New Horizons

Today is the day New Horizons will make its closest swing by Pluto, and the world is waiting for the photos and information. It’s going to be an amazing day!

NHHopkinsPoster_letterSize-page-001If you’ve been following NASA’s delve into the deepest parts of our Universe, it’s been a long time coming. Launched in 2006, New Horizons is the first spacecraft to reach Pluto and the Kuiper Belt…the farthest reaches of our Solar System. While it won’t land on Pluto, it is tasked with taking photos and uploading as much information to be transferred back to NASA as possible. We are finally going to see what this planet—and then non-planet—is all about.

Last week, only 10 days before the final pass, New Horizons had a bit of a technical issue which resulted in no information being sent to NASA for almost a 90 minute period. They were forced to shut down the main computer system in order to figure out the problem, but for a while, it was unclear if they’d be able to get it functioning in time to take photos or send back any information at all by the time today rolled around. Thankfully, the amazing brains at NASA managed to figure out the glitch and get New Horizons back on track.

You can read all about the mission, future missions, and what they hope to discover about Pluto at NASA’s New Horizons page right here.

For weeks, NASA has been answering fantastic questions posted by people on their Facebook page, on Twitter and through email. Questions like, “Why is it just passing by and not landing?” (Watch this quick video to find out! Hint: it has something to do with fuel.), and “How big or how small is Pluto?” (answer: it’s only about half the width of the United States).

We have lots of books about space in the library, as well as NASA, and specifically, Pluto. And if you’d like to have your own New Horizons Plutopalooza party to celebrate (maybe a fun event for the kids?), check out the information NASA has compiled on their website, complete with printable stickers, posters and more.

plutoHappy fly-by, New Horizons!  We can’t wait to see what you find!

The Martian

One of the most exciting books I read last year was THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir, and now, it’s going to be a movie released at the end of 2015, starring Matt Damon.

18007564THE MARTIAN is about a crew of astronauts who are living and working on Mars, trying to establish the means for others to eventually inhabit the planet. But when a powerful dust storm forces them to leave suddenly, one of the astronauts–Mark Watney—is believed to be dead, and is left on the planet alone.

NASA discovers he’s still alive only after it’s too late for his crew to return for a rescue mission. So now, the world watches as Mark Watney struggles to survive while NASA scrambles to put together a rescue mission that will be years in the future.

I loved this book, even while the opening was quite technical and a little tedious at times, Weir put together a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering if they can save Watney in time. I”m very excited about the star-studded cast for the movie-version out in November of this year. This is sci-fi without the creatures and hyper-speed, totally plausible if we could get people there safely in the first place.

Have you read this novel, and are you anticipating the movie release?

Need a Little Space?

With the blockbuster GRAVITY still in theatres, and a year filled with fascinating videos and tweets from the International Space Station, the world can’t seem to get enough of space and astronauts. So, it seems fitting that we’re heading into a new year with plenty more sci-fi action. And I couldn’t be happier.

I wasn’t lucky enough to make it out to one of the many book signings he did in Ottawa in December, but I managed to pick up Chris Hadfield‘s book AN ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE TO LIFE ON EARTH here at the library when it came in. I followed @Cmdr_Hadfield on Twitter the entire time he was leading Expedition 35 on the ISS earlier this year, and couldn’t get enough of his witty, interesting and educational tweets. So you can imagine, I was really looking forward to reading this book.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life in Space

I have to admit, I’m not exactly sure if this was meant to be an autobiography or a self-help/inspirational book. At the outset, Hadfield describes his life as a young boy and the choices he consciously makes to one day become an astronaut–even though it seems impossible (there is no Canadian space program, and NASA only considered American’s for their program at the time). I loved hearing about his wise choices as a young person, always asking himself “what would an astronaut do?”, even when the debate was something as simple as staying up late or not.

Similarly, the details of life in space, no matter what mission he was on, were always fascinating. From quarantine regimens to water filtration to suit discomfort, everything is covered. His accounts are well written and full of his trademark humour. If you’re looking for a great read about life in space, this book will not disappoint.

My only negative thought about AN ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE is that it feels at times like he’s trying to prove that he’s a great astronaut, and a great person on top of it all. He’s an extremely confident person, and so he should be. It’s amazing what he’s accomplished in his life, but he seems to want to make sure the reader knows this. For example, he tells a short story about spending time during one mission untangling cords in order for a video feed to broadcast back to Earth. Great. He got it working, and it’s a super example of how the astronauts must work together, sometimes doing menial tasks, to accomplish their goals on each Expedition. But then he mentions offhand that he never told anyone he did this, just went about the job until it was done, because not everything needs to be recognized as an accomplishment. Except that he wrote about it in the book. So, if he didn’t want recognition for doing it, wouldn’t he have left it out of the book altogether?

Unfortunately, after a while, I got a little tired of reading about all the great and simple ways he manages to excel in his life and his job through constant introspection and the humble support he gives his fellow astronauts and team. It not only made me feel like he was constantly bragging about how great his life is, but also made me feel pretty inferior in my day to day life.

His motivational ideas could be quite inspirational for the right person, and anyone gleaning just one great idea from this book will probably see a big difference in their life because of it. I only wish he’d stuck to the mechanics and observations of space travel and life as an astronaut, and left his personal ideals somewhat in the background. I would have sailed through the book if that had been the case.

Keeping with the space theme, I couldn’t pass this book on the shelf without picking it up: Lily Koppel’s THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB.  Koppel details the lives of the other important people involved in space travel…..the women left behind. I can’t wait to crack this open and start reading!


Maybe it’ll keep me going until we receive our copy of Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN in 2014, or even Rachel Searle’s middle grade adventure, THE LOST PLANET.

spacespaceThere will always be an interest in space, and I hope, many more books on the topic to come!

Give the man some Space!

For Frivolous Friday, it’s time we went to space for a while!

Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield is currently living on the International Space Station as the Commander of Expedition 35. He is the first Canadian Commander of  a mission to the ISS, and although the five month stay is almost over, he’s been more active in space than some people are here on Earth.  If you haven’t been following his frequent posts on Twitter and YouTube, you’ve been missing some fascinating stuff!

The official website for the Canadian Space Agency boasts a lot of interesting information about the mission and the studies being done on board the ISS. The science studies include a look at the dangers of radiation exposure during long-term missions as well as the effects of weightlessness in space during that same extended period, as well as many smaller experiments.   But Hadfield has been busy doing his own “studies” in space, usually after prompts from school children he’s been interacting with during the stay. For example, he recently talked about making a peanut butter and jam sandwich in space, which isn’t as simple as it might sound. 

One of the funniest things is the photo contest!  You have another few weeks to drop by and add your own photo to the mix.  Just upload the image of Chris in his astronaut gear, pop him into a photo YOU take, and then submit it to the site.  The three top photo entries with the most votes will win a signed t-shirt and the winning photo entrant will win meet Commander Hadfield during a private webcast.

If you’re interested in reading some books about the International Space Station, or any of the other wonderful books we have about space flight or missions, drop by the library and we can suggest some good reading. Until then, get those photos uploaded and keep watching the official site or Twitter for regular updates from this fascinating Canadian!

Space! Read all about it!

I’ve always been fascinated with space, and the movie Apollo 13 captured a great part of the history of spaceflight. I’m sure it is a pretty good representation of what happened on that disastrous mission, but if you’re interested, there’s now a website that has complete transcripts of the event, as well as other spaceflights. Spacelog allows you to look at the transcripts from various points, in case you want to know just what happened when they stirred those oxygen tanks or at any other event.

Right now, they only offer the Apollo 13 Mission and a Mercury 6 mission, but have big plans for other missions as well.  What a great way to spend a few idle minutes.

How many in space?

I’m a big space fan.  I’ll read anything about space, NASA, or astronauts and I love a good space movie anytime.  So it made me wonder, how many people are in space right now?

freeflyer_nasa_bigOf course, there are always websites to answer these burning questions.  A site called “How Many People Are In Space Right Now?” told me that, today, November 9th, 2009…..there are 6 people in space, all on the International Space Station.

Just where is the International Space Station when you look up into the night sky?  You’ll have to be aware of when it passes over your sector of the sky, so to keep track of its progress, you can follow on Twitter at Twisst.  They notify you when the Space Station will be in your coordinates so that you have your telescope ready!

You can also follow the International Space Station on the NASA website where they list who’s on it right now, what they’re doing (science etc.) and you can also figure out what they might be looking at right now from their vantage point.  NASA has compiled images  of the world taken from the space station so that you can imagine what they see.  As I write this, it is passing over the Cape Verde Islands.

We also have a variety of books on the International Space Station if you’re interested in learning more.  Just pop into the library and we can get you started. It’s a small world!

Space, the final frontier

bg36I’ve been reading a juvenile fiction novel called Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

life which tells the story of a teenage girl living in the aftermath of a devastating asteroid hit to the moon.  The moon is pushed out of orbit and the effects on the earth below are widespread.  The character Miranda tells of the struggle to live in such a world where there is little sunlight, fires, flooding, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and most of all, very little hope.  While the premise might seem almost impossible, people have been fascinated by the idea of the Earth being uninhabitable at some point and what we’d do next.  Of course, we haven’t quite mastered the goal of being able to live on another planet, but people will always be interested in outer space and the idea of space travel for the average person.

When I came across  the Spaceport America website, I wonder really how many people are seriously going to consider space travel once it becomes a commercial endeavor.  Spaceport America is the first and largest company to begin promoting commercial flights to space.  Not surprising, it is located in Roswell,  New Mexico, the famed landing site of a UFO in 1947 and the home of further space exploration from that point on.  New Mexico is considered ideal for a space program of this sort due to the large, open space, dry weather and government support.  Aside from the Roswell incident, White Sands, New Mexico was for many years the home of a landing strip for the NASA space shuttles, and it now regularly hosts the X Prize Cup annual space flight exhibition.

And of course, we’ve all seen Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team promoting space flight for the average person.  (You can see more of Virgin Galactic here.) You can see all about the flights here and also book your ticket, which will run you a cool $200,000 (but you only need to give a deposit of $20,000 right now!).

Would you pay that much just for a short trip above the earth?