Sunday, November 25, 2018

Still above ground

Despite the extended drought of posts in this old blog, I'm still among the living.  My typical orbit does not carry me very far from home or work, but I did make a nice elliptical loop out to Scandinavia in the summer of 2017.  I crewed a great tall ship (Statsraad Lehmkuhl) for about a week from Bergen, Norway to Turku, Finland, and then spent about a week in Finland.  I finally got to see some new castles/fortresses, which ended a long drought.

Since then pretty much all my brief escapes from the extraterrestrial grindstone have been to see beloved family and friends.  I've taken zero hours of paid leave I earned this year, all of which I will lose (if I haven't used it) at year's end, and I now don't have enough time to use it all, so...yay.

On the bright side, it has been a very productive year "at the office", with a lot of progress made toward getting new things ready to fly, while continuing to work plenty of cargo missions that intermittently punctuate all the other development activities.  There aren't any big promotions or advancements or changes in the offing.  We have our hands full.  They're full with new stuff, which is definitely enough to handle for the time being and foreseeable future.*

Oh, and I'm gradually easing back into skateboarding for the first time in decades.  A few weeks back I went to my first skate park (indoor), and didn't completely destroy myself.  Yesterday a co-worker friend and I attended the 35th annual Turkey Jam skate contest (didn't compete) held in a big drainage ditch north of downtown.  A good time was had by all.

*Apologies for all the intentionally vague terms.  I haven't figured out how to write about my new daily normal activities without feeling like I'm in danger of breaching NDAs, etc.

"When yu' can't have what you choose, yu' just choose what you have."
~The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains by Owen Wister

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

You spun me right round, baby...

Last month I took a little trip to participate in another research study.  It was a whirlwind of a single day near Philadelphia, PA at the NASTAR (National Aerospace Training and Research) facility.  The study is looking at the effectiveness of training for non-astronauts to participate in future commercial sub-orbital space flights.

The real attractant to me for this study was the chance to ride the big centrifuge at NASTAR.  I'd never done this before, and figured it was a worthwhile experience to add to the old life's resume (kind of like all that time in Antarctica).  The closest experience I had before this was riding the Round Up at the county fair as a kid.  I also didn't have to pay to ride the centrifuge, just the travel costs to and fro (which included getting to drive a brand spanking new Chevy Impala rental car, with all of 6 miles on it when I headed out to drive the mean streets of Philly and I-95).

Visualizations were projected on the interior of the centrifuge cabin, which were quite realistic.  The truly gripping sensation was the acceleration, though.  That was awesome.  And, I don't use that word lightly...

“But experience is the best teacher, hunger good sauce, and I really think to be acquainted with misery contributes to the enjoyment of happiness, and to know one’s self greatly facilitates the knowledge of mankind.”
~”Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Hopeful Horde

I just read that over 18,000 applications were submitted for the next astronaut candidate selection process.  That's a mean pile of work for the board to review, for sure.  I have a habit of putting numbers of people in perspective by scaling to my home town.  In this case, that's over 9 home towns.  Sweet!  Finding out that I'm just one of an even bigger, writhing, teeming mass daunts me exactly zero/nada/zilch/nicht more than before.  Chances are slim for anybody, regardless of the number of applications, period.  Why sweat it?  Good luck to everybody, and may some truly excellent new astronaut candidates sift out of this bounteous harvest of resumes.  Ad astra per aspera!

-->"We had some incredible people come in-high school track stars, intercollegiate water polo players, international-quality swimmers.  And a lot of them ended up failing.  At the same time, we had guys who had trouble on the runs, guys who had trouble doing push-ups, guys whose teeth would start chattering just looking at the cold ocean, and yet they made it.  And one of the reasons why they made it is they had this relentless perseverance."
~SEAL Lt. Commander Eric Greitens in ”Manhunt” by Peter L. Bergen

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Make-believe Mission #2

Going up that ladder, right in front of you is the kitchen/galley, where we will prepare our meals, which will be provided by the food lab that feeds the real crews on the U.S. side of the ISS.

 Left of that is a table where we can eat and plug in whatever electrical/electronic devices that are allowed to be used during the study.  There are a lot of restrictions, since the investigators want to ensure we don't have unauthorized communications channels, which I can totally understand.  The two silver (roughly) cylindrical objects flanking the table are cameras, which will be used to analyze our moods/frames of mind.  There are others located throughout the modules.
Right of the galley area is the exercise bike, which is complemented by a little open area with some hand weights (where I was standing to take the photo), which we will use to maintain some level of fitness during the study.
 Finally, ladders in two of the corners of the upper level lead to the personal bunk quarters at the top of the center module stack.  I don't know how much room for storage we'll have up here, but this is our solo territory for the mission.  I'm certainly looking forward to the mattresses, which I imagine are a lot better than the air mattress I still sleep on.  ;)

I'll see what official photos I can get after this wraps up.  Personal cameras are not allowed.  I will be out of the loop for the duration, but given how infrequently I update this blog, I don't think anybody will notice.

Since I last posted in 2014 I have started working some with the future commercial crew vehicles, which has been interesting.  I think it is going to be quite an educational several years getting those to their first flights.  In general, I feel extremely fortunate to have the chance to participate in these activities involved with the species' gradual process of becoming multi-planetary.
“If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture-that is immortality enough for me.  And as much as anyone deserves.”
~Edward Abbey, “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”

Make-believe Mission #1

I've been selected to be a crew person on a 2-week HERA isolation study about how a long duration space mission would affect the people living in close confines far away from home.  The next two weeks we will receive training and provide initial data for the researchers.  Then we will be sequestered in the HERA modules for 2 weeks, and that's that.  After we get out we do some debriefing, and presumably some more data gathering.  It should be an interesting challenge, to say the least, right here in my backyard.  Does this count as a "staycation" for me?

Some external views of my future 2-week home:

 Immediately right of the main entrance is a workstation for the environmental systems and such.

Just left of that is the hygiene module, with the bathroom facilities.  It will be interesting to see how communal use of this co-ed facility will work out.

Left of the hygiene module entrance is the simulator workstation for orbiters/rovers (?), I believe.

Left of that is the area where some of the biological sampling will be done.  There is a tube here to send out saliva swabs to be flash-frozen, as well as the pass-through to dispose of our trash.
Left of the previous workspace is the med table, and left of that is the entrance to the "airlock" module.  It is in here that we will put our arms through a curtain for a phlebotomist to take blood samples from time to time during the study.  This is so we won't see them, and we won't be talking, but communicating via hand signals.  I did say this was an isolation study, as you recall.  This photo is taken through the central lift/ladder that is used to move between the first and second levels of the core module.

More to come

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Still here, still working

I'm still here in Houston, chipping away at the training program bit by bit.  Last week I finally got to work my first spacecraft simulation.  It was nice to finally get to put all this "book learning" into action, and I am happy to finally get to the part of the learning curve to bring this all together in a push directly toward working real mission operations again.

Other than work, I haven't really had much of note to report.  I did have my folks visit last weekend, and we made the local tourist circuit around the Clear Lake area.  Otherwise, I generally avoid driving around Houston much.  It's a survival tactic, on my part.  At some point I will get farther afield to some of the state parks and such (out west), but for now I have my hands full here and the focus is just down the road at JSC.

I will get the new work week off to a roaring start tomorrow with my flight physical in the morning (currently fasting for the blood draw and urine sample) and a new hire orientation in the evening.  The latter is just the next step in preparing to take part in a wholesale change of employers as the contract many of us work on ends, and the new contract and set of companies take over on 10/1.

“If you’ve turned away from one road there’s always another-filled with risk but also adventure.  Roads less taken are always the most rewarding ones.”
~Max Allan Collins, Intro to “Road to Perdition”

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Hyborian excursion

Roundabout 2002 I discovered some old pulp paperback copies of Conan stories in a used bookstore in Maryland, while out there working on the SOHO spacecraft at NASA Goddard.  Over the years I read more of those Conan tales, and reveled in the re-publication of the original tales over the next several years during the rest of my time back east and back in Kansas in grad school.  At some point I came across the fact that there was not only the opportunity to visit Robert E. Howard’s old home in Cross Plains, TX, but that once each year folks gather there for the Robert E. Howard Days event that celebrates the author and his works.  It seemed like year after year I was either in school, in Antarctica, or in aggressive job hunting mode and could never make the trek to attend REH Days.

That changed in 2014.  With a launch schedule delay at work the week before, I grabbed the galloping charger that is destiny by the reins and took a couple days off work to journey to Cross Plains. 

The first stop was the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, though.  Here I took in a traveling exhibit called Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology.  They had a good number of real relics, as well as a bunch of original props and costumes from the Indy films.  And, yes, that included the cross of Coronado, where it belongs…in a museum.

In Cross Plains I got to see the fabled Howard house, where REH did a lot of his writing.  It was rewarding to see this very familiar and un-exotic home, which had been the site of the generation of such imaginative tales.

That front porch was the site of a reading of some of REH’s poetry on the Friday night of the festivities.  I contributed an impromptu rendition of “Attila Rides No More”.

A lot of the panel discussions about a variety of topics germane to the man and his works were held in the excellent Cross Plains Public Library.  Strangely enough, they had a main landing gear tire from a Space Shuttle flight long past.

There was also a morning tour around some of the outlying areas near Cross Plains.  This included a stop at a ranch where some top-class longhorn cattle are raised.  They were mostly really shy this day, but one very pregnant cow was convinced to come up close to the fence by a bucket of treats.

All in all, it was a very pleasant excursion.  Getting to chat with other folks that were often times far more knowledgeable and passionate about REH and his works was really interesting.  If you have not read any Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, El Borak, or any of the host of other characters created by Howard then you are really missing out.  If you are skeptical of his writing, then at least take a look at the author himself.  His tragically brief life is another story worth discovering, and a visit to his grave in Brownwood will be all the more poignant.

"Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet."
~Robert E. Howard