Monday, February 27, 2012



Giving my brain a break, resting my mouse hand and enjoying all the charms of Finland and Estonia. Another jaunt abroad... it's been far too long!

I’m excited about my first vacation to Scandinavia! Seeking out science museums and planetariums, naturally... but also intrigued at all the new foods.

Normal activities will resume next month, though I shut down comments on blog posts older than 30 days while away (for recent spam issues).

See ya in March! :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fry's Space Shuttle


Yet another tourist attraction hiding in a retail store, of all places! On my quest to see all the space-themed Fry's Electronics warehouses, I guess I just have Space-Shuttle-On-The-Brain right now.

The real shuttles and shuttle simulators will be heading to museums this year, but one handy mock-up has been on display for quite awhile now, and is easy to see… usually with no line!

Space Shuttle Flight Deck
Shuttle Flight Deck

In 2010, I featured the Fry's Space Station store near Johnson Space Center in Houston, which has full-sized models of the ISS modules; then in 2011 I visited Fry's Space Ship in Burbank, where the local store displays 1950s science fiction movies... mostly space ships, as constructed on a huge scale both inside and out.

I'll go to any Fry's branch and blow a few hours at a time looking at gadgets and hardware, but of course, I think the space stores are the most fun. This one also has various astronaut tributes, and a space-themed "Café Canaveral" where you can get a typically unhealthy American meal. Pass. I'll be in the DVD section for a few weeks, instead.

Space Shuttle Cockpit
Playing inside the cockpit

As ever, I'm not promoting or endorsing anything in particular in Fry's Electronics, but I am glad to see them honoring space artifacts and themes; it is fun to see a store chain have a good time in the pop-culture or scientific landscape!

Perhaps someday I'll visit one of the other 30-some-odd sites with international, cartoon or even under-water themes… but I sure wish they would do up one whole store as planet Mars!

Camilla Corona
I wonder what this button does?

It was my great pleasure to visit this particular outlet with NASA mascot Camilla SDO, dressed for action in her spiffy flight suit! We particularly enjoyed the mission clock details, surrounding shuttle launch films, and the autographed picture of Neil Armstrong.

Click to see the entire gallery over in my collection of Picasa albums!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shuttle Scuttle Simulator Hustle


Much ado about Shuttles was the retirement theme song last year when NASA announced the new homes for Enterprise, Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis after they are made safe for public consumption. However, less attention was given to the many Shuttle Simulators.

Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at Johnson Space Center
Me with FFT in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility, Feb 2010

While they haven't "flown" in space, they were integral to the success of the entire Shuttle program and may be even more exciting museum show pieces, since people will be able to ENTER and TOUCH them. Real shuttles? Not so much.

And so begins the "Full Fuselage Trainer Retirement Processing". Johnson Space Center's FFT is a full-sized (120-foot long) plywood replica that every Shuttle astronaut utilized in the past 32 years, serving all 135 missions.

Tim atop the 20-ton crane, looking over the FFT, Jan 2010

This huge Space Shuttle Simulator was manufactured by the Technical Services Division in 1979, and features a full-size payload bay with video system, full communication system, breathing air system, and external airlock with cooling water loops for EMU suits.

In November 2011, the FFT was separated into three sections: crew compartment and nose, payload bay, and aft section and tail. Then in January, a ceremony was held to transfer ownership to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, who eagerly await their new prize.

Full Fuselage Trainer
Now pulling apart the FFT in pieces

The cargo bay is being further cut into 30-foot sections and the payload doors will be detached prior to trucking to Houston's Ellington Field – and getting all the pieces there will require removing and lowering street signs and traffic signals to clear the shuttle mockup's height!
Later this spring, it will require up to six flights of NASA's Airbus cargo aircraft, the Super Guppy, to get all the pieces to Washington State.

It's just so strange to think of it NOT being in JSC Building 9 anymore! Also difficult to think of the SVMF having a large, empty space… even just temporarily.

Full Fuselage Trainer
Lifting out the FFT tail

All pieces will be re-assembled inside the new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Due to open in June 2012, their interactive "Spaceflight Academy" exhibit will tell the story of how shuttle astronauts trained for missions and how the entire Shuttle program helped prepare our species to explore farther into our solar system by teaching us to live and work in space.

Very special thanks to JSC veterans Mike Allyn (ISS Command & Data Handling) and Tim Reynolds (SVMF Operations Control) for taking and/or being in some of the great photos in today's post! To see Mike's NASA collection, go to his Flickr Photostream. To see my galleries of the SVMF, go to my Picasa Galleries!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Angry Birds In Outer Space!


I fought Angry Birds. I fought hard. But no more... they finally found a way to addict me to a bandwagon I hitherto rejected.

That's right, we shall now be treated to ANGRY BIRDS IN OUTER SPACE!

Angry Birds In Space
One small fling for a bird,
one quantum leap for birdkind.

I'm imagining all sorts of interesting possibilities now. Angry Birds terra-forming planet Mars and flinging themselves all around Mons Olympus?

Even better: Angry Birds squawking soundlessly in Low Earth Orbit, crashing through dead satellite hardware for points?

No wait wait wait... Angry Birds being catapulted around a Moon Base, and the little piggies all have Newt Gingrich's face?!

The official game teaser shows only two obvious celestial bodies and a Wile E. Coyote-worthy slingshot, though one may scroll down for a further lack-of-any-real-detail.

Angry Birds
Ornithologists Beware

Rovio, the Finnish company behind the oddly, wildly popular game, isn't talking. All they've said so far is they expect the new game to be released in March, and then boasted about their 500 million downloads and 20,000 Angry Bird products.

Not sure how I missed that, but upon checking the Angry Birds online store, I'm tempted to think they're exaggerating slightly. Up until now, being benignly childless, I had only ever seen one product...

Angry Birds on the Soyuz
...And that would be the single Angry Red Bird who traveled aboard Soyuz TMA-22. No way! WAY.

Selected as a "zero gravity indicator" by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov's 5-year-old daughter, Kira, red bird's weightless trip marked the last flight of the TMA-class spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Mark your calendars for Angry Birds In Space: MARCH 22nd, we'll be seeing many more birds in the black!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Space LOLz


Fun new websites for technology geeks! Er... enthusiasts, rather. I more often review books, but sometimes web crawling is worth it -- and it's rare that I find such entertaining sites back-to-back in the same week!

The Phuture News offers the news headlines of tomorrow today...wait, what? The stories and articles are not limited to the space or even science industries -– but one must be suspicious about all their foreknowledge if they are not, in fact, wormhole-worthy time-travelers.

See the projected future of Technology, Sports, Entertainment (Bieber for President??), and even the Business world; you can also vote on stories as to whether you think they're likely to happen...

All quite funny, and more philosophical and hopeful (okay, sometimes skeptical) about where humankind is headed. So much for December 21, 2012. You can also submit your own stories a about what you think the future holds.

Some of their recent gems include:

2054 : Monty Python's Philosophers' Soccer Match Recreated With Genetically Regenerated Philosophers

2053 : Spock thinking outside of the box again

2030 : First man on Mars After the First Woman; Adam Armstrong, great grandson of Neil Armstrong

2023 : Frozen remains of 'dragon' unearthed; scientific community in uproar

Another wonderful new site is the very eclectic Astronomy Humor, holding the largest assortment of space-related jokes, funny photos, pop culture, links, and novelty products I've ever seen!

Nothing in particular is promoted or "endorsed" among the products; only the author's own Astronomy Humor e-book is for sale on the site. The rest is rather a collection of humor and internet stores where one can find great space-related treats by category.

Contributions from readers are also welcome here and on the Astronomy Humor Facebook page. So hey, photograph and submit your newest space tattoo!

Creator Cristina Della Rosa is a volunteer and Board President of the Marie Drake Planetarium in Juneau, Alaska.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saint Valentine


Valentine's Day
Ah, romance holidays are all about making that certain someone feel special, right? In the spirit of Nerd Humor, I also love this romantic Valentine's Day clip from The Big Bang Theory:

However, I would have expected someone as smart as Sheldon to know that the beheaded chap was only one out of a fourteen total saints named "Valentine".

Given the odd history of what I consider a completely un-compelling holiday, I guess one could say I don't celebrate it. Happy to invent alternatives, however:

Pillownaut Twitter

So hey, do you follow my Twitter feed? And if not, WHY NOT? Look at all the fun geekery you're missing!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Lunar Terminator

At first glance, I supposed people think I just put Schwarzenegger on the moon, but no. The Lunar Terminator is the boundary between the illuminated and un-illuminated hemispheres of our satellite, and I've increasingly found this to separate the Earthers from the Mooners, LOL...

Are you illuminated? Do you know why the moon so is important to science, and to the ultimate chain of events that will get humanity to Mars?

Moon Slideshow
Could you say you knew everything about America
if you merely landed in these spots for a few days?

The moon is back in the news again in a big way, and while I don't think Newt Gingrich is realistic in his assessments of technological feasibility, I remain ever hopeful that people will embrace the concepts surrounding why our lunar body is so very crucial to the next phase of human exploration.

I just doubt we'll raise the money for it unless there's a Reality TV show to be had during moon base construction.

This magnificent slide show, written by Nick Skytland and Wayne Hale, displays quite powerfully the hows and the whys, as well as the beauty of the journey and what it will mean for our species.

Why NASA Is Returning To The Moon
Click to run Moon Exploration slideshow

It's a shame we don't have 60+ moons to play with, like Jupiter... but I still think we are lucky to have such a potentially useful natural satellite. Imagine if our moon was vaporous and impossible to land upon(?) Where else might we build a Mars-worthy rocket, or so easily learn to live and work in low gravity for the purpose of long-term exploration?

SpaceRef featured a recent article by NexGen's president (a former NASA advisor), stating some fundamental truths about possible moon missions, but perhaps missing the point in recent news by moaning about how Newt is ridiculed for his moon base pitch.

Space Ref Moon Opinion
No one ridicules the mission, we merely question Newt Gingrich's clear and obvious pandering. He isn't selling moon missions to the general public or at every stop on his tour -- he brought it up to one audience in Florida, and this hardly bespeaks a commitment to Space.

As my blog buddy Childejake pointed out, Gingrich did nothing whatsoever for the Mars Society in 1994 after being elected Speaker of the House, despite courting their chief, Dr. Robert Zubrin, for a detailed commercial approach to Mars exploration. Why should we believe him this time?

We illuminate the mission, but remain unilluminated by the men who keep promising to get us there, only to rip the rug out from under us because they don't understand the science.

What side are you on?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mars Mission Volunteers Needed!


What the Mars500 quite glaringly lacked: Females.

All right, Science Women, now is your chance to be part of humanity's effort to reach Mars, and contribute to space agency data about long-duration mission variables. It's noble. It's challenging. It's scientifically pertinent.

And Cornell University researchers want to go to Hawaii.

Bet I've got your attention NOW

Alas... hula dancing and luaus aren't included. But you could do those afterward if you are accepted into the study on the Orchid Isle of the Hawaiian Islands, where you will spend a minimum of four months on a lava field in a simulated Red Planet habitat¸ much like the Haughton-Mars Project or the Mars Desert Research Station, where Cornell has already conducted some short-term studies.

Six volunteers, under the supervision of three professor-scientists from the University of Hawaii-Manoa, will work and eat as astronauts would on a journey to Mars, including wearing a space suit whenever they leave the habitat for simulated sampling missions.

Lava fields of Hawaii
Lava Fields, anyone?

Project head Jean Hunter will test numerous food preparation and palatability theories over the next three years, determining best recipes and cooking styles, changes in food preferences, and the well-known result of menu fatigue over long mission durations.

Other important factors will be time, power and water needs for food preparation in space -- most famously under-estimated in the Gemini program, where important lessons were learned about scheduling proper nutrition. It took many Apollo astronauts actually GOING ON STRIKE to get the point across to NASA researchers: Food satisfaction cannot be under-estimated. Food, as our bio-fuel, is crucial for survival – but also intertwined with our most basic sensory and social needs.

Scientific Computing reports: "In addition, Hunter will study physical changes that astronauts undergo related to sense of smell, which affects taste and appetite. In micro-gravity environments, food and fluids don't get pulled [down], and nasal passages swell, compromising smell. Patients on Earth experience a similar response, which the researchers are studying in a series of experiments on bed-rested subjects at the NASA Flight Analogs Research Center in Galveston, TX."

I remember. Food flashback! However, we had it easy compared to this; we had pre-prepared meals brought to us by scientists and nutritionists, whereas anyone who applies to the Hawaiian Study will be required to do a lot more work!

If you think you have what it takes to join the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation, or HI-SEAS, see their Project outlines and Application. Deadline to apply is February 29th!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mars500 on the ISS


The third and final Mars500 crew wrapped up their Rock Star tour, and can finally take a well-deserved holiday. On the heels of their release and medical checks, the cooped-up crusaders participated in lectures, press conferences and even a Tweetup Event in Italy.

Armed with all this data, talk of another Mars500 mission is already underway – this time to be conducted in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station!

Europe, China, Russia in the Mars500
Europe, China, Russia in the Mars500

Initial Project Reports highlighted the many useful aspects of their findings: Isolation hurts. DEDICATED individuals rise to the challenges -- but wherever we go, we take our religions and our basic human nature with us. Cultures clash. Jealousies arise. People get punchy and goofy. Holidays and birthdays matter. Palatable food is crucial.

The experiments and protocols yield vital clues and rules to how we will craft exacting psychological selection procedures for a true Mars mission crew, and how that must be a global effort.

We'll know more about who gets along and why, what technical talents they will need, and what talents need to be redundant across all crew members in case any are lost.

Mars 500 Space Ship
More realistic conditions, but much less room!

The first three Mars500 projects were simulations on planet Earth, done in a facility that evolved over time to contain everything a spaceship to the Red Planet would require, and also a mock-up of Martian terrain. The longest sim then tested physiological responses to confinement, decision making capabilities of a team when Mission Control could not provide instantaneous responses due to distance, psychological ramifications of emotional dynamics in seclusion, plus sleep disorder and metabolism monitoring during the lack of sunlight for more than 2 years.

Many scientists underscored weaknesses in the simulation: normal Earth gravity, the lack of genuine danger, and undemanding conditions – in other words, the men knew they could leave at any time. However, it was a testament to their commitment that even when they experienced rough patches, none left.

Look Ma, no gravity

Obviously, the ISS will introduce many of the facets that simply cannot be replicated on Earth, but in a more confined environment with fewer protocols. However, I still hope they pull it off with cooperation from the other ISS participant countries!

For history on the Mars 500 projects, you can review past posts as I followed them since March of 2009 or also check out the ESA website, which features diary entries and photographs of all the crew members.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Naming the Moon


Let's dream: What would you name the first human moon base?

And remember this isn't 1961, and we aren't a politically incorrect Good Old Boys crony club, naming a MOON landing program after a god of the SUN, derp... Apollo? Really? And no one called them out on that?

Selênê was the Titan goddess of the moon, and one of the first known depictions of her come from a 5th Century B.C. wine kylix, upon which she rides a chariot pulled by winged horses.

Selene Kylix
Goddess Selênê -- or in Greek: Σεληνη
(Antikensammlung, Berlin)

Methinks that "Selene" would be a great name for a moon habitat. Selene's great love was the royal shepherd Endymion... so, he should lend his name to the first moon port, I suppose.

Other Greek moon goddesses or associations included Artemis, Bendis, Eileithyia, Hekate, Hera (who in some writings replaced Selene in the love story with Endymion), Leukippides and Pasiphae. Wow. Serious spelling challenges.

Roman Goddess of the moon, of course, was Luna… but the Soviets used that name on no less than 31 space crafts. So, let's try to be original here.

Selene and EndymionSelene & Endymion by Victor Florence Pollet
(V&A Museum, London)

Every culture on every continent had their own lunar deities, of course, and they number in the thousands; most,unsurprisingly, are protectors of people during dark hours. Many are humanoid, both male and female, though still others represent everything from light rays to water to crimes committed during the night to egg whites (no joke).

Many of the most colorful personifications include the Norse Mani, the Slavic Zorya (another word form of Zvezda, a current ISS module), the Japanese Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto , the Hindu Chandra, the Australian Aboriginal Ngalindi, the Egyptian Khonsu, the Aztec Coyolxauhqui and the Chinese Chang'e (current name for their moon probes).

Then again, pop culture also lends its own set of influences, courtesy of my wise-cracking Facebook pals...

Moon Base Names

Friday, February 3, 2012

Luna Selene


The USSR captured the first photos of the moon taken from space in 1959 by the Luna 3 probe. 46 years ago today, the Soviet space program also achieved the very first soft landing on the moon, with Luna 9.

Earthlings have sent 94 spacecraft to the Moon with various orbiting, landing or sampling goals: 43 from Russia, 45 from the USA, 2 from Japan, 2 from China, and 1 each from Europe and India. Mission success rate is about 58%. Sixteen more missions are planned.

Today's average laptop contains 12 times more computing power than was used to land two men on the Moon in 1969.

The Greek word mēnē branched into the Latin mensis, Germanic mōna and Middle English mone -- eventually becoming "moon" in modern English. From these roots, we also derive the related words "month" and "menstrual."

The Greek moon goddess, Selene, was called Luna by the Romans. Most things associated with the Moon are still referred to as lunar.

This root also gave rise to the words lunacy and lunatic, indicating folkloric link between moon phases and madness, perhaps because cyclical symptoms of some illnesses led to belief that the Moon influenced the sufferers. However, in Russian and Slovak language families, a "lunatic" simply refers to a sleep-walker.

Luna Selene
Researchers reviewed police stations calls, homicides, psychiatric consultations and ER visits, but found no consistent relationship with lunar changes. Nonetheless, a 1995 poll found that 43% of people still believed superstitions about how the Moon phases alter behavior.

You've heard terms like Blue Moon, Harvest Moon or Hunter's Moon – but how about Wildcat Moon? Kindly Moon? Moon of Horses? Many names given by various cultures indicate appearance of our satellite, weather during particular phases, seasonal human activities, animal behavior -- even the best time to catch fish!

Here are all the Full Moon Names for calendar year 2012.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To The Moon, Alice


*Sigh* Newt, Newt, Newt... I don't even know where to begin. If he knows even a handful of details about the 94 missions to our lunar satellite, I'll eat Mitt Romney's dog carrier.

We shall pause for a graphic display of what everyone was thinking after Gingrich visited Florida:

Jon Stewart discusses Newt Gingrich
Part of my brain loves that Gingrich wants to build a base on our dear satellite Luna, because I'm pretty sure the word "lunatic" was invented for folks like him. And while I appreciate Newton (if only he was named after Isaac!) doesn't want to drag us back to the Dark Ages like many conservative politicians, the logical part of my brain shouts, "If Constellation couldn't engage support and funding among the non-scientific neckties, where does he imagine moon money will come from?"

Hey, remember when Obama was elected, and CNN started counting his days in office, as if he was supposed to enact radical change in his first month? Newt, in contrast, stated boldly that he has a grand plan for what he hopes to accomplish "by his second term in office" and the moon base will be part of that. How grand that he allows himself two terms before he's even elected, while Obama is under fire for not changing enough in 3 years.

Irony? Anyone? Bueller?

Newt Gingrich Moon Base
So, The Gingrinch thinks he can repeal decades of risk-averse bureaucracy and get a moon base built by 2020.

O RLY? You mean like the idea that's been around since the early 1970s, even before Nixon nixed Apollo? You mean like the existing International Lunar Network (ILN), encompassing ten nations who understand the value of lunar science and lunar resources?

In an ABC sponsored article, which emphasized how Gingrich "thrilled" a crowd of 700 on the still-stinging-from-layoffs Floridian space coast, the candidate said the answer to funding was to offer prizes to stimulate investment by the private sector.

O RLY? You mean like the existing Google Lunar X Prize? Or the Astrobotics and MoonEx companies who are already designing habitability and mining initiatives?

Lunar Base by 2020
Trusty SPACE.COM and the New York Times offered a fairly realistic assessment of what would be necessary to sustain a moon colony, and mentioned Newt's plan to claim parts of the Moon as United States territory, with colonists eventually petitioning for statehood status.

O RLY? You mean in violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967? Who didn't do their homework before writing this convenient Floridian directed-at-disappointed-unemployed-space-coast inhabitants.

Not only are the ideas not his own, not new, not original, and not affordable in the foreseeable future, the plan is illegal the way he described it. Then there's the tiny detail about the US having no spacecraft capable of reaching the moon.

JFK you are not, dude.

Don't get me wrong. I would embrace a lunar base wholeheartedly. Grinning. With pom-poms. I hope to see it in my lifetime... but, I will believe it when I see it. And it will have utterly nothing to do with who is President.