Thursday, April 28, 2011

From The Dust Returned


The Martian Rover Chronicles, continued... but before I resume all the delightful rovery wonderfulness, I'd like to let any would-be road-trippers know that if you are enjoying this weeks’ series on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they will be holding an Open House Event on May 14-15. Yes, only a couple weeks from now!

JPL scientists and engineers will be on hand among the many exhibits, giving live demonstrations and answering questions about their projects on other planets. So, head for Pasadena if you are closeby!

Our intrepid host, Rover Driver Scott Maxwell, guided us through the Instrument Laboratory for the MSL, pointing out all things mechanic, all things robotic, and waving to other engineers and drivers along the way.

Scott's major programming project for JPL is the Automated Command Tracker software; over the years, ACT has also been used by the Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, Mars Global Surveyor, Deep Space 1 and Stardust space craft teams. The guidance software tells the hardware what to do and where to go without flipping over, becoming trapped or tangling up in its own arms and instruments.

Now, imagine trying to do that across martian soil! In one particular lab, we saw the test rovers used for experimentation in maneuvers across varying slopes and rocks, across their mock terrain of diatomaceous earth and Lincoln 60 Fire Clay. Imagine mixing pumice with Bisquick. I wouldn’t recommend the diet, but appreciate that we have a good analog on Earth for similar clumping properties of dirt on Mars.

Mars Rover Testing
The Surface System Test Bed (SSTB) Rover (picture on left in first picture at top, and here to the right of my mother), is the closest hardware to the real rovers that are deployed off-planet in terms of weight and instruments, though this particular model lacks solar panels.

I took video in this room, but sadly it was not built for acoustics, and most of the action is unintelligible. However, being a writer himself and an accomplished speaker, there are copious materials where you can see Scott cover the finer points of rovering with Spirit and Opportunity, “Four years into their 90 day mission!” -- not the least of which was an excellent presentation where he got one of only two standing ovations ever in the 10-year history of the Gnomodex Technology Conference. (Quite worth the time; I love around the 29-minute mark where he mentions both of his world records… just on another world ;)

For more up-to-date weekly adventures. Also see his Mars And Me blog, the "unofficial diary of a Mars rover driver, five years delayed". He, with other engineers, navigates both tough and subtle problems on the red planet through various Martian seasons, in and around craters, sequence by sequence, hoping to hit their science targests.

My favorite new Martian coordinate: "Fort Scott".

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Martian Rover Chronicles


It's not even a remote understatement that Roverman Scott Maxwell has the most colorful profile I've ever seen on any NASA website, anywhere. And until I met him, I was pretty sure *I* had the coolest job...

Wouldn't you love to have his business card? "Computer Programmer & Mars Rover Driver". Awesome. When one has the opportunity to explore a famous campus like the JPL with a passionate host who loves showing all the minutiae of NASA hardware, right down to the legends of how they were designed and named -- you've just as good as had a tour of the moon by Buzz Aldrin.

There is nothing quite so compelling as someone who rushes happily work each day, and honestly cannot think of anything he'd rather be doing.

Spacecraft Assembly Facility
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A major highlight of the day was when Scott took us to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility. Also featured is Laksen Sirimanne, a two-time crew member of the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), who I'll be blogging about next week in another series about Martian analogs.

Together, we all peeked down into the SAF's massive clean room at Curiosity, the new Mars Science Laboratory, and I've uploaded almost everything to my JPL Picasa Gallery if you wish to see the room interior.

To see technicians working their daily magic, you can also watch the LIVE Curiosity CAM! Just video, no audio… but the best we can hope for until someone at NASA TV clevers up and gives Scott his own television show!

Rover Crossing
Office Humor

We got our fill of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Project Office art, and saw the Rovers' Mission Control Center. Scott gave us the rundown on all their adventures on the surface of Mars, with articulate introspection and meaning beyond the hard science. What does it mean to explore another planet? Truly, we are lucky to be alive at such a special time in history, where we can witness amazing views of our solar system in a way humanity never has before, and Scott is one of those people whose innate sensitivity and appreciation has never been dulled by mechanics, software code or red tape.

The Road to Endeavour blog has some wonderful detail about what it's like to explore Mars from "behind the wheel" of a rover, and some of the journeys taken by Scott's twin girls, Spirit and Opportunity! I had planned to speak about "Oppy" myself, but I know when I've been "out-written" and definitely recommend this blog for anyone who would like to see every move a Mars rover makes!

That would be Laksen with a rover wheel on his head.
And why not.

I also feel like maybe I've been unknowingly following Scott around cyberspace; we've both been interviewed by the Planetary Society, we've both been spot-lighted by Universe Today, we've both been featured in the Pars3c High Five… so I'm thinking about trying to talk him into doing a NASA Micro-Gravity Study, just so we can both say we set FOX News New York straight about myth vs. science ;)

If you do nothing else this week in the blogosphere, take a humpday break and check out some of his growing lexicon, because you will be able to say you read his early work before his many books are published.

On his first blog, he has a moving personal tale about how Ray Bradbury visited his team's project office, and drove a rover on Mars, in essence "connecting to him to that world he has imagined for so long". And if you like that, you'll love hearing about his first one-on-one meeting with Bradbury where he got the famous author to sign perhaps the most interesting celebrity autograph I've ever seen, and with pretty unapologetic flamboyance, I might add.

Definitely need to remember this trick if I ever get to meet Neil deGrasse Tyson at a book-signing. Stay tuned tomorrow for Rover testing goodness in mock martian soil, and Scott's current projects!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GOLD in Them Thar Hills


JPL Week! I won't spoil too much of the fun if you ever decide to go visit, but there is a beautiful hall of spacecrafts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the public can see mock-ups and scale models of the hardware designed and created by many decades worth of their scientists.

Explorer 1, anyone? Sputnik is probably a better-known name in terms of early satellites, but the first American-Sat in space was no small feat. Other gems include the Surveyor series, Cassini, MRO, Ulysses, Genesis, etc.

And if anyone can beat my new shirt for
sheer nerdity, I want to know about it!

My longtime friends here will know I harp on the Voyager Program [probably more than necessary], so it will come as no grand shock that the full-scale Voyager craft and Golden Records jumped right out at me! What a treat!

My host was kind enough to capture a photo of me in front of the gold-plated record, which I still think of as "belonging" to Carl Sagan. And didn't he capture an artful reflection? Unplanned, methinks, but aesthetically welcome... and the first time I have seen one of the copies close up!

Voyager 1 and 2 each carried discs, to serve as greetings for any intelligent life. Sagan chaired a selection committee that created a range of scientific data for the records, also visual images, video, music from varied cultures, samples of 55 languages, and sounds of nature –- such as whalesong, waves, storms, birds, a train and a Saturn V rocket launch.

The Voyagers are currently the farthest human-made objects from planet Earth. And I don't care who makes fun of them for being remnants of the disco era!

Galileo... Figaro... Magnifico!

Another full-scale museum piece is the giant Galileo craft, which claims to look very much here as it did when it orbited Jupiter, but one wonders who witnessed this, right? We'll take their word for it, as the sheer amount of thermal blanketing is so impressive.

Additional layers of dacron, mylar and kapton protected the major probe from micro-meteor hits, though from an intent look, I was most surprised at the small size of the propellant tanks! I don't precisely know why, but I always imagine them to be larger.

It is stunning to think this gorgeous gal went all the way to Jovian system in 1989, and orbited Jupiter 34 times before finally being guided into the atmosphere and destroyed in 2003.

Highlights of her hard work included the first asteroid flyby, discovery of the first asteroid moon, first direct observation of a comet collision (Shoemaker-Levy in 1994), and the first in-depth studies of Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede, revealing their saltwater and volcanoes.

It's no exaggeration to say that Galileo and Voyager, both in development and mission activities, truly changed the way Earthlings viewed and thought about our solar system as a whole. Go to my JPL Picasa Gallery to see close-up details and angles!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Take Your Mother To Work Day


A toast! To my pal, Scott... aka @MarsRoverDriver on Twitter, who took time out of his workday recently to show me around some of the exciting buildings at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California! What an awesome place. In fact, awesome doesn't even begin to cover it.

I even started a new tradition: Take Your Mother To Work Day. Well, now when Mother's Day rolls around, she can't say I never took her anyplace interesting:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Take Your Mother To Work Day

After we left, it struck me as rather ironic that I hadn't actually seen anything to do with Jet Propulsion. The big draw there for me is, of course, the many aspects of Mars Exploration Rovers, or the MER project.

Elon Musk's Martian retirement plans notwithstanding, I am a huge fan of Mars travel, Mars analogs, Mars simulations, Mars landers and orbiters -- well, basically just All Things Mars, robotic or otherwise. Like many of you, I've followed Phoenix, Spirit and Opportunity, and look forward to keeping up with all the happenings of the newest rover, Curiosity -- no matter how fashionably late she may be.

Mars Exploration Rover Model
Imagine working in an office where Mars Rovers
just hang around the conference rooms...

As a series for this week, I will be covering all the wonderful things at the "JPL", including spacecraft development, historical design and development such as Galileo and Voyager missions, Scott's amazing job as a Mars Rover Driver, and more about the Curiosity mission, including their new EDL sequence, and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

Along the way I'll be filling my newest album in my Picasa Galleries for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Come along for the ride!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Planetary Habitability Laboratory


Hey, is everybody ready for all the Earth Day festivities tomorrow?

Since the end of January, I’ve been following the attention-grabbing twitter feed of Professor Abel Méndez @ProfAbelMendez. As the Director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) in the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, he keeps all his followers up to date on interesting articles about all things astrobiology.

Professor Abel Méndez
The big star in his cosmos is his Visual Paleo-Earth Project, or VPE, which was motivated by his study of the light curves of extra-solar planets. Together with many of his students, they interpret terrestrial models (from long past eras, all the way up to present-day climate scenarios) and use NASA Blue Marble - Next Generation to create images and animations.

Under the Department of Physics & Chemistry, the new PHL is under development as a "virtual facility" which serves to study the Earth, our solar system and exoplanets, hoping to characterize basic tenets of what constitutes "habitability."

We fellow Kepler-heads keep close watch on such projects, eagerly seeking information on the ramifications of findings in the studied star fields, and the important questions about habitability: How does it begin? Does it only happen when certain conditions are met, or can it arise under different conditions? What does it look like in various stages of evolution on different planets?

Big Blue MarbleThe "blue marble" image is currently the most
detailed true-color image of the entire Earth.

Watch their tweets and PHL / VPE web pages on Earth day tomorrow, when they will present their Visible Paleo-Earth (VPE) "photorealistic visualizations" of planet Earth, as seen from space during the past 750 million years! Waiting with great anticipation for their releases in the morning! Study up, because there will be a quiz later...

Astro Twitter!


Oh, the drama! Seems we have some new astronauts learning how to navigate the Twitterverse -- always a treat! has a complete list of all the astronauts, cosmonauts, spationautes, taikonauts and flight directors with Twitter accounts... and may I just say: wow.

This "micro-blogging" medium has exploded in the space community, and I am so glad to see NASA embracing the buzz. Of course, some are sitting idle now, as the astronauts did not stay active after their missions, but many astronauts are continuing to tweet about various training or space-related activities on the ground, giving great insight into the @Astro pasttimes these days!

STS-135 Crew
The newest additions are the newly selected crew members for the final Space Shuttle Flight, STS-135 Atlantis:
Commander Christopher Ferguson - @Astro_Ferg
Pilot Douglas Hurley - @Astro_Doug
Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus - @Astro_Sandy
Mission Specialist Rex Walheim - @Astro_Rex

Sandy is actually a veteran space-twit from her last mission to the ISS, but the blokes are just now spreading their wings. I was excited to see Walheim finally join, and even more excited to be one of his very first followers:

astro_rex twitter feed

As you can see, I immediately started needling him -- all in good fun, of course; though I hope no one thinks I was serious about hacking. Or red jumpsuits. I also think it's hilarious that he actually invoked the Mission Control Center for help... with Twitter! But hey, they and many space enthusiasts rose to the challenge to help him troubleshoot.

I am now feeling just slightly (but benevolently) smug that amongst all the flurry of his new membership chatter, I was the only person whose tweets he addressed, LOL... and he finally had success!

@astro_rex on Twitter

Whatta guy. Good luck with continued training to our last STS crew, an all-veteran foursome who will definitely do America proud in our Shuttle finale!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q&A: Astronaut Monitoring


Longtime reader and Google-follower Lisleman of A Few Clowns Short asks:
"I was wondering about health issues. Would you say that astronauts are the most monitored humans around? Do they monitor them constantly while in the ISS? Lastly, have the doctors ever prevented some illness because they noticed a warning in the monitored levels of an astronaut?"

I had a wild guess that individuals in prison might be the "most monitored", but this is an interesting avenue, both medically and operationally. I had some inklings, but called upon a couple buddies in Mission Control to point me in the right direction.

Houston Mission Control 2005
NASA physiologist Liz Warren @Spasmunkey (also featured in my Workers At NASA section) says:
Prior to an ISS flight, I'd have to agree astronauts are some of the most medically monitored people on the planet. Millions of dollars are invested in each astronaut during training, and we ensure they don't get sick and jeopardize the mission. Astronauts are keenly aware that they are replaceable.

During flight, astronauts have weekly private chats with their flight surgeons and psychiatrists. In terms of medical monitoring IN-FLIGHT, there isn't much. Exercise is monitored via a heart rate monitor. There is a portable blood analyzer on-orbit for routine analysis, but I've heard it doesn't work. According to it, everyone who is in space is deceased. The blood and urine samples gathered for research are frozen and analyzed on the ground after the crewmember goes home.

I am not aware (due to medical privacy) of any medical intervention that prevented someone from getting sick on-orbit. However, one Russian mission was aborted prematurely due to a crewmember developing a medical issue in-flight.

NASA Flight Surgeons
Dr. Jennifer Law, Flight-Surgeon-In-Training, says:
How do you define "most monitored"? I can think of intensive care unit patients that are more closely monitored with invasive blood pressure & heart rate monitoring, temperature probes, and so on. Astronauts don't get this kind of medical scrutiny when they're on orbit. Prisoners may be monitored all the time in terms of their location and activity, but I don't think anyone keeps track of their vital signs and other physiological parameters.

Modern astronauts aren't monitored all the time like astronauts in the early space days were, and don't wear electrodes 24/7. They get routine physicals and are monitored during activities like exercise, EVA, and certain experiments, but the rest of the time they are not monitored per se, though like Liz said they do chat with their crew surgeon regularly so that any budding issues are addressed early.

As for medical interventions that prevent astronauts from getting sick on-orbit, we tend to focus on what we call primary prevention, e.g., astronaut selection, health maintenance, crew quarantine prior to flight, and regular exams. The irony is that when we do our jobs right, none of the astronauts get sick and we have nothing to show for it! Though I do know arrhythmias have been noted in space.

Astronaut Electrodes (NASA Archive)
Flight Controller Mike Allyn @FTCMike says:
Jen brings up a good point as to context of the word "monitored". I jumped to medical because of the question about preventing illness, but I can speak to monitoring the crew on a non-medical basis. Through various means of telemetry monitoring, MCC can often extrapolate what the crew is up to. Power draw always increases in the Service module when the crew starts turning on lights. We can also tell if there are crewmembers awake from the control torques on the vehicle. Rate measurements are so accurate coming from the US Rate Gyro Assemblies (RGA's) and the Russian Givus that the commands to control the torque of the Control Moment Gyro's (CMG's) react slightly to the crew bouncing off the walls.

We protect the crew's sleep and off duty time as much as we can. So being able to tell when they are awake is useful for the cases when we need to talk to them at the earliest convenience, but it's not worth waking them up for. Another way to tell if a crew member is up and moving is by smoke detector scatter measurements. Anytime there is a tiny bit of dust detected by the many smoke detectors, they register increased scatter. One way this increases is by crewmembers working and moving in close proximity to them, which increases airflow and kicks up dust.

So there you have it, Lisleman! Hope that answers all your questions -- and very special thanks to our friendly neighborhood NASA pals for their time and expertise!

Monday, April 18, 2011

MECO in Space


Happy news for Space Tweeps today! We are all a-tweep and a-twitter this morning, after astronaut Ron Garan tweeted from @Astro_Ron a photo of MECO in the International Space Station! What a treat from Expedition 27/28!

If you aren't familiar with Meco but recognize the logo, you may have seen it in my blog navigation bar... and all through my Picasa and Facebook, you'll find carriers of little stuffed MECO birdies. That mascot does get around!

I keep my little patch on my laptop... and how awesome to see one in the cupola of the ISS, in low Earth orbit!

Click for the original @flyingjenny

Ron, of course, started the newly active Fragile Oasis blog, where he and fellow astronauts currently in space are keeping us all updated on ISS activities -- and invited some of their Russian co-workers to serve as guest-bloggers for our entertainment as well.

He caused something of a stir by setting his auto-reply to "currently off the planet" when he launched, and it's never a disappointment to any of us when an astronaut with a sense of humor inspires folks to keep up with missions. The fact that he is also tweeting and collaborating with others in the space twitter community is really something to see!

Space Tweep Society
I've been sadly remiss in posting on the Space Tweep Society lately, because of course I'm always writing on my own blog... but it remains one of my favorite web sites, and has proven invaluable when networking to find other space enthusiasts. It's also a great place to hear about space-related events all over the country.

Definitely check out Flying Jenny's great forum and join the Tweep Society if you are interested in meeting other space program employees, astronomers, journalists, astrophysicists, scientists, educators, and space geeks. It's a real nerd-rush when we bump into one another at NASA Tweetups, having only RT'd in cyberspace beforehand.

Score one in weightlessness for the Tweeps! Thanks, Ron! :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Quips & Quotes III


"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did." ~ Astronaut Neil Armstrong

"In the universe, space travel may be the normal birth pangs of an otherwise dying race. A test. Some races pass, some fail." ~ Author Robert Heinlein

"As soon as somebody demonstrates the art of flying, settlers from our species of man will not be lacking [on the moon and Jupiter]... Given ships or sails adapted to the breezes of heaven, there will be those who will not shrink from even that vast expanse." ~ Astronomer Johannes Kepler, 1610

Alan Bean Paintings
"But I'm the only one who can paint the moon, because I'm the only one who knows whether that's right or not." ~ Astronaut Alan Bean

"A new space race has begun, and most Americans are not even aware of it. [It] involves the whole human species in a contest against time. To save the Earth we must look beyond it, to interplanetary space. To prevent the collapse of civilization and the end of the world as we know it, we must understand that our planet does not exist in isolation." ~Author Ben Bova

"The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way - the way God intended it to be - by giving everyone, eventually, that new perspective from out in space." ~ Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee

KSC Employee Shuttle
"We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding." ~ President John F. Kennedy

"The rocket, far from being one of the destroyers of civilization, may provide the safety-value that is needed to preserve it." ~ Author Arthur C. Clarke, 1951

"Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives. " ~ Socrates, 500 B.C.

"I could have gone on flying through space forever." ~ Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Space Geek Quiz


How do you know if you are an Astro-Nut or an Astro-NOT? Add up your points in the Space Geek Quiz?

1. You know offhand what the "STS" in STS-134 stands for. Next launch, coming April 29th!

2. You can name every NASA program from 1959 onward, and still think it's kinda weird that the lunar program was misnamed for the Greek god of the Sun. (???)

3. Having NASA TV on in a separate web browser throughout the day is nothing unusual.

4. Your favorite film is about aliens or space exploration in some far-off universe where there is no such thing as money, language differences or individual clothing styles.

NASA Space Geeks
5. You've spent more than one Halloween dressed as one of the aliens in said film from above.

6. Your mouse pad and the screen saver of all your collective gadgetry features pulsars, nebulae, supernovas or black holes.

7. You actually know the difference between pulsars, nebulae, supernovas or black holes.

8. And when someone mentions it, you actually feel the need to explain that pictures are inaccurate anyway – because black holes are invisible, so we can only surmise their properties by observing effects on objects around them.

9. You were relieved when "stellar" finally went out of vogue as a dorky slang term that was hitherto synonymous with "cool".

10. Your Twitter feed, social media page or email handle is a space term cleverly coupled with your personal nickname.

11. There is really nothing wrong with having Shuttle tiles in your office at work. And that space helmet is a conversation piece.

12. You can name all twelve American astronauts who walked on the moon. In order.

13. You are still currently hungover from that Yuri's Night celebration.

SCORE 1-3: Clearly you get out too much. And you have a tan. You're no space geek, why are you even taking a computer quiz??

SCORE 4-6: They would totally beat you up at a Star Trek Convention.

SCORE 7-8: Not too shabby, but your kids probably still know more than you do.

SCORE 9-10: The Planetary Society would benefit from your membership and you should get a free telescope. Wish I had one to give away.

SCORE 11-12: You are starting to annoy people at cocktail parties with space facts, but really, they are just jealous of your incredible space smarts. Have you thought about applying to NASA?

Certified Space Cadet!

SCORE 13: Certified SPACE CADET!

Want to share your score?? Click on the COMMENT section below and let us know who is an Astro-Nut or Astro-NOT? Have fun! =)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Space Shuttle Retirement


In other news, it was the 30-year anniversary of the American Space Shuttle orbiters yesterday!

Space Shuttle retiring
After a two and a half years of idea solicitations, of not-always-friendly political wrangling, public petitioning, construction plans, and media hype, fully 10 museums were serious contenders for housing orbiters after the last launches this year.

Polls on CNN and SpaceTimeNews recently ran public opinion polls with surprising results, but of course, the decision would come down to ability and funding. Can you house an orbiter and care for it properly in a climate controlled environment while also herding crowds of people past it daily?

So here it is, space fans -- NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced the Shuttles' new homes:

Space Shuttle Retirement
Shuttle Enterprise
From Smithsonian to Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York

Shuttle Discovery
Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum - Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia

Shuttle Endeavour
California Science Center, Los Angeles, California

Shuttle Atlantis
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida

Shuttle simulators will be allocated to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum of McMinnville, Oregon, and the Aerospace Engineering Department of Texas A&M University.

The Full Fuselage Trainer currently at Johnson Space Center will travel the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The nose cap assembly and crew compartment trainer will go to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and two Orbital Maneuvering system engines will eventually reside at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center of Huntsville, Alabama and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Happy trails!

Yuri's Week!


Putting the first human man in space 50 years ago was an amazing event, but when it comes to what that event would eventually mean for humanity, I think the first woman in space put it best:

Of course, buzz began months ago about all the Yuri's Night celebrations, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961. I won't re-hash the details, since there are about a million news sites carrying the story this week... and especially today!

Incredibly, the Yuri's Night Net broke a record this year, with 72 countries participating in 542 events celebrating space exploration! Wow.

Even Google got in on the action, no surprise there!

Yuri GagarinCheck in with the Yuri Gagarin 50 Org for stories, news, event updates, records of peoples' individual memories about Yuri, photo galleries and other tidbits about the Russian hero!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ten Facts About The First Man In Space


Yuri Gagarin made a single orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961. His flight lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes at an orbital speed of approximately 17,000 miles per hour.

Yuri's parents were collective farm residents in the [formerly] small village of Gzhatsk, where his father was a carpenter. Today, Gzhatsk is called "Gagarin City".

Юрий Гагарин
In the Soviet Test Pilots program, he was well-known for having top grades, withstanding 13Gs in a centrifuge and, as a part of the psychological training for space flight, lasted longer in a bare, dark and soundless room than any other trainee (over 24 hours).

One of the last things Gagarin said before his famous sign off, was: "The main thing is that there is sausage -- to go with the moonshine." The scientist who had been describing his foodstuffs to him dashed off an expletive, realizing that their flight relay recorder was running, and would forever remember Yuri's remark!

Yuri was singing and whistling to himself inside Vostok 1 while Soviet Mission Control conducted their various last-minute checks.

Yuri Gagarin Magazine CoversAn elderly woman, her grand-daughter and a [probably very unimpressed] cow were the first to see Gagarin return to the planet via parachute.

He later had a ship named after him. The Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin or Космона́вт Ю́рий Гага́рин, built in 1971, was a space control-monitoring ship devoted to detecting and receiving satellite communications. The KYG also later conducted upper atmosphere and outer space research.

Yuri Gagarin was named Hero of the Soviet Union, and because the government wanted to protect their national treasure, he was barred from flying space again. Ironically, after being promoted to Colonel, but relegated back to test pilot status in the Soviet Air Force, he was killed at the age of 34 when his MiG-15 crashed during a training exercise. Cause unknown.

Юрий Гагарин
Юрий Гагарин 1934 - 1968

"Circling the Earth in the orbital spaceship, I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world! Let us safeguard and enhance this beauty, not destroy it!" ~ Yuri Gagarin, 1961

There are 12 (yes, twelve!) commemorative statues and sculptures of Yuri in various cities across Russia.

Monday, April 11, 2011

All Female Crew


The idea for an all-female complement to the Mars500 just happened to arise on St. Patrick's Day, though we were all sober, I assure you. On Facebook, the Mars500 press team and other supporters came together as, in one rep's words, "... a form of psychological support for the Mars500 crew, where we demonstrate that our brave ladies are ready and able to do the same [type of simulation]."

So we have beamed a little photo-shopped gift into the Mars500 module!

Mars 500 AFSC
Click to embiggen and see all originals!
And hey, that's me on the left ;)

We had a great many brilliant women in the running for the Mars500 AFSC (All Female Symbolic Crew), so we made it clear from the beginning we wouldn't be pin-up girls. Promotion and support? Yes, we all work in the space industry in one capacity or another. Participation? We sure would qualify! And as our head researcher points out, "We're not going to be dollies here -- I'd very much like to get into space some day, and not just as the token woman."

Mars500AFSC Twitter Feed
Many of us follow the Mars500 research closely, after having gone through astronaut training, and also done Astro-NOT simulations. So here is our "congratulatory" project from us to the Mars500 crew as they reach various milestones! Today is Day 313, and after landing on Mars, they are now on their way back to Earth.

These men have given up 520 days of their lives for their trip to the red planet... with no wives, no friends, no sunlight, and only the food they took with them! That is a pretty stunning sacrifice for science. And we also happened to notice they had some free wall space where they might put our posters! They can take their pick of many variations done by talented graphic artist Steve Légère. Thanks for the great work, Steve!

Mars500 Module
How did we know they had wall space? See the panoramic-RU site for an amazing 360-degree view of the Mars500 capsule! The tour is clickable, moveable, scrollable... and watch for the red arrows, to move from room to room. Truly the best floor-to-ceiling view of the spaceship I've yet seen!

But anyway, my fellow crew-women are:
Soyeon Yi - Daejeon, South Korea - Mission Commander
Daria Shapovalova - Moscow, Russia - Pilot
Stefania Ligas - Verona, Italy - Medical Officer
Kate Arkless Gray - London, England - Head Researcher
Misuzu Onuki - Tokyo, Japan - Communications Officer
Heather Archuletta - San Francisco, USA - Chief Engineer

Mars500 AFSC Magazine
Our true veteran astronaut is Soyeon Yi of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the second Asian woman in space! So, of course, she was unanimously elected Commander of the mission. Stefania? A lifelong space enthusiast, and a teacher in the city of Romeo & Juliet! Daria works at the International Space University. Kate is the famous @SpaceKate, broadcast journalist who came across the pond for the STS-133 launch and never went home! Ex-JAXA Misuzu is also now the Asia liaison of the Space Frontier Foundation.

Quite accomplished international company. We join hands in cyberspace to salute the Mars500!

Friday, April 8, 2011



What a week! The shutdown we all hoped would never come to pass looks pathetically possible now. Republicans? Democrats? I care not about finger-pointing to this person or that, or what party is to blame for what issue. The point is, the budget has to be done by a certain time each year, and this isn't a surprise to any of the people in Congress. I see a lot of neckties who should be ashamed of themselves for their posturing, while thousands of workers hang in the balance.

Using troop pay as a bargaining chip? How did you people get elected, seriously. And that is only one issue of many that should never get caught in the crossfire when ideologues hold up government operations.

NASA Shutdown
A rather frightening memo was released by NASA's Office of the Administrator, detailing the space agency's shutdown plan. This is six pages of scary, and I hope there is no need for it to be implemented.

Of course, I had a completely different post lined up for today, but one cannot ignore the buzz all over the blogosphere and twitterverse. No one is paying attention to much else... and there certainly isn't anything else on the news! But then, when the largest economy in the history of planet Earth cannot get their act together, the alarmist coverage is to be expected. I hate to add to it, but I wanted to provide a resource for space enthusiasts to get straightforward answers about what a government shutdown means, specifically, to NASA.

Some of the basics unfortunately include:

• Discontinued Educational Support - NASA instructors will not report to schools.
• Tours and public access to NASA Centers and Facilities will be canceled.
• NASA Television and NASA websites will all close down.

Government Shutdown Affects NASA
NASA will protect life and property in all cases, but only a minimum of people are exempted from furlough. And yes, an extended shutdown would absolutely affect the launch of Shuttle Endeavour. Again.

There have been some very serious racing-around olympics this week, trying to ensure certain operational tasks are completed before Friday evening -- but frankly, I hope that by Saturday morning, I can delete this post and laugh about all this.

Well, perhaps not outright deletion -- I may keep it online for "blog history"!

Also in the news today? Russia accelerated funding for their moon base program. Sleep tight, anti-science Americans.