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Our Continuing Mission …

Karen A. Newman, karen.newman@photonics.com

Watching retired space shuttle Endeavour moving through the streets of Los Angeles on its 12-mile trip from LAX to the California Science Center, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic for the shuttle program. Launched on April 12, 1981, with a test mission of the Shuttle Columbia, the program was brought to an end 30 years later with the last flight of Atlantis on July 8, 2011.

The first operational shuttle mission in 1982 delivered two commercial satellites to space orbit. Through the years, all kinds of payloads – many involving optics and photonics – have made the trip into space aboard a shuttle: cameras of all kinds including IMAX; experiments on solar arrays; tools for atmospheric trace molecule spectroscopy; and deployable payloads, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

Now that all of those amazing air-and spaceships have made their final trips into history, can we still get excited about space? Space exploration continues, of course. As I wrote this column in late October, a three-man international crew blasted off in a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, destined for the International Space Station.

These days no discussion of space exploration is complete without at least mentioning what is left behind – literally. Several hundred thousand pieces of space debris in low-Earth orbit are threatening the future use of this space. Even pieces as small as 1 cm can punch a hole in the Space Station.

Photonics Media explores this issue with a webinar at 1 p.m. EST on Nov. 15. Dr. Alexander Rubenchik of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will speak on “The Promise of Pulsed Lasers in Removing Orbital Debris” He will present research from a paper he co-authored on a proposal for laser orbital debris removal using a focused, pulsed ground-based laser to change the debris orbit and cause it to re-enter the atmosphere. The webinar also will feature Joseph M. Howard, the lead optical designer of the James Webb Space Telescope Project, an orbiting cryogenic infrared observatory and the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

If you miss the live webcast, you can watch the archived version, posted shortly afterward, at www.photonics.com/webinars, on-demand. And visit our website often for updates and additional webinar information.

Be sure to check out our extensive feature coverage on photonics in space, beginning on page 39 of this issue of Photonics Spectra.

We are pleased to enclose in this issue a copy of the latest edition of the Photonics Media chart of commercial laser lines, detector ranges and optical materials. After a comprehensive review – the first since 2009 – undertaken with the help of experts at several companies, the chart is ready to hang on your wall as a handy reference. Our thanks to all who helped us bring the chart up to date and to our many sponsors. Additional wall charts are available by calling +1 (413) 499-0514.

Enjoy the issue.


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