Thursday, 31 December 2009

Blue Moon Tonight

In case you don’t know it, there will be a blue moon – the first in 20 years – at 7.15pm tonight which should, cloud cover permitting, be viewable here in the Lancaster area. Not only that, there will be a partial lunar eclipse with the deepest eclipse at 7.22pm.
This eclipse of the Moon is partial, so only eight per cent of the Moon will actually be covered by Earth’s shadow. However, quite a lot of the moon will appear to change colour.Sadly, a blue moon isn’t actually blue.The name reflects the relative rarity of two full moons in a month and is linked to the saying “once in a blue moon.” Most years on average have 12 full moons, with one appearing each month.

We’re told that the whole event is deeply significant astrologically, if not astronomically. The National Geographic notes that the last time a blue moon appeared was on New Year’s Eve was in 1990, and it won’t happen again until 2028.

NASA notes that while we won’t see a blue moon tonight, it is possible for the Moon to appear tinged by a blue hue, sometimes caused by fine dirt circulating in the Earth’s atmosphere, possibly from a volcanic explosion. The above picture is of our Moon taken was taken in a dark blue morning sky. The bright crescent is the only part directly exposed to sunlight – the rest of the Moon glows from sunlight reflected from the Earth. The planet Jupiter is also visible along with its four largest moons.

(With thanks to Jessica Abrahams. Image: Vic Winter, ICSTARS)

Monday, 21 December 2009

NASA Ames Looks back on 2009, Forward into 2010

Finding water on the moon, initiating a search for Earth-size planets, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and a new federal government cloud computing initiative were among the top stories for NASA Ames Research Center in 2009, which has just published its review of the year online and outlined some of its plans for 2010.

Lunar Impactor Launched, Finds Water on Moon

NASA successfully launched the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, in June on a mission to search for water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the moon’s south pole. The satellite lifted off on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, along with a companion mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. Preliminary data from LCROSS indicated the mission successfully uncovered water in a permanently shadowed lunar crater when it impacted the moon in October.

The discovery of water by LCROSS opened a new chapter in our understanding of the moon.

Kepler Mission Begins Search for Planets Like Earth
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft launched in March to begin its search for other Earth-like worlds. The mission will spend the next three years staring at more than 150,000 stars for telltale signs of planets. In August, the Kepler space telescope detected the atmosphere of a known giant gas planet, demonstrating the telescope’s extraordinary scientific capabilities.
Needless to say, the search for alien life remains one of the most exciting aspects of space exploration for all of here at Ex Astris.
More info at:

NASA Ames Celebrates 70th Anniversary
This year, NASA Ames is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Among the 10 activities held to commemorate the center’s 20th December 1939 anniversary, was a display of Ames historical exhibits in downtown Mountain View, California, and an aerial photo taken of Ames employees forming a “70″ on the airfield, and the launch of a new historical website.

New Cloud Computing Initiative Announced

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra announced a new government cloud computing initiative in September at NASA Ames. Kundra unveiled the new platform, an online storefront for federal agencies to browse and purchase cloud-based information technology (IT) services and predicted it would significantly lower government costs and increase innovation.

NASA Breaks Ground for ‘Greenest’ Federal Building Ever

In August, NASA held a ceremonial groundbreaking and dedication event for what is expected to become the highest-performing building in the federal government. The new, environmentally friendly building at NASA’s Ames will be named ‘Sustainability Base’ in honour of the first humans to walk on the surface of another world from their Tranquility Base Apollo 11 lunar landing site 40 years ago.

International Space University, Singularity University Host Programs at NASA Ames
Also this past summer, Ames hosted the International Space University’s nine-week course for postgraduate students and young professionals from more than 40 countries. Nearly 200 students, along with dozens of faculty and guest lecturers, attended the university’s 22nd annual Space Studies Program, held for the first time ever at a NASA center. Simultaneously, Ames also hosted the newly-launched Singularity University’s graduate studies program, a nine-week graduate-level interdisciplinary curriculum designed to prepare the next generation of leaders to address “humanity’s grand challenges.”

NASA Ames Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Moon Landings
40 years ago, humans took their first steps on the moon. In commemoration of that historic event, NASA Ames hosted ‘Moonfest 2009: From Apollo to LCROSS, and Beyond!,’ a celebration of all things related to the moon. Held in July, the celebration focused on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalks and NASA’s LCROSS mission. The day was filled with guest speakers, musical performances and hands-on family activities, interactive games and exhibits. More than 11,400 people attended the celebration at Ames.
Ex Astris fans will recall we celebrated the event with a contribution to the downthetubes Moon Landing album (above), which you can view online here.

Ames Wins 2008 NASA Government Invention of the Year Award
NASA Ames was named the recipient of the 2008 NASA Government Invention of the Year Award this year. Ames won the award for developing a “High Speed Three-Dimensional Laser Scanner with Real Time Processing.” The scanner is used in a Mold Impression Laser Tool (MILT), a hand-held instrument used to scan space shuttle tiles to detect and measure the amount of any damage. Several MILT instruments are currently in use at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, where they provide accurate and reliable tile flaw information for the space shuttle maintenance crews. In addition, MILT technology been adapted for use in other NASA programs, including the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), the Stardust Sample Return Capsule Program, and the Mars and Lunar Rover Programs.

NASA Successfully Launches PharmaSat, SOAREX Missions
NASA successfully launched its PharmaSat nanosatellite in May from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at Wallops Island, Va. PharmaSat investigated the effects of antifungal agents on the growth of yeast in microgravity. This research could improve understanding of how microbes may become resistant to the drugs used to treat sick astronauts on long-duration space missions. NASA also successfully launched two Sub-Orbital Aerodynamic Re-entry Experiments, or SOAREX, probes more than 80 miles high in 2009 from NASA’s Wallops. The two NASA-developed experiments will help engineers and scientists design efficient ways to return experiments to Earth from the International Space Station.

NASA, Google, Microsoft, Cisco Collaborate on Virtual Exploration, Climate Change
In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, NASA and Google launched the Moon in Google Earth, an interactive, 3D atlas of the moon that enables users to explore a virtual moonscape and follow guided tours from astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jack Schmidt.

Also in 2009, NASA and Google launched a new Mars mode in Google Earth that brings to everyone’s desktop a high-resolution, three-dimensional view of the Red Planet.
NASA and Microsoft Corp., announced this year they are jointly developing the technology and infrastructure necessary to make the most interesting NASA content, including high-resolution scientific images and data from Mars and the moon, available on WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft’s online virtual telescope for exploring the universe. Under the terms of a Space Act Agreement, NASA is processing enough data to fill 20,000 DVDs.

In 2009, NASA and Cisco Inc., partnered to develop an online collaborative global monitoring platform called the “Planetary Skin” to capture, collect, analyze and report data from satellite, airborne, sea- and land-based sensors on environmental conditions around the world. This data will be made available for the general public, government and businesses to measure, report and verify environmental data in near-real time to help detect and adapt to global climate change.

The Year Ahead…
Looking ahead to 2010, NASA Ames will continue to play a major role to support the space shuttle program with its work in thermal protection systems and the heat shields that protect the space shuttle during its fiery re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. Public viewing opportunities of four live broadcasts of space shuttle launches drew nearly 500 people to Ames and will continue in 2010.

The Kepler mission, NASA’s first mission capable of finding Earth-size and smaller planets, will announce its latest discoveries in its search for habitable planets next year and the LCROSS mission will announce the latest results of its analysis of water it found at one of the lunar poles. The data will provide scientists with a wealth of data that will tell us a great deal about the lunar surface and help prepare NASA to put boots on the moon by the end of the next decade.

Also next year, NASA’s airborne observatory, SOFIA, is scheduled to begin conducting science flights.

New initiatives in 2010 will set the stage for a robust year in education and outreach.

“Educate to Innovate,” a federal challenge to improve education and NASA’s Summer of Innovation aspire to reach one million students through enrichment programs to keep kids on track and inspire the next generation of explorers.

• For more information about NASA Ames, visit:

• For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Friday, 30 October 2009

Could Britain Ever Have Its Own Spaceport?

The Constellation Program's Ares I-X
test rocket roars off Launch Complex 39B
at NASA's Kennedy Space Center
in Florida.
Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
With the recent launch of the new US Aries rocket, I was reminded that Britain has its own space program – but of course we never had a “space base” like Cape Kennedy in the UK. However, given the number of space companies based in the Isle of Man, might the UK ever have its own rocket launch site, as seen in comic strips such as Eagle’s Dan Dare? Perhaps even on the Isle of Man?

Sadly, Ex Astris tech genius Jeremy Briggs, who wrote a piece on the British Rocket Programme for Spaceship Away (it’s in issue 12 if you would like to read it – back issues are still available) tells me the answer is almost certainly no.

The problem mainly boils down to Britain’s location on our planet. Most satellites are put into an orbit that spins with the planet and the planet spins anticlockwise looking down on it from the north pole. This spin of the Earth to the east is used by rockets to get a little extra momentum for free by launching them to the east.

Therefore you need a launch site which is clear to the east (normally ocean) like NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre or the European Space Agency’s Kourou, which both allow spent stages to fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Launching from the Isle of Man would leave spent stages or failed launches falling on England,” our resident boffin expands. “The UK does not have any good potential launch sites because of our geographical location – Shetland is the only likely candidate and that is very remote but even then, the Scandinavian countries would complain.

“The rocket engine test sites used for the Blue Streak, Black Knight and White Arrow rockets were Spadeadam near Carlisle and the Isle of Wight because they were accessible but poorly populated,” he continues. “There was never any suggestion that launches would take place from either of them.

“The spin of the Earth is used by rockets to get a little extra momentum for free and the most spin occurs where the surface of the planet is spinning the fastest – the equator. However, most of the equator is ocean and the land is mainly third world countries. Therefore, most of the space countries set up rocket launch sites which are as close to the equator as is possible in their own territory. This was a problem for the USSR, who also needed their site to be secret ie far away from NATO spy planes, and they ended up building in a desolate land locked area at Tyuratam instead.

Tas and the Space Machine, the first of
two "Tas" books
published in 1955 and set at Woomera.
Image via
“Since we didn’t have anywhere desolate enough in the UK for non-orbital rocket flight testing in the 1950s the British Empire came into play and Outback Australia was the best candidate – hence the range at Woomera, which is about the size of England. Reginald Alec Martin, writing as EC Eliot, set his two 1955 Tas books, illustrated by Eagle comics artist Bruce Cornwell, there.”

So, no spacebase near Blackpool then, although of course Britain does contribute to the ESA and British-born astronauts have gone into space. Plus, of course, private space company Virgin Galactic‘s owner Richard Branson is both British and a Dan Dare fan!
Fictional private space companies, of course, play a major part in Ex Astris…

Web Links

The British Space Program: Wikipdia
British National Space Centre
History of British Rocketry
Information on Blue Streak
Virgin Galactic
Author Reginald Alec Martin on Collecting Books and Magazines

Saturday, 10 October 2009

NASA’s Hitch Hiker Fans ‘Tweet’ Their Praise

Penguin Books and NASA have very different ideas about celebrating the 30th anniversary of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
NASA did it by having their LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) vehicle tweeting lines from Hitchhiker’s, just before it slammed into the moon’s surface earlier this week.Quoting the lines from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide as a whale, brought accidentally and improbably into existence by last Earthman Arthur Dent, falls towards the surface of the planet Magrathea, it tweeted:

# “And what’s this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round,
about 4 hours ago from web
# it needs a big wide sounding name like ‘Ow’, ‘Ownge’, ‘Round’, ‘Ground’!”
about 4 hours ago from web
# “That’s it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it’ll be friends with me?”
about 4 hours ago from web

Then it hit the moon, to mixed responses, with something of a ‘plop’, rather than the ‘blam’ some people thought it would (with the more extreme declaring NASA was ‘bombing’ the moon, as if one more crate would actually make any difference given the number already created every day by meteors that still hit it.)

Penguin, on the other hand is marking this occasion in what’s been argued by some as a controversial way by publishing a sixth volume in the ever-more increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy on Monday (12th October). This isn’t, however, a lost Douglas Adams manuscript but an entirely new novel by internationally best selling author of the Artemis Fowl series, Eoin Colfer.

Adams final book in the Hitchhiker’s series ended (as it began) with the complete destruction of Earth. Everyone is dead, which doesn’t leave much of an opening for Eoin to start the sixth book in the series. So how does Eoin bring the eternal pessimist Arthur Dent, his alien best friend Ford Prefect and the two headed Galactic President Zaphod Beelbebrox back from the dead?

For a sneak preview and a chance to join in the anniversary celebrations yourself, London’s Southbank Centre and Penguin Books have joined forces to create Hitchcon’09: a day of celebration, spectacle and delight voyaging deep into the Hitchhiker’s Universe on Sunday 11th October.

The 30th anniversary of Hitchhiker’s and the publication of Eoin’s new book will be celebrated across the world in a whole manner of ways and in different mediums – for information, visit the official web site at

But NASA’s tweets have definitely sent the anniversary celebrations from global to intergalactic.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Garth Debuts in New Spaceship Away

The latest issue of the Dan Dare-inspired comics magazine Spaceship Away is on sale now via the official web site, and as I previously mentioned over on downthetubes, features the first installment of the Frank Bellamy Garth story The Bubble Man, beautifully re-coloured by John Ridgway.

Spaceship Away Part 19 – the title’s sixth birthday issue – doesn’t feature Ex Astris (we’ll be back soon, though) but does includes articles on Frank Hampson’s Epsom College days and the creation of comic strip Nick Hazard, drawn by Ron Turner, which also features in the comic magazine (also re-coloured by John Ridgway); plus new artwork from John M. Burns and all-new original Dan Dare comic strips – Green Nemesis and The Gates of Eden, both drawn by Tim Booth.

To get the magazine delivered to your door, go straight to Spaceship Away Order Page

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Water on the Moon

The findings of an Indian space mission supports other evidence that there is water on the moon, raising hopes that a manned base could be established there within the next two decades.

Although the mission was not a complete success and was cut short, data from India’s Chandrayaan-1, launched last year, allegedly found clear evidence of water there, apparently concentrated at the poles and possibly formed by the solar wind.

The findings back up evidence of water on the moon found by two NASA probes – Deep Impact and Cassini – and the research from the three missions will be published in the journal Science on Friday.

What’s more, the Guardian and other newspapers report, water appears to still be forming, advancing the possibility that human life could be sustained there. Scientists hope that astronauts could one day not only drink the water but extract oxygen from it to breathe and hydrogen to use as fuel.

The moon has long held a fascination for Indians, not just in terms of space exploration.
Launched last year, the Chandrayaan-1 mission aimed to deliver high-resolution remote sensing of the moon in visible, near infrared (NIR), low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions, preparing a three-dimensional atlas of both near and far side of the moon.

The mission was, unfortunately, cut short due to problems caused by the underestimated effects of direct solar heat and reflected lunar heat, with Indian press blaming their own scientists for not ensuring there was enough insulation inside and outside Chandrayaan-1 for its failure. Despite this, European scientists praised the mission and the water finds are a bonus for the Indian Space Research Organisation, which took a lot of flack earlier this month for its apparent shortcomings.

“It’s very satisfying,”  Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, told the Times of the water finds. “This was one of the main objectives of Chandrayaan-1, to find evidence of water on the moon.”
Carle Pieters, of Brown University on Rhode Island, and colleagues reviewed data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission and found spectrographic evidence of water, apparently thicker closer to the poles.

“When we say ‘water on the moon,’ we are not talking about lakes, oceans or even puddles,” Pieters said in a statement. “Water on the moon means molecules of water and hydroxyl (hydrogen and oxygen) that interact with molecules of rock and dust specifically in the top millimetres of the moon’s surface.”

Previously, infrared mapping from NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft had been used to show water all over the moon, while Roger Clark of the US Geological Survey and colleagues used a spectrometer – which breaks down light waves to analyse elements and chemicals reflecting them – from the Cassini spacecraft to identify water.

Next month, Nasa’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite or LCROSS mission will try to detect water by deliberately crashing a large spacecraft on to the moon.
Although its life was cut short, ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 was a “fantastic success”, according to Detlef Koschny, European Chandrayaan-1 project scientist. He told the Times of India Chandrayaan-1 had carried three scientific payloads of the European Space Agency (ESA).
“I think (the) Indian press should stop trying to put ISRO down,” he told the paper. “You should rather acknowledge the fantastic achievements your space agency did,” he said, listing many of the achievements.

“You sent a spacecraft to the Moon and entered a low lunar orbit — a very high challenge which is already a fantastic success.

“Secondly, all scientific instruments were commissioned and worked flawlessly. The data came down, over a distance of about 400,000 km and it was put together into images, atomic counts etc.”

Web Links
Indian Space Research Organisation
Chandrayaan Mission Page

• If you’re having an “Impact Night” event on 8th October and/or 9 the tools @ can help you. Let NASA know via  @ if you are putting on an event so we can help disseminate the information to the public. Additional Resources are available at:

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Ex Astris Hits 5000

I got one of those 'good feeling' e-mails earlier this week when MyEBook informed us that some 5000 people have now read an episode of Ex: Astris, called Homecoming on their platform. Homecoming is, as many fans of this strip know, a 10-page strip which first appeared in the British comic in Bulletproof Comics #2. This standalone story, drawn by Mike Nicoll, links with the strips we've published on ROK Comics and, taking place on a post-apocalypse Earth in 2511.

Included in this myebook is a one page article with some background on the origins of the strip, which was recently commissioned for an ongoing run in Spaceship Away for 2010.

For me, hitting 5000 readers is great news: I still don't see how myEbook intend to monetize the service but it's clearly built up a good head of steam in terms of comic fan awareness.

Several independent publishers are using the platform to promote their projects. You'll find books such as new Garth by Huw-J, The Fat Man by Thomas Cochrane, previews of Marksoia titles, and comics from Orang Utan Comics, Insomnia Publications, Unico Comics and many others.

If you want to read Ex Astris: Homecoming in print, then head over to the Bulletproof web site and order a copy of #2, an 80-page anthology which also features strips such as Slumbertown by Rik Hoskin & Thomas Crielly, Simba Khan by Paul Birch & Jon Haward, Love Hurts by David Hailwood & Stuart Giddings, Sideburns by Jim Alexander & Jon Haward and Redstitch by Lee Langford & Klaus Belarski.

 • Bulletproof Comics:

Note: the MyEbook seems to have banished since this post was first published!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Space Telescope Detects ExoPlanet Atmosphere

The latest issue of Science magazine carries a full feature on the intriguing news that NASA’s new exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope has detected the atmosphere of a known giant gas planet, demonstrating the telescope’s extraordinary scientific capabilities. The report is exciting for me because it’s another indication of how the search for life-bearing planets is cranking up as our ‘search tools’ become increasingly more sophisticated.The find is based on a relatively short 10 days of test data collected before the official start of science operations. Kepler was launched back in March and the observation demonstrates the extremely high precision of the measurements made by the telescope, even before its calibration and data analysis software were finished.

“As NASA’s first exoplanets mission, Kepler has made a dramatic entrance on the planet-hunting scene,” said Jon Morse, director of the Science Mission Directorate’s Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Detecting this planet’s atmosphere in just the first 10 days of data is only a taste of things to come. The planet hunt is on!”

Kepler team members say these new data indicate the mission is indeed capable of finding Earth-like planets, if they exist. (It’s the kind of research our fictional characters in Ex Astris would find darn useful, for reasons that will become apparent as our story develops).
Kepler will spend the next three-and-a-half years searching for planets as small as Earth, including those that orbit stars in a warm zone where there could be water. It will do this by looking for periodic dips in the brightness of stars, which occur when orbiting planets transit, or cross in front of, the stars.

“When the light curves from tens of thousands of stars were shown to the Kepler science team, everyone was awed; no one had ever seen such exquisitely detailed measurements of the light variations of so many different types of stars,” said William Borucki, the principal science investigator and lead author of the paper.

The observations were collected from a planet called HAT-P-7, known to transit a star located about 1,000 light years from Earth. The planet orbits the star in just 2.2 days and is 26 times closer than Earth is to the sun. Its orbit, combined with a mass somewhat larger than the planet Jupiter, classifies this planet as a “hot Jupiter.” It is so close to its star, the planet is as hot as the glowing red heating element on a stove.

The Kepler measurements show the transit from the previously detected HAT-P-7. However, these new measurements are so precise, they also show a smooth rise and fall of the light between transits caused by the changing phases of the planet, similar to those of our moon. This is a combination of both the light emitted from the planet and the light reflected off the planet. The smooth rise and fall of light is also punctuated by a small drop in light, called an occultation, exactly halfway between each transit. An occultation happens when a planet passes behind a star.

The new Kepler data can be used to study this hot Jupiter in unprecedented detail. The depth of the occultation and the shape and amplitude of the light curve show the planet has an atmosphere with a day-side temperature of about 4,310 degrees Fahrenheit. Little of this heat is carried to the cool night side. The occultation time compared to the main transit time shows the planet has a circular orbit. The discovery of light from this planet confirms the predictions by researchers and theoretical models that the emission would be detectable by Kepler.

This new discovery also demonstrates Kepler has the precision to find Earth-size planets. The observed brightness variation is just one and a half times what is expected for a transit caused by an Earth-sized planet. Although this is already the highest precision ever obtained for an observation of this star, Kepler will be even more precise after analysis software being developed for the mission is completed.

“This early result shows the Kepler detection system is performing right on the mark,” said David Koch, deputy principal investigator of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. “It bodes well for Kepler’s prospects to be able to detect Earth-size planets.”

More info about the Kepler Project on the NASA web site

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Exploring the Moon using Google Earth

Marking the anniversary of the first human moon landing, Google has launched Moon in Google Earth, an interactive, 3D atlas of the Moon, viewable with Google Earth 5.0.
Users can explore a virtual Moonscape, follow guided tours from Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 17‘s Jack Schmitt, see the latest rover concepts by teams competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, view high-resolution panoramic photos, watch previously unreleased video footage captured from the lunar surface, and much more.Moon in Google Earth also incorporates a complete lunar terrain data-set by Kaguya LALT, produced by JAXA/NAOJ, which serves as the atlas’ base-map.

It’s all very slick and great fun to use, although we’re disappointed Google hasn’t slipped in a few aliens for the SF fans. Perhaps next April 1st…

“40 years ago, two human beings walked on the Moon. Starting today, with Moon in Google Earth, it’s now possible for anyone to follow in their footsteps,” said Moon in Google Earth Product Manager, Michael Weiss-Malik. “We’re giving hundreds of millions of people around the world unprecedented access to an interactive 3D presentation of the Apollo missions.”

The most recent tool to have been developed as a result of the Space Act Agreement between Google and NASA, Moon in Google Earth enables information about the Moon to be accessible to anyone in a unique three-dimensional context.

In addition to satellite imagery and terrain, the following layers can be explored with Moon in Google Earth:

• Featured Satellite Imagery – Explore overlaid satellite imagery and detailed descriptions of selected areas on the Moon from Arizona State University’s ‘Lunar Image of the Week’
• Spacecraft Imagery – View selected imagery captured by the Apollo Metric Camera, Clementine, and the Lunar Orbiter
• Apollo Missions – Travel back to the Apollo era and discover the landing sites of Apollo missions 11-17. Explore “Street View”–style panoramic images, watch previously unreleased footage from Spacecraft films, and read about the places astronauts saw on their trips to the Moon.
• Guided Tours – Take a narrated tour of the Moon from Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11) and Jack Schmitt (Apollo 17)
• Historic Maps – Discover Apollo-era geologic and topographic maps of the Moon that were used in mission control for trips to the Moon
• Human Artifacts – Learn about the various types of exploratory equipment that humans have left on the Moon and where those objects can be found today. Artifacts from the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the EU, Japan, and India are included, some of them as 3D models.

• To experience Moon in Google Earth, open Google Earth 5.0 and switch modes from ‘Earth’ to ‘Moon’ on the top toolbar. Google Earth 5.0 can be downloaded at

Friday, 17 July 2009

Was Apollo just a stunt?

Top Brit SF author Charles Stross has offered a fascinating opinion on the first Moon Landing on his blog, noting the reason why there isn’t a moon colony and why NASA didn’t continue the Apollo missions was because it was a stunt.“The real mission wasn’t to go to the moon,” the author of cracking SF novels such as Accelerando, Halting State and Saturn’s Children argues.

“It was to bring two astronauts and 100Kg of moon rocks back from the lunar surface and into lunar orbit (to rendezvous with the CSM stack for the journey home) — and it took a 3000 ton behemoth to accomplish this. Launching a bigger, more useful LEM (one that could carry 3 or 4 astronauts to the lunar surface, along with a decent-sized rover and supplies for a couple of weeks) would have added tonnes to the LEM payload … and hundreds, if not thousands of tons to the launch stack. With cost scaling as the cube of the vehicle mass, you don’t need to be an accountant to realize that the US government, stuck fighting a war in South East Asia, wasn’t going to give NASA the money to build in even one kilogram more of payload than was strictly necessary… The per-launch cost of even a minimal Apollo moon shot was $431M, in 1967 dollars — call that $5-10Bn today.”
His article is a fascinating read, also asking the obvious: could NASA go back to the Moon today?

“I want to believe,” says Stross. “But… Today we lack a vital resource that both Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev took for granted: thousands of engineers with the experience of designing, building, and launching new types of rocket in a matter of years or even months. We used to have them, but some time in the past 40 years they all retired.

“We’ve got the institutions and the data and the better technology, but we don’t have the experience those early pioneers had. And I’m betting that the process of rebuilding all that institutional competence is going to run over budget.

While NASA’s Constellation program might work, and while it could deliver far more valuable lunar science than Apollo ever did, it will inevitably cost much more than NASA’s official estimates suggest, because it’s too big a project for today’s NASA — NASA, and indeed the entire space industrial sector in the USA, would have to grow, structurally, to make it work.”

Read the full article — we’ve paraphrased a lot — read his blog…

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

ITV1 Marks Moon Landing with ‘Moonshot’ Doc

ITV1 broadcasts Moonshot, a powerful new documentary charting next Monday (20th July), marking the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon back in 1969.Starring Hotel Babylon‘s Daniel Lapaine as Neil Armstrong, James Marsters (well known for his roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Smallville) as Buzz Aldrin and Afterlife‘s Andrew Lincoln as Michael Collins, this drama documentary weaves the story of the men who undertook the mission with HD Nasa footage of Apollo 11 to bring together a unique testimony of this historic event.

The documentary, a co-production between ITV and indie producers Dangerous and other partners is written by Tony Basgallop, (Hotel Babylon), and directed by Richard Dale, (Diana: The Last Days of a Princess, 9/11: The Twin Towers).

Moonshot is the compelling story of the moment that united 600 million people around the world in 1969, dramatising key moments and events in the years spent preparing for their mission. The film builds a picture of the astronauts’ lives on the ground and how they shaped what happened in space and on the moon.

In 1961 President Kennedy told the world that that the United States would land on the moon by the end of the decade. This began the series of Apollo missions that would culminate with Apollo 11 – the first moon landing, one of the most watched events ever.
Moonshot follows the astronauts as they go through NASA’s intense selection procedures and reveals the arduous Apollo training process that has such an impact on their families and friendships.

Along with other key moments, the film captures the deliberations involved in selecting the crew. In one scene, the NASA official leading the process tells Neil Armstrong that Buzz Aldrin has a reputation for speaking his mind. He gives Neil a choice between Aldrin and fellow astronaut Jim Lovell, forcing him to think about who he would be able to work with – and who he could trust with his life. Armstrong chooses Aldrin, but which of them would take the first steps on the moon would be decided by NASA.

NASA discusses the merits of the two men, acknowledging that the first man on the moon would be a hero and would shoulder the responsibility for the rest of his life.

One of the officials says: “Neil’s calm, quiet, resolute – Neil’s what it says on the label. Buzz is … well you never know what you’re going to get from one day to the next.”

Another responds by saying: “Buzz wants it more.”

Prompting the reply: “Which is a reason not to give it to him.”

The decision goes in favour of Armstrong.

Also revealed is the strain of the mission, which causes tension between Aldrin and Armstrong when a simulated moon landing practice goes wrong – meaning in a real situation they would have crashed, and, later, before the launch, the families have to come to terms with the fact that the astronauts might not come back if things go wrong.

Included is a powerful scene where Armstrong shows his wife the message that will go out to the public if they fail to take off from the moon. It reads: ‘Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin know that there is no hope for their recovery.’
Stunned, she asks Neil if this is the first she would hear of it. He tells her that she will get a call from the President if anything happens. She says: “Nixon? Nixon will call me? Wow. I hope he doesn’t.”

After a successful launch Apollo 11 became a huge media story around the world. The Pope asked for a colour television to be installed in his summer residence, while West Germany announced they were calling the day of the landing ‘Apollo Day’ and schoolchildren in Bavaria were given the day off. The world held its collective breath as the lunar module approached the moon… and breathed a sigh of relief as it touched down safely on 20th July 1969. Then Armstrong said the famous words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

After a succesful mission and return to Earth, Apollo 11 splashed down safely on Earth the famous American newscaster Walter Kronkite said: “The date is now indelible. It is going to be remembered as long as man survives – July 20 1969 the day man reached and walked on the moon.”

Moonshot is bound to prompt many memories from those who were alive to witnes the dramatic events, and, hopefully, give those too young to remember the dramatic time a taste of how exciting space exploration once was – and, if humankind does return to the moon in 2020, will be again…

Moonshot screens at 10.50pm on Monday 20 July on ITV1. It will also be shown by the History Channel.

Mission to the Moon: News of 1969

UK broadcaster ITV1 will begin screening its mini series, Mission to the Moon: News of 1969, today.The programme celebrates the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, taking the form of a news bulletin to report each day’s momentous events in the run up to the anniversary of the first Moon landing with a modern twist. The majority of each programme will be a ‘news report’ about a day of the mission, mixing ITN’s archive material plus contemporary interviews and graphics with the best of NASA’s pictures.

Former ITN presenter John Suchet will front the series, with Peter Snow, who was an ITN correspondent at the time of the moon landing, on hand to look at the technology behind the mission.

In addition, Julie Etchingham will present ITV News at Ten from Cape Canaveral on 20th and 21st July to mark the anniversary of the moon landing. She will be interviewing key personnel involved in the mission, reporting how America is marking the anniversary and asking experts whether man will walk on the moon again.

Mission to the Moon: News of 1969 transmits 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th July at 10.35pm each night.

Apollo Landing Celebrations Mount Up

With excitement building as we near the 40th Anniversary of the first human Moon Landing, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of events and media happenings being lined up to mark the occasion.

Over on my main downthetubes forum, for example, we have a Moon Landing 40th Anniversary: A Comics Celebration" – a gallery of illustrations and comic art inspired by the Apollo expedition and space exploration. In addition to the one page “Return to the Moon” strip, so far we have art from the likes of Andrew Cheverton, Bob Bello, Ian Duerden, Martin Baines and many others. Check it out if you have time, there’s some smashing work on display.

In the UK both the BBC and ITV have been screening a range of programmes: I enjoyed “In Search of Neil Armstrong” last week and will be checking out ITV’s “Moonshot” next Monday night, although goodness only knows why they have decided to put it on so late, after the news.

I’ve also spotted a reprint of the Daily Mirror for 21 July or thereabouts in WH Smiths, complete with DVD of footage of the Apollo landing: it will be interesting to see what Garth was up to (and The Perishers!) on that momentous day in 1969…

The British Film Institute’s “One Giant Leap” season in London continues this coming week with screenings of the films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Countdown and Moonwalk One, the premiere of newly remastered Director’s Cut in high definition of Theo Kamecke’s film, commissioned by NASA to cover their historic Apollo 11 moonshot. With an atmospheric original score by Charles Morrow and a moody narration by Laurence Luckinbill, Kamecke’s documentary has been described as perhaps the most significant time-capsule record of Apollo 11 ever made.

Finally for this round up, while it won’t be out until November, the Oscar nominated documentary about the Apollo missions, For All Mankind, is set for both DVD and Blu-Ray release.

During the Apollo lunar missions from 1968 to 1972, those onboard were given 16mm cameras and told to film anything and everything they could, in space, in orbit, and on the surface of the moon itself. Two decades later, filmmaker Al Reinert went into the NASA vaults to create this extraordinary compendium of their journeys and experiences.

Assembled from hundreds of hours of the astronauts’ own footage, with a soundtrack made up of their memories and a specially composed score by Brian Eno, the film takes the form of one journey to the moon and back again, building with elegant simplicity and exquisite construction to create an overpowering vision of human endeavour and miraculous experience.

At once intimate and awe-inspiring, For All Mankind is a genuinely mesmerising first-hand document of one of the high points of the 20th century. Released as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, Criterion’s beautiful high-definition restoration of the film will be a comprehensive, director-approved special edition.

The release will include a new, restored high-definition transfer, supervised and approved by director Al Reinert; audio commentary featuring Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to set foot on the moon; a gallery of Apollo 12 and Skylab astronaut Alan Bean’s artwork, inspired by his life as an astronaut, with commentary and a filmed introduction; and a special booklet, featuring essays, credits, stills, a new interview with Brian Eno, and more.

DVD Catalogue No: EKA40313
DVD Barcode: 5060000403138
DVD RRP: £19.99
Blu-ray Catalogue No: EKA70011
Blu-ray Barcode: 5060000700114
Blu-ray RRP: £24.99
Release Date: 16 November 2009
Certificate: Exempt
Running Time: 79 minutes approx.
Format: Colour
Genre: Documentary
Director: Al Reinert

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Joint Mars Mission by NASA, ESA?

On 29th and 30th June, the ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, met NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science, Ed Weiler, in Plymouth, UK, to establish a way for a progressive programme for exploration of the Red Planet. The outcome of the bilateral meeting was an agreement to create a Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) that will provide a framework for the two agencies to define and implement their scientific, programmatic and technological goals at Mars.Discussions between ESA and NASA began last December, driven by the ESA Ministerial Council’s recommendation to seek international cooperation to complete the ExoMars mission and to prepare further Mars robotic exploration missions. At the same time, NASA was reassessing its Mars Exploration Program portfolio after the launch of its Mars Science Laboratory was delayed from 2009 to 2011.

This provided ESA and NASA with an opportunity to increase cooperation and expand collective capabilities. To investigate the options in depth, a joint ESA/NASA engineering working group was established, along with a joint executive board to steer the efforts and develop final recommendations on how to proceed.

At the bilateral meeting in Plymouth, the executive board recommended NASA and ESA establish MEJI spanning launch opportunities in 2016, 2018 and 2020, with landers and orbiters conducting astrobiological, geological, geophysical and other high-priority investigations, and leading to the return of samples from Mars in the 2020s. The Director and Associate Administrator agreed, in principle, to establish the Initiative and continue studies to determine the most viable joint mission architectures.

ESA and NASA also agreed to establish a joint architecture review team to assist the agencies in planning the mission portfolio. As plans develop, they will be reviewed by ESA member states for approval and by the US National Academy of Sciences. This unique collaboration of missions and technologies will pave the way for exciting discoveries at Mars.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ex Astris: Return to the Moon

Here's a one-page Ex Astris strip we've created for the Apollo anniversary celebration over on the forum for the British comics site, downthetubes. (Click on the image for the full size version).

If you're an artist who wants to contribute to this project, find out how you can do that here.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ex Astris Artist Celebrates Moon Landings


Mike Nicoll has just sent me this fab piece of art to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first human moon landing, which forms part of a gallery of art marking the event over on thedownthetubes forum.

Several artists have contributed images so far, including Doctor Who illustrator Colin Howard, Space Age Magazine editor Bob Bello and the Etherington Brothers.

More contributions are welcome.

If you're a fan of Mike's art, you may be interested to know we have four Ex Astris wallpapers for PCs available as free downloads over on the revamped web site: After being a simple "redirect" for a couple of years, we've just launched the site proper and more on the strip and regularly updated strip posts are to feature soon.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Ex Astris: Homecoming Story Online

Myebook - Ex Astris: Homecoming - click here to open my ebookAfter discussion between myself and Mike, we've decided to publish a web version Ex: Astris Homecoming, which first appeared in Bulletproof Comics #2, using the myebook platform. Click on the image on the right to view the comic or follow this link.

This standalone story is set in 2511, and links in with the strips published on ROK Comics and

Included in this myebook is a one page article with some background on the origins of the strip.

This is our first use of myebook, so please leave comments and let us know what you think!

myebook aims to revolutionise the way you can create, publish and share ebook content online. Built on a feature-rich social platform, complete with free-to-use powerful, browser-based, builder software, and a slick reader environment, it's an easy way for anyone and everyone to 'get it out there', and several independent publishers are using the platform to promote their projects. You'll find books such as new Garth by Huw-J, The Fat Man by Thomas Cochrane, previews of Marksoia titles, and comics from Orang Utan Comics, Insomnia Unico Comics and many others.

If you want to read Ex Astris: Homecoming in print, then head over to the Bulletproof web site and order a copy of #2, an 80-page anthology which also features strips such as Slumbertown by Rik Hoskin & Thomas Crielly, Simba Khan by Paul Birch & Jon Haward, Love Hurts by David Hailwood & Stuart Giddings, Sideburns by Jim Alexander & Jon Haward and Redstitch by Lee Langford & Klaus Belarski.

• Bulletproof Comics:

Read Ex Astris: Homecoming on

Monday, 8 June 2009

Ex Astris To Return to Spaceship Away

We're pleased to report that although the upcoming issue of Spaceship Away, on sale soon, brings the first Ex Astris 'prequel' story to a close, the strip will return to the Magazine next year - and this time, it will be for an ongoing run.

"We'll be back with Issue 21," says writer John Freeman. "We're delighted the editors of Spaceship Away have committed to a further series of stories: it's a testament to Mike Nicoll's creation and his stunning work that the strip has proved a success in the Magazine."

It looks like it's going to be an interesting year ahead for the SF comic magazine: in addition to continuing Dan Dare stories and more, Issue 19 will see the arrival of the Daily Mirror's classic strip Garth, coloured by John Ridgway - a story that has never been reprinted in the UK.

Talks are also going on with Sydney Jordan about completing the Dan Dare story he started
in the Planet on Sunday.

Spaceship Away Part 18 is being distributed to existing subscribers. For more about the issue, click here
To order Spaceship Away, click here

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Creating Crowd Scene in CGI

Over on the downthetubes forum, Ex Astris creator Mike Nicoll has been talking about creating crowd scenes in CGI, responding to comments from veteran artist John Ridgway that the medium isn't really good for such things.

Mike's response was pretty interesting, so I thought I'd re-post them in an edited form here.

"The problem with CGI work is the characters," argues John Ridgway. "In order to produce the necessary pictures, characters have to be created, posed, lit and their expressions arranged to suit the story. All this takes time. Mike Nicoll, on Ex Astris, manages this exceptionally well. But the number of characters in their scenes are limited. Imagine producing a number of crowd scenes...

"My solution to this is to draw the characters and use cgi for the backgrounds and spacecraft," says John. "It's then up to the individual reader and being given the time for this mixture to be accepted. No-one objected to the use of flat coloured line drawings against fully-painted backgrounds in the old Disney films, and apparently didn't even notice that the ballroom in Disney's Beauty and the Beast was CGI work."

Mike thinks John Makes a good point about crowd scenes although so far as Ex Astris is concerned the reason for a lack of major crowd scenes is simply down to the fact that the script(s) as written haven't actually called for any - yet.

"We did create a one-pager called Ex Astris: Floods [which was adapted for mobile for ROK Comics] which had a crowd storming an escaping space ship," he points out, "and the EA: Homecoming 10 pager we did for Bulletproof Comics had between four and seven characters in many panels and the main storyline which we're working on at present will have a mob of townspeople attacking our heroes which will be fun to do (memo to John Freeman - let's have lots of close-ups!).

"The problem may be simply that much CGI work is, as pointed out elsewhere, created by technicians who may be adept at computer skills but not in the art of comic creation," Mike argues. "That's not to denegrate the creators, it's simply that as someone who is as happy hand-drawing a page as CGI-ing it I have an extra batch of creative skills which many CGI artists lack.

"When I create a CGI scene there is frankly as much Photoshop and hand-rendered post-production work as there is pure CGI rendering. I almost never render a complete scene and pop it into place (if only it were that easy!!). Instead, I sketch the image first then render each element separately via the alpha channel, then compose the panel with every item on a separate layer.

"It may seem like a lot of extra work but it gives me maximum control over lighting, colour balance, contrast etc., but the point I'm trying rather laboriously to make is that it's just as easy for me to make a scene with two people as 22 people in CGI. All it costs you is a little extra time but if I were to hand-draw the crowd then I'm taking extra time as well but in the long run I'm saving time by not having to ink and colour the panels.

"That said, I feel the ideal way to go about solving the problem is, as John says, to hand-draw the characters but use CGI backgrounds in the same way as actors are shot against greenscreen in the movies. However, as shown to great effect in the movie Titan AE, this can result in a bit of a mess because the line art and flat colour jars terribly against the rendered backgrounds.

"My solution is to hand-paint the characters with no line-art involved - at least no black line-art which I feel is the main problem. Fully painted characters against CGI backgrounds (which also have no line art of course) blend in better and make a much more satifsying composite I feel.

"I'll be using this technique on a Dan Dare wallpaper which I'm doing for fun and if it gives satifactory results I'll be using it for my forthcoming Saffyre Blue graphic novel so I'll pop up some sample art a bit later for some constructive criticism."

Read the whole discussion on the downthetubes forum

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Secrets of Ceres Part 2 Features in new Spaceship Away

On sale in all good comic shops soon is the latest issue of Rod Barzilay’s Spaceship Away comic magazine, featuring all-new comic strip starring the original Dan Dare and a variety of other SF strips including the second part of Ex Astris: Secrets of Ceres, a prequel strip to the story featured on ROK Comics and Clickwheel.

Other strips in the magazone include Rocket Pilot by Keith Page, Nick Hazard by Philip Harbottle and Ron Turner, coloured by John Ridgway, and many more.

A highlight of the issue must surely be an all-new Dan Dare centrespread by veteran artist Mike Noble, perhaps best known for his work on TV Century 21 and Look-In – his first SF art, we believe, in years.

But that’s not all, because the issue also includes Frank Hampson's original Operation Saturn Dan Dare story outline that's just been rediscovered by his son, Peter Hampson; science fiction author Stephen Baxter has written an article comparing Eagle and TV21; ace downthetubes' contributor Jeremy Briggs has a look at Dan's Anastasia and cutaway king Graham Bleathman tackles the craft's cockpit - a difficult job as the details kept changing in the strip!

Plus, artist Don Harley talks about working with Frank Bellamy; a debate about SF writer Arthur C. Clarke's involvement in the creation of Dan Dare continues; and the magazine lifts the lid on a hidden bit of Dan Dare Red Moon artwork.

As usual, it's a packed issue with plenty to keep Dan Dare and SF comic fans happy!

• To order online visit:

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Secrets of Ceres Episode 2 Preview!

Mike and I have just completed work on the second episode of Secrets of Ceres, the Ex Astris prequel strip running in science fiction comic magazine Spaceship Away, which goes to the printers soon.

There were some last minute hiccups thanks to a glaring proofing error over one of the character's names -- Sarah Blake, our hardwired space investigator suddenly started to be called by a different name, a subconscious link between her and the Ex Astris main strip that was almost revealed by accident! Special thanks to Des Shaw and Rod Barzilay for not only spotting it at the last minute but also giving us chance to put things right.

Hope you enjoy the low resolution preview of the episode's first page, above.

The next issue of Spaceship Away includes an article by acclaimed SF author Stephen Baxter and features a new centre-spread painted by Mike Noble, perhaps best known for his work on TV Century 21 and is his first SF artwork for a while. There's also another painting by top illustrator Graham Bleathman and the magazine will also be looking at the connection between Dan Dare artists and Gerry Anderson's world. More info on the issue, on sale soon, from the Spaceship Away web site!

In other EA news, Episode 7 of the strip is now also on Clickwheel.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Ex Astris on Clickwheel

The Ex Astris strips first featured on ROK Comics are now appearing on Rebellion's iPod and iPhone service Clickwheel.

Clickwheel is a young, UK-based company with big ambitions featuring the online version of 2000AD and Active Images superb Elephantmen comic, written by former Marvel UK editor in chief Richard Starkings (the print edition of Elephantmen #15 is out in specialist stores next week).

All the strips on the service are offered in downlaodable iComics, which can be viewed on iPod and iPhones, and .cbz, adapted zip files whcih can be viewed in a .cbz reader such as Comic Book Lover.

Other strips include Sword of Dracula by Jason Henderson, featuring the art of Greg Scott, William Belk, Terry Palloy and Tony Harris and many others, encompassing a wide range of styles and genres.

To view Ex Astris on Clickwheel click here: