May 22, 2017

March 2013 Life in the Astro-Blogosphere: Living the NASASocial Experience.

Smartphones in Action!

(All photos by author.)

Ah, the romantic life of a free-lance science writer. Writing offers you the freedom to set your own hours and wake up slowly when you feel like it; it also earns one the right to “sing for their supper” and starve feral and in the wild, often on their very own time table. But along with the triumphs and tragedies that go with modern day writing online, you also tend to miss human interaction and that convergence of like-minded souls. [Read more...]

23.10.12: Exciting Changes & More at the Kennedy Space Center.

39A +Solar Halo! (All photos by Author).

New and exciting things are afoot along the U.S. Space Coast. This past week, we had the chance to witness the transition of history up close as the age of the space shuttle comes to an end and we move into an era where NASA gets back to what it knows best; exploration. It’s been a bitter-sweet year, watching the four remaining orbiters (Enterprise, Endeavour, Discovery & Atlantis) get dispersed throughout the country.

We were thrilled to be able to witness the very last orbiter to occupy the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) before its transfer to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex on November 2nd of this year;

We always seem to be “drawn”ť to Atlantis. The two launches that we had the privilege to witness up close where both Atlantis; STS-125 and the final repair mission to the Hubble from the visitor center, and STS-132 from the press site during the #NASATweetup. With the arrival of Endeavour to Los Angeles, an orbiter will never take to the skies again. It seems strange to watch the shuttle fleet go into retirement. I remember watching the very first drop tests of Enterprise carried out at Edwards as a kid in the late 70′s. It was always assumed that the shuttle fleet would grow and become a mainstay of the space program as we pressed outward from low Earth orbit as a dedicated work horse. It’s a strange sort of space policy we’ve ended up with, one that goes in fits and starts from one administration to the next.

Atlantis in the VAB.

But new beginnings are afoot, both in the space program and at the KSC visitor complex. Atlantis is scheduled to go on permanent display in July 2013, and will feature a thrilling exhibit showcasing the orbiter as if suspended in space with its payload bay doors open. A Rocket Garden Cafe is now open for business, with food that’s out of this world. Tours are also currently allowing folks to get up close to previously off-limits areas, such as launch pad 39A & the VAB. Signs of a brave new era are evident, as SpaceX has begun routine missions to the ISS and NASA’s Orion/MPCV is slated to once again take U.S. astronauts spaceward in the coming years. It was thrilling, just weeks ago, to watch the Falcon 9 rocket headed northeastward after the ISS; hopefully, that’ll once again become a frequent sight for U.S. Space Coast residents and visitors.

Historic Launch Pad 39A.

Do make an effort to visit the KSC as these “times of transition”ť are often the best to gain unprecedented access to some fascinating locales in space history. A big shout out and thanks to Andrea Farmer and @ExploreKSC for making it all possible!

 

Review: Destination Mars.

On sale now!

Early this August, a historical event will occur. A rover launched last Thanksgiving weekend will descend via sky crane to the surface of Mars. After the first “six-minutes off terror,” the Mars Science Laboratory will be ready to do some serious science on the Red Planet. [Read more...]

Mars Curiosity: Return of the NASATweetup!

A scale model rover and its destination.

(All photos by Author unless otherwise noted).

You could just imagine our excitement. A little more than a month ago, the email appeared informing us that we had been selected to attend the NASATweetup at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Mars Curiosity! Long time fans of this site will remember that we first attended one of these Twitter-based events at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston which was the first held at the JSC, and then made a pilgrimage for the tweetup & launch of STS-132, which at the time was the last scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: An Antarctic Partial Solar Eclipse.

Animation of the November 25th Eclipse. (Credit: NASA/A.T. Sinclair).

Opting out of the “Black Friday” shopping madness? We’ve got good news. In addition to the launch of the Mars Curiosity spacecraft and complementing NASATweetup on November 25th, a partial solar eclipse occurs deep in the southern hemisphere. Maximum partiality will be 90% just off of the coast of Antarctica, and the entire Antarctic continent will witness the event. (Remember, its spring headed towards summer Down Under!) [Read more...]

November 2011: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

A “Warhol Moon!” (Photo mosaic by Author).

Wow, can you believe that 2011 is coming to a close? It seems that it was only yesterday that we where installing Windows 98 and fretting about Y2K, and now we have a decade plus of the 21st century under our belts… this month brings a pair of launches headed towards the Red Planet, a partial solar eclipse for distant lands, and a Tweetup for one of the aforementioned launches: [Read more...]

The U.S. Space Shuttle Program; A Personal Retrospective.

 

Endeavour STS-113 on orbit. (Credit: NASA.gov)

  As we approach what are the last flights of the United States Space Shuttle Program this year, many a media outlet will be revving up tributes, retrospectives and docu-dramas expounding on all that was the shuttle era. Rather than rehash what the shuttle has done, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the role the shuttle has played in my life. [Read more...]

The Smart Phones Strike Back: The STS-132 NASAtweetup!

Astroguyz in uber-nerd mode! (All Photos by Author).
Astroguyz in uber-nerd mode! (All Photos by Author).

    I got into Twitter about a year ago with some apprehension; did I really want to know (or care?) what someone’s cat did today? Was “micro-blogging” a cop-out to serious writing? After all, a scant decade ago, we barely knew what e-mail was. Here it is a year later, and we’re hooked. Twitter has produced tangible benefits, such as the opportunity to attend the launch of STS-132 last week and the NASAtweetup! Fans of this space will note that we attended our first Tweetup at the Johnson Space Flight Center in March. While that was a stellar session, we’d always wanted to do a launch event, and not be stuck viewing from the peanut gallery or a Home Depot parking lot in Orlando, but up close with the “serious” media.  [Read more...]

Review: Solis by A.A. Antanasio

A classic by A.A. Antanasio!
A classic by A.A. Antanasio!
 

 

   Every once in a while, we come across a book that sat on our shelves for years unread, only to later wonder how we could have by-passed such a gem for so long. Such a find is a book is Solis, by A.A. Attanasio the topic of this week’s retro review. Mr. Attanasio is also the author of another all-time Sci-Fi favorite of ours, Radix. Apparently, he has yet to write a bad novel, as evinced by this 80’s work of the distant future. All of Mr. Attanasio’s novels assume a sleek and sophisticated audience; rather than spoon-feed you an idea or concept, he allows the reader to piece things together.  Solis is a twist on the old Rip Van Winkle theme in Sci-Fi; this motif has a lineage way back to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but also has its contemporaries in works such as Larry Niven’s outstanding Out of Time, which will also be a subject of review one day. Perhaps only Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man beats out Solis in its sweep and scope of social commentary.

The key protagonist and window into this future realm is Charlie Outis, a 21st century man who had his brain cryogenically frozen in the hopes that future technology could one day reanimate him. This concept isn’t entirely fiction; the Alcor Foundation out of Riverside California promises just such a hope for its customers. Of course, there is much controversy surrounding the concept, as it’s hard to quickly freeze neural tissue without any cell wall rupturing or damage, but in Solis, a future technology has found a way to reverse and repair this, albeit at extreme cost.

However, the parties responsible for Mr. Charlie’s revival turn out to have less than benign motives; instead, they install his brain as a slave controller for an asteroid harvester. Much of the motive for this and the subsequent tale stems from Mr. Charlie’s legal status; being that he was technically “dead” thousands of years prior, his standing in this twisted future technocratic society is little more than that of hardware or property.

Mr. Charlie’s disembodied brain is able to summon Munk, an android with a seemly superfluous sub-program that gives him an affinity for archaic humans, and Jumper Mei Nilli, a spacer with a thirst for adventure. The tale that unfolds on and around future Mars is one of journeying towards cognizance and what it truly means to be human. As they escape and encounter more fellow travelers of their elk, Mr. Charlie and his band must overcome a menagerie of menaces both personal and external. This lends itself towards a very Odyssean-style tale. Their goal: Solis, a mythical haven for humanism deep in the Martian desert. A parallel could also be drawn between Solis and The Wizard of Oz; each character is on an individual quest of self-fulfillment; Mr. Charlie to become human again, and Munk looking to understand human motives.

304px-Alcor-Dewar2    

 

The “Bigfoot” Dewar whole body containment system. (Photo Courtesy of the AlcorLife Extention Foundation).

Like Radix, some of Mr. Attanasio’s wonderful prose is really allowed to shine through in Solis; you actually care about what happens to his characters, and he paints a future universe of autobots, andrones, and neo-sapiens that is totally convincing. I would even put Solis in the select realm of books that are worth re-reading, high praise in this short time span we have on planet Earth.

Read Solis and dig up an undiscovered gem by an under-appreciated author. I would love to see more adventures in the Solis universe, but Mr. Attanasio doesn’t seem to lack a new and unique backdrop for each tale he pulls out of his fertile imagination. I’d also love to see Solis make the big screen one day… are you listening, SyFy?

Mars; the future site of Solis? (Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech).

 Note: At the time of posting this, Astroguyz will be live and underway at the STS-132 NASAtweetup… now’s a good time to hit that Follow Me button on this page as we track space shuttle Atlantis’s final mission. A full after-action post will be the topic of next Friday’s review!

Astro Event of the Week: Spot Atlantis on its Final Flight!

(Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller).

(Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller).

 Atlantis posed for flight!

   This week sees the first in a series of finales; three shuttle missions remain, and the first shuttle up for its final voyage is Atlantis and STS-132. This is a resupply mission to the International Space Station, as NASA prepares to enter life aboard the ISS without a shuttle next year. Atlantis first took to space on October 3, 1985 and has performed such notable feats as the launching of the Magellan & Galileo spacecraft as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and last year’s final repair of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard STS-125. Atlantis takes its name from the famous sailing ship that first scouted out Wood’s Hole in the early 20th century, the RV Atlantis. After STS-132, Atlantis will have logged nearly 300 days in space. Atlantis will be kept for a STS-335 Launch On Need standby for the final STS-134 flight of Endeavour later this year, which is also the last of the shuttle program.

The good news is several sighting opportunities should be possible for both Atlantis and the ISS during its 13 day planned mission. Launch is scheduled for 2:20 PM EDT on Friday, May 14th, and the shuttle will pass over Europe as it lifts into orbit that evening at dusk. Interestingly, it looks like the Sun angle may be setting up for some transit sighting opportunities over the US Southeast during this mission. Docking will occur on day three, which will be on the 17th if everything launches on schedule. Lit dusk passes on the pair will favor the US eastern seaboard, and generally, the farther north you are, the higher the STS-ISS pair will be. Around late June, the ISS will enter a summertime orbital phase where its orbit will actually be permanently illuminated at times, and even now, the nights aboard the ISS are drawing up short. Do track sites such as Heavens Above, CALsky, Spaceweather, and this space for updates… it’s worth it to see Atlantis do its thing one more time!

(Note: An orbital ballet of sorts is also in progess at the ISS; today, the Progress 36 module undocks from the nadir port of the Zvezda  module. Progress will deorbit and burn up over the Pacific in June. Then, on Wednesday, cosmonaut Kotokov will pilot the Soyuz TMA-17 and undock from the aft end of the Zarya module and move it to replace Progress, freeing it up for the installation of the MRM-1  carried aboard Atlantis. Talk about a cool valet job!)

The astro-word for this week is: Space Tweetup! A space tweetup is an alignment of two or more space enthusiasts for a space flight cause via that most venerable of 140 character platforms, Twitter. A Tweetup may be virtual, as in “let’s watch a launch via NASA TV and tweet about it” or in person, as in next week’s NASA tweetup for the STS-132 launch, of which Astroguyz is proud to be a member. NASA obviously “get’s it,” and is eager to promote new technology and engage its legion of fans, many whom feel disenfranchised with the “old school” media. People often ask me, “Why bother with Twitter?” I reply that events like the NASA tweetup have given me the opportunity to gain access normally reserved only for a select few, and an ability to connect to readers in a way not possible previous. It’s hard to imagine that scant decades ago, the monthly astronomy magazine bulletins would tell us about the comet that had long since come and gone; through Twitter communities, I can not only act on alerts for new objects, but share images straight from the eyepiece in real time. I highly encourage anyone interested to apply for a NASAtweetup; it’s open to all, and they’ve had events at the Kennedy and Johnson Space Center and in Baltimore at the Goddard Space Center thus far. And if you can’t make it, you can always participate vicariously online!

Attack of the Smartphones: A NASATweetup at the Johnson Space Flight Center!

Smartphones out... (Credit: NASA/JSC).
Smartphones out… (Credit: NASA/JSC).

 We came, we saw, we tweeted profusely… last month’s Tweetup at the Johnson Spaceflight Center  was a resounding success. Only the fourth official NASA tweetup ever held, this was the first at the JSC and the first attended by Astroguyz. What follows is a sort of after-action report, both of the JSC and the world of space-tweeting in general; [Read more...]

March 2010: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

The Full Snow Moon that rounded off February. (Phot by Author).   

The Full Snow Moon capping off February as seen from Astroguyz HQ! (Photo by Author). 

    This month, spring and the vernal equinox are in the air in the northern hemisphere; time for warmer temps, shortening nights and hopefully, a buffer between the cold of winter and the eventual swarms of summer mosquitoes that are the bane of many an observer. What follows is a brief rundown of all things astronomical that are floating through our respective transom here at Astroguyz HQ; [Read more...]