Thursday, July 28, 2011

First and the Last

The thirty year shuttle era has ended, with the last glide to touchdown happening last week:

Before it did though, I snapped my own personal memento of the era, as Atlantis passed over my house a few orbits before re-entry:
I remember the very first landing in 1981. It was shown on TV late at night here, and I remember my sisters and I being got out of bed to watch. While not yet five, and having only just attended the first airshow I would remember a few weeks before, I recall saying how steep the final approach looked, and wondering why it took so long for the nose to come down after the mainwheels touched (the concept of aerodynamic braking being a few years ahead of me).

I guess my parents thought it would be a historic thing for us to watch and remember, and I'm glad they made the effort. Atlantis' pass last week was just before bedtime for Charlotte, so I got her outside and she saw it too. She described it as 'the star that was hitting the other stars' and 'Oh yes a spaceship' if prompted further. Being not quite 3 she probably won't remember it, but at least I'll be able to tell her she saw the last Space Shuttle fly.

I found this on another site and quite like it (photo credit Chris Bray):
I can relate. My generation grew up with the shuttle, and love it or hate it, for all it's costs and compromises and never quite living up to it's promise it was iconic. It had failures, but had many more moments of greatness. The aerospace world will be slightly less interesting without it.

Monday, July 25, 2011


So here's what it feels like in Wellington right now (click on any pic to enlarge):
Screengrab from the excellent

My backyard thermometer is showing about 4 deg as well, and combined with the lazy wind (Lazy because it goes right through you rather than around you) straight from the Southern Ocean and humidity it is bitterly cold tonight *.

It has been all day, and last night too, as part of a cold snap affecting the whole country, resulting in a rare dusting of snow around Wellington, and my patch in the Lower Hutt Valley in particular. Not a lot of snow, but snow on the ground around here just doesn't happen that often. Maybe a tiny bit once or twice a winter on the higher hilltops, but snow like we had this morning is more like a once a decade or so event. I'll even go as far to say I have never seen snow so low on the Eastern hills in thirty years or so living here. So cold, but cool :)

Boulder Hill (442m) behind Kelson. The last time I saw snow like that up there was in the 1990's.
Eastern Hills behind Naenae. Never seen more than the odd tiny patch of snow up there.
Mt Fitzherbert (377m) in the Eastern Hills.
Mt Towai (348m) behind Waterloo.
Towai firebreak. Never seen white firebreaks before either.

There is an outdoor walk-in fridge unit at my work set at 5 degrees. I went in there about midday and it felt warmer inside than out While it is still sleeting now, it is supposed to clear overnight, meaning likely frost and ice in the morning.

*While the absolute temp might not seem that cold to those used to more serious winters, I have been assured by visitors from places like Saskatchewan that due to the humidity the temperature felt is quite chilling. We are just used to it because we live here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ISS Tryptych

ISS earlier this evening from the Hutt Valley, with Shuttle Atlantis presumably somewhere nearby after undocking on the previous orbit (which was also near NZ according to the blurb). Slightly more successful this time, but not as dark a location as I would have liked (note lens flares...).

The final shot has the ISS trail fading out as it passes into the Earth's shadow. Here is where it was geographically at the time I took the photographs (image source ) :
I tried to catch it again on it's next orbit about 90 minutes later, but it was too low on the horizon and too long after sunset to photograph. Since I had the tripod out I took a couple of constellation photos instead. I'm still figuring out astrophotography. It is a bit tricky.

The Southern Cross (top of frame)with the Milky Way trailing below it:

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Listening to: The Enemy Within - Concord Dawn (2010).

Take a manually operable D-SLR camera, a remote release switch, a tripod, a compass, a dark space near the house, clear skies, some patience, and the marvel that is Heavens-Above and you get this:
The pale streak is the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Atlantis currently docked to it, passing over the Pacific ocean north-east of the North Island, but just visible from Wellington.

Not the greatest shot ever, but it is the first time I have ever tried photographing something in orbit, and the ISS/SS combo was so low on the horizon I was surprised I even saw it, flat 0 deg azimuth horizons being something of a novelty around here. In the event I was happy just to see it exactly as predicted (the horse in the paddock next to me wasn't quite so buzzed), knowing I was looking at two docked spacecraft in orbit, with people in them . Getting a pic was just a bonus. Weather permitting there might be a couple more chances to get better pics of them both over the next few days.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pig Bop*

*Possibly obscure reference to this possibly obscure song that I quite like.

Revisiting the F-111 post because I think I got some okay pics of the jet that day. I say 'okay', because given the same opportunity now I would get better ones. Since the last F-111's (said "F-one-eleven" for the record) were retired at the end of last year never to fly again I'll just have to be happy with these.

Unusually the F-111 was never given a formal name (like 'Tomcat' or 'Raptor') while it was in service. It was officially christened the 'Aardvark' (the hitherto unofficial nickname) only on the day it was retired from the USAF in 1996. The only country outside the US to use the F-111 was Australia, and they universally referred to theirs as 'Pigs', affectionately rather than insultingly.

The Pig may not have been the prettiest or the most agile airshow performer, but it made up for it by simply being spectacular, particularly toward the end of it's career as the crews tried to make the final displays of a 37 year operational life the most memorable ones. I got to see a high speed pass and dump and burn one night in 2003. During the day these were memorable enough, but at night they were something else. With all lights off, the jet sped in at around 200ft altitude, and only became visible when the pilot lit the afterburners, two bright yellow/purple spearheads speeding across the sky in front of us, just ahead of the noise they produced. It was awesome.

The Pig on the brain at the moment isn't entirely without reason, as I have one on the workbench at the moment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

NZ Army scrounges its own Air Cover

"Honest, we just sort of found it out on patrol and decided to bring it back. Finders keepers?"
Picture credit NZDF

Slightly more truthful account of why an NZ Army LAV is towing a US Army Apache around Afghanistan here: NZ Army rescues helicopter.

Monday, July 11, 2011

All Good Things II

This is kinda cool. In cabin view of the final launch. I like how the guy in the middle starts grinning at lift-off (I mean really, why wouldn't you), and keeps it up even as the G loads up. Must be a hell of a ride.

Also cool is when the main engines cut off at about 9:00 and they all float forward as the G disappears. From then on it gets increasingly obvious they are in a microgravity environment. About the first thing the grinning mission specialist does is have a bite to eat :).

Saturday, July 09, 2011

All Good Things

Footage of the last Space Shuttle launch ever, at about 0330 NZT this morning.


Say what you like about the not infrequent gales around here, but at least they are good for getting the washing dry:

At least until you glance northwest and see something like this charging across the horizon prompting you to bring it all inside again:
Often about ten minutes after you have finished putting it out...

Friday, July 08, 2011


Listening to: Friction Baby - Better than Ezra (1996).

So after a wild night of squalls and rain, the weather cleared tonight to give us a beautiful sunset. Now you can't photograph every good sunset, and not all of them that look good to the eye necessarily look good to the camera, but the laws of irony will often dictate that when a great sunset occurs that is worth photographing, the proper camera won't be available.

So instead tonight's effort comes to you via my cellphone:

Taken at about ten past five on the grass outside my work office in Gracefield.

The front served up a doozy of a thunderstorm at about 1am this morning. Lots of reasonably close thunder and lightning, and for a brief period what sounded like unusually large hail. It was going 'clunk' as it hit the roof instead of the more usual 'tick-tick-tick'. I would have gone out to have a look but I had a great view of proceedings through the window above our bed and opted to stay comfy. The rain and hail were so noisy you could hear it approaching across neighbouring rooftops after lulls.

Good thunderstorms aren't a regular occurrence around here so I was quite enjoying this one, until a quiet whimpering from the room next door became audible. This was Charlotte's first proper thunderstorm, and she didn't appreciate being woken up by the combination of loud rain/hail, loud thunder, gale wind gusts and bright flashes in the sky. I remember feeling the same once upon a time, before I figured out that weather could be fun.

It was a reminder that for all the growing up we feel she is doing in a relative sense, she is after all still not quite 3 years old. She was calmed with a daddy cuddle and some quiet words of explanation/comfort, but couldn't quite remember who put her back to bed when asked about it this afternoon :)

Sophie on the other hand didn't stir at all. At 9 weeks old, it is interesting figuring out just what she will and won't sleep through. Charlotte is providing ample opportunities for experimentation in this regard...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Plane Favourites

Listening to: Mark Kermode movie reviews on Youtube

Another favourite shot of one of my favourite aircraft. An RAAF F-111C on a hot late summer afternoon, starting a display by steaming in at low level and high speed (albeit not even close to as fast as it could go), approaching near silently but about to surprise the hell out of anyone who didn't see it coming:
Taken at RNZAF Ohakea in March 2008. I have other more spectacular shots of this display in particular, but I like this one because it was an aspect of the thing I really enjoyed (this would be the last time I would see an F-111 fly). Knowing it was out there somewhere trying to sneak up on the crowd, and usually noticing it before most other people, then watching and waiting for the reaction of those caught unawares. It is a bit like being in on a practical joke, especially if the commentators deliberately prime the crowd to look in the opposite direction (they can be wacky like that. If you are ever at an airshow and someone on a loudspeaker tells you to look in a particular direction for the very noisy aircraft arriving any moment, do yourself a favour and look the other way first).

Thanks to the magic of youtube, here is what the pass looked and sounded like a few seconds after I took the picture:

Monday, July 04, 2011

Penguin Cam!

Listening to: Congregation - The Afghan Whigs (1992).

Happy Feet live webcam.

I love that he has his own webcam now. I want to see the fresh snow being brought in!

Explanation for those not up with their lost penguin escapades here: Stuff linky