Tag Archives: astronauts

Astro-Stars in Our Eyes

My youngest daughter, Steph, is a Houston Astros baseball fanatic. She grew up wanting to be Craig Biggio. She lives and breathes for the game, watches them on her computer, knows the stats by heart.

Two summers ago, she came home for a visit with one purpose in mind — watch the Astros play a 3-game series against the Nats in their new stadium. I’d never been there before, so we headed out for our adventure in southwest DC. We bought our tickets to sit above the Astros bullpen, so she could be close to her boys.

My daughter's fav baseball player ever!

My daughter's fav baseball player ever!

During the game, a man and two boys sat down next to us. One of the boys wore a NASA shirt. I asked where he got his shirt. He pointed to the man next to me and said his dad worked at NASA.

What an amazing coincidence. Of all the seats in the National’s Ballpark, two NASA employees end up sitting together.

I asked his dad where he worked. Houston, he told me. We chatted for a bit before I discovered he was an astronaut. Turns out he’d come to the game to throw out the first pitch. He brought his son and nephew along with him. Really nice guy.

Terry Virts. STS-130 Pilot.

STS-130 Pilot Terry Virts

STS-130 Pilot Terry Virts

I share this with you now because he’s up in space right this very minute. He broke the bonds of Earth yesterday on his first flight to space. And how cool is that?!? He’s circling the planet at 17,500 mph while I type.

STS-130 launch

STS-130 launch. Credit/NASA

Today’s STS-130 Flight Day 2 wake-up call was dedicated to Terry. Great song by Brandon Heath, “Give Me Your Eyes.” Wake-up calls for Space Shuttle missions are chosen by family and friends. The song selection says a great deal about the person, I think.

Mission Control ground-to-space Flight Day 2 audio recording.

I’ll share a few lyrics from “Give Me Your Eyes” by songwriters: Brandon Heath and Jason David Ingram. (The lyrics themselves serve as a wake-up call for service to the forgotten and broken-hearted.)

“Looked down from a broken sky. Traced out by the city lights. My world from a mile high. Best seat in the house tonight. Touched down on the cold black top. Hold on for the sudden stop. Breathe in the familiar shock. Of confusion and chaos.

All those people going somewhere. Why have I never cared?

Chorus: Give me your eyes for just one second. Give me your eyes so I can see. Everything that I keep missing. Give me your love for humanity. Give me your arms for the broken hearted. Ones that are far beyond my reach. Give me your heart for the ones forgotten. Give me your eyes that I can see.”

Great song. Great heart. Great guy. So nice to see the good ones fly.

Oh, sorry, I got caught up in the whole rhythm and rhyme thing.

Getting back to the event that started this whole story. I don’t recall whether the Astros won or lost. Steph can tell you, though. She’ll remember who got what hit. Who scored. How many runs batted in. How many errors.

But she won’t remember which astronaut she talked to. I will. I’ll be able to tell you how many times he flies. How many hours in orbit. What music he likes. And so on.

At least we’re keeping space in the family. Steph has stars in her eyes for Earth-bound Astros. I have stars in my eyes for Astros who leave Earth. Life offers such interesting parallels. Don’t you think?

You can find out more about Terry and the STS-130 crew at NASA.gov.

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Filed under Earth, NASA

Life Off-Planet Affects Planet-Bound

In a discussion thread on NASA Facebook, several asked:

What do we get out of research that supports humans traveling off this planet, since the rest of us don’t get to tag along for the ride?

I decided to post my thoughts here. This is, by no means, a comprehensive argument for space. Rather, I offer a few brain bubbles on the topic…to get them out of my head, really. So here we go:

Most advancements in science and technology from space are used here on Earth to benefit humans living on this planet.

Shuttle docked at Space Station 220 miles over Earth

Take the issue of radiation. The sun bombards this planet every day. Look at the alarming rate of skin cancer. I know it well. I lost my Daddy to it. Outside the thin blue line of protection our atmosphere gives us, radiation is much worse. We protect our Space Station crews as best we can. But they’ve taken extra precautions, lining up water containers against the walls in certain areas to give them more protection.

Going out further in space, humans will endure much greater exposure to radiation. Any anti-radiation measures we create for space travel will find their way to market back on Earth. That’s just the way it works. We invest in the solution. You benefit from the technology.

What about the humans who sign up to go “out there.” Why should anyone on Earth care what happens to them, right? I mean, they applied for the job. They volunteered. So what do we (the planet-bound) get out of their choice?

Astronauts are human science experiments.

@StationCDRKelly tweets about drawing his own blood for Station science

Astronaut Scott Kelly tweets about Station Science

Astronauts get poked and prodded, spun around, submerged under water, crushed under g-forces, and suffer bone loss — all in the name of science. Oh yeah, they float weightless too. Well, that’s another grand experiment in itself.

Space pioneers, and their families, endure great danger and discomfort to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. They willingly sacrifice themselves for what we don’t know — to advance the cause, to break the code, to peek under the curtains. If we knew everything we ever needed to know about the Universe in our how-to-live-on-planet-Earth guide book, we wouldn’t need pioneers to go out there and  scout out answers for us.

Space Station sodium chloride crystal

Space Station experiment: sodium chloride crystal. Credit: NASA

Humans who travel outside the boundaries of Earth teach us about living and working in a hostile environment with constrained resources. Their space ship is a closed–loop, self-contained biosphere — just like Earth.

Our home planet is a self-contained biosphere with finite resources surrounded by hostile environment of space.

220 miles overhead on Space Station: we make our own energy (solar), recycle our waste water, filter our air, and conserve all our resources. Astronauts/cosmonauts use considerably less water and energy per person than the average AmericanNot by choice really. By necessity. Just like the many citizens of this planet who live without easy access to water or electricity or clean air.

Off-planet living= green living!

We are working to apply these efficiencies back home to help conserve precious water and energy and air on Earth.

And don’t forget this one: unparalleled point of view from SPACE.

We give you a no-borders look at our fragile planet from the outside in.

NASA imagery offers us the big picture view of deforestation, shrunken polar cap, massive weather patterns and more. We help nations address global issues that might not be visible standing on the front porch. Our eyes (cameras and satellites) capture the whole planet for objective analysis.

Earth: the Dark Side of Carbon

Earth: the Dark Side of Carbon. Credit: NASA

We can’t solve all the world’s problems, nor is it our charter; however, we push the envelope. The issues we face off this planet are the Earth’s issues, but magnified.

Make no mistake, Earth faces the same issues: as we stretch our limited resources across the globe to meet the needs of the world’s population. I can say this with certainty based on our 50-year history at NASA:

Whatever we learn about humans living outside this planet will be leveraged to make life safer and better here on Earth.

Your life may depend on it.

Two NASA links you may find of interest: NASA technology and the story of the Universe.

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Filed under Earth, environment, federal government, leadership, NASA, social media, space, water

How Twitter is like Mission Control

I’m on the other side of my Door Jam Saga. Whew! Thank goodness. My Twitter buds, or Tweeps as we like to call ourselves, lived through the drama with me–offering tips and moral support. Now you too can relive the experience with me, and see how they helped.

Come to think of it, Twitter became my own personal Mission Control!

I mean really. That’s how it works during missions. Astronauts up in space have a problem. They signal Mission Control down on Earth. Teams come together to provide options to resolve the issue. Think Apollo 13…or the STS-12o mission when Astronaut Scott Parazynski repaired the Space Station solar array with an onorbit hand-crafted “cuff link.”

Yep. That’s pretty much how it happened for me with my Door Jam Saga.

Here’s the tweet that called TWission Control to action:


Door Jam Tweet

Door Jam Tweet

Let me set the stage for you. I came home from work to find the door to my study closed. How odd. It was open when I left. I tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge — as if a body was leaning against it, holding it closed.

Believe it or not, I actually called out to ask if someone was there.

You know, like the creepy horror movies I refuse to watch. That spooky scene where the woman hears a noise and goes to check it out. If I were watching the movie, I would yell at the screen and tell her to run for her life — in the other direction. But  no, here I am in my own house, asking if someone is behind the very door I’m trying to open.

Not smart! (Readers, don’t try this at home.)

At that point, I realize how silly, and reckless, I am. I head back to the front door and perform a series of escape maneuvers:

  • Open the door (in preparation for a speedy egress — NASA term).
  • Change from heels to running shoes (conveniently by the door). Also prepping for a speedy egress down the front steps.
  • Call my daughter. Think help-line live.

With my daughter on the phone ready to call 911, I approach the closed study door again. I’m wondering, upon reflection, why I didn’t pick up a baseball bat or something. But, I was wise, really. I’m faster on my feet in flight, than I am strong — for hand-to-hand combat, I mean.

Back to the story: With iPhone in hand, I announce to the person behind the door that I’m on the phone with the police (BIG LIE). I demand he come out.

Silence. Thankfully!

Next, my very wise daughter suggests I go out side and look in the window to see what’s blocking the door. I follow her advice. Luckily I’d opened the blinds before I left. Otherwise, I’d be driving blind, so to speak.

Ah ha! The culprit? Two VERY heavy Ikea frames had fallen against the door to wedge it shut.

Culprit: Ikea Frames

Culprit: Ikea Frames

I thank her, hang up the phone, and try to figure out how to dislodge the frames. Oh, and I also tweeted about it. (The screengrab at the top.)

Now here was my problem. After going down for the STS-129 launch and Tweet-up, I was almost a week behind in the race to complete 50,000 words in the National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. The clock was ticking.

NaNoWriMo Deadline

NaNoWriMo Deadline

Now what to do? I found a heavy medal ruler and tried to un-wedge the frames from under the door. Nope. Frames wedged too tight. I tried pushing the door apart at the top and slipping a wire hanger over the crack in the top for a frame-fishing adventure. Nope. I considered breaking the window, but decided against it. It’s cold…and I don’t like broken glass. I preferred a hole in the study door (which can survive the winter unfixed, should I so choose to ignore it).

The Twittersphere came to the rescue. Tweeps offered numerous Tw-ideas on how to resolve my crisis.

@Elross DoorJam TWidea

@Elross DoorJam TWidea

UK's @MDBenson offers TWidea

UK's @MDBenson offers TWidea

@Brobof's suggestion

@Brobof's suggestion

@AdamCanFly Door Jam suggestion

@AdamCanFly Door Jam suggestion

@dschwartz2DoorJam

@dschwartz2 DoorJam suggestion

@SFC_Don DoorJam suggestion

@SFC_Don DoorJam suggestion

Interesting that male tweeps told me how to fix the problem. Female tweeps offered emotional support and well-wishes. …Says SO much, don’t you think?

So Crazy It Might Work

@Elross offers suggestion

I decided to try to take the door handle off and use the hole from the door knob to fish from — like the hole ice-fishers use in winter. Mind you, the screws to the door knob were INside the room. I was OUTside the room. I needed to saw the knob off. I naively thought the lock-works would simply fall out.

I made a trip to Home Depot, planning to buy an electric saw to chop this baby off in seconds. The little man at the store didn’t want me to pay so much money for the electric version. He kept taking me back to the manual-labor wall. He insisted I could take down a measly little door knob in a matter of a few minutes — 15 tops.

I didn’t believe him. In my gut, I knew. But I let him talk me into a hand saw.

Bringing out the Big Gun

Bringing out the Big Gun

TWO HOURS I sawed.

“Saw” little progress–pun intended. I got really frustrated. My knuckles were raw from rubbing against the door. I posted this:

Home Depot Man

Not happy with Mr. Home Depot

@apacheman Power Tool Danger

@apacheman offers insight

At this point, I’m having visions of astronaut Mike Massimino on the STS-125 Hubble repair mission. If you don’t know the story, I’ll summarize for you. During a tricky spacewalk, he couldn’t unbolt one of the handles in an panel he needed to remove. That one handle stood between success and failure. During one of the periods with Mission Control loses video with the crew, @Astro_Mike broke off the handle. He knew Mission Control wouldn’t approve, so he took action while they weren’t looking. One of those “ask for forgiveness, rather than permission” moments. Hey it worked! The mission was a great success.

So about now, I’m wishing @Astro_Mike could brut-force my door handle. He’s a pretty big guy after all.

Where is @Astro_Mike?

I need @Astro_Mike to break off the knob!

I wasn’t the only one who thought @Astro_Mike could get the job done:

@negativereturn Need @astro_Mike

@negativereturn Need @astro_Mike

Thinking of how @Astro_Mike would take care of an obstacle, I finally got a hammer and broke off the knob. Yes, indeed. I credit my inspiration to the STS-125 Hubble Repair mission. The knob broke off! Yay!!! …or so I thought.

DoorKnob: Fail

DoorKnob: Fail

But, guess what? The lock-works didn’t fall out…like my grand plan. Now I just had a door-knob-less wedged-closed door with my computer inside. Fail. I decided to take the rest of the night off and travel to Lowes in the morning. I really didn’t want to meet with little Home Depot man again.

My next trick: cut a hole around what was left of the door knob, then put a larger door knob over it. So, I bought this cool gadget (below), but I encountered another problem — the door lock was in the way of where the drill bit needed to be. Fail.

To draw this very long blog to an end, I drilled a hole in the middle of the door. I snagged the frames with a coat-hanger through my fishing hole, pulled them up enough for me to squeeze into the gap in the door. I’m really thankful I cut off the door knob. Otherwise, I would have a door-knob-sized hole in my belly where the door knob once was. Yes, it was that tight of a squeeze.

Coco inspecting open door.

Coco inspecting open door.

All is well in the TWorld.

The Twittersphere is restored to order. TWission Controllers can rest now. Job well done!

Successful ending: DoorJamSaga

Successful ending: Door Jam Saga

Oh, and one more thing. I’m no closer to my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo’s November 30th deadline. But I can STILL blame the Door Jam Saga…since I’ve spent time away from NaNoWriMo to share my saga with you.

Wait. Maybe it’s YOUR fault, readers! ;)

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Filed under culture, leadership, NASA, social media, space, tweet-up, writers

Twittersphere: Social Space Frontier

Non-twit-oholics always ask me, “What’s the point? Why Twitter?”

I’m sorry. That’s like asking me, “Why chocolate?”

My answer, “Take the first bite, then we’ll talk.”

But, some still need convincing. I mean really. You know those types. The ones who look at the chocolate cheesecake with swirls of whipped cream…and walk away. Yeah, those guys. They need a bit more convincing.

If you’re one of them, here ya’ go. Maybe you’ll see what NASA sees out in the social space frontier. Feel free to join us there.

Social media offers new ways for NASA to interact with non-traditional audiences in a dynamic, viral conversation about space, the merits of exploring the unknown, and its relevance to every day life here on our home planet. For the first time, citizens of this planet can talk to scientists, engineers, policy-makers, and space travelers.

Of all the new media tools available to us, Twitter offers the most intimate, immediate 24/7 access through mobile devices, laptops, and/or traditional keyboard access.

In 140 characters or less, breaking space news pings around the world and back again.

STS-125, the Space Shuttle mission to repair Hubble, marked the first NASA mission where we actively engaged global citizens through social media – Twitter, blogs, Facebook.

Mike @Astro_Mike Massimino became the first astronaut to use twitter before, during, and after his mission.

In four short months, he broke one million followers — making him a Massimillionaire! His willingness to tweet during the complex Hubble repair mission captivated media and non-media alike, and propelled @Astro-Mike to superstardom.

Name of the game: access. Through @Astro_Mike, NASA granted outsiders access into an elite insider circle.

Twitter offers us a simple new tool to help make space popular within the non-space crowd, and see traction on our goal to elevate “space” within pop culture. One measure of success: Twitter featured @Astro_Mike as one of Twitter’s top accounts on their front page, along with the likes of Hollywood’s Ashton @aplusk Kutcher who tops 3.9 million followers now.

NASA made it to Twitter’s Top 10 trending topics a number of times during the mission, and in subsequent missions. For the social media generation, @Astro_Mike gained hero-status akin to John Glenn or Neil Armstrong of the “Right Stuff” generation. Now others at NASA have followed his footsteps into the Twittersphere.

And you can too.

Here’s a list of current Astronaut Twitter Accounts (in no particular order): @NASA_Astronauts 10,238 followers

@StationCDRKelly: Scott Kelly 1,973

@ShuttleCDRKelly: Mark Kelly 1,844

@Astro_Jeff – Jeff Williams 3,447

@Astro_Nicole – Nicole Stott 6,253

@Astro_Sandy – Sandy Magnus 3,769 (no longer active)

@Astro_Jose – Jose Hernandez 59,241

@Astro_Tim – Tim Kopra 8,720

@Astro_Mike – Mike Massimino 1,157,551

@Astro_127 – Mark Polansky 40,581 (no longer active)

@Astro_Bones – Bobbie Satcher 1,761

@Astro_Flow – Leland Melvin 992

@CFugelsang – ESA/Christer Fuglesang 3,905

@Astro_RonRon Garan 1,197

@Astro_Soichi – JAXA/Soichi Noguchi 677

@Astro_TJ – TJ Creamer 58

STS-129 Mission will blast off the planet on Monday, November 16 with Twitternauts @Astro_Bones and @Astro_Flow. PLUS, we’re hosting our first Launch Tweet-Up at the Kennedy Space Center. More updates as time allows.

Learn more about the mission and NASA. You can fan UP on NASA’s facebook too.

Cross post on GovLoop.

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Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, govloop, leadership, NASA, social media, space, tweet-up

Social Media Awards: My Picks

Mashable.com is hosting the 3rd Annual Open Web Awards Social Media Edition. Pete Cashmore set up awards that ensure we keep the buzz going linking back to his site. Brilliant! We can nominate our favorites in multiple social media-related categories.

The catch: we nominate once a day in each of the 50 categories through November 15th…AND only the top five nominations in each category move forward to the voting round.

Basically, the nomination period is a semi-final round. Mashable ensures users return to his site day after day, and tweet their results. Great PR for Mashable. He’s creating a social media frenzy by rewarding the social media frenzy. Like I said, brilliant.

Gotta’ love Pete. Wish we had him on our team!

With the few days left for nominations, I thought I’d share a couple of NASA-related choices (plus one or two).

Here are my nominations:

Tweet of the Year:

Tweet from Space by Tw-astronaut @Astro_Mike Massimino.

STS-125: First ever tweet from space

STS-125: First ever tweet from space

Funniest Tweet:

Tweet about life after space by @Astro_Mike.

Life After Space

Gravity Reality: Life AFTER Space

Twitter User of the Year: @Astro_Mike — over 1 million followers!

Most Inspiring to Follow: @Astro_Mike.

Best Brand Use of Twitter: NASA.

Best Brand Use of Facebook: NASA.

Best Brand Use of YouTube: NASA YouTube.

Best Flickr Photographer: NASA’s Bill Ingalls

Best Online Video Web Series: Mike Massimino’s “NASA Behind Scenes” series.

Best Non-Profit Use of Social Media: NASASpace Tweep Society + OpenNASA.

TwitPic of the Year: French Photographer Thierry LeGault’s spectacular shot of the STS-125 Hubble repair mission in front of the Sun. (FYI: NASA provided the camera to enable Thierry to capture this image.)

Thierry LeGault's image of STS-125 mission

Thierry LeGault's image of STS-125 mission

Best Musical Artist to Follow: Tom Fletcher of McFly

I know you’re thinking the last one doesn’t fit under the space theme. Think again. (See previous posts.)

Call to ACTION: You only have a few days left to give space a chance in the universe of social media. Make your voice count.

Crosspost on OpenNASA.

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Filed under Gov 2.0, NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space

Space Outreach Overature

Last night, Astronauts Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez and Swedish-born Christer Fugelsang of the STS-128 crew visited with Members of Congress and congressional staffers in partnership with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. One big surprise: Jose Hernandez called up to the podium all NASA employees from Headquarters and Goddard performing outreach functions.

For those of you outside the government, outreach encompasses the effort to share information about federal programs with the general public.

Only two of us in the room stepped forward. Awkward. But cool, none-the-less. Here’s why: Jose talked about the importance of reaching out to the community to inspire others to reach for the stars. Frankly, I don’t recall a time when an astronaut took time at an event to thank us for getting out there telling their story.

Jose told the story of how he couldn’t speak English until he was 12 years old. Once he saw Astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz selected to travel into space, Jose realized that someone who looked like he did, with hispanic heritage, could be an astronaut. That very day, he decided to study hard in school and make something of himself. He thanked us for going out to work with communities and schools to get out the message of hope. (Don’t quote me on his exact words. It’s all a blur since I was, after all, standing awkwardly in front of a room full of people.)

The funny part, however, is that one of our Legislative Affairs staffers came up to me afterward and explained that Jose planned to call up all the hispanic-heritage NASA folks to thank them for their efforts. Um…I don’t qualify. Oops. Instead he called up outreach NASA folks. I do qualify. Made me giggle…AND a tad embarrassed, at the same time. I’ll bet Jose was surprised to see me come forward. He took it in stride and thanked women engineers for their efforts too. Um…I don’t qualify for that category either. (But I AM a political scientist — to use an old term from the 70’s.)

So we decided, after the fact, that I had a few points in my favor:

  • I grew up in Texas,
  • studied Spanish in Mexico,
  • spoke fluent Spanish at one point (LONG, long ago), AND
  • speak Texan fluently to this very day.

Thanks Jose for the recognition of NASA’s outreach efforts, even if I can’t check the other boxes you were looking to highlight.

I simply don’t see a down side to warm fuzzies, no matter how inadvertently they come.

Here are a few iPhone pics from the event. I’ll add some official ones once they come available.

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Time Warp…or Memory Wormhole?

I attended my 35-year high school reunion last weekend in San Marcos, Texas. Going back after all these years is like waking up to a world where everything changed overnight. At least, that’s how it felt to me.

People and places are frozen in my memory just as they were in 1974.

We moved to Austin right after high school. Without having my parents as an anchor in town, I rarely had the excuse to go back. Life moved on. Three and a half decades passed. I went to one reunion long ago. I don’t even remember which one it was. 5-year? 10-year?

When I left:

  • Southwest Texas State was a small party college in town.
  • Aquarena Springs was a vibrant vacation spot.
  • The San Marcos River drew tubers from all around Texas.
  • Neighborhoods looked much the same as decades before.
  • First Baptist was a church near downtown.
  • Estrella, the horse, lived next to the Sac ‘n Pac. (I named her for the star in her forehead. I don’t know her real name.)

When I returned:

  • Southwest Texas State is Texas State University.
  • Aquarena Springs belongs to the University and looks like an abandoned property.
  • The San Marcos River is the home of endangered River Rice and looks like a swamp.
  • Texas State ate up neighborhoods, reminiscent of the old Pacman game.
  • First Baptist Church, the building, is now Sanctuary Lofts apartments.
  • Estella’s place is now Palmer’s restaurant.
  • Sac ‘n Pac is still there. Whew! Now that’s a relief. ;)

It’s not like it all happened overnight. Decades passed. I’m sure the changes happened slowly…except in my mind. How odd to be the one coming back telling the stories about what once was. And it was a long time ago, after all. More than a lifetime to many who will read this. Maybe I’m like Rose, the elder version, in the movie, Titanic, when she tells the story of the fateful voyage to the crew who discovered the shipwreck.

Don’t worry. I have no plans of jumping in the San Marcos River at the end of this blog — especially the river rice overgrown part.

Let me jump to work issues for a moment:

How do you think it will feel when humans leave this planet for long durations, then return? Our astronauts live onboard Space Station for six months at a time.

What happens when we venture further out, where the journey takes years and the mission lasts a decade?

What will it be like returning home to Earth? Think about it. I’ll bet they experience the time warp sensation I did upon returning to San Marcos after all these years. People and places will have changed. They themselves will be different. Their journey will change them — just as my life’s journey changed me since I left San Marcos.

Fun to ponder, right?

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of some iPhone pics of my high school romps: San Marcos, Wimberley, Austin.

I’ve gotta’ say, though. I really miss Texas. No way to catch up on 35 years of living in one single weekend. That’s where Facebook comes in. I’m thinking we need a San Marcos High School Class of ’74 fan page, where we can all post our stories. (I know, I know…it’s on my to-do list.)

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