Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New NASA Website

Just a quick post today... you may be interested in seeing NASA's new website. I'm very impressed by the updates: new look and feel, better navigation, and hints of Web 2.0 with its social bookmarking links and tag cloud. Well done, NASA. It's a huge step up in my humble opinion.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Not Beauty, but Geek

You only get one go at life, right?

So this weekend, I decided to take a chance: to apply to be on the show "Beauty and the Geek." It was easy enough; I simply showed up at the casting call at our University's book store, filled out a form, and enjoyed a nice conversation with my interviewers. Apparently, I caught their attention, since they cut the interview short and offered me a callback for the next day. Well, I showed up at the callback and (I hope) rocked their collective socks off. Yes, I'm a geek, but I'm also, I like to think, a pretty likable guy who would portray us geeks in a good light.

If I make it onto the show, here is my promise: to show to the (TV-watching) world that being smart is not a shameful attribute. If I don't make it onto the show, I'll just keep blogging here. Sure, the audience may not be as big, but I like to think of it as a more intimate conversation.

I'll be sure to keep you posted. Until then, geek on!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Crushing Blows

Rarely in our lives do our eyes rest on something so awe-inspiring that our jaws lie agape. Even more infrequently must we raise our hands to protect our wide-open mouths from rock shrapnel. This past Friday, I had such a moment.

Now, because I signed an NDA, I can't get into specifics. Suffice it to say, I visited a company that produces equipment used in the mining industry. Common sense would dictate that such a company would have test equipment designed to analyze the mechanics of their products. For an entire minute, I could have cared less about numbers indicating forces and displacements: there was a machine merely feet away showering rock everywhere. It was a demonstration that would humble any engineer who is used to using screws as small as those found on eyeglasses and is normally specifying intricate rounded corners on exotic metals. This was steel crushing rock. This was awesome.

Just after the demonstration ended, the little man in my head turned off the giant Inject Adrenaline valve, giving me a few more minutes of gradually-subsiding head rush before I returned to planet Earth. It was at this point that I realized a very important and hard truth. The machine I designed and helped to build needs to do exactly that. The valve re-opened.

It's going to be an interesting couple of months as this project comes to a head. Once my company releases the design to the public (and we get our patent stuff in line), I'll show off some pictures here. You won't be let down.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Where has Brad gone?

Breathe deeply, my dear friends; breathe deeply. I still exist, and I still wish to become an astronaut. Things, as "things" are wont to do, have gotten a wee bit crazy in my life.

First and foremost, I have decided to bump up my hour commitment at work from 80% (or 32 hours) to the standard 40-hour week. Coupled with my 6 hours of classwork (and associated travel time), my leisure time has taken a considerable hit. Working on the weekends is now the norm rather than the exception.

So why have I decided to take on a hellish schedule? An obvious answer might be money. And while the extra padding in my wallet is nice, the true answer lies in my workload. Put simply, I noticed that my employer needed some extra work from me. Since working hard only gets so far, I offered to work an additional 8 hours each week. I'm still adjusting to the new schedule, but no one ever got anywhere by taking it easy.

In more specific terms, I have certainly been up to plenty of shenanigans. Halloween is, shall we say, an important Madison holiday. Aside from the typical children under 12, pretty much everyone between the ages of 18 and 30 dons a costume. I tend to take pride in making an original costume that is truly unique. This year, I used my basic knowledge of circuitry to make a ghost costume. This was not any typical ghost costume, mind you: it was a Pacman ghost costume. Beneath the white sheets, I wired up both red and blue LEDs to simulate Blinky's in-game appearance. By my side, my lovely girlfriend Marie dressed up as Ms. Pac-man. We were a hit, especially when we chased each other, turning only at right angles.

More recently, I served as a technical judge for a LEGO tournament last weekend. The participants, aged 9-14, displayed some serious creativity and ingenuity. I can only hope that all of us judges imparted some sense of excitement for the engineering field. The world would do well to encourage them in their pursuit of the sciences.

I close this post with yet another example of my perpetual undertakings: my current location. I am presently in Pennsylvania on a business trip. Rather than sitting in a conference room listening to a paper's exposition, I get to assemble parts of my design into a working rock-crusher. And not just any rock-crusher... no, no, no. This behemoth is a prototype for a lunar-based autonomous mining machine. While I can't delve into specifics due to company secrets, let me assure you that you will not want to get in its stone-obliterating way.

It is here that I now sign off. Thanks for reading. I will strive to keep you abreast of my activities on a more-regular schedule.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lesson Learned

I promised the readers of this blog some content each day over World Space Week, and I failed. All I ask is that you take it easy on me: I'm very new to this whole blogging thing. So what have I learned? Unless the content is already written or my full-time job is blogging, don't give date-specific promises. Due to Murphy's Law, stuff like work and school are bound to get in the way. Now I've learned.

On a more related note, I will shortly (see how I avoided a specific date? I'm learning!) write about the topics originally intended for World Space Week. These include tangible benefits of the space industry, why we need space science, and looking to the future. I also have a number of other topics I'd like to broach, but I'll save those for later.

Long story short, again I apologize for the broken promises. However, never fear. I still have plenty of material I'd like to share with you. Please feel free to engage in conversation in the comments of each post, whether you agree whole-heartedly or vehemently disagree. Thanks!

Monday, October 8, 2007


Well, I didn't get around to posting on Monday. Work and homework and group projects got in the way. So, at the suggestion of a loyal reader, I added some hover comments to the pictures in my previous post. These captions should help out any lost readers.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Selection of Images

Instead of inundating you with another eloquent essay regarding space, I will instead offer a few images that I find to be quite beautiful. These are all NASA pictures, so no copyright notices necessary.

4,000 Kilometers Above Saturn's Moon 'Iapetus'
Earthrise: It's like seeing the moon rise above Earth's horizon, but in reverse
MacGuyver in Space. Duct Tape plus Laminated Maps equals Makeshift Fender
Mars. Pure and Simple
Lunar Module
Um... Watch out for that crater. It's a doozy
Bruce McCandless about 100 meters from the Shuttle

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Why We Need Space Exploration

Look up and tell me what you see. OK... bad idea. You're reading this on a computer, and so you're probably indoors. The next time you step outside, though, take a moment to ponder the limitless expanse above us. Assuming no clouds or trees block your view, you are essentially looking in a line trillions of miles long. Moving your head ever so slightly to one side, and you are looking down an entirely different line. Space basically goes forever, and the drive that brought Christopher Columbus to the Americas similarly drives us to venture into the unknown that is space.

If the ideal of exploration doesn't appeal to you, perhaps species survival will. I won't be so bold as to say that we are living on borrowed time, but chances are good that, in the long run, Earth will experience a catastrophic event. Asteroids, comets, volcanoes, and global warming all pose similar threats to human existence. Should something like this occur, the human species would do well to have inhabited other worlds.

Finally, we have the short-term benefits of such exploration. Already, we have seen many tangible benefits of space exploration, including GPS and satellite-based television. I will delve into these in a post later this week. There are many other areas where microgravity and orbiting the Earth may have an enormous impact: chemistry, materials science, biology, communication, the list goes on. Whereas our airplanes can simulate microgravity for sub-minute durations, building equipment in space adds a new dimension to microgravity science.

Yes, exploration is in our blood, as is survival. We also, however, have a giant laboratory above us. It would be a shame for us to forget about it. One of the many mandates of government is to pay for public works: projects that are simply too large of a burden for any single non-governmental entity to manage. As of now, using space exploration is one of these duties.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Astronautic Achievements

The space programs around the world surely stand on the shoulders of giants. If not for the bravery and determination of the men and women before us, many of the space-related accomplishments that we take for granted simply would not have happened. Following is a short list of some of the most spectacular and world-changing astronauts of this short Space Age.

Yuri Gagarin
While many Americans may know that the Russians put a person in space before the US, they may not know that gentleman's name: Yuri Gagarin. On April 12, 1961, Yuri transformed the Space Age into the Manned Space Age. Oh, and he has a 130 foot monument made of titanium dedicated to him.

Gherman Titov
Mr. Titov is truly an inspiration to me. He was, and still is, the youngest person in space. On August 6, 1961, a 25 year-old Gherman spent just over a day orbiting the Earth.

Aleksei Leonov
Flying free is what Aleksei Leonov did that makes him special. Aleksei became the first person in human history to actually be in space. Without a ship around him, Aleksei spent 12 minutes in the presence of absolutely nothing. He then went on to command the Russian side of the very first US-USSR joint mission.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin
We all know these two men were the first to land on the moon. For about one day, they were the only inhabitants of an entire world. Yes, the moon is smaller than the earth, but try thinking of it this way: Neil and Buzz were the only two people on an area larger than Europe, South America, and Australia, combined. Now that's desolation.

Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav Volkov
These three men were the first to inhabit a space station orbiting over 100 miles above the earth. They spent 23 days performing very meaningful scientific experiments that progressed our understanding of extended stays in microgravity. Those 23 days, however, proved to be these men's last, as their returning spacecraft accidentally vented all of its air during descent, suffocating the cosmonauts.

Bruce McCandless II
What Aleksei Leonov did, Bruce McCandless took to the next level. On February 7, 1984, Bruce became the first person to be completely freely floating in space sans tether. Utilizing a maneuvering unit that he helped design, McCandless ventured into the void of space on his own and came back, twice.

Yang Liwei
Proving that Russia and USA were not the only nations interested in spaceflight, China put Yang Liwei into orbit aboard the Chinese-designed and Chinese-launched spacecraft Shenzhou 5. Despite mission parameters that hearkened back to the US Gemini and Russian Vostok missions, Yang's flight on October 15, 2003 signified the entire world's desire to do what the US and Russia had been doing for decades: exploring the limits above us.

Mike Melvill
Melvill's mission was simple: get to space and come back. On June 21, 2004, he became the 443rd person to do so. Melvill, however, did this aboard a privately-built, privately-funded, and privately-launched spacecraft. No longer are the US and Russia in a race to get to space. The space race is now in the hands of the private industry.

I'm sorry to report that all of these record-setting astronauts are men. Yes, I could have listed the "First Woman in Space," but I think that belittles the issue at hand. Women simply haven't been given opportunities to beat out the men. Perhaps the first person to set foot on Mars will be a woman.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Twice Over, or Happy Birthday Sputnik

Fifty years. That's the entirety of my life, twice over. Eighteen thousand two hundred sixty two days have passed since Sputnik I advanced the human race from mere aviators into explorers of the infinite. What, precisely, has happened to us in the intervening years?

We have, I'm sorry to say, lost our ambition for space. I'm told that Americans in the late 1950s became awestruck at the faint radio signal emanating from Sputnik's antennae. There was a palpable sense of national urgency to "beat the Russians." That spirit began its ascension with the creation of NASA, continued with the rock-star-like Mercury Seven, and climaxed with Apollo 11's landing on the Moon. It took only twelve years to go from Russia's first step into space to America's first step on the Moon.

Since those days, however, the idea of space has faded into obscurity. Despite repeated launches over the years, the names and visages of today's astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts are completely invisible to the public eye. Why do we continue to give copious amounts of screen time to the likes of Paris Hilton and Flavor Flav? Instead, it seems that the only requirement for attention to space activities is loss of life.

My intent is to break this mold. The first step for me is to publicize my astronaut application process through this blog. Once selected for duty, I will continue updating this blog, but I will also try to reach out to the most important people in the space program: children with dreams. They are responsible for the next fifty years. I hope that by the time my body is accelerating at a terrifying pace towards the dark void of space, the world will once again look up in awe. Garnering a scant 15 second clip on a cable news station would be a greater failure than not making it into the astronaut program.

OK. Time for me to get off my soapbox. I encourage you to read tomorrow's entry, where I will pay homage to some of the past astronauts.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Coming Up

This Thursday, October 4, marks the beginning of World Space Week. As a result, I will share a post with you each day. Get excited!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I hope it seems obvious that I would like to reach as many people as possible on this blog. I'd like to reach the NASA employees responsible for deciding the fate of my application; I'd like to reach young students to show them that we geeks can achieve great things; and I'd like to reach anyone who has even the slightest admiration for the heavens above.

In all this reaching, I'm sure some of my coworkers will stop by this site. It is for them that I write this particular post. It is for them that I wish to be tactful.

I love my current job; I really do. Truthfully, I enjoy working with the peers and superiors that I see every day. I do not go out of my way to find better employment, but when something with the title "Astronaut" comes up, I hope they do not fault me for applying. Precious few opportunities like this come about in our daily lives. I have no intention of missing this one.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First Week

I am sore. Lots. After months of doing little to keep my body in shape, this request-for-astronauts has definitely lit a fire under my... well, you know. Basically, instead of playing video games, watching movies, and refreshing digg, I've been working out. Twice this week, I went to karate practice and twice I've gone bicycling. It's not much, but it's a start. Over the next few months, I'll explain why I'm doing this. I'll also keep you up-to-date on my workout schedule, but that's more for my benefit.