Spaceman Alexa Skill

Spaceman is a free app for your Amazon Alexa device. I created it because I've always had a deep interest in space exploration, and building a way to keep informed of news in this area, and even inspire curiosity, seemed a good exercise for me to teach myself the technology behind Amazon Alexa and AWS Lambda functions.

It currently provides information to you about:

  • Phase of the moon

  • Scheduled rocket launches anywhere in the world, both past and future

  • Asteroids and other objects passing close to the Earth, for dates you request

I'm providing this because I think it'll be interesting. But I'm just a guy who has some computer skills, using them to harvest information from elsewhere on the Internet and provide it in a (hopefully) useful manner. I don't have the resources to rigorously validate that data, or to check exhaustively for errors that might crop up in my own code. So before taking action on any data that Spaceman might give you, please do your own verification.

Enabling the skill

You can enable the skill for your own Alexa, Echo, or Dot device by clicking this link, logging into your account if prompted, and then just click the Enable button.

Using the skill

To get a quick overview of the current news, just say

Alexa, ask Spaceman what's up?

But Spaceman also understands dates, so you can ask about other days you're interested in

Alexa, ask Spaceman what's up tomorrow?

Alexa, ask Spaceman what's up next Tuesday?

Alexa, ask Spaceman what happened yesterday?

Date ranges will work as well. And it can be future or past

Alexa, ask Spaceman what happened between January 1 2017 and January 10 2017?

Alexa, ask Spaceman what's happening from today to Friday?

Understanding the output

Moon phase

Spaceman uses some terminology you might not be familiar with to describe the moon's phase.

  • Waxing means that the moon is moving from the New moon toward becoming full;

  • Waning means that the moon is "shrinking" again, going from full back to New.

  • Crescent means that there's less than half the moon lit; it appears like a fingernail.

  • Gibbous means that there's more than half lit.

Rocket launches

The default information given about each launch includes

  • The date and time of the launch (note that these are given in Universal Time)

  • The name of the launch

  • The status (Green for Go; Red for Holding; Success and Failure for past launches)

  • The location of the launch

  • The launch's mission

Asteroids

Don't panic! Asteroids impact the Earth all the time. If there's going to be an impact like the one that killed the dinosaurs, then you'll already have heard about it on the news.

There are always a lot of asteroids and other objects all around us. Spaceman is reporting to you just the ones that are making a particularly close approach; and obviously this is drawn from a database of those that NASA has cataloged.

Because there's always a bunch of asteroids coming close, and Spaceman doesn't want to put you to sleep by reciting them all, it just gives you

  • A summary of how many there are during the time period, and

  • Of those, how many are flagged as a potential risk for impact.

  • Of all those it considers, Spaceman will give you the details about the one that's closest. If you want even more information, look at the Alexa app after asking Spaceman; it will give you a link to a site that has all the technical stuff.

Known limitations

Spaceman doesn't know what time zone you're in, so its idea of what events are contained within a given day may differ from what you view as that day. The data is currently presented in terms of Universal Time (i.e., Greenwich Meantime).

When reading some information about launches, you're likely to hear some odd pronunciations. Alexa's not good at pronouncing cryptic acronyms or foreign names.

News

January 2017 - Initial release

January 2021

  • Update to LaunchLibrary v2

  • Add information about each launch's mission

Suggestions?

If you have any suggestions, ideas, or comments, please let me know on the Suggestions page.

I have plans in the works to add

  1. The ability to request only one facet of the data (e.g., just launches, without moon and asteroid information)

  2. The ability to request more or less detailed data (e.g., provide a whole list of specific asteroids, rather than just a count and details of the closest)


Credits and Acknowledgments

Spaceman's information is extracted from other sources.

My name is Chris Wuestefeld. I'm a long-time software developer, and I'm building this as a hobby, and as a means to keep building my technical skills.