Thursday, September 14, 2017

Goodnight, Cassini

In the gravity well of the great yellow king

There were many moons with mysterious things

And delicate, dynamic, dreamlike rings

And a hexagon jet stream with six perfect lobes

And the Huygens probe
Parachuted down through Titan’s robe

And a moon with tiger-stripes
Makes a ring with its water ice

And shepherds herding gaps

And aurora like a lace cap

Cassini is now* gone
But her science will live on
So –

Goodnight gravity well of the great yellow king

Goodnight moons with mysterious things

Goodnight delicate, dynamic, dreamlike rings

Goodnight hexagon jet stream with six perfect lobes

Goodnight Huygens probe
That parachuted down through Titan’s robe

Goodnight moon with tiger-stripes
That makes a ring with its water ice

Goodnight shepherds herding gaps

Goodnight aurora like a lace cap

Goodnight stars

Earthlings, seen from afar

*Cassini LOS September 15, 2017 11:55:46 UTC 😭

All images are by the Cassini teams at NASA.
See more images from the Cassini-Huygens mission, here and here,
and in the beautiful *free* ebook, here.

Goodnight Moon is a children's book by Margaret Wise Brown. This was obviously based on that book. 

Anthropomorphizing things I already loved a lot makes me sad. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Great American Eclipse on Public Lands

Hi stranger. It's been awhile. I've missed you.

I'm not going to bother with introductions about the solar eclipse about to take over the country (except that all of North and Central America will witness portions of the eclipse).

If you are planning on making the trip to totality in a couple weeks, no doubt you probably have your preferred spot picked out. A lot - a LOT - of travelers are intending on making the trek to some of our public lands. Here's the thing, though. We're all probably thinking of National Parks and Monuments right? So if we're all headed to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the sea of humanity will be unbearable. Meanwhile Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge is teeming with birds along the river with no one to take in the view. (I'm posing hypotheticals here - both might have a lot of visitors on the 21st.)

Federal Lands in the Path of Totality (NASA)

The National Park Service did a really nice job with an interactive map for the eclipse. But what about our National Forests? Bureau of Land Management? National Wildlife Refuges? Each unit has also put together some pretty comprehensive sites with their respective lists within the path of totality. You should check them out, and maybe add some to your backup list. I mean, we all need options B and C (sometimes even D) in case A doesn't pan out.

Woodsy Owl had better put on those solar glasses (photo: USFS)

The Bureau of Land Management will host totality across Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming lands.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, with 19 sites in the path, will start and end the eclipse in the contiguous US with refuges on both coasts, including Middle Mississippi River and Crab Orchard Lake NWRs, which will be in greatest duration (2:40).

The US Forestry Service are clearly the overachievers of the public lands group with 28 separate sites (National Forests, National Grasslands, National Recreation Areas), sprawling from (almost) coast to coast, with many forests hosting activities and official watch locations.

You're going to pay a fee to get access into any of these places, unless you have that handy-dandy America the Beautiful Pass, which will get you in. It costs $80 for the Average Jody (that's right - JODY), so if you don't intend on visiting many public places with entrance fees in the next year, it's not really worth it.

And I haven't even gone into all the state forests, state parks, county parks, city parks, state wildlife management areas that you could also detour to instead of the almost certain-to-be overcrowded NPS areas. Please don't randomly stop on a road. That's not safe.

Only YOU can keep your eyes safe during a solar eclipse (photo: NWCC)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Impressionist Chesapeake

Doesn't the water look like a French Impressionist painted it? Just me? Ah well.

So, I did a thing. @NASAOcean tweeted a picture of the lower Chesapeake this morning.

And all I could think was all of the federal wildlife lands in that Landsat image. So I downloaded it (good googly moogly it's huge - the original is here), colored them in, labeled them, and posted them here for you:
Original Image Courtesy USGS/NASA Landsat 8
Also included are two NASA facilities. I mean, why *wouldn't* you? They're right there!

Also also, I am not a professional map colorer; don't @ me about my crappy job - the borders of the refuges are more a guide for this image.

Also also also, not included are all of the state managed wildlife lands. There's actually a lot in this image. Land conservation and wildlife habitat preservation is a big deal on the Eastern Shore. We don't have a lot of land as it is, so we have to protect every precious parcel we have, which is threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change (links are only for Delaware information which isn't even in this image, because I live there and have them bookmarked for easy access to shut down the deniers).

Full Stop.
Take that to the bank.
Then get some Dippin' Dots.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Forget The Camera"

Every year, I post some part of Gene Cernan's now-infamous last words spoken on the Moon, because every year the expanse widens between us and the time when humans explored other worlds, or even attempted to leave the gravity well of our home. The future has become more uncertain than ever.

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the last human presence on the Moon. If you're looking for some nostalgia, or education (a little of both, perhaps?), Apollo 17 is a great real-time site (you can scroll through to whenever you want, as well) with mountains of information.

I'm giving it to you here, because I feel the words, from the head and heart as they were, are poignant, hopeful, and provocative.

It's important for those of you alive to witness the Apollo Program not to forget what was acomplished and fight to push those boundaries out again.

For those of us who are the Shuttle Generation, to forge ahead into the unknown and foster change in perceptions about exploration, and pass your passion on to both young and old.

To you who are the International Space Station Generation, push with everything you are to make yourselves the Mars Generation, and let everyone know what you love.

Bob, this is Gene, and I'm on the surface; and as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come

The First Nighttime Crewed Launch. NASA

- but we believe not too long into the future -

Moondust. Spencer Finch
I'd like to just let, what I believe history will record: that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.

Lunar Sample 78575, Apollo 17. Lunar & Planetary Institute

And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, god willing, as we shall return, with peace and in hope for all mankind.

The Last Man on the Moon. Alan Bean
"Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

Bonus: Tomorrow by PSB

Friday, March 4, 2016

Girl Scout Astronauts

It's Women's History Month, and that means celebrating all the awesomeness of the X Chromosome! I was raised in scouting, so I wanted to kick off the March blogging with the space-faring scouts. Did you know that, according to NASA and GSUSA, over 90% of female astronauts report being former Girl Scouts/Girl Guides? Yes!! More of this, please. 
I'm often asked how I acquired the random and varied skills I have in my bag-o-tricks, and my reply is a shy shrug and "girl scouts?" I can't even tell you in a blog post everything I learned from scouting.
I joined the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay as a Daisy, and never looked back. I graduated high school a Senior Girl Scout and Gold Award Honoree (our version of the Eagle Scout Award, if you don't know). Until this year, I was an adult volunteer, and a co-leader for several different troops from State College to Orlando. I lived outdoors in all weather more than I care to count, including an entire summer VOLUNTARILY as a counselor at my council's resident camp. I am the successful leader I am today because of what I learned in my youth as a scout, and the countless women in the organization who mentored me. 
If the bodacious femmes of microgravity learned half as much as I did, they were clearly the shoe-in candidates. I'm just saying old school girl scouting gave you mad skills.

So you might ask, who are some of these boundary-breakers you so clearly adore, Brandi? Well, I'm going to highlight some of them and one or two of their extra-astronaut accomplishments: 

We have to start with the Goddess of American Astronauts, Dr. Sally Ride. *prostrates* The first American woman in space (albeit 20 years after the first woman - sigh), Sally was among the first minority astronauts selected in 1978 (dubbed the "Thirty-Five New Guys"): women along with Black- and Asian-Americans, as well as being non-military. Her first flight was STS-7 aboard the Orbiter Challenger on June 18, 1983. She flew again on Challenger on STS-41G, and served on the Rogers Commission investigating the Challenger's disaster in 1986, as well as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in 2003. She also founded NASA's Office of Exploration. She's the founder of initiatives such as Sally Ride Science, which serves to inspire youth, especially girls, in STEM. Whenever you read a book on the TFNGs, they tell you Sally Ride didn't take any of those guys' junk. She was out to prove herself, and pave a way for women.

Dr. Katheryn Sullivan was also selected in Astronaut Selection Group 8 (1978). She performed the first American Female EVA (this time only 3 months after the *first* woman) on STS-41G. She was part of the crew to deploy Hubble from Discovery on STS-31, as well as a science mission on STS-45 on Atlantis. Apart from her career at NASA, she is also an oceanographer by training, and that was her career in Alaska prior to joining the Astronaut Corps. While at NASA, she joined the Navy Reserves as an oceanographer, retiring in 2006. She has also served at NOAA as Chief Scientist, and currently serves as NOAA's Administrator and the Department of Commerce's Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere.

Two former scouts that served aboard the ill-fated STS-51L on January 28, 1986 were Judy Resnik, of Astronaut Selection Group 8, and Christa McAuliffe, the "first" Teacher In Space. This was to be Judy's second flight, her first was aboard Discovery August 30, 1984 on STS-41D. Judy was the first Jewish woman to go into space. She was one of the recruits of the famous Nichelle Nichols (as well as fellow Challenger crewmate Ron McNair). While working toward her Ph.D. in electrical engineering, she worked at NIH as a biomed engineer.
Christa was the selected candidate from the 1985 Teacher In Space Program out of over 11,000 completed teacher applications. Christa was a social studies teacher, and even self-designed a course called "The American Woman." She had some amazing planned classes while on mission, including "the ultimate field trip" - a tour of the shuttle with lessons.

"Hailing Frequencies Open!" Dr. Mae Jemison, blazed a path to the stars for minority girl scouts on board Endeavour's STS-47 in 1992. She began her career as a practicing M.D., traveling to Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand in Medical School. She also served as a doctor in the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone. She was a scientist by trade, but an artist at heart. An avid dancer and actor, building a dance studio in her home, and appearing on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She founded her own company that develops science and technology for everyday use, as well as a foundation named after her mother, sparking projects such as the international science camp The Earth We Share.

Col. Eileen Collins was the first woman to both pilot and command the space shuttle. Her NASA experience includes her "first female pilot" flight on STS-63 Discovery, as well as STS-84 Atlantis, both part of the Shuttle-Mir Program. She commanded her first shuttle mission with STS-93 Columbia, overseeing the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Also, she commanded the STS-114 Discovery "Return to Flight" after the Columbia Disaster, performing the first rendezvous pitch maneuver.  Other than her NASA experience, she was the second female Air Force test pilot, and was a flight instructor for the T-38, C-141, and T-41 (the last while she taught at the USAF Academy).

I could go on and on with this post, and maybe I will do a second post later in the month. But for now, if there are any current young scouts reading, you should know that, from these brief examples alone, you can come from various backgrounds and have an interest in a wide variety of things, and still attain great accomplishments. Don't let it limit you from a lofty goal. These women were determined in what they loved, and didn't let anyone stop them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The State of NASA is Neat at Plum Brook


As with the past few years, NASA held their "State of NASA" across several of their centers last week on February 9th - Ames Research at Moffet Field, CA; Armstrong Flight Research at Edwards AFB, CA; Glenn's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, OH; Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD; Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech Pasadena, CA; Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX; Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL; Langley Research in Hampton, VA; Marshall Spaceflight in Huntsville, AL; and Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, MS.

Last year I had the great honor of being a last-minute addition to Langley, thanks to a good recommendation to their PAO by Angela Gibson (fellow #SpaceSister, and Langley's resident Space Tweep). This year, I wanted to apply and go somewhere new, but also in a driveable distance. Cleveland is about an 8 hour drive. The next closest center (Marshall) is over 13 hours. Um, yeah.
I was actually very excited to go, because I know people who have been to Glenn Research and, judging by their social media postings, it was not going to be a waste of a drive. First of all, I had no idea before this that Glenn had two completely separate facilities - their main research complex at Lewis Field in Cleveland, and the Plum Brook Facility in Sandusky. NASA, what else are you hiding from me?! (Probably nothing - I'm simply bad at investigating.)

Fun background tidbits about Plum Brook before the cool tour breakdown:
Plum Brook is named for the brook (not creek - that's a Colonial Colloquialism!) running through the land NASA uses. The brook is named after the variety of plum trees found all over, the bitter fruit of which the Delaware Native Americans used to make deer pemmican. They do quite a bit of controlled brush burning as well (by a certified specialist, and retired biology teacher), replanting the opened up areas with native field grasses and flowers that had been pushed out by the brambled overgrowth. This is promoting healthy native wildlife populations to reenter the immediate area, and they are a major stopping point for Monarch Butterflies in their migrations, as well as a safe haven for honeybees. Plum Brook was also the site of WWII gunpowder bunkers (manufactured on-site, then called Plum Brook Ordinance Works).
I feel bad because the guy on our bus was going on and on and I couldn't remember everything he said. I'm sure the people at the Social representing 'official' media outlets simply tuned him out but I could listen to that all day. I need a notepad. Please remind me for the next time.

Okay, I know why you're really here - what did we see? What are the cool things up in Ohio and what are they using them for (also, what were they used for in the past)? I know what my three readers like.
The first stop in my group (we split in two) at the Space Power Facility [SPF] (which houses the world's largest and most powerful Space Environment Simulation Facilities [SES], by the way. It's kind of your 'one-stop shop' for qualifying flight craft for spaceflight.) was to the Mechanical Vibration Facility [MVF]. This is the largest capacity and most powerful spacecraft shaker system. In the photos, you see part of a second stage of the Ares 1 rocket bolted as a calibration test article, but they are preparing everything we toured at SPF for Orion. The MVF tests each three axes, the shaking accomplished using 4 horizontal and 16 vertical actuators. There is an incredible amount of seismic protection and vibration isolation systems in place, (1/2 foot of steel on top of 19 feet of concrete tied to the bedrock using 50 foot tensioned anchors), AND STILL they told us that while wearing hard hats outside the facility, when they fired it up to approve it for testing people's hats were popping off their heads - the vibrations are so pronounced. Some people even get sick. 

These are mass analogs for the Orion Capsule, top and bottom

To the left of the MVF, also in the Vibroacoustic Highbay, is the Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility, or RATF (pronounced 'Ratif'). This is the world's most powerful spacecraft acoustic testing chamber, and I've been in some spacecraft acoustic testing chambers. They are not joking around with this one. The walls are 6' thick concrete, and the 36 horns can create overall sound pressure of up to 163 dB (with upgrades to 166 dB in the works). By comparison, 140 dB is considered equivalent to a jet aircraft 50m away. In addition, it can create a broad spectrum of audio frequencies from 25 - 10,000 Hz. 
Behind our guide (the facility manager Robin Brown) is a test table, with a few of the 19 control microphones set up. 

The bottom of the door to get your goods in. They are not joking around.

Moving east, we head into the space simulation vacuum chamber that shames all other vacuum chambers, and...well...let me have Brian Cox explain a little:
Glenn Plum Brook is super ~SUPER~ proud of this video

Entry into the Vacuum Chamber
Walking through the chamber annulus

The Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber, the world's largest at 122ft high and a diameter of 100ft, was built for both nuclear and non-nuclear testing, though only the latter have been performed at the facility. Measuring pressure in Torr, where 1 Torr equals 1/760 of a standard earth atmosphere (atm), the vacuum chamber can reach a vacuum of 2x10⁻⁶ Torr in less than 8 hours. Quick Torrs for you: Mars is ~5 Torr, outside ISS is 10⁻⁹ Torr, and outer space is anywhere from 10⁻⁶ to greater than 3x10⁻¹⁷ Torr. In other words: they're coming pretty darn close to creating space inside those concrete and aluminum walls.
In addition, they have a shroud, which they fancily call a "Cryoshroud" (pictured below) which can both heat and chill the testing components, using a system of gaseous and liquid nitrogen. Because we all know that not only do you have to survive the deep dark cold of space, but also the scorching bright heat of space!

Next, we headed next door to the Assembly Highbay, where they are currently in the middle of building an Orion Service Module structural test article. Not the largest highbay facility you'll see in the agency by any means, but anything is dwarfed by what we just walked out of.

One of the three faring panels for the capsule. Did I touch it? No. Was I close enough? YES

After a (not-nearly-as-romantic-as-you-get-when-you-go-to-a-NASASocial-at-Langly) bus ride and the history lessons I mentioned toward the top, we arrived out at the B-2 Facility, or Spacecraft Propulsion Research. This facility was built in the 1960s to test the Centaur rocket upper stages, then upgraded in the 90s to handle testing of the Boeing Delta III program. This test chamber is a bit smaller, but still boasting of being the agency's third largest, at 62ft tall and 38ft in diameter. Everyone wants to test at the facility (private launch companies and foreign partners alike), but nobody wants to fork over any funds into upkeep and upgrades, which B-2 could really use. However, they have been asked by the overarching agency heads to do studies on what it would take to test SLS's second stage. There is a lot more to the facility, and I admit I was more excited about going into a vacuum chamber that tests hot fires to pay that much attention. More reason to return!

The lid has the capability to "burp" excess gas in overpressurization event and it vents out through the facility's ceiling.
Copper cold wall for LN2 supercooling. Very unique and extremely expensive to build today.
That guy is me.
You can see where the engine is placed for live firing during testing (they can handle long-duration fires)

Just some STEREO Art at B-2, because Sun Art is best

♪ Oh, and can I tell you what I'm the most excited about? 
Glenn is having not one, but TWO Open Houses!! Lewis Field in May and Plum Brook in June! You should go to one (or both - I'll see you there!)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Adieu, MESSENGER: 8/03/2004 - 4/30/2015

Alas, poor MESSENGER

I knew it, Mercury, a spacecraft of infinite data gathering, of most excellent fancy. 

Numbers as of last August. via Johns Hopkins APL

It hath borne my wonder on its back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my newsfeed it is! My gorge rises at its impactful outcome

Last image from MESSENGER 

Here hung those cameras whose images I have view'd I know not how oft. 
—Where be your tweets now? 
Your gifs? 
Your flash of Earth that was wont to set the media on a roar? 

Earth/Moon from Mercury!

Not about now to mock your own accomplishments? 
Quite chapfallen?

[h/t W. Shakespeare for the prose]