Thursday, April 29, 2010

Location, Location, Location


A few posts back, I wished the Hubble a happy 20th birthday and cracked that "next year, she could have a beer." My buddy Mike C. in Austin quipped back, "Well Heather, since it is technically in space, would the age laws from the US apply?"

Would you believe the answer is yes?! LOL, it will never happen… but technically, astronauts who visit Hubble and choose to imbibe upon its surface would have to be over 21. So says Article 8 of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (excerpt): "A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body."

Space Treaty
Mostly so this doesn't happen...

The HST is a shared project between NASA and the ESA, but the Hubble is on the American Registry of Space Objects, and also listed by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs as US territory. The same would apply to any of our orbiters or landers.

International Space Station laws apply similar "Location"-based principles. The broad agreement says "...each partner state in this visionary cooperation adventure registers its own part of the station, and consequently can apply its own laws to events therein."

So, taking the same basic example, the drinking age in the Russian modules and JAXA module would be different than inside the American modules. Even patent law applies; if something is invented in the Kibo module, Japan owns the rights. Legally speaking, we now have a piece of the US annexed to a piece of Europe annexed to a piece of Russia annexed to a piece of Japan in low earth Orbit.

Space Law
Cool, huh? And it's just the tip of the iceberg. Space Law is developing into such a robust field, all the major Space Treaties, Declarations and Principles are too numerous and labyrinthine to cover effectively here… but consider this:
The UN's master list of all agreements between space-faring nations is now 55 pages long... and those are just the titles! In addition, space exploration is subject to international law, not just the dictates of those with the resources to get there. In other words, all nations have a say in how space is used, even if they do not have launch capabilities.

Those who are interested can visit the UNOOSA site to browse traffic regulations, liability for floating debris and collisions, [lack of] moon ownership and, believe it or not, extra-terrestrial alien rights.

Interesting in pursuing it as a career? They even list the many schools offering degrees in space law. Because that's what we need. More lawyers ;)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Musical Shuttles


In December of 2008, I mentioned with no small amount of amusement that NASA was soliciting bids for retired Space Shuttles. *Sigh* back then it seemed like Shuttle retirement was still "a long way off." Now, it may be only 5 months before these grand dames of the heavens start their new lives as tourism novelties.

As predicted, Houston made a bid to acquire a Shuttle for Rocket Park at Johnson Space Center, and the Houston Chronicle now reports that there are 21 other bids, with some bearing political baggage.

Space Shuttle
The Austin Planetarium made what may turn out to be an overly-ambitious attempt, and it seems unlikely that two will end up in Texas. Austin and Houston may have to duke it out, but what about California, Florida or Ohio?

Some expected President Obama to name sites during discussions of NASA's new direction and budget re-allocations, but a few extra shuttle missions may still be in the cards, so no major announcement was forthcoming. At the moment, the only "sure thing" is that the first of the fleet, Shuttle Discovery, will be sent to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

A few weeks ago on This Week In Space, Miles O'Brien reported that Shuttle Enterprise (the one currently at the Smithsonian) had been inspected by engineers to determine if she was flight-worthy, since she would need a new home once displaced by Discovery's arrival.

Enterprise never made it to low earth orbit, of course, as she was designed only to test orbiter characteristics, but she holds a special place in the hearts of many, being the official "First Space Shuttle." I googled madly about, trying to find where Enterprise was headed, but that also seems to be up in the air. In the past, the Smithsonian took ownership of ALL spacecraft, and then merely "loaned out" to other institutions, so this sort of rivalry between cities and congressional representatives is unprecedented. Let's hope it doesn't get ugly!

Hey! Maybe we should just leave them on the runway after the last voyage, and whomever thinks they can pilot one to their museum, have at it!

Shuttle Carrier
Where to, Jeeves?

NASA has now officially reduced the original price of $42 million (estimated in December 2008) to $28 million. Any chosen facilities, however, must pay for ferrying the orbiters atop NASA's modified Boeing 747 "Shuttle Carrier" aircraft from Florida's Kennedy Space Center to their destinations.

Looking forward to the final announcement in July...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Space Cowboys


There it is, the mission of all missions... Get To Mars Or Die Trying...

Get To Mars Or Die Trying
LOL, this poster is courtesy of Gizmodo ... or a Gizmodo reader who has too much time on his hands, it wasn't quite clear. See the rest of the gallery for other laughs and groans. (Did we really need the disco album? Ah well... The Good, The Bad and The Ugly always seem to travel as a trifecta.)

I gather they were making fun of the actual NASA Mission poster gallery, which has begun to look less and less serious over the past few years... ! Can zombies be far behind?

Mission To The Sun
And when did NASA start letting Wall Street goons pick their slogans?? ;)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy 20th Birthday Hubble!


On April 24, 1990, STS-31 Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on its mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit. This amazing astronomical observatory, a joint NASA-ESA project, has now been orbiting above Earth's atmosphere and observing celestial bodies for two solid decades!

Hubble Space Telescope 20th Anniversary
Next year, she can have a beer.

Named after astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953), the HST is capable of taking extremely sharp images in ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths, and many of its captures have led to incredible astrophysical breakthroughs, not the least of which is accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe. In our own neighborhood, HST taught us a great deal about TNOs, dwarf planets and KBOs; and the very farthest objects seen, in Hubble Ultra Deep Field, or HUDF, are galaxies well over 12 billion light years away!!

To date, Hubble has observed more than 30,000 celestial targets and amassed more than a half-million pictures in its archive!

Last May, the fifth and final service mission, STS-125 Atlantis, captured Hubble to replace gyroscopes, computers, and scientific instruments over a whopping 37 hours of space walks! With that marathon upgrade, they made the telescope 100 times more powerful than when it launched. Human hands (or rather spacesuit gloves) won't touch it again, but hopefully it will last at least another decade.

Hubble Mock-up at NASA Johnson
Click to embiggen

Here are some personal photos I took of the Hubble model in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center, where astronauts train to work with the observatory. Check the size of that sucker! 44 feet long, and 14 feet in diameter! You can hold a decent party in there, but I'm wondering if they'll sell it to the Texas State Fair now, to be used as a dunking booth.

In other news, NASA Missions released this gorgeous "Hubble 20th Anniversary Image" of Mystic Mountain in the Carina Nebula. So stunning!!

And, the Houston Chronicle interviewed NASA Astronomer and astronaut Steven Hawley, who served on STS-31's original Hubble deployment crew: "We were very conscious about not screwing it up." Ooh, bummer about that first mirror!

Hubble HST
Want to help astronomers sort out the many thousands of galaxies seen in a Hubble deep field observation? Go to Galaxy Zoo, the internet-based astronomy project where anyone can search and sort galaxies into categories (spiral, elliptical, and irregular) – a great learning experience combined with an effort to help astronomers study how galaxies relate to one another, providing overall clues that will help understand how they formed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Build Your Own Space Mission


The JPL-Education branch of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory invites children to "Build Your Own Space Mission." This particular flash game is aimed toward a younger set who may not be able to navigate the intricacies of the "Be A Martian" site, but I'm thinking a fair amount of adults will still get side-tracked here ;)

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for Kids
First, create your scientist avatar... and hey, there's nothing wrong with genuises in lab coats having purple hair! Gather the telescopes and other tools in your lab, and plan your mission into the solar system. Pick a craft, choose a destination and prepare for launch. The launch itself is quite entertaining... Oh, if only we could "drag & drop" in real life!

After a little while, the music on there is enough to make you want to poke your own eyeballs out, so know where your magic mute button is by the time you get to the launch pad.

Once at your destination, whether it be our moon or one of Jupiter's, use the scientific instruments on your craft (spectrometers, cameras, microscopes, grinder scoops) to see the surface of wherever you have landed and collect data.

California JPL
The JPL offers tips on how long it takes for data to traverse the distance between your craft and Earth. For instance, I traveled to Titan, the largest satellite of planet Saturn, and my readouts indicated 1 1/2 hours for the signal to reach my lab back on Earth.

Another fun interactive spot in the JPL family is their Virtual Field Trip. The floating heads are a bit creepy in places, but the images and graphics are appealing, and children can also "respond" to the scientists and tour guides with a handy chat feature.

Note that if you stay in one spot without moving for awhile, they will admonish you for lurking too long, LOL…

Virtual Field Trip JPL
Kids can learn about things like the Voyager Golden Records in the JPL Museum, visit Mission Control, the Robotics Lab, and even leave Earth to go sail the solar wind (pictured above), along with the many crafts studying our sun.

Along the way, you can scavenger-hunt 20 "souvenirs" for your snazzy JPL badge. Happy hunting! No lurking!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Munchkins International


In terms of getting children interested in and excited about space exploration, and how working in space benefits life on Earth, I'm happy to say that an examination of many space program websites yielded amazing resources for children. Unsurprising, since that's where interest in the next generation of technology originates -- but none of these kinds of materials existed during the initial space race, and interest among youngsters was much, much higher.

I spent the most time on ESA For Kids, noting that the European Space Agency has identical pages in German, English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian. Check out the missions, experimental aircraft, mission control across the pond, and the details of the European space port, it's quite exciting to see how far and wide the technology spread from only two programs in the 1950s!

European Space Agency
They also have sections for games, arts & crafts, and basic planetary science -- as does the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. JAXA is available in Thai, Indonesian and English... though any non-Japanese language pages are rather the "lite" versions of the available information.

There is one page in the JAXA family I would like to point out in particular, as I believe it's a beautiful demonstration of the increasing roles of all space programs around the globe.

Click on the International Space Station section, and drag the cursor over the many world flags, whereby each nation on the map will be highlighted and described in terms of "The role of the US," "The role of Russia," "The role of Canada," and so on.

Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency
The JAXA sites also have, in my opinion, the best-organized descriptions and pictures of life in space at the comprehension level that children might find fascinating -- covering the most commonly asked questions about food and clothing on the ISS, as well as weightlessness, bathing, sleeping, and working.

The Canadian Space Agency also has some delightful pages, available in both English and French, though it seems they've just recently noticed their youngsters might be interested in space... as the majority of the site is still under construction. Still, go click 'n' play with Dextre... the photography and animation are quite stunning! The CSA just love showing off that CanadArm! And they should.

Canadian Space Agency
Resources for children are oddly and conspicuously absent from Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, though I heard that a children's textbook entitled "How To Become a Cosmonaut" was released this month by the MIR Foundation. If they hope to inspire their next generation of little ones about space exploration, hopefully more will follow!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cut, Color & Cook!


If you'd like your offspring to have fun learning about space, the family of websites has a surprising amount of whimsical places to play! The most obvious is NASA's Kids Club, a colorful and interactive site full of games, available in both flash and text-forms.

Kids can build fleets of rockets, play with robotic arms, navigate a rover along the surface of Mars, and also see how much they would weigh on Saturn, or how many "years" old they would be on Neptune. I highly recommend the Find the Spinoffs exercise, because it showcases all the ways the space program has contributed to life on Earth, from DirecTV and water purifiers to video-game controllers and bicycle helmets.

NASA Kid Club
Other "Fun For Kids But Adults Will Take Over If You Let Them" projects include…

Cut, Color & Fold Space Shuttle

The Steps to Countdown Storybook
14-page Easy Guide to how a Shuttle is prepared and launched.

Space Shuttle Coloring Book
Features many different views of the Shuttle during launch, flight, maneuvers and landing, as well as the International Space Station and space walks.

Candy Cassini
Balloon, Paper & Edible Space Models
In the event you have a burning desire to trash that EZ Bake oven and make a gingerbread Cassini spacecraft, this particular site represents the best example of how parents and kids can have a great time together, building and learning. I know if I was a school-teacher, this is the sort of thing I'd want to be doing every day!

Both American and European rovers, orbiters, prospectors are featured, and one can create models of the Mars Express, SOHO, Genesis, Stardust, Galileo, etc. You may need paper, markers or crayons, straws, glue, gumdrops, balloons, rubber bands, Play-Doh and… frosting?? Ha, my kind of creativity!

And if anyone tries any of these projects (with or without kids, we won’t judge) and you feel like emailing me the pictures, I’d love to see them...!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kids' Week: Be A Martian!


No more budget whining in April, just keeping it whimsical for Spring... (because I get worked up enough watching the NHL playoffs. Last night, my favorite team scored on their own net. Honestly. Who scores on their own… oh, nevermind, don't get me started...)

But anyway, if you're a kid, this week's for you!

If you're a parent, I hope you'll share these with your young'uns and inspire them to be excited about our space program! If you're a childless adult like me... come on, don't pretend you don't like animations and coloring books, because I'll be sharing lots of fun things this week that even big kids will happily play with =)

NASA's Be A Martian
First up is NASA's brilliant "Be A Martian" site, where you can be an Intrepid Explorer, Knowledge Creator, Pioneering Innovator, Lifelong Learner or a Seeker of Awe & Wonder on Planet Mars!

Links everywhere take readers to various NASA projects, showing updates on orbiters, landers and rovers that all work together to study planet Mars.

Did you know there's an area on Mars called Land of the Blueberries? Not to mention Rippling Dunes, Land of the Sirens, and Plains of the Warrior Women. There are also possible ancient sea beds, giant volcanoes, a grand canyon (many times the size of the one on Earth)... such is the discovery inside the clickable "tourist atlas," a Silverlight animation that allows you to spin around the globe!

Pillownaut Martian Profile
I have kangaroo robot sidekick. I call him Ted. We took the red planet's Citizen Oath, and we have a blast counting craters, mapping Martian terrain for merit badges, and watching short films in the Two Moons Theatre.

The site also has a fascinating educational section about "Mars Analogs" on Earth, so one may view areas of our own planet that are most like the extreme environment on Mars, where scientists test equipment being developed for spaceflight.

In the Martian Town Hall Polling Place, it's entertaining to see what questions the kids come up with there... my favorite question so far is:

Martian Poll
That's an awful lot of folks who think going to Mars would be worth leaving Earth forever? Wow.

The best way to navigate between toys is to use the "Sitemap" link, and don't forget to join the Pathfinder Innovation Contest...!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

40th Anniversary of Apollo 13


On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 launched, carrying Commander James Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise.

When an oxygen tank exploded two days into the mission, a moon landing was no longer possible, and getting the crew back to Earth became the mission objective. The sometimes exhausted but always innovative astronauts and ground crews worked as a team to find solutions, and the mission ended as a "successful failure" with the dramatic splashdown on April 17, 1970.

That was 40 years ago today.

Apollo 13 Astronauts
Fred Haise, Gene Kranz & Jim Lovell at
JSC’s 40th Anniversary for Apollo 13

It gives me chills to think that if certain events had occurred with only slight differences, the crew would never have made it home. Even while some things seemed like "bad news" at the time, later events would show oddly fortuitous coincidences that helped save their lives. Maybe even Charlie Duke's measles!

Universe Today's Nancy Atkinson teamed with NASA Mission Evaluator (and co-creator of Apollo alarm systems) Jerry Woodfill to bring us 13 Things That Saved Apollo 13, a wonderful and moving series I encourage everyone to follow! Timing, a stubborn hatch, LM status, navigating without a computer... it's quite amazing how the events unfolded from a mission control perspective.

UT also managed to acquire some never before published images of Apollo 13 recovery on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima.

Apollo 13 40th Anniversary Coin
Commemorative Coins Distributed at
JSC’s 40th Anniversary for Apollo 13

Hey, remember when we accidentally dropped a space station on Australia and they issued us a ticket for littering? Almost as funny-slash-appalling was how the Grumman Aerospace Corporation decided that Apollo 13's mishap was no reason not to charge for services rendered.

Grumman, builder of Apollo Lunar Modules, issued a bill for $312,421.24 to North American Rockwell, builder of the Command Modules. Their line item? Towing fees!

They estimated that a 20% discount was fair, and generously suggested that Rockwell could also save 2% if they paid cash -- for Grumman's LM to "tow" their CM around the moon and back to Earth. Unsurprisingly, Rockwell refused to pay.

Rockwell: "Yeah, we towed three lunar modules to the moon without charging you. Would you like us to go back and issue an invoice for those in return?"

: "Um. Nevermind."

Thursday, April 15, 2010



Remember when they made movies for grown-ups? Back when nothing was over-sanitized, everyone could take a joke, and some Hollywood Necktie wasn't assuming the entire cinema-going population of planet Earth couldn't possibly have two brain cells to rub together? Well, Hollywood shows no sign of improving, and that's why we have Indie Films. And that term should always be capitalized.

Oh yeah, buy "Moon" instead of renting it. This kind of science fiction film hasn't been crafted for many years. The tagline for the film was: "250,000 miles from home, the hardest thing to yourself." That's really all you should know before you watch it.

When I saw the film last year, little had been written about it, as it suffered a small release window in very few theatres (in fact, I had to make an hour drive to find one!). Now, there are spoilers and synopses everywhere. Avoid them. It's a much more engrossing experience if you watch the film cold, with no foreknowledge, and allow the events to unfold.

Sam Rockwell in MOON
One man, Sam Rockwell, resides on the Sarang Lunar Base, collecting and refining Helium-3 (fuel for a form of energy being used on future Earth). The film hypothesizes that large rovers bake regolith to release H3 gas, which the lone laborer sends back to Earth in canisters.

Kevin Spacey provides the voice for his only companion, a tranquil robot who initially gives the impression of being much like HAL-9000, but turns out to be quite a different A.I. character than we've ever seen before!

It's certainly not the first or only science movie to tackle human nature, politics or corporate evil, nor even the first to examine the effects of extended isolation in an extreme environment, but I'm calling it the best one so far. The musical score was dreadful. That was my only dislike.

Duncan Jones MOON Movie
The "Extra Features" on the DVD include a screening at Space Center Houston, where director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie, though he keeps that rather quiet) described his first film as an homage to the 1960s-80s sci-fi he loved while growing up, and all these influences are apparent: 2001, Silent Running, Solyaris, Outland, Alien, etc.

His most humorous moment was when he said sheepishly to the crowd, "This has to be the most intimidating audience I've had to show my film to!"

Despite his nervousness, I thought he answered questions from the space geek contingent quite well, especially since he had expected NASA Houstonians to give him a hard time about accurately faking lunar gravity, or where on the moon one might actually harvest Helium-3 (the mining of which is still only theoretical). Duncan also gives tantalizing clues to a possible sequel, where we may see what happens to Sam when he returns to Earth… can't wait for that!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

First Contact?


Have you ever wondered what to do if you come into contact with an alien?

Assuming you are not a neurotic FBI agent with a score to settle, an attention-starved little boy with pockets full of peanut candy or a headstrong pilot who deeply resents having your holiday barbecues interrupted.

Wonder no longer, the kind researchers at IO9 have composed the ultimate brief guide to what one should should do, if...

IO9 Space Humor
The Nutshell Version:

1. Don't over-think.
2. Don't panic.
3. Basic Communication.
4. Math rocks.
5. Know thy place in the universe.
6. Extend the planet-wide welcome.
7. Avoid assassination and breed.

In my opinion, the most important part is: If they send you a message with only two characters, repeating, that's binary. It does not matter which character is our "zero" and which is our "one."

But invest a few moments in the humorous education, and make sure you brush up on your artistic skills.

If all else fails and you do manage to screw this up for the entire human race, well there's always this backup tome:

Alien Invasion Handbook

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cuddle The Shuttle


Visit Shamplade for your Cuddle the Shuttle T-shirt... definitely one of the most unique bits of space program apparel I've seen (for not being affiliated with NASA or The Space Store). Normally priced $24, they have been knocked down to $10 for as long as they last through the final Shuttle launches.

Space Shuttle Shirt
Real men can pull off pink.

Show your support for the space program! And apparently, pink is the new blue. Still waiting for someone to explain that quip to me.

They also has a number of space-related, Star Wars and Star Trek items on spring clearance right now, including a sweet TWOK phaser, Starfleet Academy titanium sporks (I couldn't possibly make this stuff up) and Tribbles... which people love photographing beside their kids or cats.

And if you haven't made one of these in the kitchen with your kids, why not?

ThinkGeek Junior Space Helmet
Junior Space Helmet in action!

The best parts of ThinkGeek are the Customer Action Shots on each product page! Well, except for the ones accompanying the caffeinated bag of blood. I'm not linking to anything that creepy, but if you want to find it, look under the Caffeine & Edibles section. But I love that their workers openly invite customers to "bug us" and also create hilariously nerdy feedback surveys.

Please note I do not work for either company nor do I necessarily endorse any particular products. Just keeping it light in April and spreading the space love... !

Sunday, April 11, 2010



Another round of space LOLCATs, the deliberately Anguished-English form of feline fun... Thank to those who take time to vote and make captions over at the home site, I Can Has Cheez Burger!

Space LOLCat
It's that time again

Space Cat One, Ready for Beaming

Turn the gravity back on!

Mission: Space Kitteh

SpaceTime Cat-inuum

Launch Kitteh

ISS Training

Another Houston Problem

Black Hole Kitteh

Transporter Malfunction

Moon Kitteh

Moon cat
Click here for the previous round of Space LOLCATs...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bake Sale For NASA


Wish I could get to Florida! For so many reasons. There is so much going on this spring... the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 13, another Shuttle launch, and of course right now, all the Yuri's Night celebrations are gearing up!

Tomorrow night on the Space Coast, Kennedy's Astronaut Hall of Fame will feature live music & performance artists, science demonstrations and space simulations as they celebrate the first human in space... and as a special treat, Craftlass has been invited to sing her single, "Bake Sale For NASA."

NASA Bake Sale Song
Go to the Craftlass page and click the
Blue PLAY button on the right to listen!

It begins softly, then evolves into a catchy and meaningful tune. Space enthusiasts will not need any convincing over the truth to the lyrics, and it doesn't hurt to pass it far and wide for others to learn! Hint, hint.

My favorite refrain goes:
So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA,
show our love for a program that actually works.
The cookies are sure to be out of this world;
we could even have astros as clerks!

It's a very anthemy chorus, you'll be singing along before it's done! You can find the full song lyrics and a handy PDF of chord progressions at the Craftlass web site.

Craftlass NASA Song
"Elevate the whole human race!"

A portion of the profits generated by this song are donated to the Space Tweep Society, whose mission is to promote the enthusiasm of all things space! Members include NASA employees, astronomers, astrophysicists, scientists, educators, astronomers and space geeks all over the world… please join if you want to be part of the blogging, tweeting hub!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Buzz Gonged


So I hear Buzz Aldrin was eliminated from "Dancing With The Stars" yester eve, only the second contestant to be dismissed from the inexplicably popular dance-off.

I suppose this is an odd thing for me to continue "reporting", given that I have no channels piped into my house and rarely watch television -- but I did seek out Aldrin's performances on YouTube and let me just say: I couldn't dance half that well at 18, I dance even less well today at 40, and no one ought to be holding their breath for improvement.

Buzz Aldrun on Dancing With the Stars
So, I didn't think any of that was too shabby for an 80-year-old man, and I really admire him for going on a television show with such potential for public fiasco. It was hilarious to hear him say he never thought he'd walk on the moon, but he also never thought he would dance on TV! Amen to that. I'd definitely choose the lunar surface between those two options!

I also hear he encouraged people to support the space program in his send-off, and claimed he did it for the fight pilot 'elder geezers' such as he (who are seriously under-represented on television, certainly.)

Buzz Aldrin Twitter
Within moments of seeing this on an internet ticker, I went googling for the voting details, and had to laugh as I took a screenshot of the live Twitter results.

LOL, I don't disagree with the sentiment itself, but some people need to look up the definition of 'communist.'

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Professor Hawking


So I drove 3 hours to College Station with my brother so we could see Professor Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the nature of Black Holes. I'm still a bit dazed in a way, and we just keep saying, "We saw Stephen Hawking."

I reached a moment of greater verbosity in the car, actually articulating the gleeful sentiment, "You'll be able to tell your grandchildren you saw the Einstein of our day, up close and personal!"

Otherwise, I think I was in such awe, my brain hasn't truly processed the experience just yet. It's rather tricky to get decent photographs in a large hall where camera flashes are not allowed, but I managed a few clear ones in the low light...

Stephen Hawking
Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M only holds about 2500 people, and the sheer overflow trying to sneak a peek or nudge into "standing room only" spots was overwhelming. I saw children with their parents, young teens in groups, obvious college students, middle-aged science geeks like myself, what looked like couples up into their 70s! He's quite a draw, and deservedly so.

During his presentation, the acoustics sometimes made it difficult to hear, given that his electronic "voice" doesn't always project well through a microphone system, but other than that, it was immensely enjoyable overall.

Hawking's quirky sense of humor got the audience laughing more than once, particularly with his quips about how he's still hoping for a Nobel Prize, and his artful slide about how black holes can emit anything, up to and including teapots or Homer Simpson (???).

Professor Stephen William Hawking
The part I found most amusing were his friendly bets with colleagues over whose theories will eventually prove true.

Most people bet on sports. I bet on NHL finals and Superbowls. Stephen Hawking bet two other theoretical physicists (Kip Thorne and John Preskill) that when an initial pure quantum state undergoes gravitational collapse to form a black hole, the final state at the end of said hole will always be a pure quantum state.

Can't wait to see the playoff bracket for that one.