Yesterday we saw the first test of the Orion spacecraft, the lynchpin vehicle for sending humans to deep space in the 21st century. It’s mission was the equivalent to Apollo 4 in 1967, an capability unmanned test.

 

Yesterday afternoon, as I sat at my desk, filing emails and approving expenses, I watched the Orion spacecraft leave Earth on the top of a huge Delta IV rocket. After the scrubbed launch the day before, it was gratifying to see it take off without any glitches.

 

Three hours after launch, the Orion spacecraft reached 5,800 km, which is the highest distance from the earth that a human-rated spacecraft has been in my lifetime. All around the world, we were able to watch live telemetry data, as well as images of the earth through the cockpit window, the same view that our next generation of astronauts will see as they venture forth. It was awe-inspiring.

 

On 30 September 2018, the Orion spacecraft will commence Exploration Mission-1, an unmanned mission around the moon and back, similar to Apollo 6 (but hopefully more successful). In 2021, Exploration Mission 2 will take off from Earth for the first manned flight of Orion. In 2023, Exploration Mission 3 will hopefully send humans to land on the moon or an asteroid.

 

“We as a species are meant to push human presence into the solar system, and this is a first step”
– Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration.

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“Mummy, do stars fly in the sky like butterflies and elephants?”

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Our long warm autumn has finally drawn to a close, and the temperatures are starting to drop below zero. Today it was 2 degrees C (35 F) when Hayden and I went for a walk to the Sunday farmers’ markets. The stalls were filled with scarves, raclette cheeses, yule log desserts, winter beer, and seasonal chocolate. We even found some holly with bright red berries, just like in the story books. Hayden chose this “big green O” to take back home.

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After school today I gave Hayden a choice: home or dancing lights. He chose the dancing lights and we hopped on the tram to the Grand Place. Hayden was having so much fun on the tram he didn’t want to get off, so we had to sit in the station for awhile to recover from the traumatic experience of disembarking prematurely.

 

On our way out, Hayden said “the lift is flying up like pixie dust “. We stepped out of the station, and my breath was taken away by the magical atmosphere of the Brussels Winter Markets. The old Bourse stock exchange was lit up with ever changing luminescence, strings of lights were draped across the streets, and the footpaths were lined with tiny wooden huts selling a wide range of products. Hayden named all the colours as they appeared on the buildings.

 

We joined the throng of people soaking up the ambience, and trundled past the musicians and stalls to the Grand Place.

 

It was beautiful. The Latvian tree stood in the centre, draped with sparkling lights and silver keys. All the buildings were lit up, giving the square a soft glow.

 

Suddenly, at 7pm, all the lights went out, and then with a building crescendo, the sound and light show began. Now, some people might think that integrating thousands of rainbow LEDs into 16th architecture might be tacky, but Hayden and I thought it was spectacular. For 15 minutes we watched the lights dance to orchestral rhythms. During the string quartet, Hayden turned to me and said “This singing is my favourite”.

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