A Windy Venusian Symphony


  1. A very expensive Canadian appendage
  2. When s**t hits the fan!
  3. A windy Venusian symphony

Current events

The International Space Station will likely be retired by the mid to late 2020s. NASA is currently trying to lead the international charge to build the next space station, the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), but this time it’ll be in orbit around the moon. The project is still in preliminary research, but yesterday Canada became the first country to commit a financial contribution to LOP-G, totaling $2bn CAD over 24 years (a measly amount in my opinion, but it’s a start). Canada will develop a smart robotic arm known as the Canadarm3 that will handle maintenance of the Gateway; the current iteration, the Canadarm2, was crucial in assembling the ISS, moving equipment and transporting astronauts around on their spacewalks. 

Canadarm2 capturing a Cygnus 7 resupply capsule, 2016

Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson attached to the Canadarm2 during STS-114, 2005

Today I learned

Most manned rocket launches have something called a Launch Escape System (LES) connected to the crew capsule at the top of the rocket, used to quickly separate the crew and bring them back to Earth’s surface if a rocket launch fails and explodes. This system is typically controlled by a combination of automatic rocket failure detection and a manual abort system that can be activated by the crew commander. A funny quote from the launch of Apollo 8: Commander Frank Borman said he took his hand off the abort lever the entire launch because he’d rather die than make a false abort.

Apollo Saturn V LES pad abort test

Assuming the launch is successful, the LES will be jettisoned away. There have been a few alternatives to LESes in manned rockets. The Soviet Vostok and American Titan II rockets from the 1960s used ejections seats and parachutes in the event of rocket failure, just like how fighter pilots can eject from their aircraft. The Space Shuttle had a few launch abort contingencies, but an LES was never incorporated due to excessive weight and complexity, which was a major design criticism following Challenger. Animation of the abort system of NASA’s new Orion crew vehicle below

This day in space history

Although the US is very proud to be the only country to have successfully landed probes on Mars, the Soviet Union is the only country to have landed probes on Venus, which is impressive given Venus has a surface temperature of ~800 degrees F and a pressure 90x denser than Earth’s. On March 1, 1982, the Soviet Venera 13 entered the Venusian atmosphere and touched down on the surface, taking pictures and collecting data on the soil and the surface conditions. My favorite scientific instrument was the microphone on the probe, which recorded atmospheric wind noises to measure wind speed. This is the first recording of sound on another planet (listen here!). The lander lasted for 127 minutes before being crushed and melted by the atmosphere. 

Venera 13 returned the first color pictures of the surface of Venus, which is obscured from our view by the dense atmosphere

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