Monday, January 31, 2011

It Takes a Rocket Scientist...


Picture day! Keeping the text to a minimum , because this amazing photograph truly speaks for itself (well, that and I have writer's block... but this is still tremendously cool).

The Saturn V, at just under 50 meters, remains the largest rocket ever built by the human race... which is not to say that the rest of this collection, labeled with rocket model names and nations of origin, aren’t also fascinating!

The infamous V-2 isn’t hard to find it you remember the bumblebee colors; Sputnik’s rocket takes a bit more hunting! And does anyone remember what the Véronique was used for?

Rockets of the World
This amazing poster, still for sale at ULTIMAX, accompanied a wonderful book called Rockets of the World (1995) by physicist Peter Alway. Sadly, the only way to acquire the book now through re-sellers on Ebay or Amazon stores. Saturn Press did not print many of the first or second editions, and the tome is already out of print.

Click the photo above or click here for the full-sized vertical image (3,322×5,079 pixels!), although if you want to save your neck a few aches, I found it easier to turn the graphic. You can click here for a full-sized horizontal image.

I wish I'd had this when I made the World Space Agencies Map, I could have used some rockets for markers in each nation!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Extreme Planet Makeover


Remember when you were a little kid, and you'd get together with your friends to imagine you could re-create planet Earth to your own specifications? Or make an even bigger, better planet?

Me neither. But it would appear that the crack staff of savvy, intrepid geeks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory think we should. The PlanetQuest team collaborated with Caltech to create the new interactive Extreme Planet Makeover, which allows users to create worlds all their own. Ah, world dominance... (that requires Flash 10).

Rules for habitable planets? Location, Location, Location! They don't call it the Galactic Habitable Zone for nothing. And I'm pretty sure that was the concept the JPL intended to teach here; it certainly does show the precarious nature inside the "zone of life" and displays why planets with life might be rare occurrences.

Extreme Planet Makeover
Planet Arch in the Red Star System

See that tiny island? That's the special hell reserved for people who talk at the theatre. The lesson in planetary science also includes "presets" for Earth, Mars and Gliese 581d (a rocky "super-Earth"), where you can begin with templates or create from scratch.

Users can choose stellar type: Class-G (Yellow, like our Sun), Class-F (White, like Polaris) or Class-M (Red, like Betelgeuse)… and once you have a star to orbit, will you make your extra-solar planet closer or further away from your star? Older or younger than our beautiful mother Earth?

Extreme Planet Makeover
MARS, if it were the same size as Earth, about half
an AU closer to our sun, and 2.2 billion years older.

Small-print but user-friendly dialog boxes of text pop up for each operation of the sliders, describing the scientific parameters and consequences of each adjustment. Further from your star? Expect to purchase clothing from the Hoth Fashion Line. Going back in time? Won't make much difference in a desert, but greenery will begin to enhanced on worlds with liquid water and ice caps.

Once you've finished creating an exoplanet over which you can rule, godlike in all thy splendor, click the camera icon to download a graphic.jpg to keep.

VERY INTERESTING: Start with the Mars preset. Make planet Mars a little bit bigger and move it slightly closer to a yellow or red sun, and it will be a waterworld…

EASY TO MISS: On the top right of the screen, be sure to click on the Planet Gallery

FUNNY TIP: Open the Extreme Planet Makeover game in 3 or 4 browser tabs at once, and listen to what happens to their music, LOL...

The EPM was developed in conjunction with NASA's Virtual Planetary Laboratory, where scientists build computer models of potentially habitable planets. Their main site can be found at Planet Quest Exoplanet Exploration: Searching For Earthlike Worlds, and don't miss the great history timeline!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rock Star of Observatories


I occasionally stumble over that inadvertent reminder of what a nerd I am, but even for a nerd, my brain cannot take any more acronyms! For instance, when I first saw that "@ESO_Observatory" started following me on Twitter, I thought, "Now why would Environmental Science Officers follow me?"

But no, this would be the European Southern Observatory, headquartered in Germany. After I wrote a post about their beautiful astronomy book, Postcards From The Edge of the Universe, I've had the pleasure of chatting more extensively with the ESO's Community Coordinator, Oana Sandu, who also serves on The Space Generation Advisory Council and the World Space Week Association. Somehow, she also manages to write her own blog, Astronomy Communication and Outreach.

Oana Sandu, ESO
Oana's idea of LIGHT READING

The ESO was founded in 1962 as a consortium among Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Sweden; in the 1980s, they were joined by Denmark, Switzerland and Italy. 21st Century additions include Portugal, Spain, Finland, Britain, Austria, Brazil and the Czech Republic. Their cooperative efforts employ 700+ people and operate three major astronomical observatories in Chile, which provide research facilities to astronomers and astrophysicists all over the world.

The ESO maintains the world's most powerful ground-based astronomical telescopes, each at an altitude over 8,000 feet, with state-of-the-art mirrors, Active Optics automation (i.e. computer-adjusted for greater clarity), and both spectrographic and photometric reflectors. They are home to the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and have captured some of the most amazing astronomical photographs ever produced during their Sky Surveys.

Star Factories
Distant Galaxy SMM 0102 "Star Factory"

Advice: Don't click over to their public gallery unless you have a few hours to kill. ;) Oana offered some great information about the organization's history, and the Top 10 Astronomical Discoveries at the ESO:

1. Our Accelerating Universe
2. The very first image of an Extra-Solar planet

3. Detection of the lightest Exoplanet yet found
4. Stars orbiting the Milky Way black hole
5. The gamma-ray burst / supernova connection
6. The merging neutron star / gamma-ray burst connection

7. Cosmic temperature independently measured
8. The motion of stars in the Milky Way

9. Oldest star known in the Milky Way
10. Most distant object measured to date.

Pretty incredible! And they show no signs of slowing. Their long-term goal for this decade will be to fund and complete the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) which will one day be, quite literally, Earth's largest "eye on the sky".

Chile Museum of Science and Technology
Santiago Astronomy Hall

I moved all my non-government space sites to a new Google Map which will be dedicated to museums. In honor of the ESO, the first museum added outside my American collection is the new Astronomy Hall at the Museum of Science and Technology, Santiago, Chile. The exhibitions were made possible by ESO funds, so I created a marker for them as my first international addition.

I must be a glutton for punishment to undertake another massive maps! Once I finished the Map of World Space Agencies, I revisited the list of space-related museums. I'll be adding more to each continent… and perhaps other sites of interest relating to space history or the space industry.

Schiaparelli's Dome? Arecibo Observatory? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Send Your Name To Mars


In March 2009, I wrote a post about the "Send Your Name To Mars" initiative at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The JPL is the development site of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) named "Curiosity".

I remember being about the 800th person to sign up, but wish that I'd written down precise numbers at the time! While recently discussing the program with a friend who hoped to put his son's name on the rover headed to planet Mars, we saw their World Participation Map shot up to over a million!

The number of Worldwide Names is now at 1,014,526 – showing participants from 246 nations and territories all over the globe!

NASA Curiosity Rover
I'm On Board

There is still time to register for a certificate, confirming your name has been added to Curiosity's computer chip. Due to various technical delays, the new launch window on the Mission Timeline will be sometime in the autumn of 2011. If that launch goes as planned, she will land on martian terrain in the summer of 2012.

The MSL will be the largest rover landed on another planet, and is designed to search for past or current life on Mars. Curiosity is faster, and able to scout much farther and climb higher than the existing Mars rovers (partly because of enhanced tools and also because it will utilize nuclear power instead of solar power).

The size of the rover was such that it required a new landing technique:

The Entry, Descent, and Landing (or EDL) of Curiosity will be similar to the Phoenix Mars Lander, which in itself was an elaboration of those used for Mars Pathfinder and Viking. All used parachutes in descent, but this newest hardware will enjoy much greater precision in guided entry, no airbags for the bounce, and a "sky crane" touchdown system, which will allow a soft, wheels-down landing.

Exciting stuff! A true leap in the newest generation of Mars explorers. Once she lands, we'll have all new and advanced ways to estimate uncertainties in terrain slopes, wind characteristics, atmospheric density and pressure, rock compositions and water prevalence.

Marvin the Martian
"When is that thing going to get here??"

Everyone can keep up with the Mars Science Lab by joining the @MarsCuriosity twitter feed, or the JPL NEWS YouTube Channel… most of the videos there don't have pretty symphony music like the video above, LOL… but it's a great spot to learn about the MSL engineering team, their construction of scientific instruments for the mission, technical specifications, preparatory tests, and more.

I sure hope I have time to get down to the JPL sometime this year to see some of their working models before it launches!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nova Science Now


I know you all watch NOVA. Everyone who likes science even a little bit has seen an episode or two of this amazing documentary show since it began airing in 1974.

In 2005, a "news magazine" version called NOVA SCIENCE NOW began production, with healthy mentions of space science throughout their first four seasons.

 Nova Science Now: Can We Make It To Mars?
The first episode of 2011, "Can We Make it To Mars?", is entirely dedicated to space travel! The journey begins with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, sitting in the historic Apollo mission control, and listing all the challenges we face in visiting the red planet.

What follows is 53 minutes of wonderful wonderfulest wonderfulness, if I may quote Bill Cosby. It's also a who's-who of the astronaut corps, and the many interview segments feature astronaut Jerry Linenger, Clayton Anderson, Peggy Whitson, Andrew Thomas, C. Michael Foale, Sunita Williams and Franklin Chang-Díaz.

Quite a cast! They simply accept the fact that their risk of cancer increases with each trip into the black because of cosmic radiation – but many say they would take any risk to step on Mars – even if it was a one-way trip.

< keanu > WHOA! < /keanu >

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

Floating in low gravity looks fun, but it takes a serious toll on the body. One astronaut came home from a stint on Mir with 14% bone loss, mostly in the hips and lower spine.

Can we develop counter-measures to keep a long space voyage from ransacking the human body? Or, can we develop ways to simulate gravitational forces so the body doesn’t break down?

Can we design food packages that will keep for years? Can we create lightweight shielding for the walls of a spaceship so that meteoroids traveling through space at high speeds don’t puncture the hull?

Mike Massimino repairing the Hubble Space Telescope
Massimino repairing the Hubble Space Telescope

My favorite section was hosted by astronaut Mike Massimino, who asks: Can we design a spacesuit that provides proper air pressure, but also allows for easy movement on Martian terrain?

This is no easy feat, and he would know. He demonstrated all the parts of a current space suit that protects space walkers during EVA, and how to get into a space suit – pretty cumbersome! Newer, lightweight suits may prove more useful, and prevent injury while sample-collecting – it's a truly interesting look at well-known challenges, and new potential technologies!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The NASA Obameter


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

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. 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

#332: Additional Space Shuttle flight
DONE in 2009

#333: Speed development of next-gen space vehicle
In the Works in 2009, same status in 2010

#334: Use private sector to improve space flight
DONE in 2009, proven in a big way by SpaceX in 2010!

#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

#339: Support human mission to moon by 2020
Stalled in 2009, Promise broken in 2010

#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, ongoing…

#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, ongoing…

#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 a significant change from last year, four changed from "Stalled" status, which no longer shows up under any of the items, although bureaucracy being what it is, the status of "in the works" is debatable.

On this second annual update, we see 13 promises kept (with one being considered as a "compromise"), 3 in the works and 2 promises broken.

Obama's track record is still firmly in the green, but sadly, the promises broken were pretty big ones. No clear path to the moon, and increasing arguments about the value of our lunar satellite, which – and I know I'm biased – is severely misunderstood in terms of scientific value.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

History For Sale


Sorry about the late-breaking news, as I only just found this myself... a shame, since the auction ends on the 20th. If you are interested in authentic space program keepsakes, RRAuction is now conducting an auction of 450 various space items -- from grand posterity to playboy calendars!

There are the usual commemorative photographs, autographs, helmets, medals, etc.; and also tidbits like parachute fragments and money flown on particular missions. And seriously, someone took a beanie baby on a flight? (I don't know what's weirder, that a beanie baby has been to space, or that people are actually bidding on a beanie baby that has been to space!)

Neil Armstrong
Cardwell Chairman of the Board

There are 3 lots of cosmonaut memorabilia, and the rest is a varied collection of NASA items throughout the eras of X-planes, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttles. Most of the items start at $100, a handful begin in the $300-500 range, and a select few begin at $1,000. Not surprisingly, the Apollo lots have the most bids.

I've had an interesting morning going through all the items, and remembering the various mission details! Some lots have no bids at all yet, but I gather they didn't do as much promotion as they could among the popular space web sites we enthusiasts tend to frequent.

Gus Grissom
Virgil "Gus" Grissom

Some of the more colorful mementos, which is to say, the "list of things I wish I had on my fireplace mantel", include:

Lot #3 Wernher Von Braun telegrams a personal invitation to a 1968 Apollo launch on 'Moonday'

Lot #25 Ham the Chimp Napcoware Figurine

Lot #82 Gus Grissom's "Terrestrial" passport

Lot #139 Apollo Moon Rock Containment Vessel

Lot #145 Apollo Capsule Instrument Panel (!)

Ham the Chimp, 1961

Lot #201 Apollo 11 flight-flown printed fabric American flag
(In an exception to the rest of the financial amounts, bidding for this item started at $2,500 on January 13th, and now sits at $20,275!)

Lot #212 Neil Armstrong's Business Card

Lot #216 Apollo 11 Flight Plan

Lot #321 Lunar Surface Map

Lot #388 Skylab fragments gathered in Western Australia

Clicking around all the links can be time consuming, so an easier way to browse through all the items for visual enjoyment is to go to the Space Autograph and Artifact Auction online catalogue. This can be “page-flipped” in magazine style, and also has a handy ZOOM tool!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Space Map Completion!


Honestly, if I had known how huge this space map would turn out, I might not have started it last fall -- but I'm glad I stuck with it! This past week, I worked on all the space agencies across South America, Africa and the Middle East:

Pillownaut Space Map
After adding about 40 miscellaneous sites, I was pleased I amassed such a thorough collection, but didn't like how messy it looked with all the markers. I only had 7 colors to work with, and it didn't look quite right, aesthetically.

So, I found some tiny .gifs and re-created place markers with the flag of each nation. And I was finally able to center the map properly so it shows the entire world and not just the USA (which is actually one of the smaller concentrations of space sites).

I ran out of room (who knew Google maps had a marker limit for each page?!), and in order to finish all the national space agencies, I had to remove the space crafts and museums -- but I will create separate map for those, and perhaps add world planetariums soon. The Google list on the map's NavBar is in the following order:

World Space Agencies
Wow! That makes nearly 200 space sites! Of these listed centers, launch pads, research institutes or mission control sites, 195 are active and 3 are currently under construction. The newest additions include:

EUROPE (Independent of ESA)
Българска академия на науките or Bulgarian Aerospace Agency (Sofia, Bulgaria)

Hrvatska Svemirska Agencija or Croatia Space Agency (Zagreb, Croatia)

Magyar Ürkutatasi Iroda (MUI) or Hungarian Space Office (Budapest, Hungary)

Centrum Badań Kosmicznych (CBK) or Space Research Center (Warsaw, Poland)

Agentia Spatiala Româna (ASR) or Romanian Space Agency (Bucharest, Romania)

Türkiye Bilimsel ve Teknolojik Araştırma Kurumu( TÜBİTAK) or the Scientific and Technological Research Council (Ankara, Turkey)

Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales or National Commission for Space Activities (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB) or Brazilian Space Agency (Federal District, Brazil)

Centro Técnico Aeroespacial - Instituto de Aeronautica e Espaço (CTA/IAE)or Aerospace Technical Center - Institute for Aeronautics & Space (São Paulo, Brazil)

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE) or National Institute for Space Research (São Paulo, Brazil)

Comisión Colombiana del Espacio (CCE) or Space Commission (Bogotá, Colombia)

Agencia Espacial Civil Ecuatoriana or Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (Guayaquil, Ecuador)

Agencia Espacial Mexicanal (AEXA) or Mexican Space Agency (Mexico City, Mexico)

Comisión Nacional de Investigación y Desarollo Aeroespacial (CONIDA) or National Commission for Aerospace Research & Development (Lima, Peru)

Centro de Investigación y Difusión Aeronáutico-Espacial (CIDEA) or Center for Aeronautics & Space Research (Montevideo, Uruguay)

Agencia Bolivariana para Actividades Espaciales (ABAE) or Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities (Caracas, Venezuela)

Lembaga Penerbangan dan Antariksa Nasional (LAPAN) or National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Jakarta, Indonesia)

조선우주공간기술위원회 or Korean Committee of Space Technology at Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (Musudan-ri, North Korea)

한국항공우주연구원 or Korea Aerospace Research Institute (Daejeon, South Korea)

Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) (Daejeon, South Korea)

Agensi Angkasa Negara (ANGKASA) or The Malaysian National Space Agency (MNSA) (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

National Remote Sensing Center (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Singapore Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) (Singapore)

新竹縣新豐鄉上坑村坑子 or National Space Program Office (HsinChu , Taiwan)

สำนักงานพัฒนาเทคโนโลยีอวกาศและภูมิสารสนเทศ or Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Bangkok, Thailand)

Viện Công nghệ vũ trụ or Vietnam Space Technonogy Institute (Hanoi, Vietnam)

African Space Agency – Under Construction of the AU (Location TBD)

الوكالة الفضائية الجزائرية ASAL Agence Spatiale Algérienne or Algerian Space Agency (Bouzareah, Alger, Algeria)

الهيئة العامة للاستشعار عن بعد وعلوم الفضاء or National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (Cairo, Egypt)

المركز الملكي للإستشعار البعدي الفضائي‎ or Royal Centre for Remote Sensing (Rabat, Morocco)

National Space Research & Development Agency (NSRDA) (Abuja, Nigeria)

لمركز الوطني للإستشعار عن بعد‎ or National Remote Sensing Center (Tunis, Tunisia)

Azərbaycan Milli Aerokosmik Agentliyinin (AMAKA) or Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency (Baku, Azerbaijan)

سازمان فضايي ايران or Iranian Space Agency (Emamshahr, Semnan, Iran)

סוכנות החלל הישראלית or Israel Ministry of Science and Technology (Jerusalem, Israel)

پاکستان خلائی و بالا فضائی تحقیقاتی کمیشن Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), also the Space & Applications Research Center
(Karachi, Pakistan)

Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) Facility (Lahore, Pakistan)

Satellite Ground Station & Geomagnetic Observatory (Islamabad, Pakistan)

Space & Atmospheric Research Station (Multan, Pakistan)

Space Application & Research Center (Peshawar, Pakistan)

معهد بحوث الفضاء Riyadh Space Research Institute (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Astronomy & Space Science Branch (Geraldton, Western Australia)

Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI) (Manuka, Australian Capital Territory)

Geoscience Australia (Symonston, Australian Capital Territory)

Space Research & Remote Sensing Organization (SPARRSO) (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

Sri Lanka Space Agency, part of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Emergency on Mars!


I feel like that was my first tabloid headline. Emergency! But, not really. Just an
update on the dedicated crew of the Mars500, which I track faithfully on Facebook and Twitter. Every time I fear those gents will get bored inside their enclosed "spaceship" facility, new events unfold that show any trip offworld will be full of surprises -- just like how we interact on Earth.

They celebrated numerous holidays in isolation, but appeared to make the best of their confinement with a few special foodstuffs and a pretty decent paper Christmas tree among their makeshift decorations.

Happy New Year From Mars500
The Russians snuck in some vodka again, it would seem...
(Click to see the entire photo gallery)

However, the true measure of fun times came with their New Year 2011 portrait! And such whimsey. Diego's sunglasses were a particularly interesting touch, given that none of them have seen the sun for 226 days now.

I'm glad to see them partying, since the Mars500 YouTube Channel recently showed that the crew had their first onboard emergency. With alarms blaring, the crew described the loss of power on the ship, and the crew was afterward without electricity, water and ventilation for 20 hours.

Not exactly a warp core breach, but all the drama of a sci-fi episode, complete with a happy ending where all systems were restored. Planned test? Unplanned? One must suspect it was a scheduled protocol to see crew reactions, given how oddly cheerful they seemed about the whole thing. But then, a sing-a-long in the dark would always be a good idea when you don't know when your life support system will revive.

In a bit less than a month now, the crew will split into two teams; two will stay aboard the ship, and three "cosmonauts" will move into a separate container to walk on the surface of a mock-up Mars, using modified Russian Orlan spacesuits.

Mars500 Rover
Check out their excellent blog for updates on their Rover-slash-Sampler Robot, and also see their wonderful photo gallery of all the tests on the fake surface of Mars. Such clever preparations, I can't wait to see what happens!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mission X Ali


One of the best parts of writing a space blog where I discuss NASA events, projects and kickoffs, is where I can actually track down people who are involved behind the scenes, and truly feel the passion for their programs -– passion that is never in short supply at the space agency, believe me.

In this case, the hunt wasn't too tasking, because one of the main rocket boosters behind Mission X: Train Like An Astronaut was my tweetup buddy, Ali Llewellyn, whose twitter feed often includes the enviable hashtag #lovemyjob, which I'm definitely re-using. Ali is an Education Outreach Specialist in Houston, which is part teacher, part traveler, part organizer! And darned busy at all those things.

How were you drawn to contracting for NASA?
I've loved space since I was a child; I have photos of my fifth birthday on the lawn at Johnson Space Center. Nothing captured my imagination like space exploration. A few years later, Challenger solidified that for me. This was a mission, a vision so high, so WORTHWHILE, that these heroic men and women were willing to give their lives. I wanted to do something like that with my life.

Ali Llewellyn
You really had your 5th birthday party on the JSC lawn?! Wow, so you literally grew up in the shadow of Rocket Park. Did it make you want to be an astronaut?
Yes. I remember being in school, though, and never feeling encouraged that I could do that. None of my teachers ever set a vision before me that would help me take hold of it, and it seemed unattainable. When I realized how my motion sickness would be a big impediment to being an astronaut, I just sort of gave up. Now, I realize I probably could have been a good engineer – but I don't think I even knew what an engineer did, really, other than it was geeky guys who did lots of math…

Yeah, it's still geeky guys who do lots of math. And geeky girls now too. But you stuck with your space dream, and where did it take you?
I now help change what I experienced as a little girl. I equip schools and teachers so that their students will know that anything is possible. Whether they want to be scientists, engineers or astronauts – or something totally different – I want them to have every option open to them, and see them filled with a curious love of learning that opens life up before them. I like it too because it's part of how we are giving back to our local communities, which is a big value for me. Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut was born out of a desire for the international partners to collaborate beyond vehicles or procedures, and work together on education. We are beginning to address one of the most vital felt needs among youth worldwide (childhood obesity) out of the skills/research/expertise/vision of NASA. Talk about putting it all to good use – it makes me so proud. It's my little small way of helping serve the vision. I'm blessed.

Team Colombia
You are indeed blessed, and should be proud of such an amazing initiative! What countries have you visited for Mission X?
JSC Mission X team just traveled to Bogota to train teachers for the challenge in Colombia. The Colombian vision for the project is incredible! The Colombian Space Commission in the process of launching their first national satellite, and sees the urgent need to create excitement about space in youth, both to support the commission and to develop the workforce infrastructure to support their growing space program. They invested in Mission X as a way to encourage students toward STEM careers and raise the visibility of space in a nation where it really doesn't yet exist. It's so exciting to see their passion and enthusiasm for their vision!

Mission X meetings in Holland
The Mission X working group has also convened at ESA-ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, and at CNES in Paris, France.

Back in Texas, Team USA will be hosted by the school district in College Station, beginning with 800 fourth-graders on January 18th. Their 6-week training program will mirror what astronauts perform to prepare for space missions. Good luck with Mission X until the next time we check in, Ali! Keep up the great work!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Train Like An Astronaut


This month, NASA's Human Research Program kicks off the "Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut" challenge, where teams of students (aged 8-12) all over the world will try to earn points as Fit Explorers while learning about healthy eating, exercise and hands-on space science! All the competitions and training modules will involve the same skills that astronauts must learn for their work in space.

Mission X
T14 space agencies across 40 countries will come together over the course of the program to encourage students to become educated about lifelong health, see how top-notch fitness is required for human exploration, and inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The first nine countries listed on will host teams for the "pilot" project in 25 cities, for over 3,700 students! The Mission X page on the European Space Agency portal will be tracking the teams, as will the NASA Exploration site and the general Mission X Facebook Page.

Train Like An Astronaut
Dexterity in spacesuit gloves… harder than you think!

As we promote cooperation on the ground among nations, so we mirror our cooperative efforts in this generation on the International Space Station; and what a great way to get kids involved in learning about life on the ISS! I was so happy and amazed to see a huge program like this, coordinated across the continents...

Just a few of the core activities of the Train Like an Astronaut missions include: Spacewalk, Space Bicycle, Crew Strength Training, Mission: CONTROL, Explore and Discover, Agility Astro-Course, Speed of Light, Crew Assembly, Space Roll and Roll, Gravity you Find, and Let's Climb a Martian Mountain.

I think my favorite, and one I will watch closely, is the Walk To The Moon! Did you know, that at a 3mph pace, it would take the average human 478 million steps over a period of 9 years to walk to the moon? Our young Fit Explorers will get to add points (counted in footsteps) as they complete their various activities, and I've joined the Mission X @walktothemoon Twitter Feed so I can see their progression.

I'll be tracking the projects and writing occasional updates as the challenge points accumulate. If you are a teacher and are interested in Mission X for your students, I definitely encourage you to check out the TLAA details page, on how the challenges work, how scores are submitted and how you can involve your school classroom in Mission X!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Orrery Array


NASA study-buddy Scott Saslow of NY face-booked me a link to Gizmodo, showing a collection of what their blogger calls "mechanical contraptions", LOL...

Ancient Greek orreries were rumored to exist, but the first modern gadget is credited to, unsurprisingly, a clockmaker. Around 1700, Englishman George Graham created an orrery of the Moon orbiting the Earth, with both then orbiting the Sun. A colleague with advanced instruments, John Rowley, elaborated on Graham's invention, adding all the known (at that time) planets and their moons, demonstrating the first proportional motion machine of our solar system.

The gentlemen inventors presented it to patron Charles Boyle, the fourth Earl of Orrery (a peerage of Contae Chorcaí in Ireland) in 1713, for whom the device was ultimately named. Interesting, how many things in science are credited to entirely the wrong people! This should probably be known by a Greek word, or even simply "The Graham Device" –- but I guess he has to be satisfied with one of his descendants baking crumbly crackers.

#5 on their list is easily recognizable as Eise Eisinga's 1774 Planetarium, still the world's largest operating orrery. I quite like the uniqueness of #7... and I noticed they pinched #16 from NASA... I had to go back through Kepler's pages to find it again, but I knew I remembered it! I should get out more. It was designed for teachers to help students make solar system models out of Legos. Very clever!

While poking about for other interesting types, I found this terrific video of an astronomy teacher organizing her class into a human orrery. Would that all science teachers had this kind of time and inspirational ideas!

Around the two-minute mark, it speeds up so all the kids sound like chipmunks, which cracked me up! At 7 minutes, the teacher adds the Voyager spacecraft at the edge of the solar system, whereby the class leaves the building to use the surrounding museum grounds to complete their simulation. Awesome.

With my apologies for sheer nostalgic kitsch -- as great as this video is, and as much as I hope everyone has a science teacher like her at least once in their life, the best orrery ever, ever, ever... was in Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal.

The Dark Crystal
Gelfling Jen happens upon Aughra's Observatory, where "Everything in the heavens is here, moving as the heavens move!" in her giant orrery, which was a genuine operating prop on the film's most complex set (so genuine that the crew and puppeteers were often forced to duck to keep from being smacked by beams and rotating planets).

Too bad it's in the Thra solar system and not ours, LOL... but it's still pretty remarkable!

Thursday, January 6, 2011



Things that rhyme with Garrett Reisman:
Ferret Cheese Sun
Parrot Bees Gun
Carrot Freeze Bun

Such is the cleverness and whimsy of the The Astronaut Garrett Reisman Fan Club. I mentioned it yesterday in my post about space calendars, but later thought the site merited a post of its own, for sheer entertainment value and the devotion of his adoring followers. Dr. Reisman is also one of my favorites in the astronaut corps, and I've featured his interviews on The Colbert Report, his amazing work on ISS Expedition 17, and his visit to the Oval Office.

I can honestly say, however, that it never occurred to me what might rhyme with his name. Behold, the writers of his "fan club" blog trump themselves with their FOUNDING PROCLAMATION OF THE ASTRONAUT GARRETT REISMAN FAN CLUB [excerpted]:

WHEREAS, Garrett Reisman spent 95 days on the International Space Station without losing his sense of humor;
WHEREAS, Garrett Reisman was the first Jewish American to live on the ISS;
WHEREAS, Garrett Reisman referred to his wife Simone as his "favorite earthling";
WHEREAS, Garrett Reisman has a cat named Fuzzy, and
Now therefore, let it be known that Janet and Cathy hereby formally establish the "Astronaut Garrett Reisman Fan Club" and related blog to honor and celebrate the coolest man on Earth. Or off. Notwithstanding his affection for the despicable New York Yankees Baseball Club. Which stinks.

These gals crack me up, and I want to go to play with them at Dave & Busters.

For the record, my favorite astronaut is now-retired Eileen Collins (Dye Bean Pollens!), and it was one of my life's great joys to attend a launch when she became the first female space shuttle pilot... but now I wonder, does she have a cat? What is the name of Colonel Collin's Cat?? If I knew, I could make a Facebook Page about it, so there's something else for my gargantuan, never-ending To Do List.

It's clear to me now that I am not a very good fan. Technically, my blog is a NASA fan club of sorts... I just don't call it that. But, all of us are engaged in a fanbase or a part of fandom somewhere, be it sports teams, musical groups, etc.

I poked around a bit, and found an ISS Fan Club, as well as an Alan Shepard Fan Club. That was it. But I would challenge you to find an astronaut who is NOT on popular social media these days. Interesting, then, that the phrase "fan club" is declining in use, having now given way to "Facebook Page" or "Twitter Feed".

So, here's to Janet and Cathy, for their humor, their great blog and for resurrecting what may be the last astronaut fan club!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



It's that time of year, everyone needs at least 12 good calendars to hang all over the house, right? Okay, maybe that's just me. Annual Release
If you have Adobe Acrobat and glossy card stock, you can download (7MB PDF) and print the official 2011 International Space Station Calendar, that describes the work conducted on the ISS. The TJ Creamer groupies and the Garrett Reisman Fan Club will be particularly enthused this year about the "life as an astronaut" photo collections! There are amazing views from the Cupola in this year's edition, and for the first time I can recall, NBL training and Dynamic Posturography!

(Yes, there really is a Garrett Reisman Fan Club.)

Astronaut Greg Chamitoff
NASA 2011 Calendar: He-Man Greg Chamitoff on the ISS

For an online and printable calendar for kids, go to NASA's Space Place to print the Children's New Millennium Calendar, or simply visit daily with the kids to see fun events and history.

The Space Store
Selling NASA's official 2011 wall calendar... unsurprisingly, this year it is very heavy on Shuttle nostalgia.

SkyMaps Calendars
Astronomy, Horizon star-gazing, Meteor Showers, Comets, and Jupiter's moons eclipses.

The Year In Space
Keep up with all space events with their desk calendar, online calendar or weekly email detailing lunar phases, astronomical events, scientific exploration and beautiful space images. The YIS folks went all-out this year and added full-year calendars and four-year calendars to their spiral-bound collection.

The Year In Space
Pomegranate Publishing SciAm Calendars
High-Resolution Space Photography, as presented by Scientific American. (Available in full size and mini versions)

Calendars.Com Space Selection
Space 2011 Wall Calendar: stunning images of stars, nebulae, and galaxies; other available calendars include Celestial Wonders, Astronomy, the Solar System, and Lunar Year 2011.

Zazzle Space Collection
DEEP SPACE 2011 Calendar, Astronomy, Hubble and Galaxies calendars also available, and customizable! An interesting design-your-own kinda take... and for those on the fringe, there is the "Aliens and UFO" calendar. Not that I encourage that sort of thing ;)

Monday, January 3, 2011

國 家 航 天 局 - CNSA


The China National Space Administration (CNSA) was founded in the 1950s, though their technological development took decades to mature, often in complete secrecy. In October 2003, when taikonaut Yang Liwei achieved orbit for 21 hours aboard Shenzhou 5, China became the third nation to send humans into space. Later, in September 2008, Shenzhou 7 yielded China’s first spacewalk mission, with EVA completed by Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming.

China National Space Administration
The next planned missions, Shenzhou 8, 9 and 10, will join together cargo and laboratory modules which will comprise China's first orbital space station.

In a marathon search for all the centers, launch pads and satellite stations (the CNSA also has a Deep Space Tracking network very similar to NASA's), coupled with a crash course in Chinese characters, I found a wealth of information about 30 sites of the CNSA.

Although, in the case of the standard characters, if you ask me a few months from now, I will probably only be able to identify the ones for space and rocket launch and budget problems!

Pillownaut Space Map on Google (page 2)
Click to see Google Map
Note: There are so many markers now, you must scroll down in the
right-hand Navbar, and click each page to see all the additions!

安 徽 广 德 誓 节 渡 中 国 科 学 院 六 ○ 三 基 地 or Guangde Launch Site
aka Base 603 (Xuancheng, Anhui)

北 京 航 天 城 or Bejing Space City (Hai Dian Qu, Beijing)

北 京 航 天 指 挥 控 制 中 心 or Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center(BACCC)(Hai Dian Qu,Beijing)

东 风 航 天 城 or Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC), aka Dongfeng Space City, previously known as secret Base 20 and also includes the Dongfeng Tracking Station (Jiuquan, Gansu)

贵 州 航 天 高 新 技 术 产 业 园 or Guizhou Aerospace Industrial Park aka Base 061 (Zunyi, Guizhou)

文 昌 航 天 城 or Wenchang Satellite Launch Center (WSLC), aka Wenchang Space City (Wen Chang Shi, Hainan)

二 十 六 基 地 or Xi'an Satellite Monitor and Control Center (XSCC) aka Base 26 … also includes the Weinan Tracking Station (Weinan, Shaanxi)

太 原 衛 星 發 射 中 心 or Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center (TSLC) aka Base 25 (Xi'an, Shaanxi)

烟 台 航 天 城 or Yantai Space City (Yantai, Shandog)

上 海 航 天 城 or Shanghai Space City (Baoshan, Shanghai)

南汇县老港镇东进村 or Nanhui Launch Site (Jing An Qu, Shanghai)

西 昌 衛 星 發 射 中 or Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) (Liangshan, Sichuan)

Beijing Aerospace Command & Control Center

甚长基线干涉 or the VLBI: Very Long Baseline Interferometry Radio Antennae
- Deep Space Tracking Network #1 - Xuhui, Shanghai
- Deep Space Tracking Network #2 - Beijing
- Deep Space Tracking Network #3 – Kunming
- Deep Space Tracking Network #4 – Urumqi

厦 门 or Xiamen Tracking & Control Station (Xiamen, Fujian)
南 海 区 or Nanhai Tracking & Control Station (Foshan, Guangdong)
佳 木 斯 or Jiamusi Tracking & Control Station (Jiamusi, Heilongjiang)
庐 山 区 or Lushan Tracking & Control Station (Jiujiang, Jiangxi)
长 春 or Changchun Tracking & Control Station (Changchun, Jilin)
青 岛 or Qingdao Tracking & Control Station (Weihai, Shandong)
天 山 区 or Tianshan Tracking & Control Station (Urumuqi, Xinjiang AR)
和 闐 or Hetian Tracking & Control Station (Hetian, Xinjiang Autonomous Region)
沾 益 县 or Zhanyi Tracking & Control Station (Qujing, Yunnan)

Malindi International Tracking Station (Malindi District, Kenya)
Siziwang Banner Manned Spacecraft Landing Site (Wulanhua, Inner Mongolia)
Swakopmund International Tracking Station (Erongo District, Namibia)
Karachi International Tracking Station (Province of Sindh, Pakistan)