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Education & Public Outreach

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

“Conquering fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done in a lot of different places.

– Scott Carpenter, May 1st 1925 – October 10, 2013-

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com


One of only two remaining Mercury Program Astronauts from the 60’s, Scott Carpenter, sadly passed beyond the veil on Thursday October 10th 2013 following a stroke in September. He was 88 years of age. Carpenter was one of the earliest pioneers in the infancy of the Space Age. He was the 2nd American to cross the threshold into orbital space on his MA-7 “Aurora 7” spaceflight and the 6th man overall.  He also held the unique distinction of being not only an astronaut but an aquanaut following his NASA career in the US Navy’s various Sea Lab projects.

For each last step, there is a first step. Born in Boulder, Colorado, USA on May 1st 1925, Malcolm Scott Carpenter was impressed by planes at the age of 5 when his father took him to his first airshow. His love of flight grew as he continued to build and fly model balsa wood plane kits as a boy. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado, before entering flight school with the US Navy at Pensacola Florida and Corpus Christi Texas. After the Korean War where he flew aerial anti-submarine surveillance and patrols, Carpenter enrolled at Patuxent River’s Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Following this, he was assigned as an Air Intelligence Officer on the USS Hornet. During this time he received special orders to report to Washington DC for an unnamed meeting. That meeting led to his selection in Project Mercury on April 9, 1959, which was instituted as the newly formed NASA’s first step to catch up to the Soviets who had taken an early lead in the rapidly escalating Space Race.

What followed is fabled history. The exhaustive raft of testing of 110 candidates down to what are now known as the “Original Seven” and Carpenter formed part of that elite fraternity of Mercury Astronauts. Their every move was recorded and lauded by the public at large as the nascent American Space Program took its initial steps forward. Due to his communications and navigation experience Carpenter was back-up on his good friend John Glenn’s orbital flight. Upon launch, as Glenn cleared the tower, Carpenter’s words of “Godspeed John Glenn” were recorded and have echoed through the years of spaceflight history. Carpenter repeated this goodwill message when Glenn went into orbit again aboard the Shuttle in 1998.

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald "Deke" K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Gordon Cooper. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald “Deke” K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s own flight dubbed “Aurora 7” launched and completed 3 orbits of the Earth. His mission; to prove a human could work in space. This was an important link in the chain of events which ultimately resulted in a manned landing on the moon just 7 short years later. For the first time he demonstrated humans could perform tasks, experiments, communications, navigation and eat solid food in space. Due to some technical faults, inadvertent errors during the mission, all of which Carpenter compensated for, Aurora 7 came home safely but overshot the target landing zone due to fuel mismanagement during the mission. He was found by rescuers almost 5 hours late, 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, coolly relaxing in the life raft alongside his spacecraft.  Ever the gentleman astronaut he even offered his rescuers food and water from his survival kit.

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn's fireflies... Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn’s fireflies…
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

As with many space explorers who are comfortable with the risk of space exploration, Carpenter had remarked that his mission realised a long held dream and that “This is something I would gladly give my life for.” In today’s modern world of Google Earth and armchair exploration, we should remember that back then it took a special kind of person to ride fire into the heavens to expand knowledge at risk of their own life. Unlike many of his Mercury astronaut peers who were recovered and debriefed after their space shots relatively quickly, Carpenter had time for introspection and reflection on the events and meaning of his experience on Aurora 7. Carpenter was also blessed with a curious and philosophical mind. Peering through the small periscope of Aurora 7 into the endless night outside, Carpenter remarked,

“From that view … you are a long way away. Everything you see gives you satisfaction of the expectation which involves curiosity. The most important driver in everything we did then was curiosity. Can we make machines do this? Can we put our bodies through this? It’s revelatory. Addictive. Beautiful beyond description. To have been in space is very satisfying of one’s curiosity. It’s instructive. It’s marvellous.”

At the time, some may have perceived those comments and qualities to be extraneous for a test pilot / astronaut, favouring engineering rigour and zero margin of error during those early missions.  Consequently, Carpenter never flew in space again. In later years his curiosity and philosophical mind have become more appreciated by his peers.

Following NASA, Carpenter’s curious mind to banish unknowns led him to meeting with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He saw many parallels, between deep space and the deep ocean, with transferable skills, technologies and parallel experiences. But more personally for him, like with his Mercury flight, working beneath the waves to satisfy his curiosity would remove any “unreasoned fears”, just as he had done above the clouds on Aurora 7. As part of the Navy’s Sea Lab II experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days in spring 1965 on the ocean floor of La Jolla as an aquanaut, proving humans could survive in this environment.  At one point during his time under the waves, he even spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5 orbiting far overhead. Old Mercury Seven buddy Gordon Cooper was no doubt happy to hear him. His work on the ocean floor has yielded cross benefits for NASA too as Carpenter became the Navy/NASA liaison for underwater zero gravity training – or neutral buoyancy, which has become mandatory for NASA EVA astronaut training. For this work, Carpenter was awarded the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal.

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

In his later years after retiring from the Navy, Carpenter had remained active on various projects utilising his aerospace and oceanic engineering expertise. From enhancing ocean resource usage, to consulting on underwater, diving and submersibles, and lecturing on the future of technology developments and impacts Scott Carpenter had continued to actively contribute to the quality of our lives here on Earth.  Not stopping there, he had also authored three books, one of which is his memoirs “For Spacious Skies” which he wrote with his daughter Kris Stoever. Carpenter remained a staunch advocate of manned spaceflight, and pushing our exploration to Mars.

“We need a goal other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest, support and imagination of people who pay for spaceflight…We need to go to Mars… Mars is interim, but for now that is a goal that NASA and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.”           

Looking back, Carpenter remarked that he and John Glenn bonded over common interests, mutual respect and being Air Force boys. Upon hearing of his great friend’s passing, the last remaining torchbearer of that age, Mercury astronaut John Glenn paid tribute with his friend’s simple words and remarked “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.” Carpenter himself has said that he believes he is very fortunate to have lived life during a time when there were so many unknowns to be solved during this century. That had pleased him immensely as he was always a very curious person and he has had a lot of satisfied curiosity in his time.

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right). Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right).
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Meeting Scott Carpenter at Spacefest V in May 2013 in what turned out to be his twilight months, was a special privilege and for myself, the highest honour, to meet a member of the Original Seven. Meeting Scott himself, who truly understood the wider more nuanced experiences of manned spaceflight, the continuing importance of manned exploration and the questing nature of humanity, was even more special to me. The hallmark of his character, curiosity, still burned brightly in his alert eyes even though his health was visibly failing. I briefly asked him about what lessons he has taken with him on his explorations of the ocean and space into his life. Scott merely whispered, as if sharing a secret;

“Be led by your curiosity. And never forget the fun of learning and discovery. It can take you places you have never dreamed”.

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself. Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself.
Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Words from a curious but ordinary superman that will stay with me forever. May fair winds be at your back Star Voyager for you have returned to the place where we all came from. You are stardust.  We thank you for your bravery, your discoveries, your humanity and your continuing inspiration.

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com









The Space Tweep Society European Branch

@SpaceTweepsIt’s been two years since the European Space Agency (ESA) first opened it’s doors to Space enthusiasts, and already the SpaceTweeps community has grown into a vibrant solid group in Europe, with new members joining everyday.  Inspired by some of the Society’s core U.S. members, who crossed the pond to attend the 1st SpaceTweetup on September 18, 2011 in Germany, the European SpaceTweeps have grabbed the torch and.. have been running ever since!

In the past two years, SpaceTweeps have been invited to more than ten Tweetups in Europe organised by numerous Space & Science Institutions such as ESA, DLR, CNES, OeWF, CERN, ISU etc., and they have spontaneously attended almost all major space related conferences and events on this planet, including the 2012 ISS Symposium in Berlin, Germany, SpaceFest V in Tucson, Arizona and the 64th International Astronautical Congress in Beijing, China. They have also  joined forces with scientists and space professionals in already organizing four SpaceUp un-conferences all over the continent.

While having tons of fun in the process, SpaceTweeps have been spreading their excitement and love for space exploration and scientific research to thousands of people, with their tweets, posts and blogs.  Happily, officials in Europe have not been shy in publicly acknowledging SpaceTweeps’ contribution to increasing outreach and public awareness of their activities on twitter or on their official websites.  ESA was even bold enough to host the second largest European SpaceUp in its Paris headquarters and to promote it on its official website.

The video below was produced, during last week’s ESA/DLR SocialSpace event, by Henning Krause of Helmholtz Association (CC-BY 3.0), who has been fascinated by the Society’s momentum and drive. Many claim that this says it all ;-)

SocialSpace interviews: The Space Tweeps Community


#LADEE #NASASocial 2013/09 5, 6

The LADEE social was a magical experience. This is us, Thursday, at the WFF Pad 0B with LADEE.

Space tweeps at Pad 0B

Space tweeps at Pad 0B @NASASocial

The Minotaur launch lit up Chicoteague Bay in a way that’s hard to describe. My visual post image (blind spot) lasted for a couple minutes. And then a few seconds later, the sound rushed over us like the mach boom from a flying Astrodome. Far beyond the sound of thunder.

After the launch, the NASA Social bus was humming with twitter like a twitter neural implant. Amazing.

NASA loves social media because it connects people with their science efforts in a way that’s more direct than conventional media. Charlie Bolden wants us all to know that we’re all a part of the NASA Team. I found this message to have far more force in person, than in video or print. In person it sinks in. It can wash over you like a flat spin. But that’s me.

The hard part about tweetups is matching names and faces and twitter handles in a day or two. If you’re twenty years old this is as natural as rain. But still not easy. Makes me think of a Space Tweep Face Book, but rather than write code I’ll just recommend Google plus. Tweeps on Google plus can share circles. A circle is a list of G+ people that can be used to select sharing and notifications, and can be used for privacy. Image tagging, though, is the thing. A G+ image has a URL, and the tagged image is the visual human – computer interface for matching names and faces and twitter handles and more. On G+ public sharing has ripples, a visual sharing graph, which can be seen for any shared post using the menu from the post’s top right corner.

The hard part about covering NASA is the volume of that space of information. It’s about 8.6 × 10^{38} cubic meters, or the volume of a sphere centered on the Sun and containing the orbit of Pluto.  In other words, it’s not possible to cover it all in any sense.  One approach is to get ahead of upcoming social events with topical material like this bit of homework.

To write that post I started from the LADEE pages and then found additional information using NSSDC and NTRS. NTRS has technical reports that reference science articles. I scan these pdfs for whatever I understand, and just try to remember the parts I do or don’t understand using the terms from each paper. This is enough to illuminate a subject roundly: to note the primary terms and some description of their meaning.

The search I use is a google expression like “ultraviolet visible ladee site:nasa.gov”. This covers everything, and knowing about the resource repositories just helps to sort the search results. The fun part is how useful and effective this work can be.

For me it’s interesting how twitter and g+ are complementary. The reader’s perspective in each of twitter, tweet deck, or g+ is unique in terms of information density. The diversity of topics available per pixel in twitter (tweet deck / columns) is far higher than in g+. The user experience in g+ is good for reading, unlike facebook which is exploiting visual human psychology for a less interesting business model. Google’s economy of scale is better for the user, and Google recognizes the relationship between “organizing the world’s information” and “public trust.”

Correction/ Update (10/10/2013): This writer appreciates this post as a personal one having no legal matter whatsoever to the persons and entities mentioned.  Specifically, when I wrote “Google recognizes” I had no objective or factual reason for saying so — but reached for the stars overhead to express an idea that is irrelevant to the legal world (at large) wherein the private sector entity commonly known as Google has no facility in the public sector.  I thought that was (in the neighborhood of) obvious, but I understand now that I crossed a line if misunderstood (misrepresented) to be a general statement in a larger world than the personal one that was intended.  This isn’t wikipedia, here.  Happy birthday, Peter.

World Space Week 2013 with MarsTweetup on 5th October 2013

World Space Week 2013 with MarsTweetup on 5th October 2013

This year’s World Space Week motto is: Exploring Mars. Discovering Earth.

From 4-10 October 2013, more than twenty organizations spread across four continents will be exploring Mars – and discovering more about Earth in the process. A campaign of networked Mars analog simulations, including a 4-day Mars simulation at the Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah (US), is being launched to celebrate World Space Week (WSW) 2013.
The Mission to Mars and all satellite events will be coordinated from the WSW 2013 Mission Control Center, located at the Headquarters of the Austrian Space Forum in Innsbruck, Austria.

Invitation for 2nd MarsTweetup #simulateMars

On 5th of October 2013 the Austrian Space Forum (OEWF) is inviting 20 Social Media followers to the World Space Week Mission Control Center (MCC) in Innsbruck. This is a unique opportunity for Social Media users get a behind-the-scenes look into Mars analog research, an operating Mars analog MCC and to meet other Social Media users sharing the same interest. Through the MCC in Innsbruck the activities in the Mars Desert Research Station as well as global satellite events will be coordinated.

Planned activities during the MarsTweetup:

  • Mars analogs and MARS2013 Morocco Mars Simulation 2013
  • “Failure is not an option”, the role of a Mission Control Center (Mars Simulation flight controllers share their experience first-hand!)
  • Mission Control Center tour – an intimate look-behind-the-scenes of Mars Analog Research
  • Extra-Vehicular-Activity with the Aouda.X Mars spacesuit simulator EVA
  • Live-Link to World Space Week satellite events

This MarsTweetup will be held in Innsbruck, Austria on 5th October 2013, 09:00 a.m – 6:00 p.m

Registration ends on Thursday, 7th of September 2013 at 12:00 pm CEST.

More information:

The future of space outreach

NASA announced yesterday that it would suspend all public outreach and education efforts per immediately, as an effect of the sequestration measures of the US government. The original internal NASA memo that was published by our friends at SpaceRef caused an immediate outburst of disbelief and disappointment on all (non-NASA) social media channels. Although the message is clearly not a hoax, it needs to be seen what the actual effect of this message will be to future NASA events and communication, but it sounds severe enough. The spacetweep community will definitely notice.

Immediately after this announcement several discussions about the future of space outreach arose on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Most focused on whether or not this could be true, but all soon realized it is. Some then started to focus on the implications and possible solutions. How can the space enthusiast community jump in? How will this shift the focus to other countries? And what should the outreach message be anyway? Listen in to a rather philosophical conversation I had with my UK space outreach friend Amjad Zaidi on Facebook: (more…)

SpaceUpEU – A personal perspective

Wow. How do you sum up one for the coolest things you have ever done?! When I went to Florida last year for STS-134 I thought that experience would take some matching. SpaceUpEU did just that.

As I’d never done anything remotely like a un-conference or SpaceUp before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found impressed me, excited me, blew me away almost. I think what I have experienced at SpaceUpEU is a huge melting pot of passionate, enthusiastic people both individual in their views and interests but also united equally by their love of space and curiosity to discover other people’s passions and interests. Everything from the range of topics to the massive age range of the participants, the 15 countries participating, how far people had travelled. It made you think very differently and it helped me be more encouraged and open about something I usually only talk about online.

With so many topics, talks and discussions and, of course, overlapping slots it is impossible to absorb everyone’s ideas during the weekend but hopefully with the abundance of video equipment and recording hopefully some things I didn’t get to see might filter down later on, probably a good idea given the rather crammed state of my brain! From square one, even maybe before the event began on Friday night I have learned lots of great stuff that I hope I can remember when I need it. The sheer range of topics was also mind-blowing. From the meticulously prepared to the totally ad-hoc, enthralling to the brain-cell popping (Yes, I’m still recovering from Christer Fuglesang’s mass, weight and particle physics!!) to the down-right controversial (Mars One caused by far the most discussion!) and pretty-much everything in between.

For me personally, the diversity of information and the friendliness and openness of the crowd stands out a lot at events like this. I wore a replica NASA flight suit to day 1 of SpaceUpEU and so many people commented on how cool it was and how good it looked. Also I knew very few people there, probably only half a dozen at most, but *everyone* was open and friendly and wanted to get to know you and talk to you. Most impressive however was actually giving a talk to a group of people, in my case an Astronomy Kickstarter, who were genuinely interested in what I had to say. Although I’d have loved more time and to open the discussion to the people there with me, I still got a massive satisfaction from talking to them about a shared interest and presenting helpful information to people who wanted to get going themselves.

My only regret is perhaps that a lot of passions, information and ideas were presented but perhaps that we didn’t always have time to discuss those within the SpaceUp event format. A lot of the discussion occurred in the evenings and outside the talks themselves which is sort of what SpaceUp and ‘un-conference’ is supposed to be working to bring into the main event. I don’t think this was necessarily a failure of the event so much as so many people were so interested in sharing their passions and, being the first European SpaceUp event, it uncorked a rich source of this passion and sharing. As a first event, an opener and a launch of the SpaceUp concept in Europe, though, it was a hugely successful and exciting event to be part of. Hopefully (and I know there are other SpaceUps already happening or being planned, starting with SpaceUp Stuttgart in October) this will be the spark that ignites the fires of other people to continue the flow of ideas and information in our area of the world.

Last but by no means least, I couldn’t write a blog post about SpaceUpEU without offering massive thanks to our organisers:

  • Remco Timmermans  (@timmermansr)
  • Eico Neumann   (@travelholic)
  • Angie Kanellopoulou  (@akanel)
  • Alex von Eckartsberg (@starlingLX)
  • Marco Frissen   (@mfrissen)
  • Joachim Baptist   (@JustBe74)

Although, as they kept reminding us, SpaceUp is as much a product of the participants as the organizers, their amazing efforts and hard, dedicated work opened the door for so many people to get together under this common banner to share and ignite discussion, some of which will still be going for a good while I’m sure (but hey, the rovers will do it!).

The SpaceUpEU Story So Far

As September is approaching fast, it will also be almost one year ago that I attended my first SpaceTweetUp. Being ESA & DLR’s first foray herein this is all the more fitting. This is the last place where I need to explain what a SpaceTweetUp can do to a person, so not going there.

So SpaceUp Europe, that’s what I would like to talk about. To me it’s a beautiful full circle story. One of the things that immediately struck me was how a Barcamp like event would be great for this topic/crowd. Little did I now at that time that it already existed and the first SpaceUp had already been held in San Diego in 2010. So one throws up the idea but it stayed with talking at that point. The fun part is that at the same time some US SpaceTweeps that already attended a SpaceUp were also talking to some other EU SpaceTweeps about the same topic. But also here, it stayed as an idea to pick up at a later time.

The next step. At some point before #SpaceKoelsch2 some SpaceTweeps started talking about SpaceUp and doing this in Europe. At this point the 2 groups that first talked separate are now talking together, space unites once again! This was the perfect time to bring it to the table and see which traction it could gather. And traction it did gather! One week later 5 SpaceTweeps were exchanging mails and on January 23 we had our first hangout (G+ is great for this:) together. SpaceUpEU was born! The first EU organising crew consisting of @akanel (GR) @mfrissen (NL) @timmermansr (NL) @travelholic (DE) and myself @JustBe74 (BE), a real European team.

Fun and work, lots of both luckily. I think it’s fair to say none of us really knew on what journey we were embarking. Finding a location (Genk, Belgium) and date (22-23/09) primarily and secondly logistics, sponsors, legal things, set-up registration and so on. This last point bringing us to today. T-1 actually! Starting tomorrow registrations will open for the first ever SpaceUpEU. Another great milestone for us, but for sure not the last. So keep an eye out on @SpaceUpEU tomorrow to be part of it.

To be continued!



New Media Professional Development Workshop—Future Exploration of the Moon and Small Bodies

The 2012 CCLDAS New Media Practitioners Professional Development Workshop will focus on future exploration of the Moon and other small bodies in the Solar System. Here, astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon during Apollo 11. (Courtesy NASA)

About the workshop
July 20—22, 2012
The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)
Boulder, Colorado

The 2012 New Media Practitioners Professional Development Workshop will bring fifteen bloggers, podcasters, and other science communicators to LASP for a two-day intensive workshop with space scientists. The workshop will be a collaborative professional development opportunity for attendees to learn about current issues surrounding future exploration of the Moon and other small bodies in our Solar System.

Attendees will receive a stipend to defray travel and lodging expenses. The Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies (CCLDAS) is sponsoring the event.

For additional details and to register, visit:
2012 New Media Workshop

New #Penny4NASA video “We stopped Dreaming”

Fellow #Spacetweeps :

Just wanted to bring the #Penny4NASA effort to your attention. I discovered really fast at the #NASATweetup at @NASAJPL a little over a year ago (May 2011) that #Spacetweeps are an exceptional bunch of people. I thought I was alone in knowing that the exploration of space, and the passion it inspires, is crucial to the long-term survival of humanity. I had always assumed that everyone else was ignorant of NASA’s importance to the United States and the world. Then, I went to a #NASATweetup. It changed my world. To meet all of these people, and the passion they carry for our collective well-being…it humbled me. I met the greatest people. A #NasaTweetup does something immeasurable to you; it gets in your blood.

And so, with this new perspective I plugged in as far as I could go into this new sub-culture. I was already earning degrees, moving to become connected to exobiological research, a field close to my heart. But after that #NASATWeetup I became an advocate for NASA. I helped launched the #SaveJWST campaign to raise awareness for the troubled budget of the James Webb Space Telescope (savethistelescope.blogspot.com). In part, we were successful and it was a thrill, for once, to see NASA and Space Exploration championed like that. I know the JWST is controversial to some, but I cannot wait to see it fly. It will open up a whole new paradigm of questions about the universe and our place in it. One single #NASATweetup influenced me to get involved, to take a stand for our collective future.

And now, there is a new movement I have just connected with. A new, broader direction for championing the good that NASA represents. #Penny4NASA is a grassroots effort to influence the Federal Government to double NASA’s current budget, from half a penny on every Federal dollar spent to one whole penny per dollar. A humble, small request…especially if you consider that NASA’s entire budget is tiny considering the whole Federal Budget. The $850 billion bailout, spent in one go, is bigger than that entire 50 year NASA budget.

But, of course, many of you know this. Many of you have heard of #Penny4NASA , too. I am, after all, speaking to the choir =) So, I just want to leave you with this: the new #Penny4NASA video “We stopped Dreaming.” Share it. Sign the petition.
Presenting new #Penny4NASA video:

#NASA is the key to the future. It is our greatest investment.
Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to seeing you at the next #NASATweetup (#NASASocial).

K. Sullivan

StratoSpera: Where Shuttles Dared

StratoSpera: Where Shuttles Dared
Lakes Trasimeno, Bolsena and Bracciano, in central Italy, imaged from 39,565 m by StratoSpera 3. The view faces southwest.

Lakes Trasimeno, Bolsena and Bracciano, in central Italy, imaged from 39,565 m by StratoSpera 3. The view faces southwest.

StratoSpera 3, the third flight of the StratoSpera Italian high altitude balloon project by Associazione ISAA, went way beyond our expectations. In late 2010 StratoSpera 1 reached a maximum altitude of 27,600 m in the stratosphere and took an eerie photo of its burst balloon. Not a bad maiden flight. The following spring StratoSpera 2 went lower, just 20,123 m, and didn’t break the 30,000 m altitude goal we had hoped for the project. StratoSpera 3, which we launched on September 10, 2011, did break that barrier. And blew our minds.

The StratoSpera 3 GPS unit recorded a maximum altitude of 39,614 m, which at the time was the fourth highest amateur balloon flight (see Records -> Altitude -> Highest) and is probably still the first in Italy. This is not far from the altitude range, around 45,000 m, where booster separation occurred during Shuttle launches. To put this in context, the highest altitude ever reached by a balloon is around 53,000 m.

There was another treat. Unlike similar launches to the highest altitudes back then, the StratoSpera 3 payload included a camera that took from 39.591 m the highest photo by an amateur ballon at the time. However, not everything went smoothly. The camera battery died shortly after the balloon burst, so we don’t have descent images.

The StratoSpera 4 launch is scheduled for May 26, 2012. We wouldn’t mind repeating and exceeding that carefully planned engineering process known as sheer luck. But, having temporarily satisfied our thirst for altitude, this time we will focus on experimentation.

Central-southern Italy, with lakes Trasimeno and Bolsena at right. The view faces south. Panorama created with StratoSpera 3 photos by Francesco Bonomi.

Central-southern Italy, with lakes Trasimeno and Bolsena at right. The view faces south. Panorama created with StratoSpera 3 photos by Francesco Bonomi.

We will use a cluster of three balloons, rather than a single one, to evaluate its ability to stabilize the payload. This would be useful, for example, for imaging in low lighting conditions. A wide field mini camera mounted in the upper section of the gondola facing upwards, code-named Polifemo (Polyphemus), will image the balloons to help study their dynamics. It will complement the set of environmental and engineering sensors (temperature, pressure, humidity, radiation, voltage, and more) we usually fly.

Polifemo is controlled by an Arduino board. It is the first experimental external payload connected via a specified interface to the BSM-2 on-board computer, running the BeRTOS open-source operating system, developed by our sponsor Develer. This architecture will support third-party payloads, which we hope to open to external collaborations for educational activities. And maybe bring them again where Shuttles dared.

A space organization mobile magazine created with Google Currents

A space organization mobile magazine created with Google Currents
The Associazione ISAA mobile magazine on Google Currents for Android on a Nexus S phone

The Associazione ISAA mobile magazine on Google Currents for Android on a Nexus S phone

I am a board member of ISAA, the Italian Space and Astronautics Association, which is a typical volunteer-run space enthusiast organization. We do a range of information, outreach and education activities including a space news portal, a podcast, events, and experimental projects such as high altitude balloon launches. Our content and updates on these activities are spread among a dozen ordinary web sites and online resources like video channels and photo albums.

Space enthusiasts often consume online content with smartphones and tablets. The use of mobile devices is actually growing so fast that in a few years they will outgrow traditional PCs and laptops. If you are a space tweep, I guess you are already well aware of this trend.

There are good apps for consuming online news in a mobile friendly way. The most popular are Flipboard, Zite and Pulse News. They repackage news feeds in an elegant, magazine-like layout. Google Currents is the latest such app and is probably not as widely used as the others, but it may be the most versatile and promising for online publishers.

Currents provides a powerful mobile content aggregation, layout management and publishing environment called Producer. Unlike the more limited, single feed oriented content access features of other newsreaders, Producer lets you group different RSS and social feeds into a unified magazine-like mobile experience. Anybody with a Google account can freely use Producer to create publications (editions in Currents lingo), not just selected media partners. Readers can subscribe to free editions and read them with the Currents app available for Android and iOS, for both tablets and smartphones.

With the help of other ISAA members I put together Associazione ISAA, a Currents edition aggregating most of our online content. Each magazine section collects and displays content from a single RSS blog feed, social feed, YouTube video channel, Flickr photo set or other sources. Like magazines, readers can browse sections and articles or access a table of contents.

A section of Associazione ISAA on Google Currents for Android on a Nexus S phone in landscape mode

A section of Associazione ISAA on Google Currents for Android on a Nexus S phone in landscape mode

If you manage different online space resources, creating and customizing a basic Currents edition is as simple as filling some forms or uploading images and media. Once an edition is in place, it updates automatically by pulling new content from feeds and other sources.

I encourage you to check our Associazione ISAA mobile magazine and see what is possible. It is in Italian but you can read it anyway thanks to another handy Currents feature, machine translation. To translate article text in you own language, tap the globe icon in the bottom toolbar of the Currents app. Translation quality ranges from barely acceptable to fairly accurate. This feature may open your content and activities to a wider audience, the international audience of space enthusiasts.

Have you created any space-related Currents editions?