Monday, January 30, 2012

Third Rock Radio

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I infrequently attract flak for being a NASA cheerleader, but the truth is, I honestly don't care to blindly promote things if I don't follow the mission, won't use the product, wouldn't buy the plane ticket to see it launch or haven't tried the platform.

When NASA collaborated with RFC Media in Houston to debut their Internet Radio Station in December, I could have announced it, but preferred to listen for awhile to get a feel for material, advertising, ease-of-use, social media spread, etc. Why should I tell you to check it out if I'm not entertained by it, right?

NASA 3rd Rock RadioWell, I don't know what I was waiting for, because of course it ROCKS! Designed to speak Geek to the tech-savvy, 3rd Rock launched as "America's Space Station"and in just 30 days has gained over 5,000 fans on Facebook and over 2,000 on Twitter. Thousands of listeners have tuned in via web, iPhone or Android to hear fresh rock hits, and also healthy doses of Indie and Alternative Rock songs.

Space news and NASA mission updates can be heard by low-key DJs between such artists as The Kooks, Hotcakes, Switchfoot, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Joy Formidable, MGMT, Jimmy Eat World, Avenged Sevenfold, Bravestation, The Heavy, The Vaccines, Filter, Jack's Mannequin, Amazing Baby, Placebo, Glasvegas, Keane, Hum, Snow Patrol, Phantom Planet (cool name, that), Gorillaz, Foo Fighters, Radio Head and Blink 182.

Third Rock Radio
What a ride! And those are just a handful of the many artists I've heard over the past few weeks as I've listened on my PC, my laptop and also on my smartphone. Some were new to me, and others were old favorites, but it's a cool enough mix to keep me tuning in daily.

(However, when I hear Katzenjammer and go scrambling for the MUTE button, I have to admit I may no longer precisely be in the main demographic, LOL!)


Third Rock Radio is also a great place to hear about job opportunities at NASA centers, SpaceX, and other high-tech companies helping to shape the modern aerospace industry. So if you're studying to be a scientist or engineer, this is a good place to hear employment ads for your target companies.

Third Rock Space Station Radio
Ironically, in all my visits, I haven't once heard them play the song "Third Rock From The Sun". Must be a little too Marie Osmond for them ;)

Go visit http://thirdrockradio.rfcmedia.com or simply http://www.thirdrockradio.net, or soon, the radio section of Apple iTunes.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Fallen

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The end of January and beginning of February is always a solemn occasion for the space industry, in that 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

Shuttle Challenger Memorial
Houston, Texas

"They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget we've only just begun. We're still pioneers.

And I want to say to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. The future doesn't belong to the faint-hearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights, more crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and journeys continue. I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."

~ President Ronald Reagan
January 28, 1986

Challenger Memorial Park
Challenger Memorial Park
(Click for entire Gallery)

"In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage, and daring, and idealism, we will miss them all the more.

All Americans today are thinking, as well, of the families of these men and women who have been given this sudden shock and grief. You're not alone. Our entire nation grieves with you. And those you loved will always have the respect and gratitude of this country. The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand.

Our journey into space will go on."

~ President George W. Bush
February 1, 2003

Shuttle Columbia Memorial
Columbia Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery

Please take a moment of silence today to remember all those pioneers who have given their lives to science and space exploration. See Pillownaut.com for a complete list of all fallen astronauts and cosmonauts.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pluto & Friends

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Research time! So it started bothering me that I'm fuzzy on the differences, chocolate or otherwise, between Dwarf Planets, Trans-Neptunian Objects, Plutoids, Plutinos, Scattered Disc Objects (SDO), Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) and Oort Cloud bodies.

I've seen these terms bandied about, but not even the schmoes who coined them can decide what's what. Occasionally, the International Astronomical Union tries to set definitions in stone, but no one ever agrees... so it's like a high-IQ version of Congress without all the fancy neckties and sex scandals.

I initially planned this post as a learning experience for myself, whereby I might clear up confusion for others while researching and writing... alas, all I accomplished was confusing myself more. So, I encourage those interested to examine the linked definitions, and try not to start any fights. I settled for familiarizing myself with the most prominently debated objects, here listed smallest to largest:

1) Ceres
Classification = Former planet, Dwarf Planet, "largest asteroid"??
Approximate Diameter = 950 km
Ceres is the smallest identified "dwarf planet" in the Solar System and the only one in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, accounting for about a third of the belt's overall mass. Discovered in 1801, it was classified as the 8th planet for half a century. The surface of Ceres is a mixture of water, ice, and various minerals, with the possibility of sub-surface liquid oceans. NASA's Dawn space probe, launched in 2007, will reach and explore Ceres in 2015. Ceres was the Roman goddess of growing plants, harvest-time, and maternal love.

Trans-Neptunian Objects
2) Quaoar
Classification = Dwarf Planet, TNO (plutoid)
Approximate Diameter = 1260 ± 190 km
Quaoar is a binary system orbiting the Sun in the Kuiper belt, and the very first TNO to be measured directly from pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope! It orbits 3.7 billion miles from the Sun with an orbital period of 287 years. Quaoar is named for the creator god of the Tongva, the native peoples from what is now Los Angeles. It has one satellite, Weywot, which may be a collisional ice fragment, though details about its orbit are unknown. The sky god Weywot was the son of Quaoar in Tongva lore.

3) 2007 OR10
Classification = Dwarf Planet "candidate," TNO (plutoid), SDO
Approximate Diameter = 875–1400km
2007 OR10 is currently the largest known Solar System object without an official name, though its discovery team nicknamed it Snow White, as it would have to be very bright to be detected by their survey. 2007 OR10 is on an orbit similar to that of Eris, circling the Sun every 552 years.

4) Orcus
Classification = Dwarf Planet "candidate," Plutino, TNO (plutoid), KBO
Approximate Dimensions = 946.3 +74.1−72.3km
Because their mutual resonance with Neptune constrains Orcus and Pluto to remain on opposite sides of the Sun in otherwise similar motions, Orcus is oft described as the "anti-Pluto." Orcus was a Roman underworld god and punisher of broken oaths, likely adapted from the Greek demon Horkos, the personification of Oaths and son of Eris. Using observations with the Hubble, astronomers detected a satellite, as yet unnamed and circling every 9 days. Scientists suspect that like the Pluto-Charon system, Orcus and its moon are likely tidally locked.

5) Sedna
Classification = Dwarf Planet "candidate," TNO (plutoid), SDO, new DDO?
Approximate Diameter = 1600 – 1800km
Sedna's precise orbital period is unknown, but calculated at between 10-12 thousand years. At the time of its discovery, it was the largest object found since Pluto in 1930, and also the furthest from the Sun. (Eris would prove further, though Sedna's elliptical orbit will overtake it around 2114). Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope indicate it is nearly as red as Mars. In Inuit mythology, Sedna is goddess of marine animals, who rules the underworld (Adlivun), where souls prepare for travel to the Land of the Moon (Quidlivun).

Trans-Neptunian Objects
6) Haumea
Classification = Dwarf Planet, TNO(plutoid)
Calculated ellipsoid shape = 1,960×1,518×996 km
Haumea is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt which orbits the sun every 283 years. Calculations from its light curve suggest elongated ellipsoid shape, with its greatest axis twice as long as its shortest axis. Other indicators show unusually rapid rotation and a surface of crystalline ice. In Polynesian lore, Haumea is the Hawaiian goddess of fertility. Known moons are named after two of her daughters, Hi’iaka, patron goddess of the Orchid Isle, and Namaka, a water spirit.

7) Makemake
Classification = Dwarf Planet, TNO (plutoid), KBO
Approximate Diameter = 1800km
Makemake's discovery team used the codename Easterbunny for the object, because of its discovery shortly after Easter. In accordance with rules for Kuiper Belt Objects, it was named for a creator deity: Makemake was the creator of humanity and god of fertility in the folklore of the Rapanui, natives of Easter Island. Its low average temperature, about −243.2 °C, means its surface is covered with methane, ethane, and possibly nitrogen ices. Makemake orbits the sun every 310 years.

8) Pluto
Classification = Former planet, Dwarf Planet, TNO(plutoid)
Approximate Diameter = 2,390 km
Pluto, the most controversial due to its demotion from planet status, is about one-fifth the mass of Earth's moon. Like other members of the Kuiper Belt, Pluto is composed primarily of rock and ice. It has an eccentric orbit that causes it to periodically to come closer to the Sun than Neptune. Pluto was the Roman God of the underworld, derived from the Greek Ploutōn, another name for Hades. Pluto orbits the sun every 248 years, and has three moons: Charon (the ferryman who carried deceased souls across the River Acheron in Hades), Hydra (the multi-headed serpent who guarded Acheron) and Nix, (after "Nyx," the Greek goddess of darkness and night).

9) Eris
Classification = Dwarf Planet, TNO (plutoid), SDO
Approximate Diameter = 2,500 km
Eris is about 27% more massive than Pluto, making it the largest known "dwarf planet" in the Solar System, and the ninth-largest body known to orbit the Sun. Eris has an orbital period of 557 years. Discoverers originally called the object Xena, but the official name became Eris, after the Greek goddess of strife. There is one Eridian moon, Dysnomia, the demon of "lawlessness" … a humorous slant toward the first informal name, as portrayed by Lucy Lawless.

And for an absolutely brain-bending list of all the known TNOs, click here. I want all of these to be represented by chocolate!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chocolate Planets

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Chocolate. Planets. Two of my favorite things. Together. My brain might explode any moment. How did it take someone so long to think of a chocolate solar system? And why isn't it sold in every grocery store?

This beautiful edible set of Chocolate Planets is available in Japan, though created by L'Eclat, a very French-sounding company which actually isn't French; it's a minor confection subsidiary of a Japanese chain of luxury hotels. So, if you want to eat these, you need to win the lottery and go stay in Osaka.

Chocolate Planets
Chocolate Solar System

And, if Google translations are to be trusted, you can read their best guesses in English to review the flavor of each planet. For those of you averse to clicking around through foreign languages other than English, they are:
Mango coconut Mercury, lemon creme Venus, cocoa Earth, orange praline Mars, vanilla Jupiter, rum raisin Saturn, milk Uranus, and cappuccino Neptune.

The flavors have changed for the year 2012, and the site also noted the previous flavors. Somehow, I expected Jupiter to be a cherry swirl.

Planet Chocolate
Chocolate Planets. And it's about time.

Also in 2012, L'Eclat has introduced a brand new line of Chocolate Meteorites! So very clever. Again, Google Translator is a fine tool for reading the entire meteorite page, and the accompanying flavors of the extra-terrestrial space rocks.

These confections are modeled after genuine meteorites found on various continents through the last two centuries. Because we needed chocolates shaped as chondrites. This truly opens up tremendous possibilities, both for culinary novelties and for education. Up to now the cleverest thing I think I've seen are gummy space shuttles, which are sold in various spots in Houston. We need more space foods!

Chocolate Meteorites
Chocolate Meteorites

However... poor Pluto, utterly unrepresented. Demoted to the kiddie table once again. Perhaps someday we'll see another set with Eris, Pluto, Makemake, Ceres, Sedna and all the other potential dwarf planets! Wouldn't that be a more fun way to learn them?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Space Obameter 2012

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It's that time of year again! Today marks the three-year point of Barack Obama's presidency. Since he was sworn in, I have depended upon the dedicated folks at PolitiFact.com to update their Truth-O-Meter with his initial campaign promises.

BuzzBama
This subsidiary website of the St. Petersburg Times published a compilation of over 500 statements of intent made by Obama, and is still tracking process on their "Obameter" by rating status as Promise Kept, Promise Broken, Compromise or In The Works. There's good news and bad news for us space enthusiasts…

#150: Code of Conduct for space-faring nations
Stalled in 2009, Compromise in 2010

#331: Re-establish National Aeronautics & Space Council
Stalled in 2009, Promise broken in 2010, No new status in 2011 or 2012

#332: Additional Space Shuttle flight
DONE in 2009, added flight STS-135 flew in 2011

#333: Speed development of next-gen space vehicle
In the Works in 2009 and 2010, still has same status throughout 2011
(So there appears to be some misunderstanding of the word SPEED, here ;)

#334: Use private sector to improve space flight
DONE in 2009, proven in a big way by SpaceX in 2010! Next SpaceX launch set for March 2012.

#335: Work with international allies on ISS
DONE in 2010

#336: Partner to enhance potential of ISS
DONE in 2009

#337: Use ISS for biological + physical research
DONE in 2009

#338: Explore whether ISS can operate after 2016
DONE in 2009. ISS now expected to remain in operation until at least 2020, and potentially to 2028

#339: Support human mission to moon by 2020
Stalled in 2009, Promise broken in 2011... o don't get me started on this one.

#340: Robust R&D on future human/robotic missions
Stalled in 2009, DONE in 2010

#341: Increase spending for long missions [Mars, asteroids]
Stalled in 2009, DONE in 2010

#342: Deploy global climate change monitoring system
DONE in 2009

#343: Improve climate change data records
In the Works in 2009, same status in 2010 and 2011...

#345: Enhance Earth mapping
DONE in 2009

#349: Support commercial access to space
DONE in 2010

#350: Revise regulations for export of aerospace technology
In the Works in 2009, same status in 2010 and 2011...

#351: School programs to highlight space science achievement
DONE in 2010

In 2009, I introduced their initial report card for all space-related promises. In 2010, the first update showed 7 promises kept, 7 in the works and 4 in a holding pattern due to budget restrictions or administrative debates. In 2011 we saw the most change, with nothing in "Stalled" status, and an increase in completions.

On this third annual update, we see 13 space promises kept (with one being considered as a "compromise"), 4 in the works and 2 promises broken. The overall picture has a track record similarly in the green:

Obameter
Given the state of our government, the state of the economy, the nature of bureaucracy and the massive amount of sabotage this President has withstood in his first term, I wouldn't be at all ashamed to have the same track record!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Astronaut in the NASA Ward

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Dr. Serena M. Auñón (35) of League City, TX was one of the two flight doctors chosen in the last astronaut selection. The Galveston Daily News reported on her visit to the NASA ward at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where she visited with study subjects in the current flight simulation programs.

Participants David Sarmiento and William Widener were in the long-term bed-rest study in the Flight Analog Research Unit at the time, in the now-famed Head-Down Tilt. In this position, participants show physiologic changes similar to those expressed by astronauts in microgravity. Changes in blood pressure and blood plasma volume result when the heart works about 15-20% less, and of course the creation of bone mineral density in the body also changes.

Human Test Subjects Needed
Sarmiento, 35, a commercial diver from Maryland &
Widener, 42, a fitness instructor from North Carolina

Like many subjects before them, the newest recruits attest to a new appreciation of how astronauts cope with weightlessness on their missions, as they find the studies are both physically and mentally demanding. Said one new participant: "I have a greater understanding of the physical effects of zero gravity. It's not just floating. It affects your whole body."

Astronaut Auñón, who completed residencies in both internal medicine and aerospace medicine at UTMB, so she knows a little something about the value of the NASA studies:
"We learn a tremendous amount from astronauts and their experiences aboard the Space Station. Those numbers are small and a larger body of evidence is needed. Head-down bed rest is one of our best analogues. The women and men who volunteer to take part as subjects in the bed rest facility provide invaluable data regarding physiological changes in a 'weightless' environment."

It's also an amazing way to do your part for space exploration, and everything scientists learn about human bodies in these studies gets us closer to planet Mars. Still, it must have been nice to get some personal recognition from an astronaut! They of all people know how much sacrifice can be involved in the stringent protocols. Testing yourself in the way astronauts train? Not for sissies!

NASA Clinical Trials
Other articles in the past few months regarding the studies have been very positive! We are truly seeing gratifying results in term of how space studies further our knowledge of how to live in micro-gravity, but also the practical benefits that can be applied to life on Earth:

July 13, 2011: Sentara Offers NASA-Developed Treadmill For Therapy
Space study treadmill used for orthopedic patients, senior rehabilitation conditioning, military members endurance and strengthening, etc.

November 29, 2011: Bed Rest Study Provides Invaluable Data for NASA
Information on exercise, muscles, bones and hearts to keep astronauts healthier.

December 21, 2011: From Here To Maternity
Months in bed to stop miscarriage? Practical considerations to involuntary bedrest.

January 2012: Rehab: Space Technology Helping to Heal & Strengthen
Space mission technology adapted and approved by the FDA for use in injury rehabilitation, Neuro-Muscular control, pre- and post- joint replacement surgery conditioning and athletic training.

These have also all been added to the archive of Articles on Pillownaut.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Human Test Subjects Needed!

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With 2012 now in full swing, it's worth mentioning that Johnson Space Center personnel are screening participants for this year's ongoing studies.

Most of my wonderful and supportive longtime readers know how to become a paid volunteer for NASA... and so many have applied and passed the modified Air Force Class III physical, it's been my great pleasure to speak with some of the recent participants in the current studies ad they are accepted!

NASA Clinical Studies
Female subjects are especially in high demand right now, simply because, in general, fewer females apply . The data on female participants is always the lighter level of the field. We just desperately need to put more women in space!

So if you know anyone who is eligible, or just in such good shape you think they might want to have a go at the NASA audition, tell me or tell them! The JSC website is continually accepting applications… and of course I should also mention that this being an astronaut screening year, completing a NASA Flight Simulation Study would look great on your astronaut application as well.

Amazingly, I still get questions about the very first study I did back in 2008, because when people go seeking information about the simulations, they more often than not run across my blog. I'm always happy to speak to people about the programs or the screening process, though it's a shame I spend the most time clearing up all the common misconceptions at first.

Screening Process for Paid NASA Studies

This year, scientists will be researching the benefits of exercise to counteract space-related heart, lung, muscle and bone issues, using various new equipment and compression garments.

As in past studies, they take baseline measurements at the beginning, try varying length of bedrest protocols (with or without stints on the "space station treadmill") and compare to resulting measurements at the end.

Two active studies are accepting applications right now, though others of differing lengths will become available soon. Come join the CFT or the ACG in 2012!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Places for Space Vacations in MMXII

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Yesterday, I described the worst places to vacation (unless you're a Mars analog), and today is for the best places to vacation. Talk about a major increase in worldwide Geekfests!

Curve of the Earth
Among the "attractions" at the Incredible Adventures agency are the zero-gravity parabolic flights, always very popular… also, the unique "Cosmonaut For A Day" package. New to the list is the "Edge of Space" adventure:

Day 1: Arrive in Russia.
Day 2: Tour Moscow, then take a train to Nizhniy Novgorod. Shop. See Red Square.
Day 3: Briefing and spacesuit-fitting at the airstrip. Travel to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere in a MiG-31 FoxHound Fighter Jet to see the black void and observe planetary curve. Vomit breakfast. Replace with Lunch.
Day 4: Back to Moscow, see a museum.

Space Adventure
Note that the trip "must be booked 45 days prior to arrange security clearance. Subject to physical examination. If aged 40 or older you must also provide a copy of a recent EKG before being permitted to fly."

Then, I imagine, you still sign a piece of paper that says, in the appropriate 4-point-font Russian legalese, We aren’t responsible for expiring you, just write down a contact person's phone number so we know where to ship the gleefully grinning corpse.

All for the bargain price of thirty thousand dollars.

However, for those of us who don’t SNEEZE MONEY in response to pollen season, there are other space-themed vacations that are easier on the wallet: Space Camp, the Alpine Astro Village, and my personal Bucket List topper, Bright Horizons and Eclipse watching trips by Insight Cruises.

Bright Horizons
The Holland America liners visits stunning ports of call all over the world, sponsored by Scientific American and/or SKY & Telescope, with a bent to giving geeks all the science, computers, and astronomy they can handle!

Last season, the Bright Horizons series covered evolution and astronauts, and even "The Physics of Star Trek", along with optional day trips to the Arecibo radio telescope.

This year, they have increased the numbers of lectures and seminars aboard-ship, acquired some Big Name Scientists as guests, literally trippled their science-themed outings, and even have a shore excursion to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN!

Insight Cruises

Want to watch the transit of Venus from Hawaii? An eclipse from Australia? March with some penguins? Perfect! I’ve been on a handful of cruises, but tend to get bored on the ship because I don’t enjoy poolside lounging or buffet-hopping. Bingo and napkin-folding? Yeah, not so much. But I would be all rapt attention at any of
their listed cosmology lectures.

Who else is on board??

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Worst Places for Space Vacations in MMXII

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With special thanks to the TripBase Travel web site, we give you...

10 Most Inhospital Vacation Spots
The punchline, of course, is that when nerds look at vacation destinations in even the most brutal conditions, we have a different reaction than normal humans.

We don't look at a desert, ice cavern or crater and rule it out because bikini-clad bimbos on roller-blades couldn't get banana lime rum cocktails to our beach lounge chairs fast enough.

We think, Wow, that would be a great spot for a Mars Analog project.

Vozrozhdeniya Island
Okay, okay so there may be bubonic plague ridden rodentia meandering about, or say, radioactive waste... and you know, maybe a lava flow here and there... but if nothing else, geeks love a challenge.

We can build suits for that. We can find habitats that allow us to survive in just about anything. Inhospitable environment? BRING IT. And then we can use that data for a potential moon base.

Don't believe me? Check out the real thing... and sign up for one!

Space Analog Missions

Monday, January 9, 2012

And the Rocket Woman Tiara Goes To...

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A young Russian photographer named Lana Sator (Лана Сатор) and her friend Dmitrii Blinov (Дмитрий Блинов), for five consecutive nights in December 2011, waltzed right into a rocket factory near Moscow –- encountering few locked doors, and absolutely no guards.

Lana Sator
That's Lana. And that's a security camera. Useful, isn't it?

Together they took nearly a hundred photographs, which Lana published on her Live Journal. The result? A nasty gram from the Russian government, ordering her to delete them, and televised warnings to state-run facilities from Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Roskosmos Chief Vladimir Popovkin.

NPO Energomash
In case you ever wondered what Russian rocket engine factories look like

Lana responded by giving them a sweet middle cyber-finger, refusing to remove the photos from her blog, whereby she shall henceforth be known as the Sovereign Supreme Goddess of Badassery.

At the end of her picture display, she even THANKED the factory's security service for "their irresponsible approach to protection of the property". Brassy!

Cameras / Sensors
Yellow perimeter lights indicate the only working cameras/sensors

In one of her many photo captions, she says that on the first trip through the darkness of the Khimki Forest to enter the factory, she was scared, but enjoyed the thrill of fulfilling her dream by seeing the NPO complex, saying that such an unforgettable experience was one of the sensations that make life exciting.

Engine Test Stands
Energomash (Энергомаш) Test pipes for liquid fueled engines

Test stands consists of a static drum (fuel is supplied to where the engine is fastened), moving parts (the tube on wheels, which merges with the rim of the static part) and pipe exhaust (the closed red lid).

Exhaust Nozzles
Exhaust Nozzle Chorus

Since 1929, ENERGOMASH © Group Enterprises have created 60 different types of liquid rocket engines for space launch vehicles and military hardware, including the parts and stages for the Zenit, Angara, Proton and Soyuz.

Control Room
Ground Control to Major Absence of Guards

As the two intrepid photographers wove their way through many tunnels, floor levels, pipes for directing engine exhaust, and even a control room, they were able to freely navigate stairwells and elevators, none of which even required keys.

(Mind-blowing! Even the low-level software companies I've worked for in the past required magnetic badge access to every floor, and special card keys for elevators… heck, even for photocopy machines! Nevermind that this is a government installation… I've worked at private corporations that have better security for their supply closets!)

So... I wonder if I'm in line for a letter from the Russian government now? Good luck trying to find me. My own family can't manage that half the time...


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Galileo Figaro Magnifico

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On January 7, 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei discovered Jupiter's satellites Callisto, Io and Europa. He was on a roll with his new-fangled telescopio, as only a week later on January 13th, he also spied Ganymede, later confirmed to be the largest moon in our Solar System.

These four Jovian moons, initially titled "Medician stars", are now referred to as "the Galilean satellites", and Galileo's observations of their orbits would be instrumental in over-turning the belief [cough*wishful-thinking*cough*cough] that ALL objects in the universe revolved around Earth, including our Sun.

Galileo
Galileo, Figaro, Magnifico, oh oh oh...

This particular Copernican concept was a hard-sell during the time of the Roman Inquisition. Various clerics – up to and including the Pope – denounced him as sacrilegious, censored his books, attempted to bar him from teaching or publishing, and ordered him to undergo a trial before the Holy Office of Rome.

At his sentencing in June of 1633, ten Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, as commissioned by the Apostolic See as 'Inquisitors-General against heretical depravity in Christendom', read the following statement in court:

"We pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, Galileo, because of the things deduced in the trial and confessed by you, have rendered yourself according to this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely of having held and believed a false doctrine: that the sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west, and the earth moves and is not the center of the world, and that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to Holy Scripture."

Galileo was placed under house arrest until his death at age 77 in 1642.

Galileo Space Craft JPL
Me with the Galileo craft model at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A few centuries later, the joke was on them, since Galileo got a NASA spacecraft named after him to study those very moons; and to date, we have no spacecraft named after anyone in the Inquisition. So there.

Jupiter has 63 confirmed satellites, and one floating trouble-maker being argued over by chaps who are much smarter than I, so I'll not venture an opinion. Time will tell if #64 nails the audition, but in the meantime, the Voyager, Hubble, and Galileo craft offered interesting portraits of the fantastic four:

Solar System
Ganymede is larger in diameter than Mercury, with ice and silicate crust covering underground ocean in some areas. Abundant craters and mountains surrounded by lava flow indicate ancient origin.

The next largest, Callisto, is considered a likely spot for a human base when we reach Jupiter, as study indicates the presence of water ice, ocean, carbon dioxide and possible organics.

Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System with over 400 volcanoes, many higher than Earth’s Everest. Lava flows often invade the frosty sulfur dioxide surface, creating yellow, red, green and black compounds, creating a "pizza planet" exterior.

Europa, smallest but perhaps best-known, is about the size of Earth's moon and has an oxygen atmosphere. Its bright, smooth [well, un-cratered] crust led to the hypotheses that it is quite young, and may also have oceans beneath its surface.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Vote For Camilla!

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As much as I'd love to see her debate Rick Perry (slam dunk win, no contest), and go for the GOP nomination so those folks would embrace science at a higher level... today we will focus on Camilla's social media awards!

NASA Mascots - Heather and Romeo with Fuzz Aldrin, Camilla Corona and Sky Bleu
And what a great day for STEM! I wasn't even going to post today, but sometimes the stars just line right up and I can't help but share. I was pleased to find a wonderful article on IO9 about a study across 86 countries showing there are no biological difference between male and female mathematical abilities.

How delightful, I thought. People are finally realizing the only differences are cultural opportunities and expectations, and these can eventually be overcome when the benefits of education are made known to all.

One of the best way to spread the word is through social media, something miss Camilla Corona SDO dedicates herself to each and every day.

Camilla Corona nominated for Shorty Award
Our favorite NASA mascot was nominated for a Shorty Award in the "Non-Human" category, credited for her tireless efforts to encourage children, particularly young girls, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) pursuits!

Mine was vote number #20, but we still need at least 17 more to overtake the hot spot, so if you have a Twitter account, definitely visit the Shorty Awards page for Camilla to tweet your support!

You can also follow Camilla_SDO on Twitter, or the Camilla SDO Facebook Page... and of course, if you missed her television appearance before the final Space Shuttle launch, you can check her out on YouTube!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Big Bang Happened on a Tuesday

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Happy New Year! Well, today is what Pope Gregory XIII decided would be your new year. On his own precious reformed calendar. The phenomenon we of the Gregorian persuasion are preparing to call "New Year's Day in the Year 2012" is also...

Happy New Year 2012
1390 ... according to the Persian Calendar

1433 ... according to the Moslem Calendar

1728 ... according to the Coptic or 'Alexandrian' Calendar

2555 ... according to the Buddhist Calendar

2761 ... according to the Babylonian Calendar

4710 ... according to the Chinese Calendar
(After January 22 will be known as The Year of the Dragon)

5772 ... according to the Hebrew Calendar

5125 ... according to the Maya Great Cycle (Final Phase)

12.19.19.0.5 ... in the Mayan Long Count

2455927.5 ... according to the Julian Calendar

2009-ish ... according to Christ's (actual) [alleged] {continually controversial and argued amongst scholars} birth circa 4 or 6 or 8 B.C.

And lastly, my personal favorite:

12012 ... according to the Holocene Calendar

Calendars
If you don't know what all these are, you should. Start Googling. And get used to the word "lunisolar". Oh wait, don't bother unless you want a massive headache.

My point is merely that various methods of naming and counting are ultimately haphazard, each based upon when particular cultures developed sufficient writing systems, then used them to legitimize divine events and/or documented astronomical monitoring technology with varying degrees of accuracy.

QUESTION: In cosmological time, if we're all bent on counting planetary rotations, sorting by moon cycles and grouping heliocentric trips around our nearest star... wouldn't it make more sense to count the actual age of the Earth? In such case it would be – give or take a miniscule margin of error in geologic dating techniques – approximately 4,540,000,000 and counting.

Even better… let's count from the creation of the universe, lovingly referred to as the BIG BANG. That would make it somewhere around the year 13,700,200,000.

Remember this when you are filling out your tax return.