History

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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…

“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 Canals of Mars

The space-heads among you have undoubtedly heard about the Curiosity rover’sĀ 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…