[I'm going to start posting some of my GeekDad articles over here, so you'll know when new ones are available. Let me know if this is unnecessary duplication.]
I had the pleasure of meeting Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides at a SEDS UCSD talk the other day. It quickly became obvious that she’s one of Our People, and a successful one at that. From the GeekDad interview article (my first ever):
Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides sees the future of space in the eyes of students. Not as the “coveted 18-24 demographic”, but as leaders of the new space industry. To her, space-interested science and engineering students in high school and college right now are “one in a million,” and she wants them to train to be the next Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, Burt Rutan, or Elon Musk.
She should know. As an astrobiologist, Virgin Galactic advisor, Wired blogger, and Zero G flight director, she’s seen her share of the Right Stuff. She’s followed James Cameron to the bottom of the ocean and led 70,000 people to a party at NASA. Space is personal for her, too: she and her husband, National Space Society director George T. Whitesides, will honeymoon on one of the first Virgin Galactic suborbital flights.
Check out the rest of the interview and let me know if I should hang up my press hat. ;)
The new endeavor, named Virgle, has been written up on the Google blog by Sir Richard Branson.
Radcliffs, get your rockets ready!
It’s the fiftieth anniversary, give or take, of Sputnik and Explorer I. While the Russians might have beaten the U.S. into space, the U.S. apparently came in first place for science. Or at least according to this op-ed from the L.A. Times:
Fifty years ago tomorrow, the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit. Its success may seem to be a footnote in space history, a second-place finish to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik. After all, wasn’t it Sputnik, launched four months earlier, that represented the real scientific breakthrough and sent Americans cowering in fear at the shiny Russian ball orbiting overhead?
Not exactly. Sputnik, a “hey look at me” feat of engineering, did not throw the nation’s scientists into a panic or prompt a mad scramble to match the Soviet demonstration of power. Instead, President Eisenhower, while prodding his team for results, kept an established national space program focused on the deliberate pursuit of scientific progress, and as a result, it was the runner-up that scored a more important breakthrough for pure research.
Conceived by James Van Allen of the University of Iowa and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Explorer 1 carried with it instruments to detect radiation in near space and to send data back to Earth. This mission was an extension of a vast global project — called the International Geophysical Year — that involved thousands of scientists and technicians from almost every country.
Sputnik merely orbited Earth; Explorer made the first physical discovery in space, identifying the regions of high and low radioactivity now known as the Van Allen belts. These radioactive realms offered clues for understanding atmospheric phenomena such as the aurora borealis and the way radio waves behave over long distances. The belts also suggested that space might contain unusual and unimagined hazards.
Most interesting is the point made at the end of the article about how the U.S. space program is accomplishing more for science by supporting projects such as Hubble and leaving the peopled-mission fun to the private sector.
I haven’t looked at details yet, but Virgin Galactic showed off models of their new spacecraft today according to a New York Times article:
Mr. Rutan, the creator of SpaceShipOne, the first privately-financed craft to carry a human into space, traveled to New York to show detailed models of the bigger SpaceShipTwo and its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnight, a two-fuselage, four-engine plane in its new incarnation, will ferry the smaller spacecraft high into the sky and release it. The spacecraft pilot then fires the craft’s rocket engine, which burns a combination of nitrous oxide and a rubber-based solid fuel, and shoots the vehicle upward to an altitude of more than 62 miles, the realm of black sky.
Once there, the pilot is to activate the craft’s innovative feathered wing, which rotates into a position that greatly increases aerodynamic drag and slows the craft for a glider landing back on earth.
Commercial flights are still a couple years away, but it’ll be great to see these things take off even on test flights…
Is anyone interested in a road trip to Arizona for some moonshine? No, not that kind of moonshine. I’m talking about moonlight reflected off a five-story mirror array in the desert near Tuscon.
A Tucson-based inventor and businessman Richard Chapin and his wife Monica are behind the giant device, which gathers up and focuses the light of the moon.
The Chapins built the large, one-of-a-kind contraption that stands in the desert some 15 miles west of Tucson, Arizona, in the belief that moonlight might have applications for medicine, industry and agriculture.
“So much work has focused on the sun. We have just forgotten about this great object that has been here for billions of years, has affected us in all forms of our evolution,” said Chapin, who paid for the project with his own money.
I certainly don’t think there’s anything woo-woo about moonlight, even when concentrated, but I really do like the idea of being bathed in concentrated moonlight. Just thinking about the phenomenal distances involved in the light’s journey to you is awe-inspiring.