Farewell Spitzer - Our Infrared Blindspot


  1. Farewell Spitzer - our infrared blindspot
  2. The homemade astronaut
  3. "It's the saddest moment of my life"

Current events

It's so sad... NASA announced they're shutting down the Spitzer Space Telescope in January 2020, not because the telescope is no longer operational, but because its operating costs (a measly $11 million in 2018) outweigh the science it's still generating. If you're unfamiliar with Spitzer, think of it as the Hubble of the infrared spectrum. Spitzer and Hubble are 2 of the 4 NASA Great Observatories, the other two being the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

NASA's 4 Great Observatories and their respective wavelengths covered. Chandra and Hubble are still operational, Compton was deorbited in 2000

Although NASA searched for private entities to take over Spitzer once funding ran out, no one stepped forward. The problem is Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. When it launches in 2021, it'll be by far the most advanced orbital telescope we've ever deployed, but it's so far over budget that it's eating up the budget of NASA's astrophysics division. JWST will cover the visible spectrum down to the mid-infrared, but between Spitzer's retirement and JWST's eventual launch, we'll basically be infrared-blind

Just this past week Spitzer captured this gorgeous infrared mosaic (read more here)

As spectacular as standalone infrared pictures like the above are, the real scientific beauty comes from composite images across multiple light wavelengths, such as the below image combining visible, infrared, and X-ray captures of the same galaxy. But all in all, Spitzer has been a resounding success - it was launched in 2003 and planned to last only 2.5 years, so surviving until 2020 is an incredible feat of engineering!

Today I learned

This awesome story was sent to me by an analyst in the real estate division of the investment bank I work at (I myself cover the healthcare sector) - it's about an anthropology professor at Portland State University named Cameron Smith, who's constructing his very own spacesuit at the bargain price of \$70,000 (for reference, NASA's current spacesuit costs \$12 million bucks a pop! Learn more here

His passion project began as a scuba suit retrofitted with thermal long johns and cooling hoses - now his homemade suit circulates air, removes carbon dioxide, and includes communications equipment. Smith regularly tests his suits on high altitude balloon flights, risking his life flying far higher than any commercial airplane! Learn more about him here - his journey has been so inspiring it was featured by Great Big Story on Youtube

This week in space history

On June 3, 1965, Ed White performed the first American spacewalk on Gemini 4, floating around his spacecraft for 20 minutes while in orbit. This feat had already been accomplished by Alexei Leonov and the Soviet Union two months prior, so Gemini 4 was crucial in helping the Americans overcome their early deficit in the Space Race. It was also NASA's first multi-day mission, proving the spaceflight endurance we'd need to land on the Moon

Ed White floating blissfully in orbit on Gemini 4

When Mission Control told him it was time to come back inside, White tried taking more pictures as an excuse to stay out longer, and even his fellow astronaut James McDivitt was coaxing him back in. When White finally returned to the capsule, he lamented "it's the saddest moment of my life"

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