Talking Up Space


I’ve been a bit quieter than usual here lately, and part of the reason is that for the last couple of weeks, a decent number of my spare brain cycles have been going to support an exciting project we’ve been involved in at work.

I’ve written before about the fact that my coworker Heather got approval to write an official NASA blog about her work as an education writer. The blog recently reached the end of its first pilot phase, and is currently undertaking a rather cool project — a live downlink with the International Space Station.

After the space shuttle Discovery launches on its final flight next month, Heather will talk to a member of the crew while the shuttle is docked with the space station for about 20 minutes. Live downlinks are a rare opportunity, so it’s more than a little neat that she’s getting to do this.

Since this is a project for the blog, we’re bringing an education focus to the event, and we’re doing that by working to involve students in the interview. To accompany the blog, we’ve established Twitter and Facebook accounts that we’re using to get student opinions. Due to government restrictions we didn’t have time to get waivers for, we’re doing that primarily in the form of letting students vote on which areas they’re most interested in hearing asked about. Even so, it’s a very rare opportunity for the student public in general to be involved in an event like this.

It’s a really neat project, and Heather’s doing some great stuff with it (and I’m having a lot of helping).  I encourage you to go check it out and follow and like and vote and subscribe and retweet and share, etc.

A Voyage to the Moon


From a Plinky prompt — “If you were offered a free trip to the moon, would you go? Why or why not?”

Puerto Madero and the Moon

One-way, or round trip? That might make a difference. Maybe.

My answer to this pretty much always would have been “yes” — the novelty of being one of the only people to have been there, the excitement of exploring somewhere new and unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, the awe of seeing first-hand the terrible beauty of the “magnificent desolation,” the experience of actually BEING THERE.

And all of that was without any actual experience. If you’ve never really felt the one-sixth gravity of the surface of the moon, trust me, it’d be worth the trip.

I had the opportunity to go on a Zero-G reduced gravity flight a while back. The plane goes up into a huge arc, and then back down, and then back UP and then back DOWN. Inside the plane, you don’t really feel the up and down. What you do feel is that, as you go over the hill, for about half a minute, gravity goes away. It’s a rather interesting experience.

On my flight, we got about 15 weightless parabolas, spent floating in mid-air. Rather fun, to be honest. We also got two arcs at one-third G, the gravity that you would experience if you were walking on Mars.

And, because the Mythbusters were on our flight filming a segment debunking the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked, we got extra parabolas at lunar one-sixth G.

Space exploration is kind of my forte. I’ve studied what it’s like to experience weightlessness, lunar gravity, etc. I’ve talked to people who have experienced both. I was surprised at what a surprise one-sixth G was.

In orbit, you’re weightless. Weightlessness was interesting, but not surprising. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but upon experiencing it, I had somewhat of a “well, that makes sense” reaction. On Earth, there’s gravity. On the moon, there’s gravity. So the moon should be more like Earth than space, right? I expected something like everyday walking around, but different. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

One-sixth G was like being weightless without being untethered from the surface. You could jump high enough that you basically experienced freefall coming back down, but you did always come back down. It was amazing. It was freeing. And, yeah, I would definitely make the trip to experience it for more than half a minute at a time.

Please?

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