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!)

The GeekMoms Podcast #27: Fight For Space, Reigniting Our Passion For Space Exploration

Have you ever wondered how the US got to the point where funding missions to space just isn’t that important? Paul Hildebrandt wondered, and he’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary and answer that question. GeekMom Nicole Wakelin talks with Paul about Fight For Space: Exploring the Future of Manned Spaceflight and learns what he hopes to achieve with his film. He’s already interviewed notables like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye and plans to speak with many more to discover how we can reignite our collective passion for space not just in ourselves, but in our kids.

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Music: Rebecca Angel

April Was Extra Geeky for the DC Area!

I’m guessing when you think of the Nation’s Capital, it’s likely your thoughts steer more towards politics and government, rather than science and engineering. Living in the DC area has always proved to be full of interesting places to visit and sights to see. I will admit that I take for granted the attractions of the area and haven’t seen nearly as many as are on my “must-see” list, but I have been trying to make sure I share as many of these activities with my two young boys as possible. The last month has truly been filled with timeless memories for all of us.

It’s not every day that you are treated with your first view of a space shuttle that has flown in space; unfortunately my first view would also be the last view of a shuttle in flight. On April 17th, I gathered with hundreds of members of the NASA Goddard community in a personal fly-over by the Space Shuttle Discovery on its way to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Space Shuttle Discovery was mounted atop the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as it made three passes over downtown Washington, D.C. before it made a personal flight over NASA-Goddard. There were many misty eyes watching Discovery as the shuttle program had been a huge inspiration for so many of the scientists and engineers that worked at Goddard.

Image above: Space Shuttles Enterprise, left, and Discovery meet nose-to-nose at the beginning of a transfer ceremony at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Chantilly, Va. Photo Credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Carolyn Russo

After landing at Dulles airport in Virginia, on April 19th there were several ceremonies to commemorate the arrival of Discovery and the departure of the shuttle Enterprise from the space hanger in the museum. NASA even hosted a social media gathering for a lucky 30 guests to be part of the momentous occasion. I had applied to attend, but alas wasn’t selected.

Timmy the Monkey and Carrie from Think Geek!
So excited to finally see Discovery with my boys.















The following weekend, my family decided to head to the Udvar-Hazy center to take a look at Discovery up close and personal. We weren’t the only people with this same idea, it was packed! She was a beautiful sight, covered in her patchwork of thermal blankets and the engine cone was still attached. It was awesome. While we were there we met up with Timmy the monkey and Carrie from ThinkGeek. It was so much fun sharing history with so many people, not to mention seeing the smile on my 3-year-old’s face when he told me that he wanted to go to space. We even left a little bit of GeekMom and GeekDad behind on a shuttle tire to be preserved in the Smithsonian!

As a finale for the month, our family attended the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival this past weekend. We were lured by a chance to finally meet GeekMom’s publisher Ken Denmead during his book signing for The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists, but stayed for the truly overwhelming amount of coolness we were surrounded by. I have never seen so many amazing exhibits in one place, the majority of them being hands on! Our family learned about different forms of auto fuel as compared to gasoline, we saw a snake robot, we were able to watch an entire line of MakerBots in action, we played with circus physics and met Sid the Science Kid and Super Grover in person! With two little ones, it was incredibly overwhelming, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and have already put it on our schedule for next year.

Our Family with GeekDad/GeekMom publisher Ken Denmead, my son was instantly in love with the blow gun Ken showed him.
Meeting Sid the Science Kid!!!
Meeting Super Grover












Did any of you have any especially memorable geeky activities in the last month? Are you from the DC area and get to experience any of these events too? GeekMom would love to hear from you!

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all pictures were taken by either me or my husband, GeekDad Brian.

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NASA, Shuttles and Space for the Future

Space Shuttle Columbia STS-1

One of my favorite memories of this summer is the day I sat with my daughter snuggled in my lap and watched the final space shuttle launch. As Atlantis took to the skies, I wiped away tears and tried to explain to her why Mommy was crying over a spaceship. This is a little girl who has a room plastered with glow-in-the-dark stars and maps of the solar system and who picked a telescope as a birthday present one year because she wanted to see the planets. We talked about how cool it was, how amazing, that there were astronauts in that ship at exactly the moment we were watching it careen into space. She was fascinated at the idea that it was “for real” and, just like me, sad that it wouldn’t be happening again.

I attended a launch back when I was in college and it remains one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. It was still new and exciting at the time, earning feature story coverage on the news rather than just a cursory mention. We got up at the crack of dawn to drive out to the Kennedy Space Center and got as close as we could before parking up on the grass, wedged between other cars. All of us were armed with binoculars and comfy chairs, some of them perched on top of car roofs, as we waited with our radios tuned to the countdown. And when that thing took off and I felt the noise radiate up through my feet and right out the top of my head, it took my breath away. It. Was. Amazing.

How to explain to a seven-year-old the experience of seeing a shuttle take off in person, the excitement, the awe of what we had accomplished?  We watched a lot of launch coverage that day and talked about how dangerous it is, how brave the astronauts are, and how it’s a worthwhile thing to explore and investigate and to try to do what no one thinks is possible. Now that NASA has a humanoid robot on the International Space Station, we even follow him on Twitter so she can ask him questions.

Space is cool. Exploring is cool. Science is cool. NASA is trying make sure kids think so too by giving schools a chance to own an actual shuttle tile and even some astronaut food. I hope someday my daughter boldly goes where no one has gone before, makes the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs and well, whatever her little heart desires. In the meantime, if her school manages to get one of those tiles, I’m sneaking into class that day so I get a chance to hold it when it makes its way around the room.

Shuttle Countdown T-0 Launch Day: A Tribute to Atlantis

Graphic design credit: NASA/Amy Lombardo. NASA publication number: SP-2010-08-161-KSC

This morning will mark the final launch of a NASA Space Shuttle into orbit around Earth on its way to the International Space Station. At approximately 11:26am EST Atlantis will reach the T-0 mark for the last time and roar into the sky completing a long tenure of scientific discovery for NASA.

Atlantis was named after RV Atlantis, a two-masted sailing ship that operated as the primary research vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1930 to 1966.

Atlantis (OV-104) was the fourth orbiter to be delivered to Kennedy Space Center for spaceflight, and the last of the original four. It was built in half the time it took to build Columbia and weighed nearly 3.5 tons less. A huge number of lessons were learned during the building of the shuttle fleet culminating in Atlantis, the lightest of the orbiters, a whole three pounds lighter then Endeavour. During its construction, NASA opted to manufacture a set of ‘structural spares’ to facilitate the repair of an orbiter if one was damaged during an accident. These spare parts consisted of a spare aft-fuselage, mid-fuselage, forward fuselage halves, vertical tail and rudder, wings, elevons and a body flap. Years later these spares were assembled into the orbiter Endeavour.

Atlantis lifted off for the first time on October 3, 1985 carrying the crew of STS-51-J. As part of STS-30, Atlantis became the first orbiter to  launch and interplanetary probe by launching Magellan to Venus. Later on STS-34, Atlantis carried Galileo to orbit before it was sent on its way to Jupiter.

Atlantis has had several major milestones when it comes to both the Russian space station Mir as well as the International Space Station. On STS-71, the 100th shuttle flight, Atlantis became the first shuttle to dock with Mir and transfer crew while in orbit. Atlantis was a workhorse in the building of the International Space Station, it carried a large number of components to the ISS, including truss segments, solar panels and scientific laboratories.

In May 2009, Atlantis was the last shuttle to visit the Hubble Space Telescope during Servicing Mission 4, STS-125. This mission installed new cameras, batteries, a gyroscope and other components to the telescope during the nearly 37 hours of spacewalks over 5 days.

Once Atlantis is decommissioned, it will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. On 12 April 2011 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the decision: “First, here at the Kennedy Space Center where every shuttle mission and so many other historic human space flights have originated, we’ll showcase my old friend, Atlantis.” The Visitor Complex plans to suspend Atlantis with cargo bay doors opened such that it appears to be back in orbit around the Earth. A multi-story digital projection of the home planet that will rotate behind the orbiter in a 64,000 square-foot indoor facility is also proposed. Ground breaking of the facility is planned to begin in 2012 with the exhibit opening in 2013.

Today, however, is the launch of STS-135, a relatively humble mission the the scheme of missions. The rare four member crew will be commanded by Chris Ferguson, piloted by Doug Hurley, and joined by  Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus as mission specialists. During STS-135, Atlantis will carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station. The mission also will fly a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and return a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.

While there was a chance of delay due to weather, as of now the shuttle launch is still a GO, and the weather has been looking good for the launch window! So tune in to history this morning, and watch the final shuttle lift off.  You can watch the launch on NASA TV online or on NASA TV on your local cable provider, it will also be carried by most large news networks.

Image above: Pictured in the STS-135 crew portrait are NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson (center right), commander; Doug Hurley (center left), pilot; Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus, both mission specialists. Image credit: NASA

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.

T-1: Shuttle Program: Top Ten Images From A Thirty Year History

Image NASA

As we count the hours (perhaps only 24 hours, perhaps more because of a last minute problem) until the last shuttle launch, many of us are reflecting on memories we have of the shuttle, it’s missions, and the space program in general. From reflections on the Challenger disaster to a rollicking playlist for Atlantis we here are GeekMom have been feeling the nostalgia and history that is about to happen on Friday. While we continue to count down the days, the people at have put together a list of top ten photographic images from the shuttle’s varied history of the past 30 years. While it is impossible to include everyone’s favorite they have selected images that are truly iconic. My favorite pictures of the shuttle have always been ones that show earth from space. It is a great reminder of how small we truly are and how great we can be when we all pull together.

Shuttle Countdown T Minus 2 Days: A Tribute to Columbia

Graphic design credit: NASA/Amy Lombardo. NASA publication number: SP-2010-08-163-KSC

On April 12, 1981, a stark white Columbia broke the surly bonds of Earth when it roared into space as America’s first reusable Space Shuttle.

Columbia (OV-103) was named after the American ship Columbia Rediviva which, under the command of Captain Robert Gray in the late 1790’s, explored the US Pacific Northwest and became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe. It is also named after the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Columbia was the only shuttle to fly with a white external tank. The original external tank was originally painted white to protect it from harmful UV damage while sitting on the launch pad. When it was determined that the UV light really posed no significant threat to the tank, it was decided that the tank would no longer be painted and would remain the rust color of the encapsulating bare insulating foam. This change alone reduced the weight of the shuttle by nearly 600 lbs (272 kg).

Since Columbia was the first space worthy shuttle, its design had yet to be streamlined for weight. Columbia was easily the heaviest of the orbiters and because of its weight Columbia was never able to aid in the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). Despite its weight limitations Columbia contributed to remarkable scientific discovery as well as a number of “firsts” for the space program.

In November 1983, Columbia launched Spacelab‘s maiden voyage on STS-9. Spacelab was a laboratory designed to fit into the cargo bay of the shuttle and would be solely devoted to experiments encompassing all of the sciences. While Spacelab  traveled around all of the shuttles, its 16th and final mission in 1998 returned it back to its origins upon Columbia.

Columbia’s STS-9 was host to the first European Space Agency astronaut, Dr. Ulf Merbold of Germany. In 1994 the Japanese Space Agency’s Chiaki Mukai entered history as the first Japanese woman to fly in space while a member of the STS-65 crew. The crew of STS-73 even “threw” the ceremonial first pitch for game five of the 1995 baseball World Series, making it easily the fastest fast pitch in history. Yet even considering all of those “firsts,” Columbia’s crowning achievement has to be the launch and deployment of the Chandra X-ray Observatory in July 1999 and the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope (SM3B) in March of 2002.

Columbia and all of the 7 crew members of STS-107 were tragically lost on February 1, 2003 during re-entry. The leading edge of Columbia’s wing was damaged  by a small piece of foam that had fallen off of the external tank during lift-off on January 16, 2003. The friction of re-entry was enough to cause a fire in the wing of the aircraft, which lead to the aircraft breaking apart over Texas and Louisiana border. Doppler radar imagery taken shortly after the accident made it very easy to narrow down the rescue/recovery radius for searchers.

The debris field is the red streak crossing the TX/LA border.

We may never know if Columbia could have been repaired while in flight. After the accident, the shuttle program took a hiatus for the next two years while important safety modifications were made to each remaining shuttle, and new procedures were designed and tested to inspect and repair thermal tiles while in orbit if a similar event were to ever happen again during lift-off.

Columbia was a beautiful orbiter with the capability of allowing astronauts to peer into the mysteries of the universe. She and  her 7 member crew will never be forgotten for their sacrifices to the pursuit of science and exploration.

Columbia Tribute
From "NASA|Art" "Among the Stars and Angels" by Zigi Ben Haim 2006 Mixed Media on Aluminum

The lost Columbia crew is remembered with a large triptych laden with symbols surrounding the ghostly outline of the shuttle. Included are flowers to represent Laurel Clark, whose nickname was Flora; a sign on 74th Street in New York, renamed after Kalpana Chawla; and the torn, blurry diary of Ilan Ramon. At the upper right, a constellation of seven stars includes a Star of David for Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut. – “NASA|Art”

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.


Shuttle Countdown T-6 Days: Forecasting for Shuttle Launches

L to R: Capt. Jeff Smith, Todd McNamara (center) and Dave Craft discuss weather Launch Commit Criteria based upon weather radar information. Photo: Department of Defense, Used with Permission

As GeekMom’s token meteorologist AND military member, in honor of the final shuttle mission planned for next week, I’m thrilled to share with you some insight into the weather forecast preparations for a space shuttle launch.

After all, what delays launches most often?  The weather, right?  I’m not sure if a precise count exists, but according to HowStuffWorks, weather and mechanical delays dominate total delays, and many have guessed it’s about a 50/50 split.

For anyone who has tried to center a road trip to Cape Canaveral around a launch, only to have that launch delayed so much you effectively wasted a trip, you might appreciate the precision involved here.

Kathy Winters is the Shuttle Launch Weather Officer with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  The 45th is charged with the official go/no go launch weather forecast for all Space Shuttle missions.  Ms. Winters wrote a series for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Armed with Science blog last April, walking readers real-time through a launch forecast process for the (originally scheduled) 29 April Endeavor launch.

Enjoy these blog posts as Ms. Winters walks you through the wide variety of forecast support required for a successful mission:

Longer Range Products

Forecasting for Moving Solid Rocket Booster Segment

Forecasting for Moving the External Tank Barge

First Launch Forecast (issued approximately 3 days prior to scheduled launch)

How Rockets Can Trigger Lightning

Brush Fire at L-2 Days & Forecasting for the Solid Rocket Booster Recovery Team

The Launch Day Forecast! (this post was scheduled to run on the original launch date: 29 April, however the launch didn’t actually occur until 16 May, due to mechanical delays)


Kennedy Space Center: A View From My Teenage Years

Image: Old Family Photo

I for one am glad my parents never gave up on me. They continued to expose me to new things despite my apathy, teen angst and surly behavior. When I mock yawned as my dad began reading The Hobbit to me, when I laughed at their collection of Sting music videos (that I would later learn was actually STTNG – Star Trek: The Next Generation), or when I grumbled my way around the Kennedy Space Center as an 11-year-old.

My dad will now admit that my disinterest may have had more to do with the 48-hour-old sunburn I was suffering from, a result of our first time in the Florida sun and a water park. Nevertheless when I look back at that day I regret the things I didn’t appreciate. I walked on historical walkways, I visited monuments, I ate astronaut ice-cream, I saw launch sites, all with a frown on my face. I got to experience things that my husband still hasn’t seen, but dreamed about as young boy. I may not have enjoyed it at the time, but in retrospect I can say, “Wow! I was there.”

I remember my parent’s enthusiasm every time we would visit Florida and a shuttle launch was scheduled, and their subsequent disappointment when it was delayed. Through their eagerness and awe I was instilled with the magnitude of what was being accomplished. It’s a place I would love to visit again with my family, hopefully our enthusiasm will rub off on Toby sooner than my parents’ did on me.

GeekMom Memories of the Challenger Disaster

Main engine exhaust, solid rocket booster plume and an expanding ball of gas from the external tank is visible seconds after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident on Jan. 28, 1986. Credit: NASA

While reminiscing on the shuttle program here on GeekMom, it was hard not to think about where we were and what we were doing when Challenger exploded.

Helene McLaughlin (Me)

I was only three and a half when it happened, so I have no memory of the actual event. However, I remember being very young and there being a lot of talk about the shuttle program and I remember people talking about it with sadness. It wasn’t till I was a few years older and learned about the disaster in school, that I understood why they were so sad.

Corrina Lawson

I was working the drive-through at the Burger King near where I was attending college when the Challenger exploded. One of my drive-through customers told me about it.

I said “Not the shuttle flight with the teacher?” They said, “Yes, it’s terrible.”

After I got off-shift, I went home and saw the video. I also talked to some friends who I knew in the Coast Guard much later. One of them was stationed on a ship that did search and recovery for the Challenger. He told me that they knew very quickly after the explosion that it was entirely possible the crew had survived the fall until they were killed on impact, which in fact turned out to be the case.

I was fascinated at the time by what could have happened to cause the explosion and later appalled that it was something simple as the O-rings being vulnerable to cold. I followed much of the later reports about how the warning signs had been ignored.

Patricia Vollmer

I was in middle school (7th grade) when the Challenger exploded.  The only reason I didn’t actually see it live on TV was because my part of the school had lunch during that time.  So half the school saw the explosion on TV, half of us heard about it during our next class (which happened to be science…my usually unemotional Mrs. Kelly got pretty emotional).

Jennifer D.

We were watching it in math class. I was in middle school. My mother had applied to go so it was very emotional for me when it exploded.


I was in school and remember my teacher bringing in a TV to watch the coverage. I had just read a book on women who had won the the Nobel prize and was idolizing Marie Curie, Irene Curie, Pearl S. Buck, and others. I viewed Christa McAuliffe as belonging to that same category of role models, at a time when I was really searching for someone to look up to. I admired her, and was horrified by her death.

Nicole Wakelin

I was sitting in French class watching the whole thing on TV and it was devastating when the Challenger exploded.  I can hardly watch that even today. Christa McAuliffe was a local teacher, we idolized her and just couldn’t believe it. It was sad, but at the same time inspiring. She risked it all and lost, but left such an example of what a woman could achieve. I still look at her as a hero.

Judy Berna

I was a freshman in college when the Challenger disaster happened. I was an elementary education major, so the fact that a teacher was going up into space was exciting. I returned from morning classes to find my roommate glued to the tiny TV in our dorm room.

When I walked in the door she turned to me and said three simple words, “It blew up.”

It didn’t process in my brain. I said, “What? What blew up?”

“The space shuttle. It blew up on take off.”

It took me a long time, and hours in front of the TV, watching the video replay, over and over, to comprehend what that meant. In my mind, there was no chance a space shuttle could ever blow up. It just wasn’t even possible, with all the expertise we had in our space program.

The first moon walk was when I was a two year old, so I grew up believing NASA was all powerful, and never failing. It didn’t make sense, in my safe, ordered world, that a tragedy like this could happen, and a teacher, one of us, could die in such an accident.

I later married a man who is from New Hampshire, and heard his stories, about how it had affected his state, the teacher’s hometown. Every time we found out about an award, or an event, honoring her, I thought of that moment, in my dorm room, when my view of how the world works changed forever.

Ironically, my husband’s brother, my brother-in-law, is a planetarium designer and he helped design the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium.

These were the memories of the GeekMoms. What is your memory of the Challenger Disaster? Where were you? What were you doing? What effect did it have on you?

Pretend You’re an Astronaut and Wake Up To Shatner

Unless you have a very specific interest in space program journalism, the NASA news feed is usually on the dry side–headlines like “Crew wraps up flight” or “Guy you never heard of just left his job.” But Monday when I got the NASA email, I got Captain Kirk, because the Discovery crew got to wake up to a special edition of the Star Trek theme song. At 3:23 a.m.!

NASA held a song contest before this final Discovery mission. The top two winners were to be used for crew wake-up calls. The Stark Trek theme won second place, behind “Blue Sky” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. You can see all the results of the voting. I like to think Star Trek won third place as well, since Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” was the song playing when Zefram Cochrane took the world’s first warp drive flight.

For the Discovery crew’s wake-up call, Shatner replaced the usual famous theme song’s voice over with, “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

STS-133 Mission Specialist Steve Bowen participates in the mission's second spacewalk. Image credit: NASA

If you’d like to wake up to Shatner, too (3:23 a.m. optional), you can download the sound file at under the name 03-07-11_STS-133_FD12_Crew_Wakeup (mp3 or wav). Today’s selection, “Blue Sky,” the contest winner, was broadcast on NASA’s live feed at 2:23 a.m. CST.

STS-133: Final Flight for Space Shuttle Discovery

Image above: Pictured are NASA astronauts Steve Lindsey (center right) and Eric Boe (center left), commander and pilot, respectively; along with astronauts (from the left) Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen, all mission specialists. Photo credit: NASA

This afternoon marks a historic moment for NASA’s space shuttle Discovery. Today will be the 39th and final time it will launch from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. After nearly three decades of active service, STS-133 is scheduled for its final launch at 4:50 PM EST. The launch was originally scheduled for last November, however mechanical problems with the external tank support beams caused it to be delayed till today.

You can watch the launch coverage on NASA TV on the web or on your local cable provider.

The Discovery crew will be delivering the Permanent Multipurpose Module(PMM).  The PMM is designed to hold additional storage for the International Space Station crew as well as provide a location for experimentation in fluid physics, material science, biology and biotechnology. Discovery will also carry critical spare parts for the ISS and the Express Logistics Carrier (ELC4).  The ELC4 is an external platform which can hold large equipment that can only be transported with the large capacity of the space shuttle.

In addition to two planned spacewalks, STS-133 will also mark introduction of Robonaut 2 (R2), the first human-like robot to space, where it will become a permanent resident.

STS-133 will be a six member crew:

Discovery’s retirement is well earned.

Discovery has flown more missions then any other spacecraft, flying 38 missions to date. It has carried 246 crew members and completed 5,628 orbits around the Earth equaling 352 days.

As a workhorse, Discovery has carried many satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and sent the Ulysses robotic probe on its way to the Sun. As an ambassador, Discovery was the first shuttle to dock with the Russian Mir Space Station and delivered the Kibo laboratory to the ISS. After retirement, NASA has offered Discovery for display at the National Air and Space Museum.

Last October, before the launch was delayed, GeekMom paid tribute to Discovery’s final flight with a playlist of music befitting the occasion.