For the first day of August, the story that got all the stargazers jiggling in their seats last week:
Our solar system has become well-balanced since stargazers found that tenth planet. It's 97 times farther from the sun than the earth is, and three times farther from the sun than Pluto, which you may recall was discovered in the late 1930s.
For now, it's called 2003UB313 because the pictures were taken in 2003, but it wasn't identified as a planet until early this year. Astronomers do like to make sure.
We haven't run out of Greco-Roman deities yet so I look forward to hearing what the IAU will name it.
All this hype about the planet and the shuttle reminds me that when I lived there, I was a member of Space Center Houston. I would have been accepted to the NASA oral history project, but for the fact that final exams and an emergency trip to London interfered with orientation training. :(
For old times' sake, here is NASA. They have some excellent multimedia features, streaming NASA TV and everything you want to know about space and the exploration thereof.
The Johnson Space Center, which sprawls leisurely along NASA Parkway in far southwest Houston, is really the nerve centre of the space programme. The shuttle only launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, home to the fleet.
In fact, Houston is called Space City USA on the police department shoulder patch, which also features the globe encircled by two red rings. (Space exploration is a more patriotic theme than the oil and gas exploration, which takes place a few miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.)
As soon as a shuttle leaves the launchpad, control is handed to Houston which is in charge of all shuttle activities. It also coordinates the International Space Station program. The astronauts train at JSC and of course live in Houston. Dad used to have an apartment in the Clear Lake part of town nearby, and every morning before the damp sea mists had rolled away, the astronauts would shoot overhead in their light blue F-14s.
They used to have huge Open Days before 9/11. You get a big NASA bag and collect goodies as you go along. There were tours all over the JSC, including the original mission control room. My highlight was playing with an electron microscope; the closer I zoomed in to the poor little ant, the more electrons bombarded his fragile antennae, and they wilted, curling tightly to his head.
The atmosphere at JSC retains the thrill of its man-on-the-moon anticipation. This is helped by the fact that all the buildings are distinctly early 60s in design, US government-issue (which is really not so dire as the contemporary brutalist buildings found elsewhere). Being so science-based, there is a calmness but obviously with such a mission as theirs, the underlying electricity at NASA is unmistakeable.
An eye-opening NASA Spinoffs website. How the space program has touched our daily lives, from medicine to wine-making.