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.