Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Baktun 13, Year of the Pig, Holocene 12019 -- however you count, enjoy the Gregorian grid with this beautiful collage of photos and facts, published in cooperation with Starry Messenger Press, and, new this year, order fulfillment through Amazon.

Wall Calendar and Spiral Notebook Calendar

The photography is stunning, and every square centimeter is packed with colorful collages, planets, astronauts, space crafts, and profiles of famous mission scientists. The calendar grids feature moon phases, sky-gazing guides, space exploration milestones throughout history and fun space facts.

Designer Steve Cariddi created this masterpiece to appeal to space enthusiasts of all ages, and even if you don't want another physical item on your desk -- you can also get all the facts + photography in an online version, or weekly email.


To enter the contest, simply circulate either of the tweets below over the next two days, or create your own tweet with the calendar link, and CC: back to my account so I know to enter your Twit-handle in the drawing.

Win a FREE 2019 Year In Space Calendar with sky guides, space trivia, and stunning astrophotography! https://goo.gl/vwC6y2 via @YearInSpace @Pillownaut #YearInSpace

FREE Year In Space 2019 Calendar up for grabs at https://goo.gl/vwC6y2 if you RT @pillownaut @YearInSpace! Amazing astrophotography, mission milestones, and Scientist profiles included each year. #YearInSpace

On Thursday evening (December 6, 2018), we will choose one local winner at the California Academy of Sciences FEEL THE FORCE Nightlife event in Golden Gate Park, which will feature multiple astromech droids from the Bay Area R2 Builders, 501st garrison stormtroopers, Mandalorian Mercs, and the Rebel Legion. Last year, they gave away free light sabers and also held Jedi Academy training on how to use them. Here's hoping that's a staple. The themed cocktails are also amazing, so we hope to see a good turnout for all the Star Wars fun!

To win? All ya gotta do is tap me on the shoulder and say something nice.

Are you local to the San Francisco Bay Area?
Click to join us and R2-D2 at the Cal Academy Cocktails night!

 Then on Friday, I will choose a second (random) winner from all the tweeters, and that person can be local, across the USA, or anywhere international.

 Of course, only two can win the free prizes, so when the rest of you purchase multiples for your kids for the New Year, and I know you will, check out the discount for being a Pillow Astronaut reader! Save 25% off the retail price and pay only $14.95 per copy online. There are additional quantity discounts if you buy more than one, which will show up when you check out.

Also be sure to follow #TriviaThursday on @pillownaut Twitter for #YearInSpace trivia all day on Thursday! If you read this far, you will qualify to additional entries. EVERY retweet of a Trivia fact on Thursday, December 6th will be another entry! Kudos to all those who read blog posts to the end, heh heh.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Pillownaut Christmas Picks

Here it is, December 1st! Time to select goodies for the scientist, astronomer, cosmologist, Trekkie, Browncoast, Ewok, or astromech wrangler in your life! If you don't have these people in your life, come meet one at a rocket launch sometime.

It may seem weird to have Christmas picks from someone who notoriously hates shopping, but all of these GEEK TREATS can be purchased on the internet. That is literally my only requirement for selection when I'm sharing news of cool Science or Science Fiction products. Like that R2-D2 pen I just found? Yeah, you actually have to schlep down to Office Depot to recycle your massive collection of spent ink cartridges to find it. So, disqualified.

Ultimate Guide to the Cosmos by David Dickinson & Fraser Cain
My arms are too short for selfies,
so I just tried to keep the book in the middle.

 My top pick for the year is The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing The Cosmos by David Dickinson with Fraser Cain. The sub-title is a bit mystifying. "Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer" seems a bit of an abbreviation for such a visually stunning and skillful collection of knowledge. From reading the sky to choosing a telescope, from identifying celestial phenomena to staying safe during eclipses, this is more like a comprehensive guide on being a GOOD astronomer. Even if you have no hardware at all.

This book is a giant galactic poem, and every spacetweep should own it. I've seen just about every astronomy book in my lifetime, and this is the one that will show you how to be a stargazer in the way that best fits your abilities and interests -- not merely canned instructions for meteor showers. As the author notes in his introduction, "The act of gazing skyward is a minor stroke of rebellion." 

ALIENS bath bomb from SICK SOAPS

 I've been a big fan of FrakkingBombs after seeing them at Dragon*Con; their Star Wars & Doctor Who bath products are still awesome -- but I branched out a bit to try Sick Soaps, owned by a woman named Cheynne de Boer, who sold me this very original "Aliens" themed bath bomb. I keep wanting to use it, but also enjoy just having it to look at. I'll fizz it up and watch the face-hugger spring out sometime. She has dozens of Sci-Fi soapy things, plus classic horror movies in the mix.

Do the puzzles while the stuff bakes

Unshockingly, my cookbook of the year is a Chocolate BIBLE. That's what it said. BIBLE. It's light on the scripture, but heavy on the chocolate advice, chocolate history (from the Aztecs to modern artisanal truffles), development of chocolate cultivation and products across many cultures through the centuries, and types chocolate delicacies all over the world. There's a coffee section, too. Maybe someday I'll read that. Right now, still stuck on learning how to cope with tempering. It's harder than those Instagram videos make it look. 

My puzzle pick of the year for the first time ever is NOT crosswords. I'll never be as good at Sudoku as my older brother -- which is why this is his Christmas present. Celestial Squares by atheist vegan Sci-Fi author Ant Ryan has 50 easy, 50 medium, 50 hard, and 50 advanced puzzles... perfect for the husband who wants to teach his wife to Sudoku. Apologies in advance to my sister-in-law.

Both of the above are British printings by British authors, but available for purchase to the USA. And both are the best gifts I also found for others in 2018.

Best Fiction Book for the year? The one I'm writing. For all the reviews and promotions I've done for others, I hope you'll support me when the time comes.

We may have opened this toy a bit early. K, we opened this toy really early. Sphero used to charge $130 + shipping for the app-controlled R2-D2 astromech, but had a product surplus and dropped the price to $40 for the holidays. You download the Sphero droid app, and enjoy the BEEPS and BOOPS! Droid has an integrated speaker with all of Artoo's recognizable conversations and... screams. Authentic functional LEDs, radio system, and very easy to move. WAY easier than the 200lb. trash can! From opening the box to driving, twe had this little guy up and running in 7 minutes. So hilarious. I've been sending it all around the kitchen with my iPhone while waiting for blog uploads.

My non-fiction pick of the year is Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work on Their Own Terms, an examination of the glass ceiling women experience in various career fields, and how to cope with society's models in the changing landscape of finding both success and balance. I like the approach here, because it acknowledges, unlike many self-help guide-style books, that there is no single solution, and every woman has to get to the core of her own ideals and choices to be a resilient, adaptable, and effective worker.

Disclaimer: I went to college with co-author, Portia Mount, who also wrote Beating the Imposter Syndrome in 2014. We lived in the same dormitory at Mills. On second thought, never mind, I'm not disclaiming anything. She's brilliant, and I'm proud to promote this for Portia. She is #BlackGirlMagic personified! 

Kitty Approved

One last book pick! While not newly written, this blast from the past is absolutely still relevant, applicable to continuing evolutionary studies, and pertinent knowledge to understanding how the creatures of Earth will (or won't) adapt to rapidly changing climate. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction was written by David Quammen in 1997. Not many people heeded his warnings then. I don't much expect people in charge to heed them now, but it's a great read about how we're all basically going to go extinct. RAY OF SUNSHINE, YO.

NOTE: This book is also the current pick for THE STEMULUS book club, and we will be discussing it on livestream soon!


Lastly, my Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates pick of the year is the Moonstruck Crescent Moon Collection, conveniently in the shape of an actual crescent moon. Anyone and everyone is free to send this to me -- at any time of year. This lovely box features their Champagne truffle, Ocumarian, their signature caramels, and one specialty of the Distillery Collection, the Clear Creek Pear Brandy, native to the Portland, Oregon area where their chocolate factory resides.

Add if you're into more whimsical selections, they carry holiday-wrapped truffles, as well as penguins, snowballs, snowdudes, little trees, sugar plums, and all manner of Decembery cacao goodness. It's a fun website, go crazy.

It's also the best chocolate this side of Belgium.

I would know. 

I've been to Belgium, and ate my way home through Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


This past week, I had an interesting milestone, and decided to share the results.
I first did a "recap" of my years of experiences in the NASA Spaceflight Simulation program at the Flight Analog Research Unit (FARU) run by Johnson Space Center in both Houston and on Galveston Island. A kind Twitter follower named Brian Murdock submitted it to a threading service in article format. Good stuff!

Story of the NASA Space Simulation Studies

Long story short, my NASA Sim Studies (conducted 2008-2013 by Wyle BioAstronautics), carried risks of lowered immunity, plasma volume drop, vestibular (balance) issues, and heart enlargement in the short term -- but in the long term, after physical rehabilitation, possible risks still include changes in eyesight, cardiac weakening, muscle degradation, and lessened bone mineral density.

Every new day brings every woman alive closer to menopause, so of course I wondered in particular about bone density as I age. Thus far, in the decade after my micro-gravity and lunar gravity simulations, I did have to get new glasses because nearsightedness took a big jump, and of course I wondered -- as all analogs and astronauts must -- about how our medical numbers would look after many years. Am I in danger of being in a wheelchair as I was for the week after my longest sim ended? Probably not. But long-term dangers still remain a big question.

Bone Scans after Spaceflight Simulations

I get blood work from time to time, and in 2016, had an invasive workup that matched a few of the tests I underwent back in sims; I also get my blood pressure measured frequently. I asked for cholesterol levels in addition to things NASA previously measured: Hematocrit, Ferritin (iron levels), and Alanine Aminotransferase (liver enzymes).

One thing I had not repeated since my 5-year mark was the Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry -- abbreviated to DEXA or DXA, though more often referred to by orthopaedists as "Bone Densitometry."

DexaFit San Carlos 

Due to the sheer size of DEXA machines, such tests weren't as common as other diagnostics, and often required a specialist. Today, however, DXA scans are more widely available.

If you're curious about muscle mass, fat percentage, bone density and other body composition measurements that may judge your risk for future heart disease or osteoporosis, start at DEXASCAN.COM. This provides explanations and maps, so you can see if you have scanning services near you. Some require physician referral; others are freely available to all, and may indicate if more tests are advisable for certain conditions.

Upon securing an appointment, you'll be asked via email and web forms to provide a "Pre-Test Journal"-- mostly simple data ensuring you aren't pregnant, if you smoke, how you exercise, and you may add stats on allergies, sleeping hours, and dietary habits. It's helpful to note if medical issues run in your family, so technicians can translate results for you in terms of what you can do in the future to prevent onset of certain conditions.

All that is required of you is to lay still for about 6 minutes.

Lunar DEXA Scanner - How it works

I went to a site in Silicon Valley called DexaFit in San Carlos. Capable technicians made me feel comfortable and gave me two scans in a mere 30 minutes, then gave knowledgeable explanations of how the scans work, and how to interpret results. Thanks so much for  swift and efficient experience, Lizzy and Emily! I got to my subsequent lunch date on time.

The large scanner sends a thin, invisible beam of ionizing radiation (low-dose x-rays) with two distinct energy peaks through the skeleton. One peak is absorbed mainly by soft tissue and the other by bone. The soft tissue amount can be subtracted from the total and what remains is a patient's bone mineral density.


Happily, my borderline-anxious curiosity was rewarded only with relief. In the graphic above, the white square is my score. The aqua waves are the average for each age group.

My T-score is higher than average for my age, and better now than when I left sims, likely due to consistent exercise, genetics (never having broken any, strong bones were why I got into the astronaut analog program in the first place!), weight-lifting since the age of 19, and luck. As I put it to my parents later that day: "I can now officially tell you not to worry. NASA can't kill me even when they're trying!"

Space enthusiasts will further appreciate the irony of the GE scanner brand name.

DexaFit San Carlos

How much do you truly know about your BONES?? Take a quick bone quiz, here!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Carl Sagan Day 2018

Happy 10th Annual Carl Sagan Day!

As of tomorrow, it's been a full decade of HAIL, SAGAN! Once again, colleges and museums have planned awesome planetarium shows, educator workshops, family activities, telescope classes, and star-gazing. From Carl Sagan book readings in SC to Florida Meetups for Carl Sagan Day to MIT lectures Sagan Day 2018, celebrations honor what would have been Sagan's 84th birthday.

Carl Sagan and the Voyager Golden Records

Best known from the original COSMOS series of the 1980s (the most widely watched program in PBS history!), Carl Sagan is known for his part in the Voyager Golden Records aboard spacecrafts Voyager I and II, and their longevity; his many fiction and non-fiction books packed with highly-quotable written material, and his tireless advocacy for science and astronomy.

He is immortalized in a science museum near his Ithaca, NY home, which includes the Carl Sagan Planet Walk scale solar system, complete with stampable passport at every planet, and narrated by Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Sagan taught at Cornell and Harvard universities, and worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Other titles included technology officer of the Icarus planetary research journal, Planetary Science Chair at the Astronomical Society, Astronomy Chairman at the Advancement of Science Association, and Co-Founder of the Planetary Society, the Earth's largest space-interest group.

Carl Sagan passed away in December 1996 at the age of 62, and was buried in New York (Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca) right beside his parents.


An astronomer, philosopher, professor and NASA consultant, Carl Sagan won 30 public awards, published over 600 scientific articles and authored or co-authored 20 books. I’ll never weary of recommending Pale Blue Dot to anyone who will listen!  The unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

Sagan was instrumental in the early Mariner missions to Venus, determined landing sites on Mars for the Viking Lander probes, and also assembled the first physical messages sent into space.  He was instrumental in establishing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), urging the use of radio telescopes to detect signals from other intelligent life. Along with Frank Drake, he also composed the Arecibo message, beamed once into space in 1974.

Carl Sagan with the VLA

He's one of those people who makes you scratch your head and think, "What the heck have I been DOING with my time?!"

Carl had the ability to make space "knowable" to audiences of all ages. He was known for popularizing  science in a way that inspired people to understand both our insignificance in the larger universe, but also, paradoxically, the absolutely precious nature of our enormously unlikely existence.

Follow me on Twitter today for #TriviaThursday, all day today, which is all about Carl Sagan's life, works, activism, and scientific accomplisments! Speaking for space geeks everywhere... thanks a billion, Carl.