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This Week In Retrospect

Jul 8, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz, NASA, The Launch Pad  //  No Comments

This video, compiled by McLean Fahnestock, is a breathtaking reminder of the beauty of the Space Shuttle Program and the truth of whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, he can achieve. All of the Shuttle launches are here including Challenger but watch the video understanding that on each of those launches human beings are in the Shuttle being carried on a large external tank full of fuel with two single rocket boosters on the side as it climbs its way into the heavens. Whatever you feel as you watch and after its over, realize that while the Space Shuttle Program has ended there is still unlimited possibilities for the United States to send humans into space and these innovations will be the next chapter in human space flight history.

This time last year I was in the company of thousands of people whose love for America’s space program echoed and cheered an engineering feat of human possibilities that allowed us to travel frequently into space to open new frontiers in discovery. For the thirty years that the Space Shuttle Program operated we were able to see astronauts riding atop a rocket in small capsules to a vehicle that looked more like an airplane and had the ability to return to Earth not by falling into the ocean but gliding to a landing time and time again. STS-135 was the last flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program and a year later I still have people comment to me that NASA has shut down. This is far from the truth of course but it is interesting how many people actually believe the only thing that NASA did was the Space Shuttle program and now that the shuttle will no longer fly NASA has just quit being.

NASA continues to innovate of course and for those space enthusiasts amongst us we know how much cool science and engineering is still going on but as most of my friends and I concur, there is a special thrill and awe to realizing humans are riding rockets into space, they spend time high above us during shuttle and ISS missions, and except for two untimely tragedies, all have returned to Earth to share their stories and experiences. Is it scary? All astronauts I have talked to as well as those I have heard tell their tales of Space Shuttle missions say yes. When I learned the process Shuttle astronauts go through in relation to family and loved ones it was surreal but grounding at the same time. We often don’t give much thought to how astronauts personally feel about going to space. Some of us think they are pretty lucky people while others think they are completely crazy. “You can die!” Yes, space is dangerous and when you commit to being an astronaut you also commit to the unknown and the probability that something can go wrong but you don’t dwell on the negative. I can just imagine how the astronauts who flew on STS-26 “Return to Flight” must have felt. Reading the engineering and flight preparation logs are enough to make anyone wonder why or how we kept launching Shuttles into space with so many problems. My first live launch, STS-133 was no different. There were problems that were identified and worked on, Discovery’s launch was rescheduled, and rescheduled, and rescheduled. Slips, as they are called, happen but the safety of the crew is what is most important and we didn’t mind waiting for the right and the safest possible launch.

I wish I had traveled to Florida to see more launches in my lifetime but sometimes there are things in our lives which take priority over others. I am thankful to NASA for giving me the opportunity to share with 150 other space tweeps the joy and sheer wonder of STS-133 during the NASA Tweetup event which has become known as the longest NASA Tweetup in history. I also thank all of those friends as well as the wonderful people at NASA gave us more than we ever could have bargained for in what was supposed to be a two day event but stretched into one that lasted 115 days.

To all my friends, students, parents and everyone else on the planet who shares a love for scientific discovery, education, and the ability to dream and dream big, this post is for you!

They Have to See It To Be It!

Jun 25, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz, NASA, The Launch Pad  //  No Comments

Source: via Pamela on Pinterest

Working with the students at Corliss High School this year has been a truly wonderful experience. Located not far from Chicago Public School’s Fenger Academy, the once home of my NASA K-12 program, the Corliss students are faced with similar academic and social issues as most of the students who attend some of our academically challenged neighborhood schools. As we look at solutions to ensure all of our students get a quality education that includes rigor and offers opportunities to develop future career skills through engaging, hands-on projects and competitions. While talking to a colleague at Corliss, our conversation turned to a philosophy that I have believed in for many years as an educator. For our children to dream to become a computer programmer, astronaut, engineer, systems analyst, web designer, and all of the other STEM careers that are and yet to be available for them to purse, they have to see people who look like them, have shared similar experiences, and can be honest in explaining that STEM is rewarding but comes with hard work and perseverance.

This is why all of us who work to increase the number of historically underrepresented and underserved populations in STEM have to have a personal, vested interest in our young people and be willing to give back. That give back doesn’t have to be in tangible dollars and often becoming a mentor or volunteer with a STEM program can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. The NASA Great Moonbuggy Race was my latest endeavor and one of my most challenging but the students at Corliss stepped up to the plate and tackled the task. As I prepare for the 2013 competition, I am looking to bring more young STEM professionals to become part of my STEM efforts so the students understand that it is not an impossible dream. NASA did a feature story on me and my students and I am extending an invitation to those STEM folks out there to please join me in inspiring our young people in the upcoming 2012-2013 school year.

TRANSIT OF VENUS…The last viewing chance of our lifetime!

Jun 1, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

I’m sharing this information, received from my friend Vivian Hoette, Education Outreach Coordinator at Yerkes Observatory on viewing opportunites for Tuesday’s Transit of Venus event. If you can’t make it to a live viewing event, there are links below that you can visit to watch it online.

From the Yerkes Yoteach mailing list:

On June 5, 2012, Venus will cross the Sun marking an astronomical event you won’t want to miss! It is the last one in our lifetimes. (Next one is 2117.) Observing this event from multiple locations on Earth is how astronomers figured out the Astronomical Unit (AU, distance from Earth to the Sun). And, therefore the size of the cosmos! Now astronomers are using transits of planets across other stars to find exoplanets.

Big Foot Beach State Park (East Side of Lake Geneva) and Yerkes Observatory are hosting viewing events for the Transit of Venus. We will have sunspotters, solar scopes, solar filtered telescopes, and eclipse glasses for sale.

Preserve your eyes! VIEW SAFELY – DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY at the Sun, and NEVER EVER through a telescope Unless it has a SOLAR FILTER over the OBJECTiVE (large opening of the telescope).

You can see Venus cross the Sun from about 5:04pm to sunset in the midwest. Our events begin at 4pm and continue through sunset. Attached here are a couple of flyers that we made for this event.

You may download these and give them to your students or post them at school, or modify them to meet your needs. We also have lots of eclipse glasses for sale at Yerkes ($2) or in bundles for schools (limited supply) at $1 each if you pick them up from Yerkes.

If you would like some advice or help setting up a way to view the transit and sun safely, please contact us and we will try to help. If you are in the area, and would like to help out at Yerkes or another location (such as the Township Park in Delavan at the east end of the lake, or at the Duck Pond in Fontana, we can loan you a solar scope that projects a 5 inch image (approx) of the sun to see sunspots and the Venus transit.

Though many will be able to see the transit in eclipse glasses, a magnified projected view or telescope solar filtered view will be best. (Solar filters must be put in place on the objective (large) end of the telescope. We have some solar filter film (limited supply) ordered that will arrive on Monday, in case you are really interested in making your own solar filter. Please let us know and be at Yerkes on Monday to build it.)

Webpages to help you out….
Register for Big Foot Beach State Park or Yerkes Observatory Events (If you want to help out you can let us know in the comments area.)
Event Locations
2012 Transit of Venus — Shadows on the Sun (by NASA)
NASA page Live webcast and everything about the Transit of Venus
Transit of Venus (by Chuck Bueter)
Transit of Venus (by Astronomers Without Borders)
Yerkes information page about the Transit
Freinds of Big Foot Beach State Park
Safe Solar Viewing
Sun Funnel (Wehave a limited supply of the rear projection screen material. Pay attention to the eyepiece focal length needed listed in a chart in this document to put in the projection funnel; you will need your own eyepiece.)
Kepler Explanet Transit Hunt
Hubble to use Moon as a Transit Mirror
Yerkes & Big Foot Transit Poster

Space X….Launching the New Frontier of Commercial Space

May 23, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz, The Launch Pad  //  No Comments

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 into space (Photo credit James Fink)

There are some amazing sights on this planet but I still find the launch of a space vehicle to be an event that always leaves me in awe of what we are capable of engineering.  SpaceX has successfully launched the Falcon 9 with a Dragon capsule carrying supplies to the International Space Station.  This picture of the rocket taken early Tuesday morning, May 22, with the stars as a perfect backdrop is the beginning of a new era of space flight.  The goal of the mission is for the Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station and deliver supplies to the astronauts living high above Earth.  Keep your eyes to the sky and you might be able to see not only the ISS pass by but the Dragon as well.

Science Hack Day Chicago

May 12, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

What happens when you bring together programmers, designers, educators, citizen scientists, and just plain awesome peop interested in making the world a better place through technology?  Science Hack Day.  Today is the first event in Chicago and I’m sitting in the midst of it all.  One of my favorite places in the city is the Adler Planetarium and for 24 hours we will be working on science hacks right here.

Why Space is Important

Apr 19, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

Bringing cool space content into the classroom is an adventure I always look forward to.  On Tuesday, April 17, the space shuttle Discovery flew from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport piggy-back on a modified 747.  I thought about the three groups of students I was working with on ACT test prep and thought what a wonderful opportunity for them to see a space shuttle transported on a 747.  My first question to establish prior knowledge was for them to list some things they knew about NASA’s space shuttle program.

I received a few puzzled looks and several mutterings of “nothing,” which was not surprising to me.  I asked for a show of hands in each class of how many students had seen a shuttle launch in their lifetime.  Only two out of 78 students had seen a shuttle launch on television and only one had a fair amount of knowledge of a lot of things NASA but clumped it all together and asked me if the space shuttle was part of the Apollo thing.

I would say there has been a major disconnect over the last forty years in teaching space science and history in our elementary and high schools but disconnect is not the right word.  Absence is more aptly fitting. Whoever the curriculum developers have been over the years either were not interested or felt bringing space science and space exploration history into the curriculum would be too time intensive and take away from the core science fundamentals on space and our Solar System.  Here’s what’s in a typical 6th grade science textbook.

    There are nine planets in our Solar System.

      Our Solar System has a big star (a.k.a the Sun)

        Motion of the Earth & Planets (Reasons for seasons)

          The phases of the Moon

        7th grade science moves on to genetics, cells, light, etc. but there is no continuation of learning about space or the wonders of our own Solar System. There is no mention of NASA, rockets, satellites, space exploration, Apollo, Mercury, Space Shuttle, astronomy, etc. Unless a teacher is aware of the cool technologies that will allow them to bring the excitement and wonder of studying and learning about space, the content will go undiscovered by millions of young people. I’m not sure if there has been a study that links what a student learns in elementary school to their desire to pursue a STEM career upon graduation from high school but I’m confident if more children were aware of and exposed to all the fantastic programs, online content, and missions, their would be a greater embracing of science and a quest to learn as much as they can about what lies up there.

        Space was always a curious topic for me. We didn’t cover much in my elementary school that dealt with space and I don’t remember my teacher telling all of us to go home and make sure we watched the landing of Apollo 11 and write a report that we could share with the class on our thoughts of a man possibly landing on the Moon. I watched the landing by myself in the living room of my grandmother’s house on a combination television/record player. The TV set was a piece of furniture in itself and the screen was located to the left of the console. The small black and white screen provided entertainment for me while I grew up and even though there was a larger b&w television in the family room I can’t remember how I ended up in the front watching the Moon landing. It was probably because when I told my grandmother that we had a space craft that was going to land on the Moon she dismissed me with a comment, “That’s impossible.” Then she went on to add her opinion that every time they (NASA) launched a rocket it tore a hole in the atmosphere and that’s why we often had violent weather. She basically declined to watch because she insisted for years that we never landed on the Moon. Her point was the entire landing as well as the Moon backdrop was a mock-up erected on the NBC set. “Look at the flag,” she pointed out. “It’s stuck in the air like a stiff board.” I was too little for her to take my explanation of the amount of gravity on the Moon did not let the flag drape on the pole like it did on earth. I didn’t know much about space weather at the time so I couldn’t explain to her why the flag wasn’t blowing in the wind either. Even as I grew older and our space program advanced, she still wasn’t convinced that we ever landed on the Moon and until she left us continued to believe that it was just too far fetched to be real.

        Fast forward to toady. We have a space agency that has completed some truly amazing engineering feats of marvel. We jumped into the space race and put a man in orbit in a relatively short amount of time. We evolved that space craft and sent a better one to space and eventually to the Moon. We stopped lunar exploration but there was still so much out there we didn’t know or understand. All the while our textbooks and schools continued to leave space exploration and space science beyond the basics, out of the curriculum. After doing workshops and presentations over the last ten years, I have not seen a vast improvement. Yes, we now have classes at the high school level that focus on space science. Many of my friends incorporate NASA content and missions into their science lessons but those of us who embrace teaching space are not the majority. Our students are the lucky ones and in many cases we have been able to inspire them to become engineers, research scientists, physicists, astronomers, and perhaps even rocket scientists.

        As Discovery moves into the Smithsonian, a whole new generation of space lovers will have a chance to get up close and personal with her. Hopefully teachers will show space shuttle launches to their classrooms, talk about the importance of the space shuttle program and the advances it allowed us to make, and set the path for the future of human space flight and exploration where our young people will be poised to step up and fill the shoes of innovators whose time has come to pass the torch. In order for that to happen, we MUST engage, inspire, and educate our youth on what was, what is, and what is yet to come. We also need to make learning about space a necessity instead of a hobby or past-time. Every time I look at the stars or I see a bright twinkle that I recognize as a planet, I am awed and amazed. Viewing the Moon through my telescope still brings chills to me and when I take an image with a remote telescope I am inspired even more. This is the paradigm shift that needs to happen to encourage our youth to see space and dream to the outer limits but first we need to make sure we are sharing space goodness with everyone we come in contact with.

        That’s my charge of the day. Go tell someone to look up at night. Follow the Moon, identify some stars, look for the International Space Station. Save up for a ride on Virgin Galactic, dream to be an astronaut, or develop technologies for current NASA and commercial space missions. It is true that there are no limits on the imagination.

The Diva Discovery’s Curtain Call

Apr 18, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

Classy Ride

Tuesday was the beginning of the celebration for the historic space shuttle Discovery.  Providing oohs and ahhs as well as tears and smiles, Discovery,  flyin atop a modified 747 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Washington’s Dulles Airport, gave many their first glimpse at OV-103, curiosity seekers impressed at the attention taken away from so many daily lives to come out and spot Discovery, and others, such as astronauts, NASA employees, and a group of space tweeps to whom Discovery has a very special place in our hearts, a nostalgic walk down memory lane.  @NASA asked their followers to post pictures they caught of Discovery as she flew overhead.  The images are breathtaking and will be as lasting in our memories as the sight of Discovery launching into space over a 27 year time period and completing 29 missions.

Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope and conducted the second and third Hubble service missions.  In 1988, Discovery was the orbiter chosen to “Return to Flight” following the 1986 Challenger disaster and for the “Return to Flight” missions in July 2005 and 2006 after the Columbia disaster.  Discovery also carried astronaut John Glenn on STS-95 who at the age of 77 showed the world he had the right stuff making him the oldest person to go into space.

In my own memories of Discovery, I watched her launch on several missions in the NASA Aeronautics Education Laboratory with students acting as mission control specialists.  I was there for her planned launch in November, 2010 only to watch days go by with continued technical problems causing several launch scrubs and quite a few disappointed space enthusiasts who left Kennedy Space Center without seeing her take her final flight.  Fortunately many of us came back in February as part of the Neverending NASA Tweetup and finally saw Discovery take the sky.  She did that one last time on April 17, 2012 on a piggy-back ride of a lifetime.

The joy is by no means over.  Thursday, April 19, 2012 will be Discovery’s entrance to the Smithsonian Museum’s Air and Space Museum.  You can follow the excitement live from the Udvar-Hazy center as well as on NASA TV.  I will be watching and living vicariously through the tweets and excitement of my fellow STS-133 tweeps who will be there in person and everyone else who will  Discovery installed as a piece of living history for generations to come.


Tech Talk with Astronaut Leland Melvin

Apr 18, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

Video streaming by Ustream

Moonbuggys, Moonbuggys, and More Moonbuggys!

Apr 4, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz, NASA  //  No Comments

Gearing the drive trainFIRST Robotics seems to consume my life and time between January and March but this year I decided to take on an additional engineering challenge. Having secured a workspace on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology I took out on a journey to involve my students in a competition I had been reading about for the last three years, NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race! I love building things (the robots have finally broke me down and now I can’t get enough of greasy chains, actuators, T-slotted aluminum, brackets, motors, sensors, gears, sprockets, and……well you get the idea.) I Tweeted about registration for the 19th annual Great Moonbuggy race, gathered a willing crew of students who had no idea what a Moonbuggy was, and thus the adventure began. I have chronicled our progress and our challenges in a fascinating blog on CNN’s Light Years and CNN’s Schools of Thought blogs.

It has been exhilarating, exciting, and insightful while at the same time frustrating, complicated, and nerve-wrecking. Building a Moonbuggy is a 360 degree turn from building a robot. The same design and engineering principles remain but unlike FIRST you don’t get a kit of parts and there is no quick-build chassis kit. You get specifications from the Moonbuggy site as far as the dimensions, height off the ground, turning radius of the wheels, and a few other really neat requirements that the Moonbuggy has to have like a radio and a communications box. Hey, it’s just like the real Moonbuggy or Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) that was used in the last three Apollo missions to the Moon. Yes, can you believe my high school students are building vehicles similar to the ones NASA sent to the Moon?

I find it quite fascinating myself which is why I brought the idea to my students. I mentioned it to my guys from robotics in 2010 and they looked at me as if I needed to be stuffed into a space capsule and blasted to the Moon just to get the crazy Moonbuggy idea out of my system.
In 2010 we did Moonbots, a Google Lunar X Prize LEGO Mindstorms challenge. Team Cubwano did a lot of research on the Moon and I thought our entry was pretty good. The epic fail of course was designing the Mindstorm robot in Google Sketchup because none of my robotics students had the least interest or desire to learn CAD. On the final day I found myself in a huff and puff as I realized I would need to clean up the design before we could submit it. The team left me in the lab that Friday and I made a promise to myself to never undertake a project like this again without students in the right frame of mind.

Which segues me to the next question, “What exactly is the right frame of mind?” This year I found the answer. A group of young people that look forward to challenge, especially if they are interested in engineering as a possible career once they graduate from high school, the right mentor/coach who gives all of her after-school time and weekends, effort, and sometimes money to make it work, and lastly the fun of working together as a team to take an idea off the paper and into reality. I thought I had the right students in 2010 but there was something missing. I started the Moonbuggy team with two of them as captains but thanks to their own efforts they worked their way off both the Moonbuggy and the robotics teams. It was the shot in the arm the team needed and because I believe there are no coincidences in life I found an amazing group of students at the high school I am currently working at. When joined with my other students from high schools around Chicago, we have a winning combination and a team that I am incredibly proud of.

We made a design, decided on materials, and came up with a team name. We are the Incredible Spyders!

Our two week spring break has created a lull in the action but we’ll be back next week. There is a change happening at the school so I have no idea what it’s going to be like when we return but I’m packing my bags to make the trip to Huntsville on the 12th of April. To see what it has been like over the last couple of months read my Moonbuggy posts which have appeared on CNN’s Light Years and Schools of Thought.

The first installation of the our moonbuggy story appeared on the CNN Schools of Thought and Light Years blog.  Our second installation appeared on CNN’s Light Years blog.  Follow the team as we prepare to make the journey to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Al April 12-14.


Who Wants to be an Astronaut?

Jan 9, 2012   //   by pgreyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

If you missed the announcement in November that NASA has opened applications for it’s 2013 Astronaut class you still have time to apply for a once in a lifetime chance to have a career that many desire yet few are chosen for. Seems that being an astronaut is a dream that many people have. Even this guy applied to NASA.

Elvis at NASA 1963

Elvis applies to NASA in 1963's "It Happened at the World's Fair". Image courtesy @NASA

Today, January 8th, is Elvis’ birthday and @NASA posted this picture to day happy birthday Elvis. In the film, Elvis was a pilot. I’m sure crop dusting is a long way from wanting to go into space but hey, it’s a movie. Whether the idea was NASA’s or the producers, or Elvis himself, it got a big product placement shot for NASA and possibly increased interest in our nation’s fledgling space program and inspired some kids who watched the movie to desire to be a rock star and an astronaut at the same time.

I say dream big and reach beyond the stars. Dreams do come true!

Here is the link to apply to be part of the 2013 astronaut class. The application closes January 27, 2012 so get to it!