Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Capricorn Two


Remember Capricorn One? Schmaltzy sci-fi flick released in 1978 where high-up NASA officials arrange for a "fake" landing on Mars, after they discover their craft destined for the red planet had faulty life support. The story follows the reactions of the astronauts, and a Watergate-ish reporter who deduces the hoax.

Capricorn One
Despite being portrayed as a villain, NASA provided technical assistance to the original film, including loaning out Apollo spacecraft! Of course, we all know that NASA has been accused of perpetrating hoaxes, har har, but come on... Hollywood cannot even make a movie about a space hoax without NASA's help!

Irony at it's best.

SciFiCool and both reported that this film was about to under go the re-make treatment, so I dug up a DVD and watched it again. Wow, it's just as bad now as it was back then –- but it might be interesting to see what Capricorn Two brings to the table in this era of special effects. I wonder who will play the astronauts this time around?

The original does have its moments. Even knowing full well this speech by actor Hal Holbrook was over 30 years old, it truly reached out and just smacked me right in the face... because it is as true now as it was in 1978!

"I remember when John Glenn made his first orbit in Mercury. They put up television sets in Grand Central Station, and tens of thousands of people missed their trains to watch. When Apollo 17 landed on the moon, people were calling up the networks and bitching because reruns of 'I Love Lucy' were canceled."

And yes, that is a very, very young Sam Waterston... and yes, that is indeed O.J. Simpson. Btw, is Barbra Streisand a Mars fanatic? At different times, she actually married BOTH of this films' lead actors (Elliott Gould and James Brolin).

Dwayne A. Day wrote a fantastic commentary about the original film and the possible remake over at The Space Review.

Worth the rental if you can find it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Art of Space


The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) will be holding their 18th Humans In Space Symposium in Houston, TX and this event will include a Youth Space Art Competition!

Children aged 10 to 17 all around the world are encourage to express their visions and ideas about the future of human space exploration, with written words, visual mediums, music or video media. I hope everyone will encourage their children to participate! The categories are wide-ranging, given that they may pen stories, write music, paint or draw images or even create films about what manned spaceflight means to them.

IAA Youth Space Art Contest
Why should we have humans explore other celestial bodies instead of robots? What does exploring space and off-world resources mean to humanity? What are their ideas of alien life, and… Stephen Hawking's doomsday scenarios notwithstanding, should we be trying to find it? Space travel may prove to be too difficult on the human body for long-duration travel – should we just content ourselves with Sci-Fi movies and fantasizing, or will our physical counter-measures and propulsion technologies ever measure up to our far-reaching dreams?

The next generation of space-faring folk should be pondering these concepts, and more, if we are to break through our current downturn in exploratory activities, and move to the next giant leap!

See the IAA website section on How to Enter, to read the full requirements, including artistic guidelines, submission formats, parental sponsorship and statements of originality.

Space Art
Artists' entries must be received by October 13, 2010 in order to participate in the competition. Winners will have their art displayed in an online gallery and will be invited to attend the Humans in Space Symposium personally.

Anyone can also forward the IAA official flyer, or pass it on at space-related events, so that folks have a printable announcement to post for display or hand distribute.

If you are over 25 years of age, and interested in applying to be a judge for this endeavour, also check out the Call For Judges section of the website; you'll get to weigh in on all the entries!

Monday, June 21, 2010

This Week In Space


Is everyone remembering to tune into Miles O'Brien's show "This Week In Space" when new episodes are released??

The quality of this fantastic program never falters... Miles and producer David Walters (both of whom announce new episodes on Spaceflight Now, YouTube, Twitter and their Facebook feeds) have given us space enthusiasts a great gift with these regular updates…

Go SpaceX! And there's more water on the moon than in the Great Lakes?? Wow.

Miles mentions the exciting Mars500 project, and there are some clips of the crew entering their habitat before the hatch closed. He cracks that it would make a great reality show, but when you get right down to it... heck, it IS a reality show!

This week, they also have an interview with previous NASA administrator, Mike Griffin, who shares how he somewhat reluctantly continues to grant requests for interviews – and also weighs in (carefully) on the current controversy with NASA termination liability clauses.

And for those of us who keep up with interesting milestones, a new arrival to the International Space Station marks a new record!

On her first space voyage, flight engineer Shannon Walker joined existing crew member Tracy Caldwell Dyson, making this the first time two women have been part of a long duration crew. Way to go, ladies!

ISS Expedition 24Expedition 24 on the orbiting outpost now includes NASA's Doug Wheelock, Tracy Dyson, Russian Commander Alexander Skvortsov, cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, Shannon Walker and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin.

Walker, an American who spent 60 weeks training in Russia, is keeping a blog about her experiences aboard the Soyuz craft and her experiences in the ISS on the Houston Chronicle's "In Orbit" section.

Astronaut Doug Wheelock is also now tweeting regularly, and has unofficially taken Soichi Noguchi's place as twitpic pro on the station! Check out his great space photos at @Astro_Wheels.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Impeach Obama to Save NASA?


The Houston Chronicle reported that NASA was "telling major contractors they must curtail work on the Constellation program or they may be in violation of federal spending rules." They are referring to NASA's termination liability clauses, where they are exercising legal rights to make contractors set aside money for closing down programs so they can be replaced with new plans.

But, the question still looms even after a year: What new plans?

Thousands of jobs may be lost in the firestorm of Constellation's demise, and commercial interests won't come close to hiring enough people to cover the shortfall. Many insist NASA is trying to "get around" Congress, who must give approval before Constellation can be officially canceled. Senators in states with the most to lose are in an uproar, with accusations are being flung that only a select few are deciding the future of American manned spaceflight – and the outlook becomes more and more bleak.

Houston, We Have A Problem
Around the same time I was surfing around, reading numerous articles on this new development, I saw in the news that Kesha Rogers just won the Democratic nomination in the 22nd Congressional District of Texas. Her campaign platform?

"Save NASA. Impeach Obama."

Wow. I mean really, wow. It's come to this. I hesitate to criticize anyone for taking a stand on something they feel strongly about – because I feel strongly about NASA being a successful organization too! But it seems like some people need to get themselves a dictionary and learn the legal definition of "impeach."

Far reaching ramifications of losing preeminence in scientific and space arenas would be a huge loss to our country and our culture, but let us not pretend our president is doing anything but responding to the petty squabbles of the public. We may simply have to admit that we don't do the big things anymore; we argue about the details and try to cater to every faction. Is that the fault of the leaders, or the people? OF, FOR and BY... remember our responsibility in all this?

In such a no-win situation, turmoil is inevitable on every front – so it's difficult to take such rhetoric at face value. I like that she supports going to Mars, but painting a Hitler moustache on Obama or accusing any President of "pissing on the legacy of President John F. Kennedy" makes her impossible to take seriously. Remember, there were people in the 1960s who disagreed with Kennedy about the moon race.

President Barack Obama
Where was she when both Bushes and Clinton were burying the space plan years ago by not planning for the future? All their big talk came to nothing, but why are we surprised? And where is the American public when it comes to supporting astronauts, showing up at launches, tuning into the NASA channel, knowing who is orbiting in the space station, teaching their children about the value of space exploration or supporting space research?

Everyone wants Star Trek life to happen by magic, but few want to admit that we face rough choices getting that reality to appear. Do your part, don't shout loudly about how other people aren’t doing theirs. It's all... OURS to solve.

Friday, June 18, 2010



And speaking of insanely awesome photographs... well, here's a view of the Space Shuttle you don't see every day!

Space Shuttle
Also, an update on the Planetary Body of the Year contest, as run by Mrs. Lyons second grade class... to date, the kids now have over 200 votes!

Looks like Pluto is in the lead, followed closely by the Asteroids and Neptune...

Way to go, readers! Of course, it didn't hurt that this also hit Facebook and Twitter, and spread a bit from there. Thanks for reading the childrens' letters and participating in their project. At least one other teacher on my Facebook feed said she intended to repeat the assignment with her own class... pretty cool!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

NASA Flickr Fun!


A space-enthusiast Flickr user named ParkerNow uploaded a gallery of photographs from many eras of NASAs existence. Some of these are well-known images featured in popular magazines, and others are freely available on NASA's public galleries... but many were brand new to my eyes (and that's a bit a trick these days.)

Just when you think you've seen every NASA photo out there! Across 20 pages of sets, he has nearly 1200 photos, which he says a friend gave him on a CD many years ago -- and he just found it again. So funny to think they were state-of-the-art at the time!

Lunar Module
Lunar Module Quality Assurance

Some of my favorites are the QA teams working on space crafts and rovers in the 1960s, resplendent in their "clean room" gear! Others are hilarious shots of technicians and flight controllers working on [what now look like] utterly ancient consoles and/or computer systems.

Can you believe we got 12 guys to the moon with that stuff? There is more technology in a single iPod now.

I was very surprised that I did not recognize many of the Apollo program photos, because I had just assumed over the years that BY NOW, I've seen everything ever published. Between Time magazine and the site alone -- I guess I thought I was covered. But some of these are truly priceless...

Apollo 12
Alan Bean, Dick Gordon, Pete Conrad
Apollo 12 - November 1969

There are even photos of contemporary Russian hardware, early rocket designs, snaps from the first moon and Mars orbiters, early Shuttle program history from the 1980s, and much more.

I wish I could feature about 50 of them here...! But, it's easier to scroll through the actual Flickr site...

You can start at the top of his Photostream to see large thumbnails, or go to his main gallery where there are more thumbnails per page to choose from. Either way, it's the best hour you'll kill today on the internet!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Space Travel Will Always Suck


I don't usually go for slideshows or the internet Top Ten lists that seem to be all the rage; but every now and then, some humorous piece catches my eye, so I decide to pass it on. (Translation: At least a dozen people have sent me the same link and asked my opinion about, so somebody out there must think it's funny...) weighed in on the Six Reasons Space Travel Will Always Suck.

The saddest-but-truest statement starts out the article with a big bang: "We love movies about space, but are continually bored by actual space travel. When's the last time you rushed to the TV to watch a space shuttle take off?"

Of course, this doesn't apply to anyone who reads blogs like mine, since the answer is um, pretty much EVERY time one takes off! Sadly, this is no longer true for the majority of the population, and some of my friends' kids don't even know there is such a thing as an actual Space Shuttle. Too busy playing video games, honing the apparently increasingly-important skill of learning to shoot people in the face and avoid sunshine or fresh air at all costs.

Science Fiction SpaceCraft
Yeah, we wish.

They drive home the point that even for far-off future generations, space travel will certainly not meet our expectations, because...
6. There is No Sex in Space
5. It'll Be More Like a Submarine Than Star Trek
4. Life in Zero-Gravity is Horrible
3. There's Nothing to See
2. Getting Anywhere Interesting Means Never Going Home
1. In Space, On-Star Won't Do Shit For You

I read the entire article, desperately hoping I could disagree with it. Nope. They nailed it on every count.

No way to reproduce, so we aren't going anywhere as a group. Cramped quarters, not a cruise ship. Weightlessness messes with your head, your balance, your blood, your muscles (including your heart) and your bones. All that just to travel through 99.99% of blackness – perhaps to reach something that will be the last thing you ever see. And that's if you make it at all, considering all the massive dangers… because you're dead if even the slightest thing goes wrong.

Hey, suppose we go to all that trouble... and THIS
is the only thing on the other end of the journey?

Key concept: "Your life depends on your time aboard the starship being skull-crushingly boring."

So apparently, that's the funny part. The unfunny part? Underneath all the hyperbole, the message is clear:
We all want the "future" of space travel to get here, but few people want to put in the work to get us there. Now all we need is an amusingly tasteless description of the General Theory of Relativity so people understand what we’re up against… o wait, they had that too!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mars 500 Q&A


Now that the Mars500 men are sealed up for a year, I'll be checking their updates more often again, and discussing them here.

I actually have to be careful when I browse around about this sim, because I have been known to "lose time" doing so, LOL... particularly now since they have a Mars500 Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel!

Just before they closed the hatch...
MARS 500
Top row: Sukhrob Kamolov (Russian) & Romain Charles (French)
Lower row: Wang Yue (Chinese), Alexandr Smoleevskiy (Russian)
Alexey Sitev (Russian) & Diego Urbina (Italian-Colombian)

And now for some Q&A from fellow readers, as I noticed this caused a flurry of activity here and on Facebook!

Alex Tkaczevski of Buffalo, NY asks: This is very exciting! Is this similar to the Mars Society's simulations? I wonder if the wood paneling in the simulator will skew the results? Or will the actual Russian Mars mission have earthy decor?
Quite similar! But longer and heavier on the medical and psychological protocols. One of the participants, Diego Urbina, has actually already done Mars Society sims too. He was astro-biologist on Crew #88 at the Mars Desert Research Station. The Mars500 main website has a full list of all they hope to accomplish. However, I have no idea about future space ship decor. I assume they tried to make this as comfortable as possible... because they could :)

Mantic59 of the US says: This will be interesting to follow but I am very skeptical that they'll complete it. Too many psychological factors.
I also have my doubts, but I am very hopeful, and have so much respect for these men for dedicating a piece of their lives (without women or the comforts of Earth!) to important questions about space travel. Will they remain healthy? Over time, will they remain able and willing to carry out their tasks on the ship? It may be difficult for 6 guys in a small space to get along every single day, and I am sure they will have their moments of doubt, conflict and challenge.

I remember when I did my first simulation study, which was to last 105 days. A few weeks in, I had a moment where I thought, "What did I get myself into?!" That may happen tenfold for them, considering the time, effort and self-sufficiency involved. They may prove that long-duration flight is indeed possible -- but then again, they may also wind up proving that extended trips through space will be much harder than we imagine. We'll know by November of 2011!

Amnon Govrin of Superior, CO says: I Don't know what's harder - being in the real thing on your way to Mars, where no one has gone before... or in a simulation, at arms reach if anything goes wrong but not going to Mars. With work on new propulsion, I wonder if the real mission will end up being that long. Regardless, it is probably the longest 24x7 experiment in human behavior ever done.

I googled around, trying to find the longest experiment or simulation involving isolation, but was not able to find anything definitive. It's entirely possible longer ones have been done, but I would doubt any encompassed all the activities and protocols of the Mars500. I also wonder if our rocket technology will catch up with our desire to reach Mars -- but even if it does, we humans will always be dreaming of the next giant leap. I believe we need examine long duration travel through the vacuum, wherever that turns out to be...

Blogger Norman Copeland asks: I wonder what tooth paste they use?
LOL, you can ask them! This week on their blog, they have invited space enthusiasts to pose questions to the crew, which they will answer in the next week before communications are restricted due to distance simulation. You can also post questions on their twitter feed if the blog page isn't saving them (sometimes it gets a little squirrely between the English and Russian mirrors).

Note the great widget on their blog at the very bottom that shows elapsed time of the mission. Day 10 already!

Barry in Texas says: I was a space nut as a kid - but knew I couldn't be an astronaut. (I had one cavity at that time, and in those days astronauts could not even have a cavity). Very interesting stuff - I hope it actually takes off!
I think the same applied to these gentlemen... and they better pray they don't get their first cavities in that tin can! The Chinese astronaut corps also revived the "no tooth cavities" rule recently in their selection process.

Blogger Ruth Hochman of Los Angeles, CA said: I need to learn more about what this means... implications and all... pray tell...! Congrats on your new job!
Thanks hun! I enjoy it, but I’d rather be blogging, LOL… hope you will continue to follow along...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Face in Space


Who wants to fly on the next Space Shuttle? NASA is giving us all a unique opportunity to fly our names and/or images on one of the remaining two Shuttle trips: Discovery STS-133 (due to launch on September 16th) and Endeavour STS-134 (originally set for November of this year, but may be moved into 2011).

Go the the NASA Face in Space website and update a .jpg or .gif file of yourself (or simply enter your name). All materials will be stored on Discovery or Endeavour during their final missions!

NASA Face In Space
Once you have entered all the information and submitted a photo, you'll have an opportunity to size and crop the photo into a window of the shuttle, and blast off into Earth's atmosphere.

Also, click on the Participation Map to see all the people, all over the world, who are flying with us!

I submitted my favorite photo from my work with the Human Test Research Facility (HTSF), featuring our team from the C3 campaign -- boy, we all look pretty happy for a bunch of people getting ready to evacuate due to Hurricane Ike, don't we? Seems like it was just yesterday...

Space Shuttle Discovery Final Mission
Kjell, Devin, Marcus, Heather & Deron

...and hey, there we are on the Space Shuttle Discovery!

You will receive a confirmation number for the flight you choose, and after that flight has returned home to Earth, you can print out an official certificate verifying your trip into space (which you can also share on Twitter and Facebook).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dear NASA...


Mrs. Lyons second grade class is holding a Planetary Body of the Year contest, and invite everyone to vote, based on the information in their essays!

Planetary Body of the Year
Boys and girls around the age of 10 studied various objects in our solar system and all wrote very convincing letters about our Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth's Moon, Saturn… even the properties of Asteroids.

I for one was terribly impressed with Josephine's vocabulary, Casey's NASA logo, and Isaiah's accurate drawing of Jupiter. Adam was very excited and convincing about Mars (which happens to be my favorite planet)... so I may vote for that one. But this is such a tough decision -- because of course, if we don't pick Saturn, poor little Davy says he might die!

Madisyn For Venus
The majority vote in the classroom belongs to Neptune, though Kimmy was very eloquent about Uranus, a truly under-appreciated planet, so I'm tempted to vote for that one too.

Young Betsy promoted Pluto... we knew someone would! It might be nice to see Pluto win, after all the humbling it has suffered over the past few years...

So, what's the best place in the solar system? Everyone please take a look at the kids' letters and cast your vote!

You can also leave comments for them all about their wonderful letters on the main page, or on the pages for each of their submissions.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mars Launch!


Ah, coming up for air! Along with a new job comes all new hours, but hopefully now that things are settling down, I can get back to blogging semi-regularly. What's going on in the world? I hope everyone enjoyed the final voyage of Atlantis... but oddly, I know more news in Russia right now than anywhere in the United States, LOL...

Early tomorrow at 3:00am EST and 11:00 MSD (Moscow Daylight Time), the Mars500 project will launch their long-awaited 520-Day space voyage!

Anyone who has followed Pillownaut since 2007 will know I've done seven posts about the Mars500 at each stage of their 3-part program. And it's finally coming to what everyone hopes will be a learning-intensive long-duration simulation.

The final chosen crew:
Commander: Alexey Sityev from Russia
Physician: Sukhrob Kamolov from Russia
Flight Engineer: Romain Charles from France
Researchers: Diego Urbina from Italy, Wang Yue from China, and Alexander Smoleevskiy from Russia.

Mars 500 Facility
The Hatch

Can 6 guys locked in a tin can for a year and a half survive the trip to Mars? We'll soon know. Here is the project timeline to date...
November 2007: 14-day simulation Facility & Operations Test
March 2009: First Mars500 Crew begins 105-Day Isolation Study
July 2009: Completion of first simulation
October 2009: Call for Cosmonaut simulation candidates
May 2010: New Mars500 Crew announced
June 2010: Second Mars500 Crew begins 520-Day Isolation Study

And still to come...
February 2011: Arrival on Mars to begin "surface operations"
March 2011: Return voyage begins
November 2011: End of the isolation upon "return to Earth"

The Mars 500
Updated diagram of facility - click to embiggen

The entire mission, call sign Kepler, will take place in the Mars500 Isolation Facility. Each of the simulating Marsonauts have been paid 20,000 Euro during training, and will earn (depending on rank) between 80 – 90,000 Euro when they finish their experiment.