Friday, November 21, 2008

Ice on Mars? Yes. How much? Lots.

Whilst this post is not precisely related to my efforts of becoming an astronaut, it does relate to future exploration.

We all know, thanks to Mars Phoenix and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), that there is water ice on Mars. We now know, thanks again to the MRO, that there is a lot of water on Mars... and not just at the poles. An article on Scientific American announces vast subsurface formations of ice at mid-latitudes on Mars, a very important find since human colonization of Mars will likely begin nearer to the equator than the current location of Phoenix.

Why is in situ ice important? There are myriad answers to this question. Most obviously, it provides a source of water for future exploration efforts. Hauling stuff to Mars is expensive, so it's best to use what's already there. In addition, ice can be electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen can be injected into an outpost's atmosphere, and the combination of O2 and H2 can be used as fuel to either roam about the surface or head back to Earth (or... and this is really thinking out of the box... as a fuel station on the way out to the asteroid belt and outer planets).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And Now We Wait

I'm terribly sorry for the delay, folks. I moved recently and have self-imposed a "Do Not Even Put In the Order for DSL Until I Finish Remodeling the Bathroom" policy. So, I write to you today from a cafe in Madison which is inexplicably featuring Grasshopper Day today, replete with story telling and a guy who can mimic pretty much any animal in existence (this guy is up there with Sgt. Jones from Police Academy).

Anyway, I am writing today to inform you that I have been accepted... into the application process. I recently received a postcard from the NASA Astronaut Office indicating that my application was complete and under consideration. In other words, I made it in before the deadline, and at least one person will look at my application. Hooray!

NASA's timeline is somewhat vague about when I'll hear back from them about my status. I suppose the latest will be November when they start interviewing the "Highly Qualified Candidates," though I will likely hear from them sooner. I'll be sure to keep everyone up-to-date on the process.

In other news, I've been invited by the kind folks of Web608 to give a talk on lunar mining. This will be only the second time that I've been requested to speak about my job, the first being a Pi Tau Sigma (mechanical engineering honors society) meeting. I'm really excited to share my experiences and knowledge regarding the engineering discipline required to design for space applications. Of course, Web608 is mainly devoted to web 2.0 stuff, but being a blogger, I suppose I qualify.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy Moon Landing Day!

Thirty-nine years ago today, the whole world, transfixed upon millions of television sets, witnessed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to set foot on any celestial body. Sometimes I wish, despite today's conveniences, that I had been born in one of many earlier eras: seeing this event as a wide-eyed child of the sixties is one such era. To all those responsible for getting the Apollo 11 mission onto the moon and back, I thank you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


This past week, I finally became officially qualified to apply for the Astronaut job at NASA. According to the job posting, each applicant needs:

Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Quality of academic preparation is important. Degree must be followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience.

On Friday, I completed my third year of, as NASA says, "related, progressively responsible, professional experience." My application is still in the works and should be submitted shortly... it better be, since the deadline to submit is July 1.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Plea to Senator Obama

Look up, Senator Obama.

We, as a species, have ascended from microbes in the ocean, onto the firmament at our feet, to the tops of sky-scrapers, past the airplanes above us, into the vast expanses of space, and even to the surface of our own Luna. The human mind has constantly dreamed of advancing into the unknown. Do not, Mr. Obama, take that dream from us.

I, just like many of your supporters, am of the Space Shuttle generation. The idea of accelerating to the heavens in a mere capsule seems outdated and backward. The Challenger explosion, for many of us, was simply a paragraph in a grammar school history book, whereas the Columbia disaster signified the beginning of the end of the Shuttles' lifespan. Every other launch was publicized for 2 minutes on the local news while we were at basketball or band practice. The collective dream of spaceflight has become muddled and unattractive.

Some of us, however, never lost the dream, the hope of one day reaching the stars. We are the next generation of astronauts, engineers, technicians, and supporters of a truly radical idea: that we, a race of bipeds, could possibly set foot that shimmering speck above us known as Mars. Such an incredible goal is entirely within our generation's reach. Imagine the wonder of someone born before the famous flight at Kitty Hawk upon learning of John Glenn's voyage. Now imagine the disappointment of one born in 1973 who will not see a lunar landing until he or she lives more than a half of a century. Fifty years, Senator Obama, is not an acceptable respite from a project as monumental as this.

Through my years of education and training, I have come to be an aerospace engineer. I did this not because our society lauded such a profession. No, I chose this path because it was my dream. I was teased and tortured in school simply because I was smart. I was ostracized and ignored because I would rather build a model rocket than light a bottle rocket. Yes, this country can use a boost in education, but without a poster of a space-walking astronaut hanging in their bedrooms, the children of America will inadvertently undermine your investment in them.

So I ask you, Senator Obama, as you continue your campaign for the presidency, to consider the ramifications of one of your lesser-known policies. While improving education is important, it is a fruitless endeavor when at the cost of the manned space program. We do not dream of sending robots to other worlds, much like we do not dream of automating the removal of a brain tumor. We relish in the idea of humanity triumphing in the face of tremendous odds. We need astronauts and rocket scientists, Senator. It does not take a brain surgeon to understand this.

Friday, February 8, 2008

So, I've Decided to Learn Russian

My good friend Tom pointed me to a USA Today article entitled For NASA, 'The Right Stuff' takes on a softer tone. Boy, did it get me excited. The essence of the article explained that "steely-eyed test pilots" are no longer the desirable astronaut candidate. Instead, NASA is "looking for those who can play well with others in the close quarters of the International Space Station." Sign me up.

The author goes on to explain many of the characteristics a future astronaut might require: some diplomacy, a handle on Russian, a scientific mindset, and familiarity in a machine shop. Well, I like to think that I possess all of those skills, save the Russian part. So, I've decided to learn Russian.

Things are going quite well. I started just the other night after visiting the library for a beginner's course on CD. I can now say, among other things, "I understand Russian well." It remains to be seen how long it will be before that particular sentence is useful to me.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Vote for Space!

We're all pretty cognizant of the presidential candidates' views on many of the issues: Iraq, the economy, immigration, health care, etc. Indeed, if you don't know their positions, each candidate's website covers these. But there's a problem with this... no one talks about space science or exploration.

The complete neglect given to space exploration is a bit odd for a country founded on principles of expansion and discovery. Yes, there are some important short-term issues at hand, but getting off this fragile rock and learning about our universal surroundings should be something for which we continually strive. Whereas I personally hope human exploration gets a boost — it is, after all, the impetus for this blog — both NASA and private space companies deserve our respect and funding for all kinds of research, with or without the human element.

You can help. As part of the January 30/31 presidential debates, has offered the internet community a chance to submit and vote for questions to be asked during the debates. Until recently, space-related questions had dominated the "most popular" section. Now, however, dull and already-answered questions have pushed the space-related questions out of the top positions. While the issues of immigration, Iraq, and the economy still hold value, it's time to hear something new out of the candidates' mouths. In short, I ask all of my readers to do the following:

  1. Visit the Politico website.
  2. Click "Vote for Questions Now" and select one of the parties' debates.
  3. Click the "Most Popular" tab.
  4. For every space-related question, be it about NASA or private spaceflight, click "vote for this question."
  5. Repeat from step 2, but choose the other party's debate.

Thank you for taking the time to do this, and please forward this blog posting to all of your friends who you think would care to hear something new and exciting in the debates. If anything else, by voting for space-related questions, you can help put the candidate's on their toes: how much time do you really think they've invested in answering space questions? You can either send your friends the URL in your navigation bar or just click the envelope-with-the-arrow below. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Moving On

You might say that I've "quit." I think I've moved on.

For a number of reasons, I've decided to withdraw from my Engineering Mechanics Master's program. I realize that this action may seem like giving up. In some ways, I suppose it is. But I made the decision with good intentions in mind.

All my reasons intertwine in many ways, so it's hard to say that any one particular aspect has more importance than another.

I'll start with my performance: it was not good. Due to the "unflattering" grades I received in a few classes, another semester got added to my expected graduation date. Having spent the majority of my life in the top academic tier, I found this experience to be personally devastating. I know that I'm better than the grades recorded; that's not to say I deserved higher marks, however. I should have done better, and that leads into my second reason for leaving the university: time.

Working 40 hours a week while simultaneously attaining a post-graduate degree seems to be one of those things I simply can't manage. I don't even think I could have done the same thing in my undergraduate years. In this sense, I have become aware of the sheer amount of will that some others have to complete such a feat. Give me an 80 hour week or a 20 credit semester, but not half of each.

Finally, I have doubts as to whether the information I learned was truly worth its price. The classes offered to me at a Master's level simply did not have the practical value that I expected. Sure, there were a number of things I learned throughout the process, but the combined financial and mental toll didn't balance things out.

I'd like to sign off with a heartfelt expression of appreciation to all of you who have provided support throughout this grad school process. You know who you are: thank you.

Coming soon: the beginnings of the application.