Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NASA: Year in Review 2009

A look back at some of NASA'a great discoveries and accomplishments in 2009.

MDRS-88: Meet the Crew Part 6

Laksen Sirimanne, Executive Officer and Chief Engineer

Laksen has over twenty years of research and development experience in medical devices. He has pioneered many advances in the field of biomedical engineering, including coronary balloon angioplasty, fallopian tube endoscopy, biopsy and lumpectomy markers, and percutaneous left ventricular assist devices. He currently serves as Vice President of Research and Development of Edwards Lifesciences Transcatheter Heart Valve Replacement Program (THVR). THVR is the non-surgical replacement of a heart valve using a specially designed valve crimped on a catheter and navigated via a percutaneous incision in the femoral artery. The diseased heart valve is replaced in a catheterization lab while the patient is awake and on a beating heart, eliminating the need for anesthesia and open heart surgery. This technology is considered to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in Interventional Cardiology. He has fifteen issued patents and over thirty pending applications on a variety of medical devices and treatment methods.

Laksen graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a BS in Physics. He has an MBA from Pepperdine University, an MS in Aerospace Engineering/Astronautics from the University of Southern California, an MS in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University, and an MS in Medical Device and Diagnostic Engineering from the University of Southern California.

Laksen has traveled to all seven continents. He has summited Kilimanjaro, lived among the Dani tribe in Irian Jaya; sailed to Komodo Island and whitewater rafted the Zambezi. Two of his most memorable achievements include being a team member of the 4th Parachute Expedition to the North Pole and setting a new World Record and US Transcontinental Record in the category and class by flying a single-engine Diamondstar DA-40 from Orange County Airport to First Flight Airport in Kittyhawk, North Carolina in 17 hours, 24 minutes. Laksen has a private pilot’s license in single-engine land and sea planes and hot air balloons. He is currently building a KB-3 gyrocopter in his garage. His hobbies include sailing, running, collecting meteorites and amateur robotics.

He is 45 years old, married to Mai with two daughters Kaitlyn and Taylor. Although born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, he considers Southern California home. Laksen is thrilled and excited to be a part of the crew of MDRS-88 and looks forward to sharing this amazing experience with the crew.

MDRS-88: Meet the Crew Part 5

David Levine, Mission Journalist

David is an award-winning science fiction writer who has been passionate about space travel all his life. His earliest memories include the Gemini space walks, and his favorite toy as a child was "Major Matt Mason, America's Astronaut in Space." But instead of growing up to be an astronaut, he wound up working as a technical writer, software engineer, and user interface designer for such companies as Tektronix, Intel, and McAfee.

Although he was happy in high tech, he couldn't let go of space, and in the year 2000 he took a sabbatical from his high-tech job to attend the Clarion West science fiction writers' workshop. It seems to have worked. He made his first professional short story sale in 2001, won the Writers of the Future Contest in 2002, was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2003, was nominated for the Hugo Award and the Campbell again in 2004, and won a Hugo in 2006 (Best Short Story, for "Tk'Tk'Tk").

David retired from his day job in 2007, at the age of 46, and now spends his time traveling and writing. His science fiction and fantasy stories have been published in all the major magazines; translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Polish, Finnish, Czech, Hebrew, and Chinese; and collected in four Year's Best anthologies. He has also written two novels and is working on a third. His "Titanium Mike Saves the Day" was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2008, and a collection of his short stories, Space Magic from Wheatland Press, just won the 2009 Endeavour Award for best SF book from a Pacific Northwest writer.

David lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Kate Yule, with whom he edits the fanzine Bento.

MDRS-88: Meet the Crew Part 4

Diego Urbina, Chief Biologist

Diego is of Colombian and Italian nationalities, but considers himself as a citizen of the world. He holds a BSc (2006) and a MSc (2008) in Electronics Engineering with a focus in microelectronics and optoelectronics, both from Politecnico di Torino, in Turin, Italy. During his postgraduate research, he designed and simulated a Star Compass for the Aramis nanosatellite. In 2006 he was an ERASMUS scholar for a year at the Universidad de Cantabria, in Santander, Spain.

In 2008-2009 he was an ESA and SES scholar at the International Space University (ISU). He completed the Space Studies Program (SSP) in Barcelona, Spain, working on the design of a framework for volcanic activity data convergence. Afterwards, he obtained a MSc (2009) in Space Studies from ISU in Strasbourg, France, with, among others, a project on the use of Augmented Reality (AR) in space operations and a team project on a system of in-situ data collection for Climate Change.

Together with a team of students from more than 14 countries and the collaboration of CSA, ISU, NASA, ESA and CNRS, he worked on the Iris experiment that studied the perception of ambiguous figures in space, and flew this project on ESA's 50th parabolic flight campaign, before it was delivered to the International Space Station to be executed during expeditions XX and XXI.

In summer 2009 he joined the Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) team as an intern at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. Diego supported and devised new enhancements of the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) simulations, contributed to NBF personnel qualification, created a basic training lesson on EVA for the European Astronaut Candidates, and implemented an Augmented Reality system for Astronaut briefings.

He is currently volunteering as a visiting lecturer in schools and the Maloka Science Museum in Colombia, motivated by his will to show the benefits of space and science to kids before he enters the space industry full time. At MDRS, he is interested in experiencing first-hand the problems that arise in a planetary settlement, and during its EVAs (helping solving them), and seeding tropical plants in the Greenhab.

Diego is fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and has an intermediate level of French. He loves scuba diving, hiking, playing football (soccer) and graphic design.

MDRS-88: Meet the Crew Part 3

Paul McCall, Chief Astronomer

Paul is currently a graduate student at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He will graduate this upcoming spring semester with an MS in electrical engineering, with his research focused on digital signal processing. He completed his undergrad degree in electrical engineering at FIU as well. He is doing a co-op with the Department of Defense over the summer, while studying during the school year. His current research focuses on automatic seizure detection techniques.

This past summer Paul worked at the Navy base in Dahlgren, Virginia. He was part of a team that worked with man-portable targeting systems and 1064nm laser guided munitions for use by the United States Marine Corps. He is planning to pursue a Ph.D or another Master's degree in Engineering Physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Paul has been enthused about space exploration since he was young, and would like to work for NASA after he graduates.

Paul was the starting quarterback at FIU for the last two years. He has three siblings, Heather, Philip, and Sean. He enjoys playing golf, skydiving, and watching movies.

MDRS-88: Meet the Crew Part 2

Bianca Nowak, Health & Safety Officer

Bianca has a Bachelors degree in Nursing and Hospital Sciences and a postgraduate degree from the Institute for Tropical Diseases in Antwerp. She has a passion for photography and astronomy, and is extremely interested in space. She was the lucky teacher who participated for Belgium at the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

She is also a Space Teacher for the Euro Space Society. In her free time she is a staff member at the AstroLab Iris observatory in Ieper where she works with young people, trying to enthuse them about astronomy and space.

Most of her time is spent with her family and her full-time job as a high school teacher at TA Diksmuide, where she teaches medical subjects.

MDRS-88: Meet the Crew Part 1

Dr. Stephen Wheeler Ph.D, Commander.

Steve has twenty years of corporate and academic experience in the scientific and industrial application of Computer Science and Information Systems. He is the founder and president of Computing and Information Sciences Company, a computer consulting firm, and has been a Principal Consultant for several of the largest computer consulting companies, including Cap Gemini America and Decision Consultants, Inc. He most recently served as Senior Systems Engineer for Compaq Computer Corporation in Houston, Texas.

Presently, he is Senior Professor of Information Systems for the Graduate School of DeVry University in Dallas, Texas, a position he has held since 2002. He has previously held faculty appointments at East Texas State University in Computer Sciences, LeTourneau University, and Dallas Baptist University. His undergraduate (BSc.) degree is in Computer Science and Mathematics from Texas A&M University – Commerce, where he also received his Graduate (MSc.) degree in Computer Science with thesis research in Artificial Intelligence. He holds a Post Graduate (Ph.D.) degree in Artificial Intelligence from Walden University. His research domain was linear symbolic problem solving systems utilizing Aspiration Search modeled on the Iterative-Deepening Alpha-Beta search procedure known as Negamax Fail-Soft Alpha-Beta. His Doctoral research also involved Natural Language Processing (NLP), and his dissertation is titled "A Performance Analysis of the Iterative-Deepening Alpha-Beta Search Procedure Under Variations of the Ordering Interval within a Chess Program." He is presently conducting post-doctoral research in intelligent problem-solving systems employing variations of neurosymbolic morphologies for eventual publication.

Steve is an avid amateur astronomer and owns and operates an observatory-quality Meade 14-inch LX200 GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. He has a keen interest in Astronomy, Astrophysics, Astronautics, and Aerospace technology. He is also interested in vertebrate and invertebrate Paleontology, and Micropaleontology.

He is an FAA Licensed Commercial Pilot with an Instrument Rating and serves as a Transport Mission Pilot with the Texas Wing, Group III of the United States Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol with the rank of Captain. He has successfully completed the Squadron Leadership School, and is the Aerospace Education Officer of the Addison Eagles Squadron and has achieved the Chuck Yeager Aerospace Education Award. He has also been trained in Emergency Services and Homeland Security, and has successfully completed the ICS-300 and ICS-400 FEMA Department of Homeland Security Incident Command System certification.

Monday, December 28, 2009

MDRS-88: Crew Assignments

Dr. Steven Wheeler PhD, will be the Commander of the 88th mission to the Mars Desert Research Station. As Commander he is responsible for the safety of the crew and all operations during the course of the mission. He will be setting priorities on research activities, communicating with mission support and the mission director and in general managing the efforts of the crew to meet the goals and objectives of MDRS-88 and of The Mars Society. Steve will also have a secondary role as Chief Geologist and Principle Investigator of a micropaleontology study. This is a research project that Steve proposed to refine and improve upon field techniques and procedures for identifying and studying fossilized microbes in a Mars analog environment.

Laksen Sirimanne (that's me) has been appointed as Executive Officer (XO) as well as Chief Engineer. As XO I will be the second in command during the mission, assisting Steve in planning the daily schedule, the research activities and the Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs). As Chief Engineer I will have prime responsibility for maintaining all systems necessary for routine Hab operations. This includes the power, water, electrical, plumbing, ATV, and Greenhab systems. This is an enormous task and reading the daily Commanders Reports and the Engineering Reports submitted by the last three crews of the current research season it looks like something or another needs fixing on a daily basis (most often than not there are multiple concurrent issues). The last crew (MDRS-85) reported electrical issues, thermal issues, plumbing issues with frozen water pipes and a computer malfunction at the Musk Observatory. But, if you had to choose to be Chief Engineer this would be the crew to be on. In addition to me, both Diego and Paul are Electrical Engineers, and both Steve and David are experts in software engineering and information technology. So there will be plenty of good help. Artemis (our Mission Director for the Mars Analog research Station Program) did warn me that I will be constantly fixing things... but this is no different from what we have learned from the International Space Station. This is what it will be like on an extended expedition/mission to Mars. I am up for the challenge!

Bianca Nowak will be our Health and Safety Officer (HSO) and our photojournalist. Bianca has a nursing degree with a post graduate degree in tropical medicine which makes her ideal for the role of HSO. Upon arrival at the Hab she will be given a crash course in telemedicine and will be required to go over all procedures and equipment before we are allowed to initiate the simulation. Bianca is also an expert amateur photographer and is planning several experiments including planetary and deep sky photography using the Musk telescope. Her research will allow us to test equipment and refine techniques in astrophotography in remote locations (night time outside temperatures are being reported at 15F at the Hab). Several of us have completed training and received certification on using the Celestron 14" telescope and will be ready to give Bianca a hand with her projects.

Diego Urbina will serve as Chief Biologist and also support the astronomy research. Digeo has a very diverse set of skills which will allow him to assist in many areas during our rotation. He has taken on the role of Chief Biologist and will become our crew expert on the GreenHab where he will support ongoing studies. He is also preparing several research proposals for growing a variety of plants.

Paul McCall will be our Chief Astronomer and will also support the micropaleontology and geology studies in a secondary role. As Chief Astronomer Paul will be the crew expert on the operation of the Musk telescope. He recently completed his certification to use the telescope. Paul will be completing his MS in Electrical Engineering this semester. He seems to be a hands-on guy and a willing team member and during this crew rotation I will be counting on his assistance with Hab engineering activities.

David Levine has been designated as the MDRS-88 Crew Journalist. He will also support all the other research activities during our 12 day rotation at the MDRS. David is an award winning author, and most recently retired as a software engineer and a technical writer. His fit for this role was an easy one. David intends to document our mission from start to finish including reporting on our daily EVAs. However, there are limitations to the amount of data that can be received and transmitted from the Hab (again to simulate an actual mission constraint), so assuming there's sufficient bandwidth, David plans to blog daily about our experiences including frequent small updates on Twitter and Facebook. Upon his return from the mission, he will write and/or edit wiki pages and other technical documentation on MDRS equipment, procedures, and policies, as required.

Friday, December 25, 2009

MDRS-88 Update: A new crew member...

I would like to extend a warm welcome to David Levine who will be joining the Crew of MDRS-88. We will now have a full crew of six. David is an award winning author. He recently retired after 25 years as a software engineer, user interface designer and a technical writer at Tektronix, Intel and McAfee. He resides in Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On this Christmas Eve...

On Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 sent the following telecast back to Earth reading the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. And on this Christmas Eve, 31 years later I forward their message to all of you.

Some background on the Apollo 8 Mission:
Apollo 8 was launched from Cape Kennedy at 7:50am EST on December 21, 1968. The crew consisted of Col. Frank Borman (Commander), Capt. James Lovell (Command Module Pilot) and Maj. William Anders (Lunar Module Pilot). 69 hours and 8 minutes after liftoff Apollo 8 was in orbit around the Moon. The Apollo 8 Command Module “Columbia” remained in 10 lunar orbits before the transearth injection burn. The Apollo 8 mission was completed on the morning of December 27th when splashdown occurred in the Pacific Ocean after a total mission elapsed time of 147 hours.

Apollo 8 was the second crewed mission of the Apollo Program and the first human mission to escape the gravitational field of the Earth and the first crewed mission to travel to and return from another celestial body – our Moon.

Photo credit: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inside the International Space Station

If you are really busy right now with last minute Christmas shopping and you just dont have a minute to stop by the International Space Station (ISS), NASA Expedition-20 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt has put together this amazing HD-video of the inside of the ISS.

Photo credit: NASA, STS129.

This Week In Space with Miles O'Brien

There is a new space show in town called "This Week In Space" hosted by Miles O'Brien. It is sponsored by Spaceflightnow.com. This week: the future of the human spaceflight program, an interview with astronaut Nicole Stott who recently returned from a three month stay on the International Space Station as part of the ISSExpedition 20/21 crew, and a news round up.

This Week In Space from Spaceflight Now on Vimeo.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NASA: Ares I-X Launch from 28 October 2009

In my previous post I reported on the Constellation Program which included the Ares I launch vehicle. On October 28th 2009, NASA launched a test vehicle Ares I-X. I was in Munich, Germany on a business trip and on the last day of my trip after all the meetings and technical presentations were over I realized that it was the day of the Ares I-X launch. Luckily for me I was at our office in Munch so I was able to access the internet and watch the entire launch on my laptop. I found a copy of the launch on YouTube.

NASA: Constellation Year in Review 2009

As the Space Shuttle approaches retirement next year and the International Space Station (ISS) nears completion, NASA is building a new fleet of rockets and spacecraft under the NASA Constellation Program. The purpose is to build a set of vehicles that will ferry astronauts to the ISS, return to the Moon for exploration type missions, missions to near Earth asteroids and possibly even a mission to Mars. Constellation consists of the Ares I launch vehicle capable of launching astronauts to low Earth orbit (LEO), the Ares V heavy lift vehicle capable of launching astronauts and equipment to the Moon and beyond, the Orion capsule (on the outside looks like an Apollo spacecraft but bigger and with upgraded electronics and systems) and the Altair Lunar Lander.

The program has been under heavy criticism for its program delays and cost overruns. The Augustine Panel (commissioned by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convened an independent review of the present and planned efforts of NASA’s human spaceflight program) published a 157 page report along with many recommendations. In regards to the Constellation Program the commission stated that current budget will not allow the completion of Ares I/Orion until 2017 and a delay in getting us back to the Moon until after 2025. Everyone seems to be waiting anxiously to hear what President Obama and the new Administrator of NASA, retired General and former NASA Astronaut Charlie Bolden has decided on the future direction of NASA’s human spaceflight program and if that future includes the Constellation Program.

Anyway, NASA’s latest video on “Constellation Year in Review 2009” is attached below.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

MDRS-88 UPDATE: Location of the MDRS

I have received over a dozen emails inquiring where exactly the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) is located. I wrote back that it is in Utah close to a town called Hanksville. I received another round of emails wanting me to explain where the heck Hanksville was. I wasn’t really sure myself so I looked it up on the internet. From what I gathered, the MDRS is located in the San Raphael Swell in Utah, 7 miles (11km) from Hanksville, 4 miles west along state route 24 and about 3 miles north on a dirt road.

The Crew Briefing Document we received from Artemis Westenberg, Mission Director for MARS (Mars Analog Research Stations) instructed us as follows:

The Grand Junction (Colorado) to Hanksville drive:
  • Phone DG Lusko AND the Mission Director when you leave Grand Junction for Hanksville
  • And phone the Mission Director again when you arrive in Hanksville
  • Once you have arrived in Hanksville, report to the Hollow Mountain, to DG Lusko, so he can give you very precise instructions to find the Hab.
  • The Hollow Mountain is the shop and gas station on your left when you reach Hanksville.
    Driving directions Grand Junction to Hanksville _ 158 mi – about 2 hours 47 mins according to Google Maps.
  • From Grand Junction head west on I-70 W, Take exit 149 for UT-24 W toward Hanksville. Simple.
Please note that she uses the word simple at the end of the instructions! But we have to call her in Belgium every step of the way, so it must be real easy to find.
Here is a Google Map picture of where the “Hab” is located: Please note that you can use your mouse to zoom in/zoom out and move the map in any direction you want.


Looks like the closest major cities are Grand Junction, Colorado and Provo, Utah.
If you go to Google Earth and type in Mars Desert Research Station it will pin point the coordinates at:
39 deg, 24 min, 23.22 sec N and 110 deg, 49 min, 30.88 W. Elevation 4503 feet.
If you zoom in you can actually make out the outline of the “Hab”. Amazing!

JFK: "We choose to go the moon..."

I found a film clip of John F. Kennedy's famous speech given at Rice University on September 12th 1962, and wanted to share it with you.

"We choose to go the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..." - John F. Kennedy

Now only if we can get President Obama to give a similar speech but substitute Mars for the Moon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Mars Underground

Last night after I had signed the Humans to Mars petition at http://www.humanstomars.org/ I ended up watching the attached video segment titled "Mars Underground". Later I realized that it was part five of a TV show called "Mars Underground" that was aired on Discovery Science in 2007 and now posted on YouTube. I watched the whole show and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have read Dr. Zubrin's book "The Case for Mars - The Plan to settle the Red Planet and Why We Must" (ISBN 0-684-82757-3, 1996) and this TV show is a good summary on how we can mount our first missions to Mars and eventually colonize it and terraform it to be a suitable planet for humans. Total time of 45 minutes. It's a must see!

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) is modelled after the Mars "Hab" depicted in the TV show.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Humans To Mars Petition - Dr. Robert Zubrin

Today The Mars Society launched an international petition campaign, calling on President Obama to set the course for Mars. The Mars Society's Newsletter is reproduced below.

The Mars Society Launches a Humans To Mars Petition
by Robert Zubrin — last modified 2009-12-14 14:05
Mars Society Launches Petition Campaign - "President Obama: Set the Course for Mars"

The failure of the Augustine Commission to provide the Obama administration with a worthy objective for the American human spaceflight program threatens to leave NASA rudderless. Under these conditions, those who believe that the space program needs a real goal - and that goal should be humans to Mars - need to step forward. For this reason, the Mars Society is launching an international petition campaign, calling on President Obama to set the course for Mars. The petition is open to all to sign, regardless of age or nationality, because the question of whether NASA succeeds in doing what it can and should do to open the space frontier is a matter of vital concern to all humankind.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. In the 40 years since, no human has gone farther. Four decades of stagnation in human spaceflight is more than enough. We do not need a fifth. It is time for the people to speak. Sign the petition. Spread the petition. Post links to it on every website you can. Let the voice of the future be heard.
The petition can be found at http://www.humanstomars.org/.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

MDRS-88 Crew Shirts

We finalized and placed orders for our crew shirts. Once again the whole crew pitched in on the design and selection of colors. We contracted with a company called Stitch-America in GA to produce the shirts. The crew of MDRS-88 would like to offer a huge thank you to Cindy McIntosh for her help and advice.

We are less than 30 days from the start of our mission and we are working very hard to finalize our research proposals and research projects. I will post more on that shortly.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

MDRS-88 Crew Patch

Over the last ten days we have been working really hard to finalize the design of our crew patch. Everyone pitched in with emails going back and forth over three continents daily. We ended up with a more traditional design and we all feel very proud of where we finally ended. A huge thanks to the entire crew for helping design our crew patch.

This is the design intent of our crew patch: Outer border is "deep red" signifying the "red planet - Mars". Inner border contains our last names as well the flags of our host nations. 2010 signifies the year of our mission. CREW 88 stands out as the eighty-eighth mission to MDRS. Five stars in the night sky for the five astronaut explorers at MDRS and our dreams of exploring Mars and the stars. At the very center of the patch is the MDRS better known as the “Hab” and the “Musk Observatory” which is part of the MDRS complex. The three shades of brown signify the diverse geology of the red planet in a stylized format. "Mars Desert Research Station" is the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) where we will be conducting our mission, and below that-- the "Flag of Mars".

We contracted with A-B Emblem Company in Weaverville, North Carolina (no pun intended) to do the embroiderary for our crew patch. A-B Emblem Company designs ALL of the crew patches for NASA. We worked directly with Kati Phelps who has designed most of the crew patches for the Space Shuttle Program and the International Space Station Program. Kati has met and worked with many of the NASA astronauts and she told me that she has been given personal tours of the Shuttle Processing Facility by the astronauts. Kati, if you are reading this blog, a special “thank you” for your patience and detailed advice and guidance in finalizing our crew patch.

Introducing the Crew of MDRS-88

My very first blog post was about getting selected to be on the crew of MDRS-88 (Mars Desert Research Station – Crew 88). I created this blog to document this mission for my family and friends, so before too much time passes I want to introduce to you the rest of the crew.

Crew 88 consists of Dr. Stephen Wheeler (Founder/President of a Computing and Information Services company and a Senior Professor of the Graduate School of DeVry University, Dallas, Texas), Bianca Nowak (High School Teacher, Belgium), Paul McCall (a Graduate Student at Florida International University, Florida), Diego Urbina (Electrical Engineer, Bogota, Columbia) and myself Laksen Sirimanne (Vice President, Research & Development and Biomedical Engineer, Irvine, California). I will post more details on each of the crew’s backgrounds in the next couple of weeks.