Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Only in Chicago...

could the planetarium draw a crowd of 500 people to celebrate a lunar eclipse they weren't going to see.

More over at Joe's place.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lunar Eclipse Party at the Adler Monday

Total Lunar Eclipse Party

Approved image to use for the Total Lunar Eclipse Party on December 21st, 2010. 

Date: December 20 – 21, 2010
Time: 11:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m.
Location: Adler Planetarium
Cost: Free

(Ahem: Yo Adler,  I'm ma let you finish but the first movement of William Herschel's Symphony in F Major would have been one of the best soundtracks of all time for this video.)

Celebrate the total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice at the Adler Planetarium’s free Total Lunar Eclipse Party. Adler educators and astronomers, along with telescope volunteers, will be on hand to facilitate telescope viewing of this rare occurrence in the night sky – weather permitting. Visitors can bring their own telescope or use ones provided by the Adler. The next total lunar eclipse visible in the Chicago area will occur on April 15, 2014.
What is a total lunar eclipse?
A total lunar eclipse takes place when a full Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. The Earth blocks light from the Sun and casts a shadow that obscures the entire Moon. A total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice is a rare occurrence. The next total lunar eclipse on December 21 (winter solstice) will be in 2094.
Winter Solstice Eclipse Schedule
  • 12:32 A.M. CST – Partial eclipse
  • 1:40 A.M. CST – Total eclipse begins
  • 2:17 A.M. CST – Point of the greatest eclipse

Special Presentation at the Adler Planetarium Time: 11:30 p.m.
"Caught in the Shadow of Earth" presented by Adler astronomer Larry Ciupik

During a lunar eclipse, the moon turns a reddish-orange color. Image Credit: NASA
During a lunar eclipse, the moon turns a reddish-orange color. Image Credit: NASA
What is a lunar eclipse? How and why do eclipses happen? When are the best times to view this total lunar eclipse? Find out how Moon phases work and hear fascinating highlights from past eclipses in a live presentation.
Please Note: Free coffee, tea, hot chocolate and light snacks will be provided to visitors beginning at 11:00 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
Enjoy unlimited shows in the Definiti Theater for $5 (free for Adler members). Shows include Journey to the Stars and Night Sky Live. Please note, Adler exhibitions will be closed.
For more information about the total lunar eclipse or the Adler’s Total Lunar Eclipse Party, call (312) 922 7827.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best astronomy pics of 2010

Hubble's sick new picture of the Pillars of Creation is one, of course.

Go see the rest!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hubble's Christmas Ornament

Supernova bubble "SNR 0509-67.5 (or SNR 0509 for short)", as the Hubblesite description reads - LOL - is 23 light-years across and is expanding at more than 11 million miles per hour (5,000 kilometers per second).

What a nice gift from the folks at Hubble.  
Stellar*, as usual.

*Ba dump bump.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hubble Holiday cards

Even though, helloooo, it's December 10th and you should totally have already mailed holiday cards if you were going to, Hubble's holiday cards are back for free download and printing.
And they. are. awesome.

Here's where ya go to get them.

And here are a couple of examples.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Solar filament eruption

You know that part in Sleigh Ride?
That's what plays in my head when I watch this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Astrophotography, right in the middle of Chicago

Joe Guzman, astronomer extraordinaire and all-around really nice guy, shot some awesome pics of Saturn and Venus the other night. I love how supportive and encouraging the astronomy family is in Chicago - whether you're an Adler employee like Joe or just wanting to ask a hundred questions about a telescope before you buy it (ahem), these guys are so great. As a bonus, star parties are an extremely frequent event here in Chicago.

Even if you're not a local, you should check out Chicago Astronomer. Many of the posts there deal with observation information that is also relevant to the rest of North America,  the pictures are pretty, and the support is trememdous.

All photos by Joe Guzman

Wisconsin man builds backyard planetarium.

I want to be this guy's next door neighbor/BFF.

Story found over at the Chicago Astronomer - thanks for the tip, fellas.
Going to have to make a trip to this one.

Wisconsin Backyard Planetarium

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Well, it's not 9' tall aliens carrying a cookbook disguised as a manual for peaceful coexistence, but...

it's still pretty damn cool.

Piltdown Man, War of the Worlds, Energia's SpaceDyson©

     The ole BS detector is overheating on this story. 

     A quick Google search reveals that this story has been picked up by every major news outlet in the free world. From Australia to Zimbabwe, the headline blares that Energia is developing an orbital pod which will push space debris into a decaying orbit. It will, they breathlessly report, run on nuclear-powered ion drives.

     Of course it will.
     And it will convert dark matter into tasty, tasty Skittles.

     The outlet which "Roscosmos" used to announce this groundbreaker? A Facebook page administered by a couple of French citizens who happen to be space fans. The Facebook page contained just a few sentences and cited no official sources regarding the story. Contrary to what many, many major news outlets are reporting, this Facebook page is in no way an "official" Roscosmos page, and a 10-second investigation could have helped them determine that.
     Being somewhat of a giant dork, I am a not-infrequent visitor to the Roscosmos website. After reading this story on CBS News, I realized I hadn't seen anything about it from the, ya know, Russians, so I went over to Roscosmos and searched for "space debris", "space junk", "energia", and several other keywords to no avail.
Their last news item mentioning space junk? January of 2010, when Yuri Makarov represented Russia at the perfectly boring annual meeting of the International Committee on Space Debris. There is nothing on Energia's website. A search for news on Interfax or anywhere else which does not use the Facebook source is circuitous and futile. I don't know - news like that? You'd think it'd be on Energia's homepage, not just on a private Facebook page. You'd think they'd be (justifiably) bragging about it on every news station.
     If true (ahem), fantastic. I believe space debris is the most pressing space-related issue today.
     If the Frenchies just punked the worldwide media, zut alors and sacre bleu!

    Also, LMAO.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

That's not a wheat sheaf or a weeping willow or a stalk of broccolini.

That's a dumbbell*!

*If you squint. And are drunk.

This? This looks nothing like a beetle headed towards New Mexico.

OMG seriously I'll just do everything, NASA.

The Dandelion Nebula, or, as it's formally known, NGC6751.

Was that so hard?

Edge, seat, etc.

Name That Moon

For some time, I have been thinking that our moon needs a better name. I mean, Jupiter has moons named Io, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, Amalthea, Himalia and Leda; and Saturn has Titan, Enceladus, Hyperion and Phoebe. Mars has Phoebos and Demos (Latin for fear and panic); Neptune has Triton (not to be confused with Titan), Galatea and Larissa; and Uranus has Juliet, Cupid, Portia, Belinda, Miranda and Margaret.

We are stuck with "moon." I realize that all those other planets have many, many orbiting satellites, but I don't see why we can't have one with a cool name. Ancient civilizations called it Luna and Selene, but we don't have a pretty name for it now. Just moon.

I guess maybe renaming it would play havoc with popular music, but I still think it would work. I'm liking "Garrett."

From the book I'm reading. I LOL'd.

"Collapsing wave function" is one of those phrases that physicists just toss around, along the same lines of, "computing the eigen values of the Hamiltonian" or "staying home alone on a Saturday night." 
We're just so used to it that it might never occur to us that it needs additional explanation.*

*Not that "staying home alone on a Saturday night" really needs much additional explanation. Enjoy the rest of the book, nerd.

Friday, November 26, 2010

While we're on the subject of funneh...

The picture from this article makes the whole thing funny¹ºº.

NASA Announces Plans to Bring Wi-Fi to Its Headquarters by 2017

From the ONN Space Desk

Gol DRAT, The Onion needs to do more space stories...
I think I might have posted these before but they are still funny as hell.

Crime Scene* Nebula

No it's not. I lie.

*Also, there's a squid in the picture.

Lemon Slice Nebula

You know what's the best thing about space exploration?
 All the pictures are in the public domain, that's what.

...jiggity jog.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Victoria Beckham of galaxies

                                                                            NGC 4452. Or a lightsaber.

Pocket Universe iPhone App

Boy howdy, it's a good thing I spent whatever-hundred dollars on a heavy, cumbersome, won't-work-within-a-hundred-feet-of-a-beer-can-much-less-a-car, can't-acquire-GPS-signals-if-there's-so-much-as-a-basil-plant-in-the-vicinity-blocking-the-signal SkyScout a few years back. Otherwise I would have had to wait a whole, like, three months for smartphones to be invented and have things like astronomy apps that cost less than a six-pack of cheap beer.

Pocket Universe: Virtual Sky Astronomy; $2.99.

Key Features

• Easy-to-use astronomy application, which focuses on helping you answer the question “What’s that in the sky?”
• Works on all iPhones and iPod Touch devices with latest firmware (iPhone 3GS/4 required for compass support)
• Tracks the ISS, and predicts sightings
• Special “Show Me” mode will guide you to named stars, planets, constellations as well as the brightest galaxies and nebulae.
• “Tonight’s Sky” and “Objects and Events” will keep you up-to-date, and give you suggestions for what to look for when you head outside.
• Constellation Quiz to help you learn your way around the sky.
• Links to Wikipedia articles for the latest information.
• Responsive customer support, frequent updates.

•Plots the position of the Sun, Moon and Planets (including Pluto)
•Displays 10,000 stars and the Messier Catalog of Deep Sky objects.
•Draws Constellations outlines, with mythological artwork
•Lunar phases for the current, next and previous months
•Plan observations with list of meteor showers and visible planets
•Constellation and Star Quiz games help you learn your way around the sky
•Jupiter’s and Saturn’s Moons (visible in a telescope)
•Regularly updated news section for viewing suggestions
•Night Vision mode
•Augmented Reality camera mode for use during evening/dawn on iPhone devices.
•Location found automatically or may be specified manually.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For Sue :)



The Gollum Nebula®

I expect royalty checks for dropping this into your lap, Naming Nerds.
(Yeah, yeah - I know, but "Dobby Nebula" just sounds dumb.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

We are flipping. doomed.

We'd need, like, a million Bruce Willises to deal with this. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Separated at Birth?

So I'm sitting in Manuel's with our friends, Greg and Janet Anderson, when it occurs to me that Greg looks very much like Garrett will look 10 or 20 years hence. Greg is a great guy whose son, Peter, was a linebacker at West Point and is now serving in Afghanistan. Greg and his wife, Janet, were celebrating their 29th anniversary with a burger and beer at Manuel's. So I took this photo of him. He's the one not in the astronaut suit.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

The crew of STS-133 completed a practice run today, and all went well. Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, and specialists Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott are now headed back to Houston, the place they take astronauts so they won't be that sad to leave Earth.

Discovery, which launches on Nov. 1, will spend 11 days in space. It will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), which will provide additional storage for the station crew, spare components (c'mon, just say "spare parts") and the Express Logistics Carrier 4, which holds large equipment (refrigerators? buses? backhoes?). It will also carry Robonaut 2 ( R2), which you think they would have named Robonaut 2, Device 2, so it could be R2D2. Who's naming these things?

Once Discovery launches, R2, which is inside the PMM and will become a permanent resident of the ISS, will be the first human-like robot in space.

But Garrett is not going, so who really cares? Not this blog.

(Actually, this blog does care because this blog loves the space shuttles and space in general. Almost as much as this blog loves Garrett. But at least it will give Garrett a chance to see the Yankees, with the highest payroll in baseball, beat up on the Rangers, who have the fifth lowest.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

RIP, John Huchra

John Huchra, a professor of cosmology at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the man who (with two women, Margaret Geller and Valerie de Lapparent) mapped the universe and turned conventional theory about galaxies on its head, died last Friday. His mapping of the Coma Supercluster was possibly the most famous map of the universe ever made, largely because it looked like the stick figure of a person. The supercluster was in the middle of a "Great Wall" of galaxies with a length of about six hundred million light years. It confirmed that the galaxies in the universe are arranged in sheets and walls surrounding large nearly-empty voids.

“His passing has upset more of us than I remember for any other astronomer,” said Tod Lauer, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, in a New York Times obit.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

We Are Not Alone, and I Hope They Don't Come for Garrett

Ever since I discovered how big the universe actually is, I have been convinced that we are not alone in it. I mean, we are a tiny blip in an itty bitty portion of the Milky Way, and there are, according to a 1999 Hubble estimate, roughly 125 billion galaxies in the universe. Other estimates go as high as 500 billion. Regardless of how many billions we accept as true, the question remains: Why in the world would we think it possible that we are the only intelligent life out there?

Anyway, last Monday, seven USAF personnel talked to the National Press Club about how they believe that aliens are out there, AND they are interested in our nuclear weapons facilities. The six former officers and one ex-enlisted man said they either personally saw UFOs hovering over nuclear missile silos or nuclear weapons storage areas in the 1960s, '70s and '80s or heard reports of such from their subordinates.

Three of the former Air Force officers said that UFOs hovering over silos around Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base in 1967 appeared to have temporarily deactivated some of the nuclear missiles.

Meanwhile, one of the largest telescopes in North America, the 72-inch All Sky Optical SETI scope, owned by The Planetary Society and operated by a Harvard University team, is looking for pulses of light that would confirm contact with extraterrestrial life. According to the Society, the telescope, with its cutting-edge processors, crunches, in one second, more data than what is stored in all books in print.

I hope we find something. But I worry that, if they find us and they figure out how smart and funny Garrett is, we could lose him.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Planetary Society Takes a Stand

The Planetary Society has written a letter expressing concern about the four NASA appropriations bills currently before Congress, noting that they make short shrift of the manned space program specifically for exploration and that they are unfocused and scattered. The bills, according to The Society, which is populated with people a lot smarter than me -- or our Congresspeople, for that matter (people like Jim Bell, Bill Nye, Louis Friedman, Dan Geraci and Neil deGrasse Tyson), dwell too heavily on the continuation of low-Earth orbit missions to the detriment of real astronomical research.
Its particular complaints are laid out in the letter to House and Senate leadership (which you can find here):

• None include a plan to restore U.S. technical capability to launch astronauts to space once the shuttle is retired. At best there are directions that -- even if followed -- will likely lead to a “launch gap” years longer than was planned, even with Ares, and certainly longer than could be expected from the commercial launch industry, if they are supported.
• Instead, we support government – private partnerships to develop U.S. designed and built commercial launch vehicles, proven ones like the Atlas and Delta, and new ones like the Falcon.
• No exploration goals are set other than vague citations of building capability to ultimately fly to destinations beyond Earth orbit. Instead, we support identification of specific targets such as going beyond the Moon for the first time, then to a near-Earth asteroid, then to the orbit of Mars, and then to Mars itself. As Gemini and the early Apollo missions engaged the Nation on the way to the Moon landing, so too can steps into the solar system engage the Nation on the way to Mars.
• The various bills push to start “heavy-lift launch vehicle” development sooner than proposed by the Administration, despite having no destinations or flight goals for such a rocket for at least a decade. We strongly support American development of a deep-space rocket, but we believe that premature development through political legislation rather than technological studies could result in huge waste and eventual delays. Thus, we suggest support for a technology program to develop and evaluate competing approaches and to complete a preliminary design before committing to the final selection. A shorter actual development time will lead to a lower-cost project.
• The Administration’s proposed exploration and space technology programs are deeply cut. This exacerbates the situation of the past decade when NASA technology programs were eviscerated and the agency was unable to develop new technologies that could reduce cost or enhance performance. We support restoration of NASA’s proposed technology funding.

But that's not the only problem. Emily Lakdawalla, The Society's Science and Technology coordinator, believes that few are paying attention to the incredible research that is being accomplished by unmanned spacecraft. She writes:
I'm sick and tired of people equating "NASA" with the manned space program, and failing to realize the bounty of amazing discoveries being made through the eyes of the 20-odd robots that we Americans have built and are currently operating across the solar system. Like the Planetary Society's leaders, I believe that our (and this time "our" means "humanity's," not just America's) space program must include both manned and unmanned components, and that the two must work hand in hand. But I'm frustrated again and again by the lack of respect and recognition for what our robotic missions -- and all the men and women who work for NASA and universities and aerospace contractors who make contributions to our unmanned program -- are accomplishing.

And to prove her point, she links to this amazing chart.

When you think of the astounding discoveries of the last several decades, not adequately funding NASA makes no sense. The low-Earth orbit stuff is great (how else would we see the ISS fly over every now and then?), but we (and by "we," I, like Emily Lakdawalla, don't mean Americans; I mean humanity, need to reach beyond the successes of the Space Shuttle era to find that next Earth that Garrett talked about in the interview below.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Garrett Speaks!

Well, I talked to Garrett for about 40 minutes for what was supposed to be a 15-minute interview, and the only reason I hung up was because I was afraid NASA would send its goons to come bonk me on the head. (Not really. I don’t think NASA has goons. They’re all at NOAA.)

As I said earlier, I didn’t want to ask the usual questions, and I am woefully unequipped to ask him questions about his pre-astronaut career, seeing as how his official biography notes that, “His multiphase fluid mechanics research provided the first experimental evidence of the presence of shock waves in unsteady cloud cavitation,” and, as Stephen Colbert once said about something, “I don’t know what any of the words in that sentence mean.”

So I did two things: I asked him what I would want someone to ask me if I were an astronaut, and I asked him stuff I was just plain curious about. And friends and sisters tossed in a couple questions.

And guess what? This may come as a total surprise, but Garrett is funny and interesting. So I’m just gonna let him take it away…

What is your first memory of the space program?

Well, I was a year-and-a-half old when Apollo 11 touched down, so I don’t really have much memory of that. What I do remember is we had an old Super 8 movie projector that we watched mostly home movies on, but we had one reel of a show about the Apollo 11 mission. It is one of my earliest memories and probably one of the strongest influences on me. I watched that thing over and over. You know how those little Super 8 reels would break? I would splice the tape back together with Scotch tape. It got to the point where the weight of the Scotch tape was greater than the weight of the Super 8 tape.

I do remember watching the first space shuttle launch and thinking that was pretty cool.

We have this idea about astronauts that they are all people who grew up lying on their backs in their backyard, looking up at the stars and saying to themselves, “I want to go there.” Is that true?

Not really. I just didn’t think it was possible. Growing up in New Jersey, it just never occurred to me that I could become an astronaut. Maybe a doctor, or, later in high school, an engineer. But I was always fascinated with the National Air and Space Museum. I remember we went there as a family, and we split up. We were told, “You’ve got two hours, and we’ll meet back under the Spirit of St. Louis.” After two hours, I said I would need more time. They ended up leaving me for two days. They went to see the Lincoln Memorial and all the other sites.

If you weren’t the coolest astronaut on the planet, what would you be?

I usually tell people I wanted to be the center for the Knicks. That obviously wasn’t going to work out when I failed to get any taller than 5’4”. By the way, I still think I could have done a better job than Ewing. But I was happy working at TRW, so I probably would have ended up working as an engineer. I know one thing: It wouldn’t have been as fun.

What’s the weirdest thing you have to do in training?

There’re a couple things, but the best one is you have to make a mold of your butt. It’s part of the Soyuz training in Russia, because they make individual linings for the seats. It’s pretty cramped in there, and when the Soyuz “lands” – and you can put that in quotation marks – it’s kinda like being in a car crash. In the shuttle, I have to really pay attention to touchdown, or I will miss it. With the Soyuz, there’s no mistaking it. So they give you a seat that fits very, very well.

Anyway, they bring you to a place in Moscow where they manufacture the hardware and suits and stuff, and there’s what looks like this little bathtub. They put you in your underwear and not much else, and fill it up with plaster. Then they lift you on a winch and lower you. They try to keep it warm. Then about eight people come in and put their hands in it. They put their hands everywhere! Then they pull you back out with the winch and hoist you up, and you look back down, and there’s a perfect mold of your butt.

You like SCUBA diving, rock climbing, snowboarding, canyoneering and stuff like that. You’re kind of a daredevil in real life. Do you have to keep that in check when you’re in space?

Really, it comes in handy – not the types of activities, but how do you do those things and still make it safe? How are you smart about it? You try to accomplish things in a manner that mitigates the risk. I don’t go out for the adrenaline rush. It’s more of an intellectual exercise. It’s the same in space. It’s all about problem solving.

Tell me what it was like at the end of that arm when you were installing the antenna during your last EVA and you were, what? 50 feet out at the end of a boom? Did David Bowie’s Space Oddity (Ground Control to Major Tom) ever run through your head?

The best part was when I was going one direction, I was carrying big pieces of equipment. I had my hands full but only half the time. On the return trip, I had nothing, so I took out my camera. That was fun. The view was incredible. It was an amazing experience. I knew that part of the EVA was the risky part of the thing. I mean, you’re out there completely exposed to micrometeorites and space debris. When you’re working outside on the space station, you’ve got a whole space station on one side of you. So that tempered the excitement a bit. The best part was when I got stuck on the end of the arm for about 25 minutes. People ask, “Wasn’t that scary?” But it wasn’t. It was very relaxing. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I was entirely dependent on the people on the ground. Afterwards, I was really concerned about timeline, knowing we had a certain amount of time to get everything done. But this was kinda like a snow day. It was the only time I really relaxed.

And I never thought of that song, but it’s one of the many songs I had on my Ipod up there.

You lived in the Aquarius habitat at the bottom of the sea for two weeks. What’s the coolest thing you saw when you were living underwater?

A hammerhead shark. I was inside the habitat, and we had one diver outside on an umbilical. I was doing an ultra-sound experiment. I was imaging Emma’s (astronaut Emma Hwang’s) kidneys, and they had intentionally put in a delay on what they could see, but the sound was real-time. So I was taking images, and doctors in Houston were looking at the screen. They were seeing this kidney; I was seeing this kidney. Then I looked up and saw a six-foot hammerhead shark right outside the window. And they were hearing me in real time, but the images were delayed. So I yelled, “Holy @*#!” They were looking at the screen, thinking one of her kidneys had just exploded.

You and (actor) Jane Krakowski were in elementary school together in Morris County, N.J. Was that a particularly entertaining elementary school class?

At the time, none of us knew what was ahead. We did have a school play we were both in, and the last time I saw her, she presented me with a photo of the play that her mom had taken. Really, I have no idea why my acting career never took off. But it is kind of fun now to reconnect and compare notes.

You’re an astronaut and your sister, Lainie, is a world-renowned specialist in the prevention of youth violence. How much do the rest of the ladies at the club hate to see your mother coming?

The funny thing is my family is Jewish, and my mom lives outside of Boca (Raton). Basically, my mom is still low on the totem pole. I think she’s still disappointed that her kids didn’t turn out to be doctors or lawyers.

How big can the space station get? Could it be like a hotel?

It’s huge right now. It could totally be a hotel. All you’d have to do is clear out the scientific gear, and put in an ice machine. When you fly into it, you feel like you’re on the Millennium Falcon being sucked into the Death Star. When you are looking through the overhead windows as you’re approaching it, it looks like a bright star. Then it grows, and you can see the shape of the solar arrays. The wings get bigger and bigger, until, on final approach, it completely obliterates your view. You can’t even see the solar arrays in your peripheral vision. It’s really too big to be taken in, and you’re still quite a distance away. The enormity is special. The interior volume is about the size of two 747s. People ask me if I felt claustrophobic, but I didn’t. Not at all. It’s like stepping into the Grand Canyon. In the shuttle, there’s always something you can reach, so you have to learn all over again how to move. When astronauts first get off the shuttle and move into the space station, they are really stupid-looking because they keep grabbing for things to hold onto.

The difference between the shuttle and the space station is that moving is really fun. When you push off from a wall, you’re no longer floating, you’re able to fly. Like you’re superman.

What is your favorite space movie?

Wow. I don’t know if I have a favorite. I loved the original Star Wars and Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn. And 2001, A Space Odyssey. I guess it would be one of those three. Oh, The Right Stuff’s great, too, and the book is fantastic.

Outside of Earth, what is your favorite planet?

Man, you took away Earth. Usually when people ask me that, they don’t take away Earth, so that’s always my answer! But, without Earth, I guess I’d say Mars, because I’d love to go there. It’s got an amazing topography – mountains taller than Everest, canyons the size of the United States. Plus, I think it’s highly likely that we’ll find some form of life there. We are tantalizingly close. Life is much more tenacious on earth than we expected; we’re finding it where we never thought we would. With Mars, I’d be more surprised if we never find life than if we do.

This week is the anniversary of the day that Pluto was demoted. Do you have any sympathy for Pluto?

I had nothing to do with that. People occasionally ask me about that in an accusatory tone. But that kind of thing is not my job. I understand the reasoning, and it’s probably correct. That’s all I’m saying.

If you could choose six people, living or dead, to be on a space shuttle with for a month-long mission, who would they be?

I could go with the easy answer and say Megan Fox. But, really, the easy answer is my wife, Simone. She would have loved to have gone. Given half a chance, she’d be strapping in. And I know this is not gonna make you happy, but Derek Jeter. He has some of the characteristics that make for a great astronaut – the ability to maintain perspective and a sense of humor in difficult circumstances. A good example of that is, there was a World Series game where the batter hit a triple with runners on first and second. Both runners scored, but the Yankees challenged one of the runners for not touching second base. So Jeter gets the ball and touches second and turns to the umpire, who says, “Which runner are you challenging?” Jeter says, “The first one.” The umpire says, “He touched the base.” Without missing a beat, Jeter says, “Okay. The second runner.” Who maintains their wits about them in a situation like that?

An easy choice would be my current colleagues – the guys on the last mission. Any of those guys would make for great crew members. Also, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Colbert might actually do pretty well, but I think Jon would miss New York too much.

If travel in deep space were possible, where would you want to go?

Basically, anywhere where there’s the potential for an Earth-like planet. The most amazing thing would be to find another Earth. I mean, Jupiter is great, and Saturn’s rings are stunning, but there’s nothing on the surface of gas giants. So I’d want to look for new mountains to climb and seas to sail on.

Finally, you met with President Obama to talk about the space program. What was discussed?

We didn’t really talk to him about policy. He asked us what we are going to do, and we each gave our own answers. He asked more about our recent mission, just general questions. We were there with the administrator and assistant administrator. If he had wanted to talk policy, he would have done it with them.

Mostly, he just joked around. He’s got a great sense of humor. He didn’t have any prepared comments; it was just very laid back. I mean, we were in the Oval Office, and it was just very casual. I’ve been in the Oval Office before; we met President Bush. He had a 15-minute-long presentation about the history of the office. It was very impressive. But President Obama just welcomed us and started asking questions. He didn’t have a prepared speech.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stay Tuned!

We are about to have a Q&A with Garrett on this blog. If you are looking for the answers to questions like, "What's it like in space?" this will not be the Q&A for you. I have way too much respect for Garrett to do that kind of thing. Plus, Garrett is way too cool for that. So, if you are interested in the minutiae of Garrett, stay tuned. If you want to know what it's like in space, go to NASA's website. I mean, how many times can you say, "Well, there's that gravity thing"? Seriously.

Meanwhile, the NASA channel is re-showing all the stuff it did last year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo. Watch it. It's very cool.

Also, the blog's friend, Todd Leopold, who is an entertainment editor for CNN, is doing a piece on "The Romance of Space" and how we've kinda lost it. Garrett will be featured prominently. I will post the piece here when it is posted on CNN.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The JWST: Hubble Times Two.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to launch, God willing and the creek don't rise, in June 2014, thus overlapping with the Hubble, which should cease transmission (RIP) some time that year. The telescope has a 21-foot-diameter primary mirror, making it the world’s largest orbiting observatory in any wavelength when it begins operations. It also will be the largest infrared (IR) telescope in existence.

More than 7,000 astronomers who have been involved with Hubble over its two decades of service are expected to use Webb. The difference between the two: Webb’s IR range will allow it to see objects 10-100 times more faint than Hubble can, opening the door to the universe’s earliest days. The Webb’s greater resolving power in infrared, and that wavelength’s ability to see past dust that obscures light from the universe’s earliest days, is expected to give astronomers images of events just 250 million years after the universe was born, in other words, when the universe was pretty much still a toddler.

According to NASA, "seeing that far back will reveal clusters of the Universe’s earliest objects as they were being formed, says JWST Senior Project Scientist John Mather, a Nobel Laureate at Goddard. Astronomer Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona expects to see disks of matter becoming planets around stars."

This is more NASA: "Observing the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems and their potential for supporting life are among Webb’s major goals. The telescope should be able to see relatively small planets—a few times the size of Earth—that Hubble cannot, says Gardner. But it also will have greater sensitivity to the atmospheres of stars closer to Earth. It even can provide close-ups of planets within the Solar System, so long as they are the duller ones like Mars, not bright Venus or Mercury, which would overpower its optics at so close a range."

The Webb dwarfs previous telescopes. After the vibration of launch, the mirror assembly must be unfolded into what the design team calls its “rough shape.” That process involves lifting each of the 18 primary mirror segments free of its launch hooks. Each of them is computer-controlled in six degrees of freedom, plus a seventh that pushes or pulls the center of the mirror for radius curvature adjustment. Each mirror has its own actuators to control these movements. After the mirrors are unhooked, the actuators must achieve a “wave front” alignment for each one to a tolerance of 20 nanometers—1/5,000th of a hair.

A full-sized mock-up will go on public display June 1 at the 2010 World Science Festival in New York City’s Battery Park.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Garrett Comes Home. Oh, and Those Other Guys

Okay, a day late and a few dollars short. But Atlantis came home beautifully. Some interesting things I learned on my trip to Florida (I am going by what Mary told me, so if any of this is wrong, blame her. Although she does know her stuff):

The BIG (as my brother-in-law, Jon, calls the VAB or Vehicle Assembly Building, is so big that it has its own climate.

The path that the shuttle rides on from the BIG to the launch pad is paved with stones from some river in Tennessee. Why? Who knows? Mary says it may be one of those low-bid deals from the contractor who built it. I do know they are pretty stones, and it's a loooonnnnggg path, so I guess some river in Tennessee is a bit deeper than it used to be.

Cool stuff at KSC, including launch pads, is not very well marked. And KSC (or rather, Canaveral Air Force Station) is very big. So if you don't know where you are going, you can spend a bit of time trying to find what you are looking for. And they don't have maps. So you drive on ICBM Road and Titan Road and Saturn Lane and Moonwalk Court (I made up some of those), and hope you find what you are looking for. We did, eventually.

For you birders out there, the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, right next to KSC, is a wonderful place to be; partly because there are driving paths and you don't really have to get out of your car to bird-watch, although, if you're like us, it's a constant "Oh! Stop the car! Stop the car! I think I just saw a (spoonbill, hawk, avocet, gator, willet, glossy ibis)!" You know you are jaded when you say, "Oh! Wait! Wait! Never mind, it's JUST a great blue heron." We did see a juvenile cottonmouth chow down on an unfortunate fish. Best thing (aside from the wildlife) is you can look in the distance and see KSC.

Some people are stupid. Mary and I stopped numerous times along the road out of the refuge to pick up plastic McDonald's cups, beer cans, etc. Who is insensitive enough to toss that kind of trash out in a wildlife refuge?

Watching the NASA channel during a mission is pretty cool. Mary and I were driven indoors because of a Biblical plague of lovebugs and turned on the teevee. Someone on the ISS was asking someone at Mission Control how to find the scissors. The question was not "Where are the scissors?" It was "What is the location of the scissors?" The answer was a good five minutes long and involved stuff like "the right compartment, the second node," etc. But it was clear that the guy answering knew exactly where the scissors were. Now, why they needed the scissors is beyond me. I know Garrett did not need a haircut.

Nothing we saw the entire time we were there made us think we had made a mistake in creating this blog. Garrett is just one awesome dude.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Just A Lot of Pictures

From my trip to Florida:

This is a photo of the launch taken by Sam Vega, who drove 18 hours to see the launch when he got bumped off a flight in Arkansas:

This is the launch pad from which all the Apollo astronauts left earth. It is also where Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee died tragically. This is what Grissom said, "If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life." Still, you cannot be there without thinking of the amazing courage of those men. They went into space at a time when few had done it before, never knowing whether they would come back. And I'd like to say a word about their wives, who didn't have all the scientific knowledge their husbands had but still supported men who were part of the space program, men who were doing things that had never been done with no assurance that they would live, let alone be successful.

If you look at the photo below, you can see a Delta rocket in the background being readied for a September launch. Also, you can see three of the saddest words I have ever seen on the concrete post in the foreground: Abandon in Place. Wow.

More of SLC (Space Launch Complex) 34, Mary at the site:

This is one of Mary and me and a lifesize cutout of Garrett. My husband says someone should make a bobblehead of Garrett:

And this is Mary and me in front of the shuttle launch pad:

The Mercury 7 memorial. It honors all seven original Mercury astronauts, four of whom took flight from the launch pad behind it. Buried here is a time capsule that is to be opened in 2464 (500 years after its burial) that has the flight plans of the Mercury missions. The phrase, "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice," is engraved here. The epitaph of Christopher Wren, the architect who built St. Paul's Cathedral in London, it means, "If you seek a monument, look around you."

The Vehicle Assembly Building, one of the largest buildings in the world, was originally built for assembly of Apollo/Saturn vehicles and later modified to support Space Shuttle operations. It is known as the VAB, but my brother-in-law calls it the BIG.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Garrett and Piers Sellers Install a Closet and Garrett Takes a Nice Picture

Well, Atlantis took off on schedule, and we were right there, waving goodbye. The launch was spectacular, as launches always are. Yesterday, Garrett and Piers Sellers completed the mission's first spacewalk, having installed Rassvet, the Russian-made module that will provide additional storage space (those Russians on the ISS just brought waaayyy too many shoes). Actually, Rassvet is also a docking station for future Russian spacecraft.

Above is a picture Garrett took of himself (more or less) during the EVA. Also, if you are not watching the NASA Channel during this mission, you are missing some fun stuff. For instance, we just heard a request for "the scissors," as in "What is the location of the scissors?" Not "Where are the scissors?" Anyway, the answer was five minutes long, but clearly the person answering knew exactly where the scissors were.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Garrett Leaves and Drew Arrives

It's beautiful here, and, if Atlantis doesn't go today, it shouldn't be because of the weather. Meanwhile, Drew made his appearance at 9:05 pm -- eight pounds and 21 inches long. He just had to make it in time to see the launch. Smart baby.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

We Are Here!

So Mary and I have arrived at Club Veg, also known as Mary's backyard, to prepare for the launch, which we are doing by drinking copious amounts of vodka and lazing about in the pool. Looking forward to meeting the wonderful Simone and Garrett's family tonight. We are also awaiting word on Cathy's delivery, which is late but should happen today. We wish she were here, but we know she is happy trying to push a reluctant Drew out of her body.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

What the Cool People Will Be Wearing This Summer

Garrett's wife has designed some pretty great T-shirts to commemorate the Atlantis launch. If you want one (or two or 20), you can order it (them) here or here. Below are the hilarious images on the backs of the shirts.

I am personally outfitting the Ward sisters and Cathy's toddler and yet-to-be-born son, Drew. It's, after all, what the best children are wearing this year!

Meanwhile, if your remote finger tends to automatically stop on the NASA channel, as mine does, check the schedule to see when it is re-running the pre-flight interviews, which you can also read here.