Tag Archives: space

Benefits from space exploration

If you are not an aerospace enthusiast I guess that probably you have questioned once or twice the motives and the benefits for society from space exploration. Luckily, with the widespread use mobile technology the GPS quickly comes now to mind when such questions arise.

I just stumbled upon the latest outreach campaign from NASA and I wanted to share some of its features here.

Let’s go first to aviation. See in the tweet below the different contributions that NASA has made to commercial aviation and which today enable your cheap, safe, reliable, on-time flights in holidays:

Then, there is a series of videos under the theme “International Space Station Benefits from Humanity“.

The series covers, among others, water purification technologies or tooling used in neurosurgery developed from robotic arms at the ISS. Here I wanted to share a video on how the Vessel-ID System has contributed to make navigation around the oceans safer, as ships emit an Automatic Identification System (AIS) signal very much like airplanes do with air traffic control. The signal is received by the European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus module at the ISS and then sent to a centre in Norway which continuously evaluates them.

See in the video below how this technology works and has contributed make navigation safer and safe lives:

NOTE: Compare this scenario with the disaster of the Titanic.


Filed under Aerospace & Defence

Lowell Observatory

I believe that the first time I heard about Percival Lowell was reading the book “Marte y Vida, ciencia y ficción” (in Spanish; by Bartolomé Luque Serrano and Álvaro Marquéz González, the former being a teacher I had while at the university – “Mars and Life, science and fiction”). The reference to Lowell in the book was due to his drawings of the canals of Mars which promoted the idea of intelligent life in the planet. Thus, I mistakenly did not take the person very seriously at first.

Percival Lowell observing through Alvan Clark telescope at Lowell Observatory (public domain image).

Percival Lowell descended from a wealthy family from Boston (1), graduated from Harvard and dedicated a great part of his life to astronomy. Lowell founded the Lowell Observatory in 1894 in the city of Flagstaff (AZ). He made several observations of Mars, Venus, searched for Planet X and set out the non-profit which operates the observatory till today.

Even if not by Lowell, Pluto was discovered in his observatory in 1930 by  Clyde Tombaugh near the location expected for Planet X. The name and monogram for Pluto are partly a recognition to Lowell.

Today the observatory counts with several telescopes in different locations and employs about 20 full-time researches (PhD students included). It can be visited daily (12$ / adult) and with the visit some guided tours performed by the researchers are included. I definitely recommend the visit to the observatory for the science and history behind it.

The picture above is quite famous and shows Lowell in the Alvan Clark telescope located at Mars Hill. This telescope is part of the visit. There you will be able to see that chair, the wheels moving the dome, etc. The staff of the museum will operate some of the systems to move the telescope for the delight of the visitors. See some pictures below:

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Observing the sun.

Observing the sun.

During our visit it was possible to observe the sun through a telescope (see picture at the right) during the day and more observations were to be organized during the evening. Thus, even if we did not do it like that I recommend planning the visit to the museum in the afternoon or at least staying over at Flagstaff the day you visit the museum (you can leave the museum and return in the evening with the same ticket for the observations).

Comparing pictures to detect planets (at Rotunda Museum).

Comparing pictures to detect planets (at Rotunda Museum).

The tour we joined ended up with a visit to the Rotunda Museum (within the Observatory) where we were given more explanations and we were shown artifacts from Lowell’s time.

There is an area in the museum used for temporary exhibitions, which in the days we visited it was dedicated to the evolution of space suits used by astronauts.

Finally, we found it funny this humourous touch we found at the museum: at the time of asking for support for the observatory, 4 different boxes are presented to the visitor enabling her to vote with the wallet on “What should Pluto be called?” (2):


I do recommend the visit to the museum whenever you happen to be in Flagstaff (good stop over when visiting the Grand Canyon).


(1) As per the “Boston Toast” by Harvard alumnus John Collins Bossidy:

“And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.”

(2) Recall that in 2006 the International Astronomical Union established some conditions for an object to be considered a “planet” and Pluto failed the test and was “downgraded” to “dwarf planet”.


Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Travelling

One free trip to space or free international travel for life?

Some weeks ago, I got an email from a source-of-ideas-for-blogs service called Plinky, from which I have already picked some good ideas to write about in posts in the past (on my dream job, charities…).

The question I liked very much this time from the email was:

“Would you rather have one free trip to space or free international travel for life?”

Having already confessed that my dream job as a child was to be an astronaut and knowing how much I enjoy travelling, this question really posed a dilemma.

But after some seconds, I rationalized it and I started making some numbers (how couldn’t I?).

During the past years I have made about 2 long trips per year with Luca abroad, plus some shorter trips apart from commuting back-and-forth to the Netherlands. I have perfectly recorded how much each of the international trips is costing us, since I already made a budget some months beforehand and played with Luca to see how much my initial budget deviates from reality in the end (from 22% to as low as 7€ on a 2-week trip to Japan). Let’s say we spend about 6,000€ per person a year on international travels.

If now I am 30, and I could expect to continue travelling abroad till let’s say 70, this makes 40 years of international trips. As we grow older our trips will most probably become more expensive. This is a trend we have already experienced in the past 4 years and I expect it to continue to hold true, even more so during the some 25-30 years in the future when we will have to include offspring in the travelling expenses tally (by then I expect we won’t have to commute so much but we will have to do so from time to time to visit grandparents)… Let’s use 8,000€ per person per year to play on the safe side with this calculation… so in 40 years that would make ~320,000€.

On the other hand, how much does it cost space travel? Rich individuals who have travelled in the Russian Soyuz have reportedly spent between 20-35M$, or about 25M€. Taking this figure the conclusion is clear: I would rather receive a free trip to space and I’ll gladly continue to pay for my yearly holidays for the rest of my life.

But then again, Virgin Galactic comes offering suborbital flights at a rate of 200k$, or about 150k€, if that is the case, I would rather receive a free lunch in down-to-earth international travel for a lifetime and pay for my stunt with the SpaceShipTwo.

Finally, given the choice, I’d go for the first and highest value option: an orbital free flight in the Soyuz.


Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Travelling

Cité de l’Espace

I visited the Cité de l’Espace with my sister during last August holidays. Believe it or not, I had never been there before so I was looking forward to it.

The museum / park is very comprehensive and informative, especially for children and people who would like to know some basics about rockets, satellites and space exploration. Among the different interactive devices you can play with a gyroscope, try to dock into the ISS, launch a vehicle into a stable orbit, experiment how a satellite’s orbit parameters affect its ground-track…

I especially liked the exhibitions about celestial mechanics, space exploration and life in space, the path to the infinite and the real-size replica of the MIR space station.

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The only downside I find is the price of the ticket, above 20 €. It’s true that there are discounts for students, Airbus employees, etc., but when I compare it with the National Air and Space museums of the Smithsonian institution in DC which are entry free I am disappointed. I believe museums and especially science-related museums should be very affordable for families with small children, when they are most captivated by science at play.

The Cité de l’Espace was definitely worth a visit.

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Filed under Aerospace & Defence, France