Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sea to Shining Sea


On the road again! Well, I've already been on the road for many days now, gathering supplies, dropping off, picking up and saying goodbye to friends and family I may not see again for some time.

Space Food Sticks
Like all good road trips,
the difference is in the travel snacks ;)

However, today is the day I meet up with my other road-mates and the official summer trek across the country begins at dawn tomorrow:
California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (stay tuned for some possible TV appearances there with my old pals from the NASA studies in Houston!), Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and down into Florida to see Atlantis STS-135 launch from Cape Canaveral!

And once I'm there? I'm there. I'm staying. I don't care if that Shuttle launch gets scrubbed and then scrubbed again -- for months! I'm not missing this.

Until Atlantis takes off, I am officially a Floridian again.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Sun's Heartbeat


Book review time! I don't do many of these because I read SO many books, it's rare that anything hypnotizes me, but this one is a true gem than any space enthusiast must add to their collection. The full title is The Sun's Heartbeat And Other Stories From the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet by Bob Berman –- whose name you will doubtless recognize from Discover magazine. Yes, that Bob Berman.

As in his columns or speeches, he is humorous and delightfully un-condescending in his sharing of astronomical knowledge (and I mean that in both the literal and adjectival senses!), making this a fluid read. In fact, the fluidity is addictive. I'd planned to read the book next week and review it in July prior to its 7/13 release, but wound up finishing it after just two sittings, quite unable to put it down.

The Sun's Heartbeat"At it's most elemental, the Sun is the sole source of our life and energy... Everything about the sun is either amazing or useful. Beyond the peculiar history of its discoveries by a motley collection of geniuses, it directly or indirectly affects our lives, our health, our emotions, and even our dollars."
~ Bob Berman

As interesting as any biography of a person who lived a long and interesting life, this book unfolds the life of our Sun, and the millennias-long melodrama of our quest to understand this amazing entity, as discovered through the eyes of an esteemed cast of characters: Galileo, Kepler, Halley, Schwabe, Herschel, Pauli, Kirchhoff & Bunsen. Wait... Kirchhoff & Bunsen? Yeah, and you don't know the most stunning discoveries about the Sun until you know their work (proving once again how scientific Zeitgeist often rewards entirely the wrong people).

What makes the sun shine? Recorded history shows we tried to figure that out for about 25 thousand generations. Those of us alive today have known the truest answer for just one human lifetime: the fusing together of hydrogen nuclei, and fusing its helium into heavier elements.

From Babylonian scientists recording sun spots 3 thousand years ago to current climate change debates, through ancient religions and alchemy to modern sciences such as heliophysics and helioseismology, Bob Berman brings alive the Sun's gifts to planet Earth: how we divine the Sun's properties through water, weather and tree rings; the sun's role in the evolution of life forms in terms of how fast mutations occur, as evidenced by fossil records; and, even how petty fights between dueling scientists often led to advancements in the knowledge of our solar god.

Subtitles of the book could easily include Sunscreen 101, the Vitamin D chronicles, Aurora-Chasing, How a Solar Eclipse Can Change Your Life, and Hey, Twenty Trillion Neutrinos Are Slamming Through Your Head Every Second! Really.

Columnist Bob Berman
Berman's new writing gig

Berman lays out the heliophysics in detail; not the dry stuff of textbook mechanics, but rather the dynamic story of superstitions versus experiments, and finally, modern scientific method and measurement. From believing the sun was a deity to understanding the very foundations of what made our solar system possible, he makes the Sun precisely what it is: a STAR!

And he does so with quips and quirky prose that will make you read the lines twice to make sure you are actually reading a science book instead of a Dilbert strip: "Neutrons don't help us and don't hurt us: they're like coleslaw," and "Sagittarius resembles an archer the way I resemble Brad Pitt" are among the LOL moments. And he actually used the words KAPLOOIE and SHAZAM. Awesome. My favorite, to the chagrin of astronauts everywhere, had to be: "Once you venture outside Earth's protective field, your HMO would be wise to stop covering you."

Indeed. So far, this is the geek read of the year. Go find it. :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Asteroid Watch

Meteor Crater
While creating my post yesterday for all the official NASA twitter feeds, I was surprised to note that the Near Earth Objects Program, colloquially known as "Asteroid Watch" or "Spaceguard", is approaching a million followers!

Are folks really that worked up about asteroids hitting Earth? Well, in answer to my question, the man tasked with teaching us about the NEO Program had the Arizona Meteor Crater on his introduction slide, LOL! So there you are. Things can and do hit the Earth from time to time, and will continue to do so.

NASA Near Earth Objects Program
Want to see one? It so happens that this coming Monday, June 27, 2011... a school-bus-sized asteroid NASA has named "2011 MD" will come within 12,000 kilometers (or 7,500 miles) of Earth. Not the closest or largest that has skittered near our atmosphere, but visible by amateur telescope from many areas – and a fine chance for NASA to examine the properties of the asteroid in infrared, radar and visual observations.

The asteroid will pass so close, that Earth's gravity will quite sharply alter the asteroid's trajectory, whereupon it will move through our zone of man-made orbiting satellites; however, astronomers say there is only a very remote chance of anything colliding.

KNOWN: 500,00 minor planets
7,750 Near Earth Objects (NEO)
1,200 Potentually Hazardous Asteroids (PHA)

You wouldn't think anyone could make killer asteroids so blasted hilarious, would you?! The speaker above, NEO Project Manager Don Yeomans, started by highlighting the architecture of the solar system, as such: we have rocky planets in the inner region, gaseous giants further out, various "belts" of leftover small bodies and a distant comet cloud. Simple enough, right?

Yes, well perhaps in 1900, when we shrugged about it because we simply didn't have the technology to spot much of anything. He zoomed through slides showing discoveries in 1950, 1990, 1999 and finally 2011. And. Wow. It suddenly starts to seem rather amazing that we don't have more craters.

While conventional wisdom of past eras of science suggests the main "asteroid belt" lies roughly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, but in more recent days, stargazers are learning that asteroids can make very close approaches to Earth with far greater frequency than previously assumed.

So, if you happen to be short of things to worry about currently, definitely check out the NEO web site for all the amazing tools used to spot near-Earth objects, and you can also keep up with potential disaster movie plots on their Sentry Risk Table.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NASA Tweeping


So I follow twelve NASA Twitter feeds, and lived under the delusion that I was following a great many! I checked the NASA Connect page from time to time for new things, but it had been awhile... and what an explosion over the past year! However, theirs is slightly out-of-date, so here is the full list now. Truly, they need someone like me to curate this for them -- alas, no one has made me QUEEN yet.

I was one of those folks who didn't quite understand Twitter when I signed up to Tweet, but over time have seen the fascination with micro-blogging in the 140-character culture. So! If you're interested in keeping up with various NASA facilities and individual missions, here is the full spate of NASA Twitter feeds... along with the current snapshot of followers:

News From NASA - 1,173,085
Now up over a million!

Updates on astronaut activities - 108,071

NASA Deputy Administrator - 10,277

Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA) - 22,580

Dryden Flight Research Center (Edwards, CA) - 14,213

Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH) - 4,447

Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD) - 28,184

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) - 175,740

Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX) - 32,271

Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, FL) - 204,144

Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA) - 17,778

Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL) - 13,770

Stennis Space Center (Michoud, MS) - 8,135

Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, VA) - 12,653

NASA HQ (Washington, DC) - 3,106

JPL's Near Earth Objects (Pasadena, CA) - 767,871

Saturn Solar System Studies (JPL) - 124,644

Chandra Observatory (MSFC) - 11,014

Curiosity Rover (JPL / KSC) - 35,820

Desert Analog Projects - 11,869

Earth Observatory (Greenbelt, MD) - 11,988

Eyes On The Earth (JPL) - 24,666

NASA Educational Short Films - 364
... Ha, get it? ECLIPS? ;) Nice.

NASA Environmental Management - 72

Glory Mission Energy Balance - 3,415

Goddard Earth Sciences Data (GSFC) - 639

Hubble Space Telescope (HST) - 24,765

Hurricane / Cyclone Watch (Greenbelt, MD) - 126,508

ICESat: Ice, Cloud, & Land Elevation Satellite - 8,833

International Space Station (ISS) - 8,061

J2X Rocket Engine (MSFC) - 128

NASA Webb Telescope (Greenbelt, MD) - 12,010

Jupiter Mission (JPL) - 1,762

Kepler Mission (Ames) - 136,631

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (Greenbelt, MD) - 98,646

Spirit and Opportunity (JPL) - 139,193

Airborne Science Program - 1,004

NASA Astrobiology Institute (ARC) - 962,331

NASA Center for AeroSpace Information - 3,082

Central Operations of Resources for Educators - 3,628

History of NASA (Washington DC) - 17,493

Global Weather Patterns (JPL) - 2,415

NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (Greenbelt, MD) - 7,103

NASA Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy - 4,709

NASA-Derived Technologies on Earth - 9,134

Voyager I and II Spacecrafts - 889

Interestingly, the only NASA mission feeds with more followers than the administrative accounts of the centers are the Astrobiology Institute and Asteroid Watch! It would seem the two larger human interests are... finding non-humans and keeping up with what might be smashing into Earth at any given time.

Conspicuously missing? Any official Space Shuttle feeds, strangely. NASA KSC twitters a great deal about shuttles, of course, and there are non-NASA feeds dedicated to each Orbiter.

So if you'd like to follow the final Shuttle launch, another good feed is @SSAtlantis for the Space Shuttle Atlantis. However, you're better off following my Twitter feed. I'll be in Florida... watching! Fancy that! :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tour of SpaceX


"The solar system is full of cool places. We just need to go."
~ Garrett Reisman, former NASA astronaut,

now Crew Development Program Manager for SpaceX

While down in SoCal last week (or was it the week before? Sorry, I'm currently on Nyquil, and quite possibly time traveling –- life now is just a matter of killing time until the final Shuttle Launch!), I actually made a rogue stop at a little start-up company that may make some huge splashdowns in our space-faring future.

Perhaps you've heard of Space Exploration Technologies? And may I just say, they have a mind-blowing facility with room to grow, and the absolute awesomest street in all of Hawthorne, if not the greater Los Angeles area.

Rocket Road
I am, of course, being facetious when I say "start-up"… and I could tell you why it's not a starter anymore, but then I'd have to kill you. I also could have taken some photographs of the interior – but then they would have killed me. That's right, no photography allowed on SpaceX tours. Sad face.

Dragons and Falcons and Merlins were all on the tour for my space-greedy eyes to drink in, but you'll have to take my word for it, because the images are only in my little brain. You have to go there yourself for the full monty, as it were… and one hopes they scratch together some sort of public tour by the time they make good on their intentions to create the successor to the Space Shuttle.

Space Exploration Techologies
Last year, I wrote about SpaceX when they became the first commercial company to recover a spacecraft after it orbited Planet Earth. Certainly the space industry was all agog at this achievement, but I suspected that most of the general public didn't truly grasp what had just happened... what this group of young people in Hawthorne, California had truly accomplished. A non-government entity that could conceivably put warm bodies in space? And perhaps just the first of many?

I had the pleasure of meeting some bright, young engineers at SpaceX, and getting to ask them questions about their work and plans was so much more enlightening than reading a press release or following short sound bytes on the news.

Heather at SpaceX headquarters
They are busy working to expand their operations in Texas now, and their hiring process never seems to slow; their ambitious Launch Manifest spells out quite bold plans for the next few years, continuing to work with NASA, other commercial space companies and varied international partners.

So, SpaceX... the next great American adventure?? Time will tell.

And yes, while on tour with the delightful young man half-my-age, I saw the infamous cheese wheel. Touched it, in fact! (The cheese, not the chap).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Red Planet Rap Video


Just one of the many amazing outreach programs run by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is "Imagine Mars", and it was my great pleasure to get to shake hands with Mars Public Engagement Team member David Delgado when I was at the JPL last week. In all of my photography and coverage of the media events, I'd have to say this was the special one that truly hit home for me!

David Delgado
Perhaps it was because I suspect many people are unaware of the extent of educational outreach performed by NASA centers, and how important it to work with children of all ages, across all regions, to inspire them in scientific endeavours. These are very likely the least known, but most important space agency missions!

NASA's Imagine Mars Project (co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts) is a nationwide arts, sciences and technology education initiative, bringing together scientists, civic leaders and school-children to design a sustainable Mars community for 100 people. Understanding "green efforts" and the health of their own community becomes the students primary research goal.

Mars Outreach Program
While presenting all the "Green Tech on the Red Planet" projects in the Imagine Mars program, David introduced an amazing music video called "Bye Bye Earth," created by students in Chicago who had been learning about how we would keep people alive in a Mars colony. Numerous other organizations joined their efforts to help production, and the results were incredible! This video is now available on the website, and on the NASA Youtube Channel:

"It's the greatest example of someone learning something, retaining the information, and expressing it in a way that's meaningful to them. We didn't ask them to go and write a song [or produce music], but they were so excited bout the information that they went and did it anyway!" ~ David Delgado

By the end of the video, and when Solar System Planet Ambassador Pamela Greyer joined David onstage during a standing ovation for their portion of the speakers program that day, there wasn't a dry eye in the house!

These are some of Pam's kids, and she was able to tell us all great stories about her work as K-12 STEM consultant; and the challenges and joys she sees in her everyday efforts as an educator who does her best to inspire children to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical education.

Pamela Greyer
You can also see Pam & David in action during classroom projects on the same channel, in the Imagine Mars Overview clips. There you will also recognize some of the same teens who composed and performed in the "Bye Bye Earth" music video, where they narrate their field trips and school projects, and even software development. What an inspiration!

Pam can be found on Twitter @TheNASALady if you want to follow all her activities at local STEM events, science museums and schools. For all of us who were present, I know we will never forget this inspiring story, and it was an stunning finale to an incredible day! You can see why they saved this for last! :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Clean Room


Today's post is especially for longtime reader and encourager, Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife! She wanted to see inside the "clean room" of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), otherwise known as "Curiosity Rover" is being prepared for her trip to Mars!

I took a fair amount of photographs from the viewing gallery on my first trip to the SAF, capturing the Curiosity and her Sky Crane. To review more about this interesting new (but possibly risky?) Entry Descent & Landing (EDL), also see my previous post about how the MSL will land on Mars.

Mars Curiosity
See where that arrow is pointing? I've now stood right beneath the Live Curiosity Cam twice and watched the many mummy-wrapped technicians skittering meaningfully about, tinkering with all the fascinating hardware which will launch toward the red planet this November!

Did you Send Your Name To Mars on the MSL? When all was said and done for the etching all our names on the deck microship, precisely 1,246,445 names were entered from all over the world. Curiosity will take them all into space!

The rover you see in this video, and in my photo galleries is about the size of a car, and about the same weight, at 1,982 imperial pounds. That's just under a TON.

How does that stack up against previous critters send to ROVE all about Mars? Well the first, the Sojourner, was 23 pounds (10.6 kilograms). Around the size of your average microwave oven.

The Spirit and Opportunity Rovers were each 408 pounds (185 kilograms). Curiosity dwarfs them at 900 kilograms, and will also yield the most advanced science and photography, provided she lands safely in 2012.

Today, is the very last day you will be able to watch the Live Curiosity Cam! After that, we'll only have amateur video, like my shaky stuff above! So watch for her final huzzah today, and join the last Thursday Chat at 9am PT (1600 UT) for your last glimpse of development and testing!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

That's The Spirit!


During my Tweetup frenzy at the NASA JPL, I actually managed to capture some mediocre video this time around. On my first visit to see Scott Maxwell, I tried to capture some of his tour, but hadn't quite gotten the hang of the new camera's video feature. This time, however, I was far more practiced!

Two of the videos turned out quite well -- and quite funny! Normally, I'd spread them out over two posts, but they fit together so well in the spirit of... SPIRIT!

Of course, we all know the Spirit Rover on Mars was retired... 6 years into her 3 month mission, as the joke goes. It's not to say we didn't get awesome science out of the lovely lady on the Red Planet, but realizing that she was unreachable was sad for employees and fans alike. Watching Spirit has been an honor -- working on her looks like it was a blast!

Here, @marsroverdriver shares a story about the Spirit Rover, having been one of the three folks on his team to speak; the other two featured in the video are Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Program Manager John Callas and Robotics Engineer Ashley Stroupe.

In related news, everyone's favorite comedian, Doug Ellison, presented his smashing idea for a unique group photograph. Terribly entertaining! He truly tickled the collective nerd funnybone with his explanation as to how we would pull off the panoramic mosaic of pictures on Mars taken by the Spirit Rover.

Each of the posters, which we all got to keep, are one of a kind! I ended up getting one the hearts he speaks about in the video, and cannot wait to have mine framed. :) You can see the mad scramble to put all the pieces together in my JPL Picasa Gallery... what a madhouse! But the final photograph turned out quite nicely in the end -- whereupon we also took a regular photograph where one might see all our smiling faces!

Spirit Rover Mosaic
The only thing we Tweeps couldn't figure out was why NASA TV hasn't given Scott and Doug their own television show yet?!

Monday, June 13, 2011

365 Days of Astronomy


What is 365 Days of Astronomy? Hey, it's the amazing website upon which I was featured last week while I was gallivanting all about the Wild, Wild West! 365DOA is a "legacy" project of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009)… but built enough steam to keep going for two more years!

The project is a collection of podcasts, that published a recording-per-day for all 365 days of 2009… then they continued in 2010, and lo, they are still going strong in 2011 – named The Year of The Solar System due to all the upcoming robotic missions into space (Juno, GRAIL, Dawn, Aquarius, etc).

365 Days of Astronomy
Each "episode" features both a small radio show and a written transcript, produced by astronomers, physicists, cosmologists and other… PROUD GEEKS… all over the world! So says Dr. Pamela Gay, the chairwoman of IYA Media, "This podcast gives a voice to everyone in astronomy – professionals, amateurs, and those who just enjoy the amazing discoveries and images of our Universe."

Indeed, the shows include lively discussions about space travel, research stations on Mars, star gazing, observatories all over the world, solar activity, black holes, mars rovers, various missions of multiple space agencies, and mechanical concerns of astronomers right down to their telescope eye-pieces.

365 Days of Astronomy
Unsurprisingly, I chose to speak about the many NASA studies always being conducted at Johnson Space Center, and their importance to long-duration space missions, whereby scientists are continually seeking counter-measures to the side effects of weightlessness.

Many other "citizen scientists" discuss the topics close to their hearts in the space industry, so if you have something to say, contact 365 DOA and say it! A podcast per day for an entire year is a tall order, and they are always seeking impassioned speakers to share stories with their large audience of space enthusiasts.

Over the nearly three years of operation, 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts have gained thousands of listeners. In 2009, the organization was given a Parsec Award for "Infotainment". Still going strong in 2010, they also won a "Best Fact Behind the Fiction" award. So go check them out!

Start with me. ;)

Friday, June 10, 2011

NASA Dryden Tweetup


It's rare for me to post two photograph galleries in a row... but then it's also rare to visit two NASA centers in a row! I guess this could be considered Tweetup #4, since it merited a trip out into the Wild, Wild West... or perhaps simply Tweetup Three-And-A-Half, being that it piggy-backed onto the JPL media events.

NASA Dryden Airborne Operation Facility
The NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) is spread across the California desert, on Edwards Air Force Base (AFB). Along with 13 others, I went to Palmdale, home of the NASA Dryden Airborne Operation Facility (DAOF) to board SOFIA!

Not just your average jumbo jet! The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy is a joint project between NASA and DLR, the German Aerospace Center… and if you didn't truly know how cool airborne astronomy can be, now is your chance to click and see.

Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy
Why would anyone put a 2.5 meter telescope onto a Boeing 747, you may ask? Well, SOFIA is optimized for observations at infrared wavelengths that cannot be accessed by any telescope on the ground or currently in space.

Unlike ground-based telescopes, SOFIA can rise to 45,000 feet during her missions, well above most of the water vapor in the atmosphere that restrict terrestrial capabilities of gathering crisp images in certain wavelength ranges. Also, unlike large telescopes in orbit, she can fly home after each trip for repairs, parts and regular maintenance.

THAT... is what a 17-ton, inertially-stabilized 2.5 meter telescope integrated into a pressure bulkhead looks like. That monstrous beauty consists of many parts: the GREAT spectrometer, the FORCAST (Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope), the Fast Diagnostic Camera and the Focal Plane Imager, among others.

Yes, another day – another case of acronym overload!

For the entire picture set of the fuselage, science stations, telescope, spectrometer and scientists, see my Picasa Galleries And of course also visit the SOFIA galleries as well, to see what amazing images this special airborne observatory has already provided. Science just does not get any sexier than this!

Thursday, June 9, 2011



The rock star of telescopes!!!

I love this. I have been following the SOFIA program for many moons on paper, and I think I have more glossy little PDFs on this than any other NASA task, save perhaps the Mars rovers.

Now I have two wonderful photos I love seeing side-by-side, from 2009 and 2011:

Me with model of SOFIA at NASA Ames Research Ctr in 2008

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
Me with the real SOFIA at NASA Dryden Aircraft Ops in 2011

SOFIA is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a modified Boeing 747 that will be NASA's and the DLR's premiere platform for airborne astronomy over her 20-year lifespan.

I can't wait to tell you all about it, and show you all my wonderful pictures from NASA Dryden when I get home! Must drive there first, however. On the road today!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

JPL Tweetup-Tastic!


I am so exhausted right now, I'm actually a bit surprised I am able to sit upright and type, LOL... what a ride! In so many different ways. I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles to revisit the amazing Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this time for a media event with a good chunk of the SpaceTweep society -- and a few innocent bystanders who wanted to know what all the fuss is about.

Deep Space Network Mission Control
The drive through a 400-mile-long rainstorm was no easy feat, but I made it in one piece; lucky for all of us, the next day gifted us with beautiful blue skies, tours of awesome NASA relics and novelties... and enough mission updates to keep nerd brains buzzing for days!

We had space enthusiasts from all over the US and Canada, who got their fill of all the great NASA hardware at the JPL, and heard all the hot news about the Dawn mission, the upcoming launches of Aquarius and GRAIL, long term plans for Juno, the ongoing process of the ever-famous Voyager probes, and of course, the "Asteroid Watch" activities of the Near-Earth Objects Program.

Space Flight Operations Facility
The many walking tours throughout the day included trips to the Mars 3D green-screen, the Earth Sciences Centre, Mars rovers labs and the Deep Space Network mission control in the historic Space Flight Operations Facility. All the geekery goodness can be found in my NASA JPL Picasa galleries.

A major highlight of the day was meeting @Doug_Ellison, whom I've followed on Twitter for some time. I cannot get enough of his new project, Eyes on the Solar System, a 3-D environment of continually updated NASA mission data, which he demonstrated in luscious big-screen detail.

Farewell to SpiritDoug and few other creative cohorts arranged for perhaps the most stunning group photo ever, whereby they created a giant panorama portrait of Mars, taken by the now-retired Spirit Rover. Broken up into separate printouts to give a "mosaic" effect, we each held a small poster above our heads, and the final product spelled out: Farewell to Spirit 2004 - 2010.

The full-sized original can be found on the JPL Flickr Stream.

Doug Ellison and Camilla SDO
He also paused to pose with me and my particular puzzle-piece, a lovely heart -- which in itself was a mosaic of pictures taken by Spirit over the years. I cannot wait to have this framed! @Camilla_SDO joined us, waving to everyone like the true space enthusiast she is.

All in all, a truly amazing day at the JPL, one that none of us will forget soon! Interestingly, I still haven't seen anything relating to JET propulsion... but hey, there's still hope. Tomorrow, onto NASA Dryden!

Monday, June 6, 2011

#NASATweetup 3


Third time is a charm! Actually, that idiom is meaningless, because the first two were pretty darned charmed, too. In 2010, I attended my first Tweetup at NASA Johnson, then a year later made more new friends among the hoopy frood space crowd at the NASA Ames Tweetup!

Today's Tweetup is at the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory @NASAJPL in La Canada Flintridge. Thanks to the kindness of the Mars Rover Drivers, I've already seen many wonderful things at the JPL, which is technically NASA's smallest sister in terms of acres, but certainly one of the most interesting in terms of projects!

JPL Tweetup
The playlist is awesome, and I mean spine-tingling awesome. Our crowd of geeky guests will be treated to updates by scientists on all of the JPL projects listed below. Follow their Twitter accounts today, beginning at 8:30am PT:

Dawn - Solar System Discovery
Currently approaching Vesta and Ceres
Follow: @NASA_Dawn

Voyager I and II
Currently in the Heliosheath, set to enter Interstellar space
Follow: @NASAVoyager

Aquarius Ocean Study Satellite
Launches June 9, 2011... hey, that's this week, from Vandenberg!

Juno Mission to Jupiter
Launches to the Jovian system in August 2011
Follow: @NASAJuno

GRAIL - Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory
Launches to the moon in September 2011

SOFIA - Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
Partnered with the German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Follow: @SOFIAtelescope

NEO - Near-Earth Objects Program
Better known as "Asteroid Watch"
Follow: @AsteroidWatch

Eyes on the Solar System
3-D environment of real NASA mission data
Follow: @NASA_Eyes

Imagine Mars
Education initiative to design a futuristic Mars community.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory on UStream
Throughout the day, all our Twittery goodness will be live on, and some portions will be broadcast on NASA Television from 8:15 - 10:30am PT and 1:30 - 3:30pm PT.

If you watch any of the live feeds, keep your eye out for NASA mascot, @Camilla_SDO. She will be in attendance, catching up on all the missions!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Get Off My Planet


No, really. Get off. For good.

So the Mars500 wanted to know if people can live and work for 520 days in isolation on a space ship. But what if you went to Mars... and STAYED?

I've written much in the past weeks about Mars and the "analog" experiments that may teach us how to survive there: medical, geographical, practical, operational, agricultural, and the list goes on (and on, and on). Being a participant of analog studies and a promoter of field work in extreme environments, I know these work in tandem to provide very valuable data to the Mars quest. Is the next logical step a one-way trip? Do we worry too much about getting people back to Earth who may not even be interested in doing so?

Washington Post Mars Colony
I only used to see questions like this on other space blogs, or trade periodicals – but amazingly, the idea is becoming more mainstream, increasingly backed by astronauts, space industry personnel and laymen enthusiasts alike.

FOX news featured 400 people who volunteered for a one way mission to Mars; and most recently, the Washington Post cited the same materials in the Journal of Cosmology about a growing movement of scientists who believe such colonization should not be hindered by modern budget squabbles.

The most comprehensive study of the requirements are compiled in the hardback book, A One Way Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet -- with some big-name Apollo moonwalkers in the mix, alongside the gentlemen (both editors of the tome) who sparked what can now officially be called a rising movement.

A few days after the newest Post article was released, I was sitting at a table with a flying pig, a brown bear and a really, really shocked chicken... when Robyn Villavecchia asked the rest of the attendees at a BTS-1 Brunch: "If you had a chance to go to Mars one-way… not to collect rocks but to start a COLONY, would you do it?"

Willing Mars Crew
Many hands immediately shot up into the air without hesitation. Others had disclaimers such as, "My children are toddlers now, but when they are grown, yes!" or "If I wrapped up my life here on Earth and my family approved" -– but everyone voted positively. Everyone would go.

And these are not people who think you just jump on a spaceship and saunter about, like in a science fiction film. These are NASA engineers, Shuttle contractors, technicians and/or space journalists, who have in-depth understanding of the grueling training, massive dangers, the cost, the fuel, the propulsion technology, the effects of weightlessness on the body and the mission checklists involved.

And we're still on board as a willing crew! ...But not in a light-hearted sense at all.

Mars To Stay
Lives are at stake, to be sure. However, our exploratory nature has never stopped [some of] us from accepting the risks inherent in pioneering. Could we wait for a breakthrough in propulsion technologies that might shorten the trip? Sure. Mars will still be there. I won't deny my sense of urgency results from self-reflection of the shortness of my own lifespan and my desire to watch a Martian landing on television, knowing that we nailed it. It's about the only way I'd order cable again.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

365 Days For Mars 500


The Mars500 mission, callsign "Kepler", has reached day #365! Congratulations to Russian crew members Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Alexey Sitev; to Chinese crew member Wang Yue; and also to ESA crew members, Romain Charles from France, and Diego Urbina from Italy & Colombia.

One trip around the sun without a hot shower, just steam and towels. One year with no nature, no grass or trees, no sky.

Europe, China, Russia in the Mars500
One year without women. And 155 days to go!

Would you do that for 100,000 Euro? Where, each day, scientists are watching you for signs of how you handle a rigorous work schedule, medical experiments, emergency simulations and just plain... MONOTONY?

Here's an interesting look at how the chaps are handling life after 365 days in the "spaceship" isolation facility in Russia. Most pointedly, I thought it was interesting where Diego says he misses his family, he misses going out dancing, and that he misses the "randomness of the world."

Indeed, spontaneity would be in short supply in their world. Routines would be everything on a mission of this length, because the crew could not afford any system failure out in the black.

They are now getting toward the end of their mission schedule in terms of milestone events, having already landed on Mars and turned the boat around to head back toward Earth.

What remains now are the big questions about which scientific experiments are feasible, teamwork, stamina, continued physical and psychological health... and long-term interpersonal compatibility in a closed environment.

Mars500 Crew
In an interesting turn event for us social media junkies, Steve Légère of the Mars500 Blog has continued to publish Letters From Romain, where the French crewman answers questions put to him by us spaceflight simulation groupies who keep up with their every move.

After I and my fellow AFSC crew members wrote to the Mars500 last month, Romain was kind enough to answer us and also pose some questions in return.

Utah? eek. Hate to break this to you, but I think the closest I will get to a Mars sim now is ... writing about other people who go to extreme environments to do so!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Final Three Shuttle Missions


Last year, I published a post called the Final Five Shuttle Missions, encompassing all the flights that were scheduled for 2010 and 2011. Now that STS-130, 131 and 132 are behind us, we were down to two!

Space Shuttle Program
Yesterday, however... NASA updated the official Launch Calendar to show another flight! Atlantis has been re-added to the fleet. So, I'm amending my list to the final three now... and will keep this updated throughout the year once again. Interestingly, because of all the delays and changes for these flights, they are back in numerical order once again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011
STS-133 scheduled for launch at 4:50 p.m. EST

The last flight of Space Shuttle Discovery. An all-veteran, all-American crew will deliver the Express Logistics Carrier, a Permanent Multi-Purpose Module, Robonaut2, and a SpaceX DragonEye sensor... and two small Lego space shuttles.

On this flight, the mission patch was amended to include Steve Bowen, who replaced astronaut Tim Kopra, recently injured in a bicycling accident.

Space Transportation System
Monday, May 16, 2011
STS-134 scheduled for launch at 8:56 a.m. EDT

The last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour will deliver a the GLACIER Freeze Module, a Logistics Carrier, a high-pressure gas tank, micro-meteoroid debris shields, and an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS. One spacewalk is planned to mount the AMS to the integrated truss structure.

Friday, July 8, 2011
STS-135 scheduled for launch at 11:26 a.m. EDT

The last flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis is the final mission of the Shuttle program, which began service in 1981. She will deliver a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier. No crew has yet been selected and EVA activity has yet to be announced. Stay tuned!

This final mission will mark the 135th flight of the Space Shuttle Orbiter, the 37th Shuttle trip to the ISS, and the 166th American manned launch.