Archive | Astronomy RSS feed for this section

Visiting Kennedy Space Center: My Celebration of the Walk on the Moon

6 Jun

With the fiftieth anniversary of the Moon Landing fast approaching, I knew our recent trip to Florida had to include a visit to the Kennedy Space Center.  How could we not go and relive the excitement of the United States’ journeys to the sky and the moon?  So we did!

We went on an uncrowded Sunday, the first one in June 2019.  Not quite seven weeks before the historic 50 anniversary which will be on July 20!  Although we did not take the bus tour to the launch pads, since we did that four years ago, we still had more than enough to do by touring through the exhibits.  At each one remembering our own excitement as we watched the race to space advance during our lifetime.

While there, we made sure to visit the memorial to those men and women who gave their lives while involved in the space program. The names of the Apollo and shuttle crews who perished are inscribed in a black wall reaching to the skies.  We were the only ones at the memorial when we went.  I wish everyone would visit this area of the Space Center.  Those who perished in the two shuttle catastrophes are also memorialized in the exhibit featuring the Atlantis Space Shuttle.

Atlantis, the last of the Space Shuttles, is housed in a giant building.  You cannot appreciate the size of the shuttle and its rockets until you are standing next to them.  Impressive! You learn so much about the ability of so many who worked together to create the space program.

But before the space shuttles came the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.  The Center is filled with information about the astronauts, the engineers and the many people who helped create the leap into space.

img_3711

Friendship 7 Mission Control

The Heroes and Legends includes an Astronaut Hall of Fame and an exhibit of the original mission control.  While looking at this room, you watch a short video about John Glenn’s first orbits around the Earth and the fears when one of the lights came on indicating that the heat shield had come loose.  Luckily that was not the case, but you sense the fear.  Mission control looks so outdated today.  Computers and electronics are now so advanced.

I now understand, even more, why the mathematicians I learned about in the book and movie, Hidden Figures, were so important.  The state of technology was low, and brains were important.  I loved learning about Katherine Goble in the movie.  Seeing the mission control short movie about the Friendship 7, reminded me the importance of her calculations, which were also used in the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle missions, even though she is not mentioned.   I believe it is important to remember all the women who also had an impact on the space programs! I once thought my daughter would join these women at NASA. (See blog below.)

img_3700

Mock up of the newest moon rocket.

At the Kennedy Space Center, you can watch a variety of movies on the space program at the IMAX theater.  My favorite was the opportunity to listen to a briefing about what is happening at NASA and the chance to meet an astronaut at the Universe Theater.   We did learn that there is an effort to return to the moon in 2024 and we even saw a mockup of the space craft that will take astronauts there.

I still remember watching Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. (See blog below.). The summer of 1969 Is one I will never forget for both the walk on the moon and for the Woodstock music festival that was less than two miles from my home in the Catskills.

Space has had a place in the fabric of my family.  Visiting the Kennedy Space Center and learning about the past, present and future of the space program is a way to celebrate innovation and science.

img_3851

I visited the gift shop to purchase a t-shirt commemorating the 50th anniversary. I had to get a Snoopy shirt.  For me, the Apollo missions to the moon will forever be attached to Charles Shultz and his cartoon character, Snoopy.  In fact, the Apollo 10 lunar module was called Snoopy, while the command one was called Charlie Brown.

Earlier this year I watched as Israel sent its first spacecraft to the moon with the help of Space IL and the Israel Aerospace Industries.  The Beresheet spacecraft crashed in its final moments, just before landing.   Think of the capabilities of technology today compared to 1969!  And even today it is nearly impossible to have a perfect landing.  This indicates so spectacularly how remarkable were the United States early trips to the moon.   I look forward to the 55th anniversary and the next attempt by the USA to have a man and a woman once again walk on the moon.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/03/07/our-daughter-not-an-astronaut/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/29/spaceastronomy-and-the-first-walk-on-the-moon/

www.KennedySpaceCenter.com

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-and-peanuts-celebrate-apollo-10-s-50th-anniversary

https://www.space.com/israeli-beresheet-moon-landing-attempt-fails.html

 

Our Daughter: Not An Astronaut

7 Mar

We always thought our daughter would become an astronaut.  It was not a crazy dream.  Our house was filled with books and videos focusing on the idea of space exploration.  My husband actually started filling out the application to join NASA, but an undetected medical issue ended his dream.  However, that did not stop him from always speaking about space. (See blog below.)

Because he could not be an astronaut, for his 40th birthday, I gave him a week of Adult Space Academy at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama in 1994, just four years after the program began. He had a wonderful time and came home with his own blue NASA jumpsuit, which became his Halloween costume for years.  As a pediatrician, it was important for him to have a great costume.  Each time he put it on, he glowed.

img_2062

My husband and daughter in Space Camp.

His constant discussions of the joys of space camp excited our daughter, who also wanted to go.  So in June 1995, my husband  took his NASA jumpsuit with him when he took our then nine-year old daughter to Huntsville for a weekend of Family Space Camp.  They had a wonderful time.

Our daughter was hooked. She also came home with a desire to learn everything she could about space and becoming an astronaut.  So the summer between sixth and seventh grade she went to Space Camp at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas.

There is a wonderful museum there that contains many space relics.   We had been members of the Cosmosphere for several years, after a tour there once on our way to Wichita.  It was a bit out of our way, but well worth the journey.

When our daughter went to Space Camp in Hutchinson, there was only one overnight Space Camp available.  But she lucked out.  The following year, the Cosmosphere added a second level to Space Camp.  In this new program, the campers had an overnight trip to Houston, Texas, to visit NASA. That was so exciting for her.

While they were in Mission Control, the Space Shuttle mission STS-93 was orbiting the earth commanded by the Astronaut Eileen Collins, July 1999.  Our daughter was able to speak to Astronaut Collins.  And they were there when the Space Shuttle actually returned to earth and touched down in Houston.  That was the highlight for her.  A woman in control  epitomized our daughter’s dreams.

Her next stop was Huntsville, Alabama, on her own for Space Academy.  She was in her happy place.  At 15 years old, the world was hers.  As a scuba diver, she had her happiest moment in the giant tank, while others were learning to scuba dive, she somersaulted and enjoyed moving around the mock-up of the space vehicles.   We flew in to attend her graduation, where we were told what an excellent student she had been that week.

We didn’t fly in just for her.  Since her program ended on a Friday, my husband and son were signed up for Family Space Camp that weekend. While they enjoyed camp, my daughter and I explored Huntsville.  And she told me all about her experience.  She came home with her own  NASA jumpsuit and joined my husband in dressing up each Halloween.

Thus, we were surprised when she did not go into science and pursue her space exploration adventures.  In fact, when she wrote her college essay, she focused on the strengths of Pippi Longstocking, and not the excitement of space camp.

Why asked why, she said that an astronaut had come to speak to them at camp. He told them that the astronauts currently in the program were like penguins, who would never fly. To our daughter that was the end of her NASA dreams.  She found another dream and earned two masters’ degrees.  But never joined NASA.

img_1233

Our daughter never became an astronaut, but her American Girl doll did!  Last year, 2018,  the American Girl Company came out with Luciana.  Our daughter and her husband were at the mall when she stopped into the American Girl store because she saw all the clothes and items available for Luciana.  She purchased a NASA like jumpsuit for her doll.  She dressed her Rebecca doll as an astronaut and joined her in her own NASA jumpsuit! (It still fit as it had when she was a teenager!)

Recently I was at the mall and saw all the space accoutrements.  I sent photos to our daughter to see what she thought, as it was close to her birthday.  And even though she is in her 30s, her American Girl dolls and space are still important to her.  She reminded me that she had purchased the jump suit, but her husband said she did not need anything else.  But what is need to a mom.  I got the space suit, the book and a few other items. Once again I state, my daughter might never have been an astronaut, but I could be sure that her doll reached the stars.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/29/spaceastronomy-and-the-first-walk-on-the-moon/

Totality 

21 Aug

No one can truly prepare a solar eclipse novice to the extraordinary moment of totality. You can say it gets cooler. You can tell them about the moon’s shadow rushing toward you. You can say it is spectacular. 

Watching the eclipse with welder’s goggles.


Each of the events come in sequence.   Watching the solar bands as they flicker in the ground. Explaining the ring of Fire that surrounds the shadow. And finally you can tell them about the absolute spectacular moments that encompass totality. You can tell them. But they cannot understand until they have actually experienced the moment. And then they know. 

Watching the shadow come over the Grand Tetons.


That moment when the moon’s shadow reaches the sun and it goes black. And a sparkle of light flashes out one last time: the diamond ring. There are no words,  Except, “Oh My God!”  

 Then comes the displays of light. The Bailey’s beads. The solar flares. The prominences that jump into the sky. You can now see them without the bright light of the sun blinding your eyes. And time seems to flicker by. Two minutes seem take just seconds to pass. 

Ring of Fire!


Each eclipse has its own special corona. The white light that shoots out in all directions from the sun. This one seemed Star shaped. 

I was blessed to see this eclipse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with the Grand Tetons in the horizon. 500 of us were fortunate to be at the Jackson Hole Golf Club. A most glorious spot to see the magnificent sky show. 

I am so blessed to have seen five eclipses. I am already looking forward to 2020 in Chile and 2024 in Texas! 

I truly believe that everyone should see at least one eclipse. But I know if you do, you will want to see another and another. You will join our band of umbraphiles who wish to once again stand in totality and stand in the glory of the moon’s shadow. 

Preparing For My Fifth Eclipse

15 Aug
IMG_0953

Watching the eclipse on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea 2006.

Today I had a manicure in black and silver in honor of the total eclipse of the sun that will occur on Monday, August 21. Later I ordered five eclipse t-shirts designed by a friend!  I am getting excited!  Just five more days to the eclipse!

I remember when I went on my first Eclipse trip in 1998 to see the eclipse on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Little did I know then that seeing an eclipse would take me to Austria, Hungary, Greece and Turkey and now the USA.

During the eclipse in 1999 in Europe, I found out about the eclipse on August 21, 2017. I thought it was so far away. And I would be so OLD…62. I was not sure I could even think of an eclipse so far in the distant future. But here it is. I am 62. I will see it. 18 years went very quickly.

This will actually be my fifth total eclipse. The first one I accidentally saw was on the East Coast when I was a teenager on March 7, 1970. I remember being told not to look at the sun. I do remember it getting dark. But I honestly do not remember much of that celestial event.

My next three viewings of total eclipses were well thought out by my husband. Although he is a physician now, he spent his high school career determined to be an astrophysicist. He even studied at Cal Tech for the first two years of college. Although he totally changed his major, he never lost his love of the universe.  (I wrote about this in an earlier blog, see link below.)

On our first date, as we walked across the campus at the University of Missouri, he pointed out constellations in the night sky. This love of stars is contagious. I soon fell under the eclipse spell.

I have seen eclipse on land and in the ocean.

I cannot explain the magic that occurs as you see the moon shadow racing towards you as darkness overcomes daylight.

I cannot describe the beautiful red, orange, gold, yellow, white splashes of light the pour forth from the corona of a total eclipse.

To see the spurts and flourishes of the sun’s plasma as it shoots into the sky.

A vision you cannot normally see due to the brightness of the sun.

But now can look directly into the dark circle and see the stunning displays of light.

I cannot wait until Monday when we once again will stand in the darkness of an totally eclipsed sun! We plan to be with our umbraphile friends in Wyoming as we stand in awe during the eclipse.

My husband and I have vowed to take no photos during the eclipse. Let the experts do that. Instead we will look skyward and enjoy the spectacular joy of an eclipse.

 

Umbraphile: definition: one who loves eclipses

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/spaceastronomy-and-the-first-walk-on-the-moon/

Beautiful Skies Light Up Catskills Nights

27 May

“Do you know what weekend you are coming?” My sister asked, when I gave her the dates I planned to come to New York for my annual Catskill visit. “It’s the weekend of the Perseid meteor shower!”

“Perfect!” was my response. “Do you remember lying out on the grass to watch?”

The night sky in the Catskills is so beautiful. No city lights block out the view. The nights are so quiet and so dark, (and sometimes scary), it makes watching the sky and the stars special.

In the Catskills, it is crisp and cool when the sun goes down. We often spent the nights sitting out on the wooden lawn chairs watching the sky, while wrapped in woolen blankets. Sometimes we would put blankets on the ground so we could look straight up at the sky. This gave us a much better view. But the grass was often damp at night, so my Mom had to give the okay to get some blankets wet.

Watching the sky during the second week of August was our favorite time. How many meteors would we see? Who would see the first one? How late would we be allowed to stay up to watch? How many nights would we actually be able to see the meteors? Although August 12 is the most active night for shooting stars, they appear for a few nights before and after.

I also remember my Dad pointing out man-made satellites and telling us how we could tell the difference between them and shooting stars. (Man-made satellites move steadily through the sky, while shooting stars go quickly and then disappear.)

When we had our own children and started taking them to the Catskills, we shared the love of the night sky and taught them to count the shooting stars. We loved passing along this tradition to our children. Sitting out on a wooden chair with a child in your lap is so warm and wonderful.

Occasionally, when we were little in the 1960s and 1970s, we were also able to see the aurora borealis. It did not happen often, but every once in a while, to the north, those greenish yellow lights would shoot up to the sky from behind the trees, or so it seemed.

I still remember the first time I really understood what it was when I saw them. I was about ten years old. And one evening, while looking for shooting stars, I noticed a yellowish glow above the line of trees. I was worried; was it a fire? The adults assured me it was not fire, instead it was the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis lighting the sky. I still remember the sight of the dancing green and yellow lights above the trees. This is the spot where, in the future, we would normally see them. I remember at night always turning to this spot on our property to look for the lights.

Whenever I see the aurora borealis, and I have seen it several times in my adult life, I always think of one of my favorite stories about my sister’s husband. Let me set the stage:

The first point is that my sister’s son was a very fussy baby at times. He did his best sleeping when being driven in a car. My sister and her husband spent many hours driving my nephew’s first six months of life.

The second point is that my sister’s husband had not spent his childhood summers in the Catskills, so had no true experience with the night sky. He was a metropolitan New York, Long Island boy, who had never seen the northern lights.

That is the setting. Now the story:

One night, when their son was being fussy, my sister and her husband took their baby for a drive in the Kauneonga Lake, Bethel, Swan Lake area, part of the time along old 17B. My brother in law kept driving and driving and driving, for quite a long time, along the dark, hilly, curving roads. Finally my sister asked, “Where are you going?”

“I am going to drive to those lights…to that city,” he responded.

My sister knew there was no city there. And those were definitely not the lights of any city.

“You will be driving for a very long time,” she told him. “Those are the Aurora Borealis.”

He had no idea that we could see them in the Catskills. He was mildly incredulous, but he did turn around and head back to my parent’s home.

We had been getting worried. It was the time before cell phones, so all we could do is wait for them to return. My father considered calling the state troopers. But they returned before the call was made.

When they got back, and my sister told us what happened, we loved it! Even better, my nephew continued sleeping.

I still love that story!

My husband did not have that problem. He recognizes the aurora borealis. He studied astrophysics and quantum mechanics at Cal Tech (in Pasadena, California) for two years of undergrad before he changed his major and his college. But his interest in the night sky started when he was very young, when he was growing up in St. Louis.   His Dad told me how he took my husband to classes at the St. Louis McDonnell Planetarium when he was a boy. And my husband told me how his Dad slept through the presentations. But at least his Dad went with him.

My husband’s interest in astronomy made the beautiful night skies an added attraction and enjoyment during his visits to our home in Kauneonga Lake. When he came up, he would set a blanket out on the grass at night and star gaze for hours. When our children were old enough, he would take them outside to watch the sky with him. They would stay out there for hours wrapped in blankets.

My children learned the name of the stars and the constellations at an early age. They also learned at a young age that Dad would wake them up in the middle of the night if there was something interesting going on in the sky. In the Catskills it was easy to see these special sky events, which made them much more fun.

There might more lights on in the Catskills at night now. But it is still dark enough to enjoy the night sky and the meteor showers. I cannot wait to see them this year. I wish everyone happy star gazing!