Monthly Archives: February 2011

How Home Ownership is like Space Travel

Home ownership, for me, is a series of duct-tape moments. I can never seem to stay on top of everything that breaks. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I have home ownership issues. You may recall my Door Jam Saga last year.

Yesterday was a duct-tape day for me.

Roll of Duct Tape

It all started when I opened the door to the built-in microwave oven. The door handle splintered. Really? I just replaced the refrigerator, which quit working. I can’t afford a new microwave at this moment, so I fished out my trusty roll of white duct tape, and taped the handle back together.

Microwave Broken Handle

For the casual observer, you wouldn’t know it’s broken. The white duct tape really blends in well. But my mother is staying with me, so I had to label it with a hot pink stickie note, “Handle broken,” alerting her to open with care.

Sigh, this gives me some breathing room until I get a new microwave. I open the door to the kitchen cabinet under the microwave to put my handy dandy duct tape away (I keep it in the kitchen to solve all my problems) and guess what, the door came off at the hinges. The hinge actually broke and took a chunk of the cabinet door with it.


Broken HingeI get out my electric screwdriver and take out the old hinge. I try my best to duct tape it back together. No dice. So, I grab my coat and and head out to the nearest Lowe’s to find a suitable hinge replacement. Turns out, this hinge is a special 120-degree door hinge. All the other hinges are meant for 90-degree cabinet doors. The friendly guys at Lowe’s tell me to go online and see if I can find one.


I head back home and spend the rest of the evening trying to make-do with one less hinge and a missing door chunk. My fix involved some creative duct-tape solutions. Oh, and another hot pink stickie telling my mother to “handle” with care.

Broken Cabinet Door

While I was duct-taping, I was thinking: what will life be like for humans who travel past low Earth orbit for long-distance human spaceflight?

What do you think will happen when we set up human outposts farther than a hop, skip, and jump from this planet? I envision duct-tape moments will be their norm. Just like remote locations here on Earth, where resupply is scarce. We humans are resourceful. We use what we have at our fingertips to make ends meet.

I picture long-distance space travel will look more like the Matrix.

Matrix movie pic

Our shiny new spacecraft and provisions won’t look shiny and new for long. Part of the learning experience on the Russian Mir and the International Space Station is to sustain human life in the remote extreme environment 220 miles over our heads. We’re still close enough for rescue and resupply. The further we venture out, the harder mission support becomes.

Our most dramatic duct-tape moment may be the STS-120 cuff link fix for the solar arrays on Space Station. Flight Day 8 in the mission, we noticed a separation in one of the solar arrays.

Damaged Space Station solar array

Teams on the ground worked with the Space Station and STS-120 crews in orbit to fashion a fix, called the cuff link, out of existing material onboard the spacecraft. Below is Astronaut George Zamka holding NASA’s solution.

On Flight Day 12, Astronaut Scott Parazynski attached himself to the end of the very long boom of the Space Shuttle Discovery (which is currently in orbit for her final flight at the very moment), and attached the cuff link to the solar panel to hold it in place. All while the solar panels continue to collect energy from the sun. Quite dangerous. Quite amazing.

Scott Parazynski repairing Space Station solar array: Credit: NASA

A true duct-tape moment of human ingenuity.

I expect to see so many more creative and heroic moments in the future of this planet’s exploration of the heavens above. But for a moment, let’s get back to the subject of home ownership, shall we? Did I mention the clogged toilet from last weekend? I admit, no amount of duct tape is going to fix that problem. I called a plumber.

But when you live in space, you ARE the plumber. At times like these, I’m glad I’m not a space pioneer. Some skills, I’d rather not attempt. Space toilet repair is one of them. Though we have many stories to tell along those [clogged] lines too. Not today, though. I’m sticking with duct tape! 😉


Filed under astronaut, innovation, NASA, space, technology

When Old Hinders New

I’ve been working on my taxes all day. Ug. As I sort through receipts and tax forms, my eyes wander out the window to my garden. I see daffodil and tulip bulbs breaking ground. Wow! Spring is coming!

But wait, I also notice all the old flowers shriveled and brown, impeding the new growth.

I decide to head out into the yard and clip back the dead growth. I really don’t want anything getting in the way of those gorgeous Spring flowers. They shouldn’t have to fight their way to the surface. They need my help. And yes, I’m procrastinating. Taxes can wait. Tulips can’t!

While I’m outside freezing my fingers off clipping back mums and lavender and sweet potato vines (snow is coming tonight), I realize how much of life is like my garden.

It’s really hard to start fresh when old, dead growth stifles our progress.

I think of work and all that we do (as a federal bureaucracy) that is merely a relic of the past — just because we’ve always done things a certain way. We stamp the same forms with the same stamp the person before us used. Heaven forbid using an electronic stamp. Or quit stamping all together. We don’t know what to do with change, and yet when it’s forced upon us, we eventually get used to it. We may even grow to like it.

If we clip away the past, innovation might just have a chance.

Shuttle Stack

Shuttle Stack

Take, for example, the Space Shuttle program. We made the decision to pave the way for future space transportation by closing out this chapter in our nation’s space program. We couldn’t move forward as long as we were busy taking care of what we had. Though we don’t have an American transportation solution worked out yet, who knows what might spring up now that the Shuttle (sadly) will no longer be our vehicle of choice. Commercial space has a chance to take off, so to speak.

We’ve cleared a path for others to follow.

Letting go of the old to make way for the new isn’t easy. But nothing worth doing is ever easy, is it? Funny thing I’ve learned about myself through the years, I place more value on accomplishments I work really hard for.

Sometimes breaking free from the past is the hardest work of all.

Space Shuttle Endeavor against the Sky

One of my fav pics: Space Shuttle Endeavor against the Sky. Credit: NASA

Back to my garden story. Now that I’ve cleared away the dead growth outside, I can thaw out  in my study and imagine the vibrant colors I expect to see out in the yard in a few short weeks. (And hopefully I’ll can expect a refund check too, if I get busy on my taxes.)

Spring tulip from my garden.

Spring tulip from my garden.

So, what about you?

Does something keep you from moving forward? What if something really amazing is just around the corner, but you can’t see through the debris in your life?

Get out your pruning clippers! Or better yet, let’s rev up the bulldozer!!

Leave a comment

Filed under culture, innovation, NASA

Look Who’s Orbiting My Biosphere!

I rarely leave the NASA HQ building in the cold, blustery winter season. We’re a self-contained biosphere, with a cafe and deli, credit union, post office, and dry cleaner. What more could I need?

Yesterday I zapped downstairs to mail a package. Horror of horrors, I found a note in the chair where the Post Office guy should be. He was off taking a class. Rats. That meant I needed to go down to the garage, get my coat from my car, and trudge out into the winter air to the post office around the corner. (I’ve lived in DC for 20 years, but I still have Texas weather  blood. I really, really don’t like the cold. I was annoyed.)

Let me set the scene. I walk across the street, round the corner, and head toward the sketchy railroad bridge I must go under. A car horn blares behind me. I keep walking. I’m not about to turn around. The car horn is quite insistent. It blasts away, getting closer and closer. I look straight ahead and keep walking. In a matter of moments, I realize the honking car could mow me down, so I turn to see what’s going on.

A shiny black Lincoln Town Car — the kind the NASA Administer rides around in — pulled up next to me. I see a figure inside the tinted windows waving wildly. Wait. I recognize that familiar outline.

It’s my DAUGHTER!!!

The window rolls down. Oh my gosh. There she is, all official in her Homeland Security Legislative Affairs Town Car. She’s on her way to the Hill for meetings with Members of Congress. She introduces me to the occupants in the car. We laugh and laugh. Her driver  teases me that I can still get honked at walking down the street. By my daughter, I might add.

Too funny!

As a mom, I walked on air the rest of the day. A momentary glimpse of my gorgeous daughter lifted my spirits. I didn’t mind the cold after all. It was a poignant moment for me. Not that I didn’t realize it already, but this was an opportunity for me to see my daughter all grown up. And then the irony, of course, made me laugh. She has a better ride around DC than I do. I’m walking. She’s being transported. She orbiting right outside my little NASA-sphere. 🙂

I’m truly amazingly blessed. One daughter is helping keep our nation safe. The other is helping keep children safe a continent away.

Thank you Postman for taking your class. You gave me an unexpected highlight. Not only did I get a chance encounter with my daughter, but I got to see her in her own sphere of influence. She’s pretty amazing!


Filed under Africa, federal government, NASA

Flat Stanley: Out of this World Tour

Guest Post by Stanley Lambchop

Hi! My name is Flat Stanley. I belong to Nathan Woolverton, Beth Beck’s adorable nephew. Nathan’s class has an assignment to send me on an adventure. I’ve always wanted to go to space, so I asked if Nathan’s aunt Beth would take me to work with her. She works at NASA, you know. So, Nathan’s mom popped me into a mailer and here I am. I’m flat, you see, so I don’t cost much in postage to get from Texas to DC.

"Flat Stanley" book by Jeff Brown, 1964

"Flat Stanley" book by Jeff Brown, 1964

Beth told me you might not know who I am. Really? Wow. I guess I better tell you a little about myself. I was born in 1964. My real name is Stanley Lambchop. My younger brother is Arthur. My dad gave me a bulletin board that fell on my bed, squashing me flat. Hey. Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I kinda like it. I’ll never grow bigger or older than I am now. How cool is that?!? AND, I can slip inside an envelop, fax or email to go ANYwhere I want. I’m getting to see much of the world.

But Nathan is special. He sent me on an out-of-this-world adventure. I dare you to top this! I’ve been sending Nathan email pics of my adventure. I have to write a journal too, so Beth thought a guest blogpost would let all of you enjoy my incredible experience. Now my class journal can be a virtual learning tool. Note: In case you’re wondering, I’m dictating my comments to Beth. I haven’t quite mastered typing on a keyboard with my flat fingers.

Fellow Earthings, prepare to get VERY jealous.

First of all, you should know that the weather in DC is very cold, icy and snowy in the winter. But while I’ve been up here, Nathan and his class have seen two snowstorms. Quite amazing — since he lives in warm sunny Texas. We had to shovel our way out before Beth and I could drive to work. We were both sweating inside our snow clothes. It’s hard work!

Flat Stanley in DC snow

Washington DC: I helped shovel snow.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management allowed federal government workers to telework or take vacation time off — just to keep thousands of drivers off the snowy roads. Beth had a meeting, so we drove in to work together. You know NASA is a government agency, right?

Here I am at NASA!

Flat Stanley Visits NASA

Here I am at NASA! Woot!

I came to visit on an important day, NASA’s Day of Remembrance, when NASA honors fallen heroes who’ve given their lives to the cause of exploration.

Flat Stanley: NASA Day of Remembrance

I learned about NASA's Day of Remembrance.

I toured the building. I found astronaut Deke Slayton’s spacesuit right down the hall from where Beth works. Deke was was one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, selected in 1959 (before I was born). He was the only member of the Mercury Seven not to fly. He was grounded because of a problem with his heart, but he ended up flying in space in 1975 with the Apollo-Soyuz test Project — the first time the U.S and Soviet Union worked together in space.

Astronaut Deke Slayton's spacesuit.

Here I am with Astronaut Deke Slayton's spacesuit.

I met Robonaut Centaur. Pretty cool dude. He rolls around on a rover base. He’ll help astronauts who are working on the surface of another planet. He’s kin to Robonaut 2, robo-humanoid STS-133 crewmember launching to Space Station on February 24.

Flat Stanley meets Robonaut Centaur

I met Robonaut Centaur, cousin to STS-133 Robonaut2.

Here I am hangin’ with my new peeps, the RoboTwins: Robonaut 2 and Robonaut 2. They were duking it out over who gets to launch onboard STS-133 Space Shuttle Discovery on one of the final missions in the Shuttle program, scheduled for February 24.

Flat Stanley with his peeps: Robonaut 2 Twins

Hangin with my peeps: RoboTwins

I inspected a Space Shuttle up close and personal. It’s really high way up at the top. Check it out!

Flat Stanley's Tank Top View

Here's my Tank Top View. Original photo by NASA's Bill Ingals.

Here’s what a bird would see when a Space Shuttle launches. Pretty amazing, don’t you think? I can’t believe we’ll only have three more launches EVER in the history of mankind.

Flat Stanley sees a Space Shuttle launch

Only three more Space Shuttle launches EVer!

The only way off this planet, until we come up with another solution, is by rocket propulsion. “Beam me up, Scotty” only works on TV and in movies, sadly. Hopefully some of you out there will come up with a cool new mode of transportation, like dream transport or spacial folding techniques. (I just made those up, but who can predict what breakthrough might happen in the future.)

Once we get off the planet, though, we can see sights like these. Come along for the rocket ride.

Flat Stanley visits International Space Station

Isn't Space Station amazing?

The International Space Station orbits 220 miles over Earth, circling the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of 17,500 mph with a international crew of six.

Flat Stanley tours Space Station

Another view of Space Station.

Flat Stanley on Top of the World

Flat Stanley on Top of the World

Flat Stanley on the Moon: Nope. No cheese!

Moon tour: Nope. No cheese!

Flat Stanley scorched by Sun

Sun: Man, this place is HOT!

Flat Stanley: Mars

Mars, the Red Planet. Humans could live here in the future.

When humans travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere, they need protection from the harsh environment of space. Either a spaceship or spacesuit — to provide air, cooling and heating, and other essentials. Our atmosphere provides a radiation shield, but once we go further out, we need to provide protection. On the planet’s surface, whether Moon or Mars, we’ll need a hardshelled suit, like the one I tried on. But I don’t think it fits. Do you?

Flat Stanley tries on Mars suit

I'm trying on the Mars suit. It's a bit big.

Maybe someday we’ll have bio-shields or exo-skins that protect us without a spacesuit. Maybe Nathan and his classmates will come up with a technology breakthrough that NASA can use.

Highlight of my visit: I met a real live astronaut! Really. I promise. Not only is Leland Melvin a spaceman, he’s also the Chief of Education at NASA. He really likes kids. You can tell. He stopped a meeting to pose for a picture with me. Cool dude!

Flat Stanley meets astronaut Leland Melvin

Here I am with astronaut Leland Melvin!

Leland spent over 565 hours in space during two Space Shuttle missions: STS-122 in 2008 and STS-129 in 2009. He also played football in the NFL with the Detroit Lions in 1986, as well as the Dallas Cowboys and Toronto Argonauts, until injuries kept him off the field. Good thing for NASA. Don’t you think?

Maybe someday I’ll go live on Mars. I don’t weigh much. I don’t eat anything. I don’t need radiation protection, or even a spacesuit, for that matter. If Robonaut can be part of a space crew, I think a flat boy should have the chance. Leland and I are buds now. Maybe he can put in a good word for me. Hmmm.

I hope you liked my space adventure. I learned alot about NASA. I hope you did too.

Oh, and you can Facebook me, if you want. I have my own page. But for now, I need to get back to Nathan’s class. Time for me to get into the mailer, so Beth can get me to the post office. When I get back to Texas, I’m going to make sure Nathan asks his mom to let me watch live views from Space Station on the NASA TV channel on the web. You can too.

Flat Stanley & NASA's Alien

NASA discovered alien life after all!


Filed under federal government, NASA, space