Welcome to a very special edition of Science Thursday! Why is it so special, you ask? Because it’s Friday. Due to some homework, and my (now former) boss’s send-off celebration (read: drinking), I was unable to write this article until this morning. So congratulations Matt on your new stage in life, and without further ado, let’s get to the science.
Today’s Science Thursday really is special, because of what happened 45 years ago. 45 years ago, in the month of April, there was an explosion. This particular explosion was noteworthy, because it happened in space. Now, ordinarily when explosions happen in space, it’s because of something like a star dying, or a star forming, or a star just being a star (stars are actually pretty violent…), or some alien spaceship crashing (hey, we don’t know until we know), but this explosion was unlike any of those other ones, This explosion happened to be onboard the Apollo 13 command module, in which Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert were all settling down to go to sleep. This explosion was obviously something of a concern for these three, because generally, when you’re on a spaceship, you want it to stay in one piece. Or, as many pieces as the engineers designed it to be in. As I’m sure most of you readers know, the ordeal ended with all three crew alive and safe in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. (A fun fact: Apollo 13 actually had the second most accurate splashdown of the entire program.)
All this is exciting because Wednesday night, one of the three astronauts, Fred Haise, came to speak at my school. And the entire school, it seemed, came to watch him speak. I didn’t actually get to see him speak in person, because I was sitting in one of five full overflow classrooms which had a live feed of what was happening in the auditorium. The talk was an accounting of what happened on the Apollo 13 mission, and how the crew and the people on the ground at mission control came to survive the ordeal. Haise recounted that the people on the ground probably got less sleep than he did. He also told of the cold temperatures which the crew had to endure (around 34 degrees Fahrenheit), and some of the differences between the movie Apollo 13 and the actual mission. (The movie has a little bit more dramatic flare than the real deal, and Jim Lovell didn’t actually hug Fred Haise before reentry.)
It was incredible to sit there and listen to this man, who has achieved such extraordinary things, stand there and tell us all about his experiences first hand. He was telling us about photos and video from mission control, and rattling off the names that my peers and I all knew and idolized, but he was just talking about the people he worked with. To him it was just, the guys, his pals. I know many things about the Apollo program, my friends and I will sit there and rattle off the numbers, names, knowledge to each other just to see who knows more. But here, was this man who didn’t have to learn about it in a book, he was simply part of it.
Haise also worked on the shuttle program, serving as commander of five of the eight gliding test flights of the orbiter Enterprise, which now resides at the Intrepid Museum in New York City. He later would work for Grumman Aerospace on projects such as the international space station.
This Science Thursday (Friday) we should also take some time to remember the seven astronauts of STS-51L, Commander Francis R. Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Ellision S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory B. Jarvis, and S. Christa McAuliffe. On January 28th, 1986, STS-51L exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, and the Challenger Seven “slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God.” Take a moment to remember these seven, and let’s not let their sacrifice be in vein.
Shifting gears, let’s cover a few cool space science things that also happened this week. NASA has released some new images from its Dawn spacecraft this week. From PRNewswire, the images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on Jan. 25, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet. These images are the clearest that humans have ever captured of Ceres, and will hopefully better inform us about that white spot that has mysteriously appeared in photos taken by both Dawn and Hubble. A cool etymology fact related to this, the planets name comes from the Roman goddess of agriculture and grain crops, and is where we get the word “cereal” from.
Some random tidbits from Scientific American; this piece tells about a research investment bank which could potentially fund all sorts of scientific research without having to go through the process of applying for grants from the government or other organizations. There is no word on when this research bank might be made into a reality, but it could potentially close some gaps in U.S. Government science funding in the event of government shutdowns, which seem to be more of a thing lately.
Here is a cool slideshow of medicine circa 1915. Just so you can appreciate how far your doctors office has come in the past century.
And, finally, we can all breathe easy, because we not likely to get hit by a large asteroid for a while. Asteroid 2004 BL86 passed by the Earth Monday at a distance of 750,000 miles (which sounds like a lot, but in terms of the universe is like one of the hairs on your head). A really exciting thing (mainly for astronomers) that was discovered during this flyby, was that the asteroid…has a moon! For more on the asteroid, as well as some cool SpaceX stuff, and a the possibility that Comet G/P 67 is going to break apart, check out this cool space video on Universe Today.
That’s it for this weeks Science Thursday (Friday). Thanks for reading, see you next time.