Category Archives: Science, Space, Technology

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!  

NASA Tethered Satellite: Broken Tether Analysis

Here are a couple photos of me from 1996 wearing a NASA “bunny suit” while working the failure analysis of the broken tether on the Tethered Satellite System re-flight (TSS-1R) that had recently returned from orbit on Space Shuttle mission STS-75.  I was taking magnified photographs with a fancy high-tech digital SLR camera through an old-school benchtop microscope.

These photos were taken in the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building hi-bay which is a clean-room environment up on the work platforms, because the workers are adjacent to flight hardware.  The blue bunny suits look kind of funny, but they help keep the flight hardware pristine and help keep our hair and our skin flakes from falling onto the flight hardware.

The Tethered Satellite System was a pretty interesting experiment.  The theory was that we could extend a long electrical wire while orbiting the earth and that long wire would cut through the earth’s magnetic field lines and generate electricity.  The tether on this experiment was nearly 13 miles long!  Wow!

This tether experiment first flew in 1992 on Space Shuttle mission STS-46, but had trouble deploying.  It deployed less than a thousand feet out from the orbiter before it jammed.  But it got a second chance and flew again in 1996.  The deployment during the re-flight mission went well and was nearly complete … about 95 percent complete … when the tether broke and the experiment was over.

The broken tether was reeled back in and was brought back to earth for analysis.  The task was to find out if the tether was mechanically broken, like from too much tension, or maybe from a micro-meteor impact.  Or whether the tether was broken due to an electrical arcing event, such as an over-current.

The final analysis showed that it was an electrical overload.  But the reason for the excess current was pretty interesting and took some detective work.  Around the outside of conductor was a clear Teflon insulation layer which is basically a plastic.  It’s similar to the white plastic insulation layer around the center wire in a coax cable.

It was determined that this plastic Teflon layer was “breached” and electrical arcing occured between the tether’s conductor and the gantry system that was deploying the tether.

One possible cause of the break in the insulation was “foreign object debris”, which is NASA-speak for something that does not belong there.  We take great efforts to keep flight hardware pristine and clean.  But if a loose wire or something stiff or sharp got into the cogs of the deployment mechanism and punctured the insulation, that could have caused the electrical short.

Another possible cause was a simple manufacturing defect and subsequent quality control miss.  Investigators showed that trapped air in the Nomex core could have leaked out through tiny pinholes in the plastic Teflon insulator and caused an electrical plasma arc due to the high voltages involved.  The experiment was generating about 3,500 volts and about half an amp of current when the failure occurred.

Even though the tether broke and the experiment could not be completed, it was a partial success and lots of data was collected during the deployment before the failure.  So it wasn’t a total loss.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip to Krakow, Poland: The Food

I just returned from a trip to Krakow, Poland last week where I was speaking at a software developer conference.  I posted details of that experience here.  I also posted details about my sightseeing experiences here.  This post, however, is dedicated to all the wonderful food that I ate while I was there.  The lighting was not great in most of these restaurants, so I will apologize in advance for the quality of these photos.

The food during the 2 conference days was catered and it was all very good, but I didn’t take notes nor take any photos of those particular meals.

The conference organizers took all the speakers out to dinner the evening before the conference started.  They took us to a bistro and restaurant called Kogel Mogel which was just a couple of short blocks from the central town square.

01-kogel_mogel

We stared with a wonderful sour rye soup (Zurek or zur) with mushrooms.  It also had some sausage in it and also some hard boiled egg.  I apologize for not getting a photo of it.  It was super tasty.  Different from anything I’ve ever had before.  It’s made with fermented or soured grains.  I liked it a lot.

Our main course was a chicken schnitzel with a mushroom sauce and mild peppercorns.  A schnitzel is a meat that’s thinned by pounding and is then coated with flour, egg, and bread crumbs and then fried.  We also had potato dumplings (kluski slaskie) which were pretty good.  Especially when dipped in the mushroom sauce from the chicken.

02-chicken_and_potato_dumplings

For dessert we had a creme brulee, which was to die for.  A week later, my mouth still waters when I think about it.

03-creme_brulee

The next morning, which was the first morning of the conference, I ate breakfast down in the hotel lobby.  I stayed at the Novotel Krakow Centrum hotel, which was just off the Vistula river, across from Wawel Castle.  It’s a very nice and modern hotel.  The breakfast buffet was quite impressive and it was included in the cost of the room.  I didn’t eat too much, though because I don’t eat heavy breakfasts and I didn’t want to be weighed down at the conference.

06-my_first_breakfast

I should have taken a photo of the entire spread, which was quite impressive.  I did get a photo of the meats and also of the cheeses, though.

05-breakfast_meats

04-breakfast_cheeses

That evening I found a great little authentic old country restaurant, also within a couple short blocks of the central town square.  This family friendly restaurant is called Morskie Oko and it is in the style of an old Highlander’s Inn.  While I was eating, live entertainment included singing and dancing Highlanders in full costumes, plus live musicians.

07-morskie_oko

07-morskie_oko_2

The food was really incredible here.  I started with an appetizer of baked prunes wrapped in bacon fat.  Now if you like your bacon cooked well done and crispy, this dish is NOT for you.  This bacon was very thick … probably hand carved … and it was very moist and greasy.  It was so yummy, though.  I could barely even taste the prunes through all that bacon fat.  Mmmmmmmmmm.

08-baked_prunes_wrapped_in_bacon_fat

Next I ordered the sauerkraut soup which had sauerkraut and potatoes and also a small rib in it.  I love sauerkraut, so this soup was delicious!  It’s sour, but it’s a different kind of sour than the fermented rye grain soup I’d had the previous night.

09-sauerkraut_soup_with_rib_and_potato

For my main dish, I had the boar loin in red pine mushroom sauce.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  This boar meat was quite tender.  Similar to a nice steak.  It had a wild taste but not too wild.  It was amazing.  It had grill marks on it, so it was cooked, at least partially, over an open flame.  And the red pine mushroom sauce was really great.  It tasted a lot like a red wine sauce, but I’m not sure whether that taste only came from the red pine mushrooms or not, since I’ve never had those before.

10-boar_loin_in_red_pine_mushroom_sauce

The portions were not too big, so I actually had some room left for dessert.  So I ordered a walnut ice cream sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream, and roasted hazelnuts.  I hadn’t planned on eating the entire thing, but it was so good.  I couldn’t help myself!

11-walnut_ice_cream_sundae_with_hot_fudge_and_roasted_hazelnuts

And here is my breakfast on my second morning in the hotel lobby.  Meat, cheese, and a bit of scrambled eggs.  The breakfast of champions!

12-my_second_breakfast

That evening I was tired from the conference, so I just stayed in and ordered room service.  This is just an appetizer of shrimp with garlic and chilli, but it was all I needed that evening.  It was very yummy.  We had snacks all day long at the conference, so I wasn’t exactly starving at dinner time.

I also got this warm soft brownie and ice cream dessert from room service.  So warm.  So soft.  So fudgy.  It was delicious.

The next day was Saturday, and the conference organizers took us speakers out for lunch at a nice restaurant called Miod Malina, which again, was only a couple short blocks from the central town square.

This is the Bruschetta, which was very simple and very good.

And I ordered the sour rye soup again, since I loved it so much a couple days earlier.  Many restaurants, including Miod Malina, serve it in a bread bowl.

Miod Malina put a lot more meat in this sour rye soup than did Kogel Mogel, but the Kogel Mogel version was more sour (sour being good).  Both were very good in their own way.

I finally got to dig into some good old fashioned Polish pierogis, also known as dumplings.  The ones I ordered were fried meat pierogis, but the restaurant also bakes them and also has a fruit version and a potato/onion version.  These meat pierogis had 3 different meats inside.  Some had pulled pork.  Some had beef.  And some had veal, I think.  They were really awesome!

This was not my plate … it was one of the other conference speakers … but I had to take a photo of it.  I had seen several people eating these while I was in Poland and it looks really good.  It’s veal knuckle, otherwise known as veal shank.

That same evening, I had my dinner at the Wesele Restaurant, which was directly in the town square.

This time I tried the sauerkraut and mushroom fried pierogis and they were so stinking good!  I could eat 4 or 5 plates of these things!

I had ribs with plum sauce which was pretty good, although I don’t think plums are really my thing.

And I also ordered fried cabbage as a side dish.  I’d never had this before and it was mild, but it was very good.  My pee smelled like sauerkraut for the next 2 days, and I think it might have been from this particular dish.  Although, I guess it could have been from other  dishes I’d had containing sauerkraut.

My last full day in Krakow was Sunday, and I had lots of sightseeing and shopping to do, so I went straight to the central town square and ate breakfast at this little handmade doughnut shop called Krakowskie Paczki, which means Krakow Packages.  It’s a popular little shop as there was quite a line of customers.

They also sold waffles.  So I got a jelly filled doughnut and a waffle with blackberry jam.  The filling in the doughnut was different than anything I’d ever tasted and maybe it’s an acquired taste, but the doughnut itself was spectacular.  And the waffle was quite good too.  And yes, I had Coke for breakfast.  Hey, I was on vacation!   🙂

This entire day went by pretty fast since I was trying to experience the entire central town square and also buy a bunch of souvenirs, so I didn’t actually eat lunch.  And when dinner time rolled around, I wasn’t exactly starving either.  So I decided to just get an appetizer.  I went to a fancy restaurant on the square called Szara.

I had heard a lot about Beef Tartare or Steak Tartare, and I had seen lots of people eating it here in Poland, so I decided to try it.  Even though it is raw ground beef and raw egg yolk.  It was actually pretty good.  I was not a fan of the smoked herring or whatever that fish is on the plate.  But when I mixed all the other ingredients together, it was an interesting and nice little treat.  Going around the plate, there was raw chopped onion, chopped tuna, I believe, chopped pickes, butter, and the sauce tasted like a mild honey mustard.

I finished my small dinner meal with an ice cream of sorts called Pistachio Semifreddo with caramel and chocolate sauce.  It’s very light, like a frozen mousse.  A pretty fancy dish.

Well, that about covers all the awesome food I ate while in Poland! Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post detailing the trip in general along with some of my random observations about Krakow, Poland.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt