Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Baktun 13, Year of the Pig, Holocene 12019 -- however you count, enjoy the Gregorian grid with this beautiful collage of photos and facts, published in cooperation with Starry Messenger Press, and, new this year, order fulfillment through Amazon.

Wall Calendar and Spiral Notebook Calendar

The photography is stunning, and every square centimeter is packed with colorful collages, planets, astronauts, space crafts, and profiles of famous mission scientists. The calendar grids feature moon phases, sky-gazing guides, space exploration milestones throughout history and fun space facts.

Designer Steve Cariddi created this masterpiece to appeal to space enthusiasts of all ages, and even if you don't want another physical item on your desk -- you can also get all the facts + photography in an online version, or weekly email.


To enter the contest, simply circulate either of the tweets below over the next two days, or create your own tweet with the calendar link, and CC: back to my account so I know to enter your Twit-handle in the drawing.

Win a FREE 2019 Year In Space Calendar with sky guides, space trivia, and stunning astrophotography! https://goo.gl/vwC6y2 via @YearInSpace @Pillownaut #YearInSpace

FREE Year In Space 2019 Calendar up for grabs at https://goo.gl/vwC6y2 if you RT @pillownaut @YearInSpace! Amazing astrophotography, mission milestones, and Scientist profiles included each year. #YearInSpace

On Thursday evening (December 6, 2018), we will choose one local winner at the California Academy of Sciences FEEL THE FORCE Nightlife event in Golden Gate Park, which will feature multiple astromech droids from the Bay Area R2 Builders, 501st garrison stormtroopers, Mandalorian Mercs, and the Rebel Legion. Last year, they gave away free light sabers and also held Jedi Academy training on how to use them. Here's hoping that's a staple. The themed cocktails are also amazing, so we hope to see a good turnout for all the Star Wars fun!

To win? All ya gotta do is tap me on the shoulder and say something nice.

Are you local to the San Francisco Bay Area?
Click to join us and R2-D2 at the Cal Academy Cocktails night!

 Then on Friday, I will choose a second (random) winner from all the tweeters, and that person can be local, across the USA, or anywhere international.

 Of course, only two can win the free prizes, so when the rest of you purchase multiples for your kids for the New Year, and I know you will, check out the discount for being a Pillow Astronaut reader! Save 25% off the retail price and pay only $14.95 per copy online. There are additional quantity discounts if you buy more than one, which will show up when you check out.

Also be sure to follow #TriviaThursday on @pillownaut Twitter for #YearInSpace trivia all day on Thursday! If you read this far, you will qualify to additional entries. EVERY retweet of a Trivia fact on Thursday, December 6th will be another entry! Kudos to all those who read blog posts to the end, heh heh.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Pillownaut Christmas Picks

Here it is, December 1st! Time to select goodies for the scientist, astronomer, cosmologist, Trekkie, Browncoast, Ewok, or astromech wrangler in your life! If you don't have these people in your life, come meet one at a rocket launch sometime.

It may seem weird to have Christmas picks from someone who notoriously hates shopping, but all of these GEEK TREATS can be purchased on the internet. That is literally my only requirement for selection when I'm sharing news of cool Science or Science Fiction products. Like that R2-D2 pen I just found? Yeah, you actually have to schlep down to Office Depot to recycle your massive collection of spent ink cartridges to find it. So, disqualified.

Ultimate Guide to the Cosmos by David Dickinson & Fraser Cain
My arms are too short for selfies,
so I just tried to keep the book in the middle.

 My top pick for the year is The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing The Cosmos by David Dickinson with Fraser Cain. The sub-title is a bit mystifying. "Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer" seems a bit of an abbreviation for such a visually stunning and skillful collection of knowledge. From reading the sky to choosing a telescope, from identifying celestial phenomena to staying safe during eclipses, this is more like a comprehensive guide on being a GOOD astronomer. Even if you have no hardware at all.

This book is a giant galactic poem, and every spacetweep should own it. I've seen just about every astronomy book in my lifetime, and this is the one that will show you how to be a stargazer in the way that best fits your abilities and interests -- not merely canned instructions for meteor showers. As the author notes in his introduction, "The act of gazing skyward is a minor stroke of rebellion." 

ALIENS bath bomb from SICK SOAPS

 I've been a big fan of FrakkingBombs after seeing them at Dragon*Con; their Star Wars & Doctor Who bath products are still awesome -- but I branched out a bit to try Sick Soaps, owned by a woman named Cheynne de Boer, who sold me this very original "Aliens" themed bath bomb. I keep wanting to use it, but also enjoy just having it to look at. I'll fizz it up and watch the face-hugger spring out sometime. She has dozens of Sci-Fi soapy things, plus classic horror movies in the mix.

Do the puzzles while the stuff bakes

Unshockingly, my cookbook of the year is a Chocolate BIBLE. That's what it said. BIBLE. It's light on the scripture, but heavy on the chocolate advice, chocolate history (from the Aztecs to modern artisanal truffles), development of chocolate cultivation and products across many cultures through the centuries, and types chocolate delicacies all over the world. There's a coffee section, too. Maybe someday I'll read that. Right now, still stuck on learning how to cope with tempering. It's harder than those Instagram videos make it look. 

My puzzle pick of the year for the first time ever is NOT crosswords. I'll never be as good at Sudoku as my older brother -- which is why this is his Christmas present. Celestial Squares by atheist vegan Sci-Fi author Ant Ryan has 50 easy, 50 medium, 50 hard, and 50 advanced puzzles... perfect for the husband who wants to teach his wife to Sudoku. Apologies in advance to my sister-in-law.

Both of the above are British printings by British authors, but available for purchase to the USA. And both are the best gifts I also found for others in 2018.

Best Fiction Book for the year? The one I'm writing. For all the reviews and promotions I've done for others, I hope you'll support me when the time comes.

We may have opened this toy a bit early. K, we opened this toy really early. Sphero used to charge $130 + shipping for the app-controlled R2-D2 astromech, but had a product surplus and dropped the price to $40 for the holidays. You download the Sphero droid app, and enjoy the BEEPS and BOOPS! Droid has an integrated speaker with all of Artoo's recognizable conversations and... screams. Authentic functional LEDs, radio system, and very easy to move. WAY easier than the 200lb. trash can! From opening the box to driving, twe had this little guy up and running in 7 minutes. So hilarious. I've been sending it all around the kitchen with my iPhone while waiting for blog uploads.

My non-fiction pick of the year is Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work on Their Own Terms, an examination of the glass ceiling women experience in various career fields, and how to cope with society's models in the changing landscape of finding both success and balance. I like the approach here, because it acknowledges, unlike many self-help guide-style books, that there is no single solution, and every woman has to get to the core of her own ideals and choices to be a resilient, adaptable, and effective worker.

Disclaimer: I went to college with co-author, Portia Mount, who also wrote Beating the Imposter Syndrome in 2014. We lived in the same dormitory at Mills. On second thought, never mind, I'm not disclaiming anything. She's brilliant, and I'm proud to promote this for Portia. She is #BlackGirlMagic personified! 

Kitty Approved

One last book pick! While not newly written, this blast from the past is absolutely still relevant, applicable to continuing evolutionary studies, and pertinent knowledge to understanding how the creatures of Earth will (or won't) adapt to rapidly changing climate. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction was written by David Quammen in 1997. Not many people heeded his warnings then. I don't much expect people in charge to heed them now, but it's a great read about how we're all basically going to go extinct. RAY OF SUNSHINE, YO.

NOTE: This book is also the current pick for THE STEMULUS book club, and we will be discussing it on livestream soon!


Lastly, my Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates pick of the year is the Moonstruck Crescent Moon Collection, conveniently in the shape of an actual crescent moon. Anyone and everyone is free to send this to me -- at any time of year. This lovely box features their Champagne truffle, Ocumarian, their signature caramels, and one specialty of the Distillery Collection, the Clear Creek Pear Brandy, native to the Portland, Oregon area where their chocolate factory resides.

Add if you're into more whimsical selections, they carry holiday-wrapped truffles, as well as penguins, snowballs, snowdudes, little trees, sugar plums, and all manner of Decembery cacao goodness. It's a fun website, go crazy.

It's also the best chocolate this side of Belgium.

I would know. 

I've been to Belgium, and ate my way home through Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


This past week, I had an interesting milestone, and decided to share the results.
I first did a "recap" of my years of experiences in the NASA Spaceflight Simulation program at the Flight Analog Research Unit (FARU) run by Johnson Space Center in both Houston and on Galveston Island. A kind Twitter follower named Brian Murdock submitted it to a threading service in article format. Good stuff!

Story of the NASA Space Simulation Studies

Long story short, my NASA Sim Studies (conducted 2008-2013 by Wyle BioAstronautics), carried risks of lowered immunity, plasma volume drop, vestibular (balance) issues, and heart enlargement in the short term -- but in the long term, after physical rehabilitation, possible risks still include changes in eyesight, cardiac weakening, muscle degradation, and lessened bone mineral density.

Every new day brings every woman alive closer to menopause, so of course I wondered in particular about bone density as I age. Thus far, in the decade after my micro-gravity and lunar gravity simulations, I did have to get new glasses because nearsightedness took a big jump, and of course I wondered -- as all analogs and astronauts must -- about how our medical numbers would look after many years. Am I in danger of being in a wheelchair as I was for the week after my longest sim ended? Probably not. But long-term dangers still remain a big question.

Bone Scans after Spaceflight Simulations

I get blood work from time to time, and in 2016, had an invasive workup that matched a few of the tests I underwent back in sims; I also get my blood pressure measured frequently. I asked for cholesterol levels in addition to things NASA previously measured: Hematocrit, Ferritin (iron levels), and Alanine Aminotransferase (liver enzymes).

One thing I had not repeated since my 5-year mark was the Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry -- abbreviated to DEXA or DXA, though more often referred to by orthopaedists as "Bone Densitometry."

DexaFit San Carlos 

Due to the sheer size of DEXA machines, such tests weren't as common as other diagnostics, and often required a specialist. Today, however, DXA scans are more widely available.

If you're curious about muscle mass, fat percentage, bone density and other body composition measurements that may judge your risk for future heart disease or osteoporosis, start at DEXASCAN.COM. This provides explanations and maps, so you can see if you have scanning services near you. Some require physician referral; others are freely available to all, and may indicate if more tests are advisable for certain conditions.

Upon securing an appointment, you'll be asked via email and web forms to provide a "Pre-Test Journal"-- mostly simple data ensuring you aren't pregnant, if you smoke, how you exercise, and you may add stats on allergies, sleeping hours, and dietary habits. It's helpful to note if medical issues run in your family, so technicians can translate results for you in terms of what you can do in the future to prevent onset of certain conditions.

All that is required of you is to lay still for about 6 minutes.

Lunar DEXA Scanner - How it works

I went to a site in Silicon Valley called DexaFit in San Carlos. Capable technicians made me feel comfortable and gave me two scans in a mere 30 minutes, then gave knowledgeable explanations of how the scans work, and how to interpret results. Thanks so much for  swift and efficient experience, Lizzy and Emily! I got to my subsequent lunch date on time.

The large scanner sends a thin, invisible beam of ionizing radiation (low-dose x-rays) with two distinct energy peaks through the skeleton. One peak is absorbed mainly by soft tissue and the other by bone. The soft tissue amount can be subtracted from the total and what remains is a patient's bone mineral density.


Happily, my borderline-anxious curiosity was rewarded only with relief. In the graphic above, the white square is my score. The aqua waves are the average for each age group.

My T-score is higher than average for my age, and better now than when I left sims, likely due to consistent exercise, genetics (never having broken any, strong bones were why I got into the astronaut analog program in the first place!), weight-lifting since the age of 19, and luck. As I put it to my parents later that day: "I can now officially tell you not to worry. NASA can't kill me even when they're trying!"

Space enthusiasts will further appreciate the irony of the GE scanner brand name.

DexaFit San Carlos

How much do you truly know about your BONES?? Take a quick bone quiz, here!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Carl Sagan Day 2018

Happy 10th Annual Carl Sagan Day!

As of tomorrow, it's been a full decade of HAIL, SAGAN! Once again, colleges and museums have planned awesome planetarium shows, educator workshops, family activities, telescope classes, and star-gazing. From Carl Sagan book readings in SC to Florida Meetups for Carl Sagan Day to MIT lectures Sagan Day 2018, celebrations honor what would have been Sagan's 84th birthday.

Carl Sagan and the Voyager Golden Records

Best known from the original COSMOS series of the 1980s (the most widely watched program in PBS history!), Carl Sagan is known for his part in the Voyager Golden Records aboard spacecrafts Voyager I and II, and their longevity; his many fiction and non-fiction books packed with highly-quotable written material, and his tireless advocacy for science and astronomy.

He is immortalized in a science museum near his Ithaca, NY home, which includes the Carl Sagan Planet Walk scale solar system, complete with stampable passport at every planet, and narrated by Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Sagan taught at Cornell and Harvard universities, and worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Other titles included technology officer of the Icarus planetary research journal, Planetary Science Chair at the Astronomical Society, Astronomy Chairman at the Advancement of Science Association, and Co-Founder of the Planetary Society, the Earth's largest space-interest group.

Carl Sagan passed away in December 1996 at the age of 62, and was buried in New York (Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca) right beside his parents.


An astronomer, philosopher, professor and NASA consultant, Carl Sagan won 30 public awards, published over 600 scientific articles and authored or co-authored 20 books. I’ll never weary of recommending Pale Blue Dot to anyone who will listen!  The unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

Sagan was instrumental in the early Mariner missions to Venus, determined landing sites on Mars for the Viking Lander probes, and also assembled the first physical messages sent into space.  He was instrumental in establishing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), urging the use of radio telescopes to detect signals from other intelligent life. Along with Frank Drake, he also composed the Arecibo message, beamed once into space in 1974.

Carl Sagan with the VLA

He's one of those people who makes you scratch your head and think, "What the heck have I been DOING with my time?!"

Carl had the ability to make space "knowable" to audiences of all ages. He was known for popularizing  science in a way that inspired people to understand both our insignificance in the larger universe, but also, paradoxically, the absolutely precious nature of our enormously unlikely existence.

Follow me on Twitter today for #TriviaThursday, all day today, which is all about Carl Sagan's life, works, activism, and scientific accomplisments! Speaking for space geeks everywhere... thanks a billion, Carl.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Space Travel Still Sucks

Even back when "Cracked.com" was all the rage with their irreverent lists, I wasn't always a fan of basic "Internet Top 10" lists. However, once in awhile -- and when my space blog was the hot new thing in the fledgling "Spacetweep" community -- something grabbed me that was worth commentary.

One particular article has remained on my mind through the years, and if you missed it, click graphic to read the:

6 Reasons Space Travel Will Always Suck

They weren't wrong. Space travel sucks. Space travel has always sucked. No matter what Elon Musk tries to spin, space travel will indeed continue to suck. Amazingly, most people still say they want to experience it... but upon speaking to them, it's clear that's because even people who truly support space agencies don't always know what it takes to survive off-Earth, and how sick you can become without the comforting gravity in which you evolved.

The saddest-but-truest statement starts out the article with a big bang: "We love movies about space, but are continually bored by actual space travel."

This is not what space travel will look like. Ever.
Yeah, we wish.

They drive home the point that even for far-off future generations, space travel may not meet our expectations, because...
6. There is No Sex in Space
5. It'll Be More Like a Submarine Than Star Trek
4. Life in Zero-Gravity is Horrible
3. There's Nothing to See
2. Getting Anywhere Interesting Means Never Going Home
1. In Space, On-Star Won't Do Shit For You

I read the entire article, desperately hoping I could disagree with it. Nope. They nailed it on every count.

Space Travel Will Make You Sick
Spacebarf: actually the least of your worries.

There is no way to reproduce, so we aren't going anywhere as a group. Cramped quarters, not a cruise ship. Weightlessness messes with your head, your balance, your blood, your muscles (including your heart) and your bones. I know all this first-hand from my spaceflight simulations, which I performed for Johnson Space Center between 2008-2010. At one point while adjusting to micro-gravity, even the fillings in my teeth hurt.

All that just to travel through 99.99% of blackness – perhaps to reach something that will be the last thing you ever see. That's if you make it at all, considering the massive dangers… because you're dead if even the slightest thing goes wrong.

Guys like Bas Lansdorp, Dennis Tito, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Peter Diamandis, and especially Elon Musk just make me roll my eyes. It's all well and good to be rich and visionary about hardware, but they are selling a fantasy.  

I would give anything if even just one of them repeated my spaceflight simulations so that they actually understood what space flight can do to the human body.

They talk like we are leaving for Mars in a year or ten. We aren't. 

Space Travel Isn't All It's CRACKED Up To Be
Hey, suppose we go to all that trouble... and THIS
is the only thing on the other end of the journey?

Key concept: "Your life depends on your time aboard the starship being skull-crushingly boring."

So apparently, that's the funny part. The unfunny part? Underneath all the hyperbole, the message is clear: We all want the "future" of space travel to get here, but few truly understand the reality of what it takes to get us there. We have to go through many, many downers before we get to the payoff.

Why is all of this on my mind? Once upon a time, I put my body and brain on the line for science. As an astronaut analog, I spent more time in contraptions simulating micro-gravity than most astronauts have spent in actual orbit. The longest any astronauts spent on the Moon was on the Apollo 17 mission, where Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt were on the lunar surface for 4 days. My lunar study hardware put me in 6% gravity for 7 days. 

I have a 10-year bone density DEXA scan coming up. I'll see if there were any lasting effects from my participation in the study of how leaving Earth gravity affects humans long term.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Is "Earth" Truly the Right Name For a Ball of Liquid Blue?

In random ponderings, I have always thought "Earth" was an odd name. The crust of our planet is about 70% ocean, and only 30% above-water landmass that is habitable to We The Species who think it's our job to go about naming things.

We decided our planet should be descriptive instead of being named after a god, so wouldn't it make more sense if we were named for WATER?

Figuring my spacey questions might be a welcome breather between Trump rants and film remake freak-outs, I posed this question to a blog forum I infrequently lurk. This particular philosophical discussion yielded thought-provoking responses.
Planet  Water

ETYMOLOGY  / Language History: Greek era , Old German erda

Indo-European roots akin to Crimean Goth airtha, old Saxon ertha, Olde English eorthe, Middle English erthe

Greek hydor or hudor, Latin unda wave, Old English wæter; akin to Old High German wazzar

The Greek word for water now survives as the prefix hydro- (as in words like hydrogen or hydration). But with the widespread "borrowing" of languages, perhaps we might even be Wazer or Wave? Had humans known more about planetary properties during the time of naming, we might be something entirely different.

If we changed our planet name, what would be more descriptive?

Yourfindit: If we rename the whole planet, then all the Aliens will have to go through a long process of correcting and updating their records.

Legbamel: Mess?

LolitaV: I always though the name should start with Sector; like Sector Z8474895-AJ1248_X.

Aningenious: I'd go with Skaron 6 it's quite cool and any aliens would have to be mad to attempt to invade a planet called Skaron 6.

Nothingprofound: It's always fascinated me that we're the one planet NOT named after a Latin deity.

Exit2013: It doesn't matter... sooner or later this planet will be a waterworld. Seriously.

PetLvr: We have friends that named their chihuahua "Paul" because they heard someone on a TV show make fun of people who name their pet dogs human names... we can do that for the planet Earth. I vote for "Planet Melvin."

Planet Earth

Theresa111: Globe ? Earth's fine by me, kinda used to it. I have given the name some thought throughout my existence and figured someone simply named it before being privy to the rest of the planets elements.

Sam1982: Who had the naming rights anyway?

kdawg68: We should probably ask the insects what they think, since they do outnumber us vastly. Or, we could just go with "Insectia."

Animemania: If we held a poll to change the planet's name...that would be just awful. We'd be stuck calling Earth "Planet Stupid" or something.

crazyTsu: But mud is everywhere (well in most places), not only here. What's in a name? we name things according to what we are familiar with. Our familiarity has not evolved so much and I aint no marine creature either so no oceanworld for me.

Flamingpoodle: The 71/29 split only applies to the earth's surface. Besides, we call it earth because we live on the eartherns part.

Well, if we're going to split hairs, it's actually 70.78% to 29.22% -- but who's counting? ;) I originally rounded because the point of the exercise was "early colloquial assumptions versus current knowledge." If we really wanted a descriptive name, we’d have to include core material, and we aren't about to call our planet "Giant Ball of Mostly Molten Silicon and Iron."

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms (DOOFAAS)

Working for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is such a serious and mind-engaging affair, you might think it would render you unable to find time for aimless whimsy in your life. You'd be wrong.


I found this bloke at the HSCA who appears to have time on his hands. This Canadian-Hawaiian Astronomer and Computer Engineer who is also a hockey player (SRSLY) compiled an entertaining list of Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms (DOOFAAS) and you're missing something truly special if you don't go check it out!

I sampled a select few that tickled mah humerus:

01. ARMPIT... ASKAP Rotation Measure & Polarisation InvestigaTion
02. BICEP... Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization
03. BLISS... Background-Limited Infrared-Submillimeter Spectrograph
04. CHIPS... Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer
05. COYOTES... Coordinated Observations of Young ObjecTs from Earthbound Sites
06. DONUT... Direct Observation of NU Tau
07. DUPLEX... DUst-Prominent Longitudinally-EXtended
08. EGG... Evaporating Gaseous Globule
09. EGRET... Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope
10. FIFI... Far Infrared Fabry-perot Interferometer
11. FOXES... Fluctuating Optical & X-ray Emitting Sources
12. GENIUS... GErmanium liquid NItrogen Underground Setup
13. HIS/HERS... High Intensity Spectrograph / High Energy Range Spectrometer
14. HO-BAGS... Hubble Observatory BAckground Galaxy Survey
15. JIVE... Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe
16. KISS... KPNO International Spectroscopic Survey
17. LACE... Low power Atmospheric Compensation Experiment
18. MACHO... MAssive Compact Halo Objects
19. MARTINI... Multi-Aperture Real Time Image NormalIzation system
20. NOT... Nordic Optical Telescope
21. OGLE... Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment
22. OWL... Overwhelmingly Large Telescope
23. PRESTO... Project to Re-Engineer Space Telescope Observing
24. QUEST... Q & U Extra-galactic Sub-mm Telescope
25. RATTS... Run Away T-Tauri Stars
26. SAURON... Spectroscopic Areal Unit for Research on Optical Nebulae
27. SEQUOIA... SEcond QUabbin Optical Imaging Array
28. THUMPER... Two HUndred Micron PhotometER
29. WOMBAT... Wavelength-Oriented Microwave Background Analysis Team
30. YORIC... Yet another Optimal Resolution Image Constructor (Alas...)

Acronyms - Harvard Collection

It gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it); other fun DOOFAAS include Boomerangs, Castles, Flamingoes, Squids, Polar Bears, Aztecs, Spartans. Our esteemed List Master declares "TANGOinPARIS" the overall WINNER… and I am inclined to agree.

He invites all who visit to "Mail me yours today!" and I'm quite confident my tasteful and intelligent readers have stores of these on hand. So please check out the full list and send Mr. P the DOOFAAS your particular working environment cherishes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Future of NASA

With an unpredictable president, and an non-scientific NASA administrator now stunningly and inexplicably confirmed, many space enthusiasts and especially those in the aerospace industry are reasonably wondering, what will the future hold?

What's to come in the new presidential administration

In years past, I have spent Decembers on space calendar giveaways, top missions of the year, and various awards, then created a post in January to discuss space goals, agency changes, and what the new year might bring. I simply had no idea how to continue that trend in 2017 and 2018. It's like we are all through the portal to the Upside-Down!

When I comment on how unconventional things suddenly became over the past year, a few Twitter users have accused me of "zeroing in" on Trump in a way that I "never did with Obama." Not true. I meticulously documented Obama's campaign promises for many years -- as evidenced by my past posts where I literally listed EVERY SINGLE ONE of President Barack Obama's space-related policies.

I just as meticulously documented results, and was never shy about listing his promises and researching them exhaustively, nor did I ever  fail to mention when promises were stalled, compromised upon, or downright broken.

Obameter of Space promises

For the first time since I've begun writing about the nation's civil space policy, the administration itself changed into something so unexpected. Any change in command at the highest level could well mean significant changes to many portions of the space agency, not the least of which is a new leader for the agency itself.

The short list originally included GW Space Policy Institute Director Scott Pace, former astronaut Colonel Eileen Collins, and Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine -- author of the(highly suspect) Space Renaissance Act. That the latter of the list and the very least of the candidates is now installed in an industry he groks only scantly, is jaw-dropping in the extreme. We can only surmise his appointment was based on meager understanding of what his job should actually be, and he shows little sign of being anything but a disaster in an already over-burdened bureaucracy.

Top priorities, as always, are listed as Moon, Mars, and Commercial Space. However, these tended to be the "sexy spotlights," when in fact NASA's $18-$20 billion is spread broadly among many major categories that contribute to successful industries both in space and across the globe.

Here are the major categories of the NASA budget. What will a Trump presidency mean to things like climate change research, Earth sciences, Green efforts, or even planetary science? We know many of these categories have been in the "pork" list for conservatives for many cycles. Will a budget for Moon or Mars glory mean gutting the long term plans for the habitability for our own planet? Such a turn of events seems unlikely.

We can likely count on many Senators in the 10 states with major NASA centers to fight for the jobs inside their borders, and the crucial work that fuels technology and spinoffs from space research; what we do not know is how well they will fare against blatantly partisan attempts to cater to myths that science is untrustworthy, or that science cares about elections, imaginary lines on maps, or whether Floridians just voted to imagine climate change does not exist when sea life is flooding into Miami parking garages.

For the moment, we only have sparse commentary from Donald Trump, and none so far show that he has a grasp of the actual issues facing the space agency. His mere mention of a "Space Force" violates the longstanding Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (United Nations, 1967).

So far most of the details have come from more knowledgeable policy advisers, and not Trump himself. Based on his own comments, comparing the promises of Trump to Obama is a stark contrast, indeed.

I won't try to predict what the future holds, I'll just hope the message from the first man in space holds true into the 21st century.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Penny For NASA Finally Paid Off!

After a startling announcement from NASA, space enthusiasts everywhere will be happy to know the "Penny 4 NASA" effort finally resulted in the space agency budget tripling to $55.2 billion dollars!

All projects and programs will be fully funded, simultaneously. Unnecessary pork allocations and tax cuts for massive corporations will be re-routed so that the space administration no longer has to pick and choose between heavy launch vehicles, space stations, lunar base plans, asteroid-mining, solar system probes to the outer gas giants, or long-duration missions to Mars.

Very. Serious. Astronauts.

"It was Steph Evz of the STEMulus who convinced us," Said US Representative and current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. "She's wicked smart. Science communication matters."

Representatives of NASA's 10 major US centers gave impassioned speeches at the Capitol about how Americans spend $65 billion dollars on illegal drugs and $600 billion per year in casinos. One Cape Canaveral employee produced a pie chart of the national budget and challenged the legislature to use their magnifying glasses to find NASA's tiny slice. Amid the chorus of gasps and mutterings, all members of Congress voted to take pay cuts.

Will they miss the money? Sure. But it's gratifying to know the legislative branch finally realizes that the space program benefited the entire planet, and handed Earth a technological way of life: medical advances, agricultural progress, satellite and communications maintenance, plus new developments in weather forecasting and natural disaster warnings.

Betty White didn't mince words: "I knew I had to step in amid all this kvetching. Look at the nonsense cancellations since Nixon axed Apollo. It's preposterous. You want something done right? You get a coupla old broads to do it. I'm running for President in 2020 with RuPaul as my VP, and we're going to double NASA's budget again. $80 billion, no joke. Anything less is bullshit, you guys. Now get out of my way -- I gotta go pick up my Deadpool 2 tickets."

Could Earth possibly be that lucky? Is it even possible that for the first time in human history, potentially pioneering sciences might benefit all of humanity, without having to take a backseat to military aims or politics?

In another completely unrelated, ludicrously unforseen and utterly unprecedented move, Johnny Depp announced he would forgo his entire $90-million salary for "Pirates of the Caribbean 7" and donate the entire amount to NASA. 

Johnny Depp

"Seriously, I have enough dough," Depp was quoted as saying on the red carpet, at the gala for the "Firefly Season 2" premiere.

"And why should anyone get that kind of ridiculous cash for a movie anyway? Come on, all I do is dress up and play pretend in front of a camera.  It's hardly rocket science. Ninety million could fund the entire Exoplanet Exploration Program for an entire year!"

Yes. Yes, it could.

Happy April Fool's Day! The White House will release the actual Fiscal Year 2019 Budget on April 16th. Tip: Don't believe everything you read on the internet. Not just today, but kinda always. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Space Station INCOMING! Again.

Hey, remember when Taco Bell used the fiery re-entry of Space Station Mir for an advertising campaign?!

Taco Bell Mir Target
Mir, meaning "Peace" (or "World") in Russian, was a Soviet Space program craft, launched February19, 1986, and was intended for a 5-year mission. After the Russian Federation was established in 1991, Roskosmos continued to operate experiments on the station until 2001.

Side Note: Cosmonauts Aleksandr Volkov & Sergei Krikalev were aboard Mir during the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. When they left Earth, they were Soviets. When they returned from orbit, they were citizens of the Russian Federation. Volkov and Krikalev are the only space travelers whose citizenship changed while they were away from their planet

Mir was scheduled to be decommissioned over the South Pacific Ocean, guided back toward Earth to burn up in atmosphere. However, it was the largest object ever to be brought back from space! Would pieces survive? The marketing department at Taco Bell Corporation created a 40x40 foot target with the words "FREE TACO HERE" around a bell bullseye, and floated it off the coast of Australia.

Chris Becker, vice president of brand communications, confirmed: "If Mir rings our bell, we will offer a free taco to everyone in the USA."

ABC on YouTube https://youtu.be/YMnUZkSrpCY
Click to play hilarious "no tacos for you" video (1:42)

In one of the most precious pieces of space press ever, ABC asked the Little Shop of Physics: what were the odds of Mir hitting that target? YIKES, about 1 in 7.5 billion! No tacos for you! And after all the trouble Taco Bell went through to purchase insurance, covering anticipated costs of free food upon a direct hit. 

Мир dipped from its 139-mile-high orbit, and re-entered Earth's atmosphere on March 23, 2001 -- losing solar panels first, and then many larger modules broke into fragments around the 50-mile mark. Photographers captured swarms of incandescent fragments hurtling toward the sea at near-sonic speeds amid streaming smoke trails. After 86,331 orbits, Mir plunged into the ocean off the coast of New Zealand at 175 West longitude, 25 South latitude.

Flaming space station piecesPartly cloudy with no chance of taco...

Will Taco Bell do the same for China's Tiangong 1 space station? One imagines attrition in the marketing department has resulted in a new staff, but here's hoping they give us another chance for free food.

Over the coming week, most likely between March 30 - April 2, 2018, China's 8-ton orbiting lab is scheduled to fall back to Earth -- uncontrolled, as Chinese engineers have lost contact. In less-than-reassuring press releases, those who calculate possible orbital dynamics cannot say where it will crash -- only that it will definitely crash -- across a HUGE potential area. Like Mir and Skylab (1979), much of the "heavenly" orbiter is expected to burn in the upper atmosphere, but various sized pieces are still expected to hit the planet.

Track Tiangong1 real-time

What are the odds of it falling in your yard? Waaaaay more than 7.5 billion to 1. More like 20 trillion to 1. First off, it's only about 10% of the size of Skylab, and only the 50th largest thing to fall from the sky, planned or unplanned. However, if you're the lucky (?) recipient, be safe: do not touch it, and contact local authorities.

Launched from Jiuquan September 29, 2011, the 19.4-meter-long module has been in orbit for 6 years and 181 days, and by the end of the week, will have completed nearly 38,000 orbits. 

Follow re-entry updates of Tiangong 1 at the official ESA blog, or follow real-time tracking of the space station at SatFlare.