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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Akatsuki Officially Begins Regular Science Operations!

An image of Venus that was taken by Akatsuki using the spacecraft's Longwave IR camera on March 25, 2016 (Japan Standard Time).
JAXA

Akatsuki Onboard Instruments to Move to Regular Operation‏ (Press Release - April 28)

JAXA decided to shift the operation mode of the five onboard instruments of Akatsuki to the regular operation mode, namely 1μm camera (IR1), 2μm camera (IR2), Longwave IR camera (LIR), Ultraviolet image (UVI), and Ultra-stable Oscillator (USO).

Lightning and airglow camera (LAC) continues to be in the preparation mode for its conditions to be carefully coordinated.

[Message from Project Manager Masato Nakamura]
Thanks to your support, we were able to move the four cameras and the Ultra-sable Oscillator to regular operations. Thank you very much. We continuously acquire data for the world’s leading Venus research while we are aiming at early regular operation of the LAC. Please look forward to the operation and data acquisition of the Venus climate orbiter Akatsuki.

Image (Above): Night side of Venus taken by the IR2.
The night side image shows the whole of Venus, and the image captured the most detailed Venus state. We will closely and precisely study the 3D structure and movement of the Venus atmosphere by combining data of different wavelengths from other cameras.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Friday, April 29, 2016

Photos of the Day: Hubble's Successor Continues to Take Shape...

At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the secondary mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope is stowed into the position that it will be in during launch.
NASA / Chris Gunn

James Webb Space Telescope's Golden Mirror (Press Release)

Inside the clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the golden James Webb Space Telescope is viewed from overhead with its secondary mirror booms stowed. This is the position the secondary mirror will be in during launch. In the next few months, engineers will install other key elements, and take additional measurements to ensure the telescope is ready for space.

The telescope's mirrors are covered in a microscopically thin layer of gold, which optimizes them for reflecting infrared light, which is the primary wavelength of light this telescope will observe. To ensure the mirror is both strong and light, the team made the mirrors out of beryllium. Each mirror segment is about the size of a coffee table and weighs approximately 20 kilograms (46 pounds). A very fine film of vaporized gold coats each segment to improve the mirror's reflection of infrared light. The fully assembled mirror is larger than any rocket, so the two sides of it fold up. Behind each mirror are several motors so that the team can focus the telescope out in space.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb will study many phases in the history of our universe, including the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets similar to Earth, as well as the evolution of our own solar system. It’s targeted to launch from French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in 2018. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

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At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the James Webb Space Telescope's primary and secondary mirrors are unveiled inside the clean room prior to the installation of the craft's science instruments.
NASA

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Lakers Make Their First Post-Kobe Move...

Just found out online a few minutes ago that Byron Scott was fired as the head coach of the Lakers. Not a surprise. Soooo... What next? How long will Jim Buss stay as owner of the team?

Byron Scott and head of PR John Black hold up the card and ping pong balls that brought the #2 NBA Draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers...on May 19, 2015.
Lakers.com

Friday, April 22, 2016

Setting Sights on America's Next Martian Orbiter...

A composite image showing NASA's MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars.
NASA

NASA Seeks Industry Ideas for an Advanced Mars Satellite (Press Release - April 21)

NASA is soliciting ideas from U.S. industry for designs of a Mars orbiter for potential launch in the 2020s.

NASA is soliciting ideas from U.S. industry for designs of a Mars orbiter for potential launch in the 2020s. The satellite would provide advanced communications and imaging, as well as robotic science exploration, in support of NASA's Journey to Mars. The orbiter would substantially increase bandwidth communications and maintain high-resolution imaging capability. It also may use experimental cutting-edge technologies, such as high-power solar electric propulsion or an optical communications package, which could greatly improve transmission speed and capacity over radio frequency systems.

Under the direction of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is conducting pre-formulation planning for this possible orbiter mission. Pre-formulation plans include the procurement of industry studies for a solar-powered orbiting spacecraft. This effort seeks to take advantage of industry capabilities to improve deep space, solar electric propulsion-enabled orbiters to accommodate scientific instruments, demonstrate capability for rendezvous and capture, and advance telecommunications capabilities.

"Our success in exploring Mars, to unravel the mysteries of the Red Planet, depends on having high bandwidth communication with Earth and overhead imaging," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Currently, we depend on our orbiting science missions to perform dual service in making measurements and acting as communication relays, but we can't depend on them to last forever. This new orbiter will use cutting-edge technology to revitalize our ability to continue to explore Mars and support transformative science, including a potential sample return mission in the future."

JPL plans to award concept study subcontracts of $400,000 per subcontract in June. The concept studies for the spacecraft will be completed over a four-month period.

In response to an earlier request from NASA, the Mars Exploration Program formed an analysis group that proposed, in a 2015 report, possible science objectives for a Mars orbiter capable of replenishing and advancing the telecommunications and reconnaissance resources available at Mars.

NASA is studying how to implement this mission concept in concert with its international partners to the greatest extent possible. Historically, there have been significant international contributions to NASA Mars missions that include the Curiosity rover, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission orbiter, both currently orbiting the Red Planet. The agency will seek such partnerships for this potential future orbiter mission, as well.

NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that includes sending humans to the Red Planet, and that work remains on track. Robotic spacecraft are leading the way for the Mars Exploration Program, with current missions, in addition to the planned launch of the Insight lander in 2018, and the design and build of the Mars 2020 rover.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on May 11, 2016.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Thursday, April 21, 2016

RIP, Prince (1958-2016)...

More than three months after the world lost David Bowie, another legendary music icon passed away today. The first Prince song that I ever heard, I believe, was "Batdance" from Tim Burton's first Batman film. There were other songs by Prince that were on the movie's soundtrack (I bought it on cassette— Yes, I'm old), but Batdance was the one that played on radio stations everyday back in the summer of 1989. I definitely can't recall how many times I listened to this awesome tune on the radio and tape. It wasn't one of his classics, but Batdance was just one example of the kind of stylistic and catchy music that Prince came up with over the last 40 years. Rest In Peace, Purple Rain... You will be missed.

An animated GIF showing a clip from the music video for the Prince song, 'Batdance.'

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Photo of the Day: Happy 4-20!

So today marks one year since I met Milana at a comedy club in Hollywood. This Blog entry actually marks the first time I commemorated the anniversary of meeting a celebrity. But you know, Ms. Vayntrub is just that awesome...and this gave me an opportunity to celebrate National Weed Day. Without having to smoke weed—'cause I don't. Happy Hump Day!

Posing with Milana Vayntrub at the Inner Sanctum Cafe on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood...on April 20, 2015.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Welcome Back, A-Wing!

Playing the STAR WARS: X-WING video game on my laptop computer. On-screen is an A-Wing fighter that I'm flying for this mission.

If you're a regular visitor on this Blog (I'll assume that you are), you'll know that I'm a huge fan of the classic StarWars: X-Wing video game that was released on PC back in 1993, and that my favorite Rebel craft to use are the A- and B-Wing starfighters (the screenshot above shows an A-Wing mission that I played on X-Wing back in 2014; yes, I still play this game even today). So it was a thrill to see the tweet below posted this morning...featuring a pic of England's Prince Harry chillin' inside the cockpit of an A-Wing mockup (with Mark Hamill standing nearby) on the Star Wars: Episode VIII set at Pinewood Studios near London. The A-Wing's design will obviously be updated from that in Return of the Jedi, but I'm just glad that it makes its return to the big screen once more. Now I'm waiting on another tweet that will let us know that the B-Wing will also see action during Rian Johnson's 2017 installment in the new Star Wars trilogy. Carry on!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Farewell, Mamba!

Kobe Bryant ended his 20-year NBA career by dropping 60 points against the Utah Jazz at STAPLES Center...on April 13, 2016.
Photo courtesy of LA Lakers - Facebook.com

On a side note, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors also made history yesterday when they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 125-104, to capture the Warriors' 73rd win to end this regular season. (Kobe Bryant also achieved a record yesterday by becoming the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points in his final game.) Sorry Michael Jordan and the 1995-'96 Chicago Bulls (who finished that regular season at 72-10). Anyways, back to Kobe...

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Kobe Drops 60, Leads Victory in Career Finale (Press Release)

No way Kobe Bryant was going to go away quietly.

The 20-year veteran missed his first five shots of his career finale, but just kept on shooting and shooting and shooting and...

Bryant concluded his final chapter by erupting for 60 points — the most of any player in the league this season — while piloting the Lakers’ 101-96 comeback over the Utah Jazz.

After Bryant delivered a victorious retirement speech to the sold-out Staples Center crowd, balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling. Back in the locker room, 14 teammates armed with champagne bottles were waiting to douse the now-retired icon.

“Honestly, I can’t believe this actually happened, to be honest with you,” Bryant said. “This is kind of crazy to me, the last game at home. It’s hard for me to believe that it happened this way, it really is. I’m still in shock about it.”

With a decorated reputation for clutch shots, Bryant lifted the final two and a half minutes of his career straight off a script from nearby Hollywood.

His Lakers trailed, 96-86, but then he bolted out on a one-man, 13-0 run to stun Utah. Using a full arsenal that included a layup, three jumpers and a couple free throws, Bryant managed to steal the lead at 97-96 with 31.6 seconds left on a 20-foot pull-up.

Utah couldn’t respond and was forced to foul Bryant, who cashed in his free throws to reach 60 points for the sixth time in his career and first since dropping 61 in New York on Feb. 2, 2009.

“I don’t even know what to do with my hands right now,” a visibly emotional Jordan Clarkson said. “This was, like, so crazy, to be honest with you. I don’t even know how to react. He was just making everything. It was crazy.”

The Lakers averaged only 77.0 points in their first three meetings against the Jazz, losing by an average margin of 29. But the offensive focus this time around was clear all night long, as Bryant heaved an unprecedented 50 shots, making 22 of them, while also going 10-of-12 at the foul line.

“The past 20 years: Get the ball to Kobe and he usually wins,” Larry Nance Jr. said. “That was our goal today, and 60 points later here we are.

Despite his initial bout of inaccuracy, Bryant made his next five shots in the first quarter to reach 15 points. However, he slowed a bit in the second, hitting 2-of-7 as the Lakers fell behind, 57-42, at halftime.

However, Los Angeles’ leader helped it chip back in the next period, scoring 15 points to cut the deficit to nine heading into the last frame of his career.

By hanging around just enough, the Lakers (17-65) in position for Bryant to singlehandedly take the game over. After providing his unanswered baker’s dozen of scoring, he fired the ball to Clarkson for a game-sealing dunk with 4.1 seconds remaining to ice his final victory.

“It was incredible,” head coach Byron Scott said. “I’ve never seen it, never been a part of it, never witnessed anything like that. As I told the (team) just a minute ago: They just witnessed history.”

Bryant poured in 38 points on 15-of-30 shooting in the second half alone. However, he wasn’t too tired to chat with his daughters, Natalia and Gianna, who had courtside seats for their dad’s final battle.

“The coolest thing is that my kids actually saw me play like I used to play,” Bryant said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, dad!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I used to do this pretty often.’ They were like, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Dude, YouTube it.’”

Fortunately for the both of them, highlights from this game shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Source: Lakers.com

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Kobe Bryant ended his 20-year NBA career by dropping 60 points against the Utah Jazz at STAPLES Center...on April 13, 2016.
Photo courtesy of LA Lakers - Facebook.com

Monday, April 11, 2016

The 2015-'16 NBA Regular Season: This Wednesday Marks Two Milestones (One to Celebrate, The Other to Lament)...

The NBA will be a different landscape after Kobe Bryant retires from the L.A. Lakers on Wednesday night.
NBA

Two days. That's how long Kobe Bryant has left before he is no longer a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA as a whole. Kobe ends his 20-year career against the Utah Jazz at STAPLES Center on Wednesday night. At the same time this is happening, the Golden State Warriors will be attempting to make history in Oakland when they play against the Memphis Grizzlies on April 13 as well. As of this Blog entry, Golden State's regular season record stands at 72-9, and have the chance to either tie the Chicago Bulls' 1995-'96 regular season record of 72-10, or surpass it. We shall see.

While Steph Curry and Golden State have the chance to be as dominant a team for the next few years as the Bulls were in the 1990s, Michael Jordan's true heir will be wearing a purple and gold jersey for the final time this Wednesday. The NBA should both celebrate the fact that another team has entered the picture who will make as much a mark on this league as the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs did since the start of the 21st century, and lament the fact that one of the greatest professional basketball careers ever will soon be a thing of the past. The NBA will be a different landscape come Thursday morning.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Photo of the Day: Happy Birthday, Rey!

I'd post this pic in my Film Notes section, but I don't wanna. Seeing an actual shot like this in next year's Star Wars: Episode VIII alone would be worth the price of admission... Maybe. Yoda taught Luke well in The Empire Strikes Back. And Daisy Ridley (a.k.a. Rey for those of you who didn't watch The Force Awakens despite the fact that it's now available on DVD. How dare you) turned 24 today! Let's celebrate by revealing who's the jerk that left Rey on Jakku when she was just a wee little tyke!

Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley show us what to expect once Luke Skywalker commences Rey's Jedi training in 2017's STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

So Who's Gonna Miss This Show? (Hint: Not Me)

And the winner of American Idol's series finale tonight is...another white dude. And yes, he plays a guitar. And no, I didn't watch the final episode of this show; I just checked online to see who won just so I can make this snarky comment. Carry on!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Just An Observation...

What do Milana Vayntrub and Hayden Panettiere have in common? Overlooking the obvious (for the most part), their commercials are the only ones on TV (well, besides 30-second spots for movies I like such as...Marvel flicks and Star Wars) that'll make me literally pause everything I'm doing just to watch their ads play through. Carl's Jr. should make Hayden its official spokesperson the same way Milana has been the face of AT&T's marketing campaign for the last 2-3 years. That is all.

Milana Vayntrub as Lily Adams in an AT&T ad, and Hayden Panettiere as Carl's Jr.'s latest spokesperson.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Akatsuki To Begin Regular Science Operations This Month...

An image of Venus that was taken by Akatsuki using the spacecraft's Longwave IR camera on December 7, 2015 (Japan Standard Time).
ISAS / JAXA

Akatsuki Regular Observation to Begin in mid-April‏ (Press Release)

Akatsuki has been performing test observations by turning on its onboard observation instruments one by one. The instruments are starting up normally, and we have already conducted successful observations that are equivalent to a “minimum success” (*), thus we will move to regular operations in mid-April.

* Minimum success: The minimum goal for achieving a mission. For Akatsuki, the minimum success is to capture Venus’s all-globe cloud structure by continuously acquiring image data (for every few hours) using some of its onboard cameras from Venus orbit.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency