Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Attack of the Space Studies!


Every now and then, the space studies explode in the press, breathing new life into the space flight simulations. It happened again this week, and have multiple Inbox Avalanches to show for it! Fresh off radio interviews in Dallas and New York, it's always gratifying to see the amazing scientists and doctors get some "rock star" attention for all their hard work in the Mars effort!

Exercise like you're on the space station!

The UK Daily Mail revived an old POPSCI.com interview from 2009, which sent shock waves through other outlets, whereupon a fantastic writer at Forbes, Maseena Ziegler, conducted four interviews to compile one of the best press pieces I've seen since I did my first program in 2008.

Going strong at 180,000 views and counting! The application server at NASA is probably bursting into flames right about now. According to metrics, we get as many hits from Texas alone now than we got from all 50 states 5 years ago.

Vlad and the leg-eating Bone Density Scan

Interestingly, just as the resurgence of excitement for NASA studies commenced, the European Space Agency began phase 3 of their bed rest study, in which many of the protocols are identical!  I truly hope one day, there will be a large, comprehensive studies across  many space agencies, with multiple nationalities -- as with the Mars500 project!

Over the past year, I've kept up with Vlad Atavin, one of the participants in the Toulouse study.  Like me, he blogged about his experience at his space agency, describing phase one in French, phase two in English, and phase three in Russian! Very talented!  And he includes a great photographic history of all his experiences.  Is he an artist with that razor, or what?

The things we do for science!
(You'd do it too, if you had electrodes on you thrice weekly)

The entire program is very ambitious in its size and simultaneous scope:
Four pillownauts will spend 21 days in bed while engaging in recumbent weight-training and a vibrating exercise contraption. Another foursome will engage in the same, but add whey protein to their diets to see if there is any difference in muscle building. A final four will spend the same amount of time in bed, but lacking any of these attempts at "countermeasures".  Throughout the program, they will undergo various tests and experiments.

Vlad and I were featured in nearly identical articles about the bed rest studies on both continents, whereupon he began his writing journey in much the same way I had! Vlad's blog, entitled Astronaute sur l'oreiller: histoire du sujet "L", literally translates into English as Astronaut on the Pillow: The History of Subject L.  I have learned so much from him, not the least of which was the Russian word for "Bioimpedance."

As of this week, he is in head-down tilt mode for 21 days, and you can follow his adventures in detail, from his knitting (really, you must find ways to keep busy in there!) to the ESA menus, to medical tests. Sure brings back memories!  Let's hope they get some press across Europe as well, because every single one of these studies gets us one step closer to Mars!

Ah, seems like just yesterday for me...

Next up? New protocols in 2014 for NASA, with at least two new studies in the works. Of course, the design phases and approvals going through committees can take some time, but hopefully there will be some new volunteers, new equipment, and new tests in the pipeline soon. When I have the written summaries, you'll see them here, first!

Friday, September 13, 2013

FREE Firefly T-shirts From GeekChicTees




Browncoats! Do you know what the Alliance hates? Dedicated freedom fighters, creativity, and most of all: FREE STUFF! Next Friday, September 20th, is the anniversary of the premiere of Firefly. More than a decade later, I still live to wave the Serenity Valley flag.

You've all seen the great GEEKCHIC TEES Firefly products on Captain Mal's Wisdom or Facebook Firefly, probably thanks to the them partnering with us for a contest to give away a free shirt this past May.

We had SO much fun, and met SO many new awesome FLANS, we decided to do it again.  Now, GeekChic Tees will be giving away TWO free T-shirts to two lucky Browncoats!  The contest will run for one week, today through next Friday (September 13th - 20th).

At the end, we let the cat pick two names at random (SRSLY!), and the winners, upon sending clothing size and address confidentially, get to pick their favorite products from the GeekChic Tees catalogue!

Geek Chic Tees

To enter the contest for the free T-shirt, simply tweet one of the following, so Mr. GeekChic and I can see it in our feeds:

Browncoats! Win FREE Firefly TShirt from @geekchic_tees at @Pillownaut blog http://bit.ly/13Ubic4 SHINY #YouCantTakeTheSkyFromMe #FIREFLY

#Firefly Win a Free FIREFLY shirt http://tinyurl.com/kdc3ykj from @geekchic_tees at @Pillownaut blog. Browncoats Unite! #Shiny #Serenity

Win FREE Firefly TShirt at @Pillownaut blog http://bit.ly/13Ubic4 @geekchic_tees Spread the word, Browncoats! #CantStopTheSignal #FIREFLY

#FIREFLY Win a Free Firefly shirt http://tinyurl.com/kdc3ykj from @geekchic_tees! Browncoats Unite! #Shiny #BigDamnHeroes cc @pillownaut

Or, make up one of your own tweets, but be sure to include, AT MINIMUM: the link to the contest, both Twitter handles, the hashtag #FIREFLY and any other Browncoat saying or quote... but please, not too much gorram cussing in Chinese!

If you are not on Twitter, share this page to Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and/or Google+ and then email Pillownaut to say you have done so: h r a 2 3 6 2 - at - yahoo dot com.

Enter as many times as you like, on as many platforms as you like. We'll go check them out! Every share and tweet counts as an entry.  It also counts as an entry if you follow either of us on Twitter for shiny NASA and Firefly updates in the future.

DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: Midnight, September 19th!
Winner will be announced on the morning of September 20, 2013.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Count Meteors for the LADEE Mission!


LADEE, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is a robotic lunar orbiter that will fly into the moon's atmosphere to sample its composition and structure and look for dust lofted into the lunar sky.  Determine the size, charge, and spatial distribution of electro-statically transported dust grains? She's on it!

LADEE Mission Patch

During LADEE's time over the surface-boundary exosphere (an atmosphere that is so thin and tenuous that molecules don't collide with each other), her UV Spectrometer will determine the global density, composition, and spatial variability of the fragile lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by future human activity.

It may also shed light on the atmospheric species 20-150 kilometers above the lunar surface. Are these species at orbital altitudes there by virtue of solar wind? Released from lunar soil? Can we discover the cycles and sources of these species? LADEE may tell us!

LADEE Mission Phases

I think the most exciting portion of the mission will be the optical communications experiments. While in orbit, it will demonstrate the first 2-way high-rate long-range laser communications.  The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) will test how spacecraft may be able to use lasers to send movies, high-resolution photographs and even 3D images to ground controllers, someday

LADEE launched yesterday evening from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, though over 8,000 west-coasters also watched the launch event at an epic party at NASA Ames Research Center

And now now that LADEE is flying, NASA needs your help!

Meteor Counter for iPad and iPhone

During the LADEE Mission, NASA would like to have as many people as possible submitting meteor counts so scientists can compare that data to what LADEE's instruments record. And of course, there's an app for that.

Download the NASA Meteor Counter app, which allows observers to use their iPhones, iPads, or Androids to record meteor count observations, and send the data directly to NASA.

When you watch a meteor shower, just take your smart phone with you! (As if you leave it home anyway, right?)  Capture meteors with the "piano key" interface. As you tap the keys, Meteor Counter records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations.  These data are uploaded to researches at NASA for analysis.

Meteor Counter

Anothe great way to get involved is with your 8 to 14-inch aperture telescope to detect meteoroid impacts, as monitored by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office, and the Lunar Impact Monitoring Program. In both entities, lunar scientists seek to determine the rate of meteoroid impacts on the Moon, as they are an important source for the lunar exosphere and dust.

The LADEE mission is a also a participant in the International Observe the Moon Night, and the Student Spacecraft Tracking and Monitoring effort, so visit LADEE Mission Opportunities page to pick a project!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer


Is everyone prepared for the historic launch of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer this week? This will be the first of TEN launches in September! Busy rocket season.

This historic robotic mission to the moon will mark the very first lunar blast-off from a place that is not-Cape-Canaveral. It will also clear up many of the Moon Mysteries we humans have wondered about since the Apollo program.

NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is very excited to host the launch of LADEE (pronounced Laa-dee, as opposed to "lady") on a USAF Minotaur V. NASA Ames is holding an event at their parade grounds, and 8,000 people have purchased tickets! NASA TV will also carry pre-launch activities, so find a place to watch: 

NASA LADEE Lunar Launch
Friday, September 6th
NASA TV Coverage Begins 6:30pm PT / 9:30pm ET
LAUNCH WINDOW 11:27-11:31pm ET

Click to embiggen Launch Visibility map

Designed and built at NASA Ames, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the composition, density and variability of the thin (but glowing!) lunar atmosphere.

LADEE will  study conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust, and also test new laser communications technology that could potentially bring broadband speeds to planetary space missions!

The LADEE 3-phase animation, by Dana Berry at NASA Ames, first shows the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) instrument, which operates by detecting ions generated when dust particles impact at high speeds. Data will be used to calculate the mass, density and electrical charge of lunar dust.  Phase 2 depicts orbital flight path variations, and phase 3 shows light from the sun scattering through the lunar atmosphere.

Why are such explorations important?

Interestingly, our Moon may be the most common type of atmosphere in the solar system -- perhaps in most solar systems. Known as a "surface boundary exosphere," a very similar type surrounds Mercury, the moons of our gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, all the largest asteroids observed, and even minor celestial bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. 

Given that we have an SBE so close, we really ought to be exploring it!  In the future, the data may help probes land on Jovian moons!

Follow the NASA LADEE action on Twitter, and of course, I will be live-tweet all the action from the Pillownaut Twitter account, too.