Thursday, December 16, 2010

Waleed Abdalati, NASA Chief Scientist and I

What do I have in common with the new NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati?

We've both recently accepted a job offer (I'm going to work for Amazon, you all know where he's going). We're both moving over winter break. In fact, we're both moving to Washington, although while Abdalati is moving to D.C. I'm moving with my family to Microsoft-Boeing-Amazon-Starbucks land also known as Seattle.

In a small world such as ours, it doesn't stop there.

We both have preschoolers in our household. Yeah, pretty mundane stuff, so do millions of other people. But his daughter and my son happened to be in the same preschool.

Here are a couple of photos I took at the Thanksgiving play a few weeks ago:

Thanksgiving preschool playProud parents, including new NASA Chief Scientist (right)
I wish Dr. Abdalati great success in his new role and hope to see NASA continue to be a crucial contributor to understanding our planet and beyond.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Rocket Science" and a Successful Falcon 9 Launch

SpaceX added a very positive event to a line of problems and mishaps that occurred recently, from the failed Russian three-satellite launch to more delays in Discovery STS-133 launch, originally set for the end of October, now scheduled for Febuary.

All in all, these recent events show us that even after a space access system has been working for 30 years and more than 60 years after launching the first satellite, getting complex systems or people to space is still, as the saying goes, rocket science.

In contrast, through what looks like a flawless launch, a couple of orbits, reentry, splash-down and recovery, Falcon 9 (overview and comparison to Shuttle and Soyuz here) is on track to fulfilling its contract as a cargo platform to the International Space Station, and later on possibly taxi astronauts as well, ending the Russian monopoly formed by the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remember to Clap When You Land

Glide in Landing by Peter Welleman
Flying an airplane, launching on a rocket or the space shuttle bears some injustice, almost mockery of the operator of the aircraft or spacecraft. Every student pilot and astronaut needs to face the irony, almost ugly truth - taking off is much easier than landing.

With a little guidance and reasonable weather almost anyone could take off, at least on the kind of airplane I'm learning to pilot - Cessna 172. Beyond taxing to the runway, adjusting the fuel-air mixture and lining up with the runway centerline, one applies full power, pulls the yoke at an airspeed of 55 knots and presto! The airplane is airborne. On a rocket inside a capsule or a shuttle? Well, once SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) are ignited (and that's initiated from outside the spacecraft), there isn't much to do apart from enjoying the Gs. Yes, I know that there's more to taking off with a small airplane, space shuttle and anything in between, but compared to what is required during landing that's easy as pie.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Remember the story about the boy who repeatedly cried wolf when there was no wolf, so when there was actually a wolf no one believed him? Well, the more I listen to people who know a lot more than I do about NASA, prior manned space programs, space technology and yesteryear budgets, the more this story comes to mind, though between all the pros, cons and possible futures I can't decide is who is the boy, who is the wolf and who are the towns' people.

Congress recently passed the authorization bill to fund NASA for fiscal year 2011, which started on October first. The bill was a compromise between the initial road-map president Obama laid out in February and the program of record until recently, Constellation. Analysis of the original plan and the eventual bill are easy to find, for example on Space News.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Discovery - The Oldest Shuttle

A tweet by Mike Massimino (aka @Astro_Mike) caught my eye today:

It points to a cool video that shows the history of Discovery and its last planned mission, STS-133. Mike has been one of the most active astronauts on the internet (more over a million and a quarter followers on twitter, many videos), and has been doing a great job showing a less official angle of astronauts and their missions.

What caught my eye was the description of Discovery as NASA's oldest shuttle. While technically correct, it's only because of the two great disasters of Columbia and Challenger, the former burning on deorbit and the latter disintegrating at launch, both seen by some as the hard way NASA learned about severity of problems previously deemed as not posing a major risk by some.

The end of the space shuttle era is near, and sometime in the future we may look at it as either a stepping stone or a detour on our way to settle space. No matter what - Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and their younger sisters Atlantis and Endeavour are probably the most amazing spacecraft to watch launching (I got to experience STS-132) of all manned spacecraft to date and probably for years, if not decades, to come.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The NASA Toaster. For more, see here
Space exploration and exploitation is slowly but surely going on a new trajectory, one of NASA leaving some pieces of the puzzle to the private market including design. For example, through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX fot getting cargo to the International Space Station without designing the rocket or capsule at NASA, thus allowing SpaceX to design and build the hardware, letting it do more than space contractors did in the past.

This shift is not easy, especially when human life is at stake, as the existing model where NASA has very close control over the design and manufacturing of space hardware, especially manned spacecraft, was put in place for crew safety reasons. Instead, NASA will have to trust private companies to design the hardware, which will have to pass a safety standard (for example, NPR 8705.2B, "Human-Rating Requirements for Space Systems").

In the following years, there will be cases of inertia and fall-back on how things have been done in the past 50 years. Even in software companies I worked for, a lot younger than NASA, inertia and resistance to new ideas occasionally manifested in the form of the statement "but that's how we've been doing it for the last 5 years". Yes, old-and-comfortable is as cozy an environment as a 3 year old favorite blanket.

My request to our elected government officials and those who will be designing and building space hardware in the upcoming years - for every decision, every design, every expense - ask yourself and honestly answer the following question from the perspective of benefiting humanity progress into space: Is this really necessary to be done within NASA and the old controlled way or should this be a commodity NASA buys as a shelf product from someone else?

In short - Is this really NASAssary?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10/10/10 - What's in a Date?

Today is October 10th 2010 or in it's more serene form, 10/10/10. Take the delimiters out and you get 101010, or 42 in binary which is of course the famous Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, as written over 30 years ago by Douglas Adams. In Roman numbers we're looking at XXX, a term originating from over 40 years ago in relation to movies (X-rating). On the internet, #101010 is a very dark shade of gray.

This is, of course, not the first time the 10/10/10 date happened. 10/10/10 can designate 1910, 1810, and any century before that. If you're one of the people wearing this shirt ("There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don't") you'd be probably even more excited a thousand years ago on 10/10/1010 (albeit you wouldn't be able to blog or tweet about it...). Interestingly, October 10th 1010 was actually an ordinary Wednesday noted as October 4th in Europe, as the Julian calendar was still used rather than the Gregorian calendar, created in 1582 but adopted by some countries as late as the 20th century.

As the world rejoices and birds tweet, unless you're Jewish, Muslim, Persian or Mayan (OK, you're probably not Mayan) you may not realize this is not the only calendar used over the world and may want to look at the Fourmilab Calendar Converter, just to get a whiff of some other cultures, current and past.

Since Spacepirations is a space oriented blog, I tried to find space related events that happened on October 10. The most notable event I found was that in 1967 the Outer Space Treaty, which calls for responsibility in space activities, entered into force.

Also on October 10 (courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Space History):

1846: William Lassell discovers Neptune's moon Triton.
1960: The Soviets' first attempted planetary spacecraft, the Mars probe 1M s/n 1 fails to leave Earth orbit.
2007: Russia launches TMA–11, which carries the Sixteenth Expedition to the International Space Station.

Finally, thanks to Virgin Galactic:

2010: SpaceShipTwo, aka VSS Enterprise did it's first gliding flight - (video here). We just got one step closer to commercial manned space flight.

Whether you're celebrating October 10 2010, 2nd of Cheshvan 5771, 2 Thul-Qedah 1431 or any other date, may your dreams come true until 11/11/11!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sputnik - The Launch of Space

Sputnik (Source: US Air Force)
Sputnik 1 was launched 53 years ago, on October 4th, 1957. In many ways, it can be seen as the launch of the space age. Being the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, it started the space race which led to Buzz and Neil landing on the moon in 1969 and contributed to the demise of Communism.

Most of the people writing nowadays about space weren't alive yet in 1957, myself included. As such, we cannot fully grasp the feelings that swept through the United States of America knowing a USSR made object was flying invisible and uninterrupted above its skies. However, from the events which proceeded it is obvious, to put it mildly, that it was a very big deal.

Similarly to the first successful Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk NC, this was a modest beginning. Sputnik had some radio capabilities, short 22 day battery life and limited scientific capabilities. However, it was the eye opener that ignited decades of advancements and discoveries, the proof of the entire concept, which today is a versatile tool for both looking out to space and looking at Earth, helping us understand our pale blue dot, the solar system and far beyond.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pilot Lesson 5 - Don't Panic

The Westin Hotel, Westminster CO, looking south west (Google Maps)
During my pilot lesson on September 24th I got a taste of two potential problems during a flight, the first mistakenly flying into a cloud and the second being engine shutdown. The weather was fantastic - not too hot and practically no wind or turbulence, which added to the positive experience.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Next Space Shuttle Launch - Informal Poll

Space Shuttle Discovery on her way to the launch Pad, taken by Larry Tanner
Launch Buzz

There is something special about the Space Shuttles that didn't exist when every rocket and capsule were built as disposable spacecraft. Just like we get attached to our cars (OK, maybe it's just me), we got attached to these vehicles that at least in the 1980s and 1990s symbolized a revamped pursuit of space and getting one step closer to space travel as we'd really like to experience it (whenever, wherever - à la Star Trek with some extrapolation).

Every Space Shuttle launch causes a special buzz among space enthusiasts, who in recent years have had online venues for their thoughts and experiences. Blog posts are written, pictures are uploaded (also here) and the social network is flooded with copious amounts of updates. NASA itself joined the party in several ways - allowing the public to vote for astronaut wake-up songs, the opportunity to upload one's face to space and NASA Tweetups like the one I attended last May, where 150 lucky people become journalists of the best kind - supportive and enthusiastic, almost NASA ambassadors to the world, all posting to Twitter using the #NASATweetup tag.

STS-133 and Space Shuttle Discovery are no different. In fact, since after this launch there will be only one more (maybe two) Space Shuttle launches before the program reaches its planned shutdown, the normal jitter and excitement seems to be even greater. The NASA Tweetup event even got its own blog created by Nathan Bergey. This last flight of Discovery will also bring a new dweller to the ISS, one that doesn't consume oxygen or water - Robonaut2, the first first dexterous humanoid robot in space, aimed at providing another pair of hands for repetitive and maintenance tasks that would otherwise require people, without making changes to the original component, for example an air filter.

An Informal Poll

Since you're reading these lines it would be almost moot to ask if you know when Discovery is being launched and you obviously know the name of the Space Shuttle being launched. What I'm wondering about is how much of that is known to your friends and family, that might not share the same enthusiasm for space.

My request to you is this: Ask your family, coworkers and friends:
  1. Which Space Shuttle is getting ready for launch?
  2. When is the next launch?
  3. How many Space Shuttle launches remain after this one?
  4. What mission number is it going to be?
Please report back by commenting on this post (no need for names, just people's answers).
Update: Commenting disallowed, as Discovery successfully launched on February 24 2011. Thank you everyone who participated!

After the launch I will tally your reports in an attempt to answer this question:
Have NASA and the space enthusiast community been successful at keeping space exploration on people's minds in such a critical era of economic woes and budgetary battles?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Orbital Tourism Around the Corner?

The Boeing CST-100 Capsule
If you're a bit like me, you want to go to space. If you're like me but with a lot of money (or complete disregard for that rainy day when you'll need what you have) you already booked a flight with Virgin Galactic, meaning you paid $20,000 and have the other $180,000 in a safe place (like under your mattress) waiting for Eve and SpaceShipTwo to start flying for real.

If you've just robbed a bank, made a killing in the stock market or won the lottery and are about to put some Franklins down for a suborbital flight, read this joint Boeing and Space Adventures press release first, because you might want to hold on to your money a little longer and get something bigger.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Learning to Fly

Alongside everything I'm a part of (family, work, trainingAstronauts4Hire), I've started taking flying lessons towards a Private Pilot license (FAA Part 141). As you can read in the post about my first lesson, this has been rolling around the back of my head for a while, and I finally decided to actually do it.

It's as exciting for me as starting to run last December, being so much out of character if you look at my first 36 years of life. But I guess so was starting to write this blog... In some ways, this is a step in building my skills and capabilities towards fulfilling my goals at Astronauts4Hire, though I will admit it - it is also an amazing, challenging and fun experience.

Being the engineer at heart that I am, a glutton for numbers, documentation and recording of data, I am using my Garmin 310XT GPS Watch (which I nicknamed Dream Catcher back in December) to record the flight paths and my heart rate during the lessons. Pretty mundane and insignificant data for other people, you may say, but it is a part of teaching this old dog new tricks, so I hope that at least for some of you this experience and data will become a catalyst, a boost of confidence that you can do rather than only imagine.

Pilot Lesson 2 - The 2G Experience

On Tuesday I had my second flying lesson. After a plan to fly north got scrapped due to the Fourmile Canyon fire near Boulder, we flew in the same general area of the first flight. Longer than the first and more demanding, I actually communicated with the tower, did more turns and experienced stalling on purpose.

Of particular interest for me was a sharp turn where for about twenty seconds I experienced about 2G. As a roller coaster lover, I am sure I felt 2G or even more in amusement parks but definitely not for a long period of time that would allow me to realize how my body was reacting or move my arms around to feel their extra weight. If you're a fighter jet pilot or an astronaut and you happened to drop in and read this, please step away from the keyboard, call your friend or significant other, joke about that poor dude getting excited over 2G and get on with your life. For me, it was definitely a new sensation and it makes me even more eager to experience how the high-G centrifuge at NASTAR or a rocket launch (which it can simulate) would feel like.

The last 10 minutes of the flight I felt nauseated. Not very pleasant, but I'm sure I'll become more resilient and less fixated on the plane instruments as I gain more experience.

Here's the GPS-recorded flight:

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Steps of Becoming a Pilot

The Cessna 172 and me after the lesson
Many kids want to be pilots at some point. I can't say for sure I was one of them, as honestly I don't remember much of my childhood, but it's one of those things that touches a child's imagination like magic does - being able to fly in the sky like the birds - be it in a tangible form like being an actual pilot or as a metaphore for being free and achieving great things.

The recent chapter of my thoughts about piloting started with my interest in space, though it took almost six months and getting laid off to make the first step. Back in March, in preparation for the NASTAR suborbital scientist training, I got my FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Class 3 medical exam, which just happens to be what's required for private pilot flying lessons. From that moment the world of flying was getting shoved in my face again and again through pilot gear catalogs and AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association) membership offers. The seed was sown, and being a pilot started taking hold of the back of my mind.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Hockey Stick of Professional Astronauts

Note: This article has been updated to clarify its focus on the number of people getting to space, removing to my best capability what mistakenly came across as comparing suborbital systems with no track record to much more capable orbital systems in any other term than the fact of raising the count of people getting above 100km, the official border of space.

Astronaut is a general term for people who get to space, meaning beyond 100 kilometer (62 mile) altitude, also known as the Kármán line. Over the passing decades since the first astronauts, the title was worn mostly by government workers, hand-picked to do some pretty ordinary things such as install antennas and structural modules, measure blood pressure or grow plants (not counting the early days anomaly of going to the moon). Of course, doing these things about 400km above sea-level, relying on technology for life-support in an otherwise very hostile environment and all that after being strapped to a rocket. OK, not so ordinary after all.

For several years, and with more vigor than ever since the first X-Prize and SpaceShipOne, several companies (some of which presented at NSRC earlier this year) are working on a type of vehicle that will take people to space and back without completing an orbit (suborbital) and in between provide three to five minutes of micro-gravity, useful as a joy ride or for conducting science. As these vehicles become human rated, it is possible that after it took about fifty years to get the first five hundred people into the sixty two mile club, it may take a tenth of that or less to get the next five hundred in. I'll leave the economics aside, as I want to try and understand the nature of these next five hundred and ponder about their similarities and differences to the five hundred that saw the curvature of the Earth first.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Space Birthdays - Real and Science Fiction

Space birthday - Collage Greetings
Thanks to twitter and @thinkgeek I noticed that today is the birth date of Gene Roddenberry, the father of Star Trek. A short search leading to the Brainy History web site revealed somewhat of a statistical aberration - three Star Trek people and three astronauts were born on this date.
Apart from Gene Roddenberry, both Jonathan Frakes (Commander William T. Riker) and Diana Muldaur (Dr. Katherine Pulaski), both from Star Trek: The Next Generation, were born on this date.

On the NASA front, astronauts Franklin Story Musgrave (only astronaut to fly on board of all five Space Shuttles), Michael J. Massimino (shuttle astronaut, a.k.a. @astro_mike, perhaps the most active astronaut on social media, the first astronaut to tweet from space) and Charles F. Bolden Jr. (shuttle astronaut, NASA administrator since 2009) were all born on this date.
On the Russian side, Vladimir Borisovich Alekseyev was also born on that date (a Soyuz VI cosmonaut), meaning that out of the 547 astronauts (at least according to Wikipedia), four were born on August 19, about 0.73%, or about 2.7 times more than the statistical 1/365 chance of being born on a certain date (leap year excluded).

For those of you still in this world, Happy Birthday! Don't forget to look up!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Feel of a Launch

As some may already know, my day-job is at a company called Webroot Software, based in Boulder, Colorado. Apart from being a space-nut and budding runner, I am the manager of a development team working on the company consumer anti-malware set of products.

In the software industry like in the space industry there are launches. Usually software launches are much more frequent and take less to prepare for than space launches, especially compared to rocket launches when humans are on-board.

Webroot Internet Security Complete 2011
Over the past weekend we launched a set of products with more similarities to the space industry than other releases we've had in the past. This new version entails a new architecture, building on parts of the old architecture and technologies while learning lessons from prior products. Kind of like the next step in human space exploration, it took us longer than expected (close to two years, much longer than we originally expected and longer than usual software release cycles of products this size), went over budget, incorporated third party sub-contractors who delivered varying levels of responsiveness and initial quality and all that during what will not be known as the best two years in the history of U.S. economy.

I guess it is no surprise, then, that I feel great satisfaction and at the same time the concern of rocket designers when their rocket is making its first few full launches rather than static or partial tests (in the software industry we call these "betas").

Like space-access systems, maybe even more so in software, there are always patches and improvements and more to be developed, but the initial launch occurred. As of now the rocket didn't explode on the pad, always a good sign. Unlike a rocket (at least with current low-Earth-orbit launches), though, knowing nothing major went wrong may take a week or two, but so far reports are looking good - it feels like a successful launch.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

25th Anniversary of a Friend to Space

Among all the anniversaries these past couple of weeks (41st of Apollo 11 and 60th of the first Cape Canaveral rocket launch are two of them) there is one that is noteworthy for the computer geeks among us (you know who you are).

In the dark ages of the mid 1980s, when IBM compatible PCs had 4 color screens, beeps that barely passed as sound and an operating system that looked like a '>' symbol, out came a computer with preemptive multi-tasking (in layman terms, real multi-tasking, which Macs didn't have until years later), thousands of colors, stereo sound and a graphical user interface - the Amiga 1000. To reminisce in case you're an Amiga fan or to learn more about the Amiga tumultuous life, PCWorld provides a very nice walk down memory lane in this article.

No, I don't want to start a "Who was first" debate here (we all know it was Xerox). I was one of those geeky kids with an Amiga computer, playing games, creating boot floppy disks that contained entire development environments and had a SCSI 120MB hard-drive while everyone else had the beeps and poor graphics on their huge IBM-compatible PCs.

What does the Amiga computer have to do with space?
     Woman: "Aren't you astronauts?"
     Buzz Aldrin: "Yes, Mam. We'd like to compare notes with Stevie on the new space station."

Here is the full commercial for your enjoyment:

Standing next to Buzz are two of the original Mercury-7 astronauts Scott Carpenter and Leroy Gordon Cooper (thanks for your help figuring this out, @flyingjenny and @iammdsquared).

Yes, back in those days (1986) the planned space station wasn't international, it was called "Freedom" and had a centrifuge module for artificial gravity research. Neither Freedom nor the centrifuge ever materialized, just like the Amiga never took the world by storm and about ten years later became all but a thing of the past.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thoughts about Transportation while over the Atlantic

The plane that brought me to Israel
I'm sitting in a plane (OK, I'm not while editing this post, but I was while writing these words). It's not very comfortable and it seems very long. I watched a movie, helped the kids with their food, put a pull-up on the little one, slept a little, and woke up.

From my position here over the Atlantic ocean, at 624mph at 35000ft, I marvel both looking back and forward in time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I'm Thirty-Seven - Summary of an Exciting Year

What can you write about when it's your thirty-seventh birthday? It's one of those birthdays that is not the one when men buy a sports car (that's in three years, I think), not one that lets you start drinking (that's eighteen in Israel, by the way), nor it is one that is an impressive as my father's upcoming birthday - ninety years young.

However, last Friday was my first birthday of many things, as this past year was a year of beginnings. First came my renewed interest in space. I decided to poke my head outside of the lane I was in - software engineering - after a visit to Florida last fall. That visit, which was primarily intended as a starting point for a wonderful Disney Cruise with my wife, kids and parents, included an eye opening visit to Kennedy Space Center, which started a cascade of events.

In the following months I started forming connections with people interested in space, one of which is Brian Shiro - a geophysicist and astronaut candidate living in Hawaii. I also started writing this blog, describing my space-aspirations and perspective, sometimes drawing fire and disagreement, hopefully other times providing a bit of inspiration and making a difference for the people who read it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My First Bolder Boulder

Folsom Field, Boulder CO - waiting for the professional racers
As an Israeli, Memorial Day in the United States is a strange, almost surreal day. Whereas in Israel this day is all about remembering the fallen troops and terrorism casualties, here remembrance is interwoven with sales and festivals. One of the biggest Memorial-Day events nation-wide is the Bolder Boulder, the second largest 10K road race in the U.S., consisting of more than 50,000 runners, joggers, walkers and wheel-chairs.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Astronauts4Hire Is Growing

Astronauts4Hire has occupied a lot of my time in the past few months since inception. With a lot to do and few people to do it, I am happy we are growing, and even more excited about the caliber and quality of the new people who joined us recently.

Here is the Astronauts4Hire press release:

Friday, June 4, 2010

SpaceX Falcon 9 - Shrinking the Gap?

In the wake of the mess I like to call the ADHD space policy, SpaceX is a name at the forefront of companies who are shaping a new chapter in human spaceflight, at least to near-Earth orbit, and some day will enable 500 people to go to space not in 50 years but in a year or less.

Optimism aside, as we're talking space access here, there are many steps between now and achieving this goal. Today SpaceX made a big step towards proving the viability of commercially designed and built rockets and platforms. At 2:45pm Falcon 9 made its inaugural flight into orbit. From its first stage with nine Merlin engines through separation, second stage and telemetry, the launch went without a hitch except for being delayed when a safety system aborted the launch 2 seconds before the initial launch, demonstrating the ability to recycle very quickly after an abort.

Space Tweep Society 1st Anniversary Twelebration

with Jen Scheer
The founder of Space Tweep Society, Jen Scheer (Twitter: @flyingjenny), a space-shuttle technician by day and space tweep 24x7, together with Tiffany Titus (@astrogerly) contributed to the excitement of the STS-132 Atlantis launch a few weeks ago by having a post launch party to celebrate the Space Tweep Society first birthday, or as they named it, Space Tweep Society 1st Anniversary Twelebration.
Space Tweep Society (STS... is this a coincidence?) is a portal for people who tweet about space (i.e. space tweeps) and bloggers, or anything in between. 140 characters not enough? The commitment to maintaining a blog too much? You can register and express yourself on the STS web site, which connects the public, space enthusiasts and people (like Jen and Tiffany themselves) who work in the space industry.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Virgin Galactic Dirty Little Secret

Virgin Galactic is arguably the leading private space tourism company, having actually built their suborbital craft and carrier and having flown them both. Their web site and publications all look taken from a sci-fi movie, with weightlessness touted as a wonder worth $200,000. One of the slogans Virgin Galactic uses (in the training page) is "Feel the Freedom of Zero G."

However, there's a dirty little secret that no one over at Virgin Galactic is talking about - space-sickness, or its more scientific name, Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS). Even with medication, most astronauts experience it when they go to space to varying degrees, from mild nausea or a headache to vomiting. SAS is a main reason that EVAs are done only after a few days in space, as vomiting inside a space suit is lethal. A hardly talked-about subject, one of the least pleasant experiences in the first few days in space, as attested by astronauts, is floating vomit. Even very short durations of micro-gravity, experienced on parabolic flights (much shorter than the several minutes on a suborbital flight) have earned airplanes that perform this kind of a flight profile the nick-name Vomit Comet.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Atlantis STS-132 Launch NASA Tweetup

NASA Tweetup tent
Last week I was lucky enough to participate in the STS-132 NASA Tweetup for the last Atlantis launch. Less than a week before the launch on May 14 I was still not sure whether I'll be able to go for various reasons. I finally had all my ducks in a row - NASA confirmation, airline tickets, hotel and car - only a few days before the launch.

While waiting in Denver for my delayed flight to Florida I met Mike Petrone, a former Phantom pilot who took his wife and grandson to see the launch. In the early 1970s, Mike went through preliminary astronaut training including, among other things, parabolic flights. Suffice to say that the nick-name Vomit-Comet given to airplanes performing parabolic flights seems more apt than before. He eventually didn't make it into the astronaut core but his interest in space remained.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Atlantis - STS-132 - NASA Tweetup

I am currently sitting at the Denver International Airport, gate B25, waiting for my delayed flight (hopefully the only delay I'll have this trip), on my way to see the third to last shuttle launch in Florida next week. I am fortunate enough to be one of the lucky 150 that will take part of the NASA STS-132 Tweet-Up.

For those of you who don't know what a NASATweetup is, click You can see who are the lucky 150 people on twitter at

For all of my 149 fellow tweeterers (tweeters?), welcome to Spacepirations. I hope you read this and comment below.

I intend to write a post tomorrow evening after a full day entailing a tour of Kennedy Space Center and meeting some fascinating NASA people and all of the other members of this tweetup.

See you in Florida!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Letter to the Hubble Telescope

Hello, Hubble. You don't know me, I suppose. I'm one of those people here on Earth that likes technology and space. I guess you can call me a geek. You are younger than me in human years, although in technology years you're much older and accomplished.

Hubble, you are possibly the most impressive piece of technology that looks outwards to space in peace. We, the human race, have built you and sent you to the sky at a time of hope - the Cold War just ended and the space shuttle started flying again after the Challenger accident, which grounded you too. Finally, after four years of waiting, ready to go, on Earth, waiting to fulfill your destiny as humanity's big eye in the sky, you got your chance and went up there to start looking.

The Cat's Eye Nebula
In the beginning, you had some infancy problems. You needed glasses to fix your vision and your communication skills weren't that great. But as time passed, you got good care from friends that came to visit you 5 times and brought you new tools and improvements. Those fixes and improvements helped you help us see the universe in amazing new ways.

Hubble, as amazing as you are and as successful your upgrades were, it's time to face the truth - you're over the hill. In a few years you won't be the coolest telescope on the block anymore, and you'll notice your friends stopped visiting. Just last year you got a visit and new technology, I know, but less than a year from now, if all goes according to our current and previous president plans, we won't have a way to get to you, so please try not to malfunction.

You were one of the constants at the turn of a century that was filled with wars and uncertainty, a constant in a world of ever growing terminology - Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Dual Core, Quad Core, Smart-Phone, iPhone, Browser Wars... Speaking of which, in a discussion over Twitter (a virtual place on the Internet where one expresses anything in 140 characters or less... But you already know that, you're there) with one of your current adoptive NASA parents, Lori Garver, I expressed concern for your well-being now that we won't be able to visit anymore. She assured me you're in great health but also noted that your successor as king of the sky, the James Web Space Telescope (JWST), will be ready in a few years.
Tweet from NASA Deputy Administrator, Lori B. Garver
You're actually very hip with current trends and technologies. You're on Twitter and Facebook, talked about in many web sites and even your own site that shows a lot of the universe beauty you help us see. Your web site even lets people write you a message, which gave me the idea for this letter. There's also a movie about you, Hubble 3D, filmed by your friends and repair-people - the astronauts that helped you overcome some of your difficulties.

I'll always remember you fondly in conjunction with the space shuttle and how you opened up our eyes to new visions of the universe our own eyes aren't capable of. Good luck at the end of your life, hopefully as long as 10 or even 20 more years...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Second 5K - 23:40.8

After the race
This weekend I ran my second race, the Chick-fil-A at Larkridge 5k Run. Oddly enough, it was another first-annual race like my first one. This time my instructions from Carl were to aim for a 7.4mph speed and accelerate the last half-mile. Like before, I started pumped-up and ran faster than the planned pace (with my Garmin watch showing me I was about 25 seconds ahead of my virtual partner) and I maintained that (give or take 5 seconds) throughout the race, which entailed such scenery as Home Depot and Sears.

I ended up beating my last result by 1:40 minutes, and this time It didn't feel like I sold myself short. I had two friends from work come as well, which made it more social, especially with my wife not wanting to get up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning (go figure...).

Called The Space Show on April 20th

I started listening to The Space Show around December of last year, when I started running and training consistently and got my iPod Shuffle. Listening to the show rather than to music has two benefits for me. One is the lack of beat in a talk show compared to music, which may or may not fit my running cadence. The main benefit, however, is the amazing variety of subjects and space related issues that are discussed in the show. Space solar power, books about space topics, space policy, conferences, commercial space - the list goes on and on. The discussed topics cover a huge gamut for anyone who is interested in space, including the past and future of human space exploration.

The guests in the show vary from students involved in space organizations to NASA past and present key employees to people from the new commercial space industry. Agree or not with their opinions, David gives them an objective stage to voice them, and provides his own unique perspective, not as a technical person (though by now he has accumulated a lot of knowledge and he is at least "street-smart" on everything-space). In addition to the guests, David has a toll-free line and encourages the listeners to call in and ask questions.

I've been exchanging e-mail messages with David Livingston for a while about a variety of subjects. I was hesitant initially, but David has proved to be more responsive than I would expect from a one-man-show such as his. He will entertain any idea and take the time to try and help or explain, and is very diligent in his efforts to remove personal accusations and name calling from everything he, callers or people who e-mail him say.

Usually the show has a guest or two which provide specific context and theme to the show, and on most shows the current space-events (such as the brewing budget) also come up. On April 20th David did what he calls an open-lines show - there's no guest in particular and anything goes, as long as it is space related. It was a good opportunity for me to call in and discuss the most exciting project I've ever been involved in, Astronauts4Hire. We ended up talking about numerous subjects, including the Israeli Independence Day which was that same Tuesday, and how it comes in stark contrast right after Memorial Day. Our talk about Astronauts4Hire revolved around our mission to be prepared for and facilitate suborbital research with training, payload specialists and accessibility to all involved in this budding industry.

You can listen to the show (1347) here:

It was a very enjoyable experience and I hope I did service to my fellow Astronauts4Hire members. I didn't get to share my story of how I got into being a lean, mean space advocate training machine, so there will have to be a next time.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rocket Racers - Racing for the Space Age

This past weekend was a milestone for bringing space technology to the masses. The first demonstration of a type of race never seen before took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two X-Racers took off and competed in the sky, in what seems to be described as a combination between NASCAR and Star Wars pod-racing. The X-Racers, delta-winged rocket engine planes with 2000 lbs of instantaneous thrust at a flip of a button, go through a virtual course in the sky, projected onto the pilot helmet and also on huge screens for the audience enjoyment.

This is the work and vision of Peter Diamandis, also founder of X-Prize (among many initiatives and companies), a leading organization of innovation through competition. In this case, Peter and the Rocket Racing League take rocket technology and produces a spectator sport of a new kind - looking up.

This kind of sport may end up funding suborbital research or at least help perfecting the engines that will be used for suborbital vehicles, which are (at least some) planes with a rocket engine propelling them, in this case up to an altitude of more than 100 km rather than maneuvering a virtual course in the sky.

There is also an Israeli connection - Elbit Systems, a company from Haifa Israel (my home-town), long involved in the development of fighter-jet technologies, produced the helmet that, in this case, assists in flying the X-Racer through the course rather than aiming at enemy aircraft.

Here's a summary, narrated by Miles O'Brien from This Week In Space:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My First Race - Results

Finishing the race
On April 11th I ran my first race. No, it wasn't a news item - I'm not a celebrity, I didn't run it on my hands, nor there was any other reason for it to become a news item.

But it was a personal milestone. After less than four months of going from an almost couch potato (at least as far as any kind of sports) to running and training consistently, I actually ran in a race and got a time that is a qualifier for Bolder Boulder, all of which would seem almost ludicrous a year ago. Starwalker seems to belong to the past but it doesn't matter - I like running and I like how training has affected me. No, I was never fat by any stretch of the imagination thanks to probably good genes, but I was never fit either.

Here's the race as it was recorded with my Garmin 310XT (a.k.a. Dream Catcher):

My official time was 25:20 and as you can see in the results I was about middle of the pack for my age group. I ran at an almost constant 7.2mph and sprinted at the end as I had some reserves. Carl, my trainer, breezed through it and took first place by a huge 1:37 minute margin.

I will definitely run on at least one more race before Bolder Boulder, and I think it's safe to say this is now a part of my life. It definitely took me long enough to figure this one out, but better late than never...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yuri's Night in Boulder, CO

On April 10th, About an hour before the festivities officially began, I drove the short 10 mile distance from my home to Boulder, parked and walked to The Lazy Dog on the Pearl Street Mall. About ten people were busy decorating the place, emptied from tables apart from side booths. Ryan Kobrick (a fellow Astronauts4Hire founder) was orchestrating everything, from helping the first band get ready to decorations. Also present from A4H was Laura Stiles, and it was cool to meet a few of the people interested in space and more specifically, some of the members of Astronauts4Hire (Chad Healy came in later as well).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Homework for Tomorrow

If you're reading this, you are at least somewhat interested in space exploration. Tomorrow may be a revealing day or a disappointment. It will probably be heralded by supporters of the new policy as the fastest route to Mars and beyond, whilst the same speech will be dismissed as politics and destruction of U. S. human space exploration by nay-sayers.

Wherever you may lay in this spectrum, or maybe even if you don't really care, even if you haven't really been following the space budget roller coaster since Febuary, I suggest going to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and clicking on the NASA Fact Sheet and the OSTP Fact Sheet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Astronauts4Hire Launches

I am proud to announce the launch of Astronauts4Hire.

All of us at Astronauts4Hire come from varying backgrounds but share a passion for space and want to push forward the new commercial space industry by training and obtaining the skills to become astronauts for hire.

From the press release:

Astronauts4Hire, a new collaborative effort to support and develop a pool of qualified, commercial scientist astronauts announces today the launch of its website ( and selection of 11 initial astronaut candidates.

On a day that marks the anniversaries of the first human to orbit the Earth and the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle, this announcement marks a push towards a new era of more accessible commercial space research and exploration.

Astronauts4Hire is soliciting sponsors and donors to enable the candidates to undergo spaceflight training and obtain other pertinent experience that will increase their competitiveness as astronauts-for-hire by those private firms conducting scientific research on suborbital platforms. The initial target is to obtain $40,000 USD which will be used to allow the initial astronaut candidates to take part in the three-day Suborbital Scientist Training Program at the NASTAR Center in Pennsylvania. The course includes medical screening, classroom preparation, centrifuge and hypobaric chamber training.

For the entire press release and more details, please go to the Astronauts4Hire web site.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yuri's Night and My First Race

Tomorrow I'm running my first race. It is the Broomfield Rotary Frank Shorter Race4Kids' Health. After three and a half months of training I'm going to run this fairly short 5K, which will be my qualifier run for Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day. Yeah, I know, who cares? Well, several months ago I was pretty much a couch potato (OK, so I jumped off a plane once and ski and am a roller coaster junkie, but never ran more than 1K). So for me it is a big deal, as much as it was last week when I ran off the treadmill for the first time since I started training. It makes it real.

On a different note, April 12 is Yuri's Night. Over the last week and the next, all over the world there are parties to commemorate two important events in human space-flight history. The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, who on April 12 1961 spent 108 minutes completing one Earth orbit, and STS-1 - the first space shuttle mission, which happened exactly twenty years later. This first flight of the space shuttle Columbia marked the beginning of the current American space era, slated to end this year with STS-134, currently planned as the last space shuttle mission.

I'm going to be tonight at the Lazy Dog in Boulder Colorado at our local Yuri's Night party, celebrating these two amazing achievements and also pre-celebrating my first race tomorrow morning.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different...

Well, it worked for Monty Python...
The Monty Python movie And Now, for Something Completely Different, which contains sketches from the group's Flying Circus TV show, is in my opinion a classic example of ADHD-like symptoms - do something, lose focus and switch to something else - in a series of confusing segues. It's been 2 months since Obama dropped the proposed axe on Constellation, and after reading, hearing and watching a lot of opinions about it, I'm left with a feeling that this is just one more jerking motion of a space policy in a series of other jerks and twists that can be labeled as the U.S. ADHD space policy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Surprises at an Airplane Museum

Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum
Pueblo is a town in Colorado of a little over 100,000 people, incorporated 135 years ago. It was one of our stops on a recent road trip to Taos, New Mexico. We went to the Weisbrod Aircraft Museum based on a flier at the hotel, not knowing exactly what's there. Apart from airplanes, the museum held a few space related surprises for us.

We arrived and were greeted by two veteran pilots, one of which took us on a private tour. It was great to get a tour from a person who actually flew many of the types of planes on display rather than the usual tour guide, hired, trained and synthetic. The museum is placed in a small airport which used to be a central U.S. Air-Force base in Word War II. He told us about each plane and about other artifacts on display - various American uniforms, Russian uniforms and even a huge Nazi flag in pristine condition captured in 1945, which as a Jewish person who had parents that were lucky enough to survive made me clench.

Peachy nose-art
B-29 at the Pueblo Aircraft Museum
At the center of the exhibit hall is the "Peachy" B-29, the same kind of airplane which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is an impressive four-engine airplane from the time airplane nose-art was common, with anything from cartoons to nudity, as immortalized in this web site, created specifically for that purpose.

One of the surprises was in the form of NASA rockets in a nice cabinet. The reason it's there is for a rocket building club hosted at the museum. I think the connection and continuity between old aircrafts, some dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, to rocketry and space, is important, as for some reason, many realize the global scale changes airplanes have made in our daily lives, but still don't fully grasp how much space technologies improve our lives now and will continue to do so in the future.

Gene Rodenberry's uniform
The biggest space related surprise was the U.S. Army Air Force uniform as worn by Captain Eugene Wesley Rodenberry, known to anyone with an ounce of space enthusiasm in them as Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek.

Mr. Rodenberry visited the museum himself and donated the uniform, which is now on display as a memorial.

We enjoyed visiting the museum and recommend it to anyone passing through Colorado, if only to get a glimpse of aviation history, be reminded of the low points of the human race in the last century as well as the victories enabling and protecting our future.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dr. Love at the Southwest Research Institute

Lunch with SwRI and Dr. Stanley Love (sipping tea)
On March 18th 2010 I visited the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to see the facility here in Boulder and attend a talk by Dr. Stanley G. Love - a NASA astronaut that flew on STS-122. Founded in 1947, employing over 3,000 people in several states, SwRI is a very prolific multi-disciplinary institute, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas (for more information about the SwRI, visit its facts page). SwRI has a fairly large office (about a hundred people) in downtown Boulder Colorado. If you live, work or ever visited Boulder you'd appreciate the prime location, close to many of the restaurants and atmosphere unique to Boulder.