This Is the Very First Photo of Earth From Space

These days we see photos of our planet taken from space literally every day. Astronauts living aboard the International Space Station, weather and Earth-observing satellites in various orbits, even distant spacecraft exploring other planets in our Solar System… all have captured images of Earth from both near and far. But there was a time not that long ago when there were no pictures of Earth from space, when a view of our planet against the blackness of the cosmos was limited to the imagination of dreamers and artists and there was nothing but the Moon orbiting our world.

On this day in 1946, before Apollo, before Mercury, even before Sputnik, that was no longer the case.

The image above shows the first photo captured of Earth from space, taken by a camera mounted to a V-2 rocket that was launched from the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Taken to the United States by the dozen from Germany after the end of World War II, the V-2 (for “Vergeltungswaffe 2”) missiles were used by the Army to improve on their own rocket designs and also by scientists who were permitted to fill their payloads with experiments.

On October 24, 1946, a V-2 was launched from the Missile Range while a mounted 35mm movie camera captured images every 1.5 seconds. It reached an altitude of 65 miles before crashing back to Earth and, while the camera was destroyed on impact, the film cassette survived. The grainy photo seen above was on that roll, one of our first views of Earth from above the atmosphere.

(Okay, technically there’s still atmosphere above 65 miles — even the ISS orbiting at 260-plus statute miles has to give itself a boost to compensate for drag now and again — but the official aeronautical delineation of “space” begins at about 62 miles, or 100 km: the Kármán Line. V-2 #13 passed that mark in 1946 by 3 miles.)

In the following years more V-2 rockets would be launched, some reaching heights of 100 miles, giving us many more detailed views of our planet as it looks from space and prompting Clyde Holliday, the APL engineer who developed the mounted film cameras, to envision that “the entire land area of the globe might be mapped in this way.”

Assembled panorama of V-2 images taken from an altitude of 60 miles in 1948 (JHUAPL/US Navy)
Assembled panorama of V-2 images taken from an altitude of 60 miles in 1948 (JHUAPL/US Navy)

Now, 68 years later, seeing pictures of Earth from space are a much more common, if no less amazing, occurrence. But it all started with that one launch of a missile designed for war but repurposed for science.

Read more here in an article for Smithsonian’s Air & Space by Tony Reichhardt, and watch a contemporary news reel below about the 1946 V-2 launch:

Source: Air & Space

Morpheus Flies Higher and Farther Than Ever

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NASA’s Project Morpheus nailed it again today with yet another successful free flight of their prototype lander, soaring higher, faster, and farther than ever before! Go Morpheus!

The FF9 test, which occurred at 3:41 p.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center, saw the 2,300-lb (1000-kg) Morpheus craft rise to a height of 580 feet (177 meters) and travel 837 feet (255 m) downrange at 30 mph (48 km/h). After the 85-second flight the craft set down almost exactly on target — only about a foot (.3 m) off.

During today’s test flight the oxygen-and-methane-propelled Morpheus could have cleared the Washington Monument.

The next step is to integrate the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) sensors, which allow the craft to identify dangerous terrain and determine the best route to a safe landing — all by itself. This capability will be invaluable for future landings on unexplored surfaces on the Moon and Mars.

“It’s never been done,” said Dr. Jon Olansen, project manager of the Morpheus Project, in 2012. “We’ve never landed of the moon or Mars with real-time hazard detection and avoidance. Most of the Mars missions use air bags. They go where they go, they roll them and they stop… whatever comes, comes.”

Check out the latest incredible free flight video above, and learn more about Project Morpheus here.

Source: NASA

UPDATE: Here’s the “official” NASA video of FF9, showing some fantastic camera views from the craft itself:
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Heavy-Lift Rocket Launch Seen from Space

We all know what a big rocket launch looks like from the ground, but this is what it looks like from above the ground — 260 miles above the ground! The photo above was captured from the Space Station earlier today by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, and it shows the contrail from a heavy-lift Ariane 5 that had just launched from ESA’s spaceport on the French Guiana coast: flight VA217, Arianespace’s milestone 250th launch carrying the ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus satellites into orbit.

Rick shared his view on Twitter with his nearly 39,000 followers, and now less than an hour later, we’re sharing it here. (Isn’t technology wonderful?)

For a more “natural” look, here it is reversed:

Rick Mastracchio's photo of the Ariane 5 launch, rotated 180 degrees.
Rick Mastracchio’s photo of the Ariane 5 launch, rotated 180 degrees.

The ISS was in the process of passing over Costa Rica when the image was taken. The rocket launched from Kourou, French Guiana — about 2,175 miles (3,500 km) away. What a view!

For this and more great images from orbit follow Rick on Twitter @AstroRM.

Watch a video of the VA217 launch below:

The 250th launch performed by Arianespace lifted off from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana, delivering a dual-satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit: ABS-2 for global satellite operator ABS, and Athena-Fidus for the defense/homeland security needs of France and Italy. The flight lasted just over 32 minutes. (Source)

Rocket Frog, Space Bat, and Now… a Launch Armadillo?


At 4:10 a.m. EDT this morning an Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-3) communications satellite into orbit. The early morning launch may have gone unwatched except by the most determined space fans (like this guy) but it definitely didn’t go unnoticed by one particular creature: an armadillo, spooked out of hiding by the thundering Atlas V engines and caught on GoPro camera by Matthew Travis.

Watch the video above — or better yet, go to YouTube and watch in fullscreen HD — and pay attention to the foreground field around the 2-minute mark… you’ll see something running across the grass toward the exhaust cloud. Sure looks like an armadillo to me!* (And yes, they’re that quick!)

Armadillos are ubiquitous across much of the southern U.S. and it’s not unusual to spot one on the Space Coast — but they’re not normally included in launch videos!

This little guy joins the ranks of unlucky critters caught in the way of rocket launches, the most recent being an amphibian sent airborne by the launch of NASA’s LADEE mission from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Prior to that, a freetail bat was spotted clinging to the STS-119 external fuel tank during countdown on March 15, 2009 (and then there was the turkey vulture struck by a rising shuttle stack… ugh.)

The fates of those last animals most likely weren’t good, but who knows… maybe this armadillo had better luck. They’re pretty tough.

Google+ HT and video credit: Matthew Travis. Check out Matthew’s site Zero-G News here and follow him on Twitter @spacearium.

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ALSO: the Antares/Cygnus launch at 10:58 a.m. EDT from Wallops today also had an animal visitor: a bald eagle, which had happened to be perched atop one of the four lightning towers. See photos here. (Tip of the feather to Tom Wolf.)

*Update 9/19: Some (like launch photographer Ben Cooper) have suggested that this might be a hog rather than an armadillo. Both can be found in the area and can run pretty fast, and considering its apparent size in a wide-angle lens that may be the case. Hard to tell exactly, but it’s certainly got a close-up view of the launch!

Russian Rocket Fails During Launch, Explodes After Liftoff

At 2:38 UTC Tuesday morning (local time) a Russian Proton-M heavy lift rocket carrying three GLONASS navigation/positioning satellites exploded shortly after lifting off from the pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The event was captured on a live Russian news feed, seen above.

No word yet on whether there were any injuries or not according to NASASpaceflight.com, no casualties have been reported but the Proton rocket debris may have landed near another pad used by ILS (International Launch Services) — a U.S./Russian joint venture for commercial launches.

According to Anatoly Zak at  RussianSpaceWeb.com, “since the emergency cutoff of the first stage engines is blocked during the first 42 seconds of the flight to ensure that the rocket clears the launch complex, the vehicle continued flying with its propulsion system firing practically until the impact on the ground.”

Reminder: space travel is (still) hard.

Update: Watch another view of the failed launch below:

The shockwave at 1:01… yikes.

First-Ever Video of an ATV Vehicle Into Orbit!

Yesterday, June 5, the European Space Agency launched their ATV-4 Albert Einstein cargo vessel from their spaceport in French Guiana. Liftoff occurred at 5:52 p.m. EDT (2152 GMT), and in addition to over 7 tons of supplies for the ISS a special payload was also included: the DLR-developed STEREX experiment, which has four cameras attached to the Ariane 5ES rocket providing a continuous 3D view of the mission, from liftoff to separation to orbit and, eventually, docking to the Station on June 15.

The dramatic video above is the first-ever of an ATV vehicle going into free-flight orbit — check it out!

“The highlight of the STEREX deployment will be observing the settling of ATV-4 in orbit. STEREX for this event will include three-dimensional video sequences to study the dynamic behavior of the spacecraft during the separation phase. This opens up for the ATV project engineers an entirely new way to monitor the success of their work and also to gain important new experiences for the future.”DLR blog (translated)

If you look along the horizon at around 5:20, you can make out the plume from the launch.

At 20,190 kg (44, 511 lbs) ATV Albert Einstein is the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Ariane. Read more here.

(HT to Daniel Scuka at ESA.)

Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft: 46 Years and Still Soaring High


In just a couple of days a Soyuz rocket will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko within the TMA-07M capsule on a two-day trip to the ISS. While many improvements have been made to the Soyuz rockets and spacecraft since the first launch in 1966, the bottom line is that the Soyuz have become the world’s most used launch vehicles due to their consistent performance and relatively low cost.

Here, CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about the Soyuz, briefly describing the strengths of the Russian technology that will once again take him and fellow Expedition 34/35 crew members to the ISS, where in March of next year he will become the first Canadian to take command of the Station.

“This is a safe and reliable and proven way to leave the Earth, and each successive Soyuz is different; each one has small changes. The role of the astronaut is to learn those small changes… and learn to apply them.”

– Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

The T version of the Soyuz craft began flying manned missions in 1980 and in 1986 the TM versions were transporting crews to Mir. The TMA upgrade addressed previous astronaut/cosmonaut height restrictions and permits the Soyuz to be used as a lifeboat for ISS crews, if necessary.

Find out more about the long history of the Soyuz spacecraft here, and read more about today’s Soyuz rollout here.

Video: CSA. Inset image: NASA/Carla Cioffi

This is Awesome: U.S. Space Team’s “Up Goer Five”

xkcd presents a Saturn V schematic using the 1,000 most used English words (xkcd.com)

Randall Munroe at xkcd did it again, this time with an illustration of a Saturn V described using only the 1,000 — er, ten hundred — words people use most often. The result is amusing, insightful and, as always, undeniably awesome.

Check out the Saturn-sized full frame comic below.

(And remember, if the end where the fire comes out of  “starts pointing toward space you are having a bad problem and will not go to space today.”)

Source: xkcd.com.

Exploded Rocket Fragments Could Endanger ISS and Future Missions

The International Space Station will have to look out for new debris from an exploded Russian rocket (NASA image)

Traveling through low-Earth orbit just got a little more dangerous; a drifting Russian Breeze M (Briz-M) rocket stage that failed to execute its final burns back on August 6 has recently exploded, sending hundreds of shattered fragments out into orbit.

Russia and the U.S. Defense Department (JFCC-Space) have stated that they are currently tracking 500 pieces of debris from the disintegrated Breeze M, although some sources are saying there are likely much more than that.

After a successful liftoff via Proton rocket on August 6 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Breeze M upper stage’s engines shut off after only 7 seconds as opposed to the normal 18 minutes, leaving its fuel tanks filled with 10 to 15 tons of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants. Its payloads, the Indonesian Telkom 3 and the Russian Express-MD2 communications satellites, were subsequently deployed into the wrong orbits as the Breeze M computer continued functioning.

Although originally expected to remain intact for at least another year, the rocket stage “violently disintegrated” on October 16. Evidence of the explosion was first observed by astronomer Robert McNaught at Australia’s Siding Springs Observatory, who counted 70 fragments visible within the narrow field-of-view telescope he was using for near-Earth asteroid observations.

The exact cause of the explosion isn’t known — it may have been sparked by an impact with another piece of space junk or the result of stresses caused by the Breeze M’s eccentric orbit, which varied in altitude from 265 to 5,015 kilometers (165 miles to 3,118 miles) with an inclination of 49.9 degrees.

This was the third such breakup of a partially-full Breeze M upper stage in orbit, the previous events having occurred in 2007 and 2010, and yet another Breeze M still remains in orbit after a failed burn in August 2011.

Most of the latest fragments are still in orbit at altitudes ranging from 250 to 5,000 km (155 to 3,100 miles), where they are expected to remain.

“Although some of the pieces have begun to re-enter, most of the debris will remain in orbit for an extended period of time.”

– Jamie Mannina, US State Department spokesperson

According to NASA the debris currently poses no immediate threat to the Space Station although the cloud is “believed not to be insignificant.” Still, according to a post on Zarya.com the Station’s course will periodically take it within the Breeze M debris cloud, and “will sometimes spend several days at a time with a large part of its orbit within the cloud.”

Source: RT.com and SpaceflightNow.com.  Inset image: the Breeze M (Briz-M) upper stage which disintegrated on Oct. 16. (Khrunichev)

NASA’s Colossal Crawler Gets Souped-Up for SLS

Shuttle Discovery riding one of KSC’s crawler-transporters to Launch Pad 39B in June 2005 (NASA)

One of NASA’s two iconic crawler-transporters — the 2,750-ton monster vehicles that have delivered rockets from Saturns to Shuttles to launch pads at Kennedy Space Center for nearly half a century — is getting an upgrade in preparation for NASA’s new future in space flight.

131 feet long, 113 feet wide and with a breakneck top speed of 2 mph (they’re strong, not fast!) NASA’s colossal crawler-transporters are the only machines capable of hauling fully-fueled rockets the size of office buildings safely between the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center. Each 3.5-mile one-way trip takes around 6 hours.

Now that the shuttles are retired and each in or destined for its permanent occupation as a relic of human spaceflight, the crawler-transporters have not been doing much crawling or transporting down the 130-foot-wide, Tennessee river-rock-coated lanes at KSC… but that’s soon to change.

According to an article posted Sept. 5 on TransportationNation.org, crawler 2 (CT-2) is getting a 6-million-pound upgrade, bringing its carrying capacity from 12 million pounds to 18 million. This will allow the vehicle to bear the weight of a new generation of heavy-lift rockets, including NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

Read: SLS: NASA’s Next Big Thing

In addition to carrying capacity CT-2 will also be getting new brakes, exhausts, hydraulics and computer systems.

Part of a $2 billion plan to upgrade Kennedy Space Center for a future with both NASA and commercial spaceflight partners, the crawler will have two of its onboard power engines replaced — but the original generators that power its eight enormous tread belts will remain, having been thoroughly inspected and deemed to be “in pristine condition” according to the article by Matthew Peddie.

When constructed in the early 1960s, the crawler-transporters were the largest tracked vehicles ever made and cost $14 million — that’s about $100 million today. But were they to be built from scratch now they’d likely cost even more, as the US “is no longer the industrial powerhouse it was in the 1960s.”

Still, it’s good to know that these hardworking behemoths will keep bringing rockets to the pad, even after the shuttles have been permanently parked.

“When they built the crawler, they overbuilt it, and that’s a great thing because it’s able to last all these years. I think it’s a great machine that could last another 50 years if it needed to,” said Bob Myers, systems engineer for the crawler.

You can see some really great full panoramas of the CT-2 at the NASATech website, where photographer John O’Connor took three different panoramic views while the transporter was inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC in Highbay 1. There’s even a pan close-up of the giant cleats that move the transporter.

Read the full article on TransportationNation.org here, and find out more about the crawler-transporters here and here.

Since the Apollo years the transporters have traveled an accumulated 2,526 miles, about the same distance as a one-way highway trip from KSC to Los Angeles.

Inset image: the Apollo 11 Saturn V, tower and mobile launch platform atop the crawler-transporter during rollout on May 20, 1969. (NASA) Bottom image: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the site of the CT-2 upgrade in August 2012. Each of the crawler’s 456 tread shoes weighs about one ton. (NASA)