Tag Archive: NASA

Space Shuttle Atlantis on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Space Shuttle Atlantis in her final home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the first time.

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”!

Today on Twitter, Jon Verville (@jonverve) posed what seemed to be a simple question, “What fundamentally does NASA do? What should NASA do in the future?” As I sat there and thought about these two questions, I began to realize that my response surely would not fit into 140 characters. I mentioned this and Tim Bailey (@tim846) suggested I write a blog and link to it instead. What a great idea! I am sure there will be some that disagree with me on my, possibly rambling, thoughts but as I have followed NASA over the years these same thoughts have come to mind and the same topic has consistently come up in conversations. Moreover, the question I hear all the time is why do we need NASA. To begin to even answer that question let me answer the first question…

What fundamentally does NASA do?

At its core, NASA takes science fiction and makes it science fact. That’s my 140 character Twitter answer! Many on this planet remember when putting anything in space, let alone a human, was crazy talk.  Now we have astronauts living aboard a research laboratory in space that is the size of a football field!   How about those of us that remember using an AAA map for the summer trip? A computer telling us directions? Crazy talk, unless we were watching The Jetsons of course. But, what if we delve deeper into the question? Then NASA does everything from weather forecasting to climate research to launching the shuttle (not for much longer unfortunately) to studying ketchup. Yes, you heard that right – studying ketchup. There is a very clear explanation for this in that NASA scientists were studying why ketchup does not pour easily out of a bottle (think Heinz 57) using the study of fluid dynamics and something called shear thinning. Moving on from ketchup, we have a NASA project that is studying how to turn human waste into electricity. Then there is the coastal mapping project for the State of Mississippi and even better, a NASA funded project to study roadway friction. At this point, I am wondering what NASA doesn’t do.

What should NASA do in the future?

Knowing that NASA is studying, and funding, projects that range from ketchup to studying human waste I begin to wonder if NASA has not lost its focus. NASA does stand for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration so as we move into the future, and into a period where American manned spaceflight is grounded, maybe NASA should focus on what its name is – Aeronautics and Aerospace. Now don’t get me wrong, those projects where NASA is studying ketchup and roadway friction are still very important but with as limited as a budget as NASA has (approximately 0.50% of the federal budget!) maybe we should let the other science agencies such as NSF, NIST, etc… tackle these questions. Instead of studying ice melt at the poles, which should still definitely be studied, lets get NASA to focus on studying biofuels for aircraft or how to create an even better space propulsion system. NASA should be working on projects that get us studying farther and farther out of low earth orbit (LEO) not projects that study the change of the landscape in metropolitan areas.

With that, as NASA reinvents itself over the next few years, let’s see if NASA can find a way to make itself interesting again starting with learning how to market itself. As someone on Twitter recently said, NASA does not tell the people story. The world knows that someone at NASA mixed up imperial and metric measurements causing a spacecraft to crash on Mars but should they not also know about the people behind its successes? Sure, you ask someone what they know about NASA and they’ll mention the Space Shuttle and maybe the International Space Station but do they know anything else NASA has done? With as little of the taxpayer’s dollars that NASA gets the American public sure does get a lot for their 50 cents, stories that should certainly be shared and told. Heck, most people don’t even realize that the last space shuttle launch ever is happening in less than two weeks. By marketing the advancements, that NASA has done in past as well as current and future projects NASA can connect the public to its missions in a way that would be a call to action. Let’s turn the famous JFK saying into “ask not what NASA has done for me but what I can do for NASA!”

P.S. I realize that much of the “pork barrel spending” in the NASA budget is not the fault of NASA alone but also the fault of the politicians in Congress who can’t keep stop providing for pet projects back home.

Camilla, Skye Bleu, and Fuzz Aldrin get ready for their mission. Credit: SDO

No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke. Over the past four days, I have honestly been worried about the welfare and survival of a rubber chicken, a teddy bear, and a stuffed pig. Before you call the people with the strait jackets let me explain.

The name of the rubber chicken is Camilla Corona SDO (@Camilla_SDO), the teddy bear’s name is Fuzz Aldrin (@FuzzAldrin), and the pig is Skye Blue (@SkyeBlue). These three fearless animals are part of a team that have prepared for several months for the launch of BTS-1, or Balloon Transport System. On Sunday morning, around 11A Central Time, their launch vehicle (weather balloon) lifted off with their capsule (foam container) attached, named Inspiration, along with the crew and scientific equipment (cameras). Dozens of people on the ground, as well as on Twitter, followed along with the excitement until a few hours later when the ground track showed the capsule as having landed in the Gulf of Mexico! A few minutes after the disappointment of possibly losing the capsule to the Gulf of Mexico the ground track returned good data showing that the balloon had burst, as expected, and the capsule and crew descending via their parachute over the Texas and Louisiana border near Port Arthur. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we saw the capsule floating towards a landing near Sabine Lake. What follows however is the reason I have been worried about a rubber chicken, teddy bear, and pig over the last few days. The last good data point received from the capsule showed the altitude at 255 feet and slightly to the east of Sabine Lake near the edge of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge and the Willow Bayou. The BTS-1 Recovery Team raced to the site only to realize that were was no way for them to get into the bayou or across the lake. After several hours of attempting to rescue the capsule and its crew, and even though Camilla Corona SDO, Fuzz Aldrin, and Skye Blue have had wilderness and survival training, the decision to resume the search the following morning had to be made. But even with gaining access to a boat the following day, as well as with the help of the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife, the search is still ongoing, three days later, for the BTS-1 capsule and its intrepid crew.

So let us get serious for a moment. BTS-1 along with its three-member crew is part of the project Mission Raise Space Awareness Balloon (RASB). Over the past few months, through the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (@NASA_SDO), a NASA project to help us understand the Sun’s influence, I had learned about this mission to launch a weather balloon up to the edge of space, almost 100,000 feet, in order to promote science education and space awareness. I soon began to follow the mascot of the NASA SDO project, and mission commander of BTS-1, Camilla Corona SDO. From there I further learned about the rest of the BTS-1 crew including Fuzz Aldrin, the BTS-1 Pilot, who is one of the ambassadors for Bears On Patrol (@BearsOnPatrol). Bears on Patrol is a non- profit organization which offers an amazing service providing police departments with teddy bears to give to small children in traumatic situations. Along with Camilla and Fuzz Aldrin, I also discovered Skye Bleu, Mission Specialist of BTS-1, who is the representative of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), of which I am a member.

You may be wondering at this point, why I have been worried over the past few days about a silly chicken, stuffed bear, and pig. Honestly, it has less to do with the inanimate objects that are onboard the BTS-1 capsule but more to do with what they represent. Numerous individuals have been following the launch of BTS-1, which surely has reached its goal of inspiring future engineers, scientists, and explorers as well as raising awareness of science and space education. In addition, it has shown adults and children alike that reaching the edge of space is truly achievable. In my mind, anything that allows us to highlight space and science education and technology is a winner, especially in light of America’s future plans for aerospace and aeronautics. The day of the launch was truly inspiring for me as I chatted and communicated with numerous individuals with a common interest in space and science. Moreover, social media showed great potential as we all communicated and collaborated in real-time with the recovery team to get them on the right roads and updated ground track information. Through the outcome, there will be lessons learned by the BTS-1 team but overall this mission has already been quite a success!

While the search is still on down in the Louisiana bayous for this white foam container with some cameras and stuffed animals inside, many, including myself, are still holding out hope for BTS-1 and its three-member crew of Camilla Corona SDO, Fuzz Aldrin, and Skye Blue. In addition, let us not forget about the rewards gained from the recovery as well – those amazing camera shots from up near the edge of space! For more information about BTS-1, its crew and their organizations please visit the links below.  And for future updates on the mission, including the recovery, follow the mission blog at http://www.bearsonpatrol.org/space/.

Ad Astra Per Aspera!

Earth rising behind the moon. Credit: Bill Anders/NASA

It’s hard to believe but today, December 21st, marks the 40th anniversary for the first manned moon trip, Apollo 8. Back on December 21st, 1968, three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, launched into space, towards the moon, on-board their Saturn V rocket. This marked the first of many steps on placing humans on the moon and onto further research and endeavors.

Unfortunately, the further endeavors were been put on hold for a long forty years. Thankfully though we are back on the right steps to put humans onto the Moon again and long-term, onto Mars. On July 12th (tentative) next year, as part of Project Constellation the Ares-I will mark her first sub-orbital flight. And just a short ten years later, hopefully by the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, we will have humans step back onto the face of the Moon again for the first time since 1972.

However, WE must make sure that our government, especially President-Elect Barack Obama and the Democrat controlled Congress, continue to strive to achieve this goal. Already even before he takes office, President-Elect Obama has asked NASA how much could be saved by cancelling Project Constellation. This cannot be allowed to happen so I urge everyone of you to call your representatives and express your concerns that Project Constellation not be cancelled or cutback. Not only will a cutback or cancellation be detrimental to the State of Florida but also to the United States of America as a space faring country and the entire human population as a whole.

You may remember it was during the Apollo 8 mission that the now infamous reading of Genesis occurred, “saving 1968″. Below is the transcript of that reading. Who will save 2008 and the many years to come?

We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. ~ William Anders

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. ~ Jim Lovell

And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth. ~ Frank Borman