Saturday, October 25, 2008

What's a conference?

So, by now most NASA civil servants have heard the news or at least heard rumors about the news that one of the provisions included in the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 eliminates or severely restricts all conference travel and pretty much any support for conferences from NASA. It's probably not going to end up being quite that bad, but until the lawyers figure out what exactly defines a "conference" NASA has, for now at least, put out a moratorium on using 09 funds for anything that even vaguely resembles a conference (though apparently air shows are perfectly fine).

My initial reaction to this was WTF? Why would Congress want to prevent NASA scientists from doing their job? As scientists, our job is to figure things out and then communicate our results with the rest of the community and the world, that's how science works. Yes, we publish our results in journals, but conferences are a vital part of the process. We get the opportunity for immediate feedback, we get exposed to new ideas, and find people to collaborate with.

I could not figure out what the heck Congress, or specifically, Sen. Tom Coburn who wrote this provision, was thinking until I stumbled upon this article. It talks about "NASA’s long-standing practice of honoring retirees and contractors with lavish award ceremonies costing millions of dollars a year" and it refers to these parties as "conferences". No wonder Congress is upset, I agree that that is wasteful spending, but it's not a conference. A conference is hundreds or thousands of scientists or engineers gathering together to discuss science. We don't get "gourmet food and wine receptions," we are lucky to get a mid-morning coffee break.

(BTW - who are these special retirees? In my office at NASA HQ, when someone retires we take up a collection to buy a card and maybe some cake and chips and salsa and then we gather in the conference room for an hour to wish them well.)

Anyway, I'm wondering who screwed up here, Congress for rushing this bill though and not catching this, or us, the science community for failing to properly explain what we do, how we do it, and why it's important?

Whatever happened, it's going to be a tough year for civil servant scientists, they may have to find some "symposia" or "workshops" to attend this year instead of conferences. It's going to be tough on a lot of other folks too unfortunately, most of the NASA-sponsored funds for conferences, at least in planetary sciences, went towards student travel to those conferences. I hope that denying these opportunities to students was not Senator Coburn's intention.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Apollo Moon Hoax Mythbusters tonight!

Don't forget to watch, or set the Tivo, for Mythbusters tonight and find out if we really did fake the Moonlandings!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happy International Left-Handers Day!

Hey fellow southpaws - Happy International Left-Handers Day! And a special congrats to Barack Obama, 2008's Left Hander of the Year.

For all you rightys out there, today is a good day to try to do something left handed to get a sense for what us chosen few have to put up with day in and day out. I recall one Left-Handers day a number of years ago when a bunch of us were playing pool and I made all of the rightys shoot left-handed. Sadly, I was still the worst player there, but it did even the playing field somewhat.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday NASA!

It was on this date, July 29th, 1959, that Eisenhower officially signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, creating NASA. has a good summary of the events that led up to that moment.

In honor of NASA's big day, I'd like to point out the new site, a service of the internet archive, where you can easily search for just about any image NASA has ever taken. I've played with it a little, and I have to say the search engine is considerably better than other NASA image databases I've used. Try plugging in your favorite color, or your name (there were 86 hits on Sarah!), or your favorite moon, just to see what pops up.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Breaking News: Water Found on Mars, Again

Lakes and Rivers and Deltas, oh my!

OMG, they found evidence of water on Mars! Can you believe it? And apparently, it's not just regular water, it's "hardworking" water. None of that slacker, do-nothing water for Mars.

Why do I have the strangest feeling of deja vu?

I don't mean to make fun of the research, it's actually pretty cool stuff, but seriously people, we get it, Mars was wet. Really wet. For a long time.

image credit/copyright: Ellen Roper (GCC)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Painting

I came across this anonymous quote somewhere recently:

"Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the Moon."

And it inspired this painting...

I think I'm going to use the quote as the title, which is a ridiculously long title, but for some reason it makes me happy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Star Trek is what's killing the space program!?

According to Buzz Aldrin, the lack of interest among "young people" in the space program is due to "all the shows where they beam people around and things like that" because "they have made young people think that that is what the space program should be doing. It's not realistic."

Wow, I'm thinking that would come as quite a surprise to the hundreds of NASA scientists and engineers (myself included) that cite Star Trek in particular and science fiction in general as one of the main things that got them interested in space.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The literal kind of space art

Okay, I'm a space artist, by which I mean I paint space-related things, but this guy is a more literal kind of space artist, in that he attempted to paint in zero-G on board a vomit comet. Apparently he's into creating art "in impractical places." You can judge his success for yourself, here is the video. (via NASAwatch)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Just for fun

Created by OnePlusYou

So I nearly failed the Moon survival challenge because my answers didn't match "NASA's" however, I stand by my choices and I seriously doubt that NASA would agree that a flashlight isn't important unless you're on the "dark side" and I don't know anything about how flares work, but I'm guessing not that well without an atmosphere. I'm just saying.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Carnival of Space #57

Every week a different webmaster or blogger hosts something called the "Carnival of Space" which is a collection of highlight from the week from various space blogs and other articles written on the general topic of space.

This week's Carnival is hosted by Ken, the Lunar Librarian at Out of the Cradle and covers last weeks International Space Development Conference and a lot of stuff on Phoenix. There's also a quick interview with my boss, Ed Weiler and tons of other fascinating stuff. Plus, this week's theme is "Women of our space future"

Worth checking out.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Artomatic 2008 update

A quick update on Artomatic...

Opening night was great. My friends came out to support me and I met lots of the other artists.

"Meet the Artists night" was great too. I brought cookies:
Some folks were afraid to eat them because they thought maybe they were part of the exhibit :)

It was fun to talk to people and get feedback on my artwork, although I found that more people wanted to talk to me about whether or not we really went to the Moon, or why we are going back to the Moon, and so on. Usually I really enjoy those conversations with the general public, but you know, I kinda just wanted to be an artist and not a NASA representative for one night.

I actually sold two pieces, which totally made my night (thanks Steve).

As promised, here are a couple of other pics...

Sean, my partition buddy, on opening night.

Some of my favorite things, mostly from the 7th floor:
A photo doesn't do justice to a mobile, you have to see it in motion, but this mobile is possible my favorite thing in the entire show. It so doesn't look like it should work.

This chair is made out of pop can tops. Wow.

I love the vibrant colors in these paintings.

These are just fun.

Fire Dancers - very cool.

Phoenix has landed!

Congrats to the Phoenix team on their successful landing on Mars!

I went to a talk last week by Fuk Li, the manager of JPL's Mars Exploration Program, where he basically spent an hour going through all the different ways that things could go wrong with the landing, listing all of the hundreds of little things that had to work perfectly, including a few things that are out of NASA's control, like what happens if you land cockeyed on a big rock? And I have to admit that I walked out of that talk a little worried. It's really hard to land on Mars, really hard. But, you know what, NASA is really good at what it does. Way to go guys!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Artomatic 2008

So I'm participating in an enormous art show that opens this week called Artomatic. If you're in or near DC in the next month, you should stop by and check it out. There will be over a thousand artists, including over 800 visual artists of every stripe, plus two music stages, a theater space, dance space, a poetry room, a film room, a classroom, a tattoo parlor, open mics, performance art, fire dancing, burlesque, and more. It's going to be quite a spectacle. Go to the website for all the details.

I finally put the finishing touches on my space last night. Here are a few pictures of how I put it all together over the last couple of weeks. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, but boy was it a lot of work.

This is my spot on the 7th floor, strategically near the stairs and the bathrooms.

My partition neighbor Sean, aka SecretWorm is a digital/graffiti artist and his concept was to make his wall look like a graffitied city street, which is really cool, but almost overwhelming visually, so I wanted something bold and clean that would balance and contrast that.

Here it is after spackling, sanding and the first coat of paint. The paint, which is blue even though it looks white in this picture, is the leftovers from when I painted my apartment in Providence, thus proving that carrying that bucket of paint back and forth across the country three times was totally worth it.

Here it is with all the painting finished. I think it looks pretty cool, but I wish I had done the lettering a little neater, maybe used stencils or something. Live and learn.

And here is the almost final state. I wish I had cleaned up my mess before I took the last picture but I was just so excited to have everything hung.

I'll take some at the opening on Friday.

New Paintings

A couple new paintings...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Send your name to the Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team would like to invite you to send your name to the Moon onboard the LRO spacecraft:

Unfortunately, it's just on the orbiter, so it looks like your name won't actually make it to the lunar surface (unless it crashes). They should totally put the names on the LCROSS part that is supposed to crash, that would be way cooler.

My name is already en route to the asteroid belt on board DAWN and it crashed into a comet on board Deep Impact, and I think I may be headed to Mercury on MESSENGER too, so I'm making some progress on spreading a little bit of me throughout the solar system.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

13 year old smarter than NASA! Oh, and p.s. we're all going to die

German schoolboy, 13, corrects NASA's asteroid figures

I love that the big headline here is that this kid can do math better than NASA, and not that there's a 1 in 450 chance that life as we know it will supposedly be wiped out by this asteroid.

Apparently the whole thing is a hoax anyway: Apophis risk not increased: science fair judges, world media screw up big time

But it's still really funny.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

OMG we're all doomed

Apparently, according to this article in the NYTimes, the amount of beer a scientist drinks is inversely proportional to the amount of science they publish (i.e. more beer = fewer papers).

What? That's so not fair, I spent like two years in grad school learning how to drink beer just so I could fit in with my colleagues, and now you tell that I would have been a "more productive scientist" if only I had stuck with mudslides and amaretto sours?

Of course, if you read to the end of the article, you find out that these results may only hold true for biologists in the Czech Republic (apparently that country has a "special relationship to beer"). So maybe we'll be okay, but just to be on the safe side, I think I'll drink wine this weekend instead of beer and see if that motivates me to work on one of those 3 papers I'm supposed to be writing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Surviving LPSC

For the second year in a row, I was felled with the flu halfway through the week of LPSC, unbelievable. That will teach me not to get a flu shot. But even through the fever and chills and the drug-induced haze, I would have to say it was still a pretty good week.

For me, the highlight was all the fabulous stuff from the MESSENGER flyby of Mercury. Luckily those talks were on Monday when I was still fully conscience. What an incredible mother lode of data. I can't remember the last time I was this excited about science after a full day of talks. It's almost like whole new planet. My friend Emily over at the planetary society blog has great details from several of the talks from that session here.

Normally, I would give a rundown here of the various NASA night events and what the folks from headquarters had to say, but as I am now one of those HQ folks, that's probably not appropriate. I will say though that it was an interesting perspective sitting in the audience as one of "them" rather than just a member of the community, but in the end, I was proud to be one of those headquarters folks, I think we're doing a pretty good job, and the community mostly seems to appreciate the work we are putting in.

If you weren't there and would like to know what went down, Star Stryder has a good rundown of Mike Griffin's talk and q&a here.

and Emily has a good rundown of Alan Stern's here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Painting

Until I come up with something more interesting, I'm calling this one "Earth and Moon #3"

As always, if you like my art, you can find more here:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New Painting

The third, and probably last, at least for a while, in my lunar-landscape-from-orbit series. This is "Daedalus in orange"- Daedalus being that big crater in the middle.

If you like my art, you can find more here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cool video of the Huygen's probe landing on Titan

Wow! This is one of the coolest things I've seen in a while. It is a very carefully pieced together video of some 3500 images from the Huygens probe decent imager as it landed on Titan. The four hour landing has been compressed into a fabulous four minute movie.

Awesome video here:

Cassini homepage here:

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The descent imager/spectral radiometer team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Painting

This piece, titled "Not Quite HD" is my homage to one of the first HD images released by JAXA from the Kaguya spacecraft.

The original can be found here, along with some really cool movies of the Earth rising and setting over the Moon.

If you like my art, you can find more here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Gordon McKay

The planetary science community had lost a friend and colleague. Gordon McKay passed early yesterday morning.

Gordon was truly a gentleman and a scholar. He was a talented scientist, a fabulous manager, and a good friend to many. I am lucky to have been able to call him a friend. I learned a lot from him, about science, about NASA, and about life. I found I could always count on him for a few encouraging words, usually over a beer at Boondoggles. He will be missed by many.

Update: Letter from NASA HQ on Gordon's Passing

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Face on Mercury

As I was perusing the fabulous new pics from Mercury last week, I was thinking about how I heard somewhere long ago that it is hard-wired into our brains to pull out faces from random patterns when I came across this little guy, who, to my eyes is the spitting image of Gizmo (don't feed him after midnight!). (The original image is here)

If you haven't seen them yet, I highly recommend taking a peek at some of the fabulous pics returned by MESSENGER in its highly successful first flyby of Mercury, or visiting my friend Emily's blog at the planetary society where she has been doing a great job of pointing out some of the cool things to be seen (although not as cool as Gizmo, in my opinion).

Life update

Sorry for the extended hiatus. Over the holidays I moved both physically and in cyberspace.

In real life, you can now find me in Washington DC, where I will be working in the Planetary Science Division at NASA HQs.

Online, my homepage can now be conveniently found at Unfortunately, the only thing that's been updated is the url, but I'm working on slowly getting things up to date.

Because of my new position at HQs, obviously, I have to limit the sorts of things that I can share on this blog (i.e. my personal opinions regarding anything having to do with NASA). Never fear, I still have opinions, and I'm sure that I will have ample opportunity to express them within the confines of my job, and let's face it, discussing these topics with my colleagues at HQs is probably considerable more effective than ranting about them on the web. So wish me luck!