At the Starmus astronomy festival in Tenerife this week, Dr. Brian May spoke of his sadness about the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, which served as the United State government’s manned launch vehicle program from 1981 through to 2011.
NASA’s Space Transportation System (STS), which is the only winged manned spacecraft to have achieved orbit and land back on Earth as well as being the only reusable manned space vehicle to date, was comprised of Enterprise, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour as well as the ill-fated Columbia and Challenger.
Getting the audience to wear 3D glasses and talking about his passion for stereoscopic astronomy – a technique which creates the illusion of depth in images of the many wonders that can be found dotting our universe – May wowed the crowd as he flicked through 3D shots of stars, nebulae and our Moon. “The Moon doesn’t have a dark side – it’s called the far side,” he quipped. “I’ve been trying to tell Pink Floyd this for years but they won’t listen. They’ve sold millions and millions of albums though, so what do they care?”
These images were taken by space missions as well as astronomers on the ground before being manipulated to view in 3D by May. He explained: “Stereoscopy works by using two offset images, one for the left eye and one for the right. Your 3D glasses bring these two images together to give you the illusion of depth.”
Taking the Starmus attendees to the Martian craters and ridges of the Red Planet, May comments on how impressed he is by the images returned by missions to Mars such as the likes of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which carries the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. “It really feels like we’re actually on the surface of Mars,” smiled May.
On reaching a stunning shot of STS-135, more famously known as Discovery, May said: “The Space Shuttle really was a massive achievement, I’m very sad that it has gone into retirement and it won’t be coming out again.”
On a happier note, May also talked of his “honour” at being at Starmus, making this the second one he has attended since the international festival was introduced by Armenian-Spanish astrophysicist Garik Israelian in 2011. “I began my PhD in Tenerife,” he said. “It’s really great to be back here.”