Friday, July 30, 2010



And now, for no particular reason, a picture of astronauts eating gummy worms in weightlessness.

Astronauts on the International Space Station
That's cool. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Doofy Acronymns


Working for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is such a serious and mind-engaging affair, you might think it would render you unable to find time for aimless whimsy in your life. You'd be wrong.

I found this bloke at the HSCA who appears to have time on his hands. Wait, wait, wait... a Canadian-Hawaiian Astronomer and Computer Engineer who is also a hockey player?? Where have you been all my life. If he's a Trekkie, I think my head might explode.

But seriously, he compiled an amazingly entertaining list of Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms (DOOFAAS) and you're missing something really special if you don't go read it.

I sampled a select few that jumped out at my funny bone:

01. ARMPIT... ASKAP Rotation Measure & Polarisation InvestigaTion
02. BICEP... Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization
03. BLISS... Background-Limited Infrared-Submillimeter Spectrograph
04. CHIPS... Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer
05. COYOTES... Coordinated Observations of Young ObjecTs from Earthbound Sites
06. DONUT... Direct Observation of NU Tau
07. DUPLEX... DUst-Prominent Longitudinally-EXtended
08. EGG... Evaporating Gaseous Globule
09. EGRET... Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope
10. FIFI... Far Infrared Fabry-perot Interferometer
11. FOXES... Fluctuating Optical & X-ray Emitting Sources
12. GENIUS... GErmanium liquid NItrogen Underground Setup
13. HIS/HERS... High Intensity Spectrograph / High Energy Range Spectrometer
14. HO-BAGS... Hubble Observatory BAckground Galaxy Survey
15. JIVE... Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe
16. KISS... KPNO International Spectroscopic Survey
17. LACE... Low power Atmospheric Compensation Experiment
18. MACHO... MAssive Compact Halo Objects
19. MARTINI... Multi-Aperture Real Time Image NormalIzation system
20. NOT... Nordic Optical Telescope
21. OGLE... Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment
22. OWL... Overwhelmingly Large Telescope
23. PRESTO... Project to Re-Engineer Space Telescope Observing
24. QUEST... Q & U Extra-galactic Sub-mm Telescope
25. RATTS... Run Away T-Tauri Stars
26. SAURON... Spectroscopic Areal Unit for Research on Optical Nebulae
27. SEQUOIA... SEcond QUabbin Optical Imaging Array
28. THUMPER... Two HUndred Micron PhotometER
29. WOMBAT... Wavelength-Oriented Microwave Background Analysis Team
30. YORIC... Yet another Optimal Resolution Image Constructor (Alas...)

It gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it); other fun DOOFAAS include Boomerangs, Castles, Flamingoes, Squids, Polar Bears, Aztecs, Spartans. Our esteemed List Master declares "TANGOinPARIS" the overall WINNER… and I am inclined to agree.

He invites all who visit to "Mail me yours today!" and I'm quite confident my tasteful and intelligent readers have stores of these on hand. So please check out the full list and send Mr. P the DOOFAAS your particular working environment cherishes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Speaking of SpaceSuits


This is an advertisement from a 1963 issue of Warren Publications' Screen Thrills Illustrated, which mostly covered "classic" (I guess today we would say "cult") films from the 1920-1940s. Printing only periodically between 1962 and 1965, they published only ten issues… but what gems. O my.

They featured the Captain Company offering a GENUINE OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT SURPLUS SPACE SUIT!

space suits

Yes, because the government created space suits for their dozen or so astronauts in the early 1960s and happened to have hundreds left over.

But who cares. 7 pounds! 8 Zippers! Elastic Air Compression Chambers! Air hoses and airlock valves! What, no helmet that dispenses Tang? Ah well, what do you expect for $7.95.

In 1963, that was about the modern equivalent of 50 bucks. They claim it cost over $180 to create… well, that would be over a thousand dollars in today's terms.


It's a shame this company no longer exists, because I think this would sell very well today. Sadly, we now have to go to cheap costume outlets to get our astronaut fix.

Just don't go to hockey games and dance like a doof just to get on the JumboTron. It's been done.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Evasive Maneuvers


I know, I know... I said I was going to "lighten up" last week, and then got all re-suctioned back into the vortex of space politics and senatorial wrangling and other signs of the coming solar flare apocalypse.

I thought to myself, I'll do a summary and a week's worth of "Happy Posts" and then think of some deeply meaningful scientific theme for August. I'll start with what makes me happiest. Space. Hockey. So this would have to be the best photograph of all time: astronauts and hockey players together.

Astronauts Dropping the Puck
Happy! Hockey! All week long, I promise not to say the words Senate, Congress, President, Government, Budget, Constellation, CNN, Oil Spill, Hurricane, Economy, negative, decline, calamity, torment, tragedy, consecotaleophobia or Inception.

Seriously, I loved that movie too, but we all probably need to shut up about it already. It's not like Leonardo DiCaprio discovered we can shoot diamonds out our tear ducts during REM sleep or something.

Back to happy and hockey. If anyone can explain that whole "Capstronaut" thing to me, I am all ears.

"You go out and buy an astronaut suit and you go to a hockey game, and you can't really be certain how it's gonna go," said the Capstronaut. "I thought security might take me down, but I think they've seen it all there. You know, you show up enough times dressed as an astronaut, everybody kind of gets comfortable with you."

If you say so =)

And yes, I meant summery. Not summary.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Front Page Space News


Most space program employees can name particular events or missions they saw during childhood that excited their interest for rocket science, inspired a desire to be space-travelers, or at the very least, captivated them enough to be pilots. With so many parts of the space industry coming to a seemingly "crumbling" slowdown, people are asking: "What will inspire the next generation?"

I'm one of these people... and I am not alone in also being worried. I don't know if "commercial" space flight by private companies is the answer. Many have had decades to fill gaps or develop their own profit strategy -- and yet there has been precious little headway in this arena. I fear a lot of people miss that crucial point.

CNN Story About Future Space Flight
And in today's breaking news...

CNN posted an article on their front page, featuring astronaut Christopher Ferguson: his (unsurprising) Apollo 11 inspiration, his journey through aeronautical education plus Navy piloting, and his multiple attempts to join the astronaut corps (fourth time is a charm). Equally unsurprising is the Astronaut Selection Office saying that "most applicants who make it have been grooming themselves their entire lives for the job."

I've mentioned recent legislative efforts by the Senate to reboot heavy-launch vehicles, but the "compromise" under which it was passed by the House of Representatives may simply be, as the Orlando Sentinel put it yesterday: Setting up NASA for Another Failure. No minced words, there.

Many people focus on the cost of space exploration (even though it's only a fraction of what NASA actually does!) –- but few comprehend the true cost of letting this portion of American industry lapse.

During the space race of the 60s, the number of people declaring science as their major field of study doubled at every level (high school, college, post-grad and PhD). Wouldn't a repeat of that alone carry valuable rewards?

Now, as evidenced in the article, when kids express wishes to be astronauts, NASA workers give them bland answers, so as "not to encourage false hopes."

CNN's current spotlight also includes a call-to-cameras from iReport for parents and children, asking: What did you want to be when you grew up?

When Ferguson was a child, being an astronaut was a common dream. Is it still? I feel I cannot answer that question objectively, because of course I get many emails from parents and children who are already interested in space... they want to ask questions, they want NASA goodies, and they want information about how things work. Obviously, I don't get emails from kids saying, "I read your blog because I have no interest in space whatsoever."

So, I'm a lousy gauge. But I wonder. When being an astronaut is something purchased instead of something cool, will inspiration be the same?

"Ferguson and most other astronauts paid for their shuttle tickets with graduate degrees and years in the military. But, if commercial organizations take over NASA's shuttle missions, the next generation's astronauts might purchase their ticket as they would a bus or plane ticket."

Great. We're about to lose the concept of an astronaut being an astronaut because he/she was intelligent, educated, physically fit, hard-working and special. Now we'll just have astronauts... who can afford to be astronauts?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Your Space Chariot Awaits


Alert reader Caleigh Hadon of Los Angeles, CA sent me a link to a fascinating article about How the Romans Influenced the Space Shuttle. Seems even her high school history teacher was tickled at the journey From Chariots to Rocket Boosters. Clearly champions of consequential causality, they persuade us that the earliest style of spoke-wheeled carriers pulled behind beasts of burden set the standard from ancient times up through the current space program.

Chariot uniformity was no more complex than the span of two horses, side by side (about five feet). Roman roads were created to accommodate the vehicles of said width, which then spread millennially across Asia, Europe and the America. When roads turned into railroads, most tools had been "standardized" to such widths. Thus one choice, says the article, can have a huge impact on the world.

Egyptian Chariot
Is that a chariot? Hey, Romans had nice tans.

So when Romans built their roads of the width to accommodate chariots, all global roads and tunnels followed. When the space shuttle came along, its rocket boosters had to travel by train from their manufacturer to the launch pad. Thus, no matter how large or powerful NASA may have wanted them, they had to fit on flat train cars, and through standard-width train tunnels. And so the size of modern solid rocket boosters were determined by ancient Roman horse-drawn chariots.

Is this true?

Well... yes and no. Kudos to your skepticism, but please don't take any of this as a reason to argue with or be disrespectful to your teacher. Some of the greatest teachers I've ever had, whether or not I agreed with them, made me think, made me question, or piqued my interest to the point where I conducted my own analytical research. Sometimes, we just like believing stuff because it sounds cool. (But, you know, don't.)

Solid Rocket Boosters
Chances are, you will wear a white gown at your wedding. Roman brides did too. We still use plenty of things invented by the early Roman Republic and the later Roman Empire: candles, scissors, postage, showers, umbrellas, heating systems, street lights, and sadly, the tendency to live decadently beyond our means and tumble headlong into raging economic inflation.

So, to say that ancient standards are still alive in the modern world isn’t all that exciting. Humans are well-known for sticking with certain things that work, and equally notorious for sticking with certain things that don’t.

Archaeological evidence suggests the existence of chariots in far more ancient cultures: Chinese, Sumerian, Greek, Persian, etc. The Romans were late-comers, not inventors in this case, though they fancied-up chariot production with trigas (pulled behind three horses) and quidrigas (pulled behind four horses). So, while we can credit their empire with widespread road systems, they weren't overly attached to the simple metric of dual-equine-derriere, by any means.

Methods and means of transportation have, throughout history, been designed different ways to carry different things and accommodate many different vehicles. Some have been dictated by creation costs, others by limitations of nature. I've been to your city, and know you have everything from gravel roads to freeways that are 14 lanes across. In general on either of those two extremes, a single lane accommodates a car as small as a Mini or a truck with 18-wheels. Commonality of construction is no odder here than the idea that all automobiles have steering wheels – regardless of size, or number of doors.

The Romans would have called such specification: "desideratum" – colloquially, that which is essential is desired.

Good for you, Caleigh!

At the height of the railway era, over a hundred US companies manufactured three different gauges of track, showing a decided lack of standardization. The Chariot-to-Shuttle tale also assumes that any tunnel would only accommodate a single set of tracks, or only clear the train's mass with no room to spare. Also notice the tunnel in question is not mentioned by name –- but between where the boosters are built (Utah) and where they are ignited (Florida), there are probably fifty or more. We could sit and pick at this one all day, but the important thing is (and this warms my heart, coming from a high-schooler), you already know the rhythm of an urban legend when you hear one.

I'm sure NASA takes travel into account when designing hardware specifications, but to my knowledge, NASA has never been crippled by the slightly-less-than-five-foot span of railroad tracks. No less than 20 companies contribute to the many parts of solid rocket boosters, so even if transport was the main event, much of the hardware is already delivered in segments, and "Some Assembly Required" is already a given on the launch pad. :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Good Ship Enterprise


So, yeah. I'll be trying to lighten up this week. All the legislative stuff can seem depressing sometimes... particularly the speed at which it proceeds. Whenever I need to laugh, I go online and and movie trivia or find random gag reels.

While nerding around, I found a collection of what you might call "gag photos" on Flickr –- and upon examining the entire photostream, found it was part of a larger family of photographs in the Roddenberryverse.

Star Trek TOS Episode: A Private Little War
They were probably supposed to be rehearsing.

A longtime Trekkie who goes by the username "Bird of the Galaxy" spent over 30 years collecting single-film-frame 35mm positives from early Lincoln Enterprises (which now operates as Roddenberry.Com), Trek conventions, online auctions and other private collectors. He spent what must have been an incredible amount of time and effort scanning and restoring many amazing images from the TOS years (1966-1969), so it is with great pleasure that I highlight his wonderful work and pass the link along to other interested Trekkies!

Star Trek TOS Episode: Patterns of Force
And so beginneth the greatest galactic bromance ever.

So says Bird in his online profile:
"Much has been written about the impact of Star Trek on science, entertainment, and our culture in general. There is not a lot of space for 'new ' perspectives on this amazing history. However, the advent of digital scanners and great restoration tools like photoshop make it possible to view these discarded production images in a quality that likely surpasses what the original buyers, like myself, saw from our old slide projectors. So, for all fellow fans of Star Trek, television production techniques of the 1960s, or science fiction history here are some of my favorite images from the literally thousands of film clips I own. Enjoy!"

Fully composited TOS scenes separated into Flickr Sets include: Aliens, Artifacts, Bloopers, On The Good Ship Enterprise, Models & Props, Planet Views and Special Effects – that last category including matte paintings, optical effects and well-known bridge screen graphics. What a treat!

Star Trek TOS Episode: Spock's Brain
Yes, in 1968, audiences actually bought
Spock being separated from his brain.

From Talos to Rigel, from make-up tests to behind-the-scenes pranks... Talosians and Hortas and Gorns, o my! There are some beautiful photos of Majel Barrett as "Number One" in the original pilot, Sulu in all his shirtless, fencing glory and many highlights among deleted scenes that never actually made it into episodes. Oddly, there is a decided lack of original Klingons and the disappointing omission of any materials from "Amok Time" … but it's an easily forgivable gap, given that there is something particularly fun about watching Leonard Nimoy laughing and grinning between takes, breaking from the well-known "Vulcan" character.

Fantastically awesome collection, Birdman... thanks for sharing publicly with those of us who can just never get enough Shatner in our lives!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Space, Uninterrupted

Share and C-Span reported on how the Senate panel on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed a new blueprint for NASA, one that attempts to hold on to the leadership title in space science, continue development of heavy launch vehicles to avoid job losses in the rocket industry, and shaped guidelines for the next ten years of space policy.

You know where I haven't seen any mention of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010? CNN. HLN. Fox. MSNBC. And I watch all of these channels at the gym daily. Granted, I am not there all day long –- I merely watch the morning loop for a couple of hours while running, jumping, lifting and/or stretching... but I don't think I've missed the spots detailing the next era of who will rule the world in terms of defense, science and frontiers.


I almost blogged about this on Friday when I first saw it, but instead allowed it to ferment in my brain, because I have yet to form any kind of staunch opinion as to whether this will be any more successful than the last decade of efforts.

But... bipartisan? And... unanimous approval? Not a single dissenting vote. Wow. Shows they can work together when they so genuinely desire.

At a particular online discussion forum, there is an anti-space ruffian who likes telling "space junkies" to "stop living in the past! Space is a waste!" He revels in any NASA setbacks, and says the space program gave the world nothing but "gizmos and rocks." Recently, he blasted Pat Buchanan [on The McLaughlin Group] for criticizing Obama's cuts to the space program -– right after complaining about too much government spending.

Interesting. You'd think that how Democrats and Republicans have come together on the issues of space exploration would speak volumes... but that's not enough for some people, who still follow the "We have more important issues here on Earth!" banner. True, we do. Famine, disease, poverty –- we all know the list, it's as old as culture itself. While simultaneously providing hundreds upon thousands of jobs and spawning entire industries, space exploration has addressed and benefited these ongoing issues, not ignored them or picked pennies from their pockets. But there is really no sense explaining it to people who cannot see overall inter-connectedness (particularly when it comes to the Department of Defense).

The current bill claims to support an "overall growth in science, aeronautics, and space technology and define a long-term goal for human space flight to expand a permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit." Again, throwing around The B Word in terms of costs, but as Senator David Vitter put it during their panels' press conference, "Sometimes the divide between authorizers and appropriators is bigger than the party divide, but there is no divide here."

Forgive me if I watch videos that most people would consider a cure for insomnia, but I actually do care whether or not Earthlings commit themselves to scientific endeavours – and I must say, Senators Rockefeller and Hutchinson make a pretty good team in front of the cameras. Senator and former astronaut Bill Nelson answered some of the tougher questions from the press, and while Senator Hatch admitted it was not a 100% solution, he gave specific details on space launch system requirements.

For those of you not intimidated by homework (or you just have a half-hour to kill), the best write-up of the bill can be found over at SpaceRef's description of how the Measure Balances Commercial Space Investment and Robust Mission for NASA; pay particular attention to the wording and ramifications of sections 201, 304, 602, 701 and 906.

Exam TBA ;)

Thursday, July 15, 2010



STS-125 Mission Specialist Ron Garan just twittered from his @Astro_Ron account this ISS gem in the Science & Space section of USAToday:

International Space Station Piece by piece
Piece by piece...

The feature is almost two years old, so I cannot believe I've never found it before – or that no one ever emailed me the link. (You find out pretty quickly as a blogger that friends, family, readers and complete strangers are rabidly delighted to send you anything and everything related to your chosen blog theme!)

At the time, the animated graphics (compliments of NASA) showed the International Space Station: 10 Years in the Making on the decade anniversary of the onset of construction, 200+ miles above the Earth's surface. Since then, of course, we and other participating nations have completed the "To Do" list to the right of the graphics.

It's truly amazing when you see the entire structure come together:

Intl Space Station Components

Clicking on any of these causes the pertinent component of the ISS graphic to light up in red, whereby a text box appears with details. It's a great interactive tool to learn about, or teach your kids, all the different pieces in order of assembly!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

So Where Are Our Rocket Packs?


I had a completely different post in the works today, when alert long-time reader & pal Rick Vaughn shared this 1984 retro-treat on my Facebook Wall –- a hilarious fan video of the song Rocket Packs by Daniel Amos, from their album Vox Humana.

Ah, 1984… the year of the Apple Macintosh, and the appearance of Ghostbusters. Shuttle Discovery took her maiden voyage that summer, and the space highlight of the year was astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart making the first untethered space walk.

Kevin Bacon got all Footloose, Alex P. Keaton ruled the airwaves, and Wham! woke me up before they went-went… but somehow MTV missed this gem:

I love the footage from all the old movies! The montage of failed rocket launches at the end were particularly cringe-inducing... but I guess the good news is that George Orwell's novel "1984" hadn't manifested itself just yet (although it arguably has now).

And *sigh* ... now it's nearly 30 years BEYOND the 80s, still we have no individual backpack-rockets. Incidentally, I've always wondered why people zero in on that particular form of technology as a measurement of our space-ageness? Why not, say, satellite television or cellular telephones? No one could have conceived of those making antennae or phone booths disappear, but rarely are they credited as the space-age progress that they are – perhaps because they have simply become too commonplace.

Of course, the song isn't truly about technology at all… but rather human relations. Some of the lyrical highlights (words and music by Terry Taylor):

It's the Eighties, So Where's Our Rocket Packs?
Go anywhere, we strap them on our backs

I thought by now I'd walk the moon, and ride a car without no tires
And have a robot run the vacuum, date a girl made out of wires
No thing's don't change that much, do they?
We are still out of touch, by now we should discover
Just how to love each other, like Klattus' robot man
Your looks have killed again

I thought by now we'd live in space, and eat a pill instead of dinner
And wear a gas mask on our face; a President of female gender
Though progress marches on, (new day), our troubles will grow strong
And my expectancies, become my fantasies
You turn my blood to sand, the earth stands still again

My hopes are running low, things moving much too slow
No space men up above, and we're still so very far from love

I thought by now we'd build a dome
Around the world, control the weather
In every house, a picture phone; communicate a little better
But some things never change,
You are still acting strange
No way that I can see, this way we will be free
7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Lift off!


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last One? Maybe Not.


E-138, the very last external tank to be manufactured by the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, was delivered to a travel barge to begin its sea journey yesterday. Next stop: Cape Canaveral, Florida... where it will be attached to Space Shuttle Endeavour for mission STS-134 in February of 2011.

Hundreds of space program employees from both NASA and Lockheed celebrated (and there was no shortage of mourning, either) the departure of E-138, marking 37 years of Shuttle component construction. On July 14th, yet another giant celebration will greet the tank at Kennedy Space Center.

Shuttle External Tank
I keep hearing those words in my head: The last one.

Or is it? While Gizmodo appears to enjoy poking fun at the end of American manned spaceflight in their current commentary on Unemployed Astronauts, Congress may yet extend their launch assignments.

Incredibly, re-reported from the New York Times:
Senate Bill Defies Obama's NASA Plans, Restores Constellation and Adds Extra Shuttle Flight

I'd heard rumblings about this, but doubted if any piece of legislation would truly make a difference... but it seems an as-yet-unnamed Senate Committee, consisting of Republicans and Democrats alike in states with a LOT to lose from space program scale-downs, is drafting a bill to plan one more Shuttle trip in late 2011 -- and also mounts a minor rebellion against President Obama's newest space policies and plans.

The Ares heavy-launch vehicle would be reinstated as a major program, as well as the construction of Orion capsules (the long-distance design intended to exceed LEO, not the ISS escape module miniatures!). Perhaps the most startling concept in the articles was the hobbling of commercial space industry takeovers by requiring proven successes by private companies before they could be awarded space program contracts.

The New York Times referred to the bill as a "rollback" but of course money is still the huge, looming question mark. The corresponding House of Representatives committee has not yet begun work on its version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 bill, but I imagine I am only one of millions who will be watching this process very closely!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shuttle Shuffle


Did anyone think this post had the same two words in the title? Shuttle Shuttle. Shuffle Shuffle. Shuttle Shuffle. Glance quickly, they looks almost the same ;)

Anyway. With my apologies to non-Texans, or even just non-Houstonians, who may be supporting any of the current fundraisers in New York City, Austin, Seattle, Clinton, or Chicago to bring Shuttles to their areas... but today, I've joined and also choose to highlight the cause that webmasters from Space Center Houston have brought to the Lonestar public!

Bring the Shuttle To Houston
As I've discussed before, NASA is seeking permanent homes for the soon-to-be retired Shuttle fleet.

At last mention, there were 21 solid bids for four Shuttles (Enterprise, Atlantis, Discovery & Endeavour), with the only certainty being that Shuttle Discovery would be sent to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Houston, according to the coalition of letter-writing, fund-raising supporters, should definitely be the keeper of one of these great national treasures, as detailed by the website: Bring The Shuttle Home.

Their first page is already humorously out-of-date, since they mention the program ending in 2010. With NASA's newest change to the official Launch Schedule, the Shuttle program is now due to end in early 2011.

From the first Shuttle launch in April 1981 to March 2011 when Shuttle Endeavour makes her final landing, the American Space Shuttle Program will have spanned one-month-under 30 years!


I've also updated (again!) my "Final Five Shuttle Missions" post and moved it to the space below this post for anyone who wants to check the new details.

If you are part of another bring-the-Shuttle-to-my-city effort, and choose not to participate in the Houston effort, I still say, best of luck! Regardless of where they make their final appearances, we all know that many of us will travel wherever necessary to see them once they are "parked" at their new permanent homes!

An aside –
The last flight is certainly fraught with emotion from every corner, but you'd never know it from this view of the STS-134 astronauts, who posed for perhaps the most laid back official crew photo I've ever seen! (Seriously, why didn't they just hand them cigars and martinis??)

Final Five Shuttle Missions


Sunday February 7, 2010
STS-130 scheduled for launch at 4:39 a.m. EST

Space Shuttle Endeavour will deliver the Tranquility module, built by the Alenia Space Facility in Turin, Italy. Formerly known as "Node 3," it infamously skipped being named "Colbert" after a dubiously amusing TV personality hijacked a NASA poll. Another important part of the STS-130 payload is the Cupola, a robotic control station with seven windows that will provide a 360-degree view around the ISS. Three spacewalks are planned.

Tranquility Node 3
Tranquility, the final connecting node

Monday, April 5, 2010
STS-131 scheduled for launch at 6:21 a.m. EDT

Space Shuttle Discovery will have as its primary payload the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, filled with science racks that will be transferred to laboratories of the International Space Station. Numerous other smaller payloads make this the heaviest cargo transport since STS-107 in 2003. This penultimate voyage of Discovery is the last mission that will include astronaut rookies experiencing their first spaceflight – two from NASA and one from JAXA. Three spacewalks are planned.

Friday, May 14, 2010
STS-132 scheduled for launch at 2:28 p.m. EDT

The very last flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis will carry an Integrated Cargo Carrier-Vertical Light Deployable (ICC-VLD) to deliver maintenance and assembly hardware, and a spare "elbow" for the European Robotic Arm. The second in a series of new pressurized components for Russia, a Rassvet Mini Research Module, will be permanently attached to the lower port of the Zarya module. No more rookies… all-veteran crew! Three spacewalks are planned.

Monday, November 1, 2010
STS-133 scheduled for launch at 4:33 p.m. EDT

The very last flight of Space Shuttle Discovery. An all-veteran, all-American crew will deliver the Express Logistics Carrier and Multi-Purpose Logistics Module.

Space Shuttle
Saturday, February 26, 2011
STS-134 scheduled for launch at 4:19 p.m. EST

The very last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour is the last planned mission of the Shuttle program, which began service in 1981. She will deliver a Logistics Carrier, a high-pressure gas tank, micro-meteoroid debris shields and an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS. One spacewalk is planned to mount the AMS to the integrated truss structure, and this may be the final EVA ever conducted by a Shuttle crew.

This final mission will mark the 134th flight of the Space Shuttle Orbiter, the 36th Shuttle trip to the ISS, and the 165th American manned launch.

Upon commencement of training in October 2009, mission commander Steven Lindsey handed over his chief astronaut position to Peggy Whitson. Whitson, who became the first female ISS commander in 2007 and holds the current American record for days in space (376), is also now the first woman to hold the position of Chief of the Astronaut Office.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Space Technorati


When I first started blogging, I joined Technorati because the name amused me. I honestly didn't even know what they did... it just looked like a blog directory at the time, though they now refer to themselves as a "blog search engine."

Some bloggers swear by this registry service, others complain that it's marketing-driven (but name something that isn't!) and caters only to the "big players. " Well, for whatever it's worth, I can say that I am one tiny player with no ads who has quietly snuck into favorable authority.

Technorati SCIENCE TOP 100
Technorati "authority" –- so their developers claim –- measures a site's standing & influence in the blogosphere as this continually evolving communication medium develops. They review incoming and outgoing links, topical conversations across the news and which-bloggers-are-talking-about-what, how often sites are referenced by other sites, and so on.

I sometimes check this when I do general site metrics once per month – but even I missed this one, and an alert reader (Thanks Chris!) had to tell me that Pillow Astronaut cracked the Top 25 in their science directory!

Pillownaut crept slowly up over the past year through the Science Top 100, which was quite flattering enough in one category. Of course, I don't ever hope to compete with the big blogs sponsored by science magazines, as my subject matter is far too... "niche." At the moment I'm hovering around the #18 spot, but of course this can change weekly.

Top Science 100
I spent last evening checking out all the other blogs around mine (translation: blowing hours on reading other blogs, which I can now officially call "research") What I found the most interesting was that in the Top 25 blogs, 11 are about cosmology, astronomy and/or space!

Indeed, 7 of the top 10 are about space! That says a great deal about what's on people's minds these days, if not in our budgets. I wish I had time to sift through all 452 currently listed blogs... alas, only so many hours in a rotation.

The big guns, and with good reason, are Wired Science, Universe Today and Bad Astronomy (I heart Phil Plait)... and if you aren't currently reading these blogs, you should be. NASA Watch is also a surefire staple of news in the American space program, if you can stomach the inexplicable Griffin-Bolden Bashing subculture.

Starts With A Bang
Other interesting new finds on this list that I recommend (and have just begun following) for space enthusiasts are Joel Raupe's Lunar Networks, Jack Kennedy's Space Ports, and Ethan Siegal's cleverly named blog, Starts With a Bang! Great reads, all... and worth checking out!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rhymes with HEX


Unsurprisingly, the "Space Sex" post generated a flurry of hits and comments, despite ending with gestational complications among rodentia. Apparently, it's true -- all that's needed to attract readers is type the word "sex" somewhere. So, enjoy it while it's in the news, because you likely won't ever see it here again... (unless Roskosmos comes up with a completely different isolation experiment next time).

Brian Shiro of Astronauts4hire says: Good point about the non-humans copulating in orbit. Keith Olbermann also did a segment on space sex on his show a few days ago. He showed clips from a History Channel show on the subject and brought in an astrophysicist as the resident expert.
Good for him! I should have mentioned and linked to this last time. In Season 3 of Universe, the History Channel explored physiological, psychological and cultural challenges of sexuality in weightlessness. How will the extreme environment of space effect copulation, conception, foetal development and the emotional lives of astronauts? The entire program is available on YouTube.

History Channel: UNIVERSE
Best. Show. Ever.

Suzanne The Farmer's Wife says: Poindexter's comment is not accurate. The space program, as in any other human endeavor, is populated with people who are indeed "human." Is he forgetting that at least one mentally unstable astronaut slipped through the cracks? One that involved in a love triangle, no less. Nice foray into the controversial. Good job as always.
Thanks Suzanne! Yeah, I'm sure they dread being asked about Lisa Nowak, because a single scandal can cast a long shadow on an entire operation... and NASA was tight-lipped about sexual issues even before that incident! Poindexter was, of course, giving the rote response that NASA absolutely expects any astronaut to give to reporters. It's unrealistic to expect us to believe that humans spend intense training time together and never fall prey to normal crushes, bond through that unique and grueling training, or even develop genuine affection. This is our natural tendency; we would not be human otherwise. To be exempt, astronauts would have to be blind or dead.

What I find funny about that is how people like to pretend they've never done anything goofy or obsessive in the name of love. Competition, jealousy, modifying one's behavior during courtship and arousal –- these are all perfectly normal animal activities, and in a small percentage of cases, they cause some individuals to lose touch with reality.

However, do you think there was anything specifically about "being an astronaut" that caused Nowak to snap? If there is something wired wrong in her head, such an incident may have occurred no matter what she did for a living. The fact that it was a "triangle" of astronauts has, unfortunately, made NASA all the more uneasy... and continually outright ignoring normal human behavior without addressing emotional possibilities is not the answer either.

Space Agencies in less clinical and conservative cultures than ours, such as Roskosmos and the ESA, will address sexuality before America does.

Blogger Sci-Fi Gene says: Presumably it will be a different matter if any of those space hotel projects get off the ground, or even if slightly longer sub-orbital flights become available for space tourism. I can imagine in this situation it might actually make sense for NASA to commission this kind of research!
Thank you! True that -– any boom in space tourism will likely result in a boom in such experimentation. The companies touting space packages for cash will have to provide training, so it makes one wonder… will they inform couples about the dangers of conception in space? Space lawyer needed to draft waiver: "Please note conception in micro-gravity may cause unknown developmental issues during pregnancy." Would you still break out the duct tape?

Keith of Flatbadger's Flashback says: I hate to be "low class" but I WANT to have sex in space LMAO!
Eh, we're primates. We want to have sex... pretty much everywhere. It isn't low class to want to have sex in space; on the contrary, it's high time to stop denying it, whispering about it or making fun of it, and embrace the rational need to study this most basic biological drive. We certainly aren't leaving Earth without it.

Diane D from Florida asks: Seriously, a married couple went into space? Doesn't that sort of prove that astronauts date each other?
Yes and yes. Mark Lee and Jan Davis are the only married couple to fly in space. They wed in secret during training, then served together aboard STS-47 Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992. They are the two in the picture below with their arms about one another. They had two children, but divorced in 2001.

At current count, 28 astronauts have married among the various space agencies. So Mr. Poindexter, tell us again why astronauts aren't part of the human race? ;)


Friday, July 2, 2010

Space Sex


Anyone buying this? The 200-Mile High Club. Space agencies everywhere want you to believe it doesn't exist. And of course, as soon as I start blathering smugly that I don't court controversy or scandal, the concept of "sex in space" is splashed all over the news.

So let's talk about it. The London Telegraph, NY Daily News, and even TIME journalists are making unfunny quips about Shuttle Discovery Commander Alan Poindexter's recent statement that "We [astronauts] are a group of professionals. Personal relationships are not an issue."

I groaned when I saw this, knowing it will be crammed down every available throat if any two astronauts are so much as photographed hugging. Seems like this subject comes up every few years, the worst episode being the Document 12-571-3570 hoax, I repeat, HOAX... where the 1996 STS-75 mission allegedly completed assignments for testing various carnal positions in weightlessness.

Really? Pretty nifty accomplishment for the all-male crew of STS-75, being that there were no women and certainly no married couples aboard the orbiter (that only happened once, and they were married after the flight assignment had been set) -- but hey, don't let any pesky facts interfere with our all-too-human tendency to be humorously immature about intimate relations.

Case in point, here are some reader comments from the current news sites, regarding Poindexter's quotes:
"So then I guess Tiger Woods will never be an astronaut."
"Yeah, R-i-i-i-i-ight! And the moon is made of Swiss Cheese!"
"Not sure what 'a group of professionals' has to do with no sex. Treating each other with respect does not necessarily mean abstinence. What kind of strange adults are we breeding in the space program??"
"So they are saying: If that shuttle's a rocking don't bother docking."

I have two overall thoughts on this matter rearing it's head again:

1. People need to grow up. Stephen Hawking famously commented that successful off-world exploration and perhaps even the long-term survival of humankind will depend on learning to live and reproduce in space. Many science fiction novels have also examined the possible physics or developmental challenges in practical terms. This area of science is not an American Pie sequel and will be addressed in time.

2. Sexual intercourse has indeed occurred in micro-gravity, just not among humans or large mammals (yet). Studies upon other taxa, such as insects, fish, amphibians and birds are evident in the literature for anyone who actually cares to examine scientific documentation, as opposed to the puerile ramblings of press outlets who trivialize, sensationalize or downright lie.

Ijiri, K: Fish Mating Experiment on STS-65
Freshwater Oryzias latipes mated, laid eggs in space, and these eggs developed normally to hatching in microgravity.

Fritzsch, Bruce: Foetal Rats / Birds Raised in Micro Gravity on STS-66
Deficits in behavioral orientation have been observed in chicks and rats reared in microgravity, suggesting that microgravity may induce the growth of anomalous neuronal connections between the vestibular and motor systems.

Wakayama S: Effects of Microgravity on Mouse Development on STS-80
Sustaining life beyond Earth will require clear understanding of how the space environment affects key phases of mammalian fertilization and reproduction.

You'll notice this is the first post in about two years with no photographs. ;)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

One Hundred!

I am looking at my Google Widget, and it's registering 100 Blog Followers for Pillow Astronaut!

When I first started blogging back in July of 2008, I had only modest hopes that perhaps my family and close friends might visit occasionally to read. If anyone had told me I'd gather any kind of following, I'd have laughed.

Unlike many other blogs who bank on advertisements or gratuitous material -- or even court deliberately controversial viewpoints just to gain readers, I've always tried to stay true to my passion and simply discuss those things in the world of NASA that I support.

I can't tell you how happy I am that in my non-freak-show quest for generating enthusiasm about space research and space exploration, so many folks came along for the ride. Thank you so much to all of my readers for this pleasant milestone!

In Thrust We Trust
Photo credit: @flyingjenny

To all of you, from all of me, I dedicate the sentiment of this great photograph of the test cell hallway at Kennedy Space Center to my followers! :)