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Airy Persiflage
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The Most Interesting Man in the World

Today would have been physicist Richard Feynman’s 95th birthday.

I can’t think of a better way to observe this day than to listen to him talk, or to read his first memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.

This is a long video — about 50 minutes. It’s well worth the time to watch it all.

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Who’s Been Where in the Solar System?

The BBC has a great big chart of man’s exploration of the solar system. The chart is packed pretty densely with information, but it’s worth studying.

Saturn missions

Click the image to see the full chart.

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Most Interesting Planet in the Solar System

Really, you can never have too much of the Earth from space:

View full-screen, highest resolution, as usual…

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Shuttle’s Last Flight

YouTube video of Space Shuttle Endeavor’s last flight. Voices are mostly from pilots of the chase planes.

I guess this flyover is the Space Shuttle equivalent of a ticker-tape parade for earlier heroes of flight.

Watch it full screen, if possible, at the highest available resolution.

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Earth from the International Space Station

This is time-lapse footage of Earth as seen from the International Space Station. I think the flashes of lightning from earthly thunderstorms are particularly interesting.

Watch it full screen, if possible, at the highest possible resolution.

(Very similar video, with different music, is here.)

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Sounds of a Shuttle Launch

Video of a Space Shuttle launch (with sound) from cameras on the solid rocket boosters. (I posted something similar a while ago. This video has multiple angles, and occasional explanatory text messages.)

Watch it full screen, if you can.

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Final Visit

The Joy of Tech has summarized how a lot of us feel about the end of the Space Shuttle.

Space Shuttle's Final Visit to the International Space Station

Click the image or the link for the full cartoon.

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Reality Grabs Your Attention

That Tom Tomorrow fella sure has a way with words. He says:

It doesn’t matter if you believe in global warming.

Global warming believes in you.

Reality always seems to have a way of grabbing your attention, even if it’s not always in time to allow you to alter reality.

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Yii Cloud

Volcano lightning

Apple electrified the tech industry this week with its iCloud announcement.

This photo has nothing to do with that.

Boston.com has a collection of photos documenting an eruption of the Puyehue volcano in Chile. Pretty amazing stuff, including a couple views from space.

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The Shape of an Electron

New science:

A 10-year study has revealed that the electron is very spherical indeed.

To be precise … if an electron was the size of the solar system, it would be out from being perfectly round by less than the width of a human hair.

This seems very strange to me. For some reason, I’ve always pictured electrons as very tiny minus signs.

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Little Dipper, Big Sky

From Astronomy Picture of the Day: I’ve looked up at the Little Dipper many times, never suspecting just how much I was missing.

Little dipper

(Click the image to see a much bigger version.)

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Duet

Last week, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of manned spaceflight, astronaut Cady Coleman played a flute duet with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

If you have a high-speed internet connection, try viewing in full-screen mode.

Too brief, but very nice.

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First Orbit

This looks interesting:

Update: NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is this 2003 photo of the earth from the International Space Station, looking much like it might have looked to Yuri Gagarin:

Commenting on the first view from space he reported, “The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly”. His view could have resembled this image taken in 2003 from the International Space Station.

Yuri's Planet

Airy Persiflage
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Yuri’s Night

Fifty years ago today, the headline on the front page of the New York Times read, “Soviet Orbits Man and Recovers Him; Space Pioneer Reports: ‘I Feel Well'; Sent Messages While Circling Earth.”

It was the first time any human being had gone into space.

The human being was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian pilot in the Soviet Air Force. He orbited the planet once, in the process flying higher and faster than any human being before him.

Yuri GagarinAt the time, his nationality seemed to be the most important fact about his achievement. The Soviet Union and the United States were engaged in a desperate space race — almost exclusively for propaganda bragging rights. President Kennedy’s famous challenge to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s was an attempt to set the finish line sufficiently distant so that the United States, starting from behind, might still have a chance to win.

The space race ended in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. The United States won.

That rivalry seems unimportant now, with Americans and Russians and other nations working together on the International Space Station (ISS). Late last year, the ISS marked ten years of continuous human presence in space.

Yet, without that rivalry, I doubt that humans would have gone to the Moon yet. And that would be a shame.

More important than the technical advances called forth by the drive to get to the Moon, more important than the scientific knowledge beamed back by scientific instruments and brought back in boxes of Moon rocks, was this: astronauts could look up and see the whole Earth.

During the Apollo 8 mission, astronaut Jim Lovell realized he could cover the entire planet with his thumb. Everyone any of us has ever heard of — all of history, science, the arts, philosophy; all the nations, all the causes, all the beliefs and faiths; all the great achievements, all the great crimes — all of it on that little blue sphere suspended in the blackness of space.

I think that has something to do with why Americans and Russians work side-by-side with people of other nations on the ISS.

We couldn’t see our rivalry in proper perspective until the rivalry lifted us high enough to truly see ourselves.

Russians certainly have reason to be proud of Yuri Gagarin. Fifty years later, as a fellow human being, I’m proud of him, too.

Airy Persiflage
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Cliff Notes

From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here’s an amazing photo of the tallest known cliff in the Solar System, Verona Rupes, on Uranus’ bizarre moon Miranda. The cliff is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep — almost 12 and a half miles, and ten times the depth of the Grand Canyon.

Tallest cliff in the Solar System

The photo was taken way back in 1986. Why was it featured on the NASA site now? I’m guessing that NASA believes this will increase Congressional interest in funding deep space missions. To politicians who seem determined to run the country off a cliff, this has gotta be irresistable.