The International Space Station is amazing. Humanity has a permanently manned space station.

You may think I’m saying that in every article of this series, and I probably am. But that’s because space and our accomplishments are quite frankly brilliant!


The International Space Station (or ISS) is not the first manned space station. The Russian space station Mir is widely considered the first successful long-term space station. Before the launch of the ISS, Mir was the largest satellite in orbit, and until 2010 when its record was surpassed by the ISS, Mir housed the longest continuous human presence in space; an impressive 10 years.

The Russians were leaders in space station technology, and without their expertise, I would argue the ISS would not be here today.

A Joint Venture

The International Space StationThe ISS is a joint space venture between Russia, the United States, the European Space Agency (the people who put Philae on a comet) Japan, Canada and Brazil.

The station was initially launched in in 1998 and has been continually manned since November 2000. Currently the station’s future is confirmed until 2020. It’s long-term future is to be determined by the relations between its key partners, the US and Russia.

The ISS is constantly being improved and upgraded, and is still being built. Amongst their most recent upgrades, includes the installation of a 3D printer. All the add-ons and upgrades are making the station heavier and heavier, and it now weighs more than 400 tonnes! But don’t worry, it isn’t going to fall from the sky any time soon.

The ISS can be seen from Earth, and if you have a pretty jazzy telescope, then you can view it in pretty remarkable detail. If you want to give it a go, check out NASA’s ISS spotters guide.

ISS as seen from Earth

The ISS as photographed through a telescope on Earth.

You can also track the ISS, and see exactly where above the Earth it is in real time. Check out this site which has a live view of what part of the planet the station is over. You may be surprised just how quickly it is moving!

Next Week

After the Thursday post last week and yesterdays site issues, I’m hoping that next Monday’s post will go without a hitch! See you then.

…and we have touchdown!

This week I was going to write about Black Holes, however with history being made yesterday afternoon, how could I not write about the Rosetta mission?

Jonny gave some background to the Rosetta mission a few weeks ago, so now that Philae (the probe) has landed, it’s time for an update!

Philae Has Landed

At 16:05 GMT yesterday afternoon, Philae successfully landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It wasn’t a perfect landing, as when Philae first touched down, it is thought that the harpoons did not fire, and as such, it bounced off potentially up to a kilometer high, before landing again. The European Space Agency belive that it first landed at 15:33 and then it landed again at 17:26. It is thought that the second landing wasn’t a success either, but after another short bounce it is believed that at 17:33 Philae finally landed properly. With so little gravity, it is very fortunate that after one unsuccessful landing Philae didn’t sustain major damage, or wasn’t thrown off into space.

Whilst scientists aren’t sure if Philae is properly secured, they do know that it is functioning as it has already sent communication including pictures, back to Earth.


Sunlight takes 8 minutes and 19 seconds to reach Earth. The signal confirming that Philae had landed took 28 minutes from leaving Rosetta to reach Earth, showing just how far away it is. The comet Rosetta has been tracking takes 6 years to orbit the Sun and is currently around 450 million kilometers from the Sun. To put that into perspective, Earth is around 150 million kilometers from the Sun.


A sound clip from Rosetta has also been sent back to Earth. Want to know what life on a comet sounds like? Check out the clip below.

The sound is going viral, as millions of people on social media speculate as to what it is. It is the lonely sound of space, or could it be aliens crying out?


If you are interested in finding out more about the landing itself, take a look at this handy BBC guide. You can also follow Philae and Rosetta on Twitter. For more information on anything Rosetta, head over to the European Space Agency’s dedicated site.

Naturally, keep a close watch on social media today, for more exciting developments.

The Importance of the Moon

Earth's natural satellite - the moonThe Moon is something many of us take for granted. It doesn’t really do that much, it just sits up their in space.

When someone talks about the Moon what springs to mind? Werewolves? Cheese? Wallace and Gromit?

Maybe you think of Apollo 11 in 1969 and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the Moon.

I watched a very interesting BBC documentary recently called Do We Really Need the Moon? It explored how important the Moon has been to the development of life on Earth, and how important it may become in the future of space travel.

The Moon is likely to have been critical to the creation of life on Earth. It is believed that the Moon was formed when another planet crashed into Earth. At this point, the Earth was an uninhabitable, unstable lava wasteland. The collision created millions of pieces of molten rock which were sent into orbit. The biggest of these chunks of liquid rock grouped together (thanks to our old friend gravity) to form a new structure. Eventually all the pieces either became a part of the Moon, joined onto the Earth, or were flung off into space.

This massive collision reset Earth’s chemistry. Over the next 7 million years, it is thought that the Earth cooled, and water vapour condensed to form oceans. Oceans which the Moon controlled. The water nearest the Moon is affected by its gravitational pull more. This means that water recedes in other areas, amassing in the part of the ocean that is closest to the Moon. This is what creates the tides we know today, the same tides that are thought to have helped to create life – around 4 billion years ago.

Moon's gravity pulling the Earth

A picture from the BBC documentary Do We Really Need the Moon? showing how the Moon’s gravity pulls the oceans of the world towards it – creating tides.

So the Moon helped to create life, but that’s not all, it also helps to maintain it. The distance the Moon is away from the Earth, means that the tides are not too extreme. If the Moon were 20 times close than it is today then the Moon’s gravity would be 400 times stronger than it is today. This would create a huge tidal surge that would completely submerge all major cities around the world. At night, London would be underwater, and then a few hours later the waters would recede and flood New York. Evolution would not be able to adapt to changes that happened this quickly, and life on Earth would not exist.

The Moon also protects us in another way. Here is an image of the nearside of the Moon – the side we always see.

The nearside of the MoonNow here is an image of the farside, also known as the dark side of the Moon.

The farside of the MoonNotice a difference?

The farside is covered in a mass of craters, whilst the nearside is largely unscathed. Every crater on the farside of the Moon is a potential impact that the Moon has prevented for the Earth. Imagine that all meteoroids in space are chunks of iron, and the Moon is a giant magnet. The Moon pulls a lot of this space debris towards it.

Inevitably some meteoroids will collide with Earth, however the Moon does a pretty good job of shielding our planet from a lot of dangerous impacts.

We are pretty lucky really, if the Moon were much closer, or bigger, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Likewise, if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.

So next time you see the Moon, spare a thought for how integral it is to life on Earth.

That’s Not It!

Enjoyed this article? Feeling like you want a bit more Moon stuff? Next week I continue to look at the Moon, this time from the perspective of space travel!