Tag Archives: Rachel Tillman

Preserving the stories of Viking

Rachel Tillman has a scrapbook that is out of this world. What started out as a young girl’s effort to save a cool piece of space history has morphed into a project to preserve the artifacts of the iconic Viking program and the stories of the people who made it happen.

VMMEPPTillman is the founder, executive director, and chief curator of the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project, a Portland-based nonprofit that has a huge collection of photos, documents and artifacts from the Viking missions and aims to collect oral histories of some 10,000 people who had a hand in the project—the “Vikings,” as Tillman calls them.

Little kid heaven

Her interest in the mission started early.

“My father worked on the Viking mission,” she said. He is James E. Tillman, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington who was a member of the Viking meteorology team.

“He is an explorer; scientists often are explorers,” Tillman said of her father. “He was so engrossed in his work that lived and breathed it. He brought it home at night.”

What he often brought home was the latest problem or design or a new photo from the lander, and he would ask the kids what they thought about it. Rachel ate it up.

Viking on Mars

One of the more famous photos in planetary exploration history: the first sent from Viking 1 shortly after it landed on Mars July 20, 1976. The original is part of the VMMEPP collection. Photo: NASA/JPL.

“I was interested from the get-go,” she said. Often she would go to her father’s office after school and soak up all of the conversations he and other scientists were having about technical matters. She’d go look it up and figure out the language, and would often make drawings about what she was learning. She made a few trips with her father to the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, and then got to go to Florida for the launches of the Viking spacecraft in 1975.

“We were down there at Cape Canaveral for the launch with Carl Sagan and Gerry Soffen and my dad and the guys from KSC,” she said. “I saw the rocket fly off.”

That’s quite a crowd for a little kid to hang out with. Rachel recalls Sagan as intense and funny, but said Soffen, the chief scientist on the Viking mission, was her hero.

“He was thoughtful, funny, very smart, absolutely wanted to know whatever it was out there to know,” she said. “He was also a magician. I’m a kid, that’s really cool!”

“The makeup of the people of the mission was amazing,” she added: Hard working, dedicated, sacrificing, funny, intelligent, grumpy, passionate—all of those things that a kid really picks up on.”

“I couldn’t have dreamed a better life than I live,” Rachel said.

They were going to melt it down

Viking was in Rachel’s DNA, but her work as a preservationist started almost as an accident.

NASA built three flight-ready Viking landers, but the first two worked and so the third—VL3—was not needed. Several groups and companies fiddled with plans to turn it into a rover, but ultimately nobody had any funding to do anything, so the lander was set aside. Then around 1979 James Tillman was looking for some used filing cabinets and found some interesting items on the NASA surplus list: his own Viking meteorology instrument, and VL3.

VL3 at MOF

They didn’t scrap Viking Lander 3! The lander, owned by Rachel Tillman, is on exhibit at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“They were scrapping it,” Rachel said. “They were going to melt it down.”

She immediately said that they had to get it and save it. Her father thought it was a ridiculous idea, but she convinced him to do it anyway because she had a ready purpose for the lander.

“We’re going to put it in my school,” she told him, “and we’re going to teach kids about robotics and about Mars and about science and engineering.”

Rachel now owns the Viking lander VL3, and it actually was at her school for a while. It also was on display for some time in the electrical engineering department at the UW. For the last ten years it has been on loan to the Museum of Flight, where it is a part of the permanent exhibit Space: Exploring the New Frontier.

“That’s how my preserving began, was with the Viking Lander,” Rachel said. Though it started with a great piece of historic hardware, Rachel is now drawn to the human side.

It’s about the people

“My role as a kid who grew up with the mission is to honor the people who did it,” she said. “Everybody. Not just the rock stars.”

Greg and Viking stuff

The author in front of information boards the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project uses at outreach events. The box my arm is resting on contains James Tillman’s Mars meteorology instrument. Photo: Rachel Tillman.

“Every Viking represents a child today that may want to do something like what they did,” Rachel added. “They don’t have to be the mission director, they don’t have to be the principal investigator of a science instrument, they don’t even have to be the lead engineer.”

So many other people had important functions from keeping travel schedules to crunching numbers to designing small but important components of the landers.

“All of these people are so critically important to the mission, and 95 percent of them were forgotten,” Rachel said. “That’s my job: preserve the history and the individuals; not just the timeline events, but the people who did them. That’s what this is all about.”

The Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project was founded in 2008, but only really started doing any outreach in the last year. It’s been mostly underground work as Rachel met and interviewed as many of the Vikings as possible. She thought it was important to do some public events this year, the 40th anniversary of the Vikings’ landings on Mars. They held an open event in Denver—the landers were built there by Martin Marietta, which is now Lockheed Martin. NASA also held some events at Langley and at JPL, and the project held three “Science Pub” talks last month through the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

The future of VMMEPP

To date the project has run mostly through donations from James and Rachel Tillman, some of the Vikings, and a few others, but in the next year or so they will be doing some more serious fundraising.

“Our plan is to create a trust fund around all of the artifacts of Viking so they can’t be given away or sold,” Rachel said. “As we get new donations they will stay in this trust.”

She said the fund will help with management of the artifacts as well as preservation. Then in the next year or two they plan to issue a request for proposals from institutions and organizations that would like to host the Viking artifacts.

“They’ll have to meet the requirements that we set for care of the artifacts and for creating access to the artifacts for the public, because that’s critically important,” Rachel said.

In the meantime, the project has established an online museum, where you can go page through raw documents from the Viking missions. The project website is a treasure trove of photos and facts and stories about the Viking missions.

Rachel plans an outreach event at the Hillsdale Library in Portland for December 20, but then will probably be mostly invisible for a little while.

“Doing the oral history interviews, creating access, and protecting the artifacts, those our our three really big pushes.”

It’s a fascinating and worthy cause. If you would like to help with the preservation effort, you can donate to the project online through Facebook (through December 13) or Amazon Smile, or simply send a check to:

Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project
5331 SW Macadam #258-504
Portland, OR 97239

Podcast of our interview with Rachel Tillman:

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NEOWISE, Viking, and more on the calendar this week

The Seattle Astronomy calendar is packed with interesting events this week, with something going on just about every evening. Seattle gets two talks about NEOWISE, the Mars program premieres on the National Geographic Channel, and there are several other lectures of note.

NEOWISE

NEOWISEWill an asteroid or comet one day smack into Earth again? One of the sets of eyeballs looking for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Joe Masiero, a JPL scientist with NEOWISE, will give two talks about the project this week in Seattle. He’ll speak at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 16 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the University of Washington campus. Masiero will return to the same room at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 17 for a presentation at the weekly UW astronomy colloquium. He will give an overview of the NEOWISE mission, and present some results from the latest dataset release.

Mapping the heavens

The cosmos, once viewed as stagnant, even ordinary, is now understood to be a fathomless universe, expanding at an accelerating pace, propelled by dark energy, and structured by dark matter. Theoretical astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Yale University Press, 2016), will give a talk about these ideas at 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 14 at Town Hall Seattle. Natarajan will explain the science behind some of the most puzzling cosmological topics of our time and discuss why there is so much disagreement within the science community about astronomical discoveries.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Preserving Viking

VMMEPPThe final of three Science Pub events about the Viking missions will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, November 14 at the Old World Deli in Corvallis, Oregon. Rachel Tillman, Founder and Executive Director of The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project, and others involved in the missions, will talk about Viking and its influence on technology and culture. The Science Pub is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It’s free!

If you are not able to attend this event and missed the previous ones in Portland and Eugene, fear not; Seattle Astronomy is working on a feature article about The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Stay tuned!

Eugene Astro

The Eugene Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 17 at the Science Factory planetarium. The club’s mirror-grinding group will give a presentation about how reflecting telescopes’ primary mirrors are made, complete with demonstrations of the grinding process.

Cosmos on Tap

Astronomy on Tap Seattle, November 2016This month’s Astronomy on Tap Seattle event will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 16 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. They’ll view episode five of the original Carl Sagan Cosmos series, complete with Cosmos bingo, trivia contests, prizes, and beer. Astronomers will discuss what’s changed, and what science has held up, since the series first aired.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington.

A home in the stars

Want to live on Mars? Maybe a bad idea. Planetary scientist Amanda Hendrix and science writer Charles Wohlforth have looked into space colonization, and suggest that Saturn’s moon Titan might be a better place. The authors of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016) will discuss their findings at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 18 at Town Hall Seattle. Why Titan? It has a nitrogen atmosphere, a weather cycle, and an inexhaustible supply of cheap energy. Get the full story from Hendrix and Wohlforth; grab the book in advance.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Mars

MARS showOK, some may want to give Mars a shot! The television mini-series Mars premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, November 14 on the National Geographic Channel (although an online stream of the opening episode has been available online for several weeks now.) Part feature film, part documentary, the series takes a look at what a Mars mission might look like in 2033, and talks with today’s experts about the development of technology and capabilities that could make such a mission a reality. Ron Howard is an executive producer of the series, which has been directed by Everardo Gout.

TAS

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its free public nights for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather presentation will be about the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond. If the skies are clear club astronomers will break out the telescopes for some observing.

Up in the sky

There’s a “supermoon” on Monday and the Leonid meteor shower peaks this week. 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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Club activity and more Viking news on this week’s astro calendar

The Vikings are sailing on Oregon, and a number of astronomy clubs in the region have meetings and events this week.

Viking at Science Pub Eugene

VMMEPPMeet some of the folks involved with the Viking Mars missions in the mid-1970s at Science Pub Eugene at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 at Whirled Pies at Cozmic in Eugene, Oregon. 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 Eugene, along with Al Treder, who worked on Viking guidance and control; Peggy Newcomb, wife of NASA Viking engineer and author John Newcomb, who passed away in March; Virgil Young, Camera Imaging Team member at Martin Marietta Laboratories; and Dr. Clare Reimers, professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

Suggested donation for admission is $5. Science Pub Eugene 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 Corvallis on the 14th.

Astronomy clubs

Olympic Astronomical SocietyThe Olympic Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for tonight (Monday, November 7) at 7:30 in room Art 103 on the campus of Olympic College in Bremerton. A look at the constellations Libra and Piscis Austrinus and a talk about the warping of time and space are included on the agenda.

beaslogo_300The Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 at the Boeing “Oxbow” Fitness Center. NASA Solar System Ambassador John McLaren will give a presentation about the latest information gained from exploring the Sun. Non-Boeing visitors are welcome but need an escort to the meeting. Contact David Ingram for more information.

BPAA logoThe Battle Point Astronomical Association on Bainbridge Island has several events planned for Saturday. Parents and budding scientists attending the BP Astro Kids program at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. November 12 will learn what caused all of those craters on the Moon, and then will build their own moons to take home. At 7:30 p.m. the club’s planetarium show will look at the possible connections between dark matter, black holes, and gravitational waves. If there weather permits there will be astronomical observing as well. It all happens at the club’s Edwin Ritchie Observatory and John Rudolph Planetarium in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will offer a workshop about understanding telescopes at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 13 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Experienced stargazers will discuss the basic concepts needed for choosing and using telescopes, eyepieces, and star charts. The event is open to members and non-members alike.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include the next Astronomy on Tap Seattle event, set for November 16 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. By the way, there’s a nice article about the Astronomy on Tap movement in the December issue of Astronomy magazine.

Up in the sky

Neptune will appear very close to the Moon on Wednesday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have 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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