Flight by Light


  1. Flight by light
  2. The birthplace of ballistics (hint: Deutschland!)

Current events

Big day for SpaceX yesterday - a Falcon Heavy launched last night, the first ever night launch of a Falcon Heavy and the first time SpaceX recovered the payload fairing (the nose cone that protects the rocket) on its floating net barge! The only hitch... the center booster missed its landing and exploded, but 2 out of 3 booster recoveries ain't bad!

Falcon Heavy at launch | Payload fairing captured by the floating net | Center booster missing and exploding 

The monster rocket lobbed a ton of different objects into orbit, but the one I'm most excited about is the Planetary Society's Lightsail-2, the first spacecraft to be powered solely by light! How is this possible? Like the great ocean voyages of old, which used sailboats powered by wind, Lightsail-2 uses a giant sail to ride the solar wind from the Sun through the cosmos. Quantum physics tells us light is both wave and particle, so photons (particles of light) transfer momentum when they strike the sail. The resulting impulse is small, but with a large enough sail over long enough time, substantial acceleration can be achieved. Lightsail-2 will eventually reach an orbit with a max altitude of 750km

Artist's impression of Lightsail-2 in orbit

The Planetary Society is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting space exploration, founded by astronomer Carl Sagan almost 40 years ago. Donations and dues from its members (like me) helped fund this historic mission, something which I'm extremely proud to have been a part of. If you're interested in joining, check them out here! Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) is the CEO! 

For a great animation on Lightsail-2, click here

Today I learned

I've been vacationing across Germany the last two weeks, and though I enjoyed visiting all the major German cities, there's one site you've never heard of that I'm sad to have missed - Peenemunde. What the heck is Peenemunde? 

The Nazi rocket that launched the Space Age

The Peenemunde Army Research Center was the clandestine Nazi weapons research facility where Wernher von Braun developed the V-2 rocket during WWII, the world's first long range ballistic missile and the first object to reach space! During the height of the war, 12,000 people worked around the clock using the most high-tech facilities available at the time, like supersonic wind tunnels and aeroballistics laboratories. But the facility was bombed by the British (Operation Hydra), forcing the scientists to relocate, and by the time the Soviets arrived it was mostly abandoned and wrecked. Nowadays, there's a museum at Peenemunde showing not only spectacular original films of all the ballistic weapons, but also the hardships of the many forced laborers and POWs there

Historical Technical Museum Peenemunde today

The Nazis, for all their atrocities and horrors, were THE forerunners of rocket science that all modern space travel originates from. Though Hitler was initially skeptical of the V-2, Germany desperately needed a wonder weapon to turn the tables on the Allies. But despite the rocket's exceptional performance raining hell on London, it was too late for Germany, and most of the research and rocket scientists were captured by the Allies. We Americans are very lucky to have gotten von Braun before the Soviets; seeing as he designed the Saturn V, who knows how the Space Race would've turned out with him on the other side!

For more, there's a fantastic article on Peenemunde here

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