Category Archives: NASA

National Museum of the Air Force

by Melanie and Jim 

You may have seen some of our posts about our travel to Yellowstone and back. That’s only one of the four road trips we’ve done in the past few weeks. Recently we also headed the other direction, to southern Ohio. On the way we visited the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton.

The museum has a number of galleries inside. The interior collections include the early years of flight, aircraft from World Wars One and Two, Korea and Vietnam, and current times. There are cargo planes, a variety of fighters and spy planes, intercontinental missiles, and experimental craft. Presidential and other executive transport planes, space travel, and Cold War air memorabilia are shown. Outside the huge hangars are more planes and a memorial park.

Show me more…

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The Mercury 13

by Melanie

Have you ever heard of the Mercury 13? I hadn’t until recently. While visiting an air and space museum, I noticed an exhibit on this amazing group of aerospace pioneers.

In 1959 NASA began the process of identifying the nation’s first astronauts. From an applicant pool of more than 500 men, extensive physical and mental exams led to selecting the first seven astronauts. All of them were military pilots, and they were known as the “Mercury 7.”

A doctor who helped develop the tests for those men, Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace, wondered how women would perform on the same tests. In 1960, he began a study to find out. He invited a noted female pilot, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, to participate in his study. After she passed all three phases of testing, other women pilots were invited into the study.

According to Wally Funk, one of those selected, “The women were to be under 35 years of age, in good health, hold a second class medical, four year college education, a commercial rating or better and have over 2,000 hours of flying time.” Many of the pilots were members of a group called the “Ninety-Nines,” an organization established in 1929 of female pilots, which continues to this day.

Thirteen women, the Mercury 13, passed the tests available and were chosen to continue in the program. They were Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Janey Hart, Gene Nora Stumbough (Jessen), Jerri Sloan (Truhill), Rhea Hurrle (Woltman), Sarah Gorelick (Ratley), Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich and Jean Hixson.

Unfortunately, the women and their program were never officially part of NASA. Twelve of the 13 were not allowed to complete the Phase III testing. Their program was cancelled.

After lobbying of both President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, congressional hearings were held in 1962 about the gender discrimination involved in canceling the program. According to WIRED Magazine,

The would-be Mercury 13 astronauts would ultimately be held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Some NASA officials speculated that female performance could be impaired by menstruation. Others wanted pilots who had already flown experimental military aircraft — something only men could have done, since women were barred from the Air Force.

It was not until Sally Ride‘s shuttle flight in 1983 that an American woman flew into space. This despite the qualifications of thirteen remarkable women more than 20 years earlier.

Members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs, also known as the “Mercury 13”), these seven women who once aspired to fly into space stand outside Launch Pad 39B near the Space Shuttle Discovery in this photograph from 1995. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed. Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander, are (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Image credit: NASA

Greenland Ice | Mapped in 3-D

How I See It

Operation IceBridge Mission Statement

NASA’s Operation IceBridge images Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail to better understand processes that connect the polar regions with the global climate system. IceBridge utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets.

Now in the seventh year, IceBridge is deep into the Arctic research campaign. Each year, the aircraft fly over the Arctic or the Antarctic to gather data on the ice and how it is responding to climate change. The data is related to that of other research efforts such as ice core drilling and satellite observations. One of the regions intensely studied is Greenland which is 85% covered by ice to up to an average depth of 2.3 km (1.6 miles). The great weight of the ice has pressed…

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Space Music | Data Sonification

How I See It

Data streams from experiments as 1 and 0 digits. It arrives at very high rates and is stored for later study. From spacecraft, it is used to make images, produce video, and make sense of the universe. Analysis of the digits simply as visual information is great for most of us. Think of the images from Hubble. But, there are other ways we humans are equipped to perceive our world. These rich data sources can also be converted into sounds. Such a process is called data sonification.

Here is an audio file example (20 sec) from U of IA researcher Don Gurnett. It is called a whistler. They result from lightning strikes which send electromagnetic waves along the magnetic field lines of Earth. This image is the spectrum of a whistler comparing frequency to time of signal. The audio adds a lot to the interpretation of this…

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New Horizons Update: Pluto and Beyond

I want to know more.

How I See It

The New Horizons Mission to Pluto

What is the atmosphere of Pluto made of, and how does it behave? What does the surface of Pluto look like? What causes those colors? Are there interesting and unique geological features? How do particles in the solar wind interact with Pluto’s atmosphere? These are but some of the questions NASA scientists hope to answer during the coming flyby in 2015.

On January 19, 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft for a dramatic flight past icy dwarf planet Pluto and its moons two years from now in July 2015. After a 10 year and more than 3 billion mile journey, New Horizons will reveal information about worlds on the edge of the solar system. Plans for the mission include flybys of one or two Kuiper Belt Objects. These icy bodies are found orbiting the Sun in a zone beyond the orbit of Pluto. They range…

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Melting Permafrost | Links to Greenhouse Gases

For the full post on this important topic…

How I See It

Permafrost covers 24% of exposed land of the Northern Hemisphere.

From a NASA press release of 6-10-2013

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils underlie much of the Arctic. Each summer, the top layers of these soils thaw. The thawed layer varies in depth from about 4 inches (10 cm) in the coldest tundra regions to several yards, or meters, in the southern boreal forests. This active soil layer at the surface provides the precarious foothold on which Arctic vegetation survives. The Arctic’s extremely cold, wet conditions prevent dead plants and animals from decomposing, so each year another layer gets added to the reservoirs of organic carbon sequestered just beneath the topsoil.

Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the…

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Warp 0.033 for NASA Spacecraft

Beam me up…

How I See It

Some people get very excited about the possibilities of warp drives for spacecraft. They discuss the concepts of powering a spacecraft using the distortion of space-time in front and back of the craft. This Popular Science article talks about the technical aspects of the theoretical drive mechanisms. I wondered how much readers knew about warp speed and how it is calculated. I won’t go into detail about the physics since it is hypothetical. I only practice physics of the real world. Instead, I refer you to the concept in Star Trek for all the jargon you might want to see.

Warp drive is a hypothetical faster-than-light (FTL) propulsion system in the setting of many science fiction works, most notably Star Trek. A spacecraft equipped with a warp drive may travel at apparent speeds greater than that of light by many orders of magnitude, while circumventing the relativistic problem of time dilation…

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Triple Planetary Conjunction May 24-31

The week ahead of May 24 -31 promises some wonderful views of a rare event, a triple conjunction of Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter in the evening sky. Look to the west soon after sunset at 8:30 or later. This is the view for May 24th. I hope your skies are clear.

Mercury orbits closest to the Sun, it has a fast orbit. Venus is next closest and less fast. Earth is also moving. Jupiter plods along taking much longer to orbit in it’s huge path. Because of the movement of each planetary body, the view of the conjunction each evening will change a little. Here is May 25th.

Images for the next six evenings are in the rest of the post. So, if your skies are cloudy one evening, don’t fret. This show will be prominent for the entire week. You ought to be able to see it on several of the evenings.

Take me to more of the conjunction.

Lord of the Rings – ♄

The planets Earth and Saturn are currently aligned in the same general direction from the Sun. April 28th was the date of the most direct alignment called opposition. Saturn was in the opposite direction of the Sun as viewed from Earth. Saturn rises in the east each evening at about the same time the Sun sets. By late evening it is positioned high and is a pleasing sight in a telescope.

I am fortunate to have an account with the University of Iowa’s Robotic Telescope called Rigel. It is located at the Winer Observatory near Sonoita in southern AZ. The children of the Rigel director were in my physics classes years ago. He kindly gives me the account for my use. On the night of May 4, the Rigel telescope obtained this image for me of the planet Saturn.

How cool is that? I got to use a telescope over a thousand miles away to get this image. What if I could use a spacecraft actually orbiting Saturn to see images up close and in great detail? I would want to see some of the fine structure details of the rings. Galileo called the rings ‘ears’ when he first saw them in 1610.

Let’s go see them.

Alien Life in Space?

How I See It

by Jim in IA

Astronomy has always been an important part of my life. Growing up on a farm gave me many nights of fantastically good views of the stars, planets, and the Milky Way. I remember paying attention to the IGY (International Geophysical Year) in 1957-1958 when I was 10. It was especially exciting to see Sputnik go over and pass through the constellations.

Walt Disney teamed up with Werner Von Braun to produce a 3 part series about space flight in the mid-50s. They were Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. I loved those shows. They fueled my imagination. Multi-staged rockets, lunar landscapes, and Martian myths and legends planted the seeds of the possibility that alien life existed on some worlds out there in space.

As of this writing, NASA announced that 2,740 planet candidates have been observed by Kepler, a telescope on…

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