RSM: Thanks for a great 30 years Discovery

Shuttle Discovery STS-133The space shuttle Discovery crew (STS 133) woke today to the sound of the Star Trek theme by Alexander Courage, and a monolog much like the opening to the Original Star Trek (OST) by none other than William Shatner.

You can see a video set to the audio here

This monolog was tailored to DIscovery’s 30 year mission to explore new science in the final frontier. It made me proud to be a Rocket Scientist, and to be part of something so much bigger than myself. It also made me sad at this ending, especially because there does not seem to be a beginning about to start behind it. I hope for our country and for my children, that the new beginning is as spectacular as the ending we are watching right now.

God speed Discovery. Thanks for a great 30 years.
RSM

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RSM Passing Along Information: Space Policy explained (part 1)

This is making the rounds over on Facebook, and I thought it was so on target, that I’d share it here. I do not know who put this together, but they are impressively up on the state of NASA. It’s labeled as part 1, which implies there will be a part 2. I look forward to the rest of the story. If you wanted to know what’s going on at NASA during this time of Continuing Resolution (i.e. Congress has yet to pass an FY 2011 budget), you can’t get a much better explanation than these teddy bears.

Enjoy,
RSM

RSM Follow-up: “How I killed Pluto…”

So I finished the book referened in this blog post and wanted to come back here with some final thoughts. I really enjoyed all of the details the author shared of his daughter’s first year of life. His data collection of breastfeeding times, amounts, diaper changing, etc mirrors my own experience. When I had my first child, I dutifully took copious data on his feedings (I exclusively breastfed for his first year), diaper changes, sleep patterns, etc. I must have felt, as this author did, that if I could quantify the data I could somehow control the uncontrollable reality of a newborn. I still have my lists of data.

The thing is, I still disagree with the findings of the IAU on the status of Pluto as a planet. Although I still think the definition of a planet is confusing at best, and the author himself agrees with me, I cannot discern why he thinks Pluto should no longer be considered a planet. To the best that I can interpret, he concludes that Pluto is not a planet because it isn’t one. I would love to be able to paraphrase the conclusion, but even having reread the ending chapters, I find that I cannot.

For me, Pluto is a planet. Eris might be as well, because for me they both meet my personal criteria of what I mean when I say the word Planet. In the end, that is all the explanation I can glean from Professor Brown’s book. He asserts that Pluto is not a planet because it does not meet the meaning that scientists have when they say the word planet. Rather than offer his own definition, he simply agrees that the IAU’s definition was confusing at best, and then reiterates that Pluto isn’t a planet because it is not like the other 8 planets and more like the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO).

So, to each his or her own.
RSM.

RSM Book Review: How I Killed Pluto, and Why it had it Coming

The end of last month, I bought myself a Barnes and Noble nook. Since then, I’ve been filling my local library ebook hold list with a number of books. The library allows you to put up to 10 on hold (I think, it might be more). The first book that came available was the book “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming” by Mike Brown. Mr. Brown is a professor of astronomy as CalTech and is credited with the discovery of a number of planetary bodies beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It is the discovery of these planetary bodies that led to the reclassification of Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet.

Mr. Brown writes of his early years as an astronomy professor trying to gain tenure, of meeting his now wife and of waiting for his daughter to be born (which was the same month my daughter was born). I am only a little over half way through the book, and have been moved enough to write a short review of it.

The writing style, so far, is conversational and reachable to all education levels (in my opinion). While some of the orbital mechanics concepts are second nature to this RocketScienceMom, there is very little math in the book (and no equations). In fact, there is only one graphic. The rest of the information about the planets and their discoveries is relayed in words.

I am looking forward to finishing it, and would read more of Mr. Brown’s writings, should he write more than just technical papers (although I suspect a number of those will cross my desk as I run science missions to more and more of the Kuiper belt objects in my day job).

Even though I am enjoying the story of discovery and the way the author has captured the lonely life of astronomers who are awake when the rest of the world is sleeping, I still don’t agree with the conclusion of the IAU that Pluto no longer be classified as a planet. The definition that was settled on is as follows:

(1) A “planet” [1] is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit. That last part, part C about clearing its orbit, is apparently the part of the definition that cast Pluto out of the planetary pantheon and into dwarf planet-hood.

Unfortunately, based on this definition, the argument could be made that Jupiter is not a planet because of the existence of the Trojan and Greek astroids in its orbit (albeit they sit in Lagrange points, stable areas in space where an object can stay without the help of additional active propulsion mechanisms). In addition, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune all have moons. Having a moon could violate the “clearing its orbit” part of the definition. The definition itself leaves loads of wiggle room.

So, for me, I will agree to disagree with Mike Brown and the IAU and still continue to call Pluto a planet, and I welcome all of the other dwarf planets being discovered too. But as for the book, I am finding it a really fun read. In spite of the fact that it’s about science and discovery (both really cool things) it is approachable to the lay person. If you find a copy at your local library, I encourage you to pick it up.

RSM.

RSM Drawing a day: Day 10

Living room cornerWhile I had a three day weekend, I only managed to find time to do one drawing. Still, that’s better than I had been doing before this goal of mine. So, I call it a win. This is the view from my couch, looking at one corner of my living room. Drawing on original iPhone, using Brushes app.

I drew this one while the kids, husband, cat and I all watched the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Encounter at Farpoint). The kids loved it. I found it actually held up pretty well. I was worried that it hadn’t aged properly, but in spite of a few characters not quite acting the way their personalities would eventually end up (i.e. angry Picard, stuck up Bev Crusher), it was an overall enjoyable experience. The next episode, The Naked Now, did not fair as well. Had to skip through it entirely because all the kissing grossed out my 8 year old. Where No One Has Gone Before, with the Traveler and Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher was the biggest hit of the morning. I suspect that my son identified with the brilliant and young Wesley just a bit.

Enjoy!
RSM.

A wonderful and unexpected Blog gift

I was given a most unexpected blog gift over the weekend. When I made my post about the HerUniverse site, I really wrote it for myself. I get, at most, 5 or 6 readers of my site per day, so everything I write up here is really just a nice exercise in writing practice from myself to myself.

Imagine my surprise on Friday when site traffic hit over 125 visits! I was astonished. It was all because Ashley Eckstein was kind enough to mention my blog post on her Facebook group. I was most honored to have such a kind mention, and equally honored that two of Ms. Eckstein’s fans also posted comments here on the blog.

Thank you all for stopping by and reading, and thank you Ashley, for being such a kind and passionate soul. Maybe some day I will manage the time and funds to make it to a Comicon or Star Wars weekends and actually get to meet you. Until then, keep bringing the heart and soul of geek girls to life with your voice of Ahsoka and the cool stuff at HerUniverse.

RSM.

HerUniverse: Stuff for Geek girls

Bracelet and Star Wars figures

Her Universe Bracelet and my Star Wars ladies


I was listening to one of my Disney World related podcasts (The WDW Radio Show with the awesome Lou Mongello) several weeks (or is it months?) ago, and heard an interview with Ashley Eckstein… the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars the Clone Wars. We have a huge fan worship of Ashoka in our household and I was immediatly enchanted by the spunk and really infectious happiness of Ashley.

Ms. Eckstein was at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the annual Star Wars weekends in the late spring/early summer, both as the voice of Ahsoka and as the owner of her own new Sci-Fi related company. Ashley has started Her Universe, an online seller of science fiction cool stuff for geek girls. You know, girls like me who owned Star Wars t-shirts when she was little and had to buy just about everything in the boys section of the store. After hearing the interview, I immediately started to follow Ashley on twitter. Her positive message to girls of all ages who just happen to like “boy stuff” was like a breath of fresh air. It’s like she’s me!

She had a blog post on her site not to long ago about a young girl who was ridiculed by her classmates for carrying a Star Wars backpack as a purse. I am a grown woman and I still get the occasional good natured ribbing for my Star Wars obsession. It might not end, but at least we geek girls know we’re not alone. 🙂

Ashley is running a sale on her items right now for the holidays, including a limited edition Holiday R2-D2 pin! Ashley is working on more items for the new year, so if there isn’t something that you’d like now, just wait. She’s got an active message board and a lot of her fans have been giving her suggestions of merchandise they’d like to see.

Head on over to heruniverse.com to see if there might be something there for the geek girl (or woman) in your life. You might just, like me, end up buying a couple things for yourself.

By the way, the image at the top of this post is my daughter’s collection of Star Wars Galactic Heroes ladies, along with the HerUniverse bracelet I won in a twitter giveaway Ashley ran this summer. It made my day.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays all.
RSM.

Space and Astronomy apps on my iPhone

I was playing with my iPhone the other day, and thought it was time to look through what space and astronomy related apps I have my iPhone. I have a whole pane of apps that I call my “science apps” on my iPhone. Since I am still using my first generation original iPhone, I can’t run the new iOS 4 with it’s cool folders. Once I upgrade, I will be creating Science and Astronomy folders all over the place.

If anyone is looking for some beautiful pictures and space related education apps, here are the ones I’ve downloaded to my iPhone and have enjoyed enough to keep. Most of them were free or were being offered free for a limited time. I tend to grab free apps up as soon as I find them, test them, and keep or delete them depending on how much I enjoyed them. The list below are what I’d consider keepers.

Just for clarification (in case folks were wondering) a number of these apps are ones created by NASA and the various NASA related entities (like JPL). Because all of the data gathered by NASA is done using taxpayer dollars, the apps we create using that data are free for public use. Every image captured by every camera on every telescope, spacecraft, launch vehicle, etc. is the property of the United States taxpayers. Use them. Enjoy them. Learn from them.

Ok, off of my soapbox.

Among the iPhone astronomy apps I have on my phone are:
NASA (an HD iPad app was released last week!!)
Distant Suns (Lite, I currently only have the free version)
Planets Still Free for the International Year of Astronomy
Hubble (access images from the NASA telescope on your phone!)
Space Images (a Jet Propulsion Lab collection of NASA space images).
SkyVoyager planetarium iPhone app, not by NASA, with a price of $14.99, but very powerful and information packed.
3D Sun Images from NASA’s STEREO satellites.
Moon Globe (also free. 3D graphic display of the lunar surface. The Apollo landing sites are labeled).
APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) – I actually think I might remove this one. Hasn’t been updated in a long time.

And that about wraps it up. There are a lot of free apps out there with fantastic images and information about our universe and the planets in our solar system. NASA has done a really great job of putting out apps for free to the public. Since several of them are free, it can’t hurt to check them out. You just might find something interesting.

In addition to my iPhone, I also have an iPad (big surprise). I’ve got some of the same apps over there. Not all of them have HD versions out yet. I will be reviewing one of them, my most recent addition as favorite space app: Star Walk, soon. I bought it last week for my iPad after seeing it on the latest Apple iPad commercials. It’s as awesome as those 5 seconds made it seem. Hopefully I will have time to put together some coherent thoughts sooner or later.

Enjoy
RSM