Yuri Gagarin's First Orbit

05-Apr-11 9:00 AM by
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Today is First Contact Day, marking only 52 years until Dr. Zefram Cochrane conducts the first successful test flight of a warp drive engine, attracting the attention of a passing Vulcan scout ship and thus engaging humanity in first contact with an alien race.

A week from today marks an equally significant event: the fiftieth anniversary of the first manned space flight, that being Yuri Gagarin's orbit of the planet Earth. At the age of 27 and seven years before his death, Gagarin made history by literally going where no man had gone before, opening a new frontier for countless other brave men and women to explore.

The anniversary of that occasion is known as Yuri's Night, and to commemorate the fiftieth such celebration, this year's Yuri's Night will see the debut of a documentary dedicated to Gagarin's accomplishment. Dubbed First Orbit, the film will be shown on April 12th for free online as well as at over 220 parties hosted across the globe. It's a day- and night-long celebration of a 108-minute flight that changed history.

For a moving documentary that captures many of NASA's accomplishments after Gagarin's precedent, I highly recommend In the Shadow of the Moon. This film and those like it capture a rare and exciting era in exploration that those alive today may not ever see again.

Dancing Among the Stars

02-Mar-10 5:03 PM by
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ABC's Dancing with the Stars continues to redefine the definition of "celebrity", finding its contestants beyond the stage, screen, and sports field and choosing famous figures of significant historical value. This practice continues in the show's tenth season later in March when it introduces the first celebrity to have literally danced among the stars.

Buzz Aldrin, who earlier this year turned eighty, will be the show's next contestant, as he confirmed via Twitter: "Yes, it's true — I'm going to be on Dancing w/the Stars. Make sure to tune in to ABC for the premiere on Mon, Mar 22." His dance partner will be Ashly DelGrosso-Costa, who appeared on the show's first three seasons.

It's exciting to see pop culture acknowledge the value of science and technology. When Steve Wozniak broke the geek mold to defy all expectations on Dancing with the Stars, I was right there with him. And when the show took a Star Wars turn, I cheered for the spaceport tango. Though the dancing skills of an eighty-year-old retired astronaut remain untested, for being so brave and stalwart a hero, Buzz Aldrin has already earned my vote.

As others have said: that's one small two-step for mankind!

Happy Birthday, Buzz Aldrin

20-Jan-10 12:05 PM by
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It's not easy to find a hero. Celebrities and athletes are often idolized, but for less than ideal reasons, such as superficial strength and fleeting victories. And the high standards to which role models are held makes it all the easier for them to fall.

So it is an honor today to acknowledge the 80th birthday of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second person to ever walk on the moon. In 1969, he and his team risked their lives to boldly go where no human had gone before. They didn't know if they'd return, but they believed in the scientific and inspirational value of their mission, and they accepted all its inherent dangers.

Mr. Aldrin's reputation isn't limited to that one event forty years ago. Since then, he has continued to be an outspoken supporter of space exploration — and, when need be, a critic of NASA. His public appearances run the gamut from interviews in the Ron Howard documentary In the Shadow of the Moon to an avuncular encounter on Sesame Street:

Like many celebrities, Mr. Aldrin has a versatile online presence. His official Web site has news, interviews, and videos. There, you can purchase his autobiography, Magnificent Desolation, released on June 23, 2009, in which he relates his post-retirement battles with depression and alcoholism; or learn about his upcoming iPhone application. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheRealBuzz and be his fan on Facebook.

A hero takes every opportunity he can to make the world a better place, and Mr. Aldrin's eightieth birthday is no exception: he asks that you please donate whatever you can afford to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund for disaster relief.

Thank you, Mr. Aldrin, for all your work in lifting this planet's inhabitants to the stars.

(Hat tip to Dayton Ward)

NASA and Pixar: Life Imitates Science

19-Nov-08 9:01 AM by
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This may seem a tangential topic to Showbits, but bear with me as I share this fascinating interview with Veronica McGregor of JPL. Ms. McGregor had a very important responsibility in the recent Mars Phoenix mission: she maintained the lander's Twitter feed, writing several daily updates to appear on the microblogging site.

Ms. McGregor took this media venue as an opportunity not just to disseminate factual information, but to engage her readers by presenting the Lander's discoveries from a first-person perspective. She describes how Twitter's 140-character limit motivated her to shorten prefixes such as "The Phoenix Lander" or "Data is not coming in suggesting" to simply "I am doing this" or "I found that".

Moreover, over the course of these many reports, the tweets took on a distinct voice, furthering the anthropomorphizing of the Phoenix Lander. It even wrote back to its followers, establishing an interplanetary dialogue. In response to public reaction to the discovery of water ice was the tweet, "Thanks for the congrats! & yes, I've seen water ice before but this is big news because it's 1st time EVER H20 has been collected/measured." And as the project neared the end of its life, it pondered, "Many questions about next Martian summer and will I wake up? It is beyond expectations. But if it happens you'll be among the 1st to know." Ms. McGregor explained the thought that went into these exchanges:

It's funny, when I sit down to write something for Phoenix I feel like I have to get into my "Phoenix character." I've been writing some other things for Phoenix, in first person, and I had to explain to somebody that it takes me a little while because I have to actually start thinking, well, "how would Phoenix look at this?"

The Phoenix and WALL•E

The Phoenix and Wall-E — not all that unlike.
Image courtesy Gizmodo.

In this way, the Lander became not unlike WALL•E, the mechanical hero of Pixar's summer hit. Though the Lander's virgin tweet on May 7 predates the movie release on June 27, it's likely not a coincidence that two optimistic robots captured the public's imagination simultaneously. Movies like WALL•E and Star Trek prompt humanity to look to the future and the stars, and NASA is helping us get there. Even the slightest glimmer of hope, no matter how whimsical or fictional, is something we're hungry for.

Phoenix's success on Twitter has led other projects have followed suit. The Mars Rovers, which turn five years old in January, joined Twitter in August, while the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan started tweeting in July. NASA's next expedition, the Mars Science Laboratory, which won't launch until September 15, 2009, at the earliest, already has a over 3,000 followers — despite having not yet published a single tweet! And if these aren't enough for you, NASA has indexed its many other Twitterers.

Someday, we'll be looking not up to the stars, but back to the Earth. Until then, we can count on entities like NASA and Pixar to bring the universe to us.

If Only, If Only…

24-Oct-07 11:15 AM by
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Today, on the anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's passing, StarTrek.com has a thoughtful tribute to the legacy of Star Trek's creator:


… with Star Trek he created an iconic mythology which has succeeded in providing popular culture with a common reference point for all things futuristic and achievable. ("Achievable" being what distinguishes Star Trek from Star Wars.) Because Star Trek has become so firmly planted in our collective consciousness, far-reaching ideas can more easily bubble to the surface and gain acceptance, as the optimists among us push forward to realize that vision of the future. Replicators, tricorders, bio-beds, cloaking fields, transporters, and even warp drive are all concepts being pursued today by scientists and innovators, even when overwhelming conventional wisdom would dismiss them.

The article goes on to posit that humanity could realize its great potential if we would set our sights on the stars and not on petty terrestrial squabbles over land and oil. I suppose that's what makes Star Trek science fiction…

When the Whole World Looked Up

21-Sep-07 11:19 PM by
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I discovered In the Shadow of the Moon last month when I thought my moviegoing for 2007 was complete and looked at the year's remaining releases to confirm. I was pleasantly surprised to find Ron Howard's name attached to this documentary about the first lunar landing. It made me keen to see the film's theatrical release, but I suspected its limited distribution would resign me to waiting for the DVD.

Today, a review on Tech_Space linked me to the film's official site, where I found a version of the movie trailer superior to this one:


Now I know I can't wait to see this film. There have been so many documentaries about the crises of the world (Inconvenient Truth) and the nation (Fahrenheit 9/11) that we need to be reminded of the powerful steps mankind can take when focused on positive change. Amidst our legitimate fears and concerns, humanity must remember that it has much to be proud of.

The good news is that Shadow's distribution is growing beyond its initial release, and it will be in my own town just a week from today.  I will be honored to accompany these men who boldly went where no one had gone before.

Above and Beyond

12-Apr-07 10:22 AM by
Filed under Fade to Black, Star Trek; 4 comments.

Tonight, 119 parties in 32 countries will celebrate "Yuri's Night" — the 46th anniversary of mankind's first escape from Earth's atmosphere.

It seems a timely opportunity to ensure that those of you in or around New Mexico know of the upcoming opportunity to attend James Doohan's send-off. On April 27th, a memorial will be held for the actor who played Scotty on Star Trek: The Original Series, followed the next day by the liftoff of the Legacy Flight module and its payload of Mr. Doohan's ashes into outer space. Mr. Doohan's widow, Wende, has extended an invitation to any and all Star Trek fans to attend these special events.

This launch has been delayed many times since Doohan's passing on July 20th, 2005 — the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator, died in 1991 and entered space in 1997. Finally, with Scotty beaming up to where he belongs, they will be in good company.

The Trek Life

Light Up the Sky

03-Apr-07 2:40 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 7 comments.

As a fan of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but not a fan of television in general, I was aware of but unexposed to his "space western" series, Firefly, which was cancelled in December 2002 after 14 episodes. Easier to consume was the 2005 feature film adaptation, Serenity, which I enjoyed last year, prompting me to recently, finally, watch the original show.

Holy cow. How was this ever cancelled?? I've been enjoying Star Trek for 20 years now, but I've never seen anything like Firefly. What a breath of fresh air!

To understand the show's uniqueness, you should know its background:
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