Friday, December 24, 2010

My Christmas Wish

Tis the night before Christmas and the whole house is silent. Everyone is finally in bed all tucked in and fast asleep. There is a plate of chocolate chip cookies and milk for Santa Clause and carrots for the reindeer right next to the fireplace. The house is beautifully decorated and the Christmas tree looks exceptionally nice this year (very symmetrical which is important for the physicist in me, not even magnetic monopoles can ruin this evening).  I am here downstairs feeling extremely grateful for the life I have. My two little "blessings" - Kaitlyn and Taylor are fast asleep. They look like two angels. They had a busy day today. We went to see Disney on Ice, had family over for dinner and the anticipation of opening Christmas presents tomorrow morning was too much and it was the easiest night to tuck them in and put them to sleep.

I have had an amazing and a very blessed year. I am married to a woman who supports me in everything I do (yes, I went to MARS twice this year), the kids are healthy and cute and doing well in school. We have a beautiful home. Work is intense but fun and very rewarding. I work for a company that is a market leader. We are the best in our field. Because of my position in the company I have a policy that I will not blog about my work. This much I can share: I am part of a team that is changing the way medicine is practiced. We are passionate about what we do, we work very hard and one can say that we are quite daring in our thinking and how we go about reducing our thoughts to practice. This year we changed the "standard of care" for patients with aortic stenosis who are not suitable candidates for surgery. This year our youngest patient treated was 11 years and our oldest was 102. It's hard to believe that Justin R our youngest "compassionate use patient" who was also the first patient to receive a pulmonic valve in the US is now 5 years out. He had a short time to live before we stepped in and moved heaven and earth to get him a percutaneous valve. I have a wonderful family, get to go to work and change the world, fly planes, SCUBA dive and go on simulated Mars missions to the Mars Desert Research Station. Not a bad life at all!

All of you who know me, knows how passionate I am about human spaceflight. So as I go to sleep on this Christmas Eve, I am going to dream a little dream. I am going to dream about this. Because while my wife dreams of the girls someday spending a semester at the Sorbonne in Paris.. hee, hee. I have a different dream for the girls. I want them to spend a semester studying while in orbit around Io or Europa. I want them to see and go places that is beyond my imagination. So, tonight I am going to dream about flying the Dragon. Why?  Because these guys at SpaceX are doing for human spaceflight what my team is doing for medicine. Changing the "standard".

Merry Christmas to ALL.

Animation showing the proposed flight profile of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station under NASA's NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS-D) contract.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

NASA Kenndy Space Center

"From touch down after a mission -- through processing for the next flight -- to liftoff again -- NASA's Space Shuttle fleet calls the Kennedy Space Center home. It takes a vast array of facilities and workers to prepare, launch, and land the Shuttles -- a process KSC has handled for more than twenty years."
NASA Kennedy

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dragon flight highlights from SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

A few days ago SpaceX sent out an email update on the COTS-1 flight of the Falcon 9 and the recovery of the Dragon Spacecraft. Here are the details.

"On December 8, SpaceX became the first commercial company in history to re-enter a spacecraft from Earth orbit. SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 AM EST from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Dragon spacecraft orbited the Earth at speeds greater than 7,600 meters per second (17,000 miles per hour), reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, and landed just after 2:00 PM EST less than one mile from the center of the targeted landing zone in the Pacific Ocean following a nominal flight profile that included a roughly 9.5-minute ascent, two Earth-orbits, reentry and splashdown. Falcon 9 delivered Dragon to orbit with an inclination of 34.53 degrees."

Credit: SpaceX
"Dragon’s first-ever on-orbit performance was 100% successful in meeting test objectives including maintaining attitude, thermal control, and communication activities. While in orbit, eight free-flying payloads were successfully deployed, including a U.S. Army nanosatellite—the first Army-built satellite to fly in 50 years."

"Liftoff marked the second flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which performed nominally during ascent. Nine Merlin engines, which generate one million pounds of thrust in vacuum, powered the first phase of flight. The rocket reached maximum dynamic pressure (the point at which aerodynamic stress on a spacecraft in atmospheric flight is maximized, also known as Max Q) approximately 1.5 minutes after launch.  The first stage separation occurred a little over three minutes into flight.  The single Merlin Vacuum engine of Falcon 9’s second stage then ignited to continue carrying the vehicle towards its targeted orbit. After stage separation, the nose cap at the front of the Dragon spacecraft safely jettisoned. The second stage fired for another four and a half minutes, until it achieved orbital velocity, and then the Dragon spacecraft separated from the second stage to begin its independent flight. After separation of the Dragon spacecraft, the second stage Merlin engine restarted, carrying the second stage to an altitude of 11,000 km (6,800 mi). While restart of the second stage engine was not a requirement for this mission (or any future missions to the ISS), it is important for future Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) missions where customer payloads need to be positioned at a high altitude." 
"Shortly after separating from the second stage, the expected loss of signal occurred as the Dragon spacecraft passed over the horizon as viewed from the launch site We reacquired Dragon's video signal as expected as it passed over Hawaii, delivering the first ever video sent from Dragon on orbit. Draco thrusters, each capable of producing about 90 pounds of thrust, began the six minute deorbit burn at T+2:32.  For this particular mission, we could have lost two entire quads and still returned to Earth with only 8 or 10 engines working, but all thrusters performed nominally during the COTS Demo 1 flight."

"Dragon’s PICA-X heat shield protected the spacecraft during reentry from temperatures reaching more than 3,000 degrees F. SpaceX worked closely with NASA to develop PICA-X, a SpaceX variant of NASA’s Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) heat shield. SpaceX chose PICA for its proven ability. In January 2006, NASA's Stardust sample capsule returned using a PICA heat shield and set the record for the fastest reentry speed of a spacecraft into Earth's atmosphere — experiencing speeds of 28,900 miles per hour. NASA made its expertise and specialized facilities available to SpaceX as the company designed, developed and qualified the 3.6 meter PICA-X shield it in less than 4 years at a fraction of the cost NASA had budgeted for the effort. The result is the most advanced heat shield ever to fly. It can potentially be used hundreds of times for Earth orbit reentry with only minor degradation each time – as proven on this flight -- and can even withstand the much higher heat of a moon or Mars velocity reentry. At about 10,000 feet, Dragon’s three main parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, deployed to slow the spacecraft's decent to approximately 16-18 ft/sec, ensuring a comfortable return ride that will be required for manned flights. Oversized parachutes are critical in ensuring a safe landing for crew members. Even if Dragon were to lose one of its main parachutes, the two remaining chutes would still ensure a safe landing."

Credit: SpaceX

"This was the first flight under NASA’s COTS program to develop commercial resupply services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience toward this goal."

The following HD video summary of the flight is posted on the SpaceX website.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

NASA Year in Review 2010

Congratulations to the entire NASA team on a great year. You continue to make us proud!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Post Flight Evaluations of the X-37B

Credit: Boeing/Spaceflight Now

Spaceflight Now reports on the post flight evaluations of the X-37B being conducted by the Air Force and Boeing. Full story is available here with some amazing post flight pictures. The picture above caught my attention because it shows a second X-37B which is rumored for flight in Spring 2011.

Ascent - Commemorating The Space Shuttle

"Photographic documentation of a Space Shuttle launch plays a critical role in the engineering analysis and evaluation process that takes place during each and every mission. Motion and Still images enable Shuttle engineers to visually identify off-nominal events and conditions requiring corrective action to ensure mission safety and success. This imagery also provides highly inspirational and educational insight to those outside the NASA family. This compilation of film and video presents the best of the best ground-based Shuttle motion imagery from STS-114, STS-117, and STS-124 missions. Rendered in the highest definition possible, this production is a tribute to the dozens of men and women of the Shuttle imaging team and the 30yrs of achievement of the Space Shuttle Program."

The video was produced by Matt Melis at the Glenn Research Center.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dr. Zubrin On The SpaceX Success

"On October 4, 1957, Soviet engineers amazed the world by placing Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, into orbit around the Earth. Sputnik was a huge embarrassment for U.S. technological leaders, but in the end, the medicine was good for them. Shocked out of complacency, they got to work, and twelve years later Americans were walking on the Moon.

On Wednesday, Sputnik flew again. Once again the technological establishment was shown up, this time not by uppity “Russkies”, but by uppity “Yanks”. With the orbital flight and landing of its Falcon 9/Dragon combination, the SpaceX team, led by Elon Musk, accomplished a feat previously reserved for major governments. They did it on a budget one-tenth the size and a schedule one-quarter the length of that assumed as necessary by conventional bureaucratic planners in America.

The Falcon-9 medium-lift booster (capable of launching 10 tons to orbit) and Dragon capsule (potentially capable of upgrade to transporting up to 7 astronauts) system was created on a combined budget on the order of two hundred million dollars. Last year, Elon Musk told the Augustine Commission that he could develop a heavy lift vehicle (HLV) for $2.5 billion. The Commission chose to ignore him, instead insisting that HLV development would cost $36 billion, and therefore both it, and any human Moon or Mars exploration programs that might require it, are beyond the nation’s means for the coming decade. But yesterday’s flight put the lie to such counsels of despair.

They say it can’t be done, but SpaceX shows that it can. If a ten ton to orbit system can be developed for $200 million, then 100 tons for $2 billion is definitely in the cards. Those embarrassed by SpaceX should take up its challenge and resolve to raise their mettle to meet its test. A new standard has been set.

Hear the call. Beep, beep. Sputnik flies again."

Dr. Robert Zubrin is President of the Mars Society.
From The Mars Society Newsletter (December 2010)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Geminids Meteor Shower on December 13th, 2010

Now for something that does not contain the words SpaceX or Arsenic :)

Credit: Starry Night Software

Perhaps the best meteor shower of 2010, the Geminids will appear starting on the evening of December 13th and peaking during the morning of December 14th. Because the meteor's radiant is nearly circumpolar they will stay in view above the horizon almost all night. So what causes a meteor shower? Most meteor showers are caused when the Earth's orbit passes through the fragmentary tail of a comet. These fragments are swept up by the Earth's atmosphere and as they burn up they become visible as long streaks of light. The Geminid meteor shower is unique in that it is not associated with a comet, but with an asteroid - 3200 Phaethon. Phaethon is odd in that it orbits very close to the Sun (closer than the orbit of Mercury) like a comet but is actually an asteroid.

The Gemenid's radiant - which is the point that the meteor shower seems to radiate from - is in the direction of the constellation Gemini. In the evening of December 13, the radiant will be low in the northeast but by 10:00pm PST the radiant will be almost directly overhead. So those of us who live in the west coast of the US will have a great chance at viewing it earlier in the night.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Picture of the Day - The Dragon Spacecraft is back on Earth

I believe this picture of the Dragon bobbing on the surface of the Pacific ocean sums up todays success. Back on Earth after a fiery launch, two orbits around the Earth and now back home. Congratulations to the SpaceX team. We are ALL cheering with you.

Credit: SpaceX

Yipee! Hooray for SpaceX! You did it! Congratulations to the Whole SpaceX team.

SpaceX is the first commercial company to successfully reenter a spacecraft from orbit. Congratulations to all at SpaceX. Your pioneering spirit, dedication and tenacity made this happen. Today dawns a new era of spaceflight. This success truly changes everything. LEO access by commercial companies will allow NASA to focus on the Moon, Mars and the Asteroids. Thank you SpaceX. This is a big day for ALL of us.

Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now

Credit: Mike Howard

Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now

Credit: SpaceX - the view from the Dragon Spacecraft

If you missed the launch this morning here is the video from NASA Television.

The "live" feed from SpaceX was absolutely spectacular with the on-board camera's.

SpaceX reported that the scond stage engine cutoff at T+9 minutes with orbital insertion of the Dragon Spacecraft to a high point of 301 kilometers and an inclination of 34.5 degrees. The Dragon mission lasted two orbits and approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes. Four Draco thrusters (of the 18 thrusters each producing 90 lbs of thrust) were fired at pproximately 1:04pm EST and splashdown off the coast of Mexico was around 2:04pm EST.

The Mission Status Center at Spaceflight Now reports:
"The Dragon's performance on-orbit was 100 percent successful, according to SpaceX. The recovery crew in the Pacific Ocean has already arrived at the capsule and attached flotation devices to the spacecraft."

NASA is planning a post-flight press conference as soon as 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT) to discuss further details of the mission. The press conferenc can be viewed at www.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Falcon 9 & Dragon GO for Launch Wednesday

Credit: SpaceX

NASA Press Release M10-170
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The first demonstration flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program has been scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 8, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends from 9 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. EST.

During a routine inspection this week, SpaceX engineers observed two small cracks in the rocket's second stage engine nozzle. SpaceX completed repairs to the cracked nozzle Tuesday.

NASA Press Conference on the SpaceX COTS-1 Flight - 6 December 2010

SpaceX Update: COTS Demo 1 Launch Activities

Credit: Justin Ray, Spaceflight Now

Update from SpaceX: "SpaceX engineers are analyzing two small cracks in the aft end of the 2nd stage engine nozzle extension. These cracks are in a region near the end of the nozzle extension where there is very little stress and so they would not cause a flight failure by themselves. However, further investigation is warranted to ensure that these cracks are not symptomatic of a more serious problem.

A decision on whether or not to attempt launch on Wednesday will be provided this evening [Tuesday].

The bell shaped Merlin Vacuum nozzle extension is made of niobium sheet alloy, measures 9 feet tall and 8 feet at the base diameter, and thins out to about twice the thickness of a soda can at the end. Although made of an exotic refractory alloy metal with a melting temperature high enough to boil steel, this component is geometrically the simplest part of the engine.

It is important to note that the niobium nozzle extension increases the efficiency of the Merlin engine in vacuum and is installed by default on all upper stage Merlin engines, but that efficiency increase is not required for this mission. The nozzle extension is most helpful when launching very heavy satellites or to maximize throw mass to distant destinations like Mars. The most likely path forward is that we will trim off the thinnest portion of the nozzle extension, which is where the cracks are located, perform a thorough systems check and resume launch preparation."

Spaceflight Now in my opinion has the most comprehensive launch coverage for the Falcon 9/Dragon Spacecraft flight. They have a Countdown Timeline, a Launch Timeline, a Dragon Entry Schedule, and a copy of the COTS-1 Press Kit.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Falcon 9 COTS-1 launch postponed to no earlier than Thursday

SpaceX: "Now targeting launch no earlier than this Thursday, Dec. 9. Taking some time to look at 2nd stage nozzle, will keep you posted on schedule as able--thanks for the support!"

I am so excited about this launch and truly want them to succeed! The SpaceX offices and factory are located right next to Hawthorne Airport and you can see the building on approach to LAX if you are seated on the left hand side of the aircraft.

Weather may delay Tuesday's launch of the Falcon 9

According to Florida Today's Flame Trench:
"Strong winds Tuesday could pose a challenge for the planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket on a NASA demonstration flight.  A surge of wind blowing in with a cold front presents a 60 percent chance of weather violating launch criteria, according to Air Force meteorologists, with sustained winds around 20 knots and gusting to 25 knots. Conditions at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station should improve Wednesday and Thursday, with a 90 percent chance of favorable weather. The launch window is the same each day."

The official forecast can be found here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

SpaceX: Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon Spacecraft Readied for Tuesday's Launch

Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX reports "Full duration static fire! We'll continue to review data but today's static fire appears to be a success."

This first COTS-1 demonstration flight will carry the first operational Dragon Spacecraft and will be the second flight for the Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is now targeted for December 7th, 2010 (with 8th and 9th as back-up days) with a launch window between 9:00am and 12:22pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40. The mission profile calls for the dragon Spacecraft to complete three to four orbits, transmit telemetry, receive commands, maneuver, re-enter and splash down off the coast of Southern California.

NASA will hold a prelaunch news conference on Monday, December 6th at 1:30 p.m. EST, at the press site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA Television will provide live coverage of the briefing at A post-mission news conference will be held at Kennedy approximately one hour after splashdown occurs which will also be broadcasted live. On launch day, Dec. 7, NASA TV live coverage will begin at the conclusion of the built in hold at T-5 minutes and counting.

Live coverage of the launch will also be available at the SpaceX website. The webcast will begin approximately 45 minutes prior to the opening of the daily launch window, at 8:15 a.m. EST / 5:15 a.m. PST / 13:15 UTC. During the webcast, SpaceX hosts will provide information specific to the flight, an overview of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft and commentary on the launch and flight sequences.

SpaceflightNow will also cover the launch at their Mission Status Center with text updates and streaming video of the launch.

Friday, December 3, 2010

X-37B Post Landing Pictures

Photo credit US Air Force. A second X-37B currently under development is slated to fly in 2011.

SpaceX Scrubs Static Fire Test of Falcon 9/Dragon Spacecraft

SpaceflightNow reports that today's static fire test of the Falcon 9 was aborted at T-minus 1.1 seconds due to a high chamber pressure in Engine No. 6. The static fire atempt needs to reach a full 2 seconds at maximum thust to be considered succesful. A second attempt is planned for tomorrow.

Here are some pictures from today's roll out of the Falcon 9 with the Dragon Spacecraft.

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

NASA Press Conference On The Discovery Of A New Bactria That Makes DNA With Arsenic

Here is the full length video of the press conference.

X-37B Returns to Earth

After 225 days in orbit, the US Air Force's X-37B unmanned spacecraft deorbited and landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California at 1:16am PST on December 3rd. More details on the X-37B can be found in my previous blog posts here and here. The X-37B launched on April 22 on an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission and budget for the X-37B is "classified", however reports that Boeing Phantom Works is building another X-37B for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Attached is a short video of the X-37B post landing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A New Lifeform discovered on Earth: NASA Astrobiology Discovery Press Conference

Credit: NASA

The NASA press conference today was about the discovery of a new life form on Earth - a bacterial strain known as GFAJ-1 found in mud taken from Mono Lake in California, that is able to use arsenic (instead of phosphorus) to make its DNA and proteins. This is the first ever organism ever found that appears to thrive in the absence of an element thought be to be critical to life as has long been defined. Life on Earth and the chemistry of life is dominated by Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen with Phosphorus and Sulfur. These are the six elements of life that are essential to life: life as we know it cannot exist without them. But Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon and colleagues found an organism on Earth that can utilize arsenic in place of phosphorus. OK, why is this such a big deal? Well, the DNA molecule is shaped like a spiral ladder with the rungs of the ladder comprising of pairs of nucleotides which spell out the genetic instructions of life. The sides of the ladder which are referred to as the backbone are long chains of alternating sugar and phosphate molecules. A phosphate molecule contains five atoms, one phosphorus and four oxygen atoms. Thus no phosphorus, no phosphate. No phosphate, no backbone. No backbone, no DNA. No DNA, No life. Yet, GFAJ-1 substituted arsenic for phosphorus to build DNA, RNA and other critical molecules to life. No such lifeform has ever been discovered to date. A lifeform that does not belong in our life tree.

What does this mean? It means that we need to relook at our definition of "Life" and how to search for it; on Earth, in our solar system and in the universe. To summarize the research of Dr. Wolfe-Simon and colleagues: "The research appears to expand the range of possibilities of habitable environments on Earth and on other planets and moons. On a more fundamental level, the findings may indicate the very definition of what is required for life to exist and may need to be to broadened to encompass a wider rang of possibilities."

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

A detailed analysis of the biochemistry to follow that will better explain this most profound discovery. I must say this Dr. Wolfe-Simon, today because of your work and your tenacity to push limits and boundaries I now live in a different universe than than the one I awoke in. Please push the limits of our understanding of "life" and the universe we are a part of. What a great day or all of humanity. An exceptional day. Thank you!

SpaceX prepares for a Static Fire test on Friday, December 3rd

Credit: SpaceX

"On Friday, December 3rd, SpaceX will webcast its static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket engines at The webcast is set to begin at 8:00 AM Eastern/ 5:00 AM Pacific, with the actual static fire targeted for 9:00 AM Eastern/ 6:00 AM Pacific.

This first stage firing is part of a full launch dress rehearsal at the Space Launch Complex 40 at the U.S. Air Force Station at Cape Canaveral in preparation for the first Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) launch of the Dragon spacecraft. The rehearsal will exercise the countdown processes and end after the engines fire at full power for two seconds, with only the hold-down system restraining the rocket from flight. After the test, SpaceX will conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch. Using rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen, the nine Merlin engines generate one million pounds of thrust in vacuum. The Merlin engine is the highest performing American hydrocarbon rocket engine ever flown. SpaceX uses a hold-before-release system — a capability required by commercial airplanes but rarely implemented on launch vehicles. After the first stage engine ignites, the Falcon 9 is held down and not released for flight until all propulsion and vehicle systems are confirmed to be operating normally. An automatic safe shut-down will occur and propellants will be unloaded if any issues are detected.

SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later. This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only 6 nations or government agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

It is also the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience toward this goal.

If launch is a go, SpaceX plans to broadcast the entire launch live at between December 7th and 9th. For more on the Falcon 9 visit"
SpaceX Press Release, 2 December, 2010

Best wishes for a successful static test fire and launch to orbit!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery

NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. The news conference will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency's website at

The participants will include: Mary Voytek, Director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif. Pamela Conrad, Astrobiologist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Steven Benner, Distinguished Fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla. James Elser, Professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

Speculation as to what  NASA's Astrobiology announcement tomorrow seem to concern around Arsenic-based biochemistry and the implications for the origin of life on Earth, how it may have happened more than once on our planet, and the implications for life arising elsewhere in the universe. Attached is an article published by the UK Sunday Times on the work being conducted by Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon.

"Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a geobiologist, is interested in the lake not for its scenery but because it may be harbouring alien life forms, or “weird life”. Mono Lake, a basin with no outlet, has built up over many millennia one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic on Earth. Dr Wolfe-Simon is investigating whether, in the mud around the lake or in the water, there exist microbes whose biological make-up is so fundamentally different from that of any known life on Earth that it may provide proof of a shadow biosphere, a second genesis for life on this planet. Arsenic is chemically close to phosphorus. While phosphorus is a primary building block of life on Earth — an essential component of DNA and ATP, the energy molecule — arsenic is a deadly poison. In Mono Lake there are micro-organisms that live with arsenic. But they don’t incorporate it into their biology. Dr Wolfe-Simon has theorised that there may be life that chose an “evolutionary pathway” to utilise arsenic. If such microbes existed, it could suggest that life started on our planet not once but at least twice. In turn this would help to support the idea that life is much more likely to have started elsewhere in the galaxy."

More on the concept of a "shadow biosphere" from Dr. Wolfe-Simon.
Credit: The Science Channel

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NASA Sets Launch Coverage for SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon Spacecraft COTS-1 Flight

Credit: SpaceX

NASA just announced that the prelaunch news conference for the COTS 1 Falcon 9 launch is planned for Monday, December 6th at 1:30 p.m., at the press site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA Television will provide live coverage and the briefing at
The prelaunch news conference participants will be:
  • Phil McAlister, Acting Director, Commercial Space Flight Development NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Alan Lindenmoyer, Manager, Commercial Crew and Cargo Program NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston 
  • Gwynne Shotwell, President SpaceX, Hawthorne, Calif.
  • Mike McAleenan, Falcon 9 Launch Weather Officer 45th Weather Squadron, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
A post-mission news conference will be held at Kennedy approximately one hour after splashdown occurs.

Audio of the prelaunch and post-mission news conferences also will be carried on the NASA "V" circuits, which can be accessed directly by dialing 321-867- 1220, 1240, 1260 or 7135.

On launch day, Dec. 7, NASA TV live coverage will begin at the conclusion of the built in hold at T-5 minutes and counting. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video,

Prelaunch and launch day coverage of the COTS 1 Falcon 9 mission will be available on the NASA website at:

Coverage will include live streaming and text updates of the final five minutes of the countdown. On-demand streaming video, podcast and photos of the launch will be available shortly after liftoff. To access these features, go to NASA's COTS website at:
Media Advisory: M10-168

This first COTS-1 demonstration flight will carry the first operational Dragon Spacecraft and will be the second flight for the Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is now targeted for December 7th, 2010 (with 8th and 9th as back-up days) with a launch window between 8:55am and 12:05pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40. The mission profile calls for the dragon Spacecraft to complete three to four orbits, transmit telemetry, receive commands, maneuver, re-enter and splash down off the coast of Southern California.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Introducing Explore Mars, Inc.

"It is time that we commit to a human space program that is going somewhere! After decades of literally going around in circles in low Earth orbit, it is time to launch a program that will land humans on Mars by 2030. This is a VERY achievable goal. However, we can't just assume this will happen without constant pressure... The private sector can do REAL work to advance technology, science, and overall goal of sending humans to Mars. This is why Explore Mars, Inc. was created.

Explore Mars is a project-oriented non-profit group that was created to promote science and technology innovation and education related to Mars Exploration. Through a series of technology innovation awards, scientific symposiums and workshops, Mars analog work, technology demonstrations, and other programs, we provide a platform for scientists and "citizen scientists" to engage in meaningful space exploration research and development in the private sector.

We launched the Mars Education Challenge and will soon launch the In Situ Resource Utilization Challenge, as well as some other exciting projects. We will also announce details about a series of panels about Mars and International Space Station (ISS) Symposium, as well as the Mars Agriculture Workshop within in the next couple of months."
- Explore Mars, Inc.

Explore Mars was co-founded by Chris Carberry who is also the Executive Director. My dear friend Artemis Westenberg is President and Director. Artemis was the Mission Director for the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) during my mission to the MDRS as part of Crew 88 (Janury 2010), and most recently I served as an engineer on Crew 95 (June 2010) where Artemi personally led a MDRS engineering refit and repair mission. More information about their biographies can be found here. In addition to these two great individuals, Explore Mars has assembled a very distinguished team of advisors: Astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin, Dr. Penelope Boston of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, award winning film maker and writer Sam Burbank, award winning journalist and spaceflight historian Andrew Chaiken, NASA planetary scientist Dr. Chris McKay, and journalist and broadcast veteran Miles O'Brien.

Here is a video of Chris Carberry's talk (GoogleTech Talks) on the Mars Exploration Prizes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Atlantica Expeditions - Building the First Undersea Colony

For centuries we have dreamed of colonizing the Moon, Mars, the Asteroids and someday the Solar System, but very few people know that that a small group of true pioneers have been working towards colonizing the Earth's ocean: that is planning and building the infrastructure for a permanent human colony under the sea. Their journey is chronicled in the "Atlantica Expeditions - The First Undersea Colony". I have been selected to be a part of that team. I am absolutely thrilled! It is a great honor for me and over the next couple of years I plan on blogging and keeping you updated on the progress of this great endeavour. The first expedition named Atlantica 1 is scheduled for the 4th of July 2012. Dennis Chamberland, his wife Claudia Chamberland and Art Ortolani will begin a 90 day mission. This mission will establish the world's record in an uninterrupted underwater mission, surpassing the previous record of 69 days.  The mission will utilize the Leviathan Habitat which will be the only habitat ever designed to test systems intended for permanent human residence of the undersea world of Aquatica. More on that later.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you this podcast from Dennis and Claudia during a training session on the operation of an undersea robot called "Ray" (brand name SEARAY) at the MarineLab undersea habitat in Key Largo, Florida during a filming by the Discovery Channel of Canada.

Isn't this absolutely amazing?

Monday, November 22, 2010

SpaceX Update: Falcon 9/Dragon COTS-1 Flight gets reentry license from FAA

Credit: SpaceX

NASA just sent out a press release (10-298)  a few minutes ago congratulating SpaceX on receiving a FAA reentry licence for the Dragon spacecraft. This is the first ever commercial license granted to reenter a spacecraft from Earth orbit.

This first COTS-1 demonstration flight will carry the first operational Dragon Spacecraft and will be the second flight for the Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is now targeted for December 7th, 2010 (with 8th and 9th as back-up days) with a launch window between 8:55am and 12:05pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40. The mission profile calls for the dragon Spacecraft to complete three to four orbits, transmit telemetry, receive commands, maneuver, re-enter and splash down off the coast of Southern California.

Congratulations SpaceX!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Leonid Meteor Shower 2010

If you missed it last night you will get another chance tonight as the Leonid meteor shower peaks during the 17th and 18th of November, 2010. The best viewing opportunity will be during the final two to three hours before dawn on November 18th. The meteors are called Leonids because they appear to originate from the constellation Leo. The Leonid meteor is cased when the Earth passes through the debris field of the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle's tail.

Credit: MSNBC

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NAKED SCIENCE: "City Under The Sea" on the National Geographic Channel

Got to see this episode of Naked Science: "City Under The Sea" tomorrow on the National Geographic Channel at 7:00pm and 10:00pm PST.

"The oceans cover 70 percent of our planet. Although science fiction writers and ordinary mortals have long dreamed of life under the sea, no human has ever lived there permanently. But with the planet becoming increasingly populated, can we afford to leave such a vast space unoccupied? What if we gave ourselves 10 years to create an undersea colony where 100 families could live? How would we do it? Where would we go? In this program we develop a step-by-step approach for setting up such an undersea colony. We meet experts who believe such a bold undertaking is possible and are already developing the technology that could make it a reality."

Monday, November 8, 2010

SpaceX targets December 7th for Falcon 9/Dragon Spacecraft COTS-1 Flight

Credit: SpaceX

The Flame Trench at FloridaToday and SpaceflightNow both report a new target date for the launch of the second flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This first COTS-1 demonstration flight will carry the first operational Dragon Spacecraft. The launch is now targeted for December 7th, 2010 (with 8th and 9th as back-up days) with a launch window between 8:55am and 12:05pm EST from Cape Canveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40. The mission profile calls for the dragon Spacecraft to complete three to four orbits, transmit telemetry, receive commands, maneuver, re-enter and splash down off the coast of Southern California.

Space News reports that while SpaceX has been granted approval for the launch portion of the mission, it is still awaiting approval for the re-entry license for the Dragon Spacecraft from the FAA. This will be the very first re-entry license granted by the FAA since Congress granted the FAA authority to license commercial re-entry vehicles in 2004.

Under its $278M Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract with NASA, SpaceX is planning three demonstration flights of it's Dragon Spacecraft. The first flight is expected to test the Dragon's avionics, flight computers, guidance, navigation and control systems, heat shield, re-entry and recovery systems. A second Dragon spaceflight is currently targeted for February 2011 and is expected to maneuver within six miles of the ISS to test out the DragonEye navigation sensor system, while a third Dragon test flight will actually berth with the station. Then SpaceX will begin to fly fully operational Falcon 9/Dragon Cargo Flights as part of a $1.6B contract for 12 resupply flights to the ISS.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dr. Chris McKay discusses "life" on Earth and "Alien Lifeforms"

Dr. Chris McKay is a planetary Scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames. He received his PhD in AstroGeophysics from the University of Colorado. His current research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life.

STS-133 Launch postponed unil Nov. 30th

Credit: NASA

Launch of Discovery delayed until Novembr 30th, 4:04 EST due to a leak in the gaseous hydrogen venting system.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Liftoff to Orbit in 9 Minutes - Cockpit Video of STS-122 Discovery Launch

This is cockpit video of STS-122 on July 4th, 2006 launching Discovery to the International Space Station. Don't you wish you had the MS2 flight crew position.

Discovery Launch Rescheduled to Wednesday

Credit: NASA
STS-133 launch has been postponed to Wednesday, November 3rd at 3:52pm EDT in order to complete repairs on the Helium and Nitrogen gas leaks on the right OMS pod.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A NASA Tribute to Space Shuttle Discovery

Credit: NASAtelevision

STS-133 Discovery Launch Delayed by One day to November 2nd

Update to earlier post: STS-133 has been delayed by one day to repair helium and nitrogen leaks found in the right hand Orbital Maneuvering Systems (OMSs) pod. Discovery now targeted for launch on November 2, 2010 at 4:17pm EDT. Flight details as well streaming video of the launch can be watched at Spaceflight Now.

A NASA History of Space Shuttle Discovery

Credit: NASAtelevision

A NASA history of Space Shuttle Discovery which is scheduled to lift off on it's final mission before descommissioning.

STS-133: The Final Flight of Space Shuttle Discovery

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASATelevision

The final flight of Shuttle Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 1, 2010. This will be the 39th flight for Discovery and the 35th mission to the ISS. The six person all veteren crew will be commanded by Steven Lindsey (Commander), Eric Boe (Pilot), Alvin Drew (MS1), Timothy Copra (MS2), Nichael Baratt (MS3) and Nicole Stott (MS4). The 11 day mission is expected to include two spacewalks by Kopra and Drew. The mission objectives include the installation of of the Leonardo Permanent Multi-Purpose Module, the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 4, Robonaut 2 and the SpaceX DragonEye sensor.

Best wishes to the crew of STS-133 for a very successful and safe mission.

Discovery has flown 38 flights, completed 5,247 orbits and has spent 322 days in orbit. Discovery first flew on August 30, 1984 and since then has flown a total of 246 crew members and traveled 142,917,535 miles. It has launched a total of 31 satellites including te Hubble Space Telescope, docked to the Russian MIR Space Station and docked to the ISS 11 times. The second and third Hubble service missions were also conducted by Discovery. It was also this orbiter that carried astronaut John Glenn back into space on STS-95 on October 29, 1998. Glenn was 77 at that time.

Discovery was named after one of the most famous British ships of exploration - HMS Discovery which was commandered by Captain James Cook durng his third and final major voyage of 1776. After decommisioning Discovery will be placed on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum. Discovery will replace Space Shuttle Enterprise in the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is scheduled to launch on STS-134 currently scheduled for launch on February 26, 2011.

This week in Space

"The International Space Station's antimatter detector gets ready to launch aboard the space shuttle, next Martian rover gets an arm, SpaceX drop-tests its Dragon and new planetary discoveries."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A very inspiring book: My Dream of Stars - the story of Anousheh Ansari's flight to the International Space Station

On September 18th, 2006 Iranian born American Anousheh Ansari achieved her dream of flying in space. Launched aboard Soyuz TMA-9 with commander Mikhail Tyurin (RSA) and flight engineer Michael Lopez-Alegria (NASA), Anousheh reached low Earth orbit and became the 4th "spaceflight participant" and the first female space tourist. TMA-9 docked with the International Space Station on September 20th. She spent the next eight days on the ISS and returned on Soyuz TMA-8 with NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. Total mission duration was 10 days, 21 hours and 4 minutes.

I was on a eleven hour flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt and when I started reading her book My Dream of Stars (written jointly with Homer Hickam) I could not put it down. I rushed through dinner, skipped the in-flight movies had a second glass of wine and kept on reading. Her story is quite inspiring as she walks us through her life from growing up in Mashhad and Tehran to meeting her husband Hamid and her brother-in-law Amir and of co-founding Telcom Technologies, Inc. What were most interesting for me were the chapters dedicated to her selection and subsequent training at Star City. She also gives an open and honest account of her 48hr journey to the ISS. The detail she went into from her bouts of space sickness she had during the first few days, her life aboard the ISS and her conversations she had with the astronauts and cosmonauts to her landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan was absolutely amazing. I read every word and clung to all the details. While Anousheh was at the ISS she also kept a blog which was equally interesting reading.

Anousheh Ansari is quite a remarkable person and teaches us all that through tenacity, hope, innovation and hard work even the impossible can be achieved and even the wildest dreams can be made to come through. More information about her can be found on her web page.

Friday, August 20, 2010

SpaceX completes successful Dragon spacecraft high altitude drop test

In an email press release today, SpaceX announced a successful parachute test of the Dragon spacecraft. Congratulations!

"The purpose of the test was to validate the Dragon's parachute deployment systems and recovery operations prior to the first flight of an operational Dragon later this year. The drop occurred on August 12, 2010 about nine miles off the coast from the scenic town of Morro Bay, CA-- 45 miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base. An Erickson S-64F Air-Crane helicopter dropped a test article of the Dragon spacecraft from a distance of 14,000 feet, directly above the center of a 6 mile diameter Pacific Ocean test zone. 

Credit: Roger Gilbertson/SpaceX

In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual redundant drogue parachutes deployed first to stabilize and slow the spacecraft. Full deployment of the drogues then triggered the release of the main parachutes, with the drogues detaching from the spacecraft, allowing the main parachutes to deploy. While Dragon will initially be used to transport cargo, the spacecraft was designed to transport crew. The parachute system validated during the drop test is the same system that would be used on a crew-carrying Dragon. The three main parachutes, designed and manufactured by Airborne Systems, are particularly large--each measuring 116 feet in diameter when fully deployed. The oversized parachutes are key in ensuring a comfortable landing for crew members. After the drogues stabilize the spacecraft, the main parachutes further slow the spacecraft's decent to approximately 16-18 ft/sec which makes for a very soft landing. Even if Dragon were to lose one of its main parachutes, the two remaining chutes would still ensure a pretty soft landing for the crew. Under nominal conditions, astronauts would experience no more than roughly 2-3 g's during this type of decent—less than you'd experience at an amusement park. While the test article landed well within the targeted zone, the landing of an operational Dragon will be even more precise. With an operational Dragon, the landing location is controlled by firing the Draco thrusters during reentry, ensuring Dragon splashes down less than a mile from the desired landing site. Even that dispersion is only due to wind drift while Dragon is under the parachutes--if winds are low, Dragon's landing accuracy will be to within a few hundred feet. 

 Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

For initial crewed flights, Dragon will be recovered by helicopter and airlifted to shore. Our long term goal, however, is to land Dragon on land. Once we have proven our ability to control reentry accurately, we intend to add deployable landing gear and leverage the thrusters in order to land on land in the future.
During this particular drop test operation, Dragon was returned by boat and lifted onto its transport carrier via a bay-side crane.

 Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

 A drop test is historically a very difficult test to complete successfully, so congratulations to the entire Dragon drop team for achieving 100% success on their first attempt. In addition, SpaceX thanks the numerous individuals who were incredibly helpful in assisting with the execution of this test--a test of this size requires significant coordination between numerous parties and we greatly appreciate their help. In particular, SpaceX thanks the Dynegy Morro Bay Power Plant, Erickson Air-Crane, Angel City Air Aerial Photography, Associated Pacific Constructors of Morro Bay, Castagnola Tug Service, Morro Bay Harbor, Fire and Police Departments, US Coast Guard Morro Bay Station, The Federal Aviation Administration, Morro Bay Planning Division, Protech Express Towing, SloDivers, Centurion Private Security, Coast Diving Service and Woody Wordsworth at Radio Shack Morro Bay."
Source: SpaceX

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Elon Musk: Will he be the Henry Ford of Spacecraft?

My friend Heather Archuletta (aka Pillow Astronaut) sent me an email in regards to Elon Musk asking "did you see him on the Daily Show? He could be the Henry Ford of spacecrafts... time will tell...". So the timing for this post is perfect. I am with Heather, I believe Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX will be the ones who revolutionize space travel and give the rest of us the chance to work, travel and play in space. Why do we hope that he is the Henry Ford of spacecraft? Well, Henry Ford was the founder of the Henry Ford Motor Company (1903)and is considered the father of the modern assembly line process used in mass production. He revolutionized the automobile industry by producing the first affordable mass produced automobile - the Model-T (1906). We hope that Musk and his team will do the same for commercial spaceflight.

The following is an interview with Elon Musk by the Henry Ford Foundation. The full length interview can be watched here.

This week in Space with Miles O'Brien

"Spacewalkers continue working on repairs, an interview with EVA'er Dave Wolf, success for Atlas 5 rocket and a new shot from Hubble."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Thank You for Supporting the Future of Human Spaceflight" - Elon Musk

"We recently asked for your help to protect the future of human spaceflight – and the response was impressive. Your phone calls and the efforts of supportive members of Congress helped stop the NASA Authorization bill from being pushed through the House of Representatives before important improvements could be made. 

This bill would have authorized over five times more taxpayer dollars to fly NASA astronauts on the Russian Soyuz than to develop an American-made commercial alternative that would energize our economy and create jobs right here at home.

We still have a tough fight ahead of us, but many in Congress are starting to recognize that commercial vehicles like Dragon and Falcon 9 are the nation's best option for ending our reliance on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and preserving America's leadership role in space. It's not over yet. When the House returns from its summer recess in September, NASA Authorization bill H.R. 5781 will be up for vote again.

We hope you will continue to fight for the opportunity to show how a true public/private partnership can transform America's space program.

We thank you for your support and look forward to working together to ensure an exciting future for American spaceflight.