74 votes
Accepted

Did a Soyuz fly with a Union Jack?

The USSR's next-to-last crewed launch was Soyuz TM-12, flying to Mir, carrying two Russians and the UK's first astronaut, Helen Sharman. Here's a photo of TM-12 on the launch pad with the UK flag ...
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62 votes
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What are these things fired away from a ballistic missile at launch?

If you use the YouTube commands for single framing ( , and .) you can clearly see the rocket retaining rings around the body ...
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62 votes
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In this iconic lunar orbit rendezvous photo of John Houbolt, why do arrows #5 and #6 point the "wrong" way?

They are burns, with the direction of the arrow roughly indicating the direction of thrust. Ascent Earth orbit insertion Trans-lunar injection Midcourse correction Lunar orbit insertion Burn to drop ...
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59 votes
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Why is there a Saturn V in the background of this Gemini-Titan launch?

The photo is of the launch of Gemini 11 on September 12, 1966. The Saturn V in the background is SA-500F, a "Facilities Integration Vehicle". This was a nearly complete Saturn V that was ...
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54 votes

Why does there appear to be a 180-degree stereo microphone array outside the ISS?

That is a UHF antenna. It was well placed on the Lab to get in the way of robotics ops during space station assembly. This is a picture of a different UHF antenna unit (this one is on the P1 truss ...
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54 votes
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What are the 'lights' inside Shuttle main engines at landing?

It's simply the spotlights illuminating the ship, and shining up the bore of the engines. Notice the shadows of the vertical stabilizer from the same source. When the shuttle landing direction is ...
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53 votes
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What caused this bright light from the ground at night seen from the ISS?

Well I confirmed via Google Maps that this is Mecca. As shown in the map and image below the roads align with those lighted in the image. The dark areas in the first image are steep hills to the ...
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  • 2,211
50 votes
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Why is this part of the Space Shuttle launch pad suspended so high off the ground?

That is the Rotating Service Structure. It can be rotated to fit over the Shuttle while it is on the pad, giving access to the Shuttle cargo bay. The empty space allows the RSS to fit over the ...
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  • 122k
48 votes

"Pillars of Baikonur" What is the purpose of the hundreds of short, white posts near the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad?

I found this article on the site of the Russian news agency Vesti. Подземный бункер пуска - самое близкое к старту место. Над ним специальные бетонные столбики, так называемые волнорезы, чтобы ...
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  • 8,456
44 votes
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Why does the Minotaur I wear a yellow jacket that "banana-peels" off as it launches?

The jacket is to control the Propellant Mean Bulk Temperature, a critical factor in solid rocket motor performance. The silos for the missiles that the launcher was derived from were air-conditioned ...
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43 votes
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What celestial body did NASA carve and why is it eating a spacecraft?

That's Saturn eating Cassini (remember Cassini's entry into Saturn's atmosphere at the end of its mission).
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  • 122k
39 votes
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What were the "pills" that were added to solid waste in Apollo 7?

In order to prevent bacteria in the solid waste from producing gas, which could rupture the storage bags, a germicide was added to the bag after use and "kneaded in" to mix it with the waste once the ...
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39 votes

Apollo Command Module heatshield tube - what was it for?

That is the remnant of one of the attachments between the Command and Service modules (there were three). Here is a cutaway drawing showing the bolt penetrating the heat shield (labeled "tension tie")...
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38 votes
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Function of the separated, individual solar cells on Telstar 1 and 2? Why were they "special"?

The small separated cells had several functions. Six individual units, the "solar aspect cells", were each oriented and attached as if they were on the sides of a cube to identify the spacecraft's ...
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  • 12.3k
37 votes
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What spacecraft control is Margaret Hamilton pressing in this picture?

It's the ECS RADIATORS / HEATER / PRIM 1 - PRIM 2 switch. from here Having given many tours of the cockpit in the shuttle simulators, it's very common to have someone say "Turn around for the camera ...
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34 votes
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What is the function of this (apparently) fixed dish on the ISS?

That's a spare part - a spare Space to Ground Antenna dish for the Ku band. It's mounted on an External Stowage Platform. It was brought up on STS-127. From the STS-127 Press Kit Mission ...
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34 votes
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What is this pin on John Glenn's suit jacket?

It's the Project Mercury / Mercury Seven emblem. The astronauts went under the name Mercury Seven, and the program design includes the number seven. The symbol represented around the seven is the ...
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33 votes
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What is this large fan in front of the Space Shuttle during Ground Turnaround?

It turns out, my first hunch was half-right: the purpose of this large fan is not so much to carry away, but to disperse both toxic and explosive chemicals. It is called the Vapor Dispersal Unit, and ...
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33 votes

What is the orange material seen within the window frames of the Columbia Shuttle?

I can address "its precise function" although I don't know exactly what it was made of. The pressurized crew compartment aka "crew module" of the shuttle Orbiter was a separate ...
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32 votes
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What's on the bottom of the Shuttle's external fuel tank?

It is an access hatch used during construction and maintenance. Credit: NASA-KSC Credit: NASA This part got at least some media coverage during the scrubbing of STS-121, when a Engine Cutoff (ECO) ...
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  • 3,372
31 votes
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What is the purpose of the rotating dish antenna on the ISS

You probably mean RapidScat. It is a microwave scatterometer that measures near-surface wind speed and direction. Here's RapidScat in action, installed on Columbus module's External Payloads ...
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  • 57.7k
31 votes

Does anyone recognize these rockets, and their location?

Just to add to @Jack's correct answer you can see the rockets in Ibaraki, Japan via Google Maps, you can see the two rockets (and even make out the red rocket part): (Just FYI - I screenshotted your ...
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  • 1,043
29 votes
Accepted

What is the function of the corrugations on a section of the Space Shuttle's external tank?

That's the intertank - the cylinder that connected the bottom of the LO2 tank to the top of the LH2 tank. It didn't contain propellant, but did contain the forward interface with the Solid Rocket ...
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29 votes

Apollo Command Module heatshield tube - what was it for?

Service module attachment point The service module (SM) was attached to the command module (CM) using tension members which pulled the two modules towards each other. The SM used cups that rest on ...
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  • 501
29 votes
Accepted

Cartoon-like characters on the side of the Tianwen-1 Mars lander?

The cartoon characters are the mascots for the 2022 Winter Olympic games & the Winter Para Olympic games. The panda figure on the left is for the Olympic Games and the red figure of the right is ...
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  • 11k
28 votes
Accepted

What are the small gas jets at the rims of the Space Shuttle Main Engines?

The lines that exited at the end of the nozzle were drain lines carrying leakage from seals, output of hydraulic actuator drain lines, etc. The following schematic shows the various systems attached ...
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28 votes

Why is there a white panel in astronaut’s fabric headcover they wear inside the hard helmet?

This is called a Snoopy Cap. It's a hood that holds the communications headset to the astronaut's head. The white portion is elastic fabric to make the cap fit snugly; the black portions are a non-...
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  • 8,411
27 votes

What spacecraft control is Margaret Hamilton pressing in this picture?

Organic Marble beat me to it, but in the interest of teaching people to fish: There's a handy panel locator figure which subdivides the command module control panel into several lettered areas as ...
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27 votes
Accepted

What are SpaceX's Starship's header tanks?

This has been answered before, but I chose not to just mark it a duplicate because there is one new reason for the header tank unique to Starship. In a Reddit AMA in 2017 where Elon Musk answered ...
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  • 1,653
25 votes
Accepted

"Pillars of Baikonur" What is the purpose of the hundreds of short, white posts near the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad?

Those pillars intended to decrease a damage if a launcher falls just on start. The only mention of this I found is in russian language blog post about a travel to Baikonur: Внизу, чуть в стороне, ...
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