The space shuttle Discovery is on its last (and 39th) mission, ferrying supplies and a robotic astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS). Not many of us are following it intently—certainly not I!—but we might pause to reflect on how amazing it is that an evolved primate can do something like this. I am still staggered at the thought that humans constructed vehicles, from the materials of the Earth, to take us to the moon and back.
I still remember the first American in space: Alan Shepherd, who flew for only 15 minutes in 1961. The country went wild, and even wilder when John Glenn did three orbits the next year. Now we’re jaded, hardly giving a thought to the notion that there’s a pack of humans continuously orbiting the Earth, who are sporadically visited and brought supplies by other people in a reusable rocket.
They say that the ISS hasn’t yielded many tangible results, yet I still mourn its demise. I still remember John Kennedy’s speech at Rice University in 1962, and these words, which gave us chills but stiffened our spines:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. . .
The Atlantic has a page with lots of nice NASA photos of the shuttle, its preparation, and the astronauts. I’ll put up three.
Here’s the shuttle last October, being moved to the Vehicle Assembly building to be joined to its rocket boosters (click this and other photos to enlarge):
A mockup Discovery cockpit, used for training the astronauts:
A view of the shuttle from the ISS after undocking on April 17 of last year. The island below is the Isla de Providencia, off of Nicaragua.
“nickg_uk” posted this twitpic of the shuttle about to dock with the ISS—it was taken in the UK with a regular Canon camera and a 500 mm lens:
Over in Manchester, England, Matthew Cobb, his family, and his cat Ollie watched the shuttle without binocs or a telescope; Matthew files this report:
We watched it an hour later (after docking) from the garden – slowly moving dot, just like an ordinary satellite, except this one has people in it! Ollie was v confused about us being out in the dark at night so hared up the cherry tree to join in. Girls were more interested in speculating about what he might be thinking (how could you tell?) than gazing in wonder at ISS…
This is about as good as it gets these days – after all we haven’t been able to look at the moon and say there were men up there since 1972! That’s just crap. I want my money back. 21st century is not what it was supposed to be!
Photographer Mark Humpage took this photograph of the space shuttle and ISS travelling together over the UK; it’s the large streak to the left. This photo (reproduced with permission) is obviously a time-lapse, and was taken with an 8mm fisheye lens.
What’s it like inside the ISS? Here’s a 7-minute video tour (warning: the first 2.5 minutes include annoying music):
You can see a cool video of where the ISS is right now and what the astronauts would see if the weather were clear. NASA’s also has an official site that keeps you up to date about the shuttle mission.
And here’s a 21-second video of the aurora borealis taken from the ISS. Fantastic!
Finally, what would a space station be these days without Twitter? ISS commander Scott Kelly has a Twitter feed; he often posts pictures of Earth taken from the Station, asking viewers to identify the location.
h/t: Matthew Cobb