Thursday, May 31, 2007

ISDC Video Interviews

Four posts? OK, this will be quick. I didn't attend Theresa Holmes' "Save for your seat to orbit" presentation at ISDC, but I just discovered the series of brief video interviews she made while there for a video blog on the topic of "why space?" Her subjects include Rick Tumlinson, Robert Zubrin, Ben Bova, Loretta Whitesides (seen with her husband, NSS Executive Director George Whitesides), and various other ISDC attendees.

Space Day in Framingham

Wow, three posts in one day - I'm turning into Instapundit (not quite).

For any of my readers in Massachusetts, I just learned of a free space event at the Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center at Framingham State College. The 4th Family Space Day will be this Saturday, June 2, from 10 am to 2 pm. It looks cool, but I have a conflicting event that day, the 75th anniversary luncheon for the Aldrich Astronomical Society.

New LAUNCH Magazine

One of the many things I picked up at ISDC was a free copy of the May/June issue of LAUNCH magazine. I've written about it before, but this space and model rocketry magazine keeps getting better. The current issue has some great articles on space history, private space, and solar system exploration, plus a lot of cool photography.

Carnival of Space #5: Amazing Space

Carnival of Space #5 is up today at Why Homeschool, and Henry Cates has collected a suitably amazing range of posts under the theme "amazing space." I especially liked Clark Lindsey's proposal for web-based "remote space tourists" and Babe in the Universe's post on an ISDC announcement from Benson Aerospace. Robot Guy's "Why do space at all?" looks good too, but it's a bit long so I've printed it to read later.

I also attended ISDC 2007 last weekend, and since I will be hosting Carnival of Space #6 next week, I've decided to make ISDC the theme, although non-ISDC posts will also be welcome. If you have something you'd like me to include next week, please follow the guidelines here to submit your post (the space carnival email address is forwarded to the carnival host each week).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ISDC Wrap-up

Although I’ve always followed developments in space, it’s only in the last couple of years that I started to do educational outreach related to space, first with written and on line materials, and more recently with presentations for students. ISDC 2007 was my first ISDC conference and only my second space conference (the first was the Mars Society Conference last summer in DC). I was struck by the diversity of topics, people, and points of view – it was really fascinating, and even a bit overwhelming - 11 technical tracks often made it difficult to choose a presentation to attend. Space is many things to many people, and space people are many things too. From veteran astronauts and NASA professionals to scientists and engineers of many stripes, to the fascinated and sometimes even skeptical "general public," perhaps the only truly common thread was a belief that space is a topic at least worth discussing.

I was lucky to have brought along my own near and dear “member of the general public,” one who has often been skeptical of my views on the vital importance of becoming a spacefaring civilization. I think she’s still skeptical of a lot of it (and rightfully so), but after attending three full days of ISDC presentations, she now has a broader perspective on space and on why it means so much to so many people. She reminds me that it's always important to think about "why" and not just "how."

A few more highlights:

Buzz Aldrin’s dinner speech was a bit rambling, but very entertaining and informative. He remains very active in promoting education and developments leading to private spaceflight. He mentioned his ShareSpace Foundation and his recent proposal for a spaceflight raffle, the plans for which are now in work. He didn’t really provide details, except to say that to buy a raffle ticket, you will have to be a member of a space advocacy group such as NSS.

NASA Ames director Pete Worden gave a presentation in Second Life (projected on screens at the real-world conference), talking about how virtual worlds can help with international participation and (perhaps) increase people’s sense of participation in space events. Astroprof described the session in more detail, and I have to say that I agree with him that it was more distracting than immersive. I think it’s worth pursuing as a sort of test bed – the technology is bound to improve, and there are many people who already find Second Life to be extremely engaging (at least socially). Or maybe I am getting old.

Dr. Steven Squyres gave a talk on the development, adventures, and accomplishments of the Mars Exploration Rovers, often stopping to credit individuals at JPL who literally saved the mission at various times. On a slide illustrating Opportunity’s remarkable bouncing landing directly into Eagle Crater, Squyres said there was no way to explain this, other than to “invoke the spirit of Tiger Woods.”

Alex Tai of Virgin Galactic showed a real video of SpaceShipOne and then an animated video of what the SpaceShipTwo experience will be like. He didn’t give firm dates but emphasized again and again that safety will be the driving force, although he agreed with a questioner who suggested that eventually a private space flight will end with a “smoking hole.” Tai said that the emphasis on safety combined with informed consent by participants would be the key to the survival of the industry should such a disaster occur.

My own presentation (“Playing in Space: Interactive Education with the Orbiter Space Flight Simulator,” title slide above, PDF presentation and handout available here) was also a highlight for me, of course, and it seemed to generate some real interest.

There’s lots more in my notes, but I’ll close for now. Later I will post a sort of “ISDC Blog Carnival” to point to ISDC related posts by other bloggers. This will be good practice for hosting the real Carnival of Space on June 7 – I hope my fellow space bloggers and others will submit any ideas or posts you would like to see included when I host the carnival next week.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

ISDC Rocks!

Rocked actually. I just attended the final dinner (with a great speech on economic development of the Moon by Harrison Schmitt) and will visit some family in the Dallas area on Monday. I feel like a blogging slug since this is only my second post from the conference, but hey, I've been busy here!

Highlights include almost meeting Buzz Aldrin (I was standing three feet away waiting to say hello when he had to leave, but at least I got to hear his Saturday lunch speech), riding an elevator with Rusty Schweickart, and shaking hands with Dr. Steve Squyres (who gave an excellent talk on the Mars rovers at his award dinner Saturday evening). OK, I'm a space fanboy!

I met a number of people I had known only through the internet, including author Marianne Dyson and my 2006 Mars Society paper co-author Mark Paton, plus a few fellow space bloggers including Eric Collins and Astro Prof. There were many interesting presentations for which I will need to review my notes. The education session this afternoon was really good, and my "Orbiter in education" presentation went well. I hope to have it up on the web in the next couple of days (email me if you'd like a copy sooner).

It was raining in Dallas the whole time, but we were immersed in the conference events and hardly noticed. I'll write more and link to some other reports in the next few days.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Carnival of Space #4

I'm a bit late in noting that Carnival of Space #4 is up over at Universe Today.

Things are busy here at ISDC, with many interesting people to meet and presentations to hear, and I'm really having fun. I made and brought about 30 CD's with basic Orbiter related files, add-ons, tutorials, and presentations, along with a couple of single page handouts. This way when I make my "elevator pitch" for Orbiter in education, I can save any interested people the trouble of downloading the large files. I'm also doing a bit of PR for my Sunday afternoon presentation since there are 11 competing topic tracks for people to choose from.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

ISDC 2007 in Dallas

I'm in Dallas for ISDC 2007, and I have to figure out which of the many interesting sessions and papers I will attend the next few days. The main conference starts tomorrow, so all I needed to do today was pick up registration materials and try to get tickets for Saturday's featured luncheon with Buzz Aldrin (got 'em). I will also get to hear lunch or dinner talks by Eric Anderson, Steve Squyres, and Harrison Schmitt - cool!

I also went on a very detailed JFK assassination tour with a few other ISDC attendees. One interesting subject that came up related to space: if JFK had not been assassinated, would the Apollo program have gone differently? I hadn't really thought of that before - after Kennedy's death, fulfilling his Moon pledge could be seen as a sort of memorial to him. I can imagine that there could have been funding problems even if he had been reelected in 1964. I'm sure this alternate history has been considered by others, but getting immersed in the details of November 1963 while visiting Dallas for a space conference (in the 50th year of the space age) makes it an especially intriguing point to ponder.

Jeff Foust will be blogging from here - I will try, but I will have to see how it goes. I'm hoping to actually meet some fellow space bloggers at Saturday afternoon's "Space Bloggers Summit" session.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Space Paintings of Pat Rawlings

Pat Rawlings is a wonderful artist - his paintings of space scenes have been used in countless studies by NASA and other organizations and have appeared in many books. His paintings for a NASA study called "To the Moon in 24 Hours" were also the inspiration for an excellent add-on for Orbiter by Ken Bolli (TTM24, example shown here, Orbiter above, Rawlings below). Andy McSorley's has a gallery of images from the add-on as well as tutorials and links to other sites.

Pat Rawlings' web site has searchable galleries with hundreds of his paintings available for on-line viewing. There are also some animations.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Orbiter for Educators: Teaching is Hard!

Today I presented "Exploring Space with a Computer" at the Girls Scouts of Rhode Island SMART science/math event at Bryant University. This was the first time I had given this Orbiter-based talk in a situation with hands-on workshop possibilities, thanks to a well-equipped computer lab with 41 networked PC's. I installed Orbiter on 15 of them to support the estimated 10-15 middle-school girls per workshop (55 minute sessions, repeated four times). It was a good thing this installation was just a simple CD copy in Windows (I copied a complete home installation onto CDR for easy installation, but 3 or 4 copies instead of just two would have made the 15 installations go faster). The actual group sizes varied from 8 to 18, for a total of about 48 girls (plus adult leaders).

I kept the introductory PowerPoint and shuttle launch (playback) demo brief to allow most of the time to be hands-on with the software, and this worked pretty well. Most of the girls seemed to enjoy the activities, but I did learn some things that will help me improve such events in the future. For one thing, less is more. I had planned a solar system tour followed by a self-running planet/moon quiz using a different scenario. But it was clear that the time was better spent just exploring the first scenario, and making use of time acceleration, zooming, and panning to get a feel for the diverse appearance of the bodies of the solar system, as well as their motions. This was novel enough to hold their attention for about 15 minutes (the scenario had a lot of preset camera positions to make it easier to get around).

Another thing I should have done was make hand-outs that included step-by-step instructions for the Moon-base hover/rotate/move exercise. I had brought a few handouts (the requested copies from the organizers were lost in the shuffle of some 300 Girl Scouts and 70 presenters), and they listed a few main keyboard shortcuts and the keypad thruster controls, but not a step-by-step checklist. Duh! Many girls were too distracted by Orbiter itself to really watch my demos and listen carefully to the few essential steps I presented, and some ended up hurtling through space instead of hovering 10 meters over pad 4 at Brighton Beach Moon Base.

Two exercises (solar system tour and Moon Base Hop) were more than enough for 55 minutes, though I also had a space station docking exercise prepared! With step-by-step instructions, there might have been time for some free-form play and more questions and answers (I asked some but should have asked more, and the girls asked mostly "how do I fix this?!?"). I gave them handouts with download information to take home.

All in all a good first experiment with Orbiter in a workshop environment, but with setup from 7:45 to 10 am (plus a lot of preparation hours on Saturday afternoon and evening), and sessions from 10:30 to 3:30, I was really tired by the end of the day. I've taught many things, mostly professional training for adult engineers, plus some events for kids of various ages in optics and space. But I always forget how hard this is with kids, to stay patient and focused, and to keep it fresh. How do teachers do this day after day? Hats off to those of you who do!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Private Space in WIRED

I just got the new (15.o6, better known as June 2007) WIRED magazine in the mail, and the cover story is on private space (cover blurb: "Rocket Boom" with a graphic of a bunch of private spacecraft and rockets spewing flames). Too busy to read it tonight (early day for my Girl Scouts space workshop tomorrow), but I did a quick browse, and the main article is almost all about Elon Musk and SpaceX. There's a sidebar on Rutan and Branson and Virgin Galactic. There's also an article about what's wrong with NASA.

None of this is especially new for space buffs, but it's nice to see it heavily featured in a relatively mainstream mag like WIRED. Nothing on their web site yet.

5/22/07 Update: HobbySpace reports that the WIRED space articles are on line now, SpaceX here, with links to the others on that page.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Now No Nano

My iPod Nano was stolen today. It was my own stupid fault - I left my jacket (with iPod in the inside pocket) at the cafeteria at lunch and didn't realize it until three hours later. The cafe was closed, but security recovered the jacket for me, sans iPod. I feel bad about it, but what's amazing to me is to watch the gymnastics my mind goes through with this.

Value - I got the iPod in late October 2006, about 7 months or 210 days ago for about $200, less than a dollar a day. Did I get that much enjoyment from it? Sure, I think so.

I'm an idiot - If you leave your iPod in the pocket of your jacket in even a small cafeteria for several hours, of course it will be stolen. Duh.

I don't need it - I've got music everywhere, on the notebook PC, home PC's, external hard drive for the notebook when it's home (10,000+ songs), hundreds of CD's, a CD-MP3 player that still works for the car, a cheesy 512K iRiver MP3 player that still works for walks and planes. This is not a disaster.

I love it - The iPod has the most elegant interface; is the most convenient music source for driving, walking, and flying; has a carefully refined set of 1000 of my favoritest songs, and is probably my favorite product ever. I use it every day. I'd rather lose the TV than the iPod.

Upgrade time - I was thinking of getting a video iPod someday anyway. 30 GB is a lot of tunes. No tough choices on what to carry.

Economize - Refurbished ones are available and cheaper.

Surf the Learning Curve - Wait, new models will come out, same money for more GB of flash memory. Wait a few months!

Don't Upgrade - I don't need more songs - 1000 songs is about perfect, bigger than any radio station playlist and all picked by me.

Hey, this is not a problem - I know people with cancer, people with real relationship troubles, people with kids who give them real grief. This is nothing (this is probably the correct answer, but the brain keeps going).

Prioritize - Hey, I'm spending a lot of money soon, Dallas for ISDC, maybe getting a new Toyota Prius in June, higher car insurance, don't spend money on something so foolish as replacing an iPod I barely need.

Spend to Save - Hey, I've still got free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime.

There's probably more, but you get the picture. My college roommate was right - I am an amazing rationalizer. OK, and an idiot. But at least I got a blog post out of it.

Free two day shipping, hmm, I could have a new one before Dallas...

Mirror, mirror, mirror...

Today's Technology Review update has a nice article on the segmented beryllium mirror that is being developed for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The article links to a brief video that has some interview segments with project scientists, and excerpts of an animation showing the JWST space deployment sequence. The YouTube video shown here is longer (2'24") and shows the complete sequence with music (but no narration). These videos don't convey the size of JWST. The thing will be enormous.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Carnival of Space #3

Carnival of Space #3 is up, a nice variety of posts hosted this week (and next) by Universe Today.

I'll be hosting the Carnival here on June 7, but I can't think about that right now - I'm trying to finish up lots of work stuff before heading to Dallas next Wednesday for ISDC 2007. I've also been preparing for a "space flight workshop" I'll be presenting for middle school Girl Scouts at a science/math education event this weekend at Bryant University (RI). I'll be using Orbiter, and for the first time, my students will be using it too - I'll install it on a room full of PC's and give them three hands-on assignments to try for themselves. Should be fun, and good preparation for my ISDC talk on using Orbiter in education.

Space Out With Orbiter

The June/July issue of Air & Space Magazine just arrived, and in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Space Age (measured from the launch of Sputnik in October 1957), they have an article called "50 Ways to Space Out" (it's already up on their web site). These include such suggestions as visiting museums, checking out various web sites, renting a "moonsuit," and bidding on space relics. But best of all is #23, "Simulate Deep Space," which suggests downloading freeware space simulations Celestia and Orbiter (the magazine version includes an Orbiter screen shot of the shuttle).

I noticed that the Reader's Scrap Book section of their web site has posted three more of the WW2 flying pictures that I submitted from Charlie Cook's collection. There's a portrait of Charlie from flight school, an aerial formation shot of a Vultee BT-15 "Vibrator," and another one of Charlie in full flight gear on the wing of an AT-6 Texan. There are many great photos submitted by other readers from all periods of aviation history.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Self Actualization... and Survival

Wayne Eleazer's essay "Not in our stars" in this week's Space Review is really good, and extremely accurate as far as it goes. I too am in favor of human space flight, not only robotic probes and directly-beneficial applications such as weather and communications satellites. I want to see humans in space, on the Moon, on Mars, exploring and eventually settling the solar system before moving on to the stars. But human spaceflight can be a tough sell to the average person who is not a space enthusiast, and people rightfully ask, "why?" (even if NASA is "only" 0.6% of the Federal budget). I have often answered with the usual arguments for human spaceflight, based on projected resources from space, spinoffs, educational motivation, and even the need to preserve experience and knowledge (and jobs), to remain internationally competitive, and to work with other nations on peaceful and cooperative goals (the last two probably even conflict).

While I agree that the Cold War space race of the sixties and early seventies (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo) could be called a series of "stunts," I would expand that to add "technology demonstration" and "proof of many concepts." We learned a lot in a short time about the possibilities and problems of humans in space, and while those programs weren't built to last, they were built, and the knowledge was gained. It was not only flags and footprints.

But to be honest, the real reason I want to see humans in space (and why I would be one of those humans in a heartbeat) is because it is really, really cool. I think that putting humans in space is the most amazing of the many amazing things that people can do, and it makes me proud to be a human, and yes, proud to be an American. Why should humans be confined to a single small planet in a gigantic universe? Because we were born here?

Are "really, really cool" and "proud to be a human" the same thing as Eleazer's self-actualization idea? He writes
We need to state, up front and forth with, that manned space exploration represents the ultimate act of self-actualization for the human race in general and the United States of America in particular. We need to say that we need to send humans “out there” in order to feel that we—as a race and as a nation—are complete, individually and collectively.
Yeah, I think that's pretty much the same thing. And I don't exclude robotic craft in my pride. I think that Hubble (which has benefited from some astronaut "health care"), Voyager, Cassini, MER, and other robotic probes are also fantastic accomplishments of the human mind and spirit. But when I see the pictures they return, I don't only think, "wow, beautiful," I sometimes also think "someday people should see that with their own eyes - and we will."

But should the taxpaying public pay to do stuff because some of us think it is cool, exciting, or even self-actualizing? At some level, yes. We should work to make the Earth a better place to live, and work to eliminate and prevent suffering and to promote equality of opportunity and other important human values. But we can do those vital and practical things and do other things as well. We often try to make beautiful buildings, not only functional boxes. We provide some support for the arts, for scientific research with no immediate practical use. Some of these "frills" are supported by private individuals, companies, and foundations, and space development is gaining in the private sector too. But government support is still needed, just as it was for the interstate highway system and the various infrastructure projects of the New Deal era.

And there's another reason for putting humans in space that is even more basic - survival. I've written about that before, as have Stephen Hawking and many others. But it's really true. We've got a one-planet solution right now, and no matter how much we say "we have to make that work" (and we do!), it still may not work. Something (possibly ourselves) could wipe us out, and I think humanity is worth preserving. All of life on Earth is of course worth preserving too, but I still have a special preference for humanity, as bad as we may be sometimes.

Self-actualization and survival seem like pretty good reasons to maintain and expand human spaceflight, through NASA, international partners and competitors, and private efforts. So I appreciate Wayne Eleazer's telling it like it really is, for me and for many space enthusiasts.

I feel better now! No more spinoff arguments, I swear, though I probably will continue to bang the space education drum if you don't mind. But behind it all, remember, we're not rooting for space, we're rooting for humanity.

Learning the Orbital Ropes

I write a lot about Orbiter, and a little bit about other software tools such as Gravity Simulator, and I've written Go Play In Space to help people get started with Orbiter (it includes quite a lot of background material too). But there's a lot of stuff that I more or less assume that people know if they're interested in space, and I have to admit that this is not always a good assumption. Fortunately we have the web, and I want to mention two sites that I have found really useful for understanding space flight and orbital mechanics.

JPL Basics of Space Flight - Quite complete, richly illustrated, essentially non-mathematical, and with brief quizes for each section to check your understanding. It's best used in the interactive mode though there is a PDF version as well.

Rocket & Space Technology by Robert A. Braeunig - Not as comprehensive but the explanations are clear and compact. There is a fair amount of high-school-algebra-level math. Also includes an excellent page clearly and simply debunking the "we never went" Moon-landing-hoax nonsense. Very nicely done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jonathan Coulton Rocks!

I learned about this guy from my "label" - an email from CD Baby, the independent artists' web site where I sell (very few copies of) my own CD. Jonathan Coulton also sells his CD's through CD Baby, but unlike me, he has this whole independent singer/songwriter web-marketer/blogger business totally figured out. He's also really, really funny. And good. Not that I'm not, but he's better.

The CD Baby email pointed to a recent NY Times article on the whole internet music business thing, but Coulton is heavily featured. He quit his programmer job in September 2005 to become a full-time singer/songwriter, and his self-promotion angle was "Thing a Week," a project for which he pledged to write and record a new song every week for a year. I've only listened to (on MySpace) and previewed (on CD Baby) a handful of the songs so far, but they are quirky, funny, catchy, and really good. I've downloaded a few from iTunes and will probably buy a couple of his CD's on CD Baby when I get time to preview more of the songs.

"Code monkey" and "Re: Your Brains" are hilarious - Dilbert moments as excellent pop songs (although Dilbert usually doesn't have zombies in his office). His melodic version of the rap classic "Baby Got Back" is also a riot. Maybe I should make myself a songwriting/recording pledge. Thing a week? Thing a month? Thing a year?

P.S. I inserted the YouTube video for one of Jonathan's songs. I have to say he is making better use of Flickr than I ever have!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Orbiter for Educators: Name That Moon

Name That Moon in Orbiter
Next weekend I'm participating in a big educational outreach event for Girl Scouts in Rhode Island. It's called SMART (Science and Math Are Really Terrific), and I'm doing a space workshop. It's supposed to be hands-on, and it seems to be working out that I have a PC-equipped classroom so I can install multiple copies of Orbiter so the middle school girls can each have a go at playing in space (the event is at a university). Of course you never know with these things - I hope the PC's are up to the task of running Orbiter, and that I can really get the promised access to install it on them!

This means I need activities, and they have to be fun and something you can do without learning a lot about Orbiter (each workshop session is about 50 minutes). So I came up with three, a solar system tour and quiz (hoping to have some small prizes available), a "Moon hop" (hover and maneuver a Deltaglider from one pad to another at Brighton Beach on the Moon), and "final docking" with the ISS (starting from "hover" at 10 meters with slight misalignment to correct before docking). I've written brief cheat sheets for these things, and I'll also demonstrate.

For the quiz, I couldn't have them jump directly to the planets because they would then see the names directly. So I made a scenario with 13 spacecraft (Who_1 to Who_13) orbiting various bodies. You can press F3 to get the list of all the spacecraft, double click each one, and ID the planet or moon. Most are easy but there are a few tricks (like hiding a planet behind its moon at the start, requiring time acceleration to get around the moon to see the planet). I hope this is all somewhat fun and doable in 50 minutes - live testing next weekend.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bug Report

Amen to this on conspiracy theories. But pictures like this do make you wonder about the Moon landings. Don't they?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Now THIS is planning ahead!

There's an interesting post over at Universe Today, "When Our Galaxy Smashes Into Andromeda, What Happens to the Sun?" It refers to a recent article (PDF) by T.J. Cox and Abraham Loeb in which they simulated the impending collision and looked at the possible consequences for our nearest and dearest star (and planet). I was interested in this because I recently played with some galaxy collision simulations and wrote about them here.

It doesn't look too bad for the sun in these simulations. It will be more of a galactic sideswipe than a head-on collision, and we may move to a different neighborhood. But no rush to pack or anything - the first sideswipe will be in about 2 billion years.

The animated gif is linked from the Galaxy Crash web site (that's the Java simulator).

Second Carnival of Space is Up

Check out the second Carnival of Space for links to some really cool space related blog posts. I will be guest-hosting the space carnival the week of June 7.

Discover Discover

Discover Magazine may be considered "science lite" compared to Scientific American (which I also read) and other science magazines, but it's still got a lot of good content, and I'm glad I've gone back to subscribing. The current (June) issue has the theme "the science we don't see" and includes a wide range of articles on radio waves, ocean life, imaging of atoms, thermal imaging, etc. as well as an interview with author and futurist David Brin. Good stuff.

The current issue is not on line yet, but some recent space-related articles are, including a March article "Grace in Space" about NASA's gravity-measuring GRACE satellites (gravity map of Earth above) and a cool article about Titan.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New Carnival of Space This Week

Henry Cates has announced that he will run the next Carnival of Space on his Why Homeschool blog this Thursday. Entries are due by 6 pm PDT Wednesday, so fellow space bloggers, dig up an interesting post and submit it (it's easy, instructions here).

Monday, May 07, 2007

Space for Backup: Plan Carefully!

(Unfortunately the comic that originally appeared above has gone away - it showed the Earth being destroyed by tsunamis and other catastrophes - two astronauts on the Moon could see this happening and one says something like, "See, I told you we should have brought some boardgames along." It was probably called "Boardgames" and maybe it's in the new book.)

Another on-line cartoon I discovered over the weekend is the Perry Bible Fellowship. It's not very biblical, except occasionally in a certain sense. Nicholas Gurewitch has a bizarre way of looking at things that reminds me a bit of Gary Larson's The Far Side, but different. Some very funny stuff, even if his physics is a little weak.

ISDC Presentation Done

Firefly Jumbo - Orbiter Add-on
This weekend I finally did the PowerPoint for my presentation at ISDC 2007 in Dallas, coming up in just a couple of weeks. The talk is in the Sunday afternoon education track and is called "Playing in Space: Interactive Education with the Orbiter Space Flight Simulator." It introduces Orbiter and then gives several specific examples of how Orbiter can be used in the classroom. Thanks to a cancellation, I learned that I will have 50 minutes for my presentation, so I plan to show some live Orbiter demonstrations and make it sort of a mini-tutorial. Most of the graphics were things I've had around, but I did create a couple of new ones, including this shot of the Firefly from the movie Serenity. It's a weird spacecraft but a very detailed Orbiter add-on by Jon Marcure and Shawn Beard.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cheaper than the Vomit Comet

I have to find a really big swing set and try this. Some of Randall Munroe's xkcd webcomics are really funny, which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that I'm a hopeless nerd. I was also home reading a book on Saturday night. He also has a blog (or blag). I probably laughed out loud at this Schrödinger one. Yes, quantum comics.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rocket Science for... um, Dummies?

The "for dummies" thing seems to be permanently with us, alas, though I supppose that's better than "for the complete idiot" (another popular book series). Rocket Science for Dummies isn't a book, it's a web tutorial on applied orbital mechanics using Orbiter. It's been around for a few years (since 2004) and is actually quite good - it's one of the things that helped me learn Orbiter back in 2005 and then inspired me to write my full-blown tutorial book, Go Play in Space.

The original version of Dummies was written by "Windlepoons" as a series of posts in a gaming forum. Last fall "Enjo" (Simon Ender) updated the tutorial for Orbiter 2006 and posted it in four parts on "Falcoleprof's" excellent educational support site. It includes some starting scenarios, good diagrams, and good explanations to help you get up and orbiting (and even docking in part 4) in almost no time.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

You Are Here

The Planetary Society has a gallery of images of the Earth taken by various spacecraft, from Apollo's classic full-Earth and Earthrise shots through Cassini's 2006 "Pale Blue Dot." The image shown here was taken from Mars orbit in May 2003 by the Mars Global Surveyor. It has been image-processed to show both the crescent Earth and the much darker Moon.