Thursday, November 26, 2009

Success in Perth

Best wishes to the wondrous Kea and Carl Brannen at the conference in Perth, Australia. They earned the best reception yet for their work. Out of the limelight, the real advances in science are being made.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belle de Jour, Scientist

Not belle de Jour, but some other scientist moonlighting as a call girl. From the play NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH. The theatre programme said she works at NASA!

All Britain is abuzz. The mysterious "Belle de Jour" author, blogger and inspiration for SECRET DIARY OF A LONDON CALL GIRL, is a scientist! She is Dr. Brooke Magnanti, specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. For a time in 2003-2004 she was also a high-priced lady of the evening.

Her autobiographical book about life as a call girl caused a minor sensation in the literary world. She is still on Blogger at Belle de Jour. Her book BELLE DE JOUR was the basis of the delicious television serial with DR WHO's Billie Piper. SECRET DIARY is going to a third series!

While studying for her PhD in 2003, Belle found herself in London without cash or a good job. She spent 14 months as an escort making around 300 pounds per hour. Compared to the other gigs available to a woman, the pay seemd quite attractive. That brief period of her life led to the book and endless speculation as to her identity.

This shows just how difficult life can be for women scientists. The road to a PhD and career is long and difficult. Many economic and social challenges lie in the way. It is easy to prostitute oneself by following trendy subjects like strings or "dark energy." Best wishes in her future career to Dr. Brooke Magnanti.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Wet Moon

The weekend's big news was discovery by LCROSS of large amounts of water on the Moon. Water means oxygen for humans and fuel for spacecraft. Our office is deeply involved with plans for In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU).These experiments are so valuable that someone was recently handed a priceless lunar sample from Apollo. Water also increases the chances of humans settling on the Moon to stay.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Super Guppy

The Super Guppy aircraft was originally based upon the Boeing 377, an airliner developed from the KC-97 tanker. With an inner diameter of 25 feet, this plane could carry full-size Saturn rocket stages across the US in a matter of hours. The Guppies played an vital role in getting people to the Moon in a decade. This last remaining Super Guppy has been used to carry parts for the International Space Station and Orion.

The idea for the first "Pregnant Guppy" came over drinks. Pilot Jack Conroy and Lee Mansdorf were discussing the problem of moving Saturn rocket stages across the US by barge. Mansdorf had recently come into possession of several Boeing 377 Stratocruisers and was looking for a business. Conroy made some sketches and the first Guppy was born. Built with private funding, it first flew on September 19, 1962.

At first NASA engineers doubted that this funny-looking aircraft could even fly. Without a NASA contract and nearly out of money, Conroy flew the Guppy across the US on a demonstration tour. Ending up in Huntsville, he showed the aircraft to skeptical NASA engineers. MSFC Director Wehrner Von Braun was so excited that he took a ride himself. NASA was sold, and started pushing the FAA to certify the plane.

The first two-stage launch of a Saturn rocket, the SA-5 was behind schedule because of problems with liquid hydrogen engines. Using the Pregnant Guppy, the important first stage was shipped across the US in 18 hours. By barge the journey would have taken 18-25 days. The SA-5 test successfully reached orbit on January 29, 1964. Without the Guppy, the Apollo program would have fallen permanently behind schedule.

The Pregnant Guppy was so successful that it led to bigger plans. Originally the larger version was called the B-377VPG for Very Pregnant Guppy! To make the new plane lift more weight, more powerful turboprop engines were needed. Conroy knew that the US Air Force had engines left over from retired KC-97's. The NASA Administrator's Office interceded with the Air Force, stressing the national interest. The engines were made available and the Super Guppy first flew on August 31, 1965. After an incident at Ellington Field requiring an engine change, NASA placed spare engines across the country to insure that the Guppies met their schedule.

With the clock running on the race to the Moon, NASA needed the Super Guppy almost immediately. In March 1966 the new plane transported a complete Saturn Instrument Unit from IBM in Huntsville to the Douglas factory in Huntington Beach, California. That same month Super Guppy brought a complete SIV-B test stage back to Huntsville. Thanks in a large part to the Guppies, humans reached the Moon in 1969.

The Guppies were owned and operated by Aero Spacelines, a private company started by Conroy and others. To please the FAA, the Guppies were declared public aircraft for legal reasons. Like today's COTS contractors, Aero Spacelines took a great risk to carry NASA payloads. Also like today, there were many doubters. The ingenuity of the Guppies was vital for reaching the Moon on time.

We are all familiar with the circular cross section of an aeroplane fuselage. It is the most natural shape for a pressurised vessel. The blood vessels within our bodies and even the cells themselves take the form of circles and spheres. Objects from stars and planets to raindrops also form spheres. Philosophers from Pascal to Einstein and even Edgar Allen Poe believed that the Universe is spherical. Scientists today say that the Universe is flat, like the Earth. From past experience, we all know which side will win.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Max Q, the Astronaut Band

Today's post was written at the Cafe Mediterranean, across Nasa Road One from Johnson Space Center. Frequently the Cafe hosts concerts by Max Q, the band made entirely of active duty astronauts! Left-right in front are Canadian Chris Hadfield on guitar, Educator Dottie Metcalf-Lunenbuyrger doing vocals, Dan Burbank on guitar. Not to worry, they've not quit their day jobs.

Max Q is the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure on an ascending spacecraft. The band was started in the 1980's and named by Robert "Hoot" Gibson. In the dark days following Challenger, the band provided needed pickup. Last week Max Q played at the annyal Ballunar fesstival in JSC. This band will play on as long as there are astronauts.


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