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50 Ways to Space Out

Looking for ways to celebrate a half century of spaceflight? Here's fifty of 'em.

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The launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, blazed an orbital trail for hundreds of communications, remote sensing, weather, and spy satellites. Fifty years later, the little sphere’s impact on science, politics, and culture is still evident around the world. Here’s a list of suggestions for celebrating the anniversary.

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1 VISIT THE NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM in Washington, D.C., to see the Sputnik model in the Milestones of Flight gallery, then tour Sergei P. Korolev, whose work established the Soviet school of rocket and spacecraft design. Or visit Moscow and walk the Avenue of the Cosmonauts toward mockups of Sputnik and a 300-foot titanium monument entitled “To the Conquerors of Space” at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.

2 BECOME AN ASTRONAUT FOR A DAY at Space Camp, for campers age 7 to 18, at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, spacecamp.com. For information, call (800) 63 SPACE. The Corporate Space Camp, also in Huntsville, is a leadership camp for adults (with all the fun space stuff you loved as a kid). Reach the Corporate Space Camp at (800) 894-2773 or online at corporatecamp.com.

3 WITH A 2007 YEAR IN SPACE calendar, count the days until Sputnik’s anniversary. Included are lists of this year’s launches and space missions. Mention Air & Space for a 25 percent discount on the $15.95 retail price when ordering online at yearinspace.com/images.htm or by phone: (800) 736-6836.

4 SEE SATURN V launch vehicles. The 363-foot, three-stage monsters, the last of which flew on May 14, 1973, are laid out at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Huntsville display is actually a Dynamic Test Vehicle, never meant to go to space, but in 1987 the National Park Service designated it a historic landmark. For details on all three, see history.msfc.nasa.gov/saturn_apollo/display.html.

5 TACK UP SPACE-THEME CARTOONS from grinningplanet.com, science fiction cartoons and parody from cartoons.sev.com.au/Sev-Space/, alien cartoons from offthemark.com/aliens/aliens.htm, and space politics and biting caricatures on cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/directory/s/space.asp. At kidsastronomy.com/jokes/jokes.htm, laugh at galactically lame jokes (How do we know Saturn was married more than once? He has lots of rings.)

6 WATCH MUPPETS FROM SPACE and understand why Sony Pictures’ promotional team wrote the tagline “Space. It’s not as deep as you think.” You can buy the 88-minute DVD online for $9.95 from Amazon or muppets.go.com.

7 RENT A MOONSUIT from Moon Space Suits, which has supplied museums, filmmakers, and the producers of that Little Caesar’s Pizza commercial. Find your personal moon suit at moonspacesuits.com or spacesuit.net, or (914) 481-4200.

8 CHALLENGE MYTHS about space travel, or invent some of your own, by downloading Jim Gerard’s presentation, We Really Did Land on the Moon: Urban Legends of the Space Age. Send questions and comments to Gerard at afgas1@gmail.com for posting on his online forum.

9 STAR TREK FANS, there’s more than one way to celebrate Sputnik’s birthday. Pose with these Star Trek Enterprise wax figures when they tour a Trekkie convention in your galaxy. Chris Liebl and Lori Greenthal snatched them up at an auction for $34,000 in March 2006. “The Crew,” from the former Movieland Wax Museum, is traveling while the partners raise funds for a permanent home. See enterprisewax.com for tour dates.

10 ENJOY THE MUSIC, dialog, and odd sound bites chosen to wake up astronauts from Gemini to the International Space Station. The playlist includes classic rock, country, jazz, international folk songs, children’s chorus, television themes, and commercial jingles. Download the 62-page list, which reveals the personalities and anecdotes behind the selections, at history.nasa.gov/wakeup%20calls.pdf.

11 METEOR MUSEUMS exhibit what space is tossing back at us after 50 years of exploration. Read up on the subject in the online Meteorite Times at International Meteorite Collectors Association. Visit the Institute of Meteoritics Museum, with its 1,600-pound Navajo iron specimen, at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, (505) 277-1644; the Oscar Monnig Meteorite Gallery at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, R.A. Langheinrich Museum of Meteorites in Ilion, New York, (315) 894-0513 or nyrockman.com.

12 ATTEND A SPACE SCHOLARS PROGRAM at the Air Force Research Laboratory. To become a Space Scholar, you must be pursuing an undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral degree in science or engineering. Get your application at www.vs.afrl.af.mil/SpaceScholars. New this year are courses in Nano Space Weather Sensors, as well as Snap-Fit Composites (fabricating space structures by hand or by robot).

13 WITH ROCKET STATIONERY, send a friend a card printed on the “Astronaut Invitation and Thank You” set from Countdown Creations. A box of 10 six- by-nine-inch cards costs $12.95. Choose from dozens of space-theme party supplies, favors, space candies, snacks, and silly space hats. Shop for party favors online at countdowncreations.com or call (800) 388-3079.

14 LEARN TO SPEAK KLINGON with a free download for your Palm: the Mini Klingon Alphabet, from freewarepalm.com. Flip through the paperback Klingon Dictionary for $12.95 from Simon & Schuster, or read The Klingon Way: A Warrior’s Guide, available from Amazon.

15 50 YEARS OF SPACE HARDWARE are documented in 320 full color pages in Space 50 by Piers Bizony. Learn about rocket exploration—past, present and future; pick up a copy for $40 from HarperCollins.

16 DISCOVER THE DESIGNS of Hermann Potocnik, pseudonym Hermann Noordung, a Slovene rocket engineer whose 1920s sketches were adapted for NASA’s earliest space station designs as well as the fictional space habitat in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Potocnik’s milestone work, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket Motor), and his exquisitely detailed drawings can be viewed at noordung.info.

17 EXPLORE GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY in Hollywood, California. It was reopened with a newly renovated interior on November 3, 2006, after its first makeover since 1935. Some $93 million bought 60 new exhibits and 40,000 square feet, a 200-seat theater and 300-seat immersive planetarium with digital lasers and sound, and new polish on the plaque given by 1955 visitor James Dean (much of his movie Rebel Without a Cause was filmed at Griffith). Because the observatory expects a crush of visitors, it has set up a timed-entry program; make reservations for the parking-lot shuttle bus at (888) 695-0888 or griffithobservatory.org.

18 SEND YOUR OPINION into oblivion, or maybe on to unknown life-forms, via Blog in Space at bloginspace.com. Certify your age as 13 or older, and your ruminations (up to 2,500 characters) will be fed, at no charge, to a deep-space transmission dish. If you’ve got nothing to say, just buy Blog in Space boxers for $12.99.

19 COLLECT ROCKETRY STAMPS designed to honor such space travel achievements as the Mercury program, the first Chinese manned mission, and Earth-bound experiments in rocket mail. Visit spacestamps.com and spacecovers.com (for an international overview), www.asss.utvinternet.com (the British Astro Space Stamp Society), and philatel2.com; click on “Postal History” for rocket mail.

20 GRAB THE SPUTNIK 3 LAPTOP BAG from Chrome, arguably the most tenuous promotional reference to the satellite in 50 years. Chrome says its collection “continues the pioneering spirit of the Space Age by launching Sputnik 3 into the vast cosmos of dull black laptop bags.” The $75 bag, large enough to tote Laika (the first dog in space), has a metallic vinyl shell, nylon liner, and cell phone pouch. Call (415) 503-1221, or order at chromebags.com.

21 STUDY SPACE LAW at the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, established the same year Sputnik was launched. McGill coordinates with the nearby Canadian Space Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the International Air Transport Association, and also publishes the Annales de Droit Aérien et Spatial (Annals of Air and Space Law). File your briefs at mcgill.ca/iasl/.

22 SPACEWOMEN ARE HONORED at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio. Honorees include the 13 First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATS, assembled by NASA in 1961) along with a roster of spacewomen from Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union (1963) to Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (1983). The IWASM also helps Girl Scouts earn an Aerospace badge. Start online at iwasm.org, or call (216) 623-1111.

23 SIMULATE DEEP SPACE charting and travel by downloading two of the most detailed and realistic simulations, Celestia and Orbiter, for free. Celestia runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X and gives your mouse freedom to hop around 100,000 stars and planets in three dimensions: shatters.net/celestia/ or learn.arc.nasa.gov/planets/index.html. Orbiter empowers you to plan entire missions, from launching the shuttle to designing hardware; orbit.medphys.ucl.ac.uk/orbit.html.

24 HEAR THE ROAR OF A SPACE SHUTTLE ENGINE, up close, at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The StenniSphere Visitor’s Center is free and open to the public Wednesday through Saturday (excluding holidays). You’re invited to watch test firings of a space shuttle main engine either during regular hours or at scheduled test-fire viewings. Call (800) 237-1821 or check out www1.ssc.nasa.gov/public/visitors for more information. If you can’t make the trip to Mississippi, watch a test firing at www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/home/index.html.

25 LET THE LEGO FORCE be with you with the new Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, from $19.98 to $39.99, depending on your choice of eight video game platforms. Available at LEGO products have been created, like the Imperial Star Destroyer, Ultimate Collector version, with 3,104 pieces for $299.99.

26 PLAY STELLAR MONOPOLY with the U.S. Space Program edition, Night Sky edition, Astronomy edition, and Star Wars Original Trilogy edition (with collectible game pieces). You’ll find most available online for $39.99 or less from boardgamegeek.com or thespaceshop.com.

27 TOUR CAPE CANAVERAL and check out Launch Complex 26, site of the first successful launch of a U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958, followed by the launches of the first three primates, Gordo, Able, and Miss Baker. The Air Force Space and Missile Museum at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is open every day. Take the two-and-a-half-hour “Cape Canaveral: Then and Now” tour by bus from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Reserve your seat by calling (321) 449-4400, or by going online at kennedyspacecenter.com/visitKSC/NASAtours/thenNow.asp.

28 SNAG A FREE POSTER from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Propellants, Pressure Systems and Life Support Office, with its flaming motto “You Can’t Leave Earth Without Us.” The office ships 24 types of liquid propellants, pressurants, and fluids in 200 tankers and tube trailers to support the space shuttle and Atlas and Delta rockets. Download a printable version at propellants.ksc.nasa.gov/poster.htm.

29 SPACE DOG is one of the classically styled windup toys sold by Tin Man Tin Toys. It sparks, flaps its ears, and opens its mouth ($19.99). Also available at tinmantoys.com: Zorgon, a foot-long rocket from the movie Zathura ($20.99) and dozens more.

30 STREAM HISTORIC SPACE FILMS from the National Archives to your desktop for free, courtesy of Google Video: Orson Welles, and 1962’s The John Glenn Story. Or check out the Johnson Space Center’s compilation of 40 titles at Space Movies Cinema, jsc.nasa.gov/er/seh/movies.html, with titles from Mooncar Motoring to Woodpecker Attack on Shuttle.

31 VISIT MARS (or its beta test site, which compares Earth and Mars atmospheres) on the AtmosModeler Simulator at the Glenn Research Center, www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/BGH/atmosi.html. Calculate how Mars’ atmosphere would affect aerodynamics by inputting variables into the site’s calculator.

32 SEARCH NASA’S IMAGE EXCHANGE at nix.nasa.gov for any image, moving or still, from the past 50 years of space exploration, including the one above, of the Spirit Mars rover’s landing site. Go to NASA’s gallery of human spaceflight to look up audio or images from shuttle missions, International Space Station missions, and others at spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/.

33 HEAR PATTI LABELLE sing “Way Up There” through the downloadable audio and video file at LaBelle got a Grammy nomination, was written by Tena R. Clark for the seven astronauts who died in the space shuttle Columbia and was performed at the Washington, D.C. National Cathedral and at opening day 2003 for the Houston Astros.

34 LEARN THE ORIGINS of phrases like “It’s not rocket science.” A dozen language forums spar about that expression and many others at Web sites like Phrase Finder, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

35 TASTE ASTRONAUT FOOD developed by Pillsbury, shaped and textured to squeeze through a port on an astronaut’s helmet. Pillsbury later added flavors and spun the products off commercially, but the fad faded after the 1970s space station Skylab was decommissioned. Last fall, the Space Food Sticks Preservation Society revived the sticks in classic peanut butter or chocolate; the society sells them for $34.95 for a case of 24 sticks. Go to spacefoodsticks.com.

36 SALUTE NEIL at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio—the first moonwalker’s hometown. The museum presents not only Armstrong’s story but all of Ohio’s participation in spaceflight as well. Call (800) 860-0142 or go to ohiohistory.org/places/armstron. That’s right; zero “G” in armstron.

37 READ SPACE POLITICS, the Space Age’s version of the Drudge Report, because “sometimes the most important orbit is the Beltway.” Visit spacepolitics.com.

38 JOIN THE CUBESAT PROJECT, an international collaboration among schools and private companies developing picosatellites (miniature satellites), which carry scientific, private, and government payloads. Build your own picosatellite with the CubeSat kit. Find plans at Lockheed Martin Space Systems; katysat.org.

39 BUILD YOUR OWN SATELLITE with the Satellite Construction Set from the Tech Museum of Innovation, thetech.org/exhibits/online/satellite. Construct one of three kinds of satellites—direct and broadcast TV, remote sensing, or scientific research—then choose a power supply, communications set, mission payload, and thermal protection.

40 MEET GEORGE JETSON, Jane his wife—or at least one of the 500 limited-edition sets of figures depicting Hanna-Barbera’s “The Jetsons”; eight to 11 inches tall, $1,295. Call Gallery Art in Aventura, Florida, at (305) 932-6166 or shop online for product G12051 at onlinegalleryart.com.

41 BID ON SPACE RELICS at astro-auction.com. The collection ranges from astronaut autographs to coins and medallions to items that allegedly have flown in space.

42 VISIT THE KANSAS COSMOSPHERE and Space Center’s Hall of Space Museum and wander through an extensive collection of U.S. space artifacts. The Hall of Space Museum houses the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow. Surf cosmo.org; (800) 397-0330.

43 SAVE YOUR BOXTOPS. Space Series Premium Reproduction Cereal Boxes, ($499 for a set of eight), are digitally reproduced to show the details on the original cereal boxes and include mail-away offers for reproductions of 1950s toys, such as Pep Tom Corbett Space Goggles and Post Raisin Bran Captain Video figures. Ask for item 40159 from ToyTent Antique and Collectible Toys in Idaho, (208) 263-0142, or online at toytent.com/TrueReplica/40159.html.

44 TRACK SPACE DOODADS with the Field Guide to American Spacecraft by NASA’s Jim Gerard, a comprehensive list of space artifacts and their last known whereabouts. Artifacts include an X-15 rocket plane, a Mercury capsule, and the privately developed SpaceShipOne manned launcher—at aesp.nasa.okstate.edu/fieldguide/pages/aaindex/home1.html.

45 SEE THE SPACE DEBRIS inventory compiled by the U.S. Air Force Space Command Space Control Squadron (www.peterson.af.mil), which has been tracking man-made objects circling the Earth since 1968. The inventory of known space debris has grown to 13,400 objects that have diameters greater than four inches. Wikipedia.org lists artificial objects left on the moon, beginning with the Soviets’ unmanned Luna 2 probe, launched in 1959, and extending through SMART-1, launched in 2006. See wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_artificial_objects_on_the_Moon.

46 READ A BOOK featuring stunning photos and essays on space milestones—After Sputnik: 50 Years of the Space Age, edited by National Air and Space Museum curator Martin Collins and published by HarperCollins, harpercollins.com; $35.

47 SEE MOONROCKS Of the 842 pounds (from 2,415 samples) returned by Apollo missions, a number of rocks are viewable at museums around the country. Most are stored in the Lunar Sample Building at the Johnson Space Center and at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, but the public can see others at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, at the Kennedy Space Center, or at the National Air and Space Museum: cosmo.org, nasa.gov/kennedy, and nasm.si.edu, respectively.

48 JOIN IN a space spoof and mourn the passing of Ivan Ivanovich, a Russian Orlan spacesuit stuffed with dirty clothes that was shoved out of the International Space Station on February 3, 2006. Ivan, a.k.a. Suitsat 1 and Mr. Smith, orbited the Earth once every 90 minutes and was supposed to transmit, “This is Suitsat-1, RS0RS,” plus words in French, Japanese, Russian, German, and Spanish, which were to be picked up by ham operators with scanners tuned to 145.990 MHz. The transmissions were to end after two days, but operators continued to hear Ivan’s call for two weeks. His orbit decayed in recent months, leaving him to burn up upon his September 7, 2006 reentry of Earth’s atmosphere. You can check out the former Mir Fan Club, now the ISS Fan Club, at issfanclub.com.

49 DOWNLOAD EARTH at earth.google.com. The program takes images obtained by a variety of satellites, then pastes them together to provide you with close-up images of streets and cities around the world.

50 CELEBRATE SPUTNIK. Make a phone call, program a trip on your car’s navigation system, check the weather, even find overhead images of your house—none of these things would be possible without the many satellites orbiting Earth 50 years after little Sputnik led the way.

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