Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Galveston Christmas

A pretty laid-back holiday! Most of my family is in California and Devin's is in Iowa; we decided to tour around Galveston, visit the Festival of Lights celebration, and have a group dinner with his co-worker buds.

Some island areas require more work, but most of the big ticket items have re-opened. Two of the three Moody Gardens pyramids escaped Hurricane Ike unscathed, though sadly the Rainforest Pyramid flooded, so that one won't be repaired until mid-2009. Everyone is rushing to ensure that "Spring Break" will be the same wild party it's been in years past.

PillownautWe went to the Sea Wall, though it was difficult to see into the Gulf of Mexico due to fog. It's gloomy to still see random piles of storm debris, but saddest of all was seeing UTMB deserted. We went to the NASA ward to see anyone who might be working, but everything was dark. Ironically, this was the first year they had originally planned to be operational over the holidays for long-term study subjects.

Hopefully things will jump start in 2009. I came home to find some great news in my inbox, as someone sent me a Houston Press article about Ryan "Shaggy" Hull in the Hair Balls Blog. I'd met him briefly when we visited UTMB in early November, and he'd had an interesting experience with his lunar study... and plans to return for the long-term study later!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Q&A

Mrs. L of San Jose, CA says: Dang, I liked reading your posts on a regular basis. Couldn't you start doing research on other NASA stuff :) Go Sharks!
Sarcasmo answers: RESEARCH? Aw, that sounds like work. What Sharks? Where?
Pillownaut answers: Thanks, Hun! I wish! We'll just be on the NASA “fringe” now... reporting on space news or studies. I'm all about the “Unsung Heroes." The astronauts tend to get the press, but for every one of them, there are thousands of people behind the scenes, behind desks, under deadlines, holding wrenches, hunched over laptops, working in labs... ;) Go Sharks, indeed!

ActingUpAgain (Ray Robinson) of Louisville, KY asks: You might consider prompting others to take up the blogging. Maybe even test subjects in different areas. Considering the attention this blog generated, it would be a shame if this window into NASA activities be closed. Have you considered visiting current pillownauts for encouragement? Is there a shortage of test subjects now?
Pillownaut answers: I agree about the window into activities; we hope to stay in touch and continue to spread the word! Almost everyone in the program is now friended on Facebook. Many of those have blogs as well. I’ll continue to visit both staff and any subjects who are interested in making friends… it’s quite a bonding experience once you get to know “life in the ward.”
Sarcasmo answers: I know of three lunar study subjects who came through recently, but at present, the ward is completely empty.

Sound Man "G" of Springfield, MO asks: So, will y'all be eligible to restart the bedrest study? I am debating about applying, as I am in a transition process with Radiology Tech school...
Pillownaut answers: For safety and health reasons, NASA has time limits on when folks from past studies can re-apply for future ones, largely so muscles and bones can regain strength. We’ll have tests at our 6-month mark to see how our bodies have healed, at which point they would determine if we might be good candidates again. Good luck in Radiology school!
Sarcasmo answers: I don't know if I would pass the psychological exam a second time. jk ;) If my bone scan shows I am eligible, I don't know if I can return right away, because I'll be in nursing school -- but I'd be willing to arrange a semester off for NASA. I am sure they expected a slowdown during the holidays, but if anyone thinks they are healthy enough to qualify, definitely send in an application or call. Need to fill those beds!

Susan (City not named) asks: In your past post, you mentioned a NASA mailing list subscription? Can anyone get this?
Pillownaut answers: Absolutely… and there are multiple lists to choose from. A good place to start is the News Subscription Page, which has a list of what is available in both English and Spanish. I belong to the Space Science Updates and NASA For Educators list, which you can also find in the Education section. From the home page, you can enter an email address and set preferences, regularity, and even a subscription password, etc.
Sarcasmo answers: She is such a complete geek. I just watch the NASA channel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Used Shuttles 4 Sale

When I first saw this on the web, I thought "The Onion" was having some goofball contest, and initially ignored it. Then I got an alert from a NASA mailing list, saying they were indeed soliciting ideas for retired space shuttles.

NASA Astronaut

Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavor will need new homes after 2010. Of course, I expect a fair amount of nut jobs to submit flippant notions:

  • Prop car for next Batman film
  • Move to Las Vegas Strip and convert into casino resort
  • Park in San Francisco and run a Starbucks from the payload bay, see if anyone actually notices...
  • Donate to Ringling Brothers, as they've clearly run out of things they can teach monkeys to drive
  • Space Spa: "Free Vulcan Neck Rubs Inside"

... but in reality, here's hoping at least one goes to Rocket Park, and others find dignified homes befitting treasured American artifacts. NASA's request went to educational institutions, science museums and other organizations to discuss ways to "acquire and publicly display the space shuttle orbiters and engines after the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program."

The price tag to move space hardware will be a hefty one, so all the planetariums who want one for their dome ornament need to get moving on some fundraisers. Can’t wait to see where they make their final landings...

Friday, December 5, 2008

FOX News Redux

The other reason I drove south was because Fox Reporter Ned Hibberd and Photographer Mike Foster contacted me about a follow-up story, after seeing that the NASA studies had been interrupted by Hurricane Ike. Here is a pre-show teaser from the 9 O'Clock news a few days ago:

When they asked about the island evacuation, the above clip was the tail end of a comment I made about how I couldn't believe the huge effort it takes to get so many residents out of an area.

A few written blurbs are in the Fox Archives under "Hurricane Ike Disrupts NASA Bed Rest Study." They showed that excerpt, and other bits of us walking around Hermann Park in Houston.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Galveston Reunion

It was sad, exciting, interesting and mournful to see Galveston after nearly three months. With clear blue skies, it's difficult to picture a storm ravaging such a radiant seaside town. Many buildings have only boards where glass windows used to be, and wood debris litters the sidewalks and streets, having been cleared from driving paths but never entirely removed. Fallen trees or broken road signs are more common sights than flowers or birds. Even the Galveston sign has a noticeable dent, a giant target for some flying object.

On the encouraging side, healthy relief efforts are equally apparent on every part of the island. The greenery killed by salt water is re-emerging and most residents have returned. In stark contrast to the first dramatic photographs published back in September, clean-up crews have erased much of the worst hurricane damage.

Devin and I met at UTMB's main building. The last time we'd both seen that spot, we had been shaky and hobbling, among the many thousands of frightened people amid a sea of emergency vehicles. We'd kept in touch by telephone, email, myspace comments, etc. but there is nothing like being on the island again and being able to talk face-to-face!


The UTMB lobby no longer had a front desk, or furniture, or carpet. Waterline marks stained the walls, and workmen in plastic suits rushed around temporary barriers, backed by cones to keep people out of still-dangerous areas. Many carried tools, cords, mops or crates; one passed me carrying an HP printer. We walked through deserted wings, seeing no people in scrubs running around, no gurneys, no cell phone chatter, no lights on.

We laughed at ourselves for momentarily forgetting which elevator button to press . For heaven's sake, hadn't we spent months there? We argued over whether it was the 5th or 6th floor, and cracked up at our swiss-cheese memories. Upon arrival at the 6th floor Galveston Clinical Research Center (GCRC), we found a small crew and had a happy reunion! We chatted amiably about what we had all been up to since Ike, how glad everyone was to be back at work, rebuilding whatever they had lost, and how relieved they would be when everything was "back to normal."

Longtime study vet Nurse Tammy was the first to return. Maria and Nikki stopped to say hello, along with Terri, Elva and Michelle. It was surreal to see everyone again, especially since we had been used to seeing them from a –6 degree position from a bed! Deron was back for the lunar study, and one new gentleman had been recruited, but that was all. We were glad to see studies are back in action, but it’s so disappointing that the subject population dropped from eight down to only two. Ward, interrupted!

NASA Study

Devin, our dear Miss Maria, Heather & Deron

Later as I left the building, I wound around toward the hospital cafeteria, which was still closed. Beside the entrance was a machine that held copies of the Galveston County Daily News, the very first newspaper ever published in Texas. I stared at the front, realizing it was not recent. The date at the top right read September 11, 2008. The day we had evacuated. I dropped 50 cents into the coin slot and saw a stack of perhaps 15 papers inside. They were still wet.

The front headline seems ghostly now.

Hurricane Ike
That's the moment that really brought it home for me, in this silent hallway of a once-bustling building. Life had stopped there. The first floor had been under water. I took the top newspaper and spread it out in the back of my SUV. It dried over the past couple of days, and I can almost separate the pages now. It's crusty and moldy and yellow, and I shouldn't keep it, but I can't throw it away.