Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Man Who OWNS The Moon

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You've probably heard of Dennis Hope, the man who claimed the Moon and has been selling acreage there since 1980. If you haven't, you're missing one of the greatest crackpot success stories of all time.  Con artist? Smartest dude, EVER? Hmm...
 
Moon Overload Dennis Hope
"Get off my lawn!"

Over three decades ago, Dennis Hope wrote to the United Nations, pointing out that the Outer Space Treaty does not specify that corporations or individuals cannot lay claim to lunar territory. Of course, the assertion is absurd, and if put to a point of law in court, his proclaimed "loophole" would easily be declared invalid among laughter in about 200 different languages.

The 1967 treaty forbids national governments from owning property in space as an early preventative measure against attempted militarization; space, like the Earth's oceans, is common property intended for the free use by all Earthlings. Still, since his initial letter (which garnered no response), the self-titled entrepreneur announced he has secured legal ownership of just about every other celestial body in our solar system, too.

Hey, if you're going to worship at the altar of crazy, you may as well be the high'n'mighty god of your newly created religion, right? 

Among the many buyers who have lined Hope's pockets? Three ex-presidents. Big-name Scientologist actors. All in all, millions of acres has resulted in Hope making millions of dollars.

Moon Map
Click to see what's already sold.

Incredibly, his lunar real estate development company -- which he refers to as the "Lunar Embassy" -- now consists of 3 full-time employees, 27 resellers, and 6 ambassadors!  They take Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, Discover and Diner's Club credit cards for all products.

When you purchase a lunar plot (a quite reasonably priced acre, in my opinion), you get a map of your particular location, a fancy parchment deed, and a copy of the Lunar Constitution, detailing the Moon's Bill of Rights and the "all important laws of THE HEAD CHEESE , the omnipotent ruler of the Moon" (seriously).

Our Moon Landlord calls the sales packages "novelty gifts" to avoid lawsuits, but zestily disputes other ownership claims from around the world, calling similar companies or individuals "criminals" and "pretenders".

Lunar Constitution
Yours for only $34.00, with 30-day Guarantee

 Happily, even if you've managed not to hear of Dennis Hope before, a filmmaker has created a documentary about him. The aptly titled "LUNARCY" will debut on EPIX next week on April 3rd.

I for one think this is awesome (hey, whatever kinda looneysicle he chooses to be, no one's ever made a documentary about ME, so who am I to talk, right?), and I plan to watch, because he also claims that his Galactic Government can solve Federal Deficit problem! Can't wait.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

POLL: What is a Space Traveler?

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What is a "Space Traveler" ?
  • A Government-sponsored astronaut or cosmonaut.
  • Plus an X-15 pilot who reached "space" (62 miles or 100km) ?
  • Plus a commercial traveler who reached "space" sub-orbitally
  • Anyone who has been above 50 mile mark

Please note: if Poll Widget throws an error, just use back button to try again :)
Also - You can check more than one box.

Quite a quandary for me, recently. Each time the Shuttle or Soyuz rocket launched in the past few years, I have tweeted if any rookies were aboard. I've been counting all the "Space Travelers" for years now, and would generally let folks know how many new men and women braved the black!

Now, however, I'm realizing my count may be inaccurate, but it depends on whether one is using the aviation definition of space, NASA's definition of space, or the modern scientific consensus on where space begins?

How High Is Space Chart

For my count on the Astronaut / Cosmonaut Birth Places Map, I tallied all the people who flew official missions for government agencies.  I included the handful of "space tourists" because each had been trained or sponsored by those agencies.

The annals of history show us that the "line" where Earth sky ends and SPACE begins has been debated in terms of the biospheric corona, and we may need to include some of the very early pioneers (X-15 test pilots) as well as the most modern pioneers (Sub-orbital plane passengers).

NASA awards "astronaut" status for flights above 50 miles. However, "Space" is said to begin at least 62 miles up, or 100 kilometers even.  Despite not being on official "missions", Joe Walker set the first altitude record for winged flight, topping 107 kilometers. Then, he set the second.

Test Pilot Joe Walker
Test Pilot Joe Walker, first man to reach space twice

A further 7 pilots in the X-15 program flew higiher than NASA's mark of 50 miles.  So... are they astronauts?  Or are we only space travelers if we break the 100km / 62 mile-mark?

In 2004, Mike Melvill flew Mojave Aerospace Venture's "SpaceShipOne" above 100 kilometers.  He became what some call the "first commercial astronaut". Six days later, Brian Binnie flew to 107-112 kilometers (debated), becoming the second.

These were new record for non-government, non-orbital aircraft, and they won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for the accomplishments Both men reached the required altitude height to be awarded astronaut status... but...

Mike Melvill Joe Binnie
Binnie & Melvill... Space Travelers or just High Flyers?

Are all astronauts created equal? Do we consider them to be "Space Travelers" alongside famed agency heavyweights like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, or any others who have performed orbits and/or trips to the Moon? Should we include them in the "overall" count of humans in the great beyond?

Please feel free to vote or weigh in with an opinion in the COMMENTS section below.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Space Cadet Test

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How do you know if you are an Astro-Nut or an Astro-NOT? Add up your points in the Space Cadet Test?  Read through and share your score on Twitter with the #SpaceTweep hashtag!

1. You can name every NASA program from 1959 onward, and still think it's kinda weird that the lunar program was misnamed for the Greek god of the Sun. (???)

2. Having NASA TV on in a separate web browser throughout the day is nothing unusual.

3. You know offhand what "STS" and "TMA" mean. Next launch, coming March 28th!

4. Your Twitter feed, social media page or email handle is a space term cleverly coupled with your personal nickname.

Hotwheels Mars Rover
You searched high and low for one of these...

4. You have had to explain "worm" and "meatball" to people.

5. Your favorite film is about aliens or space exploration in some far-off universe where there is no such thing as money or language differences.

6. You've spent more than one Halloween dressed as one of the aliens in said film from above.

7. Your mouse pad and the screen saver of all your collective gadgetry features pulsars, nebulae, supernovas or black holes.

8. You actually know the difference between pulsars, nebulae, supernovas or black holes.

Sad Planet Pluto
You know why Pluto is saaaaad...

9. And when someone mentions it, you actually feel the need to explain that pictures are inaccurate anyway – because black holes are invisible, so we can only surmise their properties by observing effects on objects around them.

11. There is really nothing wrong with having Space Shuttle tiles in your office at work. And that space helmet is a conversation piece.

12. You can name all twelve American astronauts who walked on the moon. In order.

13. You just barely sobered up from St. Paddy's Day, and the first thing you do is choose where you're going to party for Yuri's Night!!

SCORE 1-3: Clearly you get out too much. And you have a tan. You're no space geek, why are you even taking a computer quiz??

SCORE 4-6: They would totally beat you up at a Star Trek Convention.


SCORE 7-8: Not too shabby, but your kids probably still know more than you do.


SCORE 9-10: The Planetary Society would benefit from your membership and you should get a free telescope. Wish I had one to give away.

SCORE 11-12: You are starting to annoy people at cocktail parties with space facts, but really, they are just jealous of your incredible space smarts. Have you thought about applying to NASA?



Certified Space Cadet!

SCORE 13:
You're going to gripe that there were two number #4s and there was no number #10 above (talk about detail oriented!), and that will cap your perfect score of #13... as a Certified SPACE CADET!


Want to share your score?? Click on the COMMENT section below and let us know who is an Astro-Nut or Astro-NOT? Or, go to Twitter and use hashtag #SpaceTweep. Have fun! =)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Comet PanSTARRS from Wildcat Peak!

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COMET COMET COMET COMET COMET! I spotted a comet! Well, to be fair, my eagle-eyed pal Susan spotted Comet Pan-STARRS through stabilized binoculars, and then showed me. We capped off a day of hiking around the Tilden Nature Area, Jewel Lake, and Wildcat Canyon, by watching the bright comet until it was lost in the wispy post-twilight clouds.

PanSTARRS Comet Watching
Setting up! Wildcat Peak, Tilden, Berkeley, CA

When all was said and done, we covered 10.5 miles of hilly terrain, but briefly-aching feet were completely worth it to see that beautiful ball of steaming ice from Wildcat Peak, very likely once a citizen of the distant Oort Cloud!

Happily, we were high enough to avoid buildings, far enough from cities to avoid light pollution, but not so removed that we couldn't access the internet. We and tons of other space enthusiasts have been live-tweeting sightings and photographs all week, and I am sure this worldwide gazing party will only increase until PanStarrs is rendered invisible by the sun glare toward the end of March.

Comet Pan-STARRS
Photograph through binoculars, by Susan Bell

Have you spotted it, yet? Many of the online guides are vague, because of course the viewing field for the comet depends heavily on your vantage point.  But, some easy tips are to go high, go dark, and follow hashtag #PanSTARRS on Twitter.  It's a good way to compare cloud covers, estimate directions and see where other people are spotting and photographing!

Comet C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS is named after the telescopic survey that first spotted it, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System; the first hardware, PS1, was placed on the Haleakala volcano in Hawai'i, and from this vantage point, it has discovered numerous new comets and asteroids by comparing past views to current views of varied sky areas.

The full (four telescopes now) system's primary mission is to detect near-Earth objects (NEOs) that may indicate future impact collisions... a pretty hot topic for everyone, suddenly. Thank you, single-day Asteroid-and-Meteor Team!

Comet PanSTARRS

PanSTARRS L4 made its closest approach to Earth (1.097 Astronomical Units, about 400 times the distance from Earth to the Moon), and has been visible in the Southern Hemisphere for some weeks.  We Northerners are finally getting our chance now!  Given that the comet's tail of debris is about ten times longer than the Earth is wide, we will continue for weeks to see light reflected from all that ice and dust as it zooms through our celestial neighborhood.

Just past perihelion now, many astronomers estimate the course as a 106,000 year orbit. So get out there and look up toward the crescent moon!  You won't be around in another, oh, THOUSAND centuries when it returns.

Comet panstarrs
Pan-STARRS and Moon, by Kevin Baird

My favorite northern capture so far comes from Spacetweep Photographer Kevin Baird, also known for his fantastic collection  of launch, constellation and NASA Social pictures... with the occasional stormtrooper.

Click on the above picture to see the original sized photo, and many other stunningly clear shots from his viewing point in San Diego, California!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dacio Paints The Cosmos

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"The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was recently my great pleasure to enjoy the beauty of The Cosmos Gallery, an online artwork collection by a talented Peruvian painter and web developer, who shares his art on a self-made site that is an amazing blend of science and creativity! Dacio agreed to an interview about his stunning creations, and gave permission to share them on my blog.

You were inspired by the International Year of Astronomy – but seeing your work, I find it hard to believe you've been working with oils for such a short time. What did you paint before exploring the universe?
DACIO: I've been painting and drawing since childhood, doing landscapes, abstracts and portraits, but the universe always captured my imagination. One of my first memories is gazing at Halley's Comet through my father's telescope. Space seemed overwhelming, too magnificent to grasp or paint. In 2009, I started watching the Cosmos series. I found myself experiencing an intense urge to learn more about the stars that Carl [Sagan] talked about. I attended my first star party, and realized I could find my way around the night sky. Learning a bit of what once seemed obscure was an empowering feeling!

Painting the Colors of the Cosmos
The rich textures and bold colors in your "astro art" are very powerful, and your emotions about the connections between science and creative expression come through so clearly. Are you influenced by Hubble images, science shows, or do you wait for something spontaneous to appeal to you?
DACIO: I collect images from space telescopes and observatories, because they are free on the internet. I feel happy knowing that I will never run out of inspiration by choosing the cosmos; every day, I find something new that takes my breath away. I don't watch TV, so I'm thankful for all the science content that you can find online: documentaries, science blogs, podcasts, etc. I listen to Astronomy.fm online while I paint. This allowed me to discover my favorite podcasts: 365 DOA, The Space Writer, Skepticality, Dr. Kiki's Science Hour, and The Groks Science Show.

My favorite description in your gallery was for The Swan, "where stars are born". I loved the story of the Going Nova, an "awakening that takes us through a thousand years and across space into the heart of a star". Celestial events can be timeless symbols for enlightenment, and your journeys of creation are profound. Are you also a poet?
DACIO: I love poetry and literature; I used to write more, but then needed to express more than I could comfortably put into words. I particularly love Pablo Neruda and Gustavo Bécquer, they wrote a type of poetry that I found irresistible in its simplicity and elegance. I found some of that in painting: I didn't need a big budget to get serious about it, I didn't need a crew or a producer or a studio. I simply needed my brushes, paints, an empty canvas and a burning desire to share.

Magnificent Desolation
Magnificent Desolation

Why do you encourage people to download and share the pictures of your paintings on your site, what about your copyrights?
DACIO: Many artists publish their work online by disabling the right-click or other techniques to block users from downloading, or as I'm constantly told, "To protect your work and stop people from stealing it, man!" This attitude seems shortsighted. Then why put your work online in the first place then? I'm thankful that NASA has the courtesy to share images without copyrights, thus granting me freedom to create upon this inspiration. This openness is nothing strange in the scientific community, and I wanted to work in that that spirit.

I tell my visitors they have my permission to download and share, that they are free to post things wherever they please. A Creative Commons license seemed the right decision by allowing me to give away some rights for the sake of better sharing, while still reserving the right to make a living from my work. I started selling reproductions on canvas of my paintings as a way to find out if like minded people would see value of science-inspired art and give me the chance to continue creating with their support. Thanks to this, I'm able to reach a broader audience.

Dance of the Fireflies
The dance of these fireflies is the dance of distant suns.
To the tune of silent drums,
flows the grace of gravity and time.

My favorite painting is the Dance of the Fireflies: Antennae Galaxies. In a world saturated by digital data, many might have advised you to concentrate on your web career instead of 2-D painting. Is this form of art still relevant in the modern age?
DACIO: Social relevance, absolutely. As humans reach new heights, art will continue to play a role. Inspiration transcends fields: I was inspired by science to paint the stars and my art can inspire others to pursue scientific literacy. It is true that modern age has brought us a saturation of options, information and distractions, but it also brought the chance to connect to a global audience. I want my paintings to have substance, I want to infuse them with gratitude for the science that inspired me. This was the main reason why I developed in my website an interactive "Anatomy" section for each piece.

Secondly, there is the personal journey. The creative process develops a critical stance, experimentation and problem solving skills. This is how painting becomes a learning journal for each creative moment, and with a particular contrasting property in this age of rapid obsolescence: the longevity of the medium. It's mind boggling how we can still appreciate the tangible beauty and technique of an oil painting created hundreds of years ago. Learning about the universe makes you appreciate the short time given to us. In this context, I feel that painting is also a way of saying, "I was here; everything else along with me shall pass, but the colors of my moment will stay a bit longer."

Thank you so much for your time in answering questions and for allowing me to post your beautiful images. Friends and readers, you can also keep up with Dacio on his Facebook page and his YouTube Channel… !

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Map of Space-Related National Historic Landmarks

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Continuing from yesterday's introduction, here are the space and/or science-related National Historic Landmarks in the United States of America. 

Space Landmarks

Pretty spread out! Click the map or this link to the clickable and zoomable Google Map on the Pillownaut domain to navigate around.

I've been to 12 already, and have 22 to go. Sadly, none of us may ever reach the total of #35 since one, the Old Naval Observatory in Washington DC, is no longer open to the public.  But that's the only one!

Also note, this is the 5th in a series of space maps, and the rest can be found at the same domain.  The master maps page lists other similar tools for space agencies, space museums, astronaut birth places, Apollo Moon Trees, scaled solar system hikes and all NASA spacecrafts on display.

ALABAMA (5)
Huntsville: Neutral Buoyancy Space Simulator
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
October 3, 1985
34°39′07″N 86°40′41″W

Huntsville: Rocket Propulsion and Structural Test Facility
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
October 3, 1985
34°37′25″N 86°39′31″W
 
Huntsville: Redstone Rocket Test Stand
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
October 3, 1985
34°37′51″N 86°40′00″W

Huntsville: Saturn V Dynamic Test Stand
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
October 3, 1985
34°37′45″N 86°39′40″W

Huntsville: Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
February 10, 1987
34°42′30″N 86°39′21″W

ALASKA - NONE

ARIZONA (1)
Flagstaff: Lowell Observatory
December 21, 1965
1400 West Mars Hill Road, Flagstaff, Arizona, 86001

ARKANSAS - NONE

CALIFORNIA (7)
Fort Irwin: Pioneer Deep Space Station
October 3, 1985
35°23′15″N 116°51′22″W

Lompoc: Space Launch Complex 10
June 23, 1986
Aero Road, Vandenberg Air Force Base
34°45′55″N 120°37′20″W

Los Angeles: Hale Solar Observatory
December 20, 1989
740 Holladay Road, Pasadena, CA 91106

Los Angeles: Space Flight Operations Facility
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 3, 1985
Building 230, DSN Road, La Cañada Flintridge, CA

Los Angeles: Twenty-Five-Foot Space Simulator
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 3, 1985
Surveyor Road, La Cañada Flintridge, CA

Mountain View: Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel
NASA Ames Research Center
October 3, 1985
C Lane & Durand Road, Moffett Field

San Marino: Edwin Hubble House
December 8, 1976 1340
Woodstock Road, San Marino, CA 91108

COLORADO - NONE

CONNECTICUT - NONE

DELAWARE - NONE


FLORIDA (1)
Cape Canaveral: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
US Department of Defense Space Launch Facility
April 16, 1984
28.488889°N 80.577778°W

GEORGIA - NONE

HAWAII – NONE

IDAHO - NONE


ILLINOIS (3)
Chicago: Adler Planetarium
(First and oldest planetarium in western hemisphere)
February 27, 1987
E Solidarity Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

Chicago: Arthur H. Compton House
(Nobel Prize Physicist, Compton Effect)
May 11, 1976
5637 S Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637

Urbana: University Of Illinois Astronomical Observatory
December 20, 1989
1450 W Gregory Drive Urbana, IL 61801

INDIANA - NONE

IOWA - NONE

KANSAS - NONE

KENTUCKY - NONE

LOUISIANA - NONE

MAINE - NONE


MARYLAND (1)
Greenbelt: Spacecraft Magnetic Test Facility
NASA Goddard Research Center
October 3, 1985
10476 Good Luck Rd Glenn Dale, MD 20769

MASSACHUSETTS (1)
Auburn: First Liquid-Fueled Rocket Launch Site
Robert H. Goddard Family Farm (Now a golf course)
November 13, 1966
Stonebridge Road, Auburn, MA 01501

MICHIGAN - NONE

MINNESOTA - NONE

MISSISSIPPI - NONE

MISSOURI - NONE

MONTANA - NONE

NEBRASKA - NONE

NEVADA - NONE

NEW HAMPSHIRE - NONE


NEW JERSEY (2)
Princeton: Albert Einstein House
July 1, 1976 1
12 Mercer Street Princeton, NJ 08540

Holmdel: Horn Antenna
Big Bang Confirmation /Universe microwave radiation discovery
May 30, 1974
40.390752°N 74.184859°W

NEW MEXICO (2)
Los Alamos: Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
US DOE / Site of Manhattan Project
December 21, 1965
4200 W Jemez Rd #300, Los Alamos, NM

Doña Ana: White Sands V-2 Launching Site
White Sands Missile Range
October 3, 1985 32.399378°N 106.377814°W

NEW YORK (2)
Hastings-on-Hudson: John W. Draper House & Observatory
Astrophotography pioneer, first to photographed Moon surface features
May 15, 1975
40.9901°N 73.8801°W

Poughkeepsie: Vassar College Observatory
Workplace of pioneer astronomer Maria Mitchell
July 17, 1991
41.6875°N 73.893611°W

NORTH CAROLINA - NONE

NORTH DAKOTA – NONE


OHIO (3)
Cincinnati: Cincinnati Observatory
Original building atop Mt. Lookout
December 9, 1997
3489 Observatory Place, Cincinnati, OH 45208

Sandusky: Spacecraft Propulsion Research Facility (B-2)
NASA Glenn Research Center
October 3, 1985
North Magazine Road Sandusky, OH 44870

Cleveland: Zero Gravity Research Facility
October 3, 1985
W Hangar Road Cleveland, OH 44135

OKLAHOMA - NONE

OREGON - NONE

PENNSYLVANIA - NONE

RHODE ISLAND - NONE

SOUTH CAROLINA - NONE

SOUTH DAKOTA - NONE

TENNESSEE - NONE

TEXAS (2)
Houston: Apollo Mission Control Center
NASA Johnson Space Center
October 3, 1985
Delta Link JSC, Houston, TX 77058

Houston: Space Environment Simulation Laboratory
NASA Johnson Space Center
October 3, 1985
Avenue C, JSC, Houston, TX 77058

UTAH - NONE


VERMONT (1)
North Springfield: Stellafane Observatory
Springfield Telescope Makers, Inc.
December 20, 1989
Jordan Road, Springfield, VT 05156

VIRGINIA (2)
Hampton: Lunar Landing Research Facility
NASA Langley Research Center
October 3, 1985
W Bush Road, Hampton, VA 23681

Hampton: Rendezvous Docking Simulator
NASA Langley Research Center
October 3, 1985
Building 1244, Ames Road, Hampton, VA

WASHINGTON - NONE

WASHINGTON DC (1)
District of Columbia: Old Naval Observatory
(Only space-related National Historic Landmark closed to the public)
January 12, 1965
23rd Street and E Street NW Washington DC

WEST VIRGINIA (1)
Green Bank: Reber Radio Telescope
First parabolic radio telescope
December 20, 1989
W Virginia 92, Monongahela National Forest

WISCONSIN - NONE

WYOMING - NONE


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

ROADTRIP! National Space Landmarks

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Well it's almost warm enough to travel again. Who's already planning Spring Break road trips? I know I am. Last year, I mapped all the Solar System Hikes and Apollo Moon Trees, but this year my adventures will be based on space-related National Landmarks in America!

Do you know how many there are, and where they are located?

Pillownaut Spacemap
Space-Related National Historic Landmarks

That's it. Out of 2,495 National Historic Landmarks, or "NHLs" in America, only 35 have to do with space or scientific pursuits. What are the others? It's a pretty amazing list, actually. And I would know because I researched every single one, looking for descriptions! (Maybe you can tell this took me most of the winter...)

Some National Landmarks are immediately recognizable and unique, such as Central Park, Grand Central Station, the Stock Exchange and famous historical features such as the White House or National Cathedral. Other “onesies” include an asylum, a WWII Internment Camp, a casino, obsidian cliff, fossilized reef, grain elevator, granary, horse racetrack, quarry, medicine wheel, oil field, real-tennis court, record company, roller coaster, shipyard, sea garden, Walden Pond, and the Wright Brothers’ airplane.

Map of Space Landmarks
There's also ONE planetarium... America's first: Adler! (Chicago)

Categories of multiple landmarks throughout the United States and the District of Columbia include apartment buildings , archaeological sites, armories, arsenals, art studios, auditoriums, banks, barracks, battlefields, beaches, breweries, bridges, camps, canals, canyons, capitol buildings, carousels, caves , cemeteries, churches, city squares, colleges, convents, courthouses, dams, distilleries, factories, forts, furnaces (blast or iron), gardens, geysers, gymnasiums, homes / homesteads (of presidents, early patriots, authors, inventors, or public figures.), hospitals, hotels, housing districts, inns, islands, jails, law offices...

DEEP BREATH!

... libraries, lighthouses, lodges, log cabins, mansions, massacre sites, mills, mines, missions, mounds, mountains, mountain passes, parks, Pony Express stations, ports/pier, post offices, plantations, plazas, prisons, pueblos, railroad stations or tracks, ranches, reservations, roads, rock formations, schools, shipwrecks, shopping arcades, skyscrapers, springs, submarines, synagogues, taverns, theatres, tombs (presidents), trails, treaty sites, towers, tunnels, villages (settlers and Native American), water crafts (aircraft carriers, battleships, destroyers, ferries, minesweepers, schooners, steamboats, tug boats, etc.) and watersheds.

It's truly an incredible collection, if you ever want to examine the entire list of NHLs across all 50 states!

Space-related National Landmarks
Mission Control callsign "Houston"

Mapping all the ones particularly related to space or science has been difficult, since many do not have street addresses. Finding them inside NASA centers, or merely by coordinates takes time and multiple verifications, since information about them on the internet is often downright wrong (go figure).

Further complicating the process was having to learn the finer points of National Monuments and National Memorials -- both of which are legally and categorically different than National Landmarks.  However, the one thing that made it easier was that I didn't actually end up mapping either of the latter two.

Of the 109 National Monuments and 29 National Memorials in the United States, not a single one is space or science-related. Zero.

Putting the finishing touches on the NHLs map today, stay tuned for tomorrow!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Married to Mars

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I watched Dennis Tito at his Inspiration Mars press conference, and my mind has been percolating on the subject since. The space press and network news channels splashed the nutshell version with varying degrees of accuracy:

The year 2018 will see a periodic alignment of Earth with Mars that would allow a space craft to perform an elliptically-swinging "flyby" of the Red Planet in the shortest possible time, with minimal energy expenditure. There will be no landing, no contending with the complex Martian atmosphere and low gravity, just a trip in a capsule by a man and a woman. The envisioned married couple, preferably past their fertile years, would celebrate a wedding anniversary in space, over a 500+ day mission.

Inspiration Mars

Science reporter Miles O'Brien was on hand for introductions, and the song'n'dance show starred Tito's personal money (funding the first two years of the project), poetic astronaut widows, and optimistic technical advisers who made pretty statements about the nature of exploration -- but gave precious few details about how we might overcome the health issues, radiation problems, propulsion, or hardware limitations.

While live-tweeting the event, I received two humorous marriage proposals, and suddenly Twitter was abuzz with stereotypical fluff about how much marriage sucks and why it's a bad idea to share a tin can with your spouse for the sake of quite possibly the most ambitious undertaking in the history of human science. The big question: WOULD YOU? 

Inspiration Mars

I felt the normal tingle of exhilaration when met with lofty announcements by billionaire hopefuls, but I detect many flies in the Flyby ointment.

Official NASA spokesman David Steitz weighed in with this gem:
"This type of private sector effort is evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration's overall space policy. It's a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers. NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's space technology and Mars exploration plans."
 

Audacity is right! Flurries of speculation and information followed, including mission parameters from Inspiration Mars, including the official 18-page Feasibility Analysis For a Manned Mars Free-Return Mission. The latter document is detailed, to be sure, and shows an impressive amount of forethought, research, scheduled mission phases, orbital dynamics, life support systems, projected supplies, operations, NASA support and accountability.

Inspiration Mars

Well worth the read… Unfortunately, what it will never have is any assurance that even if the astronauts survive the mission, there will be no long-term ramifications of prolonged weightlessness, radiation, and psychological isolation. Do we always have assurances when pioneering? Of course not. Look what Cristoforo Colombo and Fernão de Magalhães (aka "Magellan") accomplished without the benefit of MISSION CONTROL, back in the day.

We've lost lives in the name of conquering the Moon, lost even more in learning our way around low Earth orbit, and it remains a solid possibility that the first two humans to attempt a flyby of Mars will simply be the first people to die near Mars. There are no emergency rooms, no dialing 911, no aborting, and no returning early… for any reason.

Inspiration Mars

As ever, I was energized about hopeful talk about Mars, because I want so desperately for this trip to occur during my lifetime. However, as always, when the launch plumes clear, my skepticism soars. Will ample investors be found? Haven't Biosphere2 and Mars500 taught us this is far more complicated than originally thought? How will the crew be selected and trained? 

Humans are great at solving problems. However, space is much better at killing. But don't take my word for it...

Dennis Tito's Mars Flyby Has 1-in-3 Chance of Success

Millionaire Dennis Tito Plans To Send Woman & Man to Mars and Back

Mars Trip to Use Food and Fecal Matter as Radiation Shields

9 Questions for Dennis Tito on Private Martian Trips

Wanted: Married Couple for Private Mars Voyage in 2018