NASA’s Kinzler Passes Away

Jack A. Kinzler, the man who saved Skylab and gave us golf on the moon, died March 4 at the age of 94.

For 16 years Kinzler was chief of the Technical Services Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

When Skylab lost its heat shield after launch in 1973, he devised a shade tree to ward off the rays of the Sun that could be deployed without a hazardous spacewalk. His legendary prototype was made from a set of collapsible fishing rods — the finished parasol was built from telescoping aluminum tubes and silver-and-orange fabric of nylon, Mylar and aluminum. Kinzler received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal for his work.

He oversaw the design of the American flags astronauts planted on several Moon missions and of the commemorative plaques attached to lunar landing vehicles which stayed on the Moon.

Kinzler’s department also made astronaut Alan Shepard’s golf club, used to tee off two balls on the lunar surface – attaching a 6-iron head to the handle of a lunar-sample scoop.

[Thanks to Chip Hitchcock for the story.]

NASA at LoneStarCon 3

Catherine "Cady" Coleman.

Catherine “Cady” Coleman.

NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and scientist Heather Paul will in in San Antonio to participate in the Worldcon next weekend.

Cady Coleman has logged more than 4,330 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station. She’ll be there both Saturday and Sunday.

Heather Paul

Heather Paul

Heather Paul has worked in the areas of life sciences, propulsion, mission operations, and space suit and tool design and development. Ms. Paul has focused her engineering career on developing life support designs for next generation space suits that astronauts will wear as they explore places such as the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid. She’ll be there on Saturday.

[Thanks to James Bacon for the story.]

Taral’s Martian Ice

By Taral Wayne: Here’s something odd for you. While downloading photos from NASA’s Curiosity site (some 200 from Sol 137), my eye was caught by a strange white patch deep in the shadow of one overhang. I’ve seen some other whitish rock or glaze in other photos, but this looked completely different. It looked, in fact, like snow or ice. There’s even a dark area beneath it as though it was slowly melting. I suppose it could be ice — why not? So far we’ve discovered ice in a number of places. This particular overhang might just be cool enough to sustain a patch, at least temporarily.

I immediatey emailed the website and identified the photo. One other also shows the patch, though it’s much harder to see it — so it doesn’t appear to be a glitch in the first photo. No word from NASA, naturally…

Do you think it possible nobody had spotted it? If they have, they’ve been rather close mouthed … or could they deem it something of no interest, I wonder?

I’ve dubbed it “Saara’s Icebox,” somewhat whimsically. I’d love it to stick, but I don’t imagine there’s much chance of it.

Although, oddly some names I suggested to NASA by e-mail for highlands on Titan have appeared on one NASA map. Nobody mentioned adopting my suggestion … so it might be a coincidence.

Brittanum, Gaul and Hispania

Great Britain

Great Britain and Gaul

Postscript: Another photo of the overhanging rock formation has turned up in Sol 170′s photo cache. The white stuff, whatever it was, doesn’t seem visible. The view is distant, though, so it’s hard to see if there might be just a little left. Perhaps significantly, the dark stain that had been below the white stuff is also gone or going. Seems that it’s too late to investigate anything now. Good one, NASA!

Going, going… gone! (Sol 170)

Saturn Burps

These red, orange and green clouds (false color) in Saturn’s northern hemisphere indicate the tail end of the massive 2010-2011 storm. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

This is an especially gassy week in the solar system: today NASA released a report about the Cassini mission titled “NASA Spacecraft Sees Huge Burp at Saturn After Large Storm”:

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) instrument revealed the storm’s powerful discharge sent the temperature in Saturn’s stratosphere soaring 150 degrees Fahrenheit (83 kelvins) above normal. At the same time, researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., detected a huge increase in the amount of ethylene gas, the origin of which is a mystery. Ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas, isn’t typically observed on Saturn. On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources.

Cows are not to blame this time. Plants naturally produce ethylene. It can be used to hasten the ripening of fruit. And a great deal of ethylene is manufactured — it is one of the most commonly used organic compounds.

Cooking With Leftovers

NASA wants to build an orbital outpost at Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 with parts left over from the $100-billion International Space Station according to documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

At L-2, where the combined gravities of the Earth and moon reach equilibrium, an outpost can be kept in place with minimal power.

Called the gateway spacecraft, it would support a small crew and serve as a staging area for future missions to the moon or Mars.

To get there, NASA would use the massive rocket and space capsule that it is developing as a successor to the retired space shuttle. A first flight of that rocket is planned for 2017, and construction of the outpost would begin two years later, according to NASA documents….

From NASA’s perspective, the outpost would solve several problems.

It would give purpose to the Orion space capsule and the Space Launch System rocket, which are being developed at a cost of about $3 billion annually. It would involve NASA’s international partners, as blueprints for the outpost suggest using a Russian-built module and components from Italy.

So by keeping everybody’s rice bowl full NASA might grease the way through White House and Congress.

And that’s the best we can hope for from government-run space research? Sounds like we’d better keep watching the skies for entrepreneurial space development.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story]

For Ray on His 92nd Birthday

A look back at Bradbury Landing.

Ray Bradbury would have been 92 today, August 22, and NASA has not forgotten. The space agency celebrated by announcing it has given his name to the site on Mars where its rover Curosity first came to rest — Bradbury Landing.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Creebs in Space

Andre Bomanis in The Space Review asks ”Does Star Trek make space travel look too easy?” His essay begins –

In an interview with a reporter from the Associated Press, Scott Pace, the current director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University and a former NASA associate administrator, was asked to comment on the April 12th failure of the North Korean rocket launch. He noted that sending a vehicle into space is still a significant technical challenge, and added, “In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is Star Trek… Captain Picard says ‘engage’ and the ship moves. And people think ‘How hard can this be?’” Filmmaker James Cameron supposedly made a similar comment about Star Trek’s depiction of space travel several years ago.

Sounds like arrant nonsense to me. Did somebody forget about those literally dozens of episodes in which “the engines canna stand the strain” or depend on a crisis exacerbated by some other technical breakdown?

And how odd it is to see this coming from someone like Andre Bomanis, who is well aware of the show’s intricacies, having been (so it says in the endnotes) “a consultant, writer, and eventually a producer for Star Trek, [who] has written or co-written some 20 produced episodes of Voyager and Enterprise.”

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the link.]

NASA Joins Race for Trivial Space

Who says NASA has trouble getting anything launched these days? Why, they just launched a Facebook trivia game.

Space Race Blastoff scores correct answers to questions about NASA history, technology, science and pop culture. It’s a multiplayer game that can also be played solo. Successful participants win virtual badges.

Players select an avatar and then face 10 crossfire questions. Each correct answer earns 100 points, with a 20-point bonus to the player who answers first. The winner advances to the bonus round to answer one additional question for more points. Answering the bonus question earns the player a badge, which may depict an astronaut, a spacecraft, a planet or other person or object. Additional badges can be obtained for 1,500 points.

[Thanks to Janice Gelb for the link.]

Robert McCall, NASA Artist (1919-2010)

McCall's mural at NASA Langley Research center.

Space artist Robert McCall died February 26 of a heart attack in Scottsdale. He was 90.

An appreciation posted by the National Space Society (where McCall served on the Board of Governors) recalls numerous examples of his iconic artwork:

One can see the influence Robert McCall had by going to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, where his vast mural depicting man’s conquest of the Moon covers an entire wall on the Museum’s main floor, as well as in old movie posters for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in a two-decade-long series of postage stamps depicting space themes.

New Verdict on Martian Fossils

Electron microscope photo of structures in Martian meteorite.

Electron microscope photo of structures in Martian meteorite.

Did an asteroid impact on the surface of Mars eject fossilized bacteria into space on a 16 million year trip that ended in the Allan Hills of Antarctica?

That’s the theory advanced by scientists after using an electron microscope to analyze features of a Martian meteorite.

Skeptics were unconvinced that the micro structures were fossilized life when identical claims were first published in 1996, but the UK Times indicates further studies have strengthened the original interpretation:

Nasa scientists have produced the most compelling evidence yet that bacterial life exists on Mars.

It showed that microscopic worm-like structures found in a Martian meteorite that hit the Earth 13,000 years ago are almost certainly fossilised bacteria. The so-called bio-morphs are embedded beneath the surface layers of the rock, suggesting that they were already present when the meteorite arrived, rather than being the result of subsequent contamination by Earthly bacteria….

According to scientists, the meteorite was broken off the surface of Mars by the impact of an asteroid, and reached Earth after floating through space for about 16 million years. It landed in Allan Hills in Antarctica. Scientists were able to trace the meteorite back to Mars, as its chemical composition matched the relative proportions of various gases measured in observations of the atmosphere of Mars made by the Viking spacecraft in the 1970s.

A scientist who peer reviewed the new findings and works on magnetic bacteria said, “One indication there was life on ancient Mars are these particular magnetite crystals in the meteorite that look like they came out of magnetic bacteria. … [The] magnetic bacteria make some very unique shapes of magnetite crystals. And one of the organisms we work with on Earth makes particles that look virtually identical to what we see from Mars in the meteorite.”

[Via Chaos Manor.]