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    Smithsonian Launches Kickstarter to Conserve Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

    The Smithsonian Institution just launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes in raising funds to conserve and digitize the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore on Apollo 11. It's seeking $500,000 for this "Reboot the Suit" project, which isn't covered by its federal appropriations. The suit currently resides in museum storage, in fragile condition--the project would include building a climate-controlled display case to protect the suit for public display, as well as digitizing it using multiple scanning technologies (as part of the Smithsonian X 3D initiative). Half a million is a lot to raise for this project, but the campaign could be a way for the museum to get press to reach private donors. If the money isn't raised, the suit would stay in storage, which would be a bummer come 2019 and the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.

    In Brief: Five Interesting Things Today

    After a week-long exhale from Comic-Con, we're back to a regular schedule and looking forward to upcoming events, product testing, and more projects! Here are some stories currently sitting my browser tabs that I thought were worth sharing. First, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced that he would be spending $100 million over the next ten years to amp out the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Steven Hawking's on board. I also enjoyed this NPR story about the research into the curious sound of screaming. Windows 10 comes out in a week, and Microsoft has released an invite-only beta of its Cortana app for Android--Arstechnica has tested it. Boingboing's exploration of vintage Star Wars clothing collecting strikes a chord. And the best custom LEGO build in recent memory may be David Szmandra's enormous RC construction crane. "Massive erection" indeed.

    Norman 1
    In Brief: After 10 Years, a New Portrait of Pluto

    As I'm sure you've heard, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft made its flyby past Pluto this morning, passing within 7,770 miles (12,500 kilometers) of the dwarf planet's surface. The trip took almost 10 years, and netted us invaluable data about our solar system, including a highest resolution color photo taken of Pluto. Yep, that's Pluto's real color. Data from New Horizons is coming back at about 1kb/s, so it's going to take a while for the next series of images to come through. NASA's New Horizons team just finished a Reddit AMA where they answered a ton of questions about the mission.

    Norman
    Photo Gallery: Adam Incognito with Astronaut Chris Hadfield

    Here are some photos I took of Adam and Commander Chris Hadfield prepping for their Comic-Con incognito walk, roaming the convention show floor, and randomly bumping into "The Martian" author Andy Weir! You can actually see the exact moment when Andy realizes that the two 2001: A Space Odyssey astronauts must be Adam and Chris!

    10 Awesome NASA Space Projects Of The Near Future

    For a while there, it was looking like America was sort of giving up on space. Economic issues here on the ground made it tough to fund all of the cool things we wanted to do, but a new combination of private investment, technological advancement and a public desire to see more of our glorious universe seems to have lit a fire under the agency’s behind. If you haven’t been keeping track, NASA has a lot of cool stuff coming up. Here’s our guide to ten cool things they hope to get off the ground soon.

    NASA’s Super Guppy–Awkward, Old, and Irreplaceable

    When it comes to airplanes, I have a soft spot for the rare and unusual. If an airplane looks like it shouldn't even be capable of flight…all the better. NASA's Super Guppy cargo plane meets all of those qualifications. I've seen it fly many times, and I was even able to explore its interior once. Yet, it never fails to leave me scratching my head in slack jawed bewilderment. It is a tremendously unique aircraft with an equally unique history.

    Flight – Lacking power-boosted controls, the Super Guppy requires a lot of pilot muscle to fly. (NASA image)

    Genesis of the Super Guppy

    The Super Guppy did not emerge from a clean drawing board. It is actually a mishmash of parts from several airplanes, along with a few custom pieces holding it all together. Some of those parts are from WWII-vintage designs. Despite its "Frankenplane" structure and relative age, the Super Guppy continues to do things that no other airplane in NASA's fleet can do. Indeed, few aircraft anywhere in the world can match this bulbous machine's ability to haul oversized cargo.

    Before dissecting the makeup of NASA's current Super Guppy, it is worth reviewing the genealogy of aircraft that spawned it. As the story goes, aircraft salesman Lee Mansdorf and his friend, Jack Conroy conceived the "Guppy" idea in 1960 as an opportunity to provide logistical support to America's fledgling space program – even though NASA wasn't looking for help.

    The nose of NASA's Super Guppy swings open to allow loading into the cargo area. (NASA image)

    The manufacturers building spacecraft components were located all over the US. The only reasonable means to get these parts from one coast to the other was via ship travelling through the Panama Canal – an expensive and risky journey that could take weeks. Mansdorf and Conroy felt that air transport would be a much better method. Although there were airplanes capable of lifting the necessary weight, none were large enough to accommodate the girth of these loads. The industrious pair felt that they had a solution.

    UrtheCast Camera Footage from the ISS

    UrtheCast, a satellite imaging startup, operates two massive Iris cameras mounted on the International Space Station to capture pretty incredible footage. Objects a meter in size are visible, and software compensates for the movement of the ISS above Earth. The company, which plans to sell its video and data to companies and the government, has promised to stream live video from its cameras to the public next month.

    Inside NASA's Virtual Reality Laboratory

    A fun video piece from Gizmodo: "We've seen how NASA recreates the vacuum of space right here on Earth, but what about the gravity of space? What about the forces of inertia? When large objects move and behave so differently, how to you train for a mission so you know what to expect when you get there?" Read the associated story, originally published last November, here.

    The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Andy Weir

    Adam Savage welcomes author Andy Weir to The Talking Room! Andy wrote 'The Martian', the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars--it's a book we can't recommend enough. Adam and Andy talk about the research that went into writing the book, the portrayal of astronauts in fiction, and the upcoming film adaptation!

    The Spacesuit Fire That NASA Refuses to Forget

    These days, Joe Nowetner is an operations manager at UTC Aerospace Systems, the contractor responsible for NASA's fleet of spacesuits. Early in his career, Joe worked as an electrical technician at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) supporting the testing regimen of a new spacesuit design, the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). One particular test served as a startling reminder that exploring space is a dangerous business…even for those who never leave the ground. Joe has never forgotten the lessons he learned that day. Neither has NASA.

    The Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) has been the suit worn by spacewalking astronauts since the beginning of the Space Shuttle Program. A mishap during development of the EMU helped to shape NASA's current safety culture.

    The EMU Fire

    The EMU design would persevere to become the spacesuit worn by spacewalking astronauts throughout the Space Shuttle Program and even today on the International Space Station. In the nearly 40-year history of the suit, truly scary moments have been so infrequent that they are still referenced in generic terms, with no distinction needed…i.e. "the water leak", "the chamber incident", "the bellows failure". In that lingo, the events of April 18, 1980 are summarized as "the EMU fire".

    At that time, the space shuttle was still ramping up for its inaugural flight and the EMU was an unproven system. Nowetner was part of a JSC team tasked to execute functional tests on an EMU unit. This task was a critical step in preparation for the first manned test of the suit, an event where space-like conditions would be simulated in a large vacuum chamber.

    Although the EMU was unmanned for the April test, the suit's life support system was exercised. Ironically, it was the life support system that caused a flash fire which burned two technicians (one severely), destroyed the EMU, and reawakened a culture of safety throughout NASA. Here's what happened.

    Suit Up: 50 Years of Spacewalks

    "This NASA documentary celebrates 50 years of extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalks that began with the first two EVAs conducted by Russian Alexey Leonov in March 1965 and American astronaut Edward White in June 1965 . The documentary features interviews with NASA Administrator and astronaut, Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator and spacesuit designer, Dava Newman, as well as other astronauts, engineers, technicians, managers and luminaries of spacewalk history. They share their personal stories and thoughts that cover the full EVA experience-- from the early spacewalking experiences, to spacesuit manufacturing, to modern day spacewalks aboard the International Space Station as well as what the future holds for humans working on a tether in space. "

    In Brief: ILM's John Knoll on the Death Star and Star Wars Physics

    A week ago, attendees at Star Wars Celebration got the first glimpse of the first Star Wars Anthology film, named Rogue One. Director Gareth Edwards revealed that the film would be about the theft of the Death Star plans before the events of Episode IV, and showed a short teaser clip created by ILM specifically for the announcement. The clip, which has yet to be officially released by Lucasfilm (but for which bootleg copies were immediately uploaded to YouTube), showed the massive Death Star looming over the horizon of a forested planet. AICN writer and professional astronomer used screencaps of that footage to calculate the physics of that shot to assess it's "realism", and was subsequently contacted by effects legend John Knoll to walked through ILM's thinking behind that shot. Knoll's explanation is wonderfully geeky, and shows how much thought effects artists and engineers put into their work, beyond just the "wow" factor. It's the very best of sci-fi apologetics, from the behind-the-scenes technicians closest to canon. (h/t Gary Whitta)

    Norman
    Watch SpaceX Rocket Launches in 4K

    SpaceX just uploaded this montage of its recent rocket launches (but not landing attempts) which were shot in 4K resolution. YouTube 4K is pegged by some reports at around 15mpbs, though Google recommends that 4K source files are encoded at 35-45mbps. Regardless, the footage looks spectacular, even if you're viewing it on a 1440p monitor. Happy Friday!

    In Brief: Apollo Flight Control Consoles Explained

    An oldie but a goodie: Ars Technica's Lee Hutchinson explains the role and purpose of each control station in NASA's Apollo-era Mission Control room, which was restored in 1992. Lee, a friend of Tested, interviewed retired NASA Flight Controller Sy Liebergot to go through every console and panel in the hallowed operations room. We've previously shared photos of other Mission Control Centers from space agencies around the world and taken photos at JSC's MCC during our visit back in 2013.

    Norman
    Adam Savage's Navy Mark IV Helmet

    We've shared Adam's passion for NASA spacesuits, including his Mercury era spacesuit replica that he wore at Comic-Con. The helmet for that suit was based off of B.F. Goodrich's Navy Mark IV design, and Adam has recently come into possession of an original Mark IV helmet. Time to geek out about it!

    A Brief Explanation of Gravitational Lensing

    From the New York Times' "Out There" astronomy column: "A century after Albert Einstein proposed that gravity could bend light, astronomers now rely on galaxies or even clusters of galaxies to magnify distant stars." The use of gavitational lensing has allowed astronomers to observe the same supernova nine billion light years away four times since 1964. (h/t Laughingsquid)

    In Brief: Why M&Ms are the Perfect Space Snack

    Smithsonian magazine has a fun little feature about the history of chocolate in the space program. Chocolate has been a choice treat for cosmonauts and astronauts since the very first manned space flights, but has travelled in many different forms: tubed sauce, pudding, brownies, and of course, M&Ms. We were privileged to be able to see some of these freeze-dried and vacuum-sealed snacks during our visit to JSC in 2013. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have a sealed package of space travel-ready 'candy-coated chocolates'. (Sort of related: the contents of Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 stowage bag 'purse', recently discovered and brought to the National Air and Space Museum. Its incredible contents here.)

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