Monthly Archives: August 2012

Twisst is Shut Down by Twitter

The International Space Station orbits the earth every 90 minutes. If passes over you near dusk or dawn, it’s actually possible to see the ISS as it flys over you. There are several web sites available to find out when there will be visible passes in your area. One of the best ways to find out when there are visible passes coming up is a service on twitter called Twisst. It’s a subscription service that sends you a tweet a couple of hours before there will be a visible pass in your area.

To get notifications, twitter users have to do two things: 1)Put their location in their twitter profile and 2)follow the main @twisst account. That’s it, notifications, in the form of @ replies start flowing your direction. Unfortunately, because of the way that twisst sends out its notifications as @ replies, its accounts are getting blocked by Twitter as spammers. There are so many subscribers to Twisst that it has to use multiple accounts to send notifications. Since users only follow the main account and not the accounts sending the notifications, twitter is considering the accounts sending the notifications as spammers.

Twitter clamping down on spammers is an admirable thing, as it’s hard to avoid spam on twitter these days. But Twisst is NOT spam. It’s a useful service utilized by over 48,000 people across the globe. Twitter should be able to make this useful service work within its rules and keep us space geeks informed about visible ISS flyovers.

Here’s a useful rundown on the situation.

Here are some tweets of support from users of twisst:

@janellewilson: Knowing when a 17,500 mph orbital spacecraft races over yr house isn’t spam. It’s science & engineering & math & awesome

@gabrielleNYC: @twisst is not spam. It’s a great service that tells us when the #ISS is passing overhead & is Opt In. #savetwisst

@thenasaman: Hey @Twitter. @twisst is NOT spam. They are actually a tool of science and inspiration. Please remove the suspension on their accounts

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Dinner with Karen – Remembering Neil Armstrong

Today, the world lost a hero. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, passed away from complications from a heart procedure that took place several weeks ago. He was an example of what it means to be a hero, what it means to be humble, and what it means to be an American.

There have been some tweets today about President Kennedy now being able to meet the man who fulfilled his challenge to the nation. I’m sure that meeting will indeed take place, but if even half of what I’ve read about Mr. Armstrong is true, I think I know who the first person he will want to meet. It will be his daughter Karen, born in 1959, who died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1962. As the first man to walk on the moon, I imagine, there are plenty of people in heaven who want to meet him, and he will probably have his pick, but I’m confident that he would probably put his daughter first.

That’s just the kind of person Mr. Armstrong was. A truly international celebrity, he shunned the spotlight. A man whose name could have probably ensured the success of any product, he stayed away from endorsements. A voice that was considered an authority on many topics, he rarely made his position known and when he did it was respected.

The Apollo 11 mission was a historic one in many ways. It was the first time in human history that a person walked on another heavenly body. It was the first time television brought the nation and the world together to witness a historic event. Its success was a triumph of American and technology. It highlighted the skill not only of the astronauts who landed the LM on the moon, but the literally hundreds of thousands of engineers, technicians, and other workers without whose work the mission could never have happened. I mention the historic nature of the mission because it hinged on Mr. Armstrong’s actions. He was cool as a cucumber and landed  the LM with less than 17 seconds of fuel remaining.

I’ve seen and read interviews with many of Mr. Armstrong’s fellow astronauts. Each of them indicated in their own way that Mr. Armstrong was the right man to command the first lunar landing mission. History has proven, in many different ways, that he was indeed the right man for the job.

Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong. I hope you enjoy your dinner with Karen.


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Curiosity is Sending Back Data, and It’s Amazing!

Shortly after Curiosity landed on Mars, it sent us two thumbnail images. One looking forward and one looking backward. These images were taken to satisfy  the “Pictures or it didn’t happen” crowd. On the next satellite pass on Mars, more images came down from the lander and in higher quality. The dust covers were taken off the lenses and even better photos came down. Mind you, the images were taken on MARS and were received on Earth mere minutes or hours after the landing. All the raw images from the mission are available.

This brings us to what I consider the most amazing image I’ve ever seen. This is an image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of Curiosity as it descended toward the surface of Mars on its parachute. To put it another way, a satellite we put in orbit around another planet,  took a photo of a lander we sent to that same planet as it was descending through the atmosphere on its way to the ground. HOW COOL IS THAT? (Click on the image to enlarge)

So, if a still image of the rover descending is cool, how about a video of the descent? The Curiosity Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) captured the rover’s descent to the surface of the Red Planet. The instrument shot 4 fps video from heatshield separation to the ground.

So the same orbiter that got the picture of the rover in free flight, got another panoramic photo that includes all the equipment involved in the landing, including the rover, the sky crane, the parachute and backshell, and the heat shield. Take a look! (Click on the image to enlarge)

If the images are this good now, wait until the science begins. Because This is What Inspiration Looks Like.

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Curiosity is on Mars

Late Sunday night Pacific time, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, aka Curiosity landed on Mars. This was no small feat as Mars is over 150 million miles away and Curiosity weighs over 1000 pounds and is the size of the small SUV. The previous rovers we’ve landed on Mars have been smaller, about the size of a coffee table or smaller. So the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory devised a new way of landing the rover on Mars. Dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror” by NASA, this new way of landing involved friction breaking through the atmosphere, a supersonic parachute, a rocket, and finally, a sky crane lowering the rover to the surface. Here’s more information on how the landing worked:

Seriously, that’s an amazing feat of engineering, considering that it was impossible to test the whole process because the Earth’s atmosphere is so much thicker than that of Mars and our gravity is much greater that of the Red Planet. 13,000 miles an hour to a full stop in 7 minutes. Oh yeah, it all has to be done autonomously because it takes 14 minutes for signals to go from Earth to Mars and another 14 minutes to get back to Earth. Also, add in the fact that the landing site, a mere 12 x 4 miles, went below the horizon about two-thirds of the way through the landing.

So this is an autonomous vehicle going through an untested landing process going out of direct contact with Earth in the middle of the process. The amazing part is that it ALL WORKED as advertised and, truth be told, a bit better.

There were over 127 parties to watch the landing around the world. Some were large, like the one at NASA’s Ames Research Center, where over 5000 people got together to watch the landing together, to the one I held at my house with one of my close friends and his family. People came together to celebrate this technological tour de force. We didn’t know whether it would work, but we wanted to be together and celebrate the act of trying, the act of exploration, and the act of reaching. As I said before, IT. WORKED. SPECTACULARLY. Curiosity landed on safely on Mars.

The landing and the data that has already come down has truly been inspiring. Speaking of inspiring, my friend Heather Archuletta posted a blog post on Curiosity’s landing called “Because This is What Inspiration Looks Like” I can’t say it any better than Heather did. To quote her post, “The celebration of Mars Curiosity’s triumphant EDL was then even more amazing than any of us had dared to imagine. Everything that could have gone right, went right. Every sign and signal expected, came. Everyone who worked on this magnificent mission of space exploration can be proud, choked up, relieved and sleepless-for-days jubilant!”

Also, Brandon Fibbs made a tribute to the Curiosity Landing called Dare Mighty Things, interspersing landing commentary with the Seven Minutes of Terror video mentioned above. It’s another great exploration of the inspiration of the moment.

Now that Curiosity has landed, it will be checked out, and soon the science will begin. Thanks to JPL and NASA for the inspiration!

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