Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Post...


And so endeth the Year of Astronomy... tomorrow we usher in The International Year of BioDiversity!

I'd like to give a big shout-out to all my Google followers, Twitterati, Myspace and Facebook friends, regular readers and commenters... and even the casual e-mailers who simply ask questions about studies, wondering if it's the right choice for them. I'm so grateful to everyone who has been supportive of my blog and the NASA programs in general!

It's been an amazing year writing about new studies, meeting new subjects and keeping up with all the exciting news about space exploration in 2009.

Also a very special thank you to all the busy contest entrants who were very instrumental in helping Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts this winter, resulting in more readers, increased rankings and many new blog reviews that tell directory readers we have news here at Pillow Astronaut worth following!

Apollo Shirt
The winner of the Apollo 40th Anniversary T-shirt, Yeşim Moğulkoç of Ankara, Turkey, sent me a beautiful picture of her wearing her Christmas present. Glad you like your prize, Yeşim! You sure look great in it! Happy New Year everyone...

Best Job Ever


A new bit of press from the International CSM, to wrap up 2009! And not a moment too soon. Everyone seems anxious to reach 2010, hoping for a break in the recession routine. However, or those of us lucky enough to land the "best job ever" in the Flight Analog Program, this was a nice end-of-year wrap.

CSM Writer Laurent Belsie submitted what I think is one of the best articles ever written about the Simulation programs, and gave us many "firsts" (not an easy feat now, given how many organizations have covered the NASA project, either with NASA's knowledge and cooperation or independently) -- first time it hasn't incorrectly been dubbed a "sleep" study by an international outlet, first time I think I was correctly quoted (!) with no attempt to appear controversial... and definitely the first time it's been in the "Money" section of a publication, indicating a choice for employment.

Most other times, we'll show up in a Science, Tech or Space section... or much to our amusement, in FOX Houston's "WEIRD NEWS" section.

Can You Spot The Upside-Down Monkey?

This feature had information on three different test subjects -- Debra Robison in 2007, me in 2008 and Scott Saslow in 2009. Covering all the bases! Laurent was a great interviewer as well, prepared with sensible, analytical questions about the space science, and he managed to be both informative and accurate about the program protocols in an upbeat way.

I think he gave a very balanced view of the pros and cons of the overall experience of the study. While it's an amazing way to participate in the space program and there are many fun perqs, it does have its distinct challenges.

With my apologies to Scott, however... I liked the refried beans just fine. It was that chicken-mushroom dish I dreaded, after about the 10th rotation!

Looking forward to seeing all new subjects for the new programs in the new year! I hear rumblings from the island that some new variations in the simulations are about to begin... mostly 30-day and 60-day campaigns, now that the 90-day studies have been brought to a close. Perhaps new Lunar Gravity and Vertical Treadmill studies? We'll soon see...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blue Moon on New Year's Eve


What is a Blue Moon?

Contrary to our casual phraseology, it refers less to color of our lunar satellite than to lunar cycles, and has had many definitions throughout history. Simply put, a blue moon is a FULL MOON that is not timed to the regular monthly pattern – a "full moon" of course being when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. From Earth, the near side of the moon is thus fully illuminated by the Sun and appears voluminously round.

Most solar years have one full moon per month, but each calendar year contains about eleven excess days in addition to those twelve cycles. These days accumulate, so that every 2.7 years, there is an extra full moon, commonly referred to as a Blue Moon.

Prior to this modern definition, blue moons referred to an extra full moon in a three-month season, when folkloric names for each monthly moon of the Gregorian Calendar followed ecclesiastical rules. Seasonal names were assigned relative to solstices and equinoxes, largely for determining the dates of Easter and Lent. Any "extra" moon (early or late) was referred to as a blue moon, though they did not always fall in the "same month."

Blue Moon, You Saw Me Standing Alone...
Of course, I’m simplifying a complex process here, so if you’re really interested in the full origins and history, there’s a fantastic article over at Sky & Telescope Magazine where astronomers can explain it much better than I can.

The explanation of a blue moon simply being the second full moon in one month is often considered a "trendy mistake" derived from an almanac published in the 1930s, but most astronomers don’t seem too terribly offended by it.

Are actual blue moons ever reported? Oh sure. When the moon appears to an Earthling viewer as curiously bluish in terms of tint, look around for a forest fire or recently erupted volcano. Such phenomena have been known to disperse smoke or dust particles into the atmosphere, in which cases short-wavelength light transmits blue rays into human eyes.

As we accept the twice-in-a-month definition today, a Blue Moon to ring in the new year is exceedingly rare! In December 2009, we’ve already had a regular full moon on December 2nd, and the next will occur on December 31st. The last was in 1990; the next one won't come again until 2028.

The New Year's Eve Blue Moon will be visible in the Americas, Canada, Africa and Europe. Revelers in Asia or Australia will see theirs on New Year’s Day, making January their "blue moon" month.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Almost Done, Mr. Scott!


Highlighting Scotty again today, partly because so many readers are finding his journal fascinating... and partly because he may be my only friend on Facebook who isn't whining about gaining weight over the holidays!

Having spent both Chanukah and Christmas in the NASA study ward on a decidedly less-than-festive diet (well, at least according to someone hates cheese... but ironically wants a pizza when he leaves), Scott still seems to be in pretty good spirits -- and only has a couple days now before he gets to return home to Florida. Great job in the study, Scott!

Mr. Scott
Click here for the next journal entries, detailing his rise from the -6 degree tilt and ensuing effects, post-bedrest medical tests and muscle rehabilitation!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Astronaut Prank


This golf course upset by a wannabe astronaut cracked me up! French prankster Rémi Gaillard says his motto is: "C'est en faisant n'importe quoi qu'on devient n'importe qui" which translates into English as: "It's by doing whatever that you become whoever."

See more of Gaillard's amusing antics at his N'IMPORTE QUI video website. Thanks Brian, what a funny find! :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monkeys on Mars


Here's the movie George Clooney should be making. Scott found an interesting page on IO9 that claimed Monkeys May Be Headed to Mars, describing a program to train monkeys to work with robots, which can feed and clean up after them during the trip:

"The Georgian Institute of Experimental Pathology & Therapy is in talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about a program to train monkeys for a journey to Mars. The Institute supplied monkeys in the 1980s, when Russia began sending monkeys into orbit. Because a round-trip voyage would take an estimated 520 days and would subject cosmonauts to high levels of radiation, there are concerns about sending humans. We may see how other primates fare first."

I combed the net for other mentions, finding tidbits in various outlets (nothing on the official websites of the participating agencies just yet – perhaps this was designed to test the waters?), and was not surprised to discover a relation to Mars500, the joint Roskosmos/ESA habitat simulations.

Space Monkey
The Independent ran the most comprehensive view in an article called Stalin's Space Monkeys -- a detailed look at the controversial history of the institute, ground-breaking disease research, their more disturbing experiments up through the Cold War, plus their role in training monkeys to carry out functions in space before perestroika devastated much of the scientific work carried out across the former Soviet Union.

Only one article cites possible "ethical difficulties," and they only casually discuss the inherent obstacles to training. Director of the Institute, Zurab Mikvabia, was quoted as saying, "Technicians say it's not difficult to build such a robot. The hard part is teaching the monkey to cooperate with the robot."

Y’think?? A macaque named Yerosha was raised and trained at the institute, and went into space in 1987. During his flight, he freed one of his paws from his encasement. Alarmed scientists on the ground could only watch helplessly as he tore sensors from his body and started randomly pressing buttons in his spacecraft. What might one do to a robot he dislikes?

Monkeys to Mars?
I found numerous other articles, but they all similarly raise more questions than they answer:

Mars Daily: War-Torn Nursery Hopes To Send Monkeys To Mars

UK Telegraph: Monkey To Be Sent To Mars

Popular Science: Former Soviet Monkey Nursery Wants To Send Ape To Mars

Warning to biological pet-peevists: most of the reporting journalists do not know the difference between "monkeys" and "apes."

Baboons, macaques and chimpanzees are all mentioned, though it’s not clear which species may be chosen for training. I’m usually excited about any "simulation" news by any space program, but I honestly cannot decide how I feel about this one.

Existing tests show that primate immune systems are seriously weakened when exposed to the radiation levels of solar flares, and we’d be using these animals to gauge the severity and longevity of such side effects.

I know there are multiple centers all over the world where primates face far worse ordeals than being fed by robots – maybe even worse ordeals than launching out of Earth’s atmosphere... but in the long run, I have a hard time believing this wouldn’t end up being a one-way trip for the animals.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

O Come All Ye Spaceful


Mission Patches
Expedition 22 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft December 20, 2009 to begin their journey to the International Space Station. Once there, they joined NASA Commander Jeff Williams and Russian Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev.

All the Expedition 22 crew members will be spending Christmas on the ISS!

And two will be staying on for a minimum of 6 months! Go to NASA's card site to send them holiday greetings while they are in orbit. Sadly, they'll all be away from their families this year over Christmas, but I imagine work will keep them busy, and there's always that awesome view!

Expedition 22 Crew
Front Row: Jeff Williams and Maxim Suraev.
Back: Oleg Kotov, T.J. Creamer, Soichi Noguchi.

Some mission tidbits:
- Noguchi is the first Japanese astronaut to launch aboard a Soyuz vehicle.
- Kotov and Suraev will conduct spacewalks to outfit Zvezda with the Russian segment’s new Mini-Research Module 2 (MRM2)
- Half the ISS inhabitants have now joined the Twitterati, so if anyone wants to subscribe to their feeds, see: Astro_TJ, Astro_Jeff and Astro_Soichi... and the last is twittering in both English and Japanese!

Monday, December 21, 2009

He Shoots He Scores


Anyone who either knows me or has read my journal entries has probably figured out that I am a big fan of film scores. While I have no formal music education or training, it's always been the one genre I've gravitated towards since I was in elementary school. Needless to say, I'm probably not the biggest hit at parties and I doubt there is anyone within fifty miles of my house back home that owns Arthur B. Rubinstein's original score to WarGames! For your listening pleasure, I recommend the following space-themed film scores:

Apollo 13 by James Horner
The album is still in print and can be ordered from Amazon. Horner was nominated for an Oscar for this patriotic, sometimes ethereal piece of work. The CD however does not include the full score - it also features dialogue and period music heard in the film (which isn't bad: James Brown, Jefferson Airplane, etc.).

The Black Hole by John Barry
I've only seen the film once and my recommendation is don't listen to it if you have vertigo! There is a certain swirling quality to the main title theme which is pretty addictive. Unfortunately, the complete score is not available on CD but the original LP tracks can be purchased from iTunes.

Space Scores
Capricorn One
The late, great Jerry Goldsmith scored this 70s conspiracy thriller about a fake mission to Mars. The main title theme isn't exactly up there with Star Wars but it's an action-packed, percussive work. Intrada released the complete score a few years ago but that album is out of print. Collector's Choice recently re-released the original LP tracks - Goldsmith had re-recorded 35 minutes for the original LP release and that version is much more propulsive and dramatic than the music as heard in the film. This CD is available from Amazon.

The Right Stuff by Bill Conti
Would you believe I just saw this film for the first time this past summer? I liked it and I can see why it's such a classic. In addition to Conti's stirring score, the film also features a great rendition of Debussy's "Clair de lune." Varese Sarabande released the album (for the first time ever!) this past summer but all 3000 copies have sold out. You might have good luck on eBay.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith
The first Star Trek film was released 30 years ago this month (December 7th, to be exact). While fans continue to debate the pros and cons of the film (I enjoy it), Goldsmith's score is arguably one of his best and one of the best film scores period. To accentuate the mystery of V'Ger, Goldsmith employed an instrument called the "blaster beam," an electronically-amplified metal box, strung with guitar wire, and played by striking it with artillery shell casings. Sony re-released the score in 1999 and, while it's still not complete, can be downloaded or ordered from Amazon.

Oh, and by the way, I'm up from my 30 days of bedrest! Final days in the head-down tilt are now available in journal entries 11 and 12. Last entries during rehabilitation still to come...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Head Down Tilt: THE MOVIE


Holy casting call, Batman! So, an anonymous reader informs us that a feature film may soon be in the works about the NASA research studies.

And I guess nobody could think of a good vampire spin, because it's being produced by George Clooney. I can think of worse guys to handle this sort of story; he has a verifiable IQ, we already know he isn't averse to medical drama, and according to the early credits, he had the sense to employ one of the same writers who worked on The Right Stuff.

Of course, hundreds of movies are constantly "announced" or "rumored" that never see theatrical release, but hey –- you never know. Someone gave the green light to Police Academy 6, so anything is possible.

Head Down Tilt

Of course, the very premise is delusive, since astronauts (deceased or otherwise) aren't just hanging around the research wards -- and NASA does not and will never accept convicts into their research programs, due to the ongoing ethical debate as to whether such individuals can truly make "voluntary" choices to participate.

But of course, this is not REALITY, and we all love the "hubris arc" of anti-heroes who come to know the meaning of life through bonding while they redeem themselves. We just eat that up in the cinema. Every time. Especially when the main macho guy blows stuff up, reforms a misunderstood prostitute, or somehow learns how to take care of an infant along the way.

Here's what the movie may or may not include: oh, say... actual space science?

Head Down Tilt
Just producing? Or going head-down?

And of course, since this is Hollywood, there must be two mis-matched protagonists who end up all buddy-buddy when they save the world from a nuclear device, a harmless sidekick who actually turns out to be a double-crosser, at least one car chase, an increasingly self-aware computer that talks (but that can be hacked in fourteen keystrokes by the resident comic-relief nerd), a love-triangle on the side, kiss, kiss, explosion, explosion, kiss, roll credits.

What, too formula?

Still better than vampires.

Thursday, December 17, 2009



Click here for Scott's continuing saga, as parts 9 and 10 of his journal are now online. We're almost caught up! You'll laugh, you'll cry... you'll be very glad you've never had to take a SmartPill.

Not actually the SmartPill, but close

He's the first person with whom I've been in contact who spent a major family holiday in the NASA study... and I have to say, I was wondering if the South Six Kitchen would modify the menu for Thanksgiving!

One of the menu items on the usual rotation is a turkey dinner (Day 10), but I thought it was nice that they moved it to Thanksgiving day for those folks who celebrate. They're happily busy putting up holiday decorations now...

SCOTT QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "This is the longest I've gone without wearing shoes, going outdoors, being exposed to natural light, driving, eating chocolate, or drinking a caffeinated beverage."

Well, Scott... the space program and all its fans definitely appreciate your sacrifices! The "detox" seems tough at the time, but when we do land on Mars, you'll be able to say you were a small part of NASA's ongoing work to make that a reality.

And speaking of NASA's wide-ranging work...

NASA 2009
If you have time today, don’t forget to vote for Top NASA News Story of the Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top Ten of 2009


National Geographic calculated their most-viewed articles in the Top Ten Space Finds of 2009. Such an exciting year in space exploration! The punchlines include:

10. Star Crust Is Ten Billion Times Stronger Than Steel
Making it the strongest known material in the universe! Do the Klingons know??

9. Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Life?
The seas of Europa have enough oxygen for fish-sized animals.
Use them together. Use them in peace.

8. 32 New Planets Found Outside Our Solar System
Bringing the number of known extrasolar planets to more than 400. So really, how hard could it really be to relocate Rush Limbaugh??

Extrasolar Planets
7. Liquid Water Recently Seen on Mars?
Globs on the leg of the Phoenix Mars Lander that behave like liquid water.

6. Most Earthlike Planet Yet Found May Have Liquid Oceans
Gliese 581d has much in common with Earth… surf's up!

5. Particles Larger Than Galaxies Fill the Universe?
Neutrinos might each encompass a space larger than thousands of galaxies. There's a Wal*Mart joke in there somewhere.

4. First Proof of Ancient Mars Lakeshores Found
High-resolution pictures reveal three-billion-year-old shorelines along what was once a 400-square-mile lake.

3. Water on the Moon Confirmed by NASA Crashes
LCROSS kaboomed and the resulting vapor plumes found... hydroxyl?

2. "Two-Tailed" Comet Buzzed Earth in February
Green-glowing Comet Lulin swung by for a one-time visit, never to be seen again. Hmm, if only I could convince my family that my name is "Comet Lulin."

1. Sun’s Odd Calmness Hints at the Next "Little Ice Age"
A cooling effect on climate? Oh, this debate could take up an entire blog… (please just not mine ;)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Contest Winners


And today ends the Apollo contest! Here are the lucky top three...

Yesim is a huge NASA fan who works in the Department of Physics at Ankara University, and it was truly my great pleasure to read her name on the slip of paper I drew from my box of tickets this morning, given how excited she was when she emailed me! Congrats Yesim!

Brian, a Geophysicist at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, distinguished himself early on by completing every single one of the proposed internet activities, making him the only person who got the maximum 36 entries! He got to choose his own runner-up prize -- a NASA 50th Anniversary coffee mug.

Manuel, an IT Consultant at Brainforce in München, Germany also submitted multiple entries, but his distinction for honorable mention is for being my first regular reader, waaaay back when I first started my blog. He also got a choice of runner-up prize, regardless of who won the T-shirt, and he chose two particular NASA mission patches from the Apollo and Shuttle eras.

Winners, look for your prizes in the mail within the next few days. And a very special thank you to everyone who entered! With the responses and activities toward all my social sites and rankings, my only regret is that I didn't have 50 shirts to give away!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Status, Mr. Scott?

Two more entries have been added to Scott Saslow's index, completing parts 7 and 8 of his ongoing journal. Nurse Michael was also kind enough to take a recent photograph of Scott so we can observe him in all his gravity-less glory...!

Pillownaut Scott
Wow, does that ever bring back memories! Many moons ago, after I had been evacuated due to Ike, longtime reader Ray Robinson left a comment on a post-rehab blog post:
"You might consider prompting others at the study to take up the mantle of blogging. Considering the attention this blog generated, it would be a shame that this window into NASA activities be closed."

I agreed! But boy, it took a long time to find another dedicated writer who was in it for the long haul. Now that I finally have, I also get to relive what it was like on the ward... I can certainly relate to the "not wanting to ask for help all the time."

Space sickness is different for everyone, though I also got backaches and nausea at first…followed by the same leaky tear ducts. And I also used my stomach as a mousepad during two of my studies – that truly made me laugh aloud. Even just small daily challenges like getting through the water pitchers, and filling the time with movie after movie after movie after movie, LOL... those sound easy at first, but you do still have to make it through each day, following all the strict protocols with your sanity intact.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Scott!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scott's Own Words


I first discovered the bedrest study last year when it was covered by a local news station (and considering we live in Florida, I have to ask, "How is this a local story?") Anyway, I thought it was pretty neat, but was under the impression that I had missed my chance.

Fast-forward to six months ago when I read about the study on Gizmodo, which in turn linked to a Popular Science article featuring our very own Heather. I called the phone number, left a voicemail, and the next day, there was an e-mail waiting for me with attached application forms. (Insert your own joke about government efficiency here.)

Pillownauts on Gizmodo
After visiting Quest Diagnostics for blood tests, I flew to Houston twice: once for my physical, and later for what I call a meet 'n’ greet (actually a detailed Q&A session followed by a "Day in the Life" tour of UTMB). Then, one day at work, I got the official call: I finally had a start date. I gave my boss one week's notice, spent the next week training my replacement (I assume he worked out since they haven't called begging me to come back), and my folks took me to the airport.

My family has supported me every step of the way (jokes notwithstanding). My grandfather was about to tell people that his grandson was training to be an astronaut, but I had to tell him it was just for a study (a very important and worthwhile study, I should add). One of my aunts kept referring to it as a "sleep study" but I can assure you, this is quite the opposite.

As of this writing, I am on Day 23. It's been quite an adventure. The thought of being subjected to needles (voluntarily!) is enough to make most people's skin crawl, but as I'm fond of telling the nurses when it's time for my daily assessments: "Let's do it!"

Click here for part 5 and part 6 of my ongoing journal entries...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chiao, baby!


I’m quite certain this is the only time I’ve seen an astronaut publicly say "WTF??" and compare our complacent boredom with American prominence in space to an X-rated film.

But let me back up a minute. The Augustine Committee released their report at the end of October, but as of December, there is still no word from the White House as to the future of human spaceflight. While trolling the web for opinions about the matter, I ran across an interesting piece in Gizmodo from this past October… one I’m surprised I missed!

Of course, it’s nearly impossible not to stumble over Buzz Aldrin’s opinions (courtesy of his usual writing gigs at PopSci or The Huffington Post) and frankly, it’s no easy trick to find someone even more forthright than he is with the direction we "ought to take."

However, retired astronaut Leroy Chiao is quite candid in his Gizmodo article, An Astronaut Explains How We'll Fall In Love With Space Again:

"Remember high school history? Remember Portugal? They dominated the seas way back when, and thus, dominated the known world. Then what happened? Did they get lazy? Rest on their laurels? Sure, they still are the only ones who make port wine, but WTF, over? How about Rome? Ok, maybe they just got too decadent. I never did see the movie Caligula, but it probably wasn't too far off the mark. They got too full of themselves, and that was that."

Leroy Chiao
Leroy Chiao, veteran astronaut of STS-65, STS-72 and STS-92

Dr. Chiao has logged 230 days in space, including 36 hours of EVA time in six space walks. He was the very first Asian-American and ethnic Chinese to perform a spacewalk and to become a Space Station Commander. In addition to three shuttle flights, he was also the NASA Science Officer on ISS Expedition-10.

Because of such qualifications, I tend to put great stock in astronaut opinions, no matter how quirky. They don't pull the purse strings, granted; but, they do know what it takes to survive and work in space, and they see first hand the results of scientific experiments that have been a benefit to humanity for more than half a century. I particularly enjoyed his quip: "What do we have to do? Do we have to go chase imaginary aliens to get your attention?"

I doubt it will be that dramatic. But, what will it take for spaceflight to once more capture the collective imagination? I personally think Russia will have to pass us by again, (and the recession will have to end).

When it comes to Mars, I’m all about The Buzz. However, we do still need shorter-term goals for LEO, and I hope the President heeds Chiao’s directive:
"Let's choose one, then, do it. Be it Ares-V, Ares-V Lite, Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or Shuttle Derived. Pick one."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009



When STS-129 took to the skies in November, Space Shuttle Atlantis carried some very unique cargo. Four Vanessa cardui larvae were transported in a special habitat to the International Space Station, where each successfully formed cocoons, and transformed into Painted Lady butterflies!

Better known in North America as "Cosmopolitans," two of the space specimens emerged on November 30th, and two more on December 1st. They are now happily living as crew members on the ISS, though of course each will travel a bit less than the usual 1000 miles it might travel in a lifespan on Earth...

The larvae had no problems navigating and feeding in space, and according to their payload mission managers, now we have an opportunity to study the effect of weightlessness on butterfly behavior during flight.

The project was funded by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, which is also encouraging teachers and students around the world to construct their own ground-based habitats replicating the space experiment, to compare the growth and behavior of the butterfly larvae in their classrooms with those living in the micro-gravity environment of space.

Butterflies in Space
BioServe Space Technologies is providing a Teacher’s Guide, ongoing slideshows and videos of the butterflynauts at their BioEd Online site where you can watch the caterpillars feeding, also watch each one form into a chrysalis, then later emerge to flex their healthy new wings!

The forum for teacher discussions abd questions is also quite fascinating: Are the butterflies truly "flying" or merely "floating"? Some of the butterfly test groups on Earth pupated a full day earlier – how is gravity involved, or was it a difference in nutrition?

Some of us older folks will certainly flashback to the arachnid experiments on Skylab and Columbia, where spidernauts acclimated to micro-gravity and spun nearly-normal webs. What is the impact of health on living creatures, and how important is it to conduct such experiments in space? For instance, can we ever duplicate a living ecosystem on a moon base?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Scotty Part Deux


Well, I'll be publishing Scott's continuing journal entries in pairs -- so, to be more precise, it's parts trois and quatre, but who's splitting hairs.

And I've tried, to no avail, to get Scott to write an introduction of his own for the link re-directs, so I guess he'll just have to be subject to whatever whimsey I dream up in the mornings. I neglected to tell him I gave up caffeine after the last study, so for the next intro, he may reconsider ;)


As more test subjects join the mix, more monitors are assigned different shifts and it can be a real challenge to keep track of the population! Join Scott again for his meals, balance posturography, psychologist visits, cycle ergometrics, his philosophical thoughts on his scientific journey for the space program and the ongoing daily quest to stay busy and entertained while in bed on the NASA ward!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Beyond The Robotic Arm


Longtime blog reader and friend Michael Mathews of San Francisco sent me a link to a great podcast he subscribes to in Vancouver, as posted on the The Early Edition from CBC radio British Columbia.

Host Rick Clough interviewed Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield about how he helped "de-space" fellow astronaut Bob Thirsk after he landed at Star City in Russia, following 6 months on the International Space Station, where he had celebrated his 56th birthday.

Canadian Astronauts
Canadian Astronauts Bob Thirsk & Chris Hadfield

This extended expedition gave him more time in space than any other Canadian, and according to The Canadian Press, the New Westminster native says he’s already hoping to return.

The podcast is still featured on the front page of the Early Edition website, and here is also a direct link to the recording (running time 7:54 minutes). Definitely worth a listen!

Hadfield discusses symptoms associated with blood pressure, muscles, skeleton and the balance system, emphasizing that the human body is "a tremendous laboratory" when you remove gravity. I also found it quite humorous that the first thing the returned astronaut wanted was chocolate!

Canadian Space Agency
Bob Thirsk & Julie Payette of STS-127

In comments provided by the Canadian Space Agency, located near Montreal, Thirsk himself describes what it’s like to land after fulfilling his dream of a long-duration space mission:

"Imagine being stuffed into a Volkswagen Beetle, going for a ride on a roller-coaster, going to a laser light show and riding on the back of a bucking bronco. Combine all these things together, multiply by 10 and that's what it's like to land."

His mission also marked the first time multiple Canadians shared time in space, first when he was visited by fellow astronaut Julie Payette in July, and later when he greeted Canada's first space tourist, Guy Laliberte.

Thirsk also said it was difficult when he stood up for the first time and felt the effects of Earth’s gravity after disembarking the spacecraft: "I felt like I had 200 pounds on my shoulders and I was doing an exercise in a gym. The dizziness is significant. It felt like someone was moving the floor on me all the time."

Hey, I remember that feeling! Scott, brace yourself!! ;)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scott Saslow's Journal


Two distinctly wonderful things happened while I was on vacation in November.

The new Star Trek DVD went on sale at Best Buy for $12.79 (woo-hooo), and a new NASA test subject set fire to Facebook with detailed, ongoing journal entries!

Scott Saslow (and I try to take it easy on the "beam me up" jokes) of Boca Raton, Florida is a fellow trekkie, NASA space enthusiast... and well, he has a quote by Carl Sagan on his Facebook page, so he pretty much had me at "hello." He contacted me when he began screening for the Flight Sim program earlier in the year, and I was overjoyed that he was eventually invited into a 30-day study – AND that he was interested in sharing his experiences!

We can really get "back to basics" now, in terms why I originally started this blog: to give insights into the flight analog experience, and examine the value of simulations in general. Of course, most of the notes during studies has been from the point of view of a female subject; Devin was a great sport about guest-posting and we always enjoyed doing "Q&A" together, and now this is the first time another writer has granted me permission to use their narrative material!

New Pillownaut Scotty at Cape Canaveral

So we will have a real treat all through December, as Scott is chronicling his study journey, from meals to tests to how he spends his time in bed... and he also describes many additional procedures that I didn’t go through in my studies last year, such as the new "Smart Pill."

He’s taught a lot of people about how the studies work, and is generating some fascinating discussions on his wall. I think he’s given a very balanced view thus far of how the study works, in terms of how excited he was to be part of a program at NASA, but also being candid about the challenges. Case in point, one of the first comments he drew from a female reader on FB said, “Thanks for not skipping the embarrassing stuff. Though, to be honest, its not all that embarrassing compared to post-delivery of a human child. All I can picture while reading this is the room from Flight of the Navigator where the nurse had pink hair...”

So, there’s an idea for the nurses at UTMB ;)

Click here to read the first two parts of the ongoing journal, and I’ll be adding more throughout the month as he continues to write. When he returns home and gets his film developed, we’ll also feature some photos of his experiences down at the study facility on Galveston Island.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ames Launch & Comedy


To follow-up on the launch of STS-129 from the NASA Ames media site in California, here is my short video of the actual take-off. Not quite as exciting as watching from the Cape, but still a very interesting experience, as it was the first time I'd ever heard an astronaut guide the proceedings.

After we did some media spots and everyone got their cameras set up, Bo Bobko, veteran of missions STS-6 (Challenger), STS-51-D (Discovery) and STS-51-J (first flight of Atlantis) took the press through the countdown.

I snuck back behind the small control center to get my own clip. They only had a nine-minute hold that morning, then everything else went by-the-book!

And, for those of you who have already watched the Atlantis launch on NASA TV, here's a comedy break instead. Safe for work. The always-hilarious host of the Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson, gives it straight to those people in denial who say the Apollo program didn't truly land on the moon...

And throws in his Scooby-Doo impression for good measure.

He also gives a pretty good explanation for what it will take to get us back to the moon -- and I can't wait to see the bottled water packaging ;)

Sometimes it's funny because it's true... other times, it's sad because it's true. This commentary often appears to be both!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NASA Ames Road Trip


Home sweet home! I love driving all around the US, and have done so for years, but there really is nothing like finally coming back to Texas. As the holiday tryptophan coma subsides and I prepare to "reboot" the blog, it's hard to settle back down into work -- even when I do have new cool space stuff to share!

I may have also just collected the most eclectic set of "vacation pictures" yet, given the sheer amount of activities I had to pack into two measly weeks in California. Should have taken three! NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field was my first stop, having raced into town so I wouldn't miss the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-129. I used to live right near Ames, but hadn't been there since about 1996, and so much has changed!

Like most other NASA centers, they have a great collection of space artifacts and astronaut gear, along with model rockets, a scale model of the new SOFIA, moon rock samples, another space station capsule simulator -- and exhibits about the LCROSS and Kepler crafts, which were partially designed and developed at Ames, in conjunction with SoCal's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While stepping through my media dance, I wound up in front of an NBC camera for the first time... and also was very honored to meet astronaut Karol "Bo" Bobko, experienced veteran of three early Shuttle missions -- including the maiden voyage of Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1985. Having been on her first launch, it must have been so strange for him to see her lifting off with a bunch of "kids" inside, nearly 25 years later!

Thinking about the span of years, I had a moment of sadness when I realized that after this, Atlantis only has one more scheduled mission in 2010 before she is retired... and will either be sourced for parts or put on musuem display.

Astronaut Bobko
Astronaut Bo Bobko

I've been to Florida to see Columbia and Endeavour take to the skies, but would love to see Atlantis or Discovery sometime next year in their home stretch of American service. I have a feeling the last handful of launches will be extremely crowded! However, work schedules being what they are, I never know if the timing will work out for me to be able to travel there.

Likewise, if you cannot make it to Florida sometime in the next two years for one of the final five launches... treat yourself to a day at one of the NASA flight, space or research centers nearer to you if they open an event for public viewing. Watch on the big screens, and hear one of the resident retired astronauts walk the press through take-off -- they are the best people to give both technical and subjective explanations of the launch experience!