Paper models, photos and musings of a Paper Kosmonaut

29 July 2011

just some musings on space probes

(rendition made by Andrzej Mirecki)

Nice weather and the accompanying holiday-feeling have me not building a lot at the moment.
Today however, I saw one of my modeling friends presenting his work on his rendition of Giotto, another interesting probe sent into outer space, chasing Halley's comet in 1986. A simple cylindrical shape with a small antenna dish on top. The cylinder clad with solar cells.
Again, while reading, I felt a sense of warm interest in this machine, just like I felt with Sojourner, Spirit, Juno, which I make now, Voyager, Cassini/Huygens and Ranger. Pioneering and brave little machines, made by people, sent away to explore and relay their findings in binary code back to their makers.

Again, I feel a bit like an animist, almost adding feelings to a couple of lifeless objects. It just seems these probes are so unique and immensely important, scientifically and historically, and to realise they're out there, doing it automatically, pre-programmed, on their own, but also making their own decisions on how to navigate and self adjusting their attitude towards Earth for the best communication options makes them almost like lonesome researchers in the space jungle.

They pave the way for us (well, not for us, but the generations that will come after us). Probes like NEAR-Shoemaker, landing on an asteroid as an encore to an already successful mission. Huygens, showing us a first peek on how things are going on Saturn's moon Titan. Juno, which in a few years time hopefully will show us more about the magnetic fields around Jupiter, shining some light on why Jupiter is a gas giant and what prevented it of becoming a second sun. Giotto, who had a close encounter with Halley's comet in 1986. The Ranger probes, sent on a suicide mission to the moon in the early sixties, making photographs while they fell to the surface. And of course Spirit, the little rover that outdid its lifespan a dozen times, showing us unprecedented views of Mars and froze to 'death' in a cold Martian winter. All pioneers in their own league without a single astronaut on board.
NEAR-Shoemaker on the planetoid Eros.
Huygens on Saturn's moon Titan

The last picture of Ranger 7 before impacting on the moon's surface.
The crash occurred while the photo still wasn't fully transmitted, hence the
noise on the right. The picture shows an area roughly the size of a tennis court, 
craters on the photo are about a metre in diameter.


I always have considered myself a manned space flight enthusiast. How is it then I always realise I have this warm little place in my heart for these brave little man made machines?

I think it has to do with what they "see". They are the kind of 'unsung heroes'. There are no "Small step for men" quotes from them. They just send back the data and the pictures of  what they encounter on their cold/hot journey into the relative unknown. They prove unproven theories and show the amazing view they have on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the other heavenly bodies in our solar system. They're travellers to places we really would love to go to but yet not have the means to go to. 

There's a desire in me wanting to see what they see with my own eyes. Not the pictures they beam back, no, the real thing. Looking down on Saturn, seeing its rings being cleaved by tiny moons, seeing the tail of a comet from close up, soaring high over Olympus Mons on Mars. They are there. Some of them are even further, leaving our solar system for the unknown territories of what really is outer space.
They are there. Now.
For a manned ship to follow them, we still have to wait a very long time.
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