Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Finally

ARRIVAL: This morning, as planned, the SpaceX Dragon arrived to the International Space Station. It was grappled by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, with assistance from NASA's Terry Virts. 
Cristoforetti appears eager to open the hatch between Dragon and the ISS, and get at that onboard ISSpresso maker. The ESA posted this photo of Cristoforetti, a Star Trek Voyager fan, this morning.
               ESA - European Space Agency
The caption read, "There's coffee in that nebula. Ehm, I mean... in that #Dragon." The quote is from the Voyager episode "The Cloud," where Captain Janeway, eager to find coffee for herself and her crew, asks the navigator to set a course while jokingly stating, "There's coffee in that nebula."

ReelNASA produces a weekly "Space to Ground" broadcast. The two-minute video does a nice job of summarizing all the activity around the Dragon launch and arrival at the ISS.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the ISSpresso machine that is now on station. Turns out NASA astronaut Don Pettit (of Oregon) helped design special cups that the ISS dwellers will be using to enjoy their espresso.

Annabelle wanted to know more about Pettit's cup, so we found  video about it on YouTube. The physics involved are fascinating.

ANOTHER ANGLE: My Twitter and Facebook feed was full of news about new footage of the first stage of the Falcon 9's attempted landing on a barge on Tuesday. It was posted to Reddit, supposedly taken by a GoPro camera. If it hasn't been taken down yet, here's a link to it:

ALLEY CATS:  Families looking for affordable fun this summer might want to check out  Once again, the group is offering free bowling for kids age 15 and younger all summer long. It's as simple as going to, finding an alley near you, and signing up to receive coupons via email each week.

The KidsBowlFree program is offered by bowling centers to give back to the community and provide a safe, secure, and fun way for kids to spend time this summer.  Eligible children receive two free games a day, all summer long (shoe rental rates do apply, however). 

I signed CJ and Annabelle up. Now, it's just a matter of actually making it to the bowling alley. ....

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Taking Root

GARDENING, HIGH AND LOW:  Today, we took dozens of tomato and tomatillo starts from our kitchen counter out to our raised bed. The weather is supposed to be warm and nice for the next few days, and we thought this a good time to get our babies out into the world.
For some inspiration before we toiled in the soil, I showed the kids a Reel NASA video about gardening the astronauts and cosmonauts are doing on the International Space Station. For instance, they've grown some red Romaine lettuce that looked really healthy.

The video covers interesting things to think about when gardening in space, such as how do the roots and leaves know which direction to grow in microgravity? Are space veggies safe to eat? What kinds of microbes are living on them, and what kind of lights are used to help the plants grow on station? 

Check the video out for yourself!

SPOTTING:  Last night, we were thrilled, as always, to catch an ISS fly over. While we were waiting, I told the kids that we should look for SpaceX's Dragon, too, as we knew it would be playing catch up to the orbiting space station. 

At the appointed time, we spied the ISS, and scanned behind it for Dragon. Just as the ISS was about to disappear to our east, Annabelle picked out the faint, illuminated dot trailing it: Dragon!  

Actually, the cargo ship appeared to be in a parallel orbit with Dragon, a little further north/lower in the sky to our eyes.

The skies are clear here again today, and tonight there's a two-minute ISS flyover. We're betting we see Dragon better tonight, and closer to the ISS, as just six hours after the fly-over we'll be able to see, astronauts on station will grapple Dragon. After docking with the ISS, it will stay for the next five months or so.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: Christian brought home all sorts of cool things from his trip to the Space Coast, including some freeze-dried 'astronaut' ice cream from Kennedy Space Center.

Tonight, the kids had ice cream on their ice cream.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dragon Watch

    Image: SpaceX

CLOSING IN: After yesterday afternoon's successful launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 with a Dragon capsule atop it, we have been keeping track of the spacecraft's progress toward the International Space Station.

We were lucky enough to get to see the ISS fly overhead last night about 9:50 p.m. Seattle time. It seemed to go right over our house!  We didn't see Dragon chasing it yet, however, as it was too soon after launch. There's another pass over Seattle tonight at 8:59, and the skies are clear. You know we'll be watching for the ISS and Dragon!

One of the more interesting items on board Dragon is an ISSpresso machine. Designed by Argotec, the Italian engineering company specializing in the design of aerospace systems and European leader in the preparation of foods for in-space consumption, and Lavazza, the historic Italian coffee brand, the appliance takes its name from the International Space Station (ISS), where it will get plenty of use, no doubt.
          Photo: Lavazza

ISSpresso is the first capsule-based espresso system able to work in the extreme conditions of space, where the principles that regulate the fluid dynamics of liquids and mixtures are very different from what a coffee maker on Earth has to deal with. 

Here is a graphic from Lavazza explaining how the ISSpresso will work. It's kind of like a K-cup machine. ...

Lavazza even has a video about the out-of-this-world espresso maker.

There is still lots of buzz about the video of Falcon 9's attempt to land on the barge in the Atlantic. Rhett Allain has written an article with analysis for WIRED magazine about the attempt. It's worth a read: 

Meanwhile, SpaceX has posted a hi-res, color corrected video of the attempted landing. So interesting!
"So close. So freaking close," Annabelle said after watching the newest video.

Meanwhile, Christian is making his way home from the Space Coast. When the Mariners and Dodgers were getting underway at 7 p.m. our time, he was over the heart of the Midwest.

HAT TIP:  Speaking of baseball, as we often do, today is the day Major League Baseball celebrates barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson.

An inspiration for the ages, Jackie broke into the bigs with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 151947 . When we visited the Mets' stadium, in Brooklyn, awhile back, we were happy to see a permanent homage to Robinson was prominently on display.
Tonight, the Mariners played the (LA) Dodgers. Jackie's widow attended on-field, pre-game festivities.

Number 42 has been retired across all of MLB, in honor of Robinson.

Robinson's contributions were recognized by baseball fan and astronaut Terry Virts on the ISS. "Honoring #JackieRobinson today! #42" wrote Virts, wearing a replica Jackie Robinson jersey on orbit in the cupola of the International Space Station.
 Image Credit: NASA

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

We Have Liftoff!

       Image credit: NASA
FLY, FALCON, FLY:  Another day spent with our minds on the Space Coast and the pending SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Christian has been filing reports from the field, the lucky participant of a #NASASocial in conjunction with the launch. 

The launch was supposed to happen yesterday, but weather scuttled it, with just 3 minutes to go in the countdown. The weather was supposed to be even worse today, but lo and behold, by midday there, the forecast had improved, and by an hour before the 4:10 Cape Canaveral time for launch, it was deemed weather wouldn't be a factor. Hooray! In addition, the SpaceX folks weren't working any issues, to we were all super optimistic about it being a go.

Fortunately, the #NASASocial folks took the group back out to the causeway to watch today's launch. Christian shared this phenomenal, panoramic view. (If you click on it, you can see a larger version.)
Meanwhile, back in Magnolia, we were enjoying our view, too, albeit a remote one. We decided to decorate with a few dragons (in honor of SpaceX's Dragon capsule atop the rocket). The kids even brought out the book "How to Train Your Dragon." 
One thing we learned during all the pre-launch coverage is that those four towers surrounding the rocket are lightning rods. Makes sense.

Fortunately, there was no lightning today and the launch went off just perfectly! Here's one of Christian's photos from that moment. 
Here are a few shots from NASA TV.  The series of images shows the Falcon 9 rocket at liftoff through its Dragon's solar array deployment. 
Here's a short video of the launch.

After the launch, Christian got to attend the post-launch press conference with Dan Hartman, deputy International Space Station Program manager for NASA (center) and Hans Koenigsmann of SpaceX (far right). (NASA spokesman Mike Currie is on the left.)
During the post-launch presser, we all learned that the attempt to land the first stage of Falcon on a barge named Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic fell just short.  Check out this Vine video SpaceX shared, and you can see just how close they were.

It is hoped that someday in the not-too-distant future, rocket recycling can become a reality, saving big bucks.  Hopefully, SpaceX will be successful on their third attempt to land the first stage, likely in June during their CRS7 mission.

Right now, this capsule is chasing the ISS.  Dragon is set to arrive to the ISS on Friday morning at 4 a.m. Pacific time. It will remain attached to the station for about five weeks. 

Astronauts on board the ISS are eager to get their hands on Dragon's cargo. The science payload inside includes a study of potential methods for counteracting cell damage that occurs in a microgravity environment; research to improve understanding of bone cells, which could lead to treatments for osteoporosis and muscle wasting conditions; and additional studies into astronauts' vision changes. The payload also includes tests on a new material (by RasLabs) that could one day be used as a synthetic muscle for robotics of the future, and the craft also contains hardware which will be used in the installation of two International Docking Adapters scheduled for delivery on future SpaceX missions. These adapters will enable commercial crew spacecraft to dock to the space station in the future. 

All in all, it was a glorious day, and we're all so happy that the launch was picture perfect.

BOX AND WHISKER:  This morning, we decided to give the "Smarter Balanced" test a test run. It's the latest (though probably not greatest) standardized state test that the kids will have to take this year. 

Annabelle took the 4th grade version of the math test. It was pretty straightforward and nothing we hadn't seen or done before.  CJ took the 6th grade version of the math test. That was an eye opener. There were a couple of new-to-us terms. Case in point: a "Box and Whisper" chart. I'd never heard of one, and I've done a fair amount of math - including college calculus and upper division statistics.  

Off to the Google we went. Fortunately, we found a short, straightforward Khan Academy YouTube video that demystified it for us, quickly.

Monday, April 13, 2015


READY TO GO:  We slept fitfully, knowing today was the day Dragon was set to launch from the Space Coast, carrying over 4,000 pound of vital cargo, bound for the International Space Station. And Christian is there to chronicle it all!
Just look over his shoulder, here. It's the Falcon 9 with Dragon up top, ready to go! All day long, we heard of zero issues being worked and were optimistic it would go at 4:43 p.m. Space Coast time, as scheduled.

In the hours leading up to launch, Christian got quite a tour.  He got to see Launch pad 39A, where the shuttle used to be launched. It is now being modified by ‪#‎SpaceX‬ to be able to launch ‪#‎Falcon9‬ and ‪#‎FalconHeavy‬. The swing-out structure is being retained as an historical monument.‪#‎NASASocial‬ ‪#‎KennedySpaceCenter‬
Also part of his tour was this launch tower. Originally for Ares, this mobile tower is being retro-fitted for NASA's SLS program.
Coming from Seattle, Christian couldn't help but notice the Boeing digs during the orbital processing facility tour.
We watched excitedly as the countdown clock ticked toward launch. However, we were wary of the weather, which looked sketchy from more than one direction. And with an instantaneous launch window, there was no room for hoping for better skies. Either it was a go or a no go. 

Turns out it was a no go with just under three minutes to launch due to 'anvil clouds' (insert images of Wiley Coyote and Acme anvils here). Bottom line: BUMMER!

They're going to give it a go tomorrow, at 1:13 p.m. Pacific time. Tune in to NASA TV for pre launch coverage beginning at noon, Seattle time.

In the meantime, enjoy one of Christian's fellow #NASASocial  participant's wonderful video of highlights from the first day of their event.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

SpaceX CRS-6 NASA Social - Bonus Coverage!

PRE-LAUNCH PRESSERS:  Last night, as most of America slept, Christian was winging his way cross-country, from Seattle to the Space Coast, in Florida.  There, first thing this morning he drove to Cape Kennedy to pick up his social media credentials to cover events related to tomorrow's planned SpaceX CRS-6 launch to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
One of the morning's highlights for Christian was touring the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA.

Imagine his surprise when inside he found a shout to our beloved Seahawks!
In the afternoon, Christian sat in on three press conferences. 

The first was an ISS Science, Research and Technology Panel, featuring Mike Roberts,  senior research pathway manager, CASIS; Kirt Costello, assistant International Space Station Program scientist for NASA; Dr. Marshall Porterfield, director, Space Life and Physical Sciences, NASA Headquarters; Noel Clark, principal investigator, Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands In Space (OASIS), University of Colorado; Dr. Paola D. Pajevic, principal investigator, Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4), Harvard University;and Stephanie Schierholz of NASA's communications office.
Christian had the opportunity to ask Mr. Costello about the ISS being a U.S. national laboratory given it's an international space station.

He also asked the panel about plans to study how microgravity affects developing bones. Dr. Pajevic and Dr. Porterfield answered his question.  

The second presser was the ISS National Lab panel.  Kirt Costello, International Space Station deputy chief scientist, NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Mike Roberts, senior research pathway manager, CASIS; Paul Reichert, principal investigator, Protein Crystal Growth-3, Merck Research Laboratories; and Lenore Rasmussen, RasLabs, Synthetic Muscle for Prosthetics and Robotics.

I could listen to Dr. Rasmussen all day!  Ras Labs produces a Synthetic Muscle™, electroactive polymer (EAP) that contracts and expands at low voltages.   The lab's mission is to use their Synthetic Muscle™ to make working robotics and prosthetics, especially for the hand, that feel and appear human.

Christian had a chance to ask Rasmussen about her product. 

Press conference viewers and attendees learned more about CASISthe Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. CASIS is the sole manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and it has responsibility of inciting the imagination of entrepreneurs and scientists, accelerating and facilitating space-based research, and creating public awareness of National Lab research, while making space science more accessible to the world.

After the press conference, we watched this short video about CASIS

Christian got some cool CASIS swag at the #NASASocial.

The afternoon's third and final presser was the SpaceX Pre-Launch news conference. The panel was NASA communications specialist Mike Currie, Dan Hartman, deputy ISS program manager from NASA's Johnson Space Center; Dr. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX; and Dave Kraft, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron.

Christian asked Kraft for more details about making the call regarding no or no go on launch day. (The video feed lagged for a few seconds in the middle of the answer ... bear with it.)
Incidentally, no, weather can't be 'too good' for launch. ;)  And as of right now, it's predicted there's a 60 percent chance of weather being a 'go' for launch tomorrow afternoon.

During the press conference, viewers learned that the Dragon capsule will be carrying 30 large bags of water up to the ISS. Christian asked NASA's Hartman about how water is recycled on station.

We are looking forward to Christian's reports tomorrow, and sure hope the rocket goes up as planned, at 1:43 p.m. Pacific time. 

You can watch coverage on NASA TV, with pre-launch coverage starting at 12:30 p.m.

DAWG DAY: In other news, on Saturday, we had Big Fun at Pacific Science Center's annual Paws on Science event, which features dozens of scientists from the University of Washington and lots of hands-on, er, I mean paws-on, activities for the public.
Annabelle learned a bit about how filters help telescopes see certain things out in space.
And at one booth, the kids learned about how different cells were attracted to viruses.
Look at how colorful these viruses are!
The kids each made their own microbe.  Googly eyes make everything better. 
One station demonstrated how the body produces immune cells to battle viruses in the body.
At another booth, they experimented with infrared, and how well different materials do at shielding heat. 
 The takeaway lesson from the booth had to do with greenhouse gases. 
At another station, CJ and Annabelle learned how bad they are at washing their hands. ...

Making "elephant toothpaste" is always big fun! But first, you have to dress like a scientist.
Then, it was time to mix up yeast, dish soap, and some strong peroxide.
Adding food coloring made it more fun.
And before long, it was a colorful, foaming fountain!

Paws on Science certainly lives up to its name! 

BRAIN FREEZE:  And let's not forget, Saturday was also special because it marked #BringYourOwnCup day for Slurpees(R) at 7-11.
The kids contemplated various containers but settled for a Mariners Moose meal bucket we had at home.

Happily, they filled it up with a mixture of Coke- and blue raspberry flavored Slurpee.

I would like to tell you they didn't drink it all, but that would be a lie.