Monday, December 12, 2011

What a Professor Should Look Like

LOVE YOU! The iconic Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)
The Ideal Female Professor? Image by Pamela L. Gay

 How interesting is this? When you type the word "professor" into Google and search for images, the picture of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is the first image to appear. If you search for "female professor," the digital image of a lady avatar is the first one displayed. I recently read a blog posting where a real-life professor discusses appropriate attire for those who teach on the collegiate level. Are tie-dye t-shirts acceptable? Do students show more respect for teachers who dress nice? The comments varied, but the overall opinion is that yes, dressing up does make a difference in student perception and attitude. There may even be some differences in expectations between male and female professors. For example, on the campus where I teach, the instructors in the nursing department are usually dressed quite nice. If you stroll down the halls of the science building, several of the male biology and chemistry professors will probably be wearing t-shirts. Is it subject matter, clothing, or gender that dictates more respect from students? In any given universe, I would also have to happily concede that Indiana Jones (looks, dress, and subject matter) is THE ideal male professor. The female image is a little more  distressing to me, since it is not of a real person. Her appearance is flawless (albeit fake,) and her subject matter is quite impressive; the equations on her imaginary chalk board are (apparently) the formulations for maintaining a star in hydrostatic equilibrium. Astrophysics is certainly an obtainable subject, but the avatar image is, sadly, another reflection of our women-should-be-Barbie-dolls culture.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Arkansas Aurora

Photo taken near Ozark, Arkansas, on October 24, 2011 
by Brian Emfinger.


The southern states had quite a surprise this week when a coronal mass ejection from the sun lit up the northern night sky with a brilliant red aurora. On October 24, Brian Emfinger, a resident of Arkansas, saw the alert posted by Spaceweather.com and hurried outside with his camera to catch this image. "I ran out into the field and within a few minutes the aurora went crazy!" he said. 
 More photos of the aurora seen in other states can be found at the Spaceweather website.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Design an Experiment to Fly on The ISS!



Here's a fantastic opportunity for 14-to18-year-olds to try their skills at designing a space experiment. The competition, hosted by Lenovo, Space Adventures, NASA, ESA, and JAXA, will be from October 4th until December 7, 2011. The winners may get to fly to Japan to watch the rocket launch their experiment to space. Other prizes include a flight aboard a zero-g airplane that simulates weightlessness, and a brand new Lenova IdeaPad U300s.  Watch the video above for more information, and read the frequently asked questions here: Space Lab FAQs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saturn's Shadows

Image, taken in August 2011, courtesy of the Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA and NASA
This stunning view of Saturn could not be seen from Earth. It is an image captured by the cameras aboard the Cassini spacecraft. The sun is located to the upper right, out of view, and the vertical bar to the right is Saturn's very thin rings. As the sunlight pours through the rings, shadows fall on the southern part of the planet. Just beautiful!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Redwoods


Growing is Forever from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

 You can smell a Redwood forest before you see it. It is a wonderful woodsy smell. I drove up to Muir Woods with my cousin Beth and my friend Liz a couple of years ago, and we could detect that wonderful scent in the car at least a mile before we actually reached our destination.
 The Redwoods are magical, awe-inspiring relics of a lost world. It seemed as though a dinosaur could burst through the woods at any moment and it wouldn't be a surprise.
  Please enjoy the video created by Jesse Rosten, another fan of the Redwoods.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Please Say "Yes," Mr. Lucas


Image courtesy of R. Hurt (SSC), JPL-Caltech, NASA


"Which sun is your favorite? The little red one or the big orange one?" We'd probably all have an answer to this question if we lived on the planet called "Kepler 16b," the first-ever confirmed planet to orbit two stars at once. This discovery has generated considerable interest among science fiction fans and Star Wars fans in particular. While astronomers are informally referring to the planet as "Tatooine" after the well-known (fictional) double-starred planet where Luke and Anakin Skywalker were raised, I am only guessing that copyright laws are preventing the discoverers from officially naming it after George Lucas' imaginary planet. (If they ask for your permission, Mr. Lucas, please say "yes!")
   The planet resides in the constellation Cygnus, about 200 light years from Earth. Evidence indicates that it is too cold to harbor life as we know it. Dr. Laurance Doyle, who is heading the team of astronomers who made the discovery at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, has reported that amateur astronomers in Northern Asia will be able to find Kepler 16b as it transits across the big sun on June 28 next year. After that, it will be another 30 years before anyone on Earth can get a clear view of the double-starred planet.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why This Sweet Lady Hates The Sputnik

Linda Shaw at her home in Springdale, Arkansas. 


   Linda Shaw graduated from Miami Sr. High School in June of 1958. It was a memorable year for her, of course.
  But space buffs may remember the previous year more vividly, since 1957 is the year that Sputnik was launched. The small satellite shocked the American public, as the purpose of the satellite was not clearly known. It was almost too small to be seen with the naked eye, and it transmitted a steady beeping noise that was recorded by radio amateurs and commercial radio stations and broadcast to the general public. Historians describe America's reaction as "near hysteria" to the strange little beeping thing. The great Space Race thus began between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and no one could argue that the Soviets were far in the lead. 
   The U.S. began reviewing its science and education programs in order to become more competitive with the Soviets. Large amounts of money were poured into schools and research programs. It was decided that "America could become better educated and more powerful if their kids were smarter!" said Shaw. 
   Senior students at Miami Sr. High typically enjoyed the privilege of not having to take final exams if they had a passing grade in all of their classes. But the launch of Sputnik changed everything! "What better way to make them smarter than have seniors take final exams?" asked Shaw. "And I bet every senior in 1958 remembers that. No, it didn't make us smarter - just madder." 

Sputnik I
  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Day In Joplin

Volunteer Clean-Up Crew from Arkansas. From left: Daniel Brinker, Danny Northcutt, Kevin Barber, Brandon Hoult, me (Jennifer Lewter), and Russ Terwilliger. Photo by Margaret Terwilliger.

Brandon and Daniel work diligently in the 100+ degree heat.              Photo by J. Lewter
  

Joplin, Missouri seemed like a far-away place. I had never been there, and prior to the horrendous F5 tornado that hit it earlier this year, I was pretty sure I'd never even heard of it. When some of my friends wanted to go volunteer for a day in Joplin, I decided to go along. I did not realize that this town, where more than 150 people were killed, was only a 3.5 hour drive from my own home.
  "Joplin - stirred, not shaken," said Brandon Hoult of the damage he observed. We were all shocked at how bad the city looked. It had been more than a month since the tornado hit, and it still looked like a nuclear bomb had been the culprit. 
  "It looks good compared to how it was," a local civilian assured us. The lady we met said that the tornado had changed paths unexpectedly, and that the anchorwoman on TV started screaming when she realized the magnitude of the storm. "When the news lady starts screaming," she said, "you know it's bad." The civilian also mentioned that they could not actually see the tornado; it was just dark and rainy with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. 
  Margaret Terwilliger said it is "kind of sad" that Joplin really isn't in the news or on the forefront of everyone's minds anymore because there is so much work that still needs to be done. 
  Kevin Barber was glad the relief effort was so efficiently organized. It is true that none of us had a clue about what to expect when we pulled up to the College Heights Christian Church in Joplin.  We were treated very well, and given equipment, masks, and boots to borrow for the day. I was quite happy to borrow some work boots since I hadn't even considered the amount of nails I would be stepping on. 
    We spent the whole day working on one house, but we did not come close to finishing the debris clean-up there. "What we did is about all you can do," said Russ Terwilliger. The heat was brutal, even though several different people drove by and brought water, Gatorade and fresh watermelon to us throughout the day. Several of us plan to go back when the weather is cooler. 

   If you are able and willing, Joplin could certainly use your help. We were very impressed with College Heights as a volunteer hub. Their web address is:
http://www.chcchurch.org/the-storm

The link below shows a 3D image of the tornado using data from Google Earth. Original post by steve16624.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - The Finale!

Brandi Gagen and I outside the Russellville Picwood Theater. Fans began waiting in line six hours prior to ticket sales for the July 15th midnight premiere of Harry Potter 7, Part II.


 It's hard to believe the Harry Potter magic is over. Fourteen years have passed since the first Harry Potter book was published. As with all good things that come to an end, being with friends makes it better. I camped out in line yesterday to ensure that I would get a seat for the very first showing of the very last Harry Potter movie.
   Back in 1997, I also attended a Barnes and Noble midnight book party for J.K. Rowling's seventh and final chapter in the Harry Potter series. I remember being impressed with all of the costumes that people were wearing as they paced around the bookstore late at night. There was a store-wide countdown during the final 10 seconds before the clock struck midnight, and then a Barnes and Noble employee hurriedly wheeled out a huge platform stacked with hundreds of Harry Potter hardbacks. My friend Stephanie and I each bought a copy and signed each other's book. It was a special event and we knew it. 
    Four years later, (almost to the day), I was happy to sit out in the heat with some new friends to get our movie premiere tickets. It was well worth the effort, as the Harry Potter movies never fail to impress. I will not divulge many details here, but I was particularly impressed with the magic wand light show amassed for the protection of Hogwarts, and I was so very pleased to see the return of Professor McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith) in this movie, as she is my most favorite Harry Potter character.

    I will keep my Harry Potter-looking 3D glasses forever! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Monster Turtle Found in Arkansas River

        Imagine how much turtle soup you could make.           Photo by Tiffany Frost

 Terry Frost of Dardanelle, Arkansas made an impressive catch in his hoop net in the Arkansas River earlier this year. Alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) can be a nuisance to fisherman who use set lines or hoop nets to catch fish, although they usually drown by the time they are discovered. Frost found this particular turtle alive and well, although it "wasn't the most cooperative creature I have encountered," he said.
   "I have heard old-timers tell stories about loggerheads (alligator snappers) with stove-pipe heads all my life, always wondering if they were true or a little truth and a lot of the old-timers' memory getting bigger and better with time," said Frost. Apparently the old-timers were telling the truth!
   Alligator snappers are found in rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. They are the largest freshwater turtle in the U.S., with the heaviest snapper on record weighing 250 pounds. Frost estimates that his catch was around 150 pounds. Many states now protect these turtles due to the over-hunting for meat markets that occurred in the 1970's. 
   One unique feature of the snapper is that it has a fleshy, worm-like appendage in its mouth that it uses to lure in fish and small turtles for food. 
   "I will say that any intentions I ever had of noodling catfish has since been permanently erased from my bucket list," said Frost, who released the turtle back into the river unharmed. 
Image courtesy of Indiana-Purdue University in Fort Wayne


Monday, June 20, 2011

Another "Elegant Astronaut"

"Elegant Astronaut" by eiran

You can read the blog, buy the dress, and now own a print of a different (and more masculine) "Elegant Astronaut." I stumbled across this fashionable explorer on the deviantART website. BEWARE: my computer was infected with some clingy scareware as soon as I tried to contact the artist. I have enjoyed looking at images on this site before, but I'm scared to go back. It took our tech services people an afternoon to clean up my computer.
   Nice work on the astronaut, though!

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Super 8" is Great!

        Movie scene from "Super 8." Directed by J.J. Abrams, Produced by Steven Spielberg. Pictured above are actors Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney, and Riley Griffiths.

This is the first movie I've seen since "The Goonies" that convincingly captures the spirit of adventurous adolescents as they stumble across something much larger (and much more dangerous) than themselves. It is really no surprise to see both J.J. Abrams' and Steven Spielberg's names on this film. 
  Dysfunctional families sometimes spawn the best friendships, and probably everyone knows what it feels like when your object of desire likes your best friend instead of you. Combine this with an awesome train wreck, aspiring zombie actors, a real monster alien, a heroic biology teacher, an unethical Air Force (thank you, Mr. Abrams!), and your friends-until-the-end kids from around the neighborhood, and you have an instant classic.
   Congratulations, Mr. Abrams, Mr. Spielberg, and everyone at Bad Robot and Amblin! I am going to see your movie again this week. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Southern Black Widow

A penny for your thoughts? Photo by J. Lewter.
If this beauty could talk, she would have a southern accent. I found her outside of my apartment while I was watering my roses this week. The distinctive red hourglass shape on her abdomen is characteristic of the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans.) People usually freak out and kill these spiders as soon as they see them, but there is really no need. They are not aggressive and would prefer to scramble away from you if given the opportunity. I once spoke to a medical doctor in northwest Arkansas who said he only treated 2 black widow bites in his entire 25 years of practice. One lady had been carrying firewood and a black widow crawled into the crook of her arm. It bit her when she flexed her arm. The lady (as well as the other bite victim from an unrelated black widow encounter) were both in the hospital on a morphine drip for about a week. Black widow bites, although rare, can be quite painful.
  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Android Versus iPhone

  Maybe you are like every other person in America who is trying to decide between an iPhone and one of the many (80 or so?) Android phones on the market. If you have never used one of these smartphones before, you will probably wonder why it took you so long to get one. The convenience, usefullness, and sheer fun of having such a device makes it hard to imagine ever being without one again.
  I have been using an iPhone for the past two years. It has been my daily alarm clock, my timer (for cooking), my camera, my note-taker, my GPS mapper, my e-mail checker (for both my work and personal accounts), my texter, and my phone. I used it so frequently that it was necessary to plug it in every night to fully charge the battery. 
   Not long after I purchased my iPhone, my friend Brandon informed me he was getting a phone that would put mine to shame. He was talking about the Google Android, of course. I have watched him operate his Android with skepticism over these past two years. Was it really better than the iPhone? When my contract with AT&T was finished this month, Brandon finally convinced me to come to the Dark Side with the Motorola DROID X2. It has Verizon's first dual-core 1 GHz processor and an 8-megapixel camera. Brandon told me that it would run four times faster than my iPhone (3G.) A smartphone with faster web-browsing capabilities was something I desperately wanted, so it didn't take much prodding to convince me to change.

Motorola's DROID X2 

Apple's iPhone 4

 I also do not like the blocky brick-like appearance of the new iPhone 4. It's nice to see it is available in white, and if I had stayed with AT&T, I'm sure that's what I would have purchased.
   Brandon has a more entertaining view on the differences between these phones. "Steve Jobs is a bit like Communist China," he said. "You get one phone, one browser, everything is the same. That makes it easier for them. With the Android phones, you get a lot of choices." A lot of choices about every aspect of the phones, actually.
    When my DROID X2 was delivered, I had Brandon show me how to use it. I was very impressed with some of the features that were not available on my old iPhone. For one, there is a search button on the DROID X2 that you can hold down for a second, and then you can use voice commands to search the web. Brandon demonstrated this by saying to my phone: "Look up pictures of goats in trees." Within 3 seconds, there were links to pictures of goats in trees displayed on the phone. (OMG...how did I live without this before?!) The 8-megapixel camera is wonderful, since it has more than twice the megapixels of my 3G iPhone. (The iPhone 4 only features a 5-megapixel camera.) I took a great picture of Brandon in the dark and was amazed that the Android had an automatic flash function. Brandon downloaded some of his favorite applications onto my phone, and he kept commenting on how fast it was. "Now I'm going to have to get one," he said.
    I know I'm going to be stumbling around for a while as I get used to the differences between an Android and the iPhone. Brandon also cautioned me that the "open source" applications created for Android phones run a higher risk of being programmed with viruses since they do not go through the approval process of iPhone applications. Freedom has its price, I suppose. As I write this blog, my phone is alerting me of a new text message with the singular, uber-cool, robot-sounding "DROID" rally.  Yeah, this was a good choice.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Steampunk Vader

"The steam is strong with this one..."

Images courtesy of Sillof

  I absolutely love the reimagined Steam Wars versions of the beloved traditional Star Wars characters. A very artistic high school history and film teacher who goes by the name "Sillof" has scores of these little figurines that he sculpted and painted by hand.
  I am just learning more about the steampunk culture that is apparently gaining more and more, eh, steam. The idea behind steampunk envisions a world where steam, (instead of electricity), is used to power machinery. Clothing from the Victorian era is typically worn by both sexes, and aviation-type goggles are a must. Jules Verne characters are often mimicked. Think Captain Nemo, or Phileas Fogg, undertaking grand adventures in a submarine or hot air balloon!
  You may notice that Darth Vader's light saber has a hose that attaches to something under his coat. I'm not sure light sabers were ever imagined to be powered by electricity, but this is not important! Steampunk is about looking cool, and these figurines certainly do that. 
   Please visit Sillof's webpage to see more of his wonderful toys, including his Star Wars 1942 collection. Fantastic work! (Link will appear below when you scroll over it.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Heavy is Coming.....

The Falcon Heavy / Image courtesy of SpaceX
 A big rocket is making big news. Elon Musk, the single standout savior of America's space program made more headlines today when he announced technical details of the Falcon Heavy, the world's largest and most powerful rocket.
  The Falcon Heavy will be able to lift more than twice the weight of any other rocket currently flying, including the U.S. Space Shuttle. "This is a rocket of truly huge scale," said Musk during today's press conference in Washington.


There has only been one rocket in history that was capable of carrying more payload to orbit. That was, of course, Wernher von Braun's Saturn V which last flew in 1973. The Falcon Heavy will be able to haul 53,000 kg, or 116,600 lbs, into low Earth orbit. (That's more than four Hubble Space Telescopes, to give you an idea of this rocket's capabilities.)

  Here is a description from the SpaceX press release:

   The Falcon Heavy is designed for extreme     reliability and can tolerate the failure of several engines and still complete its mission. As on commercial airliners, protective shells surround each engine to contain a worst-case situation such as fire or a chamber rupture, and prevent it from affecting the other engines and stages. 

Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to feature propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core. Propellant cross-feeding leaves the center core still carrying the majority of its propellant after the side boosters separate. This gives Falcon Heavy performance comparable to that of a three-stage rocket, even though only the single Merlin engine on the upper stage requires ignition after lift-off, further improving both reliability and payload performance. Should cross-feed not be required for lower mass missions, it can be easily turned off.

    The Falcon Heavy has also been designed to meet NASA's standards for carrying astronauts. This is quite a timely announcement, given that the very last Space Shuttle launch is scheduled for June 28 of this year (which, quite coincidentally, is Elon Musk's birthday as well as my own! - JL)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Boy Scout Chili Extravaganza 2011!

Dustin Williams and "Pedro" Hillard serve up the goods.
































I love this annual event held by Boy Scout Troop 343 in Dover, because nothing screams "ARKANSAS!" quite like this. It is a fundraiser event for the troop, and it only costs $5.00 to attend. After buying your ticket, you may eat as much chili as you want. The fun part is variety of chili available. You can try elk chili, rabbit chili, buffalo chili, squirrel chili, beaver chili, and more. Your ticket also includes a drink and dessert of your choice. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

About Engineers... (Favorite Quote #8)

Dr. Sheldon Cooper (actor Jim Parsons)




















"So this is Engineering, huh? Engineering, where the noble semiskilled laborers execute the vision of those who think and dream. Hello, Oompa Loompas of science!"

           -Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

Monday, March 7, 2011

Traces of Life Found in Meteorites; NASA's Dr. Dr. Richard Hoover Shows the Evidence

Dr. Richard Hoover at the Ice Cave of the Schirmacher Oasis, Antarctica--February  2009.  

That's not a typo in my title. Dr. Richard Hoover has two honorary Ph.D.'s, so I like to call him "Dr. Dr."  (I just read a blog article where a commenter was apparently criticizing Dr. Hoover's credentials.)
I met Dr. Hoover when I was an eighteen-year-old undergraduate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I saw him give a presentation on the possibility of meteorites and comets spreading life throughout the cosmos, and it literally changed the direction of my life. 
Dr. Hoover is the single most influential scientist I have ever met. He has been thinking "outside the box" for longer than I have been alive. He should be considered a national treasure by any standards, and the fact that he has an honorary Ph.D. from the U.S. and Europe should shed some light on the far-reaching implications of his work.
Life probably did not start on this planet. Get used to it, folks! Once I heard Dr. Hoover say, "The Earth is not a closed ecosystem." We are constantly being bombarded by materials that mostly get burned up as they fall through our atmosphere, but many particles (and sometimes much larger objects) actually make contact with the Earth's surface. Astrobiologists like Dr. Hoover do research to determine how long microbes might be able to travel through space in a dormant state, and whether or not they could survive the heat and forces generated during a crash-landing onto a planetary surface. From everything I have seen, the general findings are a resounding "YES - it is quite possible that life could travel via meteorites and comets from one part of the galaxy to another and survive." 
I have been a big fan of Dr. Hoover since I met him in 1996. I am glad his work is finally being acknowledged by a broader audience in the U.S. (He has had near rock-star status in Europe for some time now.) 
  Here is the link to one of Dr. Hoover's many excellent papers: 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"True Grit" nominated for Ten Oscars; Arkansas back in the Spotlight After 42 Years

   Terry Cogburn Tully, a living relative of the real "Rooster" Cogburn


Not many people could fill John Wayne's boots in the theatrical role of Marshall Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, but Jeff Bridges has done just that. The 1969 version of "True Grit" was the only movie that Wayne made that earned him an Oscar. Now, 42 years later, Bridges has been nominated for his own Oscar for portraying the same character.

The story of "True Grit" is a work of fiction, although "Rooster" Cogburn was an actual person living in Arkansas. "But he wasn't a Marshall," said Terry Cogburn Tully, a living relative of the real Rooster Cogburn. "He was a deputy." Tully's paternal grandfather was a first cousin to Rooster. "They were both (Rooster and her grandfather) run out of town for killing a man," said Tully. The reason? "They shot him for snoring too loud. At least," she said, shrugging, "that's the family story."
   
There aren't many major differences between the 1969 "True Grit" plot and the 2010 version, aside from the actors and actresses, and the very end of the movies.  There is a very surprising scene where a character named Quincy grabs a knife and hacks some fingers off of a young man named Moon in a desperate attempt to shut him up. It was so unexpected that many people in the theater gasped and screamed, illuminating the fact they must not have seen the 1969 version since the same event happens in the original film. [You can actually see fingers flying across the room in the 1969 film, and the young Mattie Ross (actress Kim Darby) screams quite loudly. No one who had seen the original movie would forget that!] 

 Matte Ross, a quick-witted and sharp-tongued 14-year-old seeking revenge for her father's murder, is portrayed by Hailee Steinfield in 2010. She mentions her home town of Yell County and other places in Arkansas during the movie, although no part of the filming was actually done in Arkansas. (A very small amount of the 1969 movie was filmed in Yell County, AR.)

   Charles Portis, the author of the book published in 1969 that served as the basis for both movies, is still alive and resides in Little Rock.  Last month, copies of Portis' book were being sold at a rate of 22,000 a week. That's about the same amount that had been sold in the entire two years prior to the 2010 movie release. "It's very pleasing, of course," said Portis of the new surge of interest in his book.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

NASA's New Astronauts To Hitch Rides With Russians; Commercial Transport A "Possibility" For Future

Duane Ross - the man who has been selecting astronauts for more than 30 years. Pictured here at Gila Bend, AZ. Photo courtesy of Duane Ross. 


The astronaut class of 2009 may be the last one for a while, due to federal budget cuts and major restructuring of the U.S. space program. The final U.S. Space Shuttle launch is scheduled to be completed by Atlantis, on June 28, 2011. With no new U.S. spacecraft to replace the retiring Shuttle fleet, Americans will be relying on the Russians to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

"The current class [of astronauts] was selected to do long-duration missions," said Duane Ross, NASA's Manager for Astronaut Candidate Selection and Training. A typical mission aboard the Space Station could last anywhere from 90 to 180 days. This is quite different than the 10, 11, 12, 14 or 16-day missions done by a Space Shuttle crew. The type of crew members selected has also been affected by this new mission directive. "Now that we're going to the Space Station, there's no crew position that requires piloting skills," said Ross. Not that piloting skills aren't important, he added, but a pilot will not be necessary since the U.S. will not have any spacecraft to fly in the near foreseeable future.

Is there a good chance that NASA will select future astronauts to fly aboard commercially built hardware such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule? "That's a possibility," said Ross, who is supportive of commercial space efforts. "I'm behind all of them 100%," he said. 

SpaceX, a privately-owned California-based company, appears to be more than willing to take over the transportation of American astronauts. According to the SpaceX website:


         After the Space Shuttle retires next year, NASA will be  
         totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz to carry 
         astronauts to and from the International Space Station for
         a price of over $50 million per seat. The December 8 COTS
         Demo 1 flight demonstrated SpaceX is prepared to meet
         this need - and at less than half the cost. On December
         13th, we submitted our proposal to NASA's Commercial
         Crew Development Program (CCDev2) to begin work on
         preparing Dragon to carry astronauts. 


Right now, there are 60 active NASA astronauts, and NASA is currently not accepting applications for astronaut slots. Once an astronaut is selected, he or she won't actually fly for another 4 or 5 years due to the training schedule. "So you have to project a long way ahead to decide how many astronauts you need," explained Ross. "And it's hard to do because that's budget driven, and you don't know who's going to stay and who's going to leave. There are actually quite a few astronauts who leave each year." 
Duane Ross. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jabba the Snow-Hutt

Happy Holidays from the Lewters!
My family doesn't have many holiday traditions. And we don't live in a place that gets a lot of nice-packing snow each year. But, we put the ten inches we got in January to good use! 
Anything related to Star Wars is generally well-received by my family, so it was only fitting that we had a Snow Jabba guarding the driveway entrance for a while. My sister and I contemplated which of us should don a metal (aluminum foil?) bikini and pose with the creature, although neither of us had the courage to do so. 

     Happy New Year to everyone! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Raza Names a Dress "The Elegant Astronaut!"

"The Elegant Astronaut" by Raza Designs

I was quite surprised to find a link online to a different "Elegant Astronaut." This is not another blog, however; it is the name of a dress made by Raza Designs. It is described as a "Black Mat Jersey A-line gown with accentuated shoulder, collar and waist decor," and it sells for $140.00. It does look reminiscent of something Queen Amidala would wear from Star Wars, wouldn't you say? Kudos to Raza for their tasteful and elegant clothing! What a refreshing collection of gorgeous dresses, robes and gowns that flatter a woman's physique while leaving a little something to the imagination.

Raza's website can be found at: http://www.razadesigns.com/
(Hyperlink will appear when you roll the mouse over it.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's Killing the Damn Birds and Fish in Arkansas?!


Movie still from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

Thousands of red winged black birds and many thousands of fish have recently turned up dead in Arkansas, with no apparent explanation.The birds were falling dead all over the city of Beebe, AR on New Year's Eve, and just a few days later, tens of thousands of dead drum fish were washing up on the shores of the Arkansas River in Ozark. These towns are less than 150 miles apart. (And the town where I live is between them.)
  Autopsies on some of the birds indicate death from internal bleeding from "blunt force trauma." There have not been any autopsy results released on the dead fish yet.
   I can tell you I'll be drinking bottled water for a while!
  

A Message from My Great-Grandfather to the Nazi German Army

My family has two treasured journals that were written in Russian by my great-grandfather, Theodocey Shpilevoy.  I am in the process of having them translated, since none of his living descendants can speak or write Russian. While that alone is somewhat disheartening, his journal entries are often strongly worded and emotionally disturbing. Some of the journal entries appear to be from the perspective of other Russians who had immigrated to the New World in the early 1900's. This entry pictured above was written on New Year's Day in 1942, and mentions a story none of my living relatives has ever heard. [Translation below.]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Ruso, N. Dakota
Jan. 1, the year 1942


[First line illegible. Translator's Note.]
I do hereby raise my hand to strike Hitler's German army, bear this token of vehemence and insult. You villains, scoundrels, and bandits, may you feel the strike (the stinging slap) of this old man's hand. You tortured my son's chest with knives while he was alive, you cut his arm while he was alive, you burned his eyes, he was still alive. All the knights, the sons of Soviet and Ukrainian people, spit in your filthy faces. I weep and damn you [upcoming line - Translator's guess: illegible, not to mention probably written during emotional outpouring; this line probably a reference to the son's place of work, the factory where his picture, to honor him, hangs on the wall...] This is how I will remember him.