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Monthly archive September, 2011

Frontiers in Astrophysics Lecture Series

For those space tweeps that live in New York City or will be there, check out the upcoming lecture series courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History!

Frontiers in Astrophysics Lecture Series
Strange New Worlds with Ray Jayawardhana

When: October 3, 2011 | 7:30 pm
Where: American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium Space Theater (Enter at 81st Street)
Price: $15 ($13.50 Members, students, seniors)

Soon astronomers expect to find alien “Earths” by the dozens in orbit around distant suns. Before the decade is out, telltale signs that these planets harbor life may be found. If they are, the ramifications for all areas of human thought—from religion and philosophy to art and biology—will be breathtaking. In Strange New Worlds, renowned astronomer Ray Jayawardhana brings news from the front lines of the epic quest to find planets—and alien life—beyond our solar system.

A book signing will follow.

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.

Spacehacks Playing Astronaut

With the passion for manned spaceflight in continual flux, with the Hubble’s replacement in danger of outright cancellation, and decreasing budgets for even robotic or orbital missions, it would be all too easy to become discouraged by space program withdrawal.

The most powerful thing we can do is spread the word. Tweet! And tweet some more! Put space articles on your Facebook wall. Support projects that invite the public to join their efforts, such as NASA studies or organizations like SPACEHACK, the directory of ways to participate in Space Exploration.

Spacehack Directory
In the coming era, it may very well be all the work we do on the GROUND that gets us more fully into space again, so make an effort as SpaceTweeps to support the projects that support the space program! Through their growth, we spread the word and find strength in numbers. Congress can’t ignore this forever.

Some listings are competitions for prizes, others pay actual wages; some are for students and/or entire classrooms as projects, others for amateur and professional astronomers… and still others are simply ways to gather information to contribute to scientific research.

Video not available

The highest paying gig in there are the NASA bedrest studies, aka the Flight Analog Program. They develop 2-3 new Spaceflight Simulations per year, requiring people to visit a special NASA facility and … well, pretty much lie around while getting paid $160 per day most of the time! No joke. Although – one of the newer programs is a bit more strenuous than usual, as they are testing a version of the Space Station’s “Colbert” treadmill…

Also check out some articles about how NASA programs help real world citizens, such as the rehab facility now offering NASA-developed anti-gravity treadmill for therapy. The ultimate spinoff! Space station exercise? Now also a medical tool for healing and/or physical conditioning.


Image credit: NASA/JPL

Just returned home from the GRAIL Tweetup. I had the time of my life. I’m 49 years old so that’s a bit of a chunk of life to say you had the time of. The people, the tours, have changed me just like Apollo did when I was 7 years old.

Already thinking about my next Tweetup; maybe Curiosity’s launch in November? In the event I don’t make that launch; some space related event it will be! I look forward to posting and being part of the Space Tweep Society!

ATK hosts #DM3 Tweetup for 5-segment motor ground test in Utah

ATK hosts #DM3 Tweetup for 5-segment motor ground test in Utah

Can’t make it to GRAIL? Attend the #DM3 tweetup for the  five-segment ground test at Promontory, Utah, September 8. Send a DM to @ATKRocketNews or @ATKOutreach on Twitter if you’re interested in tweeting live from the Utah desert. Click here to learn more about the ground test.