Monday, September 03, 2012

NASA museum in Tidewater VA offers illustrated mission reports from Apogee

My visit to the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton (on the notorious “Peninsula”) tempted me with a few picture books with vistas of other worlds, so here goes:

In the Museum itself, there was a giveaway, a 389-page paperback (full size) of an official NASA report by Joseph R. Chambers, “Innovation in Flight”, from the NASA Langley Research Center,  dated August, 2005.

The book is mostly technical, with one of the most curious chapters being “Personal Air Transportation Concepts”.  For the very rich?

The chapter reminds me of an apartment neighbor here in Arlington in 1990; he was in to private aviation, tried to recruit me into promoting it, and took me on one private flight to the Shenandoah Valley, from Manassas, on Labor Day 1990.   Back in 1970, I had ridden with a coworker from Trenton NJ to near Harrisburg PA in a private plane, and I took one complimentary lesson, courtesy of an American Airlines promo, at Redbird Airport in Dallas in 1982.  

The (privately-owned) bookstore on the premises sells the rather pricey (about $27 a  pop) Apogee mission books.  Most of the Apollo missions have a book, and I picked up “Apollo 15” (272 pages), which documents the July 1971 manned mission to the Moon. It seemed to be the most heavily illustrated of all the volumes.  There is a one-side DVD (requires a computer with a ROM drive) with lots of little movies.  For some reason, the “.htm” files would not load on my Macbook in Safari.

But the books  (NASA Mission Reports) going to the rest of the Solar System got more interesting.  Most are edited by Robert Goodwin.

Mars” (Volume 2, 2004) offers a lot of original photos from the Red Planet.  The DVD is 20-sided, with the A-side playable on a regular player (not requiring ROM), having interviews (of scientists like Steve Squyres) and press conferences, and two animated simulations of the mission, each around 13 minutes, the better one being that filmed by Cornell University (privately owned and copyrighted), the last five minutes of which shows the rover landing in its padded chute, opening, then driving itself around the desert landscape until it finds a suitable rock to drill, behaving like a robotic alien.  The pictures tend to make the thin Mars atmosphere look smoggy with dust.

Deep Space”   is organized (like the Mars books) as a series of official papers in more-or-less chronological sequence, and often cover the same material, about the outer planets and moons, from the viewpoint at any particular time. The knowledge of the outer planets has grown with the Pioneer missions, to that accumulated by Galileo (launched 1989) and Cassini (launched 1997), which sent a probe to the surface of Titan in January 2005, which it says landed with a “splat”.  Galileo (which would send a probe into Jupiter) and Cassini were both in the Jovian “metropolitan area” in 2000.

There are numerous speculative descriptions and diagrams (sometimes repeated) of the internal structures of Jupiter and Saturn.  Some people thought that the Pioneer findings suggested that Jupiter was entirely fluid.  Most descriptions show a complicated layer, with water and ammonia, hydrocarbons and nitrogen at reasonably warm temperatures and reasonable pressures, suggesting the possibility of primitive airborne life, with energy coming from lightning.  The gas hydrogen layer goes for thousands of miles and must become liquid at some point, at some particular pressure.  It would seem that this would still have to “look” like an ocean surface (at night).  At an even higher pressure, there probably is a conversion to metallic hydrogen, which would look like mercury.  Apparently there is still no definitive proof of a solid core, although Jupiter obviously generates its own heat (retained from its formation) and magnetic field.

The book has a few predictive descriptions of Titan (and Io and Europa), with a brief report on the Huygens probe descent into Titan’s atmosphere near the end of the book.

The above video is “Probe of Saturn Could Tell Us More About Life on Earth” (8 minutes), from Euronews (the European Space Agency).. Also look for “The Quest for Expolanets”. From the same publisher. 

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