After traveling to the edge of space this week, William Shatner and the crew of the NS-18 mission made it back to Earth safe and sound. This was the second time Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle flew to space with a crew aboard, and as with the inaugural flight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos decided to enlist some star power! Who better than the man known to millions of fans as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise?
At 90 years of age, the veteran actor of television, film, and stage is the oldest person to fly to space. The previous record was held by 82-year old veteran aviator Wally Funk, who went to space as part of the first crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20th. Along with his fellow crewmembers, Shatner’s experienced what it’s like to go to space for the first time from the company’s Launch Site One facility in West Texas.
Freddie Mercury, the frontman from the rock band Queen, is getting his name etched in the night sky. No, they’re not naming another planet after him. That would be confusing. Instead, an asteroid will bear the name of the iconic singer.
If you don’t know much about the band Queen, there’s a connection between them and astronomy. Brian May, the band’s guitarist, holds a PhD. in astrophysics. He studied reflected light from interplanetary dust and the velocity of dust in the plane of the Solar System. But when Queen became mega-popular in the 70’s, he abandoned astrophysics, for the most part.
Brian May is still involved with space, and has an interest in asteroids. He helped the ESA launch Asteroid Day in June 2016, to raise awareness of the threat that asteroids pose to Earth. So there’s the connection.
As for the asteroid that will bear Freddie Mercury’s name, it was previously named Asteroid 17473, but will now be known as Asteroid FreddieMercury 17473. It’s a rock about 3.5 km in diameter in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Today would have been Freddie’s 70th birthday, if he were still alive. So this naming is a fitting commemorative gesture. According to the International Astronomical Union, who handles the naming of objects in space, the naming of the asteroid is in honour of “Freddie’s outstanding influence in the world.”
Brian May explains things in this video:
We’re mostly science-minded people, so you may be skeptical of Freddie’s influence in the world. He was no scientist, that’s for sure. But if you lived through Queen’s heyday, as I did, you can sort of see it.
Freddie Mercury was a very polished entertainer, with a great voice and fantastic stage presence. He mastered the theatrical side of performing as a rock frontman, and his voice spanned four octaves. The music he made with his band-members in Queen was very original. Mercury was a creative force, that’s for sure.
Check out “Killer Queen” from 1974.
Plus, William Shatner (aka Captain James Tiberius Kirk) clearly had a warm spot in his heart for Freddie and the rest of Queen. How else to explain his version of Queen’s timeless tune “Bohemian Rhapsody?”
If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of Freddie Mercury and Queen, I don’t know what is.
The asteroid that will bear Freddie Mercury’s name was discovered by Belgian astronomer Henri Debehogne in 1991. It travels an elliptical path around the Sun, and never comes closer than 350 million km to Earth. It isn’t very reflective, so only powerful telescopes can see it. But there it’ll be, for anyone with a powerful enough telescope to look with, as long as human civilization lasts.
Freddie Mercury isn’t the first entertainer to have something in space bear his name. In fact, he’s not even the first member of Queen to have that honor. An asteroid first seen in 1998 now bears the name Asteroid 52665 Brianmay, in honor of the guitarist from Queen.
Other musicians and singers who’ve had space rocks named after them include the Beatles, Enya, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Yes, and Bruce Springsteen. Authors Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov, and Douglas Adams and the characters Don Quixote, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson also have the honor.
As for the rock itself, Oxford astrophysics professor Chris Lintott told the Guardian, “I think it’s wonderful to name an asteroid after Freddie Mercury. Pleasingly, it’s on a slightly eccentric orbit about the sun, just as the man himself was.”
Freddie died in 1991 from complications from AIDS, but his music still lives on. Maybe Asteroid FreddieMercury 17473 will help us remember him.
Ah, the nerdy joys of living in the 21st century! Chris Hadfield, an astronaut on board the International Space Station and William Shatner, who portrayed someone in space, were able to talk to each other live. After Captain Kirk opened hailing frequencies, Hadfield replied — using some Star Trek sound effects. Needless to say, when science fiction and reality collide like this, it is an epic day in nerdom.
View of the Andes from the ISS on Feb. 4, 2013 (NASA)
Even though he’s a busy guy, Expedition 34 astronaut Chris Hadfield still takes the time to share some of his amazing views from orbit aboard the ISS. One of his most recent photos is this stunning view of Andean ridges rising up from a blue haze of Pacific fog, the arc of Earth’s horizon in the distance. Gorgeous! (Edit: according to a labeled image by Peter Caltner, this is looking southeast into northern Argentina – no Pacific in view. So the haze is coming from the valley, not the ocean.)
Shared on Twitter at 6:25 p.m. EST, this has quickly become one of Hadfield’s more popular images — and for good reason. In fact sometimes it’s hard to keep up with this high-flying Canadian, who easily posts half a dozen or more photos from all across the world every day on Twitter, Facebook, and his Google+ profile (which is managed by his son Evan.) But since the ISS goes around the globe 16 times a day, there’s certainly no shortage of sights for Chris and the Exp. 34 crew!
Check out a few more of Chris Hadfield’s recent photos below:
The Mississippi delta deposits “the soil of America’s heartland” into the Gulf of Mexico (NASA)
“It’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s a river in South America!” tweeted Hadfield. (Actually it’s looking west along the Rio São Francisco river in Brazil.) NASA
Chesapeake Bay from orbit. “You can even see the causeway,” Hadfield noted. (NASA)
On Feb. 2, Hadfield took this photo of storm clouds over Africa. “My breath was taken away,” he wrote. (NASA)
Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario, “Canada’s most populous city” (NASA)
Want to see more of Chris Hadfield’s images from orbit? Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and over on Google+. (Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself changing your desktop background a lot more often!)
And for even more space adventures, tune in to the CSA website on February 7 at 10:30 a.m. EST when Col. Hadfield will have a live chat with William Shatner, building upon their brief (but immensely popular) impromptu web conversation from last month. He’ll also be taking questions from “space tweeps” on-site at CSA.
Chris Hadfield’s response to William Shatner got quite a bit of attention on Twitter
You know that you’re living in a very special point in time when you can watch a man who became famous playing a starship captain on television send a tweet to a man who’s actually working in a spaceship orbiting the Earth — and get an amusing response back.
Which is exactly what happened earlier today when William Shatner got a reply from Chris Hadfield, currently part of the Expedition 34 crew aboard the ISS. For many people Shatner was the first starship captain remembered from TV in the late ’60s, and in a couple of months Chris Hadfield will become the first Canadian astronaut to assume command of the International Space Station.
(Shatner, by the way, is also from Canada. Hmm…maybe there’s something more going on here…)
Video Caption: Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, actor William Shatner, guides viewers through the video titled, “Grand Entrance,” showing NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Lab mission from atmospheroic entry through descent, and after landing on the Red Planet on August 6 2012.