Astronauts oversleep, too: follow Apollo 17 live!*

December 6 marked the 43rd anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last mission that landed men on the Moon.

To mark the occasion, developer Ben Feist has created a site that using actual recordings and visuals from the entire mission, lets you live Apollo 17 in real time, second by second as it played out in 1972, and it’s a real treat.

At Apollo17.org, you get to experience all the minutiae of space travel, including equipment meter reads, the details of onboard experiments, you even hear what crewmembers Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Ronald Evans and Jack Schmitt had for breakfast. The stream is strangely gripping – it’s easy to get roped into all the fluid dynamics in microgravity experiment action.

apollo 17 fluid experiment pie shaped things
Phwoar.

You get to know the crew too – Commander Cernan seems serious, and colours inside the lines (well, it figures), while Schmitt’s sense of humour keeps things light. It’s also a reminder that, while they’re achieving crazy feats of exploration, astronauts are only human.

On day three of the mission, something was amiss. As planned, Houston played the crew’s wakeup music (the University of Kansas J-Hawk Fight Song, as you ask – Evans’s alma mater) in an attempt to rouse them at 56 hours and 35 minutes. No response.

A minute later, Houston wishes Apollo 17 a good morning, and again a few minutes later. No response.

Cue the wakeup music again, 10 minutes later. No response.

57 hours, 5 minutes, 2 seconds: “Good morning, Apollo 17. It’s time to rise and shine. Over.”

No response.

Another play of the music half an hour later, and, well, this happened:

apollo 17 oversleep 1

apollo 17 oversleep 2

apollo 17 oversleep 3

apollo 17 oversleep 4

apollo 17 oversleep 5

Their punishment for such a disappearing act? One day annual leave docked. Ouch.

Cernan, Evans and Schmitt, currently* orbiting the Moon, will be landing tomorrow at just before 8pm GMT.

*43 years hence

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Hello, stranger: New Horizons returns best ever images of Pluto

Pluto and Charon HubbleThat’s a picture taken from my Pocket Dorling Kindersley Space Facts book, published in 1995. Back then, that was the clearest image we had of Pluto and its moon Charon.

There have been so many unknowns around Pluto, even in recent memory. It has long been a mysterious place.

Which is what makes the images from New Horizons so exciting – we get a proper look at an old friend for the first time.

nh-mountainousshorline
Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

These are vast sheets of water ice in Sputnik Planum, a frozen plain bordered by the al-Idrisi mountains in Pluto’s northern hemisphere. It’s just one of the images from New Horizon’s nearest approach of Pluto on July 14, which reveal the ex-planet to be far more geologically interesting than that Hubble snap suggests.

“The new details revealed here, particularly the crumpled ridges in the rubbly material surrounding several of the mountains, reinforce our earlier impression that the mountains are huge ice blocks that have been jostled and tumbled and somehow transported to their present locations,” said John Spencer, a New Horizons science team member.

At a resolution of about 80 metres per pixel, the images are six times more detailed than anything we’ve seen before. It’ll take until late next year to get everything back, but unless we go back, these are going to be the best pictures we get of Pluto.

New Horizons’ next stop will be small Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, which hangs around in orbit nearly a billion miles past Pluto. It’ll reach 2014 MU69, also known as Potential Target 1, on January 1, 2019.

New Horizons Pluto
Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Thanks again, Pluto. You’ve been great.