Favorite Space Images of 2011

With so many wondrous space-related images being captured on a daily basis, it is difficult to single any out as “the best”. That said, there are those that just stick in your mind… the images that run through your head when you’re trying to go to sleep, that make you ask questions, that inspire you to spend hours doing research, and those that make your jaw drop to the floor. Here are a small handful of the ones that have done that to me this year.

An End To An Era

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Space shuttle Atlantis' drag chute slows the shuttle as it lands on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: NASA/Kenny Allen This moment, the touchdown of Atlantis, marked the end of an era; as NASA retired the Space Shuttle Program.

I hope you enjoyed these as I have, and I look forward to what 2012 has in store for us!

Thank You Discovery

Lift-off of STS-133, final mission for Discovery.

Lift-off of STS-133, final mission for Discovery. / Source: NASA

That’s it.

On March 9, 2011, space shuttle (technically, orbiter) Discovery landed at Kennedy Space Center after its final mission in space. This marked the conclusion of Discovery’s 38th mission (STS-133), from which it will retire as NASA’s hardest-working orbiter in the shuttle fleet. Discovery was NASA’s workhouse and many related it as the shuttle fleet’s eldest sibling. Here is a small list of Discovery’s amazing accomplishments over its 27-year history of spaceflight:

  • Discovery got its names from historical sea-faring ships, primarily HMS Discovery which was commanded by Captain James Cook during his third and final voyage (1776-1779). Henry Hudson also searched for the Northwest Passage in a ship named discovery in 1610-1611. 1
  • Discovery performed 39 missions and took 246 astronauts to space.
  • In April 1990, Discovery released the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit
  • Discovery carried Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev, to space. The first Russian to ever fly in a NASA spacecraft.
  • Discovery spent a total of 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles
  • Discovery was the first shuttle to fly after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
  • Discovery's Final Landing

    Discovery's Final Landing / Source: NASA and 46blyz.com

    As someone who considers himself a member of the “Space Shuttle Generation”, it’s sad to see Discovery retired; however, I have positive feelings about being able to live in a time to watch her in action.

    1. That mission didn’t turn out so well for Henry Hudson, not only did he fail to find a water-route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, his crew mutinied and sent him adrift in a small boat. He was never seen again.

Ham: The Mercury Program’s First Astrochimp

Last week, we recognized sad and tragic events in space history; with the anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire and the Challenger disaster. Today, we lighten things up a bit with a look back in space history and introduce you to the Mercury program’s first astronaut: Ham.

50 years ago today, a chimpanzee named Ham1 was strapped to a rocket and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a 16 minute, 39 second sub-orbital flight. The flight was part of NASA’s Mercury Project which sent the first American into space.

Chimpanzee Ham and technician go over equipment in preparation for launch.

Chimpanzee Ham and technician go over equipment in preparation for launch. – Source: NASA

The NASA publication, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, gives an explanation of Ham’s mission:

Having the same organ placement and internal suspension as man, plus a long medical research background, the chimpanzee chosen to ride the Redstone and perform a lever-pulling chore throughout the mission should not only test out the life-support systems but prove that levers could be pulled during launch, weightlessness, and reentry.

Levers could be pulled, and just about as well as they could be pulled in training on Earth. In fact, Ham’s reaction time was only .02 of a second slower than his performance of the same task on Earth.

During the flight, Ham’s capsule suffered from a partial loss of pressure; however, Ham’s spacesuit saved him from harm. All said and done, Ham returned to Earth in great physical shape, save a bruised nose.

The famous "hand shake" welcome. Chimpanzee Ham is greeted by recovery ship Commander after his flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket.

The famous “hand shake” welcome. Chimpanzee Ham is greeted by recovery ship Commander after his flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket. – Source: NASA

After his flight, Ham spent the next 17 years living at the National Zoo, in Washington D.C. He made numerous television appearances, and appeared in film with Evel Knievel. He died of natural causes in 1983, at the age of 26. Ham has a grave at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.

So today, we look back 50 years and remember Ham and thank him for his contributions to space science.


  1. Technically, he wasn’t named Ham until after his successful mission and return to Earth. Until then, he was simply, #65. This is reportedly because officials were concerned with the bad publicity that would result if an unsuccessful mission was compounded with a named chimp. His handlers, however, called him Chop Chop Chang.

Remembering Challenger

25 years ago today, seven explorers gave their lives in the pursuit of scientific understanding. 73 seconds after lift-off, Challenger broke apart and disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean.

Crew of Challenger STS-51-L

Crew of Challenger STS-51-L

We remember Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

We thank them for assisting in this planet’s quest to reach for the stars.