Space

Category archives for Space

Discovery, by nature, has a ripple effect. When one thing is found to be plausible, testable, or true, a suite of potential other truths and plausibilities tend to follow suit. This is the nature of inductive reasoning, the foundation of the scientific method, and the reason why science–as a human project–is generational. We discover something…

Is There Life on Maaaars?

You certainly didn’t hear it here first: today NASA, at a press briefing, announced that minerals analyzed by the Curiosity rover indicate that life might, in the galactic past, have survived on Mars. The rover’s been poking around an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale crater since September of last year; now,…

What Distance Is

What is distance? There’s the distance between people, who subconsciously space themselves apart, providing a reliable visual matrix of intimacy. It’s no coincidence we use the word “close” to describe our most intimate relationships: to whisper and caress, we draw near to one another, less than six inches apart. For chatter amongst personal friends, the…

L-O-L-A, LOLA

Before the invention of computer flight simulators, engineers at NASA needed a way to help astronauts visualize landing on the moon. So they built LOLA, or Lunar Orbit and Landing Approach, at Langley Space Center: a system of massive glowing murals and scale model-orbs criss-crossed with ribbons of track. In total darkness, pilots would ride…

Mona Laser

The cultural critic Walter Benjamin, in his seminal 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, argued that the “aura” of a work of art, that sense of special awe and reverence we feel, being in its presence, isn’t inherent to art itself. Rather, it’s a side-effect of its exclusivity, restricted…

“This one will look like a jellybean,” the session director warns us. “Or, you know, when you empty a hole punch? The circles of paper that fall out? One of those.” She’s talking about Neptune, and I am about to step, carefully, up a ladder painted industrial yellow and wheeled into place in front of…

The Earth is the New Moon

Stewart Brand, writing about space colonies, observed that “if you live in a satellite, the Earth is something that goes on in your sky.” For Felix Baumgartner, the daredevil skydiver who seduced the world with his chiseled jaw and seeming invulnerability to fear (and who broke the sound barrier with his body last weekend) the…

The Canals of Mars

The space-heads among you have undoubtedly heard about the Curiosity rover’s first significant discovery: the remnants of an ancient streambed on Mars, which would seem to indicate the presence of water in the planet’s history. This jagged pile of alluvial rock and dust may not look like much, but it brings to mind one of my…

Footprints on the Moon

Yesterday we lost Neil Armstrong, an accidental hero, thrust by fate onto a rock in the sky. Many dreamt of walking on the moon before he did, and a few men did after him. He happened to be the first. Hopefully many more men, and women too, will echo his iconic footsteps in the future.…

On Curiosity and its Shadows

The NASA Mars rover Curiosity just landed on Mars. Those of us who tuned in vicariously via NASA’s live coverage watched as a roomful of tense engineers exploded, and heard their disembodied voices whispering and booming through the control room. Holy shit. We did it. Their headsets fell askew, they glad-handed one another, criss-crossing the…