Category Archives: Space

No Joy For Cassini

I had mentioned a couple of weeks back that I had applied for another NASA Social, this one at JPL in September for the Cassini finale. I had also mentioned that there were 25 spots available and I wouldn’t be surprised if they would get 2,500 or 25,000 applications and I thought my odds of being accepted were small.

I was correct!

I’ve gotten the “thanks so much for applying, but…” email and while I’m disappointed, I’m neither crushed nor surprised. But if you don’t apply, they can’t tell you “no,” correct? At least they didn’t say, “HELL, NO!”

Meanwhile, I’m one or two steps closer to getting my FAA flight physical renewed, which is the next big step to getting back into the left seat in the cockpit. While I’ve been flying (commercial doesn’t count) a handful of times in the past few years (here, here, here, and here for example), I haven’t been PIC (Pilot in Command) in almost four years.

Time to fix that.

We’re getting closer. Get the FAA medical, get a few hours of training back in and get my BFR (Bi-annual Flight Review) recorded, then start building up some hours. We’ve got that Navion that needs flying out at the CAF, and with a tailwheel endorsement, the PT-19. A few hundred hours there and a complex endorsement and the SNJ’s await.

Watch the skies. That’s me aiming to come to your town for that “$100 hamburger!”


Filed under CAF, Flying, Paul, Space

55 Days And Counting

Unless you’ve been in a cave without internet, television, radio, newspapers, or any kind of contact with the outside world…

Well, first of all, if you have and you’ve just come out, STAY OFF OF TWITTER, FACEBOOK, and whatever you do, DON’T WATCH THE NEWS!

Trust me on this one.

But aside from THAT, there’s this celestial event coming up on August 21st that you might want to think about finding a way to see. There will be a total solar eclipse, one of the singular most fantastic and astonishing sights to be seen by citizens of this planet. This particular total solar eclipse will be huge in terms of the number of people able to see it and the number of major metropolitan areas it will pass over or near. From Oregon to South Carolina, the path of totality will cover fourteen states. (THIS is an excellent site to see where totality will be, for how long, at what time, and so on. For more general questions, go here.)

As the big date approaches, you’ll be bombarded with news and articles. Not allowing for people not able to see the most spectacular parts of totality due to cloud cover, there are more than 12,000,000 people who be able to see the eclipse without leaving home. Counting people from major metropolitan areas (such as Atlanta) who are only a couple hours’ drive from the path of totality, it could easily be 40,000,000 watching.

It could be the biggest traffic jam in the history of the world. And totally worth it.

Not only will you be seeing a gazillion words from the mainstream media and online folks, you’ll be seeing quite a bit from me as well. We’ll be in the Kansas City area. Our hotel is already in the path of totality, so if it’s clear we can just go out into the parking lot and get 1:52 of totality. With a little driving out onto the back country roads of Missouri and Kansas so that we end up closer to the center line of the totality path, we’ll get 2:38 or so, near the maximum amount.

Weather will be the joker in the deck. We’ll spend Sunday watching the weather forecast and planning. If the Kansas/Missouri area is going to be totally socked in, we’ll start driving, either northwest into Nebraska or southeast toward Nashville.

If you’ve got questions, ask ’em! If you’ve got plans, share ’em!

Where will you be on August 21, 2017?

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Filed under Astronomy, Space, Travel

Not A Once In A Lifetime Thing Any More

As mentioned yesterday, Space X just launched out of Florida on Friday and  then was going to try to launch out of California today, an unprecedented feat for a private space company, and one which even NASA the Air Force and their subcontractors don’t try.

So yeah, they succeeded. Brilliantly. Ten new Iridium satellites were delivered perfectly into their proper orbits – and the booster was recovered safely, landing on the Pacific Ocean based barge, “Just Read The Instructions.” Go ahead, watch the video that Mr. Musk links to and tell me that it’s not impressive as hell.

Going out of Vandenberg, a two-hour drive north of us, on a Sunday afternoon, one would think it would be a perfect opportunity to go see a launch. You can’t get on the base, but there are viewing spots in the Lompoc area where you can get a pretty good view.

Here’s a video that my friend Kate Squires posted on FaceBook. I just love the “ripping” sound you get at about 1:05 as the noise hits you:

I had commitments that kept me from going, but it’s not even a bad thing – BECAUSE THEY’RE GOING TO DO IT AGAIN. Soon. And then do it again. And again.

A launch used to be something that was almost unique unless you worked for NASA or the Air Force or a subcontractor or lived in the area. For guys like me with a “normal” job and a need to travel to see a launch, it was a destination and something to be planned out. It was a big freakin’ deal. A given launch might not be a true “once in a lifetime” opportunity (well, maybe Apollo 11, or the first shuttle flight, or the last shuttle flight…) but it was definitely not an every day occurrence.

SpaceX is well on the way to changing that. We might be a few years away from them having daily launches – but that’s what they’re aiming for.

They’re already talking about landing some of the boosters not back at a big, open landing site a mile or two from the launch pad, but back on the launch pad itself. They’re serious. They’re talking about a day when they have so little refurbishment necessary that they launch, land back on the pad, load the next payload on top, refuel, and launch the same rocket again within 24-hours. At which point they presumably would do it again.

That may be a ways off, simply because the market isn’t there for that yet. But it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. The market isn’t there because no one is designing projects that require hundreds or even thousands of launches because there was no conceivable way to get a thousand launches. But if you could, and if you could get those thousand launches for what it used to cost to get ten launches, and you could use those thousand launches to…

Look at the time! It’s late – we’ll have to continue that thought tomorrow or the next day. But you get the idea.

As for true “once in a lifetime” events, there’s one of those coming up in two months, which we also should talk about in the next day or two.

(I’m such a tease!)



Filed under Astronomy, Space, Video

What Has SpaceX Been Up To?

Besides low Earth orbit (LEO)? Besides geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO)?

The “usual,” if you define “usual” as doing things routinely that a year ago no one had ever even dared to try.

1 – They’re retrieving their first stage boosters, landing them either on land near the launch site or on barges out in the middle of the ocean. (This is orders of magnitude beyond anything that anyone else is doing.)

2 – They’re re-using those boosters to launch new missions. (The Space Shuttle re-flew, and some of the Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters (SRB) were recovered and refurbished, but only with MUCH higher cost and MUCH longer turn around times.)

3 – They’re launching much more often than anyone else. For example, they launched on Friday from Florida (see pictures below) and they’ll try to launch tomorrow afternoon from California.

Yesterday’s launch was another tough one, with the booster coming back for landing from a very high altitude and energy condition, requiring it to have a large delta-V and to endure a lot of stress on re-entry. Elon Musk thought this might lead to a failure to recover the booster. It might be a “learning experience.” (And that’s another thing – that’s not just a euphemism. The folks at SpaceX are willing to take acceptable risks in order to push the envelope and learn how to do the hard things. That takes guts.)

All images from the SpaceX webcast:

It was a gorgeous day for a launch. Note that this booster launched out of Vandenberg in California on January 14, 2017, so the turnaround between launches was only 161 days.

As the rocket rises, the exhaust plume expands (much less air pressure to push against) and you can start to see the nine separate plumes from the nine engines.

Happiness is the Earth in your rear view mirror!

Looking up from the top of the first stage (left) we see the second stage (right) starting to fire.

The first stage (left) doesn’t have time to sightsee – it’s got a barge to catch. The grid fins pop out and act to steer in the atmosphere, much like you can “steer” with your hands out the car window as you’re driving along. The grid fins might look small, but they’re something like six feet square, similar in size to a king sized mattress. The second stage engine (right) starts to heat up…

…to the point where it’s glowing cherry red hot. The first stage does another burn with some of its nine engines to put it on a course to fall (with style!) down onto the recovery barge.

The first stage camera (sometimes) gets covered with soot and debris from the rockets, as well as condensation as it gets back into the lower atmosphere. But you can still see the grid fins glowing, getting red hot from the air friction. (Hopefully your hands out the car window don’t get this hot.)

The second stage is pressing on to orbit. While the launch and first stage recovery are spectacular, this is the part that pays the bills and lets them do it again and again and again.

The SpaceX barge in the Atlantic Ocean is “Of Course I Still Love You,” seen here just seconds before the first stage landing. (We lost video during the actual time of landing, in large part due to the interference of having a freaking rocket come down from space on a pillar of fire!)

That’s terrible, isn’t it? I mean, they missed the bullseye by at least eight or ten feet! On a more serious note, you can see that the rocket is leaning just a bit. This was one of the hardest landings and the booster came down fast, hitting the deck hard. That’s okay – the legs are designed to absorb a decent amount of energy in a hard landing. We’ll see how the booster checks out when it gets back to port, but preliminary reports are that it survived the landing without any major problems.

After a coast phase of about 19 minutes (see the timeline at the bottom) the second stage re-lit and boosted the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Once travelling at 34,000 km/hour, the Bulgarian communication satellite was cut loose, pushed away by springs, as we watch it going…



That’s impressive!

More impressive, they’re going to try to do it again tomorrow. Launch is scheduled for 13:25:14 PDT. If you’re anywhere along the California coast from Ventura County to San Luis Obispo you should be able to see it. Here’s what a previous launch looked like from Camarillo – in fact, I just realized that’s the rocket that was re-launched yesterday from Florida! Of course, the closer you can get to the Lomoc and Vandenberg area, the better the view.

If you can’t get to the Central Coast to see it, you can watch the SpaceX webcast starting at about 13:10 PDT.

The impossible becomes the possible becomes the routine becomes the commonplace. We’re still somewhere between “possible” and “routine,” but we’re moving in the right direction!

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Filed under Astronomy, Space

Let’s Talk About Outer Space

Wasn’t that one of the reasons I started this website, way back in the early days of the universe when the photons were young and the ideals had moxie?

For those who might be relatively new around here and know me only from my “I’ve got a full-time-plus job and I might have a few seconds to throw some crap at the wall and see what sticks” days, there used to be a lot of spacey and astronomy-y things here. For example:

Transit of Venus astrophotography (along with other simple how-to bits for astrophotography)

Total lunar eclipse astrophotography (actually a couple more lunar eclipses as well)

History of manned space flight

Why NASA means so much to me

NASA Social at Edwards AFB

NASA Social at JPL for Orion launch

NASA Social at Palmdale for SOFIA

NASA Social in Washington DC for the Hubble Space Telescope 25th anniversary

NASA Social at Edwards AFB for LeapTech I would note for all of the NASA Social events, there were usually several days worth of posts and pictures, not just the one.

Why is this list important? It’s the one that I sent to the NASA Social team yesterday when I applied for the NASA Social on September 14 and 15th at JPL for the finale of the Cassini mission at Saturn. (If you’re interested, available, and meet the qualifications, you too can click on that link and apply before June 29th.)

On the one hand, I would  REALLY  like to get an invite to this NASA Social. Aside from the fact that it’s been over two years since I’ve been to one (that whole “job” thing mentioned above is really interfering with my fun!), this event promises to be spectacular, emotional, and a singular event in this generation of our exploration of the outer planets.

What are my odds of getting accepted? I suspect they’re…

…astronomical. (Nope, not sorry at all.)

I don’t know how many people will apply for those 25 spots. Not a clue actually. (Kate? Ballpark figures maybe?) I can say that as a WAG I would expect it to be 2,500+ and I wouldn’t be too awfully surprised to hear it was 25,000+.

One clue on the level of competition comes from the upgraded online form that they’re using. They want to make sure that you’re reaching a big crowd so they’re getting the best bang for their buck in inviting you. So now when you identify your Twitter or FaceBook or Instagram accounts, you’re asked to identify how many followers or friends you have:

Maybe it’s me, but if, say, Will Wheaton or John Scalzi wanted to go to this event and could be checking off those boxes deep into the lower half of this grid, they just might get preference over lil’ ol’ me. Just maybe.

Be that as it may, I’ve applied. So if nothing else, let’s start using this as a motivator over the next few weeks to spend much more time here talking about the things that I came here for in the first place. It can’t hurt!


Filed under Astronomy, Space

Says It All

A couple of months ago, the routine pictures Curiosity takes of its wheels (to inspect for damage) showed that there was a small stone caught up in the hollow wheel and traveling along with the rover on Mars.

Today they showed that it was still there:

I wondered:

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Filed under Astronomy, Deep Thoughts, Space

Heinlein Had The Right Idea

Robert Heinlein had a LOT of right ideas, but the one that I’m trying to remember the source for tonight deals with frustration, intelligence, and balance. I’m sure someone out there will see this and immediately go, “You simpleton! It’s ‘____’ of course!!” I am, in fact, counting on you.

I think it was one of the opening scenes or chapters of one of the “Heinlein juvenile” novels. (I’ve ranted here before – “Starman Jones” is still one of my all time favorites, bar none.) In it our plucky young hero wants nothing more than to go to space and has an opportunity! They’re taking applications for some job or the other and he goes in, along with thousands of others, to take some sort of preliminary written test. The questions are not trivial, so fairly early on he sees other test takers who bail and walk out. He presses on as the test drags on and on. The questions never get too difficult, but they become increasingly repetitive and just downright stupid. Why the hell do they need to know these things? And why do they need to know it ten times? Finally he has had his fill. It doesn’t matter how much he wants the job, this is freaking ridiculous. He storms out while hundreds of others continue to answer increasingly pointless questions with no end in sight.

Of course, our hero gets the job. The test wasn’t to get the answers to the questions. The test was to week out the quitters who gave up way too soon and the drones who would follow mediocrity right into the pit of Hell without bothering to think for themselves. But there was a sweet spot for those smart enough to be able to answer the questions, but not sheep-like enough to follow along without questioning or purpose, people who had the correct balance of independence and discipline, intelligence and the ability to take action.

(This is where you call me a simpleton and tell me what book it is…)

Regardless, the principle’s the thing tonight.

How does one balance stability, both economic and lifestyle related, against stagnation?

How does one balance passion and purpose against caution and “responsibility?”

How does one balance “I’m too old for this shit” against “What do you mean? Never give up! Never surrender!”

How does one balance fear of change against fear of not changing?

How can you know the difference between the act that you’ll regret for the rest of your life and the one that you’ll regret for the rest of your life if you don’t do it?

This shit makes my head hurt.

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, Job Hunt, Space