Tag Archives: space

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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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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Up Close and Personal with Endeavour

The morning of February 11th, I watched my second rocket launch. It was an awesome experience, made even better by the fact my family was able to watch with me. After the launch, we had to drive to San Diego, traveling through Los Angeles. the trip was going to be tight on schedule, as I had to catch a flight home from San Diego that evening. WIth the unpredictable LA traffic, we might get down there early, or we might get down there just in the nick of time to get on the flight. The drive from Lompoc to SAN was about 4.5 hours without traffic.

After about two hours on the road, we realized we were ahead of schedule and, according to Google, the traffic wasn’t too bad, so I started to entertain the idea that we might be able to make a stop in Los Angeles to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour. I looked for tickets on the web site of the California Science Center, which told me that there weren’t any tickets available until after we needed to leave Los Angeles, which was a major disappointment. I decided that the web wasn’t the final answer and that I would call the center’s box office and ask them, pleading my case if necessary. I made the call, and inevitably had to hold before I spoke with an agent. When the gentleman was answered, I was nervous and could barely talk. I explained my situation to him, that we were in a tight timeframe, and asked if there was any way we could get in to see the Space Shuttle. His answer… Yes. There was availability about the time we should arrive at the center. I jumped from nervous to cloud nine, I was going to see an orbiter closer than I had ever seen one before.

I had seen Endeavour twice before, as she was being transported to Los Angeles for display at California Science Center. My son and I woke up very early the morning of September 20, 2012, drove from Oakland to Boron and watched her land at Edwards Air Force Base. After the landing, we headed to Los Angeles and, the next day watched her land at LAX, which was her final landing ever. I wanted to go down to LA in October when she made the 12 mile journey through the streets of Los Angeles, but instead got to cheer my wife on while she ran her first half marathon. There are a couple of really amazing time lapses of the journey through the streets of LA, one from the LA Times, the other from Givot on Vimeo.

Arriving at Exposition Park, we paid the parking fee, parked and walked toward the Science Center. As we were walking in, I was so excited that I forgot to take any photographs of the building. We went up to the ticket desk and were told that tickets were FREE and where we should wait in line. Waiting there for about 5 minutes, I was trying to explain the importance of this event to my son, but didn’t do very well. We were allowed to go exit the line and head toward the shuttle. We were routed through what I’m sure is a great exhibit about Endeavour’s history in California (all the orbiters were built here), but I was too excited to stop and read anything, so we powered through the exhibit and headed to the Shuttle. We exited CSC’s main building, made the 30 second walk to the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion.

Entering the room, I was greeted with this site:

At which point, I basically started crying. Endeavour has been to space 25 times and I was standing within 10 yards of her. My wife, sensing my emotional state, said “I’ll watch the kids, you take your time.” Grateful for that gesture, I started walking and looking around. It a truly amazing experience. You can see all my pictures on Flickr.

What took me most aback was just how close visitors can get to this national treasure. Standing under Endeavour, I felt like I could reach up and touch her. I was amazed by the intricacy of the thermal protection system, the tiles and blankets that protected the vehicle as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. If you know me, you know that I am a shuttle, space, and NASA nut, so I’ve read a lot about the TPS. I know the stats, but being this close to the actual tiles that had done the job was amazing. Seeing the sheer number of tiles was amazing.

The visit was a truly personal experience. I felt like I was really in Endeavour’s presence, able to be close to her in a way that I never imagined possible. Here’s a view inside the bells of the forward RCS nozzles.

Here’s the hatch which the Astronauts who flew on Endeavour used to embark and/or disembark the vehicle while on the ground.

The sheer size of an orbiter is amazing. The best comparison is a Boeing 737, but I didn’t really get it until I walked into a room with an orbiter in it. The body of an orbiter is taller than that of a 737 and it seems longer to me. Endeavour’s cargo bay can carry a bus sized object and the length of the orbiter is longer than the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.

I do want to say that the planned final display of Endeavour which will have her in an upright position, connected to tank and boosters, ready for launch, should be amazing.

Photo of planned final display of Endeavour in launch configuration. Photo by and copyright Robert Pearlman of Collectspace.com

With that said, I don’t think it’s going to be as personal of an experience as the current display. From the look of it, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to get as close to the orbiter as you can now. It will certainly be amazing, most likely breathtaking, and I will go see it, but I will always remember how up close and personal I was able to get to her in her current display.

We made it to San Diego on time and my flight home was uneventful. I’m so lucky that the visit to Endeavour worked. The space (and traffic) gods were smiling on me that weekend!

If you can make it to Los Angeles, a visit to Endeavour is certainly worth it. You won’t be disappointed! Tickets are free and it’s an experience you will never forget.

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Landsat NASASocial – Day 1

On February 10 and 11, I was once of a lucky group of about 80 participants in the NASASocial for the launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (Landsat 8). Over 2000 people applied to participate in this event, I was lucky enough to get chosen as a participant. This experience was even more awesome because I was able to bring my family to view the launch, which most of the time isn’t allowed at a NASASocial.

Landsat satellites provide the longest continuous global record of the Earth’s surface – ever. The first Landsat satellite launched from Vandenberg in 1972 and now what will become the eighth satellite in the Landsat series is scheduled to also launch from Vandenberg. This satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), continues Landsat’s critical role in monitoring, understanding and managing our resources of food, water and forests.

A collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Landsat program provides data that shows the impact of human society on the planet – a crucial measure as our population surpasses seven billion people. Landsat data has, over time, led to the improvement of human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture monitoring, all resulting in incalculable benefits to the U.S. and world economy.

LDCM will join the aging Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites in orbit to produce stunning images of Earth’s surface along with a wealth of scientific data. If you’ve ever used Google Earth, Google Maps, or another mapping service on the Internet, you’ve probably seen pictures taken by a Landsat satellite. Watch the copyright at the bottom of the page, when it says United States Geological Survey, you are probably looking at a Landsat image.

The first day of the event began with our arrival at the South Gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base on a chilly Friday morning, we checked in and were whisked by bus to the NASA building on base.

For about 2 hours, we got presentations on the Landsat Program, the construction of the satellite, how Landsat data is used, the collaboration between NASA and the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, and several other topics. The entire program, including the Q&A, was broadcast live on NASA TV. You can view the program below:

At about 01:18:40, you’ll hear me ask a question of Col. Nina Armagno, the Commander of the 30th Space Wing.

After the morning program was over, we got to tour the NASA control center at VAFB and hear from PAO George Diller, who was the launch commentator for this mission and many a shuttle launch.

Then, we headed to lunch, cooked by the non-commissioned officers association at VAFB. Even though I grew up in California, I had never heard of Santa Maria barbeque. This was some of the best BBQ I have ever tasted. My $10 bought me a full plate of Tri-Tip, beans, and salad. I asked for the recipe, which they wouldn’t give me, but the did allow me to try an decipher the recipe by having seconds… and maybe thirds….

We then headed out to the Vandenberg Heritage Center, located at Space Launch Complex (SLC) 10. We were walked around the old Thor missile & launch system by Jay Prichard, who is one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had anywhere, period. He knew his stuff and presented it in an engaging and funny way that conveyed good information and made us all laugh.

34-Seriously, Jay is the best Tour Guide Ever!

Our next stop, albeit brief, was the overview of SLC 6. This launch complex, now used for the Delta heavy rocket, was slated to be used for west coast launches of the Space Shuttle before the Challenger Disaster occurred.

52-SLC 6

The building on the right shelters the rocket. It separates down the middle when it’s time for launch, each half moving 300 feet away from the vehicle. For a sense of scale, look at the flag painted o the building. Each of the stripes is 13 feet wide.

Our final stop of the day was the coolest, in my opinion. We were lucky enough to go to SLC3 to see the Atlas V rocket with Landsat on it. That’s right, we got to visit the launch pad of the rocket we were going to watch launch, a mere 18 hours before it was set to launch.

59-That's a Rocket Behind Me!

We spent about an hour on the launch pad, and were able to get within about 500 feet of the rocket. I can’t describe how cool it was to be on the launch pad of the rocket we were going to watch launch the next morning. It was beyond amazing!

While there, we also got to meet NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both former astronauts. Both were as nice as can be! Here’s a pic of them holding my favorite space chicken, Camilla Corona SDO.

57-Camilla, Bolden, & Cabana

That night some of us gathered for dinner in beautiful, downtown Lompoc. This was an especially fun event because we were joined by some folks who didn’t get in to the official NASASocial event, but came up to see the launch anyway!

63-The NASASocial Dinner Group

In my next post, I’ll detail the launch experience.

For all the pictures from Day 1, visit my Flickr set Landsat LDCM NASASocial Day 1

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A Tough Week in NASA History

Today begins a tough week in the history of NASA. All three of NASA’s major accidents have happened between January 27th and February 1st:

January 27, 1967 – Apollo 1 Fire

January 28, 1986 – Challenger (STS-51L) Disaster

February 1, 2003 – Columbia (STS-107) Disaster

Each of these events happened at a different stage of the mission, each of them had their own technical causes, but in my opinion, each was caused by ignoring or accepting some of the risks of spaceflight. After each accident, the people of NASA got together to solve the problem and make human space flight possible again.

As you go about your week today, remember the Apollo 1 Crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee;

Apollo 1 Crew

 

the STS-51L Crew: Francis R. Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe;

STS-51L (Challenger) Crew

 

as well as the STS-107 Crew: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon

STS-107 Crew

and the sacrifices they made for knowledge, understanding, and their country. Be proud of the work they have done and be hopeful for the future of spaceflight and of humanity.

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