How to make an awesome eclipse viewing rig!

Do you own binoculars?

Do you own a tripod?

If your answer to both of these questions is YES, then you have what it takes to create a pretty awesome, and completely safe, eclipse viewing rig!

Here are the step by step instructions!

Step 1

DO NOT look through the binoculars!  That is very very dangerous!

Step 2

Attach your binoculars to your tripod using any means necessary.  I used wood clamps but duct tape also works pretty good.  (Although it leaves a sticky residue.)

Step 3

NEVER EVER EVER look through the binoculars! You will destroy your retinas!

Step 4

Attach white paper or white cardboard a foot or so directly below the binoculars, with the binoculars pointing in the direction of the sun.  Again, I used wood clamps, but duct tape can also do this job.

Step 5

DON’T EVEN THINK about looking through the binoculars!  That’s a completely stupid idea!

Step 6

Cut a hole in some cardboard and place it over the binoculars to create a shade panel.  Now only the sun will be projected onto the white paper below the binoculars.  You can use the binocular’s focus capability to get the sun into perfect focus on the paper.

Step 7

That’s all.  There are no further steps.  Other than to NEVER look at the sun.  ESPECIALLY through binoculars.

Here is what the sun looked like today while I was setting up and testing my rig.  It looked really cool when thin wispy clouds flew by!

To get this photo, I just held up my iPhone very close to the white paper, white balanced on the center of the white sun image by clicking on it with my finger and snapped this photo.

It looks even better with the naked eye!

If you look closely, you can see three sunspots!  Amazing!

Thanks for your interest!  And remember to never look at the sun!  Especially through binoculars!

Feel free to share this post on your favorite social media accounts!

Kurt

Sunday August 20th update:

This blog post appears to be going a bit viral this morning!  Thank you to everyone who has shared it!  I’m happy that so many people find it useful!

I will gladly share your eclipse photos here!  If you make your own eclipse viewing rig using binoculars, put your eclipse photos and videos online (Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Dropbox, etc.).  Then contact me using the “Email Us” link at the bottom of this website!  Give me the link to your media and tell me what city and state you were in and I will post thumbnails and links right here in this blog post!

Photos and Videos from all over the country!

From [name goes here] in [city, state]:

[image thumbnail with link to original hosted on another site]

From [name goes here] in [city, state]:

[image thumbnail with link to original hosted on another site]

Three reasons I love Battlestar Galactica (1978)

Here are my top 3 reasons to love Battlestar Galactica (1978):

Three:

The premise was that life didn’t start on Earth and they were actually searching for this “legendary” planet called Earth.

Two:

The show has 6 foot tall Cylons with one red eye moving side to side, which was also used for K.I.T.T. in the 1982 TV show Knight Rider! Both shows were written by Glen A. Larson, along with The Fall Guy and Magnum P.I.!

One:

The most futuristic and advanced computer imaginable, the Tandy (Radio Shack) TRS-80, was used onboard the ship!

Why do you love Battlestar Galactica (1978)?  Post your reasons below in the comments!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

SpaceX and Blue Origin and Boeing! Oh My!

SpaceX and Blue Origin and Boeing!

Oh my!

All these rocket and spacecraft companies have been in the news so much lately!  It’s difficult to understand what exactly is going on!  Who is developing what?  And why?  And when will they launch!  Who is winning this new and modern space race?  This article is my attempt to summarize and organize what I see going on in the space business right now.

Disclaimer: I may work for NASA but that does NOT make me an official spokesperson for the agency.  Everything I say here on my personal blog is either information that I found publicly on the Internet or it is my personal opinion.  There are NO government or space company secrets here!  It’s even possible that some of what I say here might actually be incorrect!  

Rockets

Let’s start with the rocket business!  There’s so much going on lately with rocket development that it’s a little hard to keep track!

Space Launch System

Space Launch System, or SLS, is the big rocket that NASA is funding to send astronauts and payloads to exploration missions beyond low earth orbit.  Deep space is the phrase that NASA likes to use.  This SLS rocket is likely to send humans to Mars someday!  I just hope NASA comes up with a better name than SLS by then!

This rocket is under very heavy construction right now by several different contractors and the first test flight is planned to be in 2019.  The rocket’s design is based on Space Shuttle technologies like Solid Rocket Motors and Space Shuttle Main Engines.  The Solid Rocket Motors will be reused, just like they were during the Shuttle program.

Falcon 9

The Falcon 9 rocket is an operational rocket that was completely designed, and is currently being used, by SpaceX.  SpaceX is a company founded and run by billionaire, Elon Musk, and he is shaking up the rocket business with his unconventional ideas and methods.  He is charging customers way less than his competitors and seems to be stealing at least some business away from those other companies.

The Falcon 9 rocket design includes a first stage that can actively fly back to the launch site and land vertically under rocket power, just the same way it launched.  This reuse is expected to reduce total launch costs.  The Falcon 9 rocket has more than 30 flights under its belt, so it’s been making a big splash (that’s a bad rocket pun, by the way!) in the rocket business lately.

The Falcon 9 is currently carrying only cargo and satellites to space, but it is on track to soon be certified to carry humans.

Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy is a big rocket that SpaceX is working on developing right now.  They are basically strapping three Falcon 9 rockets or boosters together and launching the entire stack.  It’s gonna be crazy.

The first test flight of a Falcon Heavy is scheduled for the summer of 2017, which is basically any time now.   They are working hard right now and are planning to launch very soon.  Their plan is to recover and reuse all three of the core stage rockets.  The outer two boosters will fly back and land on dry ground, while the core center booster will continue on and then fly down and land on a floating barge in the ocean.

The Falcon Heavy is planned to launch both crew and cargo into space for deep space exploration missions.

Delta IV

The Delta IV (4) is a heavy launcher workhorse for commercial and government customers.  This rocket comes in 5 different versions for customer flexibility and has been in operation since 2002.  Boeing makes most of the major components for this rocket, although they have combined forces with Lockheed Martin in the joint venture called United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Delta IV is a completely expendable launch vehicle as no components were designed for reuse.

This rocket is not planned to ever be certified to carry human crews.

Atlas V

The Atlas V (5) is a medium sized launcher workhorse for commercial and government customers.  The rocket has 2 different payload diameter (fairing) sizes to choose from and anywhere from zero to 5 solid fuel boosters can be attached for additional power.  Like the Delta IV, the Atlas V also came online and first launched in 2002.  Lockheed Martin designed and created this rocket, although they have combined forces with Boeing in the joint venture called United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Atlas V is a completely expendable launch vehicle as no components were designed for reuse.

The Atlas V is currently carrying only cargo and satellites to space, but it is on track to soon be certified to carry humans.

New Shepard

The New Shepard booster is a new rocket built by Blue Origin that is currently undergoing unmanned test flights.  It’s not a very big rocket as it is specifically designed to carry a few paying customers to the edge of space and back … a suborbital flight.

The New Shepard booster is designed to fly back to the launch pad and land vertically under rocket power and to be launched again, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Blue Origin is owned by Amazon.com founder and billionaire, Jeff Bezos.  In 2017, Blue Origin began construction of a rocket factory right outside the gates of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, becoming the first rocket company to build their rockets directly at the launch site.

Other Rockets

ULA is working on a new large rocket called the Vulcan which is intended to replace both the Delta IV and the Atlas V.  It is planned to start test flights in 2019, although construction has not yet begun.

Blue Origin is planning a medium sized orbital rocket they are calling New Glenn.  It is planned to start test flights in 2020, although construction has not yet begun.

SpaceX has announced plans to eventually develop a super-heavy-lift rocket they are calling the Interplanetary Transport System, or ITS.  They were previously calling it the BFR, which stood for Big Freaking Rocket.  That’s the rated-G version of the name, anyways!  The first stage of ITS is planned to be powered by 42 engines!  It’s advertised to be able to haul more than twice the payload capacity of NASA’s SLS rocket to low earth orbit.  Elon’s plans for this huge rocket are basically Mars Colonization and he expects to be operational sometime in the 2020’s, although it’s too early to really give a date.

Spacecraft

Now let’s talk about the spacecraft business!  This is also a very busy season right now and it’s easy to get lost in it all!

Cargo Dragon

The Cargo Dragon capsule is an operational spacecraft that was completely designed, and is currently being used, by SpaceX.  It is being used to ferry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).   The Cargo Dragon is currently launched into space on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but could also be launched on top of the future Falcon Heavy rocket.   It is not certified to carry humans into space.

The Cargo Dragon was the first commercial spacecraft launched to orbit and successfully recovered, which happened in 2010.  It was also the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous and attach to the space station, which occurred in 2012.  After ferrying cargo to the space station, it is then loaded with return cargo and then it splashes down in the ocean under parachute control.  It’s designed to be reusable and the first reused capsule was flown to the space station in the summer of 2017.

During its first 5 years of ISS operations, the Cargo Dragon has successfully flown to the space station 11 times, with lots more flights on the schedule.

Orion

The Orion capsule is also called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, or MCPV.  NASA loves their acronyms!  Orion is a NASA funded space capsule designed to take 4 astronauts out of low earth orbit into deep space missions.  Possibly to the moon.  Possibly even to Mars someday.  The Orion capsule is being developed by Lockheed Martin for NASA.

It is eventually planned to be launched on top of the NASA SLS rocket.  Although the first test flight for Orion was on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket back in 2014.  The second unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2019 and the first manned flight is scheduled for 2021.

After reentry, the Orion capsule is designed to splash down in the ocean under parachute control.  It is designed to be reusable.

Crew Dragon

The Crew Dragon capsule, otherwise known as the Dragon 2 or Dragon V2 is designed and built by SpaceX and is planned to take 7 astronauts to the space station and return them home safely.

The Crew Dragon capsule is planned to launch on top of either the Falcon 9 or the Falcon Heavy rockets.  Upon returning to earth, the Crew Dragon capsule is expected to land vertically on dry ground under rocket power.  It is designed to be reusable.  This will be the first time that this type of capsule soft landing system has been attempted but it is expected to reduce both turnaround time and refurbishment costs.

It is scheduled to make an unmanned test flight in 2017 and its first manned flight is scheduled for 2018.

Starliner

The Starliner, or CST-100, capsule is being designed and built by Boeing for the purposes of launching 7 astronauts to the space station and back.  The Starliner competes directly with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and both were partially funded by NASA in order to give the U.S. multiple options for ferrying crews to the space station.

The Starliner is supposedly capable of being launched on many different launch vehicles.  The primary launch vehicle is the Atlas V, but it is apparently capable of also being launched on the Delta IV and the Falcon 9.  I’ll believe that when I see it, though.

The Starliner capsule is designed to return to earth under parachute control but will also have an airbag system that deploys to cushion the landing and allow it to land on dry ground rather than in the ocean which is expected to shorten turnaround time and reduce refurbishment costs.  It is designed to be reusable.  The first unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2018 and the first manned flight is also scheduled for that same year.

New Shepard Capsule

The New Shepard Crew Capsule is being designed and built by Blue Origin for the purpose of space tourism.  It will be capable of carrying 6 tourists to the edge of space and back.  The capsule will launch on top of the New Shepard booster in a 10 minute long suborbital or ballistic flight pattern.  It is designed to be reusable.

Blue Origin claims that there is no ground control and that all control is automated and onboard.  The capsule returns to earth under parachute control and lands on dry ground near the launch site.

Test flights with test passengers are planned for 2018 and commercial flights with paying passengers are supposed to start up that same year.

Dream Chaser

The Dream Chaser is a reusable spaceplane that is being designed and built by Sierra Nevada Corporation for the purpose of ferrying cargo to the space station and then landing on a conventional runway like a commercial airliner.  A future version might be capable of carrying 7 crew members to the space station and back.

The Dream Chaser is designed to launch vertically on top of an Atlas V or Falcon Heavy rocket.  It is designed to be reusable.

I can’t seem to find any references online that say when the Dream Chaser is planned to start test flights or operational flights.

Super Summary Tables!

Okay.  As much as I tried to summarize and simplify things, that was still quite a bit of information to digest.  So here are a couple of short summary tables that I threw together that should help put everything into perspective at a glance:

That’s it!

Okay, that should do it.  You are now armed with enough information to talk to your friends and family intelligently about what is going on in the space business right now!  Congrats!  Now go forth and distribute this new-found knowledge in any way that you find useful!

But remember that things change pretty quickly these days, so check back later for updates!  And if you see anything wrong in my article, please let me know!  I welcome all corrections and comments!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

Disclaimer: I may work for NASA but that does NOT make me an official spokesperson for the agency.  Everything I say here on my personal blog is either information that I found publicly on the Internet or it is my personal opinion.  There are NO government or space company secrets here!  It’s even possible that some of what I say here might actually be incorrect!  

How to make your own custom car window decals

This custom, hand-made, vinyl, Star Wars family window decal is now sporting the back of my car!  And I actually made it myself!  I will now show you how I did it, step by step!

To be fair, this decal set not really my own design.  You can buy Star Wars family decals from ThinkGeek and other online stores.  Although that particular set does not come with the AT-AT Walker.  I had to make that myself using white vinyl electrical tape and a X-ACTO knife.  Below is a photo of what my car window decals looked like just a few days ago.

The AT-AT Walker and blaster look like new because they were just remade last year.  The original ThinkGeek decal set lasted way longer than the electrical tape did.

So when it came time to replace the set this summer, I wanted to come up with a better solution than electrical tape for the AT-AT Walker.  I found self-stick vinyl sheets at my local craft store and decided to give it a try.  Then I decided to try to make the entire set myself since I had these large vinyl sheets.

It’s possible to print directly onto these vinyl sheets, but I didn’t have a thin crisp outline image to start out with, so I printed on regular paper what I had at my disposal.  But an outline showing exactly what needs to be cut out is what you need at this point.

I decided to do one character at a time, so I cut out the first character.  Again, this was printed on regular printer paper at the exact size you want on your window.

To transfer your cutout lines to the vinyl, carbon paper would be very useful.  In the absence of carbon paper, a technique that works pretty well is to rub pencil on the back of the pattern.

And then trace the cutout lines on the front of the pattern held firmly on top of the vinyl sheet.

And now you have a light pencil drawing of the cutout lines there on your vinyl sheet.

Then you just cut out that part of the vinyl sheet.

And you prepare the window surface by scraping with a razor blade and washing with glass cleaner.

Then peel off the backing from the vinyl sheet and carefully align the character where you want it.  Let it make contact in the middle and then roll the contact surface towards the outside edges to keep air bubbles from getting trapped inside.

Then start cutting with a X-ACTO knife and peeling away the waste material.

Getting perfectly straight lines and perfectly symmetrical curves takes some concentration and/or some artistic talent.  But when it’s all said and done, these cuts don’t have to be perfect.  Most people will be viewing them from about a car-length away.

The hardest cut-outs, I think, are the thin lines.  Making them straight and symmetrical isn’t trivial.

Getting closer.  This takes patience and a steady hand.

And the first character is all done!

Then repeat the steps for the second character.

And the third character.

And so on.

Until your entire family is complete.  Plus any pets that you want to include.

Now I’m not sure exactly how long this craft vinyl material is going to last out in the elements.  But I live in Florida and I don’t have any shade at work to park my car under.  And we also have quite a bit of rain here in the summer months.  So I will update this blog article as soon as I have an idea about how long this stuff lasts under these conditions.

That’s all!  I hope this blog article ends up being useful to someone out there in Internet-land!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

Update: July 2017

I recently added a NASA Swarmie robot to the side windows of my car.  What do you think?

Normalizing Google Analytics Data

Google Analytics is really awesome!  It tracks all the visitors to my website and gives me nice reports about the audience, the pages they are viewing, and the means they used to get to my site.  It’s completely invaluable for website owners and administrators!

BUT … the pageview data is not normalized.  Google lets me choose the date range and then it shows me all pageviews for that entire date range.  Even for pages and blog posts that didn’t exist during part of the date range.  This un-normalized pageview data is totally unfair to the newer content!  It’s not fair to compare 1,000 pageviews for a page that’s been around for 5 years to 1,000 pageviews for a second page that’s only been around for 5 months!  But this is how Google Analytics displays the data.

While looking at the all-time top content on my personal leucht.com website recently, these were the all-time top pages or posts:

But when I took into account the birth date of each page, I got different results.  These are actually my most popular pages.  Not the list above.

I’m not surprised by the VOB blog post being in the number one spot.  I get a lot of feedback and people thanking me for posting that one.  But I’m really stoked about the Batmobile Pinewood Derby post being my 2nd most popular post!  That one was not on the radar in the initial Google Analytics report!

So please, Google … please figure out a way to decide when each page got created (by looking at the first hit, maybe?) and then show me the pageviews per day over the life of each page.  That way, I can see the all-time velocity or all-time popularity of each and every page on my site as a fair comparison regardless of the age of the content.

Thanks for listening,

Kurt







Thanks for visiting,
Kurt & Sam Leucht
Titusville, FL
http://www.leucht.com/
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