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    Offworld episode 7: The Right Stuff (1983)

    This week on Offworld, Ariel is joined by Adam Savage and retired astronaut Jim Newman to talk about the 1983 movie The Right Stuff! The three discuss the film's portrayal of early NASA missions and astronaut culture, and hear some stories about Jim Newman's flights on the Space Shuttle.

    Tested at the NASA InSight Rocket Launch to Mars!

    We go to our very first NASA rocket launch! This past weekend, the InSight mission sent a robot lander to Mars, launching from the central coast of California. Norm and Ariel trek to Vandenberg Air Force base to get up close to the rocket and experience this historic west-coast interplanetary launch!

    How Could Alien Communication Work? Offworld episode 6: Arrival

    This week on Offworld, we look at the science fiction film Arrival and its depiction of communication with alien life! Ariel is joined by cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Teon Brooks and Dr. Douglas Vakoch, President of METI (Messaging Extraterrestial Intelligence) to discuss how we might try to decipher verbal and visual language or alien origin.

    Offworld Episode 5: Europa Report (2013)

    We're joined by spacecraft engineer Bobak Ferdowsi and marine scientist Vicky Vásquez to talk about the 2013 film Europa Report! There's a lot to like about the film, including how it portrays the challenges of a crewed mission to Jupiter's moon. Is Europa our best bet for finding alien life in our solar system? Let's discuss!

    Offworld episode 4: Moonraker (1979)

    Space billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in the news today, but one of the first space billionaires appeared in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker. Ariel is joined by author Bonnie Burton and science correspondent Emily Calandrelli to talk about pop culture's stylized take on space travel in the late 70s, in the wake of Star Wars and the dawn of NASA's Shuttle program.

    Offworld, Episode 3: Sunshine (2007)

    On this episode of Offworld, we revisit the Danny Boyle science fiction film Sunshine, in which a crew is sent to reignite the Sun. We're joined by astrophysicist and Professor of Astronomy Gibor Basri to discuss the science of the film and which parts hold up (and the parts that don't). What would the bomb the size of Manhattan do to the Sun?

    Show and Tell: Augmented Reality Model of the Moon

    We check out Astroreality's Lunar Pro, a detailed model of the moon that works with a companion app to show some extra details through augmented reality. While the model itself is nicely made and finished, the software experience leaves much to be desired. It's a neat concept that disappoints with its execution.

    Offworld, Episode 2: Space Camp (1986)

    On this episode of Offworld, Ariel is joined by Tested's own Simone Giertz and guest Trace Dominguez to discuss and dissect the 1986 film Space Camp! Trace relates the film to his own experience attending the real space camp, and we ponder NASA's influence on the making of the movie.

    First Time Lucky: The Space Shuttle’s Dicey Inaugural Mission

    I was well into writing this piece when I learned of John Young's death on 1/5/18. I never had the opportunity to meet him during my time at NASA, but he was indeed a legendary figure at the Johnson Space Center. I encourage anyone with an interest in space history to research his incredible career. Ad Astra Mr. Young.

    When Columbia fired its engines in April of 1981, crowds cheered NASA's first manned rocket launch in nearly six years. This was STS-1, the maiden mission of the space shuttle program. The system's reusable components promised to revolutionize spaceflight. No one watching the launch that morning had any way of predicting the highs and lows of the shuttle's three-decade career ahead. They weren't even sure that this crazy spaceship-glider was going to work at all. The columns of fire and noise lifting Columbia must have been reassuring, but not everything was unfolding according to plan.

    STS-1 was the maiden spaceflight of the space shuttle program. The success of the mission was a near thing.

    Neither the astronauts racing skyward, nor flight controllers on the ground realized that Columbia had sustained significant damage in several locations during the first seconds of the launch. Any of these injuries could have led to a catastrophic failure. In fact, mission commander, John Young, later noted that he would have aborted the launch and ejected if he had known the extent of Columbia's maladies.

    Exactly how the shuttle absorbed the hard knocks of its first launch and completed the mission safely is still not completely understood. The orbiter's robust design certainly contributed, as did the expertise within Mission Control and the astronaut corps. At the same time, it is difficult to analyze the specifics of STS-1 and completely discount the role of pure, dumb luck.

    Offworld, Episode 1: Contact with Dr. Jill Tarter

    Welcome to Offworld, a new show we're making that explores the fun places where space and pop culture intersect! In each episode, we'll examine a science fiction story and discuss how it holds up under some scientific scrutiny. For our inaugural episode, we talk about the 1997 film Contact with special guest Dr. Jill Tarter, whose work at SETI was the inspiration for the main character of the book and film.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Julie Huber, Deep Sea Microbiologist

    There's life in the deepest part of the ocean. And some of that life is microscopic. It's not easy to find the world's tiniest organisms on land and it's even harder when they live in one of the most out of reach places on Earth. Julie Huber, a marine microbiologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, specializes in finding these itty bitty lifeforms. She talked to us about operating underwater ROVs, doing research off the side of a ship, how understanding the weirdest forms of life on Earth teaches us new lessons about our planet, and what it's like to battle seasickness when your career requires you to spend your life among the waves.

    Photo credit: Thom Hoffman

    What is the focus of your work?

    The big picture is that I'm an oceanographer and I study microbial life in the deep ocean. When I say deep, I mean really deep. I'm mostly interested in places where no sunlight penetrates. I'm especially interested in life living beneath the seafloor within the rocks and fluids that are moving through the crust. The oceans cover 70% of the planet's surface. Oceanic crust is formed by the process of plate tectonics. We constantly have new crust being generated and recycled. Within oceanic crust, seawater is moving through it. It's like a jar of marbles. It's porous, water moves through it. Because there is space and water, there is life.The estimates are that 2% of the global volume of the ocean is in the crust at any single point in time.

    The water in the ocean is always moving. New ocean water sinks in the North Atlantic and moves through the conveyor belt, and at some point, it was also move through the crust as it makes its way around the planet's oceans.

    Plate tectonics make Earth a really unique place. In our solar system other planets don't have plate tectonics. Ever since I started in this field I've been thinking about life beyond our planet. That is something that I didn't appreciate. You have this fundamental process that keeps exposing fresh rock. Water reacts with it and you get this amazing chemistry that allows life to exist.

    There are certainly not plate tectonics going on on Mars right now.

    Tested at the BALLS 2017 Rocket Launch Event!

    Simone heads to Black Rock Desert to take part in the annual BALLS experimental rocket launch event! We meet with amateur rocketeers who've come around the country to test their homebrewed rockets. This is going to be fun! Thanks to Clay Reynolds for inviting us out! Find his rocket launch videos here.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Sue Natali, Arctic Ecologist

    Sue Natali has dedicated her life to watching the Arctic melt before her eyes. As an ecologist and biochemist at Woods Hole Research Center she travels to some of the most remote locations on Earth to dig holes in the ground and measure the carbon that seeps out. What she learns helps us better understand why permafrost is essential to the health of the planet. She chatted with us about what it's like working in the frozen North, why an increase in fires is damaging the frozen landscape, and how to preserve moose meat (and soil samples) in an ice cave in Siberia.

    Photo credit: John Schade

    Why do we care about permafrost?

    My research focuses on permafrost--how much carbon is in the permafrost, and what happens to it when it thaws. That's important because there's a lot of carbon stored in permafrost in the form of organic matter, leaves, microbes, dead and decaying material. When a leaf falls in a warm environment it decomposes right away and returns to air as carbon dioxide and methane. But because the Arctic is really cold, when the plant material falls most of it doesn't decompose. A lot sits there and builds up and builds up. Some gets frozen into permafrost.

    It's really cool depending on how the permafrost forms you can find whole plant material. There's a tunnel near Fox, Alaska, just outside Fairbanks that was dug in the 1960s. When you walk through the tunnel -- it's in the side of cliff -- as you walk in you're getting deeper toward the back going back 40,000 years, walking backwards in time. You can see giant ice wedges, you can see animal bones, and plant material that's not decomposed because it's frozen.

    Photo credit: John Schade

    So the reason I focus on permafrost thaw is because of the global implications. It stores a lot of carbon. There's twice as much carbon stored in permafrost as in the atmosphere, and three times more than in the all the world's forest biomass. This carbon is protected now because it's frozen. But when it thaws it becomes available to microbes, which eat the organic matter, use it for energy, and release carbon dioxide and methane.

    If soils are well-aerated, the organic matter is decomposed to carbon dioxide. When the ground is wet, methane and carbon dioxide are released. Methane is important because it's 30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year time scale.

    From Russia with Glove: How eBay Reunited an Astronaut with His Spacesuit

    "For 10,000 American dollars, this suit can show up on your front porch after the mission."

    Astronaut Clayton Anderson thought it was an absurd proposal. He never expected that a spacesuit technician would offer to sell him the custom-fitted, government-funded suit that he would soon carry to the International Space Station (ISS). Anderson laughed it off. Surely this guy was joking, right? Nothing like this had ever happened during one of Clay's suit fittings in the US. But this strange proposal was presented in Star City, Russia. And well, things are different there…very different.

    Several years passed before Anderson realized that he should have taken the deal.

    About the Suit

    The suit up for grabs was a Sokol (Falcon). This Russian-designed pressure suit is worn during launch and landing in the Soyuz spacecraft. There was no plan for Anderson to ride a Soyuz up or down (he commuted to and from the ISS on space shuttle missions STS-117 and STS-120 respectively). Yet, he still needed a Sokol. During the bulk of his 152-day stay aboard the ISS, a Soyuz was his only way home in an emergency. Anderson's Sokol stored on the ISS ensured that he would be properly attired if the lifeboat became necessary.

    As things turned out, Clay did don his Sokol and catch a ride on a Soyuz. One could argue that this happened under the best imaginable circumstances. There was no emergency. Rather than abandoning the ISS, the crew had to "simply" move the Soyuz to a different docking port to make room for other incoming ships. In these scenarios, the entire 3-person crew (the ISS now hosts a crew of 6) would board the Soyuz. This ensured that no one would be left behind if the ship was unable to re-dock with the ISS. If that were to happen, they would turn around and head for a landing in Russia.

    Anderson's Soyuz had no trouble reconnecting with the ISS. The entire flight lasted only about 20 minutes. That's a good thing since he says the Sokol is rather uncomfortable to wear…especially within the cramped confines of a Soyuz. Clay recalled mandatory training sessions in a pressurized Sokol at Star City, which he said had elements of "excruciating pain". "It's a rite of passage," he says.