Celestial events in the skies for the week of May 15-21, 2018, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The Moon starts the week at New phase and ends it at First Quarter, drawing everyone’s eyes skyward, if for just an instant. Playing tag with super-bright Venus in the beginning of the week and ending it above the regal star of Leo the Lion, Regulus. Jupiter rises before sunset and is brilliant gold in the southeast.
Tuesday, May 15
On this 1963 date in space history, NASA launched the sixth and last Mercury mission, Faith 7 with astronaut Gordon Cooper, deceased. Cooper spent 34 hours in space and was the first American to sleep and last American to fly solo in space. Also on this date, Space Shuttle Atlantis was blasted into space in 1997 on the sixth docking mission with Russia’s space station Mir, delivering American Mike Foale for a six month stay.
Wednesday, May 16
Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched on this 2011 date in space history, the next to last mission of the 30-year program. Loaded with extra supplies and hardware like replacement motors, computers, fresh clothes and disposable products, Endeavour is now on display at the California Science Museum, south of Downtown Los Angeles.
Thursday, May 17
Spectacular scene after sunset as the ultra-thin, two-day old Moon is to the left of blazing planet Venus. Tomorrow night it will be higher and easier to see, having moved 12.5 degrees each day eastward. Leo the Lion is beginning to nose down in the west from its high perch overhead, and the Big Dipper is easy to see directly north. After midnight, the Milky Way begins climbing above the eastern horizon.
Friday, May 18
On this 1969 date in space history, Apollo 10 was launched toward the Moon for a full-dress rehearsal of the landing to be attempted by Apollo 11. Three days later, astronauts Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford flew their moonship “Snoopy” to within 10 miles of the target in Mare Tranquility. Orbiting the Moon alone and driving the Command Module nicknamed “Charlie Brown” was John Young, another Gemini veteran. Young walked on the Moon on Apollo 16, and Cernan was the last man on the Moon with Apollo 17. They have both died, and Stafford, 87, is among 12 alive of the 24 men who orbited the Moon from 1968-72.
Saturday, May 19
Two Space Shuttles were launched on this date: Endeavour in 1996 and Atlantis in 2000. The six astronauts on Endeavour spent 10 days in Spacehab in the cargo bay doing experiments on commercial applications. Atlantis (with a new computerized “glass cockpit”) and seven astronauts docked at the International Space Station with lots of construction supplies like batteries, handrails, docking mechanisms and miles of electrical cables.
Sunday, May 20
The Big Dipper is pouring its celestial contents over the north horizon, pointing to the North Pole star Polaris. It’s at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper—both dippers being star “asterisms” of the much larger constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the big and little bears.
Monday, May 21
Corralling those bears around the night sky is an ancient herdsman named Bootes. Follow the handle of the Big Dipper to the bright star, Arcturus, which anchors the base of Bootes—which looks like a giant ice cream cone or flying kite. Continue that arc from Arcturus to the white star, Spica, in Virgo. The old astronomy axiom: “Follow the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica!”