Wednesday, February 27, 2013

SSTC H.R. 6612


Nothing like a cryptic acronym for a blog post title, eh?

I won't keep anyone in suspense.  SSTC HR6612 stands for the Science, Space, & Technology Committee of our 112th United States Congress, who collectively passed House Resolution 6612, which re-names the NASA Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center to the NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.

NASA Legislation

When I first saw the story about this legislation on NBC in December of 2012, and shared with space-cadets brethren on Facebook, I had mixed feelings about the change, and observed similar reservations in others.

While no one would ever argue with humble Mr. Armstrong being honored for being the first human on another celestial body, it would be a shame to see the loss of Hugh Latimer Dryden, who (among other many eminent accomplishments) served as NASA Deputy Administrator from August 19, 1958 until his passing in December of 1965. He was also instrumental in convincing President John F. Kennedy that a clear plan to put humans on the surface of the Moon was the clearest way to "win" the Space Race.

The same bill, however, also re-designates the Western Aeronautical Test Range as the Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range; thus, he would still retain an honor among the NASA centers.

Science Space Technology Committee

The resolution was previously voted upon last year, then approved unanimously in the house as of February 25th. I speculated with some trepidation amongst my friends that Neil Armstrong himself would be the first person to disagree with this bill, and quite likely wouldn't care what was named after him, if anything.  Many agreed, but the fact of the matter is, his accomplishment belongs to the whole Earth at this point.

When I first read the bill and saw the sponsors (from California, Texas and Mississippi), I'd planned to examine their drafts (this is the third version of the bill) and comment on the process, but honestly, it's actually beginning to bother me that Congress wastes time on such things. The SSTC are charged with the nation's energy and resource concerns. Do we truly need to be re-naming things that already have names? Their web site gratifyingly announced recently that "Asteroid and Meteor are Stark Reminders of the Need to Invest in Space Science" and it would be great if they actually did that instead.

On the other hand, it's Neil. So, if this becomes official and the centers begin the name-changing process, despite our lukewarm reception of such redundant processes, the space community will still be all abuzz with the news. Watch this space. Just don't expect us to be too excited about it.

Monday, February 25, 2013



This weekend, is anyone heading out to the desert for MarsFest? Sure wish I'd heard the details earlier, so I could have planned a road trip! At the very least, I hope to give a heads up to other Californians who may be able to drive to Mojave.

Then, it's all about the ANALOG world!


Having done medical analog projects with future Mars missions in mind, and having followed the Mars500analog experiment so closely, I'm always gratified to see scientists and space enthusiasts spread the word about how important it is to examine all the issues involved in reaching the Red Planet.

 Don't let the name "Death Valley" scare you off. The location is all part of the point. These days, we have dependable trucks, bottled water, and a healthy knowledge of the survival techniques needed to hold an "other-planetary" educational festival, even in the desert! Like the continual Mars habitat experiments in Utah and Devon Island, the environment drives home just how inhospitable our closest planetary neighbor might be.  How can we prepare ourselves to examine the alien environment, survive in hostile conditions, and recognize other-worldly forms of life that might surprise us?


The full MarsFest schedule is wondrously packed with practical activities, field trips, meals and lectures across many Mars-analog terrains, including the Ubehebe Volcano Crater, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Inyo (Curiosity Rover's "rehearsal" site), and Badwater Basin, for examination of isolated microbial life.

So say the many press releases from MarsFest sponsors:
The goal of MarsFest is to raise public awareness about planetary research as well as celebrate the scientific endeavor of the Mars Science Laboratory mission. A suite of instruments, mounted on the Curiosity Rover, is helping to determine if Mars can currently sustain or has ever supported life. Several of Curiosity's experiments were designed by Ames scientists who have also worked in Death Valley, and will be actively supporting the festival. MarsFest will offer insight into these excursions and about Curiosity's findings since landing on Mars in August 2012.


The MarsFest (this is only the second one, but I hope this continues as an annual event in the future!) is created, planned, hosted and conducted by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), NASA Ames, NASA Goddard, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the United States National Park Service.

Hats! Sunblock! Sturdy shoes! And remember to bring your Mars Rover Hot Wheels! ;)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ultimate Mir Man


While we're on the subject of so much fascinating news from Russia, it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with another space enthusiast; it was rather embarrassing when neither of us could recall the Russian gent who clocked the most time in space on a single mission.  It was right on the tip of our middle-aged tongues, but we came up short!

Interesting how we remember the FIRST guy in space, the FIRST on the Moon... but even astronaut groupies draw blanks at the continually changing record holders for spacewalks, multiple missions, and so on.  This week's events reminded me, and I thought this cosmonaut was worth highlighting.

Valeri Polyakov
Валерий Владимирович Поляков

The researcher and "Doctor Cosmonaut" of the Tula Oblast, Valeri Vladimirovich, was born with the surname Korshunov, but as a teen, changed his name to Polyakov when his step-father adopted him.  A graduate of the Moscow Medical Institute, he specialized in astronautics medicine at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems (IMBP - chaps who just did the Mars500!) and was selected by the Soviet Space Program as a cosmonaut in the IMBP-1 group in 1972.

From August 1988 to April 1989, Valeri Polyakov worked on the Mir Space Station for missions EO3 and EO4, clocking 241 days.  Interestingly, part of his job as flight surgeon was to determine how long-duration spaceflight affected the human body.  He would certainly get to know that better than anyone, first hand!

Valeriy Polyakov

Years later, he returned to Mir, and stayed in orbit for more than 14 months, between January 1994 and March 1995! Wow.  His series of missions spanned Mir EO15, 16 and 17.  He orbited planet Earth 7,075 times and traveled 186,887,000 miles.

Across his two extended missions, he spent over 678 days in space. His records for overall time in space and greatest speed in space were both later overtaken by other cosmonauts, Sergei Krikalev and Sergei Avdeyev, but today, Valeri still holds the record for the most consecutive days in space at 437 days!

Polyakov retired from the cosmonaut corps in 1995 and returned to his assignment (begun in 1989) as Deputy Director of IMBP until 1997, when he became a professor at International Academy of Astronautics.  He is currently the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Public Health in Moscow, where he oversees the medical aspects of long-duration space missions. And who better?

Valeri Polyakov

He tends to offer pretty replies in official interviews, insisting that his safe and healthy return from space shows that "it is possible to preserve your physical and psychological health throughout a mission similar in length to a flight to Mars and back." (NY Times, 2009).

However, data collected from the Mars500 would seem to suggest otherwise. If anything, time spans of over a year are easily proving that even carefully selected, high-performance and motivated crews put into isolation are prone to sleep disturbances, episodic depression, and culturally-driven behavioral challenges.

Many myths follow this record-breaker, largely because he is seen in public very rarely, and when he is filmed for space documentaries (filmmaker Dana Ranga referred to him as "fragile") for sessions for the RFSA these days (such as his congratulatory video to the Mars500 crew), he is always sitting.

In the precious few instances where he is photographed standing, has he been propped up? Can he walk? Is he crippled?  Why does he not stride to podiums at state events of museum openings like Tereshkova, or other fellow cosmonauts of the Mir era?

Why won't Roskosmos make public his 50-some-odd medical publications, based on his experiments in space? What did long duration spaceflight truly to do this man's body and mind, and why is data on that subject so very hard to find?

I hate to leave any blog article hanging on a question mark, but when the it comes to Polyakov, question marks are all I am left with! And we may not know the truth until he passes away...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Spaceology


And the meteor news keeps on coming! It's been a fun week watching people get excited about flybys, with all deference and sympathies to the people who were scared or hurt by the blast in Russia.

As with every interesting space item that captures the interest of the public, loads of questions, myths and conspiracy theories follow! I think my favorite so far is the Russian politician who think the meteorite impact was an American weapons test. Interesting how the tin foil hat pack always wants to give the US government far more credit for efficiency than I suspect it truly possesses.


On a less humorous note, however, it's difficult to listen to newscasters use words incorrectly,spread disinformation, or just downright keep their mouths unfortunately open while their mind wanders -- like the CNN talking head who wondered aloud if  asteroids are caused by global warming! Yikes.

Worse yet are those who -- should be doing their homework, but -- confuse the science of weather (meteorology) with the science of meteors (meteoritics) or meteorites (aerolithology).

After a short informal poll of Facebookers, I thought I'd try to put together a quick-handy guide of space sciences (remembering that earth science is also a space science! Hey we're part of planetology too):

You will notice of course, the NOT-science of "Astrology" -- or the alleged affect of celestial bodies on human behavior -- is omitted.

For a complete and fascinating list of ALL scientific disciplines, not just the Space Cadet ilk, go to Ancient Sciences' List of Sciences and Related Studies Worldwide, where you'll find the official terms for the study of places, animals, peoples, bodies, hair, monsters, language, heat, stamps, nutrition, poisons, finance, bodies, medicines, races, elections, war, peace, drugs, history, ethics, cultures, and dozens more!

Sunday, February 17, 2013



Many moons ago, I wrote a post about meteors, meteor-showers and what to do in case you find a meteorite; it will be interesting to see where the material from all the ado in Russia winds up!

In case you've missed the action, a 10-ton former-asteroid-turned-meteoroid became a meteor in Earth's atmosphere over the Chelyabinsk oblast, exploding with 470 kilotons of force, shockwave-shattering about a million square feet of glass windows, and injuring 1200 people.

Chelyabinsk Meteor

The Russian Academy of Sciences says the meteor entered Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 kilometers per hour, occurring just hours before Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed closely, between Earth and some orbiting satellites. Many have posited the two are related, but NASA data shows completely different trajectories. Put down the tinfoil hat!

метеорита, or "meteorita", pieces of which are now being sought by land hunters and divers near a Lake Tchebarkul in the Urals, was believed to have been more than 50-feet wide and weighed as much as the Eiffel Tower before impact. Thus far, no materials have been recovered from the water, though one imagines this new regional hobby will only pick up steam, and grow easier as the weather warms -- since it's become obvious now that any meteorite fragments will be worth thousands of dollars. Sadly, however, the damage from the sonic boom is already being estimated at well over 30 million, and climbing.


In the wake of all the spacey news following these events, the UK's Guardian Newspaper published an intriguing, clickable map about all the meteorite "falls" on Earth. Of course, this is a bit misleading, since we cannot possible ever know that. What they meant to say was "All the meteorites that have been catalogued, either by watching the fall of finding the craters, since the human species decided what the definition of a meteorite was."

A friend of a friend on Facebook commented on the map: "What do you think the distribution tells us? More seem to land in the USA, not so many in Africa. Interesting message in there somewhere." 

However, there isn't a message, and I hope the Guardian clears this up (but judging from journalistic levels of science-savvy thus far, I'm not precisely holding my breath).


Distribution is actually plentiful all over the Earth; I think we merely see more in the USA on THIS map because this nation has a high level of detection technology, a history of scientific record-keeping, and ample individuals & teams who actually hunt around for craters and materials from meteorite impacts. In remote areas of the world where no one witnesses them, or where no one can gather the debris before they are buried in strata, fewer are recorded. Doesn't mean there weren't many, many hits that simply went unnoticed by humanity.

We also don't have ways of easily recording those that hit the ocean water and sink. If we did, the map would, of course, be far more full. This gives an insight into why the Moon or Mercury or other terrestrial bodies look the way they do! Lots of impact craters everywhere, showing that little things crash into big things all the time! Unlike other planets, however, Earth can cover her craters over time with water, sand, ice, plants, trees, etc. as weather, volcanoes, erosion, ecological succession, and plate tectonics trundle along.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is pretty good at setting people straight... glad so many channels called upon him and Bill Nye the Science Guy to answer questions. Hopefully, they will eventually get to this collective one!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Snurk Beddengoed!


You read right... Snurk Beddenoged! Or, in Dutch, Snoring Bedding. This is the very first company to release a genuine, literal PILLOWNAUT product! Behold:

Astronaut bedsheets

 It's all too magical. Designed for single beds with children in mind, the new Astronaut bed sheet and pillow case set will be sold in March 2013, but space enthusiasts can pre-order now for €59,95 (about 80 American dollars or 145 Yen) and inspire your youngsters with, as Gizmodo calls this, the one fantasy job that always manages to beat out professional athlete and ninja!

A simple drawing of a space suit costume? Heck no, this amazingly detailed illustration on cotton & velour was a genuine space suit, photographed at the Space Expo Museum in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

After March, you can also check out any stores worldwide that sell Snurk products.

Snurk Beddengoed

We definitely should have had these in the NASA ward during the bedrest studies!  These would be perfect for the beds at the Galveston unit where Flight Analogs to the Astronauts perform their medical tests.

If these sell, I am sure Snurk might consider offering double, Queen or King sets for space fans!  You can use their contact page to suggest such sets, as I have.
Designed in Holland and manufactured in Portugal, their collection of amusing comfort oddities also includes the Target Squirrel, knitted Granny Cushions,the Yawn collection, the White Bra and... Bob. Yeah, just Bob.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Atlas V LandSat Launch!


What a ride! A bird's eye view of California and a perfect rocket launch! That was about the best mini-vacation ever. And many thanks to all the awesome people of Rogue Hill for their support, rides, and good company at meals.

When Susan and I reached Lompoc, capping a great sunny day of exhilarating flight and museum fun, we met with many other space enthusiasts from prior NASA Tweetups and Socials, though I am sad to say I missed dinner while fixing my iPhone OS! Yikes! On the day before live-tweeting an event? Really, Apple? *sigh*

LandSat 8

The next morning, we grabbed breakfasts at Starbucks (equal parts caffeine and protein!), and then headed to Providence Landing Park, where the Marine Corps band "Mobility" played snappy 1970s-80s tunes while we awaited the final launch sequence. We arrived in the frosty cold around 7:00am, or T-3 hours and counting.

NASA Socialites everywhere! A few folks spotted Bobak (aka "Mohawk Guy") and Charlie Bolden among the VIP guests, as we alternated between sitting under blankets and chatting, and occasionally roaming about to find snacks, meet soldiers and airmen, purchase military and space patches, and read the awesome NASA swag they had available about this 8th LandSat Mission.

LandSat Launch

The Atlas V-401 launch window was 10:02 to 10:50am, but at 10:02 on the dot, we all cheered and applauded as the countdown ended, and the white bird took to the skies! With my apologies for crappy camera work, the photograph you see of the "blast off" was taken amid much human noise, but almost NO ignition sound! It wasn't until a few minutes later that we heard the rumbles and roars from our vantage point on Rogue Hill.

I know some people (and 99% of them would be in my family) would ask, is it worth it to drive or fly somewhere and sit in the freezing cold with a bunch of other geeks just to watch a rocket? Um, yes. HELL YES. Emphatic, never-get-tired-of-it YES, because this is about the most amazing thing we pull off, as a species.

NASA LandSat

To see greater close-up action of the rocket and the highlights of what it takes to ensure it is launch-ready, check out the 2-minute Atlas V LCDM Highlights reel, which features clips, time-lapses and narrated MCC directives up through launch. LCDM stands for "Landsat Data Continuity Mission" the eighth in a string of increasingly-advanced satellites that have kept eyes on Earth's natural resources from space since 1972!

By now, this latest in the Landsat series has already zipped around the planet 14 times, and will continue to do so for years to come, beaming its data back to ground stations in Norway, and the American states of Alaska and South Dakota. Once it reaches 440 miles above Earth, the satellite will zip around the planet 14 times a day, snapping hundreds of pictures that will be beamed back to ground stations in South Dakota, Alaska and Norway.

LandSat VIII

After a three-month checkout period, operations will be turned over to the US Geological Survey, which intends to make images and data free on the Internet as in previous Landsat missions. Check out NASA Goddard's Landsat data archive for the various ways you can see the amazing collections of all 8 LandSats!

But hey, do you ever use Google Earth? Well, then, you've already seen and used LandSat data!

For all launch pictures, Rogue Social photos, and the flight home, check out my Vandenberg Air Force Base photo gallery at Pillownaut Picasa!

Sunday, February 10, 2013



Coming to you live from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California! Well, okay, not entirely live by the time this gets posted to the blog... but when tremendously exciting opportunities befall my unsuspecting existence, it makes for melodramatic verbiage.

To truly get a LIVE experience, follow me on Twitter for the next few days while I cover the Atlas-LandSat launch from the AFB! I was in San Francisco just a few minutes ago. Ask me how I got to Vandenberg so fast. G'head, ask.

Piper Cherokee Airplane
Checking the oil in the Piper Cherokee Plane

My friend Susan Bell, a badass Spacetweep with a pilot license, flew us from Oakland's north airfield down to the Lompoc area, in a cool 90 minutes. Wow, so much better than being bored stupid on Interstate-5!

Today we are enjoying a visit to the fantastic Santa Maria Museum of Flight and Rocketeer Café.  Well, okay we cheated a little because the Rocketeer joint only served hot dogs, and we opted instead for the larger Mexican restaurant near Baggage Claim, but... we did get to see the original movie props display with the Rocketeer helmet and jet pack! Oh, and there were some jets lying around.

Piper Cherokee Airplane
On the goooood ship, Hummingbird...
Evil grin: Yeah, that's my ride. Shotgun!

All in all, a pretty awesome day of flying down the length of my home state, and a great afternoon meeting up with spacetweeps for meals and museum fun. 

Tomorrow morning, we will be having a Rogue Tweetup at the Providence Park Landing. I love the area of Lompoc holding the launch celebration -- check out their spacey street names!

Map of Space Streets in Lompoc, CA
Click to embiggen

For the precise launch countdown, follow the NASA LandSat page.  We shall be braving the frost advisory in the early hours with coats and gloves and blankets to see our precious Atlas V take to the skies! To keep up with photographic goodness of the #NASASocial, Launch Party, museums and flight fun, go to the Pillownaut Picasa Gallery.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Captain Kirk calls the Space Station


My brain asploded before I even finished my morning tea. William Shatner, known primarily for playing Captain Kirk on Star Trek (1966-1969) and in various Trek franchise films (1979-1994), called the International Space Station to speak to the Expedition 34 crew commander

Commander Hadfield on Twitter

It all started on January 3rd when Shatner and astronaut Chris Hadfield had a brief, casual exchange on Twitter -- which darn near blew up the Interwebz that day.  The best-known fictional Space Captain and the real-life Space Commander? It was all too magical.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) immediately pounced, and planned an event for the two to converse live! Members of the public, various scientists and Tweetup media applicants convened in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, and were treated to a 13-minute person-to-person call.

Chris Hadfield on Twitter

William Shatner is a native of Montréal, Quebec and Christopher Hadfield hails from Sarnia, Ontario. About halfway through their conversation, Hadfield invited the famed actor to visit his cottage in the latter locale -- one hopes not in winter.

It was -18C in Saint-Hubert this morning at the CSA HQ, but that deterred precisely none of the invited attendees.  After their oft-serious but momentarily humorous exchange, Captain Kirk signed off, whereby Commander Hadfield conducted Q&A for the enraptured audience, answering queries in both English and French.

William Shatner on Twitter

You should have seen me scrambling for the screenshot keys when I suddenly watched my travel-buddy Rob Drysdale walk to the microphone and ask Chris a question!  WAY cool! Some of you may remember Rob from when we traipsed around Bruxelles and Genk while enjoying last year's SpaceUp EU conference in Belgium.

A couple thousand people joined the CSA on Ustream for all this awesomeness, but it was over all too soon.  Of course, time in low Earth orbit is precious, expensive, and timed very precisely. Hadfield had to get back to work on his science experiments, which were then detailed to the crowd by various speakers.

Canadian Astronaut Twitter

Canadian astronaut-in-training Jeremy Hansen was also on hand to handle introductions and technical descriptions of space life. The program then featured presentations about space radiation shielding and exercise physiology -- both very important for future long-duration missions in terms of keeping astronauts healthy in space.

For the video recap, please... look pretty much anywhere on the internet today, LOL... but my favorite video spot is Jason Major's Lights In The Dark blog.

You can also follow all these esteemed Canadians at @Astro_Jeremy, @Cmdr_Hadfield and @WilliamShatner.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rocket Science 101


Keeping the writing to a minimum today to showcase this great poster... And what an amazing visual tribute to the history of rocket development!

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

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

Rockets of the World This amazing poster, still for sale at ULTIMAX, accompanied a wonderful book called Rockets of the World by physicist Peter Alway.  The book is also still available through Araway Press or on Amazon.

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

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

Friday, February 1, 2013

Soviet BioAstronautics


As a guide my to continuing series about Dr. Duane Graveline this week, please see Dr. David Livingston's web site for THE SPACE SHOW, where the interview is now archived.  So well worth the time to explore this fascinating man and his lifelong dedication to space research and medical work!

Interestingly, a few fellow project participants and modern medical personnel at Johnson Space Center were very interested in the early medical experiments about weightlessness, but my historian and flight controller friends where camped in the cheering section for Soviet BioAstronautics.

Duane Graveline
NASA Group #4: Duane Graveline

Most people today who learn about the "space race" assume the competition meant there was little flow of information between the Soviet and American space agencies; and indeed, translations of internal documents are difficult to come by, even now.  However, humans being human, it doesn't mean we all weren't eavesdropping.

Before the commercial break, he described his role in the intelligence community of the 1960s, and his weekly journeys to the Pentagon and NASA Headquarters for bio-telemetry updates.  From the Soviet dog flights and onward, NASA often had bio-data not long after the Soviet scientists who were tracking. Finally, they came in real-time.

At the time NASA astronauts Grissom and Young were training for the Gemini 3 Mission, they heard the Soviets had launched the second-generation vehicle, Voskhod2, from which the first spacewalk was planned.  Based on earlier knowledge, Graveline advised them to point their antennas in a certain direction based on heart-rate interrupting carrier signals, already knowing they were transmitting bio-data on a particular high-frequency link with low-cost hardware.

Voskhod 2 - March 1965

Around the half-hour mark of the program, Dr. G offers his technical description of how the surveillance was accomplished.  NASA had data on cosmonaut Alexey Leonov's heart rate and respiration when he became the very first man to walk in space -- and recorded the spike up to 180-beats per minute when he could not get back into the Voskhod2 spacecraft. Rather an anxious moment in orbit, one should unhumorously imagine!

With the rather risky maneuver of adjusting his suit pressure (to be about equal with the summit of Mt. Everest), he toyed with the danger of sudden unconsciousness, but managed to get back into the spacecraft. As we all know, he is still alive and well today, firmly in the history books for being the first human to survive extra-vehicular activity in orbit.

All the pieces would fall into place some years later when the actual events of the EVA were known. In 1969, NASA received the first translation from Soviet flight surgeons about the full spectrum of physiological, chemical and life-support tests conducted in the Voskhod program.

Soviet Space Program
"We were spending millions, they were spending thousands."

Any proof that they were also listening in on our missions? Nope. The systems used by the USA were too complex to tap, and they certainly would have boasted about it at the time. They had plenty of other things to boast about in their impressive list of space firsts, not the least of which was that they pulled it off for peanuts, while we out-spent them on a horrendous level to usually come in second.

I'm unable to link to many specific reports in English about Soviet BioAstronautics (or what they termed "Cosmic Medicine" at the time), because most are in PDF format and only searchable by abstract through Google Books. Truckloads of reports from the 1960s have now been digitized.

If one has the stamina to start at the top GB level and paw through the reports of the Aerospace Technology Division in the Library of Congress, one can conceivably get lost in both the early American and now de-classified Soviet reports from the 1960s. Treasures abound!  Happy hunting.