Tag Archives: Museum of Flight

At SpaceUp Seattle

We’re up and running at SpaceUp Seattle at the Museum of Flight!

SpaceUp agendaAs we reported earlier this week, SpaceUp is an unconference, at which all of the participants can suggest topics and decide what to talk about. It really works! Here’s a photo of the agenda for today–dozens of topics were suggested and the most popular made the grid, easily moved around with masking tape!

I’m at the first session, an overview of Blue Origin. There are also folks here from SpaceX and Planetary Resources. But there also will be civilian-led topics, including discussions of space law, storytelling, and how to get more public support for space travel and exploration.

SpaceUp Seattle goes on today and tomorrow. We’ll file occasional dispatches.


SpaceUp Seattle symposium at Museum of Flight next weekend

Space exploration enthusiasts in the Northwest will have a chance to share their ideas with professionals in the commercial spaceflight industry at a two-day symposium next weekend. SpaceUp Seattle is scheduled for April 13-14 at the Museum of Flight.

Organizer Forest Gibson said attendees of SpaceUp Seattle will actually get to participate much more directly than they get to during Q&A sessions at the typical conference. In fact, SpaceUp is an un-conference; there will be no set agenda and anyone who shows up can choose a topic, give a talk, or make a presentation.

SpaceUp Seattle“It’s about the people who are at the un-conference deciding what they want to talk about,” Gibson explained. “This means there’s never any misalignment in terms of what people really want to hear, because it’s being decided in that moment.” So any topic is possible, from asteroid mining to model rockets.

Industry players such as Boeing, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Planetary Resources are expected to be there, but they won’t necessarily drive the conversation. In fact, Gibson said that for the professionals SpaceUp provides a chance to listen.

“Whether it’s just amateur enthusiasts or industry professionals, they get a feel where people’s interests really lie and what their concerns are,” Gibson said. “Having their ears to the ground about what non-professionals are concerned about is something they should be paying attention to.”

Gibson said there will be plenty at the un-conference for the casual observer, astronomy blogger, or aspiring space explorer. “It’s a chance to go and spend some time with a lot of other people who are interested in the same things,” he noted. “Especially with something that’s so new, you don’t know what opportunities could exist for you for being more involved in what’s happening professionally.”

In Gibson’s view it is important that SpaceUp Seattle go for two days. Participants will get comfortable with the process on day one, and really dive in the second day. So don’t worry—while you can give your own presentation if you’d like, there won’t be a pop quiz about Newton’s Third Law.

“It facilitates and encourages participation, but doesn’t require it,” Gibson said of the SpaceUp format.

There have been more than a dozen SpaceUps around the world over the last year and a half or so, and Gibson notes that while there is a core group of organizers, the effort isn’t really centralized. He expects that if next weekend’s event goes well, Seattle will have another within a year or so. After all, many commercial space companies are based in the Northwest, and with participants setting the agenda on the spot, the conversation won’t get stale.

SpaceUp Seattle runs at the Museum of Flight from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday, April 13, and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 15. The museum also is hosting a Yuri’s Night celebration on Friday, April 12, so it will be a full weekend of space observances.

Admission to SpaceUp Seattle is $35 for Museum of Flight members, $40 for non-members. Get tickets here.

More information is available on the SpaceUp website. SpaceUp is also on Facebook and Twitter.


Spacewalker Ross visits shuttle trainer in Seattle

Jerry Ross

Astronaut Jerry Ross flew on seven space shuttle missions. He spoke March 1 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Photo: NASA

Retired astronaut Jerry Ross figures he spent upwards of 1,200 hours in the NASA Full Fuselage Trainer preparing for his seven space shuttle flights. It was with mixed emotions that Ross spoke earlier this month at a dinner in his honor, held next to the trainer, which is now on exhibit at Seattle’s Musuem of Flight.

“It’s kind of sad to see it here, frankly,” Ross said of the trainer. “I’m glad that you have it; I’m glad that it didn’t go to a scrap heap somewhere. But I know that the fun years of the space shuttle program are behind us.”

Still, Ross acknowledged that the space shuttle, in use for more than 30 years, was getting a bit worse for wear.

“It was probably time to retire it and go on to something else,” he said. “Unfortunately, that something else hasn’t happened yet.”

Ross spent a couple of days at the museum promoting his new book, Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer. He said that a main reason he wrote it was to encourage young people to chase their dreams.

“I wanted them to understand that I had a dream as a young person, and I felt that God had designed me to be an astronaut,” Ross explained. He kept scrapbooks about space as a kid in Indiana, and learned from the news articles that he clipped that engineers and scientists, especially  those from Indiana’s Purdue University, were playing an important role. Ross said his dream was crystallized when Sputnik went up.

“I was in fourth grade, and based upon what I knew I decided I was going to go to Purdue University, that I was going to become an engineer, and that I was going to become involved in our country’s space program,” he said. “I really didn’t know what an engineer did, but I knew it was engineers who were doing what I wanted to go do.”

He did it, and flew on as many space missions as anyone. Space runs in the family—his daughter is a Purdue engineering grad and works on space suit design, and his wife, who majored in home economics at Purdue, eventually headed up the program that made food for the shuttle flights.

“I’ve told people for many years the only time I got a home-cooked meal after she took that job was when I flew in space,” Ross joked.

Ross said that being launched into space aboard the space shuttle was an incredible experience.

“One-hundred-eight feet tall, weighed four-and-a-half million pounds,” he said of the shuttle. “We generated over six and a half million pounds of thrust at liftoff. And that’s a real kick in the pants. Disney would have had to get a double-E ticket for that!”

Ross said that he was well prepared for his first flight, but that it was really impossible to actually know how it would feel.

“About 15 seconds after lifting off, I thought to myself, ‘Ross, what are you doing here?’ There was much more shaking and vibration, there was much more noise as the wind was just screaming by the windows of the orbiter, it was much more exciting than I expected.”


Ross drew a nice crowd to the Museum of Flight for his March 1 talk in the shadow of the Full Fuselage Trainer, on exhibit in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

He said he wasn’t exactly afraid, but added, “You can’t strap on six and a half million pounds of thrust and not be a little bit apprehensive about it. If you aren’t, then you really don’t understand what’s happening.”

“I went back six more times, so it wasn’t too bad,” he added.

Ross said the only time he came close to quitting was after the Challenger disaster. He had a young family to support, and they discussed it at length.

“It took some serious thought and prayer,” he said, but they decided not to quit. “If we did we would let down our friends who we lost on the Challenger. To allow them to die and not pursue with even more vigor and dedication what they had done would have been a mistake.”

The Museum of Flight held the dinner next to the shuttle trainer in homage to a similar event NASA hosted for Queen Elizabeth II in Houston in 1991. The dinner with Ross was well-attended, and indications are that the museum will host more such events to allow some low-key and more personal conversation with celebrity aviation visitors.



Spacewalker Ross to speak at MOF dinner

Back in 1991 NASA hosted a dinner for Queen Elizabeth II next to its space shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Now that the FFT is at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, they’re holding a similar event. The museum doesn’t have the Queen, but the special guest, Jerry Ross, is arguably the “king” of astronauts. Ross flew on seven shuttle missions—that’s tied for the record—and his 1,393 hours in space include more than 58 hours on nine EVAs. It’s fitting, then, that his new book is titled Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer.

The evening with Ross will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 1 next to the shuttle trainer in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight. A reception with no-host bar will be followed by dinner at 6:30, catered by McCormick & Schmick’s. Tickets are $135 for the general public and $115 for museum members. The price includes an autographed copy of Spacewalker.

Visit the museum’s website for more information and a link to a ticket purchase site. If you’re interested, be sure to get tickets by Feb. 21; there will be no ticket sales at the door.

If you can’t make the dinner, Ross also will speak at the museum at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 2. He’ll sign books after the lecture, which is free with admission to the museum.


NASA administrator tours shuttle trainer exhibit at Museum of Flight

NASA Adminstrator Charles Bolden says Seattle’s Museum of Flight scored big when it landed the space agency’s Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) for permanent exhibit.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Bolden flew four shuttle missions and trained in the FFT, as did all shuttle astronauts. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“I think the Museum of Flight won the prize when it comes to education,” Bolden said during a tour of the exhibit this week at the museum’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. “No other place with an orbiter can do what is done here. No other place can have somebody essentially walk in the same footsteps that John Glenn, John Young, other people walked when they go through the payload bay or they go up on the flight deck or the mid-deck. That’s actually where we trained.”

When NASA announced at the end of the shuttle program that it would award the retired orbiters to museums around the country, it set off an intense competition between some two dozen institutions that all wanted one of the prized artifacts. The Museum of Flight went all-in and built the $12 million, 15,500 square-foot space gallery with no guarantee that it would receive a shuttle. When Bolden announced two years ago that the shuttles would go elsewhere, Museum of Flight President and CEO Doug King recognized that being able to go into the FFT would be a great draw for visitors. Sure enough, it’s been very busy since the exhibit opened in November.

Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden speaks to reporters at the Museum of Flight Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It’s been huge,” King said. “We had record attendance all through the holidays and on into this year.” He added that a special education program, though which a small number of visitors actually visit the crew cabin, has sold out every weekend.

The exhibit is truly impressive. For one thing, the FFT is gigantic. I attended several events in the space gallery before the trainer arrived, and the room is enormous. The FFT virtually fills it. The gallery includes a half-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, perhaps the most famous payload ever carried by a shuttle, and a mockup of the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage that was used to launch satellites into space from the shuttle. There’s also a Soyuz capsule, a Charon Test Vehicle from Blue Origin, and information about many of the commercial spaceflight efforts in the works. These may well be the source for future additions to the exhibit; King already has his eye on one of the Dragon vehicles being flown by SpaceX, and envisions an “arrivals” board for the gallery that identifies what is flying in next. Bolden added that exhibits about the commercial space ventures are important to inspire kids who are the next generation of engineers, space adventurers, and dreamers.

King says he expects the museums with the flown orbiters also will create fantastic exhibits.

Charles Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden emerges from the hatch of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer, now on exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, during a tour Jan. 15, 2013. Every shuttle astronaut used that hatch and trained in the FFT. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“The one in Los Angeles already looks great, and the building they’re eventually going to put it in will be spectacular,” he said. “We’ll encourage everybody to go see it, then come here and go inside.”

Bolden flew on four shuttle missions and spent countless hours training in the FFT, so for him the museum’s exhibit brings on fond memories, and some painful ones. He joked about using the trainer to practice emergency escapes from the shuttle, and said every astronaut had just one thought in mind during the exercises.

“Do not fall off the rope. You don’t want to look bad,” he laughed, noting that there were always cameras recording the training. “You did not want to be memorialized as one who slipped and fell and looked like an idiot laying down there on the mat.”

The FFT is a most interesting exhibit. Go walk in the footsteps of the astronauts and check it out at the Museum of Flight. Watch the slideshow below for a preview, and for more scenes from Bolden’s visit!



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!”