Showing posts with label NASA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NASA. Show all posts

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Opportunity: The Little Rover that Could

Dear NASA, JPL and Opportunity,

Happy tenth anniversary on Mars! There are not enough exclamation points to express just how amazing it is to have a machine designed for a 92-day mission headed into day 3,654. I love Opportunity's celebratory selfie!

I'm glad Opportunity has company in the form of the comparatively huge, nuclear powered Curiosity. I hope a good wind knocks some of the dust off these solar panels.

Many people have forgotten the harrowing encounter at Purgatory Dune in 2005. The mission could have been over had it not been for patience and ingenuity.

Barring gimpy motors and power shortages, it just seems this little bot will keep on ticking. I'm amazed. Not quite to the point of Voyager amazed, but amazed nonetheless.

Keep up the great work!


Vintage Technology Obsessions

P.S. True space geeks must visit the tenth anniversary image collection. My ode to Opportunity's eight birthday is here.  It seems the solar panels were a bit cleaner at the the time. I also nerded out on Voyager as it hurtles into interstellar space and continues to send back data with technology dating to when Star Wars, AMC Pacers and Apple IIs were shiny and new. That was a simpler time when Han still shot first and you could see the matte lines around tie fighters.

P.S.S.  This blog still isn't dead. It just isn't getting much attention given my love of the photographic community and near daily postings on Google+

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Geek Pride Day! The 2013 Edition

Happy Geek Pride Day!

Today we recognize one of the defining moments in modern Geekdom that was the release of Star Wars on May 25, 1977. As with last year, I will celebrate by featuring the some of the awesomely geeky things I have featured on this blog or photographed in the last year.

Sometimes I even surprise myself. What kind of a geek put this blog together, anyway?

This is the Army that turned the tide in the war against the Mayan Destructors.

Could it be the Mayans came up with that world ending calendar concept as an elaborate means to introduce a new typewriter acquisition?  Anything is possible in tinfoil hat conspiracy land.

The Christmas Squirrel is an astute military commander.

The freakingly amazing Curiosity!

Celebrating a special birthday.

Experts in green inspect a repainted machine.
Zombie on the streets of Kansas City. I hope no one steals their coffee.

The House Full of Nerds viewing the Transit of Venus.

Typecasting on vacation.

I got to see five separate Shakespeare performances since Geekday 2012.

A Maker, making.

You never know what will turn up at the local Maker Faire. Go, you must.

Your career at NASA

The Vintage Technology Obsessions crew visits San Francisco for Greenbuild 2012

Godzilla put up a valiant fight against the Mayan Destructors. Thank goodness the world didn't end!
The absolute highlight in my year in Geekdom was staying up to watch the livestream of Curiosity landing on Mars. This bit of awesome was brought to us via the great, modern disruptive force known as the Internet. It is gratifying to see personalities from the mission team become media rock stars. Really, we live in the Golden Age of Geek.

Photographing my screen.

That's without mentioning the amazing photos from the ISS courtesy of Chris Hadfield (my daily Twitter fix) and all of the awesome news rolling out of Elon Musk's technological market disruption empire. Tesla just became the first auto maker to fully pay back its government loans and is attempting to circumvent the dealer franchise model of selling cars. SpaceX completed the first commercial mission to the ISS. Geeks, without a doubt, are on a roll!

Oh, and thanks to Yahoo, Flickr and digital imaging, everyone is now a professional photographer!

Prom photos at the Duke University Gardens last week. Sure, Yahoo's CEO rolled back the snarky comment about professional photographers, but it appears she really meant it. Does that mean every 12-year-old that makes an app is on par with a Google system architect?

On a personal note, I am especially proud of my Geeklings. They have had an amazing year full of music, drama and obsessive academic over-achievement. Highlights include Geekling the Elder playing Curtis in a school production of "Taming of the Shrew" and Geekling the Minor (aka: gingercat) being recognized in the Duke TIP 7th Grade Talent Search.

In case you are interested, the 2012 parade of geek that is Vintage Technology Obsessions is at

Thanks all for reading this little blog of mine! I would probably do it without anyone looking, but the hit counts (approaching 50,000), Google Plus Ones and comments from people like you are gratifying.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Opportunity Rover Ninth Anniversary: January 25, 2004

This post commemorates the 9th anniversary of Opportunity landing on Mars on January 25, 2004.  It is hard to believe a machine designed for a 90 day mission could still be functional in the harsh Martian environment for this many years.  I've included some highlights culled from various NASA and JPL sources. (Updated January 23, 2013)

Artist's rendering of Spirit or Opportunity rover exiting the landing platform.  The blobs in the foreground are airbags.  Prior to Curiosity, the primary means to land a rover on Mars was to enclose it in an airbag and let it bounce to scrub off the last bit of of momentum.
This is how the Spirit and Opportunity bouncy balls rolled on their landings.  The technology is still amazing, but it seems like stone knives and bearskins in comparison with the Curiosity skycrane landing platform.

Here is the official press release noting the first signal from Opportunity on January 25, 2004.
NASA's second Mars Exploration Rover successfully sent signals to Earth during its bouncy landing and after it came to rest on one of the three side petals of its four-sided lander.

Mission engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., received the first signal from Opportunity on the ground at 9:05 p.m. Pacific Standard Time Saturday via the NASA Deep Space Network, which was listening with antennas in California and Australia.

"We're on Mars, everybody!" JPL's Rob Manning, manager for development of the landing system, announced to the cheering flight team.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said at a subsequent press briefing, "This was a tremendous testament to how NASA, when really focused on an objective, can put every ounce of effort, energy, emotion and talent to an important task. This team is the best in the world, no doubt about it."

I remember reading the news that came out after the mission extension press release.  Having Spirit and Opportunity on overtime at day 90 was amazing then.  Getting one of these rovers to year nine was inconceivable at the time.

NASA Extends Rover Mission - April 8, 2004
(excerpts from press release)
"Given the rovers' tremendous success, the project submitted a proposal for extending the mission, and we have approved it," said Orlando Figueroa, Mars Exploration Program director at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

 "Once Opportunity finishes its 91st sol, everything we get from the rovers after that is a bonus," said Dr. Firouz Naderi, manager of Mars exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., where the rovers were built and are controlled. "Even though the extended mission is approved to September, and the rovers could last even longer, they also might stop in their tracks next week or next month. They are operating under extremely harsh conditions. However, while Spirit is past its 'warranty,' we look forward to continued discoveries by both rovers in the months ahead."

At the time of this writing, we are still several days away from the ninth anniversary.  Here is the eight anniversary press release.
Opportunity Eight Anniversary Press Release

JPL posted an image of the view from Opportunity on its eight anniversary.  Mars is only a little less lonely with the arrival of Curiosity.

JPL continues to provide regular mission updates at  As of January 10th, Opportunity is in great shape with some memory cache issues similar to problems Spirit had in its first year.  After waking up from a long Martian winter last May, it has been on the move and doing science.  Fortunately, a good windstorm helped clean off the solar panels and increase power output to around 460 watt hours.  For perspective, Opportunity is working on just enough energy required to run one toaster slot and has run on far less depending on dust buildup, season and atmospheric opacity.

Update:  On January 24, JPL posted a fresh image of Opportunity hard at work on Mars on Twitter.  Great job, Opportunity!
Nine years on and still doing science... happy dance!
 Update:  On January 22, JPL provided a mission update and a ninth anniversary panorama view from Opportunity.
A high resolution version of this image is available at
Ninth Anniversary Press Release: 

Once again, here are images to compare and contrast generations of Mars rovers from the U.S.  First, here are proving ground models of each rover.  We've gone from something the size of a dog to a nuclear pile powered, laser equipped laboratory in a very short time.

And, as a contrast, here is my favorite rendering of the Curiosity landing platform.  This is a long way from the bouncy rover approach of prior generations. 

I just found a fresh rendering of another view of the landing from Caltech.  Like!

 I'm wrapping up this entry the day before the 2013 Inauguration.  The NASA "Mohawk Guy" will be marching in the parade with part of the mission team and a Curiosity model.  Here is the model getting some finishing touches.

As for the Inauguration, my spousal unit, MEK of the House Full of Nerds, is in D.C. and just send some preview images of the bleachers I scored tickets for.  She is taking a friend and will get to sit right across from the White House!  I try to keep this blog as a Casablanca style politics neutral zone.  If you are interested, I posted photos from my trip to the 2009 Inauguration at
Update:  The NASA photo set from the Inauguration parade is at 

Yes, this post is supposed to be about Opportunity.  Ultimately, each rover generation is a stepping stone to the next.  I can't wait to see what our technology looks like in 2030!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong: Farewell to a Hero 08/25/2012

Footprints on the Moon.  What a legacy!  From National Geographic; December, 1969
My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Armstrong's family and friends.

Neil Armstrong photographing his shadow on the Moon.  From National Geographic; December, 1969
Life is full of ironies large and small.  Here is a tiny, little irony.  I fondly recall this issue of the National Geographic.  As a kid, I played the flexible record inside until it fell apart.  Yesterday, on my way to grab some lunch, I stopped by an estate sale.  It had every National Geographic from 1964 through 1998.  This is the first issue I looked for. 

Yes, the images in this post are freshly scanned from a magazine I bought for $0.25 just the day before Neil Armstrong's passing..  In the scope of the Universe and geologic time, this coincidence is beyond trivial.  To a space and technology nerd such as myself, it is priceless. peace for all mankind.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Voyager 2: Thirty-Five Years in Space

Honestly, after all of the excitement surrounding the arrival of Curiosity on Mars I had not intended to write another space related blog entry for awhile.  But Voyager 2 is pretty amazing and I need to recognize this day.

Thirty-five years ago, NASA launched the second of two deep space probes.  As of August 6, Voyager 2 was located on the fringes of the Heliosphere over 99 Astronomical Units (AU) from Earth.  An AU is the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun.  Yeah, pretty much meaningless.  Let's put that in miles since that is a distance we can grasp.

9,222,142,686 Miles from Home
Space is a lonely place for a little probe.
 To put this in perspective, it would take roughly 15,000 years for this 1977 classic to drive to the edge of our solar system at an optimistic 70 MPH average speed.

This one might get there a little bit faster.

I am a totally unapologetic fanboy for the amazing Opportunity Mars rover because of its extreme durability.  But Opportunity is just a toddler compared to Voyager 2.  This probe is still transmitting useful data today from the inky, black vacuum of space where it is nearly impossible to tell a particle ejected from our Sun from background material. 

To add even more perspective, let's consider what 1977 looked like.  I was in eighth grade.  Had I lived in New York City, I might have seen these bands...

And the technology... it was amazing!  This what the state of the art in office computing looked like this...

And the diehard home hobbyist might have owned one of these...

Um, you might have had an Apple II, not the guy who co-founded Apple.
1977 was also the year that an iconic space opera came to the big screen...

Voyager 2 has seen some amazing things and sent back some stunning photos.

Up until this image came back, we had no idea that anyplace in our solar system could have liquid oceans under ice.
Once again, thanks to NASA for being an extraordinarily competent government agency.  According to NASA's mission timeline, the nuclear power source is good to around 2025 with sequential powering down of various instruments.  Sometime in 2015, Voyager 2 will cross the theoretical heliopause, a point at which the solar wind can no longer push back steller winds from other stars.  More good science is yet to come from our deep traveler.

Nerd moment coming on... Maybe someone will find the golden record and bring it back to Earth!

Total Nerd moment:  Spock mind melding with V Ger.  Yes, this was a totally forgettable movie, but it's Star Trek and may eventually be forgiven.