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Lofty Ambitions at YouTube March 4, 2013

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We have a Lofty Ambitions YouTube channel where you can find an an array of videos we’ve posted over more than two years. Those videos include space shuttle launches and chats with astronauts. Here are five among our favorites:

The Last Launch of a Space Shuttle (July 2011)

Dee O’Hara: First Nurse to the Astronauts

Michael Barratt: STS-133 Astronaut & Physician Studying Radiation

Space Shuttle Endeavour’s Last Takeoff from Kennedy Space Center

Fireworks Over Space Shuttle Atlantis: The End of the Shuttle Program

The California Story (Part 2) October 31, 2012

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Chattering fifth-graders pass around us on all sides. A small group of three—two boys and a girl—stop along a wall that recounts the space shuttle Endeavour’s twenty-five-mission history in text and crew images. The children are tightly clustered, shoulder to shoulder, in front of the placard for STS-134, Endeavour’s final mission. Ken Phillips—the California Science Center’s Curator for Aerospace Science and someone that we have interviewed before—tell Doug that, when he sees students “arguing and pointing,” he knows that he has their interest. If that’s the bar by which success is measured, the California Science Center’s newest exhibit, Endeavour: The California Story, is going to be a runaway success.

The fifth-graders have come from the Science Center School, a grade school located on the same Exposition Park property as the California Science Center.  Approximately 600 students in K-5 classrooms attend the school. When Doug visited on the media preview day, some of these kids are also getting a preview of this new exhibit.

Actual tires from Endeavour’s last landing!

Upon entering the exhibit hall, a space that took months to assemble, the first thing that attracted Doug’s attention was the smell of rubber. Just inside the entrance is a display of the tires that were used on Endeavour’s last mission. The smell, just like standing next to a stack of brand new tires in an automotive showroom, is all the more amazing for two facts: first, the six tires—two from the nose gear and four from the main gear—have been in outer space; and second, they look to have had a hard life, with worn patches dotting their skin. And they did. On Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134, they spent fourteen days in space. During that time, even thought they were tucked away inside the shuttle’s landing gear bay, they reached a constant temperature of -40F.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens to tires during landing. The shuttle lands at roughly 220 miles per hour. The initial contact between the tires and the runway tarmac is so vigorous that onlookers can see puffs of smoke. Because of the wear from a landing, the active life of shuttle tires is also short: the main gear tires are used only once, and depending on wear patterns, the nose gear tires will be used no more than twice. So, despite the intensity of their working life, these tires at the exhibit are still very new, having less than four miles of use on them. A sign on top of the tire display encourages visitors to touch them, and Doug and the grade-schoolers did just that!

Just beyond the tires is another display, one that is likely to be the most popular part of the collection for a wide range audiences because it promises to answer the “deepest, darkest secret in spaceflight.” Mary Roach devoted a whole chapter of Packing for Mars to this hush-hush topic. It’s a question that we’ve been told astronauts and other NASA science communicators are asked on a regular basis: How does one GO up there? The California Story has an entire display dedicated to that universal human experience, and the center of attraction is the Waste Collection System, or WCS in NASA acronym-speak. An accompanying video, featuring one of our favorite astronauts, Mike Massimino, gives an overview of not just the Space Potty but also the astronaut training that is required for proper use. A visit to this exhibit is required for all space nerds if only to hear Massimino relate that using the facilities reminds him of Peter Fonda riding a motorcycle in Easy Rider. The only disappointing aspect of the display was that it didn’t contain a reference to The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz, whose major contribution to science is this essential technological equipment.

The exhibit also includes a wonderful photo of Endeavour making its way through the streets of Los Angeles, an elapsed time video of that whole journey, two motion simulators, and a number of other engaging displays. There’s more, but we’ll save that for a subsequent post.

Or better yet, see all this and more for yourself. The Endeavour exhibit opened to the public yesterday, and the museum’s SpaceFest runs through Sunday and features astronaut presentations on the weekend. California Science Center admission is free—that’s right, you can see a space shuttle for free.

Meanwhile, we’re off to the Space Coast to see the last orbiter, Atlantis, make its way the few miles to the Visitor Complex at Kennedy Space Center. It’s exactly two years since we began our quest to see a launch, and this Friday, our journey with the space shuttle will end. We’ll tell you all about it—with photos—right here at Lofty Ambitions.

10 Things You Should Know about Endeavour October 10, 2012

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1. Endeavour is the youngest orbiter, the space shuttle made of spare parts to replace Challenger. Building this new orbiter was deemed less expensive than updating Enterprise for spaceflight.

Endeavour Arrives in California, 2012

2. Endeavour takes its name—and British spelling—from the ship upon which Captain James Cook first set out to chart the globe. American schoolchildren weighed in on the selection of this name.

3. Endeavour’s first flight was STS-49 in 1992. Lofty Ambitions spoke with Astronaut Kathy Thornton, for whom STS-49 was her second space shuttle flight. The mission involved capturing and repairing a satellite, a task that, for the first time, required Extra-Vehicular Activity—EVA or a spacewalk—by three astronauts and the longest EVA at the time, a record that stood until 2007.

4. Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space on Endeavour’s second flight, STS-47 in 1992.

Endeavour’s Last Launch, 2011

5. Endeavour performed the first Hubble Telescope repair mission in 1993. STS-61 gave the space shuttle program a purpose, for there existed no other good way that most in-space repairs could be performed safely and consistently.

6. In 1998, Endeavour delivered the Unity Module to orbit and attached it to a Russian module already there, thus beginning construction of the International Space Station.

7. Twelve of Endeavour’s last thirteen missions were to build and service the International Space Station. Endeavour delivered Canadarm 2 (a robotic arm) and the Japanese Kibo Module (a science laboratory) and exchanged numerous ISS crew members over the years.

8. The first time we saw Endeavour in person was in November 2008, when it landed at Edwards Air Force Base at the conclusion of STS-126. The orbiter landed on Runway 4, a temporary landing site during the refurbishment of the main runway. No wonder we weren’t sure where to look as it approached.

9. Endeavour last flew in May 2011. STS-134 was the orbiter’s 25th mission and was commanded by Mark Kelly, whose wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, had been shot that January. Among the mission’s accomplishments was the delivery of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 to the International Space Station. Lofty Ambitions was at Kennedy Space Center for that last launch of Endeavour.

The team behind Endeavour’s move to the California Science Center, in the temporary building for the Endeavour exhibit.

10. On Friday and Saturday, Endeavour will move over city streets from LAX to the California Science Center. Hundreds of trees have been cut down (and will be replaced two for one with young trees) along the route, and signs and wires will be removed and replaced quickly. What Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once touted as “the mother of all parades” is now “a route” expected to have limited sidewalk viewing because of security and safety concerns. Stay tuned to see whether, by Saturday night, Endeavour rests in its new home.

See all our posts in this “I Remember California” series HERE.

I Remember California: Preparing for Endeavour Departure September 12, 2012

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Endeavour ready for last launch

On Friday, we’re headed to Kennedy Space Center yet again. On this trip, we’ll watch as space shuttle Endeavour is made ready for its journey across the country on the back of a Boeing 747. That 3000-mile trip will end next week in California, our home and the birthplace of all the space shuttle orbiters. The shuttle will land first at Dryden Flight Research Center, then take the short trip to LAX to await its journey to the California Science Center by street in October.

In our very first video interview, a sit-down conversation with NASA Johnson Director Mike Coats, Anna finished the interview with a Stephen Colbert-esque question: “Discovery, great shuttle, or the greatest shuttle?” He hemmed and hawed but admitted that, having flown on it three times, Discovery was the greatest. In out interviews with astronauts since then, we’ve asked a variation of that question, with varied responses. If we turn that question back on ourselves right now, the question would be about Endeavour, and the answer would be Greatest.

Endeavour’s Last Launch, May 2011

In carrying out our project of watching the end of the space shuttle program, the end of America’s ability to launch its own astronauts into space, we’ve had a serendipitous relationship with Endeavour. Just about four years ago, during the long Thanksgiving weekend in November 2008, we drove out into the Mojave Desert to watch the conclusion of STS-126. Endeavour flew that mission, and when it landed that day, Endeavour became the first shuttle that we witnessed firsthand doing its job of carrying astronauts, experiments, and materiel to and from low-earth orbit.

Doug inside the VAB with Endeavour

In May 2011, Endeavour became the first shuttle that we watched launch. We will always carry that moment with us. The overwhelming sound, heat, and image of the shuttle rising—an improbable procession of smoke, fire, and machinery—for those few seconds before it disappeared into the cloud deck serve as a mental totem, a concise expression of what dedicated people can achieve, something to which we each refer when we grasp for a moment of awe.

When we returned to the Space Coast for STS-135, Stephanie Stilson, NASA’s shuttle flow director, gave the us a personal tour of Endeavour as it was, in NASA-speak, being downprocessed, made ready for a completely new mission as an artifact. We’ve never been closer to a spacecraft than on that day. We stood just inches away from Endeavour’s heat shield, a combination of blankets and tiles that are simultaneously able to slough off the enormous heat a shuttle generates during reentry but can be compromised by water (the blankets) or damaged by an errant finger (the tiles). Now, we are going to spend the next week following Endeavour as it comes home to Southern California.

Cross your fingers that the weather is good—there, here, and everywhere in between. And take a look at our previous posts about Endeavour HERE and HERE.

I Remember California: Title for Title October 12, 2011

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California Science Center

Yesterday, we rose early and braved the traffic, driving almost two hours to the California Science Center because that museum will be the new, permanent home of space shuttle Endeavour. Earlier this year, we saw Endeavour on the launch pad. We were at Kennedy Space Center for its last not-launch and its last launch, which was the first shuttle launch we witnessed in person (all our posts in the Endeavour series are listed HERE). After Atlantis took to the skies, we toured Endeavour as it was being de-processed in the Orbiter Processing Facility. On Tuesday, the title for this orbiter was transferred from NASA to the California Science Center, and we wanted to be present for #EndeavourLA. Who knew that, like your car, a spacecraft would have a title? View it here: Transfer Order.

Four years ago, this was exactly the kind of event that we were hoping to experience when we discussed moving to Southern California. We first discussed the possibility of coming to Chapman University and Orange in December 2007, during a holiday car ride in downstate Illinois (a ride we will take again tomorrow as we make our way to Homecoming at Knox College). Aviation nerds that we are, we were already well acquainted with rich aviation history of Southern California. Howard Hughes’s HK-1, the Spruce Goose, made it’s only flight in nearby Long Beach Harbor (for Spruce Goose curator’s guest blog, click HERE and more Lofty goose HERE). Douglas Aviation’s game-changing DC-3 was designed, built, and first flew from Santa Monica. And the speed of sound was first broken by an aircraft in the nearby Mojave Desert (the 64th anniversary of this event is in two days, on October 14th).

STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly

Even so, we never dreamed that we would be involved in a pursuit of this scope. We certainly hadn’t considered writing this blog together, and we had no plans to watch in person the space shuttle’s final launches. In fact, even this time last week, we fully expected that today’s post would be the third part of our series on the MCAS Miramar Air Show (parts 1 and 2 are HERE and HERE). We have some unfinished business to address about our history with air shows and how it led to our collaborative endeavors. We also have two more posts about writing as a couple in the pipeline. We had plenty about which to write without this week’s trek into L.A. But as ever, chance has intervened, Doug made a quick call to get us on the media list for #EndeavourLA, and here we are. When does a project take on a life of its own? How does it reach a place where, almost daily, new tidbits feed into it?

Used Shuttle Tires

Shortly after we arrived at the California Science Center yesterday, we headed into the main hall. In front of the stage were six used shuttle tires, from Atlantis, Columbia, and Discovery, complements of Dryden Flight Research Center. We also recognized a friendly journalist face. Rob Pearlman of collectSPACE is covering each orbiter as it makes its way to its museum home, and we reintroduced ourselves. As we found at Kennedy Space Center, journalists tend to share information in a give and take. He told us about the group press interview with the astronauts, and later we gave him a tidbit.

June Lockhart & Mark Kelly

Upstairs, the VIP party was wrapping up, June Lockhart from Lost in Space was chatting with people, and four STS-134 astronauts were soon shuffled over to a table where they answered questions for the press. This was the first time we’d seen the last Endeavour crew since the astronaut walkout before sunrise on May 16, 2011. Mark Kelly, Greg Johnson, Mike Fincke, and Andy Feustal looked great (Roberto Vittori—or Ricky Bobby, as Mike Fincke called him—and Greg Chamitoff couldn’t make the event). (More Lofty notions about the STS-134 crew HERE.) Afterward, we walked down the stairs with Mike Fincke, close enough to touch his shoulder, while Greg Johnson joked around on the escalator beside.

STS-134: Kelly, Johnson, Fincke, Feustal

What did we learn yesterday? On the space shuttle, M&Ms are worth fighting for, but, as Greg Johnson said, “You don’t have Diet Coke like I’m addicted to here on Earth.” He was also pleased with the effects of zero gravity on astronauts’ height and pointed out that he and his fellow crew could use a few inches but had shrunk right back down upon return. Greg Johnson became an astronaut because, in his words, “When I was seven years old, […] I watched Neil Armstrong step on the Moon.”

Mike Fincke

Mike Fincke knew he wanted to be an astronaut when he was three years old. He assured the crowd, including the school children from the science center’s elementary school, that NASA has just hired a group of astronauts. He’s told his own daughter, “Both boys and girls can be astronauts.” Both in the press briefing upstairs and in the Q&A in the main hall, he emphasized that the space shuttle program had opened spaceflight to a range of people. “It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or how much money your parents have.” That said, “It’s a technical field” so science, engineering, and math matter. Based on STS-134 and his earlier stint on the International Space Station, he also pointed out, “We need our toes, our big toes specially, to push off” and move around the shuttle or ISS. “Imagine you feel like your normal self,” he said of being in the zero gravity of space, “except you can fly.”

Mark Kelly & Greg Johnson

Enthusiasm, science and math education, and toes. That’s what’s required to be an astronaut. As we watched the astronauts watching their own home movie of STS-134, we were reminded that astronauts are a special type and also just like the rest of us. They were captivated by the video footage of their journey, sometimes whispering in each other’s ears or pointing at a corner of the screen. “We had fun morning to night,” Andy Feustal said (and morning and night come around more quickly in orbit). Anna pointed at the screen herself, pointed at herself on the screen in the astronaut walkout segment, though we couldn’t actually make ourselves out in that predawn crowd from May. The home movies of these four astronauts are our home movies too, not just for the two of us at Lofty Ambitions but for our generation.

Signing over the Title

Maybe we’re already becoming nostalgic about the space shuttle and about Endeavour in particular, which Mark Kelly pointed out was made from spare parts to replace Challenger. He joked. “I think having a reusable spacecraft is only slightly more expensive” than those built for one-time use. This reusable spacecraft won’t be reused again. It will go on display next fall, if all goes well, and then later will be moved to a second, permanent display in the vertical position to be exhibited as if ready for launch, with its solid rocket boosters and orange fuel tank. But that’s years off; engineers are still working on how to make sure the vertical display will maintain the orbiter’s structural integrity for at least 250 years.

Jeffrey Rudolph, new shuttle owner

The STS-134 crew believes the California Science Center will be a good home for Endeavour, in part because of the millions of people who will eventually see it in person. They don’t want the orbiter significantly altered or Hollywooded-up. Jeffrey Rudolph, CEO and President of the science center (and Monday’s video interview HERE) agrees, pointing out that the engineer who gave him his tour of Endeavour at KSC (that’s Lofty Ambitions guest blogger Kim Guodace HERE) told him this is her baby he’s getting.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

That’s not to say that there won’t be a big homecoming party next fall. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that Endeavour would arrive on a B-747 that would circle the city three times before landing. Then, a parade from LAX to the museum. James T. Butts, Inglewood mayor for just seven months now, couldn’t be happier that the parade route goes through his town. His father worked on the X-15 at North American Aviation, and he’s long admired the journey “to boldly go where men cannot survive without special equipment.”

Space Shuttle Program: $209,000,000,000

Orbiter, Shuttle Endeavour, OV-105: $1,980,674,785.00

Our Lofty Memories: Priceless (not without cost, but still, pretty darn priceless)

Interview: Mike Good August 22, 2011

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We interviewed Astronaut Mike Good when we were at Kennedy Space Center to see space shuttle Endeavvour launch for the last time. He’s from Ohio, and we earned graduate degrees from Ohio University, so that’s where our conversation begins.

Mike Good has flown 3,000 hours in more than 30 different aircraft. What was left? The space shuttle, on which he served twice. Good was part of the fifth Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, STS-125, a 12-day mission during which the telescope spent six days in the shuttle’s cargo bay. His second mission was STS-132, Atlantis‘s penultimate flight. On that trip, the shuttle docked with the International Space Station for seven days, and Good took two spacewalks. When we spoke with Mike Good, it had been exactly a year since he was in orbit.

Enjoy the video interview below. Check back every second and fourth Monday for video interviews, and click on the “video interviews” menu tab to browse the ones we’ve already posted. And Lofty Ambitions has a YouTube channel!

Endeavour Launch Photos May 20, 2011

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Endeavour Launches, 16 May 2011, Kennedy Space Center

Launch Pad 39A, Empty

A Launch to Remember (Conclusion!) May 17, 2011

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The past few days have been amazing! We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve had fun. That’s not to say that “A Launch to Remember” was easy for us. In fact, we’ve been running ourselves pretty ragged.

Anna at Atlantis Rollover on May 17, 2011

Two cross-country trips in two weeks without missing any classes was a bit of a feat for Anna. And the lack of sleep and twelve-hour workdays may be taking its toll on both of us. We were up by 2:00a.m on Monday to see the launch; we woke at 5a.m. today to see Atlantis roll over from the Orbital Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and then we did the “Then and Now” tour of launch pads at Cape Canaveral; and we’ll drag ourselves out of bed at 2:00a.m. tomorrow morning with hopes of seeing Atlantis “lift to mate” to the fuel assembly in the VAB. In fact, our last day (tomorrow) may be our busiest, with an interview scheduled before we take our flight home so that Anna can meet with her graduate students in the evening.

Doug at Atlantis Rollover on May 17, 2011

Just because it’s hard work, of course, doesn’t mean “A Launch to Remember” has not been thoroughly enjoyable at every stage. We know we’re lucky to have this opportunity. Maybe that’s why we’re expending as much effort as we can muster. We know this trip is not going to last beyond tomorrow. We know the space shuttle program will end soon too.

This concludes “A Launch to Remember” because Endeavour launched, and we saw our first space shuttle launch. Now, it’s the beginning of the end of Atlantis, too. Below, see our Table of Contents for this series (CLICK to view the individual posts):

Part 1: We Get Media Credentials

Part 2: A Space Shuttle Tile in Our Hands and the Leatherby Libraries Collection

Part 3: Arrival at the Space Coast

Part 4: Launch Is Looking Good

Part 5: About the STS-134 Crew, especially Mike Fincke

Part 6: STS-134 Crew Walkout & President Obama’s Visit to KSC

Part 7: PHOTOS of Space Coast Wildlife (Alligator!)

Part 8: Endeavour’s Delay

Part 9: On Leaving the Space Coast

Part 10: On Being a Couple of Journalists and VIDEOS of Us on NASA-TV

Part 11: Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

Part 12: Rotating Service Structure Rollback PHOTOS

Part 13: STS-134 Crew Walkout PHOTOS and more

Part 14: VIDEO of Endeavour Launch

Part 15: This POst (TOC)

Part 16: Launch Photos

 

 

 

 

A Launch to Remember (Part 14: Launch Video!) May 16, 2011

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GO, ENDEAVOUR! LAUNCH IS A GO! And Lofty Ambitions is there to see it!

A Launch to Remember (Part 13) May 16, 2011

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STS-134 CREW WALKOUT at 5:11a.m. on May 16, 2011

STS-134 Crew on May 16, 2011

We arrived at the KSC News Center at just after 3a.m. this morning. Within an hour, we had gone through the dog-sniffing security and were on the bus to the astronaut walkout, where we waited about an hour for the STS-134 crew to emerge.

STS-134 Crew Departs for Launch Pad 39A

The STS-134 mission is commanded by Mark Kelly, about whom we’ve written before. Kelly’s wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, is not among the Members of Congress listed among those attending today’s expected launch. California Representative Jim Costa is among the five Members of Congress who plan to view the launch here at KSC, and other VIPs include Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (one of our favorite astronauts!), Irish Embassy official Catherine O’Connor, and Nobel Laureate and Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS, we’ll have a post on that soon) Principal Investigator Sam Ting.

Left to Right: Mike Fincke, Greg Johnson, Mark Kelly

The crew ate before they suited up. Mark Kelly, Greg Johnson, and Mike Fincke had lobster, though Kelly opted for a spinach salad and pear instead of a baked potato and salad. Roberto Vittori and Andrew Feustal, whose relatives (parents, perhaps) were in front of us in line at the KSC gift shop yesterday, feasted on pasta. Vittori’s was cooked al-dente and served with bread and extra virgin olive oil, whereas Feustal opted for pasta primavera with chicken strips. Greg Chamitoff had a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich with salt and vinegar chips, Greek nonfat yogurt, and a banana. We also grabbed a bite: bagels and Diet Coke, with oranges and snack bars planned for later this morning.

Left to Right: Roberto Vittori, Mike Fincke, Greg Johnson

The crew looked especially happy this time out and into the Astrovan. They didn’t linger as long as the last time, the recent not-launch when they knew the engineers were working a problem. As we compose this post, the crew has been strapped into the orbiter, the orbiter access hatch is now closed, and the astronauts are checking various systems, including communications with Johnson Space Center in Houston.

EVA Glove on Anna's Hand

The sun has now come up over the horizon behind Endeavour, and the News Center is buzzing. Anna tried on the glove of the EVA suit used for spacewalks that’s on display for press. We hope to do a couple of interviews with astronauts in a couple of hours. And we’re hoping that the cloud cover blows off. No matter how this goes, we’ll update again later. In the meantime, our final photo in this post features the first seven astronauts chosen by NASA for the Mercury program.

The Original 7 Plus One

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