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Here’s to John New, a NASA Goddard pioneer, and his massive (literally!) legacy to space science and engineering

August 17th, 2010 3 comments

The late John New, NASA pioneer.

The late John New, founding director of the NASA Goddard Test and Evaluation Division (NASA photo)

A NASA pioneer passed away recently. His name was John New, and his legacy to us fills large volumes of space in the Building 7-10-15-29 complex at Goddard Space Flight Center. These vast spaces are host to the famous giant clean room, centrifuge, space vacuum chamber, and assorted other large and impressive looking gadgetry.

Goddard’s test facilities are vital to the success of NASA’s science missions. Testing ensures that spacecraft costing hundreds of millions to develop and build work as designed when exposed to the harsh temperatures, pressures, and radiation of space — not to mention the mechanical and gravitational abuse of rocket launches.

John New orchestrated the construction and outfitting of these testing facilities. An obituary in the Sunday Washington Post will fill you in on all the details of New’s life and work.

I learned a bit about Mr. New from Ed Powers, a retired NASA civil servant engineer who was quoted in the Post article. I got hold of his cell phone number earlier today and, on a whim, called him.

I reached him on his recumbent bike as he was pedaling along the Capital Crescent Trail. No, seriously. I interviewed him as he rode a bike — a first in my career! He said it was also his first on-bicycle interview.

Powers, 75, was not a close colleague of New’s but he did he use his testing facilities plenty of times. Powers started at NASA in 1962 as a thermal engineer — the people who deal with shielding and shedding heat from spacecraft, among other things.

Powers says all of the major, large test facilities in Goddard’s buildings 7, 10, and 15 dated to New’s watch as founding director of what was then called the Test and Evaluation Division. The testing facilities are now all centralized under Goddard’s Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate. The big clean room came after New retired to pursue farming.

As Powers decribes New, the former “T&E” division chief had the qualities of a get-it-done manager. “He ran a tight ship,” Powers says, huffing only mildly as he cycled along the Potomac River. “He knew what he wanted.”

Powers retired in 2001, although he still works as a consultant with NASA doing technical reviews of projects, including the Global Precipitation Measurement and Magnetospheric MultiScale missions. Both are based at Goddard.

Like the handful of other Goddard “old timers” I’ve had the pleasure to talk to, Powers cites the “tremendous freedom” and spirit of can-do innovation that the NASA employees of New’s time enjoyed.

Let’s hope that spirit outlives them all.

[Take a closer look at Goddard's modern spacecraft testing facilities in this spooky video.....]




_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Gogblog’s Monday video rewind picture show: “Sentinels of the Heliosphere,” a detailed look at the fleet of spacecraft that keeps a collective eye on our stormy sun

August 17th, 2010 2 comments

[Um.... Make that the TUESDAY video rewind picture show. We had a network outage yesterday, so sorry about that. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. . . ]

Given the recent upturn in stormy solar activity, it seemed a good time to revisit the spectacular piece of visualization known as Sentinels of the Heliosphere. This video debuted in 2009 at SIGGRAPH, an international conference and exhibition on computer graphics and interactive techniques.



_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.



Gogblog’s Excellent Atlas 5 Launch Adventure

August 14th, 2010 Comments off

I just got home from Goddard Space Flight Center, where I was “embedded” this morning — starting at 6 am! — at the Flight Dynamics Facility. This morning, the FDF helped to launch a massive Atlas 5 rocket carrying a military communications satellite into orbit. It was so cool! Our people do the calculations to allow NASA’s orbiting tracking satellite network to follow the Atlas from launch to orbit. Recently I wrote about their work supporting Space Shuttle launches.

At the FDF, you watch the whole thing in a 3-D computer animation environment as well as live on webcam. Here is the moment of launch, looking over the shoulders of the two of the FDF engineers who ran the show.

light that candle!

light that candle!



I don’t know about you, but when they hit that final “10…9…8…7…” there is something thrilling about it, like the moment when gamblers go “all in” with every chip they have and there’s no turning back. In this case, a million pounds of rocket, fuel, and satellite sit balanced perfectly on the pad and someone punches that final red button….. (ok, maybe it’s a final mouse click)

Anyway, days like this I feel like I have the coolest job in the world.

Soon I’ll post a full account of Gogblog’s Excellent Atlas 5 Launch Adventure, including exclusive video and animation of the launch.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

That Was The Week That Was, August 9-13, 2010. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwittersphere

August 13th, 2010 Comments off

majestic spiral

majestic spiral

MONDAY AUGUST 9: NASA Earth Observatory has a new blog: Elegant Figures. . . EO’s lead data visualizer, Robert Simmon, will write about how he makes data and information clear and beautiful.

frozen fall: The Aqua satellite watches as nearly 97 square miles of ice breaks off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier.

blueshift’s gotchu: NASA Blueshift’s Weekly Awesomeness Round Up spotlights the Hubble Gotchu Guy media frenzy, the wild week of storm sun headlines, and the cover story in the September 2010 Astronomy magazine about the James Webb Space Telescope by Goddard science writer Frank Reddy.

TUESDAY AUGUST 10: NASA image release highlights a majestic spiral galaxy captured gloriously by the Hubble Space Telescope.

solar turmoil: The Solar Dynamics Observatory YouTube page spotlights a video of turmoil on the sun’s surface in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

stormy sun

stormy sun

apollo’s scout: On this day in 1966, NASA launched Lunar Orbiter 1 to scout the moon’s surface for Surveyor and Apollo landing sites.

WEDNESDAY AUGUST 11: On the NASA Blueshift blog, Goddard intern Faith Tucker writes about the dinosaur-astronomy connection.

the roaming stones: Goddard science writer Liz Zubritsky profiles the daring NASA interns who stalked mysterious wandering stones in Death Valley this summer.

water bear cowboy: Geeked On Goddard profiles one of the Death Valley interns, Kris Schwebler, and his research on tiny “water bears” and how they survive drying, hard vacuum, and radiation.

THURSDAY AUGUST 12: In a new video profile, meet astrobiologist Joe Nuth who says scientists are just like everyone else, but a little nerdier.


roaming stones

roaming stones



shocking! The Fermi Telescope discovers that a supernova’s little cousin can emit gamma rays. The press release includes a slick video visualizing a white dwarf star sucking gas off its neighbor and flaring into a nova.

nova hunters: Meanwhile, Geeked On Goddard profiles the duo of dedicated amateur astronomers in Japan who first alerted the world to the gamma ray nova.

night time at goddard: In the latest issue of Goddard View, read about Milky J’s appearance, the recent Space Shuttle crew visit, and Goddard’s Edward Cheung, the newly dubbed Knight of the Royal Order of the Netherlands Lion.

yes, there IS an echo in here: 50 years ago today, NASA launched Echo 1, the first passive communications satellite.

total recon: Also on this day, five years ago, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched.

contrails away! In the What On Earth blog, NASA Langley Research Center’s Lin Chambers writes about contrails formed by rocket exhaust plumes.

sunset sequence

sunset sequence



FRIDAY AUGUST 13: The Earth Science Picture of the Day features a spectacular sunset sequence by Oregon photographer Randall Scholten.

russian fires: NASA’s Terra Satellite Sees Intense Fires and Smoke Over Western Russia.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Night owls: meet the duo of amateur astronomers in Japan who discovered the star that delivered a “shocking surprise” to NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope

August 12th, 2010 7 comments
Click to read Japan Times article about Nishiyama & Kabashima

Click to read Japan Times article about Nishiyama & Kabashima

On March 11, 2010, the evening skies were clear over the town of Miyaki in Saga Prefecture on the island of Kyūshū, Japan. Two elderly stargazers, though comfortably retired from their jobs, were just getting to work in their Miyaki Argenteus Observatory.

All night, Koichi Nishiyama, 72, snapped pictures of the sky through the barrel of a 16-inch-wide reflecting telescope. His observing partner, Fujio Kabashima, 70, used computer software to compare the images with shots of the same patches of sky taken on previous nights.

In the pre-dawn hours, Nishiyama and Kabashima finally nabbed themselves a nova — the sudden, short-lived, and dramatic brightening of a formerly inconspicuous star. This particular star, V407 Cyg, lies about 9,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Nishiyama and Kabashima determined that V407 Cyg had flared to 10 times its former brightness.

The amateurs reported the observation to astronomer Hiroyuki Maehara at Kyoto University, who notified his colleagues around the world so they could organize follow-up observations. Three other Japanese observers — Tadashi Kojima, Kazuo Sakaniwa and Akihiko Tago — reported the same nova the next day, March 11.

PR buttonOn March 11, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope started picking up gamma rays streaming from a new source in Cygnus, which turned out to be V407 Cyg. This was totally unexpected and out of character for a nova. It’s the topic of a major press release from Goddard today and the subject of an electronic publication in the journal Science. (Actually, Nishiyama and Kabashima are co-authors on the Science paper.)

Fermi's Large Area Telescope saw no sign of a nova in 19 days of data prior to March 10 (left), but the eruption is obvious in data from the following 19 days (right). The images show the rate of gamma rays with energies greater than 100 million electron volts (100 MeV); brighter colors indicate higher rates. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Fermi's Large Area Telescope saw no sign of a nova in 19 days of data prior to March 10 (left), but the eruption is obvious in data from the following 19 days (right). The images show the rate of gamma rays with energies greater than 100 million electron volts (100 MeV); brighter colors indicate higher rates. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration


Sky lovers
The Fermi discovery is a perfect moment to celebrate hard-working amateur observers around the world like Nishiyama and Kabashima. These folks make significant and valuable contributions to astronomy every day.

So let’s give these sleepless gentlemen from Saga Prefecture their nova-nabbing props, and in their own words. Special thanks to Hiromitsu Takahashi of Hiroshima University for relaying my questions by email to Nishiyama and Kabashima and translating their responses.

gogblog: To date, how many novae and or other objects you have spotted and reported officially?

Nishiyama & Kabashima: “We started observations on August 1st 2007. Up to now, we have discovered 53 novae and one supernova (SN2009ls, on November 26, 2009). Of the novae, 13 are galactic and 40 extragalactic.”

Just a quick pause for the science literacy cause: “Galactic” refers to novae in our Milky Way Galaxy. “Extragalactic” means it happened in other galaxies.

And let’s be clear about another thing: Spotting 53 novae in three years is an extraordinary achievement for any human observer. In 2008, they discovered five in a single year, tying the record set in 1991 by Australian Paul Camilleri. In March 2008, the pair received a special award for their achievements from the Astronomical Society of Japan.

What better person to put it in perspective than astronomy author Stephen James O’Meara, one of the most celebrated amateur observers in the business.

“Nova hunters are a dedicated group of amateur astronomers who demonstrate infinite patience,” Steve says. “What does seem to stand out about Nishiyama and Kabashima’s success is its magnitude. Most nova hunters spend years searching before they find one. Bill Liller (in Chile), for instance, has been searching in earnest, I believe, since the mid-1980s. Yet Nishiyama and Kabashima have nearly tied him in galactic nova discoveries in only three years time! That’s almost unheard of. It means that either their observing conditions are exceptional or that they are exceptionally fortunate when they do have clear skies to nab most of the few novae that occur briefly in the Northern skies each year.”

Japanese amateur astronomers discovered Nova Cygni 2010 in an image taken on March 10 (4:08 a.m. Japan Standard Time, March 11). The erupting star (circled) was 10 times brighter than in an image taken several days earlier. Credit: K. Nishiyama and F. Kabashima/H. Maehara, Kyoto Univ.

Japanese amateur astronomers discovered Nova Cygni 2010 in an image taken on March 10 (4:08 a.m. Japan Standard Time, March 11). The erupting star (in center of circles) was 10 times brighter than in an image taken several days earlier. Credit: K. Nishiyama and F. Kabashima/H. Maehara, Kyoto Univ.


And it’s not like Nishiyama and Kabashima don’t have any competition. . .

gogblog: How many other amateur observers in Japan are doing this kind of work?

Nishiyama & Kabashima: “There are about 50 amateurs searching for supernovae in Japan. Among them, the number of the people who have really discovered them (and are still observing actively) is about 10. In the case of novae, because the observation requires relatively simple equipment, many more people are searching. However, the number of the discoverers is similar to that of the supernovae (about 10).”

gogblog: Is there friendly competition between the observers to be the first to discover new objects?

Nishiyama & Kabashima: “Yes. We think all the observers are not only rivals but also friends. Actually, we send/receive emails very frequently with some of them — for example, Hideo Nishimura in Kakekawa city, Shizuoka prefecture, who has discovered the same number of galactic novae as us. Also, Koichi Itagaki in Yamagata city, Yamagata prefecture, who is one of the leading discoverers of supernovae.”



Despite getting through many nights on just three hours of sleep, Nishiyama and Kabashima appear to have inexhaustible enthusiasm for nova hunting. This is not really surprising, considering that the word “amateur” is French for “lover of,” ultimately derived from the Latin for “lover.”

gogblog: After discovering so many objects, what motivates you to continue? What holds your interest about this work?

Nishiyama & Kabashima: “Following our discoveries, many researchers take the spectra and study them. Some of them contact us to ask for more information or to give feedback, such as confirmation of the brightening. Therefore, we understand our activities are helpful for the research of astronomy and astrophysics. It’s our motivation. We really hope that our discoveries are useful for the research. We try to observe the sky every night with little sleep if the weather is fine.”

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Meet Kristopher Schwebler, NASA Goddard summer intern and water bear wrangler. Could the Japanese movie monsters of the moss world hold the key to putting astronauts in suspended animation?

August 11th, 2010 1 comment
Run for your lives! Water bears!

Run for your lives! Water bear!

Meet Kristopher Schwebler, Goddard Space Flight Center’s first water bear wrangler. But he doesn’t teach them the usual circus tricks, like riding a little bicycle around the ring or balancing beach balls on their noses. He’d be happy if the little guys just didn’t all drop dead.

Before the rumors start to fly on the Internet that Goddard is littered with cute furry carcasses, be advised that water bears — a.k.a., moss piglets, from the phylum Tardagrada — are actually tiny critters that live in tree stumps and just about everywhere else on Earth. Many species of tardigrades are microscopic, but the biggest, chubbiest adult tardigrade barely breaks a millimeter in length. Many species would fit comfortably in the period at the end of this sentence. The name tardigrade means “slow walker,” a reference to their bearlike lumbering gate.

Kristopher Schwebler

Kristopher Schwebler

Scientists study tardigrades because they have this amazing ability to come back to life after drying out (“desiccating”) and going into a kind of bulletproof suspended animation called cryptobiosis.
And while they are hibernating, they can survive:

1)  temperatures as low as absolute zero (-273°C) and as high as 151°C.

2)  pressures as high as 5921 times Earth’s atmosphere and as low as the vacuum of space.

3)  1000 times more gamma irradiation than humans can withstand.

In short, they are as unkillable as Twinkies (albeit very tiny Twinkies).

Gathering moss at the stump . . .

Gathering moss at the stump . . .

Understanding how they pull of this trick could show us the way — as in “way in the future” — to putting astronauts in suspended animation for extended space journeys. Or lead to better methods for preserving transplantable tissue and organs — maybe entire hearts or kidneys.

playa PR buttonFrozen alive
Kris was a summer intern in the Lunar and Planetary Science Academy. (He finished up August 6.) He holds a B.S. in genetics, cell biology, and development from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities as well as a B.A. in physiology and minors in Spanish Studies and Global Studies. He starts this fall at Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City. Did I mention he plays the French horn and trumpet in various ensembles?

Well, OK, very smart guy. But my favorite part of the Clever and Promising Young Intern bio is his explanation of why he ended up doing research on water bears at Goddard Space Flight Center: “I have always wondered how blobs of molecules somehow effortlessly come together to create life.”

Chips of moss containing tardigrades . . .

Chips of moss containing tardigrades . . .

Bear hunt
Kris’s mission as an LPSA intern was to assess the ability of water bears to be frozen alive and then revived — you know, like the intra-galactic-traveling astronauts in countless sci-fi flicks.  As part of this, he would develop a reliable supply of water bears, ideally by learning how to breed them like colonies of lab mice.

But first, he needed breeding stock — a sort of tardigrade sourdough starter. This proved surprisingly difficult and consumed much of Kris’s 10-week internship.

He worked on the project in June and July under the supervision of Goddard planetary scientist Gunther Kletetschka. And by the way, don’t miss the Goddard web feature today by Elizabeth Zubritsky about the Lunar and Planetary Science Academy trip to study the sailing stones of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California. Kletetschka went on that trip, along with Kris and the other LPSA interns.

Just add water . . .

Just add water . . .

But back to Kris. He needed some water bears to work with, so Dr. Kletetschka asked for help from a NASA researcher, Daiki D. Horikawa of the Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California. He’s a tardigrade wrangler/breeder/researcher extraordinaire, and he kindly mailed some desiccated water bears through the mail. Kris added water….. and waited.

The first batch came back to life but would not breed, and expired after their several-days life cycle. Or they didn’t wake up at all.

Water bears are also called moss piglets because they are found in moss. So Kris walked a few hundred feet into a wooded area at Goddard and sliced a bunch of moss and lichens from a true stump. He added water, waited, and voila! “I just added water to them an they came out swimming around.”

A home for water bears . . .

A home for water bears . . .

It’s harder to collect these little guys than it sounds. He must examine the petri dish full of mushy moss under a microscope and use a syringe to capture the water bears. He attempted to feed them/breed them in a see-through plastic container in which he cultivated green algae for the water bears to feed on.

They all died.

Even though the world is just filthy with tardigrades, the little critters are fussy. Different species have different needs. And let’s not even bring up what it takes to coax water bear females into laying eggs so that males can fertilize them. It’s harder than stand-up comedy.

But science marches on. One morning the last week of Kris’s internship, I accompanied him on a final pilgrimage to the Goddard water bear park, otherwise known as “the stump behind Building 2.”

“This is how I do it,” he said, pulling out a razor blade and carefully slicing off chunks of moss from the stump, tucking it into a plastic petri dish. A hundred yards south of our position, the traffic on Greenbelt Road zoomed by the perimeter fence, oblivious to the water bear hunt amidst the scrub oak.

Gunther Kletetschka stops by the lab . . .

Dr. Kletetschka stops by . . .

Lab work
The next day, we met again at the lab — a cluttered garagelike space out at Goddard’s Magnetic Test Facility. Several other LPSA interns flitted about, preparing their final presentation for the coming Friday.

The moss had gotten a good overnight soak, and Kris began collecting tardigrades. The plan was to freeze them solid in liquid nitrogen and take them over to Goddard’s scanning electron microscope to image them.

Tardigrades, it turns out, produce a special kind of sugar molecule called Trehalose. It appears to suppress the formation of tissue-tearing large ice crystals. As I watched Kris work, LPSA intern Leva McIntire used liquid nitrogen to freeze a solution containing Trehalose to determine its anti-icing effect.

Earlier that day, Kris had frozen a bunch of tardigrades very quickly in an attempt to prevent extensive ice crystal formation, producing “semi-amorphous ice.” Then he thawed them. One, he suspected, had come back to life. But he wasn’t sure.

Kris at the microscope . . .

Kris at the microscope . . .

If true, this would be significant. Normally, scientists allow tardigrades to dry out before freezing them, or bombarding them with gamma rays, or performing other acts of torment to find out what can stand. Direct freezing would be a true test of tardigrade toughness.

I watched as Kris pursued water bears with his syringe, and he was having a hard time catching them. “It can be very tedious,” he said. “On a good day, I’ll get 20 after looking for a few hours. But those are just the ones you can see,” Kris said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kletetschka came by to check on Kris and the other interns at the lab. He explained that secret to tardigrade toughness is the suite of genes that allow them to repair a biological insult known as double-strand DNA breaks.

In our bodies, DNA suffers damage all the time. But our cells have tiny repair crews to fix it.

When a tardigrade dries up — or when it freezes solid — its tissues sustain damage. Entire DNA molecules break. But they appear to be able to fix it. The details are not all exactly clear, but the ability to repair such major damage is of keen interest to scientists.

As we talk, Gunther flips into self-described “science fiction” mode. What if we could develop a genetic engineering technique to confer the tardigrade repair system on humans? One that might allow astronauts to repair space radiation damage?

Intern Leva McIntire pours liquid nitrogen . . .

Intern Leva McIntire pours liquid nitrogen . . .

Freeze dried
It was getting late in the afternoon, and Kris was still struggling to capture a water bear in his syringe and squirt it out in a single droplet on a little copper disk in a Styrofoam container. Freezing the droplet rapidly could fix the biological sample in a rigid state, avoiding other, more involved processes needed for traditional fixation.

Slowly, the surfaces of the ice droplet would boil off (sublime) in the vacuum chamber until the tardigrade’s body was exposed at the surface. At that moment, the “cryo-fixed” critter could be bombarded with electrons and imaged in all its Japanese-monster-movie splendor.

After a long weekend, after Kris moved home and got back online, I reached him. And he gave me a quick update, as well as his final presentation.

“One final conclusion of the experiment was that after flash freezing in their non-desiccated form, at least two tardigrades showed some (although minimal) signs of life, indicating they possess some mechanism to prevent damage from freezing, as almost all other organisms would die,” he emailed me.

Freze-dried water bear . . .

Freeze-dried water bear . . .

“Additionally, we developed a new way to image tardigrades with the scanning electron microscope using flash freezing and subsequent sublimation of ice within the vacuum chamber. Though our results weren’t perfect, I think with more experimentation we could use this method to avoid the shriveling seen in biological samples due to dehydration.”

It intrigues me to think what will become of Kristopher Schwebler. He says he wants to go into aerospace medicine and become a surgeon. But you never know. Could this syringe-wielding medical student become the world’s greatest water bear cowboy?

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Gogblog Monday Video Rewind Picture Show: Into the chamber of horrors with Goddard engineer Kevin Boyce

August 9th, 2010 Comments off



“Welcome — to NASA’s spacecraft chamber of horrors!”

And so begins a really clever video by Goddard producer Michael D. McClare. It’s  about the nasty-but-necessary things we do to satellites and spacecraft on the ground to make sure they work as planned in space.

We shake them, freeze them, expose them to vacuum, bathe them in radio waves, spin them on a giant centrifuge, and blast them with sound waves. In this video, Goddard engineer Kevin Boyce channels Vincent Price and gives you a tongue-in-cheek tour of the spacecraft test facilities Goddard. You almost expect Boyce to burst out in malevolent chuckling as they strap a big piece of equipment onto a hydraulic stress-testing machine, which Boyce refers to as “the rack.”

Bruhahahahaha!

Download a higher-resolution version of the video to get the full effect of McClare’s excellent work.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.



That Was The Week That Was, August 1-6, 2010. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwittersphere

August 6th, 2010 Comments off

snakey clouds

snakey clouds

SUNDAY AUGUST 1: The Modis Image of the Day shows serpentine vortices of air flow around and over the island of Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic.

STORMY SUN: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO spacecraft observe a complex disturbance on the sun. This releases a blast of magnetically charged plasma, heading toward Earth.

MONDAY AUGUST 2: Hubble Gotchu Guy “Milky J” airs his new video on the Jimmy Fallon show. Filmed at Goddard’s massive Building 7-10-15-29 complex, the video features gang-signing NASA scientists and Milky J’s signature dry wit as he confronts the looming threat of the Webb Telescope to his beloved Hubble.

AWESOME-O-LICIOUS: NASA Blueshift’s Weekly Awesomeness Round-Up sports a cool video tour of the lunar surface based on Clementine data and other morsels of image and video from NASA.

TUESDAY AUGUST 3: A coronal mass ejection from the sun slams into Earth’s magnetic field, igniting a significant geomagnetic storm. Aurora spotters in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Maine, Canada, and Alaska report Northern Lights shows. The show continues the following night.

Milky J Posse

Milky J posse

MILKY J PIX: A NASA Blueshift blog post by Maggie Masetti features a gaggle of behind-the-scenes photos of the filming of Milky J’s new Hubble Gotchu Guy video. . . ME TOO! And on the (ahem) Geeked On Goddard blog, writer and NASA web commando Robert Garner provides another perspective on Milky J’s history making visit to Goddard.

EGYPTIAN SKIES: Pyramids, the space station, the moon, and planets grace today’s Earth science picture of the day.

HERMEAN HOLIDAY: Six years ago today, NASA launched the MESSENGER spacecraft to Mercury.

WEDNESDAY AUGUST 4: Earth Observatory posts a Terra satellite image of the Pakistani city of Kheshgi, “awash in floodwater,” like other devastated areas of the country’s Northwest.

THURSDAY AUGUST 5: The Pinoy Achiever’s blog spotlights Josefino Comiso, a senior scientist at the Cryospheric Sciences Branch of the Goddard Space Flight Center. The blog celebrates the successes of Philippinos. (“Pinoy” is a word Philippinos use to refer to themselves.)

80 SMALL LEAPS: Happy 80th birthday, Neil Armstrong. On this day in 1930, you were born in Wapakoneta, Ohio. And during a notable field trip on July 20, 1969, you said: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

mash-up

mash-up

COSMIC MASH UP: A new video simultaneously shows two galaxies colliding, seen through the eyes of NASA’s three surviving “great” space observatories: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope. (Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, R.I.P., was the fourth.)

FRIDAY AUGUST 6: Spaceweather.com wraps up this week’s wild solar shenanigans this way:

THE SHOW IS OVER . . . FOR NOW: Geomagnetic activity has subsided to low levels and the aurora show of August 3rd and 4th has come to an end. At the height of the display, Northern Lights descended as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States.

DON’T MISS the latest mindblowing SDO image of the August 1 solar disturbance — in fact, here it is below! This space observatory is truly living up to its promise as the Hubble Space Telescope of solar astronomy.

SDO_aug1_608

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Gogblog Vodcast #1: Here’s what a Shuttle launch looks like at Goddard’s Flight Dynamics Facility

August 5th, 2010 2 comments

For the past three decades, whenever NASA launched a space shuttle, people at Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flight Dynamics Facility (FDF) have played a critical role, quietly in the background. Their mission: to provide precise pointing coordinates to allow antennas on the ground and in space to track the orbiter as it blasts into orbit and circles Earth.

The computer animation below gives you a feel for what a launch looks like from the FDF. (Click the image and a Quicktime movie should open up in a new window and start playing.) The voice-over narration was kindly provided by FDF junior systems engineer Jason Laing.


shuttle_launch_still

CLICK the image above to see the Shuttle launch movie!
Download the animation as a .m4v file you can play with iTunes
Download the high-resolution 47 Mb Quicktime movie version


The animation shows the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system picking up the orbiter in flight and tracking it. FDF engineers created the animation using software they developed themselves as well as a commercial package called Satellite Toolkit, or STK.

As the orbiter circles Earth, TDRS satellites “hand over” tracking responsibility from one satellite to the next. TDRS 4, in geosynchronous orbit over the U.S. East Coast, picks up the shuttle over Florida during launch.

FDF engineer Jason Laing at his station

FDF engineer Jason Laing at his station

The tracking satellite’s antenna, as you can see in the visualization, has a relatively narrow beam width. The antennas swivel on gimbals so they can follow the orbiter. As one satellite loses its line of sight, the next one locks on to the target.

The FDF also provides support for International Space Station (ISS) missions. The last 20 seconds of the visualization shows one TDRS handing over tracking of the International Space Station to the next satellite. High-bandwidth channels on TDRS satellites allow us to watch the astronauts on TV. The TDRS satellites have different antennas for different jobs.

But without the FDF’s support, the satellites wouldn’t know where to point. In future posts, we’ll take a closer look at the amazing technology that whirs and buzzes behind the scenes to allow human spaceflight to happen.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.



Goddard’s gotchu! Milky J and the Jimmy Fallon posse come to town and talk NASA scientists into gnawing on ribs and rapping

August 3rd, 2010 4 comments

Here’s a guest post by Rob Garner, a writer and member of the crack Goddard web team. —gogblog


Goddard hosted a special guest last month, and you just may have seen him on television last night talking about it!

The name “Bashir Salahuddin” may not ring any bells with you (nope, it’s not the doctor from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”), but fans of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” will recognize him as “Milky J,” whose “Hubble Gotchu!” sketches have showcased the famous telescope’s magnificent images.

What’s that you say? You haven’t seen the clips? Then enjoy the sampling below!






After the videos aired Lynn Chandler gave the Jimmy Fallon crew a call. Lynn works here at Goddard as the public affairs officer for the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s successor to the Hubble.

When the full-size Webb model traveled to New York at the beginning of June, she suggested Bashir meet up there with NASA’s first civil servant Nobel Prize laureate Dr. John Mather to discuss Hubble and Webb, of which Dr. Mather happens to be the senior project scientist. The visit there went so well that Bashir (as Milky J) decided to take a trip to Goddard’s Greenbelt, Md., campus.

The video resulting from that trip in late July aired last night — but in case you missed it …



Brent Bos poses with Milky J's letters, now flavored with tangy rib sauce. (Image by Maggie Masetti)

Brent Bos poses with Milky J's letters, now flavored with tangy rib sauce. (Image by Maggie Masetti)

Let it not be said that NASA folks lack a sense of humor! Milky J’s Hubble fanaticism may be mostly just for laughs, but Bashir, who also writes for “Late Night,” has a genuine interest in space science. “Hubble Gotchu!” carries that science to new audiences, which is one reason why we loved helping put this video together.

And putting it together took a mountain of effort, both from the Goddard family and from the “Late Night” team. On our end, weeks of preparations and permissions went into making sure Bashir could film in all the “cool” spots. (Lynn and Mike McClare, Goddard’s Hubble and Webb video producer extraordinaire, deserve some serious high-fives for getting that all taken care of.)

Some of the “Late Night” crew, headed by director Michael Blieden, took the train down from New York on July 21 to scope Goddard for places to shoot. Andy Freeberg, a Goddard producer who helped guide the team, said they were just blown away by all the stuff going on here.

Milky J poses in his homemade spacesuit. (Image by Maggie Masetti)

Milky J poses in his homemade spacesuit. (Image by Maggie Masetti)

The morning of the 22nd came, and the rest of the crew arrived for a full day of shooting. The schedule was jam-packed, moving from the testing chambers to the NASA Communications center (Nascom), to the clean room, to the Goddard TV studio. Goddard never seems quite as big as it does when you’re lugging video equipment on a hot day!

The Jimmy Fallon crew was a pleasure to work with. Despite the fast-paced schedule Bashir, Michael and the rest of the team took the time to chat with the Goddard spectators who stopped by to see what was going on. Bashir is soft-spoken in comparison to his Milky J alter ego, and a true professional; he had all his dialogue memorized ahead of time.

Filming became a special treat for a school tour group that happened to meander by as the team shot in Nascom. They likely thought it strange that a telescope operator could be such a messy eater. Optical Physicist and “rib-eater” Brent Bos deserves special praise for that performance.

Brent had just completed media training the day before — and slathering on barbecue sauce before the big interview was definitely not one of the topics covered! Brent managed to keep the sauce confined to his face and fingers through multiple takes, a miraculous feat, as any rib fan knows. (The ribs appeared courtesy of Lynn Chandler’s kitchen.)

Milky J interviewed Paul Geithner, Webb’s observatory manager, at the end of the day. (Image by Andy Freeberg)

Milky J interviewed Paul Geithner, Webb’s observatory manager, at the end of the day. (Image by Andy Freeberg)

As Milky J would put it, “Whatever celestial images you need, Hubble gotchu!” When it comes to Hubble and James Webb, Goddard gotchu, too.

(Thanks to Webb blogger Maggie Masetti for filling in some of the details of the day!)

PS! If you want to learn more about superheated exoplanet HD 209458b, take a look at NASA’s Hubble website.

***ALSO make sure to check out Maggie Masetti’s blog post about the Hubble Gotchu Guy visit on NASA Blueshift. It has more great backstage photos.
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.