My friend Mark “Indy” Kochte is an astronomer, mountain climber, and time-lapse photographer. So who better to capture last month’s Perseid meteor shower like this (make sure the video is set to HD and opened full screen, and turn up your sound. Hit play and feast your eyes and ears):
All of the images of the time lapse were taken during the meteor shower, but the meteors themselves are really tough to spot in the video. That’s because meteors are very brief events in the sky, typically lasting just a second or less (2 or 3 seconds if you’re lucky). Since time-lapse video plays back at 24 frames per second, any frame that happens to have a meteor streak in it lasts just 1/24th of a second during the video (so don’t blink!) Many of the longer streaks in the video are of airplanes and satellites. But if you look sharp, the meteors are there!
Speaking of satellites, there are some that display very interesting motions in the video. At 0:49 seconds in, you’ll notice there is a “star” in the left third of the video that seems to be moving to the left, while the rest of the stars seem to continue their clockwise arc down. That’s a geosynchronous satellite!
To get a better view of some of the individual meteor streaks, Mark was kind enough to post a few of the stills on Flickr so be sure to check them out.
The whole video is hypnotic and even a little dizzying to watch. I love videos like this because seeing the night sky moving in time lapse really gives the sense that we are living on a planet that is rotating on its axis in a giant galaxy.
After our morning briefing, we took a break for lunch. When we came back, we went in for the Pre-Launch briefing:
Afterward, we were treated to a presentation on our understanding of the Moon by LADEE Project Scientist Dr. Sarah Noble. The presentation was conducted at the NASA Visitors’ Center at Wallops Flight Facility in a Science on a Sphere exhibit. This was my first experience with one of these devices and it is really quite amazing. Essentially, a sphere is suspended from the ceiling in the middle of a room. A projector in each corner displays 1/4 of the image onto the sphere, combining to create a full “3D” image of whatever sphere-shaped object you’re looking at, in our case, the Moon:
Even better, the system was able to demonstrate LRO topography data:
We then took a break and I did a little shopping in the gift shop. As it turned out, they were giving away free LADEE-branded Moon Pies:
And during the break, I got to say hello once again to well-known Hubble Hugger John Grunsfeld:
Then it was back to the briefing room, this time for the science briefing:
Mom alert: At the 18:00 mark, I ask a question about the predicted count rate.
With the briefings concluded, it was time for a trip to the launch pad itself. The team from Orbital Sciences were finishing up some Hazardous Operations (HazOps) when we arrived. All rockets have explosives on board to blow up the vehicle in case something goes wrong. However, the crews install inhibitors to prevent an accidental detonation of the vehicle while they’re working on it. At L-1 days, these inhibitors are removed and the vehicle is fully armed. The crew were completing this process just as we arrived. As a result, we had to keep our cell phones in Airplane mode so we wouldn’t set the thing off and incinerate the vehicle (and ourselves along with it.)
So much happened during the two days of our NASA Social Meetup at the LADEE launch, a single blog post of any substantive detail is a post that may never get published, let alone read. So instead, I’ll try to break it up into smaller bits to have a play in the weeds a little. Since much has been written about the launch by others far more capable than I, I’ll try to stick to how things went from my own personal perspective.
Over the course of the two days, we attended several briefings, including the official press briefings which were broadcast on NASA TV. But this first one for NASA’s educational channel turned out to be far and away the most comprehensive. If you have the time, watch the whole thing and you’ll learn about the spacecraft, the science objectives, and the launch operations. Also, I’ll put our level of questions against the traditional media any day.
In the interest of brevity, and of my mom, I’ll quickly highlight the bits where I pose some questions.
Our first speaker was John M. Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. He welcomed us and talked about how excited he was to see us returning to the Moon with LADEE and exploring a part of the lunar environment that is largely unknown to us. Grunsfeld is one of my heroes because as an astronaut, he flew on three servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. As an astronomer himself, NASA couldn’t have asked for a better person to run the space science side of the NASA house.
At the 18:00 mark, I asked Dr. Grunsfeld what it was like to be the last person to touch the Hubble Space Telescope. He gave a response that was as accurate as it was humble: he didn’t actually touch Hubble directly since he was wearing the thick rubber gloves in his EVA spacesuit. In fact, every technician who ever touched Hubble wore gloves of some kind. But he quickly pivoted to suggest that tens of thousands of people actually touched Hubble over the last 24 years since its launch, and during the 15 years of its development before it was launched. A humble answer indeed.
Grunsfeld also spoke about what it was like to ride the Space Shuttle into orbit. He’s a great storyteller and if you don’t have time to watch the whole video, just watch the first segment with Grunsfeld.
Up next was Dr. Sarah Noble, program scientist for LADEE. At the 36:00 mark, I ask her about what overlap LADEE might have with other lunar missions currently in progress. She points out that there are currently three other lunar missions in progress right now: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which is currently making detailed measurements and imagery of the lunar surface, ARTEMIS, which is monitoring the Sun / Earth / Moon environment. The LRO and LADEE teams are currently working to figure out how they might be able to work together, while the ARTEMIS team will most likely be able to give the LADEE team weather reports based on solar activity hitting the Moon.
Next was Bob Barber, the LADEE Spacecraft Systems Engineer from NASA Ames in California. LADEE is Ames’ baby – it was designed and built there and will even be flown from there as well. A big first for LADEE is the use of the Common Spacecraft Bus (CSB) architecture. CSB is an attempt to make spacecraft easier (and therefore cheaper) to build for a given range of missions. LADEE is the first spacecraft to use the CSB approach:
LADEE looks eerily similar to the Apollo Command and Service Module, but there’s no way the tapered shape at the top has anything to do with aerodynamics or even fitting into the fairing of the Minotaur V, so I asked what was up with that at 56:04. It turns out that the tapered angle gives them a way to get extra solar power in case they ever find themselves tipped away from the Sun for some reason.
Like I said, the whole thing is well worth your time watching if you really want to learn about LADEE. It’s also a great way for us space geeks to watch and go “HEY! I know that guy/girl!!!” every time the camera points to the audience.