Friday, December 14, 2007


This week, I had the opportunity to meet two gentleman (one of whom I already had met in my second life - more on this in a minute) from
NASA CoLab. CoLab supports on- and off-line collaboration between the various NASA Centers and between NASA and the public. To this end, they have established a presence in both real life (in San Francisco) and in Second Life.

Second Life
(SL) is a 3D Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE) in which avatars (a virtual representation of one’s self) interact via communicating, learning, exploring, playing, and conducting business together. It currently has over 11,240,207 registered members, which it terms “residents,” from over 100 different countries.

What makes SL so attractive to its residents is that it is completely imagined and created by them. This means it is self-evolving, such that each time a resident logs in they may find that their surroundings have changed or that new places, objects, and people exist where before there were none. In addition, avatars are fully customizable, such that residents may change their basic appearance (e.g. hair color, eye color, etc.), race, gender, clothing, and even mannerisms and gestures at any time. While some residents choose to represent themselves in a manner similar to their real life (RL) self, others choose to represent themselves as animals, mythical creatures, robots, or combinations thereof.

In addition to individuals, residents of SL include many RL groups, including federal agencies (e.g. NASA and NOAA), universities, museums, planetariums, businesses, nonprofits, embassies, and the tourism departments of many countries. These groups are using SL to communicate with and educate the general public. To learn more and to download the Second Life platform, which is free, visit

Ready to visit NASA CoLab in Second Life? Click here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Live from AGU - Planetary Science!!

The annual American Geophysical Union meeting is going on this week in San Francisco, CA. The meeting pulls in thousands of scientists and educators each year, many of whom are affiliated with NASA. To learn about NASA's scientific contributions to the meeting, click here.

Talk and poster sessions cover topics ranging from volcanology to paleoclimatology to planetary science and everything in between. This year, you can check out some of the action from the meeting without having to fork over the big bucks needed to get to San Francisco. Two lectures by prominent scientists will be webcast live today! The first lecture is on Mars exlporation, which is near and dear to our hearts as you can tell from reading this blog. To view these webcasts, click

1440h Pacific time
The Importance of a Program of Mars Exploration
Presented by Raymond E. Arvidson, Washington University

1815h Pacific time
Abrupt Climate Change and Our Future
Presented by Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University

Flubber Activity

The Flubber activity from yesterday's blog is available as a Google Document.

Just remember Flubber is NOT recommended for small children. The borax and glue combination is toxic.

Once you start playing with Flubber, it's hard to stop.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fun with FLUBBER - Glacier Modeling Method

I thought we would change directions today and look at a phenomenon found here on Earth, glaciers. I'm not saying one might not find glaciers or remnants of glaciers on other planets such as Mars, but most people relate glaciers to the Earth.

Whether it is Greenland or Antarctica, glaciers have been in the news. Scientists have been keeping track of glacial movement for some time. It is possible to see how glaciers of thousands to million years ago have changed the landscape of continents. Some examples can be seen in the northern portions of North America, Europe, and Asia. So how do glaciers move?

The University of Maine's Department of Geological Sciences and Climate Change Institute has created a model of Malaspina glacier. Leigh Stearns and Erich Osterberg, of U of Maine, used Flubber to assist them in the modeling of this glacier, see image to the left. But why use Flubber?

Flubber has a unique properties very similar to that of ice. If you slowly pull on it, it will flow like ice does in a glacier. It also shears like ice when quickly pulled apart. Ice deforms plastically most of the time – that's what allows it to flow. When brittle failure occurs, crevasses open up. Also, just like ice, Flubber flows more quickly when it is either warm or on a very smooth surface, and slows down when it's cold or on rough surface.

Your students can use Flubber to model glaciers and see how the different variables, temperature, surface roughness, and incline, can make a difference in how Flubber flows.

Materials: One recipe of 'Flubber'

Mix #1
3/4 cup of warm water
1 cup of white glue
food coloring (optional)

Mix #2
2 tsp of Borax
1/2 cup of warm water


Simply combine the two mixtures and work through the hands for several minutes until a consistent texture results. Drain any excess water. Flubber is easy to make and fun to work with and does not stick to hair or skin once formed (glue may stick to hands while working the Flubber to its correct consistency), however the Borax and glue are toxic and should not be ingested. We therefore advise against allowing young children to play with Flubber unsupervised. Flubber can be stored for several weeks in an air-tight bag (e.g. zip-lock). Simply rework some warm water into the Flubber to return it to a desired consistency.


  • 2 (or longer) foot-long section of 4” PVC pipe, cut in half lengthwise, to simulate a valley
  • 3-4 recipes Flubber (of at least 2 different colors)

To examine the properties of ice in a glacier form, flatten out the Flubber from a round lump into a flat pancake. In one section of the PVC pipe, lay the flattened out Flubber block into the top of the ‘valley’ using alternating colors, such as green and white. The alternating colors visually accentuate velocity gradients during flow. You can incline the pipe and see how fast the Flubber flows. Note that the flow is slower near the sides of the pipe because of friction from the valley walls.

To expand on the initial experiment, a comparison of flow can be done with a variety of materials on the pipe. An example is you can wet the pipe (the Flubber should flow faster because of less friction). Or you can make a continent out of clay or papier maché including mountains, cover it with plastic wrap or foil and then try the 'Flubber'. Another variation is comparing the viscosity of the Flubber at different temperatures. You can put one lump in the freezer for a while and compare how fast it flows compared to a warmer piece of Flubber (warm ice deforms more easily than cold ice). You should test different temperatures of ice (Flubber), different ‘valley’ slopes and basal conditions. To determine the velocity, make sure you measure (with a ruler) how far the Flubber moves in a given amount of time.

Velocity Table:

Blue (cold)


Red (warm)













Blue (cold)


Red (warm)

Slope -




For more information, please visit:

Friday, December 7, 2007

Return with LRO

Cathy Peddie, LRO's deputy project manager talks about the LRO mission and how she was inspired to become an engineer. To learn more about LRO visit

Returning to the Moon

The LRO website has a new video available: Return with LRO. “The Deputy Project Manager for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) program, Cathy Peddie, expresses her personal and professional thoughts on the upcoming LRO mission. From following in the footsteps of her childhood heroes, to building, testing, and intergrading the LRO instruments, to how LRO may play into future missions.” Check out the video at:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Update on MESSENGER mission to Mercury

On Friday, November 30, the MESSENGER team resumed daily contact with its Mercury-bound spacecraft. Engineers had suspended contact on November 13 when the spacecraft’s trajectory moved it to the opposite side of the Sun from Earth and out of radio contact with NASA’s Deep Space Network for several weeks. Read the complete story here.

As of right now, there are 36 days, 22 hours, 24 minutes, and 57 seconds until MESSENGER's first flyby of Mercury on January 14, 2008! View the countdown clock at

Monday, December 3, 2007

'Tis the Season for Candy and Mars Exploration

Now that the candy and sweets season is in full swing, why not put some of that sugary goodness to good use to learn about Mars exploration?

"Areology - The Study of Mars"
Using candy bars, plastic straws, and a few other simple items, students will accomplish these objectives:
· Examine a simulated Martian surface core sample.
· Learn how an unknown core sample can be identified by matching it with a known sample.
· Discover how surface core samples can tell us about the history and make-up of Mars.
· Consume the core sample at the end of the exercise!

View the complete activity, other Mars activities, and an associated teacher guide in the Mars Acitivities book at

Friday, November 30, 2007

The 2007 Antarctic Ozone Hole

The Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard NASA's Aura spacecraft is able to "see" the "hole" that develops in the ozone layer above Antarctica every winter. What is known as a "hole" in the ozone layer (the layer of concentrated ozone that resides in the stratosphere) is actually a thinning or depletion of ozone concentrations in the stratosphere. Due to a complex series of physical and chemical reactions in the atmosphere, this thinning happens every winter in the southern hemisphere. As summer approaches in Antarctica, the ozone hole disappears, and normal ozone levels return. As Aura orbits the Earth, the data OMI takes enables scientists to study this chemical cycle. You can view a movie of the 2007 ozone hole from the Ozone Watch website:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Aura Sees California Fires from Space

The Aura spacecraft orbiting 400 km above the Earth (248 miles) has the capability to sense many different kinds of particles (physical and chemical) in the air. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard the Aura spacecraft picked up smoke from the recent fires in California. You can visit the Aura website to see an animation of how the smoke traveled during the recent activity:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back to the Moon with LRO

Follow LRO at

Tweeting from the LRO Project Science Working Group Meeting

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is the first step in NASA's return to the moon. LRO will launch in late 2008 with the objectives to finding safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology. I'm the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) lead for LRO. I'm using twitter to provide updates of the LRO Project Science Working Group (PSWG) that is taking place at Goddard Nov 28-30. You can follow my tweets here or in realtime at

Project Manager Craig Tooley is doing the "State of the Project" overview. The current launch date is October 28 2008. Greetings from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Project Science Working Group from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center!

Learn more about LRO at check the progress of the spacecraft assembly at

Link to instruments and pics

Craig just mentioned the Bruce Springsteen road crew tour." I got the most interesting technical questions from this group" during the tour

60 Minutes, BBC, Discovery, WETA, NPR Canada have all been out to capture LRO on film

Next up Joanne Baker with the LRO Orbiter Lever Integration and Test presentation

Joanne is talking about what instrument teams can expect during the integration of their instruments to the spacecraft.

All the instruments be tested before they are integrated...environmental tests ..vibe, thermal vac, acoustics and shock, EMC

new avatar FlatSat - mock up of where instruments go on prep for instrument integration

RIck Saylor is discussing the Mission Operations Center--the MOC is where LRO will be commanded and controlled after launch

The LRO MOC is in buidling 32 at Goddard...right next door to my building
The MOC also receives LRO telemetry and data and processed and distributes data to the instrument Science Operations Center-- the SOCs

Stan Scott is now speaking about the LRO Data Working Group. The group includes LRO folks and instrument team members

So, each instrument has a Science Operations Center..that processes it's own data after receiving it from LRO;

Within six months the LRO instrument data is provided to NASA's Planetary Data System (PDS) http://pds/index.html

All NASA Planetary missions are required to deliver data to PDS w/in six months of data acquisition by the instrument teams.

LRO instruments CrATER - effects of the lunar radiation environment on tissue equivalent plastic

LEND measures the flux of neutrons on the moon.. is the Russian contribution to LRO

LEND will use neutron flux to determine hydrogen concentration on the lunar surface - looking for possible sources of water

Next up is LOLA..the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter...

LOLA will make 140 measurements/second. measures range to surface (topography) surface slope, surface reflectance and surface roughness

Reflectance measurements may allow LOLA to "see" water ice in the permanently shadowed regions on the Moon

LOLA PI Dave Smith " ...a negative rock would be a hole" as LOLA 'sees' it

LOLA will do laser ranging-Earth Based laser tracking stations will range to LRO via LOLA for improved LRO timing and orbit determination

The LRO camera is up now with PI Mark Robinson

LROC has a wide angle and narrow angle camera.. LROC's measurement objectives are here:

LROC's narrow angle cameras will give us 25x better image resolution than the current lunar data sets

Diviner will measure lunar surface temperatures at scales that provide information for future surface operations and exploration

Diviner will map global day and night temperatures

LAMP is the Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project UV from starlight to see in shadowed regions on the Moon

The LAMP instrument is an exact copy of the Alice instrument on New Horizons

The LAMP website has a great summary of the search for water on the moon:

Now a talk on the LRO launch window: there are 2 opportunities to go to the moon each day...

Launch window is 2-3 days every two weeks that gives us the optimal lunar orbit

Discussion from LOLA PI Dave Smith about what LRO will do in it's science phase after year 1

LRO's nominal orbit is 50 Km above the lunar surface.

Dave says we will know the topography and gravity field very well after the first year of we could lower the orbit to 5-10 km

we will find the highest point on the moon when we hit it-eventually LRO will run out of fuel & will have an abrupt landing

Check out the LRO promo

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lesson: Investigating Seasonal Variation in NO2 Concentrations

This lesson was written using Aura data, so that students could use data in their own scientific investigations. Below is an overview of the lesson:

The dataset used in this lesson is monthly averages of NO2 as measured from NASA's EOS Aura spacecraft. NO2 is measured using the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI). OMI is a nadir-pointing instrument that measures trace gases in a column of air directly below the spacecraft. NO2 concentrations are measured in number densities, or the amount of NO2 molecules found in a cubic centimeter of air. Alternately, units of parts per billion can be used, as in the graph at the top of the page. This tells how many NO2 molecules would be found in a sample containing a billion molecules of air. The OMI instrument measures the amount of NO2 in the entire vertical column of air below it, thus the units for OMI measurements are molecules per square centimeter (of the surface).

Purpose: Students will examine data in several formats in order to determine the presence or absence of seasonal variability in tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations

For the full lesson plan, please visit the following website:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Update on LRO's Assembly

With less than one year to go until launch, the assembly of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft and its six scientific instruments is in full swing. The actual spacecraft and one of its instruments, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), are being built here at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in MD. Both the spacecraft and all of its instruments must undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they can survive the physical stresses of launch and the extreme environment of space. Each component is exposed to excessive vibrations and extreme hot and cold temperatures in vacuum conditions. In addition, the wiring, electronics, and software is tested and retested to ensure that everything is connected and operating correctly and to ensure the validity of the procedures we'll use to operate the spacecraft and instruments once they're in space. Before we test the actual components that will be traveling into space, we first run the same tests on their mockups! As you can imagine, Goddard engineers and scientists work long and hard to make sure that all of these tests are successful so that the assembly of the spacecraft and its instruments stays on schedule.

Currently, a mockup of the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) instrument is at Goddard to undergo "FlatSat" testing before the actual flight instrument arrives for its own testing next month. "FlatSat" stands for flat satellite and is where all of LRO's electronic components will be laid out and hooked together on a long table and attached electrically like they will be during flight. In addition to testing LRO's components before launch, mission operations will use FlatSat to test commands before sending them to the spacecraft during its actual mission. Click here to see photos of LEND's FlatSat testing and to keep up with other developments in the assembly of LRO.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How Big is the Moon - Activity

Have you ever wondered how big the Moon was relative to the Earth? Since it is not possible to shrink the Earth and Moon, the following activity allows you to gain a better understanding using a piece of string and some image cut outs. This activity also allows you to use a regulation size basketball and a tennis ball to represent both the Earth and the Moon. By wrapping a piece of string around the 'equator' part of the basketball 9.5 times, this will be equivalent to the distance you would have to place the tennis ball at to have an accurate scale model.

For more information and images on how to do this activity please visit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Making Our Way to Mercury Again...

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), launched August 3, 2004, is NASA's first mission back to Mercury in over 30 years. The first mission to visit Mercury was Mariner 10. It flew by the planet three times between 1974 & 1975. During that time, it only imaged about 45% of Mercury.

Unlike Mariner 10, MESSENGER is designed to orbit Mercury. But, in order to get there, MESSENGER will make one flyby of the Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. During MESSENGER's three flybys of Mercury, it will have imaged the whole planet. The first of the three flybys will take play on January 14, 2008. It won't be until March 2011 when MESSENGER will enter into an orbit around Mercury.

Once in orbit, MESSENGER will begin to gather data to better understand Mercury and how the other planets formed. Scientist hope to answer the following six questions:
  1. Why is Mercury so dense?
  2. What is the geologic history of Mercury?
  3. What is the nature of Mercury's magnetic field?
  4. What is the structure of Mercury's core?
  5. What are the unusual materials at Mercury's poles?
  6. What volatiles are important at Mercury?
For more information on MESSENGER, please visit:
Stay tuned for future blogs on MESSENGER.

Monday, November 5, 2007

NASA and AIAA Student Podcast Competition

"What do you think is NASA's greatest exploration achievement in the past 50 years and why?"

Exploration provides the foundation of our knowledge, technology, resources, and inspiration. It seeks answers to the fundamental questions about our experience, responds to recent discoveries and puts in place revolutionary technologies and capabilities to inspire our nation, the world, and the next generation. Through NASA and its partners, we touch the unknown, we learn and we understand. As we take our first steps toward sustaining a human presence in the solar system, we can look forward to far off visions becoming realities of the future. The 21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition is an Education and Public Outreach project designed to inspire and motivate the next generation of explorers and to compete effectively for the minds, imaginations, and career ambitions of America's young people. Students will create an audio recording or video short to answer the question: "What do you think is NASA's greatest exploration achievement in the past 50 years and why?"
The contest starts on OCTOBER 1, 2007 AT 12:00 AM ET. Competition closes with the first 1,000 entries in each category or until midnight on JANUARY 4, 2008 ET, whichever comes first.

Division 1
Audio Podcast – Age Group (11-14)
Video Podcast – Age Group (11-14)

Division 2
Audio Podcast - Age Group (15-18)
Video Podcast – Age Group (15-18)

All entries must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Each contestant must be a United States citizen between 11-18 years of age.
  • Each contestant must submit an entry form.
  • Parents must consent if entrant is under the age of 18.
  • Entry must meet technical specifications (see right).
  • Any use of copyrighted material will disqualify entry.
  • Only one (1) entry per person.
Judging Criteria
A panel of judges will choose 15 finalists per each of the two areas (audio and video) and per each age group. Finalists will be displayed on the website between February 14th and February 14th and February 28th, 2008. First, Second, and Third Place winners will be selected from the fifteen (15) finalists in each category. Judges for the Final Round will be comprised of attendees at the Third Space Exploration Conference to be held in Denver, CO on February 26-28, 2008. The contest winners will be announced on the website on February 28, 2008.

Judging will be based on 5 point scale based on the following criteria:
  • Content: Is the treatment of the subject matter effective? (i.e. storytelling, script, etc.)
  • Creativity: Do the production elements add to the program? (i.e. graphics, SFX, or camera talent, design, animation, etc.)
  • Execution: Were technical levels maintained? (clarity, levels, distortion, etc.)
  • Clarity: Was the contestant able to communicate their idea effectively? (objectives, story flow, interest, etc.)
  • Summation: What was the overall impression?
Contestants will be able to receive a maximum of 25 points, which is based upon the contest’s criteria, is a perfect score.

Additionally, during the period of February 14th through February 28th, 2008, the public will vote for and select a “People’s Choice” winner.

More information go to

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ASTC Day 5 - The last one!

My last day at the ASTC meeting was short...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007:

Web 2.0 session

After checking out of the hotel this morning, I made my way over to the convention center for one last session on how museums are embracing Web 2.0. First up was someone from the
Ontario Science Centre. He gave an overview of common social media Websites, which are sites where users publish the content and have the choice of interacting with each other, and some statistics to go with it: ~96% of 9-17 year olds and ~75% of 18-35 year olds use social media sites. Obviously museums and other educational entities need to embrace social media if they want to reach these age groups to the fullest extent possible. Examples of social media sites include MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia, blogs, etc. Of course, if you're reading this blog you're probably already familiar with most if not all of these! One that I learned about from this presenter is Instructables, a site in which users "share what they do and how they do it, and learn from and collaborate with others". Ever wanted to attach a sink to the top of your toilet? If so, you can learn how to do it and LOTS of other random things here.

In any case, some museums are starting to embrace and use social media to both their advantage and that of their real life and virtual visitors. For example some museums are using Facebook and MySpace to communicate with visitors and keep them updated as to events and openings. This is also a good way for museums to get feedback and to reach people that they may not have otherwise. For example, if one of your friends on MySpace lists a museum or science center as one of their friends, you might be inclined to click on that museum's MySpace page and see what's going on. Other museums are using Twitter, a site in which people all over the world simply answer the question "What are you doing right now?", to give people a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in their museum. The writer of the Museum 2.0 blog (who was one of the presenters in this session - see below) provides examples of how and why museums are using some of these sites and others with more detail and eloquence than I have time for here. Read her posts on Twitter and blogs.

The second presenter was from the Science Museum of Minnesota which actually has its own blog on how museums use technology and the Web. He gave more examples of how museums are using Web 2.0, such as his museum's ScienceBuzz, which I discussed in a previous post.

The third presenter was from, which is a blog that tracks other museum-related blogs. He said that of the museums that blog, ~60% publish fewer than 5 times per month (as of Jan. 2007). In order for a museum's blog to be successful, it must "publish or perish!!" Science museums make up only ~15% of museum blogs. I wonder why?

The last presenter was from the Museum 2.0 blog that I mentioned above and in an earlier post. She spoke mostly about museums in Second Life. Successful museums within Second Life are those that offer extensive programming and opportunities for social interaction in addition to great exhibits and builds. An example is the International Spaceflight Museum, which actually not does not have a real life counterpart. In addition to a fantastic rocket garden, a solar system exhibit that you access via a rocket ride into low Earth orbit, and other great exhibits, it also offers a weekly jazz concert on Thursday nights. Even though one can argue that the concert is not educational in nature, it provides an opportunity for people to interact in the museum setting, which can lead to discussions about the museum and its content, other related topics, etc.

In addition to museums, NASA and other federal agencies, such as NOAA, are building and interacting with the public in Second Life. For more information on their activities click here: NASA, NOAA. For those of you that already have a Second Life account (which is FREE by the way) and wish to visit their builds directly, click here: NASA, NOAA. I'll write more on NASA in Second Life at another time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ASTC Day 4

Almost done... Here's the rundown from Day 4 of the ASTC meeting in CA.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Field Trip to Griffith Observatory
This morning I boarded a bus along with 250 of my closest friends to travel to Griffith Observatory in LA's Griffith Park. The drive took us up a winding road in the Park. Unfortunately it was cloudy and drizzling for most of the day, so what would normally have been a fabulous view was obscured by clouds. The Observatory is absolutely gorgeous (although I read somewhere once that it is also called "the hood ornament of Los Angeles"). It opened in 1935 and was the country's premier site for public telescope viewing. It closed its doors in 2002 for a $93 million renovation and expansion. The doors reopened in late 2006. Because public interest in viewing the renovations is so high at present, visits to the Griffith are by appointment only until demand decreases.

The Griffith has several exhibit galleries. The one I enjoyed the most was its "Hall of the Sky" in which models of the Sun, Earth, and Moon were used in combination with animations and text panels to illustrate basic astronomy phenomena such as eclipses, seasons, moon phases, etc. Using this three-pronged approach helps the exhibits appeal to a wide audience with different learning styles, ages, and levels of familiarity with the subject matter. I also really enjoyed viewing the various meteorites on display, especially one of the Los Angeles shergottites
(a shergottite is a type of martian meteorite). Since we have not yet been able to return samples from Mars, martian meteorites are the only samples of the Red Planet available for scientific analysis. However, NASA is planning a Mars sample return mission for the future so stay tuned.

After touring the exhibits I had a chance to view clips of recently developed planetarium shows, data visualizations, and experimental music and art (kind of like the Pink Floyd laser shows you might be familiar with but with better graphics) in the Griffith Observatory's Samuel Oschin Planetarium. The Planetarium has a new star projector and a new digital projection system. Some of the NASA collaborations we got to view were "The Search for Life: Are we Alone?", "Passport to the Universe", and "Cosmic Collisions". These shows are traveling the country so be sure to check the listings at your local planetarium in case you're interested.

Back at the California Science Center
Later in the day I was back at the California Science Center where I toured more of the exhibits. My favorite was "Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear". In addition to learning about how and why we physically react to fearful situations, the exhibit contains a challenge course in which you can test your ability to overcome certain fears (like falling or touching insects and snakes) and then analyze your physical reactions. One of the cool things about this exhibit is that visitors actually become part of it because it's set up in such a way that you can observe each other's reactions during the challenge course. The exhibit will be leaving the CSS in December to go on tour around the US so be sure to check it out when it comes to your area!

And in case you're wondering, I was too chicken to do the part of the challenge course that involved touching hissing cockroaches. One thing I'm not afraid of is admitting that I'm afraid!

"Fly Me to the Moon"
After having a popsicle (aka margarita) in the Rose Garden of Exposition Park, I watched a screening of "Fly Me to the Moon" in the CSS IMAX theater. "Fly Me to the Moon" is a new 3D movie about 3 flies that travel to the Moon along with the Apollo 11 astronauts. It's scheduled for release in 2008. The 3D animations were great. Hopefully this movie will help get kids interested in not only the Apollo missions, but in NASA's upcoming efforts to return humans to the Moon and then eventually send them to Mars. The first step in this "Vision for Space Exploration" is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will launch late next year!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

ASTC Day 3

More highlights from my time at the ASTC meeting...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


This morning's keynote had two speakers - Adam and Jamie from the Discovery Channel's MythBusters!! I have to admit that although I'd heard of MythBusters, I'd never actually watched an episode. After hearing Jamie and Adam talk however and seeing how truly interested they are in helping teach us a little science through debunking urban legends, I have to say I plan to start watching. It was really cool to hear them talk about how they became interested in science, how they come up with ideas for the show, and how difficult it can be to convince the producers (and their insurance agents!) to let them go through with said ideas. A highlight of their keynote was getting to view never-before-aired footage from "Facts about Flatulence". You'll have to check it out for yourself...

Experience Design session
Aside from helping to work the NASA booth, I attended a session on Experience Design. The session focused on encouraging visitor learning through themed experiences. For example, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (site of the 2008 ASTC meeting) has created a series of programs in which school groups don't just visit the museum, see a bunch of exhibits and/or presentations about unrelated topics, and then leave. Instead, their visits, called "Experiences", focus on a central them from start to finish such that
the experience provides "hands-on, auditory and visual reinforcement". Experiences focus on a featured exhibit, the theme of which is coordinated with a hands-on workshop, an interactive science show, and a thematically related IMAX or planetarium show. An example is their "Identity Experience". Another one of the presenters was an Imagineer for Disney. He talked about the work that went into designing and building the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage attraction that opened this summer at Disneyland in CA.

Field Trip to the Moon
Later in the day I got to see a screening of the new Field Trip to the Moon DVD in one of the inflatable domes in the exhibit hall. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the DVD and related educational materials, which were developed by the American Museum of Natural History with help from NASA, are FREE! Click here for details. It was fabulous and I highly recommend you check it out. One of the great things about it is that there's a captioned version and an un-captioned version so that you can make up your own script to fit your audience, learning objectives, etc.

Field Trip to the Museum of Jurassic Technology
Later that afternoon I had a chance to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology. The MJT is awesome!! I was so excited to visit it after having read case studies about it in my museum classes at ASU. Some of you may be familiar with it from the book Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler. As its name implies, the MJT is a place of contradictions and juxtaposition (since the Jurassic period ended about 145 million years ago) in the style of the cabinets of curiosities that were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and that preceded the modern museum . The MJT mixes science, art, reality, and fiction so well that you leave it questioning your ability to distinguish between them. A visit to the MJT is a lesson on the importance of critical thinking and how we shouldn't always believe everything we read, hear, or see. It's also an exploration of what it takes to make a museum - must a "museum" have objects, display cases, text panels, even a building in order to function as such??

California Science Center
The evening ended with an after-hours party at the California Science Center. I had a ton of fun wandering around the exhibits and meeting new people (and eating lots of food). The CSS is impressive in its size, scope, and programs. A really cool aspect of the CSS is that they actually have an elementary school on site called the Science Center School. How cool would it be to be able to utilize the unique resources of a science center as a student or teacher??

Stay tuned for Day 4 tomorrow...

Friday, October 19, 2007

ASTC Day 2

This is a continuation of my experiences at the ASTC 2007 annual meeting...

Saturday, October 13, 2007:

This morning I attended the annual ASTC "meet and greet" breakfast, where I got to meet some of my colleagues from NASA for the first time. The morning’s keynote speaker was Geoffrey Canada, CEO/President of the Harlem Children’s Zone. His main point was that educating youth and their parents is the key to reducing crime in America. He suggested that we focus on engaging young people in bettering their communities so that they feel they’re living in a worthwhile place and doing worthwhile things. The goal is not to just get people into college such that they never return to their hometowns - instead he would prefer to see them want to return so that they can continue to make their communities better. Other suggestions: Optimism is key and contagious – we should all try it! Think outside the box. Remember that we all live in a global village.

NASA exhibit booth:

Helping staff the NASA exhibit booth was a lot of fun because I got to meet fellow informal science educators from all over everywhere. The NASA booth was a big hit, due in part to all the cool freebies we had to give away (like posters about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, trading cards with photos of Saturn's moons taken by the Cassini mission, lenticulars from the STEREO mission, etc.) and because we had an actual Apollo lunar sample and a shuttle tire that people could touch!

The "NASA Update" session focused largely on the upcoming 50th Anniversary of NASA on October 1, 2008. NASA has already launched a
50th Anniversary website where you can find information pertaining to all of the agency's anniversary-related plans and initiatives, including NASA's participation in the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The session leaders also mentioned the new Field Trip to the Moon DVD and educational program developed by the American Museum of Natural History in partnership with NASA. The DVD and educational materials are available to educators for FREE!

The "Museums 2.0" session was also fantastic. The writer of the Museum 2.0 blog was one of the session leaders. She gave an overview of what Web 2.0 means and gave a couple examples of websites I hadn't heard of before: and These sites let users choose if they want to interact socially with other users. Other session leaders included representatives from several museums and science centers with Museum 2.0-style exhibits (i.e. the exhibits encourage or offer opportunities for visitors to interact with each other, museum staff, and/or help create and shape the exhibit). The Ontario Science Centre, for example, has a sort of "scientific Times Square" in which visitors can view dynamic content and interact with each other and museum staff. The OSC also hosts an interesting website: The Science Museum of Minnesota hosts a website called Science Buzz that allows for interactive social blogging by visitors and museum staff.

On Saturday evening I saw a preview of the International Polar Year initiative called Polar-palooza. It was absolutely fantastic and sobering at the same time. The scientists involved did an excellent job of communicating recent observations that indicate our poles are rapidly changing. Polar-palooza can be tailored to fit any audience and age group from students to the general public. I greatly encourage you to visit your nearest Polar-palooza event for an eye- and mind-opening experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Association of Science and Technology Centers - Day 1

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Science and Technology Center’s annual conference in Los Angeles, CA. Hosted by the California Science Center, the conference included presentations, keynotes, exhibitors, and visits to local science centers, museums, and other interesting places. I was hoping to be able to blog from the conference but did not have access to wireless internet. So… here are the highlights of the first day of the conference from my perspective. My summaries of the rest of the conference will follow in the days to come.

Friday, Oct. 12, 2007:

I attended the National Educators Outreach Network (NEON) workshop, where I met other informal science educators from across the world, including England and Malaysia, heard presentations on various programs and events, and had discussions about best practices and common issues to overcome. Here are some of the highlights:

Examples of museum education programs:
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has an education program called "Unraveling Ancient Egypt" in which they use CT scans to examine mummies and make inferences about their lives and culture. For example, people that were wealthy had more complete mummifications (i.e. most brain matter was removed from their skulls, etc.) as compared to less wealthy people. In addition to science, DMNS uses this program to talk about tolerance and respect for the cultures of others in an attempt to help participating students become global citizens. How great is that?? One interesting thing I learned about the DMNS is that they have a program called Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs). These teachers help create and review their education programs. What a great way to give teachers a taste of the informal science education field!

The Science Museum in London takes a three-prong approach in many of its youth programs: shows (assemblies), workshops, and museum visits. Many of their education programs use stories. For example, the Three Little Pigs story is used to illustrate the properties of materials (remember hay vs. brick??) for children. They showed us video of museum educators acting out the story and interacting with school children. They all had a blast!!

Many museums, such as the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, are starting to incorporate Science on a Sphere into their exhibits and programs. Every year the Bishop Museum travels to each Hawaiian Island to present educational programs to its school children, many of whom have never left their home island. They take a portable, inflatable dome with them so that the students can see planetarium shows. They're also planning to get a Magic Planet to take with them so that they can share the SoS visualizations with the students. It's great that the Bishop Museum makes it a point to reach as many Hawaiian children as possible each year and to show them cool things they wouldn't get to see otherwise.

Examples of interesting things I learned, good ideas, and best practices from small group discussions:
- Museums often find it harder to market free programs than ones that cost money because people think that if something costs more it's worth more. So don't be afraid to check out free programs and events offered by your local museums!
- Many museums offer coupons for free admission to educators so that they can check out the facilities and educational resources.
- Some museums utilize "on-call" teachers and volunteers for different events. If you're interested in volunteering at a museum but don't have the time to committ to a routine schedule, see if they have a program like this!
- When designing visuals and signage for educational programs, consider utilizing a museum's exhibits department because they understand how different people and different ages learn visually.
- When writing educational materials or exhibit labels, consider using a lexcon calculator. These calculators analyze the difficulty of your text.
- Museum visitors, especially children, can get overstimulated easily at a museum. By addressing their basic needs up front (i.e. letting them know when and where bathroom breaks and lunch will be held), they can let go of these worries and concentrate on the new experiences and information before them. Children also need to know when they'll get to visit the gift shop and what they might find there. (We all have to admit that visiting a gift shop is a highlight of any museum visit, no matter how old we are!!)
- Some museums offer free admission passes that you can check out from your local library and then return them when you're done. What a fabulous idea!

Stay tuned for more tomorrow...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

NASA Discovery Conference Day 2

Day 2 of the the Discovery @15 Conference began with the "Development and Project Management" session. Right now the quote of the panel is "Everyone draws a good org chart" (Paul Gilbert) the question is who are the personalities driving the project. The chemistry of project team is a key to success. Important keys to early Discovery Mission success "Focused Science" and "Minimize Risk" that changed the paradigm of Solar System exploration.

Now back to tweeting from Discovery @15

Next up will be Wes Huntress "Discovery- on the Road Again"

Wes Huntress "the father of the Discovery Program"

Discovery -- lower cost...using smaller launch vehicles and smaller spacecraft and finding new ways of doing business

Mars Observer was to be the 1st low cost mission before ballooned in cost and disappeared at Mars Orbit insertion

Mars Observer link (I was supposed to work on day from MO..changed my career path)

The loss or Mars Observer taught us we had to manage way "test, test and test"

New model NASA would "buy whole missions from the science community" first time missions were competed

There hasn't been a full mission selection in Discovery in 5 years...we were supposed to launch every 18 months.

The loss of the Delta II launch vehicle will hurt Discovery

Huntress: "we found by experiment the limits to "better, faster, cheaper" and the pendulum has swung in wrong direction

Next up the EPO session

All Discovery mission proposals must include and Education and Outreach plan

The first presenter in Shari Asplund EPO lead for the Discovery Program

A new addition to EPO for Discovery is "student collaboration" ways to involve high school and undergraduate students

many missions participate in Master Educator Progams...Solar System Educators and MESSENGER Educator Fellows

missions also conduct educator workshops and develop curriculum -reach k-4 thru stories and songs- older kids get involved in mission data

Discovery works with museums, planetariums, networks of amateur astronomers and solar system ambassadors

Jacinta Behne is talking about EPO for the Genesis mission

Jacinta "we need to translate complex content in various ways to meet the needs of our various audiences"
check out the interactive periodic table from the Genesis misssion

Genesis also managed to get a Genesis video on United Airlines flights...

Deep Impact EPO from Maura Rountree Brown

Deep Impact had Lucy McFadden a science team member as part of the EPO

Maura "You have to be careful the plan has to be cohesive" what do audiences need, what science does our mission bring..who needs to know

Deep Impact EPO built a philosophy and aligned all activities

prepare for the unknowns known unknowns and unknown unknowns advice to EPO leads

next session for Discovery @15 the Complexities of Deep Space Operations

Andy Cheng is now talking about the challenges of NEAR

NEAR was the first planetary mission outside a NASA center...web was new then..first mission to have a website and Andy was an early blogger

check out the videos of the NEAR Eros encounter

next up Mike A'Hearn the PI for the Deep Impact mission and PI for the Deep Impact extended mission

the impactor on Deep Impact was 1/3 ton 50% copper... the comet overtook the impactor

Check out "Deep Impact-A Smashing Success!

The Deep Space Operations panel is now up--

Deep Impact had more operations issues than anticipated..basically learning to operate the s/c and testing all of the command sequences

Genesis Sample return had the challenge of targeting away from earth til the last possible moment...they had 12 reviews that year

panelist: many of these missions underestimated the operations requirements at the proposal stage

Discovery @ 15 meeting has adjourned!

don't forget to check out the blog

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tweeting from NASA's Discovery at 15 Conference

I'm at the Discovery@15 Conference in Huntsville, AL. From the NASA Discovery website:

In space exploration, the possibilities for discovery are without limits. Even with the vast amount of knowledge gained since exploration of our solar system began, there are still more questions than answers.

NASA's Discovery Program gives scientists the opportunity to dig deep into their imaginations and find innovative ways to unlock the mysteries of the solar system. It represents a breakthrough in the way NASA explores space, with lower-cost, highly focused planetary science investigations designed to enhance our understanding of the solar system.

All completed Discovery missions have achieved ground-breaking science within strict cost and schedule limitations, each taking a unique approach to space exploration.

Reaching into the unknown, doing what's never been done before, and driving new technology innovations that may also improve life on Earth - this is NASA's Discovery Program.

I'll be adding my twitter comments throughout the meeting

is now in work mode tweeting from the Discover @ 15 meeting

just announced that all presentations will be video taped and podcast on the website eventually!

First up Bob Farquhar who worked on 3 Discovery missions including NEAR, Contour and MESSENGER

or more info about the Discovery missions check out ... I'm the education and out reach lead for MESSENGER

more on Bob Farquhar

Now Discovery Sample return missions: 1st up flew through the tail of a comet

read about aerogel: 99.8% air used to collect comet tail dust

If you want to find comet dust in aerogel check out Stardust at home

30,000 volunteers are already participating in Stardust @ home perk-you get to name the grains you find

Next up the Genesis mission that returned samples of the solar wind

The speaker for Genesis is Don Burnett

Genesis sampled high speed, low speed and Coronal Mass Ejections see mission gallery

Don is discussing some of the challenges related to the Genesis hard landing

amazing results are coming from research on the Genesis solar wind samples
Next up-- Technology Innovation thru the Discovery Missions--enabling technologies in a cost-capped program

Bill Borucki is talking about Kepler the mission to search for habitable planets outside of the Solar System

Kepler uses 42 CCDs covered in sapphire

"How can you quantify science? Its of infinite value" Bill Bourcki when asked quantify science value when Kepler was faced w/ budget cuts

Next up MESSENGER "How can you not like the planet Mercury?" MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon

The challenges to a Mercury orbiter....Mercury is very close to the sun...only spacecraft to visit Mercury is Mariner 10 in 1974- a flyby


Technology infusion for MESSENGER-46% of the mass of the spacecraft is fuel..needed to integrate structure and propulsion system.

....including specially designed tank on of 17 thrusters-given 1 Earth, 2 Venus and 3 Mercury flybys before orbit insertion

The sun is 11 times brighter at Mercury than earth...lead to ceramic cloth sunshade..behind the sunshade MESSENGER is room temperature

don't forget first Mercury flyby is Jan 14 2008 the first spacecraft results from Mercury in more than 32 years

The Dawn Mission technology infusion is Ion Propulsion-learn more at

Dawn is scheduled to launch Sept will visit two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta
now Discovery "Missions of Opportunity

The Discovery program supports international cooperation through Missions of Opportunity with international space agencies

ASPERA-3 is a suite of instruments on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft

Moon Mineralogy Mapper will fly on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft-- India' s first mission to moon

This official launch date of Chandyayann-1 is April 2008

M-cubed is a spectrometer with 260 spectral channels and 70 m resolution. So we will have high resolution maps of the elements on the moon