Tag Archives: Tweetup

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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The First A in NASA Stands for Aeronautics – My Visit to Dryden Flight Research Center

When most people think of NASA, they think of the “S” in the acronym, however the first “A” in NASA stands for Aeronautics. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established in 1958, by replacing its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which had been formed a decade after the dawn of human flight in 1915. Since that time NACA, then NASA, has been doing groundbreaking research on Aeronautics.

On May 4th, I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of social media users treated by NASA to a day at the Dryden Flight Research Center located on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Edwards was founded in the 1930s because of its ideal location to test aircraft far away from the population centers of Southern California. Dryden is now the NASA’s primary center for aeronautical research. We were the first group of social media users invited to tour Dryden and we were given an amazing experience while there.

The morning started at the gatehouse for Edwards Air Force Base, where we all checked in and were given our passes to drive on to this secure military facility. Dryden is a tenant of Edwards Air Force Base, so there were rules we had to follow and procedures we had to go through. No pictures of the flight line, only drive where authorized, etc.

Arriving at Dryden, I parked and went in to the auditorium. I picked a prime location and set up my computer. I then headed back outside to the static aircraft display to meet Dr. Christian Gelzer, the chief historian at Dryden. We walked among some amazing aircraft, including a SR-71 Blackbird and the first “fly-by-wire” aircraft, among others. Dr. Gelzer is a tremendously interesting and engaging gentleman who knows his aeronautical history.

We went back inside and were greeted by Kevin Rohrer, our host for the day. He introduced David McBride, Dryden’s Director who welcomed us and turned us loose. Dr. Gelzer followed Mr. McBride and gave us a great presentation of the history of Dryden and the aeronautics research that has been done there.

Next came Edward Haering, who gave us a presentation on sonic boom research. To get past the speed of sound takes a lot of fuel and makes a lot of noise. Researchers at Dryden are trying to find ways to reduce both of those so that the efficiency and time of cross-country flights can be reduced safely without causing collateral damage to the properties that get hit by the boom. This picture is amazing, it’s the actual shockwave of a sonic boom as cause by a Navy F/A-18.

We then heard about some research being done regarding collision avoidance for aircraft. Current collision avoidance systems give the pilot a warning to fix the problem, which adds second to the time required to avoid a collision. The system being worked on by Dryden briefly takes control of the aircraft and automatically avoids the collision. They started the research using military aircraft with high-powered computers on board. However, the researchers wanted the system to be able to be used by aircraft that don’t have the same type of computing power on board. So, they made a version of the program that runs on an android smart phone, connected that to the controls of a smaller aircraft and it worked. How cool is that!

After taking a short break, we headed out on tour of the facility. Did you ever watch “I Dream of Jeannie”? Do you remember the building that was the headquarters at Cape Canaveral? Well, it was actually the main administration building at Dryden. Does this look familiar?

While outside, one of Dryden’s F/A-18 research aircraft flew over us and actually made a sonic boom. It was an awesome experience and we could feel and hear the boom even though the place was flying at 40,000 feet. The pilot then came down and did a low flyby over us, it was truly awesome!

Next we saw a true piece of history. When the Apollo astronauts were training to land on the moon, they trained for landing on the Lunar Landing Research vehicle, which was basically a jet engine strapped to a frame with a seat attached. The astronaut sat at the controls and took off, then did simulated landings. I think this piece of equipment was used by all of the Apollo commanders and lunar module pilots. How cool is that?

We then headed to the flight line and saw the global hawk. This is a remote operated aircraft that is about the size of a regional commuter jet. It was amazing to think that this aircraft is flown by joystick!

From there, we went to a different hangar and saw the Ikhana, a slightly smaller drone that has been used for several operational missions, including forest fire surveillance in coordination with the US Forest Service. The Ikhana is the civilian equivalent of the reaper drone used by the military.

We headed back to the auditorium and had lunch. After lunch we got some more amazing presentations by Dryden staff. First up was a presentation on aircraft pressurization, which included a demonstration of a pressure suit. If you fly too high, your blood will start to boil, so you wear a pressure suit, which keeps the atmospheric pressure around your body at a more ground like level. Pilots who fly above the Armstrong limit, where pressure gets so low it hits deadly levels, wear these suits. The Armstrong limit is between 62,000 and 63,500 feet above sea level.

We then got a great presentation about Dryden’s specialized fabrication shop. The scientists and pilots at Dryden do a lot of research on different flight parts, which the fabrication shop makes solely for research. When asked to make two of something, they often ask why so many. This gives you an idea of the specialization of the shop.

We then headed over to a different hangar and got to walk among some of the aircraft that Dryden uses to do its research. We saw two F/A-18s, the X-48C, a Vietnam era spy plane that flies so quietly it is used to test the sounds made by different airplanes, and a gulfstream type plane.

We then headed to the Crew Transport vehicle used by crews returning from orbit on a space shuttle. If you’ve ever been to Dulles airport, this is a modified mobile lounge used to load an unload passengers from their flights. In the case of Dryden, the flights were arriving from orbit and so this one had special facilities on board. There was a medical suite, and some great comfy seats for the crew to relax in. They also changed from their launch and entry suits in to more comfortable clothing in this vehicle.

This was the end of our tour, and it was a great day. Though it has been months since my visit, the thing that still stands out in my mind about my visit is the dedication of the folks working there and the good work that they’ve done for aeronautics. They work to make air travel safer and more efficient. They’re dedicated to the work they do.

Visiting Dryden was an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it. Thanks to NASA for giving me the opportunity to visit!

See the Flickr set of my photos from the visit!

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Hanging with Space Tweeps

One of the best parts of a #NASATweetup is getting the chance to meet such great people from all around the country and the world. Usually around the tweetup, there are informal get togethers where tweeps just hang out and talk. These events range from breakfast at a local restaurant before the event to dinner and drinks at a local wine bar. Usually, the tweeps are joined by some of our NASA hosts, sometimes also NASA and contractor folks who are on twitter, but couldn’t join us for the tweetup.

The chance to sit down and have informal conversation with the people who make our space program happen. At the STS-132 JSC #NASATweetup, our after event was a truly amazing experience. We sat for hours on a porch on a hot Houston night and talked space with astronauts, flight controllers, trainers, public affairs folks, tweetup organizers, and our fellow tweeps. I learned firsthand that that the people who make our space program happen are space geeks just like me. We saw an ISS flyover and a HST flyover. It was wonderful!

I’ve loved the three tweetups that I’ve participated in because I’ve learned so much about our NASA, our manned space program, our unmanned space program, and many other things. I love meeting space tweeps because I learn about what drives people to love exploration. Hanging with space tweeps has made me realize what makes our nation great.

Hanging with space tweeps has also given me some great experiences that I never would have otherwise had. The day after the STS-135 JSC Tweetup, I visited Space Center Houston with @absolutspaceguy, @lynnvr, & @omaflinger. While there, we met Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham, who was touring with his family. Col. Cunningham was kind enough to take a picture with us and to sign an Apollo 7 patch.

After that I enjoyed lunch with @lynnvr, & @omaflinger and saw a tweet by @waynehale saying he was on the JSC site signing copies of the book Wings In Orbit. I wasn’t able to get on Site, so I tweeted him and asked if it would be possible to meet him offsite. He was amenable, so we met at the Starbucks across the street from JSC.

We talked to a bit and he mentioned that a lot of NASA folks visit this Starbucks. He headed off to finish his day. Several minutes later, I noticed a man coming in to Starbucks who looked a lot like 4 time shuttle flyer and STS-125 commander Scott Altman. It was indeed him, and he was kind enough to sign my book and let us take a picture.

All in all, hanging with Space Tweeps is awesome!

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STS-135 JSC #NASATweetup

On July 19th, NASA gave me the chance of a lifetime for the second time. I was lucky enough to be selected as a participant of a #NASATweetup at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Space Shuttles were launched from Florida at Kennedy Space Center and landed either there or at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The missions were planned and controlled, the Astronauts trained and prepared for, and most other preparations made at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

I previously attended the #NASATweetup at JSC during the STS-132 mission in May of 2010 and had a wonderful time. It was an amazing experience and I didn’t think I would ever have the chance to top it. Well, in late June, NASA announced a tweetup during the STS-135 mission at JSC. I had already done the tweetup and didn’t want to take up a space for someone who had not had the experience. However, there was an enticement in the announcement that made me reconsider. The participants in the STS-135 JSC Tweetup would get to take a flight in the motion based simulator used by Astronauts to train for missions. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity because the simulators would be decommissioned the week after the tweetup as there were no more missions to train for because of the end of the Space Shuttle program.  I couldn’t pass this opportunity up. I put in my application on June 28th and awaited the promised response on July 5th.

I’ll spare you the details, but the short version of the story is that I didn’t get a confirmation until Thursday, July 14th at about 0700. The tweetup was scheduled for the follow Tuesday, July 19th, so I had to beat feet to make it happen. Long story short, I was able to get the arrangements made at minimal cost, so on Monday,July 18th I headed to Houston. Arriving late in the evening, I arrived at my hotel and thought I would sleep before the tweetup, but forgot that the Shuttle’s final ever undocking from the ISS would occur early the next morning. I was appalled to find that NASATV wasn’t included in my motels TV line up, so I got the computer running and watched. I watched until Atlantis had safely undocked from the ISS and headed to bed.

Waking up a few hours later, I rounded up my equipment and headed off to JSC. In the parking lot, I looked over the horizon and it didn’t look good. 

Entering the Gilruth Center, I came across some old friends who I had met at previous tweetups; I met new folks who had never been to a NASATweetup before; it was an amazing group of 30 people who were there to geek out on the Shuttle Program. Even my friend Camilla_SDO was there.

I was assigned to the Blue bus, which all knowledgeable people know was the cool bus. We headed off to Building 16, home of the SAIL lab and OV-095. It happened to be across the street from Building 30, home of Mission Control. It was recently named of Christopher Kraft, who literally invented Mission Control. We headed inside to find that against all odds, the majority of the staff was supporting the ongoing STS-135 mission. They were busy analyzing the late inspection data that has been sent down over night and weren’t available to show us around. I want to say that I fully support this allocation of resources. They were able to spare a couple of folks to give us a brief tour and we were able to do a couple of simulated dockings to the ISS.

Here is the RPOP screen used by the Rendezvous Officer in the Mission Control Center to monitor the progress of rendezvous between the orbiter and the ISS.

From here, we went to the Saturn V building. If you’ve never seen a Saturn V rocket before, it’s an amazing experience. Over 300 feet tall, enough power to get men to the moon and designed by engineers using slide rules! It’s an amazing piece of technology!

Look at the size of the bell of one of the five engines in the first stage:

From there we went to Building 17, to visit the food lab where meals are developed for the Shuttle and the ISS. On the way in the building, we came across the official NASA Airlock. When the doors open, you’re on the moon.

The Space Food Systems lab, run by Vickie L. Kloeris,  was awesome. Ms. Kloeris explained the specific requirements and needs of food in space and how that changed when the ISS came online. She had great stories for us and told us how the astronauts select their food. She also talked about the shelf life of space food and how the ISS astronauts are eating food that’s beyond it’s “best if consumed by” dates.

Ms. Kloeris really captivated the group.

Examples of space food:

From there, we headed to the

We were taken into the room of the motion based simulator, which the astronauts, specifically the commanders and pilots, use to train for launches and landings. Sitting on a hydraulic base, the simulator can tilt on its back to simulate launch and, I’m told, does a great job of simulating the actual feeling of launch.

In this photo, the cabin of the motion based simulator is tipped up for launch

The MBS is fitted with a cockpit set up like an orbiter’s and can be used in either in isolation or can be linked into to Mission Control simulations as well.

At the MBS, we had the chance to meet astronaut Clay Anderson, who has done an expedition on the ISS and also was a Mission Specialist on STS-131, which I saw launch from KSC. I was wearing my STS-131 polo shirt, which I’ve worn to al my NASATweetups. Clay noticed the shirt and pointed it out.

In the same building as the Motion Based Simulator is the Fixed Base Simulator. From the outside, it looks like a bunch of blocks put together by my three year old son. On the inside, it’s a full orbiter flight deck, mid-deck, and WCS setup.

Storage bins in the mid-deck from the outside and the inside, as demonstrated by Michael Grabois, a FBS trainer and Space Tweep.

Up on the flight deck, I got to climb into the Commander’s seat and take a look out the “window.”

Here are the CDR’s screens. Engine stats on the left and flight instrumentation on the right.

On the aft flight deck, our neighbors to the north are represented on the control panel for the SRMS, otherwise known as the CanadaArm.

Michael then took us into the trainer for the Waste Collection System, otherwise known as the space toilet! I was the guinea pig and demonstrator. There are more of these pictures on my flickr set, so I’ll just give you a single example of my embarassment.

Ater the WCS training, it was my group’s turn to fly the MBS. We climbed in and participated in a simulated launch and landing. I was the flight engineer and got to make callouts for important mission milestones. It was awesome. Here was the view from my seat:

Here I am in my seat, preparing for launch!

In the hallway of the building, there is a mission plaque from every shuttle mission from the Approach and Landing tests to STS-135. Coincidentally, the plaques for STS-51L (Challenger) and STS-107 (Columbia) are right across the hall from each other.

 

Riding on the MBS was an experience I will never forget. It was beyond description, a ride I will never forget, and unfortunately, one that few others have had the chance to experience.

Form there, we headed to the JSC cafeteria for lunch. While in line for my burger, I met an ISS propulaion engineer and we talked about moving the ISS as well as the photos taken by the Souyz crew on STS-134 and the stack rotation for the STS-135 shuttle flyaround. It was awesome to chat space with an actual rocket scientist. Others in our group saw STS-125 Astronaut Mike Massimino.

After lunch, we went to the neutral buoyancy laboratory, a 6.2 million gallon pool used by Astronauts to train for spacewalk. It is the most clear pool I’ve ever seen and the water is completely filtered every 19 hours. The pool is 202 feet (62 m) in length, 102 feet (31 m) wide, and 40 feet 6 inches (12.34 m) deep. It’s truly amazing!

Here’s the full sized underwater mockup of the Shuttle payload bay

There was training going on in the pool while we were there and one of the astronauts came to the surface to speak with his trainers. It was awesome to see an EMU in use!

We then headed to Building 30, Mission Control Center. Honestly, I would be happy with a Mission Control Tweetup, so it was cool to head over there! We started in the viewing room for the White Flight Control Room, where the ongoing shuttle mission was being controlled. It was an honor just to be there. We met Flight Director Ed VanCise (aka @Carbon_Flight), Rendezvous Officer Sara Ruiz (aka @saroy), and NASA Public Affairs Officer Josh Byerly. It was a great experience, though we were kind of in a ruch.

Just as Sarah started to talk to us about how the Flight Control room and Flight controllers work, we got s surprise call, FROM SPACE.  Astronaut Ron Garan (@Astro_Ron) called from the International Space Station to say hi and that he hoped we were having a good tweetup. (Sarah describes the experience of being interrupted on her blog.) It was amazing because it was so extraordinary to be talking to space, but we were doing it in such a mundane manner. Ron used a IP phone on the ISS to call the mobile phone of one of our hosts. It was amazing. One of my fellow tweeps, Charles Atkeison (@absolutspaceguy), caught most of the call on video. His report on the call was featured on CNN iReport. I’m working on getting the video embedded, but until I do, here’s the link http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-639195

I’m sad to say that most of my photos in the White Flight Control Room didn’t come out too well, because I was shaking from the coolness of just having talked to space and the fact we couldn’t use a flash. My WFCR photos from the STS-132 NASATweetup are better. From there, we went to the FCR2, where many of the Gemini, Apollo, and early shuttle missions were controlled. I sat in the seat the Flight Director Gene Kranz sat in when men first landed on the moon. There’s a scene in Apollo 13, where Ed Harris, playing Mr. Kranz, says, “All Right People, Listen Up!” This is my impression of that scene. Note the huge smile on my face.

While in building 30, we walked down a hall by the Mission Evaluation Room. This is the big back room that is used by controllers to work problems and make sure things are going according to plan. I like this room, among other reasons, because of the flags…

 After Building 30, we headed to Building 9, otherwise known as the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. My friend Lucie Delheimer (@lucied_inthesky) works in the building came down to visit us. We were shown around the ISS mockups by Astronaut Scott Kelly, who has flown on two Space Shuttle missions and was the commander on the ISS. He also showed us the Soyuz mockup in the building. It was very cool. Comparing the size of the shuttle to the size of a Soyuzis like comparing a Hummer to a Smart Car. Where the Shuttle has room to move around, the Soyuz is cramped. It’s a sharp contrast. We also were shown a couple of mockup of the Orion capsule, which is the next generation US Space Capsule. It was pretty cool!

One of the most moving things of the whole day was seeing the tribute to the lost crews in the SVMF.

All in all it was a great day! I enjoyed the opportunity tremendously and was so excited to be chosen. All of the participants chose to sign the welcome poster as a thank you to our hosts!

Oh yeah, I got to meet one of my twitter heros Sara Hemenway (@6thgradersrule). She rocks!

See my full Flickr set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jotulloch/sets/72157627266641536/

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Brunch with a Rubber Chicken

Today, an amazing thing happened. Two separate groups of space tweeps gathered together to share a meal, each other’s company, and a love of space. In Houston, the gathering happened to celebrate the fact that NASA’s own Tweetup mistress Stephanie @Schierholz was in town working the STS-134 mission. I imagine Stephanie’s presence was more of a catalyst than a requirement for this gathering, but nonetheless, space tweeps gathered to celebrate space and each other.

Just about 2000 miles away and a couple of hours later, I attended a gathering in Sausalito, CA. This was an informal gathering to celebrate the success of the BTS-1 Mission and the successful recovery of Camilla_SDO, Astro Fuzz, and Skyebleu from the Louisiana Bayou they landed in. We were also celebrating the successful recovery of the Inspiration Capsule from the land of FedEx, where it had disappeared. The group that gathered for this celebration was truly astounding. Each of the 10 of us who were there shared a love of space, a great sense of humor and a desire to share the wonders of space travel with all who are willing to listen.

It was amazing couple of hours to spend with fellow space tweeps. We talked about many things and Camilla, Fuzz, and Skye regaled us with stories of their flights to 78,000+ feet and their unplanned journey through the Louisiana Bayou. Fizzviic brought us both away from and back to reality with her seriously “off the wall sense of humor.” Pillownaut preached the gospel of social media and how NASA and its contractors could more effectively use it to spread the word about what space travel has done for the general population. Danny.Skarka opined on how NASA TV could more effectively spread the message of NASA and space exploration. NatachaC told us about the NASA Flight Surgeon corps and had a bit of bacon before the food arrived. AstroIvy told us about working at NASA Ames and writing software for Mission Control using Java. RomeoCh told of being on the recovery team for BTS-1 and the over 250 mosquito bites he received while searching for the Inspiration Capsule in the Bayou. Also there were Herrea, k0leslaw, and Jayjum, but in my sleep deprived state, I can’t recall their stories (My apologies for that).

All told, it was a great event and a chance to meet people who I have followed and talked with on the interwebs. It was a great morning! I’ve posted some photos on my Flickr page.

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STS-131 Launch, 1 Year Ago Today

One year ago today, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I watched the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-131. It was truly amazing, not only because of experiencing the launch, but also because it’s set me down a path of space exploration that I’ve been on for the past year.

I’m not going to rehash the experience again, just link to my previous writings on the subject:

https://jotulloch.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/sts-131-launch/

https://jotulloch.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/reverb10-december-3-moment/

Today, the world is different. Discovery has has her last flight on the STS-133 mission. There are only two space shuttle missions left, SpaceX has announced the Falcon Heavy rocket, which might just revolutionize the space industry, and the russians have raised their Soyuz seat prices by 200%.

Who knows what is going to happen in the next few months and years when it comes to space. I’m confident that good will come of these changes, but it’s still a tough time in space travel…

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Ames Planet Hunters #NASATweetup

It was a quiet Friday morning. I got up, got dressed and headed out. Not to work but to the #NASATweetup at @NASAAmes Research Center in Mountain View. Rather than having to travel to Texas, like I did for the STS-132 #NASATweetup at JSC, I had to hop in my car and drive for an hour or so. To see all the pictures I took of the event, go to the Flickr set.

The morning started off with an informal breakfast with fellow tweeps at a restaurant near @NASA_Ames. It was great to meet some more space minded folks and to get an idea of how far people had traveled to come to the tweetup. After breakfast, we headed over to the Ames Exploration Center and started our day by milling about outside.

Once we got inside, we had some time to wander around and look at the various exhibits. My favorite, as could have been predicted was the moon rock brought back to earth on Apollo 15.

We then sat down and were greeted by John Yembrick, who is a #NASATweetup veteran, working for NASA HQ, but on loan to Ames. The Center Director, Pete Worden, then told us about the history of Ames, which was founded as a NACA (yes, I mean NACA) center and was second only to Langley in Virginia.

Following Gen. Worden, we jumped into the meat of the presentation. Natalie Batalha, Deputy Science Team Director for NASA’s Kepler Mission, told us how the Kepler probe, while looking at a fairly small portion of the sky, has found many planets outside out solar system, some of which are in the habitable zone of their star systems.

We learned how the scientists working on Kepler locate and confirm their planet candidates. It was an amazing presentation, but the best slide was of the first globe of an exoplanet ever made.

Unfortunately, it was lost by American Airlines on the flight back from the conference where Dr. Batalha received it as a gift, but it’s the thought that counts.

Next we learned about SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which is a telescope mounted in a 747 that flies above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere and does infrared astronomy.

Photo © Kate Arkless Gray

We then had a conversation with Dr. David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. Dr. Morrison was an incredibly engaging speaker, who told us interestingly, looking at life on other planets, it’s most easy for us to detect life o the scale of microbes OR life on the human scale, but hard to find anything in between. He also quoted his thesis advisor by using the term, “Billions and Billions…”

Photo © Kate Arkless Gray

After Dr. Morrison, we headed to lunch in the Ames cafeteria, right next to the famous Hangar One, built for the USS Macon.

After lunch, the tour began. We headed over to the Control center for NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. On the way in, we came across undeniable proof that we were visiting a NASA Center.

Once inside, we visited the Kepler Control Center, the server room (No pictures allowed there) and then had a great presentation of how the Kepler mission works. In the control room there was a model of the spacecraft, conveniently sitting next to a box of sweet tarts.

The real presentation began with a profile of the Kepler mission:

Then they showed Kepler’s data analysis process:

Kepler locates planet candidates by seeing the changes in light as they pass in front of their respective stars. The data is expressed in different light curves. Jon Jenkins, a researcher with the Kepler program has put some of these light curves to music. The curves are very different, some sounding high, others low, some steady, some oscillating…

After visiting Kepler, we headed out to see some of the other parts of the Ames campus. Our next destination was the Future Flight center, one part of which is their Air Traffic Control Tower simulator… They first showed us a simulation of a yet to be built airport outside of Las Vegas. The simulation was so real that controller input can be combined with changes in traffic patterns and weather to accurately predict how traffic will move around the airport.

After they showed us the ATC simulation, they up some 360º pictures taken my the Mars rovers. The photos of this display didn’t work out too well, so none are featured here.

We then headed over to the Fluid Dynamics Lab, which houses some of Ames smaller wind tunnels, including the ones used by the Mythbusters in a couple of their shows. Once inside, we saw several different wind tunnels and assorted models used in the tunnels.

Of course, there was the “Things I don’t see in my office” moment.

And for a Shuttle geek like me, seeing this file cabinet with mission stickers from missions which the FDL worked on was extra cool.

Ames Research Center was the second research center founded by the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in 1939. Twenty years later, ARC was transferred to NASA. Some remnants of NACA remain on the site:

One of our hosts for the day was a part of NASA’s Information Security group and had this patch on his uniform, which I thought was particularly awesome.

We then visited the Vertical Motion Simulator, which is the world’s largest. Every Space Shuttle Commander and Pilot has trained a this facility. It has a range of motion of 60 vertical feet and 40 horizontal feet. The cab on the VMS the day we were there was the Space Shuttle Cockpit. We later also got to see the mockup of the new lunar lander.

Here’s a plaque of all the astronauts who have been trained at the VMS:

This is the view inside the Lunar Lander cab… (sorry for the image quality)

After viewing the VMS in action, we got to meet Astronaut Karol Bobko. He was the pilot on STS-6, the maiden voyage of Challenger; was the commander of STS-51-D on board Discovery; and also commanded STS-51-J on board Atlantis. He now runs the VMS at Ames.

At the end of the day, we gathered in front of the Ames Research Center headquarters building for our group photo.

After the official Tweetup ended, about 30 of us gathered for some food and libations at the Tied House in Mountain View. It was a great conclusion to a great experience. Thanks to @NASA_Ames, @spacesooner, and @yembrick for a great day!

Oh, I forgot to mention that I met @Camilla_SDO too!

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