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Monthly archive March, 2010

We Want Our Future – getting kids to dream big!

I’ve been working with an amazing group of graduate students at UC Boulder that have started an initiative called We Want Our Future.  This grassroots initiative aims to get elementary through high school students inspired and energized about their studies. We want our nation’s youth to realize that they too can be future explorers by working hard and studying in STEM related fields. The program plans to have students create 100,000 postcards from across the country, in which they each draw his or her own hope for their future exploring space. The ultimate goal is to present these postcards publicly, representing a unified voice of our youth and their thoughts on the future of exploration. 

How you can help:

There are many ways in which you can help our initiative: 

  1. Help us spread the word and the importance of space exploration by signing up to volunteer on our website.  Encourage your friends / colleagues to become active as well!  In addition you can join our facebook group called [We Want Our Future]. OR you can tweet us @WeWantOurFuture.
  2. Engage students now and perform this activity on your own, educational resources (lesson plans / media / postcard templates / instructions) are available on our website. (Spring 2010 suggested deadline is June 10th) )
  3. Help us raise funds / sponsors / partners by donating on our website sending us contact information / ideas for ways to fund raise.

We are inspiring youth to dream big, ask for help, and never give up!  Many more details are available on our website at: www.WeWantOurFuture.org including further information about the organization’s goals, completed postcards, media, press releases, instructions for performing the activity and materials. The encouraged deadline for the activity is May 10th, 2010, so get involved today!

Dr. Love at the Southwest Research Institute

On March 18th 2010 I visited the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to see the facility here in Boulder and attend a talk by Dr. Stanley G. Love – a NASA astronaut that flew on STS-122. Founded in 1947, employing over 3,000 people in several states, SwRI is a very prolific multi-disciplinary institute, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas (for more information about the SwRI, visit its facts page). SwRI has a fairly large office (about a hundred people) in downtown Boulder Colorado. If you live, work or ever visited Boulder you’d appreciate the prime location, close to many of the restaurants and atmosphere unique to Boulder.

After the fascinating talk I got a tour of the Boulder office, which seems more like a startup company than an office of a large company (and I mean that in a good way), and I got invited to join Stan and several SwRI employees for lunch at an Indian restaurant, where conversation about a number of space related issues continued. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed this short time amongst researchers, an astronaut and space topics. This was my first time attending one of the SwRI Boulder Colloquia, which occur about once a week and revolve around space – science, missions, technology and findings. These meetings are free, open to the general public and I highly recommend attending – I know I’ll come back for more.


Read more at http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/03/dr-love-at-southwest-research-institute.html

UKSA – The United Kingdom Space Agency

It has been a few months now since we heard the news that the United Kingdom will get its very own, and long overdue, space agency. Now, on April 1st 2010 the agency will officially come into being, and in a conference in London more details of the agency were released for the first time, such as the name and logo. I personally really like the  logo; I think it’s nice and modern, and I’m looking forward to the day I can get it on a T-Shirt! It has a nice feel to it, and is well designed in my opinion-putting a nice spin on the Union Jack.

The name of the agency, UKSA, The United Kingdom Space Agency, is not the most imaginative of names, but it’s simple and easy to remember. Really it comes down to the quality of the agency over the sound of its name. (Although, this is far better than the BNSC, British National Space Centre.) I think it is a good name, it could have been something far worse than UKSA

Regardless of how flashy the logo is or how cool the name is, the UKSA isn’t being made to look good, fortunately government have realised that it’s about time we introduce a better way of managing money that is to be put into the space sector, and also so that it is done in the most cost effective way, and also making it easier for deals to be made with other agencies such as NASA and ESA.

Fore more information, here is the BBC news report.

I have always dreamed of the UK always having its own proper space agency, and now On April 1st 2010, the UKSA will be officially launched, and the dream will come true. What are your views on the new information about UKSA, I would love to hear them.

For any space tweeps in the UK, or anyone else who is interested, you can now show your support with a Twibbon! I have purposely put it on the opposite side from the Space Tweep Society’s Meco.

Can We Reach The Moon By The Year 2000?

Has everyone heard about the POPSCI archives by now ?  Popular Science put ALL their publications from the past 137 years online, free of charge!  I’ve read hundreds of wonderful articles, all the way back to 1872, and blogged about I thought were historically interesting…

Popular Science 1958

So far, my favorite was printed in May of 1958, just as the space race was really heating up!  Dr. Israel Monroe Levitt (1908-2004) wrote a fascinating account of how America might plan and execute the monumental lunar landing… by the year 2000.  Wow, we beat that by 31 years! It’s a real eye-opener to see what the bright minds of the mid-20th century thought of potential space exploration.

“Manned flight cannot be initiated in the immediate future.  A tremendous volume of preliminary work must be completed first.  Before we can think of landing on the moon, it will be necessary to establish a manned space station circling the Earth as a base of operations.”

Yeah, not so much.

Read more at the Popular Science archives or at Pillow Astronaut, where I’ve highlighted numerous space articles throughout various eras.

Open Source Engineering is Protected Speech wrt ITAR

A reader rightly questioned my previous post on the subject as inadequate to any review or exposition.  It was an experience report in a world that needs a review.  Thanks @cstartorg.

So we’re educating ourselves, as concerned citizens interested in a touchy subject.

A google search for “Freedom of Speech ITAR” reveals the work of many many people on our subject.  How does ITAR affect open source engineering for space systems.

A scan through the Epic Free Speech Archive confirms and explores the concept that the constitution which has made us great continues to provide for our development as a peaceful nation.

Likewise that search reveals more.

So be brave, open space awaits.

Of course there’s megatons of confusion out there, so as in all things, one needs to correctly classify principles versus discussion versus raw noise.

Space is boring, but don’t throw the NASA openness baby with the water

At SpaceUp 2010, Andy Cochrane @avclubvids gave the short talk Space Is BORING (via Evadot), in which he vividly expressed the feelings of a significant part of the space community about NASA public outreach for its boring, unexciting style. The frequent static, silent images aired by NASA TV are hardly effective at engaging the public.

Andy contrasted NASA outreach with new private space enterprises, which may be better at talking in a touching and engaging way about real, ordinary people and finally show the public how cool and awesome space is.

Besides giving to private space companies new entrepreneurial and technological opportunities, the Obama plan for NASA may make them play a major direct or indirect role also in space outreach.

Will NewSpace be willing and able to match or exceed NASA’s openness in freely releasing all sorts of information, data, images, and videos, and in providing access to facilities and personnel? How will NewSpace address the “engage, inspire” space mantra? Can this be done with limited or no openness?

My name flew into space on board winning Ansari X PRIZE vehicle SpaceShipOne, and I am a fan of the new breed of young, bold private space enterprises. They, not NASA, might one day make my lifetime dream of flying into space reality. And I agree with most of Andy’s points. But the — understandable — secrecy of some prominent private space companies, and the limited information they release, may not be a good start on the openness issue.

Without enough openness, and NASA currently wins hands down, the future of space outreach might look like an emotionally engaging, but scarcely informative, weird mix of Soviet era secrecy and Gen Y exuberance: “XYZ Aerospace has just blasted into orbit the coolest spacecraft ever! Hey, there are people inside. They report they are feeling weeeell! That’s awesome!!!”.

Speaking of openness and engagement, what do you think?

When will spaceflight be commonplace?

Over the weekend I pondered this question, “When will spaceflight be commonplace?”  For this exercise, lets assume spaceflight = to/from a destination in Low Earth Orbit.

Once again I’d like to offer up some questions to the #SpaceTweeps to share their responses and I’ll come back and post my answers as well.

1) When will spaceflight be commonplace (like airline travel)?

2) What government “help” is required to achieve routine spaceflight?

3) What role (if any) does technology play in making spaceflight routine?

4) What will the minimum acceptable level of risk be?

5) At what point (if any) will spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit be profitable?

Keeping The Faith

For Space Tweeps teetering on job loss and scrambling to find new opportunities while preserving their valuable space technology experience, I can only offer my deepest condolences and support.  I hope your voices are being heard, locally and nationally, and I hope that they are making a loud noise in the right ears.

Somehow our space society must survive and prevail if we hope to continue to move our nation both forward and upward.  It is easy in these really depressing times to just get totally frustrated and chuck it all; leaving your space careers behind.  Please don’t if at all possible.  This is not an easy request and may seem insensitive, but believe me I have walked in your shoes and I know the sadness and despair.  I repeat, don’t give up. In fact, get aggressive about yourself and your skills. Don’t let doubt and despair cripple your efforts to move forward even in these times. You are invaluable and all of your experience is priceless and essential to all those who seek to continue our efforts to move the space sciences and technology forward.

Yes, I know the politicians keep mouthing faint promises, but keep in mind this is a mid-term election year, and so politicians have at least partially opened their minds and their ears.  Knock on a door, tell you story, demand that space not be deserted.  It can make a difference first for you, and secondly for the entire space program.

Bottom line: Keep The Faith.  From the days of Mercury to now, there are endless men and women who have kept that faith and helped move us forward.  They are looking to each of us to carry on.  We must not fail.

Property in Space Law

Wrapping up my exploration into the affect of ITAR on the work of open source engineering, maybe it’s interesting to attempt a comparison of internet business models with space business models. 

The main parallel is that the development of internet business models has been slow, for reasons similar to those underlying opposition to the prohibition against property under space law.

In both cases, we need to work the problem and develop our thinking beyond what we  thought we knew.

A first example in the internet domain is the commercial open source business model.  Typically in this case, software source code is freely available for fairly unconstrained use and distribution.  The usual examples include the Linux operating system, Apache web server, or MySQL database.  Many businesses are founded on these software products.

Building or developing open source software as a commercial business model was and remains a contentious idea.  And rightly so, it’s a lot more complicated than selling widgets.  Well known in the business community is the question from investors, “what do we own?”  Entrepreneurs may need more than a year to get the homework done to answer this question to the satisfaction of even the most avant garde of participants.  The answer lies in the income stream, and the answer becomes “profit”.

Likewise in space. 

Space flight is an extremely challenging business in an extremely hostile environment, and space law reflects that reality.  There are many reasons one can readily imagine for not defining property on natural space objects, and it follows that there are a million more reasons beyond immediate imagination. 

For example, one can imagine a land rush to the moon being fatal in most cases.  But the situation is a lot more interesting than that.  It goes to the heart of commercial markets. 

The only reason in favor is to apply terrestrial economic concepts to space.  Which is a rather self evident falacy, given some earnest and intuitive reflection. 

Terrestrial enterprise is supported by the life sustaining environment.  This is so basic to the history of economy that it’s invisible until compared to space economy.

Without a life sustaining environment, an individual human actor has no sustainable presence.  In this environment, there is no fundamental human place or necessity for sustained presence. 

As a result, a heretofore invisible characteristic of markets in the basic character of possession is not present in space.

And without this component of possession, markets for possession (commercially viable property) fail to exist.

Another example.  There’s millions of asteroids.  In a world where Company XYZ owns one and records its value of $10T on the books, what has it recorded?  Can it sell it?  Why would I buy your asteroid for $10T when I can go land on the next one for free?  There’s no “there”, there.  There’s no market.  There’s no finitude.  There’s no possession.

The situation is analogous to a world in which all software is open source — given some external reason.  The conventional commercial software widgets business model does not exist in this world, Microsoft for example evaporates like water in a vacuum — as a simple illustration.

Caveat Emptor.  These illustrations bely the nature of the problem when they accommodate a limited number of its aspects with terrestrial metaphors.

So, could we play the usual entry- exit capital games and get somewhere against each others accounts?  My confidence in human creativity is unbounded. (i.e. Probably).  Is this a rational way for society to organize itself?  No. 

We need to do the math, work the problem, and find solutions.  There’s entire worlds of new business models out there, waiting to be discovered.  As in all things, we simply need to understand the constraints, devices and systems that make them work.

ITAR is material

After a long search through dozens of wrong answers from professionals in the field, I’ve found the answer on the subject of ITAR with respect to open source engineering on the internet.  ITAR doesn’t apply. 

Last week the White House and Department of Defense issued statements concerning upgrades to the regime that were focused on the sale of material goods, exclusively.  I was baffled until I read one little well written comment to Open NASA on IdeaScale by Martin Hegedus. 

Open source engineering on the internet is speech, and as such is protected by the First Amendment.  This would explain a great many mysteries, including the focus of the administration on the sale of commercial goods.

Since my beginning an earnest exploration of engineering topics in space flight last May, I had met with grave and serious statements from professionals in the aerospace industry that some components could not be openly documented under ITAR restrictions.  Plainly this was horseradish.

Obviously, when one faces such statements one is obligated to follow ones perception of the law until a better understanding becomes clear — in self preservation if nothing more.

Clearly the logic of the ITAR puzzle is solved with this new (for me and many others) information. 

Meanwhile, the old ideas apply.  No one wants to hand the incivil and offensive a weapon with which to share their insanity with the world.  A common sense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is shared among the peaceful peoples of the Earth.

So if one has a design for an LH2/LOX propulsion system, does one publish it openly on the internet?  Probably.  The incivil won’t bother building something as complex.  And in the movie plot scenario where they do, society at large has defenses.

Shuttle Stories- Potty Mouth

In my work area at Kennedy Space Center, there is only one other female technician. Nancy has worked at KSC for a total of about 38 years in a couple of different jobs. She is stubborn and sometimes ornery- that’s what I like best about her. She puts up with me, so we end up working together quite a bit. During these times, she often entertains me with stories from working during the Apollo years or from the early days of the Shuttle Program.

Nancy has told me a lot of crazy stories, but I was really floored one day when she casually mentioned being pissed on by Crippen & Young, the crew of the first shuttle mission. My response was something like, “WHAT?!” and she proceeded to explain what she meant.

It was shortly after STS-1, and Nancy was working in the OPF, or Orbiter Processing Facility. It was OPF Bay 1, the only one in existence at the time. Bays 2 and 3 were built later. All of the shuttle processing tasks that we have perfected now, nearly 30 years later, were just being pioneered. The task of the day was to service the “potty.” The job was being conducted by engineers in the firing room, who were providing instructions to the SCO, or Space Craft Operator inside the crew module, over the headsets they were wearing. They would tell him which switches to flip or buttons to push. Nancy and her co-worker also received instructions from the engineers over their headsets. They were told to hook up a length of flexible tubing to a port on the orbiter, and place the other end of the tubing into a bucket partially filled with water. 

Apparently the engineers were having trouble with the procedure, or there was some confusion. After about an hour they told the technicans to disconnect the tubing, even though no liquid had been drained. It was not clear why the procedure hadn’t seemed to work, so they would have to investigate. Nancy disconnected the tubing and leaned down to pick up the bucket. You can probably guess what happened next. Apparently engineering had relayed one more switch throw to the Space Craft Operator in the ship, and it caused a spray of, well you-know-what to be released, all over Nancy.

As soon as she realized what had happened, she began spewing forth a healthy stream of obscenities, as almost anyone would in that situation. She says she remembers that her co-worker stealthily snatched the headset off her head, not to protect it from the liquid, but to keep her from getting in trouble or even fired for cursing like a sailor over the comm system. At the time, there was no “white room” leading into the crew module of the orbiter, it was all open around the hatch. Nancy said she looked up and the SCO had poked his head out of the hatch and was convulsing in fits of laughter. 

So, that’s basically it. Nancy got cleaned up as best she could and got a new shirt and went back to work that day in 1981, perhaps smelling a bit foul. Ever since, her claim to fame has been that she was peed on by the crew of STS-1. I’m pretty sure no one else in the world can truthfully say that has happened to them. 

Space Tweeps, I need your help for a project at JSC!

First off, let me make it clear up front so that there is no confusion: this is a project that I’m volunteering for.  I’m not getting paid to do it.  It is on my own time.  Second, it was written about in the news media months ago so this isn’t breaking news.

Are we good? Good. So I’m on this project and I was chosen to be a part of the social media team. We’re meeting in a couple of weeks, but before that happens we were given an assignment. I figured – it’s the social media team, why not use social media as a way to do the assignment?

The assignment was for me to look at my social networking habits – Facebook, Twitter, etc, and look at what got me to the people/organizations/conversations that I participate in most often – what value do they bring to me? What makes them appealing?

I have my own answers of course, but I’m just one person and what appeals to me won’t necessarily appeal to others. I figure most people in the group would have similar answers since we have so much in common – same backgrounds, same jobs, live in the same place, etc. But you guys are such a broad spectrum and could offer much more insight!

So, I pose the question to you. There are no right or wrong answers and your help is greatly appreciated.