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The Internet: the final frontier for space watchers

August 29, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EDT

From CNN Interactive Writer Kristin Lemmerman


(CNN) -- Did news of the possible discovery of ancient bacterial life from Mars rivet you to your TV screen for the next two days? Do you stand in fields at night to gaze at the starry wonder of the galaxy? Is it your dream to see the space shuttle lift off -- in person?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you'll want to know about some sites on the Web that will help you pursue your space interests.

The NASA Homepage

If you're looking for gripping graphics and compelling page layout, this is not the site for you. Although the artwork isn't bad, the site's strength are pages and pages of information. Unlike many other government agencies, which have been slow to put public reports and data on their new Web sites, NASA puts virtually everything available to the public on its pages.

Particularly useful is a page of Frequently Asked Questions about NASA. The questions range from "What is the U.S. government doing to investigate UFOs?" to "How can I become an astronaut?"

Two corollaries to the NASA Homepage are also worth mentioning: sites for the NASA Shuttle Mission and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA Shuttle Mission Site

NASA Shuttle

If space flight appeals to you, this site is better than the main NASA site; you'll find what you want faster. Information on past flights is available, beginning with the first shuttle liftoff on April 12, 1981. Most mission histories include biographies of their astronauts; payloads, if any; and spacecraft specifications.

You can read about the status of future flights -- when they'll take off and what their plans are. And if a spacecraft is visible in the sky, you'll be told where to find it. For example, much of the world will be able to see the space station Mir without a telescope through the end of August. To find out whether you can see it, check the Mir viewing tables.

Information about the planned International Space Station is also available on this site. Keep in mind that anytime the shuttle is about to launch, the site's traffic picks up exponentially, and it can be hard to make the connection.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


If your dream is to conduct scientific experiments outside of the gravitational pull of Earth, check out the JPL site. The laboratory designs all space shuttle science projects, and a technical site it is. If you revel in the details of astrophysics, the site will give you the basics, then refer you to universities that help put the projects together.

Florida Today Space Online

Florida Today is a newspaper published in Brevard County, known as the "Space Coast," for the last 30 years. After years of winning awards for coverage of the space industry, the paper decided to try its hand at the World Wide Web.

Fla Today

The result is worth a look. If you're a launch watcher, this is the site to see. It has information on shuttle and other spacecraft launches, tourist tips and space news.

Especially useful is a question-and-answer section with specifics on how to view a launch: how to apply for an official pass onto the Space Center grounds, where to park if you don't get a pass, even what radio stations to listen to for launch updates. Another valuable feature is in the works: tips on how to get the best photograph of a launch.

If you're planning on catching a launch soon, do yourself a favor and do your homework -- if not here, then at NASA's site. The trip will be better.

CNN's Space Exploration Gallery


Just as CNN has covered every space shuttle launch extensively since the shuttle's first liftoff in 1981, CNN Interactive now covers shuttle launches on its Web site. Shuttle mission news is available from this page, beginning with STS-73 in October 1995 and updated each time the shuttle launches. Information on Project Galileo and the Hubble Space Telescope is also available.

Catch up on the details of past missions, and watch for updates to this site in two weeks. The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for takeoff September 12, 1996 at 6:26 a.m. EDT (1026 GMT). Whether it takes off on time or not, we'll be there!

SETI Institute home page


Perhaps your interests are more theoretical. Web sites abound for alien-seekers: people trying to prove there is life on other planets or that entities from other planets have visited Earth.

The SETI Institute site is one of them. The Institute, whose goal is to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, has a clear, attractive layout -- and a sense of humor.

Their site's traffic apparently shot up after the release of the blockbuster flick "Independence Day." SETI Web masters have created a "Fact or Fiction" page for visitors who learned about the institute through the movie.

As part of SETI's research, its scientists use computers to listen for radio signals from outer space. The institute also seeks to help teachers by providing instructional materials that can be shared with students.

Area 51 Research Center

Area 51

As its name implies, the primary concern of this Web site is what is -- or isn't -- going on at Area 51, a classified military base north of Las Vegas. The Air Force reportedly tested a number of top secret military jets, including the Stealth fighter, at this facility. Some UFO followers, or self-proclaimed Ufologists, believe the military is studying extraterrestrial spacecraft there.

You can enjoy this site even if you're skeptical of UFO sightings. The authors don't state as fact information that they can't back up and, in general, seem willing to label claims as either credible or not. They expect proof, and they expect fellow Ufologists to measure up to scientific standards.

Which leads me to the value of this site. If you've ever heard passing remarks about Area 51 or Groom Lake -- especially through entertainment media such as television's "The X Files" or the movie "Independence Day" in which Area 51 was prominently featured -- and it piqued your curiosity, this is the place to be.

Do me a favor, though. If you don't like the site and think UFO study is malarkey, don't flame its Web master and tell him I sent you.

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Related sites:

  • Area 51 Research Center
  • SETI Institute home page
  • CNN's Space Exploration Gallery
  • Florida Today Space Online
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • NASA Shuttle Mission Site
  • International Space Station
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