When I was a child, I earned candy money from my father in a unique way. Candy talk somehow seems appropriate in this pre-election and Halloween Week where the eye candy and repetitive brand pitches are inescapable. “Watch the shiny object” is an ever-present political rant. These days we could all live well if we were simply paid a prorated rate to endure the current steady state of political ads.
The First Space Race
Back in the day, I got paid for spotting both orbiting satellites and meteors. Mind you. Satellite sightings paid more than falling space rocks. A smart kid could manage to figure out that some things go round and round and come back to pay again and again. Nah. I really wasn’t that good at it, but you get the idea.
In elementary school I was incentivized to learn the difference between the DOD sponsored Vandenburg polar orbital group, the Soviet group, and the more well-known Cape Canaveral orbital paths. Most of what I earned was happily invested in Mars futures, if you catch my drift. Ok. I still have a hankering for candy corn now and then.
My dad was rightly proud of what he did for a living back then. Most of the US satellites the I could spot on those warm summer and cold winter nights contained early solar cell arrays that the company my father worked for supplied.
Space is a Nasty Place
What do you know? I was the only kid I knew who listened to Dodger World Series games on a solar cell powered transistor radio. Way cool. I believe this company promotional item survived until I graduated high school.
Watching Antiques Roadshow today makes me wonder how much a branded limited first production run edition of a Telstar solar cell radio would be worth today on the auction block. Dang. It seems that Telstar 1 and 2 lasted longer in orbit than the radio. They still quickly became space junk. The Telstars did not run so well or as long as that radio.
Space is a nasty place. The Sun is a harsh mistress (grin) that blows and, as they say - gravity sucks.
Speaking of Space Junk
This video is an interesting tour of the surface of the large pile of space rocks called Bennu. Talk about interesting local coordinate systems…
An ORISIS-Rex Tour of the Asteroid Bennu
Why modern scientists insist on obscure mythological naming conventions is not beyond me. Maybe this comes from the academic political angst - Never give the naming credit to another.
To be clear. No scientist or engineer working on this NASA project seriously thought that an asteroid would or could look like this pile of space junk and rubble until the ORISIS-Rex mission arrived there. OMG. They expected a sandy beach of well-behaved ancient regolith wrapped around a big rock - Think of Moon or Mars dust or better yet the sand at the beach at Galveston Tx.
Mind you NASA had already spent a couple of hundred million dollars designing and building an air cleaner like device to trap sand and dust called the Regolith Explorer. A major point of the mission was to return a substantial sample of asteroid material to Earth. Ok. They did end up with an air cleaner like the ones in your car – a not-so-simple tool manned by some stunning robotic controls.
Here’s the NASA promotional Bennu Triumph short press release video…
OSIRIS-REx Touches Asteroid Bennu
The NEO an Apollo object Bennu makes a “close pass” with Earth about every six years. Bennu was about 200 million miles from Earth when they pulled off the Touch. Space is a big and not so empty place. Eheh.
“Dang. We should have sent a Dyson vacuum cleaner.”
Not said in that video…The touch NASA remembers turned out to be about 15” inches deeper than they expected. OSIRIS-REx bit off more than its fancy air cleaner attachment could chew – NASA currently believes/hopes they got more bigger chunks that they counted on. NASA hopes most of the sample makes it back to Earth in a couple of years in one piece…so to speak.
Perhaps, that sample will be worth more than Moon rocks.
What’s that? NASA announced they think they found a lot more water on the Moon just this week?
Touch A Pet Rock Day
In advance of the official Touch the Asteroid Day, NASA and PBS put together a one-hour NOVA special to popularize the OSIRIS-REx mission.
Touching the Asteroid
Like I said I am a space, asteroid, and comet geek. Yet, I caught the first run of this Nova show almost by accident.
The show is typical, current PBS Nova fair - More than a bit of popularized and semi-scripted pseudo-drama on top of some really interesting deep space science and engineering.
Worth the time. Enjoy.
Oh. I should mention that there is no guarantee PBS leaves this up on YouTube very long.
Sooner or later PBS will ask you to subscribe.
For the Seriously Interested
Microgravity interests me. Why? Recent discoveries in microgravity effects have revolutionized how we think about the solar system and other important things. I wasn’t really all that surprised by the apparent pile of rocks that is Bennu… at least on the surface. Just sayin’ that there were orbiting big Jupiters and other junk long before the solar system act one.
The available science and technology only allow us to analyze the general surface material content of asteroids, comets, etc. via the magic science of light. Most of the relatively bigger small stuff in a planetary system has been collecting smaller bits and pieces for a very long time.
Whatever gets ground into smaller chunks will tend to infect all the available surfaces in the surrounding neighborhood. This effect explains why we own Dyson’s in the first place.
We ended up with the current Asteroid Family Groups theory. Note the mention of Vesta Group materials on Bennu in the videos.
The OSIRIS-REx mission should remind us all that you have to be there to get there.
We still suffer from what some revisionists these days might call the Columbus Syndrome.
“Roberto. We rediscovered the East Indies. Let’s call them the West Indies and enslave everybody.”
In historical fairness to Christopher, he states that he thought very differently.
He named the new land San Salvador or Holy Savior.
We might translate this to – Thank God or better yet Sweet Jesus.
Some late-medieval Genoese sailor humor translated into politically correct formal Spanish.
The name is coupled with an understandable sense of relief and vindication.
The Important Matter of Spin
My favorite recent small space object factiod…
Why do space rocks spin?
We assume spin is impact related because we love to worship Newton and because that might be true.
The most likely/common cause in the long run is the pressure of the ferocious solar wind.
Photons and other radiation per square meter pressure inside the heliosphere piles up seriously.
Plainly put, some of the stored energy goes into the spin.
The Inertia of Spin
The future of asteroid mining will depend on how well we can learn to harness and steal the inertia of spin.
Sweet Jesus. That’s a loaded statement.
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