Basics of Spaceflight

Does this kind of thing get you excited?

Launch Phase Upon completion of this chapter you will be able to describe the role launch sites play in total launch energy, state the characteristics of various launch vehicles, and list factors contributing to determination of launch windows. You will be able to describe how the launch day of the year and hour of the day affect interplanetary launch energy and list the major factors involved in preparations for launch.

Or how about this…?

Interplanetary Trajectories Upon completion of this chapter you will be able to describe the use of Hohmann transfer orbits in general terms and how spacecraft use them for interplanetary travel. You will be able to describe the general concept of exchanging angular momentum between planets and spacecraft to achieve gravity assist trajectories.

If so, you need to read the fabulous Basics of Spaceflight by Dave Doody, a JPL engineer. You can browse it online, but a free PDF version is also available which has much nicer formatting.

It is very clearly written and has a broad scope, covering all aspects of space travel and exploration.

Highly recommended.


SpaceX Grasshopper tests

Impressive videos of SpaceX’s Grasshopper vertical takeoff/landing rocket.

Nice touches having a cowboy going along for the ride and a Johnny Cash soundtrack.

I do hope they are working on a retractable swimming pool.



Vintage NASA Project Mercury documentaries

They don’t make documentaries like these any more.

Men in silver spacesuits.  Scientists in white labcoats.  Giant rockets.  Pointing engineers.


Bizarre soundtracks.

You can see where Gerry Anderson got his inspiration from for Thunderbirds.  Not least the fact that he named the Thunderbirds pilots after five of the Mercury 7 astronauts (bad luck Deke and Wally!).

Project Mercury (1963)


Blunt body

Freedom 7 (1961)

Micro meteorites

Flight path

Essential reading for Oculus Rift developers

Michael Abrash and John Carmack are both 3D graphics living legends. Both massively experienced and super-bright. When they say that VR has very difficult challenges, you’d better believe them!

From Abrash’s recent Game Developers Conference talk…

I’ve just spent 25 minutes telling you how hard VR is – and that’s certainly true. But realtime 3D was equally hard – just check out Chapter 64 in my Black Book about the lengths John went to in order to solve the potentially visible set problem, or think about how crude the early 3D accelerators were – and over time all that has worked out amazingly well.

This is the kind of opportunity that everyone in the gaming industry should dream of; if you want to do challenging work that has the potential to affect almost every game written in five or ten years, VR is a great place to be right now.

It really is like when I was working on Quake – a new world is emerging.

Both have written some great articles that describe VR implementation challenges in detail. If you are developing for the Oculus Rift you really need to read and understand these.

Michael Abrash

John Carmack

Oculus Rift first impressions (

A top quality Oculus Rift first impressions review here by Oliver Kreylos, a very smart and experienced VR/3D developer.

It is interesting to note how highly he rates the Rift lenses. I have been surprised at how much people have written about the display and head-tracker compared to how little has been written about the optics. The very wide field-of-view (FOV) is the key factor that provides the immersion that makes the Rift stand out from other low cost HMDs – similar FOVs were previously only available in high-end systems. To get such good optical performance in such a low cost device is a major achievement.

It is definitely worth spending time looking through his blog and YouTube channel and homepage.

You may well have seen his cool Kinect hack from a couple of years ago (it has had 2.5 million views!).

Celebrating Cosmonautics Day!

Yes, yes… a bit belated I know (Cosmonautics Day is April 12), but I only just came across this great pic from Subatomic Tourism.

Nice to see that his re-entry vehicle has a blunt body!


Oculus Rift – Skyrim

More vicarious thrills as Cymatic Bruce tries out the Oculus Rift with Skyrim.

He’s been super-busy this week testing various titles, but this is my favourite report. Love the running commentary.

Keep up the great work Bruce!

How the eye functions

I have been reading up on head-mounted display (HMD) optics, and over at VRtifacts I came across these marvellous educational videos from 1941.

No-nonsense explanations along with great diagrams/animations.

Cathode – Vintage Terminal

A very authentic vintage terminal emulator for OSX. Strictly for computer geeks.

This brings back some memories.

Immerse yourself and disregard thirty years of user interface progress.

I love the sound effects on input and output. Genius.


Drop an image on it for instant ASCII-art…


First Orbit

Fabulous original footage at the start of this film.

The Vostok is such a proper looking rocket.



See here for more details about the film.