Thursday, February 19, 2015


That's not a typo! Vacation!

I'm sorry I have not been writing as often as usual -- but it's also gratifying to have so many new projects, even if they divide my attention!

I'm going on another blog hiatus, but for happier reasons. For the first time in 6 years, I am taking a GENUINE vacation, where there is no "work" involved before or after fun days off.

For three weeks, I'll be traveling through the Dutch Antilles and Latin America, and I'm not taking my laptop. I guess by the end of week 1, I'll know if "not being connected to the internet" is a relief, or bringing on serious withdrawal.

 I'm off to Aruba, Curacao, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica...
See you on the flipside!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Weightless 3D Printing: The Next Giant Leap


The race to Mars quietly enjoyed two giant leaps toward reality in recent months. A journey to the red planet poses many challenges: propulsion, radiation shielding, predicting what a ship and crew would need to make the journey, and of course, human health over the 500+ theoretical mission days.

Addressing the health piece, NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and RFSA Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend an entire year in orbit, a long-duration experiment designed to study physiological changes in weightlessness, as well as psychological reactions to isolation.

The other piece? A small company called Made In Space announced that an astronaut on the International Space Station installed their 3D printer inside the Micro-Gravity Science GloveBox, created the first test print in orbit, then further printed a custom tool for a repair. Before the printer was there, Barry "Butch" Wilmore would have had to wait for the right tool to be delivered on the next rocket from Earth!

Butch Wilmore and the 3D Ratchet
The ratchet heard 'round the world

Many moons ago, I wrote a blog article entitled "Regolith Castles" (March 2011) wherein I detailed the adventures of Enrico Dini, who used lunar analog material to make giant 3D prints (or, layered composites based on 3D software models) of structures that might one day be used to build habitats in low gravity on our Moon.

3D printers were invented in the 1980s, but it took until the 2000s for them to show up in TED talks and seminars about new "disruptive technologies" of the 21st century. Also now known as "additive manufacturing," 3D printing has now made splashes in many supply industries (from metals to chocolate!) and was even featured on The Big Bang Theory in January of 2013. Can a reality TV show be far behind??

If anyone had asked me "How long until we have a 3D printer that can operate in micro-gravity?" I'm quite sure my answer would have been, "It won't be on this current space station. It will be on the next one after 2030." Then, perhaps, Enrico Dini's visions in the next decade. But, the leap came earlier than expected!


Made In Space has completed 20+ 3D prints in orbit since the first test print in November of 2014, and will compare the items made in micro-gravity to those made on Earth.

This changes everything.


3-D printers on the ground? New. Cool. Fun! 3D printer in space?? This doesn't just change the game. It changes the entire sport. Imagine basically emailing new items into space instead of launching them inside rockets.

As with most spacetweeps, the first thing that popped into my head was Apollo 13. With the ability to send software to a spacecraft, and print whatever parts are needed, the practical applications are at once obvious -- and mind-blowing.

Apollo 13

Launching heavy hardware is expensive. Any spacecraft can now potentially take printers and lighter raw materials, to create customized tools with reduced human effort. When there's no making a quick U-turn back to Earth in dire emergencies, a machine that can swiftly print what is needed, on demand, from a medical cast for a broken wrist to new receptacles for the inevitable hydroponics farms, the 3D printer becomes the new "Spacecraft Must Have."

The technology will extend to food such as 3D printed pizza, accessories such as 3D printed cameras, and eventually, perhaps even metals for hull or hatch repairs, or fabrics for spacesuit patches. One thing is certain: in the not-far-future, probably closer than we think, there will be no such thing as a mission without multiple additive manufacturing printers.

3D printers will be the new way we build things in space: satellites, space stations, spacecraft internal quarters, and ultimately, off-world colony habitats. No more lugging along millions of dollars worth of spare parts that must be stored, but may never be used.

Additive Manufacturing Facility
Second Printer: The AMF
Photo courtesy of Made In Space, Inc.

Made In Space will be launching it's second printer in 2015, the AMF, or "Additive Manufacturing Facility." NASA will still be a customer, but in addition to their continued experiments with station supplies, this larger and higher-precision hardware will be made commercially available to companies, universities, government agencies, and artists who are interested in the ability to create objects in space.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

They Were Flying For Me


The end of January and beginning of February holds an unusual amount of losses for our space program:

January 27, 1967… Apollo 1 lost
January 28, 1986… Challenger STS-51L lost
February 1, 2003… Columbia STS-107 lost

I have to be careful on this day, because many news outlets re-run footage of
Challenger in particular, and I for one simply never wish to view it again. Instead, from time to time, I chose to visit the Challenger Memorial in Houston, while it was still there. I have also visited the Apollo 1 Memorial at Cape Canaveral, and the Columbia Memorial in Arlington.

While there are many civic and private memorials, or schools and streets named after astronauts in their home towns or other cities -- quite incredibly, there is no national memorial for NASA's collective tragedies. 

Sad that this amazing piece of work was presented by musician John Denver, who would himself perish in an air crash. "They Were Flying For Me" is truly a beautiful song, with moving footage of the Challenger crew.

We are certainly not alone in our losses. The official efforts of the USA and USSR have claimed 9 human lives in training accidents, 15 in flight, and 3 in space.

NASA also has very informative Day of Remembrance slide shows for the three missions in which the most lives were lost.

Astronaut Memorial - Neil Armstrong Museum

The most recently constructed memorial, which I felt very privileged to see in fall of 2014, is at the Neil A. Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Created by Tony Hight in 2009, it's one of the few that lists every major mission in which an entire crew was lost in service to their country.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Star Talk Radio Live!


Star Talk Radio is on the road again! And this week, Bill Nye The Science Guy will be hosting Neil deGrasse Tyson's usual gig in Los Angeles and San Francisco!  Lucky, lucky audiences in California.

Okay, okay, don't say it... if it's Star Talk Radio LIVE and ONSTAGE, it's... not.. exactly RADIO. But who's quibbling with the best radio show and podcast around?

Star Talk Radio Live

StarTalk, from Curved Light Productions, is the first (and still only) popular commercial radio broadcast devoted to space exploration, the search for life in the universe, astrophysics, and cosmology -- and they manage to make all these subjects accessible to listeners of all ages and backgrounds with facts, humor, celebrities, and occasional co-hosts.

If you are not a regular StarTalk listener... um, who are you and what are you doing on my blog?? No seriously, if you're new to the show, you can brush up on the format and fun by seeing their greatest hits: TOP TEN Most Listened To StarTalk Radio Shows in 2014.

There's one episode where NdT had a conversation with GOD. Make time.

Bill Nye's Website

I'm so very flattered to tell all my readers and followers that the StarTalk social media team invited me to "guest-host" their Twitter account during Bill Nye's show on Friday, January 23rd.

Engineer, comedian, Emmy-winning TV host, and owner of 150+ bow ties, Bill Nye is also the current CEO of The Planetary Society.  I happen to be a proud, card-carrying member. It will be my distinct pleasure to put all my Nye-rich knowledge into describing the show on Friday night at the historic Nourse Theatre in San Francisco.

If you're local to the Bay Area, you can purchase tickets to come live-tweet #StarTalkRadio with us, or follow along with all the great sciency comedy from home by following the social media hashtag #StarTalkLive.

The above video is from Nye's 2014 San Francisco StarTalk show, at the annual SF Sketchfest. Watch this if you want to get an idea of what's in store!

For all the news this week about #StarTalkLive, you can follow the major players on Twitter at @Pillownaut, @ScientificScott, @TheScienceGuy, @EugeneMirman, and of course the Big Guns: @StarTalkRadio.