August 7, 2012
March 28, 2012
A NASA visualization reflecting ocean surface currents around the world from June 2005 through December 2007.
November 23, 2011
August 16, 2009
I watched this video enlarged on my 27-inch HD monitor. It is incredible. Enjoy.
February 4, 2009
One of my favorite new blogs is Wayne Hale's blog in which he discusses working at NASA generally and on the Space Shuttle program specifically. Despite being a political football from time-to-time, NASA remains a fascinating place.
Every one of Hale's blog posts is interesting, and most of them are downright capitvating. His most recent post -- "Don't Call Him Willy Any More" -- is representative:
Back when the world was much younger than it is now, I was a young shuttle flight controller working in the MCC on several early flights. We were all learning about the shuttle in those days, and one fellow I knew actually saved the shuttle because he knew what to do when the unexpected happened. [. . .]
Willy was an up and coming Captain in the USAF and made a great GNC. He knew the guidance, navigation, and flight control systems forwards and backwards. We worked together a lot in those days since the PROP console (mine) was responsible for the attitude control thrusters, their plumbing, etc., while the GNC console was responsible for the Auto Pilot that called on those thrusters to maintain attitude. Even in those days, Willy demonstrated what military men call "command presence".
But almost as important, Willy could do the most devastatingly funny imitation of our legendary boss, Gene Kranz. Willy had the mannerisms down exactly right, could put the gruff intonation into the right pitch, and deliver a comedy routine that had all of us in the trench in stitches. Always during LOS or debrief between sim runs, of course. Never during the training runs, and especially not during a real flight. Hmm. [. . .]
After the shuttle main engines cut off and the External Tank is jettisoned, there is still a lot of the main propulsion system propellant -- liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen - trapped in the large pipes in the orbiter aft compartment. . . . Not really a safety issue, but a nuisance and something that could cause interruptions later on.
The booster guys came up with a dandy plan to get rid of these propellants faster. . . . those actions would cause a more thorough dump and eliminate the pesky vacuum inerting procedures that interrupted later activities.
So we tried it. Worked great in the simulator. Hmm. In flight, . . . .well . ..
Ascent is always a tense time. Willy, I, and all the other flight controllers were glued to the data. Everything went nominally all through mainstage. No systems issues. MECO, ET sep, dump start, OOOPS!
The increased propellant dump flow out the side of the orbiter caused it to bank sharply -- the wing headed for the jettisoned but not distant ET. Willy, calm as could be, relayed the instructions to the crew to regain attitude control. The wing missed the tank, by how much I don't know, but not by much.
It was all over in just a couple of minutes. We took a deep breath and got about the business of flying the orbiter in space.
After Challenger, all the USAF "detailees" were pulled out of flight control. I haven't seen Willy in probably two decades until I ran into him recently. He has done well in his USAF career, has stars on his epaulets now. I wouldn't recommend you call him Willy these days.
But then, I haven't called him that since the day he saved the shuttle.
And I bet you didn't even know.
December 9, 2008
Check out these magnificent Mail Online photos of the Endeavour astronauts completing the recent repairs on the International Space Station.
November 30, 2008
Check out NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft's video of the Moon transiting the Earth from 31 million miles away!
July 5, 2008
CNET's Road Trip 2008 blog visits the Johnson Space Center in the Clear Lake area of Houston (photos here). The article and accompanying photos are a good primer for the always interesting visit to the JSC.
September 26, 2007
This fine John Noble Wilford/NY Times article on the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union's launching of the Sputnik sattelite is a timely prompt to pass along the trailer for Ron Howard's widely-anticpated documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, which opened last week in Houston at the Angelika and the Greenway theaters.
November 5, 2006
After more than a decade of fascinating discoveries and pictures, the Hubble Space Telescope got some good news last week -- NASA announced a Space Shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the observatory, which will be the fifth servicing mission for the Hubble.
Take a moment to review this fascinating archive of 100 of the best Hubble pictures and marvel at this wonderful conduit to viewing the universe.
June 19, 2006
Although seemingly already mothballed, NASA chief administrator Michael Griffin announced late last week that NASA will launch the space shuttle Discovery as planned on July 1. It will be only the second shuttle flight since the shuttle Columbia disintegrated over north Texas on February 1, 2003 during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
As noted earlier here, Griffin proposed the shelving of the space shuttle program by 2010 even before he became NASA's chief administrator, and the latest mission will be the first of about 15 more flights between now and that projected cut-off date. The purpose of most of those missions is to continue construction and maintenance on the International Space Station and service the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Chronicle's Eric Berger -- who, by the way, is the best science blogger around -- speculates here that Griffin's patience for the space shuttle program is scant and that the upcoming Discovery mission is a "make or break" mission for the program. Consequently, if problems arise during any of the next few shuttle flights, then don't be surprised when Griffin terminates the remaining shuttle flights and moves on. As noted earlier here, it's time.
February 28, 2006
Longtime NASA shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane has written a new book, Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut (Scribner 2006) and, based on this Keith Cowing/SpaceRef.com review, the book appears to be a rollicking good time:
This is not a kiss and tell book (although it gets close on several occasions). Mullane doesn't mince words and repeats what one person said to another (to the best of his recollection). This includes multiple times when Mullane said/did something dumb and regrettable. I suspect that the people depicted learned long ago what Mullane thought of them - so the tales contained in this book may not be a surprise to those folks - but they may find reading about these episodes to be a bit unsettling.
This book certainly shows a side of NASA that NASA Public Affairs Office would rather not have people read. NASA focuses (with some obsession) upon the positives, on the strength of the corps and its members. No flaws, no shortcomings - no weaknesses allowed. The net result is a homogeneous generic notion of what an astronaut is. While there may be a few people in the astronaut corps that come close to matching this image, Mullane smashes that generic notion. In more ways than outsiders might imagine, astronauts are just like the rest of us in more ways that NASA PAO would have you think.
Yes, there were juvenile delinquents in the astronaut corps (at least while Mullane was there). Indeed, he often groups this subset of the astronaut corps (with him as one of the prime practitioners) as having originated on "Planet Arrested Development" ("Planet AD"). Given that many of his fellow astronauts were also stuffed shirts, his description of his gang is as refreshing as it is irreverent. [snip] The culture Tom Wolfe described during Mercury program was still quite evident at NASA as Mullane's class showed up for work. But the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo "right stuff" culture was fading - transitioning - into a new configuration. This class represented the collision between post WW II fighter pilots and post Vietnam era baby boomers.
As mentioned before, this new class was not with out its pranksters and risk takers. Mullane notes one harrowing (and after the fact, enjoyable) flight in the back seat of a T-38 piloted by astronaut Fred Gregory. Mullane describes how Gregory took the jet "inside" the Grand Canyon. Gregory went on to become Deputy Administrator of NASA - but before that he was the Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance - an irony not lost on Mullane.
Mike Mullane's book is a perfect intersection of the risks and fears, joys and fulfillment, strengths and weaknesses, and the human cost to family and friends of exploring space. It is not to be missed.
Check out the entire review.
June 13, 2005
As noted in this earlier post, new NASA chief administrator Michael D. Griffin is shaking things up at the space agency. This Washington Post article reports on Mr. Griffin's latest moves, which include the building of a less political and more scientifically-oriented management team to implement the initiative to return humans to the moon by 2020 and eventually send them to Mars. One particularly interesting part of the article is the following:
"[Mr. Griffin] wanted to be NASA administrator for a long time and has given a lot of thought to what has been done well or badly," one congressional source said. "Because of that, he is not going to take a year or two to get to know the organization."
Instead, the sources said, he expressed dismay that NASA over the past several years had put a lot of people in top management positions because of what one source described as "political connections or bureaucratic gamesmanship -- not merit."
Several sources spoke of a corps of younger scientists and engineers, including Griffin, who had been groomed in the 1970s and 1980s as NASA's next generation of leaders only to be shoved aside during the past 15 years. They said Griffin hopes to bring them back.
"The people around him will be quite outstanding," one source said. "The philosophy is that good people attract outstanding people. This is going to be a very high-intensity environment, and NASA needs experienced, outstanding people."
May 9, 2005
This Washington Post article reports on new NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin's ambitious plan to shave four years off the timetable for building a next-generation spaceship to replace the obsolescent space shuttle. Dr. Griffin's accelerated plan is to launch the new spaceship by 2010.
As noted in this previous post, Dr. Griffin faces entrenched opposition within the federal government and from government contractors to his efforts to revitalize NASA. This is story worth following closely, for its outcome will have a dramatic impact on the future of U.S. spaceflight, NASA, and the local Houston economy.
Update: Aerospace engineer Rand Simberg comments on Mr. Griffin's initiatives in this TCS piece.
March 22, 2005
Homer Hickam, the former NASA engineer and author whose brilliant October Sky was made into one of the best family films of the past decade, urges President Bush to discontinue the obsolescent Space Shuttle program in this devastating Wall Street Journal op-ed ($), in which he observes:
I left NASA in 1998 to pursue a writing career. I'm glad I did, because I could no longer stand to work on the Space Shuttle: 24 years after it first flew, what was once a magnificent example of engineering has become an old and dangerous contraption. It has killed 14 people and will probably kill more if it continues to be launched. It has also wasted a generation of engineers trying to keep it flying on schedule and safe. Frankly, that's just not possible and most NASA engineers in the trenches know it. Einstein reputedly defined insanity as repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. The Shuttle program is a prime example of this.
Mr. Hickam describes a phenomena of big governmental agencies that Robert Coram examined in regard to the Defense Department in Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War -- i.e., the tendency of power elites in governmental agencies to perpetuate their pet projects at the expense of progress and innovation. Secretary Rumsfeld is confronting much the same inertia in the Defense Department as he attempts to transform America's military, a topic that is addressed in these earlier posts. This is not a story that the MSM covers to any meaningful degree, but it remains one of the most important to America's survival as a superpower.
March 14, 2005
After a couple of years of shareholder unrest over the direction of the Walt Disney Co., the company's board yesterday named veteran Disney insider Robert Iger to replace Michael Eisner as the company's CEO. Mr. Iger was Mr. Eisner's choice to to succeed him. Here are the previous posts over the past year on the turmoil at Disney.
The theory behind the appointment of Mr. Iger is that he is best suited of all the candidates to continue Disney's recent financial success because of his experience with the inner workings of the unique Disney culture. On the other hand, some Disney board members are still smarting over the choice of Mr. Iger over over outsider Meg Whitman, the eBay Inc. CEO who interviewed for the job a week ago but almost immediately withdrew her name from consideration because she felt the Disney board favored Mr. Iger.
Consequently, Mr. Iger's selection is unlikely to bring immediate peace to the fractured Disney boardroom, in which dissident board members Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold have already criticized Mr. Iger's selection as being a sham orchestrated by by Disney Chairman George Mitchell.
Meanwhile, Eliot Spitzer is about to carve another notch in his belt as this NY Times article reports that Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg, who turned American International Group Inc. into a financial services industry giant over the past generation, is planning to step down as chief executive amidst concern on the company's board over investigations into certain of the company's structured finance transactions with a Berkshire Hathaway insurance unit. Here is an earlier post on Mr. Spitzer's investigation into AIG's practices.
Mr. Greenberg's imminent departure from AIG is a stunning reversal for the New York-based financial-services titan. Mr. Greenberg is one of America's most successful CEO's, and has personally transformed AIG over the past 40 years from an obscure property-casualty insurer into one of the world's largest financial-services companies. Its market capitalization of almost $170 billion makes it one of the world's most valuable companies, and Mr. Greenberg is one of the company's largest individual shareholders.
Finally, President Bush on Friday picked John Hopkins University physicist Michael Griffin to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to replace Sean O'Keefe, who left NASA earlier this year after three years in the top job to become chancellor of Louisiana State University. Dr. Griffin will become the space agency's 11th administrator.
For the past year, Dr. Griffin has headed the space department at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. It is the lab's second-largest department and specializes in projects for both NASA and the military. Dr. Griffin has a fairly incredible academic background, which includes a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and five master's degrees -- aerospace science, electrical engineering, applied physics, civil engineering and business administration. Before taking over the space department at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Griffin was president and chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, a CIA-bankrolled venture-capital organization and, earlier in his career, Dr. Griffin worked at NASA as chief engineer and as deputy for technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.
Last year, Dr. Griffin was a part of a team of experts who recommended that NASA retire the space shuttle by 2010, send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, and then mounting human expeditions to Mars and beyond. The report recommended retiring the space shuttle in order to accelerate work on a spaceship that could carry astronauts to the international space station and ultimately to the moon.
January 4, 2005
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, law professor, economics and law guru, and author Richard Posner has written -- in light of the recent Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster -- a timely new book, Catastrophe: Risk and Response (Oxford, Oct. 1, 2004), in which he argues that governmental planning for even unlikely disasters makes economic sense. Peter Singer reviews Judge Posner's new book here.
Judge Posner summarizes his argument in that regard in this Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed, and makes the following point that should give pause to those who advocate further cuts in NASA's budget:
An even more dramatic example [of lack of planning for unlikely disasters] concerns the asteroid menace, which is analytically similar to the menace of tsunamis. NASA, with an annual budget of more than $10 billion, spends only $4 million a year on mapping dangerously close large asteroids, and at that rate may not complete the task for another decade, even though such mapping is the key to an asteroid defense because it may give us years of warning. Deflecting an asteroid from its orbit when it is still millions of miles from the earth is a feasible undertaking. In both cases, slight risks of terrible disasters are largely ignored essentially for political reasons.
In part because tsunamis are one of the risks of an asteroid collision, the Indian Ocean disaster has stimulated new interest in asteroid defense. This is welcome. The fact that a disaster of a particular type has not occurred recently or even within human memory (or even ever) is a bad reason to ignore it. The risk may be slight, but if the consequences, should it materialize, are great enough, the expected cost of disaster may be sufficient to warrant defensive measures.
December 11, 2004
Earlier this week, Astronaut John Young resigned from NASA. I was dismayed with the short shrift that the local newspaper gave to the retirement of this legend in spaceflight -- indeed, there is not even a mention of Mr. Young on the Chronicle's spaceflight section.
But make no mistake about it, John Young is an American hero. Mr. Young served as a NASA astronaut for an incredible 42-year career, which included spending more than 800 hours in space. His unprecedented career began with the first manned flight of the Gemini program in 1965, included two Apollo moon missions, and concluded with two flights on the space shuttle, including its first flight. John Young is the longest serving astronaut of them all.
Mr Young was a US Navy test pilot when he signed up for the second astronaut class in 1962. His first mission was to pilot the first manned voyage of the Gemini program -- Gemini 3 -- which was the first American space flight to have more than one astronaut on board. In 1966, Mr. Young commanded Gemini 10, which performed the first dual rendezvous procedures during a single mission.
Three years later, and two months before Neal Armstrong set foot on the Moon, Mr Young performed the test mission to the Moon in Apollo 10, in which he orbited the Moon in the command module. He subsequently returned to the Moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16 in which he piloted the lunar module to its perfect landing and drove a mooncraft 16 miles across the surface of the Moon. Including the liftoff from the Moon's surface, Mr. Young was the the first man to blast into space seven times.
In 1981, Mr. Young piloted the space shuttle?s inaugural flight and guided the Columbia to a perfect runway landing, which was also a first. Two years later, Mr. Young commanded the Columbia in his sixth and final mission. He is also the only astronaut to pilot four different kinds of spacecraft.
And although a NASA lifer, Mr. Young never compromised his aviator principles for his position in the agency. In 1987, he was abruptly removed as NASA's chief astronaut when he accused NASA's chiefs of putting "launch schedule pressure" ahead of safety in the wake of the Challenger accident. His criticism was later vindicated by the report of the Presidential Commission that investigated the Challenger accident.
Just like the late astronaut Gordon Cooper and his fellow Mercury astronauts, John Young has "the Right Stuff." Here's hoping for a long and fulfilling retirement for this local Houston and American hero.
December 7, 2004
This Washington Post article reports on how Houston congressman and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay secured NASA's $16.2 billion portion of the $388 federal omnibus spending bill that Congress passed on November 20:
NASA was identified as a major sticking point when Senate and House conferees sat down to craft the final version of the omnibus spending bill near midnight Nov. 19, but Bolten, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and DeLay were holding out for more money.
The negotiators appeared to agree on $15.9 billion for NASA, but that wasn't good enough, DeLay said later at the Space Center. "The main responsibility of the majority leader is to set the agenda for the House floor. I wouldn't schedule the bill until NASA was taken care of," he said.
And it was.
"Once you get into an omnibus bill, the leadership takes over, and you need to have an advocate in that circle," Walsh said. DeLay "was getting me more allocation every time he stepped up to the plate. He made the difference."
October 5, 2004
Mr. Cooper's death leaves just three of the original seven Mercury astronauts still living -- John Glenn, the former senator from Ohio, Walter M. ("Wally")Schirra, and M. Scott Carpenter. Virgil I. ("Gus") Grissom was one of three astronauts killed in a 1967 fire inside an Apollo capsule on the launching pad, and Donald K. ("Deke") Slayton and Alan B. Shepard died of natural causes several years ago.
As the pilot of the last Mercury mission, Mr. Cooper was the last American astronaut to fly alone in space. His mission on May 15-16, 1963 covered 34 hours and 20 minutes, which was more than all five of the previous Mercury flights combined. When the automatic system that was supposed to control the descent of his Mercury capsule failed, Mr. Cooper took control manually and made a bull's-eye landing just 7,000 yards from aircraft carrier that picked up the Mercury capsules.
Mr. Cooper subsequently flew a long mission in the Gemini Space Program in which he demonstrated that a trip to the moon was feasible. Mr. Cooper's second and last trip into space was on Gemini 5, a two-man, eight-day mission in August 1965 that set a space endurance record of over 190 hours.
Among the many firsts in spaceflight that Mr. Cooper achieved was that he was the first person to sleep in space (seven and a half hours like a log, he reported). He was also the first astronaut to fly twice, and the first American to be televised from space.
Mr. Cooper was also immortalized in film by former Houstonian Dennis Quaid's excellent portrayal of him in the wonderful 1983 film of Tom Wolfe's equally superb book, "The Right Stuff." For anyone who grew up during the early days of the American space program, "The Right Stuff" is a must see. I recently watched it again with one of my teenage sons, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching how the original astronauts took enormous risks to do something that is considered commonplace by many in my son's generation. I also enjoyed sharing with him many of the stories of the original Mercury astronauts that are now an essential part of Houston folklore.
Rest in peace, Gordo Cooper.