Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hayabusa2 Update: Japan Lands Two Rovers on the Surface of Asteroid Ryugu!

A snapshot taken by Japan's MINERVA-II Rover-1A as it 'hopped' along asteroid Ryugu's surface on September 22, 2018 (Japan Time).

Last Friday, Japan made history when it successfully landed two rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu...the rocky body from which the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will extract samples from as early as next month. The image above was taken by MINERVA-II Rover-1A last Saturday (Japan Time) while the cheese wheel-sized probe was in the middle of a 'hop' (the MINERVA rovers don't move the same way that NASA's four-wheeled Curiosity rover does on Mars) above Ryugu's surface. The photo directly below was obtained by MINERVA-II Rover-1B as it descended towards the asteroid after being released from Hayabusa2 on September 21. The Japanese orbiter is set to release a German lander known as MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) within the next month, while a third MINERVA rover—dubbed MINERVA-II-2 Rover-2—will be deployed sometime next year.

A snapshot taken by Japan's MINERVA-II Rover-1B shortly after it was deployed from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft on September 21, 2018 (Japan Time).

The image below, taken right before the MINERVA rovers were deployed, is of asteroid Ryugu with Hayabusa2's TIE Fighter-like shadow clearly visible on its surface. You can expect to see this type of amazing snapshot a few more times when Hayabusa2 releases MASCOT and MINERVA Rover-2 as mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as when JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) flight controllers finally command the orbiter to descend towards the small Near-Earth Object to collect soil samples for the first time. Can't wait!

Hayabusa2's shadow is visible on the surface of Ryugu as the Japanese spacecraft descended towards the asteroid on September 21, 2018 (Japan Time).

A photo of the two MINERVA-II-1 rovers before they were installed aboard Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Photos of the Day #2: NASA Releases 'First Light' Images That Were Taken by the Parker Solar Probe and TESS!

A 'first light' image of our Milky Way galaxy that was taken by the Parker Solar Probe's Wide-field Imager...on September 9, 2018.
NASA / Naval Research Laboratory / Parker Solar Probe

Space enthusiasts everywhere were treated to amazing new images taken by the recently-launched Parker Solar Probe and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) this week. In the snapshot above, you see our Milky Way galaxy as it was glimpsed by Parker's Wide-field Imager on September 9. In the snapshot below, you see the 'first light' science image that was taken by TESS on August 7 (the satellite's first light test image was publicly released a few months ago). In other amazing TESS-related news, NASA announced that its newest planet hunter has already pinpointed two new exoplanet candidates: a super-Earth orbiting around the bright star Pi Mensae about 60 light-years away, and a 'hot Earth' revolving around LHS 3844—an M dwarf star 49 light-years away. Astronomers need to confirm these two planetary discoveries with follow-up observations, but all signs point to TESS beginning to live up to expectations about five months after its launch!

The Parker Solar Probe, meanwhile, is expected to make its first flyby of Venus on October 3 before cruising through the Sun's corona for the first time in November. Stay tuned.

A 'first light' science image showing a sea of stars and the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, as viewed by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite on August 7, 2018.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Photo of the Day: A Blast from the Past...

A colorized photo of the mushroom cloud above Nagasaki, Japan...on August 9, 1945.

Earlier today, I stumbled upon this colorized photo of the mushroom cloud above Nagasaki, Japan on As you know, it was the annihilation of this second city in Japan (on August 9, 1945), that led to the country's surrender and ultimate end of World War II.

It's amazing that Japan, the only country in world history to be attacked with nuclear weapons, is now one of the closest allies of the nation that attacked Japan with nuclear weapons in the first place. I'm talking about the United States, of course. Not that I'll live long enough to see this, but it will be interesting to think about which countries today will be America's closest allies and which ones will be its most hated enemies in another 70 years. That is all.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Five. Simple. Syllables: X-Wing Is AWESOME!

A Random Nerd Note: I don't care if this video game is 25 years old, but I still enjoy playing X-Wing on my laptop computer! And my favorite starfighter to use in this game is the B-Wing...which I hope makes an official return in next year's Star Wars: Episode IX! The Crait ski speeders (which resemble the B-Wing but were built by a different manufacturer) in last year's The Last Jedi don't count.

Happy Monday!

A screenshot I took of the B-Wing starfighter before I was about to fly off to perform a mission in the STAR WARS: X-WING video game.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Image of the Day: The ENDLESS DREAMS...

A snapshot of the Endless Dreams, aboard which I'll be celebrating my 20-year high school reunion on October 6, docked in the harbor.

Just thought I'd share this snapshot of the Endless Dreams...a small ship that I'll be riding during my 20-year high school reunion on October 6! It was earlier today that I decided to hop on board and dish out $125 to join my fellow classmates on a 4-hour cruise though the Newport Beach harbor in California less than three weeks from now. Of course, I rarely talked to half of those classmates in high school two decades ago. But for personal reasons, attending my reunion is one of the events that'll make 2018 so similar to 2008—which was a very good year for me. I'll elaborate on that in a Blog entry by year's end.

So yea— I need to arrive in Orange County (California) to board the Endless Dreams around 5:30 PM, and the ship will set sail for a voyage that will last from 6 PM to 10 PM on the first Saturday of October. Awesome. I would also like to mention that my 39th birthday is two days before that! Yes, I plan to do something awesome to celebrate on that day... Carry on.

My high school alma mater...which didn't look like this back in 1998.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Delta II Launch Vehicle Has Entered The History Books, And Will Soon Enter Kennedy Space Center's 'Rocket Garden' As Well...

Embarking on its final launch before retirement, a Delta II rocket (carrying NASA's ICESat-2 spacecraft) lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California...on September 15, 2018.

United Launch Alliance Selects NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as the Future Home of the Last Delta II Rocket (Press Release)

Centennial, Colo., Sept. 15, 2018 – United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that the last Delta II rocket will join a lineup of historic rockets in the Rocket Garden on display at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“The Delta II rocket has been a venerable workhorse for NASA and civilian scientists, the U.S. military, and commercial clients throughout its almost 30 years of service,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “This program comes to a close with the final launch of NASA’s ICESat-2, but its legacy will continue and the Visitor Complex will help us keep the story of the success of this much-revered rocket in the hearts and minds of the public.”

The maiden Delta II took flight on Valentine's Day in 1989, successfully delivering the first operational GPS satellite into space. Since that first launch, Delta II rockets have launched 154 successful missions. Its resume includes several trips to Mars as well as the planet-hunting Kepler, the twin lunar-orbiting GRAIL spacecraft, 48 GPS satellites and numerous commercial imaging and communications satellites.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation's most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 125 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

Source: United Launch Alliance


Posing in the 'Rocket Garden' at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida...on February 8, 2009.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Photos of the Day: Commemorating the Final Launch of the Delta II Rocket...

A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's comet-bound Deep Impact spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida...on January 12, 2005.

At 5:46 AM, Pacific Daylight Time tomorrow, a Delta II rocket is set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California...carrying NASA's ICESat-2 spacecraft to a polar orbit around the Earth. What makes this flight special, and sad, is that this is the final flight of the Delta II vehicle before it is retired for good. I was pondering for the last two months about whether or not I should make the drive to Ventura County (where Vandenberg is located) to watch the Delta II soar into the sky one last time. Ultimately, and unfortunately, I decided not to go since I've been strapped financially for much of 2018 and can't afford to spend cash on gas, hotel room and other expenses if I made the trip to Central California. Considering the fact that the weather is currently 100% 'GO' for liftoff on Saturday morning, it seems like the rocket gods are trying to make me regret my decision. Here's hoping that some type of minor mechanical issue will crop up that'll delay the Delta II's launch a few days—just to ease my guilt of not going!

To honor the venerable Delta II, here are photos of the four vehicles that launched NASA spacecraft which had my name as well as those of thousands of others on them:

- TOP PHOTO: A Delta II rocket carrying the comet-bound Deep Impact spacecraft (whose now-obliterated impactor held a CD containing the names of 625,000 people, including mine) launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida on January 12, 2005.

- PHOTO DIRECTLY BELOW: A Delta II rocket carrying the Mars-bound Phoenix lander (whose DVD holds the names of 250,000 people, including mine) launched from CCAFS on August 4, 2007.

- SECOND PHOTO FROM THE BOTTOM: A Delta II rocket carrying the asteroid and dwarf planet-bound Dawn space probe (whose microchip is imprinted with the names of 365,000 people, including mine) lifted off from CCAFS on September 27, 2007.

And last, but definitely not least...

- THE PHOTO AT THE VERY BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY: A Delta II vehicle carrying the exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope (whose DVD is encoded with the names and messages of 60,000 people, including mine) departed from CCAFS on March 6, 2009.

All I can say is, when the day comes that the Atlas V rocket (which sent the Curiosity Mars rover, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the MAVEN spacecraft and InSight Mars lander—which all have my name on them as well—to their deep-space destinations over the past decade) is about to be retired, I'll definitely make the effort to see its final launch in person. Assuming, of course, that its last flight also takes place from Ventura County. Whether or not its final payload is an interplanetary NASA spacecraft or a classified military satellite won't matter. I just want to see one of these marvels of human engineering leave Earth's atmosphere in person before it's grounded permanently. Have a great weekend!

A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Phoenix Mars lander launches from CCAFS in Florida...on August 4, 2007.

A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's asteroid and dwarf planet-bound Dawn spacecraft launches from CCAFS in Florida...on September 27, 2007.

A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope launches from CCAFS in Florida...on March 6, 2009.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

17 Years Ago, Today...

The Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center complex are struck by airliners hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

We Will Never Forget. That has been this nation's mantra since the 1-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks ever on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. I remember where I was on that fateful day—at home, having a day off from class (I started my fourth year in college a few weeks earlier), and turning on the TV to see what was transpiring in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC that morning. I forgot what prompted me to switch on the TV after I got out of bed that day, but the image above will be imprinted on my mind forever. Of course, it will be imprinted on the minds of 300 million other Americans (and folks around the world) as well. And it should be... We Will Never Forget.

The 1 World Trade Center in New York City.
Image courtesy of Eric Eisenhour - Facebook

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Real-Life CAPTAIN MARVEL! Sort Of (Obviously)...

Colonel Gina 'Torch' Sabric is the first female F-35 pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
U.S. Air Force photo / Todd Cromar

Meet Air Force Reserve’s First Female F-35 Pilot (News Release - September 6)

Before she climbed into the world’s most advanced fighter jet to become the Air Force Reserve’s first female F-35 pilot, Col. Gina “Torch” Sabric had already flown 10 airframes and racked up 22 years of flying experience.

“My family can tell you I’ve wanted to be a fighter pilot forever,” said Sabric, the first female commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “I’ve always been fascinated with air and space.”

Service is in her DNA. Growing up in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, her mother was a nurse and her father a police officer, and she had several uncles who served in the Air Force. But it was a trip to a local airshow that turned her aviation dream into a tangible goal.

“My dad was a private pilot, so he took me to an airshow when I was a little girl, and I remember looking up at those airplanes and being amazed,” Sabric said. “Ever since then, I knew I was going to be a pilot.”

Twice in her teens she went to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. A few years later, she had followed in her dad’s footsteps, earning a private pilot’s license while studying aerospace engineering at Penn State. By 1995, Sabric was ready to join the Air Force and had no doubts she’d be wearing a flight suit.

“If you really want something, you work your hardest to get it.”

Sabric proved herself as the top graduate from navigator training, launching her career first as an F-15E Strike Eagle weapons system officer and later as a distinguished graduate from pilot training into the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Add to that the MQ-9 Reaper, a remotely piloted aircraft, and the T-38 Talon, which she flew as “red air,” or simulated enemy against F-22 Raptors. Most recently, she flew special operations missions in the C-146A Wolfhound out of Duke Field, Florida.

“I don’t have the typical flying career,” Sabric said of the multiple airframes she’s flown. “I’ve had the opportunity to bounce around with different aircraft and mission sets. I think it’s made me a better pilot because I’ve had the opportunity to experience so much outside the fighter world.”

Her career is different in other ways, too. Sabric said she’s grown accustomed to answering questions about being a woman in the fighter world – one that, until 1993 when Jeannie Leavitt became the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, was dominated by men.

“In the nineties, women were just getting into fighters,” Sabric said. “Back then, you were either the only girl in pilot training, or just one of two. But once you prove yourself in the cockpit, gender doesn’t matter anymore. A fighter pilot is a fighter pilot and everyone has to do the same job.”

Sabric said a lot has changed in the past 20 years. She doesn’t feel like “the token girl” in the squadron. She has more than 2,500 flying hours, including time in combat, and has deployed numerous times in support of Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Noble Eagle.

“It’s great to know that today there are little girls, like me, who look up and see fighter jets and say, ‘I can do that.’”

Sabric said she loves talking to school groups and touting some of the ways both men and women can serve in the Air Force Reserve.

“When you take off the helmet and the long hair comes out, that’s a good thing for girls to see,” Sabric said. “I remember when I was a lieutenant, we brought a group of Girl Scouts to the F-15E simulator. That was really eye-opening to me because it was a moment when I realized how far we’ve come. We were able to show these girls what opportunities were open to them that weren’t just a few years earlier.”

Still, there’s only a small number of women fighter pilots in the Air Force, and only three others – all active duty – in the F-35 community.

Sabric said the birth of her son, Tyler, in 2011 was the deciding factor in leaving active duty for the Air Force Reserve, as it offered more flexibility in how and where she served.

“The Reserve provides an opportunity to serve either part time or full time when it works for you and your family,” she said. “It’s unique because everyone is here by choice. About two-thirds of our Airmen serve part time, and they do a phenomenal job of balancing work – both military and civilian – and family, because they want to serve in some capacity.”

Earlier this year, the Reserve brought Sabric, a single mom, to Hill AFB in Northern Utah, where less than three years earlier the 419th FW and its active duty counterpart, the 388th FW, received the Air Force’s first operational F-35A Lightning II. Since then, the two wings have flown the F-35 in a “Total Force” partnership, launching more than 9,000 sorties and logging nearly 15,000 hours in the jet.

“When I was told I got this job, a huge smile came across my face and I thought, ‘Wow, I just got the golden ticket,’” Sabric said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be a fighter pilot and fly the latest fifth-generation aircraft at an operational wing. It doesn’t get any better.”

Sabric became fully qualified in the F-35 in August, having finished two months of training at Eglin AFB, Florida, and additional flying hours at Hill.

“I’m still new in the airplane,” Sabric said. “Every sortie you learn something new, so as I continue to fly I’ll continue to learn. What the F-35 brings to the fight now, it’s light-years beyond fourth-gen aircraft.”

Aside from the stealth technology that keeps the F-35 virtually invisible to radar, Sabric said the most impressive aspect of the jet is its “sensor fusion” – the vast wealth of information it collects and sends that can be shared with other aircraft, giving pilots a bigger picture of the battlespace.

“Learning the F-35 is a challenge, and it’s a lot of new information to process and interpret,” Sabric said. But her diverse flying experience prepared her to make yet another switch. “Luckily, it’s still stick and rudder, and flying is flying.”

Sabric looks forward to helping the F-35 reach full operational capability at Hill. By 2019, the base will be home to 78 jets and four fighter squadrons capable of worldwide deployment. It’s a responsibility and privilege she couldn’t have imagined as a girl growing up in Tobyhanna.

“Sitting in this seat for the 419th, surrounded by these beautiful mountains, flying the premier fighter of the Air Force – I could not be happier to be where I am right now.”

Source: U.S. Air Force - 419th Fighter Wing

Sunday, September 09, 2018

ANOTHER Friggin' Wildfire in SoCal...

A snapshot, taken from the City of Industry 18 miles away, of smoke bellowing out from the Fork Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains...on September 9, 2018.

Less than four hours ago, I took this snapshot (from the City of Industry about 18 miles away) of smoke bellowing out from the San Gabriel Mountains near Azusa. About 60 acres have been burnt in the so-called Fork Fire over the past few hours. And to think— The weather in Southern California will be hot through at least mid-October... Even when autumn begins on September 22, Californians will get to enjoy a good ol' heat wave, leading to more brush fires before Halloween. Gotta love livin' in the Golden State!