Monday, August 01, 2005

NASA and The New Planet

For the first day of August, the story that got all the stargazers jiggling in their seats last week:


Our solar system has become well-balanced since stargazers found that tenth planet. It's 97 times farther from the sun than the earth is, and three times farther from the sun than Pluto, which you may recall was discovered in the late 1930s.

For now, it's called 2003UB313 because the pictures were taken in 2003, but it wasn't identified as a planet until early this year. Astronomers do like to make sure.

We haven't run out of Greco-Roman deities yet so I look forward to hearing what the IAU will name it.

All this hype about the planet and the shuttle reminds me that when I lived there, I was a member of Space Center Houston. I would have been accepted to the NASA oral history project, but for the fact that final exams and an emergency trip to London interfered with orientation training. :(

For old times' sake, here is NASA. They have some excellent multimedia features, streaming NASA TV and everything you want to know about space and the exploration thereof.

The Johnson Space Center, which sprawls leisurely along NASA Parkway in far southwest Houston, is really the nerve centre of the space programme. The shuttle only launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, home to the fleet.
In fact, Houston is called Space City USA on the police department shoulder patch, which also features the globe encircled by two red rings. (Space exploration is a more patriotic theme than the oil and gas exploration, which takes place a few miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.)

As soon as a shuttle leaves the launchpad, control is handed to Houston which is in charge of all shuttle activities. It also coordinates the International Space Station program. The astronauts train at JSC and of course live in Houston. Dad used to have an apartment in the Clear Lake part of town nearby, and every morning before the damp sea mists had rolled away, the astronauts would shoot overhead in their light blue F-14s.

They used to have huge Open Days before 9/11. You get a big NASA bag and collect goodies as you go along. There were tours all over the JSC, including the original mission control room. My highlight was playing with an electron microscope; the closer I zoomed in to the poor little ant, the more electrons bombarded his fragile antennae, and they wilted, curling tightly to his head.

The atmosphere at JSC retains the thrill of its man-on-the-moon anticipation. This is helped by the fact that all the buildings are distinctly early 60s in design, US government-issue (which is really not so dire as the contemporary brutalist buildings found elsewhere). Being so science-based, there is a calmness but obviously with such a mission as theirs, the underlying electricity at NASA is unmistakeable.

An eye-opening NASA Spinoffs website. How the space program has touched our daily lives, from medicine to wine-making.


Lasto-adri *Blue* said...

Olivia, don’t you wish to travel to that planet someday?!

Olivia said...

Blue - oh no. I might panic if Earth is out of sight!
Would you go there?

Jason said...

Hey Olivia,
You know, two objects were announced on the same day, one 2/3 the size of Pluto, and the one you mentioned 1-2 times the size. Facinating to think that there is so much out there that we don't know about. You know Chris and his dad work at the Space Center. He is a program director and his dad works in Mission Control. He says there is a lot of buzz around NASA these last few days.

Anonymous said...

I thought they had named the 10th planet after the astronaut who had discovered it but I just looked it up and I was wrong. Yet i came across this on cnn:
The object -- about 10 billion kilometers from Earth -- has been given the provisional name of Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the sea.

Bangatank said...

NASA is one of the coolest things America has going for it. It's so much more idealistic than the rest of our industry. Funny story in my blog about my boss, who used to work with NASA.

You are invited to a discussion of parallel universes and alternate dimensions on my blog. You started it!

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. I though that Pluto's status as a planet wwas somewhat questionable? Possibly a dislodged kuiper belt object? Certainly I'd got the feeling before this "10th" planet stuff that there was a strong motion to contract our universe down to 8 planets.

Of course, a 10th planet will generate a lot of interest in space for all concerned (not a bad thing!), I just wonder of the mad rush to declare a tenth planet when people are still undecided on the 9th.

Not trying to put a downer on it - just being a scientist!

-- anonintj

Rebecca said...

Hey, sorry I haven't been around, a bit of a mad week last one was... You should have entered NASA and then moved internally and become an astronaut! How tooootally cool would that be, Olivia the space wanderer! You could wear a cape and all.

Awesome site NASA spinoffs, very cool. I hope they name the new planet Bacchus, and name its moons "and his sidekicks of boxer shorts" and turns it all into a hot holiday resort!

Olivia said...

What a lot of comments to deal with!

Hm, I didn't know about the smaller object...
I knew Chris worked for Space Center, but it's EVEN cooler that his Dad is in Mission Control. What's his specialisation?
As for the buzz, I would love to be there for it.

Thank you for that interesting bit of research. Sedna? Sounds pretty cool for such a cold distant planet. Can our minds even begin to conceive 10 billion miles? It's hard enough to think that the sun is 93 million miles away and still hot enough to burn our skin.

Indeed it is some of that idealism I tried to convey in my post. I will check your blog out today. And boy am I sorry I started that parallel universe discussion! I do have a book recommendation, however, if I can remember the name.

Hey there. Of course, I had heard of the controversy about Pluto's status as a planet, but I think it's just conveniently accepted as such. I mean, it has an orbit. Thank you for being a scientist, don't stop.

Olivia said...

Hey hey, welcome back. I heard about your frantic week!
Do not mention it - I did soooo want to be an astronaut at one time. Then after a year I downgraded it to joining the Navy - I was so ready for it in college. Go ahead and laugh! I may blog about this...

I am glad you liked the spinoffs site - we have to wonder, where *would* we be today without NASA?

My opinion is that planet might be a little too chilly for a resort. I think they should stick to Mars, once they install its new atmosphere.

Lasto-adri *Blue* said...

o ya oli.. i'd love to go somewhere that far.. and take a space ship and dive in the vast universe...
GOSH! it looks soooooo exciting

Lasto-adri *Blue* said...

btw oli: i answered ur "3 things quiz"
its a bit funny :)

u can c it out on my blog ;)

Olivia said...

Blue - then you can go, and take lots of pictures for me ;)
I'm coming over to see...

Bangatank said...

What's your skype name? (You can email it)

Olivia said...

JP, what time is it in San Diego? OK I emailed it.

Olivia said...

Hey Jason, thanks for the info on Sedna and Chris's dad.

I can't believe it! Miss Petite Teen International...How can they be petite if they're practically the same height as Johnny?