The last few weeks have been extremly exciting for space aficionados. The Phoenix probe made it’s spectacular landing on Mars – spectacular because this spaceship is so heavy that parachutes were not enough to slow it down and NASA had to go for a rocket assisted descent. Spectacular is also a good word to describe the photos from phoenix’ landing shot by the HiRise spacecraft – see here and here (and while you’re at it read also the rest of Emily Lakdawallas blog at the planetary society website). Already Phoenix is returning fantastic images, including a pic of what might very well be ice on the martian surface (Martianchronicles is a great ressource, too). Water, frozen or not, is a prerequisite for life – either for life that has once existed on Mars, or for life (i.e. humans) that wants to permanently settle there.
STS 124 (Shuttle Discovery) has delivered the other half of the Japanese Kibo Laboratory to the International Space Station – I guess especially Akihiho Hoshide was bursting with pride when the lab opened for business on wednesday.
On other news we learned new stuff about the shape of our galaxy – apparently the milky way has only two major spiral arms (not four like previously believed), and how tightly the arms of a spiral galaxy are wrapped around their center seems to be in part determined by the mass of their central black hole.
ESA has some fascinating images of the planet Venus (taken by Venus Express), and of course we still have Messenger, Kaguya, New Horizon etc.
And yet all these amazing feats and findings combined do not get as much attention as a broken toilet onboard the ISS. I don’t know if this says more about the media or about their audiences, but apparently the assembled wonders of the solar system are less newsworthy than the fact that some astronauts have to (figuratively) pee into a bottle for a few days. I cannot say how much this bugs me.
I have a wonderful book about the Apollo moon landings that was published in the 1970s by the now defunct Kosmos Science magazine – without any “did they really do it or was it a hoax”-bullshit the author discussed the technical challenges and the fantastic success of the Apollo programme. Only at the end of the book he reflected a bit on the public reactions to the space programme. He wondered if the attention span of the public had been already overreached, and asked why NASA deemed it necessary to make publicity stunts like a bible reading from a spaceship, when the mere fact that people where flying around the earth in a spaceship was amazing and marvelous all by itself.
But hey man, at least it was the bible. I mean, there is no god, but the bible is a culturally significant document with an undeniable impact on society. But these days even listening to bible thumping is considered to much of an intellectual effort for the audience – it seems the media prefers quite literaly to serve us shit instead.