Showing posts with label nasa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nasa. Show all posts

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Failure Is Not An Option - by Gene Kranz (2000, audiobook)

If you've seen Apollo 13, you've seen Ed Harris as the vest-wearing Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz.  Kranz served with NASA from the Mercury missions straight through into the mid-90's.  Truly the case of The Right Person in the Right Place for the Right Job, Kranz is famous for his post Apollo 1 disaster speech at NASA where he defined the "tough and competent" mantra of NASA's Mission Control Center.  He was, as evidenced by Ed Harris playing him in the film, also one of the Flight Directors on Apollo 13 who helped pull together the plan to bring the astronauts safely back to Earth.

But Kranz was there during Gemini, working out procedures and flight plans, debating the wisdom of rushing our first EVA to catch up with the Russians, and he was there for Apollo 11, landing Aldrin and Armstrong.

As you can imagine, the history alone is worth the read, and I'll be picking up some more memoirs and. or histories of the race from Mercury to Apollo 17 and beyond (I mean, my earliest solid memories are around the Space Shuttle, and so a history of the development of the Shuttle Columbia would be more than welcome).  But Kranz's personal take is as absolutely fascinating as it is inspiring.

The view from the Flight Commander's Control Console takes us to the point of teeth-gritting responsibility.  While thousands have contributed to building the rockets and space-craft, and many, many others have been involved all along the line, it's the MCC that makes the decisions to abort, must know their systems, the craft, the management of the astronauts, etc.. well enough to make moment by moment calls and respond to each challenge as it surfaces.  Each decision impacts lives of the astronauts, and every choice could be the one that leads to disaster.

And, the Flight Director is, ultimately, the person who is leading his or her control team and responsible for the calls that manage the Flight during their shift.  Anyway, my job suddenly seemed a lot easier.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Movie Trailer - "Hidden Figures"

As the space race passes into history (but the all-new Space Era is on!  Thanks, Elon Musk!), and computers have long since become ubiquitous, this movie couldn't be coming at a better time.  For me.  Maybe you.

With all the thousands of people who were part of the race into orbit and then to the moon, there are so many stories, and some of them reveal corners of history that our broad-stroke approach to history does not always capture, especially in movies.

But, hey, one thing I've really come to realize is how weird and goofy our ideas are about how things must have come to be.   We make assumptions, details get left out, and our movies are rarely researched well enough or lack the scope to include stories that took place away from the kleig lights.
About ten years ago I put the pieces together that, weirdly, the word "computers" meant "people who compute".  And, in a lot of cases, when doing the math - the actual work it took to prove theorems, calculate complex equations, etc... - was done by women.  And, of course, the men who put those challenges to them took the credit.  This was true for a long, long time.

But, yeah, when computing became less a manual task and something done with machines, women were hugely influential in computer science before computers became the domain of basement lurking dorks in the 1980's.  Read up on Grace Hopper.  Woman was a boss.

I'm actually reading NASA Flight Commander Gene Krantz's book Failure is Not an Option, and - not only is it a fascinating book and I highly recommend it - but he briefly mentions the women who were not in the Control Room, but in the back spaces doing the computing by hand and then with the systems NASA put in place.  I'm unsure if one of the names he drops is Katherine Johnson (I read that passage about three days before I saw the trailer above), but I'd heard of Johnson somewhere odd, like Tumblr.  And, man, it just seems like this sort of story should get more attention.  Like, say, a big Hollywood movie starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.

What's not to like?  NASA.  Name actors.  Science and math romanticized!  Space.  John Glenn!  People achieving against the odds!

Sure, this is Oscar Bait, but this is the kind of Oscar Bait I actually want to see.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

This Moment in History: Astronaut Scott Kelly Returns to Earth! and the Impact of Social Media on Space

Here's one of the great things about social media:  Broadcast media and the press in general have done a ludicrously poor job of covering the work of NASA.  I don't know if Broadcast Journalism majors are too thick to get why this is important stuff, or space exploration and science is too unweildy for the public.  But, we no longer rely on that media to get the info our eyeballs and ears.  There are dozens of NASA twitter and facebook outlets.  Many of them twitter and fb accounts held personally by the astronauts themselves.  And its not just limited to NASA.  Want to know what Canadian Astro-hero Chris Hadfield is up to?  Check his twitter!

NASA - an organization that has felt the government squeeze more than any that I've seen in the past decade - has had to rethink and refocus their outreach approach.  Since the 1990's, the internet  has made the world more aware of the successes of both manned space flight and our rover missions to Mars.  Television can't seem to be bothered with much more than a 30 second puff-piece about landing a robot on Mars or the final flight of an American space shuttle, but there are lots of us huddled around laptops or abusing our office projectors and killing a few minutes to watch a rocket launch.  I don't know how SpaceX would have evolved without the internet (and it's a work stoppage at my office almost every time Musk's company has a launch or landing).

Through the various channels I follow, I became aware of the Scott Kelly story a while before the launch.  I was aware that Mark Kelly, husband to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona, was an astronaut - and vaguely aware he had a twin brother.  But, yes, when I heard an American was going to follow in Russia's footsteps and place one of our own in space for a year, I got very excited.  Russia does an amazing job with its Cosmonaut program, and even in years of faultering economy has remembered the national pride they can have in engineering, science and rocketry if they keep their program going.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Space Watch: Apollo 13 (1995)

Here's the thing.  I don't think Ron Howard is much of a director.

When I watch his movies, I can almost feel the focus groups and studio notes taken as wisdom.  I shouldn't be able to pause in your movie and say "this scene was written this way because they think I'm a moron".  But, in a Ron Howard movie, that's generally my take away.  He wants to make movies that will be both semi critic-pleasing and still sell a boat load of tickets, and that's a tough balancing act, but one he's made work for years.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Martian, Andy Weir (audiobook)

I guess back in January, my pal Paul suggested I read The Martian (2011) by Andy Weir.  I know this because I keep a list of books I've read mixed with a list of suggestions I've taken seriously, and I do write down who made the suggestion.

When the trailer hit for the soon-to-be-in-theaters Ridley Scott directed version of The Martian, it was absolutely the sort of thing I like seeing, and I got pretty excited.  I was a big fan of Interstellar, and I even really liked Gravity, warts and all.  And as much as I like strange visitors from other worlds-type scientifiction, I also get pretty jazzed about fictional takes or speculative takes on plain old science and technology.  Mix that with the space program, like the two movies I just mentioned, and you've sold a couple of tickets to the occupants of my household.

You've got a few weeks before the movie arrives, and I highly recommend checking out the book prior to the film's release.  It's not that I think Matt Damon and Co. will do a bad job - I'm a big fan of Damon (have you seen the Bourne movies?).  It's that the book is really good and reads really fast.  I'd started the book just over a week ago, and recommended it to Jamie.  She started and finished it all today.  So, there's a context clue for you (and she also cleaned out the cupboard.  I think she bent time.).

I listened to the audiobook, which takes longer, of course, but it more than filled the commute and back I had to Arlington, Texas this week.

If you haven't seen the trailer - and I'm not spoiling anything - an astronaut is delivering his first log entry after an accident occurred during an emergency evacuation of a Mars mission.  He'd been stuck through by part of a loose antenna in a wind storm, and then blown over a hill, his suit's life signs reading nil.  Of course, he wasn't dead, but the crew was forced to leave him, and now he's stuck on Mars, with no way to contact home, the next mission coming to the planet in 4 years, and only enough supplies for 6 people for about a month.

And yet, it's the most optimistic book I've read in years.  Maybe ever.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong Merges with The Infinite

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, possibly the most well known of all astronauts, has passed at the age of 82.

Armstrong was part of the Apollo 11 team that reached the moon, and was the first human to cross the great void and touch foot to moon soil.

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Armstrong's family on his passing:

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request: Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

That's a pretty damn good epitaph.

Godspeed, sir.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Let the Science Begin! Olympics. Mars. Tomorrow! This Moment in History

Let's get this party started!

Man.  It wasn't enough that I got to watch Usain Bolt win the 100m again, but UT alum Sonya Richards-Ross won the Gold in the Women's 400m.

I also watched a man with prosthetic limbs race in an Olympic foot race.

But after watching the Twitter Feed for the Mars Curiosity Rover the past couple of months, Curiosity came down successfully on the surface of our sister planet, Mars.

You guys, we live in the future.

I haven't gotten teary during the Olympics.  I've done my fair share of yelling and cheering and chanting "go go go go go go go" while watching races.

But I admit I got a little choked up watching the JPL crew high-fiving after the news that Curiosity had landed and we received the first images back from the rover.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride Merges With The Infinite

I am very sad to say that Sally Ride has passed at the age of 61 after fighting pancreatic cancer.

Sally Ride was not the first name of an astronaut I knew or heard (the first name I really remember is John Glenn.  I think the KareBear liked the cut of his jib or something).  But something about Ride stuck with me not just because she was the first woman in space, but because she felt always seemed like the embodiment The Modern Space Program.  She rode shuttles, not capsules.  She wore the blue jumpsuit.  She was a pilot, a space jockey and a scientist.  She was the Shuttle era and the promise it held.

We all grew up proud of the name Sally Ride, but it wasn't until I was older that I appreciated how amazing Ride must have been to actually win that seat on Challenger and the pressure on her to not just be as capable of her male colleagues, but much more capable lest anyone seize the opportunity to hold her up as an example of why giving her a chance was a mistake.  I cannot begin to imagine.

And Ride pulled it off.

She succeeded not just at NASA, but went on to teach at UC-San Diego, formed a company to create educational materials for young scientists, and served as a consultant in aerospace and defense arenas.

Here's to one of the real pioneers of the era in which I was raised.  You will be missed.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Frontier is Everywhere

This is not official NASA work. This is a NASA fan film.

And it encapsulates exactly why I believe in a space program by the people and for the people.