Monday, August 22, 2011

NASA Juno Tweetup: day 2 - guest speakers and demos

Read my previous blog entry in the "NASA Juno Tweetup" series: "Day 1 - Vehicle Assembly Building tour"
Jump back to my first blog entry in the series:  "Preview of my report"

Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator and astronaut

After an intense first day of guest speakers and a great Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station tour, the Juno launch day was upon us.  Day 2 of the Juno Tweetup consisted of a morning filled with more great guest speakers, some demos and interactive sessions, finally culminating with the launch of the Atlas V rocket with the Juno spacecraft.  My next blog entry will be about the Juno launch, since this post is all about our guest speakers and demos.

The NASA social media team really worked hard to put on a couple action packed days for our Tweetup.  I'm guessing that one of the most challenging aspects of setting up the Tweetup was coordinating the guest speaking portions of the two days.  Both days consisted of some very important people involved with the Juno spacecraft, the Atlas V rocket, or with NASA in general.  Trying to schedule all of these people to speak to 150 space loving nerds in a tent the day before launch and the day of launch must have been difficult.

This day's guest speaker lineup was:
and the demos we saw were from:

    Andy Aldrin from ULA

    The morning started with a talk by Andy Aldrin, who works for United Launch Alliance.  He talked about United Launch Alliance's role in the future of space exploration, and he even talked about his father.  Looking at Andy's last name, it should be pretty obvious that his father is Buzz Aldrin.  Looks like the space program runs in the blood.  When asked about growing up with Buzz Aldrin as a father, Andy said that he lived in Houston on a street where all his friends has astronaut fathers.  Hearing the way Andy talked about his father, you can tell he really admires Buzz's accomplishments.

    Waleed Abdalati, NASA Chieft Scientist

    Next up was Waleed Abdalati, who is the Chief Scientist for NASA.  He gets to set the course for NASA's scientific endeavors, and is the face of NASA in the scientific community.  He is a very funny man and an engaging public speaker.  He made a statement that many Tweetup participants took notice of (via a flurry of Tweets) stating that your job shouldn't be draining, but rather it should be energizing.  If you get home at night and you're physically drained, you body is telling you that's not the job for you.  After hearing Waleed's talk, you can tell that he's energized about his job.

    Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator and astronaut

    Our next speaker was Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator (head honcho) talking to us about NASA's future.  He's also a former astronaut, flying on the shuttle for four missions.  In 1990 he was the pilot of STS-31, which was space shuttle Discovery (which we saw in the VAB) deploying the Hubble Space TelescopeDuring his speech, I thought to myself "this is the closest I've ever been to someone that's been in space."  A goofy thing to think, but true!  If you would like to see a video of Charles Bolden's talk to all of us in the Tweetup tent, it's posted on YouTube.

    The main theme of Charles' talk was making the point that just because the shuttle program has come to an end, that doesn't mean NASA has also come to an end.  He promoted the unmanned missions (robotic missions, as he said) as the building blocks to the manned missions of the future.  He said that without the unmanned missions, we wouldn't have the data and research to carry out the higher profile manned missions.  He also talked about either SpaceX or Orbital Sciences sending up a cargo ship to the International Space Station in early 2012.  Charles also mentioned that in early 2012, NASA will put out a request to the private space companies for proposals on their crew capable spacecraft ideas, with the goal of returning American crews (on American spacecraft) to orbit sometime between 2015 and 2017.  He also pointed out that there has been (and continues to be) Americans in space aboard the International Space Station for over 10 years.  So the U.S. is still committed to space exploration and is in the beginning of a new chapter in the space program.

    Charles made a point about the importance of Juno using solar cells to power the spacecraft, rather than nuclear power, like many other unmanned spacecraft.  When asked by a science teacher in the Tweetup crowd how he would respond to students that say they want to have his job when they grow up, Charles joked "be careful what you ask for."  I can understand that comment, in a time when funding is being cut and he constantly has to explain that the shuttle program wasn't 100% of what NASA was doing.  He wrapped up his talk by thanking us for our enthusiasm for NASA, and used a fellow space program enthusiast and previous NASA Tweetup attendee, Kate Arkless Gray, as an example of the power of using social media to promote NASA.  Kate's an avid Twitter user and space fanatic that has traveled from her home in the U.K. to experience shuttle launches and NASA Tweetups.  As he was mentioning Kate, I knew that the NASA Administrator remembering her and mentioning her name would make her year.  After his talk, Charles Bolden agreed to join all of us in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building for a group photo.

    Group photo with Charles Bolden, Waleed Abdalati and Andy Aldrin.  You can find me by looking at the water tower to the left of the VAB.  I'm in the orange shirt, about four people to the right of the water tower.

    Doug Ellison demoing "Eyes on the Solar System"

    After our group photo in front of the VAB, we headed back into the tent for the demo portion of the morning.  The first demo I attended was from the JPL's Doug EllisonDoug is a Visualization Producer at the JPL, and one of the creators of the "Eyes on the Solar System" website.  This is a very cool website that allows you to see visualizations of all the items (naturally formed and man made) in the solar system.  If you want to see Juno on its way to Jupiter, this site will show you.  How about the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn?  You can see that too.  I can see myself spending lots of time on this site.

    Preston Dyches showing us some of the materials used on Juno

    I spent the rest of the demo period listening to Preston Dyches, from the JPL, talk about some of the materials used on the Juno spacecraft.  It seems the keys were finding lightweight materials that would also withstand the harsh environment in space, as well as the healthy dose of radiation that Juno will receive around Jupiter.  Preston passed around some of these materials for us to see.

    Titanium used on Juno

    One such material is titanium, that is used on Juno to protect many of the scientific instruments.  A couple of speakers on the first day also talked about the 1/2" thick casing of titanium around Juno's electronics.

    One of Juno's solar cells

    As Charles Bolden pointed out, as did other speakers on the first day, Juno is a solar powered spacecraft, rather than nuclear powered.  Preston passed around one of the solar cells that make up the large solar panels on the spacecraft.  Preson reiterated that Juno needs such large solar panels due to the low intensity level of the sun's rays at Jupiter.  Since Jupiter is so far away from the sun, compared to earth, the solar panels near Jupiter will only produce 4% of the electricity that they would if opened on earth.

    A couple other speakers we heard from during the morning were Rex Englehardt and Mike Ravine.  Rex is from NASA's Launch Services Program.  As Rex described it, he "buys rockets for a living."  The Launch Services Program is the group within NASA that contracts the private space companies, like ULA, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, to provide launch vehicles for NASA's unmanned spacecraft.  Mike Ravine is the individual responsible for creating JunoCam, which is the camera attached to Juno.  It seems that the biggest challenge to creating JunoCam was to create a camera than will withstand the super high levels of radiation that surround Jupiter.


    I'm going to jump ahead real quick (post launch), since this is a demo that should be included in this section.  After the launch, Stephanie Smith from the JPL passed around a piece of the lightest man made solid substance called Aerogel. It's essentially spun glass that looks like a block of frozen smoke. It was used as a lightweight insulation on spacecraft Stardust as well as on the Mars Rover. It was a very odd sensation holding it. Hard to describe how light it was. Even though it has the name "gel" in its title, it's a solid.  OK, now flashback to before the launch, for the last speaker of the morning.

    Bill Nye, The Science Guy

    Our final speaker was a big crowd favorite:  Bill Nye, The Science Guy.  He was at Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch, and agreed to talk to all of us in the Tweetup tent.  He's a very enthusiastic guy, and is exactly like you've seen him on TV.  If you would like to watch his talk to all of us in the Tweetup tent, it's posted on YouTube.  Bill talked about the importance of teaching children math and science, his enthusiasm for the Juno mission and future NASA missions, and talked quite a bit about The Planetary Society, of which he's executive director.  He was in a room full of 150 space nerds, so he was in his element.  He took plenty of questions from the audience, and even stuck around after his talk and came back after the launch to take pictures with us.  He was a big crowd favorite.

    After Bill Nye's talk wrapped up, we had about 30 minutes until the launch of the Atlas V rocket with the Juno spacecraft.  Well, it turned out to be more than 30 minutes until launch, but you can read all about that in my next blog entry detailing the Juno launch.

    Read my next blog entry in the "NASA Juno Tweetup" series:  "Day 2 - Juno launch"
    See all my pictures from the NASA Juno Tweetup

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