Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Decade Resolutions and Predictions

It's the end of the year. 2009 marked the end of a decade, possibly an era. It was a year with the Augustine Report, a year with the first test of Ares, a part of the Constellation Program that may or may not take people to the moon or Mars (probably not), a year of several successful shuttle missions and maybe the most amazing discovery of finding water on the moon. Since space exploration progress is slow, and execution of decisions made today will take years if not decades, it is perhaps better to take the custom of New Year Resolutions and extend it to the next decade.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Journey to the Stars

I've been having discussions this past week about humanity, the meaning of our existence here, religion and in between. I found myself pulling up the following video, created by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Watching it humbling. It shows both how far we've come in terms of knowledge about the universe and at the same time how little that portion is from all there is to discover and explore.

The AMNH has a lot more to offer in terms of science and space combined with art. If you're in New York, you'll want to go there and check out the unabridged version of The Known Universe, a 60 minute presentation of which the YouTube video is only a small portion.

Another interesting program is Journey to the Stars, a spectacular (quoting the web site) space show in the museum that combines real photos, artist rendering and visualizations of physics simulations. Below is the trailer of that show.

I haven't been in New York with my family, but I know I'll go visit the American Museum of Natural History when I'm there. This is the right stuff to entice a new generation of space explorers that will boldly go where no one has gone before.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dream Catcher

A few days ago I received my Garmin Forerunner 310XT with heart rate monitor (HRM). I named it Dream Catcher (hey, the Garmin software asked...). After all, it's going to accompany me and help me go after my dreams, with the first challenge being the half-marathon in May (Starwalker, in case you just landed on my blog from outer space...).

Today I took it for a little spin with two of my kids - Yanir and Liam. We went to the park close to our house here in Superior to have some fun in the snow. We had our plastic sled with us, and I went down the hill with the boys a few times, other times documenting the event with our camcorder.
Click here to see the resulting data. I am really impressed by the watch and believe it will help me achieve my goal of being prepared to run the Starwalker half-marathon and beyond.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hanukkah in Space

Last week my family and I celebrated holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival-of-Lights. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE, and specifically the miracle of oil supposed to last one day actually lasting for eight.

After lighting 12 menorahs on Friday (that's 108 candles, in case you were wondering) with some Israeli friends on Friday, I got curious to check how Hanukkah would be celebrated in space, specifically in micro-gravity.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Starwalker - I'm In!

Late last week I got an e-mail from the Starwalker TV show telling me I am one of those who will participate in the first show. In what seems to be a semi secretive, or possibly mischivious manner, no specifics were given as to where that first episode will take place, although a discussion I started on the Starwalker facebook page revealed there are 3 confirmed locations - USA, UK and Australia and a possible eastern hemisphere location (is Russia putting up some resistance?). Since us competitors are required to pay for travel for the first episode, that will help since no one would have to fly half way across the globe.

My fitness goal of running Bolder Boulder in May just got replaced with half a marathon. If you know me for more than a few months, at this point you're shaking your head, rolling your eyes and looking for the phone to call us and ask my wife, Sofia, if she's sure her husband wasn't replaced by a Stepford husband or a Cylon...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

VSS Enterprise - What's in a Name?

A few days ago the VSS Enterprise, a.k.a. SpaceShipTwo was revealed. A lot has been said about its design and innovation, and I can only agree - it is an impressive feat of technology and vision, which will form a much cheaper alternative to the Soyuz as space tourism goes ($200,000 compared to $30,000,000), albeit giving the tourist-astronaut a shorter experience - maximum altitude is just over 100km, not circling Earth and 5 minutes of weightlessness compared to reaching the International Space Station and spending several days in orbit.

This is undoubtedly an important step towards privatized space industry and space tourism (albeit in its very infancy), much like the first commercial airlines 100 years ago.

However, what about it's name?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I originally decided to run the Bolder Boulder, but a few days later I got an e-mail from the upcoming Starwalker TV show, which just happens to have a half-marathon on the first episode for eliminating 50% of the competitors. Starwalker seems to be a thing of the past, but not my training!

In this post I'll document my training, initially in free form, with possibly more of a summary as I progress.

Any comments, tips, suggestions, etc. are more than welcome!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Getting in Shape

As a child, I was never the outdoors kind. I played Lego, watched TV (StarTrek), read books, did my homework and practiced my violin. I had to walk about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) to school every day in each direction down and up a hill, and that was my main physical activity for the first 6 years of school. I'm not entirely sure why, but I never played Soccer or Basketball even though I lived next to a park with a basketball court. It might have been lack of encouragement in that direction at a young age combined with accepting it just wasn't in me later on. PE (Physical Education) was not my best subject at school, to say the least. According to a story my father told me, when I learned how to swim in summer camp the teacher described me as lazy...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Starwalker - A New Breed of Astronauts?

Over the years, NASA was the authority for selecting astronauts in the U.S., alongside the ESA, CSA, the Russians etc. outside this nation's borders. Then, space tourism came about, where for a mere 20-35 million dollars and some training one can go up to the space station in a Russian Soyuz.
Reality TV is a varied arena, where everything from being on an island to eating bugs to swapping wives is fair game.

At a time when NASA plans are questioned and budgets are tight, enters Starwalker (blog, web site, Facebook, not the MontBlanc pen). It is still not very clear what, where and how the show will progress, and apart from a Terms and Conditions page there isn't a lot to work with yet, though apparently there are already some successful entrants...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Paperless Tradeshow

In space, you can't be wasteful. Every bit of extra weight needs to be lifted up. That entails paper, tools and even food and water. Almost the opposite seems to be happening at tradeshows. I recently did some cleaning up of my office at work. Among the items I got rid of were about 2 lbs of flyers, magazines and CDs I got at a couple of trade shows I went to as a part of my job. In software engineering things move (note I didn't say progress...) very fast, and what describes the latest and greatest component or contains a demo of a new release soon becomes stale and outdated.
So here's a simple idea I hope Microsoft, Google or any other company would pick up - the paperless tradeshow. It's a tradeshow without any paper (or any other write-once, read-many media such as CDs or DVDs). Oh, but we love the shiny brochures you say? What do you do with them when you get back from the tradeshow? What do you ever use them for if not as links to online resources? I'm sure you can live without those colorful paper airplanes and find something else to use as a coaster.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank You!

We live in a culture that always wants more. More money, bigger house, greener lawn. Or better - better car, better nose, better job. And when we actually get there, we want different. Different job, different house, different appearance. Thanksgiving, leaving the controversy of its origins or validity aside, is one of those rare moments that make us stop and reflect on what we have, who we are and the people in our lives that matter and actually be thankful, recognizing the good in our lives.
It's that gratifying feeling that gets induced by such thoughts that make us get off the "What's next" train. In some ways, I think it makes us a better version of ourselves, if only for a little bit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Computer Interfaces in Space

As a software engineer with an interest in user interfaces, the fine line between the human operating the machine and the machine itself, I got curious about the computers and interfaces on space shuttles and the International Space Station.

A lot of ideas are depicted in movies - for example, the talking (and treacherous) computer HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or the friendlier one in StarTrek. Other imagined interfaces are elaborate touch screen interfaces (StarTrek) or hand waving wearing special gloves in "Minority Report" (hey, it looked good on Tom Cruise, why not Nicole Stott or Robert Satcher?).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Space Patches: From the School Library

My kids knew that Space Shuttle Atlantis is launching today. We all watched it when I came home from work and the kids all had their own fantasies about what you could do during launch while I explained to them how fast the shuttle was flying.

As was the case with the Ares I-X launch, I had it up on my monitor at work streaming from SpaceVidCast, what seemingly is the only way to see it in HD apart from having a huge satelite dish. Several people gathered to see the launch, making me feel pretty good about raising awareness of the space program even if just a bit.

I enjoyed seeing the book that Yotam, one of my almost-9 year old twins, brought home - Space Patches: From Mercury to the Space Shuttle. Not an extremely interesting book for a kid this age apart from the pictures of the patches themselves and not very current (a lot of missions flew since 1986), but it was nice to see a little space rubbing on him. In case anyone's interested, there seems to be a similar but more current book from 2001 - Space Mission Patches.

Naturally, in this online age, the NASA history site has a Mission Patches page showing the designs of all the patches, upto and including STS-129 that had a perfect ascent, the one before last flight for Atlantis according to current plans.

The patches, mostly designed by the mission astronauts themselves, are both a testament to the uniqueness of each mission, unifying the participants and promoting NASA image.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


No, I don't mean seconds of time, or asking for seconds during a Thanksgiving dinner, sealing the deal for the upcoming food coma. There's something to be said for people being second at something.

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Apollo 12. It was the second landing on the moon, and after the legendary "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" spoken by Neil Armstrong after becoming the first person to ever set foot on ground that's not Earth, Astronaut Charles Conrad Jr. said "Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.", after making a bet with a journalist that what he said wasn't scripted by NASA.

Was it less epic or important than Apollo 11? I don't think so. Apollo 12 actually achieved what Apollo 11 didn't - a much more precise landing, for example.

Interestingly, though, one of the things Apollo 12 was actually a first in was the first Playboy centerfold in space...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Violinist in Space

I have been playing the violin since I was five and a half years old. Unlike my father's wishes, I did not become a professional violinist as my technical side was stronger and brought me to engineering.
What I would definitely like to do is play violin in micro-gravity, for example on the International Space Station. Even though musical instruments have been in space, as far as I can tell playing a violin or any other bowed instrument in space would be a first.

(On the right: a photo of my violin I took in February 2009)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Buran - The Russian Space Shuttle

The Buran space shuttle on its way to the launch pad
An article in Time Magazine about the NASA space shuttle program mentions the Buran, which up until a few days ago I didn't know existed. It had a much shorter life and a sad ending but that doesn't change the fact, that the Russians had a space shuttle. Not only that, but arguably it was better than the NASA one.

Russian (left) and American
The resemblance between the American and Soviet space shuttles is undeniable and either validates the design or may hint on espionage. Just look at this picture:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ares I-X Test Flight

Sure, there were delays - weather, a ship, more weather, and finally a small window with the right conditions.

Finally it was launched. My wife and three kids watched it on the NASA channel after clearing snow from our satelite dish, and a bunch of us at work were glued to our monitor.
It was thrilling to see this, even in the light of the Augustine report. Whatever the next ten years are going to look like, this is a great step in the Constellation program.
Alongside the thrill of watching this live, there were other feelings of nostalgia. Both for the Apollo program which resembles this part of Constellation more than the space shuttle (rocket, capsule which lands at sea), but also for the space shuttle. As a kid growing up, the Columbia, Challenger and later Discovery, Atlantis and Endevour brought us closer to these amazing shuttles on Startrek and Star Wars, at least in shape, letting our imagination of what will be when we grow up run wild.

All in all, great success and applause to everyone at NASA making this (and whatever will follow) happen.

Videos after the jump...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Eighteen Years

My older brother died when I was eighteen, half my current age. I was a high school senior, right before finals, shaping my academic future.

We were very different from each other. He was the genius and distracted professor type while I was the grounded one. He was the scientist type while I was the engineer type. He was the kid that stopped playing the piano after five years and had a teacher tear his notebook of frustration because he only did what he cared about and I, the croud pleaser and self criticizer, sticking to playing the violin until graduating the conservatory and willing to study less-than-desirable subjects.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rocky Mountain Mars Society - Outside The Box

I went on Monday evening to the quarterly meeting of the RMMS - Rocky Mountain Mars Society. The meeting took place at the Environmental Design building at CU.
Discussion topics were the Augustine report and water on Mars. Though I've recently read about these, this was very much outside the box for me. At the same time this was interesting to be involved in a discussion about such issues that are also being discussed at the highest levels of this country and about an entire domain which could have an amazing decade or a complete wash depending on how the cards (i.e. decisions and money at the presidential level) are dealt by our government.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Quest for Flight, Or - To Be On-Air

A little physics calculation would reveal the balloon hurling through the beautiful Colorado sky a few days ago would hardly hold a six year old.
An observant eye would easily see that the balloon was not even completely filled, and definitely not flying the way it would if it had its center of mass at the little space under it.
I found several places on the internet which calculate the lift power of that balloon.

Here's a short page about air lifting and Helium from "How Stuff Works" for the ones wishing to go through the math.

The cost of this little quest for flight, or more likely, quest to be on-air, was pretty high, from media coverage through the Colorado National Guard, Denver airport diverting flights, FAA tracking the balloon and I-25 crawling due to drivers looking up instead of forward (as revealed to me by a friend on Friday), to name a few.

It is interesting, that the UFO craze of the second half of the last century stepped aside in favor of publicity hunger, where the media (and us as its consumers) seek an amazing story, which if indeed little Falcon were in the balloon, would end either as an amazing adventure of kid survives after a breath taking chase of the balloon or the horrific end of an innocent child. While it was happening, no one would dare think that the story, which managed to push aside the economy, wars and other insignificant subjects away from the headlines, would finally end in a third way - like a popped balloon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

7th Annual Astronaut Experiences and Memorabilia Auction

What was once mundane and a part of a day's work becomes memorabilia.

Personal aspirations to touch the sky (or at least something that is related...) can fund scholarships that will further advance the human thirst for knowledge and exploration.

I specifically like the Gemini V on-board testing checklist page. It's a good reminder that the ability to go beyond the human capacity relies not only on amazing discoveries and heroics, but sometimes boils down to simple procedures.

Auction web site

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Astronauts, but on Earth

Intrigued by some astronaut bios that didn't have any listed flights, I stumbled on a fact that somewhat surprised me - astronauts that didn't get to fly.
It's somewhat of a canundrum - after being chosen and rigorously trained, these 11 men and women out of more than 300 NASA astronauts didn't make it to a launch and probably won't in the future.
Some have left NASA, some are still listed as astronauts but have been passed over.

I hold great respect for those who made it all the way except to fly, and I am sure each has a story to tell about what brought them to where they ended up being - contributing to space exploration in their own way but not by actually making it into space.

Duane E. Graveline
F. Curtis Michel
John S. Bull
Philip K. Chapman
Donald L. Holmquest
J. Anthony Llewellyn
Brian T. O'Leary
Christopher "Gus" Loria
Neil Woodward
Yvonne Cagle
Fernando "Frank" Caldero

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2009 Physics Nobel Prize - Hubble Nods "Thank You"

In days where in nearly every pocket there's a digital camera, it is important to remember that a defining moment that enabled all those small cameras as well as much bigger ones such as the Hubble telescope, was way back in 1969, when Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith invented the CCD (Charge Coupled Device) in Bell Labs in New Jersey.

A matrix of pixels get hit by light and produces electrons, thus getting a charge, which is then turned into digital data by measuring the voltage of each pixel.
Even though each pixel is monochromatic, by laying down a color-pattern filter, each pixel gives a reading for a specific color. Several adjacent cells are combined together to form a full spectrum pixel.

Now derivatives of that forty year old invention are in cellular phones, cameras of all sizes, and enables space exploration, from the Hubble telescope which shows us the universe in ways we didn't see it before, to unmanned missions to planets in our solar system, sending detailed pictures back with crucial data for future manned missions.

Wired: Inside the Nobel Prize: How a CCD Works

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Govrin Family

Here we are -- from the left - myself, Yotam and Yanir, our eight year old twins, Sofia my wife and Liam who's three.
Incidentally, this is during that visit to the Kennedy Space Center I mentioned in my first post.

I was actually here once before, in 1990 as a 17 year old high school student, but I think this time around I understood more of what this place embodies and means to humanity and myself.

Back to the Future

In college I was mostly interested in signal processing, image processing and pattern recognition. My first job as a test and experimentation engineer in the Israeli Defense Force was very much in tune with that, and produced successful programs still used to this day. My future was going to be doing that. Astronauts and space exploration have always been a fascination, an unatteinable goal to be marveled and admired for many reasons as a kid growing up in Israel.

Then I had a little detour - for the last thirteen years I've had different roles in two software companies, ranging from a part time software engineer to a manager of sixteen engineers building a security suite used by millions of customers.

Two weeks ago I took a vacation and visited the Kennedy Space Center. A slap in the face wouldn't do what that visit did.

I decided to go back to the future I had as a young engineer - back to a research, and back to the stars, in one form or another, now more attainable than as a kid growing up in Israel.

I'm hoping it will be interesting for people to see my new path unfold. I'm hoping to inspire and get inspired by the people I'll meet on the way, people who may also have dreams and want to reach for the stars, figuratively and literally.