February 24th, 2012
01:10 PM ET

Rare Challenger disaster video surfaces

They are nightmarish images that are burned into the national consciousness: the ominous twin exhaust trails of the exploding space shuttle Challenger.

More than a quarter century later, in an extremely rare discovery, Bob Karman of  Hicksville, New York,  has uncovered amateur VHS videotape of the tragedy, shot during his family's vacation on that day, January 28, 1986. The video first surfaced on  New Scientist.

Appearing on CNN Newsroom on Friday, Karman said he believes it is the only known VHS amateur videotape of the explosion. The other known tape was shot on Betamax format, Karman told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield. "The emotions do come out every time you see the tape  and the tragedy that occurred," said Karman. "It just reinforces the bravery of these astronauts going up in space."

In the video, Karman, his late wife and his then-three-year-old daughter Kim are at an Orlando, Florida, airport - about 50 miles from Kennedy Space Center.

"While we were at the airport people were returning from their vacations and I said, 'Look over there and you'll be able to see the space shuttle taking off,'" Karman recalled.

Off camera, you can hear voices in the video suggesting that they're unaware of the historic events that are taking place before their eyes.

"They're on their way," says a voice.

Of course they weren't on their way.

Challenger's seven crew members - who President Reagan famously said "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" - perished shortly after liftoff. See CNN's 25th anniversary coverage from 2011.

"I had a sense that there was something going wrong," said Karman. "But it wasn't until we got on the airplane that the pilot announced the tragedy that had occurred."

"The rest of the plane flight home was very somber."

Karman's daughter can be seen at the top of the video. She now works at New Scientist, said Karman, who stumbled across the tape again after all these years as part of a home-video digitizing project in preparation for his retirement.

"I remembered this tape, but it was a lot better than I remembered," Karman said. "So I sent a copy to my daughter at New Scientist magazine and it became an Internet sensation."

How often does an artifact like this pop up? Especially when you consider that most Americans didn't own video recorders in 1986. It makes you wonder what other historic video treasures are out there buried in closets, attics and basements.

Follow CNN Newsroom's Randi Kaye on Facebook.

Follow CNNLightYears on Twitter

Post by:
Filed under: News
February 19th, 2012
07:48 AM ET

Glenn's historic orbits still inspire you

On Monday, it will be exactly 50 years since the day John Glenn helped America turn the corner in the Space Race with the Soviets.

When Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet, it triggered a celebration and sense of pride that arguably was crucial to astronauts later setting foot on the moon.

So huge was this national mood swing that followers of CNN's Light Years space and science blog still remember it a half-century later. They're sharing their memories about where they were and what they felt on February 20, 1962.

"I was a junior in high school when John Glenn went on his ride around the Earth," wrote OldGoat in Light Years comments. "It seemed amazing at the time that such a thing could be done."

Glenn's 4 hour, 55 minute mission was really a giant tech-game of Cold War "catch-up." See more rare LIFE photos of Glenn during the Space Race.

It's easy to forget that not long before Glenn's three-orbit flight, the public knew NASA more "for its failures and delays than for its space exploration," wrote Tom Streissguth in his Glenn biography. "The Soviet space program was far more successful."

More than ten months before Glenn's flight, Moscow fired the first shot in this battle to dominate human space exploration, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth.

After Washington recovered from the shock, it answered with Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom - America's first and second men in space. But their 15-minute missions blasted off and then splashed down. No orbiting. They paled in comparison to Gagarin's single-orbit around-the-world ride.

Then Moscow embarrassed Washington again when Gherman Titov circled the planet - not once - but 16 times.

It sure looked like America might be on its way to losing the Space Race.

"Everything about the space program was cool back then and really gave the U.S. something to shoot for," said Light Years follower Bob Knippel. "It's not at all like that today, the way it permeated American consciousness."

Leading up to Glenn's mission, there were safety questions about his 125-ton Atlas rocket. Streissguth wrote that during one testing period the rocket "failed four out of every 10 launches."

"People have always asked if I was afraid," Glenn wrote in his 2000 memoir. "I wasn't. Constructive apprehension is more like it."

After many delays, the launch went without a hitch. But during re-entry a false alarm prompted worries about the spacecraft's protective heat shield. Light Years follower Montello recalled CBS news anchor "Walter Cronkite's nonstop commentary during the time Glenn was in space and the elation when he landed safely."

As Light Years commenter The_Mick, put it: "John Glenn's flight put us in the major leagues!" While Judie wrote, "I remember it well and was so proud; I still am!"

Watch rare archival film of Glenn's flight

In fact, the national celebration for Glenn's mission was so intense Washington held a parade for the 40-year-old Marine Corps colonel.

Thousands cheered as he left a White House meeting with President Kennedy and was driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill. There, Glenn addressed Congress saying, "I believe we're on the brink of an era of expansion of knowledge about ourselves and our surroundings that is beyond comprehension." You can see Glenn's handwritten speech notes here.

The emotional momentum spurred by Glenn's successful flight culminated just seven years later, when Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and their colleagues accomplished a lunar landing that many said was impossible.

Now, a half-century after Glenn's flight, Light Years follower Gregory L. Faith told us he still has "a picture of Mr. Glenn in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform with his signature. It is my only prized possession of an era gone by."

Works4me summed up feelings for Glenn in three words.

"My first hero."

Our friends at Time and LIFE offer a glimpse of rare and unpublished images of Glenn by some of LIFE's finest photographers.

These images - some in the gallery above and others at LIFE's website - document a brief period, and some would say perhaps a more naive, less-cynical time, when Glenn and his astronaut colleagues inspired the nation.

What about now?

Who's inspiring the next generation?

And if not space, in what new competitive arenas will they test themselves? Stay tuned.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNLightYears

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • On this Day • People in Orbit
February 15th, 2012
01:01 PM ET

Our crazy neighbor just got more bizarre

We all have a crazy neighbor, whether we realize it or not.

Sound familiar? This hot-headed, fiery personality is one of the biggest kids on the block - huge in fact. This kid is a little unstable, with a history of doing things that are hard to figure out. And what a clothes-horse this one is - all wrapped up in amazing colors. Oh yeah, and there's a little irritating sibling who comes around every so often.

Our "neighbor" is a star about 120 times bigger than our sun and lives relatively nearby - about 7,500 light years away. It goes by the name Eta Carinae. It's possibly the most studied object outside our own solar system.

Mainly Eta is famous for its mysterious temper tantrum of astronomical proportions that rocked the galaxy back in the 1840s. The tantrum, dubbed the Great Eruption, ignited Eta for just a few years to become among the brightest stars in the night sky  before it drastically faded, all for reasons unknown.


Post by:
Filed under: In Space • News
Visible from space: Mars rover platform
The first color image of Spirit's lander platform (in the extreme lower left -- it's NOT easy to spot) was taken from orbit last month.
February 8th, 2012
05:51 PM ET

Visible from space: Mars rover platform

Wow! You often hear about big stuff on the ground being "visible from space," right ?

Usually, you hear about The Great Wall of China. We've seen photos of the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center from the orbiting international space station and images of the sunken hulk of the Costa Concordia off Italy.

But how about this?

A photo of the lander platform for the Spirit robot rover on the surface of Mars - some 69 million miles away - taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter about 200 miles above the Red Planet. Yep, eight years after delivering the then-star of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,  the platform is still standing. Located in the lower left of the photo, the platform has a reddish color - likely from exposure to Martian dust.

NASA says this is the first image from orbit to show Spirit's lander platform in color.

It's pretty nice resolution for a hunk of high-technology measuring about 9 feet across and weighing about 800 pounds.

During its six-year heyday, Spirit poked around a Martian plain while investigating volcanic rocks and craters - about two miles east of this landing site.

In fact, Spirit took humankind's first microscopic image of the surface of another planet, according to NASA, and the first-ever look inside a Martian rock.

Then after accomplishing its primary mission, it headed for nearby hills to look for evidence of Martian water. Spirit found evidence that volcanic rock might have been affected by water long ago.

Remember Spirit's ro-bro? Its robot brother Opportunity landed on Mars within weeks of Spirit, also finding evidence of water.

So keep on keepin' on ro-bros ... we here on Earth will be looking in on you from time to time.

Post by:
Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • Mars • News
Atomic X-ray lasers!
The LCLS undulator array contains 33 magnets that create the x-ray laser from a pulse of electrons.
January 26th, 2012
05:30 PM ET

Atomic X-ray lasers!

Researchers at Stanford University reported a breakthrough in X-ray laser technology in this week's Nature: a super-powerful free-electron X-ray laser that can be used to measure change in matter over tens of hundredths of a second, faster than they've ever been able to measure before.

X-ray lasers aren't a new thing. In fact, this laser is based on an existing X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford, which has been in operation for two years.

In order to produce this new X-ray laser, researchers focused the light from LCLS through neon gas, which produced a laser that's not quite as bright as the LCLS, but is also a single frequency, unlike the LCLS. What makes this particular laser special is that single frequency, as it makes the laser capable of much more precise measurements than the LCLS, over much shorter spans of time, says physicist Jon Marangos of London's Imperial College.

Gingrich promises JFK-like space speech
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's space address comes nearly 50 years after President Kennedy's moon-shot speech.
January 24th, 2012
10:16 AM ET

Gingrich promises JFK-like space speech

Could it be a coincidence that GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich describes his upcoming speech on space policy Wednesday as a "visionary" address "in the John F. Kennedy tradition?"

Perhaps not. After all 2012 is the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's iconic "we choose to go to the moon in this decade" speech, where he performed a presidential Babe Ruth. Like the Sultan of Swat, Kennedy dared to point out a seemingly impossible goal and swing for it - hitting a home run.


Post by:
Filed under: In Space • Mars • News
January 19th, 2012
02:03 PM ET

Comet death may hint at birth of Earth

It may be the closest thing to hell ever observed by science.

Researchers revealed breathtaking images on Thursday of a kamikaze comet called C/2011 N3 (SOHO) taking a swan-dive into the sun.

Images and research published in the journal Science show a house-sized rock plummeting at more than 1 million miles per hour through million-degree temperatures to within a relative hair's breadth of the sun's surface.

Observations like this have never been seen before, says Karel Schrijver, who led the research at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. "It's never been observed anywhere near this close to the sun."


Post by:
Filed under: Discoveries • In Space
I see you: Spy versus spy in space
The Pentagon's unmanned X-37B spaceplane has been in orbit since March 2010 on a secret mission.
January 13th, 2012
12:33 PM ET

I see you: Spy versus spy in space

The online space community was surprised to say the least. A respected British space magazine editor said last week that the Pentagon's secret unmanned X-37B spaceplane was likely spying on a Chinese satellite.

The blogosphere erupted with outrage. The spacecrafts' orbits were too different, experts said.

"INCORRECT!" tweeted @EllieAsksWhy.

Ex-NASA mission controller James Oberg blogged that a "well-respected British spaceflight society" had committed a "horrendous error."


Post by:
Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
January 4th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Leapin’ lizards, ‘Tailbots’ and Iron Man suits

What do you get when you cross a robot with the tail of a leaping lizard? A “Tailbot.”

Research published Wednesday in the journal Nature shows how scientists at the University of California, Berkeley developed an active “tail” for a robotic car called Tailbot. When Tailbot jumps a ramp, its tail stops it from pitching forward and tumbling end-over-end to the ground.

Tailbot is just the latest step forward in the area of bio-inspired robotics, says chief researcher Bob Full, professor of integrative biology.


Post by:
Filed under: Dinosaurs • Discoveries • On Earth
Space idea factory & brainstorming school
A nuclear fuel production facility in space might power a nuclear rocket, seen here in an artist's rendering, to Mars.
December 27th, 2011
09:01 AM ET

Space idea factory & brainstorming school

You might call it an idea factory for space exploration. A unique program at the University of Southern California asks students at the Graduate Space Concepts Studio of the Department of Astronautical Engineering to dream up humanity’s next big space adventure.

Program graduates include George Whitesides, a top exec at commercial space outfit Virgin Galactic. Others have worked at SpaceX, NASA, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin joined graduates this month to unveil their amazing ideas. Here are just a few:

  • Make nuclear fuel in space: Nuclear power may be the best viable solution for long-distance space travel. But where should the nuclear fuel be produced? Grad student Jake Dodd proposes a system to create it in space. This would avoid risks posed by creating it on Earth and use rockets to launch radioactive fuel through the atmosphere. Dodd named his idea SNAP: Space-based Nuclear Activision Plant. From a constant position in space, SNAP would “ingest fertile materials shipped from Earth, transmute them into useable nuclear fuels, and aid in the manufacture and distribution of space based nuclear fuel,” Dodd said. He suggests that SNAP might use nuclear power technologies such as molten salt reactors or nuclear-pumped lasers.
  • Build an industrial research park on the moon: The U.S. – especially the private sector – could provide communications, navigation and lunar ground infrastructure for China, India and other nations to send their own vehicles to the moon and back.
  • Use the space station to build space ships: Use the International Space Station as a scaffold to build the next-generation lunar orbiting station. Use the lunar station to develop and build a manned spacecraft called the Cosmic Mariner, which would journey to targets like Mars, the asteroid belt and the outer planets.
  • Build orbiting “filling stations” for rockets: Rockets could fill up at these floating “gas stations” so they could use their powerful engines to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere instead of the traditional method of “falling” through the atmosphere at high speeds.
  • Commercial astronauts build energy satellites: The private sector and NASA should develop a commercial astronaut corps program to start training crew who can go out on weekly missions to build, among other projects, satellites that would create microwave energy from the continually available sunlight and beam it to Earth. Such projects would create high-paying jobs and help bolster the sagging world economy.

This spring, development of the lunar research park idea will be shared with USC’s School of Architecture in a special graduate study topic called “Moon Studio.”

Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter.

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • Mars • News
« older posts
newer posts »


  • Elizabeth Landau
  • Sophia Dengo
    Senior Designer