Saturday, October 29, 2011

USA Today Special Issue Ads - a Glimpse of the Future

Holding an "end of an era".
Photo: Yanir Govrin
In July, USA Today published a special edition called "End of an Era" commemorating and summarizing the space shuttle era. On the cover, Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-129, seconds after lift-off. Inside, a plethora of articles about everything shuttle - the missions, the tragedies and the people. What really caught my eye were the ads in-between. Unlike your regular USA Today which contains ads for anything, from anti-acne lotions to once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities to get previously forgotten gold coins, this issue is chock-full of space related ads.

Browsing through the magazine I found myself leaving behind our economical woes and the pause in U.S. human spaceflight and drifting into a future where there are too many spacecraft to count, where spaceflight is a frequent activity and where being a space tourist or researcher is as normal as being an engineer at a technology company.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Honey, Don't Forget the Replicator!

A little over a year ago I went camping with my family near Grand Lake, Colorado. We had everything we needed - tent, stove, air inflatable mattresses and rechargeable pump (we left the flat-screen TV at home, what more can you ask for?). On the second day we had a problem we didn't anticipate - the beautiful Colorado summer weather turned its face - a swift but fierce hail storm broke one of the fiberglass poles of our tent, more precisely the metal joint that puts them together. We found a repair kit in the nearest town, but needed pliers to get the broken piece off and put the new one from the repair kit on. Being on a paid-for campground (OK, I admit, we even had power and running water, not exactly the wilderness...) we conveniently borrowed one from a friendly neighbor. A short time later the tent was as good as new apart from Duct-tape (look at the bottom of the page for another example of my Duct-tape mastery) replacing what was once a clear triangular skylight, heavily perforated by the hail storm.

What if instead of a campground I were somewhere in deep space and instead of Amnon Govrin my name was Jean-Luc Piccard? Then I'd be on the Starship Enterprise, of course, where a replicator could in seconds create nearly anything, from a cup of tea (cup included) or, in my case, pliers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Last Shuttle Launch, Second Last for Atlantis

It's epic, it's heart wrenching, it's an end of an era, enter other cliché here: __________________________.

It is, after all, the last flight of space shuttle Atlantis and the last flight of any space shuttle. Ever. If you're reading this over the weekend chances are you missed it, but that's OK because thanks to modern technology accelerated by the space program (CCD cameras and computers) you will be able to watch it easily on YouTube or NASA TV. Missing it means you don't really care that much about the U.S. government space program, possibly because you don't care for space in general. It is, after all, the final frontier and you (or the United States or the world) have a lot to get through before that becomes a priority. Alternatively you may be very busy helping usher the Commercial-Space era once the Space-Shuttle era comes to an end on July 8 (a much better proposition than the Soyuz era or the Russian-Space-Capitalism era or Who's-Laughing-Now-And-Who's-Paying-56-Million-Dollars-Per-Seat era).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reflections on my Birthday, TIME for Kids and Space

My birthday cake (taken by my son Yotam)
It's my birthday today. Nothing round or big, just a solid 38. Waking up on ones' birthday means growing up one day like any other, but becoming one year older has significance far more than that one extra day. The kid in me has a hard time relating to the chum in the mirror with white hairs popping everywhere on his head and face, almost expecting to still see a younger self.

Space is serious business. Many challenges, many triumphs, also tragedies. For me and kids of all ages it's a source of inspiration, even a way to keep the child in me alive. Watching the shuttle launch last year left me, if only for a short time with the uninhibited worry-free joy of a young child getting a balloon. Yes, it takes a lot more to induce this feeling when you've matured beyond balloons and lollipops, but that feeling is still there, waiting to be cultivated and nurtured. TIME for Kids, a TIME magazine for the younger crowd, helps inspiring the next generation.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Exodus Story Telling - Egypt and Earth Gravity

Story telling is an art. Captivating an audience by telling a story pivots on how the story is told no less than the story being told. Passover Seder ("Seder" means order in Hebrew) is a very effective way of perpetuating the story about exodus, going out of a known situation into the unknown called freedom. The paradigm is so effective, in fact, that its structure was borrowed to commemorate another story about another pseudo-exodus - getting free of Earth gravity for the first time and traveling to the unknown of space.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yuri Gagarin - Legend in 1961, Dead in 1968

Everyone interested in space knows how Yuri Gagarin became an instant legend by being the first human being to go to space and orbit the Earth.

Here is an interesting documentary that looks at his epic flight fifty years ago on the Vostok-1 rocket side-by-side with his last flight on a training jet.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Three-Way Space Decade

In a few days the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic orbital flight around Earth will take place. Yuri's Night, as it has been called for a decade now will entail hundreds of parties and events around the world to commemorate that event and the first space shuttle flight twenty years later. Space enthusiasts will collectively remember and celebrate. In fact, this decade will be full of golden anniversaries. However, in some ways, it will also look like a remake of an old movie, the one about rockets and capsules. Most interestingly, perhaps, this decade will be about beginnings and new steps towards space accessibility and use through suborbital and possibly orbital flights.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Discovery Final Launch Poll Results

Discovery, STS-133.
Credit: NASA
Back in September, a little over a month before Space Shuttle Discovery was supposed to originally launch for the last time I published an informal, low-tech poll whose purpose was to get a feel for awareness and interest levels of people who are not space enthusiasts themselves but rather friends or family of ones.


I purposefully asked pretty rudimentary questions:
  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?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Discovery - Final Voyage

Space Shuttle Discovery made its final ascent to space earlier today.

As I watched it on the screen at home the experience and emotions of watching its young sister Atlantis about nine months ago resurfaced. This time, though, I had my family around me watching, as luck stroke and snow fell over the hills of Issaquah WA the night before, making working from home a more productive endeavor than taking on slippery roads.

For a few minutes today's launch was touch and go. Not because of cracks, leaks or anything structural but because of a computer glitch. A few seconds before the scrub, the countdown started again.

In case you missed it and even if you didn't, here is Discovery's last time lighting the Florida skies.

Monday, February 21, 2011

NSRC and Astroauts4Hire 2011

The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is upon us again. Last year I had the benefit of living right next to where the first one was in Boulder CO, and I got to taste the exhilaration of a beginning. This year we're at opposite ends of the country, as I am in Seattle Washington while NSRC is in Orlando, Florida.

Last year I met Veronica Zabala at the conference and soon thereafter, together with Brian Shiro, Joe Palaia and others founded what we later named Astronauts4Hire, a non-profit aimed at being a catalyst to the new industry of commercial manned spaceflight and a source for training programs, scholarships and, well, astronauts for hire.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Violinist and Basketball, Astronaut and Bicycle

An astronaut and a friend of mine shared a similar experience about twenty years apart...

When you're a budding violinist getting ready for an important recital you practice, then practice and then practice some more. To achieve the level of perfection that is needed to play the violin, knowing the notes by heart is not enough. Your muscles, ligaments, fingers and soul have to become one with the piece you play, so you invest a lot of time towards those crucial few minutes of performance. At some point, especially close to the big day, you may want to take a break from practicing and do something else to take the edge off the tension and jitters, for example play basketball. You think nothing of it. Just for an hour, you rationalize it to yourself; it's better to take a break than to fall prey to the concern you're not ready. Relaxing is just what you need. So you go out and play ball.

Being an astronaut is hard work. When you're an astronaut you train for years for a single mission. Like a violin player, dedication and repetition are necessary so that all possible mistakes happen on Earth - in the simulator, classroom and at the pool (Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory) rather than in space or on the way to and from. After all, when you're in space, there is very little room for error, which would cost time and money if not life. As a mission draws near (or gets delayed multiple times), you may need to clear your mind. Riding a bicycle fits the bill - exercise and nature combined, feeling the wind you won't feel in space, cutting through real air, not a crafted mixture coming out of compressed tanks. So you hop on.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lunar Eclipse and Chuck E. Cheese's

Photograph by Doug Murray, Reuters (sans Chuck...)
The lunar eclipse on December 21st of last year was magnificent. If you missed it because it was too cloudy, too late, daytime or you're just not into that sort of thing you can find many photos online. I was out and about, next to the hotel we slept in on our last night in Colorado before launching into our new life in the Seattle WA area. I took some inadequate pictures due to lack of tripod lying on a bench, switching my thoughts between how beautiful it was and how to time my escapes into the hotel to avoid missing too much while maintaining the feel of my extremities.