Space Archives

Lies That Sci-Fi Movies Have Taught Us About Space

Think you know all about space from watching movies? Guess again.

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Kara Vallow has been a producer on Seth MacFarlane’s slate of animated shows such as Family Guy and American Dad, as well as Dilbert, Johnny Bravo, and Drawn Together. So when MacFarlane invited her to take charge of the animated segments for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, she was uncertain if she could do justice to the material. The result was stunning narratives about historical figures such as Giordano Bruno, William Herschel, and Isaac Newton.

In this interview we discuss how her animation team developed the unique style for the segments, the lasting impact of Carl Sagan, working with Ann Druyan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, bringing the Flammarion woodcut to life, Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question, and the Family Guy Star Wars specials.

Running time: 41 minutes

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If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel

Scientific accuracy is one of the reason I and our bagel-loving overlord enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian. One of the often overlooked points of accuracy are distances; some novels minimize or ignore that vast distances of nothingness because they are difficult to comprehend…plus they mess up plot lines.

Graphics designer Josh Worth (see his page for “Creepy iOS6 Features” as well), in trying to explain these vast distances to his daughter, has created a page called “If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel“…which uses scrolling (sometimes seemingly infinite scrolling) to depict distances and sizes in the Solar System. In a post accurately titled “A Tediously Accurate Map of the Solar System“, Josh explains his motivation.

I highly recommend looking at this site on a touch device; scrolling through the vast emptiness of space is less tedious on an iPad than hitting the scroll bar with a mouse. Check out: If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel.

VIDEO: Andy Weir, Author of THE MARTIAN, Talks at Google

I’m almost done reading Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian and enjoying it quite a bit. (Review soon!) One of the reasons is the realistic science that’s used in the novel.

Here’s the author at a recent talk at Google HQ. It starts with a 11 minute reading from the first chapter, then he discusses the realistic science that went into the novel. Beware! There’s a slight story spoiler when Weir discusses the software he wrote to calculate some of the orbital mechanics used in the novel.

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VIDEO: Why Asteroids Fuel Human Expansion

Today’s science lesson is a short dicussion on why we might need asteroid mining.

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NASA Remembers Neil Armstrong

With our heads often buried in science fiction, it’s easy to forget that we’ve been there.

Here’s NASA’s video tribute to Neil Armstrong, 1 year after his passing.
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In Saturn’s Rings is a non-profit IMAX film coming in 2014 that shows the wonder of our universe without using special effects. It uses real photographs stitched together to present an amazing visual feast of what it would look like to travel around Saturn. If you’d like to help fund this project, they are looking for donations.

Here’s the trailer. Set YouTube to show the original resolution and view it full screen for the mind-blowingest experience.

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The Beauty of Space Photography

Space photography is the closest thing to being there, and this PBS video demonstrates the beauty of our universe. Awe-inspiring stuff…

From the YouTube description:

Space presents a fantastic mystery to human life. Unfathomably large, with characteristics that defy our experience and understanding, the stars have perplexed and amazed humanity for our entire recorded history, and likely before. In the present, astrophysicists and astronomers are aggressively studying the universe in an attempt to solve critical scientific and philosophical questions. One of the primary tools for measurement and observation is imaging using cameras connected to powerful telescopes on Earth and in space. And although it’s not the primary motivation for photographing space, beauty is one of the most intriguing byproducts. Images of space communicate the grandeur of the universe, and spark essential curiosities about what may be out there waiting for us once we make our way into the stars.

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William Shatner Calls Astronaut in Space

You would thing that the combination of astronaut and pop culture icon would result in some lowest-common-denominator banter abd idle chatter about green-skinned women. Instead, Shatner asks real-life astronaut Chris Hadfield about the U.S. space program and what life is like on a spaceship.

“Captain! There be food for thought here!”

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Animated Video: The Life of an Astronaut

From YouTube:

As commander of Skylab 4, NASA astronaut Jerry Carr has spent over 2000 hours in space, breaking the world record for individual time in space. In this animated TEDEd lecture, Carr recounts his life as an astronaut from the beginning of training to his first assignment as commander.

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Friday YouTube: Mixed Nuts — in Spaaace!

Does with it says on the tin.
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ESSAY: The Complexity of the Humble Spacesuit

The publisher of the 2012 anthology Rocket Science has kindly granted me permission to post my essay from that book, which has been nominated for the BSFA Non-Fiction award. If you enjoy this piece, please consider purchasing the anthology from Mutation Press.
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Diane Turnshek is an astronomer whose short fiction has been published in Analog Magazine and elsewhere. She teaches astronomy and experimental physics lab at Carnegie Mellon University and at the University of Pittsburgh “The Physics of Science Fiction” as well as astronomy. She’s a contributing author of Many Genres/One Craft, a 2011 award-winning book on writing. She has taught college writing classes, helped organize science fiction conferences, founded Alpha, the genre workshop for young writers, and ran the 2007 SFWA Nebula Awards in NYC. Diane has four stellar sons and an out-of-this-world boyfriend.

I am on Mars, at least that’s what it looks like here in the high desert of Utah. Six of us are living in the Mars Desert Research Station, a two-story cylindrical habitat 30 feet across with steep ladder stairs between floors. Our bunks are 4 by 11 feet and we share one bathroom. Why am I here for Christmas instead of home with my four children? For science.

We are pioneers, studying how humans could live on another planet. We’re in full sim. We eat rehydrated/dehydrated food, suffer a 20-minute lag time with communications, travel outside the Hab in spacesuits and ride ATVs in the red desert. We each pay for our travel and a flat fee for food and lodging, but what we get back is invaluable. We have forwarded the progress of science, taking humanity one small step closer to striding onto the surface of Mars.

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Today at the Kirkus Reviews Blog: Of Space Travel and Space Suits!

An interest in space travel has always fueled my love of scienc efiction. Today at the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I look at some recent releases that ignite that same passion.

Head on over to the Kirkus Reviews Blog and check out Of Space Travel and Space Suits

VIDEO: Helmet Oddity

Here’s a cool mashup of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and clips from space helmets in films and TV.

For extra credit, see if you can name all the films shown here.

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I was very pleased to learn that yet another extrasolar planet has been discovered, this time closer to Earth than ever before. It turns out that Alpha Centauri, our closest neighboring star system, has an Earth-like planet. Yay! However, this sort of news never manages to totally counteract the conflicted feelings I have about our prospects for deep space exploration.

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Carl Sagan Explains The Meat Planet

In this “lost” episode of Cosmos, Carl Sagan describes the wonders of the Meat Planet.

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Courtest of Felix Baumgartner‘s Chest Cam.
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Mike Poole is a part-time system administrator, part-time bookkeeper, full-time heavy box toter working in the backwoods of South Carolina. He spends his free time reading science fiction and trying to get this Facebook monkey off his back.

I don’t remember whose post I saw first. There were several, all saying basically the same thing. It was a lazy Saturday and I’d decided to put off the weekly mowing until Sunday, opting for a nap instead. I woke up late afternoon, grabbed a cup of coffee, and logged into Facebook for a quick meme fix. Instead, I got the news that Neil Armstrong was dead. I got as far as the first headline, then I started to cry and I just sat there and cried for a while.

I guess I should feel embarrassed and keep that to myself, a grown man sitting alone at his desk, crying like a little baby about the death of someone far away. It’s not like I knew him, not really, anyway. I never saw him in person or got to shake his hand. All I knew of him was the same PR published over and over throughout the years with ever decreasing regularity, a Wikipedia entry waiting for its final update. He was decades out of the public eye, famous for something many no longer think important enough to fuss over, some think never really happened, and even he felt was inappropriately focused on him. And yet, I don’t feel embarrassed at all. Not even just a little.

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RIP: Neil Armstrong, First Person to Walk on the Moon

Sad news…

Reuters is that reporting that atsronaut Neil Armstrong has died at 82 years of age. Armstrong was the commander of the Apollo 11 mission and became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.

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