GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 10), Next Stop: The Moon! December 31, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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In September, Doug spent five days on the Space Coast participating the NASA Tweetup for GRAIL, the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory. We covered this launch extensively (HERE is the link for all GRAIL-tagged posts, or click on the GRAIL title in the tag cloud in the sidebar).
Suffice it to say, as with attending most rocket launches, schedules don’t really mean much. Launch windows are set, but if everything doesn’t line up in those seconds, there’s usually the next day. After two delays, the Delta-II rocket launched on Saturday, September 10. Doug was there to capture some amazing images (see the launch photos HERE).
Today, that mission enters a new phase. At 1:21 PST, the first of the GRAIL twins, GRAIL-A (the mission requires two mirror-twin satellites, A and B) begins a 40-minute lunar orbit insertion burn that will leave the 440 lb satellite in an elliptical orbit over the lunar surface. Think surfboard shaped, with your back foot as the Moon and the satellite tracing the shape of the board. The back of the board, or the lowest point in the orbit is known as perigee, and the front of the board, or highest point in the orbit is known as apogee. (We really have gone all SoCal.)
GRAIL-B will start its 39-minute lunar orbit insertion burn tomorrow at 2:05 PST. Over the next several weeks, each satellite will undergo twenty separate corrections to leave them in the circular orbit (34 miles high, or roughly the distance from Naperville to Chicago) necessary for the science phase, which begins in March. At that time, the spacecraft will map the Moon’s gravitational gradient. During the science phase, the separation between the two craft will vary from 62 to 140 miles.
Considering the investment, both in the number of decades and the dollars (and rubles, euros, yen, yuan, and rupees—Russia alone has sent twenty missions to the Moon), that we have made in understanding our planet’s lone natural satellite, we still have shocking gaps in our knowledge about our nearest neighbor in the heavens. Fundamental questions such as why the light and dark sides of the moon are so completely different (the dark isn’t just dark because sunlight doesn’t reach it, but is actually made of different materials than the light side) remain only partially answered at best. If all goes well for the GRAIL twins, in the very near future we will begin to address a host of questions regarding the Moon. GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber estimates that the science mission of GRAIL will increase our knowledge about the Moon’s light side by a hundred times and the dark side by a thousand times. (If you read our earlier post this week HERE, you know this means we will be increasing our knowledge about the light side by two orders of magnitude and the dark by three).
Doug’s trip to the GRAIL NASATweetup was just one of our four (yes, four!) separate trips to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Space Coast in 2011. Reflecting on those trips reminds us what a remarkable year this was for us. It also points out the futility of attempting to predict the future. A year ago today, we certainly were kicking around the idea of heading back to the Space Coast to catch one of the final space shuttle launches, but we knew we’d miss the February launch of Discovery because of our work schedules so we weren’t sure what our opportunities might be. We knew we had to go back, and we remain grateful that Chapman University recognized what the subsequent trips might mean for us.
As we conclude 2011, we wish all our readers and followers a happy new year. Look up at the Moon tonight—you won’t be the only one peering at it—and imagine a great year opening before all of us.
International Geophysical Year and the Cold War December 28, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Earthquakes, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest
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As a group, scientists have a generally deserved reputation for being canny with numbers. Perhaps this perceived facility has also earned them a certain flexibility toward—what a lay person might perceive as casualness with—numbers. On occasion, early estimates of quantities or measurements are said to be correct within an order of magnitude, or a single power of ten. (Powers of ten are ably demonstrated in a film of the same name, which we discussed HERE.)
During the Manhattan Project, initial estimates of the amount of fissile material (in this case uranium) necessary for making an atomic bomb were said to be correct plus or minus an order of magnitude. As the story goes, this pronouncement led General Leslie Groves, military leader of the Manhattan Engineer District, to offer up the analogy of planning for a wedding with a hundred guests, except that perhaps as few as ten or as many as a thousand people might turn up.
Our post today stems from a time when a group of the world’s scientists got together and arranged for an 18-month year: the International Geophysical Year (IGY), which spanned July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958. During the IGY, scientists from 67 nations collaborated on performing experiments and collecting data in eleven major scientific areas: “aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, glaciology, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determination, meteorology, oceanography, rocketry, seismology, and solar activity.”
The IGY was a direct descendant of two previous International Polar Years, the first held in 1882-1883 and the second in 1932-1933. Years later, at a dinner party in honor of Oxford geophysicist Sydney Chapman held on an April 5, 1950 at the home of James Van Allen (later of the Van Allen radiation belts), the assembled handful of scientist-guests, several of whom had participated in the most recent International Polar Year decided that, instead of waiting the customary 50 years between International Polar Years, they would have one to correspond with an upcoming peak in solar activity (which is on an 11-year cycle). The name change from International Polar Year to International Geophysical Year was consciously chosen to reflect science’s growing ability to focus on problems that encompassed the entire earth.
April 5, 1950, (which was Doug’s father’s ninth birthday) must have been quite an eventful day in Dr. Van Allen’s personal life. In addition to hosting a dinner party that would lead to the largest international scientific endeavor to that point in history, he also accepted a Guggenheim fellowship to work at Brookhaven National Laboratory that day, ending nearly a decade of work at Applied Physic Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.
The American IGY effort required a large number of participants coordinated by the U. S. National Committee (USNC), which was formed at the behest of the National Academy of Sciences. In a historical overview of the IGY, the NAS has this to say: “American participation in the IGY was charged to a US National Committee (USNC) appointed in March 1953 by the NAS. Joseph Kaplan, Professor of Physics at UCLA, was appointed Chairman of the USNC. Physicist Alan H. Shapley of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) was appointed Vice-Chairman, and Hugh Odishaw, also of the NBS, was appointed Executive Secretary (later, Executive Director). The core USNC was made up of sixteen members, but the five Working Groups and thirteen Technical Panels that operated under it eventually drew in nearly 200 additional scientists.”
As ever, we at Lofty Ambitions respect an unanticipated connection, and we have one here with the appearance of the name Alan H. Shapley. This Shapley was the son of astronomer Harlow Shapley about whom we wrote HERE.
Fundamental science was performed during the IGY in areas such as seismology with the confirmation of plate tectonics as evinced by the discovery of a continuous mid-ocean ridge. We’ve touched upon plate tectonics recently (HERE) and in our series related to the tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (HERE and HERE). Seismic and volcanic activity along parts of the mid-ocean ridge had been well documented prior to the IGY, but what wasn’t previously known—and was revealed as a part of IGY research—was that there was a more-or-less continuous ridge of nearly 50,000 miles in length, reaching into every ocean, encircling much of the earth. It is our planet’s largest extant mountain range.
Probably the most significant scientific contributions of the IGY was the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts (Van Allen of the IGY-initiating dinner party). Undoubtedly, we’ll soon have more to say about the Van Allen belts, how their discovery came about, and what the Cold War has to do with that. And we’ll have more about mapping, too, for the two GRAIL spacecraft are scheduled to reach the Moon this coming weekend. (To catch up on GRAIL, click HERE and HERE.)
To continue to Part 2 of our focus on IGY, click HERE.
Writing Apart, Writing Together October 19, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Computers, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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Recently, we wrote about the relationship between our collaborative writing projects (writing together) and our individual writing projects (writing apart) as well as what happens when we have written together while being physically apart. You can read “Writing Together, Writing Apart” HERE.
We’re learning some lessons as we make our way into our second year of blogging, lessons that apply to the other big projects we write together and especially separately. One thing we’ve come to recognize is the importance of daily writing, or at least putting a hand on the project every day. On the busiest days, that may mean merely sharing a link to Lofty Ambitions on Facebook, grasping for the least little connection to a daily practice.
Part of what explains why we’ve been able to write this blog is that we committed to a regular weekly schedule that established habits to support that schedule. At first, that meant a collaborative post every Wednesday. Then, we started doing occasional additional posts, usually when the news or an event anniversary triggered an idea. Later, we added guest bogs and, more recently, video interviews. The regularity and the schedule’s predictability keep our minds on the project. We discuss the blog when we take an evening walk, we pitch and outline new topics over beers at a local watering hole, and we dissect previous posts, especially our series posts, looking for something important we might have missed or something worth expanding. Our blog writing is on our minds every day, and we’re planning, drafting, or revising more days than not.
This summer posed particular problems for our regular pace and the way we like to collaborate. Anna was away at Sewanee Writers’ Conference for two weeks, then Doug traveled to the Space Coast for almost a week to see the GRAIL launch. No evening walks, no brainstorming together over beers. Particularly disconcerting was the time change, so that when we talked on the phone, we each were in a different part of the day. When Anna called home before bed from Sewanee, Doug was heading out for a run. When Doug called home from Titusville after drafting a post, Anna was eating dinner. Not only did writing apart mean we were physically separated, but also that our mindsets were not synced up in the day’s arc.
All our previous trips to the Space Coast had been together. This time, Doug had been chosen for the official GRAIL Tweetup, and Anna couldn’t miss the second week of the semester. This Florida trip was different than merely writing while apart, as we’d done when Anna was at Sewanee. At the Space Coast, we’d already established routines together. We had shared memories there. We’d used our four trips to Florida to learn how to be better collaborators, to be in sync and productive. But this time, we had to write together on a specific, unfolding topic far from each other: the GRAIL launch.
Before Doug left, we had outlined a plan for our series, “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” but that outline changed daily as news developed and we thought of additional content. The outline made us feel better and served as a necessary safety net, but the end result doesn’t match the initial plan for the series.
Doug had to gather the bulk of the content by himself for several posts. Anna had to trust that a post would show up for her to revise and that she wouldn’t have questions about what something meant. Doug had to trust that whatever he sent would be revised and posted while he slept. We gritted our teeth and believed that it would all make sense in the end, and we’re pretty sure it did.
While Doug was attending the GRAIL launch by himself, it wasn’t as if he was working alone. Doug relied on range of social media tools (after all, he was attending a Tweetup) in a greater capacity than ever before, so he drew from a virtual community. For our previous trips to the Space Coast, we attended the shuttle launches as members of the media, and we relied heavily on face-to-face interactions with our colleagues in the News Center and Annex. Although many members of the press are also social media mavens, some are still catching up or even ignoring social media technologies (in one memorable exchange, Doug tutored a press corps member on the relationship between Twitter, Tweetups, and NASA’s social media strategy). Given the nature of a NASA Tweetup, with its 150 actual attendees and hundreds of other interested observers tweeting about the GRAIL launch and related activities, Doug was able to stay current with Space Coast information and events. And we were able to keep up with each other day to day, each of us leaving virtual crumbs for the other to follow.
Doug’s GRAIL work also was heavily influenced by our new iPad. Our previous divide-and-conquer methodology gave us the flexibility to send one of us out to an event or to sniff out news tidbits while the other stayed with the laptops and continued working. We finally took the plunge on iPad for this go-it-alone trip, and it worked well. Now we find ourselves using the iPad for research and writing every day. The iPad isn’t a substitute for our paper notebooks or our Mac laptops, but it makes it easier to keep our hands on our writing projects every day. A daily writing practice is difficult to maintain, so if a device makes it feel a bit easier or a bit closer to one’s fingertips, that’s good.
Mostly importantly, though, Doug’s work habits were shaped by years of being a researcher and a student: show up, pay attention, and take damned good notes. That’s really what a daily writing practice means: show up, stay focused, and get some words on the page.
Since Doug’s return from the Space Coast, we’ve returned to our more usual patterns for writing the blog. We’ve learned, though, that one of us can sometimes take the lead and run with an idea without brainstorming together first. This method offers a certain kind of collaboration and conversation, but we don’t want to take turns post by post. We don’t want to take a break or lose momentum. We don’t write any blog posts completely separately, in part because we have our own individual projects outside of the blog for writing separately (we’ll write more soon about working on our individual projects). But it’s good to know we could take turns in a pinch.
Our blogger habits—talking things through with each other, sharing outlines and drafts, writing very much together through the process—keep the blog on our minds day to day and make this large, ongoing project easier. That’s a lesson for our individual projects as well. Habits of daily attention make large projects easier.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 9) September 21, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons
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“We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations reassure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities.” – Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi
Less than two weeks ago, NASA was launching GRAIL toward the Moon for its mapping mission. This Friday, just two days from now, a NASA weather satellite is expected to come hurling down through Earth’s atmosphere. All this has us thinking about what’s up there circling here and there without us taking much notice.
When Doug first applied to be a part of the NASA Tweetup for the GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) mission, we didn’t know all that much about the science objectives for GRAIL. We thought it would be another opportunity to hang out with like-minded space nerds on the Space Coast. We knew our experience of watching the last two shuttle launches couldn’t be repeated, but a rocket launch would continue to amaze us. Very quickly, we learned more about the GRAIL mission and were delighted to see that it aligned with some long-standing interests that had little to do with the rocket.
Much science proceeds by increments. An experiment confirms a theory, and that hard-won information spawns new questions, new ideas to investigate. The researchers carry out this work, passing down data and lore through laboratory lineages.
The Dean of Leatherby Libraries, Doug’s boss, was a Map Librarian earlier in her career. Not long ago, Doug earned a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from CalState-Fullerton, a move the library thought might prove useful. Even earlier, during his Ph.D., Doug had worked on a GIS-like system, a software tool that converts data into a map-based, or geographical, representation. You can’t study maps, map-making, and GIS for very long before you run into concepts like coordinate systems, GPS, and geodetics (sometimes also referred to as geodesy).
As a scientific endeavor, geodetics concerns itself with measuring our Earth. The science has moved well past its historical priority of trying to determine our planet’s diameter and shape. In 2002, GRAIL’s predecessor as a scientific tool, GRACE, opened new directions in Earth Science by producing the most accurate map of the Earth’s gravitational field ever created. One direct outcome of GRACE’s gravitational map is a much better understanding of how the earth’s ice caps and oceans respond to the gravitational field. In turn, this understanding will allow other earth scientists, in particular oceanographers and environmental scientists, to develop more accurate models of the earth’s hydrological cycle. In the same fashion, the gravity map that is created based on the data to be obtained by GRAIL about the Moon will be used to determine structural information about that orbiting mass, information such as what kind of core the moon possesses, whether it is solid or molten.
In one of those lovely coincidences that turn up time and again since starting Lofty Ambitions, the first geodetic satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 17 (LC 17), the same site from which Doug saw GRAIL launch almost two weeks ago. Even better, that first geodetic satellite was named Anna.
ANNA arose as a collaboration between the nation’s military and its civilian aerospace agency. In fact, the name derives from the initials of involved groups: Army, Navy, NASA, Air Force. As you can imagine, there’s some debate about the positioning of each group’s name in the palindrome acronym, but that’s the order that the New York Times reported on November 1, 1962, the day after its launch.
Like GRAIL, ANNA was in fact two satellites, ANNA 1-A and ANNA 1-B. ANNA 1-A was launched on May 10, 1962, but failed to reach orbit after its second stage didn’t fire. ANNA 1-B was successfully launched on Halloween of 1962, after being delayed by the Cuban missile crisis because of Cape Canaveral’s proximity to Cuba. Again, like GRAIL, ANNA was launched on a member of the Delta family of rockets, Thor. In many ways, GRAIL and ANNA serve as bookends for LC 17. Although ANNA wasn’t the first Delta-powered science satellite launched from LC 17, it was one of the first. GRAIL was the last. There will be no more Delta launches from LC 17. That launch pad is being taken out of service.
ANNA’s primary science tool was a series of four enormously powerful strobe lights (8M candlepower) arrayed on its spherical body. The lights flashed in a prescribed sequence in response to radio signals broadcast from Earth-side stations. Photographs taken of the flashes from known positions on the earth against a background of known stars allowed scientists to determine the location of new positions via triangulation.
John Finney’s 1962 New York Times article indicates that the ANNA mission was the focus of a controversy over the desires of civilian scientists to make the mission data public and the military’s requirement for secrecy: “At one point, the military established secrecy for the project on the ground that the geodetic information provided by the satellite on intercontinental distances would permit more accurate aiming of Soviet ballistic missiles.” Later, it was decided that Soviet nuclear warheads of the era were already powerful enough that the improvements made in targeting via the new geodetic data probably wouldn’t make much difference.
During the Cold War, accurately measuring distances over the skin of the earth was a significant military endeavor. We first came into contact with this project last year at an exhibit called “Mapping the Earth During the Cold War” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. We were struck by the notion of scientists whose aim was to measure the Earth’s distances—its shape, it gravity, the distance relationship of places—all in an effort to make better targeting algorithms for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. These scientists were, in effect, getting to know the Earth deeply in order that they could destroy it.
ANNA is still up there, endlessly orbiting the Earth, though she no longer flashes in acknowledgement of a received message.
To see the news story about ANNA’s launch, click HERE.
Guest Blog: Kimberly Guodace September 19, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Space Shuttle
Doug met today’s guest blogger during his trip to the Space Coast for “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest.” We featured her in Part 7 of our ongoing series about GRAIL (see that HERE) because we were captivated by her knowledge of the space shuttle program and her commitment, from childhood, to space exploration. But we also wanted Kim to talk about her life and career in her own words, an example of the ways we heard many space shuttle workers talk about their jobs even as they faced layoffs.
THE DREAMS THAT YOU DARE TO DREAM
Growing up as a child in Philadelphia, there was little talk of the space program. But for a young girl who saw the first launch of the Space Shuttle on the local news on April 12, 1981, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Working on the space shuttle became my goal. Over the next fifteen years, everything I did was geared toward becoming an engineer and working at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). From the time I was eight years old, I knew that working on the shuttle would require a strong math and science background. With the encouragement of my teachers throughout grade school and high school, as well as putting my own mind to it, I obtained the confidence to know that I would one day succeed in my childhood goal of working on the space shuttle.
After graduating high school, I moved to Florida to attend Florida Institute of Technology, a school founded in 1958 for the engineers at KSC to obtain their master’s degrees. I knew this was the school for me. I received my B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1995 and began my career at KSC the following year as an Avionics/Orbiter Electrical Engineer.
During my time at KSC, I became a Fuel Cell Engineer, working on the shuttle fuel cell and potable/waste water systems. In 2004, I transitioned to Launch Site Integration Engineer for Endeavour, working as a liaison between Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers to disseminate technical issues between the Systems Specialists and NASA Management. During my fifteen-year career at KSC, I was living my dream.
Today, we live in a world full of smart phones, social media, and video games. Flying humans into space became seemingly routine to the general public. It is anything but routine, as we saw with Challenger and Columbia. The engineers, scientists, and technicians who work on the shuttles have always been dedicated to flying men and women into space safely. It takes dedication and love of the job to work on the shuttles, making the shuttle workers a community, even akin to a family.
Working on the shuttle had its ups and downs, as with anything in life. When I was thirteen and Challenger exploded, I told my mom that if it was ever up to me, that would never, ever happen again. When I was twenty-three, I started my career working on the shuttle ,and, in 2003, an accident did happen again: we lost Columbia. For three-and-a-half weeks in Corsicana, I trudged through the fields, swamps, and forests of Eastern Texas searching for pieces of my beloved Columbia. To see the thousands of people from around the country who helped us bring our family (the astronauts who perished) and our baby (Columbia) home was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Of course, there were the triumphs too. During my career, there were 54 successful launches of the space shuttle, successes in which I had a part (no matter how small or large). I met the most wonderful people in the world, who remain my family. I was able to travel to California (to support landings) and to Texas (to support missions) and so much more. As the Orbiter Element Vehicle Engineer, I was given the honor of presenting at final Flight Readiness Review for Endeavour (an honor that was given previously only to the Vehicle Manager).
With the shuttle program complete, the United States has no way to fly human into space other than to rely on our Russian partners. That being said, commercial corporations have been tasked to create the next-generation launch system. Today’s younger generation will design, build, test, and fly these new space transportation vehicles. They are the ones who now look up to the sky and dream of working on the future of spaceflight in this country, just as I did when I was a child.
My career with the United States Space Shuttle Program has been a dream come true and even more. I am honored every day to say that I was part of the greatest program in the world and to have worked with the greatest people in the world. I look forward to working with whatever the United States has planned for us to get our men and women flying again in space.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 8) September 14, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons, Space Shuttle
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As part of the GRAIL Tweetup activities, Doug, armed with our trusty digital camera, toured Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where United Space Alliance launches the Atlas V, the descendent of the earlier versions of Atlas rockets of the 1960s. Before the Atlas V came along, Titan rockets, with payloads like the Viking probes to Mars and the Voyager probes off to even farther away, burst into the air from this complex. Even before that, the first launch at LC-41 was in late 1965. But the complex has long since been overhauled to accommodate this century’s bigger Atlas V rocket launch needs.
In addition to the launch pad itself at LC-41, the complex includes numerous buildings. The Vertical Integration Building (VIF), which stands 292 feet tall, was completed in 2000 and serves as the site where Atlas V rockets can be stacked on the Mobile Launch Platform with a huge crane. Recent practice, as also demonstrated by Launch Complex 39 used by the space shuttle program, allows for one rocket to be on the pad ready for launch while another is in the VIF getting ready for the big dance. This process, instead of assembling the whole contraption on the pad, allows launches to occur more often.
The Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC) brings together various operations that had previously been spread around in different facilities. Sitting just over four miles from the launch pad, the control center manages the countdown. This building can also house rocket stages for storage or testing. Multiple rockets can be processed there simultaneously, thereby allowing for efficient scheduling of launches.
Atlas rockets have a rich history. Originally designed to carry nuclear warheads, the Atlas was adapted for manned spaceflight. On November 29, 1961, Enos, a chimpanzee, rode into space on mission Mercury-Atlas 5. The first four American astronauts to orbit Earth—John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and Gordo Cooper—lifted off atop Atlas rockets.
Something that we enjoy about being on the Space Coast is the palpable sense of history even as we feel thoroughly in the now that surrounds a launch date. It’s one thing to watch a space shuttle launch. It’s another thing to walk where the country’s first space travelers strode and flew into the sky. Each might be merely small anecdotes, but they are not snippets of history without connections to each other and to us. Instead, in part because the physical places of assembly buildings and launch pads is there to be seen and felt, these experiences are all part of the same larger story. Some artifacts on the Cape exist on display, but many of the artifacts, some of which have been transformed, remain in use. Below, we include two videos (not our own), one of Mercury-Atlas 6, launched from LC-41 on February 20, 1962, and the other of GRAIL, launched on September 10 of this year.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 7) September 11, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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We’ve said it before (like HERE and HERE), and we’ll say it here again: Science writing isn’t only about the experiments and technology. It’s about the story and the people. The people we’ve met during our travels to the Space Coast have been amazing. Our latest geek connection is with Kimberly Guodace, a shuttle vehicle engineer until recently.
As part of the massive layoffs that mark the end of the space shuttle program, Kimberly Guodace was let go from her job at United Space Alliance just 9 weeks short of completing 15 years of work for NASA. In the current economy, nightly news reports and daily articles reveal the bitterness (with good reason) of the laid-off and the jobless. Somewhere on the Space Coast, we’re sure that there are some angry and disenchanted space workers. But after weeks of on-the-record interviews and informal chats with laid-off shuttle veterans, what we have found is optimism and pride at having worked on a program of national significance, people who fervidly believe in America’s future in space, whether it’s carried out by commercial companies like SpaceX or NASA.
Fifteen years ago, Kimberly Guodace began her career as an engineer working on the shuttle’s electrical systems and control panels. She spent half her time then near or in the orbiters. After that, she moved to fuel cells and potable water systems, including the shuttle’s potty. Her more recent responsibilities, which emerged from her years of intimate engineering knowledge of the orbiters, included serving as a go-between or translator between engineers and administrators. She beamed when telling our busload of Tweeple about helping to oversee the installation of two miles of wire in Endeavour—or 105, as the engineers refer to their orbiters by their number designation—for its wireless video system. This past year, knowing that shuttle was coming to a close, she did her best to be near or in Endeavour’s bay every single workday.
One time, NASA needed “suited subjects” for a flight safety test. Kim donned an orange Launch Entry Suit that astronauts wear. Her six-hour participation in the test ended with an emergency exit procedure during which the fire suppression system was on, dousing her with water and adding an additional twenty or thirty pounds to the suit. An exhausting experience she’d not want to trade.
Years earlier, on April 12, 1981, when she was just eight years old, Kim recalls that the first space shuttle launch, STS-1, was the third story on the local Philadelphia (her home town) news: “I said to my mom, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” A few years later, when she watched the news about the Challenger accident, she said, “If it’s up to me, that’ll never ever happen again.”
Of course, an accident did happen again. In 2003, Columbia disintegrated as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. By then, Kimberly Guodace was part of the space shuttle program. She did 5-½ weeks of recovery work, looking for debris of Columbia near Corsicana, Texas.
Kimberly Guodace has sat in the pilot and copilot seat on every orbiter except Challenger. We’ve heard astronauts say that the orbiters are flawless and like new, and Guodace agrees, “They are pristine.” She points out that they each have their nicks and scrapes, but she says, if she were sitting on the wing, “I would eat off of them.”
Our video interviews with shuttle astronauts also indicate that there’s disagreement as to whether all the orbiters are exactly the same or whether they are each distinct. To Kim, “Columbia was like parent. She was aged.” Discovery, she describes as an older sister and, as do many at NASA, as a workhorse. Kim says that Atlantis was the quiet child in the brood and didn’t get into much trouble.
Endeavour, Kimberly Guodace says, is “my baby.” OV-105 is the orbiter with which Kim spent the most time, in which she had fun just being in the bay. In response to a question about what mementos of the space shuttle program she and her co-workers kept, she said they took no secret keepsakes. Stealing government property like that would be a felony so she doubts any employees swiped mementos. Instead, she claims her memories. And at her NASA crewmates’ request, she shot more than 5000 photographs of Endeavour last year to document 105’s final flow.
Surely, Kim is not thrilled to have lost the job that she began preparing for at eight years of age, but since her layoff, she’s become a NASA docent. She showed up on Saturday morning (after getting up at 2:00a.m.) to serve as a guide for the NASA Tweetup participants on what was indeed launch day for GRAIL. That’s how Doug met her and heard about her lifelong dream of working on the shuttle. Evan after being let go from her job, even as the orbiters are being prepared to become museum artifacts, Kimberly Guodace is still at it.
After a decade-and-a-half career on the frontlines of space systems engineering and an education that includes a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, two M.S. degrees in areas related to space systems, and beginning a Ph.D. in Space Physics, she’s ready to shift gears. She’s making plans to transition to Public Relations, in part to engage with the public on the importance of science and engineering education.
Another tweep on the Tweetup bus asked Kim, what’s next? Kim answered that she gets this question quite a bit, and her answer is to shrug her shoulders. She doesn’t know what the future of United States human spaceflight will be. That said, she has made her own plan for the future: to visit each of the remaining orbiters in their museum homes every year. She says, “Not going to let my babies go.”
TO READ the previous segments in this series, “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” click on the following links:
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (LAUNCH PHOTOS!) September 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Biology, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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This morning, GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) launched aboard a Delta II Heavy rocket at 9:08:52a.m. Doug stood across the water from Launch Pad 17B of Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Here are our photographs to prove it!
TO READ the previous segments in this series, “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” click on the following links:
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 5) September 9, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Movies & TV, Museums & Archives, Serendipity, Space Shuttle
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One reason we continue to return to Florida’s Space Coast, whenever work schedules and finances allow, is that each trip is an opportunity to discover something that we haven’t seen before. Today’s GRAIL scrub gave rise to yet another unexpected chain of events that ultimately led Doug to the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum (SWOF, because who doesn’t want to acronymize things related to NASA?).
[If you want to catch up with Parts 1-4 in "GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest" before you go on, click HERE.]
Located in downtown Titusville, just a few hundred feet from the water’s edge, SWOF is housed in an unassuming downtown storefront. During Doug’s visit, museum volunteers Betty Conant and Mike Vesey (pronounced like easy) were engaging and enthusiastic about their museum. SWOF previously had been located in the Sear’s Mall on Route 1, but, as Mike Vesey related to me, the rent kept going up and up, and ultimately the museum was forced to relocate. The move was also a downsizing, and parts of the collection are now kept in storage.
And what a collection it is. The bric-a-brac display has the feeling of a small, Midwestern county historical society. Just imagine the kind of museum that one could create if your county’s history encompassed the whole of the United States’ role in space exploration. This gives a rough idea of the scope and content of the museum’s collection.
SWOF is laid out by rough eras: Mercury (with a smattering of Gemini), Apollo, and Shuttle. Two wildcard collections are included: a reconstituted Atlas launch control room and a room that includes fire-and-rescue team materials and items related to Russia’s space programs.
Some rooms contain glass-covered shelving cases with regalia such as commendation plaques, manuals of various types (control room launch procedures, systems, etc.), safety hard hats with the wearer’s names, mission patches, and signed photographs. A wonderful example of the bric-a-brac in the Mercury room is the book Exploring Space with a Camera.
Tucked away in another corner of the Mercury room is one of the museum’s more unusual items: a hatch from an actual Mercury capsule. But this isn’t just any old spacecraft hatch (as if that could ever be true anyway). This hatch is the door from Mercury capsule #4, the first to attempt to fly. Mercury Atlas 1 was launched from the Cape on July 29, 1960. Fifty-eight seconds after launch, traveling at a speed of 1700 mph, a structural failure in the Atlas rocket brought the launch to an ignominious end. The museum’s hatch is appropriately charred and battered, and, as the display script points out, the titanium (an especially tough metal) looks to be torn “like tissue paper.” The display script also tells one of those tales of loss and discovery (much like the Los Alamos limousine we discuss in our “In the Footsteps” series), the sort of tale we have started to expect and yet which continues to amaze us. The museum’s spacecraft hatch was found in a scrap yard by an artist looking for materials to incorporate into his work. In a true expression of serendipity, the artist, Gene Hummel, also happened to be a mechanical engineer for McDonnell-Douglas. And he happened to have worked on the Atlas-Mercury program. And he was there for the day of the ill-fated launch; it was his first month on the job at the Cape. So one of the few people who could identify the meaning of this particular piece of scrap found it.
The museum also contains the reconstituted control consoles from Atlas Launch Complex 36 (pads 36A & 36B). Mike Vesey pointed out that NASA had donated the consoles directly to SWOF, and, although their computational innards were removed, volunteers rewired the switches and lights so that kids could enjoy playing with them. Doug would argue that the setup isn’t only suited for kids, because, after all, what space nerd doesn’t enjoy flipping switches, watching flickering lights in response, and falling into a good daydream.
Among the high points displayed in the Fire-and-Rescue and Russian materials room are the following: a photo of a rescue worker, standing before a Saturn V on a launch pad, clad in his own silvery, spacesuit like garments; a poster of the Lockheed-Martin Family of Launch Vehicles, which contains photos of the Russian Proton launch vehicles; and finally, an item that surreally (that’s our word for the week) blends the room’s two disparate themes, a Russian children’s book about firefirefighters. Like the rug in Lebowski‘s living room, the children’s book “really tied the room together.”
The artifacts in the Apollo room were more astronaut focused than the other collection areas. On the walls hang two training life-support system backpacks and a spacesuit. Just beneath the spacesuit is a display that, in part, answers one of the more common questions asked in the early days of space exploration: how do astronauts go to the bathroom in outer space? As in The Graduate, the answer to the big questions is “plastics.” The complete answer is plastic bags. And they’re here on display.
The room dedicated to Shuttle contains some of the more complete and intricate engineering models in the museum’s collection. On display are a complete Launch Complex 39 crawler, launching pad, rotating service structure (RSS), and shuttle stack. Continuing the theme set up by the Launch Complex 39 models, nearby are pieces of the real thing: mounts that the shuttle assemblage used to rest upon; restraining bolts, thick as an arm, that hold the solid rocket boosters onto the pad; and a 220-lb slice from the crawler’s metal track, or shoe (the entire shoe has approximately the same mass as a Mustang GT, 3500lbs).
Tomorrow, another attempt at launching GRAIL. Doug will rise at 5:00a.m., reconnoiter with the remaining GRAIL Tweetup attendees at the buses at 6:00a.m., and head over to KARS park to witness the launch. The weather is trending better. There exist two “instantaneous” launch windows tomorrow morning, meaning that each opportunity lasts for just a second. Not just a second as in hold on a minute, but exactly 1/60 of a minute. When it comes to this GRAIL launch, just a second means maybe tomorrow.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 4) September 8, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Space Shuttle
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And now, the next installment…
Tonight, GRAIL still sits solidly on Florida’s Space Coast. Unacceptable levels of wind aloft forced the delay of today’s launch for 24 hours (or nearly 24 hours, as GRAILS’ launch window recedes by approximately 4 minutes each day). Another not launch certainly isn’t the outcome for which Doug had hoped, but it’s one with which we’ve become quite familiar in our year of chasing rockets.
With no launch to try to describe, we have a chance to continue recapping the events of the first day of the GRAIL Tweetup.
The afternoon of speakers kicked off with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. A hale-and-hearty 65-year-old, Administrator Bolden’s high-energy presentation can best be exemplified by one of his remarks: “I love my job […] because I happen to be with some of the most phenomenal people in he world.”
This time is an uneasy transition period for NASA. The end of Shuttle forces NASA to cede (perhaps happily) to the commercial operators the role of truck driver to low-earth orbit. Unfortunately, absent maintaining a human presence on the International Space Station until 2020, NASA’s own human space exploration remains inchoate, alternatively encompassing a return to Moon, an attempt to Mars, or perhaps something intermediate such as a mission to an asteroid. Given the challenges ahead, not the least of which will be the nation’s current fiscal reality, it was reassuring to Doug’s not-so-inner space nerd to see that the enthusiasm for the job, which we’ve seen in nearly every NASA employee we’ve met, extends right to the top in Charlie Bolden.
A not-so-subtle component of Bolden’s message, and one that was picked up again during Q&A, was the role of NASA in inspiring students to study math and science. This question echoes the one we’ve used on several occasions while interviewing NASA engineers, astronauts, and administrators. To his credit, Bolden sensed an opportunity and turned it back on the Tweetup attendees. Those of us witnessing and reporting 140 characters at a time have an important role to play in getting the word out. Given that Charlie is a retired Marine Corp Major General, Doug is willing to consider this a direct order. In fact, by sharing our fascination with aviation, science, and writing, Lofty Ambitions is following Bolden’s command.
After Bolden concluded, the ever-fabulous Nichelle Nichols spoke. Nichelle Nichols’s role as Uhura on Star Trek, of course, allowed her to become an advocate for a more diverse, more inclusive astronaut corps. Nichols’s talk included the inspirational message, “If you can imagine it, you can dream it, you can do it.”
Today is the 45th anniversary of the original airing of Star Trek. (See our Star Trek birthday posts HERE and HERE.) Doug celebrated that anniversary—that dream of boldy going where no one has gone before—by waiting in a long, hot line for Nichelle’s autograph. Sadly, the line was too long, and Nichelle kept to her allotted one-hour schedule. Her session ended with Doug ten people away from getting her autograph. A day of not-launch followed by not-autograph.
That’s okay. There’s no wasted time for us at Kennedy Space Center. Some of this post was written while standing in that line earlier today.
The rest of yesterday afternoon was filled with a cavalcade of scientists and engineers, many of whom were associated in some capacity with the GRAIL mission. The first of the techy speakers was Jim Adams, Deputy Director of NASA’s Planetary Division (@NASAJIM on Twitter). Although his talk wasn’t technical, it did contain some of the most interesting numbers of the day. During the Tweetup for the recent Juno mission launch, 28,000 tweets were sent. Some further analysis of the data indicated that this yielded 90.7M so-called potential impressions, which is print magazine ad-speak for you’re getting your money’s worth.
Maria Zuber, the Principal Investigator (or PI in the land of research grants), gave a fascinating overview and rationale for the GRAIL mission. (See the whole GRAIL team HERE.) The fundamental question comes down to our lack of understanding why the front and the back of the moon are so radically different. We wonder how Dr. Zuber and the rest of the GRAIL team feel right at this moment. The thought of so many years of planning and preparation being delayed by even 24 hours can’t be an easy thing to take this close to the endgame.
Sami Asmar, Deputy Project Direct of GRAIL and a JPL scientist, came next. His talk provided a overview of the basic principles and history of making planetary gravitational measurements.
Other speakers during the afternoon session in included the following: Doug Ellison (@Doug_Ellison) described the visually seductive Eyes on the Solar System (@NASA_Eyes) project, a 3D that picks up where Google Earth leaves off and heads into the farthest reaches of the universe (you’ve got to experience it for yourself). Members of the MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) team spoke about the potential uses of MoonKAM in the classroom. Vern Thorp, NASA Program Manager for United Launch Alliance, provided some technical background for the Delta II rocket that will launch the GRAIL spacecraft (After I asked him about the possibility of human-rating the Atlas family of launch vehicles, he indicated that he was all for it.). Stu Spath of Lockheed-Martin discussed the design of the GRAIL spacecraft and brought out the audience’s uber-geek side when an audio system failure led to speculation about whether or not his altered voice was that of a Cylon or a Dalek. Whew, what an afternoon!
And there was more! The day’s closing speaker was astrophysicist and a Lofty Ambitions favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson. In addition to being Stephen Colbert’s frequent guest on The Colbert Report, he’s also a passionate explicator of science and the universe around us. Dr. Tyson’s talk focused on the power of science to describe the world in a way that’s meaningful to us beyond our senses and what is sensible to us. He advocated field trips for adults, which Lofty Ambitions preaches and practices. (See video below for his take on the role of NASA for our future.)
Bright and early on Friday morning, Doug will be heading out to the causeway again. The buses load at 6:00a.m., and the first launch attempt is at 8:33:25a.m., with a second opportunity to follow at 9:12:31a.m. if the first window is a no-go for some reason (like the weather). Once again, it’s hurry and wait time at the Cape. But, it’s all a part of the game, and it’s a game that we love to play at Lofty Ambitions.
Here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, What does NASA mean to us and our future?
To go on to Part 5 in “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” click HERE!