Tag Archives: NASA

David Pogue Spaces Out

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport Meets the World.”

Today, Westport went beyond. We met outer space.

Let David Pogue — our Westport neighbor/tech guru (New York Times, Yahoo, Missing Manual books)/Scientific American writer, PBS “NOVA” science and tech correspondent, and (most importantly for this story) “CBS Sunday Morning” reporter — tell the tale.

David Pogue , reporting.

Reporting for “CBS Sunday Morning” is the best gig in TV journalism, hands down. The stories are long enough (6 to 9 minutes) to really develop them. There’s enough budget to travel, and shoot multiple interviews for each story. And you can pitch your own segment ideas.

In my 19 years as a “Sunday” correspondent, I’ve been to some exciting places and met some fantastic people. But nothing was as thrilling as making the story that aired this morning.

The idea was to report on an important milestone for the International Space Station: 20 years of continuous occupation by astronauts and scientists. Would NASA help us tell the story?

Yes, they would. They offered to make a 35-minute guided video tour of the station, conducted by Colonel Mike Hopkins and Commander Victor “Ike” Glover. And they offered me an interview with Mike and Ike, in space. A video interview. From my living room in Westport.

When I was 6 years old, my parents shook me awake one night so I could run to the TV to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Shortly thereafter, President Nixon, in the White House, made a phone call to Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. That technological, improbable feat left a powerful impression on my 6-year-old self. He made a phone call to the moon?!

And here I was, about to do the same thing — but over Skype! (Yes, NASA uses Skype. Not Zoom. I’m sure they have their reasons.)

There was a lot of prep. The audio would be 2-way, but not the video. I’d be able to see Mike and Ike on the station, but they would not see me. A couple of days in advance, my producer Alan Golds and I joined NASA for a practice call.

I was determined to make the most of my 20 minutes. I didn’t want to ask questions the astronauts had heard a thousand times. I didn’t want to waste time with queries whose answers anyone could find with a quick Google search. I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions (they came up with great ones). Not so much “Is it fun to float in zero gravity?”; more like “Is there any reason to wear shoes?” and “What do you miss most from Earth?”

I didn’t sleep much the night before the shoot. I really, really wanted to nail this interview. OK, sue me—I’m a space nerd.

Just another day in Westport: calling the International Space Station.

On the day of the shoot, CBS sent a camera crew to the house, to film my end of the conversation from 3 different angles. On the Space Station, they’d have only one fixed camera.

NASA requested that we place the Skype call a full hour before the conversation was to begin—and to place a cellphone call simultaneously, on speaker, as a backup. The interview would be limited to 20 minutes — not because that was all the time Mike and Ike could spare, but because the Space Station orbits the earth once every 90 minutes. Beyond 20 minutes, they’d be out of range of the satellite that beamed their signal back to earth.

NASA had also sent me a script as a Word document, indicating how to begin the call. Every audio or video call to Station begins with this exchange. (Yes, NASA refers to it as “Station,” not “the Station.”) Following the script ensures maximum efficiency and clarity:

Capcom: Station, this is Houston. Are you ready for the event?

Astronauts: Houston, this is Station. We are ready.

Capcom: “CBS Sunday Morning,” this is Mission Control Houston. Please call Station for a voice check.

Pogue: Station, this is David Pogue with CBS “Sunday Morning.” How do you hear me?

Station: (reports voice quality. If acceptable…) We are ready to speak with you.

Finally, at 1:25 ET, Capcom said the magic words — “Please call Station for a voice check” — and that was it. Mike and Ike appeared on my computer screen, and they began the interview.

FROM SPACE!

The delay was about one second; it reminded me of making phone calls to Europe back in the day. But jokes still worked, and the conversation flowed nicely. In what seemed like a couple of minutes, it was time to wind it up.

I had just placed what must be the world’s first Westport-to-space video call. I still feel high as a kite.

(Watch the resulting six-minute “CBS Sunday Morning” story and full 20-minute interview below.)

Roundup: Beach Stickers, Rizzuto’s Igloos, Blue Light …

================================================

This is usually the time of year when we sign up for beach stickers, handpasses and the like.

In this year of COVID, the Parks & Recreation Department says:

Spring and summer are just around the corner. Our team is hard at work getting things ready to open up our facilities and provide programs!

We plan to provide offerings that we were unfortunately unable to offer last year due to COVID-19. Please anticipate modifications while we follow best practices and state guidelines as we strive to create safe environments for all facility users and program participants.

Keep watching for more information later this month on programs, beach emblems and more! Stay safe!

=======================================================

Despite the loss of signature fundraisers like the Yankee Doodle Fair, the Westport Woman’s Club held strong to its 114-year tradition of helping local organizations in need.

Last year, the WWC concentrated its donations on groups that offer COVID-related help. They include

  • Bridgeport Rescue Mission
  • Center for Family Justice
  • Circle of Care
  • CLASP Homes, Inc.
  • Department of Human Services
  • Domestic Violence Crisis Center
  • ElderHouse
  • Family & Children’s Agency, Inc.
  • Filling in the Blanks
  • Food Rescue Us
  • Homes with Hope
  • Malta House, Inc.
  • Person-to-Person
  • Rowan Center
  • Town of Westport: Department of Human Services Visiting Nurses & Hospice of Fairfield County Westport Volunteer EMS

Fingers are crossed for a Yankee Doodle Fair this year. But whether there is a full, scaled-down version — or none at all — the Westport Woman’s Club will find a way to make Fairfield County a better place for all.

=======================================================

Spring is (almost) here. But to ensure that diners feel comfortable outdoors, Rizzuto’s is adding personal igloos.

Much warmer than the Inuit variety, they’ve got personal electric heat and lights.

They should be available this weekend. Let’s hope they’re the least snowy igloos we’ve ever seen.

Rizzuto’s igloos (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

=======================================================

Earthplace is the place for all things environmental. And March is the time for Earthplace to spring into new programming.

A few offerings:

  • Teen Volunteer Club
  • Talking $hit in Westport (recognizing scat! — Tuesday, March 16, 7 p.m.)
  • “Restoring Soil to Fight Climate Change” (Zoom seminar — Thursday, March 18, 7 p.m.)
  • Family Campfire (Saturday, March 20, 4 p.m.)
  • Environmental Book Club (“The Genius of Birds” — Wednesday, March 31, 7 p.m.)
  • Nature Trivia (Thursday, April 22, 5 p.m.)
  • Science in a Box program (for 2 participants)
  • Summer camp registration

Click here for details.

=====================================================

The “blue light” mystery has been solved.

On Tuesday, “06880” ran a photo of a mysterious sight photographed by Nancy Vener, from Saugatuck Shores. Other readers sent similar photos:

(Photo/Nancy Vener)

Ever-vigilant Wendy Crowther found this statement from NASA’ Keith Koehler:

A 3-stage suborbital sounding rocket was launched in the afternoon on March 3, for the Department of Defense from NASA’s launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The launch was to study ionization in space just beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.

After flying to an altitude of several hundred miles and about 500 miles offshore, the rocket’s payload released a small quantity of vapor into the near-vacuum of space. There is no danger to public health or the Earth’s environment from the vapor release.

In other words: It’s just vapor. Or so they say …

=======================================================

MoCA Westport’s spring Exhibition, “Smash,” premiers April 2. It’s devoted  exclusively to the videos of contemporary artist Marilyn Minter.

Both grandiose and intimate, in settings throughout the museum’s galleries, Minter’s videos will be exhibited together for the first time in a public institution. Seeped in lush imagery and moving between figuration and abstraction, his works encapsulate feminism, pleasure, voyeurism and notions of beauty, desire and chance.

Her custom-designed AMC Pacer –featuring an interior, surround viewing of her work “Green Pink Caviar,” will also be exhibited for the first time.

Click here for more information.

“Smash,” by Marilyn Minter

======================================================

It’s not too early to think about Easter — well, the catering part, anyway.

Mystic Market across from the train station is early out of the box. Their appetizers and platters (artichoke jalapeño dip in a bread bowl, charcutier board…), salads, soups (carrot giner, potato leek), brunch quiche, breads, sides, dinners (roasted pomegranate lamb, potato-encrusted Chilean sea bass, roast beef tenderloin, salmon filet, beef lasagna…) and desserts) must be ordered by April 1.

I’ll take one of everything, please …

=======================================================

The March/April issue of Westport Magazine is out now. It’s a look at “fresh starts for spring, like salons, skincare, what’s happening, and the local real estate market,

Also featured: outdoor spaces, from batting cages and home farms to a 16-foot firepit, across from a swimming pool’s transparent outer wall.

Westport Magazine is available at Barnes & Noble, Balducci’s, Whole Foods and CVS.

====================================================

And finally … on this day in 1963, Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash in Tennessee. One of the first country music artists to cross over into pop, she was 30 years old.

 

The Men On The Moon: Basil Hero’s Heroes

Only 24 men have traveled to the moon. Just half are still alive.

Their experiences have been told often, in movies and books like “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

We know nearly everything about their missions: the risks, the challenges, the triumphs.

But we know little about the astronauts themselves. And even less about how their space experiences changed them, as human beings.

Until now.

Westporter Basil Hero’s new book The Mission of a Lifetime: Lessons From the Men Who Went to the Moon is the first time this elite group of men reveals their inner selves.

They talk about courage, leadership, patriotism. And also spirituality, God, earth, and the entire universe.

It’s a remarkable book. It’s remarkable too that no one has heard these legends — men like Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders — speak so eloquently about these ideas before.

Why not?

“No one asked,” Hero — the marvelously named author — replies. For half a century, journalists have focused on the technical aspects of space flight.

But ever since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon — when the New York Times published a special section with quotes from world leaders about how that event would change man’s relationship with the cosmos — Hero has been fascinated by what he calls “the bigger story”: what it means, deep in one’s soul, to walk on or orbit the moon.

Buzz Aldrin, on the lunar surface.

Though it’s a vast distance from the earth to the moon, Hero’s long-lived idea got a boost from nearby: his next door neighbor.

Bill Burrows is a noted aviation writer and Pulitzer Prize nominee, for publications like the Times and Wall Street Journal. He does not know any Apollo astronauts personally. But he mentioned the idea to former space shuttle astronaut Tom Jones, who helped Hero send an email blast to his Apollo colleagues.

Bill Anders was the first to respond. On December 24, 1968 he took the astonishing “Earthrise” shot. It’s been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever.”

Anders was intrigued. He invited Hero to his Anacortes, Washington home.

Bill Anders in front of his P-51 Mustang, last year. At 86, he still flies his own plane — at least an hour a day. Frank Borman — now 91 — flies his own vintage plane too.

The visit went well. Anders was so impressed with Hero’s approach and questions, he called his fellow Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman. Retired now after stints as White House liaison during the lunar landing and CEO of Eastern Airlines, he told Hero to come see him in Billings, Montana.

That interview went well too. So Borman called Jim Lovell, the 3rd Apollo 8 astronaut, commander of ill-fated Apollo 13, and the first of only 3 men to reach the moon twice.

Lovell gave Hero one of the most astonishing insights in a book filled with them. “We don’t go to heaven when we die,” he thought to himself while orbiting the moon. “We go to heaven when we’re born.”

Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn.

As one astronaut recommended Hero to another, the project took shape.  The author understands how important those personal contacts were.

“These guys get a lot of requests,” he says. “Some of them are in their 90s. They were tired of talking about their missions. They liked the intellectual approach I took.”

Each man asked Hero what he wanted to do that had not been done before. He told them, “I want ‘The Right Stuff 2.0’ — their story from the philosophical, spiritual side.

“They loved that. It’s a function of their age. Soon, the men who walked on the moon will be walking into the history books.”

During their careers, the astronauts had been happy to follow NASA’s directive to not talk much about Big Ideas.

“They didn’t want to appear too ‘intellectual,'” Hero says.

But, he says, “they are very deep thinkers. That separated them out during the selection process, even if no one realized it at the time.”

Hero says that the astronauts take the idea of “the common good” — duty, honor, country — very seriously. “That can sound quaint and outdated — like the ancient Greeks and Romans,” he notes.

But, Hero continues, “once they were in space, and saw the earth from the moon, they saw ‘the common good’ pertaining not just to country, but to humanity, and the planet. They came back to earth as humanitarian citizens.”

Bill Anders’ “Earthrise” photo — taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 — helped human beings see their planet in an entirely new light.

There was a lot they never said — at the time.

Anders’ Catholic priest was at Cape Canaveral when Apollo 8 blasted off for the moon. Six days later, he returned to earth an agnostic.

Hero paraphrases the astronaut’s epiphany: “To think that God sits up there with a supercomputer is bunk.”

On the other hand, Jim Irwin — the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 — “found Jesus while walking on the moon,” Hero says.

Over and over, the astronauts talked to the author about their belief in “someone — or something — greater than oneself. These are very deep thinkers.”

The deepest of all, Hero says, was a man he never got to interview: Neil Armstrong. The first man to walk on the moon died in 2012.

Basil Hero

Hero is inspired by the Apollo astronauts. He always knew they were physically brave. But what comes through just as strongly in The Mission of a Lifetime is their moral courage.

Hero’s book should be read by everyone. He is particularly hopeful that it becomes a staple for high school and college students. He wants them to learn about the notion of “the common good.”

Reviews have been excellent. Amazon picked it as a Book of the Month. The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt. Jane Pauley wants to interview him.

The timing is perfect. July marks the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind.

And after half a century — thanks to Basil Hero — the real story of the Apollo space program has finally been told.

Astronomy Picture Of The Day

Every morning, NASA posts an “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”

Each one highlights a different image or photograph of the universe, with a brief explanation from a professional astronomer.

Yesterday, the photo of the day featured a panorama of Mars. The day before there was a volcano and aurora in Iceland; before that, a “gravitational tractor” that could intercept an earth-threatening asteroid.

Today’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” shows Westport native (and Staples graduate) Matt Harding dancing in Afghanistan.

The text reads:

What are these humans doing? Dancing.

Many humans on Earth exhibit periods of happiness, and one method of displaying happiness is dancing. Happiness and dancing transcend political boundaries and occur in practically every human society.

Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, planned on dancing, and filmed the result. The video, the latest in a series of similar videos, is perhaps a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious — few people are able to watch the above video without smiling.

Last month — the day after it was released — “06880” featured Matt Harding’s now-viral video.

It’s pretty cool that NASA — with millions more viewers “all over planet Earth” — has finally done the same.

To view Matt’s complete video, click the arrow below.

Westport Engineer Prevents World War III

For over 10 years, Marty Yellin was a control systems engineer at Perkin-Elmer.

Starting in 1965, the longtime Westporter helped design key elements of Hexagon — a reconnaissance spacecraft that, one NASA official says, “helped prevent World War III.”

For over 4 1/2 decades, Yellin was forbidden to talk about any aspect of his work.

Until last Saturday.

That’s when — 25 years after the top-secret, Cold War-era mission ended — Hexagon, and 2 other satellite programs were finally declassified.

The public got its first view of the Hexagon spy satellite last Saturday, at the National Air & Space Museum. (Photo courtesy of Roger Guillemette/Space.com

Last weekend Hexagon — along with Gambit and Gambit 3 — were open to the public.  The one-day-only event was held at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Dulles Airport center.

According to MSNBC.com, a throng of joyous National Reconnaissance Office veterans were “finally able to show their wives and families what they actually did ‘at the office’ for so many years.”

It was quite a lot.

MSNBC.com says, “the Hexagon’s panoramic cameras rotated as they swept back and forth while the satellite flew over Earth.”  Intelligence officials called this process “mowing the lawn.”

“Each 6-inch-wide frame of Hexagon film captured a wide swath of terrain covering 370 nautical miles — the distance from Cincinnati to Washington — on each pass over the former Soviet Union and China. The satellites had a resolution of about 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to nearly 1 meter).”

The 60-foot long, 30,000-pound Hexagon carried 4 spools — a phenomenal 60 miles’ worth — of high resolution photographic film on its space surveillance missions.   The spools weighed 3,000 pounds.  Every few months a spool was dropped by parachute from the satellite to a waiting plane, which hooked it and reeled it in.  The force of the giant film would drop the plane 10,000 feet.

From there, the film was sent to an ultra-secret Kodak lab.  It was so sensitive to light that only blind people could work on it, Yellin says.

The developed film was sent to the Pentagon for analysis.

Between 1971 and 1986, NRO launched 20 Hexagon satellites from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

“The final launch in April 1986 — just weeks after the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion —  also met with disaster,” MSNBC.Com says.

The Titan 34D booster “erupted into a massive fireball just seconds after liftoff, crippling the NRO’s orbital reconnaissance capabilities for many months.”

Of course, no one outside a small circle of political and military leaders ever heard about this catastrophe.  Marty Yellin, his fellow engineers — and everyone else associated with the spy satellite program — was sworn to secrecy.

Until last Saturday.

This week, Yellin looked back with pride at his decade of work on Hexagon.  He notes that the technology led directly to breakthroughs like the Hubble Telescope.

At the same time, he is awed and humbled by comments like this, from NASA’s Rob Landis:

“You have to give credit to leaders like President Eisenhower, who had the vision to initiate reconnaisance spacecraft.  He was of the generation who wanted no more surprises, no more Pearl Harbors.”

In fact, Landis continues, “I think that Hexagon helped prevent World War III.”

That scares the hell out of Marty Yellin.

“I wonder,” he says.  “What if it didn’t work?

“Would we all be dead now?”