This Week In Tears

Discovery in its current home at Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo by Ruth Suehle.

Facebook is often the neon sign for synchronicity in our lives. A friend you haven’t seen since elementary school comments on your coworker’s post. One person posts a warning about ticks right above another announcing her son’s diagnosis with Lyme disease. This week, I was struck by a Facebook full of tears—not in friends’ devastation, but in links about completely unrelated things. A week in tears.

Discovery’s Tears

First was this page about the teardrop-like black tiles contrasting with the white tiles on the space shuttle Discovery, just under its right “eye” of a pilot’s window.

True Blood Teaser

The final season of True Blood starts on June 22. To tease it, HBO released this image of Sookie:

Image: HBO

And we all know what blood tears mean. What does this image mean!? The show long ago diverged from the books, so we can’t even swear she won’t be turned.

Tears in Hannibal

This one’s more spoilery since it’s an ep that’s already aired, but there were tears in the ending of Hannibal last week.

Tears as Art

LA-based photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher has complete a project called The Topography of Tears, in which she captures tears, whether caused by joy or pain or grief or chopping onions, and puts them under a microscope, then photographs the results.

The Trail of Tears

For the Cherokee Nation, May marks the anniversary of when in 1836, the Treaty of New Echota gave their people two years to move to the Indian Territory. Then on May 24, 1838, when 16,500+ remaining Cherokee were forced from their homes, resulting in the deaths of as many as 4-6,000, a thousand-mile march known as the Trail of Tears, or in Cherokee, Nu na da ul tsun yi, “the place where they cried.”

If you find yourself in Western North Carolina this summer, I recommend seeing Unto These Hills, one of the oldest outdoor dramas in the country, which tells the story of the Cherokee. (Michael Rosenbaum, who was Lex Luthor on Smallville, once played the Constable role!)

Space Shuttle Countdown: A Tribute To Roberta Lynn Bondar And Julie Payette: Canada’s Female Astronauts

Image: Canadian Space Agency

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom or an astronaut when I grew-up. I think we can blame Star Trek for the astronaut bit.

As a small child, I would look up at the stars and dream about what it would be like to explore the vast regions of space and I would marvel at the science involved that allowed people to be hurled into space, attached to a rocket.

I was always very fortunate that every one in my life nurtured my love and aptitude for math and science. They may not have nurtured my geeky tendencies, but the nerd in me was always strongly encouraged. I was never told that I shouldn’t like math or science because I was a girl. However, when I first started to have my dreams of being strapped to a rocket, reaching escape velocity and leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, Canada did not have a space agency or a space program.

Roberta Lynn Bondar. Image source: Canadian Space Agency

Then in 1983, the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada put a help wanted ad in newspapers across the country. The NRC was looking for six Canadians to begin a wonderful journey; a journey where no Canadian had gone before—a journey into space. It wasn’t until March 1989 that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) would be created through an Act of Parliament, proclaimed in December 1990.

In 1983, over 4,300 Canadians applied, from all walks of life, in the hopes that they would be chosen as one of six people who would eventually leave Earth at speeds reaching 17,500 mph (7.8 km/s). In December 1983, one of those initial six chosen to be Canada’s first astronauts was Roberta Lynn Bondar. Her acceptance into this new Canadian endeavour helped to reinforce in my young mind that this was something I could aspire to be.

Image source: NASA

On, January 22, 1992, Roberta would be one of the crew on space shuttle Discovery STS-42, making her Canada’s first female astronaut in space. Roberta was Payload Specialist 1, for the first International Microgravity Laboratory Mission (IML-1). The object of IML-1 was to study the effects of weightlessness and microgravity on living organisms and materials processing. As Payload Specialist, she performed experiments in the Spacelab and on the middeck.

A little bit of fun trivia: Roberta was used as a the ‘human coin toss’ for Super Bowl XXVI. She curled up into a ball, then was slowly spun and tossed towards the ceiling. Whatever end of her body touched the ceiling first would be ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. The result: ‘tails’.

In September 1992, Roberta left the Canadian Space Agency in order to pursue her research.

You can read more about Roberta and her contributions to science, research, the CSA and NASA here.

Julie Payette. Image Source: Canadian Space Agency

In 1992, another call went out looking for new people to become astronauts in the CSA. This time, only four would be selected. Over 5,330 people applied and Julie Payette would be one of the four selected, making her Canada’s second female astronaut, renewing my aspirations to boldly go into space. Her inclusion into the CSA was one of the reasons I would join the Canadian Armed Forces in 1993.

She has been lucky enough to be on two shuttle missions.

The first was on space shuttle Discovery STS-96, which launched on May 27, 1999. It was during this mission that a shuttle would dock for the first time to the International Space Station (ISS), making her both the first Canadian aboard the ISS and first Canadian to participate in the assembly of the ISS.

Image source: NASA

During that mission, she served as one of four Mission Specialists. It was her job to supervise the space walk, she operated the Canadarm and she was responsible for the station systems. Her duties did not end there. You can read more about her contributions to this mission here.

On July 15, 2009, Julie would return to the ISS on space shuttle Endeavour STS-127. During this mission, she served as the flight engineer—Mission Specialist 2. Her responsibilities included operating three different robotic arms–Canadarm, Canadarm 3 and the Japanese arm–as well as ensuring that the space shuttle was safe for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere by inspecting the shuttle’s wings, leading edges and nose cap.

From the beginning, this mission was plagued by problems. It wasn’t until the sixth launch attempt that Endeavour would be a go for launch. After Endeavour‘s launch, the world held its breath as news came that she lost some foam during the launch, the same event which caused the destruction of Columbia six years earlier. Thankfully, it was determined the the scuffs were minor and would not pose a threat upon reentry.

As with STS-96, her duties did not end there. You can read more about them here.

Image source: NASA

It was during this mission that another Canadian first happened: The first time that two Canadian astronauts would be both in space at the same and aboard the ISS at the same time. Also, after Endeavour docked with the ISS, it set a record for the most humans in space at the same time in the same vehicle.

Aside from the final Hubble repair mission, out of all the missions in the last two years, this mission is one that I remember the most vividly. Not only was it fraught with problems, but it was filled with a lot of very proud moments in both Canadian history and NASA history.

Also of note, Julie was was Lead CAPCOM (Spacecraft Communicator) for space shuttle Discovery STS-121 (2006): NASA’s return to space after the Columbia disaster.

You can read more about Julie’s contributions here.

Thank you Roberta and Julie for your contributions to both NASA and the CSA. Thank you for inspiring me as a young child, a teenager and continuing to inspire me into adulthood. I hope your legacy will continue to inspire many young Canadian girls to pursue careers in science, research, engineering and allow them to dream of a day when they will be strapped to a rocket and hurled into space.

Shuttle Countdown T-5 Days: A Tribute to Endeavour

Graphic design credit: NASA/Amy Lombardo. NASA publication number: SP-2010-08-165-KSC

Endeavour is the youngest of all of the orbiters, having been authorized for construction in 1987 as a replacement to the Challenger orbiter.  Endeavour (OV-105) arrived to Kennedy Space Center for final check-out and testing in May of 1991.

Endeavour name was the result of a national public contest of elementary and secondary school students. They were asked to choose a name based on an exploratory or research maritime vessel. In May of 1989, President George Bush announced the winning name in a public address. Endeavour was named after an 18th century research vessel, the HMS Endeavour, commanded by British explorer James Cook. Cook was an experienced seaman, navigator and amateur astronomer. He commanded a crew of 93 men, including 11 scientists and artists, to cross the South Pacific in 1768.

Cook’s main objective on this mission was to measure the transiting period of Venus. This period could then be used to determine the accurate distance between the Earth and the sun, and thus allow for many other amazing discoveries in the universe. Cook’s mission was wildly successful. He not only was able to accurately calculate the transiting period of the sun, he also managed to accurately map Australia and New Zealand. Cook also established the usefulness of including scientists on voyages of exploration when they navigated the Great Barrier Reef and were able to identify and illustrate a massive number of plant and animal species. This namesake was well chosen as Endeavour’s missions were destined to be filled with new scientific findings and new engineering challenges.

Endeavour’s first launch was on May 7, 1992 with STS-41, a mission with many scheduled firsts. The mission’s main objective was to recapture a communications satellite (INTELSAT VI), repair it and re-release it. After many suggestions from the public on how to capture the satellite, a solution was devised and tested, and the satellite was captured. The repair procedure included an unprecedented three-man space walk, and it was released back to fly again in the correct orbit. This mission was the first time that four spacewalks had ever been conducted within the same mission. Due to its success, the mission was extended an extra two days to complete additional mission objectives. When STS-41 landed, it was the first time that a space orbiter used the drag chute during landing — one of many technical improvements made to Endeavour when it was built.

Other improvements that were made during upgrades during Endeavour’s lifetime were modifications to the cockpit and the installation of a three-string GPS system designed to allow the shuttle to land at any landing strip in the world that is long enough. The new cockpit is referred to as the “glass cockpit,” It is a full color touchscreen display that improves information and interaction between the crew and the orbiter.

The first African-American woman astronaut, Mae Jemison, was brought into space on the mission STS-47 on September 12, 1992. The STS-118 mission, the first for Endeavour following a lengthy refit, included astronaut Barbara Morgan, formerly assigned to the Educator Astronaut program, but now a full member of the Astronaut Corps, as part of the crew. Morgan was the backup for Christa McAullife on the ill-fated STS-51-L mission.

Endeavour’s final flight, STS-134, launched on May 16, 2011 after months of delays due to hardware problems, and then due to scheduling conflicts aboard the International Space Station. When Endeavour returned on June 1, 2011, it had logged 299 days in space and 122,853,121 million miles in flight. After a full decommissioning, Endeavour will go to the California Science Center for permanent display. Endeavour’s Canadarm will be removed and sent to a yet-to-be-determined museum in Canada, while the other two Canadarms will remain in their respective shuttles.