mtlmtlmtlmtl 7 days ago

This reminded me of the famous 1993 paper by Sagan et al[1] where they used the Galileo probe to try to detect life on Earth through analysing the spectra of the athmosphere and detecting chemical concentrations that could only be explained by life(or that's the hope anyway).

For me the most exciting prospect of the JWST is the ability to analyse the spectra of atmospheres around exoplanets. We could have tantalising evidence of extrasolar life in just a few years.


  • Maursault 6 days ago

    > We could have tantalising evidence of extrasolar life in just a few years.

    Isn't the math tantalizing enough? Spoiler: there is.

    • Georgelemental 6 days ago

      How exactly? Sure, space is astronomically big, but maybe life is equally astronomically unlikely. We just don't know

      • Maursault 6 days ago

        > maybe life is equally astronomically unlikely

        All evidence points to the contrary. Once you have conditions that support life, given time and entropy, inevitably there is life. I don't think finding life out there is much of a going concern. But I think maybe whether there is Intelligent Life™ out there, is. Even if Earth is the first evolution of life in the Universe, it is too late, it's going to be everywhere it can be eventually, because waterbears can survive space (and God knows what else), and sometimes things hit Earth and knock off parts with waterbears, given enough times, one of those is then bound to hit another Goldilocks planet, and there you have it.

        • mtlmtlmtlmtl 6 days ago

          The problem with this is we just don't know how likely abiogenesis actually is. We can make vague guesses based on very general things like the abundance of certain elements.

          At the end of the day though, we just don't know how many factors were necessary for the formation of life on earth(or indeed whether it formed on Earth in the first place). There could be any series of unlikely characteristics about our solar system and the Earth that were all necessary for life. One example is the Earth's unusually large moon, likely caused by the Earth colliding with another planet during the formation of the solar system. Another is the seemingly unusual variety in types and sizes of planets within the solar system(see the Grand Tack Hypothesis), and the effect of Jupiter shielding the Earth from massive meteor bombardment. Sure, maybe it's highly unlikely that life exists only on Earth. But even so, the question of just how common it is is very interesting.

          As for tardigrades, note that they've been shown to be able to survive 10 days in space. That's a far cry from being able to survive an interstellar journey, land on a planet, survive and multiply as the only species on said planet, etc. Extrapolating all this from surviving space for 10 days in an experiment is a pretty big leap.

          And indeed, I've never heard a scientist dismiss the importance of discovering extrasolar life as "not much of a concern" I find this view utterly absurd.

          • Maursault 6 days ago

            Some fair points. But I still feel like as the window of opportunity increases, now at possibly 5By and counting, and extends as long as we don't extinct life on Earth, and future intelligent life to solve the problem of the Sun eventually dying, time just keeps on slipping into the future dragging the opportunity and possibility of abiogenesis with it until our galaxy's red dwarves burn out. So it just seems inevitable short of the annihilation of all life on Earth, and even then there's already been lots of possible.

remarkEon 7 days ago

The wiki for this flight[1] is unfortunately pretty thin.

I'd really like to know the story behind how they got a V2 rocket out to White Sands and actually conducted this flight. It has to be a fascinating story - one I hadn't even heard of until now. I assume this was broadly part of Operation Paperclip, and either fully assembled rockets or their components were moved out of Germany and to the United States at some point.


Edit: I take it back, the wiki does link the final project report[2] from 1952 that goes into detail about how this was accomplished. It's worth reading.


  • flohofwoe 6 days ago

    Both the Americans and the Soviets shipped all material they could find about the V2 to their respective countries, this included both completely assembled rockets and parts which where then assembled and tested at home with the help of German specialists (the Soviets also had "their" group of German rocket scientists, just not as "high profile" as the group around von Braun).

    The first Soviet ballistic missile "R1" was an almost 100% clone of the V2 for instance:

    • Maursault 6 days ago

      > Both the Americans and the Soviets shipped all material they could find about the V2 to their respective countries

      Really sucks, to put it mildly, because it kind of entwines space exploration with Nazis, attaching ethical questions to JWST and even to our beloved "One small step for..." audio clip. But maybe we can sift out whether the V2 would have been developed regardless of whether Nazis came to power in Germany. What if we had a time machine, and could very surgically stop the Nazis ever coming to power and prevent the Holocaust. Would it also cost us the V2 rocket and a lot of time getting to where we are now with space exploration? I know it is a dumb hypothetical, but I want to know Nazi tech is irrelevant.

      • flohofwoe 2 days ago

        Hard to say, the rocket technology was built on the space flight enthusiasm of some youngsters in the 1920's long before the Nazis came to power (Wernher von Braun being one of them) - but the German army at the time already started to show interest in such projects to circumvent restrictions imposed by sanctions from WW1, this was also possible because there was a new generation of young officers who learned different lessons from WW1 than the "old guard".

        This was also the time when close (and secret) military relations with the Soviet Union started by the way (also to work around sanctions).

        Other breakthrough technology was also developed in other countries (e.g. jet engines in England) but not taken serious enough (e.g. there wasn't a visionary individual ready to throw money at the problem like Heinkel in Germany).

        And (fast forwarding a few years into the war) once the Nazis went into panic mode when it became clear that the Luftwaffe is mostly useless, they basically started to throw all sort of "shit" against the wall hoping that something would stick (and it actually did): ballistic missiles (V2), cruise missiles (V1), anti-aircraft missiles (Wasserfall and Schmetterling), guided bombs (Fritz-X), and of course jet engines, but there were countless more projects that didn't go anywhere. I've also read that Germany was actually massively behind in high precision manufacturing compared to the US and UK, which may also partly explain the focus on "non-conventional" technology.

        So I guess it wasn't so much the Nazis directly, but the panic due to losing a war which caused the frantic exploration of all sorts of tech projects (but this war wouldn't have happened in the first place without the Nazis of course). Without such a crisis, the more conservative 'nay-sayers' might have supressed many more breakthrough ideas.

      • remarkEon 6 days ago

        There's not really a way to escape Nazi tech today. For another example, the Heavy Press Program brought industrial metal presses out of Germany and into the United States and Russia.

        >Eight of them are still in operation today, manufacturing structural parts for military and commercial aircraft. They still hold the records for size in North America, though they have since been surpassed by presses in Japan, France, Russia and China.

cesaref 6 days ago

I'm surprised the Germans didn't take any shots like this when developing the weapon. The idea of strapping a camera to the outside of the rocket doesn't sound particularly novel, but I guess they might have used telemetry to learn everything that needed to know?

  • flohofwoe 6 days ago

    From reading about the topic I seem to remember that the rocket's (initial) flight path was mostly observed from the ground, but this text mentions that "early test rockets" had a camera onboard (just not on the outside) with the downside that the film had to be retrieved after splash, and that later development models used a radio transmitter instead:

  • mytailorisrich 6 days ago

    If you're at war and under pressure to develop operational missiles, and then to use limited resources to manufacture them, taking pictures may not be on your list of priorities.

throwawayboise 7 days ago

I don't think a 65 miles suborbital flight qualifies as "outer space" but still cool to see.

  • bagels 7 days ago

    It's a widely used definition of the boundary of space.

    • midasuni 6 days ago

      Sure, but the term “outer space” suggests an area beyond “space”

      Where is “inner space” or “middle space”?

    • throwawayboise 7 days ago

      Interesting. I always thought outer space was at least beyond the lunar orbit.

      • dotancohen 6 days ago

        I believe that the adjective "outer" is superfluous and does not change the meaning of the sentence. "Outer space" is synonymous with "space", which by the generally accepted definition begins at 100 km altitude (about 62 miles).

      • mb7733 7 days ago

        What would the area between the edge of the atmosphere and lunar orbit be called then?

        • pgreenwood 7 days ago

          That would be called cislunar space.

        • naavis 7 days ago

          Why does it need a name?

      • TheRealNGenius 7 days ago

        By this metric, the ISS is clearly not in outer space then. Nor any satellites. Seems like parent threw their sense of logic to boise as well.

  • martyvis 7 days ago

    Yeah it has always sounded a bit weird. I guess "space" is considered the world we can experience by conventional means and specifically we can survive in it with minimal support, that is we can breathe. Outer space is anything outside of this atmosphere. And inner space became the deep sea, especially reminiscent of the explorations of Cousteau and ilk.

    • mb7733 7 days ago

      At least where I'm from, "space" is just a short-form for "outer space". But it sounds like your understanding is that "space" refers to the area within the atmosphere? Is that the really case?

  • mrtnmcc 7 days ago

    The view is not much different than at the 20 miles easily reached by high altitude balloons.

  • 8bitsrule 6 days ago

    Depends on how we define the boldly in 'boldly go'.

ncmncm 7 days ago

What would be really strange would be if the Germans never did this.

swader999 7 days ago

Flat as a pancake!

  • vmception 6 days ago

    I really like how NASA started using dynamic range better to show stars in the background of stills and videos of the earth in response to how many people were swayed by flat earth logic (“where are the stars? there arent any!”)

    Exposure was an afterthought to astronauts and now they make more aesthetically pleasing images by using basic photography principles (and better digital sensors)

    • sph 6 days ago

      Feel free to correct me, but the whole flat earth idea is mostly an Internet-era thing that is spread as a meme and nobody, apart from a _very small_ group of lunatics actually believes it.

      In history there have always been true flat earthers, but they've become rarer and rarer until the Youtube era in fact, when the concept of it became so widespread because it's "funny" and not at all representative of how many people truly believe in it. The whole thing is people laughing at someone that doesn't really exist.

      • vmception 6 days ago

        You’d be surprised.

        There are people that got roped up in it who were not lunatics, some have since recanted a lot of what they said and mentioned how it happened. It mostly comes down to people “doing their own research” and feeling like theyre being proactive but really Google, Youtube and Facebook sent them down a rabbit hole of related content, which in this case was a “grand conspiracy few people know of”.