Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lunar Ponderings

A stunning anniversary just passed: 50 years since Apollo 11. We have 6 more Apollo lunar anniversaries to go, (7 overall in this program if one counts the non-lunar Apollo-Soyuz Test Project). For years, I've tracked statistics of Apollo missions and astronauts as they aged. And each time I have to update my records, the solemnity of the loss halts all activity in my brain.

On December 19, 1972, upon the splashdown return of Apollo 17, there were 12 men on planet Earth who knew what it was like to walk on the surface of our Moon. This fact remained true for true for 18 years and 7 months.

Then, in August 1991, James Irwin (Apollo 15) died of a heart attack at age 61.

In 1998, Alan Shepard (Apollo 14) died of leukemia at age 74.

In 1999, Pete Conrad (Apollo 12) was killed in a motorcycle crash at age 69.

In 2012, Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) died of heart failure at age 82.

In 2016, Ed Mitchell (Apollo 14) died in his sleep at age 85.

In 2017, Gene Cernan (Apollo 10 and 17) died of long-term illness at age 82 and Dick Gordon (Apollo 12) died of cancer at age 88.

In 2018, John Young (Apollo 10 and 16) died of pneumonia at age 978, and Alan Bean (Apollo 12) died of sudden illness at age 86.

Today, as we approach more 50th anniversaries of lunar landings, there are just 4 men left who remember traveling to and working on the Moon.

  • Buzz Aldrin turns 90 years old in January 2020.
  • David Scott is 87. 
  • Jack Schmitt and Charles Duke are both 84.
Among the other Apollo (orbiting or CSM pilot) astronauts, all are now octogenerians, with youngest Ken Mattingly reaching the age of 84.

Even if the youngest of them make it in to their 90s or to 100, will they see another Moon mission? Will they watch astronauts who are American or Chinese? Male or female?  Will it be just as inspiring to the world?

L to R: Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Buzz Aldrin (11), Walter Cunningham (7), Alfred Worden (15), Rusty Schweickart (9), [Harrison] Jack Schmitt (17), Michael Collins (11), and Fred Haise (13).
PHOTO CREDIT: Felix Kunze/The Explorers Club

Some think we could pull off a Moon mission by 2024, though with how administrations roll (I've seriously been watching various plans and cancellations across my entire lifespan now), it will be more like 2027.
  • At that point, Buzz Aldrin will be 97. 
  • David Scott will be 94. 
  • Jack Schmitt and Charles Duke will be 91. 
  • Every living Apollo astronaut will be a nonagenarian. 
I wonder, will they make it? Statistically, the deaths in this tiny club are accelerating, and we can expect to lose a few more before we see a return to the lunar surface, given that even the best technological developments never seem to last past early stages. Anything could suffer cancellation again, in favor of Mars, Asteroids, or on the altar of war, economic depression, or unforseen disaster.

So, when we return to the Moon, if we return to the Moon, will anyone alive personally remember what it was like to visit the Moon?

Something to ponder.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Pillownaut Muse

After my follow-up DEXA Bone Scan last winter, and the nice article NASA's Human Research Program published about me and other past pillownauts in preparation for the new simulation protocols, I didn't expect much more to happen. It's been many years since my studies, and my blog is now only rarely updated.

I pondered perhaps "over-hauling" this site to be a #SciComm hub -- but honestly, I think there are so many great existing Science Communication sites, and I will work to amplify those. I figured I'd had my 15 minutes of fame, and decided to leave my old blog "as-is" as a historical record of how I lived through the unique experiences of Space Flight Simulations projects at NASA.

But. Every time I think I'll never hear about it again, another author or press outlet comes knocking. Last time it was Charles Wohlforth, and you should definitely still read his great book, "Beyond Earth: Our Path To a New Home in the Planet." My father was very impressed they devoted more space to me than to Neil Armstrong, so we may have to put that on my tombstone.

Along came Minute Number 16...


Muse Magazine asked to feature my studies and chose the same title, just spelled a bit differently! In "Beyawned Earth," writer Jen Mason compiled many of my past blog excerpts, a few older press turns, and many of my personal photographs from quarantine into an exceptional article designed to teach students about space flight and how it affects the "biological packages" that travel in spacecrafts.

Reading the finished product, I was definitely the happiest I've ever been with an interview. I've had TV and radio stations ask me exhaustingly inappropriate questions; sometimes even reputable outlets go for the sensationalist spin by giving the study clever little [incorrect] nicknames or dwelling on incidental details, like how we manage to shower during simulations, or that we cannot have sugar or caffeine or salt in quarantine. Sure, those things are challenging, but not life-threatening. They pale in the quest for good data.


However, MUSE Magazine hired a skilled and serious writer who truly nailed the science. After literally a decade of interviews in varied formats, and even being featured on the NASA website itself, this was really the first full-length article that revolved around MY OWN WORDS REGARDING MY OWN EXPERIENCES. This is the closest article to what I would have written myself. Maybe someday, some outlet will invite me to do so. Hope springs eternal.

I was gratified that this particular entity put the science in detailed and accurate terms, because it's directed at students and young adults potentially getting started in scholastic concentrations, and beginning to think about choosing majors.

Issue came out in March, and I was thrilled to receive copies by May, after I returned from my 6-week trek in Europe. You can order back issues of Muse Magazine yourself, or subscribe your teens, at Cricket Media.

My entire list of articles has been updated to include the last 2 years.

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.