Category Archives: Earth

Holy Meteor Smokes! Electric-Blue Sky Invasion

Noctilucent Clouds in Sandbukta, Norway. Photo: Morten Ross

Bright Noctilucent Clouds in Sandbukta, Norway. Photo: Morten Ross

This gorgeous image of noctilucent clouds, captured on July 4th by Morten Ross of Norway, is a result of “meteor smoke” — tiny ice crystals seeded into Earth’s highest clouds that form 50 miles above Earth’s surface at the very edge of space. When sunlight hits these clouds, according to, the ice crystals glow electric blue…as you can see in the image above.

Scientists are learning more about noctilucent clouds in recent years. Space dust, or meteor smoke, is comprised of microscopic specks of dust caused by meteoroids (think:  inner solar system litter) that hit Earth’s surface and burn up — leaving a haze of tiny particles around Earth’s outer edges. Specks of meteor smoke serve as the office water cooler — attracting water molecules to gather together and assemble themselves into ice crystals, in a process called nucleation.

These electric blue clouds are visible not only from Earth’s surface, but also from above. The crew of Space Station’s Expedition 31 captured the top down image of noctilucent clouds on July 13, 2012.

Noctilucent Clouds from Space Station. Image: NASA Expedition 31

Noctilucent Clouds from Space Station. Image: NASA Expedition 31

These clouds normally live in the Arctic Circle, but have migrated south due to the spread of green house gases, according to James Russell of Hampton University, principal investigator of NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission.

"Geophysical Light Bulb" over Arctic. Credit: AIM

“Geophysical Light Bulb” over Arctic. Credit: AIM

If you happen to see an invasion of electric-blue and white tendrils taking over the sky, you may want to send them back home — but get out your camera first. You can upload your images to SpaceWeather’s cloud gallery.





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Filed under Earth, Fragile Oasis, NASA

Space Apps 2014: It’s a Wrap!

Space Apps Go Beyond

The 2014 International Space Apps Challenge took place last weekend. Over 8000 humans in 95 locations around our planet joined together to leverage NASA data to solve global challenges. So many stories, so little time. Below is a collection of tweets that help characterize the international flavor and collective enthusiasm generated through NASA’s International Space Apps Challenges. Images tell the story better than words can.  I planned to only share five-ten images. Scroll down and you’ll see that I didn’t quite keep to that number.

Find yourselves in these images. I’ll bet you’re in one (or more) of them. 

Local hosts prepared for months to welcome participants: cool venues, name tags, goodies, tools, and hardware.

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps Skopje

Space Apps Valencia

Space Apps Baltimore

Space Apps Certificates

Space Apps Kathmandu

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps Sinaloa Cookies

Space Apps Toyko

Space Apps Nairobi

Space Apps fuel

Space Apps

We had Google hangouts and talks by space pioneers: astronaut Doug Wheelock from NYC, former astronaut Don Thomas in Baltimore, European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts Paolo Nespoli from Brazil and Luca Parmitano from Rome, and space tourist “astronaut” Mandla Maseko in Dakar, Senegal; Lome, Togo, and Pretoria, South Africa.

Space Apps Google hangout

Space Apps London

Space Apps Afronaut Talk

Space Apps South Africa

Space Apps South Africa

Space Apps Rome

The participants formed teams around challenges in five mission priorities: asteroids, Earth watch, human spaceflight, robotics, and space technology. Teams created over 600 projects. The most popular challenges were: Where on Earth, Exomars Rover is My Robot, Asteroid Prospector, Space Wearables, Alert-Alert, Growing Food for A Martian Table, Cool It, and SpaceT

Space Apps Let Hacking Begin

Space Apps Bolivia

Space Apps Mexico City

Space Apps Auckland

Space Apps Porto Alegre, Brazil

Space Apps Doha

Space Apps Bangalore

Space Apps Winnipeg

pace Apps Glasgow

Space Apps Auckland

Space Apps Sinaloa

Space Apps Doha

Space Apps Brazil

Space Apps KSC

Space Apps London

Teams worked together to code software, build software, design mission profiles, and learn how to innovate in a collaborative environment. The solutions were creative, unique, and inspiring — all created in a compressed weekend of long days and short nights.

Space Apps Reno

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps Paris

Space Apps Lome

Space Apps Chicago

Space Apps Istanbul

Space Apps Cork

Space Apps Rover

Space Apps Kansas City: Yorbit app

Space Apps South Africa hardware

Space Apps Exeter

Space Apps Nigeria

Space Apps Toronto hardware

Space Apps Lego

And, my personal favorite….

Space Apps Bolivia

Some of the locations took some time to look up into the skies. And that’s what space is all about, after all. Looking beyond the horizon and wondering, what if….

Space Apps Pittsburgh

Space Apps London

Space Apps Cyprus

Space Apps London

Space Apps Bordeaux

Space Apps Chile

Teams have to pitch their projects to local judges on the final day. Two of the local winners can go forward from each location to global judging, as well as a People’s Choice nominee.

Space Apps Kathmandu

Space Apps Benin

Space Apps South Africa

Here are some of the winning teams.

Space Apps Istanbul

Space Apps Goldcoast

At Space Apps Toronto, I had the privilege of serving as a judge. What an incredible experience.

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Who can resist a Judges Selfie???

Space Apps Toronto Judges Selfie

And, it’s a WRAP!

Space Apps Toronto: It's a Wrap

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 8.12.26 PM

Space Apps South Africa

Space Apps KSC

Space Apps Sinaloa

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps London

What overflows my heart is NASA’s boundLESSness — beyond borders and cultures. When NASA calls, global citizens, of all walks of life, answer. What an amazing thing to behold! I’m humbled by the opportunity and privilege to serve the public through programs like Space Apps.

Thank you ALL for an OUT-of-this-WORLD experience!!

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Filed under Africa, collaboration, Earth, innovation, International Space Apps, NASA

St. Paddy’s Day: Green Space!

Even though the DC region is covered in white, here are a few “green” space images to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!

Space Station Expedition 37: French Polynesia

Space Station Expedition 37: French Polynesia

Earth's surface from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. Credit: NASA/Robert Schwarz

Earth’s surface from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. Credit: NASA/Robert Schwarz

Space Station Expedition 34: Northern Lights

Space Station Expedition 34: Northern Lights

Space Station Expedition 37: Aurora Australis

Space Station Expedition 37: Aurora Australis

Expedition 38: Night view inside Space Station

Expedition 38: Night view inside Space Station

Hubble image of supernova.

Hubble image of supernova

Hubble Reveals the Ring Nebula's True Shape

Hubble Reveals the Ring Nebula’s True Shape

Planetary Nebula MyCn18: An Hourglass Pattern Around a Dying Star

Planetary Nebula MyCn18: An Hourglass Pattern Around a Dying Star

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Filed under Earth, International Space Station, NASA, space

[R]evolutionary Thinking: LeapFrog Logic


My LAUNCH buddy James Parr of Imaginals recommended Roger L. Martin’s book, “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win through Integrative Thinking” for my PhD research on Social Intrapreneurship. Martin explores what he calls integrative thinking — a pattern of thinking (cognitive discipline) that relies on cultivating the opposable mind.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”  — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Martin walks through a process of mapping the mind by identifying

  1. stance: who you are and what you’re after,
  2. tools: knocking the world into shape, and
  3. experiences: where stance and tools meet the world (i.e. sensitivities and skills).

Personal knowledge is comprised of these three elements of Martin’s mind map. Breaking down the elements, an integrative thinker’s stance will recognize the gap between reality and possibilities, refusing to accept that the best options are on the table. An integrative thinker imagines a reality that doesn’t exist, and creates the models to bring it into being.

“Integrative thinkers reason about what MIGHT be — about models that don’t yet exist — to generate a creative resolution. — Martin”

I’m intrigued by his discussion of generative reasoning, which he describes in three forms of logic. The first two are best known. The third, less discussed:

  1. deductive logic — the logic of what should be,
  2. inductive logic –the logic of assumption that certain observations can be generally applied, and
  3. abductive logic – leapfrog logic that requires creative thinking.

Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of American Pragmatism, coined the term adductive logic, which seeks the best explanation for misfit data that doesn’t fall nicely under the current models. To take this a bit further, enough misfit data and we’re are often forced into a Thomas Kuhn paradigm shift in thinking. Martin argues that integrative thinkers (entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs) rely on generative reasoning as the only tool that can bring about creative solutions to intractable problems.

The raw material for integrative thinking — via generative reasoning — is “what does not YET exist.”

I’m extremely fortunate to work with an amazing group of integrative thinkers with the LAUNCH team, LAUNCH Council, and LAUNCH Innovators. We wrestle with how best to dislodge intractable sustainability issues that face the 7 billion+ of us who share this planet, as well as the six human living onboard the International Space Station. Stay tuned for our upcoming LAUNCH sustainability challenge focused on the materials system. We’ll convene a conversation with abductive thought leaders from industry, government, and non-profits to create new solutions and new models to bring about global paradigm shifts in the way we make and use the scarce resources — or create new options no one has yet considered.

All you leapfroggers, UNITE! Together, we can create a new reality if we use our opposable minds and abductive brainwaves. :-D

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Filed under Earth, innovation, LAUNCH, social entrepreneurship

Spacebot Invasion

My Robot 2012 Calendar came equipped with Fold-Your-Own 3-D paper punch-out robots. As I close out this year, I decided to try putting one together. After one, I was hooked. I punched, folded, and glued my way through the week of Christmas. Normally, I wouldn’t take the time to make paper dolls, but who can resist these cute little robots? I truly enjoyed bringing them to life.

Meet the spacebots. Each is unique and has a story to tell.

Radiacto's radiation gauge looks off the chart.

Radiacto’s radiation gauge looks off the chart. Best to wear lead.

Retro Attack dares invaders to touch down on our Blue Planet.

Retro Attack dares invaders to touch down on our Blue Planet. She’s on guard 24-7.

Cyclops is a Universal Guardian

Cyclops is a Universal Guardian keeping an eye on humanity.

I-Spin 3000's Mood Meter monitors human happiness.

I-Spin 3000’s Mood Meter monitors human happiness. Smiling makes her meter spin.

Tock-A-Tron is a time traveler.

Tock-A-Tron is a time traveler. He rolls between the space-time continuum

Don't Panic is an Earth monitor.

Don’t Panic is an Earth monitor. She’s here to keep humanity safe.

Jackpot thinks our Blue Planet in right on the money!

Jackpot thinks our Blue Planet in right on the money!

Raid Invader was once a galactic warrior.

Raid Invader was once a galactic warrior, but after a short vacation on Earth, he quit his job. He opted for a Blue Planet retirement.

Galaxy Ranger travels planet to planet.

Galaxy Ranger travels planet to planet. Earth is his fav stopover.

Heartbreaker has a heart for Earthlings.

Heartbreaker has a heart for Earthlings. She’s a planetary caretaker.

Tank-Tronic keeps the planet safe from enemy invaders.

Tank-Tronic keeps the planet safe from enemy invaders.

Drill Bit is a Planetary Archeologist.

Drill Bit is a Planetary Archeologist. Don’t forget the drilling permits!

Spacebots are hanging out in my library

Spacebots are hanging out in my library, trying to learn about humans.

Spacebots enjoyed their first Blue Planet Christmas.

Spacebots enjoyed their first Blue Planet Christmas.

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ESA Space LUV: Italian-Style

The morning after the ESA/DLR SpaceTweetup, NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz and I met with  Marco Trovatello and Henning Krause of the Germany Space Agency DLR and Fulvio Drigani,  Erica RolfeDaniel ScukaAndreas Schepers of the European Space Agency ESA to talk lessons learned from the first-ever European tweetup. Great sharing ideas and good practices across agencies.

Space Tweetup Debrief with ESA, DLR, NASA

Space Tweetup Debrief with ESA, DLR, NASA

Erica, bless her heart, traveled with me to Italy for the next ESA tweetup at the ESRIN facility. We took a train from Cologne to Frankfurt. A plane from Frankfurt to Rome. And a taxi through congested evening traffic to Frascati, located south of Rome.

ESRIN is ESA’s European Space Research Institute – the center for Earth Observation. No one prepared me for the little piece of paradise I would encounter in the land of olive trees, lavendar bushes, grape vines, and cappuccino bars!

Morning Cappuccino Break

Morning Cappuccino Break at ESA/ESRIN

Olive groves on ESA/ESRIN property!

Olive groves on ESA/ESRIN property!

Not so hidden among the olive trees, ESA's satellite dish.

Not so hidden among the olive trees, ESA's satellite dish.

On Thursday, ESA hosted a small group of space tweeps for a one-on-one question and answer session with the MagISStra crew, ESA’s name for the Expedition 26-27 Space Station crew: @Astro_Paolo Nespoli and @Astro_Cady Coleman. @AstroSamantha Cristoforetti was part of the panel as well.

ESA MagISStra Mission Logo

ESA MagISStra Mission Logo

Each of the tweeps had been invited for their support during @Astro_Paolo’s mission, or for winning ESA twitter contests, or for supporting the mission within ESA. @NickAstronomer won the golden ticket as the 25,000th @ESA twitter follower. Here is the list (forgive me if I missed someone): @TiraLondon, @SpaceKate, @mariiabennet, @nhaima, @Stelygs, @pressarea,@mattegianni, and @HimeIshida.

Tweeps: ESA/ESRIN SpaceTweetup

Tweeps: ESA/ESRIN SpaceTweetup

@Astro_Cady @Astro_Paolo @AstroSamantha

@Astro_Cady @Astro_Paolo @AstroSamantha

Space Tweeps chatting with astronauts

Space tweeps chatting with astronauts

@Astro_Paolo with @AstroSamantha tweeting

@Astro_Paolo with @AstroSamantha tweeting from stage

@tiraLondon tweet

@stelygs tweet

@nhaima tweet

@pressarea tweet

After our session with the astronauts, we toured the facilities at ESRIN. Here we are wearing our cool spacey 3-D shades to watch GOCE satellite image animations.

Tour of ESRIN facilities

ESA GOCE image of Earth

ESA GOCE image of Earth

Touring the facilities

Touring the facilities: @Stelygs @mattegianni

Space tweeps tweeting during tour

Tweeting: @pressarea @ericarolfe @mattegianni

ESA @TiraLondon @SpaceKate

@TiraLondon @SpaceKate

After the tour, we headed out to Frascati to an event with the Mayor, citizens, and astronauts.

Frascati, Italy

Frascati, Italy

Q & A with Mayor and Citizens of Frascati

Q & A with Mayor and Citizens of Frascati

They posed for pictures in front of this statue. I’m not sure the story behind the second head, but it can’t be good….

Statue in Frascati's Town Hall

Statue in Frascati's Town Hall

Great day all around!! 

Special thanks and well-deserved praise for my ESA colleagues. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share your world with you this past week. I want to take a few moments to thank you each individually.

Erica Rolfe (communicator extraordinaire and force behind the @ESA twitter account):

Words can’t begin to express my appreciation for you. You are a gracious and cheerful host, all the while juggling several events, social media, and family. You made sure I had rides to the ESA office and events, a place to work, and plenty of opportunity to share ideas with ESA staff. Erica, you’re truly AWEsome. Virtual applause for all that you do. Thanks for sprinkling me with your star dust.

In fact, @Astro_Paolo presented an award to Erica, but she missed it. She was presiding over a facilities tour with invited space tweeps.)

Fulvio Drigani:

Thanks for your vision and support for the role social media can play in connecting Earthlings with space. Your easy laugh is a delight. I look forward to working closely with you when we hatch our future partnership plots. We have so much to gain by working together more closely.

Frederic Le Gall:

Thanks for your probing questions and lively debate over how best to tell the story of space and allocate scarce resources. You made me think the most! I look forward to the FAB new ideas you have in mind for future projects. Let us know when you’re ready to collaborate.

Asa Ericson:

You are an absolute doll for picking me up at my hotel each morning, taking care of badging and wifi access, making sure I have coins for the vending machines, copying your map to keep me from getting lost, and overall cheerful support. You put me at ease and helped me feel at home. I’ve never felt so welcome. Truly. You’re wonderful.

Daniel Scuka:

Though you didn’t come back to Italy with us, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for taking care of me in Cologne. Your sense of humor and chill demeanor helped ease my jet-lagged slogginess. And I enjoyed your German, even though the taxi-drivers made you switch to English. My regards to your Texan wife!!

Samantha Cristoforetti:

I’m inspired by your passion, enthusiasm, and great perspective on life. You’ve embraced the social media tools as a way to help share the story of space. You really “get it,” which makes life easy for those of us who want to help you do your job in the best way you can. Thanks for catching the vision. Your journey to space can be our journey too, if we can go with you through social media. Glad to see you on Google+ too!

Thanks ESA. I wave my flag (or your flag) in your honor!

ESA flag

ESA flag flying at ESRIN in Frascati

Final thought:

@Astro_Paolo Nespoli posed a question to tweeps after the ESRIN tweetup:

“What do you get out of social media. What does it do for you?”

We all gave him good reasons, but it struck me on the flight home that without social media, I would never have met any of the folks at ESA or DLR, nor would I have been invited to attend these super cool SpaceTweetups. I met my communications colleagues through Twitter, not through normal work channels.

But here’s the real reason we use social media: we get to share the space LUV and watch it grow exponentially.

@mattegianni tweet

I’ll leave you with a quick glimpse of Rome. I’m ready to go back and spend some time enjoying the sights!

Roma Colosseo

Roma Colosseo

Roma: Colonna Traiana

Roma: Colonna Traiana

Roma: Arco di Constantino

Roma: Arco di Constantino

Rome: Santa Maria Maggiore

Roma: Santa Maria Maggiore


Filed under astronaut, Earth, NASA, social media, SpaceTweetup

Moon Shadows

Now that I’ve started the PhD program at Virginia Tech, I drive to the Blacksburg campus one day a week for classes. In order to get to my 9:00 a.m. class, I leave my house at 4:00 a.m. Needless to say, much of the drive is illuminated by artificial light — street lights and headlights from my car. Once I get into the hills and mountains outside the Washington, D.C. area, street lights disappear, as well as the light pollution from the metroplex. An amazingly bright moon (and BBC news on XM radio) kept me company.

Moon from Space

Moon from Space

As I drove, I thought about the disparity between people who live without power around the world — even today — and the hi-tech culture that sends humans to space. Technology enables me to look at photos of moonrises from space in near realtime. Some cultures may never see those pictures.

Lost in thought, I noticed something odd. Light kept flashing on and off the road in front of me and bounced off the hood of my car — like a pulsating flood light from a helicopter, but engulfing too great a distance to be manmade. I looked up through my sunroof to see the source.

The trees on top on the mountain cutaway created a filter pattern, blocking and revealing the moon, strobe-light fashion, as I drove through. It dawned on me:

Moon Shadows!

I’d never seen them before, that I can recall. What a cool experience in the black of night to have the heavenly light-dance in front of and all around me. A song from my distant past flooded into my memory: Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow.

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow

Moonshadow, moonshadow

Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow

Moonshadow, moonshadow…”

In my case, I was embraced by a moon shadow.

What is the significance of any of this? I’m not sure. I just felt the need to share the wonder and awe I felt driving through moon shadows, even just for a few minutes. I felt connected, in some strange way, to humans who walked on the surface of that huge reflecting orb in the sky. I felt sad for Astronaut Ron Garan who leaves behind, probably forever, the magnificent view he has of the moon and stars from Space Station.

Moon Rise over Earth. Photo by @Astro_Ron

Moon Rise over Earth. Photo by @Astro_Ron

Thank you, Moon, for inviting me to your shadow-dance performance. You made my day!

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Filed under astronaut, Earth, NASA, space, technology

Welcome to Gravityland @Astro_Ron


Ron Garan's Moonrise from Space Station September 12, 2011

Astronaut Ron Garan departs Space Station Thursday, September 15. I know his family is elated. He’s been gone for six months. I have to admit. I’m having the opposite reaction. I’ve truly enjoyed his tweets, twitpics, blogs, vlogs…and, yes, phone calls from space.

As founder of Fragile Oasis, Ron tirelessly provided fresh content for NASA’s fledgling website to ensure we tell the story of space in a way that inspires Earth-bound citizens to want to make this world a better place. From the unique point of view only our astronauts can provide, we learn about our blue planet — a fragile oasis suspended in an extremely hostile universe. Fragile Oasis features projects submitted by the community to contribute to a better tomorrow. Take a moment to browse the awe-inspiring projects on the site.

Fragile Oasis

Ron is the Founding Bloggernaut for Fragile Oasis.

“The focus is not on the problems of the world but on how the problems of the world are being solved by amazing people.” — @FragileOasis

I first met Ron at our LAUNCH:Water forum, when Ron’s Manna Energy was selected as one of ten disruptive innovations. I had no idea he was an astronaut. How cool is that! When he went to Star City to train for his time on Space Station, Elyse David and I both received phone calls from Russia with a new brainchild: Fragile Oasis. And now you can join Fragile Oasis too — simply by signing in through Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn.

I have to say, working with Ron brought some really cool perks — like photos from space.

Photo of my family in Soweto flown in space

My daughter Steph, my mother and I are visiting a day care in Soweto, South Africa.

A green screen Space Station photo of me in the actual Space Station

A green screen Space Station photo of me in the actual Space Station. Oh the irony.

The photo immediately above is from NASA’s Galactic Explorer Module, one of my first creations in my current job as Outreach Manager. We created a green screen kiosk that allows individuals and groups to go to space and back in 30 seconds (ok, not really, but it’s as close as we can offer on the ground) and email their photo/video to friends and family. This was years before social media hit the scene — but our early attempt at viral messaging.

This green screen photo of me with Space Station as a backdrop is now up in space inside the real Space Station. Too cool for words!

Ron thrilled dozens of space tweeps when he called to say hello at our STS-135 tweetup. He’s called each one of our Fragile Oasis team members from space. It seems like a simple thing to do, but a phone call from space is just over the moon! Well not literally, but you get my point.

Ron, we’ll miss having you in space. You’ve been an amazing ambassador. I’m sure you’ll have us running around the moment you climb out of your Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan this week. See you soon.


Filed under astronaut, Earth, Fragile Oasis, LAUNCH, NASA, space, tweet-up

Remembering 9/11

I drive past T.C. Williams High School on my way to work every morning. Yesterday, I noticed the cluster of flags on the front lawn, which reminded me that September 11 is this weekend.

Cluster of American Flags in front of TC Williams High School in Alexandria, VA.

Cluster of American Flags in front of TC Williams High School in Alexandria, VA.

Once I got to work, I watched a new 9/11 Tribute on the NASA website, featuring former Astronaut Frank Culbertson, Expedition 3 Commander on the Space Station at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He was the only American off the planet with eyes to see the devastation from 220 miles up. I was really taken aback by my emotional response to the video.

Smoke from Twin Towers. Credit: NASA

Smoke from Twin Towers. Credit: NASA

Tweet about 9/11My daughter Steph came by the office yesterday afternoon. It was her first day of classes in the International Psychology PhD program at the D.C. campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I went outside the building to welcome her, and happened to see Frank Culbertson walk past. I stopped him to thank him for his moving tribute and introduced him to Steph. We chatted a bit about his experience. Here’s a letter Frank wrote while in space.

I know everyone is writing about their experiences, and you’ve probably read one too many. I just need to get this out. Feel free to jump to the bottom.


I was working in the Administrator’s Office at NASA Headquarters, which meant my office had a very large TV that I never turned on. The morning of September 11, I turned on the TV. Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America reported a plane hit one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center. I was frozen to the screen, assuming it was pilot error. When the second plane hit, I knew: terrorism. [I worked as a CIA Fellow on the very first Terrorism Analysis team in the mid-1980's.]

Then the third plane hit the Pentagon. My sister called from Texas with a very clear message. “You have two daughters. Get out of there.” I put down the phone. Turned off the TV. Picked up my purse and left the building. I didn’t ask. I didn’t wait for instructions. I simply left. Motherhood instincts kicked in.

I pulled out of the NASA garage to the sound of sirens everywhere. Police cars zoomed past, though the streets seemed strangely empty. I drove South on 395, the highway that curls around the Pentagon. Black smoke blocked my path, belching from the fires at the Pentagon. The image haunts me even today. I drove into the thick blackness, sobbing uncontrollably. On the other side of the smoke, police blocked the North-bound route. I was one of the few cars that made it south before they closed the highway completely. My mission: get to Steph. She was a student at T.C. Williams at the time. My daughter Carol was in New York, attending Syracuse University.

I passed the high school with the intent to get off the roads, park at home, and walk back to the school. I opened the my front door just as a second explosion rocked my house. I had no idea what caused it. I just knew I needed to get to the school to make sure Steph was safe. (I assume the second blast was the fuel depot for the Pentagon helicopters.) I rushed to TC to get Steph, as well as Paolo, a Brazilian student who had come to live with us to study English. As we walked home, we watched fighter pilots fly over us. We were safe. Parents of other TC students weren’t. They worked in the Pentagon.

Note: I accompanied my daughter Carol and her team from Syracuse to work with the Red Cross at the recovery site in NYC after 9/11. For eight hours a day, we sat with the Ground Zero workers during their breaks, listened to their stories, served food, cleaned the tables and floors, and did whatever was needed. Our experience included housing at the YMCA, where my daughter and I shared a set of bunk beds with a couple of mice who chewed through my clothes. Not hers. Only mine. But all for a worthy cause. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve, even in such a small way.


As we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11 tomorrow, my thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives, as well as the military families who’ve suffered loss.

Human hatred and the outward expression it evokes, for whatever reason or provocation, is simply heartbreaking. We have the power within us to learn how to overcome differences and find common ground. We are, indeed, a global community — as we model every day on Space Station.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

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Peace on Planet Earth

Moonrise over Earth

Moonrise over Earth. Photo: Astronaut Ron Garan

I keep thinking about this photo in contrast to the East Coast craziness we experienced this week: Earthquake DeeCee and Hurricane Irene. But, viewed with a bit of perspective, neither of these events caused devastation like we’ve seen around the world in Haiti or Japan or Indonesia or New Zealand. Nor can these events compare to unrest in the Middle East and droughts in Africa.

  • No building toppled onto of me.
  • No 20-ft waves flattened the landscape or carried my loved ones out to sea.
  • Hunger never gives me more than a twinge of discomfort.
  • Bullets and bombs don’t force me into hiding.

Yes,we snipe at each other over politics, but our elections are free and open.

We have a bad day when someone at work treats us poorly, or we get in snarled traffic, or the AC goes out. Heaven forbid the TV cable decides to act up and delay our “On Demand” selection.

We have SO much to be thankful for in our land of plenty.

Our astronauts’ point-of-view gives me such a rich perspective. In @Astro_Ron‘s photo above, I see our world at peace. Yes, Mother Nature seems on the warpath, but we humans can learn how to get along better. We can make better choices to live together as a global community of caring individuals. Can’t we?

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. — James 3:16-18

As you can tell, I feel reflective in the calm after the storm. How ’bout you? Ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do you care about most?
  • What excites you to get out of bed every morning?
  • What dreams have you left untouched?
  • What’s stopping you from achieving your dreams?

Do you want to make this world a better place? I do! Join others who feel the same on Fragile Oasis.

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