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.