Tag Archives: Museum of Flight

See it happen: Curiosity arrives at Mars Sunday


The Museum of Flight had a full-size model of the Mars Science Lab Curiosity on exhibit back in 2010. The real one is set to land on Mars next Sunday. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The search for life on Mars will get a lot more serious next Sunday when the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” lands on the Red Planet. At least, we hope it’s a successful landing. “The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator. “This is risky business.”

At least two public gatherings are planned in Seattle for watching the historic landing attempt. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will host a viewing event at The Kenney, 7125 Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle, beginning at 10 p.m. August 5.

At the Museum of Flight they’ll celebrate MarsFest 2012 beginning at 6:30 p.m. that evening. Events will include Mars-related family activities and games, Mars exploration and spaceflight engineer speakers, and a live link-up with The Planetary Society’s Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena, starring Bill Nye.

The actual landing is scheduled for about 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time August 5; if you don’t want to be out late that evening you can watch the coverage of the landing on NASA TV. That coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. Pacific.

NASA engineer Kobie Boykins, who worked on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, gave a talk in Seattle back in May of 2010 about the challenges of making a successful landing on Mars, calling the time of radio silence between safe landing, or crash, “six minutes of terror.” NASA has pushed that up to seven minutes for Curiosity, which is a much more challenging landing because the rover is much bigger, and cannot land with the inflatable bouncing balls used with the previous smaller rovers.

If you’re not up to speed on the Curiosity mission, the video of the NASA news conference below, published July 16, includes a lot of information about the mission and landing day.


A hell of a good universe: let’s go!

“This is the century of human exploration in space,” astronaut Bonnie Dunbar told the audience at a Science Luminaries event, part of the Seattle Science Festival, last night at the Museum of Flight. It was an interesting declaration as Dunbar and fellow space shuttle astronaut George “Pinky” Nelson, who also spoke at the event, are among the space pioneers of the previous century.

The Pacific Science Center has been the lead organizer of the festival. The Space Luminaries event leaned heavily toward the awe and wonder and dreams of science. It included art, too, as members of Seattle Opera performed selections from “The Little Prince”  and members of Seattle Aerial Arts performed dances called “Weightlessness” and “Space.”

Bonnie Dunbar

Bonnie Dunbar. Photo: NASA.

Dunbar told her story of being inspired by the night sky while growing up in the tiny town of Outlook in the Yakima Valley. The stars got her reading Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and dreaming about building her own spaceship and flying in it. Her eighth-grade teacher encouraged her to take algebra, a college physics professor nudged her toward engineering, and she eventually did build spaceships and flew on five shuttle missions.

“I was lucky because along the way I had very special people who let me dream,” Dunbar said. “I was always encouraged to share my goals, not to be bashful about them. Always to try to achieve excellence and do the best I could at everything, because in the end that’s really what helps us go forward.”

Nelson’s first shuttle mission was to repair the Solar Maximum satellite, the first time NASA had tried to rendezvous with and fix something already in orbit. He said there were two main objectives for the mission.

“One, it was an expensive solar observatory and we wanted to restore it so the scientists could do their work,” Nelson said. “The other—this was in 1984, at the height of the Cold War—we wanted to show the Russians that we could pluck a satellite out of the sky and do whatever we wanted with it.”

Even with such a serious mission, Nelson said that, as he left the shuttle un-tethered and floated out toward SolarMax, the little kid in him took over.

Pinky Nelson

George "Pinky" Nelson. Photo: NASA.

“One of the coolest things that an astronaut gets to do is go outside,” he said of the experience. He recalled looking around, at the shuttle and the Earth below and thinking, “I can’t believe they let me do this!”

Nelson, now director of science, mathematics, and technology education at Western Washington University, is not shedding any tears at the end of the space shuttle era.

“The space shuttle is an amazing engineering achievement,” he said, adding, “I think it’s appropriate that they retired it. The technology is pretty old. It’s time to move on and do something else.”

The something else is private industry, and various companies are working on spacecraft to get people and cargo to and from low-Earth orbit.

“They are incredibly important and valuable, and I wish them success,” Nelson said. “I hope they all get filthy rich and bring a lot more people into space than we have in the past. But it’s not an easy thing to do.”

One of those giving it a shot is Sierra Nevada Space Systems, whose head Mark Sirangelo was the evening’s final speaker. Sirangelo is another dreamer who was flying airplanes before he could drive motor vehicles.

Mark Sirangelo

Mark Sirangelo. Photo: Sierra Nevada Space Systems.

“Life is really about passion and love,” Sirangelo said. “One of the wonderful things about being in this industry is that you really get the sense of passion. You get a lot of people like Pinky and Bonnie who looked up to the stars and said, ‘I want to do something.’”

Sirangelo has certainly done something, too. Sierra Nevada has been part of missions to the Sun, Moon, and seven planets. It built part of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity that is on its way to the Red Planet, and worked on the system that we hope will land it there safely in August. Their big project is a re-usable spacecraft—the Dream Chaser.

“We called it the Dream Chaser for a reason,” Sirangelo said. “You can follow your dreams. You can go out and do things that are amazing. You can go out and push the boundaries.”

Sirangelo said they did some testing of Dream Chaser just a few weeks ago, and it seemed to excite and energize people. They tried to keep it low-key, but he drily noted that flying a spaceship over Denver was bound to attract attention, and the company received much correspondence and art inspired by the spacecraft.

“That’s what this is really about,” he said, “to be able to inspire the future of who we are and what we’re about. That’s how I was inspired as a little boy to start building things and looking to the stars.”

“Virtually everybody who is in the industry felt that way,” he added.

Dunbar, who is heading up Boeing‘s efforts on higher education and STEM strategic workforce planning, continues to dream of a Moon base or a human flight to Mars and figures it’s not “if” but “who” and “when.”

“We must not forget to explore,” Dunbar said. “We need to inspire the next generation to help us go forward. No nation has ever suffered from exploring, but those nations that have stopped exploring have disappeared into history.”

Nelson said he thinks that art and exploration are the most important things we can do to improve our quality of life and standard of living.

“I’ve been lucky as an educator and a scientist and as an astronaut to be a part of exploration in lots of ways,” he said. “Exploration of physical space, exploration of  ideas; to me there’s nothing more important than that.”

He finished his talk by quoting a line from a favorite poem by e.e. cummings:

“There’s a hell of a good universe next door. Let’s go!”



ShuttleFest to celebrate arrival of crew section of shuttle trainer

Can that thing really fly? The NASA "Super Guppy" cargo plane will deliver the crew cabin of the space shuttle full fuselage trainer to the Museum of Flight in Seattle June 30, and will remain on display at the museum over the weekend. Photo: NASA.

The Museum of Flight is throwing a week-long shindig to celebrate the delivery of the main attraction of its new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. The 28-foot-long crew cabin section of the space shuttle full-fuselage trainer, the museum’s take from the end of the shuttle program, will be delivered June 30 aboard NASA’s “Super Guppy” cargo plane.

The Super Guppy will be piloted by astronaut and West Seattle native Greg Johnson, who will bring it in over Lake Washington and the Seattle Center before landing at Boeing Field at about 11 a.m. June 30. The plane and its cargo will be welcomed at a special ceremony by museum brass, local politicos, former astronauts, the Sounders band, and TV personality Steve Pool, who will be the Master of Cermonies for the event.

The Super Guppy will remain at the museum for the weekend, open for tours on Sunday, July 1, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Johnson will give a talk about the astronaut biz that day at 2 p.m.

The space shuttle crew cabin is being separated from the fuselage at NASA Johnson Space Center before its delivery to The Museum of Flight. Photo: NASA.

ShuttleFest will include three book signings during the following week. Ted Huetter, public relations manager at the Museum of Flight, will autograph copies of his book, Edwards Air Force Base (Images of Aviation), July 2. Huetter was an aviation writer at the base during the 1990s. Sam Howe Verhovek will sign copies of his book Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World July 3. Dr. Dean Hunter, author of For Love of Life and Country, will autograph his book July 6. All of the book signings will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the museum. Books are available at the museum store, or through the links above.

The week’s festivities conclude with a Boogie Woogie Hangar Dance at the museum Saturday, July 7 from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. The dance will feature the legendary Harry James Orchestra with the incomparable horn of Fred Radke and the captivating vocals of Gina Funes. Tickets are $25 for museum members, $30 for general public, and are available online.


Company aims to turn sci-fi of asteroid mining into profitable fact

Planetary Resources, Inc. held a coming-out party at Seattle’s Museum of Flight Tuesday morning, with co-founder and co-chairman Peter Diamandis spelling out the simple, yet audacious, aim of the company.

“The vision of Planetary Resources is to make the resources of space available to man both in space and here on Earth,” he said.

Planetary Resources

The leadership of Planetary Resources, Inc. gathered at the Museum of Flight April 24 for a news conference to talk about the company's plans to mine asteroids. From L-R: Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson, Chris Lewicki, and Tom Jones. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Diamandis acknowledged the wild, science-fiction nature of the notion of sending robots to asteroids to mine them for the resources we need on Earth and to further explore space. In fact, he gives sci-fi credit for shaping his personal dreams, held since his early teens, of being an asteroid miner.

“Part of it is the spirit of extraordinary writers and artists like Heinlein and Clarke and Bonestell who envisioned what the future would look like,” he said. “Ultimately my passion about opening up space makes the vision of asteroid mining not only a reality, but something that we need to do.”

The company is on a fast track. Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman, said they plan to launch their first spacecraft within 24 months, and seemed a bit taken aback at the enthusiastic applause the announcement generated.

“This company is not about paper studies. This company is not about thinking and dreaming about asteroid mining,” Anderson said. “This company is about creating a space economy beyond the Earth. It’s about building real hardware. It’s about doing real things in space to move the needle forward.”

The concept is attractively simple. Use private investors and innovators to drive down the cost of space exploration. Get the technology up in space to start examining the nine thousand near-Earth asteroids to determine which might be rich in water and precious minerals useful here on the home planet and to those who may further explore space. Send up robots to mine those materials and bring them home.

Sure, it may sound easy.

“It’s very difficult, no question,” Diamandis said, “but the return economically and the benefits for humanity are extraordinary.”

Anderson agreed.

“There will be times when we fail, there will be times when we have to pick up the pieces and try again. But we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about it, we’re just going to do it.”

Planetary Resources is based in Bellevue, Wash. Chris Lewicki, the company’s president and chief engineer, said they looked at a lot of places before settling on the Seattle area.


A model of the Arkyd 101, the space telescope Planetary Resources plans to launch within the next 24 months to start prospecting for asteroids to mine. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Some of our investors were here, some of our partners were here, and it’s a beautiful place to live,” Lewicki said in explaining the choice. “All of the infrastructure and the industry that’s in the area is what we need to be able to do this.”

The company has been in existence since 2009 under the name Arkyd Aeronautics. Planetary Resources spacecraft will bear the Arkyd name. Part of the reason they’re going public with a big splash now is that they need to hire more engineers, according to Lewicki. Diamandis added that the game has changed.

“There’s a rising tide going on right now in commercial space,” he said, noting the booming investment in launch technology and in lunar and asteroid missions. Having more capital is a big deal. “That changes the equation and allows us to go much further much faster than ever before in opening up space for the benefit of all.”

The investors, for the most part, remained on the sideline, though one of them, Ross Perot, Jr., praised the effort by telephone and Charles Simonyi was on hand to make a few remarks.

“I don’t think this would be an appropriate investment for NASA,” Simonyi said of the venture. “I think that this is where private enterprise comes in. The genius of the system is that private investors can take the risks.”

“I’m very excited about what you guys are doing, I’m very proud of you and feel privileged to be a part of it,” he added.

They’ve certainly generated some buzz. A large group of reporters turned out for the news conference and hundreds of people chipped in $25 for lunch to hear about it first hand. It’s fair to say most of them are boosters. It will be interesting to watch the dream unfold.



Company’s big goal to expand Earth’s resource base

Planetary Resources logo

A new company to be formally launched tomorrow during a news conference at Seattle’s Museum of Flight will take wing with the ambitious goal to “expand Earth’s resource base.”

A news release from Planetary Resources, Inc. through the museum calls the company:

…a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity’s prosperity…[T]he company will overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

This may sound pretty lofty, but the company may have the coin to pull it off. The release lists an impressive group of investors, including billionaire space tourist and former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi; Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt; film maker James Cameron; K. Ram Shriram, an early Google investor and founder of Sherpalo; and Ross Perot, Jr., chairman of Hillwood Development Corporation and The Perot Group.

As reported here last week, the April 24 news conference and luncheon will include presentations by Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, Ltd.; Peter H. Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation; Astronaut Tom Jones; and Chris Lewicki, former NASA Mars rover and lander flight director and mission manager. All are now listed as investors in and/or advisors to Planetary Resources, Inc.

Seattle Astronomy will attend the event Tuesday and file a full report.


Seattle Museum of Flight set to reveal future of space exploration

The Museum of Flight is promising a glimpse at the future of space exploration at an event next Tuesday, April 24. An invitation sent to museum patrons last week touted the “opportunity to discover what the next great advancement of humanity will be.” The invite went on to say:

A new company will be unveiling its mission to revolutionize current space exploration activities and ultimately create a better standard of living on Earth. Don’t miss your opportunity to be among the first to find out what’s next from the world’s leading commercial space pioneers and the people who will chart the future.

Simonyi Gallery

The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight in Seattle will be the site of a news conference and luncheon Tuesday, April 24 about the future of space exploration. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The April 24 event in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the museum gets under way at 10:30 a.m. and includes a news conference and luncheon with presentations. The lineup of space luminaries scheduled to attend includes:

  • Charles Simonyi, billionaire space tourist and museum benefactor
  • Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, Ltd.
  • Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., chairman of the X Prize Foundation
  • Astronaut Tom Jones, Ph. D.
  • Chris Lewicki, former NASA Mars rover and lander flight director and mission manager

After the luncheon, starting at about 1:30 p.m., Diamandis and Jones will sign books for attendees. Diamandis is a co-author of Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think and Jones penned several books, including Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System and Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir.

Cost for the event is $25. You can find more information and pay online at the Museum of Flight website.

Seattle Astronomy will attend the event and post a full report.

Keep up on local astronomy events by following the Seattle Astronomy calendar.


Mars in focus at observatory and museum

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory

The first open house of the year at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the UW campus will be held Wednesday, April 4. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Another sign of spring arrives this week in Seattle. Twice-monthly open houses resume at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus. The first event of the year will be held Wednesday, April 4 beginning at 8 p.m.

Dr. Ana Larson, senior lecturer at UW who is the observatory director, will give a talk titled “You Are the First Kid on Mars” based on the book by Patrick O’Brien. Larson will explore effects of microgravity in space, the lower gravity of Mars, and what it might be like should we ever really colonize Mars. Reservations are strongly recommended as the classroom at the observatory holds only 45 people. Mars is just a month past opposition and in prime position for observing. If the weather cooperates visitors will be able to get a look at the Red Planet through the observatory’s vintage telescope, operated by volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society. Even if it is cloudy, tours of the observatory are fun and informative.

Open houses at Jacobsen Observatory will be held the first and third Wednesday of every month through October.

Mars will be in the spotlight this weekend at the Museum of Flight, where visitors will be able to take a simulated voyage to the Red Planet through the museum’s Challenger Learning Center. The mission starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 7. Call 206-764-1384 to pre-register. Cost, which includes museum admission, is $15 for adults, $10 for youth under 18, $3 off for museum members.

Keep up with local happenings by visiting the Seattle Astronomy Calendar.