Thursday, January 28, 2010

Challenger STS-51L Remembrance

One day and 19 years after the Apollo 1 disaster space shuttle Challenger discintegrated during ascent and cost the lives of seven people - Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik.
This disaster, the first of two shuttle disasters, came at a time when the space shuttle program was perceived almost as routine by the public - the 25th space shuttle flight, 10th for Challenger, and on the other end it did get media coverage due to the novelty of the first participant of the Teacher in Space project, the first civilian flying on the shuttle. Right when a new generation of children were thrilled that a teacher like theirs (or their own teacher for Christa McAuliffe's class) was going to space, when countless kids were literally looking to the sky or watching the launch live on TV forming their own space dreams, the worst has happened.

The shock was as big if not bigger than Apollo 1, if only because of the much broader media coverage in full color and the lack of preparedness of the public due to the normality of shuttle flights.
Unlike Apollo 1, the failure was a single O-ring in the right solid rocket booster (SRB) rather than a series of issues.

I personally didn't watch the launch live as in Israel it happened very late at night (I was a sixth grader at the time). Needless to say, the news in Israel reported about it the next day, but the impact was probably not as big as it was in the U.S., if only because schools weren't following it as closely.

In an ever growing media frenzy environment, I hope that people still have time to remember the fallen. Not only these seven, but a lot of others who gave their life for what they believed in and helped advanced humanity towards fulfilling its full potential, in the space arena and elsewhere.


May they rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apollo 1 Remembrance

On this day in 1967 NASA, the American people and the world were shocked when a benign ground test went wrong. After several delays and hours in the capsule, Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee perished when a combination of failures in design and implementation conspired to a horrific fire.

Oxygen atmosphere, a hatch that opens towards the inside, flammable materials, a wrench and electric arcs were considered to be culprits in the incident.

A lot of changes were made after the incident - Oxygen-Nitrogen atmosphere in the capsule, removal of flammable materials (including embroidered patches), outward opening hatch, stricter quality control to name a few.

I don't want to reiterate everything written in an abundance of web sites about this. I just wanted to pay respect to these space pioneers that paved the road to what came after with their lives. It is important to remember them and the others that payed the dearest price for space exploration, especially in a time when there is a question mark hovering above NASA and the American involvement in space.

A few resources:


Apollo 1 Memorial Foundation:

May they rest in peace.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

John Young - Super Astronaut

John Watts Young is a name every space aficionado should know very well. I'll go even further and say it should be a name people recognize at least as well as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I am personally guilty of not having this name on the tip of my tongue until recently.

Searching for some astronaut statistics I stumbled on the name in this Wikipedia page. Out of the 547 astronauts and cosmonauts listed, his name stood out initially as it was bold (which on the particular page means landed on the moon). I decided to read about him and I realized the uniqueness of his NASA career.

Why is John W. Young so important? The answer is simple - he is the only astronaut to fly in Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle manned space-flight programs. In addition, John made two trips to the moon, Apollo 10 as the command module pilot and Apollo 16 as the ninth man to walk on the moon. He was also the commander of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia. STS-1 was the first fully integrated test of the shuttle program. His career was one of firsts - first to fly to space six times, first to orbit the moon alone (Apollo 10), first to pilot and command the space shuttle, and even first to smuggle a sandwich to a mission...

Information about him is in abundance on the internet:
Biography on
NASA article about John's retirement:
A site dedicated to John Young:

One thing I haven't been able to do yet is reach John for his view about the post shuttle era. There is very little mentioned about him beyond his retirement in 2004. I asked a few of space related sites and former astronauts but came up with nothing.

I'll leave you with John's interesting essay from 2003 called The Big Picture - Ways to Mitigate or Prevent Very Bad Planet Earth Events. Captain Young, if you ever browse the blogosphere and happen to land on this page, your insight and wisdom would be most welcome!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Inspiration (photo from here) is an invisible force produced by a person, event, place or anything else that causes someone to do something or set a goal for oneself. For me, inspiration is a big part of identifying and going after goals, as hard as these may be. I got inspired by Sam Gemar at Kennedy Space Center last September. Being there and hearing him jolted my memory and inspired me to start this blog and make changes in my life.

Last week I got inspired in an event when I didn't expect to be. I went to the Livescribe Developer Day in Mountain View, California. For those of you who don't know the Livescribe Pulse pen, it is a pen that records the strokes you make on special notebooks, can record audio and correlate between the two, simply by tapping the pen tip on paper. I've been using it for over a year and really like it - it combines the ease of use of pen and paper (an in-line drawing during a design meeting is far easier than struggling with computer drawing tools, for example) with being able to search for text and correlate with what was said exactly when you wrote something. It also runs Java applications called Penlets. Yes, pretty cool, but not the source of the aforementioned inspiration.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Space Travel for Everyone!

Sitting in a Boeing 757 on my way from Denver CO to San Jose CA I couldn't help but wonder about the profound changes that the commoditization of flight has brought humanity. From being able to move thousands of miles in one day, allowing different work patterns, globalization of commerce, communications (the physical kind of sending items across the world in a few days), to commerce and the global economy.

Relatively comfortable in the air conditioned fuselage, enjoying the Rocky Mountains passing down below on a flight costing about $250, I wondered what civilization would look like when low Earth orbit or even space travel to other planets will be a commodity and cost comparably.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mars on Earth

Mars is not the final frontier (space is, of course...). However, Mars is an interesting place, the target of exploration (unmanned thus far) and even a possible place for a future expansion of the human race. Depending on technological breakthroughs such as radiation protection and funding (government or private), humans may reach the red planet as early as the next few decades. With such discoveries as non-polar water on Mars, all the knowledge accumulated by Spirit and Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and others, and even acknowledged in the Augustine report, Mars has increasingly gained a high priority as a human destination.