The Launching of a Space Milestone: Mir

On this day in 1986, the Soviet Union launched Mir, the first continuously inhabited long-term research station to orbit Earth. Assembled during orbit from 1986 to 1996, it had greater mass than any previous spacecraft at the time, and remained the largest satellite in orbit until 2001, when it was succeeded by the International Space Station (ISS).

Mir

The station served as a microgravity research laboratory where crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and spacecraft systems. The goal was to develop technologies that would further permanent human occupation of space.

Mir set the record for the longest continuous human presence in space at 3,644 days, until it was surpassed by the ISS in 2010. It hosted the record for the longest single human spaceflight: Valeri Polyakov spent over 437 days on the station between 1994 and 1995. Mir had the capacity to support a resident crew of three, or larger crews for short term visits.

Polyakov really loves what he does.

Mir was launched as part of an effort to maintain a long-term research outpost in space. While the vast majority its crew was Russian, several international programs made it host to astronauts from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European nations; the first Syrian and first Afghan in space were Mir visitors. These collaborative efforts were the precursor to the development of the ISS, which evolved from separate U.S., European, and Russian projects.

Following the collapse of the USSR, Mir came under the operation of the new Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Although the station was fairly resilient, as evidenced by its impressive lifespan, its age was showing, and Russia at the time could not afford to update it. The station was subsequently decommissioned and deorbited in 2001.

The first of many successors. 

VY Canis Majoris

VY Canis Majoris is the largest known star in the universe, being around one billion times bigger than our sun — which is one million times bigger than Earth — which in turn is already pretty immense. If it were to replace our sun, the star’s surface would reach up to Jupiter or Saturn. Imagine how the individual human matches up? We could scarcely register the scale of it all in our minds, much less physically grasp it with our senses.

The following short video further emphasizes how mindbogglingly vast our universe is — and how infinitesimally small we are by comparison.

The Profundity of Space Travel

I’m quite sure everyone imagines space travel to be an experience unlike anything imaginable. The impact it must have on one’s psyche and worldview (no pun intended) is incomparable to any other experience we can conceive of.

Imagine seeing everything we’ve ever known and experienced — the culmination of all histories, lives, and events — within a single frame of view. Imagine being so far away that you could put your hand up and see the Earth as smaller by comparison. It’s no wonder so many astronauts, from what I’ve seen, appear to be so philosophical and worldly.

There is a 20-minute video posted on Upworthy shows breathtaking images and videos of Earth from space, intersected with beautiful ruminations and narratives told by a variety of people, from astronauts and scientists to popular writers and academics. I highly recommend you watch it, as it’s worth every minute.

 

I hope to live to see the day when space travel is as easy as taking a plane. It’s hard to imagine what such a world would be like.

On This Day in History: The First Woman in Space

Fifty years ago today, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman into space, having been selected from more than 400 applicants and 5 finalists to pilot the Vostok 6, the last mission of the Vostok program. Although Tereshkova experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight, she orbited the earth 48 times and spent almost 3 days in space. With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date.

She was also the first civilian into space; whereas most astronauts and cosmonauts had military backgrounds, Tereshkova, who had humble origins, was employed as a textile worker. She chosen only for her skill and enthusiasm for skydiving, which she pursued as a hobby (she was made an honorary member of the Soviet Air Force after her mission). Talk about a career seque.

Even though there were plans for further flights by women, it took 19 years until the second woman on Earth, Svetlana Savitskaya, flew into space. Tereshkova now lives a quiet and low-key life in Russia, although she is a staple in many science conferences and political functions.

Learn more about her and the history of women in space here.

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Happy 540th Birthday to Nicolaus Copernicus

Happy 540th Birthday to Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543)

A name well-known to students across the western world, Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a comprehensive heliocentric model, which as opposed to the prevailing geocentric model of the time, placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center of the universe. The model was also one of the first to describe the system’s mechanics in mathematical terms.

Just before his death, Copernicus published is magnum opus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which is considered a major event in the history of science. It began the Copernican Revolution and contributed importantly to the subsequent emergence of the Scientific Revolution.

In addition to his achievements in mathematics and astronomy, Copernicus was one of the great polymaths of the Renaissance — he was quadrilingual, a jurist with a doctorate in law, physician, classics scholar, translator, artist, Catholic priest, governor, diplomat and economist.

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A Star is Born

A Star is Born

An artist’s impression shows the disk of gas and cosmic dust around the young star HD 142527, as observed by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. They have witnessed vast streams of gas flowing across the gap in the disc, the first time we’ve seen the stages of a star being born. Click the photo to learn more.

What Makes a Human

A human is made of the following:

  • Oxygen (65%)
  • Carbon (18%)
  • Hydrogen (10%)
  • Nitrogen (3%)
  • Calcium (1.5%)
  • Phosphorus (1.0%)
  • Potassium (0.35%)
  • Sulfur (0.25%)
  • Sodium (0.15%)
  • Iron (0.70%)
  • Magnesium (0.05%)
  • And trace amounts of Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt,  Lithium, Strontium, Aluminum, Silicon, Lead, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine.

It’s hard to realize that everything we are, down to the smallest sub-atomic level, is a product of nature. We share the same origins and atoms of a tree, rock, insect, or star. Everything around us, everything in this entire universe, has the same origin. How strange it is that we’re all so connected in this way.

And just as our bodies are made off the atoms of previous organisms and stars, so too will future substances contains our atoms once we die. Nothing is ever destroyed. Our matter merely moves on to take another form, to make up some other part of our wonderful universe. As a great physicist once said, we are literally made out of star stuff – and visa versa.

High Resolution Image of Earth

A high resolution image of Earth taken from a Russian weather satellite. While watching this, it’s hard to image that I’m somewhere on that planet, sharing it with 7 billion other people who are going about their little lives. It makes me feel so insignificant, yet I hardly mind. There is something beautiful, even liberating, about realizing and accepting that fact.

See more breathtaking videos from this satellite here.

Salyut 1

On this day in 1971, Soviet Russia launched the world’s first space station, the Salyut 1. Unfortunately, it was followed shortly after by one of space exploration’s worst tragedies: the three cosmonauts pictured above died during re-entry, after having completed the first successful space docking. Salyut I was scrapped shortly after, though it would be followed by many others.

Read more about it here. I would’ve put a picture of the station, but there weren’t any good ones worth posting.

Yuri’s Night

Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it! – Yuri Gagarin

On this day in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Imagine being able put your thumb up  in front of you and see the planet as small as your fingernail. It’s something very few of us could ever imagine.

He was like a sound amplified by a mountain echo. The traveler is small, but the mountains are great, and suddenly they merge into a single whole. Such was Yuri Gagarin.To accomplish a heroic exploit means to step beyond one’s own sense of self-preservation, to have the courage to dare what today seems unthinkable for the majority. And to be ready to pay for it. For the hero himself, his feat is the limit of all possibilities. If he leaves something “in reserve”, then the most courageous deed thereby moves into the category of work: hard, worthy of all glorification, but — work. An act of heroism is always a breakthrough into the Great Unknown. Even given most accurate preliminary calculations, man enters into that enterprise as if blindfold, full of inner tension and ready for any outcome.

-Valentina Malmy, in Star Peace

 Learn more about Yuri’s Night, a celebration of his – and humanity’s – remarkable achievement.