Sputnik, NASA, and Generation Space October 3, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Mars, Space Shuttle
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On Friday, October 4, 1957, a gleaming aluminum sphere, roughly the size of beach ball, weighing 184 pounds and studded with four whip-like antennae, was lofted into orbit around Earth. Sputnik changed the world in both large and small ways.
That same weekend in Doug’s grandparent’s house, a litter of kittens was born. The firstborn, a tiny black-and-white female, was named Sputnika after the Russian artificial satellite that had grabbed so much of the world’s attention. A little over 1800 miles away—a distance three times greater than the most distant point in Sputnik’s elliptical orbit—in Pasadena, California, a young girl who’d grow up to be a colleague of ours, would go out into the San Rafael hills and try to catch a nighttime glimpse of Sputnik as it passed overhead. Our parents were young adults then, just coming of age in this changing world. When Anna’s sister came home from kindergarten fifteen years later, having made a holiday ornament from a Styrofoam ball, a few toothpicks, and silver spray paint, Anna’s mother declared, “You made Sputnik.”
Our colleague wasn’t the only American looking up into the night sky. All over the United States, people were straining to catch a glimpse of the Russian achievement that blazed and glittered through the heavens. Some, mostly children and young adults, watched the satellite’s trail in awe. Parents, teachers, and leaders, had an altogether different reaction, fear.
The effect of that fear was writ large across America. Seemingly overnight, K-12 classrooms refocused their curricula to produce future engineers and scientists. Government agencies were realigned. NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, itself founded as a crisis-induced preparation for World War I, was dissolved and reformed as NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on October 1, 1958. So, this week marks two anniversaries that define the beginning of the Space Age: the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first man-made satellite, and the formation of NASA, the space agency that would put a human being on the Moon.
Over the next four decades, the space race ignited by Sputnik’s launch would morph from a heated contest in which Russia and the United States each achieved their share of firsts—first human in space (Russian Yuri Gagarin) and first men on the Moon (Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin)—into a global collaboration. In November 1998, a little more that forty years after Sputnik launched and NASA’s founding, the two nations would begin the long-term project of launching the pieces and parts that would be assembled into the International Space Station (ISS), humankind’s first permanent home in space. Fifteen nations have participated in the development, creation, and use of ISS. Russian rockets regularly launch European space probes—for example 2003’s Mars Express—into space. With the 2011 end of the space shuttle program, Russian rockets are charged with delivering all human crew and resupply materials to the ISS.
In August of this year, the Mars rover Curiosity endured “seven minutes of terror” upon entering the Martian atmosphere and landing on its surface. At four minutes into the landing sequence, Curiosity’s main parachute deployed, amazingly while Curiosity was still traveling supersonically and after nine months of space travel. Despite weighing only 100 pounds, the parachute was subjected to forces in excess of 60,000 pounds upon opening. It’s the largest parachute ever used outside of the earth’s atmosphere. But what most impressed us about the rover’s landing was that we could watch, albeit with a fourteen-minute relay delay. The world could watch because a satellite we sent earlier is orbiting Mars and was in the correct position to photograph Curiosity’s parachute opening. Astoundingly, shortly after Curiosity’s landing, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) probe was able send back a photo taken by its HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera.
Think about that for a moment. In just sixty-five years, roughly a single person’s lifespan, humans have gone from having a single artificial satellite awkwardly orbiting their own planet to having satellites orbiting another planet—satellites that are sophisticated enough to be controlled, positioned so that when, yet another, spacecraft goes whizzing past, a photograph of a parachute opening can be taken and relayed back to Earth.
Many cultures have an aphorism that expresses the relationship between generations and wealth: one generation to build it, one generation to expand it, one generation to squander it. Lately at Lofty Ambitions we’ve been focused on Generation Space, those individuals born between the launch of Sputnik and the beginning of the shuttle program. The youngest of Generation Space have childhood memories of the first Moon landing and were young adults when Challenger exploded in the sky. In the cultural tale, we’re firmly that second generation in space exploration. We didn’t build the world’s space programs—Sputnik, Apollo, or the Shuttle—but we’ve been charged with taking that intellectual wealth and expanding it. Extending it. Will we bequeath the generation that follows us enough desire, enough passion for space exploration? Will the intellectual, technological, and emotional wealth of the last sixty-five years of space exploration be squandered, or might Mars be next?
I Remember California: Endeavour Delay September 17, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Beer, Dryden Flight Research Center, I Remember California, Space Shuttle
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We’ve experienced shuttle launch delays before, and we had worried that the weather couldn’t possibly be sunny the whole of Endeavour’s planned flight path today. Still, when news came that there would be a twenty-four-hour slip in the start of the impending ferry flight, we felt a little sick. We’ve come to think of Endeavour as our orbiter—the one we saw at Edwards Air Force Base in 2008 when a mission ended in California, our home of just a few months; the shuttle whose crew we twice saw on their way to the launch pad in 2011; the first orbiter we saw launch in person; the one that Stephanie Stilson gave us a personal tour of in July 2011; the one we watched back out of the Mate-Demate Device yesterday morning; the orbiter that is coming home to California, and to us, for good.
We were on the “up close” bus tour of Kennedy Space Center when the tour guide announced that Endeavour’s ferry flight had been delayed a day. We’d just been inside the immense Vehicle Assembly Building (more on that in an upcoming post) when the bad news came. From the Saturn V Center, where the bus let us off for the Apollo 8 launch reenactment and to see some amazing Apollo artifacts, we called the special phone number for media updates and learned that the flight is delayed because of expected weather problems between Titusville, Florida, and Houston, Texas. A little rain, we thought, as it takes just a little rain to keep the mated orbiter on the ground or require it to fly around the precipitation. A bit queasy from the news and from our lack of sleep last night (up at 4:00a.m.), we grabbed a couple of caffeinated beverages, sat ourselves down under the looming Saturn V rocket stages, and tossed around possible ways to handle the new circumstances.
Anna must be back in California on Tuesday for the kickoff of the Tabula Poetica Reading Series that she directs. She’s excited that poetry has burgeoned at Chapman University and that Victoria Chang will give a talk and reading on Tuesday. “I can go back with you,” Doug said. “We can see Endeavour land together at Dryden.”
“But you didn’t see Discovery from the runway last time,” Anna replied. Doug had stayed at the News Center to watch the 747 fly the orbiter over the Vehicle Assembly Building. “It’s so cool. It’s like no other takeoff,” she added, knowing that she was suggesting he stay without her. Weeks ago, we’d discussed this as a possibility, and Doug had already arranged for the time away from work. Endeavour’s ferry flight will be the last-ever for the shuttle program, and we don’t want to miss it, if we don’t absolutely have to.
The media update indicated that NASA still plans to get the orbiter to LAX on Thursday. Unless Endeavour skips Dryden Flight Research Center, scheduled as an overnight stop on Wednesday, that means we need to drive to Dryden late Tuesday night as we’d planned. No extra day built in for getting from here to there, not anymore. Could Doug really stay until Tuesday, in hopes that the delay is only twenty-four hours? How much would the switch cost? Was this the way we wanted to experience Endeavour’s move—not seamlessly together, but piecemeal?
Unexpected circumstances like these are the reason we’ve worked so hard to function as a team, to hone our style and story together, to be able to pick up where the other leaves off. We’ve done this sort of thing before, and we’ve managed various levels of separation. We’ve come to understand that the way we want to be a couple is to be more than the sum of our parts, so if Doug gets to see Endeavour take flight from the Space Coast this time and Anna doesn’t, so be it. It’s important that we experience things together, but whatever we each do counts for both of us—that’s what we’ve tried to create over the last two years. We’ll be together on the other end.
Also, it turned out that it wouldn’t be extraordinarily expensive. In fact, though the extra day does require a little more investment, it was way cheaper to change Doug’s plans than we ever could have imagined. So Doug is now all set to stay on the Space Coast until Tuesday afternoon—plans were remade even before dinner last night. Remaking our plans—remaking ourselves in small and sometimes large ways—is not always easy, but it’s exciting. We hope that these circumstances require just a twenty-four-hour remaking. If the situation requires more, NASA and Lofty Ambitions will deal with that tomorrow. For now, we’re spending a day together on the Space Coast before Doug drops Anna at the airport. We’re together now, and we’ll be together on the other coast soon.
Remembering Neil Armstrong September 3, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Space Shuttle
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Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the Moon. He made the small step that was a giant leap on July 20, 1969, when he was thirty-eight years old and we were toddlers. Last Saturday, on August 25, 2012, Neil Armstrong died. We are the adults now.
Others of note weighed in quickly about what Armstrong’s life and death might mean, and the occasional headline was blundered (Neil Young? Lance Armstrong?) in the rush to print or post. Thoughtful meditations by science bloggers emerged over several days. Though Armstrong himself was a private man, he achieved a great public accomplishment. When a person dies, as much as that person’s death is his own, its meaning belongs to those who live with that death, privately for family and friends or publicly. It took us a few days to pull our thoughts together and decide what we wanted to say publicly about Neil Armstrong.
You can read our thoughts in “Neil Armstrong and the Space Generation” at The Huffington Post.
Margaret Lazarus Dean asks about the expectations we had of Armstrong: “Exactly how many years of his life do you think Neil Armstrong owes us?” You can read more of what this Lofty Ambitions guest blogger and novelist had to say at “Neil Armstrong’s Second Act.”
SETI Astronomer Seth Shostak added his remarks at “Armstrong Wasn’t Columbus.” Shostak points out, “Unlike the famous fifteenth-century seafarer, Armstrong knew where he landed. He also spent his time in public service, not in jail […].”
You can read about the strange form of life insurance that the Apollo 11 crew took out, in case they did not return from the Moon at “Neil Armstrong’s Life Insurance Came in the Form of Autographs.”
“While I yearned to fly the very latest high-performance aircraft, Neil was flying them,” says Bruce McCandless II in “An Astronaut’s Tribute to Neil Armstrong.”
Friday’s funeral was a private, invitation-only memorial service, but Rob Pearlman, whom we’ve met several times as we’ve followed the end of the space shuttle program, shares the information that’s available at “Neil Armstrong’s Family, NASA Remember First Moonwalker.” This piece lists a variety of ways to memorialize Armstrong, from winking at the blue moon this past Friday to donating to a newly established fund benefiting a Cincinnati hospital to the national tribute scheduled for September 12 in Washington, DC.
Columbia Memorial Space Center (and R.I.P. Neil Armstrong) August 29, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, WWII
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Of course, we acknowledge the death of Neil Armstrong this past weekend. Neil Armstrong is dead, and we’re the grown-ups now.
We are working on a piece that we will probably post at The Huffington Post later this week. Many have weighed in on the man’s accomplishments and the meaning of his death, and we have some thoughts to add. So we’ll join the conversation at The Huffington Post that includes Margaret Lazarus Dean, Seth Shostack, and others. With much being written and much of it incredibly eloquent, we are taking our time with this one. In some ways, that sentence above—Neil Armstrong is dead, and we’re the adults now—captures something about our larger sense of being the space generation.
So today, here, we look back a couple of months to share information about a science museum. In June, Doug and his colleague Rand Boyd had a chance to give a talk about the Roger and Roberta Boisjoly NASA Challenger Disaster Collection, which is housed in Chapman University’s Leatherby Libraries. The venue for Doug and Rand’s talk was the Columbia Memorial Space Center.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is located just across the street from the historic North American Aviation (NAA) plant in Downey, California. The NAA plant played an integral role in the United State’s aerospace history. During its seventy-year run as an aircraft, missile, and spacecraft factory, historic aviation names such as Champion, Curtis, Vultee, Consolidated, Convair, North American, North American-Rockwell, and Boeing all passed through the site. At the beginning of World War II, fully one-seventh of the military’s aircraft were being manufactured at the Downey plant.
These days, the former aircraft factory is home to Downey Studios, a film production space where Iron Man (1 and 2), Space Cowboys, and Cloverfield (among dozens of others) were filmed, at least in part. But, in the 1960s and 1970s, the NAA plant was front and center in America’s manned space program. The Apollo Command and Service Modules were built at this facility, as were significant portions of the space shuttle orbiters. Even today, a remaining space shuttle—albeit a one-winged, engineering mock-up without a permanent home—is being housed at Downey Studios. There is a movement afoot to ensure that the Columbia Memorial Space Center becomes the permanent home to the shuttle mock-up, but for now, the center will have to settle for becoming the mock-up’s most recent temporary home.
Obviously given Downey’s strong connection to aerospace history, it’s no accident that the city of Downey chose this location for the site of the Columbia Memorial Space Center. On the day that Doug visited the center, more than two hundred fifth-graders from a local school had also visited the center. That kind of activity fits neatly with the center’s educational mission, which is focused on serving as a hands-on activity center for space science. As would be expected, the center has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program, one that has a core focus on flight, robotics, and engineering. Many NASA-affiliated programs are accelerating past STEM and heading for STEAM, so, given its location and history, it would be interesting to see if the Columbia Memorial Space Center is able to somehow forge a tie-in with film making and its current programs.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center was created as a national memorial to the crew of STS-107, seven astronauts who died when the orbiter Columbia broke apart during reentry. (Related Lofty Ambitions blog posts HERE and HERE.) One of the first images that grabs and holds your attention as you enter the center is a wall-sized mosaic of Columbia’s last mission. The seven thousand individual images that unite to form the mosaic are snapshots of Columbia, the seven-member crew, and their training and preparation. When taken in its entirety, the mosaic is a compelling image of the moment that the STS-107 crew left the Earth for the last time. Up close, the individual images are a hauntingly intimate and personal glimpse into the lives of seven professionals who died doing something they loved.
The facility also houses a Challenger Learning Center. In this learning space, kids become members of a space shuttle crew on a simulated mission to return to the Moon or go to Mars. This part of the center is designed for groups and requires reservations, so area teachers should check it out.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00a.m. to 5:00p.m, with shortened hours on Sunday from 11:00a.m. to 3:00p.m.
Doug and Rand had a great time at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, and Anna will undoubtedly make the trip next time there’s an opportunity. In the meantime, Doug and Rand are considering ways to bring the Boisjoly collection to more people. Feel free to contact us via email if you have ideas for that project.
The Cold War: Trinity & Apollo July 16, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science.
Tags: Apollo, Movies & TV, Nuclear Weapons, Physics, Serendipity, WWII
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On this date in 1945, the United States exploded the first nuclear weapon. A test to see whether the concept worked. It did.
Two years ago to commemorate this anniversary, only a couple of weeks after we started blogging together as Lofty Ambitions, we posted “A Day with Two Suns.” That’s a relatively brief post that we hope you’ll read along with this one. That post hinges on a statement in a physics textbook from 1942 that presages the eventual use of an atomic bomb and implies the inevitability of nuclear weapons, once radioactivity and isotopes of uranium and plutonium were discovered and studied by scientists.
“The Gadget” was perched at the top of a hundred-foot tower and exploded on July 16, 1945. It had a twenty-kiloton yield. A device of the same design was detonated over Nagasaki a few weeks later, killing 40,000 people instantly. The exact detonation site for the Trinity test in New Mexico is now marked with an obelisk and is open to visitors two days every year.
On this anniversary of the beginning of the nuclear age, we invite you to look at another link as well, not ours, but an artist’s rendering in video of the nuclear age through 1998. Click HERE for Isao Hasimoto’s powerful representation of the world’s nuclear detonations, beginning with the Trinity test. In the top banner, note the detonation count by country along with the months and years elapsing. Since 1998 and the timeframe Hashimoto represents, North Korea has tested two nuclear weapons. That brings the total to 2055 nuclear explosions.
Tomorrow, too, marks another anniversary, that of the last above-ground nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site (now called the Nevada National Security Site and worth the click for the security notice). In 1962, Little Feller I was a comparatively small weapon shot from a Davy Crockett launcher. All nuclear tests thereafter moved underground to prevent fallout sprinkling radioactive particles around the globe and to protect the atmosphere and those of us who would breathe it for decades to come. Plutonium occurs almost nowhere in the natural world, but in the nuclear era, we swim in a thin stream of the man-made element as a byproduct of atmospheric testing in addition to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Plutonium-239, the isotope used for nuclear weapons, has a half-life of more than 24,000 years. You may also want to take a few minutes to read “Fission & Half-Lives.”
With the nuclear age, of course, came the Cold War, our decades of standoff with the Soviet Union. Part of the story of the Cold War is the story of the space race. The Soviets won the race to space, putting the first man into space, then the first man into low-Earth orbit. The United States won the race to the Moon. That victory began on this date in 1969, when Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center, with throngs of viewers crowded in the J.C Penney parking lot across the Indian River. A few days later, on July 20, Neil Armstrong, then Buzz Aldrin, stepped onto the lunar surface while Michael Collins circled across the far side of the Moon. The three splashed down safely on July 24, 1969.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of another space exploration milestone as well, a friendly gesture between Cold War enemies, the Apollo-Soyuz mission. In 1975, the Soviet Union launched a Soyuz capsule and the United States launched an Apollo capsule. The two capsules docked in orbit on this date, and Tom Stafford and Alexey Leonov gave rise to the first outer-space handshake between nations. (Watch the docking HERE.)
We are no longer surprised by this sort of serendipity, by the fact that important historical events in two different realms about which we write—nuclear history and space exploration—would occur on the same date, years apart in the twentieth century. We find that this sort of serendipity happens regularly, while other dates contain nothing of import for our work at Lofty Ambitions.
What continues to surprise us is a different type of serendipity, one in which we seem actively involved. As we draft this post and realize that tomorrow marks the anniversary of Apollo-Soyuz, we have just watched the film The Far Side of the Moon, about which we knew almost nothing when we added it to our Netflix queue. The title, for us, was enough. It turns out that Alexey Leonov, the Soviet hand in that interstellar, Cold War handshake, plays a prominent role in The Far Side of the Moon. We don’t want to give too much away—the film is not about Leonov but about a philosophy of science student and his weatherman brother, in the wake of their mother’s death. We would have enjoyed the film any time because it is quirky, tells a character-driven story, and tries interesting cinematic moves. But that we happened to watch this film when it would be especially meaningful to us because of this anniversary is one of the pleasures we keep finding in our work together here.
It Takes a Village To Build a Blog June 27, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science, Museums & Archives, Serendipity, Space Shuttle, SpaceX
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Two years ago this coming Sunday, we launched Lofty Ambitions blog. This piece marks our 276th post. At this second anniversary of our work together as bloggers, we can’t help but reflect that it’s not just about us, that one thing led to another, and that Lofty Ambitions has become more than the sum of its parts.
Two years ago, not many people knew we were interested in the space program and thinking about trying to attend a space shuttle launch. But word traveled quickly, and now family, friends, and strangers refer to us as space nerds. Last fall, when we were checking in for Homecoming at Knox College, a woman behind us said something like, Look, it’s the space nerds. Although we had never met this woman before in person, she had contacted us by email during one of our trips to Space Coast for a shuttle launch. While we were momentarily taken aback by the sudden collapsing of our online world with our physical world, we were happy to be recognized for what we were trying to build and discuss. And she went so far as to suggest that her husband—a scientist, museum curator, and fellow traveler to the Space Coast—might want to write a guest blog. We can’t wait to see it (nudge, nudge).
Occasionally, in extremely thoughtful gestures, these people who’ve discerned our lofty interests give us gifts accordingly. These objects have become part of the blog and our way of thinking about who we are in the world. Even before we began this blogging adventure, our friends Lisa and Jim gave us a beautiful wooden aircraft propeller, a wedding gift and a symbol of our departure for California. Since then, Anna’s mother has passed along a wooden model of the space shuttle that she picked up at an auction. Doug’s boss brought us a rubber bathtub-worthy version of the shuttle that he picked up at an aviation museum. Most recently, Doug’s mom sent us Astro-Barbie and a Lego model of the space shuttle to build, two gifts we wrote about HERE.
Gifts work two ways, of course. One of the objects we purchased during a visit to Kennedy Space Center was a mission patch for STS-107, the last mission of the orbiter Columbia. We gave this memento to Marilyn Harran, the Director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University, the university where we work. That patch, really just a little something we picked up and thought she might appreciated personally, is now on display as part of a tribute to Ilan Ramon, one of the astronauts who perished in the Columbia accident.
We gave the patch to Marilyn because she recognized us as space nerds early on. In fact, she invited us to a screening of An Article of Hope hosted by the Rodgers Center, and one of the producers of that film about Ilan Ramon and the Columbia accident became our first guest blogger (read his post HERE). Astronaut Mike Massimino participated via Skype in the discussion after the film showed, and we interviewed Massimino months later (see that video HERE), when he and we were at Kennedy Space Center to watch a launch. Even more recently, Marilyn invited us to the naming celebration for the Ilan Ramon Day School, where we saw Ramon’s wife speak and met astronaut-turned-SpaceX-manager Garrett Reisman (read about that HERE).
Other mission patches from the mother of Sally Ride, the nation’s first woman in space, were donated to the Leatherby Libraries by a library board member, in large part because Doug has made it known we’re interested in space exploration and the shuttle program. Doug has also worked with NASA to add several original models of satellites and a thermal tile from a shuttle orbiter to the library’s archives (read more HERE and HERE).
The most extensive collection of shuttle-related materials in the archives is the Roger and Roberta Boisjoly NASA Challenger Disaster Collection. The collection consists of boxes of documents, photos, and pieces of o-rings that Roger donated to Chapman University as a result of his long-time friendship with our colleague Mark Maier, who studies workplace ethics. Recently, Doug has worked with archivist Rand Boyd to develop a lecture and traveling exhibit, which made its debut at the Columbia Memorial Space Center earlier this month (an event that deserves its own post in the weeks to come). Roger, who died early this year, wrote a guest post for us HERE.
The objects—the propeller, the toys, the patches—represent the people and events who have shaped, cheered on, and contributed to the blog. The people, events, and objects, along with our writing here, have become a self-reinforcing process. We rack up this dynamic to serendipity, knowing full well that these happy collisions aren’t really accidental. Shared intellectual space, whether physical (Doug works across the hall from Marilyn) or virtual, creates the opportunity for these interactions. Because the blog keeps us attuned to all things space, science, and writing, we notice and can take advantage of these interactions because they’re especially meaningful to us.
We know we’re not alone in this project we call Lofty Ambitions. One of the most wonderful examples of the village that builds this blog is the email we received from a father whose son was doing a history project about space exploration and the Cold War. The boy and his research partner wanted to talk with an Apollo astronaut because such a primary source would distinguish their project in the state competition. We pointed the father to a few contacts, with little expectation that he’d get through. Alan Bean, Apollo 16 veteran and now a painter, responded to the man’s email almost immediately and set up a ten-minute phone conversation with the fifth-grade historian. Inspired by that success, the man tracked down a couple of other astronauts. The boy and his research partner became champions in California’s National History Day state competition.
Lofty Ambitions is more than the sum of its parts. It’s more than what you see on the blog each week. The reach and rewards of our work are greater than the number of hits, re-posts, or tweets. As we mark our two years of traveling and writing together, we thank our readers for becoming part of the village that builds a blog.
A Day at NASA’s Dryden Research Center (#NASASocial), Part 3: Of U-2’s, Xombies, X-48’s, and YO-3’s—Or why there’s so much fun at the other end of the alphabet May 23, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Dryden Flight Research Center, Space Shuttle
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In last week’s post, we covered a good deal of the How’s and Why’s of the aeronautics research program at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC). This week, we’ll take a look at the Who’s and What’s. Questions like, Who is it that actually makes and flies these contraptions? And, What needs to happen to carry out the DFRC research mission?
The last session before the lunch break of the NASASocial a few weeks ago was an opportunity to meet some of the Dryden test pilots and flight test engineers. DFRC’s chief test pilot Nils Larson presented an overview of life as a Dryden test pilot. During his presentation and the ensuing Q&A, Larson discussed flying the U-2—the NASA version is known as the ER-2. Larson is an extremely experienced U-2 pilot, having spent part of his Air Force career, first flying and then later as an operations commander for a detachment of U-2s at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in nearby Palmdale. The U-2/ER-2 has a reputation as a twitchy, demanding aircraft to fly. Larson hinted as the type’s quirks when he said, “If you’re having a bad day and the U-2’s having a bad day, it can be a BAD DAY.” Larson also related that all but one of the Dryden ER-2s was specifically purchased for NASA. An autograph session featuring eight DFRC test pilots and engineers wrapped up the #DrydenSocial morning session.
The program after lunch was every bit as exciting and engaging as the morning’s program. John Kelly, a NASA program manager discussed the Flight Opportunities Program, which is designed to make getting payloads into space more flexible and to foster a wider range of commercial interest in space technologies. One project that Kelly mentioned as a particular success was a recent test of the Xombie suborbital spacecraft produced by Masten Space Systems. In this test flight, the Xombie demonstrated vertical takeoff from a launch pad, lateral navigation to a second pad, and vertical landing on the second pad. The Xombie spacecraft was controlled by the GENIE (Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment) navigational computer during the test. GENIE was produced by Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research institute spun off from MIT in 1973. Draper is not new to space exploration, having developed the guidance computers for the Apollo missions.
It’s arguable that the title of “Best Job in the World” belongs either to Jim Ross, Dryden’s Multimedia Supervisor, or to Lori Losey, Dryden’s Senior Video Producer/Director. Their jobs titles differ, but they both get to ride in the back seat of a chase aircraft, often one of NASA’s F-18s, to capture images of test flights. Ross related that this was an unexpected career choice because, as a child, he got carsick backing out of the driveway. Even after riding in high performance jets for years, Ross and Losey admit that they still get motion sickness on occasion. They’ve both learned a variety of coping mechanisms, and Losey indicated that, on flying days, her breakfast choices are limited to oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. But, if diet and preparation fail, and she finds herself ill during a flight, Losey assured us that it’s possible to “puke into an airsick bag in a 3-G turn” while still getting the shot. Doug still can’t figure out the mechanics of that maneuver. You can watch a video of Losey describing her job.
A tour of Hangar 4802 was next up on the agenda. During the tour, the Dryden handlers arranged for each of the NASA Social attendees to have their photo taken while sitting in the cockpit of a NASA F-18. The hangar also included several fascinating test aircraft, such as the X-48 and the YO-3. The X-48 is a blended wing-body aircraft that looks to have more in common with flying wings like the B-2 stealth bomber than traditional civilian aircraft. With a wingspan of just over twenty feet and weight of five hundred pounds, the X-48 reminds one of a remote-control aircraft. It is in fact, a very serious test aircraft that flew a comprehensive series of flights in 2006-2008. At that time, the aircraft was known as the X-48B and had three engines. After recently being modified with only two engines, the aircraft has been re-designated the X-48C.
Near the hangar door sat the YO-3A, an aircraft that DFRC uses for acoustic research. The YO-3A is perfectly suited to this kind of work, as it started life as an unpowered sailplane. The aircraft is now powered by a standard Continental aircraft engine as a result of a program to produce “ultra-quiet” observation aircraft for the Vietnam War.
The final stop on the Hangar 4802 tour was a visit to the CTV, or the Crew Transport Vehicle. At Dryden, the CTV was used to transport and checkout shuttle astronauts on those occasions when the shuttle landed in California. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of flying through Dulles International Airport, the CTV will be instantly recognizable to you as a “people mover” between points such as the terminal and concourse. In fact, this particular people mover was originally used at Baltimore-Washington International Airport(BWI) and was acquired By Dryden in 1991.
After returning from Hangar 4802, the #DrydenSocial handlers started to wrap up the day. A couple of fantastic moments still remained: a book give-away and dinner at Domingo’s Mexican Restaurant, where space shuttle astronauts were said to congregate when the mission ended in California instead of back at Kennedy Space Center.
The NASA Social events have become a fantastic vehicle for NASA to promote its accomplishments through social media. The #DrydenSocial event was exceptional in this regard. The access and information that NASA provided resulted in a day full of happy tweets, enthusiastic Facebook updates, and whatever it is that you do in Google+. NASA Social events are announced HERE. Lofty Ambitions highly recommends that you check one out.
Tags: Apollo, Concorde, Dryden Flight Research Center, GRAILTweetup, Movies & TV, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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A clear and consistent message was delivered at both the #DrydenSocial and last fall’s GRAIL Tweetup: NASA wants to use social media to help spread the word of its achievements. To that end, NASA trots out its best and brightest to address event attendees and then mixes in the kind of moments that only NASA can deliver.
To that end, the morning session of the May 4th NASA Social event at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) offered a broad overview of Dryden’s historical and continuing role in aeronautics research. David McBride, Center Director for DFRC and Christian Gelzer, Chief Historian, provided a wealth of contextual information in the day’s first two talks.
The wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium and whose book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Anna has just finished reading, has been making some interesting comparisons regarding NASA’s budget of late. According to Tyson (watch the video HERE), the $850 billion spent on TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is greater than NASA’s budget for the fifty-plus years that NASA has been in existence.
In no particular order, here are some the achievements that NASA’s budget has funded in that five-decade span:
• the Hubble Space Telescope and its associated increase in our understanding of the universe;
• a significant portion of the International Space Station (ISS);
• the Space Transportation System (the shuttle) that carried Hubble and the ISS’s pieces into orbit;
• deep space probes such as the Voyagers, planetary landers and rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity;
• myriad Earth-orbiting satellites that have taught us much about our planet’s weather, composition, and history;
• and of course, the Apollo program and the astronauts who landed on the moon.
Note that all of these scientific and engineering achievements have something to do with space. Space is sexy, space gets people’s attention.
That said, the first A in NASA is for Aeronautics. In recent years, aeronautics has been a remarkably small piece of NASA’s little pie. In his introduction to the NASA Social #DrydenSocial attendees, David McBride, Dryden’s Director, pointed out that aeronautics research receives about 2.5% of NASA’s roughly $18 billion dollar budget in any given year. Those monies go towards funding the four dedicated NASA Aeronautics Research Centers: Langley, Glenn, Ames, and Dryden. At the end of that quickly narrowing financial funnel, Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) receives less than 1% of NASA’s budget.
It turns out, however, that the first A in NASA is a really important part of the United States’ overall economic picture. McBride indicated that the manufacture of aircraft and its associated industries were the single greatest positive contributor to the U.S. balance of trade. NASA’s own web pages put the scope of aviation’s influence in the U.S. economy as follows:
“Aviation generates more than $400 billion in direct economic activity, supports more than 650,000 jobs and accommodates more than 600 million passengers every year in the United States.”
At last fall’s GRAIL Tweetup, Charlie Bolden also addressed the importance of aeronautics, when he said that he would like a part of his legacy as NASA Administrator to include leaving funding for aeronautics research on a “upward trend” in order to return NASA to its traditional status as the “premier aeronautics research organization in the world.”
The technical talks at #DrydenSocial started with engineer Ed Haering, who is a superstar in the world of supersonic booms. Haering’s presentation covered work that has been done at DFRC to mitigate—sshhh!—supersonic booms. Because commercial aircraft are prohibited from flying over land at supersonic speeds (this was a huge problem for Concorde), this research is imperative if we’re ever to see another supersonic transport aircraft. The Lofty duo actually had the opportunity to see some of Ed’s work up close and personal when we visited Valiant Air Command in Titusville, Florida. Valiant is the home of the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration (SSBD) aircraft, a test aircraft on which Haering worked at Dryden. As its name suggest, the SSBD successfully demonstrated that a sonic boom could be shaped to reduce its impact, and by impact, we mean noise.
On the heels of Haering’s talk was an opportunity head outside and experience a sonic boom firsthand. Shortly after the #DrydenSocial attendees were led outside for a photograph beneath the wings of the X-1E, an F-18 flew overhead accompanied by the telltale crack of a sonic boom. Moments after that, the same F-18 treated us to a loud-and-low flyby.
In a day of artifacts and factoids, one that would have made a great impression on Anna, had she been there too, concerned the front of Dryden’s administration building. As we gathered around the X-1E, one of the handlers assigned to our group related that the front of the administration building had stood in for the NASA’s offices in I Dream of Jeannie. (If you want to read more about I Dream of Jeannie, click HERE.)
For Doug, though, the artifact that made the greatest impression was the insect-like Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV, in the photo above) which was located in a nearby hangar. The M2-F2 lifting body, used to validate the design of the space shuttles and located in the same storage space as the LLRV was a close second.
Happy Birthday, Skylab May 14, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Biology, Chemistry, Physics
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On this date in 1973, when we were in elementary school, NASA launched Skylab from Kennedy Space Center. As with other projects, like the Hubble Telescope, not everything was right with the first American space station at the beginning. But in-space repairs made real science in space—and living there—a reality for our generation.
Apollo astronauts like Pete Conrad and Alan Bean spent time on Skylab, as did space shuttle astronaut Jack Lousma. Fellow Illinoisan Joseph Kerwin became the first physician to be invited to train to go to space and spent 28 days in space. The 84 days of Skylab’s last mission now pales in comparison with stints on the International Space Station, and the percentage of days that Skylab was inhabited makes it looked little used. But at the time, this space station was pretty amazing and certainly paved the way for future low-Earth orbit projects.
What we remember most about Skylab is the anticipation of reentry in the summer of 1979. The space shuttle hadn’t been completed in time to save Skylab, to push it higher in orbit and extend its life for a few more years. Bets on the date of its demise were wagered, t-shirts were printed up, and rewards for pieces of the space station were offered by news organizations. We hoped its demise would come on the weekend and on our side of the globe, though all along NASA was shooting for the pieces to fall in the largest body of water, the Pacific Ocean, far from land and people who could be hit by burning bits of debris. On July 11, a Wednesday, Skylab fell to Earth, and we didn’t see it. NASA miscalculated the process and angles slightly, the spacecraft didn’t burn up fast enough, and some debris landed in Australia.
In many ways, as we look back on Skylab, it seems as if it, like Star Trek and The Six Million Dollar Man, had been a television show we watched as kids, a bit of popular culture. The real science of it hadn’t made its way into our textbooks then. But it was real, and there’s proof at the National Air and Space Museum, where the second orbital workshop is on display. NASA had planned to send a second Skylab to space, so two complete space stations were manufactured. NASA doesn’t build spare spacecraft so that museum visitors can walk through them, imagining what it would be like to look down on the earth from 250 miles up. But that’s exactly what happened with Skylab, and it gave regular folks the rare opportunity to inhabit—to physically invest themselves in—the idea of living on a space station.
A Year of Lofty Video Interviews April 9, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: Apollo, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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Over the past year, we’ve been posting VIDEO INTERVIEWS we conducted with a variety of individuals directly involved with the nation’s space program. We’ve talked with Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham and Charlie Duke as well as current Director of Johnson Space Center and shuttle astronaut Mike Coats. We even interviewed Dee O’Hara, the first nurse to the astronauts, and Daniel Lockney, who puts the spin on NASA spinoff technology that has reshaped our everyday lives.
Here, we recap the complete Table of Contents. CLICK ON THE DATE/NAME to see an individual video interview.
05/23/11 Mike Coats: Three-time Shuttle Astronaut & Director of Johnson Space Center
06/13/11 Michael Barratt: One-time Shuttle Astronaut & International Space Station Resident
06/27/11 Rhea Seddon: Three-time Shuttle Astronaut
07/06/11 STS-135 Atlantis Crew: Last-Ever Shuttle Crew
07/11/11 Hoot Gibson: Five-time Shuttle Astronaut
07/13/11 Stephanie Stilson: NASA Director for Shuttle Transition and Retirement
07/25/11 Mike Massimino: Two-time Shuttle Astronaut
08/08/11 Fred Gregory: Three-time Shuttle Astronaut
08/22/11 Mike Good: Two-time Shuttle Astronaut
09/12/11 Shannon Walker: International Space Station Resident
09/26/11 Karol Bobko: Three-time Shuttle Astronaut & Skylab Ground Simulation Astronaut
10/11/11 Jeffrey Rudolph: Director of the California Science Center
10/24/11 Kathy Thornton: Four-time Shuttle Astronaut
11/14/11 Andrew Allen: Three-time Shuttle Astronaut
11/28/11 Daniel Lockney: Program Specialist in NASA’s Office of Innovative Partnerships
12/12/11 Dee O’Hara: First Nurse to the Astronauts
01/09/12 Hank Hartsfield: Three-time Shuttle Astronaut & MOL
02/13/12 Walt Cunningham: Apollo 7 Astronaut
03/12/12 Charlie Duke: Apollo 16 Astronaut & Apollo 11 CAPCOM
04/09/12 Recap & TOC: That’s this post!