Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Exploring the Moon using Google Earth

Marking the anniversary of the first human moon landing, Google has launched Moon in Google Earth, an interactive, 3D atlas of the Moon, viewable with Google Earth 5.0.
Users can explore a virtual Moonscape, follow guided tours from Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 17‘s Jack Schmitt, see the latest rover concepts by teams competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, view high-resolution panoramic photos, watch previously unreleased video footage captured from the lunar surface, and much more.Moon in Google Earth also incorporates a complete lunar terrain data-set by Kaguya LALT, produced by JAXA/NAOJ, which serves as the atlas’ base-map.

It’s all very slick and great fun to use, although we’re disappointed Google hasn’t slipped in a few aliens for the SF fans. Perhaps next April 1st…

“40 years ago, two human beings walked on the Moon. Starting today, with Moon in Google Earth, it’s now possible for anyone to follow in their footsteps,” said Moon in Google Earth Product Manager, Michael Weiss-Malik. “We’re giving hundreds of millions of people around the world unprecedented access to an interactive 3D presentation of the Apollo missions.”

The most recent tool to have been developed as a result of the Space Act Agreement between Google and NASA, Moon in Google Earth enables information about the Moon to be accessible to anyone in a unique three-dimensional context.

In addition to satellite imagery and terrain, the following layers can be explored with Moon in Google Earth:

• Featured Satellite Imagery – Explore overlaid satellite imagery and detailed descriptions of selected areas on the Moon from Arizona State University’s ‘Lunar Image of the Week’
• Spacecraft Imagery – View selected imagery captured by the Apollo Metric Camera, Clementine, and the Lunar Orbiter
• Apollo Missions – Travel back to the Apollo era and discover the landing sites of Apollo missions 11-17. Explore “Street View”–style panoramic images, watch previously unreleased footage from Spacecraft films, and read about the places astronauts saw on their trips to the Moon.
• Guided Tours – Take a narrated tour of the Moon from Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11) and Jack Schmitt (Apollo 17)
• Historic Maps – Discover Apollo-era geologic and topographic maps of the Moon that were used in mission control for trips to the Moon
• Human Artifacts – Learn about the various types of exploratory equipment that humans have left on the Moon and where those objects can be found today. Artifacts from the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the EU, Japan, and India are included, some of them as 3D models.

• To experience Moon in Google Earth, open Google Earth 5.0 and switch modes from ‘Earth’ to ‘Moon’ on the top toolbar. Google Earth 5.0 can be downloaded at http://earth.google.com/moon.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Was Apollo just a stunt?

Top Brit SF author Charles Stross has offered a fascinating opinion on the first Moon Landing on his blog, noting the reason why there isn’t a moon colony and why NASA didn’t continue the Apollo missions was because it was a stunt.“The real mission wasn’t to go to the moon,” the author of cracking SF novels such as Accelerando, Halting State and Saturn’s Children argues.

“It was to bring two astronauts and 100Kg of moon rocks back from the lunar surface and into lunar orbit (to rendezvous with the CSM stack for the journey home) — and it took a 3000 ton behemoth to accomplish this. Launching a bigger, more useful LEM (one that could carry 3 or 4 astronauts to the lunar surface, along with a decent-sized rover and supplies for a couple of weeks) would have added tonnes to the LEM payload … and hundreds, if not thousands of tons to the launch stack. With cost scaling as the cube of the vehicle mass, you don’t need to be an accountant to realize that the US government, stuck fighting a war in South East Asia, wasn’t going to give NASA the money to build in even one kilogram more of payload than was strictly necessary… The per-launch cost of even a minimal Apollo moon shot was $431M, in 1967 dollars — call that $5-10Bn today.”
His article is a fascinating read, also asking the obvious: could NASA go back to the Moon today?

“I want to believe,” says Stross. “But… Today we lack a vital resource that both Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev took for granted: thousands of engineers with the experience of designing, building, and launching new types of rocket in a matter of years or even months. We used to have them, but some time in the past 40 years they all retired.

“We’ve got the institutions and the data and the better technology, but we don’t have the experience those early pioneers had. And I’m betting that the process of rebuilding all that institutional competence is going to run over budget.

While NASA’s Constellation program might work, and while it could deliver far more valuable lunar science than Apollo ever did, it will inevitably cost much more than NASA’s official estimates suggest, because it’s too big a project for today’s NASA — NASA, and indeed the entire space industrial sector in the USA, would have to grow, structurally, to make it work.”

Read the full article — we’ve paraphrased a lot — read his blog…

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

ITV1 Marks Moon Landing with ‘Moonshot’ Doc

ITV1 broadcasts Moonshot, a powerful new documentary charting next Monday (20th July), marking the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon back in 1969.Starring Hotel Babylon‘s Daniel Lapaine as Neil Armstrong, James Marsters (well known for his roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Smallville) as Buzz Aldrin and Afterlife‘s Andrew Lincoln as Michael Collins, this drama documentary weaves the story of the men who undertook the mission with HD Nasa footage of Apollo 11 to bring together a unique testimony of this historic event.

The documentary, a co-production between ITV and indie producers Dangerous and other partners is written by Tony Basgallop, (Hotel Babylon), and directed by Richard Dale, (Diana: The Last Days of a Princess, 9/11: The Twin Towers).

Moonshot is the compelling story of the moment that united 600 million people around the world in 1969, dramatising key moments and events in the years spent preparing for their mission. The film builds a picture of the astronauts’ lives on the ground and how they shaped what happened in space and on the moon.

In 1961 President Kennedy told the world that that the United States would land on the moon by the end of the decade. This began the series of Apollo missions that would culminate with Apollo 11 – the first moon landing, one of the most watched events ever.
Moonshot follows the astronauts as they go through NASA’s intense selection procedures and reveals the arduous Apollo training process that has such an impact on their families and friendships.

Along with other key moments, the film captures the deliberations involved in selecting the crew. In one scene, the NASA official leading the process tells Neil Armstrong that Buzz Aldrin has a reputation for speaking his mind. He gives Neil a choice between Aldrin and fellow astronaut Jim Lovell, forcing him to think about who he would be able to work with – and who he could trust with his life. Armstrong chooses Aldrin, but which of them would take the first steps on the moon would be decided by NASA.

NASA discusses the merits of the two men, acknowledging that the first man on the moon would be a hero and would shoulder the responsibility for the rest of his life.

One of the officials says: “Neil’s calm, quiet, resolute – Neil’s what it says on the label. Buzz is … well you never know what you’re going to get from one day to the next.”

Another responds by saying: “Buzz wants it more.”

Prompting the reply: “Which is a reason not to give it to him.”

The decision goes in favour of Armstrong.

Also revealed is the strain of the mission, which causes tension between Aldrin and Armstrong when a simulated moon landing practice goes wrong – meaning in a real situation they would have crashed, and, later, before the launch, the families have to come to terms with the fact that the astronauts might not come back if things go wrong.

Included is a powerful scene where Armstrong shows his wife the message that will go out to the public if they fail to take off from the moon. It reads: ‘Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin know that there is no hope for their recovery.’
Stunned, she asks Neil if this is the first she would hear of it. He tells her that she will get a call from the President if anything happens. She says: “Nixon? Nixon will call me? Wow. I hope he doesn’t.”

After a successful launch Apollo 11 became a huge media story around the world. The Pope asked for a colour television to be installed in his summer residence, while West Germany announced they were calling the day of the landing ‘Apollo Day’ and schoolchildren in Bavaria were given the day off. The world held its collective breath as the lunar module approached the moon… and breathed a sigh of relief as it touched down safely on 20th July 1969. Then Armstrong said the famous words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

After a succesful mission and return to Earth, Apollo 11 splashed down safely on Earth the famous American newscaster Walter Kronkite said: “The date is now indelible. It is going to be remembered as long as man survives – July 20 1969 the day man reached and walked on the moon.”

Moonshot is bound to prompt many memories from those who were alive to witnes the dramatic events, and, hopefully, give those too young to remember the dramatic time a taste of how exciting space exploration once was – and, if humankind does return to the moon in 2020, will be again…

Moonshot screens at 10.50pm on Monday 20 July on ITV1. It will also be shown by the History Channel.

Mission to the Moon: News of 1969

UK broadcaster ITV1 will begin screening its mini series, Mission to the Moon: News of 1969, today.The programme celebrates the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, taking the form of a news bulletin to report each day’s momentous events in the run up to the anniversary of the first Moon landing with a modern twist. The majority of each programme will be a ‘news report’ about a day of the mission, mixing ITN’s archive material plus contemporary interviews and graphics with the best of NASA’s pictures.

Former ITN presenter John Suchet will front the series, with Peter Snow, who was an ITN correspondent at the time of the moon landing, on hand to look at the technology behind the mission.

In addition, Julie Etchingham will present ITV News at Ten from Cape Canaveral on 20th and 21st July to mark the anniversary of the moon landing. She will be interviewing key personnel involved in the mission, reporting how America is marking the anniversary and asking experts whether man will walk on the moon again.

Mission to the Moon: News of 1969 transmits 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th July at 10.35pm each night.

Apollo Landing Celebrations Mount Up

With excitement building as we near the 40th Anniversary of the first human Moon Landing, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of events and media happenings being lined up to mark the occasion.

Over on my main downthetubes forum, for example, we have a Moon Landing 40th Anniversary: A Comics Celebration" – a gallery of illustrations and comic art inspired by the Apollo expedition and space exploration. In addition to the one page “Return to the Moon” strip, so far we have art from the likes of Andrew Cheverton, Bob Bello, Ian Duerden, Martin Baines and many others. Check it out if you have time, there’s some smashing work on display.

In the UK both the BBC and ITV have been screening a range of programmes: I enjoyed “In Search of Neil Armstrong” last week and will be checking out ITV’s “Moonshot” next Monday night, although goodness only knows why they have decided to put it on so late, after the news.

I’ve also spotted a reprint of the Daily Mirror for 21 July or thereabouts in WH Smiths, complete with DVD of footage of the Apollo landing: it will be interesting to see what Garth was up to (and The Perishers!) on that momentous day in 1969…

The British Film Institute’s “One Giant Leap” season in London continues this coming week with screenings of the films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Countdown and Moonwalk One, the premiere of newly remastered Director’s Cut in high definition of Theo Kamecke’s film, commissioned by NASA to cover their historic Apollo 11 moonshot. With an atmospheric original score by Charles Morrow and a moody narration by Laurence Luckinbill, Kamecke’s documentary has been described as perhaps the most significant time-capsule record of Apollo 11 ever made.

Finally for this round up, while it won’t be out until November, the Oscar nominated documentary about the Apollo missions, For All Mankind, is set for both DVD and Blu-Ray release.

During the Apollo lunar missions from 1968 to 1972, those onboard were given 16mm cameras and told to film anything and everything they could, in space, in orbit, and on the surface of the moon itself. Two decades later, filmmaker Al Reinert went into the NASA vaults to create this extraordinary compendium of their journeys and experiences.

Assembled from hundreds of hours of the astronauts’ own footage, with a soundtrack made up of their memories and a specially composed score by Brian Eno, the film takes the form of one journey to the moon and back again, building with elegant simplicity and exquisite construction to create an overpowering vision of human endeavour and miraculous experience.

At once intimate and awe-inspiring, For All Mankind is a genuinely mesmerising first-hand document of one of the high points of the 20th century. Released as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, Criterion’s beautiful high-definition restoration of the film will be a comprehensive, director-approved special edition.

The release will include a new, restored high-definition transfer, supervised and approved by director Al Reinert; audio commentary featuring Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to set foot on the moon; a gallery of Apollo 12 and Skylab astronaut Alan Bean’s artwork, inspired by his life as an astronaut, with commentary and a filmed introduction; and a special booklet, featuring essays, credits, stills, a new interview with Brian Eno, and more.

DVD Catalogue No: EKA40313
DVD Barcode: 5060000403138
DVD RRP: £19.99
Blu-ray Catalogue No: EKA70011
Blu-ray Barcode: 5060000700114
Blu-ray RRP: £24.99
Release Date: 16 November 2009
Certificate: Exempt
Running Time: 79 minutes approx.
Format: Colour
Genre: Documentary
Director: Al Reinert

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Joint Mars Mission by NASA, ESA?

On 29th and 30th June, the ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, met NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science, Ed Weiler, in Plymouth, UK, to establish a way for a progressive programme for exploration of the Red Planet. The outcome of the bilateral meeting was an agreement to create a Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) that will provide a framework for the two agencies to define and implement their scientific, programmatic and technological goals at Mars.Discussions between ESA and NASA began last December, driven by the ESA Ministerial Council’s recommendation to seek international cooperation to complete the ExoMars mission and to prepare further Mars robotic exploration missions. At the same time, NASA was reassessing its Mars Exploration Program portfolio after the launch of its Mars Science Laboratory was delayed from 2009 to 2011.

This provided ESA and NASA with an opportunity to increase cooperation and expand collective capabilities. To investigate the options in depth, a joint ESA/NASA engineering working group was established, along with a joint executive board to steer the efforts and develop final recommendations on how to proceed.

At the bilateral meeting in Plymouth, the executive board recommended NASA and ESA establish MEJI spanning launch opportunities in 2016, 2018 and 2020, with landers and orbiters conducting astrobiological, geological, geophysical and other high-priority investigations, and leading to the return of samples from Mars in the 2020s. The Director and Associate Administrator agreed, in principle, to establish the Initiative and continue studies to determine the most viable joint mission architectures.

ESA and NASA also agreed to establish a joint architecture review team to assist the agencies in planning the mission portfolio. As plans develop, they will be reviewed by ESA member states for approval and by the US National Academy of Sciences. This unique collaboration of missions and technologies will pave the way for exciting discoveries at Mars.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ex Astris: Return to the Moon

Here's a one-page Ex Astris strip we've created for the Apollo anniversary celebration over on the forum for the British comics site, downthetubes. (Click on the image for the full size version).

If you're an artist who wants to contribute to this project, find out how you can do that here.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ex Astris Artist Celebrates Moon Landings


Mike Nicoll has just sent me this fab piece of art to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first human moon landing, which forms part of a gallery of art marking the event over on thedownthetubes forum.

Several artists have contributed images so far, including Doctor Who illustrator Colin Howard, Space Age Magazine editor Bob Bello and the Etherington Brothers.

More contributions are welcome.

If you're a fan of Mike's art, you may be interested to know we have four Ex Astris wallpapers for PCs available as free downloads over on the revamped web site: www.exastris.co.uk. After being a simple "redirect" for a couple of years, we've just launched the site proper and more on the strip and regularly updated strip posts are to feature soon.