Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Last Day Every Human Was On Earth


October 30th! This date generally slides right by most people, when in fact it is one of the most amazing dates in the history of humanity.

It was, among other things, the day Orson Welles caused panic with his "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast (1938), the day Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off for STS-61-A, its final successful mission (1985) and sadly, still reigns as "Devil's Night" in some places each year.

In the year 2000, it was also the LAST DAY EVERY HUMAN WAS ON EARTH!

Expedition 1
ISS Expedition 1
Sergei Krikalev, William Shepherd & Yuri Gidzenko

On October 31st, one NASA astronaut and two Roskosmos cosmonauts launched in the Soyuz TM-31 to the International Space Station for Expedition 1, giving the ISS it's very first resident crew.

During their time on the ISS, Shepherd, Gidzenko and Krikalev inhabited and unpacked the critical equipment for the Zvezda, Zarya and Unity modules, established initial communications with Mission Control centers in Houston and Korolev, hosted three Shuttle crews and with them, installed the Destiny scientific research module.

International Space Station
Since that time, there have always been at least two Homo sapiens in low Earth orbit. Many don't recognize the day for what it is... perhaps only future generations will appreciate that this mission marked the beginning of humanity's permanent colonization of space.

A securely enduring position in space is a fragile accomplishment, both practically and financially. Space station Mir was in orbit for 15 years, but often unmanned for periods of time. Russia's Mir was occupied without breaks between 1989 and 1999, and toward the end of 2010, the ISS finally broke this record with more than a decade of continuous habitation.

How Many People Are In Space Right Now
A gap between old and new hardware is always a future possibility, but today we have a greater chance of many nations or even private enterprises achieving a presence in space for overlaps. One day, we may even look back through multiple stations, yearning wistfully for a time when it wasn’t so darned crowded in our sky.

So, remember October 2000! Someday, your great-great-grandchildren may want to know what you were doing the day our species established a permanent off-Earth presence. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NPP Launch


Ever followed a rocket launch with 0% chance of weather violation?? Me neither. So who's getting up in the wee small hours to see the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:48am PT?

The NPP is a collaborative effort between NASA and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and serves as the first Earth-observing satellite of the NPOESS, or National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.

Is that enough acronyms for ya?

NPP Satellite
The spacecraft was designed for a 5-year orbital life, in which it will monitor the Earth's weather, atmosphere, oceans, land and near-space environment.

The NPP will launch into orbit on Delta II, from Space Launch Complex 2W (VAFB). Delta 2 rockets have sent 49 NASA payloads into orbit, and environmental satellite NPP, which is about the size of an SUV, will be number 50!

There are 5 key instruments on board:

NPP Instruments
The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) will create temperature and moisture profiles for weather forecasting models.

The Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) will monitor atmospheric pressure patterns, hoping to improve weather forecasts.

The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) is just what is sounds like and will map and profile ozone fluctuations.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) will collect visible and infrared views of Earth's surface processes, such as wildfires, land changes, oceanic properties, and ice movement.

The Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) will measure reflected solar radiation, emitted terrestrial radiation, and total radiation.

NPP Satellite Paper Model Kit
Follow status updates at Spaceflight Now, or watch NASA Television, and hey, killing time during launch coverage is a perfect opportunity to print out the PDF and build the NPP Satellite Paper Model Kit!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cosmic Road Warrior


I loathe clutter. I am the complete opposite of a pack rat (is there a word for that?) in that I love to get rid of things. Sometimes people come into my house and think no one actually lives there. I think part of that development was growing up in a house full of knick-knacky things everywhere, and part is that I would simply rather collect "experiences" than "stuff."

For example, everywhere I go, I tend to seek out the local Hard Rock Cafe to see memorabilia from the music world. The food blows, but hey look, Bobby Darin's necktie! Roy Orbison's sunglasses! I love that. I also love collecting state lines, in terms of crossing them... though I've almost got that activity wrapped up.

However, in the vein of Experience Collection, I have a new hero at

Spacey Chick
I seek out space hardware and history and rockets and novelties everywhere I go, and these days it's tough to find a city where I haven't cruised a science museum -- but her collection is stunning!

Check out the Spacey Chick website to see Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, Space Centers, space monuments, etc... as well as many astronaut "signings."

If you're interested in finding out where all these items reside for public display, it's a fantastic guide, because she also lists each museum, city and state. Truly an amazing scrapbook of museum mileage!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pennan Brae Apollo 17


Bold, beautiful, and stellar! Moody, romantic... and delightfully lunar. It's the new song "Lonely Heart" from Pennan Brae's 3rd Album Early Rise.

For those of you out of the musical loop, Pennan Brae is a singer-songwriter from Vancouver, British Columbia, whose music has enjoyed radio play across Canada, Australia and the US.

His newest video includes awesome Saturn V footage, genuine Apollo capsule close-ups, old films of Mission Control, and the singer himself in a classic snoopy hat and 70s space suit, cavorting on the moon with a chained Space-Race Princess... wait, what?

Well, according to his YouTube Channel, the Apollo 17 music video for "Lonely Heartbeat" is:

Set during man's last visit to the moon on December 11th, 1972 with Apollo 17, where Pennan pilots the Saturn V Rocket to rescue Agent Stardust from the hairy grasp of Comrade Kalashnikov. It's a Cold War Lunar Battle -- USSR vs. USA; hammer & sickle versus the stars & stripes. Directed by Tim Cash of Far From Earth Films & shot in Oregon, the piece features Nicole Mintiens & Chris Buffalo Folsom.

Pennan Brae
Definitely unique, and reminiscent of the 1980s classic era of music video, which is what I liked best about it. That and the beautifully enchanting lyrics:

As days shorten to night
We squeeze hold each other tight

Autumn breeze picks up speed

Firefly does its dance

To this thing we call romance

Waves to shore slowly lap

In our black and white photograph

As night gives way to dawn

This path we’ll continue on

Our vibe certified priceless

Ringing true from East to West

Nice. :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Universal Mind Blowers


CRACKED is at it again. Well, technically, CRACKED is at it every day, but I only pay attention when they talk about space... as evidenced by my previous spot-lighting of their take on astronaut training, and why it blows.

Yesterday, prolific and long-time writers Cooney & Quercia teamed to provide us with The 6 Most Mind-Blowing Things Ever Discovered in Space.

Space Shark
When I saw the title, like any space nerd, I wondered: How the heck did they ever narrow THAT topic down to only SIX? There are billions and billions of mind-blowing things out there! However, their choice half-dozen are quite interesting:

#6. Blingworld = A Planet Made of Diamond they want towed back to Earth

#5. CosmoDrool = Huge Rain Cloud which is really a black hole spouting water

#4. God's Light Saber = Trillions of space lightning bolts the size of the Milky Way

#3. Ice Sun = A star you could actually land upon without bursting into flames

#2. A Star 1,500 Times Bigger Than Our Sun

#1. Gargantuan Blob from the Beginning of Time

Why no one on any Star Trek series ever found that last one is a complete mystery to me. That episode would write itself.

Space Lightning
I was impressed with the commentary on everything but #2. Because yeah, newsflash: there's huge stuff out there. NASA geeks will not even be remotely shocked by this, although to their credit, the CRACKED staff puts a pretty humorous spin on it.

But seriously, no magentars? No hypervelocity stars? For that matter, what about gravity?? Ah well, I'm a space cadet and they're comedians, we'll forgive them their brevity. For more space fun in the CRACKED archives, see:

6 Reasons Space Travel Will Always Suck

5 Retarded Space Travel Ideas (That Might Actually Work)

5 Soviet Space Programs That Prove Russia Was Insane

7 Bizarre Sounds From Outer Space

7 Horrible Ways The Universe Can Destroy Us Without Warning

Warning: Mature Humor. Open on home PC, not work PC. Because these are un-PC.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

50 Years of Meteorites


I used to live in Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, and quite near Arizona State University. This week, I find myself wishing I was still there!

For the space enthusiasts in the area, you have a wonderful opportunity to attend a symposium at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, who this month will celebrate 50 years as the heart of research activities on meteorites and other planetary materials.

50 years
Founded in 1961 by Geo-Chemist Carleton Moore to concentrate on collection and analysis, the Center for Meteorite Studies is now home to the world's largest university-based meteorite collection, providing a hub for scientists who conduct inquiries into the origin and evolution of the solar system.

To commemorate their five decades of operations, click here to register for their special events on October 21st at the ASU Tempe campus!

After the sun goes down, all attendees are invited to the roof of the Batemen Sciences center to participate in telescope viewing and meteorite handling at their Astronomy Open House.

Facts About Meteorites
Um ... Murray?

Among the highlights will be getting to hear and/or meet esteemed professor and CMS Director Meenakshi Wadhwa, and attend lectures by prominent researchers on "Meteoritics and Cosmochemistry: Past, Present and Future".

In the past? The aforementioned Carleton Moore flew to Houston to retrieve Apollo 11 lunar samples in 1969, and in years following, he and his team analyzed more than 200 more through 1972. The present? Today the center houses specimens representing more than 1,650 separate meteorite falls – including several meteorites from Mars and the Moon.

NASA Missions and ASU
The analyses of Apollo samples not only bolstered the reputation of the center as a research facility, they also set the precedent for the study of other types of planetary materials by ASU researchers in what will be a rich and varied future.

To read more about the many NASA missions to which ASU is contributing, see their Science & Tech pages about ASU in Space.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Managing Our Space Ship


Earth is not truly a "Sphere" but rather an "Oblate Spheroid" – flattened slightly at the poles and bulging at the equator by about an extra 43 kilometers. Gravity is slightly greater at the poles than at the equator.

We know more about space than we know about the bottom of Earth's oceans.

Earth is about four times the size of it's Moon, and the volume of the Moon is the same as that of the Pacific Ocean.

About 0.01% of the world's water is present in rivers and lakes, and 4.34% is fresh groundwater. 1.65% of Earth's water is "locked" in glaciers or polar icecaps, and a whopping 94% is salt water. If all the salt were to be extracted from the oceans and seas? There would be enough to cover all the continents five feet deep.

Of all known forms of animals life ever to inhabit the Earth, only about 10 percent still exist today.

Earth's rotation speed is at its maximum in late July, early August and at its minimum in April. The difference in the length of the day is about 0.0012 seconds. Rotation is also slowing down, and an extra second is added to atomic clocks every few years. Millions of years ago, a solar day on Earth was 20 hours long. It is believed that, after a few million more years, Earth days will be 27 hours long.

The length of time it takes for Earth to orbit around the Sun is 365 and a quarter days, or 365.2564 to be exact. It is that extra .2564 days that creates the need for leap years.

To make up the extra quarter which isn't counted, we add extra day in every year divisible by 4 – 2004, 2008, etc. – unless it’s divisible by 100 (1900, 2100, etc)… unless it’s divisible by 400 (1600, 2000, etc). The next Leap Year is 2012.

Planet Earth
On average, nearly a thousand tons of meteor dust falls to Earth's surface each day. Most burn up as they fly through the atmosphere, but those making it to the ground are then called meteorites. About 900 meteorites land per year around the world, but most land in Earth's oceans.

Colloquially, most people use the words "air" and "oxygen" interchangeably, but Earth's atmosphere nearest the crust of the planet contains 78% nitrogen and only 21% oxygen. Argon at 0.9%, carbon dioxide at 0.033% and other minute gases account for the rest.

Thursday, October 13, 2011



If you are a nerd and you are missing the web-comic XKCD, well... OMG you are a nerd and you are missing XKCD!

Mostly funny, often educational, sometimes entirely too disturbing in its accuracy.

XKCD Comic
Created and updated by Randall Munroe, this stick-figure high-IQ South Park at has spawned collective geek projects, geek commercial products and even a book over the years... though I'm no sure how well that sells, given that the archives are entirely free and the author encourages people to use his comics on their websites and blogs.

It's rare that you find any kind of hacker-head who doesn't regularly check XKCD, and who isn't a big fan of the commentary on life philosophies and human relationships as compared to the conventions of mathematics, computer science, physics, space exploration and nerd culture.

Webcomic XKCD
I am, unsurprisingly, partial to the space-related toons, which I have collected over time until I felt a fair list was in order for my Space Humor category: Moon Landing YouTube Janeane Space Station Mystery Moon Landing Hopelessness Star Wars Labeling the Vacuum Void ... Awesome! Firefly Spirit Rover Gravity Wells Space Station Dating Game The Fermi Paradox

TIP: Hover the cursor over each cartoon to see humorous "subtext". ;)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dancing On The Fringe


This tin foil hat dance just gets better and better! First, I found an MIT study showing that tinfoil hats actually amplify rather than block signals conspiracy theorists think they need to protect themselves from. Next, some tinfoil hat enthusiasts attacked me in the Comments section of my blog, accusing me of being narrow-minded about government and/or alien threats.

Through it all, I surmised in writing that other products would be forthcoming, and it turns out I am way behind the curve.

Thought Prevention Helmet
Michael Menkin, inventor of the Thought Screen Helmet, shares his expertise on how to Stop Alien Abductions. I found his website last night, and still haven’t decided if I just had too much to drink –- or not nearly enough.

A member of the Mutual UFO Network, he's taken it upon himself to compile lists of alien tendencies and weaknesses, as well as how they cannot read your thoughts if you always have your anti-telepathy helmet handy!

The thought screen helmet scrambles telepathic communication between aliens and humans. Aliens cannot immobilize people wearing thought screens, nor can they control their minds or communicate with them using telepathy. When aliens can't control humans to render them passive, they generally cease to abduct them.

The magic ingredient in the defensive strategy is Velostat, a substance imbued with carbon to make it conductive (often used for the protection of devices that are prone to damage from electrostatic discharge). Menkin provides helpful lists of velostat providers, necessary tools, and step-by-step instructions for making your own Thought Screen Helmet.

Alien Abductee Helmet
Michael Menken also offers tips for proper grounding and regular safe use, but nonetheless warns us to Prepare For A Fight:

Aliens will try to stop you from wearing the helmet both mentally and physically. Before you make one they may try to influence you that you don’t need one. Once you start wearing a helmet they may harass you or perhaps threaten to kill a pet in retaliation. They are good at manipulating your spouse to have a conflict with you about wearing the helmet. If you forget to wear it one time they may physically hurt you.

Well, we wouldn't want that.

Vulcan Mind Meld
See, if only he'd had his Thought Helmet...

I'm so happy I found this site before Christmas, because this has to be the ultimate space-buff arts & crafts idea.

So, thank you, Michael! Give our regards to Mulder & Scully.

I contacted the scientists at MIT who did the tinfoil study, and asked them to conduct a follow-up comparison study. Watch this space.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Trick or Treat


Calling all Samhain enthusiasts. Yes, its that's time again. Summer's end! Carve out your favorite inedible species of squash and set the young'uns loose to beg high fructose corn syrup off the neighbors.

But FIRST! Order now to dress accordingly:

Star Trek Costumes
What, no Gorn suit?

Last year, after a big Google fest in the name of costuming, I noticed more space suits everywhere...though mostly for little boys. It's not my imagination – the surge continues, and has now spread further into apparel for girls, babies, adults, even cats and dogs!

I've had a basic Trek dress for many years, though memory fails me as to where it was purchased. I only found 2 or 3 outlets and a few independent tailors in the Star Trek network who would create custom-fitted adult costumes. Oddly, at a time when there are no Trek shows on television at all, and no new movie slated until 2013, sci-fi costumes are more widely available than ever before.

Pretty sure this counts as a cult now

Star Wars fans have always been huge costume enthusiasts; the spectrum of costumes available across all six films (and now cartoons) has become quite incredible. This year, an entire business devoted to Lucas creations has been established at!

From Jedi to Sith, from slave Leia to Amidala royal robes, from genuine stormtrooper armor to the tune of a thousand dollar investment, right down to Baby Ewoks for thirty bucks.

Jawas, Jabba the Hutt, the Fett family... and... a six foot Yoda?? Well, we don't love All Hallows Eve for its sense of accuracy. I'm partial to the inflatable taun-taun myself.

Now, where's the corresponding Firefly site??

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Month Left For Mars500


Today is day number #490 out of 520 mission days for the Mars500 crew, so they have now officially reached their final month! It has been an amazing trek to Mars and back, having broken the record for long-term space simulation.

It's been far more than a year since they were sealed into their "ship" -- and in that time, none of them have had a hot-water shower, breathed fresh air, seen the sun, or spent time with their family and friends. Quite a commitment! I often wonder if I could make it that long without going a little batty in isolation...

Boredom often produces beards

As I've read through my past 16 posts about Mars 500 since March of 2009, I've read through the old comments, and noted one reader who said, "As much as I want to be an astronaut some day, 520 days? I do not think its a valid test anyway. They already know from orbital missions that folks lose it in shorter time periods in more space... but not often publicized!"

I agree that overall validity remains to be judged in their published conclusions, but studies like these gain ground in ensuring people DO NOT "lose it" in space during a genuine mission. Some incidents have been publicized though; does anyone remember the "24-Hour Mutiny" aboard Skylab, or am I dating myself? ;)

"It's science fiction, man. We're in Star Trek."
(Sukrob is waaaay too excited about the camera!)

Astronaut Jake Garn holds the record for physical space sickness, but another man has the distinction for the most acute psychological sickness. In 1996, John Blaha deployed to the Mir space station for 128 days. Just before his four-month mark, he began to exhibit hostility toward other crew members, and occasionally complete withdrawal while he battled insomnia and depression.

Not long after, astronaut Jerry Linenger, another inhabitant of Mir (during a stressful accident resulting in a fire he claimed Russian authorities tried to cover up), had what was interpreted as a breakdown and eventually refused to respond to mission control on the ground.

We didn't know much about the effects of long-term spaceflight during the Mir era, so it's not surprising these incidents came to light at that time; it's also not hard to imagine that psychological problems on Mir and the ISS arose from cultural and political differences between Russian and American crews.

We clearly cannot afford this sort of schism on a 520-trek to a faraway celestial body, so I don't think it's an accident that three space agencies joined forces in this simulation, deliberately choosing crews across different countries. One of their ongoing goals is estimating working personality types. That will be an important component in a trip to Mars: screening the right mix of temperaments who are able to work together. And keeping them all BUSY.

Diego Urbina
Group effort produced Chocolate Martian Balls.
And that, my friends, is the height of civilization.

I want to stress that in reading the entire Mars500 website and blog for many months now, their projects encompass far more that the "isolation" or "collaboration" aspects. They are testing communications, conducting medical experiments, inventing and documenting procedures and even testing whether food grown in a self-sustaining greenhouse is feasible along the way to the red planet.

Many of their results will be published after they land on November 4th!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lunar Lockout


Quite certainly the funniest 17 seconds I've seen this week... invest in the moment. Completely safe for work ;)