Thursday, November 8, 2007

HDTV movies of the Moon from Kaguya

The Japanese Kaguya (formerly Selene) mission has captured the first high-def movies from the Moon. Pretty impressive stuff, even if it does lose some of that high-def impact when it's a tiny little movie on your computer screen. Still pretty though.

The captions are all in Japanese, but the movie consists of two sequences:

The first sequence is a movie flying over the western region of Oceanus Procellarum. Starting point is approx. 25 N, 275 - 282 E and ending point is 49N, 275 - 283 E. The contrast of mare and highland are clearly recognized.

The second sequence is a scene flying over the north pole region. Starting point is approx. 66 N, 274 - 288 E and ending point is 87 N, 26 - 161 E. Kaguya is flying from the northern part of Oceanus Procellarum to the north pole. As it is in high latitude, incidence angle becomes lower and it makes shadows longer. Thanks to lower angle, we can see craters and other cobbly surface features very clearly.

These sequence captured on 31 Oct, 2007 (JST) with altitude of approximately 100 kilometers.

Congrats to our Japanese friends!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

China's 1st lunar probe Chang'e-1 blasts off

Congrats to China on entering the lunar fray with the successful launch of their first lunar orbiter!

According to the Chinese English-language news, the orbiter is slated to develop "a three-dimensional survey of the Moon's surface", to analyze "the abundance and distribution of elements on lunar surface", to characterize the lunar regolith and the "powdery soil layer on the surface", and to explore the "circumstance between the Earth and the Moon."

This is supposed to be just China's first step in lunar exploration. A lunar lander or rover is slated for about 2012, and they are working towards sending humans in a time frame similar to our own. In fact, NASA's administrator Mike Griffin made headlines recently when he commented that they may beat us there. China though (at least officially) claims that this is not a race: "China will not embark on any lunar probe competition 'in any form with any country' and will 'share the results of its moon exploration with the whole world' in its pursuit of a policy of peaceful use of airspace, said a chief commander of the country's first lunar satellite project."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

New Paintings

I finished three new paintings this week (well, 5 if you count the triptych as 3 separate ones, but that's not really fair). Here are the new ones, if you'd like to see more, check out my website.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NASA night at DPS

There is a great rundown of NASA night at the DPS (Division of Planetary Sciences) meeting up at the Planetary Society's Blog. Emily provides lots of insights into the new SMD crew at NASA headquarters; sounds like things have really turned around in the relationship between the community and HQ since Alan Stern took over.

This made me laugh today...

NASA announces plans to bring Wi-Fi to its Headquarters by 2017

I do enjoy the Onion, and I like that JSC is considered "NASA's Headquarters." Do you think the folks at HQs were ticked off by that? Of course, NASA will never make the 2017 goal - too many security issues. Just kidding, I do believe that our building has wi-fi, although the security is iron-clad such that I don't think that anybody can actually access it, but that's not the point right?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

NASA to form Lunar Science Institute

According to NASAwatch, Alan Stern announced at the DPS (Division for Planetary Sciences) meeting yesterday that NASA plans to create a NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) patterned on the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

The initial selection would be of 4 to 5 lead teams at a cost of $1-2 million each, and like the NAI, the NSLI would be managed by NASA Ames Research Center.

This is pretty exciting news, and in conjunction with the new LASER (Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research) R&A program and last year's LSSO (Lunar Sortie Science Opportunities) program, the participating scientist program for LRO, not to mention an increase in lunar-related grants through several of NASA's other R&A lines (PGG, Cosmochem, PIDDP), the lunar community is sitting pretty good right now.

Which is important, and well timed, because a large percentage of the lunar community hail from the Apollo era, and frankly are approaching, or have already reached, retirement age. By the time we get back to the Moon in (theoretically) 2018, they will be gone and we will be in desperate need of a few good lunar scientists. Now, scientists don't just sprout out of nowhere, it takes a good 10 years of training (grad school plus postdocs) to produce a decent scientist, so by priming the system now with a small investment in R&A, NASA is actually showing some forethought and is right on schedule to maintain a viable lunar community for the next era of exploration. Way to go NASA (or, rather, Alan Stern), it's nice to see someone thinking beyond the next election cycle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Space and Pop Culture

Interesting article in the NYTimes today on the ways that the space age has influenced Pop Culture

In fact the whole Science Times today is dedicated to "The Space Age" in celebration of the anniversary of Sputnik. Some good stuff in there, well worth a read.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The neuroscience behind liberals vs conservatives

It's not just your imagination, liberals really do think differently than conservatives, according to a paper that came out today in Nature Neuroscience:

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adventures in Meteor Crater

So I haven't had any posts for a while. Part of my lame excuse for that is that I was at a conference/field trip in AZ. The main purpose of the field trip was to go to Meteor Crater, and the main purpose of this post is to brag that I got to hike around inside Meteor Crater. The general public is not allowed you see, only people that are doing research on the crater, or in the extremely rare event that a field trip like this is arranged do people get to hike down into the crater.

So to justify this post, I decided that it should have something to do with either pop culture or space policy. I couldn't really come up with much on the policy front, I guess visiting an impact site always makes you think about the possibilities of the next impact and what we are doing about it, but that's a little obvious. The pop culture link, though, is surprisingly easy: do you see that trail in the image above? That is the route we took into the crater and it is the same route that was used in the filming of the 1984 movie "Starman". I love that movie: "I watched you very carefully. Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Former Karl Rove Staffer Moves to NASA as Mike Griffin's White House Liaison

Meet Jane Cherry, NASA's new white house liaison...

A little background via Daily Cos:
Jane is apparently the child of Bush loyalist parents who were big names on the Arkansas GOP scene. After graduating college in 2004, she has had a distinguished "career" working for the White House since way back in 2005, starting as a lowly staff assistant and working her way up the ladder until sometime later in 2005 when she become Associate Director of Political Affairs under Karl Rove where she remained until last week when she was appointed to NASA.

According to the Daily Kos article, under Rove, "Jane was involved in the US Attorney removal scandal, and is on the record (page 31) as such. And Jane had one of those infamous secret e-mail addresses. Jane and Monica Goodling discussed Goodling's "research" on people."

I have to agree with NASAWatch on this one:

First NASA gets George Deutsch, another young political appointee. We all remember what he did. Then FEMA's former Deputy Director Patrick Rhode (a pal of Michael Brown's) is given a hiding place at NASA. Now, an overtly political White House staffer (it was her job to be overtly political) who is under at least one cloud with regard to ethics - suddenly lands at NASA where she gets a $60,000-plus pay raise.

Is NASA turning to a dumping ground for young Bush loyalists of questionable capability? Based on her political shenanigans at the White House, what could she possibly bring of value to NASA? Right now NASA needs to be steering clear of politics and focusing on the tasks at hand. Bringing young political hacks to NASA will only create problems.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Oooh, pretty

NASA recently release what they are calling the "most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date." Using a collection of satellite-based observations, scientists and visualizers stitched together months of observations of the land surface, oceans, sea ice, and clouds into a seamless, true-color mosaic of every square kilometer (.386 square mile) of our planet.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Girl Scout Camp

So I just got back from Girl Scout camp. No, seriously.

It's been about 20 years since the last time I went to Girl Scout Camp, but it was pretty much how I remembered, with the campfires and the singing and hiking and swimming and what not. Except this camp specializes in incorporating NASA activities into their programs, which is too cool. One of the things they like to do is to have scientists come and hang out with the girls so they can see that scientists are people too, and this year, I was that scientist.

I hung out with the girls, went on their hikes, did arts and crafts. Turns out I'm pretty good at archery, or at least better than your average 9 year old girl. And we talked. They asked lots of great questions. I like using these opportunities to size up the world and see how NASA is doing with outreach and spreading its message. I use my family for this a lot too, but kids are much better because they aren't afraid of looking stupid and they will ask you literally anything that pops into their heads.

The most popular question I was asked is why Pluto is no longer a planet. They are still pretty upset about that, but they do seem to have accepted the fact, they just want to understand the reasons behind it.

Nobody asked me if we faked the Moon landing (something I get asked by adults all too frequently), which I take as a positive sign.

They seemed very concerned that the world was going to end, they wanted to know if the Earth was going to blow up, if the Moon was going to blow up, if the Moon was going to crash into the Earth, if the Sun was going to explode, and so on and so on. I hope I didn't give any of them nightmares when I explained about the Sun going red giant in another 5 billion or so years and swallowing the earth, perhaps I shouldn't have fed those flames.

They all wanted to know if I had been in space and how many times I had been to the Moon. I asked one group when was the last time people went to the Moon, they said last year (so cute!). They seem to think that we go to Mars pretty regularly too.

I was a little saddened to learn that most of them didn't know what a geologist was, and a lot of the brownies (6-8 yr olds) had never heard of NASA. Can you imagine? The older girls did better, probably in part because they've been coming to this camp for a while.

They asked a lot of questions about what it's like to be a scientist. What I liked about the job and what I didn't. I told them one of the things I liked was that I could wear whatever I wanted, and one girl asked if I could wear my pajamas - apparently that is the ideal job from a 10 yr old's perspective, one in which pjs are a fashion statement.

All in all, a good week. I had tons of fun and hopefully the girls learned something.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy Apollo 11 Anniversary

Today marks the 38th anniversary of the day that humankind first set foot on the Moon (unless you're Australian, apparently they mark that on the 21st). Here at JSC they are celebrating with a Grand Reopening of the Saturn V facility and a sneak preview of the movie "In the Shadow of the Moon" which I am really looking forward to seeing.

Agency wide, NASA is referring to today as the inaugural "First Footprints" celebration, an annual commemoration of one of humankind's most amazing and important accomplishments. I like that, I'm surprised that we haven't made more of a big deal of this in the past. I hope it catches on.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Academic Life

As my post-doc comes to an end in just a few months, I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about my future and what I'm going to do with it. I decided long ago that the tenure-track lifestyle was not for me, but every time I get to one of these decision points in my career, I find myself questioning everything.

Today I stumbled upon this blog entry from someone who chose the academic life and is now leaving. Here is my favorite part:
I know a lot of people think the "utter pressure, sink or swim in the whirlpool" method is a great way to motivate pre-tenure people to extreme productivity, but in my case the primary result was an extreme crushing of my soul, the suppression of my ability to really function well as a scientist, and ultimately my decision that there are other exciting things in the world that I could be doing...

So now I'm done pondering that question. No tenure track for me. I prefer my soul uncrushed, thank you very much. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would put themselves through that and yet, there is certainly no shortage of people trying.

Of course the soft-money route is hardly any easier these days, particularly in planetary geology with NASA funding so hard to come by and absolutely no safety net to fall back on. I talk to too many people that are spending all of their time writing grant proposals and have no time left to actually do any science, not to mention the constant stress of not knowing if you are going to have a paycheck next week. That is not exactly what I signed up for when I decided to become a scientist.

I can always do another post-doc of course, the low pay and lack of respect are almost worth it to get to do the science (though this postdoc/blogger might argue that with me). In the end though, one cannot be a post-doc forever (well, one probably can, but it is definitely not recommended), at some point I will have to get a "real job" (or so my Dad keeps telling me). Is it any wonder I'm thinking about leaving academia, as so many of my friends and colleagues already have?

How sad is that? I really fear for the future of science in this country.

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

Nuke the Moon?

This guy has some pretty convincing evidence for why we should nuke the Moon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Drive Update - the last 2 episodes available on Monday

Fox has announced that "Drive" will be available for streaming as of Monday, July 16, at and on Fox affiliate sites.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Goodbye Drive, we hardly knew ya

Well, looks like we are never going to see those last 2 episodes of Drive. I hate FOX. After scheduling them to be burned off on July 4th and then moving them to July 13th, they have now been pulled completely off the schedule with no plans to show them anywhere. For those of you that want to know, check out this great interview with exectutive producers Tim Minear and Craig Silverstein about what would have happened had the series continued.

Poor Tim Minear.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Dead Like Me Movie!

Good news for me and the four other people out there who liked Dead Like Me - according to the good folks at TVSquad, they are making a made-for-DVD movie! And if it does well, they may bring the series back to life. The one big catch - no Mandy Patinkin (he's busy with his other show). I'm not sure how the reapers are going to manage without their fearless leader, but, I am so willing to shell out my cash to find out.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Some budget relief for NASA?

Via NASAwatch...

Senators Hutchison, Landrieu, Mikulski and Shelby Pledge to Introduce NASA Funding Amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill to provide $1 billion in additional funding for NASA when the bill reaches the Senate floor.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

On the next season of LOST...

I know that the "snake in the mailbox" changes everything and I understand that there might be some changes on LOST next season, but I think they've gone too far...

Courtesy via Watch with Kristin

Monday, June 4, 2007

Serenity flys to station

So this blog tends to cover space and pop culture, usually two very different topics, but every once in a while, the two come together and it's beautiful.

Case in point, my friend Flygal pointed me to this site:
BREAKING ATMO - Here's How It Is...
which details the efforts from some of NASA's Browncoats to bring the joys of Firefly and Serenity to the astronauts aboard station.

How shiny is that?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Thanks Ed

Just wanted to thank Ed who has added this blog to his extensive collection of space-related blogs at Space Feeds!

And check out the cool new widget I added at the bottom of the sidebar, it's all the latest posts from all the blogs on Ed's blogroll.

Space Feeds

Friday, June 1, 2007

Did everyone see Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed on the History Channel last weekend?

If you missed it over the weekend, don't worry, they're going to repeat it a couple more times. It's a really well done "2-hour special exploring why the emotional impact of the Star Wars Saga remains as relevant as ever."

With interviews from the likes of J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, and Steven Colbert, as well as a number of academics and for some reason Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich, the show explores many of the archetypes developed though the films and how Lucas borrowed from everything from Greek mythology and American westerns to the Bible and why 30 years later Star Wars still resonates with so many people.

I highly recommend it.

The History Channel's website has lots of cool short clips and other resources too.

And while you are setting your Tivo, don't forget to schedule it to tape the Robot Chicken's Star Wars special on June 17!

Friday, May 25, 2007

What is up with the Lunar Robotic Program? - Update

Well, it looks like Marshall is keeping it's Lunar Robotic Program office. According to an article in today's Huntsville Times (via NASAwatch), "The 32-employee Lunar Precursor Robotic Program office will be included in the NASA budget at $20 million a year for the next six years. Also, the office will continue to manage two planned NASA lunar probe missions and begin a new assignment: mapping the moon to find sites of scientific value, Shelby's office said."

I don't always agree with Keith Cowing, but he's right on the money here:

Reversing the decision could become a problem for Griffin and his successors, and "it opens up their decisions for further second-guessing," said Keith Cowing, who runs

"It makes a joke of any leadership on Mike Griffin's part if he makes a decision and then he reverses it because Senator Shelby or (Rep. Bud) Cramer tell him to back off," Cowing said. "How can NASA administrators actually manage if they constantly have Congress reversing decisions they don't like?"

It's hard to blame Mr. Griffin though, it's not like he had a lot of options here, when Congress tells you to do something, you can't just say no. And it wasn't just one congressman, Senator Shelby convinced Senator Mikulski and Representative Mollohan, the chairs of the respective appropriations committees which oversee NASA's budget (i.e. people you don't want to piss off). I don't think Mr. Griffin had any choice here, I think the blame lies with Congress who shouldn't have made the request in the first place. Congress' job is not to micromanage. Does Sen. Shelby really think that he knows better how to get us back to the Moon than NASA does?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Breaking news: Evidence of water found on Mars!

Yes, it's true. Once again those little energizer-bunny rovers have made news because once again one of them has discovered evidence of water in Mars' past.

Doesn't it seem like every few months we find new and exciting evidence of water on Mars? Is anybody else impressed by how they can continue to make the same headline newsworthy over and over again?

Okay, in all seriousness, what is truly impressive to me is that they continue to make new discoveries after wandering around for so long. I think that really says something about the complexity of Mars, not to mention the complexity of the rovers.

The cynic in me read this headline and thought that the rover teams are sending out press releases for some minor thing in an attempt to stay in the news and stay relevant and not have their extended mission funding cut and their rovers turned off. But actually, this looks to be a genuine find.

What the rover found was a patch of soil that is 90% silica - something you just can't do without a whole lot of water. It was discovered by the aging rover Spirit, who has a broken wheel that won't rotate anymore, and so it leaves a deep trench as it drags through the soil, which is what exposed the silica-rich stuff (in fact several of it's recent discoveries have been made this way).

The patch of soil has been named "Gertrude Weise," after a player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Seriously, they named a patch of soil after some random baseball player. I looked her up, she wasn't even a particularly famous AAGPBL player (by which I mean that there was no character based on her in A League of Their Own), and she died last year, so she will never even know about the great honor bestowed upon her.

Like many in the planetary community, I dream of one day having something in the solar system named after me, an asteroid or a crater, but a patch of soil? meh.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This made me laugh today...

I can always count on Homestarrunner to amuse me. Today's adventure involves some mysterious DNA evidence.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What is up with the Lunar Robotic Program?

In the beginning, the plan was to go to the Moon, first with robots, then with people. An extensive precursor program (the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, or RLEP - pronounced R-Lep) was planned following the model put forth by the Apollo program with it's Lunar Orbiter and Ranger missions. There was to be first an orbiter - the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which is on track and should launch in 2008 - followed by a lander, probably to a polar location, maybe even a permanently shadowed region, followed by another orbiter, then another lander.

Then people started doing the math, and realized we couldn't afford all that and it was pared down to the LRO and 1 lander. The program's named was also changed for no apparent reason from RLEP, to the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program (LPRP) and the program office was moved to Marshall (from Ames, and before that Goddard).

Along the way, cost estimates for the lander started to balloon from an initial New Frontier's Class mission to something in the several billion dollar range from the rumors I heard. So the lander was scrapped all together and we were told it was not needed, as Scott Horowitz, NASA's exploration chief, made perfectly clear at the Lunar Science Meeting in Tempe a couple months ago when he said that all he really needs is "a damn good map," which LRO will provide.

With no "program" to speak of, the LPRP program office at Marshall was to be shut down and management of LRO (and it's tag-along package LCROSS) was to be moved to HQs. But then Congress got involved, or specifically Sen Shelby (R-Al), who wanted to keep a little piece of the Moon in his backyard and the 32 jobs that go with it (although in reality, none of those people would have been laid off, just reassigned to other duties). Sen Shelby was apparently able to convince Sen. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who respectively chair the Senate and House appropriations panels with NASA oversight, that this was important and last month they wrote a letter to Administrator Griffin proclaiming their displeasure over the closing of the Marshall office and directed $20M "be provided to continue planning for a potential LPRP mission during the remainder of the year." (See the recent article in Science.)

Mr Griffin response reiterated the "all we need is a damn good map" mantra:

“I do not need a robotic lander to reduce risks for the human landings,” Griffin said. “Everybody who has carefully looked at that has said you don’t need it.”

Griffin said such a mission, while “it would be nice to have,” is not necessary. “Right now, the budget is such that I have to focus on what’s necessary,” he said, adding that the decision to cancel the lander was not taken lightly.

“The lander wasn’t the first thing I removed from the program. It was the last thing,” he said.

It's not immediately clear how NASA will respond to the congressional directive, or more importantly, what they are going to do with that $20M, since there is no sign that they are going to change their mind about sending a lander.

I have a few problems with this situation.

First of all, I'd really like to see a lander. For science reasons obviously, but also because I'm not convinced we know enough about the conditions at the poles to start putting up a permanent base there. In particular, the electrostatic conditions in a place like the rim of Shackleton crater (the currently favored site) which is always near the terminator, may make life very hard to deal with for the astronauts and their equipment, or maybe it will be fine, but we don't really know and a lander could definitely help us find out. There are many other unknowns and risks that a lander could help us reduce, biological experiments on the reactivity of the soil and the radiation environment, for example. Deciding whether these things are "necessary" or just "useful" is above my pay grade, as they say, but if it were up to me, I would say necessary.

Secondly, I think it's ridiculous that Congress is trying to dictate to NASA how it should be run at this level. Oversight is one thing, I am a firm believer in oversight, but this is not oversight, it's practically an earmark. NASA so strapped for cash right now that we are darn near begging in the streets, and now they are going to have to cough up $20M for a project that is never going to go anywhere.

I realize that many of you are probably thinking about now that my problem #2 contradicts my problem #1 - I want NASA to fund the stupid lander, but I'm mad at Congress for forcing them to keep the program office open. What I really want is for Congress to fund NASA at an appropriate level for them to accomplish all the things that Congress has asked them to do and to let NASA figure out the best way to do it. And I want NASA to stop basing their decisions on whether or not we can afford it and instead decide the best course of action and do it, even if it takes a little longer. NASA often uses the phrase "pay-as-you-go" but they don't believe it. Of course, Congress keeps putting timetables on things (Ahh, Congress and their timetables), like phase-out of the shuttle and when the CEV has to be ready that force NASA's hand. So they are both in my doghouse.

Going to the Moon on a budget is hard, but going to the Moon unprepared will be disastrous.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Defending Peer Review on the Floor of the House

Thank God for the levelheaded members of the House Committee on Science and Technology!

Today's hero is Rep. Baird, who, as the Chair of the Research Subcommittee, successfully defended the peer review process from overzealous republicans yesterday by helping to defeat two ridiculous amendments to the NSF Reauthorization Act that would have cut the funding for several specific studies that were considered "frivolous", such as a study of "accuracy in the cross-cultural understanding of others' emotions". Mr. Baird pointed out that "The scientific merit of a federal research grant often isn't obvious from "a cursory examination of the title or an abstract, that's why we have peer review." The man had clearly done his homework too, he went on to explain that the emotions study, for example, has been endorsed by the U.S. Army Research Institute because its findings could help soldiers correctly read the emotional expressions of people from other cultures and so avoid an accidental firefight that could kill fellow soldiers and innocent civilians.

The amendments were defeated by votes of 195-222 and 126-292, which I find a bit scary.

Way to go Mr. Baird!

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a good article about it today.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What is a "scientist"?

The note below popped up today on a listserve I subscribe to. The author, Emily Monosson is writing a book on balancing family and science tentatively titled Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory.

Hi all. A couple of weeks back, while talking about the women/science/motherhood book someone asked how would I define a scientist. It seemed like a good question - and I didn't have a really good answer. Some women with Ph.D.s who now teach high school science, write text books etc. wonder if they are still "scientists," I would say yes, others may not.

For the book I am working on, I'd like to discuss how the scientific community defines "a scientist," who would AAAS, NSF etc. consider a scientist? How would you define a scientist?

Additionally, what does it take to be considered a "successful" scientist? Or how would one define "success" in science?

What is a scientist? What a great question. It's one of those deceptively difficult things that you assume you know the answer to, until you actually try to put it into words. Kind of like, what is a planet?

For my part, I'm in the "once a scientist, always a scientist" camp. Being a scientist isn't about how much time you spend in the lab or how long your list of publications is. It's about how you think, how you approach a problem, the way that you see the world.

Being a "successful scientist" though, is another thing altogether. I would say that requires such things as well cited publications in peer reviewed journals, successful grant proposals, the respect of colleagues, successful graduate students, etc. Of course, you can be a scientist and be successful in other fields (like being an astronaut, or a senator, or both if you're really ambitious), but that's different from being a "successful scientist".

What do you think? Leave a note in the comments and I'll forward them to Emily.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I don't work in building 44

I'm fine, don't worry, I don't work in building 44.

So by now, pretty much everyone has heard about the events at JSC on Friday. I didn't know any of the people involved. Building 44 is clear on the other side of JSC from my office. I was in the lab all afternoon with no windows or internet access, I barely knew what was happening until it was over.

Man, JSC has been in the press for all the wrong reasons lately.

Some thoughts:

Does tragedy beget tragedy. I have to wonder if the gunman was emboldened by the VA Tech shootings? Though apparently he bought the gun a month ago, maybe he had it planned since then?

He went out to lunch with his boss/victim yesterday. Had he already decided then what he was going to do? What do you think they talked about? Do you think he was looking for a reason in that conversation - a reason to do it, or to not do it?

I had to go into the office this afternoon and I have to say I found things shockingly normal. I biked right past building 44. There was nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary had happened, except the three news vans set up in Rocket Park. Which, by the way, is nothing compared to the Lisa Nowak deal, there were dozens of news vans all over town for that. What does that say about our society?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't you dare touch my Chocolate!

OMG, it's an emergency! They are out to destroy chocolate as we know it! And by "they" I mean the Grocery Manufacturers of America, with the support of the Chocolate Manufacturers of America and, who else, Hershey Co. Stupid Hershey. Go right now to Don't Mess With Our Chocolate and express your outrage.

"Chocolate is an indulgence that everyone can afford, and it provides comfort, pleasure and happiness. It truly is one of the worlds most unique and special foods.

However, if some members of the U.S. Chocolate Industry have their way, it will negatively change the quality of chocolate you love. Their plan is to change the basic formula of chocolate in order to use vegetable fat substitutes in place of cocoa butter, and to use milk substitutes in the place of nutritionally superior milk. These changes will have adverse effects on the eating, physical and nutritional quality of chocolate, and beg the question: What consumer benefit is associated with implementing these changes? The answer is none.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a chocolate standard of identity requiring manufacturers to use approved ingredients in making chocolate, and it protects the consumer from any substitution of inferior ingredients. As a result, the Chocolate Industry must obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration to make any changes.

The U.S. Chocolate Industry, through its Chocolate Manufacturers of America (CMA), and in collaboration with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have petitioned the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to change the current requirements for chocolate."

Yuri's Night - Space nerds come out to play

Keith Cowing of NASAwatch has a great opinion piece up about his impressions of Yuri's Night at Ames last week. Yuri's Night, for those who are unfamiliar, began several years ago as a small series of ad hoc parties to celebrate the first flight of a human in space - Yuri Gagarin, on 12 April 1961. Over the past few years the event has quickly spread and has become a global phenomenon - with parties now sponsored all over the planet - including the Arctic and Antarctica. This party at Ames was probably the biggest to date, I've seen it described as a "rave with powerpoints" and compared to Burning Man, it must have been quite a shindig, which I had been there. There was a party here in Houston, but I missed that one too. I really like the idea of Yuri's Night, I hope that the phenomenon continues to spread and grow. It's a great opportunity to engage the public, and to remind NASA folks that space exploration is fun, not just work.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gumby's First Episode: Gumby on the Moon

So. Many. Questions. How did Gumby get to the Moon? What is that chain around his waist? Why are there 3 other Moons? How awesome is it that his dad chose to use a ladder rather than bother with a silly rocket? Do you think the red triangle things were the inspiration for those Star Wars dudes? How high do you think they were when they wrote this? Where's Pokey?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

LPSC part 2 - NASA night

Sorry about dropping off the face of the Earth for a week. I had the flu, but I'm doing much better now, thanks for caring. LPSC is over of course, but I wanted to add some more comments about the week, lest you think it's all about the shoes. Last Monday LPSC hosted what is known in the biz as "NASA night" when the bigwigs from headquarters come down to give us the lay of the land and listen patiently while we berate them for not giving us enough money.

Last year, NASA night almost broke out into a giant brawl after Mary Cleave spoke about how she didn't understand why we were angry after the announcement of major cuts to Research and Analysis (R&A) funding. Good times. I think we must have scared her off, she who is retiring in April, didn't show her face in Houston. Instead we were treated to Jim Green, the new head of planetary sciences, who was honest and sympathetic and actually listened to what we had to say. It was incredible.

Here are my notes from the meeting:

* The National Academies has created a "Planetary Performance Assessment Committee" to evaluate hoe well the Planetary division is addressing strategies, goals, and priorities from academy reports (this is a requirement of the NASA Auth Act of 2005)

* The current round of Discovery and Scout AOs are on track, with 3 full missions and 3 missions of opportunity selected for further study.

* M3 is on track to launch on Chandrayaan-1

* Phoenix and MSL are on track for '07 and '09 launches, respectively

* Dawn's launch has slipped to June '07.

* JUNO will launch Aug '11

* MGS is almost certainly unrecoverable. RIP.

* There will be "concept" funding for outer planet missions

* The Deep Space Network (which is still seriously underfunded and heading for trouble) has been transferred to SOMD - in theory this is because SOMD deals with all of the other communication systems, so this is just consolidating that, but I think it is a really stupid move because the Space Ops folks aren't going to prioritize it the same way that we do.

* The NEO program has been transferred to ESMD, I'm not really sure if that's good, bad, or neutral in the long run, but it draws a clear line between studying asteroids for planetary protection purposes vs. science.

* Some of the 15% cut to R&A funding from last year has been recovered (about 5.8M - though it's not clear where exactly that money came from). It will be focused towards some of the programs that were hardest hit by the funding crunch (e.g. astrobiology, instrument development, and Mars fundamental research).

* It was noted that R&A currently accounts for ~14% of the budget, which is not even close to the 25% that the National Academy decadal survey recommends. Let's hope that comes up in the new "Planetary Performance Assessment Committee" meetings.

* There was some cheers for the new rapid notification policy whereby those who have been chosen to receive grants (or not chosen) will be told within a few weeks after the decision is made, rather than months, sometimes approaching a year, that it used to take. Now only those proposals on the bubble will have to wait. Sometimes all it takes is a little common sense, people.

* There is one exciting new pot of R&A money, for a program called LASER (the acronyms are really ridiculous) - Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research. These funds are for basic lunar science, exploration-related applied science, data analysis from PDS data, and even for digitizing or acquiring old datasets. It will be co-funded with ESMD at a rate of ~2-3M/yr. Not bad.

Those are the highlights. All in all, a productive meeting and a hopeful sign of things to come.

There was a second meeting on Wednesday in which Doug Cooke was supposed to come and talk about Lunar stuff, but he was sick (there was a lot of that going around), so John Connolly stepped in at the last minute and did a fine job of covering the hq-speak slides (very pretty with little substance). It was pretty basic stuff about Constellation and returning to the Moon. There wasn't much new information for me, but I bet that the scientists who don't pay attention to much besides their own science probably learned a lot. Impressively, Wendell Mendell came up after John and, also using Doug's slides, gave a short history of the Constellation program. I think Wendell could talk for 30 minutes using anybody's slides, now that's a talent.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Live from LPSC, part 1 - the shoes

So, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference is in full swing here. The science is pretty good overall. Lots of really cool new pictures from Mars. I also learned today that the Earth's water may not have come from meteorites and comets, but actually may have condensed onto dust grains in the very earliest days of solar system formation. Neat huh?

I love the planetary science community, but I have to say, fashion is not our forte. Today I started to notice the footwear of some of my compatriots, and it wasn't pretty. Some things I saw:

A guy (who gave a talk today) wearing nice khakis and a polo shirt (not quite a suit and tie, but not unreasonable), and on his feet - teva sandals and socks, navy socks with gold toes.

A guy in jeans and a polo with burgundy (not red, not purple, burgundy) Chuck Taylors with a kind of lacy or tapestry-ish pattern. That combination definitely takes guts, but it just wasn't quite working.

Several other guys in Birkenstocks and socks.

Many people were sporting what were clearly their "dress sneakers" or their "good hiking boots" - this is a common fashion trend in the geology world, and actually it can work just fine with jeans if you want to go casual, but tennis shoes and ties are not a great combination (not even with bolo ties made from your favorite meteorite).

I am noticing a lot more black tennis shoes with black dress pants, which, while still sad, is certainly an improvement over white tennis shoes with black pants.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Happy Birthday Buffy!

Today marks the 10th anniversary of first airing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series, not the crappy movie, that totally doesn't count). Given the way that most of Buffy (the character) birthday's turned out, let's just hope this day doesn't end in tragedy.

Some coverage of the event can be found at, Whedonesque, and it's even today's featured article at Wikipedia

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Jane Espenson joins Battlestar Galactica full time

One of my favorite Buffyverse writers, Jane Espenson, responsible for such classic Buffy "Espensodes" as Band Candy and Triangle will be joining the writing staff of BG full time next season after having written 2 episodes this season (including Dirty Hands from 2 weeks ago). I guess she impressed them. Yay!

Monday, February 26, 2007

I so want to join the Order of Science Scouts of Exemplary Respute and Above Average Physique

The O.O.T.S.S.O.E.R.A.A.A.P.

Much like the Girl Scouts, you can earn badges for doing certain things or demonstrating knowledge of certain subjects. As it turns out, I already qualify for several of their badges:

Haven't quite earned that last one yet, but I'm getting dangerously close. Go to their website to check out all of their badges.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No new money for NASA in the 07 Budget

Because the Republican congress failed to do their job last year and didn't pass the 07 budget, the new congress was forced to deal with that on top of the 08 budget (not to mention learning how to be in charge again, hiring new staff, moving offices, welcoming new members, oh, and there's that whole Iraq War thing happening). So, they decided to punt - rather than carefully considering, debating and passing the budgets from the various approprations committees, or even rolling them together and passing one massive "omnibus" budget bill, they decided to extend the continuing resolution through the end of the year so they can focus on next year's budget. This basically continues the 2006 budget through 2007, which in theory isn't so bad, everybody loses out on inflationary increases, but otherwise it maintains the status quo. The problem is that NASA and NSF and NIST and many other science agencies were due for big increases this year, NASA for the Vision and the rest due to the whole compettitiveness inititive.

Congress had said that they were going to "allow some flexibility" where it was needed, giving us a little hope, and in fact, NSF and NIST both got small increases over the '06 numbers ($335M and $50M, respectively), but unfortunatly, NASA got nothing.

Senator Mikulski said in her press release that it was unfortunate, but it was the best they could do:

“While I would have liked to have increased funding for NASA, there was simply not enough extra funding available for us to do so. Within the limits of NASA’s FY 06 operating plan, we added an extra $460 million to exploration while protecting other critical NASA programs in science and aeronautics. With only seven months left in this fiscal year, I believe NASA will be able to manage their programs in exploration with minimal impact to the overall schedule.

It's going to be a tough year for NASA, and frankly, the '08 budget is not looking that much better.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Oh that poor cat

Ever wonder how a cat would react to microgravity?

Apparently cats have an automatic "righting system" built into them which makes sure they always land on their feet. In the absence of gravity though, the cat feels like it is constantly falling and can't "land", so their righting system puts them into an endless spin. Cool huh?

Also (via NASAwatch), in case you prefer dogs to cats:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Anousheh Ansari - Positive female astronaut role model

In the wake of the diaper-wearing crazed-astronaut love-triangle ruckus comes news that Anousheh Ansari is going to team up with Homer "October Sky" Hickum to write her memoirs.

You may or may not remember that back in September, Anousheh became the world’s first female space tourist as the fourth paying customer to hitch a ride to the space station. It was a pretty big deal at the time, I read a number of articles on her, she got a soundbite or two on the news, of course that coverage pales in comparison to the kind of overwhelming non-stop coverage that Lisa Nowak garnered last week. But I don't want to talk about Lisa (ever again, please), let's talk about a positive female astronaut/entrepreneur role model:

I was frankly surprised by the attention Ansari received at the time of her flight, after all female astronauts are a pretty common sight these days. Is a space tourist so different?

I remember well the first “space tourist” Dennis Tito. That was a big story, we had entered a new era and all that. I vaguely remember hearing about #2, Mark Shuttleworth, but I had nearly forgotten there was a 3rd tourist, Greg Olsen, he got almost no press. I guess the media had decided by #3 that it was old hat, that is until the Japanese Businessman that was supposed to be #4 bowed out for medical reasons and his backup, Ansari was given the green light. Suddenly space tourism was a big deal again, a woman was going, and I read one article after another detailing her adventures.

I did a quick Google search to try and find some historical perspective. It was only 2 years after Yuri Gargarin’s first spaceflight that Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. It is now more that 5 years since Dennis Tito’s historic ride as the first space tourist.

Of course the situations are far different. Tereshkova’s flight was a novelty act and nothing more (arguably, she was the first “space tourist”, as she was simply along for the ride and was never allowed to take manual control of the spacecraft). She was sent into space simply to check a box, first women in space – check, one more “first” for the Soviet space program. It wasn’t until Sally Ride’s first flight in 1983, a full twenty years after Gargarin, that women finally became a real part of the space program.

Ansari, on the other hand, is far from a novelty act. A life-long space devotee, she is a commercial space entrepreneur who, along with her husband and brother-in-law, has co-founded the Dallas-based company Prodea which is developing the Explorer line of air-launched suborbital vehicles. She and other members of her family donated a sizable chuck of the money for the Ansari X-Prize competition (hence the name) and she remains involved in the X-Prize Foundation, particularly its educational outreach.

The Iranian-born Ansari does see herself as a role model. In an interview with, she said, “In my work and everything that I have always done, I have tried to be an example. I hope to inspire everyone—especially young people, women, and young girls all over the world, and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men—to not give up their dreams and to pursue them.”

In the U.S., little girls may not need Ansari as a role model, they have never lived in a world where women can’t be astronauts or fly in space. But in the Middle East, she will be a powerful symbol of hope for the next generation. For that, I’m grateful that the headline “first woman space tourist” made it around the world.

Will we ever get to a point where “first woman” isn’t a milestone to be recorded? I doubt it. I think we just really likes “firsts”. I wonder, what if the first person to stand on Mars is a woman, will history also made a point to record when the first man hit the ground? Yeah, I think so.

Alan Stern named associate administrator for SMD

NASA has finally announced the replacement for Mary Cleave who is retiring in April as AA for the Science Mission Directorate. Dr. Cleave was trained as a biologist and an engineer, but became an astronaut almost straight out of grad school (her Wikipedia entry). She was never really accepted by the science community, which is likely one, but certainly not the only, reason for the strained relationship between the greater NASA science community and HQs for the last couple of years. She felt we were constantly whining and we felt we weren't being listened too, it was a bad situation all around.

I think that Dr. Cleave did her best in what is a thankless job, especially during tough budget years, but I for one, will not be sad to see her go.

Dr. Stern is an interesting choice for replacement. I don't know a lot about him besides what was in the press release, but he is clearly a scientist and an active member of the planetary community, so he gets points for that. (Although according to his Wikipedia entry, he was very nearly an astronaut, but I won't hold that against him.)

Alan is from Colorado, a graduate of the Univ of Colorado, he is currently executive of the Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI’s) Space Science and Engineering Division. Which, I believe, is in Mark Udall's district. Mark being the chair of the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. So they should get along well.

He is also the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto. I know that it's going to be a while before we get to Pluto (July, 2015), but even so, doesn't that seem like a conflict of interest? I wonder if they will make him relinquish that title while he is at HQ.

Can Dr. Stern make a difference at HQ? Can he do anything to improve communication with the science community and erase some of the bitterness that has been built up the last few years? I hope so.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Joss Whedon interview

There's a great 4 part interview with Joss Whedon up at Geek Monthly. He talks mostly about the upcoming Buffy Season 8 comics, which I have to admit I am so excited about.

I don't normally read comics. Nothing personal, it's just never been my thing. But I gotta tell you, I would read the back of a triscuit box if Joss wrote it. And then I would re-read it and look for hidden layers of meaning. And then I would go online and see if I could find others who had read and dissected the layers of depth in the triscuit box and had drawn parallels to works on the back of other snack foods and then I would search out those snack foods and read their backs before re-reading the triscuit box once again to ensure that I could fully appreciate the genius that went into the triscuit box. Yeah, it's kind of a sickness.

Also, some of my other favorite Buffy writers are also going to be writing issues of the comic, including Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard. It's going to be so good.

Anna Nicole's final bow - an act of humanitarianism

I haven't said anything about Lisa Nowak yet, mostly because I haven't had anything either insightful or hilarious to say, but I woke up this morning with a somewhat morbid thought that Lisa and her family, not to mention NASA as a whole, must be so grateful to Anna Nicole Smith for dying. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought that, as I stumbled on this blog entry this morning.

I, for one, won't miss the circling helicopters and stupid news vans hanging out at JSC's entry gates.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

This made me laugh today

A parody of Ron Howard's Apollo 13 that wonders what Thanksgiving might be like at Gene Kranz's (Ed Harris from Apollo 13) house, especially when things go terribly, but familiarly wrong.

It's hilarious:

- "What did you do?"

- "Nothing, I stirred the gravy."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

NASA's 08 budget announced

NASA announced it's 08 budget yesterday. You can find the transcript of Mike Griffin's comments here and the pdf of the actual budget is here

NASA will receive a 3.1% increase over last year's budget request, which is not terrible, it could be worse, of course, but it's not good, especially considering how NASA got the shaft in the continuing resolution. NSF, by contrast, got a 7% increase. Ever since the President skipped over NASA in his ACI (American Competitiveness Initiative), NASA has become something of the redheaded stepchild of science when it comes to funding.

In a press release, the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, Bart Gordon said:
"Once again, NASA’s budget request is not sufficient to do all the agency is being asked to do. Exploration and human space flight are important long-term missions for the agency and our country. So are NASA’s core activities in science and aeronautics. Yet this budget request and its five-year funding plan do not provide the funding needed to ensure the future health of any of these initiatives. I fear we may be heading for a train wreck if no corrective actions are taken."

On the other side of the Hill, Sen Mikulski was also disappointed:
“The space program needs presidential leadership, and we expect to see that leadership in the budget. Unfortunately, we don’t see it in this year’s budget yet again. I fought to have NASA included in the American Competitiveness Initiative, but the White House refused. NASA’s work should be the hallmark of any national program to promote America’s competitiveness,” said Senator Mikulski. “I will keep fighting for a balanced space program – science, exploration and aeronautics – all leading the way for innovation and discovery.”

Times are tough, and not just for science; exploration, aeronautics, education, everything NASA does is getting squeezed.

A few good things came out of the budget announcement though:
* GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement mission) is moving forward, thank goodness, because the TRMM satellite that it's replacing is running out of fuel, and those measurements are important for things like accurate hurricane predictions.

* The next-generation LANDSAT is also moving forward after a lot of fits and starts, though to slowly to avoid a data gap, but still.

* A new funding line for Lunar Science is finally being started - this was something I tried to push for when I was on the Hill, but I could never get any traction, everyone said it was too early, we didn't need it yet, but I guess they finally felt it was time.

* For those who care, the SOFIA mission has been reinstated and is back on track.

* The budget runout allows for increases to the previously estimated costs for purchasing commercial cargo and crew services to support the ISS, which I take as a sign that they are really serious about pursuing COTS, which is kinda exciting in the big picture. I really hope that some viable commercial options materialize.

* Finally, one of the best things to come out of yesterday's announcement, in my humble opinion anyway, it sounds like they are going to readjust some of the Full Cost Accounting procedures. - "Our full cost accounting practices created a complex allocation of overhead costs which disproportionately inflated the operating costs for our research centers." - ya think?

So that's a quick look from my perspective, I haven't really had time to comb though the nitty gritty numbers yet. What do you think? Is NASA going to muddle through, or is the "train wreck" just ahead?

Monday, February 5, 2007

What are we going to do on the Moon?

I get that question a lot. Haven't we already been there? Why do we need to go back? Don't we already know everything?

Here is a list of 181 things that NASA has figured out that we can do on the Moon, not that we are necessarily going to do all of these things, but there's 181 of them, we're certainly going to make it through some of them.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Important Safety Announcement

I realize that safety is very important to NASA, it's important to me too, but sometimes I think the safety folks at JSC must have too much free time on their hands.

This is the important safety message we were greeted with this morning:


All of us at JSC have seen the Space Center Houston tram taking visitors on a tour of this center. A safety issue has come up when the tram is parked and awaiting the return of the visitors from their visit into one of our buildings. Some JSC personnel, when faced with the long tram in their path, have decided to step over the trailer hitches that hold the tram together instead of walking around. This unsafe act could lead to injuries. We recommend you take the extra moment to safely walk around the tram after ensuring that it is not about to begin moving. Safety at JSC is everyone's business.

Point of contact: Dave Youngman, x41336


Thursday, January 25, 2007

On the Senate Side...

Apparently, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also organized their subcommittees yesterday.

The former "Science and Space" subcommittee is now the "Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences" subcommittee. And there is now a subcommittee called "Science, Technology, and Innovation" which presumably will cover the rest of science. The space subcommittee with be chaired by Bill Nelson (FL), with Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) as the ranking member, so they just flip-flop their roles from the 109th.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Science Subcommittee Chairs Chosen

The Science Committee announced today the subcommittee chairs for the 110th Congress and we also found out that it has reorganized it's subcommittee structure. Not only have they added a 5th committee dedicated to Investigations and Oversight, but topics have been redistributed in the other four committees as well. Below are the new subcommittee mastheads I designed last weekend (yeah, I still do a little pro-bono work for the science committee now and again)and my personal take on the new structure and chairs:

The only committee that remains untouched is the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee. That committee even retains Mark Udall (CO-2) (who was ranking member last session) as it's lead. Mark did a great job as ranking member and I'm sure he will continue to be a strong advocate for space despite the loss of his science legislative assistant (she abandoned the Hill for law school last fall). His new LA was an intern on the science committee staff while I was there, so I know firsthand that she is fabulous. Her background is in science, though more environment than space, but I have no doubts that she will get up to speed quickly. While Mr. Udall is generally supportive of the President's vision, his record shows that he is also very concerned about the recent cuts in science and aeronautics. He has pushed hard for the Hubble repair mission and for terrestrial remote sensing. His district is home to the University of CO as well as Ball Aerospace and other aerospace industry.

My Congressman, Nick Lampson (TX-22)has been named chair of the subcommittee on Energy and Environment. Yay Nick! Nick's record shows that he's somebody who gets things done and I think that he will really have a chance to shine here. As much as I love Mr. Udall, I am a little disappointed that Nick didn't get Space, but I'm sure that this new subcommittee will be a very important one in this congress. And I'm sure that Nick will still have a voice on space issues as a member of the space subcommittee.

Brian Baird (WA-3) will take the helm of the Research and Science Education subcommittee. Science Education is a topic that has traditionally been handled by the Research Subcommittee, so I don't think a lot is changing here except the name. (which just reflects the weight that Chairman Gordon's give to importance of education). Rep. Baird replace Darlene Hooley, who was ranking member in the last session and is not returning to the Science Committee this year. Rep. Baird is beginning his 4th term and I belive that this is his first chairmanship, so congrats Mr. Baird!

David Wu (OR-1) has been selected to chair the Technology and Innovation subcommittee. I imagine that this encompasses what's left of the former ETS (Environment, Technology, and Standards) subcommittee now that Environment has joined forces with Energy. I suppose this committee is also a reaction to all of the competitivness discussions from last Congress, which I'm sure are going to continue. I'm glad they broke up Environment, Technology, and Standards. It was too long to say and nobody outside of the Committee know what the heck ETS was. Mr. Wu may be most familiar to you from his recent declaration of "faux Klingons in the White House" but he did a good job as the ranking member of the ETS subcommittee, and I think he'll do just fine as chair.

Finally, Brad Miller (NC-13) is the chair of the new subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Mr. Miller is beginning his third term in the House and I believe that this is also his first chairmanship. I'm interested to see what this committee does. Personally, it seems to me that the best oversight can be accomplished by those who know the most about an issue, i.e. the committee that covers that issue. I'm not sure that you will get better oversight by distancing the problem from the committee that handles the agency with the problem. Like I said, I'm not really sure how this is going to work, but I'm sure they had reasons for doing it, so I hope they prove me wrong. I am positive that we will see more oversight under the Dems than we did with the Republicans in power, so do I hope that this committee will be busy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Moon Dust on NPR

A discussion of Moon dust was featured on NPR today, including a mention of the meeting I'm going to next week at Ames (aka The Big Dust Up).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Beagle 2: A Fortunate Failure

A friend at work sent me this link to a 2004 article by Jeff Bell (Univ of Hawaii) on why it's a good thing that the Beagle 2 crashed. Did I say article? Rant is probably a better term, but it's a highly entertaining rant. I particularly enjoyed his description of MetSoc meetings...
Year after year, distinguished scientists with impeccable records of measuring obscure isotope ratios would step up to the podium and give 10-minute slide talks about how their particular pet isotope PROVES BEYOND A SHADOW OF DOUBT that (e.g.) tektites are actually volcanic glass bombs ejected from Io!!! Other isotope scientists in the audience would roll their eyes uncontrollably, and then in the question time methodically demolish this insane model with an assumed air of seriousness, bringing up dozens of other isotopic ratios that totally disproved it. The speaker would smilingly admit that he knew nothing about those other isotopes, having spent the last 30 years in his lab measuring his own pet isotope with no spare time to read the Journal of Obscure Isotopes.

Ahhh, good times.

Many returning, and some new, faces on the House Science Committee roster

Democratic committee members were officially assigned to the House Science and Technology Committee yesterday. Quite a few are returning members, though there are a few new names as well.

Returning from the 109th:
* BART GORDON, Tennessee (Chairman) - a good guy who really cares about science, he will do a great job leading this committee.
* Jerry F. Costello, Illinois
* Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas
* Lynn C. Woolsey, California
* Mark Udall, Colorado - a heck of a mountain climber, and a real advocate for environment and space issues, also the former ranking member of the Space Subcommittee (and personally, one of my favorite congressmen).
* David Wu, Oregon - who is definitely not a Klingon and was the ranking member of the ETS Subcommittee.
* Brian Baird, Washington - who you may have seen holding his own (and holding Stephen's sausage) on Better Know a District earlier this week.
* Brad Miller, North Carolina
* Daniel Lipinski, Illinois
* Michael M. Honda, California - was the ranking member of Energy.
* Jim Matheson, Utah
* Russ Carnahan, Missouri
* Charlie Melancon, Louisiana - from what's left of the district just south of New Orleans.

Notably not returning:
Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both from the Houston area, which is a bit of a loss for JSC (though we did pick up Nick!), plus I really liked Al Green (We shared a moment - the first speech I wrote that was read on the House floor, I wrote for Al, who was enjoying his first shot at controlling floor time. It was for some silly and forgotten resolution congratulating the women of NASA for their contributions to the space program, but it was kind of a big moment for both of us). Also Darlene Hooley, who was ranking member of the Research subcommittee.

Returning from the 108th:
* Nick Lampson, Texas - My own congressman from Texas' 22nd district, I'm so excited to have Nick back on the science committee. I expect great things from him.

New Faces:
* Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona - A new congressman, she comes with a business background and is quite proud of her environmental record.
* Jerry McNerney, California - Another newbie,who has no biography up on his webpage yet, but comes from a district east of San Fransico, not too far from NASA Ames.
* Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey - Now in his 6th term, he sits on Approps as well, and also considers himself an environmentalist.
* Mike Ross, Arkansas - In his 4th term, he is a Blue Dog and also sits on Energy and Commerce.
* Ben Chandler, Kentucky - This is his 2nd term, he's also a Blue Dog, and has a seat on Approps, which is pretty good for only his 2nd term.
* Baron P. Hill, Indiana - A newbie with no bio up on his site yet
* Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona - This newbie is a former gov't/economics high school teacher and Mayor of Tempe.
* Charles A. Wilson, Ohio - A newbie with a business background who also sits on Financial Services and is strongly committed to public education.

And there are still two vacancies yet to be filled (sadly Science is not really one of the more competitive committees).

On the Republican side, members returning from the 109th Congress include:
* RALPH HALL (Texas), Ranking Republican Member - a former Democrat, he flipped sides with the Republican revolution
* Lamar Smith, Texas
* Dana Rohrabacher, California - Former Reagan speechwriter and avid surfer, he's very outspoken and big on using space for defense purposes.
* Ken Calvert, California - was the chairman of the space subcommittee
* Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland
* Vernon J. Ehlers, Michigan - one of the two physicists in Congress, and he won't let you forget it, but generally a nice guy who's really passionate about science.
* Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma
* Judy Biggert, Illinois - former chair of the energy subcommittee
* Jo Bonner, Alabama
* Tom Feeney, Florida
* Bob Inglis, South Carolina
* Michael T. McCaul, Texas
* W. Todd Akin, Missouri
* Randy Neugebauer, Texas
* Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida

Returning from previous Congresses:
* F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin - he's been in Congress since 1978 and even served as Chairman of the Science Committee from 1997-2000.

New members:
* Phil Gingrey, Georgia - Entering his third term, he is a pro-life OB-GYN with an undergraduate degree in chemistry.
* Brian P. Bilbray, California - served in Congress from 1994-2001 and returned in 2006, he is interested in energy and environmental issues.
* Adrian Smith, Nebraska - A newbie with no bio posted yet.

The Republicans also have one vacancy still to be filled.

As far as Committee staff, I noticed that Dahlia Sokolov, one of my fellow fellows, and former officemate, successfully made the leap from Republican staff to Dem staff. She'll be working with the Research Subcommittee, on oversight of research and education programs at the National Science Foundation. Yay Dahlia!

Subcommittee chairs were supposed to be named this week, but so far, no word on that front.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

This made me laugh today...

For the Battlestar Galactica fans - if you haven't seen this yet, you have to check it out. The blooper reel from the season 3.0 cast wrap party. Very funny, careful though, some NSFW content!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jack's Back

24 has finally returned, and in fine style, if you're really into torture, that is. I'm sure tonight's torture scenes were no worse than some of the previous seasons (that one with the power sander still tops the list as far as I'm concerned). I guess it's just been a while and I had forgotten. I definitely found it a bit disturbing, but of course, that's the point, it's supposed to be disturbing. It's supposed to make us question our beliefs and think about the price of our safety and our freedom. Which, yeah, it does pretty well, but mostly, it's an hour a week of heart-pounding non-stop action. I'm so glad it's back, even if I have to look away from the torture occasionally.

TVSquad dug up this handy and impressive web page that lists all the people that Jack has killed (and how he did it - complete with pics and video of every kill) in his efforts to keep America safe. 136 people in the first 5 seasons, that's slightly more than one person an hour. Of course, he added to the body count tonight, including the dude he took out vampire-style. Gross.

Tomorrow is the exciting "conclusion" to the premiere (anybody else think it's odd that the promos are calling hours 3 and 4 a conclusion?). I'm thinking about playing 24 Bingo.

Friday, January 12, 2007

This made me laugh today...

The Tools of Public Transportation

I admit that since moving to Houston, I miss the DC metro. As I sit in the ridiculous NASA Road 1 traffic (seriously people, my 3 mile commute should not take 30 minutes), I often wax nostalgic about my metro experiences. This post though, reminded me of some of the less attractive aspects of public transport. I had almost forgotten about the pole-spooners.

More news on NASA's 07 budget

Well, it's not looking good for science. This article in Aviation Week talks about the funding situation and Griffin's priorities for making up the 1/2 billion in shortfalls due to the continuing resolution situation.

"We will find what we believe are the lowest priority half-billion dollars in content, and we'll extract it, across the agency," he says, stressing that does not mean programs at the core of the redirected U.S. space program as defined by President Bush almost three years ago.

"I will do everything I can to keep Orion and Ares I on schedule," he says. "That will be right behind keeping shuttle and station on track, and then after that we'll fill up the bucket with our other priorities."

None of this is surprising of course, and Griffin really has no choice, there just is not enough money to go around. The important thing is that the money we have for science is spent wisely. Griffin's plan, as he's said many times in the past is to target "...a fairly new, lower priority effort where not a lot of money has already been invested, and by stopping it now you can react and not have to spend future money that you know you're not going to get." This, in the abstract, is the right plan, but reality is never quite so simple.

The truth is that from the day he took over, Griffin has already been facing an impossible task, expected to accomplish too much with too little. Unfortunately, the continuing resolution issue has seriously compounded his problems this year. I wish him luck.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What kind of American Accent do you have?

This was kind of a fun quiz. Apparently I cannot escape my roots, even after being away for nearly a decade, I guess I still sound like a Minnesotan:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz