Sunday, January 31, 2010

Golden Gate


Must take a break from the gloom, and share this; forgive my random foray into photography. My California friends will love it... and understand why this sort of thing always makes me just a tad homesick.

Astronaut Sōichi Noguchi shared this wonderful pic of the Golden Gate Bridge from space, isn't it breath-taking?

Golden Gate Bridge From Space
For many years now, the GGB has been named the most photographed man-made structure on Earth. Honestly, I've never really understood why the orange bridge over the Golden Gate Strait captivates the way it does, but there is just something about it! San Francisco natives and non-natives alike can't seem to put their cameras down.

Thought for the day:
Our planet has existed for billions of years, but only in the last half-century have any of its inhabitants developed the technologies to see our natural biosphere and our creations from above in such serene and amazing ways. Low Earth Orbit photography is unique to the populations living today, and if you took a time machine back to any other era to show these photos to people... they wouldn't believe your descriptions or visual evidence.

In fact, you'd probably be burned at the stake.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Four Moments Of Silence


A sad, sad week for the space program -- in more ways than one. Of course, three major NASA tragedies all occurred in different years but in the same week, and it’s important to remember the contributions of the astronauts who risked their lives for our efforts in space exploration:

January 27, 1967... Apollo 1 lost
January 28, 1986... Challenger STS-51L lost

February 1, 2003... Columbia STS-107 lost

Challenger Memorial Park, Houston
Challenger Memorial Park, Houston
Click to see full gallery)

We had all hoped for a more positive announcement in the President's first State of the Union address, and were disappointed to have no bold or visionary announcement for the space program.

Behind the scenes, and despite already spending billions on these goals, it seems Constellation has been crippled, Ares outright cancelled, and all the plans outlined by the Bush Administration dashed... another casualty of our current recession.

Possible loss of jobs, loss of stature as world leaders, and our inability to encourage new generations of youngsters to be passionate about science and astronomy... well, it’s a fearsome picture that bodes not well for our national future.

I won't delve into gruesome detail, because the news is all over the internet now in various space forums who are far more adept at "reporting" than I am. In between gritting my teeth at how maddeningly vague our leaders have been about how the chips will finally fall, I’ve forced myself to read between the lines: The life of the ISS has been extended, money will be forthcoming for LEO scientific experiments and other crucial projects such as the new Webb Telescope, but the way in which all the articles cite sources who "don’t wish to be named" or who "aren’t authorized to speak officially" is downright cowardly.

In my mind, I had a flash of Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell in Apollo 13: "We just lost the moon."

No lunar base, no clear path to Mars. A looming gap in launch and crew vehicles. No more giant leaps for mankind in the foreseeable future.

They tried to soften the blow by saying our hopes should rest with their plans to "encourage private industry" to collaborate with NASA in future endeavours... but for many of us, that’s just not good enough. Sorry to interrupt the fun and end the week on such a downer, but I guess if it didn't rain once in awhile, we'd never appreciate the sunshine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

U.S. Space & Rocket Center


Marshall Tour Continued! And I cannot stress enough that it was a truly grand place to visit... grand timing, too. In January of 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower transferred the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, led by Dr. Wernher von Braun, to the newly created National Aeronautics & Space Administration, beginning formation of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. 2010 is this their 50th anniversary!

I learned this and many other useful facts while touring through multiple exhibits. To my great delight, Heather S. arranged for a knowledgeable tour guide to escort us through Marshall’s museums:

Al Whitaker
Left: Space Camp's Media Man, Al Whitaker

Al Whitaker, Media Relations Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, is also a 17-year veteran news anchor and reporter for WAAY TV in Huntsville, and thusly an easily recognized, respected figure. What a bonus! Being guided by him through various areas and artifacts – from Saturn V to Huntsville's contribution to American rocketry – was decidedly more fun and educational than wandering alone. And boy does he have some great stories...!

For example, one of my favorite artifacts is the solar array and other items from Skylab, which was managed by Marshall Space Flight Center, and proved man could live and work in space.

Skylab was one of the first things I remember seeing on television as a child: how they ran experiments in micro-gravity, how Skylab hosted the first physician in space (astronaut Dr. Joseph Kerwin) – and of course, how debris unfortunately plummeted onto Western Australia in July of 1979.

Imagine THAT falling in your backyard

As pieces re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, sonic booms and all, Dorothy and Mervin Andre of the town of Esperance collected another oxygen tank similar to the one above, spherical containers, a hundred-pound door hatch and various strips and shards of metal.

Al said that Mervin (town council president at the time), issued a ticket for littering to the visiting Americans of the recovery team! That cracked me up! I sure don’t recall hearing that story on television at the time, but merely remember thinking the Australian government was remarkably cool about the whole thing, having announced from the capital city of Canberra that Skylab had "fallen harmlessly into the ocean" while pieces were in fact raining down over The Outback.

I actually went a-Googling for details, and found that the Andre couple now operate The Skylab Museum of Australia, which gets about 12,000 annual visitors. Seems they’re proud and happy to share their salvage, and even happier to remind Americans that the ticket remained unpaid for three decades.

Last July, they held an anniversary celebration whereby two American radio hosts, Barker & Barley of Highway Radio, challenged their morning listeners to raise the $400 necessary to pay the littering fine on NASA’s behalf, finally settling the ticket in 2009.

Al Whitaker
Al & Me in the US Space & Rocket Center

Check out the Marshall Photo Gallery on Picasa to see some of the other items from famous space projects, including Project Gemini’s mission simulator, the first monkeys in space, the Skylab Spiders and more! Thank you so much for the great tour, Al... I had a blast! :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Space Camp


Space Camp! You saw the movie, you dreamed of wearing that snazzy jumpsuit, admit it. Space Camp provides educational programs for space-enthusiasts of all ages, including residential programs, aircraft themed Aviation Challenge camps, and outdoor oriented X-Camp programs, all with the intent to promote science, aviation and exploration.

According to some sources, the idea was launched in 1977 by Dr. Wernher von Braun himself, when he noted youngsters taking notes in the public rocket center, and commented: "We have band camp, football, cheerleading; why don't we have a science camp?" Organizers thus used the US space program as a basis to encourage children in the areas of mathematics and science, beginning operations in 1982.

Space Camp
Habitat 1 - Click to see the whole Space Camp gallery!

Today, the Huntsville operation still offers programs for children and teenagers, and has expanded into offerings for adults, even up to corporate retreats and special programs for educators. Space Camp has its own Underwater Astronaut Trainer for neutral buoyancy exercises, full-size Space Shuttle and ISS module mockups (along with accompanying Mission Control facilities), and their other simulators include:
  • Project Mercury Multi-Axis-Trainer(MAT) to simulate disorientation
  • 1/6 Chair to simulate the Lunar surface… much like my last study!
  • 5DF Chair to simulate the "frictionless" environment of space in five degrees of freedom
  • Space Shot to simulate liftoffs.
  • G-Force Accelerator to simulate G-Forces experienced during take-off and atmospheric re-entries.

Space Camp
Heathers at the Shuttle Simulator

In addition to their usual habitats, they’ve also added a new Mars program, with a separate "Vallis Marineris" habitat for red planet participants. Sounds like such fun, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever had an interest in signing up for a Space Camp program, this summer is definitely the time!

In addition to all their other fun rides, attractions and space artifacts, LucasFilm Ltd. will be bringing the Star Wars Exhibit this summer. The huge collection features costumes, props and models from all six films in the iconic Star Wars saga, while exploring how science plays a part in the storytelling.

Star Wars Exhibit
Famous Space Camp attendees including Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast & crew of Apollo 13 prior to filming, Charlize Theron, Kris Kristofferson, Chelsea Clinton, Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen, and perhaps most interestingly -- Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger!

Dottie went to Space Camp in 1989 while in high school, and is the first Space Camp alumna to become an actual astronaut, having been selected as a Mission Specialist in NASA’s 2004 selection. She is currently assigned to the crew of STS-131, which is scheduled to launch this coming March!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Marshall Space Flight Center


Road trip! I made a big gas-guzzling circle around some southern states to visit friends, and see the Marshall Space Flight Center. It's pathetic, really... I've driven through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama more than a dozen times on cross-country treks, but have never once visited NASA Michoud, Stennis or Marshall Facilities. At least now I'm 1 for 3...

Apollo 16 Capsule

Of course all of my readers know The Other Heather, aka Weightless Heather, from when she shared her experiences on the Vomit Comet. Devin and I both met her when she interviewed us for the "Lying Around" article on the Simulation Studies, which is now featured on the top page of their NASA site.

NASA Marshall
Tour Guide Extraordinaire

Then there's my buddy Craig, who works in the same region of NASA Marshall, near Huntsville in beautiful northern Alabama.

Upon arrival at 1 Tranquility Base (yes, that’s their actual address!), they took me all around the Space & Rocket center, the famous Space Camp, their native ISS Control, and the Space Shuttle Orbiter Pathfinder. Heather and Craig also escorted me all over the nearby Redstone Arsenal military base to see Werner von Braun's stomping ground, as well as many historic and current rocket test stands.

Despite interrupting a workday for them, and in the middle of covering 20 miles of show-and-tell, they remembered to feed me and even whisk me through a giftshop. The whole package! And these two amazing hosts could not be more proud of their town, their space center and their work for our nation’s space program.

NASA Marshall
Heather and Craig, I am so grateful for your time and all your scheduling efforts You cannot imagine how much fun I had... I felt so lucky and happy to benefit from how excited you were to showcase all the amazing elements of your space center! Great job!

Over the next week, I’ll be adding more photos to my NASA Marshall photo gallery and describing some of the fun stuff there. You will definitely see why it's Alabama's Number One Tourist Destination!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Space Progress


Today is the one-year mark of Barack Obama’s presidency. In January of 2009, a subsidiary website of the St. Petersburg Times called PolitiFact has compiled more than 500 promises that Barack Obama made during the campaign and is tracking their progress on the Obameter.

They rate the status as In the Works or Stalled. Once their reporters find action is completed, they rate them Promise Kept, Compromise or Promise Broken.

Last year, I introduced their initial report card for all space-related promises on the campaign trail... so I thought I’d post an update here on his one-year anniversary of being in office.

Stalled... #150: Code of Conduct for space-faring nations

Stalled... #331: Re-establish National Aeronautics & Space Council

DONE... #332: Additional Space Shuttle flight

Working #333: Speed development of next-gen space vehicle

DONE... #334: Use private sector to improve space flight

Working #335: Work with international allies on ISS

DONE... #336: Partner to enhance potential of ISS

DONE... #337: Use ISS for biological + physical research

DONE... #338: Explore whether ISS can operate after 2016

Working #339: Support human mission to moon by 2020

Stalled... #340: Robust R&D on future human/robotic missions

Stalled... #341: Increase spending for long missions [Mars, asteroids]

DONE... #342: Deploy global climate change monitoring system

Working #343: Improve climate change data records

DONE... #345: Enhance earth mapping

Working #349: Support commercial access to space

Working #350: Revise regulations for export of aerospace technology

Working #351: School programs to highlight space science achievement

So, the overall score sheet for us hopeful space enthusiasts shows 7 promises kept, 7 in the works, and 4 in a holding pattern due to budget restrictions or administrative debates. I personally don’t think that’s a bad track record by any means – though now that the national news is rife with the Constellation program being a "house of cards," of course we always want more!

#341 is the one over which many of us are desperate for news. No one truly believes we are about to see the death of long-duration manned spaceflight, or that "astronaut" will no longer be an occupation... but wow, there have been some awfully sad songs in the news lately.

Here at the crossroads, we impatiently away the upcoming State of the Union address, when most believe Obama will make his next announcement about human spaceflight.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Click The Spacesuit


While trolling around (which I've been doing for years and probably not even seen a fraction of the available pages!), I discovered the amazing "Interactive Spacesuit Experience."

NASA Spacesuits
Still waiting for the matching handbag...

The importance of spacewalks and the reliance on spacesuits during work on the International Space Station cannot possibly be overstated, and this beautifully photographed site is an awesome way to get a feel for the complexities of Extravehicular Activities (EVA) in micro-gravity.

Web site visitors can also:
  • Learn about hard-to-do moves in a spacesuit.
  • Review past eras in the 'Evolution Of The Spacesuit' history.
  • Checkout videos about the spacesuits of the future.
  • Read about designers/engineers who create and test suits.

NASA Spacesuit
Occupational Reality

Did you know that astronaut gloves have tiny heaters in the fingertips? Any idea what a "Snoopy cap" is? Check out the "clickable spacesuit" and learn all the different components, 14 (!!) layers of materials, adult diapers, water-cooled underwear, control panel, life support... and don't forget your EVA task checklist!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scotty's Farewell


Last journal entry for Mr. Scott! Then he was treated to some "real world" food before flying home to his family in Florida. It's a fascinating look at the full rehabilitation period and follow-up medical tests, and I was particularly intrigued with his descriptions of how just the simple act of walking outside was exciting!

NASA Study
First stop, Chick-Fil-A!

After nearly two months in the test facility, breathing cool fresh air and seeing the sky over your head... well, these are things we all take for granted until we lose them for awhile, and enjoy the wonderment in rediscovery!

Scott also brings up an interesting point in one of his final entries, after seeing a high school acquaintance on Facebook:
"[This] girl I went to school with was on Survivor... who knew?! I mean, it’s no NASA study but at least she was on television. This study might make a good reality show but then again, we can't even have sugar in our food, let alone the kinds of debauchery commonly found in most so-called reality shows. Maybe if some washed up 80s rocker stayed here for a few months..."

SO! CALLING WASHED UP 80s ROCKERS! Think we could get Tommy Lee in on this? He was in the news lately for cheapskate-crowdsourcing, so perhaps we could talk him into a study if he's that hard-up for cash. Bret Michaels is diabetic, so he's out. Ozzy's blood-alcohol-content is higher than my college grade point average, no go. How about Metallica? Are they clean yet? And I'll bet David Lee Roth has some free time on his hands. Other suggestions welcome.

In all seriousness, the environment of a NASA study clearly isn't scandalous enough for reality TV, so we're all still poised to see George Clooney's next move...

You miss it when it's over...

Upon release, Scott also had his photographs developed, so definitely visit the NASA Ward gallery on the Picasa Albums site to see some of his tests, his bedrest phase and of course, his ceiling tile.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with everyone, Scott! :)

Friday, January 1, 2010


Share Annual Release
If you have Acrobat, a reeeeeally good printer, glossy card stock and some sturdy staples, you can download (10MB PDF) and print the official 2010 International Space Station Calendar, that describes the work conducted on the ISS, and the crews that have lived there. Scroll down past the newest Expedition 22 news item. The calendar contains photographs taken in and from the space station, and highlights milestones throughout NASA history.

The Space Store
Selling NASA’s official 2010 wall calendar...always one of the best!

NASA 2010 Calendar
SkyMaps Calendars
Night Skywatching, Astronomy, Hubble, Stars, Moonscapes and Aurora Borealis.

The Year In Space
Keep up with all space events with their desk calendar, online calendar or weekly email detailing lunar phases, astronomical events, scientific exploration and beautiful space images.

Pomegranate Publishing SciAm Calendars
High-Resolution Space Photography, as presented by Scientific American. (Available in full size and mini versions)

Space Calendars

Calendars.Com Space Selection
Hubble Space Telescope 2010 Wall Calendar: stunning images of planets, stars, gaseous nebulae, and galaxies; includes descriptions by a professional astronomer and a Skywatching Guide.

Zazzle Space Collection
DEEP SPACE 2010 Calendar, Astronomy, Hubble and Galaxies calendars also available, and customizable! An interesting design-your-own kinda take...