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AstronautiCON IV: meet the ForumAstronautico.it space community

AstronautiCON IV will take place from November 20 to 22, 2009 in Lecco, on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy. NASA astronaut Michael Fincke will be the guest of honor. AstronautiCON IV is the 4th annual convention of the Italian online space forum ForumAstronautico.it (@fait).

ForumAstronautico.it is the largest and most active online community of Italian space enthusiasts. It was founded in 2005 by Marco Zambianchi (@marcozambi) and currently has over 900 members. We have been meeting at AstronautiCON since 2006. Previous AstronautiCONs had some well known space professionals as guests of honor, like former ESA astronaut Umberto Guidoni in person and MER rover driver Paolo Bellutta via teleconference. Besides having the right stuff (he is an active astronaut, has been an ISS commander and did a Star Trek cameo), we will be happy to have Fincke for another reason. On March 27, 2009, he did an ARISS radio contact with a school near Lecco, and he will be able to meet the students he talked to.

There is another reason why AstronautiCON is interesting: the ForumAstronautico.it members, who are an active and lively online community and give talks at the event. Our members span all levels of interest and involvement in space, from school kids and space geeks to professionals such as Paolo Bellutta and others who work in the aerospace industry.

In 2007, a forum member who later had a significant space-related career shift attended AstronautiCON. This time she won’t be able to drop by, but we will gladly forgive her.

Update: the official AstronautiCON IV Twitter hashtag is #Acon4

Happy birfday Jenny – LOLspace

Today is @flyingjenny‘s birthday. I celebrate it with a LOLspace, wish her all my best and thank her for her thrust — no pun intended — for the Space Tweep Society.

happy birfday jenny, vet sez engin nozzles r fur u

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

Space 3D, a new space anaglyphs blog

In October 2009, Italian amateur astronomer and space anthusiast Roberto Beltramini started Space 3D, a blog where he posts his space-related anaglyphs and discusses how to create them. You need red and cyan glasses to view the 3D images. Roberto writes in Italian, but the blog includes a handy page translation widget that supports English and all other Google Translator languages.

I knew Roberto as an active contributor to Forumastronautico.it, an Italian online community of space enthusiasts. I later found that he is also a prolific and expert creator of space anaglyphs, which he started collecting on a web site.

I was hooked. And I was probably not alone. In October 2009, BBC Sky at Night Magazine published Space 3D Collector’s Edition, a 100 pages special issue packed with stunning astronomy and space anaglyphs. Section “MAN IN SPACE” includes 20 pages with his best anaglyphs.

In the Space 3D blog, Roberto shares his new anaglyphs. Some of the images are fresh from current space missions, like one of Ares I-X on the launch pad.

STS-120, my first space launch

Crowd viewing the STS-120 launch at the KSC VIP siteTwo years ago today, on October 23, 2007, I earned my space enthusiast wings: I viewed the launch of the STS-120 Shuttle mission at Kennedy Space Center.

It all started in late July when ESA astronaut and STS-120 crew member Paolo Nespoli, of Italian nationality, invited some friends and me to view his launch at KSC. We had met him in previous years, when he took part to outreach events at the planetarium of Milan, the largest in Italy, for which we work. He was also going to fly a small flag with our planetarium logo onboard Discovery (item 70 in the STS-120 Official Flight Kit Manifest).

When Nespoli invited us, we carefully and thoroughly evaluated our schedules, considered all issues, thought “yeah, after all, somebody has got to do it, why not?”, and finally accepted. The whole process took approximately 0.0012 seconds, possibly less.

As Nespoli’s guests, we took part to ESA’s official events together with his family and friends such as a KSC tour, briefings and dinners. I kept reading on license plates that Florida is the sunshine state, but the sky told a different, rainy story up to the day before launch. And a friend’s experiences reminded something important about Shuttle launch schedules: he tried to view several launches at KSC over a period of a dozen years, but was never
successful due to scrubs.

This was our first launch, and it didn’t disappoint. Florida turned out to indeed be the sunshine state.

Launch day was awesome, from both a weather and an emotional point of view. We viewed the launch from the Banana Creek VIP site next to the Saturn V Center. Sitting behind me on the viewing stands there was a retired Grumman employee who worked on the Apollo LM. A NASA photographer caught me in awe in the image above (I’m the one at right), which is a small portion of a larger photo (original NASA story).

The launch was a rich sensory and emotional experience. Pictures and videos are just not enough, you have to be there.

What surprised me most is what happened at launch and later. As a space enthusiast, you are familiar with the typical succession of scene cuts of Shuttle launches seen on NASA TV. But when you are there, you have to be your own director and quickly — very quickly — learn to use your eyes to view a completely new scene with a much wider field of view and rich, vivid stimuli.

My trip to Florida was made even more unforgettable by other experiences. A group of friends and fellow members of Forumastonautico.it, the largest Italian online space community, had independently organized a trip to KSC for the launch (they got an additional treat, a Delta II launch on October 18, 2007). We had a really great time together.

With the Forumastronautico.it friends we had dinner with Damaris Sarria, a young and enthusiastic engineer who works at KSC and maintains the blog How I Am Becoming An Astronaut. We had interviewed her for AstronautiCAST, Forumastronautico.it’s podcast (original interview in English, MP3 file).

I recently found that space tweep @absolutspacegrl was on console at MCC in Houston for STS-120. And Nespoli’s crew member Scott Parazynski even
joined Twitter as @SPOTScott. I guess @flyingjenny lubed and tuned Discovery’s thrusters for STS-120. Were you also involved in STS-120? Did you view the launch at KSC? Let me know in the comments.

After STS-120, Nespoli was assigned to the Expedition 26/27 crew currently scheduled for launch in November 2010 onboard a Soyuz from Baikonur.
Hmmm… how cool is that (no pun intended)?

What about Apollo astronauts as honorary CAPCOMs for the first return to the Moon mission?

Will future US space efforts involve a manned lunar program? If so, I hope that it will have its first flight when most Apollo astronauts are still alive. This would make it possible to do something of high symbolic value to pass the torch between generations of space explorers: having Apollo astronauts serve as “honorary CAPCOMs.”

Apollo astronauts might sit at the CAPCOM console and notify the first lunar return crew GO/NO GO decisions for certain mission maneuvers or events. It would be great to have Mike Collins, for example, give the first lunar crew a GO for translunar injection. Or let Charlie Duke give a GO for powered descent.

Back to the future. Just my 0.02 dreams.

U mean LCROSS… – LOLspace

In this classic LOLspace, someone is eagerly waiting for the LCROSS impact, but perhaps has incorrect expectations.

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

Mobile-friendly space sites and applications: an unexplored world?

Many space tweeps use smartphones or mobile devices to keep in touch via Twitter with fellow enthusiasts, or get the latest news on their favorite missions. I explained here, for example, how to view NASA TV images with a mobile phone. Given the iPhone success and increased mobile use of popular sites such as Facebook , this trend is not limited to space tweeps. Yet there are very few mobile-friendly sites or smartphone applications devoted to space.

As an Android user, I check what’s up with Google Sky Map. iPhone friends get basic mission status information with MissionClock. We can all get space news from SpaceRef Mobile. But, apparently, that’s about it. There are just a handful of space applications or mobile optimized sites. Mobile web
browsers are actually good enough to display reasonably well some desktop sites like Heavens Above or the JPL Space Simulator (a sample image generated with JPL Space simulator on my Android phone and posted to Twitpic via Twitter).

Still, the mobile space world is still mostly empty — no pun intended. As far as I know, no space agency provides a mobile version of its main site. These may be among the reasons why The Launch Pad, the Google Lunar X PRIZE blog, posted a call for ideas for a space-related smartphone application.

What is your experience? As a space geek, can you share links to your favorite smartphone applications or mobile-optimized sites? You are encouraged to leave comments. I’d like this post to collect additional information from space tweeps.

An astronaut is born, and is wearing a dream

In June 2009 I told on the Google Lunar X PRIZE blog how my friend Samantha Cristoforetti was selected in May 2009 to become a new ESA astronaut. On September 1, 2009 she reported to ESA for beginning basic training.

Now I have just run across this photo posted to Twitter by space tweep @travelholic. It shows Samantha distributing autographed photos at an ESA public outreach event (see the full size version). When I saw her uniform and the patches on it, I fell over my chair — again — with excitement. I personally find this photo moving, and wanted to share it with fellow space tweeps.

UK space enthusiasts should also have a look at this photo. I hope they will feel equally moved by the same uniform and patches worn by the man sitting next to Samantha: Timothy Peake.

Spacesuit helmet – LOLspace

Space is a harsh environment requiring appropriate protection, as this goofy kitten sort of understands.

spacesuit helmet

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

How to view live still NASA TV images on your mobile phone

You are starved for current NASA TVimages of your favorite space mission, and are on the road with no TV set or Internet access handy, but you have a mobile phone with a data plan. What can you do? Bookmark these links:

NASA TV latest still (small)

NASA TV latest still (medium)


NASA TV latest still (large)

The NASA – KSC Video Feeds web page provides automatically updated still images of live TV streams and cameras from various sources such as NASA TV, the KSC Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF), Shuttle launch complex LC-39A, and more. Some space-related web sites embed these images in their layouts. The above URLs directly link to NASA TV stills of the NASA Public channel in 3 different sizes:

NASA TV small: 147×99 pixels (5 KB)
NASA TV medium: 240×163 pixels (10 KB)
NASA TV large: 704×480 pixels (30 KB)

When you need the latest NASA TV still, just visit with your mobile browser the one that best matches your display size, connection speed and data plan. To get a later still, run the browser’s reload command. The minimum refresh time of the NASA – KSC Video Feeds page is 45 seconds, so it is not necessary to reload more frequently than once every 1 minute or so. This should work on most smartphones, mobile phones or PDAs.

You may also save the NASA TV images or even post them to Twitter via Twitpic. Note that, when provided with a direct link to a JPG image, some browsers try to download the file rather than displaying it.

You can get stills from more video feeds by checking the corresponding channel number on the KSC site. The general URL format is:


To get the Shuttle LC-39A image on channel number 4 at medium size, for example, visit this URL:


This is not the real thing and you don’t get audio, but it is a bandwidth-savvy way of accessing NASA TV and other useful space video streams. When you are on the go, this may be enough to complement the rich information and news on space events from Twitter and provide enough context.

Are there other ways of displaying NASA TV images on mobile phones or smartphones? What are your favorite tips?

Can i has doggy bag? – LOLspace

By popular demand (okay, just one prominent space tweep solicited this), here is a LOLspace featuring a dog. LOLspace may indeed also show dogs or other pets.

can i has doggy bag? needs space nom fur mah trip to space stashun

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

International Space Station science results during the assembly years 2000-2008

Did you expect CERN’s new LHC particle accelerator to produce breakthrough science while it was being built? Probably not, but many question the usefulness or effectiveness of the International Space Station for scientific research based on what it could accomplish during its assembly and checkout phase.

From what I hear about this issue, I often get the impression that not much is known on what was done on ISS and what its operational constraints were in its early years. In mid 2009 NASA finally published a report that provides some basic facts and data on the research activities and science output of ISS: International Space Station Science Research Accomplishments During the Assembly Years: An Analysis of Results from 2000-2008.

Highly recommended.