62 Years Ago Today: Rick Douglas Husband (July 12, 1957 – February 1, 2003)

Another space programme related anniversary. The birth of Rick Husband.

High Calling by Evelyn Husband with Donna Vanliere

high callingOn February 1st 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing all seven crew members. Rick Husband was the commander of the mission.

Evelyn Husband and their children, were waiting for Rick’s return at the Kennedy Space Centre, and it became clear that something was wrong when the clock counting down to the shuttle’s return, passed zero and started to count upwards.

Evelyn wrote High Calling only months after she lost her husband.
It is the story of Rick’s desire to become an astronaut, the difficulties he faced trying to be accepted into NASA’s space program, and the Christian faith motivating him, no matter what the career outcomes.

Rick Husband seems to have been a well-liked team leader of a very close-knit crew. Their bond strengthened by the extra time together caused by launch date delays. Husband’s STS-107 mission was leap-frogged by several other missions, their launch finally coming after STS-113.

The flight had added significance with the first Israeli astronaut being part of the crew, increasing security concerns prior to launch.

It’s a challenging book on many levels, that I found potentially raised questions about God, faith in Him, and the value of prayer.

“Why (or how) could God allow such a thing to happen to a crew headed by a devoted Christian?” Considering the outcome, what’s the point of praying for safety and success during a presumed “God given” task?

Are those two questions based upon wrong assumptions about the nature of a person’s faith (in God’s eyes rather than our own), and the reality of God’s will (as it actually is rather than our perception of it?)

Are the potential doubts at the heart of questions like those merely an expression of a lack of appreciation that God’s ways are not our ways? Maybe, what seems like a tragedy and a failure to man is in reality God’s way of moving towards eternal outcomes about which we know nothing and therefore currently can’t appreciate.

Rick Husband faced life with a favoured bible reference  in mind.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Trusting Him would include being careful not to draw glib and presumptuous conclusions that lead to unwise judgements.  To me that seems to be the message of the book of Job, and it seems relevant to this situation. After incredible suffering, and enduring the theological opinions of well-meaning, but ill-informed friends, Job is addressed by God who highlights the limits of man’s understanding.

Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?

To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?   (Job 39: 2-7) (See Job 38-41 for full discourse)

Rick Husband and Mike Anderson, friends, crewmates on Columbia mission STS- 107 and brothers in Jesus.




Mission patch.

The central element of the patch is the microgravity symbol, µg, flowing into the rays of the astronaut symbol.
The sunrise is representative of the numerous experiments that are the dawn of a new era for continued microgravity research on the International Space Station and beyond.
The constellation Columba (the dove) was chosen to symbolise peace on Earth and the Space Shuttle Columbia. The seven stars also represent the mission crewmembers and honour the original Mercury astronauts who paved the way to make research in space possible.
The Israeli flag is adjacent to the name of the payload specialist who is the first person from that country to fly on the Space Shuttle.

(adapted from here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-107#/media/File:STS-107_Flight_Insignia.svg )



40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago today, NASA’s abandoned Skylab space station crashed to earth in southern Western Australia

Skylab was a US space station launched by NASA in 1973, and was manned by teams of astronauts as it orbited the earth. It collected vast amounts of data and images before being abandoned in space in 1974.

In 1979, NASA realised that Skylab was starting to break up and would re-enter the earth atmosphere, but they were unable to control Skylab’s path, nor could they predict exactly where the pieces might land.

As NASA, and the world’s media, tracked Skylab’s progress in early July 1979, it seemed it could end up anywhere.

In the early hours of the 12th of July, 1979, Skylab crashed on WA’s south east coast, scattering debris across the Nullarbor and the eastern goldfields and causing a worldwide sensation.



From my NASA patch collection.





I obtained my first patches from a stall at a University astronomy night around 25 years ago. I chose two that I thought were significant: the Challenger’s last launch, and the mission with America’s first female astronaut.

Many years after that I received, for Christmas, a full set of patches for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Since then I’ve started to add others to the collection, including the above Skylab examples.

I Soyuz This Morning.

The International Space Station must feel a lot roomier now, after half the crew came to the end of their mission and returned home.

Earlier today I watched the live coverage on the NASA website, of the Russian Soyuz capsule undocking at the start of its journey back to earth.


On board were Anne McClain (USA), David Saint-Jacques (Canada) and Oleg Kononenko (Russia).

Travel to and from the ISS has been reliant upon the Russian Soyuz, since the end of the American Space Shuttle program almost 8 years ago. Soyuz flights begin and end in Kazakhstan, which has been the home of the Russian space program from it’s very beginning.

(Launched from Baikonur)

landing site


Unlike the watery returns of US space capsules familiar from the Apollo era, the Russians have always had land based returns with their capsules thudding to earth in deserted countryside, the final descent slowed by parachutes and a sudden burst of rockets about one metre before contact.

Photos below: Oleg, Anne, and David, being helped from the capsule after a safe landing.

anne 2.png


Returned Soyuz capsule
returned soyuz


All images are screen shots from the NASA coverage broadcast on https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive this morning (AEST).

Also see https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-television-to-cover-departure-landing-of-astronaut-anne-mcclain-and-space-station

How many astronauts does it take to change a light bulb?


Gloria and I have been following the International Space Station and its crew for the past few months, after seeing it pass overhead back in February.

Since then we’ve subscribed to NASA’s Spot the Station, receiving email advices about when it will be visible from our town. We have seen it many times now, most recently last night. We were hoping for another viewing this evening, but it seems like it will be too cloudy.

The crew inhabiting the station throughout our observation period has come to the end of their mission and will be returning to earth in a couple of days.

In the following video, Anne McClain, one of the three imminent returnees demonstrates the answer to the question “how many astronauts does it take to change a lightbulb?@

Life Beyond Earth

One of the aims of the Mars mission mentioned in my previous post, is to seek out evidence of some kind of life on Mars.
Last year I posted thoughts about the implications of the search for life beyond earth.


Within the comments section after that article I noted that any search for life elsewhere in space has already, most likely, been compromised by the many space craft and associated vehicles that mankind has already sent out there.

Can it be guaranteed that on all of that space-borne equipment not a single element of biological contamination has taken place? That every mission sent from various nations hasn’t transported a viable population of bacteria to the planets that were being explored?

No it can’t be guaranteed.

surevyor 3.jpgIn fact life has already been found on the moon, by the Apollo 12 mission. They retrieved equipment from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft that had previously landed on the moon. Upon that equipment they reportedly found biological contamination, the common bacterium Streptococcus mitis, possibly deposited by a technician sneezing on it during its preparation for launch.
Later assertions have been made that the contamination was caused during or after the return to earth – but could that be a case of attempting to convince the public that the stable door had remained securely closed, and that the bacterial horse had not actually bolted?

No matter how strenuous those assertions may be, it is clear that the possibility of contamination from earth remains a viable possibility.

…despite using plasma (matter composed of electrically charged particles), intense radiation and heat to sterilise the components, and using special “clean rooms” to assemble them, it has proved impossible to construct a microbe-free spacecraft. The heat, cold, vacuum and harsh radiation encountered during spaceflight will kill most of them, but some will probably remain alive long enough to reach the destination. Experiments on the International Space Station have proved that spore-forming bacteria can remain viable in space for at least as long as it takes to get to Mars. [my emphasis in bold – onesimus]  (from https://phys.org/news/2017-06-strict-contamination-hamper-exploration-life.html )

ISS photo.jpg

In last year’s blog post I suggested why the search for life beyond earth is so important to many people.

If life could spontaneously start on earth without the need for Divine involvement then surely it ought to have started elsewhere too.

The more widespread life is out there in the universe, the more it could seem to legitimize the possibility that life doesn’t need a God to create it.

On the flip side – a completely barren universe (apart from earth) would tend to legitimize the Bible account of Creator God. If life can spontaneously come into being, why hasn’t it done so elsewhere? Why earth only?

Therefore scientists with an atheistic bent are desperate to find life elsewhere. It NEEDS to find evidence of widespread universal life.

Maybe there’s a degree of irony in the possibility that mankind’s attempts to find definitive, incontrovertible evidence of extra-terrestrial life is being made impossible by the search itself.

Destination Mars

Gloria and I have our places booked upon the Mars 2020 space craft, due to be launched in July next year. Here is my boarding pass.

Tim BoardingPass_MyNameOnMars2020 EDIT

NASA are launching this new mission to Mars and have invited the public to submit their names to be sent on the Mars 2020 Rover.

The Microdevices Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, will use an electron beam to stencil the submitted names onto a silicon chip with lines of text smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair (75 nanometers). At that size, more than a million names can be written on a single dime-size chip. The chip (or chips) will ride on the rover under a glass cover.


Souvenir boarding passes can be downloaded by everyone who registers.

I’m now considering how to make the best use of my frequent flyer points.


The following is a still image from a video I took last night. Unfortunately this site won’t allow me to post the video file. Maybe if I had a YouTube account and posted the video there I’d be able to share the whole thing.

The video shows the white dot portrayed below, dancing around the screen at speed. The dot is a bright moving light I saw and recorded last night not long after sunset. What could that rapidly dancing light be?  A UFO, suggesting “we are not alone”?


The straight answer is no.

The light wasn’t an unidentified object, and it wasn’t actually dancing around in the sky. All of the movement came from my inability to hold the camera still, amplified by my use of the zoom lens.

What I had tried to film was the International Space Station (ISS).
I had recently registered with NASA to get notifications of when the ISS was visible above my town. Yesterday I received an email giving me the time and trajectory related to a potential sighting.

At 8.30pm Gloria and I went into the backyard and tried to work out where it would be first seen, and we concentrated on that part of the sky, just above our neighbour’s house. After a few minutes Gloria’s attention was distracted by a moving light significantly to the left of our chosen spot.

That was it.

It was surprisingly bright and moving quite quickly. We were able to watch it for around 6 minutes, moving from NW to SE at a comfortable viewing angle. The NASA advice had said it would be approximately 70 degrees – almost perfect, needing only a small backward tilt of the head.

It was a very exciting experience.

I have been interested in space exploration and travel since childhood,  when the Apollo missions leading up to the moon landings were big news. But that interest always had to be from a distance, not having any opportunity to observe any of it first hand. (I do have vague memories of seeing a Gemini capsule on display some time in the 70s, but I’ve not been able to find out any details to corroborate my “memory”.)

Last night that interest came much closer to home, seeing with my own eyes the large space facility orbiting the earth. It’s been there for many years, has certainly been visible countless times during those years – but not knowing where or when to look robbed me of the chance of witnessing it fly over.

The conditions were excellent for a perfect viewing. It was just after sunset, meaning we were in partial darkness but the ISS was still in full sun reflecting a lot of light, and  the trajectory was just right to give a comfortable and lengthy view. I’m looking forward to the next email advising when I can see it again.

It’s a shame about the video – it would have been a much more impressive (though deceptive)  illustration of the experience.
If I can get hold of a suitable tripod for future use, next time I might be able to get a better record of the station’s journey above my house. One that shows its actual movement, and not the erratic dancing captured last night.

A few stats.

Currently on board is a crew of three. Anne McClain (USA), David Saint-Jacques (Canada) and Commander Oleg Kononenko (Russia). The current mission is “expedition 58”.

crew portrait exp 58

The ISS orbits the earth at a height of 400km (250 miles), travelling at a speed of  27,600 kph (17,150 mph). A full circuit of the earth takes about 90 minutes.

Essential websites for ISS spotting.

Spot the station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/

Live TRacking Map: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/tracking_map.cfm