have accomplished on their mission.

The next trio of space travelers is scheduled to take off for the International Space Station tomorrow, April 9.  They have been in quarantine with the space programs increasing their already rigorous disinfection and inspection protocols in light of the current pandemic.  NASA has not released detailed protocols should an astronaut be found to have COVID-19 during the mission, however, the ISS is stocked with a small pharmacy full of pharmaceuticals, including advanced equipment that could be used to intubate an astronaut if necessary.

 

NASA TV will provide live coverage of the crew’s launch and arrival at the orbiting laboratory (also available on the NASA website).  NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy, and Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of the Russian space agency Roscosmos are set to launch aboard the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:05 a.m. CDT (1:05 p.m. Kazakhstan time).  After the four-orbit, six-hour journey to the space station, the new crew members will dock at 9:16 a.m. CDT.  They will join Skripochka, Morgan, and Meir, who are scheduled to complete their station mission and return to Earth April 17 on the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, which will land in Kazakhstan.

To catch Cassidy, Morgan, and Meir live, check out a teleconference at 9:45 a.m. CDT Friday, April 10.  The teleconference will stream on NASA TV and the NASA website, with the astronauts answering questions from orbit.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A giant new photographic essay of the space program reads like a behind the scenes account of the greatest production ever attempted.  And it might be just that.  Space Utopia: A Journey Through the History of Space Exploration from the Apollo and Sputnik Programmes to the Next Mission to Mars is the result of a decade of collaboration between photographer Vincent Fournier and the world’s most important space and research centers.  Fournier worked with researchers at NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Space agency, the European Southern Observatory, and other locations to identify those intriguing parts of earthbound facilities, historical locations, and physical objects that have gone to space and back, seen through an artist’s eye.  From space suits and environmental suits to spaceships, satellites, Soyuz trainers, ballistic missiles, and rovers, to training facilities and environments, to experimental items used on the International Space Station and flown to the moon, Space Utopia is a one-of-a-kind look at the history of the space program in pictures.

Through his photographs Fournier is attempting to explore humankind’s myths and fantasies about the future.  According to Fournier, “My aesthetic, philosophical and recreational fascination for the space adventure undoubtedly comes from the pictures and books I saw and read in the 1970s and ’80s —  movies, television series, science fiction novels, documentaries and news reports — that have mixed and superimposed in my memory like a palimpsest…. Space explorations emblematic locations are like cinema sets where Tintin might meet with Jules Verne in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”

THE SPACE PROJECT – Fournier’s Space Shuttle Discovery Nose Landing Gear, J.F.K. Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011 (from theravestijngallery.com)

Has the future already happened or does something more lie ahead?  Some images are stunning and colorful in their brilliance–high-tech concepts at their finest.  Others are stark and haunting, like posed space suits from Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom.  Space shuttles frozen in their retirement like the dismantled Discovery and immovable Independence, and the Atlantis standing majestically poised for its final flight all appear as ghostly, solemn relics, while the futuristic sound chambers. the dexterous robotic humanoid Robonaut 2, and Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America evoke an optimistic future ahead.
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The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, will be the subject of several celebrations this year, and the United States Mint is joining in with a first-of-its-kind series of commemorative coins.  For the first time the mint is issuing coins that have curved surfaces intentionally to highlight the unique images on each side.  First, a concave obverse provides the appearance of an actual foot depression, re-shaping the typical flat coin blank, honoring Neil Armstrong‘s first step onto the lunar surface and the three NASA programs that resulted in the successful landing of men on the Moon.  On the reverse, a convex surface echoes the rounded look and feel of astronaut Buzz Aldrin‘s space helmet visor as he was photographed by astronaut Neil Armstrong, in an artist’s homage to Armstrong’s famous photograph of Aldrin, also a selfie of Armstrong.  The first photograph humanity saw of men on the moon was simultaneously of both Aldrin and Armstrong thanks to the famous snapshot.

The mirror-like proof coin versions showcase the obverse, highlighting the changing phases of the moon, and the textured lunar surface.  On the reverse, the proof version gives the appearance of the actual, metallic sheen of the visor, and the shadow of Aldrin appears dark when held at the appropriate angle.  The uncirculated versions carry the standard matte finish.  Four coins are offered in this design: a $5 gold coin, a standard size $1 silver coin, a half-dollar clad coin, and a five ounce $1 silver proof coin.  The obverse footprint design was created by Gary Cooper, whose design was selected in a juried competition.  Mint sculptor-engraver Joseph Menna sculpted the design.  The reverse design is by Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill, who also sculpted the final design.  Proceeds from sales of the coins will go to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s “Destination Moon” exhibit, Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

PCGS has graded and encapsulated a limited number of Apollo 11 50th Anniversary commemorative coins.  The coins provided to PCGS are from Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s limited allocation of Launch Ceremony products and feature an insert with a hand-signed signature from Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise.  Best known for his role in the Apollo 13 mission, Haise was also key to the development of the Apollo lunar lander and was the first man to pilot a space shuttle–the Enterprise–in 1977.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

— From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

It isn’t enough to tell us what a man did.  You’ve got to tell us who he was.

— From Citizen Kane

The battle between these two ideas becomes the screenwriter’s dilemma, particularly for a historical drama recounting actual documented events.  First, there are stories of famous people and events that touch so many that the details become less important than the mythology.  Whether peppered with embellishment and puffery, it’s what the multitudes think of as the hero.  Next, there is the desire to use the archival record to fill in all the details you know, to get as much of the story as technically accurate as possible.  For these movies, the detail often distorts the impact of the story or event, minimizing what makes the actions of a man or woman or event so historic or triumphant.  And that’s the struggle evident in First Man: The Annotated Screenplay, a new book that includes the consolidated draft script of the new film chronicling astronaut Neil Armstrong’s life leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

The beauty of the book is the full disclosure of the thoughts of two people, the screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, The Fifth Estate, Fringe), and James R. Hansen, the historian and author of the only biography of Neil Armstrong authorized by Armstrong, First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong.  Fans of NASA, of the history of spaceflight, science and technology will appreciate so many scenes that include verbatim text from the actual events.  For researchers and enthusiasts alike, Singer and Hansen include numerous reference citations showing the source of these scenes.  Yet even the bulk of these were edited for time and the needs of telling Singer’s story.  As revealed by both Singer and Hansen, the embellishments filling in the story between these sequences are many, so many that no scene seems to exclude artistic license by Singer–license that Singer freely acknowledges and defends as sincerely as someone defending a finely researched graduate thesis.  The scenes may be well-researched, educated, and heavily vetted speculation, but they aren’t reality.

Is it relevant, and does the final script reflect something of the aura missing from the space race and Moonshot that neither the director (born in 1985) nor the screen writer (born in 1972) were yet alive to witness?  Does the difference come down to the creative visions behind these movies, and established space race classics: bestselling author Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff that became the box office and critical hit The Right Stuff (directed by Philip Kaufman, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the first-hand account by Jim Lovell in his book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, that became the box office and critical hit Apollo 13 (directed by popular filmmaker Ron Howard)?

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This month the NASA space probe Juno completed its tenth science orbit around the planet Jupiter.  The spacecraft came as close as 2,100 miles from the planet’s clouded surface, and sent back to Earth what must be the most beautiful images of any celestial orb ever captured.  Just take a look at these images above and below and see if you agree.  The most astounding are the images from the southern hemisphere of the planet (as shown above), providing a new vantage of our view of the planet.

Juno collects scientific data and records it until Jupiter is free of “solar conjunction” and can safely transmit the data back to the science team on Earth.  Juno was launched August 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.  Its “JunoCam” camera has produced some of the best images of any scientific instrument to date.  During these flybys, the spacecraft is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras, seeking to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.  When Juno arrived at Jupiter, it moved faster than any human-made object has ever gone: 165,000 miles per hour.  This month’s photographs were taken at about 130,000 miles per hour.

New view of the northern hemisphere of Jupiter.  Courtesy of NASA Juno, February 7, 2018.

The clarity is phenomenal and the imagery nothing but spectacular.  With the exception of the Sun, Jupiter is the most dominant object in the solar system.  Because of its size and the fact that it was the first of the gas-giant planets to form, it has profoundly influenced the formation and evolution of all the other planets.  In studying Jupiter, NASA hopes to learn more about the origin of the universe.  The cloud features, which appear like something from Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, primarily consist of hydrogen and helium.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like many of us, astronaut Chris Hadfield sees his life, both on Earth and off-planet, as a series of worst-case scenarios waiting to happen.  In his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he not only shares his autobiography and pathway to space and afterward, he uses his life to provide a self-help plan for accomplishing your dreams and reaching whatever success you’re after.  Originally issued in hardcover but now available in a paperback edition, Hadfield’s Guide is just what you need to read if you’re in a slump, if you have a goal and can’t figure how to get yourself to attain it, or if you just need a pep talk.

“Most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses,” Hadfield says in his book.  And Hadfield takes his errors and his stumbles and displays them for everyone to see so they can use them to learn how to adapt and overcome their own obstacles.  “Sweat the small stuff,” is his mantra, and it’s that attention to detail that he says allowed humans to get to visit outer space in the first place–the required discipline that allows the two other astronauts in your capsule to fully trust you will do your job, and vice versa.  As with astronaut Leland Melvin’s account of his pathway to space (reviewed last month here at borg.com), this meant years of brain work and physical preparation, monotony, and several false defeats and false triumphs before the final ride on that rocket to the stars.  “Since the odds of becoming an astronaut were nonexistent, I knew it would be pretty silly to hang my sense of self-worth on it.  My attitude was more, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case — and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy.'”

Chris Hadfield floating above Earth during a spacewalk.

Colonel Hadfield–who is afraid of heights–always wanted to be an astronaut, at least since he saw Apollo 11 make the first moon shot on television when he was nine years old.  But his path wasn’t easy, especially since Canadians weren’t yet astronauts when he was a kid.  “I wasn’t destined to be an astronaut,” says Hadfield, “I had to turn myself into one.”  He not only had to turn himself into an astronaut, he had to change the perception and rules of those around him as he climbed the ladder to fulfilling his dream.  Along the way that meant diligence, determination, study, practice, repetition, volunteering, and over-achieving to make himself stand out, and sacrificing all his waking hours and much of his family time.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Young Leland Melvin wasn’t the type of kid who dreamed about flying in outer space.  But he was guided by good parents and developed the right stuff to work for NASA for more than a quarter of a century that culminated in two space shuttle flights to the International Space Station.  Melvin has written his memoir and it has been published in a version for kids and a version for adults.  Harper Collins and Amistad Press’s Chasing Space is a book that every school library should carry, a book kids should read to understand that you can be anything you want to be.

Melvin credits a good mind-set for his ability to adapt to new situations and succeed in whatever he put his mind to.  But even with hard work, life manages to get in the way sometimes.  Unforeseen circumstances stopped him in his tracks at several points in his many pursuits, including college, where he was almost expelled for an alleged ethics violation.  In high school football he made a mistake that his coach allowed him to redo, resulting in him getting a scholarship to college.  His girlfriend and he were pulled over and a racist police officer tried to get him thrown in jail.  He played football for the Detroit Lions, but a recurring hamstring problem knocked him out of the sport.  He got another chance at football, this time for the Dallas Cowboys, but his leg stopped him again.  Only after returning to graduate school work did his career in science take hold, and once he graduated NASA was practically waiting for him.  But his pathway to space was tripped up by a problem with his ear while training.  And despite it all, and being one of the first African-Americans to forge a path where few had gone before, Leland Melvin worked hard, mentally and physically, and overcame everything thrown in his way to become one of only 550 humans to leave the planet and become an astronaut.  He is known by many as the astronaut that had his formal NASA photograph taken with his two dogs, Jake and Scout, who would later join him and Cesar Millan on an episode of Millan’s Dog Whisperer show.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis with Leland Melvin (left) and crew of STS-129.

Melvin flew on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during missions STS-122 and STS-129 and worked closely with astronauts that were lost on both the Challenger and Columbia disasters as well as current astronauts like Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams, who have continued to set new records in space aboard the International Space Station.  In Star City, Russia, Melvin worked closely with and trained alongside former Navy SEAL Bill Shepherd–the famed astronaut “who knew how to kill somebody with a knife”–as Shepherd prepared for the very first long-duration flight by an American and becoming the first commander of a crew based at the International Space Station.  Melvin even helped Russian scientists translate tech manuals into English in Moscow.  Surprisingly astronaut training for Melvin included extreme survival training and adventure hikes across America and giving talks around the world, learning to stretch the boundaries of his own abilities.  When one of his crews was without a medical officer, he volunteered and trained to add that role to his list of duties.  He spent months stitching up cadavers and working on emergency room patients to be ready for any kind of emergency in space, training under the eye of famous skilled surgeon Dr. Red Duke, the doctor that had admitted President Kennedy and Governor Connally at the Dallas hospital in November 1963.  All these seeming tasks and trials are not obvious things the average person thinks about when they hear the word “astronaut.”  Yet all prepared Melvin to be able to think on his feet should a problem occur, and that according to Melvin’s account, is the way of astronaut training.

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