As if the pay freeze news wasn’t enough excitement for one week, now NASA has scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss something “that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”
There’s only one thing this could mean: NASA has aliens. Now let’s just hope they’re the friendly, ET-kind of visitors, and not the warlike Klingon types.
Seriously, though, probably not. The press conference is to discuss astrobiology (the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe), and its participants are experts in molecular evolution and evolutionary ecology. And if Hollywood has taught us anything, an actual alien announcement would most likely come straight from the president. But it should be interesting nonetheless.
A little fuzzy on the distinctions between various types of federal contracts?
Don’t feel bad, because some federal contracting officers are, too, according to a Federal Register notice published today.
In a jointly filed proposed rule, the Defense Department, NASA and the General Services Administration indicate that they are trying to correct the mistaken impression among contracting officers “governmentwide” that the fixed labor rates in time-and-materials/labor-hour contracts make them “fixed-price type contracts.”
In fact, as the Government Accountability Office reported last year, time and materials contracts are considered high-risk because the contractor’s profit hinges on the number of hours worked.
Got a few dozen miners who are going to be trapped in a confined space for a few months? Need to figure out how to keep them from growing depressed, bored or otherwise driving each other crazy? Call NASA, of course.
USA Today reports that NASA is lending its psychiatric assistance to 33 Chilean miners who are stuck in a collapsed mine and are two to four months away from rescue. For obvious reasons, NASA has put a lot of thought into how people relate to one another when they’re stuck in a tin can for months at a time — and how to keep them from going for each other’s throats. (The agency is now seriously considering a manned six-month mission dubbed “Plymouth Rock” that would actually land on an asteroid in deep space.)
The same coping tools astronauts need during long space voyages will also help the trapped miners, NASA says. That includes keeping them updated on news and sports, letting them regularly talk to their family members, and most importantly, giving them honest updates about the rescue progress, even when things aren’t going well and they’re months away from freedom.
[NASA contractor Jack] Stuster has reminded the rescuers to expect exacerbation of minor problems, withdrawal, territorial behavior and possible hostility toward their rescuers or the mining company. [S]tudies of submariners during the 1950s show that a person’s re-entry into home life after months of absence may be stressful and that post-traumatic stress disorder can occur.
Which begs the question: Is there anything NASA doesn’t have a hand in?
For at least 45 years, NASA’s mission control has awakened voyaging astronauts each morning by playing them songs — some funny, some poignant, some live, and some hilariously inappropriate. (Who thought it would be a good idea to play David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — which ends with a doomed astronaut’s malfunctioning spacecraft drifting through space — not once, but twice?)
Now, time is running out on NASA’s space shuttle program, and along with it, that fun tradition. But before it ends, NASA has decided to let the public get in on the act. NASA on Friday launched its “Space Rock” contest for aspiring musicians to create original songs that could be used to wake up astronauts on the final shuttle mission next February.
The only rules are that the songs must be original, and must have something to do with space. Record your song in an mp3 (no more than 1.5 MB in size), upload it by Jan. 10, and the public will then vote. The top two vote-getters will be broadcast on STS-134.
If you don’t have a musical bone in your body, you can still participate. NASA’s also allowing people to vote on the best songs used to awaken astronauts in the past, and the top two winners will be broadcast during the next-to-last shuttle flight. There’s some good choices here. The nerd in me wants to pick the Star Trek theme, but the sentimental sap has to go with Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” — simply because it would require a heart of stone for someone to hear that song while watching a sunrise from outer space and not choke up.
- H/t GovExec
The Associated Press reports that former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe is in critical condition after the plane crash that claimed the life of former Sen. Ted Stevens. O’Keefe and his son Kevin — who also survived Monday’s crash and is listed in serious condition — suffered broken bones and other injuries.
Five people, including Stevens, died in the crash. The AP says that authorities are studying the weather patterns from that night to figure out what caused the small plane to go down.
You may have seen the music video for OK Go’s song “This Too Shall Pass.” But what you probably don’t know is that the amazing, extended Rube Goldberg device that is its centerpiece was partly designed by a few engineers and staffers at NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
JPL engineers Mike Pauken and Heather Knight, planetary scientist Eldar Noe Dobrea, and intern Chris Becker joined forces with Syyn Labs, a group of engineers who “twist together art and technology” and were tapped to build OK Go’s machine. The results — featuring dominos, a falling piano, a Mars rover, and a TV showing the band’s “treadmill” video, all perfectly synchronized with the catchy song – took months to design and build, and required more than 60 takes to go off without a hitch.
NASA posted a great interview with the four earlier this week, in which they go into some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans and challenges. (For instance, the small items were some of the hardest to pull off correctly, because even dust can throw off the timing of their chain reactions.) Their creativity and sense of humor helps show why NASA continually ranks among the best places to work in the government.
Oh, and don’t listen to the trolls griping on the NASA page about it being a waste of tax dollars. The engineers did it all on their own time and with materials provided by the band, or collected from junkyards and thrift stores. Anyone who finds something to criticize in this video has no soul.
Guenter Wendt, a NASA contractor who was in charge of launch pad activity during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, passed away today at 85.
The German-born Wendt ruled his launch pads with an iron fist — so much so that astronauts affectionately dubbed him the “pad fuehrer.”
“It’s easy to get along with Guenter,” astronaut Pete Conrad once said. “All you have to do is agree with him.”
But deep down, astronauts such as Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper appreciated his attention to detail and his dogged enforcement of the rules designed to keep them alive. As Wendt said in his 2001 memoir:
If you came up to the spacecraft, you didn’t touch it without my permission. During emergencies, I wouldn’t have time to form a committee. I had to make sure I had the authority to make the decision whenever anything became critical. Simply put, in an emergency the buck stopped with me.
Here’s some Friday Fun for space geeks like myself. NASA astronauts earlier this week installed the Tranquility node, featuring a domed window giving astronauts a panoramic view of Earth, on the International Space Station. This picture, the first taken through Tranquility’s 6.5 foot by 5 foot cupola window 250 miles above the Earth’s surface, is of the Sahara Desert.
The window wouldn’t look out of place in the cockpits of Star Wars spaceships like the Millennium Falcon or TIE Fighter. Its intended purpose, NASA said, is to give astronauts a good, direct view of robots operating on the station’s exterior without having to rely on video feeds.
But the sightseeing function is an extra bonus. “Just the idea of providing this great view of the station and the world beneath us is going to be pretty great,” Shuttle Endeavour Commander George Zamka said. “That’s not what it’s for, but it will be spectacular.”
More pictures can be found at this link, or after the jump.
NASA’s having a garage sale, and everything must go! Seriously, everything. The three-decade-old space shuttle program is winding down later this year, and NASA has decided to sell the three remaining shuttles to museums. The only problem is they’re not getting much interest.
So last Friday, NASA did what any motivated seller would: Slash the price. NASA is now selling shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour for $28.8 million – nearly a third less than their original price tag of $42 million. (Shuttle Discovery has been promised to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy center in Northern Virginia, which currently houses the Enterprise prototype that never flew into space.)
On the surface, it seems like a reasonable plan to unload massive pieces of hardware. But given that cocaine was recently found in Shuttle Discovery’s hangar, one has to wonder just how big a habit NASA has if it’s hocking its heirlooms.
Can’t scrape together nearly $29 million, but still want a taste of outer space? You can now get an actual engine from the shuttle for free, as long as you cover the costs of moving and housing the eight-foot-diameter, four-ton behemoths. The AP reported on Saturday that NASA tried to sell them for $400,000 to $800,000 apiece in December 2008, but got no offers and is now literally giving them away. This may be the last step before putting them up on Craigslist, alongside Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show.
What may be the most expensive consolation prize in NASA history will soon be aboard the International Space Station. A $5 million treadmill named for political satirist and faux TV pundit Stephen Colbert will be one of the first items unloaded this afternoon from a cargo container docked at the station, according to the Associated Press.
The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, now as elevated as its namesake’s ego, will soon be used by astronauts to stay healthy and strengthen their muscles in the zero-G environment.
Earlier this year, NASA started an online poll allowing Web site visitors to vote on a name for the space station’s latest module, Node 3. But NASA also allowed visitors to write in their own suggestion. That’s when Colbert implored the viewers of his Comedy Central program “The Colbert Report” to write his name in. And boy, did they — members of the Colbert Nation cast more than 230,000 votes for their hero, far more than the second-place choice, “Serenity.” *
Though Colbert won the vote fair and square, NASA instead chose to name Node 3 “Tranquility,” in honor of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Colbert was, of course, outraged at the subversion of democracy. But when astronaut Sunita Williams told him that a treadmill would instead bear his name, he quickly changed his tune. Video of the announcement after the jump: