— FEATURED —
— FOLLOW US —
— POLICIES —
Except where indicated, Boing Boing is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution
— FONTS —
There are some topics that inspire an almost universal fascination—weird animal penises, for instance ... or, more SFW-ly, space food. The question, "what do people eat in space?", quickly leads down a rabbit hole of strange preparation machines, esoteric packaging, and futuristic gels. Decades after we gave up on a 1950s idea of what the 21st century would be like, space food remains this sort of weird holdover, combining modern science with the physical/design sensibilities of a different time.
And there's more to it than just freeze-drying some Neapolitan ice cream. Space menus are highly organized things—a function of limited storage space and long missions to the space station. They're also deeply researched. There's no entree, not even a snack, that reaches the space station without a very good reason for it being there. Caloric intake, nutrient content, every aspect has been thoroughly micromanaged.
At Download the Universe, Veronique Greenwood reviews Space Nutrition, a new NASA ebook for iPad that's available for free download online. The book is written with children in mind, but Greenwood says there's enough detail and behind-the-scenes perspective that adults can get something out of it, as well. The formatting is occasionally frustrating (it only works in portrait mode), but for a free book, it's hard to complain too much.
.. the book's primary charm is in the photographs and asides that you can’t find in a Wikipedia article on the subject. One photogallery is full of snapshots taken by excited Nutritional Biochemistry Lab members as they drive to Kennedy Space Center to pick up astronaut blood samples from the ISS, which they use to determine the effects of space flight on nutrient absorption, bones, and muscles. The shots of the Experiment Payload truck that retrieves the samples and of the little blue NASA duffel bags they are carried home in give the process of space research a refreshing physicality.
And spaceflight seen from a food scientist's point of view is endearingly kooky. Crumbs are a big no-no for space foods—they fly around and clog the instruments. Tortillas that last almost a year, on the other hand, are a very exciting development, the authors write, because you would need three hands to make a traditional sandwich with two slices of bread and a slice of baloney in space. The book's history of manned spaceflight missions reads like no other you'll find. Gemini: Shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, pudding, applesauce. Apollo: bread slices, cheddar cheese spread, frankfurters, fruit juice. Skylab: steak, vanilla ice cream.
I'm with Steve Silberman, who tweeted this image, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover. Silberman, a science journalist, pointed out how amazing it is to be able to have access to photos of Mars that look totally ordinary, decidedly un-exotic, and even a little dull.
There is a delightful irony here. Think of all the work, all the skill, all the serious intelligence that went into getting Curiosity to Mars. This photo is kind of boring. But it represents something truly wonderful and exciting. It's mundane. But it's the mundanity of M*#&$%*!(*%ING MARS.
I dig it. And I'm a little surprised there wasn't already a Tumblr for it.
As regular readers of this blog will recall, I asked a question of the Mars Curiosity team about imaging technologies during the post-landing press conference at NASA JPL a few days ago.
Related: Digital Photography Review now has an interview with the Mars rover camera project manager. Above, the 34mm (115mm equiv.) Mastcam from the Curiosity rover. This was developed by Mike Ravine and his team at Malin Space Science Systems, a contractor for NASA. Ravine explains how they developed the 2MP main imaging cameras used to transmit those breathtaking images back from Mars.
The slow data rates available for broadcasting images back to Earth and the team's familiarity with that family of sensors played a part, says [Ravine], but the biggest factor was the specifications being fixed as far back as 2004. Multi-shot panoramas will see the cameras deliver high-res images, he explains, but not the 3D movies Hollywood director James Cameron had wanted.
'There's a popular belief that projects like this are going to be very advanced but there are things that mitigate against that. These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else. 2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today.'
(thanks, Michael Kammes)
John Streeter, who is a television producer with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, sends this cool video and tells Boing Boing:
NASA.gov link, and here's the video on YouTube.
It is all real, all shot from the International Space Station and all beautiful. It is time-lapse photography that showcases stars, cities at night, lightning storms and the aurora all from the vantage point of the space station. Also, there is a link at the end where you can visit, download and create your own videos if you wish.
The station is a remarkable engineering achievement and this is just a small side benefit of being in orbit. I hope you enjoy.
And you can download it right here, for Mac, Windows, Linux, OS/2, and other open operating systems. About:
Mars24 is a Java application which displays a Mars sunclock, a graphical representation of the planet Mars showing its current sun- and nightsides, along with a numerical readout of the time in 24-hour format. Other displays include a plot showing the relative orbital positions of Mars and Earth and a diagram showing the solar angle and path for a given location on Mars.
Created at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
And for iOS, this looks promising. Haven't tried it, and it's not a NASA product, so YMMV.
Thomas Hayden at science blog The Last Word On Nothing has a wonderful little interview with Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver), who works at JPL as a Mars rover driver. Coolest job ever, right?
I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Maxwell at JPL a few weeks before Curiosity touched down, when I accompanied Miles O'Brien on a shoot about MSL for PBS NewsHour. Loved him, and I love how he describes what makes his job so exhilarating:
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I drove her. It was just a few meters along a simple path — we wouldn’t even bother to yawn at it today — but it was magic to me then, as it’s magic to me now. I went home and should have slept, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling, in awe that right then, on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do. It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.
Read the rest here: SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert : The Last Word On Nothing.
The Atlantic has a doublewide photo gallery of Associated Press photos from the night of the Mars Landing. I'm in this shot (#13). The whole gallery is a great reminder of the range of emotions and excitement you feel when you're witnessing one of these historic space events. I will never forget this night, as long as I live! And I know I'm not alone in that. If you want to know what joy looks like, click onward.
Remember the bogus takedown of NASA's YouTube footage of the Curiosity landing? It gets worse. Lon Seidman uploaded some clips from the Curiosity landing to his Google+ hangout, only to have them taken down by five takedown requests from various scumbags who play the YouTube content matching system to force people to accept ads on their personal videos, payment from which goes to said scumbags:
Wow now I'm really getting angry over this Content ID disaster from +YouTube regarding the Mars landing. On Sunday night I hosted a live broadcast with contributors from CTTechJunkie.com and NASASpaceflight.com to watch the landing live. We brought in footage provided by NASA, including their live feed of the landing. NASA footage is released into the public domain and can be freely used by anyone.
I just came home to my inbox filled with dispute claims from no less than FIVE news organizations claiming this footage as their own. BS. It's mine. And now Youtube says it might start running ads against content I created and handing that money over to these crooks who are essentially bigger players with the ability to claim rights to content they do not own.
The worst part is that Google clearly is not requiring these "rightsholders" prove they actually own the content. But it's somehow incumbent upon me to prove my innocence. This is outright theft of my content - plain and simple.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a magical place to be last night, as engineers, flight specialists, NASA administrators, space celebrities, and scientists from many fields gathered to witness the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Those seven minutes of terror ended in a picture-perfect landing: an amazing machine went through a crazy Rube Goldbergian descent sequence, and plopped down about two meters away from its planned destination on the Red Planet's surface.
We witnessed history. It seemed impossible. It was awesome.
I sat in on the post-landing press conference, and live-tweeted the evening at @boingboing. During the press conference, after the high-fives and screams of joy subsided, I asked MSL engineer Adam Steltzner a question about those first two all-important thumbnail images Curiosity sent back—critical because the data they contained would tell NASA if the rover had touched down in a safe spot.
Given the great distance and technical challenges involved in transmitting timely data back from Mars, what file type and image compression algorithm(s) did they use for those first "rush" thumbnails? There's a 14 minute delay involved for any signals from Mars to Earth.
A dorky question, perhaps, but I was curious, and figured nobody else would ask. Things like, "Hey how do you guys feel right now," and "What will Curiosity do next," I knew others would tackle.
Mr. Steltzner didn't have details handy about the image file types used, and he referred me to Mars mission image specialist Justin Maki. Today I checked in with Mr. Maki and his JPL colleagues whose work focuses on data compression and interplanetary data transmission. Here's what I learned.
[Video Link] As the post-landing press conference begins, NASA and JPL MSL leaders high-five and cheer with the Mars rover engineering and flight control team. I shot this last night (on my iPhone, pardon the shakiness) inside the Jet Propulsion Lab, at 11:15pm PDT, about 45 minutes after the rover landed, against all odds, on the surface of Mars.
* Despite the image on the screen behind them, this was not a Microsoft press conference.