Tuesday, September 27

Numbers

Apparently, someone missed the memo that I'm writing my thesis on Russian literature.
j/k

Sunday, August 21

Privatising Space Exploration

(Oh hello post number 200! Here are some thoughts on private companies taking over space exploration. It's mostly thoughts, so do correct me if I am making any blatant mistakes).

Astrophysics and space flight engineeering makes a very fertile field for new discoveries. Pushed to the edge of our earthly boundaries, scientists are facing challenges that were previously inconceivable to us; how materials and organic entities behave in microgravity, how to withstand extreme pressure and heat, and how to escape our earth's incarcerating, gravitational pull towards the ground. The solutions to these problems have benefited our everyday lives, perhaps more than we are aware of. Mobile phones were based on technology developed when the Apollo astronauts became dependent on long distance telecommunication. Velcro tape, nutrients in baby food, the grills in the road that prevent hydroplaning and water filtering techniques are also offsprings of space engineering. (That the ballpoint pen was invented by NASA to write in space when the Russians used pencils is, however, a myth. Early american astronauts used pencils as well, but when the easily smudged graphite became inconvenient, a high pressure "space pen" was invented. This is not quite the same as our everyday ballpoint pens). These discoveries have been made available as they trickled down from a field of experimental ventures, to kitchens, pockets and sneakers all over the world.

Over the past few years, and noticeably once the monopoly on lower earth orbit was lifted, NASA has increasingly outsourced its business to external companies. In fact, NASA has always employed contractors, but now the space above us is exposed to economic competition. One potentially chilling side of this is that turning space flight into an economic venture where competition is the propellant may force new, innovative technology to remain behind closed doors. Keeping industrial secrets to gain advantages over other companies could hypothetically end in raging patent wars, inhibit free research, and prevent useful inventions from trickling down from orbit to regular huts and shackles. In a hostile fiscal climate, expensive space exploration requires some pretty solid justification. For instance, is the $1.1 billion spacecraft Juno, which is amongst other things carrying a $3.8 million camera that has no specific scientific purpose, really worth it? Something NASA frequently points out in its press releases is that this and other planetary probes aid in answering the fundamental questions of who we are, and where we came from. This may be the most easily recognisable scientific motivation for "common folks", as there really isn't a growing public concern about the status of Jupiter's core or how much oxygen there is in its atmosphere. In their speeches at the Juno Tweetup, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden and chief scientist at the NASA headquarters, Waleed Abdalati, capitalised on the "burning, burning human desire to explore", to take leave of our Earth habitats and answer the fundamental questions we have harboured since the dawn of collective consciousness. Science is energising, fun, and an exciting field that provides job opportunities for young people. But curiousity in itself is an abstract justification. The likes of microelectronics, weather satellites and water filters are however tangible and concrete, and continue to be a prerequisite for continued government funding.

Public interest in space exploration, and with it government funding, is dwindling. The small town of Titusville, located on the other side of the river of Kennedy Space Center has been disintegrating since the end of the Apollo programme. The city is facing another bout of abandonment as the space shuttle programme has been cancelled. Thousands of technicians are losing their jobs – people who have already worked for years in privately owned companies supplying NASA with launch services and maintenance and on the space shuttle for their entire lives. Two companies currently providing launch services, USA (United Space Alliance) and ULA (United Launch Alliance) are joint ventures of famed warfare and aircraft suppliers Boeing and Lockheed Martin. About 9000 (?) people have been laid off since the space shuttle programme ended in early July. One technician ended his own life, depressed by the prospects of losing his job, by throwing himself off the launch pad tower before the last flight of Endeavour, STS-134, in early 2011. The earlier shuttle workers were equipped with decent severance packages, but after vehicle specific work spanning three decades may require extensive re-education to return to work. Moreover returning the space shuttle to flight is not an option, as it is already long overdue for retirement. It is only tragically appropriate that the pieces of the disintegrated Columbia that my Texas pen pal would find in her back yard were already then, in my teenage mind, historical relics.

On the bright side, privatising space flight that has previously been under state monopoly may contribute entirely new solutions for low Earth orbit (LEO) transportation. In his report on the Challenger accident in 1986, physicist and Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman calls for an outsourcing of activities, for an agency that is run by bureaucrats rather than scientists and engineers and marred by chasing perfection to guarantee continued government funding. He claims the space shuttle was rife with expensive engineering mistakes already in its earliest phases, compromising safety in the process. Independent engineers can work out cheaper and more environmentally sound ways to put Earth objects and subjects into space, and refine fully reusable spacecrafts, which is undoubtedly beneficial. Meanwhile, manned space flight continues in Russia as far as servicing the ISS goes, and is explored in newly born space states such as China and India. The Russian federal space agency Roskosmos recently announced it will reduce its spending on manned space flight, but future American ISS crew members will still be catching rides on the Soyuz, at a price of approximately $55 million per head.

So, in absence of humans, we launch our interplanetary placeholders – small probes. Juno is on her way to Jupiter, and she is set to become the fastest man made object in history, reaching 160,000 km/h after her Earth flyby gravity assist in 2013. She is powered entirely on top of the crop solar cell panels, handpicked by the Juno engineers. Although they can power up to 19,000 W on earth, they reach only 400 W in polar orbit around Jupiter, less than it takes to power a hairdryer, and 200 W of that alone is spent on keeping the spacecraft warm. Imagine these solar cell panels in time becoming widely available on Earth? Let's hope these providers of technology are willing to be democratic, and share "the pleasure of finding things out" (as Richard Feynman puts it) as well as their revolutionary outcomes, with the rest of us. Perhaps space flight will never again attain the same splendour as in its Apollo heyday, but this may be a healthy sign of our appropriation of space exploration as an integral part of our no-longer earthbound society; a step towards making space and accompanying technology available for all.

Tuesday, August 9

Stweetstyle

So, what do you wear to a NASA Tweetup? Personally the more pressing question was "How do you dress for Florida weather?" Because honestly, I had no idea. The temperatures rose to 40 centigrades when I was in DC last year, and I have suppressed all memory of it. I had to think of how to reduce the amount of sweat absorbed into my clothes, and the inevitable amount of sweat secreted in general. Kennedy Space Center requires long pants, closed-toe, flat shoes and no sleeveless whatevers for their operative areas, so on-site, the immediately obvious short summer dresses, or shorts with sandals, are not an option.

At the same time, this is a place for photo opportunities, and you'll be on NASA TV. Fashionista vs. geek conundrum. So how about we share some tips and tricks to be both comfortable, safe from stray, toxic splashes AND look decent when posing next to the countdown clock, or Bill Nye "The Science Guy"? And last but not least, to send Juno off in style?

My original Tweetup packing list. Revisions: if I could change anything, it might be the shoes. I should probably have gone for something in fabric or canvas, like plimsolls.

– Long, beige slacks with rolled up hems.The fabric is really light and soft.
– An airy, short-sleeved cotton blouse. Let there be drafts, and no fabric stuck to your underarms.
– A cotton cardigan, for air conditioned environments. (Did not need this on the "air conditioned" tour bus that wasn't air conditioned at all).
– Ballerina flats. They got really hot and smelly. Band-aids were also a life saver, as my feet get blisters if I as much as look at a pair of shoes.
– Straw hat, covering up that head, avoiding that heat stroke.
– Drop the perfume, bring on the bug spray. From what I've heard, the unofficial state bird of Florida is the mosquito.
– A big tote-bag for easy access to your electronic gear, all marked with name tags, of course.
– Other forms of sun protection: sunglasses and sunscreen lotion. I tanned more at the press site than I have done all summer in Norway, and I love my sunscreen lotion (just make sure you get some vitamin D before you put it on).

What did other people wear?
Appropriately, one trend emerging in the world of fashion right now, is star patterns. There were a lot of space-themed tees in the Tweetup tent, almost to the point of confusion, when you no longer knew who was actually working for NASA and who was just wearing the same embroidered polo shirt, bought in the KSC Visitor Complex' gift shop. These people are BIG on logos. Other recurrent trends were burgundy Juno Tweetup badges on turquoise ULA lanyards, various geek gear (some may have been surgically attached to their Tweeting devices) and red and blue 3D glasses. Indeed modern technology trickles into the world of streetwear. However, the fogged glasses that were worn by many outside is the most impractical trend since too tight pants or Marie Antoinette's panier underskirts.

The "operative area" outfit, inspired by Japanese tourists (I am pretty much at eye level with the Juno probe here. Behind the bug-eyed sunglasses that is):


Lovely ladies in 3D glasses:


…hell, let's get a room full of people in 3D glasses!

IMG_2916
Photo by jsmjr.


Matching in turquoise in the VAB. Accessorised with smartphones:


Full on Juno gear! I'm jealous. She wears the all out fashion themes better than Lady Gaga:


Bill Nye, a true trendsetter as far as bowties go:


And this is my outfit for flying home, inspired by the space shuttle. The tote bag is from the gift shop at KSC, one of the nicest souvenir bags I have seen. This one can actually be worn without feeling too dorky. Keyword: too:

Thursday, August 4

VAB



Third largest building in the world by volume, pretty daunting and pretty awesome. I can't wait to see what's inside! Florida is humid like it's going out of fashion, but we're cool and dry and in the Tweetup tent, right next to the famous countdown clock.

Friday, July 29

Juno

Everything feels terrible and strange in Oslo these days. You can only hope that there will be a day when you wake up and the tragedy isn't the first thing on your mind, or the sorrow that wakes you up in the first place. Nevertheless you simply have to go on, be strong. It feels better to live by a principle that says that you cannot change what has happened, it has passed irrevocably. There is no real point in regret and anger, you can only change things now, change them for the better, be better.

I am leaving for Kennedy Space Center in four days, it is a certainty, a sort of mental jolt, in the concreteness of it. I have to gather identification papers, make sure my visa waiver is valid, launder clothes, check the weather report, arrange flights, transfers and sleepovers. Crowds are suffocating, men in uniform frightening; yesterday we went to an island, and sitting there knowing you can't swim to shore had a surreal quality, fiction-like. I can't help but laugh at pictures and stories when I forget to be unhappy, or be glad that we're here after all. I feel like that is eventually more important than grief.

There is (almost unfortunately) a tinge of historical greatness to the victims of the terror; fallen comrades like those who fell for impressive causes, fighting cruelty, who were killed meaninglessly while standing up for something important. Killing for the sake of destroying a multicultural society seems absurd. If anything, growing up surrounded by several cultures has taught me to understand before passing judgment, it is one of my most precious experiences.

In Florida, the launch of Juno is going ahead as planned: she has been placed in the capsule, mounted atop a rocket, carried to the launch pad. Juno is going to explore Jupiter, covering 33 laps in polar orbit before plunging into the atmosphere of the gas giant. She is meant to solve the riddles of how Jupiter formed, what lies beneath the shroud of gaseous, turbulent clouds, and – at the very least give hints at – how the solar system came to be. The vastness of space that we're not even wired to comprehend, but must simply accept as fact, is one of those constant things that erases most personal turmoil and discomfort. It is huge, and we are so incredibly tiny, we're just going to have to do our best on our "mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam". The rest is a profound, confusing and fascinating adventure, like losing yourself in your favourite book, only it's something we can discover for real and a story that we are continuously writing.

Thursday, July 21

NASA Juno Tweetup

I haven't updated this thing in the longest time! It's not that I don't have much to say; rather a problem expressing the amount of it.

In June I registered for a NASA Tweetup event at Kennedy Space Center, of course thinking my chances diminutive. Lo and behold I was selected and invited to watch the launch of Juno and meet engineers, scientists and other NASA fans. 150 people from all over the place are meeting up to revel in our shared interest, soak up the fun, and learn lots more about NASA's current and future plans. It'll be my first time at a rocket launch, and fulfilling my life-long dream of going to Kennedy Space Center. When I was little my father always used to say we were going to see a shuttle launch when I turned 12. It never happened, and for obvious reasons, never will.

I'm already getting to know the other participants (or "space tweeps"), who are the most generous, helpful and enthusiastic people, and I'm looking very, very much forward to going there. I haven't had much money all summer, but damn well am I cracking my savings account open for this opportunity. Hopefully someone will be interested in helping me share the story with local media as well.

I'll probably be posting some thoughts around space and science in the upcoming weeks (or rather, fourteen days – that countdown clock takes my breath away every time!), from the layman's perspective of a humanist, anyway. Some of it may be in Norwegian, but I realise I have somewhat of a duty to impart on these grounds, too.

When I told people "So, today I got this email from NASA..." they all gave me this look of disbelief ("Oh no, she's gone really crazy this time"), but it's really happening! I think. I hope. I'm pretty sure.

Sunday, May 29

This is Oslo

B/W photos (the tinted ones were accidentally scanned in colour mode).

house

meow

cranes

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kids

hairdressing salon, gamlebyen

breakfast

Saturday, May 7

"Not so impossible"

All the time I get too stuck on the associative meaning of songs, and most of the time they aren't positive associations. So after a few months, I realise I cannot listen to these songs anymore, they remind me of the terrible and dumb things surrounding that little piece of past only ever relived in memory. The best songs are those that transgress this, that stand being listened to over and over, that sound exciting even two or eighteen months later so that they no longer make me think of certain people, provoking certain feelings.

Thus I know I can always, always rely on Sufjan Stevens; I look forward to listening to these records in twenty years, how exciting it will still feel. His concert in Oslo a week ago is probably not only one of the best concerts I've been to, but perhaps one of the best and most beautiful things I have ever experienced.

Someone stole my phone, which I also used as an ipod, so I don't listen to a lot of music these days. Now that I finally emerged from the post-concert vacuum, I wish I could listen to music all the time I spend outside on buses, metro, cleaning houses, sitting out in the sun.

On another note, I've been travelling; I went to Copenhagen to visit a dear friend over Easter.

matching your bike to the mailboxes -

moon

-

copenhagen

Monday, March 14

Persian Pop

Neli was the artist name of an Iranian pop star in the 1970s, with a particular youthful and western look and musical style. Sweet like France Gall, her real name is Shamsi Ashtari, born in 1956. Having her musical career cut short by the revolution, she moved to London where she according to rumour runs a dental clinic.





+ + + songs and pictures.

Tuesday, March 1

Fewer Things

One of the things I wanted to do in 2011 was to reduce the number of things I own and the amount of things I buy, particularly pertaining to wardrobe, but also bric-a-brac. I've always been frugal by nature, but living in a small space has made me realise that I need to question what is really necessary to own, and what is convenient. So far I am in a phase of planning and developing, list-making, sketching and discovering minimalist blogs (one of my favourites for fashion right now is Dead Fleurette); baby steps.

Earlier this year I also started budgeting, which I haven't done before (going mostly by gut feeling and bank statements – a dubious idea when you're living on sub-poverty line study loans), and I realised that by living this way I will actually be saving money, compared to when I was less conscious about every purchase, thus also focusing more on being ethical and environmental.

All the schemes I have laid out for myself are already explained better elsewhere, but I have one protip for cleaning out your wardrobe, especially if you get easily attached to things: Make a special heap for items you are not entirely sure about; the extravagant shirts that would be fun to wear for that one occasion, the dresses you never wear but keep for the memories, the things that are really kind of nice so you keep hoping to be able to pull it off one day. Put these items away, for example in a suitcase underneath your bed, or a box in the storage room. You probably have enough clothes to forget about the stow-aways pretty quickly. A few months later, you can look through your box or suitcase, and most likely realise you didn't miss these clothes at all. If you did, re-incorporate them into your wardrobe, and if not, donate them to charity or flea markets.

Next up is the bookshelf, which I am afraid will be more difficult to get through efficiently, and loose papers.