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    What it Takes to Keep a B-29 Superfortress Flying

    Last month, we looked at the dedication and financial resources that are required to keep a WWII-era P-51 Mustang in flyable condition. It is definitely not for the meek or frugal. As civilian-owned warbirds go, the P-51 probably represents the middle of the road in terms of overhead. Many aspiring warbird owners seek former trainer and liaison aircraft because they are generally much easier and less costly to maintain and operate than fighters. At the opposite end of the scale are large, multi-engine transports and bombers. While there are a few of these pricier treasures in private hangars, they often demand resources that only a diverse and well-funded organization can provide.

    When it comes to WWII airplanes, few are bigger and none are more complex than the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. I recently had an opportunity to get an up-close look at FIFI, the only airworthy B-29 in the world. The airplane was at the Vintage Flying Museum in Fort Worth, Texas undergoing off-season maintenance. Just by seeing the huge airplane in the hangar with its massive engines uncowled, it was immediately obvious that it takes a tremendous operation to keep her flying. I later spoke with Kim Pardon and Brad Pilgrim from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), the nonprofit organization that has owned and operated FIFI for more than 40 years. They were able to provide an insider's perspective of what's involved to keep FIFI in the air year after year.

    Rininger – Keeping FIFI airworthy is a huge financial commitment. All things considered, each hour of flight costs about $10,000. (Photo courtesy Tyson Rininger/Commemorative Air Force)

    Learning About FIFI

    The CAF has numerous WWII-era aircraft operating from various airports around the country…including other 4-engined bombers. Yet, FIFI is the only airplane in your fleet that has a full-time crew. What is it about this airplane that demands the extra resources?

    Brad Pilgrim - FIFI is probably the most maintenance intensive airplane in the CAF's fleet. In order to keep up with the required maintenance and the flying schedule, we have to keep a couple of full-time mechanics on staff.

    Kim Pardon - FIFI is also the only CAF aircraft that generates the kind of revenue it takes to sustain this level of maintenance. Most other CAF aircraft rely primarily on volunteer maintenance. The organization has a lot of dedicated and talented volunteers. Because we (the B-29 crew) travel almost 24 weeks a year we rely heavily on our paid maintenance staff to travel with us and help us fulfill all of our tour obligations.

    Beastcam Photogrammetry Rig Scans Live Animals

    Biology processor Duncan Irschick of UMass Amherst introduces the Beastcam, a four-camera rig that can rapidly take photos of live animals for generating 3D photogrammetry models. The rig, which was conceived of when Irschick found it challenging to 3D model a live shark, can shoot 60 photos in about 15 seconds. The photos are sent through software like Autodesk's 123D Catch and used to study body form in animals and complex movements. Irschick hopes to take it back to Florida to test it on a shark!

    Competition to Make Real-Life Star Trek Tricorders

    The technology imagined by science fiction has driven lots of innovation and interesting research. The Tricorder XPRIZE is a competition to create a device that replicates the functionality of Star Trek's medical Tricorder--one piece of hardware that can diagnose and monitor health conditions.

    Steve Erenberg Collects Scientific Instruments of Yore

    From Science Friday: "For more than 30 years, Steve Erenberg has collected early scientific and medical objects and instruments. Packed with shelves and displays brimming with Victorian medical masks, surreal anatomical models, and futuristic test prostheses, Erenberg's store/museum in Peekskill, New York offers a whirlwind tour of long-forgotten devices. While some items were shams devised by quacks, others represent the best possible treatment for their time. Regardless of its actual function, each item in Erenberg's collection has a unique aesthetic value."

    Tested Chats with Dr. David Miller, NASA's Chief Technologist

    Earlier this year, we had the privilege of chatting with Dr. David Miller, NASA's Chief Technologist, on our Still Untitled podcast. Dr. Miller joined us as part of the Bay Area Science Festival's trip to Alcatraz, where we recorded this podcast episode in front of a live audience. We discussed a wide range of topics, including Dr. Miller's role at NASA, the technological challenges of a Mars mission, the search for Earth-like planets, and much more. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity. You can also watch the video of this podcast recording here!

    Will Smith: Welcome to Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project. I'm Will.

    Adam Savage: I'm Adam.

    Norman Chan: And I'm Norm.

    Will Smith: Joining us today we have a very special guest from NASA. We have the CTO of NASA, Dave Miller, joining us. Thank you so much for coming by, Dave.

    David Miller: Thanks for having me, and I can't think of a better place to talk about space exploration than The Rock.

    Norman Chan: Dave, you are the Chief Technologist of NASA--the CTO. Can you give us a little explanation of what you do and what you oversee?

    David Miller: When I first arrived, they told me it's an up and out organization, and I had no clue what that meant. But it really means that is that I focus on long-term strategy and things like technology transfer, how we interact with other companies and transfer the technology we do. We also track emerging space. We also roadmap the various technologies we're going to do. Probably most important, is advising the administrator on all things technology. There's a good, sort of, comparison I can make from The Martian... Who's seen The Martian? Who's read the book? Even better still, that's good. In there, I think he declares himself a space pirate, so let me use that as a way to describe who I am.

    I think of myself as the parrot on the pirate's shoulder. I provide advice to the leadership in the agency, and as long as I keep giving good advice, I stay on that shoulder.

    Adam Savage: It's like, "Awk, want to use ion engines!"

    Return to The Rock - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 12/22/15
    On our recent trip to Alcatraz, we recorded two episodes of Still Untitled in front of a live audience. This second episode features a very special guest: Dr. David Miller, NASA's Chief Technologist. Dr. Miller joins us to talk about the search for Earth-like planets, NASA Spinoffs, and the technological challenges of space exploration. He also shares some weird astronaut stories! (Thanks so much to NASA, Dr. Dave Miller, the US Parks Service, and the Bay Area Science Festival for making this episode possible.)
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    The Challenge of Building Straight Roads on a Spherical Earth

    I drove to Mojave and back from San Francisco for MythBusters recently and took an extra few hours to meander on the beautiful and meditative backroads of California's central valley. Every now and then straight roads that were many miles long would jog one way or another. It didn't even occur to me to ask why, but Dutch photographer (and 2015 artist-in-residence at Wichita's Ulrich Museum of Art) Gerco de Ruijter did, and the answer is freaking cool.

    See what I mean in this Travel and Leisure article about de Ruijter: Mysterious Detour While Driving? It Could Be Due to the Curvature of the Earth

    © 2015, Gerco de Ruijter; Courtesy of the Ulrich Museum, Wichita, Kansas

    If you've learned anything about maps, you'll know the difficulties making flat 2D representations of our planet's compound curved, 3D surface. It's why Greenland looks so freakishly huge on most world maps (the limits of the Mercator projection). Turns out that the problems aren't limited to looking at the Earth from afar. A long, straight road has to eventually correct for the curvature of the Earth, as do property lines.

    I love stuff like this: the macro made tangible by something as mundane as a road we drive on.

    Kevin Dart's Science & Nature Art Show at Gallery 1988

    Artist and friend-of-Tested Kevin Dart passed along word that he has a new show opening this week at LA's Gallery 1988 pop art gallery. Even if you aren't familiar with Kevin's art, you have probably seen his design work in the videogame sequences of Spike Jonze's Her, the Gear VR experience Colosse, and in concept art for Disney's Big Hero Six. Tested fans may best know his art from those awesome NASA-inspired screenprints I've shown displayed in my own home and those Japanese creature t-shirts I've worn in videos. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan.

    Kevin's new art show is called Science & Nature, and is a collaboration between him and six artists: Chris Turnham, Jasmin Lai, Josh Parpan, Justin Parpan, Sylvia Liu, and Tiffany Ford. He describes the theme as "a visual celebration of mankind's scientific endeavors and the natural world from which they are derived." Over email, Kevin elaborated a little further:

    "My primary goal with this show was to draw a visual link between the fields of science and the beauty of nature which inspires all of those scientific achievements. The two things are so inextricably tied together - all science is based on observations made in nature. It's like a never-ending quest to understand everything around us, and so many people have made unbelievable sacrifices to further that goal. I was thinking about this idea for over a year and how awe-inspiring the universe is and wanted create something that would communicate that sense of wonder I feel when I see how hard people are working to help us understand the world we're living in.

    I came up with the idea to compose a bunch of images with the exact same template using a centered circle, so that there is an immediate visual link between everything whether it's an astronaut's sun visor or the neck of a heron. For the other artists in the show, I asked them to think about the same things and create an image of their own interpretation showing how science and nature go hand in hand, and they've all chosen really different and cool areas to focus on!"

    Those ideas are best illustrated with samples of the artwork, which Kevin shared and are embedded below. Science & Nature opens this Friday night, and will run for about two weeks at Gallery 1988 East. If you're in the LA area this Friday, you'll want to stop by and see the pieces in person, and maybe pick up a few screenprints!

    TRANSCRIPT: Adam Savage Interviews NASA's Dava Newman

    Adam Savage: Hey! Welcome to The Talking Room. We have borrowed all the elements from The Talking Room, including my dining room chairs. Even Winston the Beaver, the patron saint of the Talking Room, is here. He's holding on to the card that says who our next guest is. She's a hero of mine. She's an astronaut assistant, aeronautic assistant, an MIT professor, a doctor, and recently a deputy director of NASA. Please welcome to the stage Dana Newman.

    Dava Newman: Thank you. Thank you.

    Photo by Dallis Willard.

    Adam Savage: You know, I have to tell you, in preparation for your arrival we had to have lots of discussions about how many of my spacesuits we should actually transport over here. You are also a spacesuit designer, of the future of spacesuits.

    Dava Newman: Going to Mars. We're going to Mars.

    Adam Savage: We're going to Mars.

    Dava Newman: But back to the beaver mascot, what a great mascot. That's the world's engineer. You've got a beaver up here!

    Are We Alone in the Universe?

    This weekend in The Guardian I came across a fantastic interview -- "Are We Alone in the Universe?" -- between two of my favorite people: astronaut Chris Hadfield and cartoonist/former NASA physicist Randall Munroe.

    Listening to two of my favorite minds when they get together is genuinely thrilling. Their banter makes me feel like I can see just a little bit wider. I love that they're both seeking ways to articulately communicate the incredible scales they understand things on.

    Composite: David Levene, Josh Andrus for The Guardian

    I also love how excited they are about what they don't understand. And that might be the best part: their humility and generosity. I know this of Chris; I'm lucky to say he's a friend. I've gleaned it from Randall's incredible, prolific body of work.

    I wish I could interview people like this.

    Episode 328 - Embrace The Splurge - 11/26/15
    Norm is joined by Tested's Senior Science Correspondent Kishore Hari and Senior Rapid Prototyping Correspondent Sean Charlesworth to talk about NASA's announcements, Designer Con, Gear VR, and the holiest of consumer holidays: Black Friday. Plus, we give our reactions and analysis to the new Captain America: Civil War teaser trailer. Prepare for a comics knowledge bomb! That and more on this week's episode of This is Only a Test. Have a happy American Thanksgiving, everyone!
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    Building The Worlds of SyFy's "The Expanse"

    This past Monday, SyFy network released the first episode of The Expanse online, with the rest of the season airing in mid-December. It's an ambitious show--an adaptation of a popular novel series that's already on its fifth book. One of the reasons for the books' success is its realistic depiction of space travel 200 years from now. Given the conceit that mankind has invented a spacefaring technology that allows for regular travel between Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt, the story is about the relationships between the cultures that have formed on Mars and asteroid colonies, and their relationship with Earth. What happens when you have generations of humans living on a mining Asteroid, and Martians who are more invested in the development of their planet than the interests of Earth? Thoughtful world building makes for compelling science fiction.

    The production values of the show are impressive as well, with the need to tell an intertwining story from three very different types of environments. I got on the phone with Seth Reed, the production designer of The Expanse, to learn a bit about how set and production design contributed to that world-building.

    Thanks for chatting with us, Seth! To start things off, can you talk about the role of a production designer and what your responsibilities were in the production of The Expanse?

    Seth Reed: As the production designer, my responsibilities included designing everything that was behind or around the actors. That included all of the set decoration, scenery that we built, all the colors and fabrics and textures--pretty much the world. The props were within my department--the propmakers were pretty independent, and always are, but it all happens through the production design department. We provided all the graphics and everything that appears on those props as well.

    (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

    The show is set around three basic areas as we switch between the three main characters. There's Earth, Ceres Station, and outer space on board different ships. Can you talk about how you and your team built out the look of each of those locations?

    Well for Earth, we haven't really seen much of it [in the first episode]. We saw Avasarala's place, her office, but not that much. You see a few visual effects shots, which I was involved in, for setting up the look of Earth [200 years from now]. Earth is a more crowded place, with tall buildings designed with soft and geometric edges--a lot of times with points or simple spires at the top.

    Why Music is Important to Astronauts in Space

    I recently saw a video of astronaut Kjell Lindgren playing bagpipes in space. Although Lindgren appears to be a fine player, it wasn't his piping that intrigued me. I couldn't stop wondering when and how they put bagpipes on the International Space Station (ISS). I knew there was a guitar and a keyboard in orbit…but bagpipes? Those pipes had to compete against food, spare parts, and other obvious necessities to get a ride into space. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when that idea was pitched to NASA logisticians!

    The fact that NASA and its partners were willing to make it happen underscores the importance that music plays in the lives of orbiting astronauts. Whether making music in their precious spare time, or listening to music throughout their workday, having these outlets available is vital for the happiness and well-being of the astronauts orbiting above us.

    Tooting Their Own Horns

    As it turns out, there are several other musical instruments aboard ISS that I wasn't aware of. Those in the know at the Johnson Space Center informed me that in addition to the bagpipes, Larrivee acoustic guitar, and Yamaha electronic keyboard, there is also a flute, a ukulele, and an electric guitar. And that is just the permanent stash of instruments. Others have stayed temporarily and returned to Earth.

    Credit for the first musical instrument in space goes to the soprano saxophone carried aboard the space shuttle by Dr. Ron McNair in 1984. McNair normally played the tenor sax, but there was no way he could ever justify bringing the large instrument aboard. Even the diminutive soprano sax's flight status was uncertain right up until launch.

    Dr. Ron McNair plays a soprano saxophone, the first musical instrument in space, aboard the space shuttle in 1984

    McNair prepared for months in advance of his mission to adapt to the nuances of playing the smaller sax. He secretly worked with saxophone guru, Kurt Heisig, to fine tune his technique and equipment. Due to McNair's hectic training schedule and Heisig's California locale, all of their sessions took place over the phone.

    The pair anticipated that low atmospheric pressure in the shuttle's cabin could affect how the sax behaved. To compensate, McNair worked on conditioning exercises and packed a varied selection of reeds. Some unpredicted factors, however, would prove more troublesome.

    A Pocket History of Space Electronics (from Tested: The Show!)

    Meet Megan Prelinger, a cultural historian, archivist of 20th century ephemera, and the co-founder of the wonderful Prelinger Library in San Francisco. Megan has written books about the history of the space race the electronic age through the unique lens of commercial art and advertising. At our live show, Megan shared with us a pocket history of space electronics! (Promo photo courtesy of Dallis Willard.)

    9 Things We Learned From Adam Savage, Andy Weir and Chris Hadfield's Discussion of The Martian

    As his fans know well, Adam Savage loves space. He has his own spacesuits and helmets, and he wears his NASA jacket at every opportunity. So it's no surprise that Adam is friends with people who also love space — like Andy Weir, author of The Martian, now a major motion picture, and Col. Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut.

    In October 2015 the three friends came together to watch The Martian and hold a Q&A afterward. Here's the top 9 things we learned in the course of that session.

    1. If a directive is coming to an astronaut from Earth, it is really only a suggestion.

    In complimenting The Martian's depiction of astronauts vis-a-vis NASA, Chris Hadfield revealed the difference in mentality between astronauts in space and their governing bodies on Earth. "On my second flight, when I was onboard the space station, I was talking to one of the crew members, Sue Helms. In passing, she said,'Hey, Earth says we need to do this.' It was the first time I'd really seen the fundamental schism of personality between the crew and the 7 billion people on Earth."

    While you have huge respect for the expertise on the ground and you try to do everything they ask, "you have to recognize that you are a separate entity from Earth, and nobody else is actually risking their life or has actual final authority for what's happening."

    Adam Savage, Chris Hadfield and Andy Weir discuss the film The Martian. Photo Credit: Norman Chan

    2. Adam Savage has collected 600 photos of The Martian spacesuit (so far).

    Adam thinks the spacesuit, designed by Ridley Scott regular Janty Yates for the film, is beautiful, and not surprisingly, he's gathering the assets to create a replica. "I've already gotten some of the suit parts gathered and in a box labeled 'Martian spacesuit.'" And happily for Adam, the studio put one of the spacesuits from the film on display at the Arclight Cinema in Los Angeles. Between the Replica Prop Forum and Adam's friends, "I have about 600 photos saved already."

    The Robot-Arm Prosthetic Controlled by Thought

    The latest update on Johns Hopkin's Modular Prosthetic Arm, by way of Bloomberg Business: "Johnny Matheny is the first person to attach a mind-controlled prosthetic limb directly to his skeleton. After losing his arm to cancer in 2008, Johnny signed up for a number of experimental surgeries to prepare himself to use a DARPA-funded prosthetic prototype." Unlike previous versions of the prosthetic, this version is controlled through nerve signals detected on the skin, as opposed to deep neural implants.