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NASA spaceflight review concludes agency lacks ability to get humans to Mars

Mars_atmosphere

Washington Post: "A sweeping review of NASA’s human spaceflight program has concluded that the agency has an unsustainable and unsafe strategy that will prevent the United States from achieving a human landing on Mars in the foreseeable future. The 286-page National Research Council report, the culmination of an 18-month, $3.2 million investigation mandated by Congress, says that to continue on the present course under budgets that don’t keep pace with inflation 'is to invite failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best.'”

More here.

The report bolsters the case for manned missions to the moon, which President Obama oppose. “I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before,” the president said in a space policy speech in 2010.

Atlantis returns to Kennedy: a review of the space shuttle's new permanent exhibit

Space educator Sawyer "@thenasaman" Rosenstein, 19, is a hardcore space fan. His enthusiasm for space flight was captured in a 2011 Boing Boing special feature, and shines weekly in his "Talking Space" podcast. He traveled to Florida for the opening of the new permanent exhibit of Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, and shared photos with us. All images in this review are Sawyer's. —Xeni Jardin.Read the rest

Vintage futures: Next Stop Mars, 1952

In the Boing Boing Flickr Pool, reader JMV shares this wonderful scan of a 1952 feature from the Vancouver Sun's "Weekend Picture Magazine" on the coming age of travel to Mars.

Illustration by Edgar Ainsworth.

"It will probably be some 50 years before any safe space flight from Earth to another planet and back is made, but there seems now to be very little doubt that the dreams of Roger Bacon in AD 1249 and Albertus Magnus in 1280 have left the realm of Wellsian imaginings and become a practical proposition."

Here's a larger size. Guess they didn't think of Rovers!

Celebrate the first interplanetary holiday!

Tonight is Yuri's Night — a holiday celebrating the first human spaceflight. You can throw a Yuri's Night party yourself, or simply join one of the 340 parties that are already scheduled. Scheduled events range from the ubiquitous "let's drink vodka shots in a Russian restaurant" to more kid-friendly, telescope-centric themes. And this year, you can even virtually join the Mars Curiosity Rover as it throws itself the first Yuri's Night party to be held on another planet. (Which, frankly, sounds a little lonely and sad, so hopefully people turn up for the virtual side of that shindig.)

Highlights of the Felix Baumgartner Red Bull Stratos "free-fall from space"

http://youtu.be/FHtvDA0W34I

A highlight reel of yesterday's spectacular skydive from the edge of space. As blogged during the event, and reimagined in LEGO and cat GIF form, Austrian parachuter Felix Baumgartner dropped out of the stratosphere yesterday from a pressurized capsule, for the Red Bull Stratos mission. The successful jump (and, landing!) set world records for the highest freefall and highest manned balloon flight in history. Early specs, via Red Bull's Facebook page: Altitude: 128,097 ft. Duration of freefall: 4:19. Total jump time: 9:03. Speed: 1137 kmh. No beans. (via Laughing Squid)

Free-fall from stratosphere, live now

The Red Bull Stratos attempt is happening now. Above, an embed of the live stream. 7 weird but magical words: Red Bull Mission Control Roswell New Mexico! Expert parachuter Felix Baumgartner, best known for completing an unprecedented freefall flight across the English Channel using a carbon wing, will be the man who fell to earth.

Red Bull Stratos is a mission to the edge of space that will try to surpass human limits that have existed for more than 50 years. Supported by a team of experts, Felix Baumgartner will undertake a stratospheric balloon flight to more than 120,000 feet / 36,576 meters and make a record-breaking freefall jump in the attempt to become the first man to break the speed of sound in freefall (an estimated 690 miles / 1,110 kilometers per hour), while delivering valuable data for medical and scientific advancement.

Status updates on Twitter. More about the mission here.

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully attaches to ISS

For the second time in 2012, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has connected with the International Space Station. ISS expedition 33 crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams grappled Dragon and attached it to the station, completing a critical stage of the SpaceX CRS-1 cargo resupply mission.

SpaceX launches first official cargo resupply mission to International Space Station

SpaceX this weekend "successfully launched its Dragon spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on the first official cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station," at 8:35 p.m. ET on Sunday from Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Details from the commercial space startup below.

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Shuttle Endeavour flies over California today, en route to LA retirement


Photo: Shuttle Endeavour's final landing at Edwards AFB. September 20, 2012. By Todd Lappin

If you're in California today, Friday, Sept. 21, you may have a chance to see space shuttle Endeavour's historic flyover of the state as it heads for the California Science Center in Los Angeles for retirement. Here are more details from NASA Dryden on the exact route and planned times.

The orbiter, atop its 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), is scheduled to fly over northern California and a large area of the Los Angeles basin beginning at about 8:15 a.m. PDT. NASA originally planned the transit for an earlier hour, but rescheduled to increase the odds of good visibility for Bay Area residents—fog is a factor there in the early morning.

"During the four-and-a-half hour flight, social media users are encouraged to share their Endeavour sightings using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, Endeavour's vehicle designation," according to NASA, and there's a Flickr group for space fans. The official account for NASA is here. At 11 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. PDT), NASA TV will air Endeavour's departure for the flyover.

NASA Ames' Twitter account is a good one to follow today, as is Boing Boing pal Todd Lappin, who shot the gorgeous photos in this post. SpaceFlightNow is liveblogging, and they're also great to follow on Twitter today.

Snip from the NASA press release:

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An airship boom in Southern California

Photo: the Aeroscraft in a hangar in CA. Image: Worldwide Aeros, Inc.

In the Los Angeles Times, an article about an aerospace industry boom of sorts in Southern California, involving new twists on an old technology: airships. Who's buying? The military, and other government agencies, primarily for defense and surveillance purposes.

[I]n recent years, the affordability of airships as well as developments in high-definition cameras, high-powered sensors and other unmanned technologies have turned these oddball aircraft from curiosities of a bygone era to must-have items for today's military. And airships increasingly are being used for civilian purposes.

The federal government is buying blimps, zeppelins and spy balloons, and many of these new-generation hybrid "lighter than air" aircraft are taking shape across California.

"So much is going on with airships in California now," Pasternak said. "It wasn't this way 10 years ago."

Of note, the difference between airships, blimps, and zeppelins:

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New Cassini eye candy: the changing seasons of Saturn

Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and director of CICLOPS in Boulder, CO, writes:

For no other reason than that they are gorgeous, the Cassini imaging team is releasing today a set of fabulous images of Saturn and Titan...in living color...for your day-dreaming enjoyment. Note that our presence at Saturn for the last 8 years has made possible the sighting of subtle changes with time, and one such change is obvious here. As the seasons have advanced, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south throughout the Saturn system, the azure blue in the northern winter Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading; and it is now the southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, that is taking on a bluish hue.

[B]ack here on Earth, the Cassini mission was recently given rave reviews by a panel of planetary scientists and NASA program managers for its contributions to our understanding of the solar system, a circumstance that bodes well for a well-funded continuing mission over the next 5 years. Despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will bring us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous.

Photo above: "A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft."

More beautiful images from Cassini here.

Hellooooo, new desktop.

Steve Jurvetson, on the recurring nightmare Neil Armstrong had for two years leading up to Apollo 11

Venture capitalist, photographer, and master-level space fanatic Steve Jurvetson has been digging in to his archives for snapshots and relics related to the life and legacy of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. For instance: above, a vintage 11”x 14” X-ray of Armstrong's lunar EVA spacesuit boots dated 7-7-69, only 9 days before the launch.

You can scroll through more photos here, on Steve's Facebook page.

Steve shared some amazing conversations with the "First Man," from what I can tell. Here's one:

Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. “We did not use it on the Apollo missions.”

I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? (the frequently failing autopilot? the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out? the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby?....)

He gave a detailed answer about the hypergolic fuel mixing system for the lunar module. Rather than an ignition system, they had two substances that would ignite upon contact. Instead of an electric pump, he wished he had a big simple lever to mechanically initiate mixing.

That seemed a bit odd to me at first. So, I asked if he gave that answer because it really was the most likely point of failure, or because it symbolizes a vivid nightmare – having completed the moon mission, pushing the button... and the engines just wont start.

He responded that he had dreams about that for two years prior to the launch.

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Interview with developer of 2MP cameras taking those amazing Mars photos on the Curiosity rover

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)

Earth Illuminated: Dazzling ISS time-lapse photography, from NASA (video)

John Streeter, who is a television producer with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, sends this cool video and tells Boing Boing:

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.

NASA.gov link, and here's the video on YouTube.

Interview with a Mars rover driver: Scott Maxwell of JPL

Photo (NASA JPL): The first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.


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.

Mars Curiosity rover: NASA's John Grunsfeld and Miles O'Brien on PBS NewsHour

[Video Link] It took just minutes for Curiosity to complete her landing sequence on Mars. But the journey to that point took years of work back here on earth. The celebration of the rover's successful landing continues, and the mission itself will continue for 2 years. On this PBS NewsHour segment, Judy Woodruff talks to science correspondent Miles O'Brien and John Grunsfeld of NASA about Curiosity and the years NASA scientists spent planning the journey to Mars.

Related: From Miles' blog, "Why the Curiosity over Mars…"

What NASA fears most on Mars (image)

"Curiosity makes me very angry, very angry indeed!"

By David Silverman, of Simpsons and Tubatron fame.

Animated GIF of Mars Curiosity descent images

This animated GIF composed of descent images captured by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover as it headed towards landing is better than all the kittens on the internet combined. The video version is here. (via @nasasocial).

Mars Curiosity Rover: Boing Boing's $2.5 billion dollar question about image file types, answered by JPL

Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)


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.

[Video of that Q&A moment here.]

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.

Read the rest

Totally Not Photoshopped photos from Mars (a tumblog of greatness)

More like this: "TOTALLY NOT 'SHOPPED PICS FROM MARS"

(Thanks, Sean Bonner!)

Read the rest

Curiosity rover "caught in the act of landing"—NASA photo

This just in from Mars:

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; the inset image is a cutout of the rover stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe "Mt. Sharp." From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, are clearly seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of NASA's Phoenix lander descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles. The bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.

More about the photo here. (courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

Today, science willing, Curiosity rover lands on Mars. Here's how to watch.

Watch live streaming video from spaceflightnow at livestream.com

This is it, guys. Tonight's the night. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity will attempt to land on the surface of Mars today. Here is Boing Boing's guide for how to follow her descent. Spaceflight Now's coverage should be excellent.

Here's an excellent history of human exploration of the red planet, by Miles O'Brien, and here's his report for PBS NewsHour chronicling Curiosity's long, strange trip.

Here's a photo gallery of Curiosity, during construction a year ago inside JPL. Here's my interview with JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, describing the science behind this amazing venture.

Science willing, I'll be at JPL tonight, and I'll send transmissions to the home blog. This is a wonderful and historic day for our exploration of the universe. I'm so happy to be alive to witness it.

Image above: An artist's still showing how NASA's Curiosity rover will communicate with Earth during landing. As the rover descends to the surface of Mars, it will send out two different types of data: basic radio-frequency tones that go directly to Earth (pink dashes) and more complex UHF radio data (blue circles) that require relaying by orbiters. NASA's Odyssey orbiter will pick up the UHF signal and relay it immediately back to Earth, while NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the UHF data and play it back to Earth at a later time. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

When Curiosity was born: a peek at Mars rover during construction at JPL, one year ago

jpl.jpg

In April, 2011, the engineers at JPL gave Boing Boing permission to visit the clean room where the next Mars rover, Curiosity, had just been completed, for an exclusive first look.

Photographer Joseph Linaschke made the trek (and donned the bunny suit) on our behalf, and brought back breathtaking photos of the magnificent martian machine.

The full Boing Boing photo gallery is here, with caption assist from JPL.

Above, the Mars Science Laboratory's descent stage, which files the rover down to Mars' surface using eight rockets, and lowers it on a tether for landing. The orange spheres are propellant tanks.

Here's a roundup of ways to watch, as Curiosity attempts landing the night of Aug 5 (that's tomorrow).

* There are even more images on Joseph's site (pssst: news orgs, they're available for licensing, ask him.)

NASA's Ashwin Vasavada talks Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity with Boing Boing

1240679371_55QeG-XL-1.jpg

people-645.jpg In April, 2011, Boing Boing (well, our photographer pal Joseph Linaschke) visited NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a peek inside the clean room where the Mars rover, Curiosity, and other components of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft (MSL) were in the process of being built for launch in late 2011 from Florida. Our big photo gallery with gorgeous images shot by Joseph is here.

Around that same time, I spoke with Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist at JPL for the MSL mission, to understand more about how MSL works and what its creators hope to accomplish, how one scores a job designing interplanetary explorer robots, and how this updated Mars rover is (or is not) like an iPad.

Read Boing Boing's conversation with Vasavada here.

SpaceX, Boeing win $900 million to develop spacecraft for human space flight

NASA has awarded Boeing (not to be confused with "Boing Boing," you guys), SpaceX, and a Colorado-based systems integration firm more than a billion in contracts to develop spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts. The Chicago-based aerospace giant Boeing gets $460 million. Elon Musk's space transportation startup SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, CA, gets $440 million. And Sierra Nevada Corp. in Colorado gets $212.5 milion. NASA's press release is here.

Above: NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim stands inside the Dragon Crew Engineering Model at SpaceX headquarters, during a day-long review of the Dragon crew vehicle layout. (Photo: SpaceX)

Are we all Martians? The curious hunt for life on Mars

NASA's newest rover Curiosity, is zipping through space, slated to enter the Martian atmosphere early morning eastern time on Monday, August 6. (Image: NASA)


At the PBS NewsHour site, space journalist Miles O'Brien recounts the history of human exploration of the red planet, leading up to this Sunday's planned landing by the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. It's gonna be a nail-biter. Snip:

Ralph Harvey is a professor of planetary minerals at Case University. He spends a lot of time looking for Mars meteors in Antarctica. He has not yet seen anything that says "life" to him:

"When we argue about signs of possible life on Mars it's always the most subtle thing you can imagine," he told me a few years ago. "Something at the very edge of measurability, and life did not proceed that way on earth. Life is in your face. Life is something we have to scrape off the rocks to get to the story of the rocks. And I don't see that on Mars. I don't have that sense about Mars. So life on Mars is going to have to get in my face for me to believe it."

But what if life on Mars is hiding deep beneath the surface -- say in an underground aquifer? Could there be an underground habitable zone on Mars today?

Are We All Martians? The Curious Hunt for Life on Mars (pbs.org)

Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity headed for Mars landing. Are you ready?

NASA JPL's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover will try to land at the foot of a 3-mile-high mountain on Mars this Sunday night (technically, early Monday morning) to learn more about the possible building blocks of life there.

The rover is about the size of a car. The whole project costs about $2.5 billion. As you can see from JPL's now-viral "Seven Minutes of Terror" video, the landing process is something of a Rube Goldberg scheme. It'll be amazing if this works. It'll really suck for JPL, and the immediate future of space exploration funding, if it doesn't.

Here's how to follow the Mars rover's journey.

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OMGCATSINSPACE

A Tumblog of Greatness: OMGCATSINSPACE.

(thanks, @sbethm)

Miles O'Brien: Ride, Sally Ride

At the PBS Newshour website, a post by Miles O'Brien about one of his encounters with the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. He writes about the night of January 28, 2003, when Dr. Ride knocked on the door of his house in Atlanta. She was one of the guests of honor at his home that night to celebrate the opening of a new Challenger Learning Center. And at the time, Miles (then a reporter with CNN) had just closed a deal with NASA to become the first journalist in space, on a forthcoming shuttle mission. Snip:

I normally do not ask people for autographs or inscriptions, but on this night I made an exception. I handed her my copy of the book, and she wrote: "Hope you're the first journalist in space!"

Nice words from someone who knows what it means to be first.

While she was signing, and we were celebrating, the STS-107 crew was orbiting a few hundred miles over our head-- unaware of the fatal breach in the reinforced carbon heat shield on the leading edge of Columbia's wing.

In four days, everything would change for the people in my house that night. Columbia, of course, did not make it home. Sally Ride would soon be serving on her second commission investigating the loss of a space shuttle and its crew.

Read the rest: Ride, Sally Ride: My Dinner with the First American Woman in Space (PBS NewsHour)

Update: Here's a video segment from tonight's show, with Miles talking with Judy Woodruff about Dr. Ride's legacy. Alternate [YouTube Link].

Sally Ride's sister, on the quiet acknowledgement of her orientation: "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay."

Astronaut, physicist, and American science hero Sally Ride died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, at 61. Dr. Ride was the first American female in space, and left a vast legacy of scientific accomplishments. When her astronaut days ended, she worked to promote space and science literacy to young people around the world through Sally Ride Science.

As friends and professional associates knew, and as was quietly noted in the obituary released on her website, Ms. Ride had been in a committed relationship with a woman for some 27 years. She met her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy nearly 50 years ago. Neither her cancer diagnosis nor her orientation were publicly shared, prior to her death.

Sally Ride's sister, Bear Ride, addressed this very personal aspect of Sally's very private life in comments to Buzzfeed today. "We consider Tam a member of the family," she told Chris Geidner.

"The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same," Bear, who identifies as gay, told Buzzfeed. "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them."

Asked about those who would have opposed legal recognition of her sister's relationship, Bear Ride bluntly replied, "Who cares about them, really? There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family."

The rest of the interview is well worth a read. More about Dr. Ride in our post from the day she died.