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.