Wallpaper Wednesday

16 08 2012

Endeavour’s Close Up. Photo credit: NASA

Today (August 16, 2012—I know, a day late with the wallpaper) Endeavour and Atlantis are switching places. By the time you read this, Endeavour will have backed out of Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) 2, Atlantis will have rolled out of the VAB, and the press will have taken tons of photos of the two spacecraft as they came nose-to-nose for one last time (check out Kennedy Space Center’s twitter feed for some sweet images of the moment). Endeavour will now move into the VAB and remain there until its September flight to Los Angeles. Atlantis will be in OPF-2 until it moves to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November. I hope to see you all at the grand opening of the KSCVC Atlantis exhibition in July 2013.

Click on Endeavour’s starboard wing to download wallpaper.

These are mine.

14 08 2012

Saturday Evening Post, July/August 1976

LIFE, August 22, 1969

On Saturday, I managed ten minutes of shopping at the local antique mall before getting sick. Luckily, they were ten very productive minutes. In the first booth I stopped at (okay, at which I stopped), I found two bits of space history: a 1976 edition of The Saturday Evening Post with an article promoting the Shuttle program and a 1969 issue of LIFE magazine with an article following up on the first lunar landing.

I planned to scan the articles but soon realized I’d have to break the spines to get the magazines to lie flat on the scanner bed. The article on the Space Shuttle is particularly intriguing, so I may transcribe it at a later date. The illustrations capture the essence of the Shuttle program—the solid rocket boosters, external tank, Canadarm, are all there—yet everything looks just slightly off.

The Saturday Evening Post, July/August 1976, pp. 60-1

The most interesting part of the LIFE article is the appended editorial agitating for “a sensible post-Apollo 11 program.” The unnamed author argues that Nixon should decline to sign “the sort of blank check for an all-out manned Mars landing that vocal space agency partisans are urging on him.” Rather than set our sights on Mars, we should focus on higher priorities: completion of the Apollo program; unmanned probes in space; development of new scientific earth satellites; and a manned orbiting laboratory. The completion of these projects “would gather basic scientific knowledge of space. Our main business now should be to consolidate Apollo 11’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ by harvesting and adding to the knowledge it has unlocked. This goal is consistent with a reasonable NASA budget, and with the existing challenge set by John Kennedy: to learn “to sail on this new ocean.” (p. 30)

I’m guessing that LIFE‘s call for a “reasonable NASA budget” has something to do with U.S. military expenditures in 1969.[1] However, that would mean the editorial board didn’t consider the military potential for those “new scientific earth satellites.” Or, it could be that they understood the military applications of a satellite quite well, but hoped to either squelch the program with a reduction of funding or slide it by the reading public in the guise of “seeking scientific knowledge.” I’m just speculating, of course, but the editorial seems rather lukewarm about the space program, given that only two months had passed since the first lunar landing.


[1] See the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s report World Military Expenditures 1969 for some shocking figures on North American military spending in the 1960s.


And…we are go for liftoff.

10 08 2012

Endeavour at the VAB, Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: C. A. Johnson-Roehr

I’ve returned to this post to add the above photo, which was taken by my partner during the #MSL #NASATweetup last November. That’s the Space Shuttle Endeavour during decommissioning. Over a period of several months, every Shuttle went through a decontamination process, with some toxic elements shipped offsite for remediation. During the same time period, NASA harvested select components, like the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods and the main engines, for potential re-use in next-generation spacecraft. While we were at Kennedy Space Center for the MSL launch, we were fortunate to be escorted into the VAB for an up-close and personal look at Endeavour right after the OMS and Forward Reaction Control System (FRCS) came out. I’d show you more views of Endeavour in the VAB, but apparently my partner and I were both too busy staring and saying things like, “Oh my god, it’s RIGHT THERE!” to take photos.

I won’t make that mistake the next time I see Endeavour. And I will see Endeavour again. I just purchased a plane ticket to Los Angeles and while I’m going to be doing some “real work” while I’m there, I’m planning on walking/running as much of the twelve mile route between LAX and the California Science Center as the people in charge of move will allow. I’ve got plans to go up to Mount Wilson Observatory while I’m in the area as well, so this page should be overflowing with photos and commentary come the middle of October. Fun times ahead!

Road Trip

8 08 2012

Endeavour’s Route Across Los Angeles and Inglewood

I’ve written before about the dispersal of the Space Shuttle fleet around the United States (see earlier posts here and here) and promised to return to the topic when I knew more about Endeavour’s arrival in Los Angeles. The California Science Center just released the map showing the route the Shuttle will take on surface streets between LAX and the museum, which is located just across Exposition Boulevard from USC.

I’m super excited by the prospect of the move. I volunteer for an affordable housing program that moves historic houses across town every so often; in fact, we’re moving a house tomorrow, an expensive and complicated task. If the move is scheduled for a weekday, it needs to happen when it won’t conflict with peak commuting hours (the house rolls at 9 a.m. tomorrow). A house on a flatbed is a relatively tall object and a few power lines always need to come down along the route. It costs something like $10,000 to cut and reconnect a power line in our county, so the organization always searches for the least “wired” route through town.

Now, imagine moving a spacecraft in Los Angeles, the high-density-traffic capital of the world. There’s a reason the move starts in the middle of the night on October 12 (formal ceremonies are the morning of October 13 at Inglewood City Hall). The route crosses the 405, not a place you want to be during rush hour on a weekday. Ironically, it sounds like a few trees along the route may pose the greatest challenge to the mission’s success. Transport will take all day, so there will be plenty of time to get your space geek on.

I’m trying to decide if I can justify making a trip to Los Angeles to witness the transfer in person. I’m a little attached to Endeavour—I was lucky enough to see it in the VAB at Kennedy Space Center during its decommissioning—and I’d like to see at least one Space Shuttle make its final journey. I’m sure you’ll read about it here if I can make the trip happen for me.

Shuttle Trainer

28 07 2012

Flight Deck, Full Fuselage Trainer, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington. Photo credit: JR

The above photo explains the timing of our visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle: we wanted to see the package NASA dropped at Boeing Field a few weeks ago. While I’m sure the Board and employees of the Museum of Flight were disappointed by NASA’s decision to send the retired Shuttle fleet elsewhere, they must have been intrigued by the consolation prize, the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT). A full-scale mock up of a Space Shuttle, the FFT served as a training ground for every Shuttle crew, allowing the astronauts to practice emergency egress and EVA procedures. The FFT has been arriving piece by piece (the aft section of the payload bay arrived earlier this week) and instead of waiting for the entire “spacecraft” to show up, the curators have been putting the pieces on display as they arrive.

Introducing the Full Fuselage Trainer. Photo credit: JR

I’m not sure how I would feel about it as a curator. Letting an exhibit go up before everything was in place would probably make me anxious. And the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, the new home of the FFT, has an incomplete, cavernous feel to it at the moment as it sits more than half empty. On the other hand, anticipation is building and has been since the first shipment arrived via the Super Guppy. It’s a bold and quite possibly brilliant curatorial decision, inviting the public to witness the building process. Each Super Guppy touchdown is an opportunity for another press release; each component installed is a reason for visitors to return to the gallery. By the exhibit is complete, the community will be completely invested in the project and hopefully the financially longevity of the museum.

At present, though, the gallery is mostly empty, with a few smaller (intriguing!) exhibits holding down its edges. As in the Great Gallery, the wall of glazing at the front of the building creates a difficult lighting situation for photography and I spent a lot of time trying to find a setting that compensate for the glare without erasing the details of the FFT.

The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Photo credit: JR

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the nose of the FFT consists massive wooden shell painted with matte black. The auto focus on my camera refused to cooperate for close up photos and even when I pulled back, the (lack of ) contrast between the black wood and the black walls of the gallery forced me rely on manual focus.

I’ve uploaded a few more photos to my flickr site. I’m looking forward to going back and documenting the completed trainer one day soon.

Wallpaper Wednesday

25 07 2012

Liftoff of STS-7 at 7:33 a.m. EDT on June 18, 1983. Photo credit: NASA

I would have loved to provide a glossy HD wallpaper of STS-7 in honor of Sally Ride’s first flight into space. Unfortunately, high-def images were almost non-existent in 1983 and I don’t have it in me to search for them (only a masochist runs a Google image search on the words “Space Shuttle Challenger”.) The image above links to NASA’s image gallery for Sally Ride and that’s going to have to do for now. Maybe I’ll write up something more comprehensive in a couple weeks.

ETA: I’ll come back to this later, but for now let me say this: Sally Ride gave me a lot when I was in high school. She didn’t have to do that and I’m grateful for her willingness to endure the invasions to her privacy in the 1980s. At the same time, as an academic, I can’t help but note the fundamental disconnect between the continued guarding of that privacy in the 2000s and her dedication to furthering the position of girls and women in science. I’m not a scientist, I’m in an allied field—the history of astronomy, not astronomy itself. Even so, I can say that my career in science studies has been affected by the fact that I’m a lesbian. One significant example: the financial award attached to my Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship was less than it would have been had I been heterosexual. The straight members of my Fulbright cohort were given money to support a spouse during their tenures as fellows. Even though my partner and I had been together for fifteen years at that point, I spent my research year by myself in another country, the support for my spouse legally withheld thanks to DOMA. Every time I opened up the Fulbright handbook to look up some regulation or other, I had to page by the DOMA statement that reminded me that I wasn’t an equal to other scholars in my field (I eventually got tired of being angry and deleted that page from the handbook). No matter how good my work is (and my fellowship record suggests it’s pretty good), I’ll never be treated as an equal as long as discrimination against lgbtq is legal in the United States.

And that’s the contradiction I see in Ride’s legacy. On one hand, she tirelessly worked to move young women into the sciences. On the other hand, she appears to have left unchallenged a very real stumbling block for some of those young women (appears to have left…I can only go by what the press is giving me right now). Does that mean I’m less grateful for, less appreciative of what she did for women and the world at large? No, not at all. But I don’t think it’s going to help any aspiring scientist if we ignore the larger implications of her choices. Coming out posthumously…well, I don’t think that erases the contradiction between the two positions.

Super Guppy Delivers

1 07 2012

NASA’s Super Guppy loaded with crew cabin of shuttle trainer. Image credit: NASA

If you’ve been following the dispersal of the Space Shuttles to various museums around the U.S., you may have been struck by the variety of transportation methods used by NASA to relocate the retired fleet. Discovery traveled to its new home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, on the back of NASA 905 SCA. Explorer traveled to Houston by barge. Enterprise combined those two methods to arrive in New York. Later this year, Endeavour will piggy back on NASA’s jet to LAX, after which point it will travel by flatbed up the Santa Monica Freeway to the California Science Center. The journey, arrival, and unloading of the Shuttles have made for some riveting television for space enthusiasts.

This weekend, when the crew cabin of the Space Shuttle Trainer (aka Full Fuselage Trainer, or FFT) arrived at Boeing Field for installation in Seattle’s Museum of Flight, we saw yet another method for moving equipment. It is safe to say that Seattlites are accustomed to seeing a lot of air traffic and they can be somewhat jaded when it comes to flying objects (listen to the complaints about the Blue Angels during Seafair if you don’t believe me). But it’s not often the Super Guppy buzzes the Space Needle, much less lands and parks in a museum parking lot. I’d say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the Super Guppy should touch down at Boeing Field twice more to deliver two sections of the payload bay. If you’d like to witness one of those landings, keep an eye on the Museum of Flight’s webpage for scheduled arrival dates. In the meantime, enjoy some sweet photos of yesterday’s landing courtesy of the Seattle Times.

Wallpaper Wednesday

25 04 2012

Shuttle Discovery is Demated. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

What a beautiful photograph.

I’m buried up to my ears in end-of-the-semester grading right now. I’ve been feeling so pressed for time that I almost broke the only rule I set for myself when I created this site last year: never post about my own research. It’s precisely days like these that tempt me to dig into my own photo archives: a stack of papers to grade with more on the way, final exams just around the corner, two conference paper proposals due next week, and so on. But the moment I start talking about my own research is the moment this site because more of a chore and less of a pleasure, so even though it would be easier to upload something from my hard drive, I took some time to look at the latest NASA releases instead. It’s better for you and me both this way, trust me.

The photo above shows Space Shuttle Discovery suspended from a crane boom, shortly after it was lifted off the back of the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that carried it to Dulles International last week. In composition, the shot resembles the one Bill Ingalls took of Atlantis on the launch pad last July. He certainly knows how to take advantage of reflective surfaces.

As always, click on the image to download the wallpaper.

Wallpaper Wednesday

18 04 2012

Space Shuttle Discovery Flown Over the U.S. Capitol. Image Credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Harold Dorwin

Really, was there any doubt about today’s image? Click on the Capitol Building to download.

Wheels Down at Dulles

18 04 2012

Wheels down at Dulles International, OV-103 (Discovery), April 17, 2012. Image Credit: NASA

The Internet can be an amazing place, or an amazing tool, however you want to conceptualize it. Yesterday, instead of working on an article I really need to finish, I spent two hours watching the transfer of the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport, courtesy of NASA TV. During the two hours I was glued to NASA’s live stream, I serial tweeted, carried on several fragmented but enthusiastic online conversations about the landing, updated my fb status, took dozens of screenshots just for the hell of it, and did some preliminary research on the terminal at Dulles. I eventually connected with my partner via cellphone, and we watched the landing together (along with one or two of her co-workers who wandered into her office during our phone call).

NASA 905 SCA (Pluto 95 Heavy) & OV-103 flyover Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012. Image Credit: NASA

Boy, I burned through a lot of nervous energy yesterday, worrying that something would go wrong. It’s a good thing launch control had their emotions under control, if only because they had to land the T-38 escort (Pluto 98) in a fuel critical situation. While it’s not particularly unusual for me to grow sentimental when engaging with space science, it is atypical of me to confess to those sentiments to everyone following me on twitter. Unquestionably, the Shuttle program has shaped the course of my life and, to be honest, that hasn’t always been a good thing. So, while part of me was sad yesterday as Discovery disappeared behind the terminal at Dulles, a greater part of me was relieved to see it all finally come to an end.

If you follow me on twitter, you might have seen  my serial tweets as the SCA taxied to the terminal. If you’re my facebook friend, you probably saw the conversation about wood-fired propulsion systems. If you’re one of my architecture students, you’d better have been in class this morning to see me use the following image as a transition between Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn.

Passenger Terminal, Dulles International Airport. Image Credit: NASA

That’s Eero Saarinen & Associate’s passenger terminal (1958-62) in the background. As as I said in class today—this was one of the first American airports built specifically for jet traffic. It’s a gateway to the deeply symbolic political landscape of the nation’s capital. But it’s not just a gateway, it’s a Modern gateway, in terms of program, structure, and function. The caternary curve of the cable-reinforced concrete roof simultaneously implies the rest and motion experienced by the world traveler. The splay of the massive columns that anchor the steel cables on either side of the terminal provides both formal and structural tension. Passenger circulation paths are controlled through the use of “mobile lounges.” That they function as spaces of surveillance is all but masked by their efficient use as people movers.

Saarinen’s design marks the moment the federal government committed itself to international air travel. Discovery’s retirement to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly marks the moment the government decided to stop investing in space exploration, the logical outcome of all that travel through the atmosphere in 747s. More importantly, yesterday’s landing marked the end of (one version of) the Modernist project, the progressive, curious, optimistic one that put us into rapid motion at mid-century. If we’ve given up on looking at the universe around us, and it seems we have, I’m afraid we’ve pretty much given up on humanity.