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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









Lego Space Sets? You can make it happen!

Hi all! I’m John and for most SpaceTweeps that know me I can be summed up in about two words: Lego and Space!
I’m here to let you know that if you (or someone in your SpaceTweep family) loves Lego bricks AND Space then you can help make more Lego Space sets a reality? Want to see a Mars Rover set? What about a model of your favorite shuttle!? Want to build a model of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft? Well thanks to the fine folks over at the Lego Group, they’ve created a special site and process to let anyone submit designs for a new Lego Set! If the set gets 10,0000 votes, the Lego Group will consider it (based on several criteria). If it’s selected by them for production the person(s) who submitted it will get 1% royalties form the sale of the set. One of the sets selected and taken to production has been a space one, the HAYABUSA spacecraft (http://lego.cuusoo.com/ideas/view/439)! Also a Curiosity Rover is under consideration by the Lego Group right now (http://lego.cuusoo.com/ideas/view/3431). So, if you’ve been wanting to see more real space sets on the shelves, please go over to the Lego Cuusoo site, search and vote for the sets you’d like to see and buy! Or, even better, submit you own! 🙂
Browsing the site has been known to cause people a sudden desire to go and build with their Lego bricks! I’m not responsible if you decide to take over the living room and build for a few days!


P.S. You can check out my submitted designs here -> http://lego.cuusoo.com/profile/johnmknight#projects 🙂

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.

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.

Powering the Future: Inside the Ad Astra Rocket Company

In an old shoe distribution center just down the road from Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, rocket scientists are developing the engines that may one day propel giant landers to search for life on Europa or hurtle the first human missions to across the void to Mars.  Once part of NASA’s long-term technology development program, the Ad Astra Rocket Company is now a private space propulsion lab headed by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz.  On a recent trip to Houston I was privileged to be able to tour the lab and see where the future is being built.

Ad Astra is developing the VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket).  They are developing a plasma rocket that shoots out super-hot exhausted that is controlled and directed by super-conducting magnets.  WOW.  The company is working with NASA to fly a full-scale prototype engine on the International Space Station in the next few years to refine their simulation models and confirm the output of the futuristic engine.

VASIMR diagram from Ad Astra

The building is unassuming to say the least.  It does not have a fancy glass and steel entryway, Tron-like glowing walls, or scenic views. Driving up, we were convinced we were in the wrong place. Inside the building, an open floor plan revealed a small reception area separated from a few modern work stations and a large conference room. The decor was sparse, a tasteful and eclectic mix of awards, spacecraft models, and signed Space Shuttle crew pictures from Chang-Diaz’s flights.


Space and Lego, a Love Story

Hello all. For those that don’t know me, I’m John Knight. In Space Tweep circles I’m known as the guy who has the MECO (one and only) tattoo and I’m the only non-Lego employee to have designed a Lego set for NASA (The SDO, Solar Dynamic Observatory set!). Today I wanted to share a bit about my love of Lego and one of the best tools out there for Lego fans, Lego Digital Designer.

I’ve been collecting and playing with Lego bricks for over 35 years. I can’t recommend them enough as a toy for helping develop motor skills, eye hand coordination, appreciation for engineering, robotics and art. If you have every shopped for or purchased Lego, you know that they are expensive. I am very brand loyal to  the Lego brand despite the cost simply because I know the quality of the product is worth it and the company really does a great job of taking care of the customers. This brings me to Lego Digital Designer (LDD). I’ve amassed over 100,000 bricks in my collection and sometimes that’s not enough to build some of the ideas I come up with.  LDD is a free program that essentially gives you an unlimited supply of Lego bricks to play with in a friendly and easy to use computer aided design program created by the folks at Lego. This program is simple enough for children 6+years to have fun with and sophisticated enough for the hardcore enthusiast, like myself, to have countless hours of fun with. You can download it here: http://ldd.lego.com/




As seen on FB@Sean Casey

This FAA Launch Report includes an article, “Special Report: “ITAR-Free” Satellites and Their Impact on the U.S. Launch Industry” 

Teams Ready Up for the AIAA’s Design Build Fly Contest

The rules for The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Design Build Fly (AIAA DBF) contest have been posted on the official website. This contest is a fun way from undergrads to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world. My experience in the DBF gave me a new respect for what goes into the design and construction of air and spacecraft; the detail required for our RC airplane was mind blowing. I was able to learn things that I would have learned in later years. Older team members taught me how to use almost every machine in the machine shop and how to use certain materials. This is why the DBF is a great opportunity for engineers and why every student engineer should try to enter. If you know an undergrad, suggest that they join their college’s DBF team or start their own. Even if you don’t know an undergrad, you can still root for your local school or your old school. Trust me, the teams need the encouragement when they hit inevitable snags. Look up your school in the list of teams that participated in the DBF last year. If a team wants to enter, they have until October 31 to register.

This year teams have to build a soldier portable Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The craft must fit in a “commercially produced suitcase meeting airline carry-on bag rules”. We have 4 attempts to complete 3 missions: Fly as many laps as possible, carry “Ammo” (A steel bar, the size is up to the team, but the heavier the bar is, the more points) 3 laps and carry “medical supplies” (As many golfs ball as your plane can fit, the more you carry, the more points) 3 laps. We only have one shot at each mission.

You can read the detailed rules here. The Georgia Tech team is the only team with a twitter account, follow them @GATechDBF. My team’s website is here. Other teams who have websites are:

I’m sure there are more, but I couldn’t find any more. I’ll update this post when I do.

Ultralight Spaceflight: field of dreams

This week @ULSF has been quieter than usual.  Looking out at our world, @PTScientists have a new blog post on rover wheels, and Alex @Csete is at the AMSAT UK Colloquium discussing Gnu Radio and OZ7SAT.


Reading about the ISS this week chills the bones.  Glad everyone is safe.

Work on the Sagittarius “plastic lifter” design study project continues in the solid modeling software.  The Constructive Solid Geometry package is presently being debugged. 

Additional work on future flight test locations has identified Floyd Bennet Field as an ideal candidate.  This location is an established R/C park, expansive, isolated, and surrounded by water.


Ultralight Spaceflight: The open shop principle

This week @ULSF we’ll have a look into open engineering since 1962.  That was the year in which Richard Hamming published his book, “Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers” complete with the most interesting appendix, “N+1: The Art of Computing for Scientists and Engineers”.  Hamming’s premise for “Numerical Methods” is “the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers”, following the standard “garbage in, garbage out” caveat for data processing.  In “N+1” Hamming develops the principle into “The open shop philosophy” via an epistemological “What do we know?”.  As in “What is the input?” and therefore what is the computation that describes the output.  Hamming wrote, “If we believe that the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers, then it follows that the [person] who is to get the insight must understand the computing”. “If he does not understand what is being done, he is very unlikely to derive much value from the computation”.

These principles extend into the more practical applications of computing that are common and familiar today.  What are the choices necessarily made by the programmer, and how were those choices implemented?  The open source software movement responds with, here is the code reflecting the choices made and available to inspection as well as alternative design and implementation.  For example in the realm of computer operating systems, is this code making the user vulnerable to resource or even identity theft.

Of course NASA has long been a leading member of the openness that has differentiated the US from most of the world throughout our brief history.  For example, the NASA Technical Reports Server contains millions of person-years of scientific and engineering knowledge and information (that statistic is simply my own guess at a conservative minimum bound).

NASA Nebula Montage

This week NASA Nebula pushed forward in the exemplary OpenStack initiative for cloud computing, an application computing infrastructure for NASA on par with that of Google or Amazon.

This week Alex @Csete has taken more steps forward into opening up Gnu Radio, detailing the decoding of the RS0ISS message board.

ISS Packet Downlink Decoding

The wide strong peek at 145.82 MHz is the ISS FM packet radio downlink in AX.25, shown in the neighborhood of VO-52.

I’d like to take this opportunity to admit that not since childhood have I been so close to reaching for an amateur radio operator’s license.  Apparently it’s pretty easy.  Alex is saturating my head enough that I’m starting to get some framework in mind to comprehend radio waves and their creation and propagation.  For me, RF is the weirdest area of Physics that I’m aware of.

Plus, the software defined radio is an FPGA application, like JOP that I’m also interested in for ULSF JFlight.  Although electrical engineers should feel free to jump in to help with Sagittarius.

Ultralight Spaceflight: Space Up DC?

This week @ULSF Alex @Csete submitted a fix to the Gnu Radio user interface, Gnu Radio Companion.  Digging into GRC and Gnu Radio will help us to establish a way for anyone to build a ground station and download the RF configuration for anyone’s mission tracking and communications.

I discovered another interesting part of the world in Modelica, an open source electro-mechanical dynamics modeling and simulation tool based on the Modelica Language and intended for graphical user interfaces.  It’s quite mature, with a substantial commercial following in Europe including Dassault Systèmes.  A model is defined and compiled into a simulation from the graphical user interface.

That code base has already given me some good pointers for my own work on Sagittarius.  A post entitled “Atoms and Molecules” describes the work in progress.

Mike @mrdoornbos and friends including Tiffany @astrogerly are working on Space Up DC this August 27th and 28th at the Space Policy Institute.  Follow @spaceupdc for more to come including registration this Tuesday.

Space is up, i.e., ad astra.

Ultralight Spaceflight: NOAA APT

This week @ULSF we have a cool NOAA APT catch by Alex @Csete.

North Pole from NOAA-18

This image from the North Pole was captured from Denmark.

NOAA-18 tracking over the North Pole via GPredict

This video shows the tracking sequence as illustrated by Alex’s GPredict software.

 “I used GNU Radio and the USRP to receive and Gpredict … to predict the AOS/LOS times and to know where to point the [hand held] antenna during the pass.  What I did was to record the received spectrum (250kHz as seen on the video from last week) in raw format. This data is pretty much a digital representation of what was on the air at that time at 137.x MHz +/- 125 kHz (At 137 MHz the Doppler shift will be less than +/- 5 kHz). The recorded data is about 1.7 GBytes for a 15 minute pass.

“After the pass, I replayed the recorded spectrum and ran it through the channel filter, FM demodulator, audio recorder and image decoder.   It still feels like listening live the only difference being the signals don’t come from the antenna but from a recorded file. It has the advantage that I can always restart if I make a mistake during decoding and it is also very useful for experimenting with the receiver chain.

“The idea with the DX was to try to receive signals when the sat is still far away (low  elevation). Due to the FAX-like transmission, the image is transmitted line by line and the  satellite always transmits what is right below it (sub satellite point/line). It’s like a camera always pointing down to Earth and only capturing one line at a time.   So, the lower the elevation angle, the farther away will the transmitted image come from. Obviously, there is a limit to how far away this can be because the satellites are in a low Earth orbit (between 800-900 km).

“Receiving while the satellite is still at low elevations can be very easy if there is clear line of sight or very difficult if there are trees in the way. I got mixed results this weekend:
The best accomplishment is probably the one from the North pole, though it’s rather noisy and difficult to recognize.”