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Friday, September 30, 2011

Tandem skydivers soar high above the Himalaya Mountains.
Everest Skydive

MT. EVEREST SKYDIVE... On the last day of the TV pilot shoot that I worked on a few weeks ago, the show’s production manager told me before we began filming how he was planning to go skydiving on his birthday next month—which was in response to seeing me wear a T-shirt that I got from Perris Valley Skydiving when I went there in May of 2006. During the conversation, he mentioned how you could jump out of an aircraft above the one landmark on Earth that is more than 15,000 feet taller than the 13,000 feet altitude that folks embarking on a normal tandem skydive would jump out of an airplane at: Mt. Everest!

Tandem skydivers soar high above the Himalaya Mountains.
Everest Skydive

According to Everest Skydive, which was launched in 2008, skydivers jump out of a plane at a height of 29,500 feet—which is only a couple of hundred feet higher than Mt. Everest (which currently stands at 29,028 feet... Yes, the mountain is getting taller inch-by-inch each year). I don’t know how long the freefall lasts, or how fast you’re traveling before the parachute opens, but what I do know is that skydivers wealthy enough to go on this trip would land at a Himalayan drop zone located 12,350 feet above sea level. Pretty cool. However...

The parachute deploys as the tandem skydivers are about to land at a drop zone located in the middle of the Himalaya Mountains.
Everest Skydive

If Everest skydivers are jumping out of a plane at 29,500 feet and landing on terra firma at 12,350 feet, it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that you’re airborne—minus the aircraft—for 17,150 feet. That’s 'only' 4,000 feet higher than the standard skydiving altitude. And according to Everest Skydive’s booking prices, you’d have to dish out more than 20,000 dollars [Um, I think. The prices are listed in British pounds (or is that Nepalese rupees? Pardon my ignorance) on the website] for the trip...and that doesn’t even include airfare or lodging. As much as I want to frame an 8x10 photo on my wall showing me soaring in the air with the world's tallest landform in the backdrop, I prefer spending less money to fly to Tennessee and do a HALO Tandem skydive instead...

With Mt. Everest in the backdrop, the tandem skydivers are about to land at the drop zone located in the middle of the Himalaya Mountains.
Everest Skydive

For $3,495 (excluding airfare and lodging), you can jump out of an aircraft at 30,000 feet and freefall during a tandem skydive for 2 minutes at a speed of 200 mph before touching down at a drop zone that is right at sea level. For $1,800 (excluding airfare and lodging), you can jump out of an airplane at 23,000 feet and freefall at the same speed (I think) as a 30,000 feet skydive. (These prices are courtesy of The H.A.L.O. Loft.) Either way, you’re suspended in the air a lot longer in these two drops than you would on the Everest trip. But if I myself had the money, I’d go skydiving on the East Coast and in the Himalayas. If I had to chose one, though, I’d pick the HALO Tandem. Obviously. Apart from the much cheaper prices, I want to wear the cool military jumpsuit and fighter pilot helmet shown below. That is all.

HALO Tandem skydivers soar in the wild blue yonder.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First day of filming at a mansion in Malibu.

IMAGES OF THE DAY... Earlier this month, I worked on a 7-day shoot for a TV pilot that was filmed around Los Angeles. Among the locations used for this production was a Malibu mansion. The mansion was located up in the canyons...not along the California coastline a la the Malibu beach houses seen in the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men (though the Pacific Ocean could still be seen from the hilltop homestead...which is between 10-15 miles from the coastline). For more pictures taken at the mansion, click on the link below...

LINK: Photos I took during a TV pilot shoot in Malibu

Among the cast members who worked on the pilot was Rachel Nichols—best known for the TV show Alias, the horror film P2, 2009’s Star Trek and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the recent update of Conan the Barbarian. It was pretty cool working with a lovely, established actress like her. In terms of the pilot itself, if it does get picked up for television, expect to see it on a cable network like HBO, Showtime or Starz...what with the profanity and semi-nudity that was featured and all, haha. Carry on.

Filming inside the mansion's living room.

Rachel Nichols films a scene inside the mansion's kitchen.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the mansion.

Filming a dinner party scene on the mansion's rear patio.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wrapped in plastic: both halves of the Atlas V payload fairing that will enshroud the Curiosity Mars rover during launch on November 25.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

CURIOSITY Update... The 200-feet-tall Atlas V rocket that will launch NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission to the Red Planet is quickly taking shape at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. MSL, with the giant Curiosity rover as its centerpiece, is still scheduled to lift off on November 25.

The Atlas V rocket that will launch the Curiosity Mars rover to the Red Planet this November takes shape in Florida.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An image of asteroid Vesta that was taken by the Dawn spacecraft on July 24, 2011.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS/ DLR/ IDA

DAWN Update... Shown below is a computer-generated image depicting the Dawn spacecraft’s current position from asteroid Vesta. As you can see, Dawn is only 425 miles (684 kilometers) above Vesta, and orbiting the rocky body at a relative speed of 302 mph (even though Dawn is actually traveling at a velocity of around 45,000 mph in space). A new photo of Vesta (shown above) was released online by NASA today. Dawn has just entered its high altitude mapping orbit after being in an initial survey orbit at the protoplanet from August 11 through 31. In July of next year, Dawn will depart from Vesta and head for its second and final target: the dwarf planet Ceres, where the ion engine-powered spacecraft will arrive in February of 2015.

A computer-generated image depicting the Dawn spacecraft's current position above asteroid Vesta.
NASA / JPL - Gregory J. Whiffen

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chef Gordon Ramsay

HELL’S KITCHEN... Props to Paul Niedermann for winning the top prize in tonight’s Season 9 finale of Hell’s Kitchen. (Good grief, nine seasons already? Didn’t the show premiere on FOX back in 2005?) I was rooting for runner-up Will Lustberg to become the head chef at BLT Steak in New York—with an annual salary of $250,000 to go with the job—but a shaky performance by Lustberg during the 2-hour season finale and Paul’s emotional testimonial about winning the competition for his mom (who passed away before Niedermann headed to Los Angeles to embark on the reality cooking show) made me, and probably a lot of other viewers, want to root for Niedermann instead. Hell’s Kitchen definitely had two worthy finalists tonight.

And as expected, Elise Wims was eliminated right before the finale. Assuming Wims watched this entire season on TV, I hope she now realizes that she only went as far as she did because she was the main antagonist (that’s an understatement) on Hell's Kitchen this year...a la Omarosa in The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice. Sure, Elise could cook (and it was cool that she had Paul’s back during the dinner service in the finale), but she primarily stuck around to bring ratings to the TV show, nothing more.

As for Tommy Stevens...wow. One can only imagine what kinda lovin’ his totally hot (19-year-old) girlfriend would’ve given him if he stood behind and opened one of those two glass doors at Chef Gordon Ramsay’s office at the end of the second episode. Or at least been one of the finalists... Get a room, rockstar.

The four HELL'S KITCHEN Season 9 finalists: Tommy Stevens, Paul Niedermann, Elise Wims and Will Lustberg.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A new signpost at CSULB...showing the distance to different cities around the world.

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Earlier today, I drove down to my old college alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, just to pay a visit. Upon arriving at the campus, I noticed this interesting new signpost that was installed...which shows the distance from CSULB to different cities around the globe. I don’t know what the purpose is for this new sign, but it’s pretty cool. Though I have to ask: Isn’t the Earth around 7,900 miles in diameter? If so, then how can Port Elizabeth be more than 10,300 miles away? And Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur be more than 8,200 miles away? Pardon my ignorance... I’ve always been bad at math, and maybe this is the distance that airliners have to fly (if you count factors such as stopovers and whatnot, haha) to these various destinations, but this is pretty odd. Unless of course, the Earth has grown 3,000 miles larger over the past—twenty years. Yea, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Go 49ers!

I’m referring to our school's mascot, not San Francisco’s football team.

A new signpost at CSULB...showing the distance to different cities around the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An artist's concept of Kepler-16b orbiting its two parent stars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / T. Pyle

KEPLER Update... Unlike Tatooine, the new planet that NASA has recently discovered is cold and gaseous—not a small desert world filled with giant lizards and dorky farmers who complain about not being able to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters...

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NASA's Kepler Discovery Confirms First Planet Orbiting Two Stars (Press Release)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- The existence of a world with a double sunset, as portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 30 years ago, is now scientific fact. NASA's Kepler mission has made the first unambiguous detection of a circumbinary planet -- a planet orbiting two stars -- 200 light-years from Earth.

Unlike Star Wars’ Tatooine, the planet is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy. Previous research has hinted at the existence of circumbinary planets, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Kepler detected such a planet, known as Kepler-16b, by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it.

"This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life," Kepler principal investigator William Borucki said. "Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now."

A research team led by Laurance Doyle of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., used data from the Kepler space telescope, which measures dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, to search for transiting planets. Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the "habitable zone," the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the orbiting planet.

Scientists detected the new planet in the Kepler-16 system, a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other from our vantage point on Earth. When the smaller star partially blocks the larger star, a primary eclipse occurs, and a secondary eclipse occurs when the smaller star is occulted, or completely blocked, by the larger star.

Astronomers further observed that the brightness of the system dipped even when the stars were not eclipsing one another, hinting at a third body. The additional dimming in brightness events, called the tertiary and quaternary eclipses, reappeared at irregular intervals of time, indicating the stars were in different positions in their orbit each time the third body passed. This showed the third body was circling, not just one, but both stars, in a wide circumbinary orbit.

The gravitational tug on the stars, measured by changes in their eclipse times, was a good indicator of the mass of the third body. Only a very slight gravitational pull was detected, one that only could be caused by a small mass. The findings are described in a new study published Friday, Sept. 16, in the journal Science.

"Most of what we know about the sizes of stars comes from such eclipsing binary systems, and most of what we know about the size of planets comes from transits," said Doyle, who also is the lead author and a Kepler participating scientist. "Kepler-16 combines the best of both worlds, with stellar eclipses and planetary transits in one system."

This discovery confirms that Kepler-16b is an inhospitable, cold world about the size of Saturn and thought to be made up of about half rock and half gas. The parent stars are smaller than our sun. One is 69 percent the mass of the sun and the other only 20 percent. Kepler-16b orbits around both stars every 229 days, similar to Venus’ 225-day orbit, but lies outside the system’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on the surface, because the stars are cooler than our sun.

"Working in film, we often are tasked with creating something never before seen," said visual effects supervisor John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd., in San Francisco. "However, more often than not, scientific discoveries prove to be more spectacular than anything we dare imagine. There is no doubt these discoveries influence and inspire storytellers. Their very existence serves as cause to dream bigger and open our minds to new possibilities beyond what we think we 'know.'"

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of Kepler-16b orbiting its two parent stars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / R. Hurt

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 1 World Trade Center, due to be completed in 2013, shines under red, white and blue lights to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Photo courtesy of Tim1337 - Wikipedia.org

TEN YEARS LATER...

Family members of those who died in the World Trade Center attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial on the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy.
AP Photo / Justin Lane, Pool

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Delta II rocket carrying the twin GRAIL spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on September 10, 2011.
NASA / Kenny Allen

LUNAR-BOUND ONCE MORE...

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NASA Launches Mission to Study Moon From Crust to Core (Press Release)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's twin lunar Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:08 a.m. EDT (6:08 a.m. PDT) Saturday, Sept. 10, to study the moon in unprecedented detail.

GRAIL-A is scheduled to reach the moon on New Year's Eve 2011, while GRAIL-B will arrive New Year's Day 2012. The two solar-powered spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon to measure its gravity field. GRAIL will answer longstanding questions about the moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

"If there was ever any doubt that Florida's Space Coast would continue to be open for business, that thought was drowned out by the roar of today's GRAIL launch," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "GRAIL and many other exciting upcoming missions make clear that NASA is taking its next big leap into deep space exploration, and the space industry continues to provide the jobs and workers needed to support this critical effort."

The spacecraft were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. GRAIL mission controllers acquired a signal from GRAIL-A at 10:29 a.m. EDT (7:29 a.m. PDT). GRAIL-B's signal was received eight minutes later. The telemetry downlinked from both spacecraft indicates they have deployed their solar panels and are operating as expected.

"Our GRAIL twins have Earth in their rearview mirrors and the moon in their sights," said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The mission team is ready to test, analyze and fine-tune our spacecraft over the next three-and-a-half months on our journey to lunar orbit."

The straight-line distance from Earth to the moon is approximately 250,000 miles (402,336 kilometers). NASA's Apollo moon crews needed approximately three days to cover that distance. However, each spacecraft will take approximately 3.5 months and cover more than 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) to arrive. This low-energy trajectory results in the longer travel time. The size of the launch vehicle allows more time for spacecraft check-out and time to update plans for lunar operations. The science collection phase for GRAIL is expected to last 82 days.

"Since the earliest humans looked skyward, they have been fascinated by the moon," said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "GRAIL will take lunar exploration to a new level, providing an unprecedented characterization of the moon's interior that will advance understanding of how the moon formed and evolved."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the GRAIL mission. It is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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RocketCam footage of the GRAIL-A spacecraft separating from its Delta II rocket's adapter ring, on September 10, 2011.
NASA / RocketCam / animation by Emily Lakdawalla

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) photo of the Apollo 12 landing site that was publicly released by NASA on September 6, 2011.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / ASU

LRO UPDATE: NASA decides to talk about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission right before the twin GRAIL spacecraft dominate the news headlines later this week...

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NASA Spacecraft Images Offer Sharper Views of Apollo Landing Sites (Press Release)

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. Images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface.

At the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with the last foot trails left on the moon. The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insight into the moon's environment and interior.

"We can retrace the astronauts' steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples," said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is a member of the LRO project science team.

All three images show distinct trails left in the moon's thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot. In the Apollo 17 image, the foot trails, including the last path made on the moon by humans, are easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar rover, which remains parked east of the lander.

"The new low-altitude Narrow Angle Camera images sharpen our view of the moon's surface," said Arizona State University researcher Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). "A great example is the sharpness of the rover tracks at the Apollo 17 site. In previous images the rover tracks were visible, but now they are sharp parallel lines on the surface."

At each site, trails also run to the west of the landers, where the astronauts placed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) to monitor the moon's environment and interior.

This equipment was a key part of every Apollo mission. It provided the first insights into the moon's internal structure, measurements of the lunar surface pressure and the composition of its atmosphere. Apollo 11 carried a simpler version of the science package.

One of the details that shows up is a bright L-shape in the Apollo 12 image. It marks the locations of cables running from ALSEP's central station to two of its instruments. Although the cables are much too small for direct viewing, they show up because they reflect light very well.

The higher resolution of these images is possible because of adjustments made to LRO's orbit, which is slightly oval-shaped or elliptical. "Without changing the average altitude, we made the orbit more elliptical, so the lowest part of the orbit is on the sunlit side of the moon," said Goddard's John Keller, deputy LRO project scientist. "This put LRO in a perfect position to take these new pictures of the surface."

The maneuver lowered LRO from its usual altitude of approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) to an altitude that dipped as low as nearly 13 miles (21 kilometers) as it passed over the moon's surface. The spacecraft has remained in this orbit for 28 days, long enough for the moon to completely rotate. This allows full coverage of the surface by LROC's Wide Angle Camera. The cycle ends today when the spacecraft will be returned to its 31-mile orbit.

"These images remind us of our fantastic Apollo history and beckon us to continue to move forward in exploration of our solar system," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

LRO was built and managed by Goddard. Initial research was funded by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. In September 2010, after a one-year successful exploration mission, the mission turned its attention from exploration objectives to scientific research in NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An LRO photo of the Apollo 17 landing site that was publicly released by NASA on September 6, 2011.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / ASU