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.

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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 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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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.

Sally Ride, first American woman in space, has died

Dr. Sally Ride, an American physicist and former NASA astronaut, has died of pancreatic cancer. She joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman to travel into space. From a statement on her website:

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

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Character from Valve's Portal 2 game is "going to actual space"

"Wheatley," an orb-shaped robot pal in Valve Software's popular 2011 game Portal 2, is on his way to space. The unauthorized stowaway is on a Japanese spacecraft now in Earth orbit, heading to the the International Space Station (ISS).

Robert Pearlman reports:

[Wheatley] is flying aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) that launched on Friday (July 20) to resupply the space station. The character, in miniature two-dimensional (2-D) form, is soaring through real space thanks to an unnamed NASA worker.

Valve announced on its website's blog that "thanks to an anonymous tech at NASA, Wheatley is actually going to actual space."

The one-eyed sphere, or "personality core" as referred to in the video game, is given its voice by English actor and comedian Stephen Merchant. On board the HTV, which is nicknamed "Kounotori or "white stork", the robot's voice is offered in the form of a phrase engraved under Wheatley's likeness — "In spaaaaaaace!" (Portal 2 players may associate that quote with another of the game's personality cores, the so-called "Space Core," though Valve attributes it to Wheatley on their blog.)

Photo: this image posted on Valve's website shows "what appears to be a circuit board with Wheatley's likeness laser-inscribed in one corner," according to Pearlman. We don't know the scale of the component, or the instrument it's part of.

How the Eagle Landed: Grumman Construction Log, and a message to space (Apollo 11)

On the anniversary of Apollo 11, Steve Jurvetson posted an amazing, never-before-seen series of space artifacts. He writes:

On July 20, 1969, Eagle landed on the moon. These are the handwritten notes from the Grumman engineers as they pushed to complete Lunar Module LM-5 in 1968. On the last page, they learn than this particular Lunar Module would be the one to bring the first humans to the moon.

The Grumman Engineering Log served not only as an engineering notebook but also as an intercom between the day and night shift – separate teams that needed to push the ball forward from where the other left off. So we are offered a rare peek into the concerns, uncertainties and conversations that might have otherwise been quietly undocumented.

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"We are on the fucking moon" (video)

[Video Link] Yesterday was the anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon in 1969, the first time humans ever set foot on another world. Today, we discover this long-lost footage and audio from that historic moment. (thanks, inkfumes!)

"The Eagle has landed." Remembering Apollo 11: July 20, 1969

Left to right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, the crew of Apollo 11. Photo: NASA.


On this day in 1969, humans walked on the moon for the first time. The Apollo 11 spaceflight brought Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC.

Michael Collins, the mission's third member, remained in lunar orbit. All three men returned safely to Earth after an 8-day mission that began with a Saturn V rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida on July 16.

This was the fifth manned mission of NASA's Apollo program, which ran from 1963 to 1972 and included 6 missions that landed on the moon. These were the first and last times human beings set foot on another world.

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Spacecraft 3D: Nifty robotic space travel augmented-reality app from NASA JPL

I recently had a chance to visit NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory with Miles O'Brien. At the NASA center in Pasadena, engineers are readying for the long-anticipated landing of the Mars Curiosity rover on Aug. 5. During our visit, we met with the team behind a cool new iOS app from JPL: NASA's Spacecraft 3D, an augmented reality application that allows users to "learn about and interact with a variety of spacecraft that are used to explore our solar system, study Earth, and observe the universe."

Using a printed AR Target and the camera on your mobile device, you can get up close with these robotic explorers, see how they move, and learn about the the engineering feats used to expand our knowledge and understanding of space. Spacecraft 3D will be updated over time to include more of the amazing spacecraft that act as our robotic eyes on the earth, the solar system and beyond!

The app is really a ton of fun. You can download it here for free, iPad and iPhone and iPod Touch. Here's the JPL press release announcing its release.

Ray Bradbury at NASA JPL, 1971, reading his poem "If Only We Had Taller Been" (video)

[Video Link] A beautiful video from NASA JPL honoring Ray Bradbury, who died Tuesday, June 5 2012 at 91.

Through the years, Ray Bradbury attended several major space mission events at JPL/Caltech. On Nov. 12, 1971, on the eve of Mariner 9 going into orbit at Mars, Bradbury took part in a symposium at Caltech with Arthur C. Clarke, journalist Walter Sullivan, and scientists Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray. In this excerpt, Bradbury reads his poem, "If Only We Had Taller Been."

(Thanks, Stephanie L. Smith)

The "Moon Buggy Mission," Apollo 15

This week marks the 40th anniversary for Apollo 15, the less famous of manned lunar missions including Apollo 11, Apollo 13 ("NASA's finest hour"), and Apollo 14 (the one where Alan Shepard played golf on the moon). Ben Cosgrove of LIFE points us to a related gallery of classic images, and explains:

While Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the lunar surface was mind-blowing, the idea of Irwin and Scott cruising around on a 450-pound moon buggy that they'd carted a quarter-million miles from Earth -- during a basically flawless mission when Scott and Irwin spent three full days on the moon's surface -- makes XV the coolest of all the Apollo missions.