Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Duck!, which, if you don’t visit it often, you really should, has a regular listing of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), which are defined as “space rocks larger than approximately 100 meters that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 astronomical units.” (An AU is the mean distance between the sun and the Earth, and we all know that that is – say it with me, everybody – 92.something million miles.)

Spaceweather makes the comforting statement that none of the PHAs astronomers are following is in danger of hitting us, but the uncomforting qualifier is that astronomers are “finding new ones all the time.”

On October 8, one snuck up on them, blasting through the sky in Indonesia and freaking out the local population who thought, naturally, EARTHQUAKE! According to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program (which is missing a hyphen, but what can you do?), the explosion caused by the 10-meter asteroid “triggered infrasound sensors of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization more than 10,000 kilometers away.”

Not to worry, though. NASA says asteroids smaller than 25 meters can’t really do much damage, unless, of course, they fall on your car. And asteroids the size of the Indonesia one only hit Earth every 2-12 years (seems like a remarkably large gap there). And I am sure I will have forgotten all this by 2011.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Clearly, happy people were on Mercury

On September 29, MESSENGER spacecraft passed by Mercury for the third time, flying 141.7 miles above the planet’s rocky surface for a final gravity assist that will enable it to enter orbit above Mercury in 2011. During the encounter, the MESSENGER cameras caught a portion of Mercury's never-before-seen surface . With more than 90 percent of the planet’s surface already imaged, MESSENGER’s science team had drafted an ambitious observation campaign designed to tease out additional details from features uncovered during the first two flybys.

Somebody had to work hard to get this acronym: MErcury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry and Ranging. Messenger delivered many nice photos of the surface of the planet, but I like this one the best.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Okay, so maybe I won't be at the STS-132 launch.*

*Not my actual pee stick, though mine looked pretty similar.

Due Date Calculator
Your baby will be born on or around Saturday, April 24, 2010.

Dangit, I miss all the good stuff.
(That's tongue-in-cheek, y'all. )

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pretty Pictures

The mission of Atlantis, the shuttle that launched last May to make the final adjustments to the Hubble, is already paying dividends. The shuttle's astronauts installed the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which snapped this photo of the "Bug" or "Butterfly" planetary nebula.

According to NASA, the star at the center of the nebula first evolved into a huge red-giant star, with a diameter of about 1,000 times that of our Sun. It then lost its extended outer layers. Some of this gas was cast off from its equator at a relatively slow speed, perhaps as low as 20,000 miles an hour, creating the doughnut-shaped ring. Other gas was ejected perpendicular to the ring at higher speeds, producing the elongated "wings" of the butterfly-shaped structure.

Check out the description of this photo and see others at NASA's website.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mt. Wilson Observatory Threatened by Wildfire

Firefighters waged a five-day battle to save the Mt. Wilson Observatory from the wildfires raging in the Angeles National Forest. The Mt. Wilson Observatory is important, well, because it's a freakin' observatory. But also because it is where Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding. To lose that facility would not just be tragic from a scientific standpoint, but from a historical one, as well. And, given the fact that it hosts a wealth of emergency, cellular and television communications towers, well, I mean, LA without television? Could anything possibly be sadder?

From the LA Times:

Mt. Wilson Observatory, site of some of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the 20th century, appears to have escaped serious damage from the Station fire, but scientists working on the mountain say the blaze still managed to take a toll on the ongoing research there.

Hal McAlister, observatory director and head of the CHARA experiment that uses six telescopes to measure shapes and sizes of stars, said he was on his way to teach on Monday at Georgia State University, where he is an astronomy professor, when he heard that firefighters had pulled out and ordered his staff to leave. He was so worried he was unable to teach his class.

"I've been teaching 32 years, and I'd never lost it like that," he said.

As many as 40 different projects were under way, he added, and some people had waited a year to get observing time. They will have to be rescheduled, but McAlister was philosophical about that: "Losing observing time is a small problem compared to losing the observatory," he said.

Charles Townes, a Nobel-Prize-winning astrophysicist at UC Berkeley who recently discovered that the bright star Betelgeuse is mysteriously shrinking, said his team had been using three telescopes on mobile trailers to watch changes in the star CIT 6 when the word to evacuate came down.

The mirrors were just coated with a new aluminum reflecting surface in July. If that was damaged, the observatory might need to do the expensive process all over again.

Tragically, two firefighters died in the blaze, but, right now, it looks as if the observatory has been spared. It will be some time before it is known just how much damage it may have sustained.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Neither should reality tv, but...

The journal, Nature, is reporting that the Wide Area Search for Planets (WASP, of course) has found a planet that shouldn't exist, given everything we (and when I say "we" I mean "People who are way smarter than I am") know. The planet was discovered by -- and the Nature article written by -- a team headed by astrophysicist Coel Hellier of Keene University.

WASP-18b is about 325 light-years away. It's huge -- 10 times the mass of Jupiter, but what's crazy is that it apparently is just 1.4 million miles (a walk to the mailbox in astronomical terms) from its star. Its orbit is less than one Earth day. Sky and Telescope says its surface temperature is a balmy 3,800°F

The article points out that tidal interactions should have stretched the star and slowed the planet to the point where they smashed into each other a long time ago. The planet is very near the "Roche Limit," which is the point at which its star's gravity will start to tear it apart.

Astrophysicists are watching WASP-18b, either to see its death throes or figure out why they aren't happening.

Favorite part of the story: "The 750-word article is making some big waves in the extra-solar planet community." I don't know why I find that hilarious.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It was cloudy oudy oudy oudy oudy out

I was so excited. I was going to be at Grayton Beach during the Perse ersi ersi ids. (Check out the Lou and Peter Berryman song; it's great). Every night was beautiful; Venus was bright, and Scorpio was outstanding on the beach side of the house; Ursa Major and Casseopeia on the lake side. I had told all the other folks staying with us that I would wake them up to see the meteor shower. So I planned on doing that for the folks that actually were interested. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy. We were at the beach for seven days and nights. The sky was clear for six of those seven nights. The only night it wasn't clear was August 12. I woke up at 3 am, 4 am, 5 am and 6 am, and saw NOTHING. NADA.

Next night, nothing. Next night, four shooting stars. Which was great because one kid who was with us at the beach, and is usually the kid who is hardest to take, was all over my knowledge of the stars and loved my laser pointer. This kid, just 8 years old, kept asking me to go outside with her to show her the stars. She had never seen a shooting star, until one night when we saw four. She is not the kid I would have ever thought would be interested in this stuff, but she was. I am so taking her to the planetarium this Thursday.

She is my new favorite kid. She was so happy to see her first shooting star, even though it was not a Perseid, given where it occurred in the sky.

But her parents, and the parents of other kids with us at the beach, all said that I was their new natural history guide. Because I know a lot about birds and stars. I figure that's a good way to be known.

But still, I am really disappointed that I was in a spot where the Perseids would be clear and I freaking couldn't see them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Good Perseids coming!

From comes this info:

POSSIBLE PERSEID OUTBURST: This year's Perseid meteor shower could be even better than usual. "A filament of comet dust has drifted across Earth's path and when Earth passes through it, sometime between 0800 and 0900 UT (1 - 2 am PDT) on August 12th, the Perseid meteor rate could surge to twice its normal value," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. The following profile is based on the debris stream models of veteran forecasters Jeremie Vaubaillon and Mikhail Maslov:

The filament was shed by Perseid parent comet Swift-Tuttle in the year 1610, and this is one of Earth's first encounters with it. "In addition," notes Cooke, "the main Perseid debris stream, which we run into every year, may be denser than normal due to a gravitational enhancement by Saturn. The total combination of these effects could result in as many as 200 meteors per hour (ZHR)."

Bright moonlight will overwhelm the outburst's fainter Perseids, but even a fraction of 200 is a good show. Science@NASA's "The Perseids are Coming" offers observing tips and sky maps.

We're heading up to Wheaton with the Adler folks. Here's the info on that:

Meteor Shower Star Party
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
7:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL
Join the Adler Planetarium as we celebrate the annual Perseid Meteor Shower! Watch shooting stars cascade across the sky while relaxing with your family in beautiful Cantigny Park.
The evening will include:
  • Excerpts from One World, One Sky: Big Birds Adventure, in the Adler's portable planetarium dome
  • Hands-on educational activities for families
  • Telescope viewing
  • Science presentation on the Hubble Space Telescope
  • Time for picnicking, stargazing, and family fun!
  • Tickets are $5 for Adler members, $10 for non-members

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nothing like Wyoming skies...

You can click to enlarge any of these photos; however, I'm ordering you to click and enlarge this one.

The Milky Way Over Devils Tower

Credit & Copyright: Wally Pacholka (TWAN)

Explanation: Was Devils Tower once an explosive volcano? Famous for its appearance in films such as Close Encounters, the origin of Devil's Tower in Wyoming, USA is still debated, with a leading hypothesis holding that it is a hardened lava plume that probably never reached the surface to become a volcano. The lighter rock that once surrounded the dense volcanic neck has now eroded away, leaving the dramatic tower. High above, the central band of the Milky Way galaxy arches across the sky. Many notable sky objects are visible, including dark strands of the Pipe Nebula and the reddish Lagoon Nebula to the tower's right. Green grass and trees line the moonlit foreground, while clouds appear near the horizon to the tower's left. Unlike many other international landmarks, mountaineers are permitted to climb Devils Tower.

WFPC3 earns its keep.

New shot of the July 19th Jupiter impact.

SN 1006

Became visible in the year 1006.
(Actually exploded 7,000 years prior.)
Debris cloud is 60 ly across.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Zolt Levay (STScI)

Eagle Nebula

Photo Credit: Emanuele Colognato

Sky this week.

This date in history.

1950 - Patrick AFB is named after General Mason Patrick

1985 - Buran Cosmonaut Group 2 selected. Things wouldn't work out well for the test pilots or the Buran program, as a general rule.

And finally, happy birthday and a big welcome home to Koichi Wakata.

Top 5 objects you can see with a small telescope.

Nancy at UT has a nice little article on the top five astronomical objects which can be seen with a small telescope. It's a good little list. Of course, the comments section is equally entertaining, with people sniping about why M such-and-such was left out and how they can't see all those things with their telescope, etc.

Disclaimer: If you look at the Orion Nebula through your telescope (or any telescope, for that matter), it ain't gonna look like this, so please don't call Meade to complain.

Friday, July 31, 2009

NLCs in Mongolia.

The cool stuff always happens in places like Mongolia.
Here are some NLCs a fellow on board an Air France flight snapped a few days ago.

A sound which will soon become a distant memory.

For a few moments this morning, my sis thought a bomb had exploded in her neighborhood.
It didn't take her long to realize what it was.

When I lived in Florida, it never failed to bring a smile when I heard that sound; it was always good to know they were home.

The astro-hots are home!

Welcome home, STS-127!

Personally, the front porch would have been the FIRST thing I installed on my space station.
How else you gonna drink iced tea and chat with the neighbors?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Useful website.

Tonight's Sky lets you input your lat/long and choose which types of objects you'd like to see and what you'll be viewing with.

Very cool, though it makes me ill that I can't see squat for all the light pollution.

Here ya go.

Friday, July 17, 2009

One thought watching ISS Coverage today...

That's way too many people.

-The End.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

40 Years Ago Today

Apollo 11 was launched. I swear I got teary typing that sentence. NASA has a wealth of very cool stuff on its website, including a remastered video of the moonwalk. You can also follow Apollo 11's progress in real-time, both on NASA's site and on And that's a pretty cool anniversary logo.

I am resigned to getting nothing done for the next week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sky this Week.

Some good stuff in the sky right now...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Way cool binocs.

For the 7th anniversary of my 30th birthday, The Husband got me the most awesome pair of binoculars, which I had been coveting for some time.

I subsequently bought solar filters for them.

And this is what I can look at every day now.

It's ridiculously cool.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Early flight...

Old-Timey Daredevil, by the delightfully silly Ryan Berkley
(Available at

Not space-related.

A 40,000 year old flute has been found.
As a music-lover, this pleases me.

There's just one thing: it's made of vulture bone.

All I can think of is a bunch of cavemen sitting around a fire playing it and thinking, "Myyyyy, how the tables have turned."

It also reminds me of a Far Side cartoon, which was Photoshopped into a real-life scene at Worth1000 by user Bigpeeler thusly:
(I actually cannot find the original Larson 'toon.)

Garrett Gets Some New Friends (or Guess My Application Got Lost in the Mail)

From NASA's website:

After reviewing more than 3500 applications, NASA has selected nine men and women for the 2009 astronaut candidate class. They will begin training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in August.

The new astronaut candidates:

Serena M. Aunon, 33, of League City, Texas; University of Texas Medical Branch-Wyle flight surgeon for NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation Programs; born in Indianapolis, Ind. Aunon holds degrees from The George Washington University, University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, and UTMB.

Jeanette J. Epps, 38, of Fairfax, Va.; technical intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency; born in Syracuse, N.Y. Epps holds degrees from LeMoyne College and the University of Maryland.

Jack D. Fischer, Major U.S. Air Force, 35, of Reston, Va.; test pilot; U.S. Air Force Strategic Policy intern (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon; born in Boulder, Colo. Fischer is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael S. Hopkins, Lt. Colonel U.S. Air Force, 40, of Alexandria, Va.; special assistant to the Vice Chairman (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon; born in Lebanon, Mo. Hopkins holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Stanford University.

Kjell N. Lindgren, 36, of League City, Texas; University of Texas Medical Branch-Wyle flight surgeon for NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation Programs; born in Taipei, Taiwan. Lindgren has degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado State University, University of Colorado, the University of Minnesota, and UTMB.

Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, 30, of Cambridge, Mass.; born in Farmington, Conn.; principal investigator and fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT and conducts research trips to the Congo. Rubins has degrees from the University of California-San Diego and Stanford University.

Scott D. Tingle, Commander U.S. Navy, 43, of Hollywood, Md.; born in Attleboro, Mass.; test pilot and Assistant Program Manager-Systems Engineering at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Tingle holds degrees from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) and Purdue University.

Mark T. Vande Hei, Lt. Colonel U.S. Army, 42, of El Lago, Texas; born in Falls Church, Va.; flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, as part of U.S. Army NASA Detachment. Vande Hei is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Stanford University.

Gregory R. (Reid) Wiseman, Lt. Commander U.S. Navy, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va.; born in Baltimore; test pilot; Department Head, Strike Fighter Squadron 103, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, based out of Oceana Virginia. Wiseman is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Johns Hopkins University.

Nine people. Twenty-two degrees. I'm feeling pretty good about the future of the space program.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday song video.

There is just so much wrong with this, physics-wise, that it makes my head hurt.
Still, it looks awesome.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Grunsfeld at the Adler

Not Ernest Grunsfeld, who designed the Adler Planetarium - his grandson John, Telescope-Repairer Extraordinaire.
On Wednesday, June 24th, be at the Adler box office when it opens at 9:30 A.M. to get tickets to hear Astronaut John Grunsfeld talk about the recent Hubble Servicing Mission. He will also be bringing back the Adler telescope he snuck out on his last visit when security wasn't looking the Adler gave him to take on his recent mission, with the understanding "You break it, you bought it."
Admission to the event is free with paid Adler admission but it will likely sell out, so if you're not in line at 9:30, you might be SOL.

Grunsfeld's talk will begin at 2 P.M.

The beautiful Adler Planetarium, designed by a talented guy's talented grandfather. Brings to mind* what Felix Mendelssohn's father (the son of a preeminent Jewish philosopher) once remarked: "I used to be known as the son of Mendelssohn. Now, I am known as the father of Mendelssohn."

*In fairness, John Grunsfeld's father is also an accomplished architect which, around these parts, affords one near-rockstar status, too.

To the Moon!

Fingers crossed...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Happy Birthday to You!

Today is Cathy's birthday. That means she gets a new official birthday star, eta bootis, the southeasternmost visible star in Bootes. Also known by its Arabic name, Mufrid or Murphrid, eta bootis is one of a somewhat unusual breed of "super metal rich" stars, which means pretty much anything but hydrogen and helium. Muphrid has a metal abundance about twice that of our sun. It is surrounded by a corono nearly twice as hot as that of the sun.

It is the third brightest star in Bootes.

There are a lot of mythological stories about the origins of Bootes, the Plowman. One is that Zeus raped Callisto, a nymph who ran with Artemis. And that when she gave birth to Arcas, Hera found out and got all, like, "Hey! You been running around on me or what?"

And when Hera tried to kill Callisto and Arcas, Zeus caused a mighty whirlwind to take them into the sky. Other stories involve Artemis killing Callisto, and, again, Zeus sorrowfully sending her into the sky.

Anyway, my sister, Mary, also has a birthday coming up, and her birthday star is some nondescript star in Draco. Mine, meanwhile, is Caph, the upper right star marking the W of Casseopeia.

Your birthday star is, of course, the star whose light began its journey to earth on the day you were born. Look it up if you're bored:

So happy birthday to my little sister, who was born when I was 18. She is the funniest one of us all, and the reason this blog is so wonderful.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Teen discovers supernova

At 14, she's the youngest person ever to discover a supernova.
Way to go, Caroline!

I'd love to know more about this young lady.
I'm sure she's absolutely fascinating, and what an inspiration for young folks who sometimes feel nerdy or out of touch with the rest of teendom.

But there's only so much typespace, and ya know, they've got to use that to keep us informed of what Kate Gosselin ate for lunch.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Binocs review from Universe Today

Tammy over at Universe Today has posted an update to her review of Celestron's UpClose 10X50 binoculars - now they're half the price and come with a green laser pointer and a red flashlight.
$29.95, y'all!

Go buy!

It's settled, then.

It shall launch on the anniversary of my birth.

Endeavour launch delayed; next opportunity, June 17th.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Song

I love Rufus Wainwright's version of this song, and the 8mm home videos someone put to it are comically similar to Ward home movies. (The home movies made before I was born, of course. All the fun stuff happened before I was born.)
I mean, I actually did a double-take on some of these scenes.

Kid hit by meteorite.

I've blogged about Meteorite v. Human in the past.

Now, once again, a poor unsuspecting human being has been attacked by a space pebble, which launched its vicious assault indiscriminately and without warning.

Hell yes, he survived.

His parents might have misspelled his first name, but I think we all know what they meant.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Happy birthday, Bruce McCandless!

McCandless was the first guy to try out the MMU in space.
The G-rated version of the phrase that springs to mind when I see this photo of him would be "nerves of steel."
I guess I've heard Space Oddity one too many times, because this photo makes my stomach turn.

Above: Bruce McCandless goes renegade after one rehydrated beef stew too many:
"You know what? FORGET IT! I'll get my own damn dinner!"

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Song

I'd like to post a video of the lovely first movement of William Herschel's Chamber Symphony in F ; alas, there isn't one on You Tube and I'm much too lazy to make one.
But this is good, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Good gravy.

Yaron Koler of Israel snapped this photo of the ISS and the Moon - in broad friggin' daylight.
H/T, of course.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Song

Gol drat, this was a good album.

90th anniversary of the "Relativity Eclipse"

90 years ago today, Arthur Stanley Eddington viewed "the eclipse that proved Relativity."
Eddington photographed the Hyades during the eclipse, then compared these photos to the ones he had taken of the Hyades the night before.

Einstein was right, of course.

Space is flexible and warped (sorry, Newton) and the light passing near massive objects bends due to gravity. And that gravity actually shifts the positions of the smaller objects when they near something massive.

Of course, you can't SEE objects near massive bodies, because massive bodies are very, very bright. (Except for black holes, right. But this was 1919.) Eddington had an idea which now seems obvious. Observe objects near the Sun during a total eclipse, and you'll know whether their positions are shifted by the Sun's gravity. Conveniently, the calendar showed there would be a solar eclipse on May 29th.

There you have it.

Above: The proof

Press reaction was extraordinary. Almost immediately, the word "Einstein" became a synonym for "genius" and remains one to this day.

Big ups to Eddington for getting the eclipse idea, and for organizing the expeditions to both Brazil and West Africa to get the photos.

Below: "Suckas."

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I started this yesterday and ended up getting distracted by an aircraft emergency probably something shiny. Therefore...

Today is Yesterday was Paul Desmond Scully-Power's birthday.
Besides having a cool surname that pays unintentional homage to The X-Files, Scully-Power was party to a pretty heated diplomatic incident.

Scully-Power was a crew member aboard Challenger for STS-41G.
STS-41G was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, it was the very first time that astronauts had taken an IMAX camera aboard the shuttle to film. (The Dream is Alive was released the following year. I might have seen it once or twice. Or thrice.)

But here's something you might not know.

On 10 October 1984, the Evil Empire (the one not created by George Lucas), enraged after seeing this Wendy's commercial*

flipped its hair, stomped its feet, and fired a "warning shot" at Challenger from the Terra-3 laser complex, which caused onboard systems to fail and caused temporary blindness in the crew.
Fortunately, the problems either fixed themselves or were easily repaired.

As you can imagine, this resulted in a fairly substantial diplomatic protest.

The laser bit didn't make the movie. However, if they had put it in, I'll wager The Dream is Alive would have grossed 18 kajillion bucks and solved NASA's funding problems for a hundred years.
If the crew of Challenger had fired back, we'd be driving flying cars on Saturn by now.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Charlie Bolden gets the nod

President Obama has tapped Charlie Bolden to be the new NASA administrator. Bolden is a strong supporter of Project Constellation, and he has a proud history as an astronaut and a Marine.

Charlie flew on the STS-61C Space Shuttle Columbia mission, during which flight crew members deployed the SATCOM KU satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. The mission ended shortly before the launch of the Challenger in 1986.

He also flew on STS-31, Space Shuttle Discovery, which launched on April 24, 1990, and deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.

Then, on STS-45, Bolden commanded a crew of seven aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis, the first Spacelab mission dedicated to NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. During the nine-day mission, the crew operated the twelve experiments that constituted the ATLAS-1 (Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science) cargo. ATLAS-1 obtained a vast array of detailed measurements of atmospheric chemical and physical properties, which contribute significantly to improving our understanding of our climate and atmosphere. In addition, this was the first time an artificial beam of electrons was used to stimulate a man-made auroral discharge.

Finally, in 1994, he commanded a crew of six aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-60), the first joint U.S./Russian Space Shuttle mission involving a Russian Cosmonaut as a mission specialist crew member.

He's got the cred.

However, he also lobbied for ATK, which manufactures the shuttles' solid rocket boosters, and I don't much care for lobbyists being put in charge of billions of dollars of taxpayer jack.

Bolden is a fan of manned space flight, which I think is a good thing. But I don't think manned space flight at the expense of unmanned, robotic missions is necessarily a positive position. I don't see why both can't remain an intrinsic part of our space program. Spirit and Opportunity, the two Mars "droids" have done an amazing job of imparting information over their lifespans, as have the various probes we have launched toward Pluto, Jupiter and the outer reaches of the solar system. And Constellation, which I support, is billions of dollars over budget.

And while I emphatically agree with the position that manned space flight is a necessary and important policy, I do see the need to get the costs under control. I have no problem with spending billions of dollars on the space program. I have a serious problem with allowing contractors to go billions of dollars over budget with no consequences.

All that aside, I think Bolden is a good pick. It can't hurt to have a former astronaut in charge of NASA.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Song Bonus

One of my favorite songs ever, and one of my favorite videos ever.
(I still say he should have asked the ISS crew to dance a little, too. Of course, then it wouldn't have been "Where the hell is Matt?".)

Fun fact: The beautiful Palbasha Siddique was a 17-year old high school student in Minnesota when she sang "Praan."

And here are some dancing outtakes. Most are hilarious. A couple are terrifying.

Friday Song

By request of one of the sisters: Jack Johnson's Constellations

Apparently, Jack was stalking my family back when we lived in the beach house. Because this is obviously about us.

Thanks, Daddy.

The light was leaving
in the west it was blue
The children's laughter sang
and skipping just like the stones they threw
the voices echoed across the waves
its getting late

It was just another night
with the sun set
and the moon rise not so far behind
to give us just enough light
to lay down underneath the stars
listen to Papa's translations
of the stories across the sky
we drew our own constellations

The west winds often last too long
but when they calm down
nothing ever feels the same
Sheltered under the Kamani tree
waiting for the passing rain
clouds keep moving to uncover the scene
stars above us are chasing the day away
to find the stories that we sometimes need
Listen close enough
all else fades
fades away

It was just another night
with the sun set
and the moon rise not so far behind
to give us just enough light
to lay down underneath the stars
listen to all the translations
of the stories across the sky
we drew our own constellations

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Going to the bad in Silver City

I probably shoulda waited, because Cathy can do this post better and funnier. But I am so excited. This year's Leonid meteor shower is supposed to be a "half-storm," meaning 500 meteors an hour as opposed to 1,000, which would be an honest-to-God "full storm."

So Cathy and I were chatting, and we decided to go to Hawaii to watch it. Then we decided that would be frightfully expensive, so we started looking around. And we found this: www.casitasdegila, a five-cabin "resort" in the middle of No-Freakin'-Where, New Mexico. So Cathy called Mary, who said to her husband, "What if I went to New Mexico for the Leonids?" Her husband, being the smart guy that he is, responded,"Let me guess. Janet and Cathy?"

So the three of us, along with whatever sisters and Honorary Ward Sisters we can talk into it, will be in Gila, NM, for what we all hope will be the experience of a lifetime, meteor shower-wise.

Gila is butt-up against the Gila National Forest, and far, far away from any light pollution. It'll be cold at night (well, not just cold but COLD), but, like Mary said, we won't need a cooler for our champagne.

It is also 30 miles from Silver City, which figures prominently in Billy the Kid: When Billy the Kid was a very young lad, in old Silver City, he went to the bad."

There are no televisions and no cell phone access in Gila, but there is WIFI, so maybe we'll blog a bit during the five days.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ISS astronauts toast with recycled urine.

Big whoop.

Once when I was in the Coast Guard, I drank a 40 of Schlitz Malt Liquor and chased it with a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill.*

*Yep. I hurled.

Oddly enough, I'm *not* the one who looks psycho in this photo.

Sky This Week

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mission Accomplished

John Grunsfel and Drew Feustel completed the last of the Hubble repairs/upgrades yesterday. Today, at roughly 8:30 am, the Atlantis crew put that baby back into space. Technicians from the Goddard Space Flight Center had made special tools to be used in the repairs/upgrades. Those tools will probably soon be adapted into new Gator Grips or other "only-on-television" tool offers that will make gardening/cooking/home repair/ ice cream sundae making easier. This is why we need the space program; not because it gives us a sense of accomplishment, though it surely does; and not because it shows us that we are a small speck in the universe, though it does that, too.

We need the space program because it gives us a small picture of the possible.

And it offers the best and the brightest among us a place to make a difference. Even those who are nameless and faceless but whose intelligence and common sense make it possible for those of us without a whole lot of either to feel some pride in their work. The astronauts are the ones who risk their lives every time they go into space. But it's the people on the ground, who will never sell their autobiographies and never have a street named after them, who do the heavy lifting.

This blog reflects our devotion to Garrett Reisman, The Coolest Man In The Universe, and all the astronauts who have gone before and come after him. But today, at 8:30 am, I was thinking about those people, sitting in mission control and at the Telescope Center in Greenbelt, Md., and saying a silent "Thank You." Because without them, we wouldn't have any astronauts to idolize.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How did I miss this important news alert?

NASA assigns STS-132 crew

Congratulations, Garrett!

I guess my threatening letters* ("As God is my witness, NASA, I'll never buy Tang again if you don't give him another flight assignment immediately.") paid off, huh?

You're welcome.

*That's a joke. I'd never send anyone a threatening letter.
I'm a modern gal. I use e-mail.

Mike Massimino on looking at Earth from space.

I felt like I was almost looking at a secret - that humans weren't supposed to see this. This is not anything you're supposed to see. It's too beautiful. There are no words to describe how beautiful things are out there. I actually turned my head. I thought, 'I'm not supposed to be looking at this.' This was too much to see. It was a day pass and I could view the Earth very clearly. It was right there. And my first reaction was to look away from it. That it was so beautiful, people weren't supposed to see it.

What poetry! What an astounding way to describe it.

It seems that Mike Massimino is suffering from a severe case of Overview Effect.

And it's just lovely to read.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

O'Hare Astronomy Exhibit

As part of the International Year of Astronomy, the fabulous Adler Planetarium and the less-than-fabulous O'Hare International Airport have teamed up to participate a worldwide exhibit of astronomy photographs. From Earth to the Universe looks like a swell way to kill some time, even though it has a really silly name.
Today, visit From the Earth to the Universe.
Later, check out From my Bathroom to my House, and From Times Square to New York City and From an Empty Cranium to Paris Hilton's Head.

At O'Hare, the photos are located in the pedestrian tunnel near the CTA platform.
Hey, that's, like, 50 feet from my desk, y'all!

Find out if your town is involved by clicking here.

UPDATE: Well, I went to take a look at the exhibit. It's fabulous - really, really great photos and a little bit of info on each object.
As a bonus, I got to come back and tell the guys I work with, "Hey, they've got a big picture of Uranus down by the CTA platform."

Sorry, Mom.
Apparently, I'm never going to grow up.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Song

The inaugural "Friday Song" is a catchy tune by Jerry Engler and the Four Ekkos called
Sputnik (Satellite Girl).

This song came out RIGHT AFTER Sputnik 1 was launched. Ol' Jer must have had the song ready to go and just been crossing his fingers that they'd name it something with two syllables so it would fit into the chorus. Jerry Engler was the first American* to have a Space Race-themed song. Dozens upon dozens would follow.

Not only is this song fun to dance to, it also contains a prophetic opening couple of lines:

The fun has just begun
We're on Sputnik Number 1.

You have to hand it to Jerry Engler. At a time when the mere mention of reds in space would send schoolchildren ducking and covering and otherwise sane people into pork n' beans-laden homemade bomb shelters, Jerry was all, "WOOOOOOOOOO! SPAAAAAAAACE! FRICK YEAHHHHHHHHH!"


*And the last American to correctly pronounce "Sputnik."

The only WW1 flying ace to ever become an astronaut.

May marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 10, which featured the Snoopy lunar module and the Charlie Brown command module.
According to Charles Schulz's son, the selection of those two names for such an important piece of American history was "one of the all-time highlights of his career."
Several people warned Schulz about including the names of his two most popular characters in what, if things went wrong, would have been a great American tragedy.
Do you know what Charles Schulz said?
"If the astronauts can risk their lives, I can risk my characters."
Here's to Charles Schulz.
Not only did he create the most adorable, hilarious, timeless cartoon character ever - he had quite a bit of character himself.

Below: A mission control console during Apollo 10. And possibly Charlie Duke? Hard to say.

The son of Charles Schulz at the Snoopy statue at KSC.

The Snoopy LM, as photographed by John Young aboard Charlie Brown.