We have officially seen two billionaires travel to space within a week of each other. The first being Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, and the second being Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin and Amazon. This may very well be a signal of change in the realm of space travel.
Alongside the astronauts that we grew up idolizing are now billionaires and tourists. This raises lots of problems for me. It begs the question, what does it mean to be an astronaut now? Has the achievement lost some weight now that money can buy it? I don't think the achievement of being an astronaut in the traditional sense is worth any less. I see going to space as a researcher and explorer very different from going as a tourist. Space is vast enough and complicated enough that we will always need explorers in space, but now they can coexist with tourists. I find that our reverence for astronauts ultimately comes from the fact that they are brave explorers of the unknown. Space tourism is fascinating in it's own right, but it will never require the same expertise and courage that being an explorer does. I think people will naturally recognize that difference.
I think that space tourism has the potential to do a lot of good if done correctly. My hope is that space tourism focuses on what astronauts have coined as the "Orbital Perspective". This is a perspective that views the world as one, undivided by nation lines or tribe - a perspective that only going to space can possibly force you to see. Through the orbital perspective, one sees humanity mothered by a green world, held in equilibrium by a thin, fragile atmosphere. I hope that some of the rich and powerful space tourists's perspective on the world changes from going to space. Time will tell, but I am hoping for the best.
I currently have the amazing opportunity to take a class from one of my heroes: Brian Greene. Brian Greene is a highly successful theoretical physicist, making significant contributions to String Theory. He has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the Joe Rogan Podcast. The class I am taking from Dr. Greene at Columbia University is called Origins and Meaning which explores theoretical physics, life, and philosophy. This connection has always been incredibly fascinating to me, especially in regards to cosmology, which is the study of the origins of the universe. I thought this would be a good space to share some of the information I have learned in the class and through personal research! I highly recommend checking out Brian Greene's books; he is a fantastic author and is great at explaining incredibly complex topics in a way that pretty much anyone can understand. His most recent book is called "Until the End of Time", which I have attached the link to below along with his twitter and website. Finally, I have attached the file for my paper at the bottom as well. Enjoy!
Until the End of Time: https://www.amazon.com/Until-End-Time-Evolving-Universe/dp/1524731676
File for my paper:
One of SpaceX's major goals has always been to make deep space voyages a practical, cost-efficient, and common activity. SpaceX is in the process of making this a reality with its latest rocket, the Starship. The rocket is eye-catching. It looks as if it came out of a science-fiction TV show from the 1960's. Despite looking so whimsical, SpaceX has high hopes for their rocket of the future.
The rocket is planned to be flown both alone and as the second stage for a larger rocket for deep space missions. SpaceX plans to maximize efficiency with Starship by flying it with the ultra efficient SpaceX Raptor engine. The Raptor engine essentially re-burns lost fuel, allowing for a more effective usage of the fuel. Starship will also be reusable, which saves a large sum of money in the long run, which we have seen with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.
Earlier this year, SpaceX made a smaller prototype of the Starship, called the Starhopper, which was used to test hardware and flight systems. Starhopper also completed flight tests of the Raptor engine, which were successful.
Recently, SpaceX has been assembling and running preliminary tests on a full scale Starship prototype. On November 21, 2019 the Starship prototype in Boca Chica, Texas, Mk-1, failed a pressurization test. The bulk head at the top of the rocket blew off, as the fuel tank failed to handle the pressure of the test. The rocket was left standing upright, as vapor continued to rise from the busted fuel tank. This event raised many questions about how Starship's development will be affected by the failure. SpaceX quickly made a statement explaining that the test was meant to push the limits of the rocket's capabilities, so the results were not unexpected. There will not be any significant setback to Starship's timeline and SpaceX plans to continue regular testing and operations.
I look forward to seeing what Starship is capable of and the impact it will have on deep space travel. I would love to hear your thoughts on Starship and its effects!
Congratulations to the 2019 Future Voyager Scholarship Recipient, Mason Fisher!
Mason was selected because of his consistent interest and involvement in STEM, as well as for his character. Along with being an incredibly smart, hard-working, and impressive student, he is also a kind individual. All of these qualities make him perfect for the Future Voyager Scholarship, and will be crucial to his future successes and endeavors.
•3 Spools of 3D printer filament (White, Black, and Blue)
•Arduino Robotics Set
•“Getting Started with 3D Printing: A Hands-on Guide to the Hardware, Software, and Services Behind the New Manufacturing Revolution” book
Finally, thank you Milano’s Italian Restaurant for allowing us to host this surprise ceremony at their location!
The next stage of fundraising for the 2020 Future Voyager Scholarship will be beginning soon! I plan to involve local businesses and restaurants in the fundraising process for the first time, in hopes of raising a greater sum of money, allowing the scholarship to have a greater impact.
About Dr. Tobias Marriage
For some background, I have attached Dr. Marriage's biography from the Johns Hopkins website.
"Tobias Marriage’s research interests lie in cosmology and astrophysics with an emphasis on the cosmic microwave background (CMB). His research activities include millimeter-wave instrumentation, fieldwork, and analysis. Marriage played a major part in building the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT), a mm-wave telescope 5,000 meters above sea level in Chile that studies fine angular-scale structure in the CMB. He and his group continue to work with ACT data and other datasets to study galaxies and galaxy clusters. Marriage is now a Co-PI of the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS) project. CLASS is an array of telescopes designed to measure the CMB polarization on the largest angular scales over a broad range of frequencies. The primary goal of CLASS is to detect and characterize the expected gravitational waves from inflation via the induced B-mode polarization pattern in the CMB. CLASS also measures when the first stars formed (by constraining the optical depth to reionization) and searches for large angular scale polarization anomalies that could provide new insights beyond the current cosmological paradigm."
I have also attached his Curriculum Vitae below.
Q: Where do you see the future of astrophysics research going?
I see the near future playing out along the same lines as the last two decades. Powerful ground-based (e.g., 30 m class) and space-based telescopes (e.g., the James Webb Space Telescope) will enable astronomers, from individuals to medium-sized teams, to reveal the character of our universe. In the last twenty years, we have also witnessed the rise of mega-teams ("collaborations") that come together to make definitive measurements ("surveys") of large parts of the universe. The poster child of the next generation of these is going to be carried out over the whole southern sky by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Though major surveys are also planned or taking place across the electromagnetic spectrum.
Q: What do you find most exciting about the research that is being done right now in the field of astrophysics (including your own work with CLASS)?
For me, the most profound questions center on understanding how the universe as a whole came to be the way it is. This has two parts: (1) making measurements back to the earliest times and then (2) using physics to understand what we see. For me, the most exciting part of this enterprise is when the physics with which we're familiar cannot explain the measurements. This has happened with dark matter and dark energy. These two effects govern the universe today, and we while we have a good mathematical parametrization for them, we don't know what they are from basic physical principles. These two things are probably the most significant mysteries facing physics and astronomy today.
Q: What would you say is the frontier of astrophysics? (i.e. What are some of the major unknowns that astrophysicists are trying to solve?)
Astrophysics is a broad discipline, and there are many frontiers. In cosmology, as I said, we don't know what dark matter is, and we don't understand why the expansion of the universe is accelerating (that's dark energy). The other major cosmological frontier is at the very beginning of the universe -- trying to understand what set the initial conditions from which the stars, galaxies, and, eventually, us grew. Right now the most successful theory of this is called inflation, which posits that everything in the universe grew from microscopic quantum fluctuations that were inflated to cosmological sizes. Sounds crazy but it works. Outside of cosmology, a major, relatively new, frontier is the study of exoplanets -- planets outside of our solar system. The holy grail here is to find an earth-like planet. Of course the newest frontier is gravitational wave astronomy with LIGO, VIRGO, etc. That is just getting started, and it will be exciting to see what more we learn from these measurements.
Q: What advice would you give to a high school student with a keen interest in astrophysics and cosmology, like myself?
In high school, of course you should take key science classes, like physics, chemistry, biology. But also learn how to read and write very well. This is harder than it sounds. I would recommend seeking out research at the university level early, starting second semester freshman year. (Take the first semester to settle in and get your feet on the ground.) Research tends to be focused on a particular problem, so you'll want to use your own reading and coursework to broaden your purview to be informed for your next steps. This includes taking the humanities seriously. I recommend being wary of having two concentrations (majors) unless you really want to do both. While having multiple degrees sounds attractive, it can be more rewarding to have one concentration (such as physics or astronomy) and then explore broadly and take the best classes in different departments. (This is what I wish I had done!)
Thank you so much to Dr. Marriage for making this interview possible, providing such great responses, and being so kind throughout the process. It is greatly appreciated!
This photo represents a major milestone for astrophysics. This is our first visual and direct evidence of a black hole. Black holes have long been theorized to exist, given they are allowed to exist in Einstein's equations. We have detected black holes, mainly through the radiation they exude: Hawking Radiation. However, a photo had never been taken of a black hole, mainly because of the engineering difficulties to do so. A team of scientists has finally conquered that feat. The scientists who coordinated this project made a network of telescopes around the world, calling themselves the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.
The scientists pointed all of the telescopes at the same point, essentially creating a telescope the size of Earth. Once the data from each telescope was stitched together, a single image of the black hole could be produced. On April 10, 2019, scientists unveiled this picture of the black hole at the center of Messier 87. It is important to note that technically the image shows the silhouette of the black hole, given it is currently impossible to view past the event horizon.
What are your thoughts on the black hole?
These are some photos from the Total Lunar Eclipse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon January 20-21, 2019. Were you able to see the moon? Did you enjoy the event?
The unique color and size of the moon comes from the combination of the phenomenon occurring all at the same time. The redness is from the blood moon and the size is from the super moon. Wolf moon is a term referring to the first full moon of the year.
SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday, March 2, 2019. The capsule docked with the International Space Station this morning. The Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on the 'Of Course I Still Love You" drone-ship following the launch. The mission was "intended to demonstrate SpaceX’s capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program" (SpaceX Crew Demo-1 Mission Overview).
The success of this mission marks a major milestone in modern day space exploration. SpaceX has now proven that they are prepared and equipped to send humans to space. This signifies that SpaceX can now continue to move closer towards launching humans into space, for the first time from a rocket, since the last Space Shuttle launch.
This milestone comes along with the success of another private space company, Virgin Galactic, who became the first private company to send humans to space (however this is a topic of debate that will be talked about later) from the United States, late last year. Virgin Galactic's current goal is space tourism, while SpaceX's is human space exploration.
In fact, Virgin Galactic has done it twice. The first mission, which occurred on December 13, 2019 featured two pilots. The second, which occurred on February 22, 2019 had 3 passengers, including 2 pilots and a passenger/cabin specialist, who will train future fliers. All passengers of both flights received their astronaut wings. Virgin Galactic founder, Richard Branson, plans to fly his first flight on July 16, 2019. Both missions flew into space as defined by the US Air Force, however, neither have passed limit defined by the International Astronautical Federation. There is some debate as to whether this should be defined as a space flight. Regardless, the flight is still monumentous, and the Unity will continue to fly farther to reach what is unanimously defined as outer space.
Virgin Galactic, like SpaceX, uses a special method to make space travel efficient and relatively inexpensive. Virgin Galactic flies it's rocket plane, VSS Unity, to an altitude of , attached to a larger plane. Once it reaches this altitude, the spaceship separates from its host vehicle, ignites it engine, and begins it's gradual assent to space. After reaching space and completing the mission, Unity glides and lands like a plane, similar to the Space Shuttle. All of these money saving tactics makes space travel more convenient and accessible to the public.
We are seeing a significant shift towards human space travel through private companies rather than the government. This shift had been noticeable in the past, however all of these companies and projects were in their infancy. There had been great doubt surrounding the success (and even the possibility) a private companies. These recent achievements are beginning to change the attitude towards these companies.
What do you think about the latest achievements in space exploration by private companies? Feel free to share your thoughts below!
After getting caught in a dust storm, NASA's Opportunity mars rover officially died. It's solar panels got covered in dust and were no longer able to produce energy. It's last communication occurred June 10, 2018 and the last attempt to reach the rover occurred on February 13, 2019, to not avail. NASA declared it was going to stop attempt to reach the rover after the final attempt.
Opportunity was launched with its twin rover, Spirit, in 2003, as a part of a mission to search Mars for past life. Opportunity was only planned to survive for 90 days and exceeded this expectation by about 14 years! Spirit was also only planned to survive for 90 days and outlived the estimate by about 7 years, with the mission ending on May 25, 2011. Spirit got stuck in soft soil, and was never able to escape.
Both of these rovers gave us extremely useful information about mars, such as the fact that Mars was once far wetter than it is today.
The general public has grown quite emotional about the termination of Opportunity's mission, and have called for missions to revive it. Some say that builders should send the next rover with additional batteries to bring new life to the classic Mars rover.
What do you think about the attempts to revive Opportunity? How do you feel about Opportunities mission coming to an end?
The winner of the scholarship has been announced! Isabella Velasco is officially the first recipient of the Future Voyager Scholarship! I surprised her with the news that she had been selected as the recipient of the scholarship on June 3rd! She received a Raspberry Pi 3, a 3D printer, two rolls of filament, a book to help in the process of discovering the art of additive manufacturing, and "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry" by Neil deGrasse Tyson! Each of these items fits Isabella's interests uniquely to fuel her interest in the STEAM. I am also going to personally mentor her with whatever she may need help with. I would like to give a special thanks to all of those who donated to make this possible! Thank you to Mochi for allowing us to make the surprise possible by allowing us to host the celebration at their location. I will keep everyone updated on her progress!