With the “billionaire space race” taking center stage in the media over the past few months, we’ve lost sight of why so many people are passionate about space.
This morning, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin launched four people into space, including Star Trek’s own Captain Kirk, William Shatner*. While this flight only lasted mere minutes, the impact on Shatner was abundantly clear as soon as he stepped out of the New Shepard crew capsule after touchdown. Bezos walked up to Shatner and asked how the experience was, to which he replied, “In a way, it’s indescribable.” And as he starts to try to articulate what was most unexpected to him…
…Bezos turns away, interrupting him to pop a bottle of champagne and cheer.
See more: It’s Time to Reclaim the Narrative Around Space from the Billionaires by Tanya Harrison
The first all-civilian crew ever to orbit the Earth have blasted off on their historic mission.
The Dragon capsule containing the four citizen astronauts was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
One of those aboard the mission, billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, paid an undisclosed fee to SpaceX for the chance to fly with three others.
During its three-day journey the capsule will orbit the earth once every 90 minutes at a speed of more than 17,000mph and an altitude of 360 miles – even higher than the orbiting International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope.
See more: SpaceX launch: Four citizen astronauts blast off on three-day journey, and will orbit Earth every 90 minutes by Greg Milam
FOR MORE THAN NINE YEARS, A CAR-SIZED ROBOT has been roaming the Martian landscape in search of ancient life.
NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, and has been exploring the presumably dried-lake ever since. But a fresh look at Curiosity’s old data revealed that the ancient basin may not have been as wet as scientists once believed, possibly altering the history of water on Mars and the probability of the Red Planet hosting life during its past…
Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist and director of science strategy for Planet Labs, who was not involved in the study, says that the reason Gale Crater was designated as the Curiosity rover’s destination is that Mount Sharp appeared to straddle that boundary between warm, hot Mars and cold, dry Mars.
“The crater was probably filled with water — that water evaporated and left the bottom half of Mount Sharp behind, which eventually eroded to the point that it’s at today,” Harrison tells Inverse. “At some point later, these wind-blown deposits were laid on top of that. Because the top half of Mount Sharp is not carved by any channels or anything that we can see, that suggests that it never interacted with water.”
See more: New Curiosity Rover Find Challenges a Fundamental Mars Theory by Passant Rabie
Nervous Mars scientists around the world watched with bated breath as the behemoth Curiosity rover began its descent toward the surface of the Red Planet, known as the “Seven Minutes of Terror.”
We’d never sent something this size to land on Mars. We’d never used anything like the Skycrane to land on another world.
This was an audacious mission, and we all knew it.
Thankfully for all of us—and probably for the continued future of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in general—the Skycrane system worked flawlessly, and Curiosity touched down at its permanent home in Gale Crater on August 5, 2012.
Gale Crater was chosen as the landing site for the rover based on satellite data suggesting the crater may have contained a lake around 3.5 billion years ago. While the water is long gone, its disappearance left behind a plethora of clays, sulfates, and other sedimentary rocks, all containing clues as to the martian environment when the lake was in existence. Curiosity’s mission goal was to look for signs of “habitability”—key things life as we know it would need to survive. Nine [Earth] years into its mission, it has revealed many important insights into the history of Mars. In celebration of its ninth landiversary, here are nine key discoveries from the rover so far:
See more: 9 Big Discoveries by Curiosity for its 9th Landiversary by Tanya Harrison
Graduate school is hard. Not going to sugar coat that. But it can also be a truly amazing and unique time in your life, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be miserable on top of being difficult. Here are some things you can do and think about before you even start applying to Ph.D. programs* that can help make the experience better—and hopefully something that makes you grow as a person and as a researcher:
*And if you’re on the fence about whether getting a Ph.D. is right for you in the first place, check out this other article.
See more: Surviving Grad School: 3 Tips Before You Even Apply by Tanya Harrison
The Space Race might have been America versus the Soviets, but how was the race viewed by the rest of the world?
On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on a celestial body beyond Earth while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins kept dutiful watch from orbit overhead. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and a “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, this amazing achievement could have easily been touted as a win for the U.S., laden with patriotic messages of America being the first to land people on the Moon.
See more: The International Impact of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing by Tanya Harrison
From The New York Times:
Wally Funk is finally going to space. When on Tuesday she crosses that arbitrary altitude that divides the heavens from Earth below, in a rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, she’ll be 82, the oldest person ever to go into space. But that is not what makes her so special.
Ms. Funk is one of the few people who has directly participated in both eras of human spaceflight so far — the one that started as an urgent race between rival nations, and the one that we are now transitioning into, in which private companies and the billionaires who finance them are in fierce competition for customers, comeuppance and contracts. That she was ultimately excluded from the first phase because she is a woman, and will now be included in the next one, also highlights difficult questions of whom space is for.
See more: Wally Funk Is Defying Gravity and 60 Years of Exclusion From Space by Mary Robinette Kowal
Former NASA scientist Tanya Harrison discusses the importance of Virgin Galactic’s first space flight with Richard Branson and the impact it could have on future space travel.
See more: What is the impact of Richard Branson’s space flight?
Billionaires like Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson are setting their sights on a new frontier: space travel. Planet Labs Director of Science Strategy Tanya Harrison explains why their competition may actually benefit NASA in the long run.
Read more: Billionaires Race to Space
For years, I’ve been quite frank and open on social media (mainly Twitter) about a lot of aspects of my life and professional career as a scientist: How having a physical disability has impacted things, my experiences with harassment that nearly drove me out of the field, making the shift from academia to industry, and more. But my gender identity and sexuality are never things I really touched on directly because I didn’t think it affected my professional life—and the things I had made the decision to talk about on social media were pretty much all related to my career. When it came to my personal life in terms of things like my family or who I dated, I very intentionally kept that separate because none of those people had signed up to be in a public spotlight the way that I’d chosen for myself.
It’s not something I ever kept secret, mind you. I just felt like if it didn’t impact my professional life the way it might have for some other people who were more publicly and vocally out, then those were the people who could speak to those experiences better than I could. While being queer didn’t feel like it directly impacted my daily life in a professional sense, I did recognize that I wasn’t able to fully relate to some of the experiences of women in the field.
Read more: https://tanyaofmars.medium.com/i-never-thought-being-queer-impacted-my-professional-life-as-a-scientist-i-was-wrong-e29743bf458
In 1977, a physics student at Stanford University in California saw an ad in the school newspaper inviting women to apply to the astronaut program. She applied for the job and ended up becoming one of the six women hired. Six years later, Sally Ride found her name in the news as the first American woman to fly in space. Today, she is also the first-recognized LGBT+ astronaut and first-recognized LGBTQIA+ person in space.
While Ride and others had begun laying the groundwork for LGBT+ folks in STEM, many have voiced that inclusivity is still a work in progress for the field. Here are a few scientists who have continued forging a path for those who follow.
Read more: ‘We’re not invisible people’: Meet these 6 LGBTQ scientists who are changing the world by Adriana Navarro