Tag Archives: water

Hug-a-Blue-Planet Day

Hey, how many blue planets do you know…and love? Today is the day to celebrate Planet Earth — the one with the atmospheric thin blue line that supports life as we know it.

Earth: Thin Blue Line

Earth: Thin Blue Line

Pretty amazing, when you think about it. Of all the stars and all the galaxies out there, our fragile planet Earth is teeming with life — plants, animals, humans. Though, I could do without some of the less loveable lifeforms — like roaches — but that’s another story altogether.

Today we celebrate Earth. Our home planet. Perfectly formed. Amazingly complex. Incredibly beautiful.

Earth: Blue Marble

Earth: Blue Marble

After attending a NASA employee preview of the  IMAX Hubble 3D movie this week, I gained fresh appreciation for our planet Earth. My favorite quote from the movie in reference to the Apollo missions,

“On the way to the Moon, we discovered Earth.”

I’d never really thought about it. We’d never seen our planet (through human eyes) until we left the planet. Astronauts looking back upon the Earth and capturing “vacation” images from the surface of a different orbiting body, gave us a unique perspective on the place we call home.

Now, decades later, it’s really easy to take for granted the unique vantage point space gives us of Earth. How else would you see these clouds from the top down?

Cumulonimbus Clouds Over Africa

Cumulonimbus Clouds Over Africa

Side note: When you were young, did you imagine cloud formations as objects? I still do. This pic reminds me of a one-eyed cloud creature. Or a cloud-brella. Or a cloud ship — to feed imaginations of UFO-watchers. 😉

@astro_soichiHow times have changed from the days of Apollo to today. Astronauts onboard Space Station and Shuttle post real-time pics of Mother Earth from space. We can go along with their journey as they orbit Earth every 90 minutes traveling 17,500 mph. Japanese Expedition 23 crew member @Astro_Soichi Noguchi is prolific in his Twitpic-ing. Here is his Happy Earth Day pic.

@Astro_Soichi: Happy Earth Day to you.

Astronauts celebrate Earth Day every day they spend OFF the planet.

They live the green life we only aspire to here on Earth. Think about it.

  • All the power onboard their spacecraft is generated by the Sun, collected via solar panels, and stored for use. I collect sun in my skin cells to use in Vitamin D, but that’s about it for my solar energy collection here on Earth.
  • Space pioneers collect waste water and urine to recycle into drinking water and other water needs. I recycle the cat bowl water into my plants. Hey, it’s a start, isn’t it?
  • Long-duration space travelers wash clothes in ziplock bags and hang them in zero-g to dry. Nope, I use a washer and dryer. Sorry Earth.
  • Air filtration systems on Space Station scrub and recycle the air they breath. I keep my windows closed during pollen season. Does that count?
Space Station Expedition 19: Toast to fully recycled H2O

Space Station Expedition 19: Toast to fully recycled H2O

How cool to work for an organization (dare I say American icon?) that has changed how humans view and interact with the world. We initiate amazing projects, like LAUNCH:Water, that allow us to help make a difference for the world of tomorrow through disruptive sustainable innovations we put in place today. And we’re busy planning the next LAUNCH.org event. WooHoo! LAUNCH from Geologie on Vimeo.

I’m excited that NASA affords me the opportunity to play even the tiniest role in making this planet a better place to live.

Perhaps we can celebrate best by skipping today’s shower, eating edible flowers from our garden (not that I have any), and unplugging all our phone chargers. Every little bit helps, right?

Happy 40th Earth Day to all fellow Earthlings. Aliens too!

Earth Week flowers at DC Smithsonian Castle

Earth Week flowers at DC Smithsonian Castle

Crosspost on GovLoop.

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Filed under astronaut, Earth, environment, NASA, space

Heavenly Answers for Earthly Problems

I’m SO excited to share details about NASA’s newest, coolest, never-been-done-before sustainability initiative, LAUNCH:Water.


Launch:Water logo

Accelerating Innovation for a Sustainable Future.

We’ve been working on this project for some time — an innovative collaborative process to “launch” ideas, or disruptive green technologies, that address some of this planet’s growing pains.

All props to NASA’s Robbie Schingler, who envisioned a barcamp-type atmosphere to discuss sustainability challenges. We’d been looking for ways to tell our Space Station green story, and this concept fit the bill. We pulled together a team of creative folks, all bringing together different strengths, to birth the LAUNCH:Water incubator we’ll debut next week.

We wanted a TED-style event but with teeth, where we can chomp into issues and mash-up new approaches and solutions.

We created LAUNCH as a global initiative to identify and support the innovative work that is poised to contribute to a sustainable future. We want this process to accelerate solutions to meet urgent challenges facing our society. That’s the goal: to make a difference, leave this world better tomorrow than it is today.

We chose water as a logical starting point because it’s an issue we deal with on Space Station every day in orbit. Not only is water a critical commodity for our orbiting pioneers, but for so many living on our home planet.

Scarcity within a hostile environment is something we Earthlings and space travelers share.

So what is LAUNCH:Water? We are working with our founding partners, USAID, State Department, and NIKE, to allow 10 water-related emerging technology innovators the opportunity to present their ideas to a small group of thought-leaders from varied disciplines for a two and a half day conversation about possibilities. We break into small impact rotations to discuss content-focused issues/opportunities that affect each innovator individually. We have a team working with the innovators to develop how we shape these impact sessions for maximum benefit. Our hope is to use these structured conversations to leap-frog these ten innovators further down the path toward success in solving water issues facing our planet.

Why NASA? Because we’re problem-solvers — against all odds.

We solve problems. That’s what we do. I like to call it our brand reduction sauce– after all the ingredients are thrown into the pot and cooked and the essence is left behind. So why not convene a group of expert problem-solvers in various disciplines to address issues we face both on Earth and in the heavens above? LAUNCH is a gathering of problem-solvers to solve one MAJOR problem:

how to sustain life ON and OFF Earth.

We’ll live-stream the innovators’ presentations on Tuesday March 16th and Wednesday March 17th, so you can be part of this glorious experiment with us. We have a LAUNCHorg twitter account that we’ll keep updated, as well.

Astronaut Ron Garan

Astronaut Ron Garan

I’m looking forward to meeting all the innovators in person next week. I’m particularly excited about one of the innovations that bubbled up in the process: Manna Energy, run in his spare time by astronaut Ron Garan or @astro_ron on Twitter. You can go to their website or @MannaEnergy twitter feed to learn how they’re deploying water filtration devices in more than 400 schools in Rwanda, along with biogas generators and high efficiency cookstoves at 300 locations. Gives me goosebumps.

We’ll have so much to share as we move toward our inaugural event next week. We plan to serve “recycled water” just like our astronauts drink on Station, BTW. I guess we can’t serve it in paper cups or plastic bottles — neither are friends of the environment. Yet, if we serve in glass cups, we’ll have to wash them with water and detergent — not nice to the our planet either. Our most sustainable option will be to squirt “reformed urine” directly into the mouths of our guests. Now that will be a sight to see, won’t it? Good thing we’re live-streaming the event. 😉

Stay tuned for frequent updates from the field.

Crosspost on OpenNASA and GovLoop.



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

Space Invaders in Nation’s Capitol

Crazy week at NASA. Space Shuttle Discovery completed her cross-country piggy-back ride from California back to Florida. We announced the discovery of water on the Moon…and more on Mars. The 2009 Astronaut Class and the STS-127 crew came to visit NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. We hosted a Tweet-up with Space Tweeps and the STS-127 crew. (Thanks all you Space Tweeps who joined us!)

STS-127 Crew @ NASA HQ

STS-127 Crew @ NASA HQ

Since I work human spaceflight issues, I love having our astronauts come up to DC. So, I’ll share a few stories with you from this week.

Jules Verne in Orbit:

Veteran Astronaut Dave Wolf talked about his time with the Russians on Mir vs. time on Shuttle and Station. He described Mir (precursor to Space Station) as Jules Verne-like with ivory keys on the control panel and a red leather chair. Who needs a chair in Zero-G, if you think about it? But Dave said he spend time in the red leather chair as best he could on orbit. Velcrow, perhaps?

Smells in space:

Julie Payette answers question

Julie Payette answers question

Both Canadian astronaut Julie Payette and Dave Wolf talked about how the U.S modules on Space Station differ from the Russian side — look, feel, taste and smell. Dave said the smell of the Russian modules reminded him of his time on Mir. You gotta’ wonder exactly what that means…right? But then, if you think about it, our senses are assaulted walking into someone’s home — smell of cookies or fried foods, smoke or new carpet, candles or dirty clothes. Space Station is their home in space. They eat, sleep, exercise, work for up to six months at a time. They will leave their scent, I assume. Hmmm.

Fear of Falling:

Astronaut Chris Cassidy

Astronaut Chris Cassidy

First-time astronaut Chris Cassidy spoke of his first moments after opening the hatch for his spacewalk. He looked out to see the Earth spinning under him. As he watched, he realized he held onto the handle with a death-grip. His brain had to process the reality that he wouldn’t fall…he would float.

Our human brains are gravity-wired. Even with years of training, astronauts have to mentally, as well as physically, adjust to the differences zero-g present.

One-way ticket to Mars:

When asked if any of the STS-127 crew would jump at a ticket to Mars, Chris Cassidy spoke of family and how they factor into the decision. He and Commander Mark Polansky both said the decision might be different if family could go along.

Would you go, if given the opportunity — knowing you would never see our blue planet or other Earthlings EVER again?

Wouldn’t it be cool, though, to have that choice? Someday our planet will be asking our global citizens for volunteers on humanity’s quest for knowledge. Someday.

In the meantime, we’ll host space invaders fresh from our orbital outpost 220 miles overhead.

STS-127 Lift Off

STS-127 Lift Off. Credit/NASA

The Office of Space Operations hosted the brand spankin’ new astronauts for an early breakfast. Our Exploration colleagues joined us.

Astronaut-Africa Connection:

Breakfast with 2009 Astronaut Class

Breakfast with 2009 Astronaut Class

I spent some time with Dr. Kate Rubins, one of 14 members of the 2009 Astronaut Class. She’s an expert on infectious diseases — HIV, Ebola and Lassa viruses, which primarily affect West and Central Africa. She’s been given her “call-sign” already by her fellow astronauts: Bola (as in E-bola). I really enjoyed hearing about her time in Africa working with the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She lamented how so many diseases are preventable with education and simple steps.

Kate is taking action to relieve suffering by founding the Congo Medical Relief Organization to provide medical supplies to the poverty-stricken.

You can become a fan of Congo Medical Relief on facebook. Their first support site is: L´Hôpital Général de Référence de Kole in a remote region of central Democratic Republic of CongoKate told me the Astronaut Office supported her work and encouraged her to continue her efforts. So cool!

Now, if we can only link NASA advances in supporting human life in the harsh reality of space to relieve those facing harsh realities here on our home planet.

Side note: After spending time in Africa (as you can obviously tell from my Africa blogposts), I left my heart there. I would LOVE to find a way to collaborate in some way — taking the best NASA has to offer to lift up those who can’t help themselves. That’s the missionary in me, I guess. Ideas on how to do this?

Viral Space Fever:

Space Shuttle on launch pad.

Space Shuttle on launch pad.

I spoke with many of the Astronaut Candidates about the importance of sharing the magic of space outside our circle of influence. They are SO, SO eager and enthusiastic now.

Jeanette Epps, 2009 Astronaut Class, told me,“We’ve been given this amazing opportunity to live out our dreams.

She and the others can’t imagine NOT wanting to share this experience with anyone willing to hear it.

Sadly, my experience predicts otherwise.

Editorial comments (i.e. Soapbox Moment):

Sharing the astronaut experience through public appearances — school visits, events, speeches, and more — must be approved by the Astronaut Office in Houston. The decision to honor the request or not is viewed in light of the mission: sending humans safely to space and back. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Fact: Our Astronaut Corps is shrinking with the close of the Shuttle program in 2010.
  2. Fact: We have fewer slots for longer duration missions on the International Space Station (which increases time needed to train).
  3. Fact: Everyone (or almost everyone) wants a chance to meet an astronaut.
  4. Fact: We have too few astronauts to meet all the requests for public appearances.
  5. Fact: Every minute an astronaut spends attending a public appearance translates into one minute less training for a task on a mission.
  6. Perception: Mission training is more valuable to NASA than public appearances.

Here’s what I have observed of the astronaut culture over the years:

An astronaut who enjoys “speaking with the public” risks being seen as less technically-credible by fellow astronauts.

A less technically-credible astronaut may jeopardize selection for the highly coveted slot on space missions — which take years to secure. Astronauts who are the best “Space Ambassadors” may risk ridicule as “attention-seekers.” Ah, those pesky unwritten rules on how to get one of those few seats on a spaceship leaving Earth.

Several members of the new Astronaut Class commented that they’d been advised to keep a low profile. Yet, I want them to have the HIGHEST of ALL profiles. I say, BRING it ON: hand-held video for YouTube, blogposts, Twitter and Facebook updates.

Let the world be part of astronaut training — right along side them!

 Spacewalk: Coming out of the Space Station hatch.

Spacewalk: Coming out of the Space Station hatch.

One of the former Astronaut Office chiefs told me they worked hard to balance mission-critical training with all the outside non-mission-critical requests for their time. Public outreach/educational events remove the astronauts from the job each was selected for — going into space. Training requires single-minded focus.

‘Really hard to argue against that logic. Mission-critical sounds like it should trump anything non-mission-critical. Right? But really, isn’t that just an assumption within our traditions and culture?

I really don’t envy the Astronaut Office folks. I can only imagine the pressure they’re under to juggle all the competing requirements for their time. I also get our NASA culture: we stick with what’s worked well for us in the past. But…is that the only way to succeed?

Can tradition handicap us, get in the way of creative solutions?

Enter technology — tools that could lighten the load and create new ways to share the training process with the rest of the world. Social media tools make sharing so simple. At one point, we were all afraid of e-mail. Now we can’t live without it for accomplishing work.

So here’s what I would do — in my imaginary world where I’m King of the Universe:

I would rewrite the equation: 1/2 unit technical + 1/2 unit inspirational = 1 Astronaut

NASA HQ employees crowded around STS-127 crew.

NASA HQ employees crowded around STS-127 crew.

In my opinion, social media should be a ‘given’ throughOUT the entire training process. Equip the astronauts with the iPhone 3GS (video) so they can instantly post pics and video inside the simulators, water training, T-38 practice time, and more.

Allow the tax-payer an opportunity to participate and interact WITH our incredible national treasure — the space travelers who’ve broken the bonds of Earth gravity.

If I were King, I would craft a career path that includes time at NASA Headquarters for EACH and EVERY astronaut in the Corps — prior to promotion consideration of any kind. (I realize this sounds harsh for uprooting the family structure, but kids/family members can benefit from time in our nation’s Capitol.) The time would be split evenly:

  1. six months in the Office of Legislative Affairs (sharing NASA’s story with Members of Congress and staff) and
  2. six months in the Office of Public Affairs (learning and practicing communication methods and representing NASA at outreach-type events outside NASA).

Our future as a space-faring nation depends on the will of the people, as expressed through decisions by their elected representatives.

STS-127: Discovery docked to Space Station

STS-128: Discovery docked to Space Station

Our astronauts and our images of the heavens offer our citizens a window into the universe. Our images show the story of what’s beyond our reach. Our astronauts tell the story — how it feels to GO beyond our reach. Yes, training is crucial to get the job done. But, the real job, is getting OUT THERE…in the Universe! We need political will to get there.

Astronauts embody the human drive to push beyond the boundaries of our knowledge.

Yes, the technical aspects of the mission are CRUCIAL. We have human lives at stake. Totally. Absolutely! And, we, at NASA, are incredibly good at conducting missions safely. However, without the storytelling — how it tastes and feels, complete with hair-raising near-misses and close calls — we may not have future space missions to conduct.

Humans are addicted to the drama behind the story.

Why else would we have an entertainment industry that we throw money at — for the privilege of losing ourselves inside the storytelling in novels, movies and TV shows?

So let’s tell our story…using every tool we’ve got!



Filed under Africa, culture, Earth, federal government, leadership, NASA, poverty, space, water

Zambia: Land of Livingstone

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Do you even know where this quote came from? I knew the quote, but not the context. Traveling to Zambia at the end of July brought the quote to life as we learned more about the country’s history.

David Livingstone statue @ Victoria Falls

Livingstone @ Victoria Falls

Before traveling to Zambia, I’d read about Scottish missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873) in Perspectives, a 16-week course about God’s global purpose through a biblical, historical, and cultural perspective. When I learned (though Facebook) that my aunt and uncle live and serve as missionaries in Livingtone, I was amazed. They live in a city named after the missionary I’d studied. I really like David Livingstone’s life story.

Not only was he appalled by the inhumanity of the slave trade, he believed Christianity + self-sufficient commerce could help eradicate the nasty practice at its roots.



He explored for viable trade routes to open commerce for the people he came to serve. In his travels, Livingstone “discovered” the massive falls (110m/330 ft down) on the Zambezi River in 1855, named by the locals Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The Smoke that Thunders.” He renamed it Victoria Falls to honor Queen Victoria. During a later expedition to search for the source of the Nile River, Livingstone was tracked down by a New York Herald reporter, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. Stanley is said to have stated, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Dr. Livingstone headed several expeditions and published his findings. He blazed a path for other missionaries and explorers to follow. I assumed the present day town, Livingstone, is named after the missionary-explorer. My aunt tells me some of the locals disagree. They believe the town name comes from tribal heritage. Who’s to say?

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Livingstone — the destination — is a paradise for extreme-sports fanatics.

Tourists flock here for bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, microlight flying, and more. Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of high places I can fall from. I call it fall-o-phobia.

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

It’s not that I’m afraid of heights as much as that long journey down, should I happen to slip over the edge. The fact that human beings WILLINGLY choose to tie-their-legs-together-on-an-elastic-band-and-leap-from-a-towering-bridge-of-their-own-free-will utterly escapes me. My buddy Mike Boon (see previous blog posts) told me he jumped with his son off the Victoria Falls Bridge into Batoka Gorge a few years back. I shudder as I type. I think I’ll stick to the terror of moving a government project forward withOUT the required 95,000 signatures on the concurrence page. 😉

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Tourists can stay at the Zambezi Sun Hotel which is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage site. The current Lion King (more about him below) sold off sections of his people’s land, such as the site of the Sun hotel, which sits on a prime location along the Zambezi River next to the Falls. You can see the spray from the falls from the water-side of the hotel. Giraffe, zebra, impala, and monkeys roam freely among the guests.

Romping Zebras

Romping Zebras

We stopped for a pot of tea at the hotel (July/August are winter months in Africa). As we sat by the pool drinking tea, the zebras joined us. They romped and played for hours. What a surprise and delight! The hotel employs a “zebra-handler” to keep the guests safe. I found myself precariously wedged between the hind-quarters of several zebras. (I was innocently trying to take pictures.) The handler rescued me, leading me to safety. Evidently, zebras like to kick unsuspecting humans…like me.

If I could take home a pet zebra, I would.

Can I take him home?

Can I take him home?

Being close enough to touch wild animals and live to tell about it is the most amazing experience!

Melody welcomes the children

Melody welcomes the children

I’m so thankful my aunt Melody invited us to visit. Two days before we arrived, my uncle Phil flew to the States for a medical procedure. Sorry Phil, but we had such a great time while you were gone.  I wasn’t sure what we’d find in Zambia. Melody and Phil have served in Livingstone for three years now. Phil goes out to the bush to reach out to the villagers — many of whom have never seen a “white man” before.

Melody graciously allowed us to walk her walk during our time in Zambia. She introduced us to the people, places, culture, and customs. She teaches the children on Sundays at the “Cowboy Church” which was started by a fellow missionary and his wife. We went with her to help with the kids.

Clean water!

Clean water!

As we drove up, we noticed women washing their clothes in front of the church.

The neighborhood has no running water or plumbing facilities.

Cowboy Church Outhouse

Cowboy Church Outhouse

We learned that the villagers are welcome to use the water at the church to meet their needs. I must admit that I was unprepared to use the church outhouse, though it offers privacy and a nicely painted exterior.

The people live a simple life — which in no way translates into the easy life.

Running water for villagers.

Running water for villagers.

Women can spend up to 60% of their day fetching water from remote sources. Water is carried in buckets. The same water is used for eating, drinking, cleaning. If you’re well-off, your home includes a water tower.

If water were a commodity, it would be blue diamonds!

Water. Plumbing. Electricity. All luxuries we take for granted. Those who have electricity share frustration with reliability from the electrical utility provider. For my aunt and uncle, Thursday is their day to do without…in addition to the other unscheduled outages.

Flatbed trucks

Flatbed trucks

We witnessed a number of funeral processions. Funerals are an accepted part of every day life. The cause? AIDs. Malaria. You name it. Friends and family cram onto flatbed trucks for the ride to the cemetery. Cemeteries are filled with recent grave markers.

My aunt explained that widows, who’ve  lost their livelihood, are expected to feed and care for all the guests at the funeral. In the US, we take food with us to the grieving widow. What is so foreign to me, is a cultural given to the people who live here.

Uncertainty is part of life in the land of have-nots.

On the days we went out to the villages, I refused to drink anything. I feared needing “facilities” that might not be to my liking. How lame is that? I held out until I could get back to my Western amenities. I’m a wimp. I admit it.

I had trouble adjusting my Western habits to the 3rd-World reality we experienced in Zambia.

But, hey, I DID hard things — like drive in an unknown country, in unknown vehicles, on teeth-rattling surfaces, stick-shift on the left-hand side of the road…and IN THE BUSH! White-knuckle driving, I called it. SOMEone had to. Note: My aunt doesn’t drive stick…yet! It’s only a matter of time, now that’s Melody’s seen me take on the streets of Livingstone and beyond. (Right Melody?)

Deep in the Bush...

Deep in the Bush...

Singing and Dancing!

Singing and Dancing!

We drove out to the bush to help out with the Kooma Community School. Pastor Kebby, who leads the Cowboy Church congregation on the outskirts of Livingstone, shared about God with the students of the school. The government requires “religious” education units as part of the curriculum. How different from the US.

I watched with awe as Pastor Kebby talked to the kids with enthusiasm and humor. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but the kids laughed and responded eagerly. I loved getting a glimpse of his unquenchable spirit. Though he was ill while we were there, he refused to slow down. By the end of our day-long journey into the bush and back, he could barely walk. His passion for his people was humbling indeed.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

We tourists only peek through the window to their world. They live it. We go home to our comfortable routine.

We visited 700-yr-old Mukuni Village, home of Chief Mukuni, the real Lion King. One of the locals walked us through the village and told us about the royal family and their system of justice and administration. They have very little crime among the 8000 villagers. We saw the tiny jail. I wouldn’t want to spend time there either. Ok, I wouldn’t want to spend time in ANY jail!

Livingstone Tree

Livingstone Tree

The Mukuni village is organized around a giant tree where Dr. David Livingstone waited for an audience from the Chief. It’s their “meeting place” to this day…in the land of Livingstone.

Lion King's Throne

Lion King's Throne

Knowing that my aunt is a missionary, our guide described their tribal religious beliefs. She explained that they pray to the God of the Bible, and make certain they bless their food properly in order to keep their ancestors from getting angry. Otherwise, she confided, they could get upset stomachs…or worse. In Perspectives class, I first ran across the concept of syncretism — where several belief systems merge together. Can this be what she described? It’s a subtle distinction.

I merely pose the question, not suppose the answer.

Flower lady

Flower lady

Mukuni village has electrical wires running through it. We walked past huts with radios blaring, wires strung loosely from the master wire overhead. The villagers showed signs of prosperity from the tourism trade (as well as the sale of tribal land for development, such as the Zambezi Sun). Flower gardens. Thatched fences. New huts in various stages of completion. Dirt floors, but bright smiles.

Village Vendors

Village Vendors

We realized, after the fact, that while we walked through the village, the vendors all gathered at the village market — in anticipation of our visit there. Talk about sales pressure. I found it totally overwhelming. Once we walked out of the market, the villagers all filed out and went home. Seriously. Every one of them.

On our way back from Mukuni Village, Melody took us to see the lions and other wild cats at the Mukuni Park Reserve. She told me it was down one of the MANY unmarked paths on the main road. (Road, BTW, is a term I use quite generously. Perhaps I should say crater-impaired clearing between heavy brush.)

Good to know...

Good to know...

Fortunately, Melody picked out the correct unmarked turn-off from the road. It was a one-way crevice filled with deep sand. (Did I mention I have an imagination? Others might call it a generously sandy path.) One of the many dramatic moments of our trip: the mini-bus spun out of control in the sand. I’d never used 4-wheel drive as a separate stick shift. Melody instructed me, from her best memory, how she’d seen Phil engage the 4-wheel drive. Somehow we got “unstuck” but it wasn’t a pretty sight. The lion guys must’ve had a good laugh as we jerked our way to their doorstep.

I never quite got it in gear, so to speak.

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

No matter our humiliating arrival, we had an incredible time with the cats. Wow! They’re amazing creatures. The cat handlers will let visitors “walk” with the lions and cheetahs. Fortunately, the cats were all in their cages during our visit. When our guide told us we could play with the cubs, I pictured kittens — the  size that fit in one hand. Uh, no. These were cubs the size of a couch, with paws bigger than my feet.  I would not want to be their dinner. Yikes.

When offered the opportunity to go inside the cage with five of these man-sized cubs, I was less than thrilled. But, go inside I did. Nervously. For one picture. Or two.

Shaka's NOT happy!

Shaka's NOT happy!

The handler got me out quickly. When we looked at the pics later, we saw the reason for my rush exit — a second cub was coming up from behind me. I’m sure he only wanted to play. Or, eat me for dinner.

Now the cheetahs. Fastest animal, right? Well, faster than me! We took pictures OUTside the cage with the cheetahs. Good thing. Here’s Shaka. He was NOT happy to see us. See the fur standing up on his back? Melody told us she was INside the cage with the cheetahs on her last visit. Really? Can that at ALL be safe?

One of the many things I learned in Africa? I’m really, really, really a city girl.

All in all, I’m really thankful Dr. David Livingstone left the comfort of his home and family to minister to the people of Africa. How incredible to walk where he walked, and to have members of my family following his footsteps as missionaries to the very people he came to serve so many years ago. I have so much more to learn about this place so far away from my life in DC. Soon, very soon, I may have a daughter living in southern Africa.

Here’s a cool sunset from the land of Livingstone. Enjoy. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more African stories with you soon.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.


Filed under Africa, Earth, poverty, water

One Drop of Water for Space Acrobat, One Giant Bite Out of Poverty?

This week’s announcement by Space Adventures that Guy Laliberté will be Canada’s first private citizen in space really captivated my imagination.

Fire-breathing, stilt-walking Guy Laliberté is the founder of Cirque du Soleil. Repeat after me: CIRQUE du SOLEIL! No really. CIRQUE du SOLEIL!!! Incredibly talented individuals performing amazingly awe-inspiring feats that defy the imagination. (Hmmm. Does that sound like NASA?)

So here’s the deal:

For years, I’ve tried — unsuccessfully – to connect with folks at Cirque du Soleil to collaborate on a “Space-themed” traveling show. I can only imagine what a Cirque du Soleil Space Show might look like, but it could be no less than FABulous. NASA content shaped by wildly inventive interpretations? Oh, I’d buy a ticket. Wouldn’t you?

How ironic. While I’ve been dreaming of a traveling “Space on Earth” Cirque du Soleil show, their founder has been dreaming of traveling from Earth to space. So much so, he purchased a seat with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, to ride a Russian Soyuz up to the International Space Station.  I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised. He’s accustomed to defying gravity here on Earth on his stilts. Why not extend his reach? (And Guy, no FIRE-BREATHING on Station, PLEASE!)

Now here’s another cool fact that excites me. His 12-day visit to Station is billed as the first social/humanitarian mission in space. His cause: clean water through his foundation, One Drop.

“Guy Laliberté’s POETIC SOCIAL MISSION in Space is a unique opportunity to share information about water-related issues with the world. His messages will spread ONE DROP’s dream of “Water for all, all for water.”

Some of you may wonder why we should care about water. After all, 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Easy access to drinkable water, that’s the issue.

Here’s a quick overview: Less than 5% of the Earth’s water supply is freshwater and 1.7 billion people have no direct access to that 5%, according to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. In addition, fresh water is polluted in many developing countries. Guy’s One Drop website states: “90% of sewage is dumped into the water untreated.” The World Bank links water and poverty. Their 2006 report points out that inaccessibility to safe water traps developing countries in a cycle of poverty. People in 40% of the world in 80 countries suffer from extreme water shortages, hitting women the hardest. UNICEF estimates an average woman in rural areas can spend “one-quarter to one-third of her time fetching water” which leaves little time for school.  

Sobering. Shocking. Humbling.

And here I have a choice every day for my fill of tap, bottled, or sparking water, depending on how much I’m willing to pay. Now, let’s be clear, I’m absolutely unequivocally UNqualified to weigh in on this subject. I can, however, offer this thought:

Water is crucial for life ON and OFF this planet.

At NASA, we’ve been working water issues for decades. Traveling long distances in space means we can’t rely on re-supply. We have to carry or generate our own water. Exciting news! NASA recently reached a major milestone on Station: COMPLETE waste-water reclamation (including the dreaded liquid…urine). We have a spiffy new system to process six gallons of crew urine in six hours.

Distasteful, yes. But not bad-tasting. Really!

Expedition 20 astronaut Mike Barratt reports that Station’s new recycled water tastes like what you would expect in store-bought bottled water. Here’s how it works. Our technology onboard Station collects crew urine from the US toilet, boils off the water (to separate it from the briny nasty stuff we don’t keep), captures the vapor and mixes it with air condensation collections, and filters any impurities. Clean, purified water ready for drinking. Yum.

And who knows, our recycled water technology could be coming to a home or office near you! We bring you space technology, you apply it on Earth. Could be as common as your average water heater in the next decade, or sooner.

I’m excited about the world’s newest private citizen in space. Maybe, just maybe, we can make progress toward a cool “Cirque du Soleil-Orbital High,” based on Guy’s personal experience in space. Even more important, perhaps we can leverage NASA technology and know-how to help One Drop meet it’s goal,

Water for all, all for water.

Hey! It can happen. We’re NASA. We make the impossible possible!


Filed under NASA, space