Tag Archives: Museum of Flight

UW astro anniversary events highlight week’s calendar

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the University of Washington Department of Astronomy goes into full swing with a couple of interesting lectures this week.

Space Tourism


Dr. Charles Simonyi

Space traveler, philanthropist, and high-tech pioneer Dr. Charles Simonyi will give a talk titled “Practicalities of Orbital Space Tourism” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29 in room 120 of Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Simonyi will discuss his experiences with orbital spaceflight in 2007 and 2009 and what this portends for future orbital space tourism. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Origins of nebulae


UW Prof. Bruce Balick speaking prior to a talk by James Peebles at the UW in May. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Astronomy Day was officially Sept. 19, but the Museum of Flight continues the observance this Thursday, Oct. 1. One of the evening’s events will be “Star Formation and Nebulae as Cosmic Science and Song.” UW astronomy professor Bruce Balick will give a talk about the origins of nebulae, followed by a preview of Nan Avant‘s multimedia composition “Bijoux” which showcases some of the more spectacular nebulae ever discovered. Both will be held starting at 6 p.m. in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the museum. The event is a preview of the UW Department of Astronomy’s multimedia Origins concert coming up on Nov. 7.

In addition, local science and astronomy clubs will be at the museum Oct. 1 to share their knowledge of the heavens, and will offer views of the evening sky through their telescopes, weather permitting. Visitors also will be able to marvel at the wonders of the night sky in the museum’s portable planetarium. All events are free, part of the museum’s free first Thursday program from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m.

TAS and cosmic collisions

The Tacoma Astronomical Society holds one of its public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. Society members will give a presentation about “Cosmic Collisions,” and they will have telescopes on hand for observing if the weather cooperates.


Total lunar eclipse, Astronomy Day, Journey to Mars highlight week’s activity

A total lunar eclipse, a big birthday party, and a journey to Mars highlight the next 10 days on the Seattle Astronomy calendar.

Eclipse of the Moon


The Moon in August, 2010. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Europe and the Americas will be treated to a total lunar eclipse on Sunday, Sept. 27. For us on the U.S. west coast, the Moon will be partially eclipsed when it rises just before 7 p.m., and we’ll see the start of the total eclipse at about 7:11. Totality will last an hour and 12 minutes, and the Moon will begin to emerge from Earth’s shadow at 8:23 p.m. The partial eclipse will end at 9:27 p.m.

Sky & Telescope magazine has a good article about the eclipse, and also check their Sky at a Glance feature for other observing highlights for the week.

Happy Birthday MOF

50_MoF _blue_finalThe Museum of Flight is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and one of the main events of the observance will be a gala party at the museum on Saturday, Sept. 19. Admission to the museum will be just 50 cents that day—the original price in 1965—and the day’s activities will include a 50th anniversary scavenger hunt, 60s throwback costume contest, a paper plane workshop, mini-missions in the Challenger Learning Center, and fun surprises and giveaways.

Journey to Mars

marssThe Museum of Flight will host the traveling NASA exhibit “Journey to Mars” for one week only, Sept. 22-27. The interactive exhibit looks at NASA’s current robotic expeditions to the Red Planet, and how humans will someday set foot on Martian soil. The week’s events also will include visits from astronauts Mike Barratt and Jeannette Epps.

The Museum will host two public discussions on Thursday, Sept. 24. At 1:30 p.m. Barratt and several others will talk about the life support, habitat, materials, and propulsion needs for a human mission to Mars. Then at 3 p.m. Boeing Company historian Mike Lombardi and Chris Crumbly of NASA Space Launch System Office will talk about the lessons learned from Apollo that will inform a future mission to Mars.

Epps will meet with museum visitors from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Sept. 26.

Check the museum’s website for a full schedule of events for the week.

Star parties on Astronomy Day

astronomydaySaturday, Sept. 19 is Astronomy Day, and two area astronomy clubs will host public star parties on that date.

The Seattle Astronomical Society will host its free monthly star parties at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both events begin at 7 p.m., weather permitting. The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights beginning at 9 p.m. at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. An indoor presentation will cover “The Reason for the Seasons,” and telescopes will be available for observing if the skies are clear.

Astronomy on Tap

aot7Astronomy on Tap Seattle will hold its monthly confab at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. Hosted by graduate students in astronomy from the University of Washington, AoT features beer, trivia contests, cupcakes, and quick talks about the cosmos. This week’s speakers will be Dr. Breanna Binder, who will discuss “Sibling Rivarly in Giant Stars” (no doubt a reprise of a lecture given in August to the Seattle Astronomical Society) and Pheobe Upton Sanderbeck, who will cover “Taking the Temperature of the Universe.”

Astronomy on Tap is free, but please register here.


Two big conferences mean lots of talks on this week’s astro calendar

With two sizable astronomical conferences in town this week the Seattle Astronomy calendar is packed with interesting events.

LSST Project and Community Workshop

lsstlogoMore than 200 scientists from around the world who are working on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will gather this week in Bremerton for the LSST Project and Community Workshop. While the formal conference runs from Aug. 17–22, the program also includes public events starting Sunday, Aug. 16 and running nightly.

lssttalksThe free talks, sponsored by Olympic College, will be held at the SEEFilm Bremerton Cinema starting at 7 p.m. each evening.

Aug. 16: LSST in the Solar System
“Finding Icy Worlds Beyond Neptune, Never-Before-Seen Comets, and Killer Asteroids”
Dr. Lynne Jones, University of Washington

Aug.17: LSST and the Milky Way
“Mapping the Milky Way, Our Cosmic Backyard”
Dr. Beth Willman, LSST / University of Arizona

Aug. 18: Astronomia de LSST (en español)
“Mapas celestes desde el Sur del mundo”
Dr. Knut Olsen, NOAO

Aug. 19: LSST and Cosmology
“Measuring and Modeling the Universe’s Dark Stuff”
Dr. Jim Bosch, Princeton University

Aug. 20: LSST in the Time Domain
“Explosions in the Sky! Observing our Changeable Universe with LSST”
Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, Adler Planetarium

The theater is just a half-mile walk from the Bremerton ferry terminal.

In addition to these talks, there will be an “astronomy slam” at five different Bremerton locations on the evening of Aug. 18. The slam will include brief talks by five different astronomers at each site. Check the Olympic College calendar for places and times.

Space Elevators

isec logoThe other big event in the area this week is the annual Space Elevator Conference put together by the International Space Elevator Consortium. The conference, running from Aug. 21-23 at the Museum of Flight, will engage an international audience of scientists, engineers, educators, entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and students in discussions of space elevator development.

There is a public component to this event as well. It includes a family science fest from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22. This family-focused, STEM-centric event will feature lots of hands-on activities, demos, and exhibits. It’s free with museum admission. More details.

The last generation of lonely astronomers

Ada’s Technical Books and Café on Capitol Hill in Seattle will host a conversation about exoplanets at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20. Journalist Glenn Fleishman will interview Dr. Sarah Ballard, NASA Carl Sagan Fellow of the University of Washington, about worlds like our own and exotic potentials. They’ll talk about why planets in solar systems are either mostly in a plane or completely cattywampus, the limits of what we can learn without venturing out, and what distant worlds teach us about our own neighborhood. Free.

Sibling rivalry in massive stars

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. UW astronomy graduate and lecturer Breanna Binder will provide an overview of single star stellar evolution, and discuss how massive stars in binary systems evolve differently from single stars. Free and open to the public.

TJO open house

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory

The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory is the second oldest building on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. Twice-monthly open houses at the observatory resume March 2. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Wednesday is also open house day at the UW’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory, starting at 9 p.m. Engineering student Kyle Musselwhite will give a talk titled, “Hey, What’s That Sound? The Universe!” Musselwhite will outline relationships between the history of science and musical thinking, followed by discussion of why music is a useful tool for conceptualizing certain properties of the universe (especially time and distance). The talk is free but reservations are strongly recommended; the classroom typically fills up quickly.

Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society give tours of the observatory dome and, weather permitting, offer looks through its vintage telescope.

Star parties

The Seattle and Tacoma astronomical societies have public events scheduled this Saturday, Aug. 22. SAS holds its monthly free public star parties at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both begin at 8 p.m., weather permitting. The Tacoma club meets at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College for a public night beginning at 9 p.m. Aug. 22. A panel will do a presentation on women in astronomy, and volunteers will be on hand with telescopes for observing, weather permitting.


Pluto-paloozas and other events

With New Horizons whizzing past Pluto today after a nine-year journey, there’s plenty of excitement around the new learning about the former planet and its system. Thus many of this week’s events have a Pluto focus.


New Horizons close-up of Pluto. Photo: NASA.

Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info is hosting a Pluto-palooza at 5 p.m. this afternoon at the High Point Library in West Seattle. Enevoldsen, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about the mission and new information coming in today.

By coincidence, Enevoldsen is the former director of the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center. The PacSci folks have developed a special Pluto program for the planetarium: “The Outer Limits: Pluto and Beyond” includes images from New Horizons and more information about the dwarf planet that is more than three billion miles away. The program runs daily at 12:30 p.m., and they’ve added extra showings to the schedule for today and for Saturday, July 18. Check the planetarium schedule for a rundown of all show times. Admission to the planetarium is $3, but free for PacSci members. Tickets can be purchased online.

Pluto on Tap

plutopalOur friends at Astronomy on Tap Seattle have cooked up a Pluto-palooza program that will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. AOT events are hosted by University of Washington graduate students in astronomy, and they’ll talk about Pluto history, have a Q&A, and share brand-new photos of Pluto. It’s free, but please RSVP, and enjoy a brew or three in toast of New Horizons at Bad Jimmy’s.

Speakers at Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight will dedicate its Sunday to all things Pluto. There will be activities for kids, family workshops, and special exhibits all day. At 1:30 p.m. July 19 Alan Boyle, author of The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference (Wiley, 2010), and Ron Hobbs, NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about New Horizons and its discoveries about the Pluto system. You can grab a copy of Boyle’s book by clicking the link above or the photo at left; he’ll sign books after the talk. Also check out our previous Pluto coverage, including our review of three different Pluto books. The authors voted 2-1 against planethood.

All of the events are free with museum admission.

Sundial celebration

sundialThe Battle Point Astronomical Association had its equatorial bowstring sundial project on the drawing board for many years. A fundraising push in August and September of 2013 finally gave them the funds they needed to make the sundial a reality. It has been installed near their Edwin Ritchey Observatory in Bainbridge Island’s Battle Point Park; the photo at left was snapped during the installation back in May. BPAA will hold a celebration to dedicate the sundial at 1 p.m. Sunday July 19 in the park. Refreshments will be served, the observatory will be open for tours, and the club will have solar telescopes on hand for looking at the sun.

SAS looks at asteroid mining

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 in room A-102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. Engineer Krunal Desai of Planetary Resources will talk about their first spacecraft and its mission, due for deployment from the International Space Station next week.

TJO and the shape of the universe

Wednesday is open house night at the UW’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The event gets under way at 9 p.m. Unfortunately, the talk by students Riley Harris (engineering) and Rachel Morton (physics and astronomy) about the Shape of the Universe and Possible Implications of the Theories is already filled and the waiting list is closed, but other visitors can still get a tour of the observatory and a look through its vintage telescope.


The inside story on the Curiosity rover

Rob Manning has been sending things to Mars for 34 years. A Whidbey Island native who was inspired about space by the far-out stories he read in National Geographic and Colliers, Manning is now the Mars Program Engineering Manager for the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab‘s Mars Exploration Program. He gave a talk this month at the Museum of Flight based on his book, Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer (Smithsonian Books, 2014).

Rob Manning

Rob Manning, chief engineer for Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, gave a talk about the rover June 18 at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Manning opened his presentation by showing the now-famous video of the JPL crew during the “seven minutes of terror,” the lag between the moment of Curiosity’s landing on Mars and the moment when the team finally learned it had been a success. Engineers were laughing and crying and backslapping. Emotional engineers?

“We were very relieved,” Manning joked, noting that a lot of money had been spent on the mission and many of them had been working on it for many years. “We know how fragile these systems can be even though we put in an enormous amount of work to make them as reliable and sturdy as possible.”

“These are human enterprises,” he continued. “They are not built by institutions, they’re not built by abstract organizations. They’re just a bunch of people working together trying to make sure they didn’t make a mistake.”

NASA lost interest in Mars for a while after the Viking landers found a pretty sterile and hostile environment. Manning’s first mission was Mars Pathfinder, which he jokingly calls “the easy one.”

“One way to get good at something is to start simple,” Manning said, noting that the landing system for Pathfinder, which he called “a brick with wheels,” was even less complicated than that of Viking.

Manning said that each mission teaches lessons, even missions that fail, such as the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander. He said the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are essentially modified Pathfinders. Spirit and Opportunity, roving geologists, confirmed there was once water on Mars. The discovery raised questions that the roving geologists couldn’t answer, but that a roving geochemist could.

“The trouble is roving geochemists have a laboratory with all of this big lab equipment,” Manning said. “So we needed to figure out a way to take the lab equipment, shrink it down, put it in a rover, and send it to Mars.”

That became Curiosity, which Manning said has been doing great work.

“We’ve basically proven that Mars was a wet place, it had oceans, it had seas, it had a lot of water long ago,” he said, adding that early, simple life forms could have been perfectly happy there. Were they? We don’t know yet.

Next up is Mars 2020, which will collect rock and soil samples on Mars for a potential future return to Earth.

“We haven’t had the name-the-rover contest yet,” Manning joked. Its design will essentially be based on Curiosity, though in this case they are going to re-invent the wheels. Curiosity’s wheels have been punctured by sharp rocks that are essentially immovable, locked in place in Martian sediments.

“This is a failure of our imagination,” Manning said. “We had sharp rocks in our Mars yard (where they test out designs on Earth), but they weren’t glued down.” He said 2020’s wheels will be similar, but stronger, and not much heavier.

Manning’s current work is on that mission, and he’s also busy cooking up ways to slow down and land even larger and heavier spacecraft with an eye toward a possible human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Manning said that, because of its thin atmosphere, “Mars is not a very good place to land.”

We expect they’ll come up with a way to do it.


One-sided race to the Moon nearly derailed

It’s a popular narrative that the race to land a man on the Moon in the 1960s was launched by President John F. Kennedy in a speech to Congress in May of 1961, and was a gung-ho, nonstop effort until the goal was achieved in 1969. In fact, the space policy expert Dr. John M. Logsdon says the whole thing was nearly undone in 1963.

John Logsdon

Space policy expert Dr. John Logsdon spoke June 13 at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Logsdon is the founder and longtime director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University and author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and After Apollo?: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). He gave a talk titled, “John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and the American Space Program” last weekend at the Museum of Flight.

Logsdon pointed out some interesting contrasts between the two presidents. Richard Nixon was an early space booster, arguing for a civilian space agency when he was Vice President under Dwight Eisenhower. Some historians think of Nixon as the father of NASA. Meanwhile Kennedy didn’t have much interest in space until the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit in April of 1961. This got Kennedy’s attention, and he gave his advisors the task of coming up with a space effort that the United States could win. Their answer was landing on the Moon, and that became Kennedy’s goal.

“It had very little to do with a view of humanity’s future in space or some romantic image of the space frontier,” Logsdon explained. “This was a Cold War, deliberate act of competition, seeing space as an area to demonstrate which social system, which governmental system was superior.”

Ramping up space spending

“Kennedy not only talked the talk, but he backed up his rhetoric with commitment,” Logsdon added. “This was a war-like mobilization of human and financial resources.”

Indeed, the NASA budget nearly doubled the first year and more than doubled again the second, and the skyrocketing cost came under considerable criticism. Kennedy was sensitive to this for a couple of reasons. He was concerned about the political impact of the Apollo program losing support, and worried that spending on space could be a negative in his 1964 re-election campaign. There was some talk of cutting the budget or relaxing the end-of-decade timeline for the goal. Kennedy also spoke openly of making the quest for a Moon a cooperative venture with the Soviet Union. Logsdon said that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev originally expressed some interest in the idea, but was talked out of it by advisors worried that cooperation would reveal that the Russians really didn’t have lunar launch capability.

The one-sided race

“The United States was racing only itself,” Logsdon said of that lack of capability. “The Soviet Union, as of September of 1963, didn’t have a lunar program” and, in fact, didn’t decide to try until 1964.

“It was not reality as long as Kennedy was president. It became reality by the end of the decade,” Logsdon said.

Kennedy visited the launch center in Florida on Nov. 16, 1963 and was impressed by the rockets and the facilities.

“This visit excited Kennedy,” Logsdon said. “He came away from the visit full of regained enthusiasm for the program.”

On Nov. 21 Kennedy made a speech in San Antonio in which he said that the conquest of space must and will go ahead. He was assassinated the next day, and that ended any possibility that Apollo would be scrubbed. It became a memorial to the fallen president. Logsdon said it is interesting to speculate about what might have happened if JFK had lived or if Khrushchev had said “yes” to collaboration.

Logsdon said he doesn’t see Kennedy as a visionary in terms of humanity’s future in space.

“He was rather a pragmatic politician that saw a leadership-oriented space program as in the national interest in the particular situation of the early 1960s. He chose the lunar landing as a way of demonstrating the capabilities of this country,” Logsdon said.

Nixon and Apollo

Nixon was sworn in as president six months to the day before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon with Apollo 11.

“Unlike Kennedy, who saw space in geopolitical and foreign policy terms, Nixon viewed the space program as an issue of domestic politics: of technology, of innovation, of job creation, of something that is part of what the government does to stimulate society,” Logsdon said.

He contends that Nixon made three key decisions about space. He didn’t set a grand goal like going to the Moon or Mars. He opted to treat space exploration as just another one of the things that government does, nothing special. And his administration approved the space shuttle, though Logsdon said they chose to, “build a program around the shuttle without a long-term goal for the shuttle to serve.”

Logsdon said there may have been some wisdom there. A big goal, and an accompanying big budget, could have been a target, while a small, sustainable space program didn’t attract much opposition.

“Nixon was totally convinced of the importance of human spaceflight and of keeping astronauts in orbit, and that human spaceflight was essential to a U.S. leadership position,” Logsdon said. “He was intrigued by the various national security uses of the shuttle, which never happened.”

Naturally, electoral politics entered into it as well. The shuttle program created jobs in California, and Nixon needed to win California to gain re-election.

Logsdon is an engaging speaker and used a lot of video and audio clips in his presentation. His books are worth a look for anyone interested in the history of the space program. To buy the books click the links or book covers above, or visit the Seattle Astronomy Store.

More reading:


Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of June 15

Summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere this week, there will be an array of public astronomy events, and we celebrate a couple of anniversaries of women in space.

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 17 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. As of this writing, the guest speaker presentation was still listed as TBA; watch the SAS website for updates.


The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Later that evening, starting at 9 p.m., the University of Washington will host one of its bi-monthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. Rebecca Kemmerer, a senior in physics and astronomy, will give a talk titled, “Stars and Their Place in the Milky Way.” Kemmerer’s presentation will include a discussion of the different types of stars in our galaxy and the ways that their masses influence how they are born, live, and die. It’s free, but reservations are strongly encouraged for the talk; the classroom is small and fills up quickly! Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand to give tours of the observatory and, if weather permits—and we’re optimistic it will!—will offer a look through the facility’s vintage telescope.

Women in space

Two anniversaries of women in space come up this week. Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the first woman in space when she flew on Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. That flight is still the only solo space flight by a woman. Twenty years and two days later, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman to fly in space when she launched on the crew of the Challenger and STS-7. Ride has been on our pages a lot of late. Her birthday was May 26, and we also enjoyed Lynn Sherr‘s recent biography of the astronaut, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space (Simon and Schuster, 2014). Sherr was in Seattle last year and spoke about Ride.

Busy Saturday of astro events

There will be a lot to choose from for astronomy enthusiasts on Saturday, June 20. The day’s festivities kick off with a talk by Rob Manning, the chief engineer for the Mars rover Curiosity. Manning will talk about his book, Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer (Smithsonian Books, 2014). The talk will be at 2 p.m. at the Museum of Flight. For our money the landing of Curiosity on Mars was one of our greatest engineering achievements. Here’s a chance to get the inside story. Pick up the book in advance. Manning will sign copies after his presentation.

Summer begins Sunday at the solstice, which happens at 9:38 a.m. Pacific time. Saturday evening Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info will host a solstice sunset watch at Solstice Park in West Seattle, with the gathering beginning about 8:45 p.m. for the sunset, which will be at about 9 p.m. Enevoldsen is a NASA Solar System Ambassador, and this will be her 25th seasonal sunset watch at the park. They’re fun and informative!

The Seattle Astronomical Society will host two public star parties June 20, at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both will begin at 9 p.m., weather permitting. The Tacoma Astronomical Society also plans a public night Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. Presenter Chuck Jacobsen will talk about the Sun, and, weather permitting, members will be on hand with telescopes for a look at what’s up in the sky.

Happy Father’s Day

In case it slipped your mind, Father’s Day is June 21, and we think dear old dad would love a telescope, eyepiece, or astronomy book as a present! There’s a lovely selection of such things in the Seattle Astronomy Store!