Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Garrett On SpaceX

Jason Rhian of Universe Today did a great interview with Garrett regarding SpaceX. I am posting it here in its entirety. Like this blog's friend, Heather Archuletta ( said, Space X could do a lot worse than having Garrett as its spokesguy.

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – Garrett Reisman knows a thing or two about what it takes to send astronauts to orbit. He should, he has taken the trip himself – twice. Reisman spent three months on the International Space Station launching with the STS-123 crew, and was a Mission Specialist on STS-132. He has walked in space, operated Canada’s Dextre robot and installed critical flight hardware to the ISS.

He has since left NASA to work for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Reisman took a moment to chat with Universe Today just before the final launch of the shuttle program, STS-135, on the orbiter Atlantis. Reisman spoke about SpaceX’s contract with NASA under the second phase of the Commercial Crew Development contract or CCDev-02, his new role as Director of SpaceX’s Dragon Rider program and whether there is another trip to space in his future.

Universe Today: Hi Garrett, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, tell us a little about CCDev-02.

Reisman: “Thanks, it’s good to be here, SpaceX has dubbed CCDev-02 the ‘Dragon Rider’ program, CCDev sounds like someone’s logon name. Dragon Rider is the name of SpaceX’s efforts to send astronauts into orbit on board the Dragon Spacecraft.”

Universe Today: A nod to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern?

Reisman: “Exactly!” (laughing)

Universe Today: If you had to pick out one of the most interesting elements of what SpaceX is working on for CCDev-02 – what would it be?

Reisman: “I think I would have to say it is the integrated launch abort system. The system that SpaceX is working on will not be the normal tower that is positioned above the spacecraft; instead it will be built into the sides of the Dragon. This system will be reusable and allow the Dragon to land.”

SpaceX plans to use the Dragon Spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station. Image Credit: SpaceX
Universe Today: What do you think sets SpaceX apart from other, similar companies?

Reisman: “Some companies will offer you the rocket, others the spacecraft, at SpaceX we got both – it’s one-stop-shopping. We got the rocket, the Falcon 9, which has had two very successful test flights and we have the Dragon Spacecraft which became the first commercial spacecraft to orbit the Earth and splash down safely this past December. With both of these vital elements we have great confidence that we can do what we say we will do as we move forward.”

Universe Today: What made you decide to leave NASA and come to SpaceX?

Reisman: “I left NASA about four months ago and came over to SpaceX because I was very excited about what was going on in the commercial sector, just all this amazing innovation that was being unleashed and I wanted to be a part of that, to contribute to that.”

Universe Today: Final question, as a veteran astronaut are you hoping to ride Dragon to orbit one day?

Reisman: (smiles) While that’s not why I joined SpaceX – I wouldn’t rule it out either…”

SpaceX is looking to launch the next Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon Spacecraft some time this fall from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40. This demonstration flight will test out the Dragon’s navigation and other operating systems. This year SpaceX is planning to launch two flights under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or COTS contract, worth $1.6 billion, that the company has with NASA.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Look, since we're going to be doing this for a while...

For the love of Yuri, guys, it's SO-yuz¹.
The "yu" is one letter in Cyrillic. It cannot be split up.

If I have to listen to SOYooze for the next whatever², I swear...

¹Technically, it's closer to suh-yuz. Long story.

² I also get irked at "bay-ZHING." Don't even get me started on "TOLL-kin."

Gee, Hubble, it'd be nice if you were awesome or something.

Without manned spaceflight, Hubble would have become the most expensive piece of space junk ever launched.
Thanks again, guys.

From the website:

Zooming in on Omega Centauri Stellar Motion

This movie sequence begins with a ground-based image of the giant globular star cluster Omega Centauri and zooms very tightly in to a Hubble Space Telescope image of the central region of the cluster. In a simulation based on Hubble data, the stars appear to be moving in random directions, like a swarm of bees.

Well, most distant from us.

From the Hubble's official site:

The Universe's Most Distant Object

This video is a zoom into the Hubble Space Telescope infrared Ultra Deep Field, first taken in 2009. It is a very small patch of sky in the southern constellation Fornax. The zoom centers on the farthest identified object in the field. The object, possibly a galaxy, looks red because its light has been stretched by the expansion of the universe. Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon, STScI (no audio)

Lest we forget...

There are still VERY awesome things going on in space that don't involve manned flight.

The badass Cassini spacecraft detected a storm on Saturn way back in December and that storm still rages today. It covers a mindblowing 2 Billion-With-A-'B' square miles. (By contrast, the Earth's surface is only 197 million square miles.)

At its most intense, the storm was producing 10 lightning strikes a second. Listen to the audio of the lightning.

In honor of STS-135 and as a memento to the Program: Post your favorite shuttle memories!

You don't even have to have stepped foot in Florida to have a favorite memory of a shuttle mission!
What are some specific memories that you relate to the shuttle?
Let's just do happy memories today. I can't take anymore emotional stuff.
We all have extremely similar tragedy stories, but I'll bet not one other person who isn't a Ward relates a #2 Washtub* to a shuttle launch. Hell, half of you probably don't know what a #2 Washtub is. I'm still not sure.

Don't be shy. Log in and comment. It's free!

I'm morose and grumpy.
Make me smile, Visitor.

*More on this later.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened. -Dr. Seuss

I had a really vivid dream about watching a shuttle launch last night. It was so vivid (and took place with my sisters at my parents' house as a bonus) that it woke me up, and I lay there for a few minutes thinking, "Man, that was a great dream."

I grew up in Florida during the 1980s. The space shuttle plays a starring role in an enormous amount of my childhood memories.

I remember the excitement of those early days. For kids like me, it was the dawn of spaceflight, period. We didn't remember Mercury or Gemini or Apollo. Those things were history book material. I surely understood and appreciated the magnitude of them, just like I understood the magnitude of the voyage of Columbus. But I have no personal experience with either.

To me, seeing the shuttle actually do what they said it would do convinced me that spaceflight was about to become routine.

I developed the obligatory crush on Bob Crippen; bizarre, since John Young was infinitely cuter. I delighted in the fact that during launches and landings, we were allowed to watch TV (TV!) in the classroom. I looked up at space and for the first time in my life, I was pretty sure I had a shot at it.


The shuttle program gave America an abundant crop of ever-changing heroes: Crippen, Ride, Bluford, Chang-Diaz, Collins, Lucid, Musgrave, Thagard. Heck, we Coasties even got one eventually.

And the Reds? The Moon, Lake Placid, and then Columbia. Ouch.


As the years went by, children became adults, adults became elderly, presidents came and went, and nations rose and fell. Eventually, even the Soviets were gone. Still, our space program remained. We might have funded it with chump change, we might have shrugged our shoulders, we might have even ignored it (until a tragedy when we would cover it 24/7 for a couple of weeks), but with few exceptions, we were glad it was there. We funded a full 50% (or $50,000,000,000) of the ISS; it was rather important that we be able to get a few astronauts there from time to time. 

Unfortunately, the never-ending wars, famines, and epic natural disasters of the late 20th/early 21st centuries have made even the most optimistic among us jaded and cynical.  When John F. Kennedy said his goal was to put a man on the Moon in ten years, he meant it. He was unashamed; it was very matter-of-fact. We can, so we should. Find me a politician today who honestly believes space exploration is important and is willing to man up and demand funding for it, and not just on the campaign trail in Central Florida - in Nebraska and New Hampshire and Boise, Idaho, too. They sell America the most ridiculous things imaginable, and we willingly buy it all. They can't sell the exploration of the cosmos? 

I cannot believe this gap is happening. After Friday, the United States of America will no longer launch manned spacecraft for an unknown number of years. (Yes, SpaceX is amazing and I see great things happening there. But no, it is not representative of the nation.)

I love Russia. I love the Soyuz. I love-love Sergei Volkov.  
But now we are hitchhikers, just like South Korea, Canada, Japan, Israel, and billionaires everywhere, if they're so inclined. There's no shame in it for those guys; for us, there should be. Our space program now depends on politicians, not just for funding and maintaining public support, but for keeping the peace. Without a stable, workable peace, we have no ride to the party and we go nowhere. And let's face it, the guys with the keys can be temperamental.

At least we have a manual.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the thousands of men and women who over the last four decades made the shuttle program so awesome and awe-inspiring and fun, especially Pam. Thank you to the politicians who supported them. Thank you to the men and women who blazed a trail for them. Thank you to the astronauts who gave us so very much. Thanks especially to Garrett, for inviting us into his life and sharing his experiences and for just being an all-around great guy, the sort of guy you imagine an astronaut to be. Thank you to the families who tolerated endless separations and fears and worries and inconveniences, especially Simone. Thank you to the men and women who gave their lives for the program. Thank you from a grateful nation.

The orbiters will soon be all across the nation in museums where they will be walked upon by children who never saw them launch, who never saw anything painted United States of America launch. The smoke trails will disappear over the Cape (the only Cape that really matters, Floridians know) and the tourists will leave too. Or at least, they'll head back to Orlando, never again to venture out into The Real Florida.

The memories, hilarious and painful and exhilarating and heartbreaking, will remain forever.

Photo taken by a high school pal of mine, Jimmy Vernacotola. True story.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Milky Way/Arches Nat'l Park

You can never have enough Milky Way pictures.

Three Arches Above Utah
Credit & Copyright: Brad Goldpaint (Goldpaint Photography)
Explanation: How many arches can you count in the above image? If you count both spans of the Double Arch in the Arches National Park in Utah, USA, then two. But since the above image was taken during a clear dark night, it caught a photogenic third arch far in the distance -- that of the overreaching Milky Way Galaxy. Because we are situated in the midst of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, the band of the central disk appears all around us. The sandstone arches of the Double Arch were formed from the erosion of falling water. The larger arch rises over 30 meters above the surrounding salt bed and spans close to 50 meters across. The dark silhouettes across the image bottom are sandstone monoliths left over from silt-filled crevices in an evaporated 300 million year old salty sea. A dim flow created by light pollution from Moab, Utah can also be seen in the distance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


There is a reason why Chile is my chosen "If I ever leave this country, that's where I'm moving" spot.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Don't Panic

I have no idea why, but May 25 is Towel Day, a celebration of the life of Douglas Adams. The first commemoration of the event was held two weeks after his death on May 25, 2001. It is a tribute to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which he writes:

"A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

Adams was an environmentalist and a champion for gorillas and black rhinos. His "trilogy" of Hitchhiker works comprises, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish. Yes, it's not three books.

His greatest contribution to sci-fi freaks is "42," the answer to the "ultimate question of life, the universe and everything." The question remains unknown. The mice, who were the intelligent beings, were about to answer the question when the Earth was destroyed by psychiatrists who feared for their livelihoods should the answer become known.

The mice, however, decide to just pick a question out of thin air, rather than wait for another millennium's worth of pondering. The question was: "How many roads must a man walk down?" appropriate since May 24 (yesterday) was Bob Dylan's birthday.

Adams was friends with Gary Booker, lead singer and songwriter for Procol Harum; dedicated The Restaurant at the End of the Universe to the Paul Simon album "One Trick Pony;" was friends with the Monkees' Michael Nesmith and quoted Beatles lyrics extensively in a number of works.

Here is a link to find what people worldwide are doing to celebrate Towel Day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The STS-134 crew stands together with their ride into space. ... on Twitpic

@NASAKennedy: The STS-134 crew stands together with their ride into space. Looking good guys! Shared via Tweetcaster

@SpaceXer: SpaceX unveils awesome new video of our crewed Dragon spacecraft during @NASA press conf. Shared via Tweetcaster

Nice moon pic

@NASA: [Today's Pic] Earth's Satellite: This waxing gibbous moon with 83 percent of the disk illuminated was photo... Shared via Tweetcaster

Coming soon....

@SpaceXer: Garrett Reisman will unveil a cool new video on the crewed Dragon. Shared via Tweetcaster

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Yuri's Night, Everyone!

Today is the 50th anniversary of humankind's leap into space. Fifty years ago today, Yuri Gagarin, the small (5'2") son of peasant farmers, strapped into his seat on Vostok I and said, "Off we go!" It was just four years after the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first unmanned spacecraft. Think of that for one minute. Four years from unmanned craft to manned space flight. Four years! This was after numerous monkeys, dogs and mice had been afforded the dubious honor of attempting to discern whether space flight was inherently dangerous. (It was to most of them.)

So there was no reason for Gagarin's pulse rate to be an amazing 64 beats per minute as he sat in the cockpit of his rocket. Shortly after launch, Gagarin could see his -- and our -- home planet. "The Earth is blue! How wonderful! It is amazing!" he said to ground control personnel who could barely hear him.

Gagarin never flew a spacecraft again; he was considered too precious as a hero of the Soviet Union to take that kind of chance. It is the height of irony that he died in a MiG jet that crashed, according to the investigation, because another plane flew too close too fast, the turbulence created causing Gagarin's plane to spin out of control.

Gagarin understood his celebrity, but he maintained a humble attitude. As he was being feted with a parade in Manchester, England, after his flight, his handlers requested that the roof of the convertible in which he was riding be closed because of the rain. Gagarin said, "If they can stand in the rain to see me, I can certainly tolerate the rain so they can!"

As of today, there have been cosmonauts/astronauts from Afghanistan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Romania, Mongolia, Syria, the Ukraine, the US, Italy, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Viet Nam, France, West Germany, India, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Mexico, the UK, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Slovakia, South Africa, Israel, China, Brazil, Iran, Sweden, Malaysia and South Korea.

The space program is the great equalizer. It has taught the world that it is possible for humanity to work together toward a common goal. It has taught the world that the challenges of science do not see race or culture or nationality but the promise of a future where all strive together for the betterment and enlightenment of humankind.

And for that, we have, in no small part, Yuri Gagarin to thank.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


A while ago, this blog posted a piece about NASA's mission to find the best wake-up song for STS-134. The contest is over, but you can still vote on your favorite. Pillownaut followed up:

"Nearly 2.5 million votes poured in for STS-133, with the final five being something of a landslide. In a first for the space program, Shuttle Discovery astronauts were awakened on March 8th with a LIVE performance by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, who played their song "Blue Sky" at the Mission Control Center in Houston, TX.

The same crew, via the second place vote, was also treated to a recorded introduction to the Star Trek theme music, narrated by none other than Captain James T. Kirk himself, William Shatner. And of course, being Trek-related, this was the stunt that got all the press -- even though the song wasn't the winner!"

To hear the 10 finalists, go here. I personally like The Countdown Blues, which I voted for, but I was torn because I really liked some of the others. I just wish I could figure out how to add them all to my ipod.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

This right here.

I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space over and over again. We would be bragging, of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later.
-Famed biologist Lewis Thomas, when asked for his suggestion about what Earthlings should broadcast into space in hopes of contacting alien life

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

STS-135 Crew Announced

NASA has announced the crew for the STS-135 crew, the last shuttle astronauts. They are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Douglas Hurley, Mission Specialist 1 Sandra Magnuson and Mission Specialist 2 Rex Walheim. The last shuttle mission to fly with just four crewmembers on board was STS-6, launched on April 4, 1983, 28 years before STS-135, aboard Space Shuttle Challenger.

Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello would make up the majority of the payload. The MPLM will be filled with 16 resupply racks, which is the maximum that it can handle.

Garrett was aboard Atlantis's last fight, STS-132, which launched last May. So we have a serious thing for Atlantis. And we will be there, just as we were for Garrett's flight.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Yuri's Night Approaches

Yuri's Night, April 12, is the anniversary of the first manned space mission, flown by Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok I. Worldwide Yuri's Night parties mark the event. Atlanta's, which will feature a barbecue and space trivia (oh, yeah) will be at Georgia Tech, but you can google to find one near you.

This year, to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, Yuri's Night is featuring some awesome contests.

One, called A Call to Humanity, is looking for people who can create a print ad that "summons a sense of wonder at the utter vastness of the cosmos and our overwhelmingly fragile place in it. We want a piece that that awakens a feeling of unity with all mankind, and that we are up to the challenge of becoming a species worthy of settling the galaxy - and that Yuri’s launch was merely the first step in an endless human journey to the stars."

The winner, according to the contest, would capture the spirit and tone of NASA's YouTube video, The Frontier is Everywhere (above), in a print medium to spread the meme to another million people. He or she would win a Zero-G flight in Russia along with a $1,000 travel voucher.

Another, being held by the Open Luna Foundation, involves creation of a video that would be a tribute to the 50th anniversary of space flight. The prize is $500.

Finally, the one even non-creative people can handle, is just a sweepstakes. You sign up, and, if you win, you will get to see a Soyuz liftoff from Baikonur in Kazakhstan (with a $1,000 travel voucher).

Yuri Gagarin -- and the rest of the early cosmonauts and astronauts -- gave new meaning to the word "courage." They were doing something that had never been done, something that changed forever the way humanity looks at itself and at the sky, without any assurance that they would survive the challenge. Anyone who has ever looked up at the night sky in wonder should celebrate those heroes.

And if you can get a cool prize for doing so, so much the better!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Where in the World is Garrett?

Garrett has started his new career at SpaceX, a company dedicated to commercial space exploration, specifically the delivery of equipment and material to the ISS. As part of its mission, SpaceX has as a long-term goal enabling "humanity to become a "space-faring civilization."

The company is, according to its website "privately developing the Dragon crew and cargo capsule and the Falcon family of rockets from the ground up, including main and upper stage engines, the cryogenic tank structure, avionics, guidance & control software and ground support equipment.

With the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, SpaceX is able to offer a full spectrum of light, medium and heavy lift launch capabilities to our customers. We are able to deliver spacecraft into any inclination and altitude, from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit to planetary missions. The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are the only US launch vehicles with true engine out reliability. They are also designed such that all stages are reusable, making them the world's first fully reusable launch vehicles. And our Dragon crew and cargo capsule, currently under development, will revolutionize access to space by providing efficient and reliable transport of crew and cargo to the ISS and other LEO destinations."

With funding from NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, SpaceX is building space vehicles capable of filling the gap that will be created when the space shuttle program is retired.

Garrett will be a senior engineer working on astronaut safety and mission assurance.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What They Said

This is why it matters:

"When you advance frontiers, heroes are made." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

"There are four women in space right now ... 20 years ago that would've only been possible in a porn movie. Now it's science." ~ Tiny Fey on SNL News

"It matters to me. People don't get in line to get autographs of the land rover." ~ Congressman Frank Wolf, in response to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's statement that it "didn't matter" if America or China got a manned mission to the moon.

"All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct." ~ Carl Sagan

"Every civilization [in the universe] must go through this [a nuclear crisis]. Those that don't make it destroy themselves. Those that do make it end up cavorting all over the universe."
Physicist Ted Taylor, quoted by John McPhee in
The Curve of Binding Energy, 1974

"War and space exploration are alternative uses of the assertive, exploratory energies that are so characteristic of human beings. They may also be mutually exclusive because if one occurs on a massive scale, the other probably will not."
Frank White, The Overview Effect, 1981

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." ~ Author Douglas Adams

"Life, for ever dying to be born afresh, for ever young and eager, will presently stand upon this earth as upon a footstool, and stretch out its realm amidst the stars."
H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, 1920

"The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!"
Larry Niven, quoted by Arthur Clarke in interview
at, 2001

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another." ~ Plato

"In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people, who would shut up the human race upon this globe, as within some magic circle which it must never outstep, we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars, with the same facility, rapidity, and certainty as we now make the voyage from Liverpool to New York."
Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon, 1865

"Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming." ~ Werner von Braun

"It's human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice really: it's an imperative." ~ Astronaut Michael Collins

"We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special." ~ Stephen Hawking

"Every so often, I like to stick my head out the window, look up, and smile for a satellite picture." ~ Comedian Steven Wright

"The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in."
Robert Heinlein, speech

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Garrett!

Today is Garrett's 43rd birthday. That means he gets a new birthday star! The new star is 58 Eridani, in the Constellation Eridanus. 58 Eridani is 43.4 light years from Earth, meaning that the light we see today left the star about the time Garrett was born. 58 Eridani is a BY Draconis variable star (BY Draconis-type variables, which are emission-line dwarfs of dKe-dMe spectral type showing quasiperiodic light changes with periods from a fraction of a day to 120 days and amplitudes from several hundredths to 0.5 mag in V. The light variability is caused by axial rotation of a star with a variable degree of nonuniformity of the surface brightness (spots) and chromospheric activity. Some of these stars also show flares similar to those of UV Cet stars, and in those cases they also belong to the latter type and are simultaneously considered eruptive variables.) Oddly, I have no doubt Garrett knows what that means. Procyon, the eighth brightest star in the sky and one point of the Winter Hexagon, is a BY Draconis variable.

All I know is that it is not one of the brightest or one of the dimmest stars in Eridanus, the sixth largest constellation in the sky (Hydra, Virgo, Ursa Major, Cetus and Hercules are larger). But you'd probably have to be in a pretty dark place to see it well without a telescope.

Anyway, happy birthday, Garrett! And many, many more!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Music To Eat Dehydrated Eggs and Bacon By

Ever since the Apollo program began, astronauts have been jarred awake by music selected by themselves, their relatives, or those kooky kids at Ground Control. But with the program winding down, NASA is inviting the public to vote on wakeup songs for its last two missions (STS-133 and STS-134; STS-135, which would launch in June, has not yet been funded.)

You can choose from a list of 40 songs previously used on shuttle flights, or, if you are so inclined, write and record an original song and send it to NASA for consideration. Voting for STS-133 is over, but it will start up again for STS-134 about three weeks prior to the scheduled April 19 launch.

A nice history of the wakeup song has been compiled by NASA historian Colin Fries. It includes such nuggets as:

- Many crews have been awakened on their final morning by Dean Martin's classic, Going Back to Houston.
- The crew of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first U.S.-Soviet manned space flight, woke up to the strains of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother."
- Chris Hadfield, former chief mission control CAPCOM (capsule communicator), is usually in charge of the wakeup music. "You don't want to play a dirge or something uninspiring," he said.
- In 1972, the Apollo 17 crew heard the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun." Now, I like the Carpenters a lot, but, c'mon.
- Hadfield had a company modify an electric guitar, making it lighter than usual and foldable to fit in the luggage of German astronaut and classical guitarist, Thomas Reiter (STS-121).

According to Lynn W. Heninger, former Acting Assistant Administrator for Congressional Relations, the common element of all these selections is that they promote a sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps among the astronauts and ground support personnel. That, in fact, is the sole reason for having wake-up music; and it is the reason that NASA management has neither attempted to dictate its content nor allowed outside interests to influence the process. (Again, "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother"?????)

Songs in the Top 40 include stuff like Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones; On the Road Again by Willie Nelson; Should I Stay or Should I Go? by the Clash; Where I Come From by Alan Jackson; Free Fallin' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; and Higher Ground by Steve Winwood.

The Beatles (Good Day, Sunshine and Here Comes the Sun) and Petty (Free Fallin' and Learning to Fly) each have two songs on the list (unless you count John Lennon's Imagine on the Beatles list).

Moby's We Are All Made of Stars, the Tornadoes 74's Telstar, the Theme from Lost in Space, Jupiter from Holst's Planets Suite, Pink Floyd's Echoes and Joe Diffie's Third Rock from the Sun, all on my IPod's "space" playlist, are nowhere to be found. Which may say more about me than about NASA...

Mary and Drew Go For a Ride

As we are nearing the end of the space shuttle program, I'll probably be posting a lot of these cool NASA things. Click here to find out how to send your photo to space on Discovery, Endeavor or Atlantis for their last missions. Mary and Drew, Cathy's young-uns, are joining Commander Mark Kelly aboard STS-134, and you can ride along! When you sign up, a nice photo of you looking out the shuttle window is produced. I figured these two photos look exactly like Mary and Drew would look if they were actually looking out the shuttle window.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

For Garrett, from your German fan.

Commenter "Swesda" made this adorable piece of artwork for Big G.
I don't know how old he or she is, but this is too fantastic not to have its own post.
I think the likeness is remarkable, and Garrett (or "Gerry" in the familiar) even gets a little halo because he is just that awesome.

Swesda, tell us more about yourself!

What are you going to Florida for? Will you be able to go to the Cape?

Thanks for commenting and for the neato picture.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Going to Mars (without having to learn all that sciencey stuff)

Our friend, Heather Archuletta, who runs the wonderful Pillownaut blog, posted this back in 2009, but I thought it was worth reposting here (as is much of her stuff, but that would be stealing...)

Built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Curiosity, the largest Mars Science Laboratory ever, will launch this fall and land on Mars some time in the summer of 2012. And there's still time to get your name on a computer chip that will ride to Mars on Curiosity (which is currently my favorite Mars rover name). All you need to do is click on the Send Your Name To Mars link and fill in the information, and you're on board!

More than a million people worldwide have signed up, and , if you're curious about where they live, you can check out the World Participation Map.

From Pillownaut:

"Curiosity is faster, and able to scout much farther and climb higher than the existing Mars rovers (partly because of enhanced tools and also because it will utilize nuclear power instead of solar power).

The size of the rover was such that it required a new landing technique:

The Entry, Descent, and Landing (or EDL) of Curiosity will be similar to the Phoenix Mars Lander, which in itself was an elaboration of those used for Mars Pathfinder and Viking. All used parachutes in descent, but this newest hardware will enjoy much greater precision in guided entry, no airbags for the bounce, and a "sky crane" touchdown system, which will allow a soft, wheels-down landing.

Once she lands, we'll have all new and advanced ways to estimate uncertainties in terrain slopes, wind characteristics, atmospheric density and pressure, rock compositions and water prevalence."

If you sign up, you get a cool certificate. I have taken the liberty of sending Cathy's children to Mars. I don't think she'll mind.

25 years. Hard to believe.

There are a lot of memories associated with those dark days, but here is one that stayed with me all these years:

Shortly after a wreath was dropped from a helicopter hovering off the Florida coast last weekend, part of a memorial service here for the seven Challenger astronauts, NASA cameramen filming the event recorded a remarkable moment. 

A group of dolphins suddenly and unexpectedly appeared in the frame, leaping in unison from the green sea, and then disappearing just as quickly below the surface, barely 25 yards from the wreath.
For many here, the sudden appearance of the dolphins was, in a way, both chilling and reassuring. Greek and Mediterranean legend treated the dolphin as a creature of good fortune and intelligence, a talisman for voyages not only on sea and land but also for voyages into the afterlife. (In maritime legend, the dolphin is a symbol of resurrection. - C.)

When the film showing the dolphins was brought back to the Kennedy Space Center, photo technicians immediately surrounded the television monitor, playing that segment of tape over and over again, as they leaned into the screen, trying to count the number of dolphins. 

There were, in fact, only four visible, at the extreme left edge of the frame. But the camera also showed another splash, just out of camera range. Nobody could ever be sure, but among space center employees last week the unofficial count concluded there were probably three other dolphins that day, splashing beside the bobbing wreath.
-NYT, 2/7/1986

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nerd Fights

A team of astronomers says it has found the oldest galaxy yet discovered, a blob of light they estimate is from 13.2 billion years ago, which, if you know your stuff (and why would you be here if you didn't?) is a mere 500 or so million years after the Big Bang, which is nothing when you're talking Big Bang. The picture shows what the astronomers at UC Santa Cruz say is the galaxy that existed 480 million years after the Big Bang and the position in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) where it was found.

But, wait.

Other astronomers say that the team that discovered the galaxy had previously "discovered" three others that old, decided they weren't really galaxies, and then discovered this one.

According to Nature, where the study was published, the team leader, Garth Illingworth, noted that there is a 20 percent chance that the smudge they found is contamination, but insisted "we're pretty sure it's a real object."

Anyway, the astronomers are engaged in a classic nerd fight, presumably throwing protractors and slide rules at each other. You gotta love it.

In Memoriam

Today is the 44th anniversary of the deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The three were killed when the Apollo 1 command module caught fire during pre-launch activities.

Grissom had had a close call earlier when the hatch on the Liberty Bell 7 blew after splashdown, causing his spacesuit to fill with water and nearly drowning him. In memory of the event, Grissom named the Gemini 3 capsule the "Molly Brown," after the unsinkable survivor of the Titanic. It was a name that horrified NASA and led to a rule against the naming of future spacecraft.

Ed White was the first American astronaut to walk in space. He has a star (Iota Ursae Majoris) named after him. The star is nicknamed Dnoces ("second" spelled backwards) for him -- Edward Higgins White II. White Hill, part of the Apollo Hills on Mars, is also named for him.

Roger Chaffee was the communications officer on the Apollo 1 flight. He reported the fatal fire and continued to communicate with ground control until smoke filled the cabin, killing the astronauts. Like White, Chaffee has a star named after him -- Gamma Velorum, which is nicknamed Regor (again, his name backwards).

The three knew the risks. 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."

Photos are of the crew and one of the columns on the Apollo 1 launchpad at Canaveral. The words, "Abandon in Place," are stenciled on it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A New Garrett and a Goodbye!

Garrett is leaving us. For a very good reason (see adorable photos). I think we will keep the blog going nonetheless. And it will always be a tribute to our favorite astronaut. Congratulations to Simone and Garrett!

See Garrett's email below:

"Thank goodness he’s not horrifically ugly or some kind of space alien baby. We have a 30-day moneyback guarantee, but we think we will keep him.

Secondly, since that wasn’t enough of a change in our lives, I decided to start a new career.

Yes, I’m leaving NASA to take a position with SpaceX.

February 24th will be my last day at NASA and March 2nd is my first day at SpaceX. In the interim, all three of us are packing up and moving to Los Angeles.

I understand if the “Former Astronaut Garrett Reisman Fan Club” is not as catchy of a title for your blog, but that decision is up to you!

All my best,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Yeah, about that list...

Ima let you finish "Best Auroras of 2010" - but Ruth's AK auroras were some of the best aurora pictures of all time.

Best auroras of 2010

Credit: M-P Markkanen
Auroras over Posio, Finland

Credit: Soichi Noguchi
 Auroras over Lake Michigan and Chicago
The thing that looks like birdshit is the reason I can only see about 2 stars on any given night.

Go see the ten best auroras of 2010 here.

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live. -Mark Twain

Worst. luck. ever.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Voorwerp. Not a Frog

Back in 2007, a Dutch school teacher discovered a very odd celestial object: It looked like a great, green blob floating in space and at the time it was inexplicable. This teacher was part of a vast amateur astronomy group of 250,000 smart people assisting in something called the Galaxy Zoo. These people took images of galaxies from Hubble and classified them into groups: spiral, elliptical, irregular, barred, etc.

The teacher, Hanny van Arkel, found something that was, at the time, inexplicable, although it looked a lot like a space frog. Given the name, "Hanny's Voorwerp," now "Hanny's Object," which I personally do not like as much, the frog is now considered to be a "twisting rope of gas, or tidal tail, about 300,000 light-years long that wraps around [a] galaxy."

In a press release from the University of Alabama, Dr. Bill Keel, professor of astronomy and leader of Hubble's Hanny's Voorep study (just how much would you like to have THAT on your resume?), presented two surprising findings:

"First, that very young stars are forming inside the tidal tail. "The region may have been churning out stars for several million years," said Keel. "They are so dim that they have previously been lost in the brilliant light of the surrounding gas."

Keel told us that this is remarkable because this is not the kind of environment in which you would usually find star formation.

Second, Hanny's Voorwerp was lit up by a powerful beacon of light called a quasar, which formed as a byproduct of the harsh conditions created by a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Keel said the tail likely formed as the result of energy from two merging galaxies. That green light we see is glowing oxygen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords is fighting for her life after being shot by a lunatic at a political event in Tucson. Her doctors say she is breathing on her own, and they are cautiously optimistic. Gabrielle married astronaut Mark Kelly in 2007. Kelly was the commander of STS-124 and is the prospective commander of the last shuttle, STS-134.

As part of the STS-124 mission, Kelly's crew delivered a repair part for the ISS's malfunctioning toilet system. His first words upon boarding the ISS were, "Anyone looking for a plumber?"

Giffords is the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona.

Also, please remember those who died in the shooting (below from AP) and those who were injured:


Named Arizona's chief federal judge in 2006, U.S. District Judge John M. Roll won acclaim for a career as a respected jurist and leader who had pushed to beef up the court's strained bench to handle a growing number of border crime-related cases. Roll was appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. He previously served as a state trial judge and as a judge on the midlevel Arizona Court of appeals, and as a county and state prosecutor. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Church's Tucson Diocese said Roll was an active parishioner. "He lived his faith as a servant of our nation for the cause of justice," Kicanas said. Roll was a Pennsylvania native who got his law degree from the University of Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, three sons, and five grandchildren.



Christina Taylor Green was only 9, but the third-grader already was an aspiring politician. Her parents say Christina had just been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School and had been interested in politics from a young age. She already had told her parents she wanted to attend Penn State and have a career that involved helping those less fortunate than her. The brown-eyed athletic girl loved to swim with her 11-year-old brother Dallas, her lone sibling. Her mother, Roxanna Green, said Christina also loved animals, singing, dancing and gymnastics. She also was the only girl on her Canyon del Oro Little League baseball team. Her grandfather, former major-league pitcher Dallas Green, managed the 1980 world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Christina's father, John Green, is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Christina was born on the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001.



Gabe Zimmerman, the director of community outreach for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, handled thousands of issues raised by constituents out of the congresswoman's offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista. Zimmerman was one of the Giffords staffers who organized many public events where voters could meet Giffords and talk to her about issues. Co-workers say Zimmerman, who had a master's degree in social work, cared passionately about helping people. Zimmerman's mother, Emily Nottingham, said politics was a good fit for him because it combined policy and making a difference for others. "He had a real interest in helping people and had a real caring for social justice," Nottingham said. Zimmerman, who was engaged, had set a wedding date for 2012.



When Phyllis Schneck and her husband retired, they spent their winters in Tucson and summers in their native Rutherford, N.J. "They didn't want to ever have to deal with the snow again," said Schneck's daughter, B.J. Offutt of Colorado Springs, Colo. Schneck, who continued to return to Tucson in the winters even after her husband died in 2007, was a homemaker who raised her two daughters and one son and had a talent for cooking. In retirement, Schneck kept herself occupied by volunteering at her church. Her home in Tucson was less than four miles from the supermarket where the shooting took place. Offutt said her mother's appearance at the store was surprising, because she normally shopped at a different store and wasn't very political. Schneck is survived by her three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.



Everyone who knew Dorwin Stoddard thought he might die from one his numerous construction projects at Mountain Avenue Church of Christ. During his latest project, he fell 20 feet when a ladder buckled, said his pastor and friend Michael Nowak. When the shooting started Saturday, he dove to the ground, covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times. The couple had been grade school sweethearts growing up in Tucson. After their respective spouses died, they independently moved back to retire, became reacquainted and fell in love all over again. Mavy Stoddard talked to her husband, who was shot in the head, for 10 minutes while he breathed heavily. Then he stopped breathing. He had two sons from his first marriage, and Mavy has three daughters.



Dorothy Morris, known to her friends as "Dot," was a retired homemaker and secretary who lived north of Tucson in Oro Valley, Ariz. Dorothy died in the shooting. Her husband George, a former Marine and retired airline pilot, remains hospitalized after suffering two gunshot wounds. One of the couple's daughters said George Morris tried to protect his wife of 50 years by throwing her to the ground and trying to get on top of her to shield her. The couple both grew up in Reno, Nev., and were high school sweethearts. They settled in Oro Valley around 1995. Sue Blinman, who lives next door in a retirement community, said the couple traveled extensively and escaped Tucson's summer heat by heading up to their home in the eastern Arizona mountain community of Pinetop. "They were always good neighbors," Blinman said.