Astronomers of the Future Club - April 2018 Meeting Report write up

by Duncan Lunan - 18:05 on 17 May 2018




Astronomers of the Future Club - April 2018 Meeting Report write up

by Duncan Lunan


Photo Credit:  Linda Lunan

At the Astronomers of the Future Club meeting in Troon on Thursday April 26th, the speaker was Robert Law of the Mills Observatory in Dundee, on his third visit to the AOTF Club. Early last year he described his visit to Kennedy Space Center in 2016, and Robert was there again in January of this year, when he saw the prelaunch test firing of the Falcon Heavy, which has since launched an electric car into deep space.

“Florida in January is like summer in Scotland”, said Robert. He travelled with friends including a party from the Airdrie Astronomical Association, which runs Airdrie Public Observatory. Flights and hotels are now more expensive than in the past, but the towns around KSC are now enjoying a boom similar to the heyday of the 1960s. There are no direct flights to Florida from Scotland in January, and the group had to fly via Gatwick, landing at Orlando. They had a view of Kennedy Space Center on approach, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Space Shuttle runway and the Falcon Heavy on the launch pad.

After 50 years or more in the open, many of the exhibits in the ‘Rocket Garden’ outside the Visitor Centre are now in need of repair. The Visitor Centre itself, once free, now costs $50 to enter. New exhibits include prototypes of the Orion capsule (flown in 2014), which is to be the mainstay of future US plans, and of the Boeing Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which will take over US flights to the International Space Station. There’s also a recreation of the Mission Control room for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, the first US manned flight to orbit; the Astronaut Hall of Fame, including the Gemini 9 spacecraft, flown by Gene Cernan and Thomas Stafford in 1966; the Space Shuttle Atlantis, mounted as if in flight; and the memorial to the astronauts lost in the Challenger and Columbia disasters. One of the last Saturn V boosters is on display in the separate Apollo/Saturn V Centre, along with the Apollo 14 Command Module, the Lunar Module originally allocated to the Apollo 15 mission (before the Lunar Rover was added), and the memorial to the astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967.

The KSC tour also included Launch Complex 14, used for the Project Mercury flights; Complex 34, used for Apollo 1 and Apollo 7; the Titan launch pads, last used for the Opportunity Mars rover; and coming up to date, the new Mobile Launch Platform and modified Apollo Launch Tower to be used for the Space Launch System which will fly the Orion capsule. Robert also visited the Astronaut Memorial at Titusville, where he attended the nondenominational service commemorating the fallen astronauts, held every January.

Robert concluded with a summary of current space policy with regard to NASA and commercial development. The National Space Council, founded by President Eisenhower, disbanded by Nixon, restarted by Reagan and disbanded by Clinton in 1993, has at last been reinstated, and has a wide range of options before it. Already NASA has been ordered to redirect its emphasis away from the Earth and back to the exploration of space. The USA and Russia have agreed to disengage from the International Space Station in 2024, handing it over to commercial developers if they so wish, and studies have begun towards replacing it with a station either between Earth and Moon, or beyond the Moon, as a base for exploring the Moon and mounting missions to Mars, all using the Space Launch System. It all depends on the support of the Senate and Congress, but here too the signs are encouraging, with the recent budget allocation restoring unmanned missions using SLS which the Trump administration had proposed to cancel.

The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday May 31st, from 7.15 to 9 p.m. at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. The speaker will be Chris O’Kane, of the Astronomical Society of Glasgow and the Society for Planetary SETI, talking about the Face on Mars controversy of the 1980s and 90s, on which he has recently published an eBook, “Journey to Cydonia: the First Small Step”.



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