Tag Archives: NASA

My Trip To Malmo, Sweden: The Students

Cool Minds

Last week after I finished speaking at the Öredev software developer conference in Malmo, Sweden, I had the opportunity to give a talk to students at the Cool Minds Play and Knowledge Center.

Cool Minds holds organized activities for school aged children after school and also on weekends.  The facility is very open and playful and welcoming.  The students are encouraged to explore their own ideas and be creative during the sessions.  Cool Minds makes it fun and exciting for students to learn about concepts such as creative ceramics & candles, electronics/robotics, programming/gaming, biology/chemistry, and film/media.

Watch this short promotional video about Cool Minds.  It’s pretty great.  We need some more places like this here in the US.  Large children’s museums and large science centers are great, but a small intimate instructor-led hands-on activity center like Cool Minds has several benefits over those others.

Here is the Cool Minds website link to my speaking event:  http://coolminds.se/fran-nasa-manniskor-pa-mars/

Presentation

First I gave an introduction about myself and where I grew up and how I was always bent towards science and engineering.  Then I talked to the students about Mars and gave them fun facts, like the length of a year, the length of a day, and the average temperature.

I had some NASA patches and pins, so I gave those away to students who raised their hands and guessed some of these fun Mars facts.

Then I talked a little bit about the Mars rovers and described what they are doing there and what their capabilities are.

Hands-On Activity

And then we went into the fun hands-on activity.  I’m really excited about this particular activity because it’s easy enough for them to repeat at home with their parents and siblings.  And they can add to it and improve it at home too.

The activity has each student create a robotic finger for a Mars robot using common everyday items like a drinking straw, some string, a button, and a washer.  And then at the end, we combine students and they combine 4 robotic fingers to make a working robotic hand.

Overall

The students really seemed to enjoy this hands-on activity.  And they were pretty excited to have someone from NASA come to talk to them.

It was a great experience for me too.  I enjoyed seeing the Cool Minds facility and meeting its creator, Farzin Saber.  Farzin is passionate about exposing kids to fun learning activities that they might never otherwise experience.

Here is a 15 minute Ted talk about Cool Minds that Farzin gave back in January of 2017:

Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post about some of the sightseeing my wife and I did in Malmo Sweden.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip To Malmo, Sweden: The Conference

Öredev

Last week I had the honor of giving the closing keynote presentation at the 13th annual Öredev software developer conference in Malmo, Sweden!

Here is the Öredev conference website!  (Check it out!  It actually has my face on it!)

http://oredev.org

oredev

Öredev is a 3 day conference for software developers with an attendance of a maximum of 1200 developers.  It is pretty popular in Scandinavia and has sold out for the past several years now.  During those 3 days, Öredev packed in 8 separate keynotes and a total of 140 separate technical sessions!  The schedule each day was jam packed with 7 simultaneous speakers every hour all day long with no scheduled breaks!  It was a pretty great event and the organizers did a wonderful job!

source: Twitter

The Öredev organizers feel strongly enough about using only live speakers, that they pay for their airfare,  hotel,  and food.  The venue for the conference is an old slaughterhouse that has been cleaned up and converted into a performance theater and meeting place.  The theater seats 900, I believe.

source: Twitter

Keynote

My keynote presentation is story-based and it is called “Pioneering Mars!”  It presents the story of how we will get to Mars in the year 2034.  It describes all the missions that will pave the way and all the technologies that have to be invented first.  This version of my presentation is nearly an hour long, but I plan to create several versions of various lengths that I can pull out and present to various audience types.

Here is the official Öredev 2017 video of my 60 minute keynote on Vimeo:

My keynote presentation was very well received and I got a ton of compliments from both attendees and from other speakers!

Technical

I also gave a 40 minute technical presentation called “Writing Apps For Mars” which compares common mobile apps to the software running onboard the Mars rovers.  It was a very fun talk to create and to present.

Here is the official Öredev 2017 video of my 40 minute technical presentation on Vimeo:

Videos

Full videos of all the keynotes and talks, are posted on the Öredev Vimeo channel.  And if you’re really into it, you can even scroll through and watch keynotes and technical talks from prior years!

https://vimeo.com/oredev/videos/sort:date/format:thumbnail

Thanks

Also, this was only the second time I’d ever left the United States.  I had a really great experience!  Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post about a children’s activity center that I got to visit and speak at while I was in Malmo.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

Mars Freebies!

If you didn’t already know, I work for NASA.  And this job allows me to perform public speaking quite a bit.  NASA encourages all of its employees to further the NASA story and to inform the public about what we do!  Which is pretty great!

This blog post will attempt to compile all the NASA Journey To Mars related “goodies” or “freebies” that I become aware of.  By collecting and compiling this information here, I will be able to quickly and easily direct my audience to this material.

Please email me directly or leave a comment below if you find anything wrong with this compilation or if you know of any other freebies that you would like me to add!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt


Tiny URL

The short and super easy to remember address for this page is:

http://tinyurl.com/marsfreebies

Please feel free to share this tiny URL with everyone you know!


Mars Recruitment Posters

These retro looking recruitment style posters are very popular.  They depict the different type of explorers that will be needed by NASA for our Journey To Mars.

Just click on any of these thumbnails and you can view or download the full resolution image!  NASA images are all in the public domain, so you can print and share them all you want!








 


Mars Desktop Wallpaper

Show off your support of NASA’s Journey To Mars with these awesome high resolution desktop wallpaper designs!

Just click on any of these thumbnails and you can view or download the full resolution image and use it as your desktop wallpaper!


Mars Smartphone Wallpaper

You’ll be the coolest person around if you install one of these NASA’s Journey To Mars wallpapers on your phone!

Just click on any of these thumbnails and you can view or download the full resolution image and use it as your smartphone wallpaper!


Journey To Mars Summary Video

This short NASA video is perfect for quickly introducing an audience to NASA’s Journey To Mars.  It’s only 2 minutes long and it quickly goes over our plans.  This video includes music and voice narration.

Just click on the thumbnail and you can view or download the full resolution video!  NASA videos are all in the public domain, so you can present and share them all you want!


Journey To Mars Great Hall Exhibit Video

This is a pretty great NASA video that you can show in your venue.  It was created as a looping museum hall exhibit.  It is 8 minutes long and it details some of our plans on how we will get from where we are right now, to a point where we have astronauts living and working on Mars.  This video includes music and contains no voice narration.  There is occasional text on the screen to take the place of narration.

Just click on the thumbnail and you can view or download the full resolution video!  NASA videos are all in the public domain, so you can present and share them all you want!


Curiosity Rover Model For 3D Printing

If you have access to a 3D printer, you can download this free 3D model file and print yourself a small model of the Curiosity Rover!  It prints parts that snap together and the wheels and arms actually move!  It’s pretty cool!


Journey To Mars Logo at Lands’ End

Yeah, this is not technically free, I suppose.  But if you want to buy some Lands’ End shirts with the official NASA Journey To Mars logo on it, just ask for logo #1370228.


Hands-On Learning Activity For Students

Build Your Own Working Robot Hand!

These instructions are in work and I will update this section as soon as it is complete!  Thank you for your patience!


 

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!  

Kurt’s review of “The Martian” by Andy Weir

Oh. My. Gosh.

I love, love, love this book!

Okay, so I’m a nerdy NASA engineer. Of course I loved it.  But I know all you non-nerdy folks will also love this book.  And here’s why:

It’s interesting & engaging

It’s a survival story set in one of the harshest locations imaginable.  So many things can go wrong … and so many of them do go wrong.  Every step of the way.  It’s nearly constant edge of your seat entertainment.  Add in some NASA politics and a few personality conflicts and you’ve got yourself a real pager turner.

It’s funny.  No, it’s hilarious

The narrator … the astronaut who gets stranded on Mars … has a terrific sense of humor throughout the entire book.  He’s quite a character and his personality stays upbeat despite his less than ideal circumstances.  Much of the narration is of him logging his daily activities into a computer system in which he has no idea whether anyone will ever read or not.  He’s basically talking to himself for much of the book and it’s quite humorous.

It’s technical, but not in a bad way

There’s a constant stream of problem solving throughout the book.  But I don’t think it will make your eyes roll back in your head.  Most of the time the details are given in a way that the layperson can understand.  Sometimes the narrator even “dumbs” down the technical details for the reader.

It’s real

Well, mostly real.  This is science fiction, but it is not your typical far-fetched or far-futuristic science fiction.  Much of this story could occur today using technology that we actually use today or technology that we are developing and testing today for use on future Mars missions.  Most of the engineering solutions are also real and possible today using current technology.  There is very little hand-waving here.  And it is very satisfying.

Note: This book is not for kids.  The narrator … the astronaut who gets stranded on Mars … curses like a sailor throughout the entire book.

I highly recommend this book.  It’s a very interesting and engaging read that is difficult to put down.  It’s entertaining for engineers and non-engineers alike.

Click below to order the book for yourself.  You can buy it in paper or digital formats from Amazon, the most popular online store in the world!

Thanks for your interest.

Kurt