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[Faith's Blog] A Sight for Sore (Spaceflight) Eyes

Preserving the extraordinary moments of history for progeny is all well and good, but so often it’s exactly the unexpected nature of such moments that renders them so priceless – like the spontaneous kiss of a soldier safely returned from World War II or a casual lunch shared while sitting along an I-beam with a rather perilous view of the Big Apple. Planning for the unexpected can prove quite difficult unless you’re Doc Brown with a time-traveling Delorean at your disposal. And so it is all the more commendable that some key figures in NASA’s infancy had the foresight to prepare for the capturing of the inevitable watershed moments to come with President Kennedy’s ambitious challenge.

The NASA|Art exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum
The NASA|Art exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum

The NASA Art program was started by James Webb – NASA’s 2nd administrator and the namesake of the James Webb Space Telescope – in 1962 as a vehicle for memorializing and conveying NASA’s mission and work to the public. NASA’s scientific and technological contributions over the last 50 years are undeniable, and there was never any question that each nut, screw and equation would be rigorously recorded. But a less quantifiable though no less important contribution over the years has been the awe, inspiration and national pride that NASA’s work has evoked. NASA has done more than produce high-quality science; it has created history and it has inspired the future. Communicating this less tangible aspect of NASA’s work requires a more imaginative medium. Art.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is currently home to the NASA|Art: 50 Years of Exploration exhibit, which highlights just a fraction of the rich, extensive collection of NASA Art Program over the last 50 years. This beautiful exhibit gives its audience an opportunity to connect with both the technical and human sides of the NASA legacy. Some of the Blueshift staff had the opportunity recently to walk through the exhibit with Senior Curator in Aeronautics Tom Crouch. We had such a wonderful time that we wanted to give you just a little taste of this phenomenal collection.

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[Faith's blog] Extraterrestrial Fun from Home

We here at Blueshift do our best to cover all things astrophysics, which we rather loosely define as ‘anything and everything outside the Solar System.’ Considering that the Universe just happens to be an absolutely enormous place filled with innumerable galaxies, each containing billions of stars, planets and other objects, that’s a whole lot of ground to cover! And yet, even with our just about literally unlimited fodder for astrophysical blogs and podcasts and round-ups, our content still remains closely connected to the other branches of science research here at NASA, like the big happy family we are. Heliophysics gives us an unparalleled look into the intricacies of the life of a star by studying the Sun in unprecedented detail (just check out the amazing things SDO and other great missions are doing). Earth Science shows us just how connected our home planet is to it’s surroundings, both near and far. And Planetary Science furnishes us with a fascinating look into the formation of planetary systems and other planetary phenomena that are invaluable when studying planetary systems around distant stars.

So, in the spirit of NASA unity, today’s interdisciplinary subject involves a little NASA science intermingling as we look at how geology plays into Planetary Science. But, this planetary adventure won’t actually involve any interplanetary travel. Instead we’re just going to skip over to the island paradise of Svalbard, Norway to see how NASA planetary scientists use geology right here on Earth to learn about distant worlds that humans can’t visit just yet.

Moskushavn og Jernsenga 230304 041
The island paradise of Svalbard, credit: welcome_to_nunavik

*Note: by ‘island paradise’ I mean arctic archipelago residing about half way in between Norway and the North Pole*
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[Faith's blog] Sunsets, Scattering, and Similes

There are two sides to every coin. And there are (at least) two ways to describe any natural phenomenon. Take a sunset, for example. A physicist may describe a sunset as the electromagnetic radiation from the Sun undergoing Rayleigh scattering as it passes through the atmosphere low on the horizon, causing the shorter blue wavelengths of light to be scattered away while leaving the longer red wavelengths to reach the observer. However, a poet may just as soon describe the very same event as a poignantly emotional moment that arouses a sense of finality and subdued reflection as a chapter of life comes to a close. And then there’s also your mom for whom it is the non-negotiable end of your backyard safari (Why? Because she says so.), but I digress.

Earth's Sunset (NASA, International Space Station Science, 04/26/08)
A lovely sunset as seen from the International Space Station, credit: NASA

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[Faith's blog] STS-135: All Systems Go!

As the launch countdown rapidly approached zero, STS-135 Commander Christopher Ferguson addressed Launch Director Mike Leinbach:

“Thanks to you and your team, Mike, until the very end you all made it look easy. The shuttle will always be a reflection of what a nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending a journey today, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who have given their hearts, souls, and their lives for the cause of exploration have rewritten history. Let’s light this fire one last time and witness this great nation at its best. The crew of Atlantis is ready for launch.”

STS-135 Atlantis Launch (201107080028HQ)
STS-135 Atlantis lifts off from pad 39A, Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With these impassioned words still hanging in the air, the shuttle Atlantis soared gracefully up from the Kennedy Space Center on Friday July 8th, 2011 at 11:29 am and quickly slipped behind a dense cover of clouds – a spectacular bookend to the space shuttle program’s illustrious 30-year history.
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[Faith's blog] Special Space Shuttle Awesomeness Round-Up

The time has come to say goodbye to Space Shuttle. The program has faithfully served NASA, our country and the international community for 30 long years, and now it’s time for an era to come to a close. The final Shuttle launch occurred mere minutes ago, down at Kennedy Space Center.

In honor of this historic and bittersweet event, we’ve compiled a special Awesomeness Round-Up all about the Space Shuttle. And stay tuned in the coming days as I (Faith) traveled down to Florida – along with over 1 million other space enthusiasts – to view the launch!

Atlantis STS-135 Rollout (201105310020HQ)

STS-135 crew members Chris Ferguson, left, Douglas Hurley, second from left, Sandra Magnus, and Rex Walheim, right, pose for a group photograph atop of the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) as the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) rolls out of High Bay 3 in the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39a for its final flight, Tuesday evening, May 31, 2011, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The 3.4-mile trek, known as “rollout,” will take about seven hours to complete. Atlantis will carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station. The launch of STS-135 is targeted for July 8. Caption Credit: NASA, Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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[Faith's blog] Twinkle Twinkle Little Thermonuclear Power Plant

The heavens above have often been a source of comfort and inspiration for us mere mortals on Earth. A few examples include the classic inspirational quote, “Shoot for the Moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars” (~Les Brown) or a child staring out their window and wishing upon a star, “Star light, star bright, The first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight.” And don’t forget the classic children’s book “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd (check out this look at the astrophysics of “Goodnight Moon”).

Tucked up for the night
Credit: Philip Howard

Motivational value aside, the science of some of these astronomical references can be somewhat dubitable. However, there is one heavenly cliché that is surprisingly accurate, and that is the exclamation, “You’re a star!” – most commonly used by doting parents or grandparents when a child has completed their first ballet performance, aced a test or scored a goal. No, children are not literally stars though they may shine like them in the eyes of their parents, but we are all much more closely related to our stellar neighbors than you may realize.

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[Faith's blog] Beauty is in the Ear of the Beholder

It’s summertime once again here at Goddard, and summer means two things: mixing it up a bit with a special summer Blueshift series and summer interns. I’m Faith, back for another summer at Goddard, and considering I’m a recent college grad freshly released from my liberal arts college, it seemed only appropriate to use this summer on Blueshift to delve into the surprisingly interdisciplinary world of astrophysics at NASA. But wait! Don’t let the distinct un-summeriness of the word ‘interdisciplinary’ scare you away – think of it instead as a summer stroll through the lesser known branches of astrophysics . You may just be surprised by the astrophysical relevance of that Philosophy or Studio Art major that seemed like such a good idea when you were eighteen…

First, a little quiz to kick us off:

What do Jodie Foster’s character in Contact, 20th century composer Gustav Holst and pop-culture icon David Bowie have in common?

a) Perfectly tousled blonde locks

b) A propensity for wearing extravagantly ruffled shirts and leather pants

c) A tendency to express their love of astronomy and/or space exploration through sound

d) A deeply engrained passion for astrology, vegetarianism, and madrigal music

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[Faith's blog] Protons, Quarks and Hadrons, Oh My!

[Sara's note:  Even though Faith's time with us ended back in August (*sniffle*), we were thrilled to get another excellent travel blog from her!  That's dedication.]

You can scour the globe and poke your head in every nook and cranny, but in the end you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place that emanates that giddy, edge-of-your-seat energy (that only the prospect of groundbreaking scientific research can conjure) more than at the CERN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Half of the world’s particle physicists flock to this Mecca of quarks and quadrapoles to study everything from the elusive dark energy to a certain pesky boson named Higgs. But CERN isn’t all esoteric, incomprehensible physics. Well, maybe it is… but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating and relevant to us mere scientific mortals.

The “Globe of Science and Innovation” is the landmark of CERN’s headquarters in Geneva.
Photo Credit: Faith Tucker

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[Faith's blog] How To Kill A Dinosaur From Space

Go ahead and take a moment to think back to those blissful years of childhood, all those mandatory naps and the impish grins that let you get away with anything. Ah, the good old days. Well, I’m willing to venture a guess that right about the time that the sand box constituted your primary social networking site, you were already dreaming big for the rest of your life. For many of us, that meant honing our (cardboard) spaceship flying skills for the day when NASA would call on us for some daring new feat of space exploration. But some children’s dreams strayed in other directions, perhaps toward those goliaths of ancient history, those part bird/part reptile/part dragon creatures, and the inspiration for countless movies from “The Land Before Time” to “Jurassic Park” — dinosaurs! But what do dinos have to do with astronomy, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

Dinosaurs An Iguanodon at the Royal Belgian National Institute of Natural Science

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[Faith's blog] If you only see one petrified middle finger in your life…

To be honest, I’ve never really understood why people go to crazy lengths to get the autographs of celebrities. It’s just their name in squiggly, illegible handwriting, after all – not worth hours waiting in line, if you ask me. But you know what would be an exciting way to interact with famous people, especially those long since deceased? Go check out their petrified middle finger! Ok, maybe that isn’t the most widely available option, but you Galileo fans out there are in luck. Make your way to Florence, Italy, and you will find nothing short of a Galileo Disneyland, including his tomb, an entire museum devoted to him and, you guessed it, his middle finger!

Galileo's Finger
Galileo’s middle finger preserved and on display
Photo Credit: Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab

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