Tag Archives: Museum of Flight

Mars Insider gives the scoop on Red Planet missions

To work for the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) it would probably be helpful if you had some juggling skills.

“At JPL we have 24 flying missions in deep space,” said spacecraft engineer Terry Himes, who has had a hand on most of those craft. Himes gave a talk titled “Mars Insider” recently at the Museum of Flight.

Terry Himes

NASA JPL spacecraft engineer Terry Himes spoke at the Museum of Flight April 29, 2017 about his work on various missions. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Our job as spacecraft engineers is to keep the health and welfare of the spacecraft,” Himes said, and that’s a job that doesn’t always line up with the science goals of the mission.

“The science guys want to go to the worst possible places on the planet,” Himes laughed. “They want to go to horrifying places and land in crevasses and do all kids of crazy stuff. We (engineers) want to land on flat, sandy plains.”

Thus choosing a place to land is a battle from day one and can often be a lengthy discussion, Himes said. For the Mars Science Lab Curiosity, for example, the science team wanted to land as close as possible to Mount Sharp on Mars so they could explore the geology there. They were able to land in a tight spot by using the controlled descent of Curiosity’s incredible landing method. Himes noted that the target landing area for Mars missions, known as the “landing ellipse,” has been shrinking over the years. While Viking had a landing ellipse 300 kilometers long, they dropped Curiosity into a target of just 18 kilometers.

“It’s like hitting a golf ball in San Diego and making a hole-in-one in New York,” Himes said.

Once a lander is on the ground there’s another daily discussion about what it will do next. This is typically based on photos sent back from the activities of the previous sol, or Martian day. They consider interesting nearby objects, any hazards in the area, and the overall health of the rover. Himes noted that Curiosity’s wheels have taken a beating from hard and sharp rocks on Mars. He also related a funny story about the wheels.

A message in the sand

NASA had told the spacecraft team that they couldn’t put a logo or any other mention of JPL on Curiosity because the project involved all of NASA and scientists from other countries, too. They got around that by putting cutout grooves in the wheels that are Morse code for the letters, so that every time those wheels turn they leave J-P-L in the Martian sand.

“Don’t mess with engineers,” Himes laughed.

A little InSight about Mars

The next project for Himes will be InSight, which after a recent delay is now scheduled to launch next May and land on Mars in November of 2018. InSight, which is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport, will help us figure out how rocky planets form and evolve. The craft will be a modified version of Phoenix, another mission Himes worked on, which found ice near the north pole of Mars in 2008. InSight will have a couple of new instruments.

InSight The Mole

This artist’s concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander’s robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The first is the Heat flow and Physical Properties Probe, or HP3, which Himes says they’re calling simply “The Mole.”

“It’s a heat transfer mechanism,” Himes said. “We’re going to go into the surface of Mars and conduct heat experiments, see how much heat is there.” The mole will be driven some five meters into the ground on Mars.

The other instrument is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS, a “very broad band” seismometer sensitive enough to detect meteor strikes way on the other side of the planet. These two instruments will give scientists information about the inner workings of Mars.

There are a couple more Mars missions on the drawing board. Mars 2020 will be a lander much like Curiosity—NASA can save some cash by re-using spacecraft designs if they can serve the purpose—and it will look for signs of past microbial life on Mars, explore the possibility for creating oxygen in the Red Planet’s atmosphere, and do a variety of other experiments.

NeMO, the “next Mars orbiter,” will provide another communication link should a current orbiter fail, and it also could be part of a plan to return pieces of Mars to Earth.

“Mars 2020 may be depositing samples that it gathers in canisters and leaving them around,” Himes said, “and then NeMO may have something that’s going to go down to the surface, pick them up, and come back, and return to Earth.” Himes noted that plans for NeMO are still quite preliminary.

As these missions are developed it seems likely that Himes will be in the middle of it all.

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New Apollo exhibit opens at Museum of Flight next month

There’s a lot of excitement these days over at the Museum of Flight, where they’re working hard to complete their new Apollo exhibit by the time it opens for visitors on May 20, 2017. While the exhibit bears the name of the Moon-landing program, Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the museum, notes that it will cover lots of ground from the start of the space race after World War II through the post-Apollo 1970s.

Apollo“We’re trying to re-focus on the Apollo story, re-integrate Pete Conrad’s artifacts, and showcase these amazing artifacts that we received from NASA by way of Bezos Expeditions: actual, Apollo-flown, F-1 engines,” Nunn said.

We covered the event in November 2015 when Jeff Bezos formally presented the engines to the museum, restored after an amazing search, discovery, and recovery from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Nunn said the museum recently received a new artifact on loan: an intact F-1 engine that was originally set to launch Apollo 16, but was switched out after a fire. It took some fancy engineering to get an engine 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide and weighing nearly 20,000 pounds into the gallery. It will provide an interesting contrast to the engines Bezos recovered.

“Our F-1 engine survived a million and a half pounds of thrust and burning rocket fuel, it survived a strike by lightning, and then a plummet from the edge of space down to smash into the ocean, and then 40-plus years on the bottom of the ocean,” Nunn noted. “That is an artifact!”

See a bit of the first airplane

The engines are just one of several of what Nunn calls “crown jewels” in the Apollo exhibit, which also includes Deke Slayton’s astronaut pin and a fabulous new addition.

“We are receiving on loan from Neil Armstrong’s family a couple of pieces of the original Wright Flyer that were carried to the Moon by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11,” Nunn said. “They’re just little, tiny bits, but the first airplane made it to the Moon and we’re going to have a couple of those on display, so there’s going to be quite a few one-of-a-kind, amazing artifacts in this exhibit.”

Astronaut humor

Geoff Nunn

Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the Museum of Flight, at an event when the Apollo F-1 engines were formally presented to the museum in late 2015. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The exhibit will also bring back many items from astronaut Pete Conrad that were part of the past Rendezvous in Space exhibit that was displaced at the museum by the construction of its Alaska Airlines Aerospace Education Center. Among the inventory is a cap Conrad wore on the Apollo 12 mission. It’s a standard type of navy cap, but Conrad had a propeller added.

“That cap is really indicative of Pete’s personality,” Nunn laughed.

The cuff checklist Conrad used on the Moon also will be on display. These lists spelled out the various steps for different tasks the astronauts would do on the Moon. For Apollo 12, the ground crew also slipped in some cartoons and Playboy playmate photos. Nunn said it was quite a challenge to tell that story while keeping the exhibit G-rated.

“When it comes to amazing and notable and hilarious things, Apollo 12 is really a gold mine as far as Apollo missions go,” he said.

More cool stuff to come

Many of us of a certain age remember exactly where we were and what was going on when we watched the Moon landings on television in the midst of the tumultuous 1960s.

“One of the things that we’re really trying to capture is just how much the space program interplayed with the context of what was going on at the time,” Nunn said of the exhibit. He noted that the opening of the Apollo exhibit is just the first chapter in the museum’s storytelling about the program. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is doing some remodeling, and has created a traveling exhibit called Destination Moon that will visit four cities. It will be at the Museum of Flight from March 16 through September 2 in 2019.

“On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing—July 20, 2019—you can see Neil Armstrong’s space suit and the Apollo 11 command module here at the Museum of Flight,” Nunn beamed. “It’s going to be awesome.”


The museum’s annual Space Fest will coincide with the opening of the exhibit May 20 and 21. The schedule for a variety of events is still being finalized.

Podcast of our interview with Geoff Nunn:

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Mars astronauts would be “on their own” for medical care

Astronauts on a mission to Mars would essentially be on their own for medical care, according to NASA flight surgeon Dr. David Reyes. With resupply or mission evacuation impossible, and with difficulty in communicating with the ground, astronauts would have to be trained and equipped to provide their own care.

Reyes gave an interesting talk about the history of space medicine last weekend at the Museum of Flight. He noted that being a flight surgeon is the opposite of being a typical doctor.

David Reyes

NASA flight surgeon Dr. David Reyes gave a talk about the history of aerospace medicine April 8, 2017 at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Regular medicine is taking care of sick people in a normal environment,” Reyes said. “Aerospace medicine is taking care of healthy people in an abnormal or unusual environment.” He added that the astronauts are usually super healthy, but the environments they deal with are challenging to say the least.

Much of the job of the flight surgeon is to help determine the medical risks of space travel, to help come up with and test gear to avert those risks, and to help astronauts learn about symptoms of conditions they may encounter.

For example, astronauts in training are put into an altitude chamber, and the air is pumped out of the chamber to simulate the atmosphere at 21,000 feet above sea level. Then they take off their oxygen masks. Reyes said this makes them “goofy” with hypoxia.

“The reason we put them in this chamber is so that they can recognize those symptoms for themselves,” Reyes said. “Everyone has a unique response to low oxygen.” If they’ve experienced it they can recognize it in the event oxygen problems occur in flight.

Mission medical kits

It was fascinating to look at the evolution of medical kits for various missions. In the days of Mercury, the kit was essentially a few bandaids, aspirin, motion sickness pills, and a couple of other remedies. It was not much more than a prudent backpacker would take on a day hike. Mercury missions were short and the astronauts, strapped into a small capsule, didn’t have to do much physical activity.

Mercury Med Kit

A Mercury medical kit. Photo: NASA

With Gemini and Apollo the kits were expanded as the missions became longer and more active, but they still weren’t all that extensive.

“This is like everything you might have in your medicine cabinet at home,” Reyes noted of the kits.

By the time of Skylab each crew received 80 hours of paramedic training. The medical kit was huge and even included a dental kit. The space shuttle went far beyond the home medicine cabinet. The International Space Station has a Crew Medical Officer who is an astronaut with additional medical training. It carries an extensive medical kit with nine different packs. It also employs a Crew Health Care System or CHCS—pronounced “checks”—that is the first robust medical system for space missions.

Given all of that, Reyes pointed out that, “Nothing really serious has happened in space flight.” Astronauts on longer missions suffer bumps and bruises and rashes, and insomnia, but the most serious condition has been a urinary tract infection on one Apollo flight.

Bones and eyes

These days the two problems they’re studying the most are bone mass loss and visual impairment. They’ve known about the bone mass challenge for a while, and it’s why the astronauts spend at least two hours per day exercising. Without it, “We’d send a 40- or 50-year-old astronaut up and they’d come back looking like an 80-year-old after six months in the space station,” Reyes said.

The vision issues only became apparent in the last seven years or so, and Reyes said they’re still researching those. A couple of things happen to some astronauts: fluid buildup in the eye because of zero gravity, and change of eye shape. They’ve developed adjustable eyeglasses should astronauts develop vision problems in flight.

Mars poses challenges

Missions to Mars would provide medical as well as ethical challenges. On all space missions so far, flight surgeons on the ground have been able to offer advice and counsel. For Mars, the long lag for radio signals, up to 22 minutes for transmission, would make conversation difficult, and during the time Mars is on the other side of the Sun from Earth there would be no communication at all.

“When you go to Mars, basically you’re on your own,” Reyes said of the astronauts.

There is debate about how much medical equipment and medicine to take on a Mars mission. Every item launched on a mission represents a tradeoff in mass and cost and whatever might not go along. An even bigger, ethical question involves what happens if an astronaut suffers a serious injury.

“If you have a limited set of supplies, and somebody gets severly injured and will require a lot of care, how much care are you going to give them?” Reyes asked. “If you use up your whole med kit, that puts everybody else at risk. So you have to think, ‘Is there some point that we’re going to withdraw care because we’re jeopardizing the rest of the mission?’”

It’s an on-going area of discussion.

Why be a flight surgeon?

Like many of us who are interested in space and astronomy, Reyes caught the bug from television.

“When I was a kid I watched the Moon landing on TV,” he said. “A black and white TV at my parents’ house.” He thought it was the coolest thing ever.

“I’ve always had an interest in space,” he added. His undergraduate major was in geology, and he studied some planetary science. He then went into the Air Force and medicine. He filled a free month during his residency with an introduction to aerospace medicine course at the University of Texas. He was drawn in by the lectures from real flight surgeons.

“This is what I want to do,” he learned.

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Lawrence Krause talk, other events this week

An appearance by award-winning theoretical physicist and best-selling author Lawrence Krauss is the highlight of this week’s busy area astronomy events calendar.

Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek (Basic Books, 2007) and A Universe From Nothing (Atria Books, 2012), will speak at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12. He’ll talk about his new book, The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far: Why Are We Here? (Atria Books, 2017). The book explores the furthest reaches of space and time and the natural forces that govern our existence. Krauss challenges us to re-envision ourselves and our place within the universe.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Yuri’s afternoon

Wednesday is the 56th anniversary of the date cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in orbit around the Earth. April 12 has since become known as “Yuri’s Night,” though many celebrations are sprinkled around the month. The Museum of Flight will observe Yuri’s Night on Saturday afternoon, April 15, at two o’clock. Professor Linda Dawson, author of the newly released The Politics and Perils of Space Exploration: Who Will Compete, Who Will Dominate? (Springer Praxis Books, 2017), will discuss her book about the “New Space” race and sign copies afterward.

Dawson, who served as Aerodynamics Officer for the Mission Control Center Ascent and Entry Flight Control Teams during the first space shuttle mission, is a senior lecturer in physical science and statistics at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and serves on a couple of Museum of flight committees.

Club events

The Boeing Employees Astronomical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13 at the Boeing “Oxbow” recreation center. The program will feature NASA Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs, who will discuss the final months of the Cassini mission at Saturn. If you don’t mind a few spoilers, check out our recap of Hobbs’s talk on the subject given to the Seattle Astronomical Society in February. Non-Boeing employees are welcome, but must RSVP. Follow the link above for details.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 9 p.m. Saturday, April 15 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather presentation will be about space rocks, asteroids, and comets. If the sky is clear, they’ll bring out the telescopes and see what’s up.

Planetaria

The Bellevue College planetarium will run a show about stars at 6 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15. The shows are free, but reservations are strongly recommended as seating is limited. Visit the college website for reservation info and other details.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center offers a variety of shows every day. Their full schedule is on our calendar page. A new show about the skies of ancient China and another, geared to kids, about Chinese astronomy have been created in conjunction with the science center’s recently opened Terracotta Warriors exhibit. We hope to do a feature post about the shows in the coming weeks.

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Great events coming up in the new year

The calendar of northwest space and astronomy events is empty this week as most folks take a breather between holidays before barging ahead into 2017. There is, however, a full slate of stage science and planetarium shows at the Pacific Science Center this week. You can find their listing on our calendar page below the Northwest Astronomy events calendar.

Futures file

We’ve added a handful of new events in the last week or so:

Up in the sky

You should be able to spot Saturn just south of the Moon on Tuesday. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.

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SpaceFest at MOF tops week’s astro calendar

A three-day space fest, several star parties, some astronomy club meetings, and a chance to meet Viking mission folks are on tab for the next week of astronomy events.

SpaceFest: Ladies who LaunchThe third annual SpaceFest at the Museum of Flight kicks off Thursday for three days of exhibits and presentations. Under the theme of Ladies Who Launch, this year’s SpaceFest celebrates women astronauts, engineers, authors, and others who helped put America into space.

The days are packed with events. Highlights include a talk by South Korean Astronaut Soyeon Yi at 1 p.m. Friday, November 4, and a keynote at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, November 5 by Nathalia Holt, author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). The book is a tale of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

You can order the book by clicking the link above; purchases through the Seattle Astronomy Store help defray our operating costs and enable us to bring you great astronomy stories. Check the full schedule for the weekend on the museum’s online calendar. We plan to attend a number of the sessions, and will report back!

Viking at Portland Science Pub

VMMEPPMeet some of the folks involved with the Viking Mars missions in the mid-1970s at Science Pub Portland at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 3 at McMenamins Mission Theater in Portland. As an 11-year-old girl Rachel Tillman saved the last remaining un-flown Viking spacecraft from the scrap heap. She later became founder and is executive director of the nonprofit organization The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Tillman will speak at Science Pub Portland, along with Al Treder, who worked on Viking guidance and control; Pat DeMartine, Viking lander command sequence and simulation programmer and science team member; and Peggy Newcomb, wife of NASA Viking engineer and author John Newcomb, who passed away in March.

Suggested donation for admission is $5. Science Pub Portland is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. If you can’t make this Viking Mars Mission event, it will be repeated at Science Pub Eugene on November 10 and Science Pub Corvallis on the 14th.

Saving the planet

Ed Lu

Ed Lu. Photo: NASA

When the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online, it is expected that the discovery rate of near-Earth asteroids will increase by more than a factor of 20 over the current rate, and that the list of asteroids with a worrisome probability of hitting the Earth will also become much larger. Astronaut Ed Lu, CEO and co-founder of the B612 Foundation, will discuss the scientific as well as public policy challenges related to potential asteroid impact scenarios at this week’s University of Washington astronomy colloquium. The event will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 3 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the UW campus in Seattle.

Club meetings

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 1 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. Topics will include a review of some of the club’s new gear and a primer on Proxima b, a roughly Earth-sized planet believed to be in orbit around our nearest stellar neighbor.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 4 at the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Specific topics or guest speakers for the gathering had not been published as of this writing.

Star parties

There are three star parties on the calendar for this week. The Covington Community Park Star Party is planned for 8 p.m. Friday, November 4 at the park. The event is a joint effort of the Seattle Astronomical Society and the Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society.

The Seattle club also plans its free monthly public star parties for 6 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Cloudy weather will mean cancellation of the star parties; watch the club’s website or social media for updates.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be about spectroscopy. If the weather is clear they’ll break out the telescopes and have a look at what’s up in the night sky.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

The Taurid meteor shower peaks this Thursday and Friday. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.

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Get the scoop on SpaceShipOne

A lesson on how to make a spaceship and several astronomy club events highlight the local calendar for the coming week.

Road to SpaceShipOne

Meet the principals in XPRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne project at 5:30 p.m. Monday, October 17 at the Museum of Flight. Author Julian Guthrie will discuss her book about the XPRIZE competition, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016). Three of the renegades will join her as Geekwire science correspondent Alan Boyle moderates a panel discussion including XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis, co-founder Erik Lindbergh, and Dave Moore, project manager for Paul Allen on the XPRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne.

The evening will include a meet-and-greet reception from 5:30 until 6:30, Guthrie’s presentation at 6:30, the panel discussion at 6:45, and a question-and-answer session and book signing from 7:30 until 8:30. Cost is $10 and tickets are available online.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the link above or by clicking the image of the book cover.

Astro club events

Michael BarrattThe Rose City Astronomers will hold their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, October 17 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The guest speaker will be astronaut Michael Barratt, who spent 199 days in space as flight engineer for International Space Station expeditions 19 and 20 in 2009 and also flew on STS-133, the final flight of the shuttle Discovery, in 2011. Barratt is a native of the Portland area.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 18 in the Willard Geer Planetarium at Bellevue College. Patti Terhune-Inverso, an astronomy instructor at the college and a member of Eastside Astronomical Society, will present the introduction to the constellations that she uses for her classes at the beginning of each quarter.

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 19 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The program had not been published as of this writing.

Astronomy in Pierce County Saturday

Pierce College will host a couple of events at its Fort Steilacoom campus on Saturday, October 22.

haunted-night-skySpook-tober continues at the Pierce College Science Dome, which will be presenting a kids’ show called “Haunted Night Sky” on Saturdays through Halloween. Participants will be able to find creatures in the night sky, build a Frankenstein satellite, and take a tour of the Sea of Serpents on the Moon, the Witch’s Head Nebula, and other spooky places in the universe. Best for kids ages 3-12. Shows are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. each Saturday. Cost is $3.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for Saturday evening at 7:30. The indoor program will be a Halloween special. They’ll break out the telescopes for observing if the weather cooperates.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include a talk by astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan at Town Hall Seattle November 14. Natarajan will talk about her new book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Yale University Press, 2016). Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Up in the sky

The Orionid meteor shower peaks this Friday and Saturday. Learn about the showers and other observing highlights for the week by visiting This Week’s Sky at a Glance by Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week by Astronomy.

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