Monday, April 14, 2014

Pillownaut Hiatus


With my heartfelt love and thanks to all of my wonderful long time readers, I'm sorry to announce Pillow Astronaut is being put on hiatus while I content with some elderly family members with medical issues.

I hope you will remain a follower until I am able to resume writing again!
I hope you will keep me in your favorites or your feed.
I hope to return, soon!

~ Heather

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Henrietta Telescope


I wish I could stop finding stories about amazing women who made incredible discoveries, only to find certain men took credit for their work and dismissively assigned them to obscurity, until an era where people were comfortable (though still not entirely happy) about giving women proper credit.

While I do love getting to the truth of these stories, I just wish there weren't so many of them.
Silent Sky - Theatreworks, Mountain View performance

This past weekend, NASA Kepler scientist Natalie Batalha spoke at the "Leading Ladies" program for Theatreworks in Mountain View, discussing the roles of women in science history, the precious few in astronomy fields, and how far we have come in encouraging girls to trust their obvious abilities in STEM areas -- before society trains them to believe they "shouldn't" have any.

Following her spirited presentation was a performance of "Silent Sky" by Lauren Gunderson, a powerful play based on the life of Henrietta Leavitt (1868-1921). I cried for the beauty and wonder of science at the end. (I think the last time I cried in a theatre, Spock had just died at the end of Star Trek II.)

After earning her bachelor's at Radcliffe, Henrietta Leavitt was one of the early women "computers" hired by Harvard, to document stars. With the largest "Great Refractor" telescope of the day, Edward C. Pickering captured star fields on glass photographic plates, which were then turned over to the women for measurements and exhaustive, meticulous records.
The so-called "Pickering's Harem" in the 1890s.
In reality? ASTRONOMERS.

Enduring indignities of being called "Pickering's Harem" or simply being denied use of telescopes to sit in the "girl's area" to work on men's research projects instead of their own, Henrietta and her co-workers nonetheless made their share of crucial contributions and discoveries.

Three characters are craftily brought to life against the historical backdrop of turn-of-the-century astronomical technology, Einstein's famed 1905 publishing of special relativity, and the first ringing telephone:

Williamina Fleming catalogued more than 10,000 stars, and her discoveries included 10 novae, 59 nebulae (including the famed Horsehead Nebula), 310 variable stars, and White Dwarfs.

Annie Jump Cannon catalogued 230,000+ stars, designed the stellar classification system in the Draper catalog (still used today!), and remains the only single female to win the Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

Henrietta Leavitt, holding at arm's length all the pressures to be married and bear children instead of earn a living, was known for staying up all hours to study the finer points of the Magellanic Cloud, comparing the brightness of 2,000+ stars.  Resulting from this work, Henrietta's most prominent triumph was discovering a relationship between the period and luminosity of classical Cepheid stars (published in 1908, and again with further evidence in 1912).

Her discovery would change all of astronomy.

These women were paid less than the Harvard secretaries of the era, and a mere fraction of what the male astronomers made.

Annie Cannon and Henrietta Leavitt
Harvard College Observatory (HCO), 1918

The enduring friendship of all the women through the years came alive on stage, with some poetic license, but artfully illustrating both their blatant and subtle struggles in the male-dominated workplace, at a time when women were also aiming at the right to vote.  The humorous highlight of the play for me was when a suffragette capitalized on a line callback about bloomers by passing that fashion entirely, and being bold enough to wear (gasp!) PANTS. 

Today, Leavitt's accomplishments can hardly be over-stated, and the message of the play was clear: no amount of gender bias can quell natural passion and curiosity. They will shine through. Natalie Batalha's words rang in my ears again and again through this riveting theatrical portrayal of women who had paved the way for us: "The spirit of exploration has no gender."

Leavitt's discovery, now simply referred to as the "Period-Luminosity Relation," would prove repeatedly to be the foundation for our modern understanding of cosmological distances.
Silent Sky - Credit to Theatreworks

Edwin Hubble acknowledged his use of Henrietta Leavitt's work, though in his own paper, credited not the woman who had actually done all the precision work, but one of the advisers at Harvard (who insisted "his interpretation" of Leavitt's discovery was more important than her decades of actual findings). And of course, you'll notice whose house is a National Historic Landmark and who has a namesake space telescope.  Hint: Not Henrietta Leavitt.

Hubble later claimed Leavitt indeed deserved a Nobel Prize, and she may very well have received one, had she not perished from cancer before this could be accomplished. Of her own 35 academic papers, most were published posthumously.  And while Henrietta does have Asteroid 5383 named for her, I think it's time for an observatory named after a woman astronomer.

Also, Lauren Gunderson deserves a comet.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

All NASA Twitter Feeds


I occasionally check the NASA Connect pages for new things... and my, what an explosion over the past year! However, their list is slightly out-of-date. Truly, they need someone like me to curate this for them -- alas, no one has made me QUEEN yet.

I was one of those folks who didn't quite understand Twitter when I signed up to Tweet, but over time have seen the fascination with micro-blogging in the 140-character culture. So! If you're interested in keeping up with NASA facilities and missions, here is the full spate of NASA Twitter feeds... along with the current snapshot of followers:

JPL's Near Earth Objects (Pasadena, CA) - 1,128,870

NASA Astrobiology Institute (ARC) - 881,650

Humanoid Robot in orbit (ISS) - 63,320

Saturn Solar System Studies (JPL) - 341,111

Official Commercial Crew Program (KSC) - 18,329

Chandra Observatory (MSFC) - 49,950

Desert Analog Projects - 45,018

Eyes On The Earth (JPL) - 91,314

NASA / CSA collaborative Haughton Mars Project (Devon Island, Arctic) - 1,022

Daily Photographs from Hubble Space Telescope (1 of 3 Hubble Accounts) - 11,542

Hubblesite News for the Hubble Space Telescope (1 of 3 Hubble Accounts) - 25, 465

Technology Crowd-sourcing (HQ) - 348

International Space Station (ISS) - 77,032

J2X Rocket Engine (MSFC) - 2,053

Office of the Chief Technologist (Pasadena, CA) - 555

Kennedy Space Center Research Materials (Cape Canaveral, FL) - 555

Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (Ames) - 26,775

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (Greenbelt, MD) - 117,904

Curiosity Rover (JPL / KSC) - 1,472,670

Phoenix Mars Lander on red planet polar region (JPL) - 221,063

Spirit and Opportunity (JPL) - 221,063

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission - 24,090

MErcury Surface Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission - 35,326

Planetary Lander Prototype (Autonomous Landing) - 7,420

News From NASA - 5,780,540
I just love that this account has nearly 6 million now!

Production Team and TV Show - 33,165

Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA) - 86,782

Exploration games for planet Mars (JPL) - 3,511

Blogs and podcasts (GSFC) - 36,547

Office of the Chief Information Officer - 4,742

Public NASA datasets catalog - 1,746

Dryden Flight Research Center (Edwards, CA) - 72,761
   *Note this center has recently been renamed to NASA Armstrong

NASA Education Resources (HQ) - 23,057

Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope - 25,810

Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GSFC New York) - 1,187

Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH) - 4,447

Glory Mission Energy Balance - 6,303

Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD) - 135,623

History of NASA (Washington DC) - 129,621

Human Health and Performance Center - 1,546

Hurricane / Cyclone Watch (Greenbelt, MD) - 302,735

Independent Verification and Validation Facility (Fairmon, WV) - 155

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) - 562,383

Resources for Teachers/Students + Internship opportunities (Pasadena, CA) - 30,872

Jupiter Mission (JPL) - 46,877

Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, FL) - 595,040

Kepler Mission (Ames) - 329,468

Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer lunar mission (Ames) - 37,730

Laser Communication (LLCD & LCRD) Demonstration Missions (GFRC) - 701

Robotic Lander Prototype (MSFC) - 720

Suomi NPP Polar orbiting satellite (GSFC) - 7,455

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (CalTech) - 7,320

Office of the Inspector General (Washington D.C.) - 735

NASA workers and outreach to participants of NASA projects - 3,113

Centennial Challenge (Washington D.C.) - 329,468

Space Communications and Navigation (JPL) -295

Short videos of science topics and missions -5,014

Live-tweeted mission events at NASA socials (formerly "Tweetups") -110,102

Planetary Science Division -14,590

Space Place for elementary school students (JPL) -8,909

NASA-Derived Technologies on Earth -34,178

Spitzer Space Telescope, the infrared Great Observatory -24,444

Stennis Space Center (Michoud, MS) - 34,905

Study of gamma ray bursts, X-ray, ultraviolet, afterglows - 2,803

Engineering solutions for design and manufacturing - 10,897

Public & private technology partnerships and collaborations (Moffett Field, CA)- 151

Voyager I and II Spacecrafts - 70,642

Science Mission Directorate educational materials (HQ) - 1,048

James Webb Telescope (Greenbelt, MD) - 107,150

Earth science news team (Greenbelt, MD) - 7,403

NASA X Television Show (Hampton, VA) - 1,97607,150

Airborne Science Program - 7,989

Academy of Program / Project & Engineering Leadership (Washington, DC) - 14,201

Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate (JSC) - 28

Updates on astronaut activities - 232,330

Ion propulsion craft on mission to Asteroids (Vesta/Ceres) - 21,299

NASA Educational Short Films - 8,211
... Ha, get it? ECLIPS? ;) Nice.

Production Team and TV Show - 48,895

NASA Environmental Management -3,572

Earth Observatory (Greenbelt, MD) - 115,050

NASA en espaƱol; News from NASA in Spanish - 72,685

Goddard Earth Sciences Data (GSFC) - 4,232

Geospatial Interactive Online Visualization & Analysis Infrastructure (GSFC) - 1,224

Hubble Space Telescope (HST) (1 of 3 Hubble Accounts) - 52,287

ICESat: Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite - 36,820

Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX) - 192,700

Earth Satellite Missions managed by NASA and USGS (Greenbelt, MD) - 16,185

Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA) - 93,526

Moon science (Ames) - 52,374

Launch Services Program (KSC) - 25,217

Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL) - 59,270

Magnetospheric Multi-Scale mission (GSFC) - 3,874

Advanced Supercomputing Division (Moffet Field, CA) - 800

NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (Atlantic Ocean!) - 14,924

Shared Services Center at Stennis (Michoud, MS) - 3,895

Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses nanosatellite (Ames) - 2,620

Deep Space Human Exploration Spacecraft / Capsule - 62,057

GPM / TRMM Precipitation Measurement missions (GFSC) - 5,185

Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (Greenbelt, MD) - 4,122

Solar Dynamics Observatory (Greenbelt, MD) - 15,752

Space Launch System heavy launch vehicle (Huntsville, AL) - 264

Soil Moisture Active Passive Mission (JPL and GSFC) - 264

National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program - 205

Supercomputers and scientific discoveries - 4,785

Scientific and Technical Information - 17,460
Space technology at NASA (Washington D.C.) - 214,092

NASA Television Programming Schedule - 5,277

Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, VA) - 57,495

Transparent Communication for the space agency (Washington D.C.) - 2,297

Exoplanet Exploration Program (JPL) - 37,214

Global Weather Patterns (JPL) - 4,490

NASA Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy - 26,674

Mission to Earth's radiation belts - 3,365

Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission / NEOWISE asteroid hunter - 22,360

STEM outreach for young women students - 6,718

Wow, 115 Twitter accounts, and still adding more!

Interestingly, the only NASA feeds with more followers than the administrative accounts of the centers are the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover and Asteroid Watch! It would seem the two largest human interests are: exploring and keeping up with what might be smashing into Earth.

The feed that has showed the most explosive growth over the past two years? NASA Voyager, screaming from under 800 in 2010 to over 70 thousand today!

Note, the above list does not include individual astronauts, as many have left NASA over the years, of course. For a full list of all tweeting current and former astronauts from various agencies, see the master list and forum at CollectSpace.

Space Unites also compiled a wonderful list of all the main Twitter accounts of all the Space Agencies Worldwide.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Seeking Space Zen


Around this time each year, since Barack Obama took office, I have written about his promises regarding the space agency. I'm skipping it this year. Moreover, I took a break from blogging altogether this past month. The writing on the Social Media wall is that blogs may wane in favor of visually richer, mobile-friendly platforms, particularly for people who want quick news and information.

So why this "opinion piece," when I generally write so few essays?? Call it therapy.
Here's why NASA is important and needs proper funding [Skip!]
Here's why NASA is important and needs proper funding [Skip!]
Here's why NASA is important and needs proper funding [Skip!]

I'm tired. I'm jaded. I'm disillusioned.

I'm weary of preaching to the choir of other space nerds who already love what I love, understand what I understand, and appreciate what I appreciate. I love my job, and I love trying to reach out to new people. I love having conversations where I can help educate others about technology spinoffs from space missions, or how much their lifestyle depends on the hardware orbiting our planet, put there by rockets.

Sure, I've run into plenty of people who suffer from the "Why Do We Waste Money In Space When We Have Problems On Earth" delusions, I've always found this occupational hazard to be a thrill, and it's particularly satisfying to turn someone around into a NASA-supporting convert if possible. It happens with individuals more often than you'd think -- so why can't we convince CONGRESS?

Hubble Telescope Cancer Technology

This year, I had no inclination or energy to beat an essentially deceased equine. I should have started blogging again about a week ago, but feared that anything I wrote would be so depressing as to crash everyone's holiday buzz. I chose instead to concentrate on new social media platforms that may prove to have better outreach value, but continued to feel guilty that I was harboring a "dirty little secret," and not speaking about my true feelings.

I finally decided, that for all the time I spend being a cheerleader, it would be disingenuous not to provide the other side of how we space advocates feel sometimes. The fact of the matter is, sometimes hoping for something that never happens just plain sucks.

Of NASA's original 7 astronauts, only 1 is still alive today, with no clear hope that humanity is indeed on its way to Mars. Of NASA's 12 Moon-Walkers, 4 have died, and 40+ years have passed with no trips back to the lunar surface.
Yeah. Kinda feels like that.

We're always, always afraid of budget cuts. We're always afraid of layoffs. We're always up against legislators who have no background in science. We're always losing resources for science in a society that depends  upon science. We're always surrounded by "lowest bidder" mentality. We're always up against a population who have only a meager understanding of why efforts in space are crucial -- for education, government, daily life, and for remaining at the forefront of Earth's leadership pyramid.

There are no new space promises. President Obama indeed has a great track record in doing what he says he will do, and I'm forever grateful he came through with an additional Shuttle mission before thousands of jobs were lost from that program, the extension of the International Space Station, and support for commercial space endeavours -- but the fact remains that we seem to lose ground, year after year.

It's always one step forward and two steps back.

Many people dislike Americans being ferried to the ISS via Soyuz, compliments of the dependable Russian space agency, who make up for in reliable methodology what they lack in funds. I am actually pleased to see this collaboration between nations, because I think we need to begin behaving like an EARTH, and not a collection of boundary-conscious cults. I'm far more concerned that NASA announced the END to this collaboration, with no long-term plan for a viable heavy launch vehicle even on the drafting board!

Common sense gets lost in the cacophony of Duck Dynasty-ish mindset that consistently caters to the lowest common denominator of a culture that actually expects to remain globally prevalent and dominant -- even while they tear down their own infrastructure, along with the most intelligent individuals trying to keep it on forward tracks.

It cut me to the molten core to see Dave Scott and Alan Bean stride casually through a hotel resort last year at a conference, where no one recognized them. Had Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian swept through,it would have been a madhouse -- but for the men who risked their lives in the name of science? Not a public peep.

Where is the respect for the people who have forwarded humanity's progress and dreams in the most prevalent terms? Among all the skepticism, where is the recognition for the agency that gave us so many technological leaps in agriculture, communications, GPS, computing, safety, medicine, water filtration, weather forecasting, climate monitoring, oceanography, planetary science, heliophysics and green aviation?

Honestly, there is nothing more disturbing that the people who use the internet to whine about how government research yields nothing, while engaging in a medium invented by government research, dependent on government technology, launched by government-funded rockets.
TODAY, January 20th, Buzz Aldrin turns 84 years old.
He walked on the lunar surface when he was 39.

I know the malaise will pass. I know the other "spacetweeps" in my chosen social community will inspire me with their own posts, pins, tweets, and essays about exciting developments in new missions and exuberant engagement with launches, comet sightings, eclipses, and astronaut autographs.

We're all very excited about Space X and Orbital Sciences, the companies with bold (but realistic) plans about supplying the space station. We're dubiously unconvinced but hopeful for the even-bolder companies with lofty goals about reaching Mars without government backing.Will they live up to their hype? Time will tell.

I've never kicked off a new year so late, or quite so glumly. Let's hope as 2014 progresses, we all have more to be excited about on the space horizon.