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One Question – A Once in a Lifetime experience

Today, at 9:15am CT I will be on hold – on a phone call. It will be one of few times in my life that waiting for the other person to be available on the other end of the line, will be both understandable and pretty awesome.

Yesterday, I was offered the opportunity by NASA to participate in this morning’s ISS, Expedition 30 press conference. What does participation mean? It means I get to ask one question to the crew – via that phone call (the one I’ll be on hold for). So, one more dream come true, one more item off of my bucket list and one question, one incredible opportunity via NASA!

So.. follow along this morning with the following hashtags: #askStation, #ISS, #NASA and #Exp30. Oh, and while I get to ask one question via the phone, you get the chance to ask a question via Twitter! Start submitting questions using #askStation and, if there’s enough time, the Expedition 30 crew will get a few questions from the twitterverse! How awesome is that?!?!

Oh.. and while I have a few questions in mind.. feel free to tweet me some suggestions! 🙂 @johnmknight

Zoo calling space

Space events are everywhere. But even the more seasoned space enthusiast will not easily end up at a zoo. Yesterday Artis Amsterdam Zoo organized a live inflight call with ESA astronaut André Kuipers. As it happens, André Kuipers is a fan and  ambassador of the zoo. He even took the zoo mascotte ‘Artis de Marsis’ up into the ISS with him. To honor this good relationship between the zoo and ‘its’ astronaut, the zoo organized a live connection with ISS for zoo friends and local schools. (more…)

SoyuzTweetup: A new virtual space tweetup concept?

When starting the initiative for a space tweetup in Baikonur I was hoping for a large number of live attendees to accompany me to Kazakhstan for the December 21 launch. But with launch dates being suspended indefinitely after the Progress M12-M loss in August, and a late announcement of new – still uncertain – launch dates around Christmas, it is not a surprise that many interested would not risk an expensive trip to the middle of nowhere under those circumstances.

So here I am, rethinking the idea of the tweetup. How can we have a tweetup without any other spacetweeps in Baikonur? Well, the answer is simple: I will have all fellow spacetweeps travelling with me! This is 2011! Virtual presence at a  tweetup is as valuable as physical presence! Past launch events have shown that tweeps do not necessarily need to be onsite to have great interaction with each other and with folks present! Livestream video is now commonplace during all international launches, be it by NASA, Roscosmos, Arianespace or even the Chinese space agency. A combination of Twitter and these live images make for a great event.

So no need to be disappointed about travelling to Baikonur by myself (well, in a small tour group with a handful of non-tweeps space fans). I will represent all my spacetweep friends that follow the event through several news updates, video feeds and my reports on twitter! And I will do my best to add some couleur locale to all that news. Sort of a live onsite reporter on twitter for all my followers. I will do the travel and stand the blistering cold, while the other participants can enjoy the experience from the warmth of their own home or office 🙂

I am looking forward to traveling to Baikonur with all of you! Please follow my live adventures here, from 17 until 24 December.

Note: Remco will travel to Baikonur to attend the launch of Soyuz TMA-03M on 21 December 2011. On this date NASA astronaut Donald Pettit (@astro_pettit), ESA astronaut André Kuipers (@astro_andre) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononeko will be launched to ISS. Here they will join the current ISS crew to form a normal 6-men crew again, as expedition 30 and 31.

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

On 18 September, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, @dlr_en) and the European Space Agency (ESA, @esa) invited 60 lucky Twitter followers to the first European SpaceTweetup.  Among them some of our most prominent members, @flyingjenny, @herrea, @CraftLass, @travelholic, @amoroso, @marcozambi, @SpaceKate, @DrLucyRogers and @rocketman528. I (@akanel) was also lucky to be invited – and this was my first Tweetup ever!

The SpaceTweetup took place on German Aerospace Day at the joint DLR and European Astronaut Centre site in Cologne.  It was an amazing day, which not even the German grey and rainy weather could spoil!  …it did, of course, make our photographs a bit murky, but that’s about it!

The SpaceTweetup program was full and exciting.  So many thrills packed inside approx. 10 hours that could have easily been the object of two or more separate events.  For those who didn’t get to attend, a four hour (!) long selection of the best moments is available on ESA’s site.


Photo credit: @SimSullen

The day started very excitingly.  We visited and learned about the SOFIΑ Project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), DLR and NASA’s impressive airborne telescope.  Mounted on a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, SOFIA has a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope, which makes measurements during flight!  High above the disturbances caused by Earth’s atmosphere, but also easily accessible for maintenance and modifications, SOFIA combines the advantages of space telescopes, like Herschel and Hubble, with the ease of ground based telescopes.

The science done on SOFIA is planned by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Centre.  Observing mostly in the far infrared, SOFIA will be used to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, such as e.g. star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, identification of complex molecules in space (such as organic materials necessary for life), planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies and black holes at the centre of galaxies, helping to answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the Universe.

SOFIA Telescope. Photo credit: @Brigitte_Ba


ISS Notify

ISS Notify

Cross posted from my usual blog because I thought everyone might like it!

A while ago I helped make a light that lit up when a near Earth asteroid went past our planet. Because I built it at a 24 hour hack day, I only had a little bit of time and there was a lot of ‘crafting’ involved (read: hot glue and plastic cups). Unfortunately I never really worked it into a finished product. This was partly because I noticed how rarely an asteroid actually buzzes the Earth close enough to be interesting. It got me thinking though, what else might I want to know about, and that happens often enough to be interesting?

The Space Station

The ISS in space

The Space Station and Space Shuttle Endeavor in May 2011. Credit: NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) is a marvel of current technology and humanity. It’s a continuously inhabited orbital outpost, floating in space just over our heads. But often we forget it’s there. I realized that the light I made for asteroids would work better for the space station.

This time I would make it a more polished project.

ISS Lamp from Nathan Bergey on Vimeo.


I already had the electronics from the old light, all I had to do was put it in a reasonable container. I decided to use a nice black cardboard box I had lying around. Then to have something to light up I went to the fantastic Scrap! in Portland to look for old bits of plexiglass. Armed with a nice piece of frosted plexiglass (a grand total of 10¢) and a box I got to work.

I took apart the old lamp and instead of having a ring of LEDs on a drinking cup, I glued them to the bottom edge of the plexiglass.

Soldering LED's

In the process of soldering LEDs that have been glued to the edge of a piece of plexiglass

Then I soldered them together in parallel. The microcontroller stayed the same as last time, a Teensy 2.0. I already had a breakout board built with headers for the teensy and with transistors to act as switches. So all I had to do was wire it up and put the box together.

boxing it up

Boxing the finished project up


The hard part was figuring out when the Space station was going to be overhead. No matter what I would need the internet because the orbit of the station changes unpredictably from time to time. Luckily, rather than having to do orbital calculations myself, there is a great website out there called heavens above that has all the predictions of satellite passes already worked out. There was one problem: they don’t have an API! That means a human could go read the website, but a computer doesn’t really know what to make of it — it’s not what we can ‘machine readable’. I wanted this to run automatically so I found some examples on the web that showed how easy it is to scrape data from the heavens above webpage. With that coded I had a python scrip that would grab the next ISS pass for Portland.

But again, wanting this to be automatic I needed something better than a script I would have to run every so often. I settled on a gnome applet that can run in the background on my panel on my desktop. For those of you who don’t run linux, this is like the dock in OSX or the application bar in windows. I found plenty of examples online on how to write an app for the gnome panel, and thankfully it was pretty easy! After a couple of days of working out the details I had an app that sat on my computer and could let me know when the space station was overhead!

gnome applet

The applet running on my computer showing the next pass information

Open Source

There is only one of me, so the usefulness of this lamp as an outreach tool for everyone is limited. So I posted all the code and hardware descriptions you should need to make one yourself! Follow along on github:


I have a circuit diagram, arduino firmware, the python applet and an install script in the repository. Plus, if your running linux and use gnome, you can use the applet even without the lamp! The icon will turn red when the ISS is overhead. Look at the readme and update the code to make it work with your location and your hardware.

And don’t forget the space station isn’t just for fun but is a working laboratory and scientific outpost that streams down terabytes of data about the world we live in, making it a better place for all of us.

Japanese Space Exploration

Hello spacetweeps, I’m a junior high school student living in Japan. This is my first time uploading a post here, and I’ve decided to cross-post an entry from my blog about space explorations. (if you’re interested here’s the link to my blog- OdysseyPod)

Japan’s involvement with rockets started in 1954 with the “pencil rocket”, which is really tiny.The development of the rocket was supervised by Hideo Itokawa.(remember that name, it will pop out later on!) 

It was launched horizontally most of the time, because it was made just for tests. Not very exciting.

Then came the “baby rocket” which was slightly long than a meter.

After that, the rockets got bigger and bigger, and with the L-4S rocket, Japan’s first satellite, Osumi, was launched and put in orbit.The weirdest thing about the L-4S rocket is that it doesn’t have guidance, navigation and control (GNC) built in! It was because some people in Japan said that the technology like GNC could be put into missiles, which they couldn’t accept. (the Japanese constitution prohibits the act of war.)

And the engineers did come up with a way. The 1st and 2nd stages used the aerodynamic effects of the tail assembly to hold it steady. The 2nd(comes out again) and 3rd stages used a motor to spin the rocket like a giant gyroscope, thus holding the rocket steady. The 4th stage stopped the spinning, and before it lit the engine did a little bit of maneuvering to align it,(and the boosters weren’t firing at that time so it wasn’t really GNC.) then made the rocket spin again, and finally, put it to orbit.

japan's first satellite

Osumi, Japan's first satellite

All this hard work paid off, and Japan became the 4th country(following Russia, America and France) to put a satellite into orbit.

Decades after Japan’s first satellite, it came by a long way. (more…)

Russian launch to mark golden anniversary of human spaceflight


Russia and the world will begin celebrations Tuesday of the golden anniversary of humankind’s first steps into space with the launch of two Russians and one American aboard a Soyuz bound for the International Space Station.

The flight will also carry Meco, the Space Tweep Society Birdonaut, into orbit for a lengthy stay aboard the orbiting lab.

It was April 12, 1961, in which Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted-off from a then-secret launch site to become the first human ever to not only fly in space but to orbit the earth.

Russia in his honor has named the crew’s Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft Gagarin in honor of the late-cosmonaut.

Two Cosmonauts, Soyuz commander Aleksander Samokutyaev and flight engineer Andrei Borisenko, and NASA astronaut and flight engineer Ron Garan are scheduled to lift-off aboard a Soyuz-FG rocket on April 4 at 6:18 p.m. EDT (4:18 a.m. April 5 local time), from the Baikonur Cosmosdrome in western Kazakhstan.


Epic ISS Pass Last Night

Clear skys and mild temperatures and a bright ISS slicing right through the middle of the sky. Made for a perfect night to view the completed station. For the first time in my life I was able to make out the solar panels with a pair of binoculars. I snapped a few time exposures but didn’t take the time to set the camera. I was to busy talking to neighbors and explaining what they were seeing through the binoculars. It was a very exiting time. I shared my tweetup experience with all my neighbors who may now look up more often and remember that we have a presence in the sky. A million pound outpost circling the planet at over 17,000mph.

Violinist and Basketball, Astronaut and Bicycle

If you’ve been tracking the delay ridden STS-133 mission you already know that the patch, crew photo and other press materials need updating.

In my new post on Spacepirations, http://www.spacepirations.com/2011/01/violinist-and-basketball-astronaut-and.html, I draw parallel lines with what happened to a violinist friend of mine about 20 years ago.

Valid parallelism? You be the judge, especially if you’re both a violinist and an astronaut…

A Look Ahead for NASA

After many years working directly with Congress in one capacity or another, I decided that I needed to see NASA from a new perspective. While I enjoyed my job, I don’t think I am the only person that found themselves perplexed by the FY 2011 budget request and the various modifications thereafter. I guess, I really just wanted to understand better how we got where we did so I could see the big picture.

One thing that WAS clear to me in the FY 2011 budget request was that we weren’t investing in technology development. Ok…NASA was doing some, but the kinds of technology that made baby steps, not giant leaps like the NASA my parents knew. I want to be a part of that excitement so I joined the Office of the Chief Technologist. I am putting great faith that this initiative is the start of something good for me and for NASA. I hope I’m right!

Why should NASA have a centralized technology focus? NASA’s new Space Technology program is a critical to NASA’s future. Numerous external studies and Congress have concluded that NASA’s missions have suffered from an under-investment in new technologies. We need to get back to the cutting edge and while the big programs at NASA try to invest in new technology, other programs often are so mission focused that it often falls off the table when budgets get tight.

That mission driven focus, while understandable, especially with how our budgets go, has left us with dreams bigger than what we can capably accomplish.

Seeking life in the solar system and Earth-like planets around other stars, forecasting major storms and natural disasters, and preparing NEO deflection techniques is not possible with today’s technologies and budget constraints. NASA must change the game such that human exploration into deep space (to an asteroid or Mars) is sustainable and affordable.  For example, using today’s technology, the equivalent of 12 ISS units of mass is required in low Earth orbit to initiate a single round trip Mars mission. Similarly, we do not know how to land masses larger than MSL (about the size of a small car) on the Mars surface. We need cutting-edge research, technology, and innovation to advance our Nation’s future.

By investing in Space Technology, we will enable a more vibrant future for all of us on Earth. Space technology has already greatly impacted the communications, biomedical, and transportation industries, improving life for all of us. A NASA focus on Space Technology will also produce technological solutions of benefit in health and wellness, energy, environment and national security.

The greatest risk to our Nation’s future leadership in space, and to our economic prosperity, is the continued under-investment in transforming technologies.  Establishing a robust Space  technology program at NASA will bridge the technology gap we suffer from today.

Will our our nation have the political invest in this vital technology? As usual, the ball is in the Congressional court right now. While I think they know the future savings is real and tangible, it’s hard to for them to look past the current budget environment. After the election, we will know more, but I am looking forward to seeing what our nation’s space future will hold.



Space Station to Welcome Resupply Craft, Shuttle in Coming Week

Space Tweeps, a Russian cargo craft loaded with
tons of food and supplies will begin a three day trip to
resupply the growing International Space Station on Wednesday.

with extra fuel, experiment hardware, water, air and requested personal items, the arriving craft will keep
the Expedition 25 crew of six happy and healthy for weeks to come.

of the Soyuz U rocket with the Progress M-08M supply ship is set to
lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan tomorrow at
11:11:53 am EDT (1511 GMT).

Soyuz U was transported horizontally to it’s launch pad on Monday
morning by way of rail car, and then moved into its vertical launch
position. Crews then began the tasks of connecting both fuel and
electrical connections to the rocket.

a three day orbital chase, the Progress craft will fly in and dock to
the Russian Zevezda service module on Saturday at 12:40 pm (1640 GMT).

The Progress docking begins a busy six weeks aboard the space station.

days after the supply ship docks, the space shuttle Discovery is
scheduled to dock to begin an eight day visit to resupply the station
and deliver a permanent storage module.

Russian spacewalk was added on Tuesday. Cosmoanuts Fiodor Yurchikin and
Oleg Skipochka will begin a six hour EVA on Nov. 15 starting at 9:25
am EST.

On Nov. 30,
three of the current station crew members will undock and return to
earth aboard their Soyuz TMA19 craft. Two weeks later, a fresh crew of
three will launch and then dock their Soyuz TMA20 to begin their six
month tour of duty.

Looking ahead into 2011, January
and February will also be a busy time for the Expedition 26 crew. Three
unmanned cargo crafts from the European, Russian and Japanese space
programs, and the American space shuttle Endeavour will head to the
orbiting outpost 221 miles above to bring fresh supplies and equipment.

the crews living aboard the station, food has always been a form of
leisure and most try out their own orbiting gourmet food styles while
in micro-gravity.

space station is a very multicultural location. An astronaut or
cosmonaut from one country will always enjoy a taste from a special
menu prepared by the crew of a visiting country.

The Russian Space Agency stated today,
“Food boxes will contain not only standard rations, but also fresh
fruits and vegetables – lemons, apples, onions, tomatoes, and a
kilogram of garlic”.

 “(Progress) will also carry
high-speed data transmission equipment to be installed on the outer
surface of the station during EVA (spacewalk) by Oleg Skripochka and
Dmitry Kondratiev in January,” the space agency added earlier today.

Space Station Crew Returns Home

Russians and one American returned back to earth this morning after
spending 177 days in earth orbit, living and working aboard the
International Space Station.

TMA18 spacecraft commander and outgoing leader of the Expedition 24
crew, Alexander Skvortsov and flight engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and
Mikhail Kornienko touched down upon the desert of Kazakhstan, near the
town of Arkalyk on September 25 at 1:23 am EDT (0523 GMT).

space, the orbital outpost flew high off the coast of Japan and over
the western Pacific Ocean as the parachutes of the Soyuz lowered the
craft to the desert floor.

in the day, the departing crew of three said farewell to the ongoing
crew of Expedition 25 of Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor
Yurchikhin, and entered their Soyuz one last time for the trip home.

Hatches were officially closed at 6:35 pm and the trio went to work powering up the crafts systems for undocking.

It was the second try in as many days to undock from the complex.

to the Russian Poisk module, ground controllers in Moscow had to scrub
the first undocking attempt 24 hours earlier due to an electrical issue
with the sealing of the module’s hatch leading to the Soyuz.

controllers counted down the final seconds to undocking, the separation
bolts were released on time and the small spacecraft sailed away from
it’s port-of-call for the last 174 days at 10:02 pm.

the two spacecraft flew 222 miles high over the Russia – Mongolia
boarder, Skvortsov slowly guided his ship back away from the station to
prepare for a separation burn which will carry the crew swiftly away.

it’s engines on time, the Soyuz performed a four minute deorbit burn at
12:31 am today to slow the craft by 259 miles per hour, and allow for
it to drop out of earth orbit during a precise keyhole in space.

minutes later, the support module attached to the Soyuz crew module was
then jettisoned, exposing the heat shield and setting up the craft’s
change in it’s attitude for reentry.

crew’s plunge into the atmosphere gave them their first effects of
gravity since their April 2 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

crews aboard ground transports and Russian helicopters were on station
as the module landed with a thud under a huge main chute — kicking up
dirt from it’s impact on a cool late-morning Saturday.

stay aboard the station witnessed two space shuttle visits by Discovery
and Atlantis; one Soyuz crew departure for earth and weeks later an
arrival of the current Soyuz TMA 19 crew; and Caldwell-Dyson and
Wheelock performed three spacewalks in August to replace and install a
needed backup cooling unit for the space station.

next crew to launch from Baikonur to the station will be aboard an
upgraded Soyuz TMA 01M on October 7, docking 49 hours later to the
orbital complex.