The luxury of being ordinary

Enriched by a singular event that is larger than life, I no longer have the luxury of being ordinary. To stand on the lunar surface and look back at our Earth creates such a personal sense of awe that even Alan Shepard wept at the view. Trying to exist within the paradox of being in this world after visiting another may be why some Moon voyagers tend to be reclusive.

— Eugene Cernan

JJ Abrams newest documentary series episode two features my dear friend Robert

My Dear friend Robert is the focus of Episode two of JJ Abrams / Bad Robot’s latest documentary series. Robert and his team are an amazing group and I’m so glad JJ did such a good job doing something I tried to do for this competition for years. I get to say “I knew them before” and nothing could make me happier.

 

The value of 3D printing in space

This week, NASA is going to send the first 3D printer to the International Space Station. The purpose is to test the manufacture of spare parts in space and hopefully reduce the number of spare parts we send up there.

One of the problems of being off planet for a long time is that humans, as a general rule, require food and drink. Fortunately, food can be planned for and water can be close to 100% recycled. It’s hard to bring parts for every conceivable part you might need to replace, so being able to “push print” to make parts that break or wear out is a great addition to the toolset available to future trips.

In my day job we use our 3D printer to print prototypes at a huge cost savings over what it cost to make a single sample part just a few years ago. It’s been a great addition to our toolkit, and 3D printing certainly has a place in the future of operating in space.

Sometimes we just make stuff that’s fun….

It’s a Curious Raspberry Monday Mars Pi

Not only did Curiousity land safely last night and is already sending images

but I have 5 Raspberry Pi’s on my desk at work right now.

Happy Monday!

An update on my book

I’ve been working on a book for about 2 months now with a working title “A New Kind of Hero”.
It was originally going to be entirely based on the Google Lunar X PRIZE but has been broadened in scope a little (okay, a lot) to include heroes outside of that particular competition.  This was necessary to keep the theme of the book in focus.

Answers to some FAQs that I’m getting:

  • I’m not sure if I’ll announce who the people who will be featured before the book is finished
  • I do not have a publisher.  I’m planning to be creative in publishing, but would certainly entertain talking to a traditional publisher.
  • The timeframe for the the manuscript to be complete is sometime in February 2011 with a target publish date of the end of March 2011.
  • If you’re a fan of Evadot, then you’ll be familiar with the feel of this book.  The book is really an extension of many of the ideas we’ve explored in writing and on the podcast.

 

The most important question you need to ask yourself: why not?

I’m already planning SpaceUp DC 2.0, but in case you missed how rediculous I’m willing to look in the name of Space Exploration:

(Photo credit: Chris Radcliff)

Haley Stephenson did a terrific writeup of her experience at SpaceUp DC here. I have two favorite quotes from it:

An important aspect of the unconference was the opportunity to have fun and enjoy the things that interested us in space in the first place. We fiddled with pipe cleaners (out of which one person constructed the space-time continuum), built spaceships and rovers out of Legos (our “green” ship was powered by Lego conifers), conducted a MoonPie eating contest (beware the banana flavor), and held what is probably the first Tribble war ever (they’re not as soft as they look). If this all seems quite silly, then take a moment to think on what sparked your interest in space and what fuels it now. When did you realize that space is cool?

and my favorite (and not just because that’s my son she’s talking about there):

While getting to Mars, global cooperation in space, or pushing the boundaries of space technology all come with technical, political, and budgetary challenges, space exploration is fueled by the imagination and enthusiasm of both fifty-year-old engineers and eleven-year-old kids like Caleb Doornbos, whose disarming intelligence and freedom from limitations made us all walk away asking, “Why not?” Why not inspire the next generation about space? Why not go to Mars and back in 80 days or less? Why not launch your own satellite? Why not?

I started Evadot one night after being frustrated with how boring NASA TV was that night.

I started SpaceUpDC when Chris Radcliff asked if it was something I thought was worth doing and if it was something I might want to do.

Both times I asked myself: why not me?

This morning, I had a delightful conversation about education 21st century style with Nancy Conrad.  Widow to the 3rd person to ever walk on the moon! Nancy really is a visionary in education. I can’t think of a better way to spend a friday morning.

Tomorrow, I leave for Isle of Man, to meet some of the people who will be in my upcoming book titled “A New Kind of Hero”.

It all started with asking myself: why not?

You know that thing you’ve been telling yourself needs to be done?  You know the one.  It’s time to ask yourself why not.

There is only this moment and the next one.  What are you going to do with it?

Inspiring kids by thinking big in space

The audio quality is shockingly bad in this video. This was on Feb 18th, at Ignite-DC.  I’d like to do a new spin on this talk soon.
This is an Ignite talk. If you’re not familiar with Ignite, the talks are all EXACTLY 5 mins. You get 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds. It’s a real challenge to not get behind on the slides.

Despite the challenge of giving a compelling talk in this format, I do really enjoy it.  It forces presenters to get the point in 5 minutes and you can get through quite a few really great ideas in a 90 minute session.

http://blip.tv/play/g9M1gdufJAI%2Em4v

Is it just me or were several of those slides way shorter than 15 seconds? Hmm…

On saving NASA

I noticed a new Twitter hashtag this morning for the first time: #SaveNASA
I love rallying cries.

I also love the huge list of things that the world benefits from as a result of NASA over the last 50 years.

BUT (come on, you knew there was a BUT in here)

Making lists of things accomplished in the past isn’t enough to get programs funded for the future.  They are a by-product of other goals.

Great by products, but they are still by-products.  The result of something else.

By-products don’t get billions of dollars in funding.  The chance of some by-products is also not a good motivator.

Programs that have vague half hearted goals don’t get the American people’s support.  Without public support, congress has a difficult time giving a program money.

It’s the reality of the situation, whether or not you think it’s right or fair.

We need our leaders to make a decision about the space program.  A bold decision that motivates entire generations to step up to a common goal.  To become something bigger than we are.

Only that will save NASA.

“Significant” water on the moon

Some sites are talking about  a press conference being set up on Thursday to talk about what they are calling “Evidence of Water on the Moon – Lots of It”.
If you’re not a space geek, let me back up a second since NASA isn’t even on most people’s mind these days and fill you in on what’s going on.

The short short version.

We’ve had this space shuttle since the 1980’s.  Technologically amazing, but pretty boring from an exploration standpoint.  As a result, the fine folks at NASA have performed amazing feats of technological greatness and the public has met this with a collective “ho hum”.

In 2004, President Bush announced a pretty bold plan to phase out the Shuttle and reach towards returning to the moon by 2020. Programs are established, committees ensue, congress under-funds the whole thing and  5 years later, they are pretty behind. And by pretty behind I mean there is no freaking way it’s going to work.

President Obama commissions a committee headed by Norm Augustine, a longtime space industry player, to put together a group to evaluate the current state of the program.

To put it mildly, things don’t appear to be going well.

As a member of the general public, one might have caught a few minutes of the Senate Hearings on the matter last week and thought “uh oh.  Oh.  Wow, did she just say that?”.

As an advocate of space exploration, I was actually a little embarrassed by the whole thing.

So today, NASA would like 3 billion dollars a year MORE in funding to put their goal back on track.

All week, I’ve been hearing rumors about the President making an upcoming John F. Kennedy style epic call to return to space exploration.

I really, really want for us to return exploring space.

Bad.

But if this whole thing was a movie, this would be the part when the scientists all throw popcorn at the screen and cry “Oh, come on.” and “How convenient that they found water on the Moon right at that point.”

I’m no conspiracy theorist, but my BS radar just went into high gear. For starters, what exactly does “significant” mean?

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

The Launch Pad: Successful NASA Program in Jeopardy!

This afternoon (June 24, 2009) at 2:30pm Eastern Time, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the United States Senate’s Appropriations Committee will be marking up the FY 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. For those of you feeling lost by that sentence, the plain English translation is: this afternoon, a group of Senators will be making edits to the proposal for the amount of money to provide to NASA and other federal agencies for fiscal year 2010.
If recent history and the Washington rumor mill are accurate predictors–and they almost certainly are–one of the first things that will happen tomorrow is that these Senators will slash the $20 million NASA requested for Centennial Challenges, the Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training (FAST) program, and the Partnership Seed Fund. With near certainty, the budget for these programs will be reduced to zero.

To reduce the budget for these programs to zero would be to allow a great opportunity to pass. Each of these three programs provides an incredibly amount of value to NASA, and helps stimulate the American economy by creating or retaining high tech employment opportunities. To cite one example among many, the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, one of seven incentive prizes offered by the Centennial Challenges programs, encourages innovative American teams to develop, build, and perfect vertical takeoff and landing rocket technology of the sort that will provide tangible benefits both to NASAs return to the Moon and to a variety of other civil, commercial, and military space applications. To date, NASA has paid out $350,000; and with the X PRIZE Foundation, the Northrop Grumman Corporation, and their partners supplying the operational funding, that $350,000 is a close representation of the total cost of the program to date. For that amount of money, NASA has incentivized approximately 75,000 person hours and the equivalent of about $12,000,000 in research and development–an astonishing 35-to-1 return on each taxpayer dollar invested to date. Along the way, teams have developed impressive subsystems, helped improved our nation’s regulatory regime, and generated unique data for engineers.

One could easily list dozens of such examples for each of these programs: the SEED funds leverage taxpayer dollars by a factor of ~4 and help drive technological improvements that immediately and directly benefit each of NASA’s Mission Directorates; the FAST program provides a unique and critical opportunity for new businesses to test out their hardware in a reduced gravity environment, shepherding the creation of new industries and new technologies that will likely generate tangible benefits well beyond the confines of NASA or even the aerospace industry.

The programs accomplish amazing things on extremely small budgets. The White House has recognized this, and a Statement of Administrative Policy (PDF version) released yesterday expresses concern that these programs, which use “public-private partnerships to advance important technologies and enable access to new sources of innovation through incentive prizes and partnerships” have already been identified for cuts by the US House of Representatives.

Concerned taxpayers can help breathe new life back into these programs. To show your support, please consider making a call to your Senator and Congressperson. Tell him or her that you support these prizes, even though you cannot know for sure if the eventual prize winners will live in your home state or district. Constituent calls to any member of congress are helpful, but calls to Senators Shelby (R-AL), Mikulski (D-MD), Hutchinson (R-TX), Feinstein (D-CA), and Voinovich (R-OH) may prove particularly useful. Calls to Senator Shelby are likely the most important.

Tough economic times call for financial discipline at NASA, just like in every other agency, company, or household across the United States. One of the best ways to do so is through programs like these: highly leveraged, innovative programs that appeal across party lines and that help strengthen the American aerospace industry.

via The Launch Pad: Successful NASA Program in Jeopardy!.