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Monthly archive May, 2010

Trivia Stars Contest

In case you didn’t know, the first anniversary of The Space Tweep Society is coming up very soon. To celebrate we’re having a “Twelebration” on May 14th, but we know that not everyone can be there. As mentioned in my last post, there are some fun things planned for those who can’t attend the event in person. This contest is for you!

Trivia Stars Contest- click to enter

Note: This is for the virtual attendees only. Those who attend the Twelebration event at Fishlips are not eligible.

This is a 10 question, astronomy and spaceflight themed quiz. The questions are such that learning is encouraged in the process. Yes, that is correct, some learning and research may be required. You are allowed to take it only once per twitter username and your results will be recorded at the end. Remember, this is not only a quiz, but also a contest. 

After the contest is closed Thursday at noon EDT (16:00 GMT) on May 13, 2010, the tweeps with the highest scores will be selected for prizes. In the event of a tie, tweeps with the highest scores will be entered into a drawing where the winners will be selected at random. Winners will be tweeted from the anniversary event at Fishlips. Look for a tweet from @spacetweeps announcing the winners. Good luck and have fun!

Let’s chill out

We can not deny it, these are exciting times!

As a NASA and space fan since I was a little kid, I still remember
how difficult it was for me to get information about the Space Program.
I even went to the US Embassy in Buenos Aires once, asking for the NASA
address (yes, the physical one). My mom came with me of course. “I need
the NASA address so I can write a letter to them,” I said at the reception desk,
with security guards looking at me. I wanted pictures, posters,
astronaut autographs, everything. They gave me the address and a
couple of official NASA pictures of Shuttle Columbia as well. Wow…just
imagine my face on my way out of the Embassy…I was in orbit,
experiencing free fall.

I followed the Shuttle Program over the years on TV, radio,
newspapers, checking for every mission, if crews were okay, if X or Y
satellite was successfully deployed or if Galileo was finally on its
route to Jupiter. I was also reading books, lots of them, and from time
to time receiving an envelope from NASA in the mail with pics,
posters, press kits…stuff that I still keep to these days.

Time flies. I live in Miami now thanks to both my desire of coming
to the US and my career. The Internet appeared in the middle and
changed the way we live and communicate to each other, family, brands,
and of course, NASA. I would have never imagined that I could follow
astronauts from orbit and that they could actually answer me. That I
would check my mobile phone and see a picture taken from the ISS Cupola
two hours ago? Or that I could have new JPL pictures from the surface
of Mars in my Flickr stream. Think about it…I’m just trying to digest
what 5-10 years ago was unthinkable.

Today we can have an open discussion about our Space Program and its
future like never before, and it’s great. I’ve been reading most of the
posts, tweets, press articles and comments about it. “No Shuttle
flights?” “open it to commercial companies?”  “We are losing the race
with China and India!” “the end of NASA,” “unthinkable…”

Well, we should think twice…

Lets stop the ball for a little while and look at the horizon. We need to.

NASA’s glory days will never go away, they are with us all the time,
in almost everything we do, and thanks to NASA that today we can
have the very first chance to become a space faring nation, for real.

If we really want to develop space industry we need to open it to
the commercial sector, at least for going to LEO first; I don’t see any
other way. If not, what? Do we keep asking Congress for more peanuts
every year? 0.X% something of the total budget? Are we going to keep
waiting for them to realize how important space development and
exploration is? That will never happen and even less in this economical
environment (there will be always an excuse). Oh, and that’s the same
congress now some people are asking to “defend” NASA and Constellation?
They will defend their own interests and the ones of the states they
represent, not NASA and the Space Program in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the Shuttle flying and
flying…but if keeping it flying will prevent us to send, as Miles
O’Brien so clearly stated in front of Congress, 500 people per month to space instead of 7, well, we need to make a choice. The choice was made
and we need to stick to it. That this decision brings with it a lot of
uncertainties and changes to the NASA family, yes, of course. I had the
privilege to meet some of them thanks to Twitter and this Society, and
I cannot find people more dedicated and passionate about their jobs.
That’s why I’m so positive than better opportunities will come along
for most of them.

Regarding China and the “race” to the moon…what race? I don’t see any race here. And if China wants to send humans to the Moon then, well good
for them. For the moment, please allow them to keep celebrating their
“Ed White” moment, something the US did 50 years ago. Oh, by the
way..how many probes did they send to space? Rovers on Mars? How many
satellites? Orbiting telescopes? Probes getting out of the solar
system? On their way to Pluto? Etc, etc, etc… again, what race?

The world is very different now; the ISS is orbiting and living
proof of that and the only race here should be between companies to see
who’s the first one to send cargo to it, humans to LEO, or even go to
the Moon. And in terms of exploration beyond LEO, I don’t think we need
a specific destination. Forty years ago we were kind of “forced” to go to
the Moon first; there was no option. The circumstances were very different, and it made sense in that moment. The fact that today we are
discussing which place we should go first is fascinating.

So instead of concerning ourselves with China or India and their baby space
steps, let’s think big here about the great opportunity we all have in
front of us. I’m not even a US citizen and I feel excited about this
program and what it could bring to all of us.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m 41, and when I grow up I want to be an astronaut. Just thinking loud….

A Letter to the Hubble Telescope

A Letter to the Hubble Telescope

Hello, Hubble. You don’t know me, I suppose. I’m one of those people here on Earth that likes technology and space. I guess you can call me a geek. You are younger than me in human years, although in technology years you’re much older and accomplished.

Hubble, you are possibly the most impressive piece of technology that looks outwards to space in peace. We, the human race, have built you and sent you to the sky at a time of hope – the Cold War just ended and the space shuttle started flying again after the Challenger accident, which grounded you too. Finally, after four years of waiting, ready to go, on Earth, waiting to fulfill your destiny as humanity’s big eye in the sky, you got your chance and went up there to start looking.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula

In the beginning, you had some infancy problems. You needed glasses to fix your vision and your communication skills weren’t that great. But as time passed, you got good care from friends that came to visit you 5 times and brought you new tools and improvements. Those fixes and improvements helped you help us see the universe in amazing new ways.




I frequently get asked what I think about the direction NASA is taking. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t post it at the time. I’m not really sure why. This post does not outline my personal take on what we should be doing with our space program; it just provides a little bit of perspective on things from where I sit. 

Written on April 20th: 

After the president’s visit to Kennedy Space Center last week where he laid out the emerging plan for NASA to go forward, I’ve noticed a fair amount of negativity in the space community. Personally, I have high hopes for our nation’s future in space. It isn’t because anything particularly revolutionary was disclosed at Obama’s Space Summit. My perspective has just changed gradually over the past year or so, and a lot of that I owe to my interactions on Twitter. I used to look at space exploration very narrowly. Like this is the way we go to space, and this is the right way and the only way. And this is how it has to be (I’m exaggerating, but just go with it). I looked at the changes to the program more in terms of how they affected me and my community.

Now, after quite some time on Twitter, I have much greater knowledge of commercial space operations, robotic missions, and international perspectives. Because of this I am able to take myself out of the equation and look at the plan more optimistically. It has made me start to challenge the traditional thinking that is ingrained in us about NASA’s role and see more of a big picture view. 

Seeing Discovery land today reminded me how impressive the shuttle is as a launch vehicle, and how sad I’ll be to see the program end. That being said, if we waited another five years, ten years, or even more to retire it, would it be any easier? For me, the answer is no. The shuttle is an icon, a symbol of pride, and a treasure. It is going to be hard to see it go no matter when it happens. And there is no denying that as time goes on it would become more difficult to maintain due to issues like aging hardware and availability of spares. So, while I might not be ready for shuttle to end, I probably won’t ever be, in the same way I would never be ready for a loved one to die. It will be a time to grieve and then move on. 

I have heard the argument that it would be easier to lay shuttle to rest if we had something better coming along. Ares-1 might have filled that role, but there were funding issues. So now we’re trying something different, with a greater emphasis on commercial spaceflight roles. Our destinations are different, and we aren’t quite sure what kind of vehicle we will be using to get to them. But we’re going SOMEWHERE. We have a commitment to develop a heavy-lift vehicle. These are steps in the right direction, yet they don’t seem to have been met with much optimism. Of course, people have every right to feel the way they do and to question the decisions. Personally, I’m choosing not to. I just don’t see the point. 

Regardless of what I think is the the right path to take, I’m not the one who gets to make that decision. Rather than expend energy fighting it or fretting over it, I’m going to accept the new plan for what it is and be hopeful. I’m going to look around for new opportunities arising from it where I can make a difference and seize them, or create my own. I’m going to savor everything about the last few shuttle missions, and remember the program fondly. 

Overall I see that there is potentially a bright future out there for NASA and space exploration, it just looks different than what most of us expected. A lot different. If we can approach the new plan with open minds, accept that there are other valid ways of doing things and embrace them, we can make the most of the situation. If, instead, we consider it a tremendous loss and spend our time wallowing in it, then it will most likely manifest as one. For me, it was a simple choice.

That Moment When We Make Contact

Of course, there is life throughout the universe.  Life, though, as we already know takes myriad forms.  We also know that some, if not all, of those forms are evolutionary stepping stones.  We could even be evolutionary stepping stones. I hope we are.

It could happen in our lifetime or later in the lifetime of future generations. Regardless, when we make that first contact it may be less than momentous. It could even be somewhat disappointing.  There we are on a nearby moon of either Saturn or Jupiter, and there before us is a squiggly life-form that took an astrobiologist to identify.  WHAT? A moon of either Jupiter or Saturn?  Is that all we have done?

Don’t despair.It will be in our own solar system where we first meet up with ET life. Remember, extra-terrestrial means just that; beyond Earth. It will be many, many future generations before we make contact with life on some distant exoplanet.  When that happens, what we experience and accomplish locally will prepare us to be ready for exo-life out there.

Here is the important consideration.  Although I am personally certain that there are, somewhere in this vast universe, sentient beings as advanced or more so than us;  we may never ever meet.  What we may meet are life-forms of a lower order than us, maybe somewhere between unicellular life and pre-Homo sapien.  In these instances we will be the all powerful, all knowing life-form.  Hopefully, we will have acquired both the curiosity and the gentleness that insures that we do everything we can to study and interact with those life-forms in a most considerate and careful manner.

With all due honor and courtesy to Dr. Stephen Hawking, this is not scifi. We are not going to be fighting off an onslaught of ravenous creatures determined to either devour or, like the Borg, subsume us.  At the same time, we should have learned by now that most life-forms, except Homo sapiens are defensive, territorial, hungry, and curious, but most likely not malicious.  We must not duplicate the acts of Columbus or the Conquistadors of Spain who immediately sought to dominate and control their new environment.  As our own astronauts have proclaimed, we must go and arrive in peace.

Now, I know we all want to look for life on Mars, but as I have stated before, what we will do there is find out what happened on Mars that cost it its life.  So we should learn our new space exploratory skills by first returning to our Moon and creating a fully efficient and sufficient Moon Base.  This will prepare us for all our future exploratory missions, while also keeping us in better contact with home.  Yes, we too, just like ET, will want to call home regularly.  So, are we up to it?  Can we and space scientists across the globe begin to act in concert to start serious, long-term exploration that are totally independent of the wiley whims of politicians?  If the answer is yes, then we don’t wait. We start now.

Twitter and Facebook, give us the links to the entire world. Lets start the call.  Maybe we start by calling for a design competition for an International Space Exploration flag. That’s right, no single nation plants its flag on any of our solar system neighbors.  Only a flag representing the citizens of Earth should fly anywhere in our solar system and beyond.

I’m ready, are you? Quo Vadis!

Ultralight Spaceflight: Why

A post on the “whys” of our subject in @ULSF.  

The Address of a Self-Important World – Humanity Needs a Reality Check

Photo caption: Earth as seen by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it flew by our planet on August 2 2005.

Don’t let your seemingly vast experience as an inhabitant of this world fool you. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of self-importance. Let me explain.

You likely live in a house or apartment on a street, and in a community that’s part of some town, maybe even some major urban area. Your community is likely part of a much larger state or province of one of the nations of Earth–which are themselves nothing more than imaginary constructs of human society. Your country is also likely assigned to one of the continental masses whose sum total of land area is just 29% of the planet’s surface. You are small and the Earth is seemingly vast, as if we humans to Earth are just so many micro-organisms scurrying about each day (each rotation of Earth), and following rules of social engagement that often defy logic.

It’s a story that at a most fundamental level defines your address. It may be all the address you need to ship a package to your friend across the ocean. But it won’t cut it with the intergalactic post office. As I said, don’t let your experience and perception fool you. It’s the rest of the address of which most Earthlings are unaware. For so many reasons it’s also the most important part of the address.

Our seemingly vast Earth is but a tiny planet. (By comparison, over 1,000 Earths fit inside Jupiter.) Earth is one of eight planets orbiting the Sun–a tiny star by star standards–as part of a planetary System called the Solar System. The Sun resides in the Solar Neighborhood of stars, a small smattering of stars found in the Orion Spur–a nondescript little corner of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is a vast city of stars, with enough stars to give 50 to every human on Earth. Right now, you, your family, and the rest of your race are orbiting just one of those stars.

The Milky Way is one of two large galaxies in the Local Group of 25-30 galaxies. The other large one, Andromeda, is on a collision course with ours. And the cosmic debris-field that is the Local Group of galaxies resides not too far cosmically speaking from the Virgo Cluster of 1,300 to 2,000 galaxies. The Local Group and Virgo Cluster are just two of the 100 to 200 or so groups and clusters of galaxies making up the Local Supercluster of more than 50,000 galaxies. The Local Supercluster–a small supercluster–is one of MILLIONS of superclusters that are woven together to form the largest structures ever seen–Galactic Filaments. And all this comprises the Observable Universe–what we believe is a remarkably insignificant portion of the Universe that nature, by law, allows us to see. Beyond what is observable, the Universe may truly be infinite.

So using myself to summarize–

I live in a house on a street in a town in the State of Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, in the USA, in North America, on Earth, in the Solar System, in the Solar Neighborhood, in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Local Group of Galaxies, near the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, in the Local Supercluster of galaxies in the tiny corner of the Universe we like to call the Observable Universe.

That is our address. It makes the often human perception of our reality as the center of cosmic activity …. just laughable. You always know the most about your own neighborhood. But that also leads you to conclude your neighborhood is somehow important. In truth, it is only important because YOU live there. And YOU obviously think YOU are important. So please think about this … for vast numbers of humans, our perception, our daily life, is driven by self-importance, a remarkable lack of humility, ignorance of–even disinterest in–a greater context of existence which our machines of exploration have brought into crisp focus, and for many, a sense that embracing God is the righteous and comforting thing to do–but does not require taking time to look at the majesty beyond Earth. And while we burn precious, non-renewable calories watching “reality” television, following the lives of the rich and famous, acquiring lots of things, deciding which of us is better or more deserving or more moral, and buying into the distorted views of what our societies have our children embrace as heroes and role models, our world–the spaceship that affords us the view of majesty–is coming under attack.

The microbes called human kill one another because each group, each (bacterial) culture, thinks they are more important than the other. It is self-importance taken to the extreme. Their self-serving technology is modifying the environment of the planet, not only threatening their existence for generations to come (how do they do that to their children?), but puts at grave risk countless species that don’t have the gift of recognizing the majesty of the cosmos. Isn’t it ironic that the only species on Earth that does possess the gifts of intelligence and tool-making, does not collectively care about its world, and collectively squanders these gifts?

So watch the movie that goes with the image above, taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it flew by in 2005. Watch as the Earth recedes into the cold, black void of space. Imagine the nearly 7 billion humans scurrying around on its surface. How many of them recognize that the remarkable spaceship they are on is NOT owned by them? It never was. But because of their technology, they are now, by natural decree, stewards of this spaceship for good or ill. Do they understand their responsibilities to the spaceship, to ALL its occupants, and to themselves? For if this tiny blue world is laid to waste, the geologic Age of Self-Importance will be over, the rest of the Universe will surely not care … and I fear God will not come to the rescue.

A penny for your thoughts …..

This essay is cross-posted at Blog on the Universe. You’re invited to visit a recommended reading list of Jeff’s essays at Blog on the Universe, a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

Photo and movie credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. For more information about the photo and movie visit the MESSENGER web site.

Happy 1st birfday Space Tweep Society! – LOLspace

Happy 1st anniversary Space Tweep Society!

join spacetweeps, she sez - u'll get da bird, she sez

New to LOLspace? See: LOLspace, the space LOLcats.

Japanese Spacecraft to Study Venus Atmosphere

A Japanese space observatory will
depart Earth this month bound for Venus as it begins a multi-year
mission to study the planet’s mysterious atmosphere.

Venusian atmosphere as a whole is one of the great mysteries in our
solar system — from it’s make up and fast rotating upper atmosphere to
why it differs so much from it’s twin planet, Earth.

of the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) H-2A-200 rocket with
the Venus Climate Orbiter “Akatsuki” spacecraft is scheduled for May 17
at 5:44:14 pm EDT (2144 GMT), or 6:44 am local time on May 19, from the
Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

Akatsuki observatory, also known as PLANET-C, will spend nearly five
years investigating the make-up of Venus’ high carbon dioxide
atmosphere with high resolution mapping.

The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Venus this November.

is the world’s first planetary probe that deserves to be called a
meteorological satellite,” JAXA project scientist Dr. Takeshi Imamura
explained. “The unique feature of this mission is that it will map the
movement of the Venusian atmosphere in three dimensions, by taking
continuous images of a broad swath all at once, using different
wavelengths ranging from infrared to ultraviolet.”

planet’s atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide creates surface temperatures
which average 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Venus’ heavy atmosphere, which
includes nearly 4% nitrogen, is ninety-two times heavier than that here
on Earth.

The box-shaped spacecraft will orbit the planet once every 30 hours as it flies an elliptical orbit of 186 x 49,710 miles above.

Earth’s sister planet orbits the Sun from a mean distance of 67 million miles, and has no natural satellites of it’s own.

Akatsuki will carry several science instruments and cameras, including an ultraviolet imager and a Longwave infrared camera.

is equipped with five cameras,” Imamura explained in a recent
interview. “One of them, a near-infrared camera, will be able to peer
through the thick clouds of sulfuric acid and observe the surface of
Venus, which is normally completely obscured by these clouds. In
addition to studying meteorological phenomena, we might be able to see
whether Venus has any active volcanoes.”

Venus does have over 160 volcanoes which have added a vast amount of sulfuric acid to the planet’s atmosphere.

secondary payload which will become a test bed for future solar sail
spacecrafts will accompany the planetary probe as they leave earth

A small
Japanese solar power sail experiment known as IKAROS (Interplanetary
Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) will depart Earth and
speed toward Venus as well.

circular core will begin moving out into outer space and begin to
rotate at 20 rotations per minute. Then two weeks later, it will deploy
a 20-meter (66 feet) diagonal square solar array blanket which will
surround the rotating core.

The solar sail is only .0075 mm or .0003 of an inch thick, according to JAXA.

solar array blanket is supported by four masts, and it will be these
masts which will support the very thin polyimide solar cells.

IKAROS demonstration will pave the way for a larger platform which will
span 50 meters (164 feet) across as JAXA launches a solar sail probe
toward Jupiter late this year.

 Japan's Venus spacecraft will arrive this November in it's orbit.

Contest: Make your own Meco

For the Space Tweep Society’s upcoming first anniversary “twelebration” we’ve got lots of great prizes from our four sponsors to give out. @thinkgeek, @LandsEnd4Biz, @ProachModels, and @CollectSpace have hooked us up with awesome stuff and here’s how you can get your hands on some of it. 

We will be having a series of contests. This one requires advance planning, so we are announcing it now, but there will be several contests that will only be revealed at the event. Any tweeps may enter the Make your own Meco contest. There will be two groups separately judged, one in-person for those attending the event at Fishlips, the other online, for tweeps who cannot be there. 

If you are not already aware, Meco is the name of the Space Tweep Society’s adorable little birdonaut mascot. He was named after the acronym MECO, which stands for Main Engine Cut Off, a critical point in rocket ascent. The idea is, as the name of the contest suggests, to make your own Meco. If you are thinking, “but I don’t sew” – don’t fret. You can make Meco out of nearly anything, toothpicks, legos, wax, aluminum, beads, macaroni, whatever. Entries must be fabricated, crafted, assembled, decorated, etc. by the entrant. In other words, you (and only you) must create your own entry. There are no provisions for team entries, only individuals this time around. The exception to this rule is that you may have children 12 and under help you. 

Here’s the needle felted Meco I made this weekend, for an example: 

For the in-person part of the contest, the only limitations are that Meco should be somewhat three dimensional, he should be able to fit inside a box measuring one cubic foot (i.e. 12 inches on all sides), and no pyrotechnics, hypergols, ordnance, razor blades, weapons, or hazardous materials should be used. Also keep in mind that you will have to bring your entry with you, so that may mean traveling by air with it. Construct it accordingly. 

To enter in-person, bring your entry with you to Fishlips for the anniversary event. Entries must be available for photographs, and participants agree to having photos of their Mecos posted publicly on our website. Entries remain the property of the submitter after the contest. Yes, you keep your own creations! 

For the online portion of the contest, the rules are essentially the same except there are no size or hazardous material restrictions (please don’t do anything dangerous, though). Instead of submitting a physical object, to enter online you will email good quality, unaltered photos of the Meco you create to SpaceTweepSociety at gmail dot com, by noon EDT (16:00 GMT) on May 12, 2010. You will receive a confirmation email when your entry is received. 

There is no fee to enter the contest, either the in-person or online. Prizes will be awarded to the following: most creative, most interesting use of materials, best craftsmanship, funniest, and some other areas that will be announced at the event. Prizes for the online competition will consist of gift certificates which will be emailed to the winners. Gift certificates are good for international purchases, so no one is excluded. Judging will be conducted by a diverse panel of your Tweep peers. 

I realize that there is not much time before the deadline to work on these entries. That is intentional. This is supposed to be a fast, enjoyable project, rather than something that is labored over for weeks. Have fun with it! I can’t wait to see all the Mecos!

Questions? Ask here in the comments, or tweet at @flyingjenny for a quicker response.

Space Tweep Society 1st Anniversary Twelebration!

The first anniversary of The Space Tweep Society is coming up very soon.  To celebrate, a little early, @flyingjenny and I have been planning a stellar party for all the tweeps at the STS-132 launch and in the area.  For those not able to be at the launch, DON’T WORRY! We have fun for you too – details to come!

Where: FishLips

When: Friday, May 14th 6:30pm – ???

Map: http://www.fishlipswaterfront.com/directions.php

For those that are ready for a fun time, join us after the STS-132 launch at 6:30pm.  There is no cover fee to get into the event and appetizers (finger food) will be provided.  There will also be a special space-themed drink menu!  Ever wanted to try some Rocket Fuel? What about Meco’s Revenge? We’ve got some drinks that will help get you into orbit!  You are responsible for your own drinks and any additional food you order.

In addition to being able to hang out with fellow tweeps, this twelebration has some goodies too!  There are going to be prizes from our sponsors – ThinkGeek, Lands End, CollectSpace, and Proach Models.  Change in plans: Prizes will be awarded as contest prizes. Contests to be announced! Watch this site and @spacetweeps for contest information.

Remember, for those tweeps that can’t be at the event, we are going to have an interactive event for you too!  Details are on the way!

We have listed the event on Plancast as well, so you can see many of the tweeps who are coming to the event. Note: you do not have to sign up on Plancast in order to come to the party; it is strictly voluntary.

If you have questions, feel free to ask @flyingjenny or @astrogerly.  Hope to see everyone there – it’s going to be stellar!