50 Years After Taking Over Earth, The Beatles’ Space Invasion Is Well Underway

Credit: Inside Science News Service and Amanda Page

As the Beatles strummed the opening notes to “All My Loving” on the Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago yesterday, few could have imagined how wide-ranging that music would be. The broadcast gave birth to a global music phenomenon. And like all TV broadcasts of the day, the music carried out into space at the speed of light.

The Inside Science infographic above (see below for the full version) traces the history of the Beatles in relation to how far the broadcast travelled in that time. While those waves were washing out, er, across the universe, the Beatles have been taking over human space exploration in other ways. Below the jump are seven of the more memorable moments.

Rocking The Space Station With ‘Back at the ISS’

Technically speaking, this isn’t the Beatles, but it sure was inspired by them. ‘Back at the ISS’ — the remake of ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ by Dutch band Love & Mersey — is about a billion shades of awesome. Not only because of the lyrics, not only because of the high-energy space-themed video, but also because they sang in three languages. The song was released in March 2012 as a “rocking musical greeting” to Andre Kuipers (a European Space Agency astronaut) and the rest of the Expedition 30 crew days before the docking of the Automated Transfer Vehicle Edoardo Amaldi that month.

Beatles In The Sky With … Asteroids

Yup, there’s an asteroid named after the Beatles. Oh yeah, there are also asteroids named after members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Good Morning Good Morning wake-up calls

The Beatles have been used to wake up several shuttle crews, and also the Curiosity rover. Explained Eric Blood, Curiosity’s surface systems engineer: “She tends to be less cranky with a good wakeup song.”

Playing (And Drinking?) English Tea In Space

Here’s Paul McCartney in 2005 casually playing two tunes to the Expedition 12 crew — NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev — during a live concert. It’s a bit hard to tell who had bigger stars in their eyes after the experience. “I told the audience ‘I think I need about 20 minutes to go have a lie down,’ McCartney stated in a NASA release from the time. “What do you do after that? We haven’t stopped talking about it since.”

Roll Over Beethoven: How The Beatles Almost Made Voyager’s ‘Golden Record’

Remember when scientists announced last year that Voyager 1 entered interstellar space? On board the spacecraft was a Golden Record intended to give aliens a glimpse into what Earth’s life is like. Included were songs from artists ranging from Bach to Blind Willie Johnson, but not the Beatles. They were almost included, though, as astronomer Carl Sagan (who chaired the selection committee) explained in his 1978 book Murmers of Earth. “We wanted to send ‘Here Comes The Sun’ by the Beatles, and all four Beatles gave their approval. But the Beatles did not own the copyright, and the legal status of the piece seemed too murky to risk,” he wrote.

Joining Mr. Mercury’s Light

There are so many earthly memorials to John Lennon after the singer’s untimely death in 1980, but late last year he got an extraterrestrial honor. Lennon was among 10 names approved for craters on the planet Mercury. “It’s unlikely that Mercury’s surface is populated with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, but the famous British musician who coined that phrase now has a physical presence on the planet closest to the Sun,” NASA said.

Sending Love To The Aliens With Jai Guru Deva Om

February 4, 2008 marked the first time NASA beamed any song into deep space, and what better choice than “Across The Universe”? The date marked the 40th anniversary of when the Beatles recorded the song, and came around the same time as the 45th anniversary of NASA’s Deep Space Network and the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first satellite, Explorer 1, among other milestones. In a statement, McCartney asked to “send my love to the aliens.”

What Beatles milestones in space have we missed? Let us know in the comments.

ISS Expedition 31 Crew Returns Safely to Earth

We’re sure going to miss Don Pettit’s and Andre Kuipers’ reports and images from the International Space Station. Pettit, Kuipers and Russian Commander Oleg Kononenko undocked from the International Space Station and returned safely to Earth on July 1, wrapping up their six-and-a-half-month mission in orbit.

They landed in their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft in Kazakhstan at 08:14 a.m. UT (2:14 p.m. local time) after undocking from the space station’s Rassvet module at 04:47 UT. This video shows a great view of the Soyuz slowly drifting down (it’s interesting to see the parachute undulate, looking almost like a jellyfish!) and then visible are the breaking thrusters firing just a second before the hard landing.

The trio originally arrived at the station back on Dec. 23, 2011, and during this mission spent a total of 193 days in space, 191 of which were aboard the station.

During their expedition, the crew supported more than 200 scientific investigations involving more than 400 researchers around the world. The studies ranged from integrated investigations of the human cardiovascular and immune systems to fluid, flame and robotic research. They also were part of the team that successfully berthed the first commercial spacecraft to visit the ISS, the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Before leaving the station, Kononenko handed over command of Expedition 32 to the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Gennady Padalka, who remains aboard the station with NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Revin. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will join them July 17. Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide are scheduled to launch July 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

During Expedition 31, Pettit used household objects aboard the station to perform a variety of unusual physics experiments for the video series “Science Off the Sphere,” like his recent video showing water balloons in space. Through these demonstrations, Pettit showed more than a million Internet viewers how space affects scientific principles.

On June 25, Pettit reached a milestone: spending one cumulative year in space, combining his time in orbit on Expedition 6, Expedition 30/31 and the STS-126 space shuttle Endeavour flight to the station in November 2008. Pettit now has 370 days in space, placing him fourth among U.S. space fliers for the longest time in space.

Kuipers conducted over 50 scientific experiments for ESA, and shared, almost daily, images and reports of his stay in space. The next ESA astronaut to board the Space Station is Luca Parmitano of Italy, who will fly on Soyuz TMA-09M in 2013 as member of Expedition 36/37.

Lightning From Space!

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Here’s an amazing shot of a flash of lightning within storm clouds over west Africa, captured from orbit by ESA astronaut André Kuipers aboard the ISS.

Lightning is a common sight from Space Station, creating a constant light show for the astronaut and cosmonaut crew members. On average, lightning strikes the ground somewhere on Earth 100 times each second, and there are 5 to 10 times as many cloud-to-cloud flashes as there are ground strikes. That adds up to about 40 to 80 million flashes of lightning every day around the world! Considering that the ISS orbits Earth 16 times a day — and from quite a high viewpoint — it stands to reason that lightning is spotted quite often.

So although it may not be rare, lightning still makes for dramatic photos — especially to those of us here on the ground!

For more information on André and his ongoing long-duration PromISSe mission, visit the ESA site here.

Image credit: ESA/NASA

Tomorrow’s Transit Will be the First Photographed From Space

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ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers captured this stunning image of Earth’s limb with Venus shining brightly above on the morning of June 4, 2012. While it’s a fantastic shot in its own right, it’s just a warm-up for tomorrow’s big transit event, which will be watched by millions of people all over the world — as well as a select few aboard the ISS!

While many people will be taking advantage of this last opportunity to see Venus pass across the face of the Sun — a relatively rare event that’s only happened six times since the invention of the telescope, and won’t occur again until 2117 — the crew of the International Space Station is preparing to become the first astronaut to photograph it from space!

Transit of Venus by NASA's TRACE spacecraft Image credit: NASA/LMSAL
Transit of Venus in 2004 by NASA's TRACE spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/LMSAL

Expedition 31 flight engineer Don Pettit knew he’d be up in orbit when this transit takes place, and he went prepared.

“I’ve been planning this for a while,” says Pettit. “I knew the Transit of Venus would occur during my rotation, so I brought a solar filter with me when my expedition left for the ISS in December 2011.”

(See more of Don Pettit’s in-orbit photography: Timelapse of a Moonrise Seen From The ISS)

Even though the 2004 transit happened while the ISS was manned, the crew then didn’t have filters through with to safely view it.

Pettit will be shooting the transit through the windows of the cupola. He’ll even be removing a scratch-resistant layer first, in order to get the sharpest, clearest images possible — only the third time that’s ever been done.

Don’s images should be — no pun intended — brilliant.

“I’ll be using a high-end Nikon D2Xs camera and an 800mm lens with a full-aperture white light solar filter,” he says.

And if you want to follow along with the transit as it’s seen from down here on Earth, be sure to tune in to Universe Today’s live broadcast on Tuesday, June 5 at 5 p.m. EDT where Fraser Cain will be hosting a marathon event along with guests Pamela Gay, Phil Plait (a.k.a. the Bad Astronomer) and more as live views are shared from around the world.

Unless you plan on being around in 2117, this will be your last chance to witness a transit of Venus!

Read more about Don Pettit’s photo op on NASA Science News here.

Incredible Dragon Approach and Berthing – Image Gallery from Andre Kuipers aboard ISS

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On Friday, May 25, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) made space history when they deftly reached out with the stations robotic arm and grabbed the approaching SpaceX Dragon resupply carrier and then parked the first ever commercial cargo craft at an open port on the massive lab complex while orbiting some 407 kilometers (253 miles) above Earth – check out the gallery here !

Working in tandem, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers snared the Dragon craft as it was drifting in free space about 10 m (32 ft) away with the 18 m (58 ft) long Canadian robot arm at 9:56 a.m. EDT and connected the first privately built capsule to a parking spot on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony Node 2 module on the ISS at 12:02 p.m. EDT on May 25.

Dragon over the Rocky Mountains. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA

Here’s a gallery of images from Andre Kuipers showing the Dragon’s rendezvous, grappling and docking at the million pound Earth orbiting space station currently inhabited by a crew of 6 astronauts and cosmonauts working as a united team from the US, Russia and the Netherlands and representing humanities tenuous foothold at the High Frontier.

All these photos were taken on May 25, 2012 using a Nikon D2Xs.

The crew ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time on Saturday, May 26.

Over the next few days, the crew will unload the living provisions, supplies and equipment loaded aboard the Dragon capsule and then refill it with science samples and trash for the return trip to Earth.

Dragon will undock from the ISS on May 31 and splash down hours later off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean.

And through May 31, you can spot and photograph the Dragon/ISS combo orbiting overhead – read my article here for further details.

Approach to 10 metres. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Manoeuvring Dragon to the docking port. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Like this it looks a bit like a model from a 70's sci-fi film. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Dragon and Earth. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Teamwork in the Cupola during Dragon approach - Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers. Credit: ESA/NASA

Dragon is the world’s first commercial resupply vehicle. It was launched flawlessly atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 booster on May 22 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Ken Kremer

How to Capture a Dragon in Space

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With the upcoming historic launch of the SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, astronauts in orbit have been getting ready for the first commercial spacecraft that will bring supplies to the station. Astronauts Don Pettit and André Kuipers will be manually capturing and berthing the Dragon capsule, using the ISS’s Canadarm2. Originally, current station commander Dan Burbank was to be the main arm operator, but with the delay in Dragon’s launch (it was originally scheduled for February 2012), Burbank will already be back on Earth by the time Dragon reaches the station, currently scheduled for May 3. So now, Pettit and Kuipers have had to take over the duties and learn their new jobs while in space. Without the high-tech simulators that NASA has at Johnson Space Center, how do the astronauts prepare and practice for this important event?

“We have a really neat capability here on Station,” Pettit said during a press conference last week. “I have it set up all the time, so I wake up in the morning and have a bag of coffee in my mouth and a cinnamon scone in one hand and flying the simulator with the other.”

The crew actually has two ways to practice for Dragon’s arrival.

“One is actually flying (practicing with) the Canadarm, which is the world’s best trainer,” Pettit said, “and then on station we have two space station computers which double as an Arm simulator, and it has a full set of the Arm hand controllers – the setup, which we call Robot allows us to fly track and capture trajectories just as if we were in the simulators in Houston.”

Initially Burbank would have been the main arm officer, with Pettit and Kuipers assisting. Now, Pettit and Kuipers will have to complete the task themselves, with the two of them doing all the things that the three of them were originally trained to do.

For the capture and berthing, Pettit and Kuipers will be in the Cupola, with Pettit as prime operator and Kuipers as second arm operator. “We will have arm operation in the (Destiny) lab as a ‘hot backup’ just in case of contingencies, and we can activate it there if needed.”

The two astronauts will use the Station’s Canadarm2 to first grab the spacecraft and then maneuver it into place to mate with the Harmony module’s Earth-facing docking port.

Pettit said the on-orbit training has been invaluable. “It is really good to have that type of capability,” he said.

The following animation from the Canadian Space Agency shows just how complex it is to capture a Dragon in space.

SpaceX’s launch and Dragon’s arrival will be the premiere test flight in NASA’s new strategy to resupply the ISS with privately developed rockets and cargo carriers under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative. Even though it is technically a est flight, NASA isn’t about to pass up an opportunity to send supplies to the station. Dragon will carry about nearly 521 kg (1,150 pounds) of cargo, mainly food and some spare parts for the ISS. When Dragon departs, the station crew will load nearly 680 kg (1,500 pounds) of cargo to be sent back to Earth, since the Dragon capsule won’t burn up in the atmosphere like other supply ships — it will be recovered in the ocean.

Amazing Panorama of Western Europe at Night from Space Station

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An amazing panorama revealing Western Europe’s ‘Cities at Night’ with hardware from the stations robotic ‘hand’ and solar arrays in the foreground was captured by the crew in a beautiful new image showing millions of Earth’s inhabitants from the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

The sweeping panoramic vista shows several Western European countries starting with the British Isles partially obscured by twin solar arrays at left, the North Sea at left center, Belgium and the Netherlands (Holland) at bottom center, and the Scandinavian land mass at right center by the hand, or end effector, of the Canadian-built ISS robotic arm known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) or Canadarm2.

European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers gazing at Earth from the Cupola dome of the ISS

Coincidentally European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers from Holland (photo at left) is currently aboard the ISS, soaring some 400 kilometers (250 miles) overhead.

The panoramic image was taken by the ISS residents on January 22, 2012.

The Expedition 30 crew of six men currently serving aboard the ISS (photo below) hail from the US, Russia and Holland.

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank is the commander of Expedition 30 and recently snapped awesome photos of Comet Lovejoy.

“Cities at Night” – Here’s a portion of a relevant ISS Blog post from NASA astronaut Don Pettit on Jan. 27, 2012:

“Cities at night are different from their drab daytime counterparts. They present a most spectacular display that rivals a Broadway marquee. And cities around the world are different. Some show blue-green, while others show yellow-orange. Some have rectangular grids, while others look like a fractal-snapshot from Mandelbrot space.”

“Patterns in the countryside are different in Europe, North America, and South America. In space, you can see political boundaries that show up only at night. As if a beacon for humanity, Las Vegas is truly the brightest spot on Earth. Cities at night may very well be the most beautiful unintentional consequence of human activity,” writes NASA astronaut Don Pettit currently residing aboard the ISS.

Comet Lovejoy on 22 Dec. 2011 from the International Space Station. Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth’s horizon in this nighttime image photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, onboard the International Space Station on Dec. 22, 2011. Credit: NASA/Dan Burbank
Expedition 30 Crew: Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, commander; and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, flight engineer. Pictured from the left (back row) are Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin; along with European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers and NASA astronaut Don Pettit, all flight engineers. Photo credit: NASA and International Space Station partners

A Space Moonrise (and the PromISSe of a New Future)

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“The moon looks the same from the ISS as it does on Earth. Only we see it rise and set again and again.”

ESA astronaut André Kuipers tweeted this message earlier today, accompanied by the wonderful photo above showing a distant Moon resting along Earth’s limb. The solar panels of the docked Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft are seen in the foreground.

André arrived at the Space Station on December 23 along with Expedition 30 crewmates Oleg Kononeko and Don Pettit.

In addition to conducting over 45 experiments for ESA, NASA and JAXA during his five months in orbit, André’s PromISSe mission will help educate children about math, science, engineering, technology, and the benefits – and challenges – of working in space.

The program will also encourage the next generation of space explorers to stay fit with the second edition of the international fitness initiative Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut.

A medical doctor, André serves as flight engineer aboard the ISS and will be highly involved in docking procedures for the new Dragon (SpaceX) and Cygnus (Orbital Sciences) capsules as part of NASA’s next-generation commercial spaceflight program.

Read ESA’s PromISSe mission blog here, and follow André Kuipers on Twitter @astro_andre for more Expedition 30 mission updates.