Space Coffee #6: A bit of space history

Vintage space stories from the Internet for your weekend pondering pleasure.

The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa looms large in this reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. Credit: NASA

🏁 Why was the Saturn V Black and White?

The black and white paint scheme migrated to the United State with the German rocketeers after the war ended and was featured on the rockets these men helped design and build for their new home country. The Redstone and Jupiter ballistic missiles, the latter of which launched America’s first satellite, Explorer 1 in 1958, was white with black stripes to show roll. When the Redstone was modified to launch suborbital Mercury missions, it featured alternating black and white stripes on its upper stage for ground tracking purposes.


🛰 Galileo Proves Old Data Can Still Yield New Tricks

It appears the Galileo spacecraft, which launched toward Jupiter in 1989 and arrived in 1995, flew through a plume of the moon Europa. This discovery was made using 20-year-old data from Galileo’s magnetometer, an instrument that measures the strength of magnetic fields. [...] The magnetometer collected some anomalous readings that were, at the time, attributed to Jupiter’s magnetic field. But modern reanalysis of the data by Jia’s team was able to correlate the anomalous magnetic field readings with the data from Hubble suggesting plumes.


💥 How we got to know the Moon’s gravity is lumpy

The fact that the Moon’s gravitational field is lumpy first became apparent when the Soviets noticed that their Moon orbiter Luna 10 was deviating from its orbit significantly. Likewise, NASA’s “Lunar Orbiter” missions deviated from their paths by up to 100 times than expected in their low lunar orbits. NASA took these gravitational anomalies into account for successfully steering and landing humans on the Moon with the Apollo missions.


❄️ Mars Phoenix Lander, 10 Years Later

Canada supplied the Meteorological Station aboard Phoenix, built by the same company that built the iconic Canadarm on the Space Shuttle and Canadarm2 aboard the International Space Station. The Meteorological Station included a laser system (LiDAR) to study martian clouds. By shooting this laser into the sky, scientists observed snow in the atmosphere about 4 kilometres (~2.5 miles) above the lander on multiple days. The snow vaporized before reaching the ground however, so don’t start dreaming of a dreamy snowscape on Mars just yet.


⛵️ The Story of LightSail, Part 1

Friedman already knew sunlight pressure pushed things around in space. He examined the phenomenon in his Ph.D. thesis, which modeled how non-gravitational forces affected spacecraft. In 1960 and 1964, NASA launched two, large, Mylar-coated balloons into orbit to test how communications signals could be bounced across the country. Because the balloons were big and light, they were easily moved by sunlight. Mariner 4, the first probe to fly past Mars and return images, was equipped with four solar vanes that used sunlight pressure to stabilize the spacecraft. Engineers used the sun to their advantage again during the Mariner 10 mission to Venus and Mercury, after Mariner ran out of attitude control gas. Flight controllers oriented the spacecraft's reflective solar panels in a way that caused sunlight to spin the vehicle, stabilizing it.