(Photo credit: HI-SEAS/Ross Lockwood via Flickr)

This past week we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. And in 16 years, according to NASA’s latest projections, humans will be stepping foot on another celestial body — Mars!

Meanwhile, today marked the completion of the second Hawai‘i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission. HI-SEAS, run by the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and led by Principal Investigator Dr. Kim Binstead is funded by the NASA Human Research Program and consists of four missions, ranging from four months to one year in duration. These missions are being used by researchers to determine the challenges that will face those who take our first steps on the long journey to Mars. Primarily focused on the psychological issues that will face crews on long duration, close confines space missions, there are also opportunistic research studies. From advanced clothing that is bacteria and odor-resistant, to cooking and food preparation using both freeze-dried and shelf-stable ingredients, to the use and capabilities of 3D printers, HI-SEAS strives to provide a high fidelty analog environment to study the challenges that will face humans as we venture further into the universe.

It has been my privilege and pleasure to volunteer for the HI-SEAS program since the first mission as a member of the mission support team, specifically what is referred to as First Tier Support (FTS). As someone who is neither a scientist nor (currently) an engineer, I know I certainly won’t be on any space mission going anywhere - Mars, the Moon, or even Low Earth Orbit, any time soon. Let’s forget the fact that I’m 6’ 5” tall and won’t fit into any spacecraft currently available. However, working in a mission support role for HI-SEAS, along with the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), I hope that in some small way I am helping pave the way for the future explorers that will make their way to Mars and beyond. There have been challenges faced in both missions, as I’m sure there will be in the coming missions, yet the lessons learned will surely help researchers and scientists create new methods and procedures to make future analog simulations, and even more important, real world missions, even better.

Welcome home Casey, Ross, Lucie, Tiffany, and Anne! Let’s keep exploring!

You just happened to lose the e-mail of embroiled ex-IRS official Lois Lerner? You expect the American public to believe that?

Yes, actually, you should. Let me explain…

If the Healthcare.gov debacle should have taught the American public and news media anything, it’s that the United States government isn’t the best judge of determining contractor capabilities when it comes to Information Technology (IT) projects. How much does it cost to build a website - mind you, one that didn’t work in the beginning? Well if you’re a federal contractor, CGI Federal in this case, it said it could do so for $76 million dollars and it actually cost them $111M with the government obligating $196M! (source: Washington Post). With that in mind, does it really surprise you that the IRS can’t recover e-mails of a top official?

Let’s get technical for a second, and in turn, explain how these “lost” e-mails are completely plausible. Many personal e-mail providers such as Google or Yahoo or Outlook.com offer large amounts of storage for your e-mail. This allows you to store large amounts of old e-mail without ever having to worry about deleting them. Remember the days of receiving an e-mail warning that you’re out of space? With most personal e-mail providers, this is no longer the case however for business, and most especially, the federal government, this still holds true.

From a business tools perspective, the federal government still almost entirely relies on Microsoft Office - to include Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. While Google or Yahoo have multiple large data centers with vast amounts of storage for your e-mail, federal agencies have much smaller, individual data centers with only a tiny portion of storage space compared to the large Internet giants. As a result, someone who has a government e-mail address (e.g. @irs.gov) will be limited by the amount of storage on hand to that agency. From my experience, 100MB (yes, megabytes) to 1GB is the range to expect for a federal government e-mail account.

So how does one deal with this minuscule amount of individual e-mail storage without running out of space? Simple. Microsoft Outlook provides for offline storage of e-mail in PST (Personal Storage Table) files. These allow a end-user to pull e-mails out of the e-mail server sitting in the data center and put them into a file that is saved on the end-user’s local desktop. I’m sure you can see what comes next. Now that the e-mail is no longer on the server, once said user’s PST gets corrupted or worse, their desktop crashes, it becomes next to impossible to recover the e-mail that was saved to an offline PST.

But you say, surely they had backups of these e-mails! Sure - but for only a small period of time. Outside of critical items, backups of the e-mail server would only be retained for a short period - maybe six months to a year - before the backup media was reused. Imagine the cost the federal government would have to pay to a contractor if they asked for permanent backup storage of all e-mails, documents, etc… And lest you think they’d be able to restore a backup of Lois Lerner’s desktop, let’s not kid ourselves here. It is highly unlikely they were doing any backups of end-user desktops. With over ten years of IT experience in the federal government sector, only in recent months have I found the first federal agency that does desktop backups - and it’s only specific folders at that!

So yes, Lois Lerner’s e-mails were lost. Mainly because the federal government’s IT infrastructure across most agencies still follows practices of the ’90s. Cloud infrastructure (e.g. Google Apps) are only just being considered by many federal agencies and even while under consideration, they’re hitting a brick wall due to both the lobbying of Microsoft and the long-term “experience” of senior acquisition officials with Microsoft’s suite of tools. Throw in federal contractors who low bid contracts and are not able to provide salaries that would bring in experienced IT professionals and you’re just asking for “lost email” problems.

I’m sure though the IRS provides the proper financial resources however for backups and retention of tax data. Now if only that was lost!

While on a business trip to the Space Coast this week I was able to stop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and finally got to see the Atlantis exhibit. The last time I had seen Atlantis (OV-104), she was about to get shrink-wrapped while they built the exhibit around the orbiter. And wow, what a great job they did! You truly have to experience the exhibit to believe it. Sadly, the Space Shuttles are no longer flying but Atlantis is truly “home”! While on a business trip to the Space Coast this week I was able to stop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and finally got to see the Atlantis exhibit. The last time I had seen Atlantis (OV-104), she was about to get shrink-wrapped while they built the exhibit around the orbiter. And wow, what a great job they did! You truly have to experience the exhibit to believe it. Sadly, the Space Shuttles are no longer flying but Atlantis is truly “home”!

While on a business trip to the Space Coast this week I was able to stop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and finally got to see the Atlantis exhibit. The last time I had seen Atlantis (OV-104), she was about to get shrink-wrapped while they built the exhibit around the orbiter. And wow, what a great job they did! You truly have to experience the exhibit to believe it. Sadly, the Space Shuttles are no longer flying but Atlantis is truly “home”!

The Earth and Moon as seen from Saturn by the NASA Cassini spacecraft

Living without regrets for 12,045 days…

… or 289,080 hours

… or 1,040,688,000 seconds

… and counting!

Another year, another chance to increase the awesome. And what a year it has been! Once again, time for some retrospective on year 32 living on this wonderful planet Earth, and this past year has truly been inspirational.

Let’s just get it out of the way immediately. Yes, in my 31st year alive, I jumped out of a plane. And in my 32nd year, I went “over the edge” and rappelled off of a fifteen-story building! Not quite as high as the plane but it was just as exhilarating and who knows what I’ll do in this 33rd year to top it. Moreover, thanks to many of you reading this, I was able to raise over $1,500 for Special Olympics Virginia and met some truly inspiring individuals that have had more challenges in life than I ever will, yet consistently have an upbeat spirit, a smile on their face, and a way to make you realize just how amazing everyone is. If you haven’t seen the video of me going “over the edge”, check it out here.

Something that I never expected occurred in my 32nd year - I completed my Master’s of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After finishing my Bachelors degree, I never expected to go back to school but with my passion for space reignited over the past several years, well, there you go. No, I have no plans to become Dr. Joseph Gruber but who knows. Never say never and always live without regrets.

And who could go through life without great friends. From the “best vacation ever”, to include spring training baseball (woot!), with the most awesome and amazing friends money can’t buy, to never-ending adventures through DC DrinkUp and the “most interesting people in DC”, I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to go through life with these great friends! Heck, I got to meet not only Bobak Ferdowsi (a.k.a. NASA / JPL Mohawk Dude) but also the one, and only, Neil deGrasse Tyson (squee!). One can only imagine what kind of shenanigans we’ll get into in the 33rd year!

Speaking of friends, sadly, a lesson learned this year is to never lose contact with friends. Only a few months ago I found out that a friend had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away over a year ago. Over the course of the past few years we had begun to exchange only an occasional message on Facebook and I hadn’t noticed he had stopped posting messages. He was a great friend and I only wish I had been more of a friend than I was these past few years. Take it from me. Even if you’re no longer in the same town, at the same job, or even if you no longer hold the same interests, make the effort to maintain friendships. Good friends are hard to come by so don’t let them go stale and don’t wait until they’re gone to realize how good of a friend they were.

Well enough of year 32, let’s move onward to year 33! A year older, a year wiser, so I’d like to think, this past year has once again been truly memorable and AWESOME, and I can only hope this coming year is just as amazing! One word … Galahad.

Science and ArtWhile not a scientist and far from being an artist, I have come to have a deep appreciation of how both science and art allows us to feed our curiosity of not only the world around us but ourselves as humans.

Recently though, while at a National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) concert for “The Planets - An HD Odyssey”, it became instantly obvious how science and art breed upon each other. As this concert was just a few short days before the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover landing on Mars, NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, was on hand as a guest and after a few remarks played the infamous Seven Minutes of Terror video showcasing the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) of MSL on Mars. Having seen this video before I knew it was always exciting to watch from the sheer daring of what was to be accomplished. With tickets to the lawn seating at the Wolf Trap Filene Center, I laid back on the grass and under the night sky filled with the planets and stars, looked up at the projection screen to see MSL begin its entry into the atmosphere of Mars. Unexpectedly, just as the video started playing, the NSO began playing a (unknown) piece by Georges Bizet. As the excitement of EDL played out on the screens above, the mystery of the universe shone bright above us, and the music of the National Symphony Orchestra joined the sounds of the night, the science of what NASA was attempting to do coalesced in a way that my human mind had not been able to quite grasp before. As the night went on, the NSO played Gustav Holst’s The Planets, while images of NASA’s latest missions into the galaxy, as well as here of Earth, played on the screens, and the art, the music, allowing a part of the mind to comprehend what it wasn’t able to before.

So just how can art influence science, and vice-versa, science influence art? Where in science, fact is the greatest truth and one plus one equals two, art does not have the inflexibility that science does, leaving truth up to the heart and mind. An uncommon pair indeed, science and art. But truly, what is the basis for science if not curiosity and wonder? Do these emotions not also carry over into art whether it is literature, music, drawings and paintings, or theatre, among other methods of interpretation? Where the arts attempt to express how our mind perceives things, science allows us to search for those answers leading to even more questions and curiosity. One then ponders whether it is where science and art meet, this intersection of curiosity and wonder, that our human brains can finally begin to have a more intimate understanding of the world around us. Suggesting that science and art be brought together would be unwise though as it seems that it’s when art discovers the science mind and science discovers the artists heart that wonder can be found. We have seen repeatedly throughout history the unexpected fusion of science and art - from Leonardo da Vinci and his renowned paintings merging with his scientific ideas to modern times with Pixar combining science and art to create what no human hand has done before.

Next time you look at a piece of art, listen to music, or read a book take a moment to think how it might influence the science of the world around you. Moreover, by the same token, next time you ponder the mysteries of the universe you might want to look to art for inspiration for your curiosity.

Albert Einstein

"After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well."

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science."

NASA SDO - Out on the FringeLiving without regrets for 11,687 days…

… or 280,506 hours

… or 1,009,821,630 seconds

… and counting!

No matter the unit of measurement, it has been 32 years since I have opened my eyes on this wonderful world. And what a journey it has been! Looking back over my 31st year alive on this planet Earth, it has been quite a ride. Life is unfortunately short, sometimes too short, and we can only live minute by minute. I can’t say I have embraced life as much as I should have up to this point but over this past year, thanks in part to Tim Bailey and his passion for all things awesome, I have strived to live without regrets and not take any moment for granted.

This past year has been full of awesome and memories I will cherish forever. Leading into the year with the brilliant Romeo Durscher, and his compatriot (!), helping to reignite my enthusiasm for space, I was able to take part in experiences, including watching the NASA Juno launch and flying to NASA Wallops Flight Facility, that I likely would not have before and was embraced by an amazing community that also shared my enthusiasm and passions. Taking the living without regrets mantra even further, I stopped pushing things off to tomorrow and began living in the here and now. One of the culminations of this was actually jumping out of a (perfectly working) airplane and skydiving thanks to the ever enthusiastic Erin Bonilla. And what better way to live without regrets except to get others to come along for the ride? Bringing the awesome to DC DrinkUp with the uber-amazing Elissa Frankle, and the grand adventures that have been had, has made this past year… well … AWESOME! It is hard to mention everyone who has made this past year a memorable one but know that I cherish your friendship and the experiences we have shared! Do not just take my word for it though. Start living without regrets and see how much more amazing life becomes!

While I look forward to what this next year of life will bring, the awesome adventures that will take place, and the amazing stories and memories I will be able to look back on, I can only count on the moment that is now. I plan to make each moment as awesome as possible and live without regrets!

Holstee Manifesto

This Is Your Life. Do What You Love And Do It Often.