Tag Archives: learning

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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Dinner and a Show

We were treated to a show with diner tonight. After a great game of mini-golf, we headed to Val’s for dinner. for those who don’t know, Val’s is a great burger joint on the border of Hayward and Castro Valley. Val’s is the kind of place you go when you want an old school burger at a reasonable price. Nothing fancy, just excellent burgers and fries. The restaurant is frequented by sports teams (to the point where they have a “No Cleets” sign above the door) as well as police officers. I’ve been to Val’s at least a hundred times over more than a decade and tonight was a first for me.

About half way through dinner, a police officer came in to have his dinner. Shortly thereafter, a gentleman sat down near us and commented on my daughter, saying that he had a daughter of similar age. I thought nothing of either of these events, but they would become intertwined. Shortly after we finished and paid for dinner, there was a loud crash and the sound of plates and glass breaking. I looked over and saw the guy who complimented my daughter and another guy engaged in an altercation. I jumped up to put myself between the fight and my kids. The police officer was immediately on his feet, separating the two participants in the fight and ordering them to the floor.

The officer had the two men handcuffed and was calling for backup before anyone really knew what was going on. Karin had pulled my daughter behind the bench seat we had been sitting on and I picked my son up and put him beside the bench as well. Our friends grabbed their kid and did the same. I’ve seen altercations in public before and generally they have ramped up from talk to yelling to physical contact, but this one was different. It started and stopped in what seemed like an instant. One of the participants was bleeding and an ambulance showed up to tend to him. It was very surreal…

The other thing that amazed me about the whole thing was that nobody in the restaurant panicked. Everyone was calm and basically backed away from the part of the restaurant where the two guys were. Shortly after the officer had the two guys handcuffed and on the floor, people were sitting back down and getting back to their dinner. One couple switched tables to get further away from where the police were doing their work. We had paid, so I followed my family out the door and we headed to our cars.

It was weird and surreal, raised our adrenaline and was over before we knew was was going on. We’re very thankful that the officer was there to keep things in hand. As he was leaving, my friend Drew Perttula took this photo of some of the police officers standing outside the restaurant.


I talked to my son about it once we got home, and he said he thought that two guys had “crashed into each other and made a mess.” I’ll be really interested to see if he wants to go back there after our next golf adventure. So, tonight we had dinner and a show. If we get a show next time, I hope that it’s a comedy rather than a drama.


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The Sun, The Moon, and Two Pieces of Paper

My family and I joined a group of strangers today on Skyline Boulevard to watch a rare experience, an Annular Eclipse of the Sun! It was an amazing experience to come together and experience this natural event as a community. We shared solar glasses, welding hoods, and pinhole projectors among the group. We experienced about 90% coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area, which definitely dimmed the light, but I was amazed at how bright it still was when the moon covered 90% of the sun. Here’s a map of where the eclipse was viewable.

Even when 90% covered, the sun can still do tremendous damage to your eyes. So to watch the eclipse, we used ancient technology called a pinhole camera.  Basically, this was a piece of paper through which I pushed a pin to make a hole. I held this sheet up in the direction of the sun, and held another piece of paper up below it. The sun’s image was projected, upside down, on the lower piece of paper. It was amazing that this simple method allowed us to safely watch the eclipse. What amazed me even more was that my 3-year-old son kept on asking to see the projection on the paper.

Here’s the projected image from 1759PDT, about a half an hour before totality:

Here’s a view from just around the time of totality:

Neither of the above photos is particularly great, but the fact that I could project the image of the sun onto a piece of paper is just amazing to me.

I also took a direct image using my iPhone camera. Hopefully, I didn’t do any Apollo 12 type damage to my phone’s camera sensor,  but here it is nonetheless. Look to the right of the sun and you can see the lens flare showing the disc of the sun.

Finally, here’s the scene on Skyline before the eclipse.

Here are some of my favorite photos of the eclipse taken by others:

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The Majesty of an ISS Flyby – Part 2

On a recent Saturtday morning, I headed to the highest accessible viewing point around and watched for almost 6 minutes as the International Space Station flew almost directly over my head. My view stared with a speck of light rising from about 10 degrees above the horizon in the southwest. It flew almost directly over head and disappeared into the coming dawn in the north east. It was truly amazing to see the largest object ever constructed off the planet

Once you’ve viewed an ISS pass, it’s hard NOT to spot the station if it’s visible. It looks like nothing else in the sky, it moves at its own very steady speed, never varying, never changing.

Please see http://wp.me/pWb5u-6h for a previous post on this subject…

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For Me, NASA Means Hope

Many people have “Where Were You When…?” dates. These are the dates that you will always have an indelible picture in your mind of where you were. My first is January 28, 1986, the day of the Challenger disaster. This is the first real experience with tragedy and I remember the experience of that day as if it were yesterday. I know that’s a weird way to start a post about NASA meaning hope, but I want to make the point about how important NASA and the Space Shuttle Program have been to me.

NASA is an agency that brings the aspirations of our nation to the forefront. It’s about coming together to do what can’t be done now. NASA is about living up our promise and pushing our limits.  NASA is about doing things, “… not because they are easy, but because they are hard” as President Kennedy put it.

For my entire life, NASA and the Space Shuttle in particular, have meant hope to me. It has represented the ability of our nation and people around the world to break the bonds of gravity and get off our planet. For a child of divorce, getting up and away from the gravity of every day life meant a lot to me. As a child, my coping mechanism was taking on the job to keep everybody else happy, but when I was thinking about space (or some other things) I was able to rise above the every day of my life and think about the pure possibilities presented by life. If humans could get to a place where even the law of gravity didn’t apply, then I could imagine a place where it wasn’t my job to make sure everyone else was happy, where what I wanted wasn’t important, in short, a place where I mattered. The fact that Astronauts are national heroes made it even better. I could imagine myself getting away from the gravity of earth and when I came back, I would be the hero… As I grew up, I began to take NASA and the Space Shuttle program for granted. As designed, the program became routine for me. There were Shuttles flying on a regular basis and it seemed far away from my daily life.

Then came February 1, 2003, my second “Where Were You When…?” date. I knew that the STS-107 mission had launched on my birthday, but didn’t think much about it. I was at the beginning of a very busy time in my job and was completely focused on that reality, not that of the seven explorers circling above my head. February 1, 2003 was a Saturday morning. I was headed in to work to try and stay on top of things. As I drove the 42 freeway miles between my home and my office, I turned on the radio and they were taking about the landing of Columbia. I figured it would be a short segment, describing the touchdown and then we would get back to regular programming. In truth, I wasn’t much listening, instead, I was thinking about the day’s work. I did, however notice that regular programming had not returned and Columbia’s landing was the still the subject of the conversation. I began to listen more closely, and realizing what had happened, I was truly taken aback. For the second time in my life, Astronauts had been lost in flight.

Between 1986 and 2003, technology had advanced greatly, so I got in to work and started doing all the research I could on the STS-107 mission, and kept up closely with the news. More important than that, my interest in NASA, the Space Shuttle Program, and space in general was rekindled. The new technology meant that when flights resumed in 2005, I was able to watch them from my desk and download a great deal of information about the mission. I was able to reconnect with the program and NASA, which was a wonderful thing.

As 2005 turned to 2006 and the second return to flight mission occurred, I was able to get more and more information about the program, watch the missions live on my computer, and feel a similar sense of wonder about space travel as I had when I was a kid. The years went on and my interest continued and grew. By the time the STS-125 mission occurred in 2009, I was a full on space geek. I was able to witness the law of gravity being broken in real-time, for the entire duration of each Space Shuttle mission.  I was also able to learn more about the program and the people who made it work.

When I joined Twitter in October of 2008, little did I know that It would lead me to attend a Space Shuttle launch, visit Mission Control and Johnson Space Center (twice) and find a community of space geeks across the world, just like me. I’ve learned that space doesn’t just mean manned space flight. It means journeys to other planets to observe and explore the surface. It means getting outside our Solar System and putting human existence into a universal perspective, as Carl Sagan did with the famous Pale Blue Dot photo taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles from Earth.

Voyager 1 remains the furthest human built object away from earth. It is approximately 11,061,750,600 miles from Earth today. Even more amazing is the fact that we can still communicate with it.

For me, NASA means an escape from the gravity of life and Earth. It means a community of friends who shares an interest and love for space. It means human achievement that I can share with my son and daughter. For me, NASA means hope.

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The Horse is Running From a Burning Barn

In 2008, Wayne Hale wrote a blog post entitled, “Shutting Down the Shuttle” in which he it being too late, even then, to restart the Shuttle program. He focused on the fact that the Space Shuttle program had started shutting down in 2004, as directed by Congress and the President. Even in 2008, he noted it would be infeasible to restart the program because of logistical issues and most of all, because of money.

Now that the Soyuz is on a forced hiatus, there is talk of getting the Shuttle program started again to get Americans into space. This is a fallacy. It’s can’t be done. The Shuttle program is over. Getting back into space is important, but the Shuttle isn’t the way to do it. We need to, as Wayne puts it, get out of the Model-T era and into modern era.

The path that we are supposed to be on is that the money formerly used to operate the Shuttle would now be used to develop a new rocket to get us out of low earth orbit and back into the deep space exploration business.

Wayne ended that 2008 blog post by saying, “That horse has left the barn.” He titled his recent post on the same subject, “After the Barn Burned Down.” The Space Shuttle is the only space program I’ve even known. It’s been a part of my life that I’ve been mourning recently because of its end. Much as I hate to say it, the Shuttle program is over, let’s get on with it and get back into deep space.

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Zones of Exclusion

When I feel overwhelmed, stressed out, or just unsure about life, I tend to retreat into myself, retreat from the outside world, and stop communicating with my family and friends. This isolation is a self preservation mechanism, but it’s also very self destructive. What I want most is to talk to people about why I’m feeling the way I am and get their unbiased thoughts about how to get over the way I’m feeling.

Instead, I draw in upon myself, make my world smaller and enter a zone of exclusion. I don’t do things that I know make me feel better, I don’t do things that I know help me in the long run, rather I turn inward and look to myself for the solution. Sometimes, I have the solution, most of the time I don’t. This isolation is a product of my youth, a product of my upbringing, and a product of who I had to be to survive my childhood.

As an adult, I dint need the same defense mechanisms I needed as a child. I don’t need to push everyone away, rather, what helps is talking to my friends and getting their unbiased thoughts and input.

Why do I still invoke these childhood defenses? I don’t know. Possibly, because it’s comfortable to do so. Possibly because it’s how I’ve dealt with things for most of my life. Possibly, it’s habit. I don’t know all the reasons, but I do know that it doesn’t usually do me much good.

So, I’m trying take little steps to get out if the ZOE. I do little things for myself that I know help. I write, I go to church, and I try and get some sleep. Mass is about to begin, so I’m entering another ZOE. With any luck, I’ll come out of this one feeling a bit better.


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