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Monthly archive July, 2009

Stepping stones to the Stars

We Space Tweeps were all intently watching Twitter today taking in the sites and sounds of the latest meeting of the Augustine Committee on Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans. Someone brought up a very valid point during the ongoing reporting and discussion that made me realise I’m not alone…

Time and time again I read about the limitations of needing a Heavy Lift platform to launch space missions. One of the biggest hurdles to the mission to Mars is looking like its going to be actually getting it off the surface of the Earth.

The answer is simple, and what is more it’s been staring us in the face for decades. Every great sci-fi movie or even video game I’ve seen, space faring vessels are constructed out in space using some kind of dry dock or something similar. Why? Because it looks impressive? Yes.. and no. See the reason is it make perfect sense. The problem with being on Earth is you’ve got to get off Earth to go anywhere. That’s okay if you are 3 guys in a computer-guided coke can going for the first moon shot in 1969, but that was 40 years ago. This is 2009 and some day soon we’re gonna want to do bigger and more long-term things… like go to Mars.

See my immediate thought is that a Mars mission is gonna require a BIG vessel. It takes a few days to get to the moon and a few more to get back. Shuttle missions usually last 1-2 weeks. In the name of science and space exploration a few human beings don’t mind being couped up in a shoebox for a while, living on top of each other etc. but for months on end on a journey to Mars? You’re gonna need space for food, water, facilities, life support, mission supplies etc. You’re gonna need crew quarters that make the long journey comfortable and feasible. People together for that length of time are going to need some kind of privacy or personal space, as well as 

Well you have 2 options:

You could make a very heavy and complex vehicle that can be launched from earth using a huge heavy lift system. Look at the logic though. You need to develop the mother of all rockets to launch it. The spacecraft itself will need to be large enough not to drive the occupants insane, carry fuel, life support and supplies for a long mission and carry a landing vehicle if the mission requires it (I’m presuming we want to land don’t we!?). The possibly worst part to think about is what if something goes wrong at launch? You;ve lost a 100s of billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money, an expert and trained crew and the public’s confidence. You couldn’t do the ‘oops, sorry, we’ll do a safety review and try again’ thing with this, it’s not the same as Apollo. 

The alternative, and in my book vastly more feasible idea is to build a spacecraft in orbit, either around the Earth or around the Moon, attached to a space station and a a dry-dock. You fly the parts up a bit at a time a-la the International Space Station, you put the modular items together in space and when it’s finished you fly it to Mars. The advantages are many:

  •  You don’t need a massive heavy lift launch vehicle – something reasonably capable that was say also usable to get to the Moon, would do the job of transferring people and parts to orbit for construction.
  • The construction teams would be able to live in orbit and modules flown up to them. We can already do that now.
  • You don’t have to make the unit fit on top of a rocket system, it doesn’t have to be aerodynamic on any way, or be shaped to fit inside the faring.
  • It doesn’t matter about the weight. As long as you can bolt a big enough engine system to the back to get the mass to Mars it’s not a big issue.
  • Although admittedly a little tricky, the *potential* is there to reuse part or all of the spacecraft just by tethering it in space then reconditioning it.
  • If something goes wrong on a supply/crew launch there is potential loss of human life, but this is a risk we always take. On the up-side also a lot of the flights will be unmanned a-la Progress. If a module is lost then only a fraction of the spacecraft is lost, and it can be remade. It might cause a delay but ultimately it’s only a setback, not a catastrophic dead loss of crew and craft.

So when you look at 2001: a space odyssey and the ‘Discovery I’ spacecraft that took HAL and his crew to Jupiter, you might be looking at potentially our Mars taxi. I admit constructing a spacecraft to travel to Mars in orbit around a body, then make it good to fly to another planet isn’t without it’s challenges, but the possibilities and the potential it unlocks for our future in space is massive!

Fasten Your Seatbelts

I thought a few of the folks here might appreciate this. It’s a little video tribute to the Space Shuttle, spliced together by yours truly. From the launch pad to the ISS!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_3lFHAwl6o]

I’m going to miss the big lummox when they retire it…

Tweeting; To The Moon, and Beyond

“Or, How My Faith in My Fellow Man Was Restored Because of Twitter.”

While I haven’t posted anything on this blog, I have been Tweeting. To a much lesser extent, I have also been updating my Facebook page. Why? Well, I’ve been busy and Tweeting is like the snack cakes of blogging. It’s easy (gotta love those iPhone apps) and it’s just easier to fill 140 characters with something rather than blog, at least in my case. As the family and local “tech guy” (finally graduating from PC guy, AV guy, and techie) I have tried to explain Tweeting to many people. Microblogging? Timeshifted Texting (my fave) or the new real time replacement for People Magazine? It’s all those. All the more interesting and powerful tools ever created in the world could be put to different purposes and used effectively by different trades people. Think about the hammer. Put a nail in to a board? Of course! Break open a rock on the Moon? Now we’re talking. Basically the same tool… different users, different uses. Twitter is like that to me. I think it’s this multifacidness that just plain stumps a lot of people.

“To share or not to share.”  

Tweeting like Facebook, a blog or most any form of social networking tool can allow a person to share just about anything they want, whenever they want, to the entire world. This puts off a lot of people and companies when it comes to social media in general. I have personally flip flopped on the amount of information I want to share at different times over the past 15+ years. Yes.. I had my first “home page” aka blog, while I was working for Indiana University in the early 90’s. Over time I have found more of a comfort level with sharing bits and pieces of my life with complete, and utter strangers. For those who have known me (in person) for sometime, this may not be a total shock. I have a more extroverted personality and as they say, I have a gift for the gab. I’m a story teller. So.. details about me come out. It’s part of who I am. Online though, in all these dark and strange alleyways off the ol Super Information Highway (the Internets for you younger readers) is sometimes a frightening place still and people and companies both want to avoid going into these shadowy areas or being percieved as having ever ventured there. Guilt by association? A big fear for people and corporations a like. It’s this assocation or trail of connections that is both the incredible and awesome power of social media today as well as it’s biggest hurdle. Why?

“I don’t want my Mom reading this…”  

Well, in this case, I actually do. But this statement and fear can also be read “I don’t want my investors/stock holders reading this…” as well. What “this” is that people don’t want their Moms or stock holders reading, isn’t a news article, it can be ANYTHING posted outside the comfort and control of a press room, or one’s own writing. This is very scary stuff for a lot of people, and again, companies. People like to create a persona and magange it. This social media stuff can get out of hand. This is where my story really begins and where the power of social media (and people) can be seen!

“Space Geek” 

Oh I love space. I’m a geek’s geek and a nerd’s nerd. These things I cannot deny. I was born one day before Apollo 16 landed on the Moon. The first thing I remember building out of Lego as a 5 year old was the Viking Mars Lander (it was July 4, 1976 when it landed, my 5th birthday was later that July). My den/home theater/man cave is a shrine to manned space flight.  I say all of this to set the stage for what comes next. See, I’m not the only space geek out there. Until recently, I didn’t know there were conventions for fans like us. Sure I’ve been to comic book conversions and a sci-fi convention or two (who’s counting?) What I did know, from Twitter, is that there was an astronaut by the name of Michael J. Massimino, aka, @Astro_Mike.

From @Astro_Mike I found: @NASA @NASA_EDGE @bethbeck @CatherineQ @TaviGreiner @ericmblog @Clearedthetower @saburitz @flight0001 @flyingjenny @moonrangerlaura @salottimc @comtnclimr @txflygirl @howellspace @absolutspaceguy @genejm29 @apacheman @marsroverdriver @absolutspacegrl. Some of these people are just fans, others are NASA employees, contractors, etc. All interesting people or organizations I’ve been able to have conversations with and feed my passion and curiosity about manned space flight. It was through them that I learned about all the incredible events of the past few days.

“Missed Opportunity, PART 1”  

Somehow I missed completely, the opportunity to signup for the first ever NASA sponsored “TweetUp” at NASA Headquarters on July 21. Astro_Mike along with the entire STS-125 crew were going to be there. I missed it. Gone. However, @ericmblog was kind enough to offer me a guest seat. He had signed up and was allowed one guest. Me. A complete stranger, save for our shared interested in manned space flight and conversations in broken 140 character long chunks. I had my reason to go to Washington DC for a few days of vacation.

“Missed Opportunity, PART 2”

For the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, there were incredible events planned for this past week by NASA and the National Air and Space Museum. Every year the NASM hold the Glenn Lecture series. This year’s speakers were the entire Apollo 11 crew and Deke Slayton. As it turns out Senator John Glenn, introduced the lecture. Did I have tickets? No. The sign up had been almost a month earlier and tickets given out by lottery. 7000 people signed up, only a few hundred seats were available. @flyingjenny was unable to attend and offered her four tickets up. Did I get there in time? Nope. Some guy from across Michigan got all four. @ericmblog, within a matter of moments offered me a ticket (I had been second to respond to @flyingjenny). I now had my second, incredible reason to go to DC. All through the kindness of strangers.

“Missed Opportunity, PART 3”

On July 19th, at the NASM, Apollo astronauts Al Bean (Apollo 12), Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins (both Apollo 11) were having their recent books signed. I got to the museum just as it was opening and stood in line for… hours. Almost four hours actually. I had run out of time. The line to have books signed was cut short. I had purchased two sets of each books in hopes for a few signatures from some of my childhood (and adulthood) hereos. Nope. Didn’t happen. What did happen is that @ericmblog ‘s wife took a set of my books and instead of having a set of her own signed, had mine instead. I met Eric and his wife while standing in line that mornining. Sure, we had tweeted, but the first time I spoke face to face to them was there in line at the museum.

“And Now for the Lesson…”

I was able to attend some of the most memorable and historic events because of strangers. People I hardly knew but shared common interests. My first attempt to thank these people for their wonderful gifts seem paltry compared to what they did for me. @ericmblog and his wife @saburitz were treated to dinner at the Capital Grille and @flyingjenny is getting a signed Al Bean book. Now, if you’re a company or individual wondering about a benefit of social media, please take away the following learning from my story…
Connecting with people who share your interests or passions is never a bad thing.

With enough conversation and sharing of information about yourself, (I had to give @ericmblog my contact information at some point), you can get to know the people behind the @. Given the right opportunity, these people can demonstrate their amazing knowledge. @ericmblog and I conversed at length about new launch systems as well as photography. They can also share their kindness and support. I now consider these people and others I’ve met through these past few days as friends. A word I and others do not use lightly or casually.

In the end, isn’t this what people and companies both want out of social media?

Images from my recent adventure:

Glenn Lecture at NASM and Apollo 11 Event at Newseum 

NASA’s first Tweetup with STS-125 crew

Apollo at Forty

Forty years ago
humans embarked on a dangerous journey from which their safety and
return could not be guaranteed. Not since humans first journeyed far
from the savannahs of Africa or set sail
across vast oceans has any trip been so defining of the spirit that
lives in all of us. We are seekers of knowledge, of new frontiers, we
are restless spirits and explorers always seeking to chart the unknown
in the quest for understanding what lies beyond our shores.

Today we remember and celebrate not just an era when giant rockets
and giant men ventured across the stars to set foot on another world,
but when we as humans dared to leave the safety of our shores and
fulfill our destiny as explorers – to reach out and quench that thirst
for knowledge by not just dreaming, but by turning our fears into
courage, our dreams into words and our words into action.

We remember the words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped on to the
surface of the moon “One small step for man, one giant leap for
mankind” and later “Here men from the planet earth first set foot on
the moon – we came in peace”. Only five hundred of us have ever left
planet earth to venture into space. Just twenty-eight of the billions
of us have ever left the confines of low-earth orbit earth to venture
to the moon and only twelve of us have walked on its surface, but it is
not the number of us that made the journey that was important. What was
important was that we decided to go at all – for in the end it was not
just twelve men who made the journey, but a civilization that made that
journey with them.

On this day, we mark that great adventure and the skill, courage and
bravery of all who made that journey possible. Many are no longer with
us, but their spirit and their commitment live on. The fruits of their
work shall sit for an eternity on the surface of the moon and will
survive long after the humans that built it or remember it will walk
the face of the earth. It will live on as a monument to an era when
risk, daring and a strong national will defined the human spirit.

We can only hope that the spirit of that time is not lost on future
generations. Our spirit and our drive to seek out new frontiers cannot
be silenced by those who think exploration too risky or too costly.
Hundreds have paid the ultimate price for the dream of space
exploration. Perhaps millions over the existence of humankind have done
the same to move us forward off the plains and off the shores to a bold
new world over the horizon. Today, we also remember the small steps of
our ancestors that made “a giant leap” possible.

My scarecrow loves space

The scarecrow of the Urban Garden, Count Barnabas von Scarecrow, is a space enthusiast and also guards the pumpkin patch.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv1bLdLySK8]

 

 

Get-there-itis

After
yesterday’s launch scrub for STS-127 due to weather, I was listening in
on some of NASA’s press conference on NASA TV. One of the reporters
asked about the weather criteria, if they were perhaps too strict now
that we have more advanced methods of assessing weather conditions than
we did when the criteria was developed, or something to that effect.

I don’t remember the answer Mike Moses gave, but the question made
me think. While it is very easy to get frustrated over strict weather
criteria when it hinders a launch and the weather is borderline, that
line has to be drawn somewhere. Pilots are all too familiar with the
concept of “get-there-itis,” which is used to describe the affliction
when someone is so fixated on getting where they are going that they
take unnecessary risks to get there. These risks might be with weather,
fatigue, or even mechanical issues.

I remember an experience many years ago as a student pilot flying
with my instructor from Pensacola back home to Tallahassee. We were
flying a 1966 Cessna 150 by VFR or visual flight rules, meaning we were
navigating by sight rather than instruments. The plane was not
certified for instrument flight, so that was our only option. VFR
flight requires certain weather and visibility conditions and we were
okay in Pensacola, but it didn’t look good in the direction we were
heading. We probably shouldn’t have left Pensacola when we did, but we
were anxious to get back so we took off and headed back home.

As we traveled, the clouds went from scattered to not-so-scattered
and by the time we got to Destin (about a quarter of the way home), we
were having to fly so low to stay beneath the ceiling we could
practically read the street signs. Fortunately, we were able to land at
Destin and wait out the weather, but many are not so lucky. So often
the desire to get somewhere overcomes rational decision making, leading
to the pilot’s demise. And pilots are only looking to get home or to
wherever they are going- imagine how much the get-there-itis is
amplified when the destination is a mission to space and people all
over the world are watching expectantly.

Just think- if the weather criteria for launch were not set so
firmly, it would be easy to rationalize launching when weather was just
a little beyond the guidelines.  If that works out without an issue,
then the next time it makes sense to allow weather that is a little
farther out of specifications, and so on. It is a slippery slope.
Without strict criteria, pretty soon we’d find ourselves taking
unnecessary risks. We can’t let get-there-itis cause us to make bad
decisions.

I will admit that launch scrubs frustrate me just as much as
everyone else, and sometimes I want to yell, “Just light it off,
already!” But I also understand the reasoning behind it and that it is
the nature of our industry.  Ultimately, I think everyone would agree
that the safety of the crew is well worth the wait.

Why can’t we allow our heroes to be heroes?

AMERICAN MEN AND WOMAN HAVE NO BUSINESS FLYING IN SPACE!

There, I’ve said it. And in case you missed it, I’ll say it again.
American men and women have no business flying in space. I fully expect
an upwelling of outrage on the part of some for saying this, yet it is,
at least to me, painfully obvious

Before you hit the “baleet” button, hear me out.

America has neither the will, nor the courage to fly in space. No, I
am not talking about those American heroes who have ridden the
thundering beast into orbit and beyond; it’s you and me that I am
talking about. You and me; groundlings, paper pushers and wannabees of
every stripe and color. We are slowly and relentlessly strangling our
space program. We are killing it as surely as if we put a gun to the
head of every pilot, every astronaut, every hero.

I’ll explain.

Our astronauts stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone
before. Recall their names: Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne
Montgolfier, Wilbur and Orville Wright. Samuel Pierpont Langley, Louis
Blériot and Glenn Curtiss. Think too, of Chuck Yeager and Scotty
Crossfield or Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra. Remember too, Fred
Haise and Gordon Fullerton.

I mention Scotty Carpenter because he got a bum rap from us ground
weenies. Yes, he overshot his landing area by some 250 miles, but not,
I repeat not, because he expended his fuel by overdoing the capsule
maneuvering as some have wrongly proclaimed and which has somehow found
it’s way into the repository of general knowledge, of erroneous
“facts!” So too, regarding the reasons he never flew again in space.
I’d bet the farm on the fact that many reading this think NASA never
picked him for another flight because he screwed up!

Wrong!

Carpenter never flew again because he sustained a medically
grounding injury to his left arm, and as far his running Aurora 7 out
of gas, the simple truth is he had several critical malfunctions to
deal with. The pitch horizon scanner malfunctioned forcing Carpenter to
manually control his reentry. The PHS malfunction jerked the spacecraft
off in yaw by 25 degrees to the right, accounting for 170 miles (270
km) of the overshoot; the delay caused by the automatic sequencer
required Carpenter to fire the retrorockets manually. This effort took
two pushes of the override button and accounted for another 15 to 20
miles (32 km) of the overshoot. The loss of thrust in the ripple
pattern of the retros added another 60 miles (97 km), producing a
250-mile (400 km) overshoot.

(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Carpenter)

How many of us earthlings remember it was Scott Carpenter who proved
manual reentry was possible, foreshadowing Jim Lovell’s manual reentry
of Apollo 13, or that Scotty was the first to prove a human being could
eat and swallow food in Zero-G. Conventional wisdom at the time said
man must have gravity to assist on the swallowing process. Scotty
proved conventional wisdom wrong!

We all subscribe to the commonly known BS that Wally Schirra had a
fight with ground control during his Apollo flight and that this is why
he was never to set foot on the moon. It is true that plagued by an
ambitious to-do list and a bad cold, Schirra snapped at flight
controllers and refused to follow some instructions. “I have had it up
to here today,” he told Mission Control near the end of his flight. And
I submit that some ground pounder may have gotten his panties in a
twist over that!

But how many remember that at the exact moment of ignition beginning
the flight of Gemini 6 and when the hold downs had released, one of the
Titan engines shut down. How many remember Wally did not yank the abort
handle as so many of us wannabees would have. No, he calmly sat there
with his hand on abort handle until the vehicle could be safed. Later
he was heard to say he wasn’t going to pull the handle until he could
feel the fire burning his butt!

How many of us mud dwellers remember Apollo 12’s lightning strike
when every “oh shit” light lit up on Pete Conrad’s panel and the fuel
cells dropped off line.

I wonder how many of us weenies would have had the courage of Fred
Haise and Gordon Fullerton to make that first free flight of
Enterprise. It fell like a brick and there was no modified G-II to
practice with.

I guess what I am trying to say is, that we don’t let our heroes be
heroes any more. We have taken these the acts of courage, in large
measure, away from them.

As I watched the folks in their nice clean white coveralls with the
great big NASA meatballs on the backs and the guys with the USA
patches, it took me back to the days when Guenter Wendt, “Der Führer of
der Launch Pad,” ruled with an iron hand, and woe betide the NASA QC
guy who had the temerity to get in his way.

I watched the new breed of technicians take what, maybe thirty
minutes to close the hatch. Perform leak checks ad nauseum and finally
fill in all the little check marks for the NASA guy holding the book!
Back in the day, you kicked the tire, inserted the squire and lit the
fire!

This is not to say I am against safety or that cautions should be
thrown to the winds. No, indeed. What I am saying is that space flight
is a risky business and you cannot make it inherently safe, no matter
how many little boxes you check off. Miles O’Brien, during his coverage
of yesterday’s launch attempt was heard to say that you can’t fly until
the paperwork equals the height of the stack!

This is so sad, for it tells a tale. We who stand safely on the
ground, checking off the boxes are playing CYA, and are not allowing
our heroes to be heroes, to do what they do best…inspire the young,
bring a tear of pride to the old and remind us all of the greatness of
our heritage.

Picture yourself, if you will, sitting down in your aisle seat,
fastening your sea tbelt for your flight from HOU to WTF. The stews, er
pardon me, “flight attendants” give their safety pitch and you sit
there and sit there and finally the Captains voice is heard over the
intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, ground control is reporting a
lightning strike near the Astrodome, thereby violating our takeoff
criteria. Additionally, radar is now reporting anvil clouds out near
downtown. We are scrubbing our flight. Thank you.”

Silly you say? Perhaps, but this is exactly the mentality of those
who run our space program! Where would the airlines be today if we
tried to apply the same skewed logic that we apply to space flight.
Airliners crash and people die. So too, do shuttles. But be that as it
may, we must face up to the fact that danger lies all around us.

Back in the day, we went to the moon and we knew we were going on to
Mars. That was forty years ago. If you were to ask me, are going back
to the moon. I’d say maybe. Remember that Orion was designed for a crew
of six and now we are talking four. We were to have habitats on the
moon as stepping stones to Mars, to learn to live and work in a hostile
environment far from home. Yet isn’t that what our first colonists did?
Well, scratch the habitat plan as well. Are we going to Mars? You bet,
with more rovers and robots, but people? Not in my lifetime and
probably not in yours as well.

We no longer have the national will, nor the courage to dream.

John Kennedy said:

“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the
first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern
invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation
does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space.
We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the
world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and
we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of
conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we
shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with
instruments of knowledge and understanding.”

He went on to say:

“Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this
Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our
leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security,
our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make
this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of
all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation

We would all do well to remember these words. For if we do not, I
respectfully submit that the next voice you hear from the surface of
the moon may well be speaking Chinese!

Space Inspires Everyone!

Last week had
been pretty ordinary for me. Steady at work, things getting back to
normal at home, after mum and dad were away on holiday, just another
quiet week. It’s also been frustrating one. The UK has had some stellar
(scuse the pun!) International Space Station passes this week and I
missed them because of 10/10 cloud over us.

That all changed Friday night. Friday night is pub night and me and
my folks retire to our local drinking hole for a few bevvies. It’s the
only time we really drink anything in a week and it’s our antidote to
the working week. Thanks to accurate times and bearings on
Heavens-Above[1] I had, a couple of days before, set an alarm on my
phone to remind me of an ISS pass at 23:14 on 10/07/2009. It was a good
high pass too, 55 degrees highest alt. The 5-mins alarm went off (a
little early for the actual pass) as we were leaving the pub, but as
every other night had been clouded over I didn’t think much of it until
I got outside. The sky was clear. I told mum and dad we had to be
somewhere dark and with a good view of the sky in 6 mins. As it happens
there’s a break between 2 streetlamps on the country lane where we walk
home where it is dark and surrounded by low-lying land. So we got there
about 23:14. Nothing. No ISS. Had I got my time wrong? Was I an hour
out? Suddenly mum hollers “There it is!” and sure enough, the bright,
fast moving jewel came into sight above the trees to the west. We stood
there in awe and watched as it passed over us, closely followed by
Progress 33 about a half minute behind. My folks have never seen an ISS
pass before, so it was a first for them. It’s only my second observed
pass (the first was accidental). It blew me away. Not only watching the
ISS pass over us stood there in the middle of a small country lane, but
also that my folks, who are both 60 years old, were actually inspired
and amazed by something they’ve never seen before, even after all these
years.

That alone was a really incredible experience. I love sharing my
new-found passion for space with others, but to be able to share
something like that with my folks was brilliant. But it didn’t stop
there. I was able to stand and point out some stars in the sumer sky
that mum and I are trying to learn. I was also able to point out
Jupiter, which is pretty much sitting right below the moon at the
moment.

Now that would have capped a very successful evening too. But I went
one better. I decided as it was clear and I had a good shot at the Moon
and Jupiter together that I’d take a couple of pictures. i did some of
the 2 together. I did some of the Moon, as I’ve not photographed it in
this phase and it was very bright and clear. Then I got the crazy idea
to point the camera at Jupiter. What I saw on the resultant photos blew
me away all over again. A clear shot, albeit pretty small, of Jupiter
and the 4 Galilean moons. That said I had to go out at 3am to catch it,
but boy was it worth it. Then sure enough the next morning I showed my
folks and *they* were blown away all over again too!

Jupiter with the Galilean Moons - from left to right Europa, Io, Ganymede and Calisto

Jupiter with the Galilean Moons – from left to right Europa, Io, Ganymede and Calisto

It just goes to show my folks were inspired and excited, and I was
too. It kinda helps that my folks are into space too, hell they were
who got me started, but even so, that’s one night. I’m not going to
forget anytime soon, for sure!

**UPDATE!**

While I was waiting for STS-127 to launch (it scrubbed, again) I got
a clear sky and a shot at ISS with my DSLR. I got a picture of our
beloved space station, and yet *again* blew myself away and my folks.
It was SOME weekend let me tell you!

ISS snapped on my Canon DSLR. Its just about discernible...

ISS snapped on my Canon DSLR. It’s just about discernible…

Feed a child’s mind!

When
pondering, yet again, the source of my interest in space and science, I
attribute a lot of it to the things I had to play with when I was a
child. I had microscopes, skeletons to put together,
a giant kid-sized world atlas, a phillip’s planisphere that showed me
the stars and constellations, moons, glow in-the dark solar systems,
the list goes on.  Who knew, thanks to Santa, that “Cosmos” would
become a little girl’s favorite movie?  I have my mom to thank for
noticing the things that put a twinkle in my eye, and of course I can’t
forget my dad, “James the Navigator!”

It’s so important to grab kids when they are young
and impressionable, and suck them in to the “vacuum of space,” pardon
the re-use of the clever expression!  How could these things not be
cool to a child? It is then that a little scientist or
astronomer is made.  Hopefully, any parent reading this already has
these things in mind, but the toys I remember were the ones that
fostered my imagination of the world beyond my eyes, and it so excited
me! This is a short post and not too thought-through, as I
am home from work late and tired, but I just wanted to share some more
thoughts and check in with the crew!

Feeling Involved

I had an experience the last week or so that once again made me glad I follow space on Twitter.

It all started with this photo[1] posted to Twitter via Discovery Channel blogs on June 12th by our fellow Space Tweep @astroengine. The photo showed a volcanic plume from Sarychev Peak in the Russian Kuril Islands on the Pacific Rim. An Astronaut on the International Space Station captured a stream of images taken in time-lapse of the eruption which was made into an animation, now available on YouTube[2], and the results are pretty incredible.

I have a Bachelors Degree with Honours in Geology (and yes I work in IT, isn’t the modern world silly). These sorts of volcanic eruption action sequences always interest me, and to see this one shot from ISS and the timelapse as they passed over the plume was amazing, awe inspiring, it just blew my mind.

Last week I saw an article, via a fellow Space Tweep (I can’t remeber who you were, sorry!), on Spaceweather.com[3] about the SO2 (sulphur dioxide) fallout from the eruption causing a sunset phenomenon known as a ‘lavender sunset’. The animated image showed  the sulphurous gasses swirling around the northern hemisphere across the globe. I thought I’d keep an eye out for anything unusual but thought little more of it.

That was until July 4th. I was looking out into the dusk from my window behind my desk and the light seemed slightly eerie. I decided to take a look and the sunset and evening sky to the north was spectacular, a collection of all sorts of shades of oranges, pinks, blues and purples. So, after a tip-off from @NewburyAS I grabbed a tripod and a camera and went and took some shots of it.

The best ones got posted to Flickr and I was informed by @Space_Jockey that one photo may actually be an example of the lavender sunset. The whole chain of events was powered by folks I knew on Twitter. Who’d have known a fusion of Geology and Astrophotography was even possible? It is when you know the people I know on Twitter, and they are all Space Tweeps!

Lavender Sunset 4+5/07/2009

[1] http://blogs.discovery.com/earth/2009/06/russian-volcano-shocks-the-world.html

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LESBxErmZ-U

[3] http://spaceweather.com/archive.php?view=1&day=04&month=07&year=2009 third story down

Blog Changes Coming!

Hello everyone
and thanks for all of your fantastic contributions to the blog. I
wanted to let you all know that there are some exciting changes in the
works. I started this blog as a free WordPress blog only a couple of
weeks ago, never thinking that it would be so well received.

Due to the tremendous response, there is a need to move the blog to
our own hosted space. This will allow us to have more authors- the
current blog is limited in the number that can contribute and we are
rapidly approaching the limit. It will also give us more flexibility to
incorporate new features and to automate processes like adding names to
the list of Space Tweeps.

Construction of the blog’s new home is underway by a very talented
society member (not me!) and when the time comes we will make the
transition as seamless as possible. All content will be exported to the
new blog. So, please keep up the great writing and look for some real
improvements in the not-so-distant future.