Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brazen Talent

For several years, I spent hours on end whirling the late nights and early mornings away on dance floors from one end of the continental United States to the other.

It was a wonderful time, allowing me to experience some amazing DJ sets, enjoy I-don't-know-how-many breathtakingly creative events and, best of all, join my life experiences with those of dozens of beautiful people whom I still consider friends and loved ones.

There was Jay, who returned as a U.S. Army sergeant from Kosovo and wanted to spend his nights listening to house music, admiring women and savoring every moment he could out of life. There was Barry, who was an insurance adjuster by day but a bubbling socialite under the glittering mirrorball and laser lights on weekend nights. There was Kris, the bartender at one of Atlanta's best Italian bistros and a lipstick lesbian who loved nothing more than dancing with handlebar-moustached leather daddies and muscle men.

And there was Teresa Brazen, who studied journalism as a bulldog at the University of Georgia but then found her true passion in art. One night, she explained to me how her twin passions for painting and collage intertwined with her passion to dance and enjoy music. Wonderful person, and such a gifted, talented woman.

Teresa's life has led her down many paths, from Caracas to Atlanta to New York and, now, to San Francisco's Bay Area. She's currently exhibiting with a group of other artists in Oakland, and has several new pieces in her collection.

Lots of my friends in Atlanta have purchased her art, which to me are powerful expressions of emotion and color. I enjoy her collage, but it looks as if she's moving into new areas these days. She also produced a video project, too, that you can watch on her MySpace page.

I miss Teresa, like so many others, but I'm excited for her, too.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

05/30/07: Chandra: 3C438 and Surrounding Galaxy Cluster.

Video, Mpeg, 2.5 MB Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft; Optical: Pal.Obs. DSS; Radio: NRAO/VLA/A.H.Bridle, R.G.Strom

Chandra's image of 3C438, the central galaxy within a massive cluster, reveals evidence for one of the most energetic events in the local Universe. An arc-like feature to the lower left in the cluster's hot gas is about 2 million light years long. VLA Radio Image of 3C438 Astronomers have determined that an enormous amount of energy would be required to produce such a large structure. One plausible scenario is that two massive clusters collided at high velocity and later merged. This would have created a shock front in the hot gas that could account for the ridge seen in the Chandra data.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft; Optical: Pal.Obs. DSS

Another intriguing feature in the Chandra data is the possible detection of a cavity in the hot gas. This structure, seen in the upper left of the image, would require a tremendous amount of energy to produce. There are also hints of a similar structure on the other side of the central galaxy. Images of 3C438 and Surrounding Galaxy Cluster Astronomers think such X-ray cavities are usually generated when large amounts of matter funnel into a supermassive black hole. The black hole inhales much of the matter but expels some of it outward in a high-speed jet, carving e into the hot gas. If the cavity was generated by a supermassive black hole, then it would be the most powerful event of its kind ever seen.

A further interesting aspect of the Chandra data is that the temperature of the gas was measured to be about 170 million degrees Celsius. This cluster is therefore one of the hottest ever seen, another sign of colossal upheaval.

Chandra X-ray Image of 3C438

Evidence for an awesome upheaval in a massive galaxy cluster was discovered in an image made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The origin of a bright arc of extremely hot gas extending over two million light years requires one of the most energetic events ever detected. There are also hints of a cavity in the hot gas to the upper left. Scale: Image is 8.4 arcmin per side. Credit: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft

VLA Radio Image of 3C438

This radio image from NRAO's Very Large Array shows the inner-most region of 3C438. Jets seen in the radio data do not point in the same directions as the cavity structure seen in the X-ray, adding more mysteries about this system. Credit: Radio: NRAO/VLA/A.H.Bridle & R.G.Strom; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft

DSS Optical Image of 3C438

This cropped Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) image (left) shows how different 3c438 looks in optical light. The X-ray image (see #1 above) shows a much different structure from the optical image, including a massive arc-like structure to the lower left. There are also hints of a cavity in the hot gas to the upper left. Scale: Cropped image is 8.4 arcmin per side; Full field is 50 arcmin per side. Credit: Pal.Obs.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Endeavour cleared for early arrival home

NASA cleared the shuttle Endeavour for landing on Tuesday (local time), after a two-week mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was cut short 24 hours by menacing Hurricane Dean.

Landing was initially set for Wednesday, but the US space agency rescheduled for a day earlier fearing that its control centre in Houston, Texas may have to be evacuated if it is grazed by Hurricane Dean which is now roaring across the Caribbean.

The hurricane, on track to strike Mexico early Tuesday but missing Texas altogether, "poses little hazard or little risk to the Johnson Space Center mission control area," NASA said in a statement.

Nevertheless, it added: "mission managers continue to monitor Hurricane Dean as it moves westward".

Endeavour is to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which is not as well equipped as Houston for ground control operations, in the event the Johnson Space Center has to be shut down if the hurricane strikes.

The Endeavour crew will have two chances to land at either 12:32 pm (16:32 GMT) and 2:06 pm (18:06 GMT), NASA said.

The weather forecast for Tuesday at the Cape was relatively dry with any possible showers "probably not expected to be a concern ... so the weather looks good" for a landing, said NASA spokesman Mike Curie in Houston.

Should landing here be called off, the shuttle would try again on Wednesday first at Cape Canaveral, or Edwards Air Force Base in California, or possibly even at the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

The Endeavour and ISS crews finished a shortened, fourth spacewalk on Sunday, before the shuttle with its crew of seven undocked from the ISS without performing the usual fly-past of the station to take pictures.

"They didn't do a flight around the ISS because it was a very busy day for the crew, undocking and doing the late inspection, all of this in one day," Mr Curie said.

The crew last week put out a robotic arm with a high-definition camera with attached laser to inspect the heat shield on Endeavour's nose and wings for possible damage from meteors and other floating space debris.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crew Completes Spacewalk

For reasons that are not entirely clear to NASA, the space station has tended to drift during spacewalks over the past year or so. The space agency thought the problem might be even worse this time, because one of the gyroscopes that keep the orbiting outpost stable and pointed in the right direction stopped working two weeks ago.

But the space station held steady until the very end of the 4 1/4-hour spacewalk, when it went into a partial, slow-motion cartwheel. The drift lasted far less than the three hours expected.

Flight controllers could have prevented this "free drift" by firing the station's thrusters, but waited to do so until the spacewalkers were out of the way, rather than risk contaminating their spacesuits with toxic rocket fuel.

Right after the spacewalk, one of the two good gyroscopes exhibited a brief but unusually strong vibration. Engineers were keeping close watch over the big spinning wheel, which appeared to be working fine later in the day. Besides the gyroscope that shut down two weeks ago, another broke three years ago.

Laboring 220 miles above Earth, Commander Leroy Chiao and his Russian crewmate, Salizhan Sharipov, plugged in four antennas for a new type of cargo carrier due to fly next year.

They also released by hand a one-foot-long, 11-pound satellite called Nanosputnik, designed for experimental maneuvering by ground controllers.

Sharipov let go of Nanosputnik on the count of two as Chiao photographed the event. "Off it goes," Sharipov said as the satellite floated away with a spin.

During the spacewalk, the space station was empty. With the shuttle fleet grounded since the 2003 Columbia catastrophe, the space station has been home to only two astronauts at a time, instead of the usual three.

Chiao and Sharipov hustled through their work and wrapped everything up more than an hour early, despite extra safety precautions. NASA and the Russian Space Agency instituted the extra measures to avoid a repeat of the problem that occurred during the men's spacewalk in January. Because of a miscommunication during that outing, Chiao got too close to the firing thrusters. This time, the thrusters, which fire automatically when the space station tips out of balance, were disabled for the astronauts' safety.

Engineers have yet to identify the mysterious force that causes the space station to tilt during spacewalks. The space station needs to point in the right direction so that its solar panels continue generating electricity and certain components do not become overheated from exposure to the sun.

The spacewalkers ignored the recent problem that knocked out the gyroscope; visiting shuttle astronauts will tackle that repair job in two months.

The two space station residents have spent the past several weeks dealing with an assortment of breakdowns, including an oxygen generator that still is not working. Over the weekend, they replaced a pump panel that is part of a critical cooling system.

NASA hopes to launch the shuttle Discovery to the space station in mid-May. Technicians had trouble aligning the shuttle and its transporter Monday for the big move from the hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the booster rockets and redesigned fuel tank are attached. The move was rescheduled for Tuesday.


    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Dr Miriam Baltuck: Director, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

    Dr Miriam Baltuck is Director of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), a NASA facility managed by O.

    The CDSCC is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, a set of three facilities spaced equally around the Earth to allow constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates. The network supports interplanetary spacecraft missions, radio and radar astronomy observations and Earth-orbiting missions.

    Dr Baltuck has been honoured by the designation of Minor Planet Baltuck.

    O Materials Science and Engineering manages NASA activities in Australia on behalf of the Australian Government. The CDSCC is their largest undertaking.

    O enters into contracts with Australian industry for the necessary staff and infrastructure while NASA provides all funds associated with the operation of the CDSCC.

    The function of the CDSCC is covered by a treaty-level agreement between the governments of the US and Australia.


    Dr Baltuck became Director of the CDSCC in 2006.

    Prior to that, she was Director of University Advancement at the Australian National University, in Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory.

    From September 2001-April 2005, Dr Baltuck pioneered a position in Australia as Science and Technology Advisor at the US Embassy in Canberra, assisting US organisations in developing cooperative activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Prior to this, from mid-1997, she had been NASA's Attaché at the US Embassy in Canberra. Her duties included pursuit of cooperation in NASA Programs with Australia, Oceania, and Southeast Asia.

    Prior moving to Australia in 1994, Dr Baltuck was seconded to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to chair twenty-five federal agencies in the development of a National Earthquake Loss Reduction Strategy, which was forwarded for implementation to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1995.

    In 1986 Dr Baltuck joined NASA to manage NASA’s Solid Earth and Natural Hazards Branch. While in this assignment she secured resources for 11 new flight projects including the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), considered the most universally useful Shuttle flight in NASA’s history.

    Dr Baltuck has also been Professor of Geology at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Paris, France, and worked on the US Deep Sea Drilling Project.

    Her graduate work included geologic field mapping, blue water oceanographic research cruises and laboratory geochemical analyses.

    Academic qualifications

    Dr Baltuck has been awarded a:

    Bachelor of Science with Honours from the University of Michigan, USA

    Doctorate in Earth Sciences by the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California, USA, in 1982.


    Dr Baltuck's achievements include:

    minor planet 5701 designated Baltuck, in 2005

    US Department of State Superior Honor Award for outstanding successful negotiations for the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2004

    NASA Office of External Relations Director Award, 2003-1998 (each year, inclusive)

    Royal Aeronautical Society (Australian Division) Lawrence Hargrave Medal, for presentation on Living in Space in 2001

    Australian National Press Club Telstra Medal for presentation on Life Beyond Earth; NASA’s Solar System Exploration Program in 2000

    Outstanding Annual Performance Appraisals across 1990-97 - highest possible rating every year this system was applied while a US civil servant

    NASA Office of Mission to Planet Earth Director’s Award in 1997 and 1996

    NASA Group Achievement Award - NASA Science Institutes Planning Team in 1996

    US Government Senior Executive Service certification awarded in 1995

    NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, for leadership as SIR-C and SRTM Program Scientist 1995

    Director Performance Award, twice in 1994

    Selection into first cadre of NASA Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program participants (58 selected out of 1 100 applicants) in 1993

    LAGEOS II Program Scientist certificate of accomplishment in 1993

    Group Achievement Award (LAGEOS--Laser Geoscience Satellite) in 1992.

    Learn about the facility: Canberra: NASA Deep Space Complex (ACT).


    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Airlines Flying Old Planes, Not Buying New Ones

    According to Reuters, the "legacy" airlines are flying old planes and not ordering any new ones. The youngest fleet belongs to Continental—their planes have an average age of 10 years. So why aren't airlines buying any new, more fuel efficient planes?

    Apparently, its just not worth the money to most carriers, because the next wave of better airplanes might make ones purchased today obsolete. Sort of like an iPod. Only bigger.

    The lack of orders puzzles some experts. They note that U.S. airlines lag European airlines whose aircraft are more fuel-efficient and meet higher noise and emissions standards.

    "The average age of the fleet is amazing, and it's time to start serious renewal," said airline consultant Michael Roach.

    Roach said some carriers may be delaying orders in hopes of catching the next wave of narrow-body technology that is not due for several years.

    "I think there's a lot of reluctance on the part of the carriers to go out and buy a lot of an already obsolete aircraft," he said.

    Of the six so-called "legacy carriers" in the United States -- those with a hub-and-spoke network and fly internationally -- Continental Airlines has the youngest fleet with an average age of 10 years old, according to Fitch Ratings data.

    In the last 10 years, Continental has replaced its aging, gas-guzzling DC-9s, DC-10s and MD-80s. As of Dec. 31, Continental had firm commitments for 82 aircraft from Boeing.

    "We're been very disciplined over the last 10 years," said John Greenlee, Continental's managing director of fleet planning. "It does pay to have that advantage as a younger fleet."

    Northwest, which just emerged from bankruptcy this year, has the oldest fleet, with an average age of 18 years. They're looking to replace their DC-9 aircraft, which are at least 25 years old. This is good because we get freaked out when we're in a plane that has ashtrays with cigarette butts still in them, ya know? That's just us.—MEGHANN MARCO