QM2 Rocket Test NASASocial

I’ve been to several NASASocial and NASATweetup events, but this is the first that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures for a majority of one of the days of the event. When the purpose of these events is to publicize NASA and, in this case, the QM2 rocket test for the Space Launch System (SLS), would I not be allowed to take pictures?

The answer is because we spent the first day touring  a rocket factory. Apparently rocket manufacturing is something that the government considers fairly sensitive, so they don’t like pictures. I understand, but it was a little odd to not be able to photograph and even tweet from some places on the tour. Because they build rockets at the Orbital/ATK facility in Promontory that we toured, our bags were checked to see if we had any spark producing materials in our bag…

Touring the rocket factory site was amazing. This is the site where the Solid Rocket boosters were manufactured for the Space Shuttle program. It was really interesting to learn how these solid fueled rocket motors are built. How do they transport the segments to Florida for launch? By rail, naturally! the rocket factory is about 9 miles from the location where the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

For my precious few pictures of the Rocket factory tour, please see the Flickr album.

Day two of the NASASocial was the main event, the actual test of the QM2 rocket. Our viewing site was about 1.3 miles away from the booster, with an unobstructed view.

03 - There's a Booster in Them Thar Hills

I’ve seen two rocket launches before. I watched STS-131 launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. I saw Landsat 8 launch from SLC3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In both those cases, the rocket sped away from me at a great and ever increasing speed, trying to achieve orbit. In this case, the rocket was bolted to the ground, and all of us in attendance got to experience the full three minutes of thrust and it was amazing.

16 - Full Thrust 01

After the rocket ignited it took a full 6 seconds for the sound to reach us at the viewing location. It wasn’t just a sound that I hear with my ears, it was a full body experience. I felt the rumble for the full three minutes of the test. After the test, they took to the test stand and we got up close and personal with the rocket!

27 - Business End of a Cooling Booster

For my full set of pictures of the test and visit to the rocket afterwards, please see the Flickr album.

I really want to thank NASA and Orbital/ATK for the tour and letting us view the test. If you ever have the desire to learn about space, I strongly suggest applying for a NASASocial event. You will get up close and personal with the scientists, engineers, and others that make our space program work. Visit the NASASocial web page for more information and to sign up!

 

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Innocence, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, I was in second grade. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last year at the elementary school that I attended and  lots of change would be coming over the next several years for me. Thirty years ago, I was young and didn’t believe that bad things could happen to me, to anyone I knew, or to my country. Thirty years ago, I had my innocence and it was a great state to be in.

On January 28, 1986, I was playing on the playground during morning recess and a friend came up to me and said, “the space shuttle exploded.” My first response was sheer incredulity, that he was testing me, to see if I would react… I said, “No, it didn’t, the Space Shuttle CAN’T explode.” I didn’t believe that such a thing could even happen. Space travel was routine, with the first shuttle launch just after my third birthday and the 25th scheduled for that morning. My friend replied, “yes it did, as it was launching this morning.” I still didn’t believe him. I couldn’t grasp that an event such as this was even possible.

From there, in my memory, that day becomes a big blur. The next thing I remember is being at a different friend’s house in the evening working on homework. The adults were in a different room, doing adult things. The room we were in had a TV, which was tuned to the news. They were showing Challenger’s 73 second flight over and over and over again. I’m sure that there were talking heads interspersed between the replays, but all I remember are the replays, over and over again. Looking back now, that was the beginning of the end of my innocence. The end of the belief that bad things couldn’t happen.

Every year, in mid-January, I post four pictures on my office door. The first is the Apollo 1 Crew, the second is the STS 51-L (Challenger) Crew, the third is the STS-107 (Columbia) Crew, and the final is a Red and Rover cartoon by Brian Bassett commemorating the aforementioned crews that all lost their lives in service of exploration.  I picked these pictures of the three crews because I think they represent the potential of the missions. Each crew is in their space suits, seemingly ready for launch, ready to being their exploration. I post these cartoons no later than January 16th, my birthday, which is the day that Columbia and her crew launched on their final mission in 2003. It’s also the day that the damage that caused Columbia’s demise occurred, though it would not happen for another fifteen days.

Last night I watched a wonderful documentary about the Challenger accident. The documentary focused not on the technical details of the accident, but on the reactions that people had to it. I was particularly taken by the audio of a reporter from Concord, New Hampshire, who was at KSC reporting on the flight because of its most famous crew member Christa McAuliffe. His station played several minutes of his spontaneous reactions to the incident, and at one point, he basically says, “I can’t talk any more. I’m in shock, I need to process this…” at which point I can imagine his dropping the phone he’s been talking in to and walking away. This struck me because it’s how I’ve been feeling since I posted those four photos on my office door.

Today, in 2016, my son is in second grade. He attends the same school that I did on that fateful day in January 1986, and though it’s been rebuilt, he plays on the same playground that I was playing on thirty years ago when I learned the news of the Challenger disaster. For some reason, this parallel, this coincidence that came about because he was born in my thirtieth year and started kindergarten when he did, has been bothering me this week. Ever since I put up those photos a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about my experience on the playground thirty years ago. I’ve been thinking about the beginning of the loss of my innocence and the changes that would occur in my life. I feel like spaceflight, to most people is again routine and the fact that there have been astronauts in space for nearly twice my son’s lifetime is taken for granted (if it’s even known) by most people. I feel like so much of the technology that we use on a daily basis, most of which was developed directly or indirectly as a part of the space program, is taken for granted.

My son is fully ensconced in his innocence and I work hard to protect that for him. I wonder what he will look back upon some day as the beginning of the end of his innocence. I hope that it will not be for a long time. I hope that I won’t be a cause of the beginning of this change in him. This year and ever year, I choose to remember the crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L, and STS-107 in their flight suits, looking like they’re headed to the pad to launch into space and explore our universe.

I choose to look at them with the innocence of a child, knowing that it is not possible for anything to go wrong. I know that this is not true, I know that complacency and apathy will create problems for my country and my world. I just hope that my son won’t realize this for a long, long, time. I want to remember him like this, full of promise, full of innocence, and full of potential. I want all kids to have a look like on their face like my friend Shannon Moore‘s daughter Sara does in this picture.

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The Space Station Museum

Until I got an email from my friend Heather Archuletta asking me if I wanted to tour The Space Station Museum in Novato, I must say that I didn’t know that it existed. I’m so glad that I was able join this morning’s tour because it’s clear that we have a gem in the Bay Area. It’s also clear that this museum has a different way of doing things that most space museums that I’ve visited.

The Space Station Museum is located in a storefront in Novato, California. On one side is a coffee shop and on the other is a pizzeria. This is not your typical location for a museum that has a large number of spaceflight artifacts. The other thing different about the museum is that visitors are allowed, in fact encouraged, to touch most of the artifacts there. Have you ever wanted to touch a meteor? If so, head to Novato when the museum is open and you can do it!

Walking into the first room of the museum, the first thing that I noticed were the pictures on the walls. After a closer look, I noticed that many of them had autographs of the astronauts who took or were in the pictures. There are crew photos, pictures taken on the moon, and in the space shuttle. My favorite is a photo from Apollo 16, labeled and autographed by LMP Charlie Duke. It’s a panoramic image and Gen. Duke has labeled some of the major features in the photo, including himself. There’s a photo of Bruce McCandless flying the MMU, a photo of  John Young scooping lunar soil  at North Ray Crater, and a photo of Harrison Schmidt standing in from of a lunar bolder larger than he is with the lunar rover in the foreground, among many others. On the back wall is a large photo of the Space Shuttle Columbia, apparently in orbit, against the blue of the earth and the black of space. More on this photo later.

Our guide to this room was Ken Winans, President of the museum and the man who has amassed much of this space memorabilia. Ken is quick to point out that the museum holds only a small portion of the collection and, as such, the content is rotated on a regular basis. Ken deftly walks us around the room, showing us Soyuz and Mir control panel pieces, space flown pieces and engineering prototypes, Mercury capsule pumps and Soviet and Russian suits. He shows us a Russian Sokol space suit while explaining its mechanics and those of its sister suit, called Orlan, to us. To our sheer delight, he invited us to try on gloves for both types of suit (neither of which fit my hand). He shows us two meteorites, one of iron and the other of rock, and encourages us to touch them! It was just awesome. Ken’s enthusiasm for the museum, the artifacts, and his concept of bring space to the people is contagious.

After spending time with Ken in the first room, we move on to the second room, which among other things, contains two amazing pieces, a 85% size lunar module and a lunar rover trainer. Our guide in this second room is Don Shields, an Apollo program veteran. Mr. Sheilds spent his time in the Apollo program working on the lunar module, so it’s quite fitting that he’s our guide in this room. He regales us with stories of working in the Apollo program and putting astronauts on the moon is amazing! The artifacts in this room are just as amazing, including more Russian control panels, rocket nozzles and a training flag that the Apollo astronauts used to practice putting up a flag on the moon! (Yes, it took practice, remember they were wearing pressurized space suits with limited mobility.

Besides being able to touch artifacts, Mr. Winans has a vision for museums. He don’t believe that they need to be big stodgy affairs. Rather, he puts his artifacts where the people are. As I mentioned above, the Space Station Museum is located in a shopping center in Novato, near a coffee shop, a grocery store, and a yoga studio. He wants people to see the collection and learn from it. Another wonderful feature of the museum is that there is no admission charge. When they’re open, you can walk in, view and touch the artifacts, and learn more about our adventures in space.

I am tremendously thankful to Heather for inviting me to join a group of fellow space enthusiasts on this tour. It amazes me that space can bring a group like this together. We had an aircraft electronics engineer, a lab technician, a City Clerk, a planetary scientist, and an Apollo program hypergolics engineer in the group. It was a lot of fun to talk with and learn from Amy McKinney, Grant McKinney, James Sharkey, Stephanie Evans, Natalie Batalha, Jeffrey Holton, and Robyn Villavecchia.

See the full photo set!

 


OK, with regard to the Columbia picture mentioned above, Mr. Winans says that he believes the photo is original and not photoshopped. I want to find out if this photo is indeed non-photoshopped. It’s odd because the cargo bay doors are closed, which means that the orbiter is either in the ascent or entry phase. If that’s the case, what would have been with the shuttle to take the photo. Any thoughts? – I’ve found out that it’s a composite photo of one of Columbia’s early landings over a shot from orbit. Lots of them were sold in the 80’s.

 

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Into the Woods – Musical vs Movie

As some of you know, my favorite musical of all time is Into the Woods, with music by Sondheim and book by Lapine. I’ve loved Into the Woods since I was in Middle School, seen it performed multiple times at all levels (community theatre to original Broadway cast (I think)) and even performed in it as the Narrator and the Baker. So, when the movie was announced, I was hesitant, to say the least.

On Thursday night, I saw the movie and enjoyed it. They did a good job of capturing the spirit of the story and translating that into a beautiful film. The lighting was stunning and they did a great job of making the giant seem big without ever showing the full size of the giant. When it comes to musical numbers, the filmmakers nailed Agony, almost nailed No One is Alone, and did a good job on most of the other numbers. One of the interesting choices they made with a couple of songs from the musical (Cinderella at the Grave and No More) was to play the melody from the musical under the visual of the actor in the film who wasn’t singing the words. I cringed at this both times, but I can understand the choice.

The filmmakers make two interesting choices in explicitly stating a couple of things that are assumed in the musical. (Spoilers begin here) They have the witch explicitly state that the four items (cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and slipper as pure as gold) that the baker and his wife have to gather to reverse their curse will also reverse her curse. They also explain the necessity of the three days time in the film, which isn’t explained in the musical. Also, the witch states several times before the final feeding of the four items to Milky White, that she can’t have touched any of them. I don’t believe this is stated in the musical until the cow won’t produce milk. These are interesting choices, which take a bit of the magic away, in my opinion.

All in all, it’s a great film, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the musical.

P.S. I wrote most of this back on January 11th, but didn’t manage to post until today. Not quite sure why…

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Lessons from the West Wing about the Orbital Launch Failure

If you need a moral of today’s ‪#‎Orb3‬ Launch failure, watch an episode of The West Wing called Galileo. One of the several plot lines in the episode is about a NASA space probe that doesn’t make it to Mars. At about 40 minutes into the episode, the President and CJ enter into a conversation about whether or not the President should do a televised event the next day with students which was planned to coincide with the probe going in to orbit around Mars. Listen to what she says about how even a mistake can inspire people to do their best and how it can inspire people to come out of their shell.

It’s a great episode of television and it’s especially applicable today.

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Independence Day 2014

In honor of Independence Day 2014, I’m making my annual vexillological display to honor the birth of the United States.

Independence Day 2014

The flags displayed are as follows:

Top Row (Left to Right):

The Grand Union Flag

This flag, also known as the Continental Colors, was first hoisted on the Alfred, in Philadelphia on December 2, 1775, by Lt. John Paul Jones. This flag was also used by American Continental forces as both naval ensign and garrison flag through 1776 and early 1777. It served as a national flag until the adoption of the first version of the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s.

The Betsy Ross Flag

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution stating, “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” The oft repeated story that Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, designed and made the first flag of this pattern have never been verified, nor have the claims to that honor for Francis Hopkinson, a well known political leader from New Jersey. This flag (and several variants of it, including the Grand Union, below) served as the flag of the United States from June 14, 1777 to May 1, 1795. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s.

The Star Spangled Banner

This is the flag that was flying over Ft. McHenry when Francis Scott Key penned his famous poem, now our national anthem. When the first two states after the original thirteen were added to our nation, the flag was modified to add both a star and a stripe for each state, bringing the total to fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. When five additional states were added in 1818, it was decided to reduce the number of striped back to thirteen to honor the original states, and add a star for each new state. The Star Spangled Banner served as the flag of the United States from May 1, 1795 to July 3, 1818. I purchased this flag at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore in the late 1990s.

The Fremont Flag 

This flag was carried by Gen. John C. Fremont on his wide-spread expeditions in the western United States in the 1840s. As the United States flag was not normally carried by units of the Army during this period, the Fremont Flag was especially prepared for his expeditions. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s.

The Flag of the United States

Containing fifty stars and thirteen stripes, the current flag of the United States has been in use since July 4, 1960, a period of 53 years, making it the longest serving flag of our nation. Containing fifty stars and thirteen stripes. The forty eight star flag, in use from July 4, 1912 to July 3, 1959, holds second place. This flag was flown over the United States Capitol on February 27,1997.

Bottom Row (Left to Right):

The Rhode Island Flag

The basis for Rhode Island’s present state flag, this flag, which bears the famous motto “Hope” was carried by Rhode Island Troops at the Revolutionary War battles of Brandywine, Trenton, and Yorktown. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s.

The Continental Flag

This flag dates from the Revolutionary War and was carried at the Battle of Bunker Hill. It is a form of the Red Ensign, which was flown on ships of the period. Replacing the Union Jack in the canton of the flag is a green New England Pine tree. The Bunker Hill Flag is a variant on this same theme. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s.

The Gadsen Flag

This flag was used as the Captain’s personal flag on ships of the Continental Navy. It is based on a common symbol of the cause of the American revolution, the rattlesnake, and includes the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” The Gadsen flag was different from the other flags of this theme in that the rattlesnake is featured coiled, rather than crawling. The Continental Navy Jack, also known as the First Navy Jack, was used by the Continental Navy and is currently used as the jack on all United States war ships. This flag has been in my collection since the 1980s.

Historical information gleaned from the book Flags of American History by David D. Crouthers, published in 1978 by Hammond Incorporated.

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The Bay Bridge Troll

For many years, every time I drove over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, I thought of the troll. He was put on the bridge in 1989 after the repairs to the damage caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake had been repaired. Caltrans wasn’t told he was going to be put up, an Ironworker by the name of Bill Roan, with the cooperation of his employer, Rigging International, put the troll up to protect the bridge from earthquakes. When Caltrans found out, they gave a stern warning against doing anything like this ever again, but let him stay, because they needed all the help they could get in keeping the bridge in working order.

The troll was placed on the the only portion of the bridge that failed, but protected the bridge as a whole. I will point out that the failure was by design and saved the bridge as a whole, but it was still a failure. After the bridge was repaired, you could tell you were on the failed portion because the pavement was more rough. So, every time I drove over the rough section I though of the quake. In the early 1990s, I learned of the troll’s existence and was saddened to find out that he wasn’t visible from either deck of the roadway. He was hidden from sight, quietly doing his job of keeping the bridge whole.

When the new east span of the Bay Bridge was opened in September, 2013, I got out on the bike path as soon as I could because I wanted to see the troll I had heard and though so much about doing his work of keeping that span whole. Unfortunately for me, he was removed from the old bridge, when they took it out of service to vehicle traffic on August 30th. To say I was bummed out would be an understatement of great proportion.

Today, I visited the Oakland Museum, where the troll will be on display until February. It was an awesome experience! I was able to get up close and personal with the troll, only separated by a thick pane of glass. Here’s a photo of him in all his glory.

The Oakland Museum commissioned three local story tellers to write stories about how the troll came to be on the Bridge. : Mia PaschalKirk Waller, and Tim Ereneta each told us their story of how the troll came to be on the bridge. In attendance was Bill Roan, the man who made the troll. It was an awesome event with some wonderful stories about how the troll got to be there!

Oh, yeah, there is a new troll protecting the new east span of the Bay Bridge, but it’s not generally known where he’s working!

 

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