Friday, May 17, 2019

Photos of the Day: Highlights from THE BIG BANG THEORY's Series Finale...

The final shot of THE BIG BANG THEORY after being on the air for 12 years.

Just thought I'd share these official production stills from last night's 1-hour series finale for The Big Bang Theory. If you watched the finale, or at least read my previous Blog entry, then you'd why these pics are so significant. Happy Friday!

Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) watch as Penny (Kaley Cuoco) arrives on their apartment's floor...via the elevator that was broken for 12 years on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) tend to their kids Halley and Michael on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and his date Sarah Michelle Gellar watch as Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Sheldon, off-screen, are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

Sheldon watches as Amy gives her acceptance speech after winning the Nobel Prize in Physics on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

Leonard and Penny share a moment while discussing Penny's pregnancy on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


A screenshot from THE BIG BANG THEORY - Episode 9.4: 'The 2003 Approximation' (Original Air Date: October 12, 2015).

After 12 seasons, The Big Bang Theory is no more. Here are my notes on tonight's 1-hour series finale: The apartment's elevator is working again! Leonard (Johnny Galecki) got to bitch-slap Sheldon (Jim Parsons)—for the second time in 12 years, I believe! We finally got to meet the adorable kids of Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch)! Raj (Kunal Nayyar) went from dating Lucy (Kate Micucci), Emily (Laura Spencer) and Claire (Alessandra Torresani) to attending Amy (Mayim Bialik, who I met two years ago today) and Sheldon's Nobel Prize ceremony with none other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar! And lastly, Leonard and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) will finally have a kid who's both "smart and beautiful!" What a cool way to end 12 years of geeky hilarity. You heard me, haters.

On the downside, we'll never meet Raj's four other siblings, Bernadette's siblings, Penny's sister and Leonard's siblings... Oh well.

On the plus side again, it was a pleasure to work twice (as a background actor) on The Big Bang Theory! It should've been three times, but I was an hour late in answering a text message from the casting agency booking extras on a Season 12 episode that filmed in Burbank (at Warner Bros. Studio) on February 12. Oh well again. The screenshot at the top of this Blog entry is from Episode 9.4: "The 2003 Approximation," and the image below is from Episode 10.6: "The Fetal Kick Catalyst." I'm holding that blue plastic bag...which contained several comic books worth over a thousand dollars. Bazinga on that last part! Carry on.

A screenshot from THE BIG BANG THEORY - Episode 10.6: 'The Fetal Kick Catalyst' (Original Air Date: October 27, 2016).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Final Resting Place for Israel's First Moon Lander Is Spotted from Lunar Orbit...

An image of the crash site of Israel's Beresheet lunar lander...taken on April 22, 2019.
NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

Beresheet Impact Site Spotted (News Release)

The photo above shows the landing site of the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft on a region of the Moon called Sea of Serenity, or Mare Serenitatis in Latin. On April 11, 2019, SpaceIL, a non-profit organization, attempted to land its spacecraft in this ancient volcanic field on the nearside of the Moon. After a smooth initial descent, Beresheet made a hard landing on the surface.

As soon as its orbit placed NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) over the landing site on April 22, 2019, LRO imaged Beresheet’s impact site. The LRO Camera (LROC) consists of three imagers: a seven-color Wide Angle Camera (WAC) and two black-and-white Narrow Angle Cameras (NAC) mounted on the LRO, which has been studying the Moon from orbit for a decade. NAC captured the Beresheet impact photo.

Unprocessed and processed versions of the image showing the crash site of Israel's Beresheet lunar lander...taken on April 22, 2019.
NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

LROC took this image from 56 miles (90 kilometers) above the surface. The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact. The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.

From so far away, LROC could not detect whether Beresheet formed a surface crater upon impact. It’s possible the crater is just too small to show up in photos. Another possibility is that Beresheet formed a small indent instead of a crater, given its low angle of approach (around 8.4 degrees relative to the surface), light mass (compared to a dense meteoroid of the same size), and low velocity (again, relative to a meteoroid of the same size; Beresheet’s speed was still faster than most speeding bullets).

The light halo around the smudge could have formed from gas associated with the impact or from fine soil particles blown outward during Beresheet’s descent, which smoothed out the soil around the landing site, making it highly reflective.

There are many clues that we’re actually looking at a man-made crater instead of a meteoroid-caused one. This is an important consideration, since the Moon, having no atmosphere, is constantly bombarded by space rocks that leave craters.

Most importantly, we knew the coordinates of the landing site within a few miles thanks to radio tracking of Beresheet, and we have 11 “before” images of the area, spanning a decade, and three “after” images. In all of these images, including one taken 16 days before the landing, we saw only one new feature of the size Beresheet would have created.

Existing mathematical models helped us estimate the size and shape of the crater that would have formed if an object of Beresheet’s mass and velocity struck the surface. We also referenced craters created by similar-size spacecraft (GRAIL, LADEE, Ranger) that have struck the Moon at about the same speed, and we saw that the white tail stretching from the landing halo towards the south is a shape that’s consistent with Beresheet’s southward descent trajectory and angle of approach.

For the before image below, we used a photo from December 16, 2016. This is because the lighting conditions that day, based on the angle at which the Sun would have illuminated the Moon at that particular time in its orbit, were the most similar to the April 22 image. Because LRO was beyond the horizon during Beresheet’s descent and landing, it couldn’t capture a photo until its orbit brought it nearby 11 days later. LRO passes over the lunar poles with each revolution. Meanwhile, the Moon rotates on its axis below the spacecraft, allowing LRO to pass over every part of the Moon twice a month (once during lunar night and once during lunar day). LROC may take more images of the landing site when it passes the same area again on May 19.

Efforts are ongoing to bounce laser pulses from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, also on board LRO, to measure the return from the Laser Retroreflector Array of small corner cube mirrors. This instrument was provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and was installed on the top deck of the Beresheet spacecraft. Attempts are ongoing to examine if the retroreflector may have survived the impact.

Source: NASA.Gov


An animated GIF showing before and after images (taken on December 16, 2016 and April 22, 2019, respectively) of the crash site of Israel's Beresheet lunar lander.
NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

Monday, May 13, 2019

Happy TMI Monday!

Here's a random personal tidbit: I never learned how to swim. I think it stems from the fact that I almost drowned in a river when I was very young. I recall that it was one of my aunts who pulled me out of the water after I was submerged for a few seconds, though I don't remember why my family was at this river in the first place.

So yea— I'm able to go skydiving five times (as of last October), but you'd have to put me in a life jacket if you want me anywhere near the deep end of a backyard swimming pool... Carry on.

PS: TMI = Too Much Information. In case you're wonderin'. #CaptainObvious

My tandem instructor and I exit the aircraft 13,000 feet above the city of Oceanside in California...on October 4, 2018.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Lake Show Has a New Head Coach...

Frank Vogel is the new head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's been announced today that Frank Vogel, who used to be the head coach for the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic, will now be the head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers after Luke Walton left the team a few days after the NBA regular season ended last month. Jason Kidd—who won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011—will be the assistant coach.

My take on today's Lake Show development? I haven't been this excited since Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni coached the team!

In case you're scratching your head trying to decipher if I'm being sarcastic in the previous sentence or not, notice how I didn't include Pat Riley and Phil Jackson (and even Mike Dunleavy Sr.) in the group above. Happy Mother's Day weekend!

And Go Milwaukee Bucks! #FearTheDeer

Friday, May 10, 2019

Mars 2020 Update: The Rover's "Heart" Is Installed...

Engineers are about to install the motor controller assembly inside the Mars 2020 rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on April 29, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Rover Getting Set to Motor (News Release - May 9)

Engineers and technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, integrate the rover motor controller assembly (RMCA) into the Mars 2020 rover's body. The RMCA is the electrical heart of the rover's mobility and motion systems, commanding and regulating the movement of the motors in the rover's wheels, robotic arms, mast, drill and sample-handling functions.

The image was taken on April 29, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 clean room at JPL.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Photos of the Day: A Night at The Roxy...

Posing with Madilyn Bailey during a pre-concert meet-and-greet at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood...on May 2, 2019.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took at a meet-and-greet and musical performance by Madilyn Bailey a week ago today. The talented young singer from Wisconsin—who I last blogged about in early 2014—appeared at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood to share a couple of original songs, new and old, with over a hundred people in attendance at the nightclub. Bailey [who I should actually refer to as Mrs. Benrud (her husband's name is James; thanks Wikipedia) since she got married five years ago] composed the popular hit single Tetris last year, but is best known for the awesome cover songs that she frequently shares on her YouTube page. The last one that I listened to was her rendition of The Chainsmokers and Coldplay's Something Just Like This...which I actually mentioned to Madilyn after we took a picture at her meet-and-greet (the first 100 folks who bought tickets to this event over a month ago were invited to this pre-concert photo op). Happy Thursday.

Madilyn Bailey performing at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood on May 2, 2019.

Madilyn Bailey and her band performing at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood on May 2, 2019.

Madilyn Bailey plays the keyboard during her performance at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood...on May 2, 2019.

Madilyn Bailey performing at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood on May 2, 2019.

A snapshot outside The Roxy Theatre before I headed home after Madilyn Bailey's concert...on May 2, 2019.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Back in the Day: Magellan Heads to Venus...

The Venus-bound Magellan spacecraft is deployed from the payload bay of space shuttle Atlantis...a few hours after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 4, 1989.

Happy Star Wars Day! Just thought I'd share this pic of the Magellan spacecraft being deployed from the payload bay of the orbiter Atlantis...a few hours after liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida 30 years ago today. I was at home when I watched live TV coverage of the space shuttle launch on May 4, 1989, and was totally enthralled. Even though it didn't arrive at the planet Venus till August 10, 1990, Magellan's launch was one of two events in 1989 that gave rise to my passion for space exploration—the other event being Voyager 2's flyby of the planet Neptune on August 25, 1989. I was in 3rd grade when Magellan began its mission into the inner solar system, while I was about to start 4th grade when Voyager 2 continued its historic trek through the outer solar system towards interstellar space.

NASA's Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft launched aboard Atlantis on October 18, 1989...but I wasn't aware of this mission till the following year! May the 4th be with you.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Mars 2020 Update: America's Next Red Planet Rover Gets Its Antenna...

Inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, engineers install the Mars 2020 rover's high-gain antenna...on April 19, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Now Mars 2020 Can Phone Home (News Release)

Mars 2020 engineers and technicians prepare the high-gain antenna for installation on the rover's equipment deck. The antenna is articulated so it can point itself directly at Earth to uplink or downlink data.

The image was taken on April 19, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, near Pasadena, California.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Insert Clever Title for a Random and Personal Blog Entry...

Remember Nancy? (No, that's not her real name.) I first talked about this girl—who I used to work with at a job that'll probably be, like her, a thing of the past pretty soon—back in 2013, but stopped doing so in 2016 after she told me she was having a baby (with another dude...whom she married in 2015). Well anyways, I just found out through Nancy's Facebook page (and her Yelp account as well) that she's pregnant again! Yup, the due date for child #2 is August 9 of this year. Good for her! I don't even know why I posted this entry since I don't really care anymore. But I guess I felt the need to type this to break the monotony of all the NASA and F-35 press releases that I've been posting on an almost daily basis for the past um, four years. Carry on.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The USAF's Joint Strike Fighter Sees Combat in the Middle East for the First Time...

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft undergoes aerial refueling by a KC-10 Extender during a combat operation in Iraq...on April 30, 2019.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski

U.S. Air Force F-35As Conduct First Combat Employment (News Release - April 30)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on April 30.

This strike marked the F-35A’s first combat employment.

The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched Daesh tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces.

“We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information, that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander and F-35A pilot. “That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR contingencies.”

The F-35As, recently deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, joined the Combined Forces Air Component team in the U.S. Central Command area of operations on April 15. This marks the F-35A’s third deployment and first to the CENTCOM AOR. In preparation for deployment, crews prepared and trained on the aircraft for the AFCENT mission.

“We have been successful in two Red Flag exercises, and we’ve deployed to Europe and Asia,” said Morris. “Our Airmen are ready and we’re excited to be here.” Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise which includes U.S. and allied nations’ combat air forces.

There are many Airmen ensuring the planes are ready for their combat missions.

“This jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions,” said Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons technician.

A central tenant to the F-35A’s design is its ability to enhance other battlefield assets. In this case, the aircraft joins the Combined Joint airpower team already in place to maintain air superiority and deliver war-winning airpower.

“The F-35A has sensors everywhere, it has advanced radar, and it is gathering and fusing all this information from the battlespace in real time,” said Morris. “Now it has the ability to take that information and share it with other F-35s or even other fourth generation aircraft in the same package that can also see the integrated picture.”

Source: U.S. Air Forces Central Command


The F-35A Lightning II as seen from aboard the KC-10 Extender that refueled it in midair during a combat operation in Iraq...on April 30, 2019.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Photos of the Day: A Journey to Pirate's Cave in SoCal...

Posing for a selfie inside Pirate's Cave at a Dana Point beach in Orange County, CA...on April 20, 2019.

Just thought I'd end this month with these images that I took at Dana Point in Orange County, California ten days ago. Using my Nikon D3300 camera, I first drove up to a hilltop hiking trail to shoot some high-angle snapshots of Dana Point Harbor...and afterwards, parked near the Ocean Institute next to the beach to begin a 1.2-mile (round-trip) hike to Pirate's Cave. Initially, it was me and a couple of cute, random women who ventured along the side of a cliff as we made our way to the small cavern. But as the journey continued, the coastline got rockier...with the thin trail of dirt that we were carefully treading on disappearing into a vast field of slippery rocks and large boulders. Within a few minutes, I found myself alone on the path as the women decided to call it quits since the trail to Pirate's Cave became too rocky to traverse any further. I briefly turned to look back at the women as they stood on large rocks and apparently continued to watch as I made my way towards the hollow destination. I'll admit that being the last man standing, so to speak, was a confidence and testosterone-booster!

A snapshot of Dana Point Harbor from a hilltop hiking trail in Orange County, CA...on April 20, 2019.

So as the photos at the bottom of this entry show, I made sure to get as many cool pics that I could before I headed back to the main beach (I had no interest to be inside the cave once the tide rose back up). Will I return to Pirate's Cave, you ask? Nah... No need to tempt fate as there were a few times when I was afraid that I might lose my footing and twist my ankle on the rock-filled journey to and from the cave. However, I do intend on heading back to Dana Point in a matter of weeks to go whale watching! Carry on.

Another snapshot of Dana Point Harbor (and a field of sunflowers) from a hilltop hiking trail in Orange County, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A snapshot of the rocky beach that I had to traverse on my way to Pirate's Cave at Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A wave splashes against a large rock off the shore of a beach in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

The narrow opening that leads into Pirate's Cave at Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A snapshot of the narrow opening from inside Pirate's Cave at Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A snapshot of another entrance at Pirate's Cave in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the second opening at Pirate's Cave in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the second opening at Pirate's Cave in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Hayabusa2 Update: Asteroid Ryugu Has a New Man-made Crater...

Two images of Ryugu's surface that were taken before and after the Hayabusa2 spacecraft's Small Carry-on Impactor rammed into the asteroid on April 5, 2019.
JAXA, The University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, The University of Aizu, AIST

Successful Operation of Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2's SCI (Press Release - April 25)

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) separated the SCI (Small Carry-on Impactor), which had been onboard the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, on April 5, 2019, for deployment to Ryugu, and then put the SCI into operation.

As a result of checking the images captured by the Optical Navigation Camera - Telescopic (ONC-T) onboard the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, we have concluded that a crater was created by the SCI.

Hayabusa2 is operating normally.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Batman Rises as GOTHAM Comes to an End...

Batman (David Mazouz) reveals himself in the last shot of GOTHAM's series finale.

Farewell, Gotham. The series finale for the DC comic book show—which lasted for 5 years on FOX TV—aired tonight. In the span of an hour, we saw the definitive rise of Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Catwoman (played by Camren Bicondova during the show's 5-year run; portrayed by Lili Simmons in today's episode) and the Joker (or J, played by Cameron Monaghan) well as the Caped Crusader himself (David Mazouz donned the Batcowl even though a taller actor wore the Batsuit in that memorable last shot of the finale).

I enjoyed how this final season of Gotham was inspired by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy...with the Bane subplot paying homage to The Dark Knight Rises, and the opening scene of tonight's finale borrowing from Hans Zimmer's memorable music score for The Dark Knight films. And of course, Cameron Monaghan's take on Jerome Valeska in the previous seasons was an awesome echo of Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight. I also watched the series finale of the Superman TV series Smallville in 2011, and Gotham blew it out of the water with a much more satisfying introduction of an iconic DC superhero.

The only other comic book show that I watch on TV is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We'll see how that series ends. With Avengers: Endgame opening in theaters tomorrow (I'm watching it at a 10 AM matinee), the producers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should get a clearer picture on what direction this series should take as it heads toward its inevitable finale. Anyways, to get back to topic: I'll miss you, Gotham! Glad to see Batman begin again—on the small screen, at least. That is all.

Jeremiah Valeska, a.k.a. J (Cameron Monaghan) emerges as the Clown Prince of Crime in the series finale of GOTHAM.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Photo of the Day #2: Bringin' Da Noise to America's Next Mars Rover...

The Mars 2020 spacecraft is prepped for acoustic testing inside the Environmental Test Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on April 11, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Mars 2020 is Wired for Sound (News Release)

Engineers and technicians working on NASA's Mars 2020 mission prepare spacecraft components for acoustic testing in the Environmental Test Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The spacecraft is being tested in the same configuration it will be in when sitting atop the Atlas rocket that will launch the latest rover towards Mars in July 2020.

The image was taken on April 11, 2019, at JPL.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The InSight Mars Lander Has Detected Its First Quake on the Red Planet! Possibly...

An image of the InSight lander's seismometer, with the HP3 'mole' instrument visible to its left, that was taken by the spacecraft's Instrument Context Camera on April 7, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's InSight Detects First Likely 'Quake' on Mars (News Release)

NASA's Mars InSight lander has measured and recorded for the first time ever a likely "marsquake."

The faint seismic signal, detected by the lander's Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, was recorded on April 6, the lander's 128th Martian day, or sol. This is the first recorded trembling that appears to have come from inside the planet, as opposed to being caused by forces above the surface, such as wind. Scientists still are examining the data to determine the exact cause of the signal.

"InSight's first readings carry on the science that began with NASA's Apollo missions," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "We've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!"

The new seismic event was too small to provide solid data on the Martian interior, which is one of InSight's main objectives. The Martian surface is extremely quiet, allowing SEIS, InSight's specially designed seismometer, to pick up faint rumbles. In contrast, Earth's surface is quivering constantly from seismic noise created by oceans and weather. An event of this size in Southern California would be lost among dozens of tiny crackles that occur every day.

"The Martian Sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions," said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters.

NASA's Apollo astronauts installed five seismometers that measured thousands of quakes while operating on the Moon between 1969 and 1977, revealing seismic activity on the Moon. Different materials can change the speed of seismic waves or reflect them, allowing scientists to use these waves to learn about the interior of the Moon and model its formation. NASA currently is planning to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, laying the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

InSight's seismometer, which the lander placed on the planet's surface on Dec. 19, 2018, will enable scientists to gather similar data about Mars. By studying the deep interior of Mars, they hope to learn how other rocky worlds, including Earth and the Moon, formed.

Three other seismic signals occurred on March 14 (Sol 105), April 10 (Sol 132) and April 11 (Sol 133). Detected by SEIS' more sensitive Very Broad Band sensors, these signals were even smaller than the Sol 128 event and more ambiguous in origin. The team will continue to study these events to try to determine their cause.

Regardless of its cause, the Sol 128 signal is an exciting milestone for the team.

"We've been waiting months for a signal like this," said Philippe Lognonné, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) in France. "It's so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active. We're looking forward to sharing detailed results once we've had a chance to analyze them."

Most people are familiar with quakes on Earth, which occur on faults created by the motion of tectonic plates. Mars and the Moon do not have tectonic plates, but they still experience quakes – in their cases, caused by a continual process of cooling and contraction that creates stress. This stress builds over time, until it is strong enough to break the crust, causing a quake.

Detecting these tiny quakes required a huge feat of engineering. On Earth, high-quality seismometers often are sealed in underground vaults to isolate them from changes in temperature and weather. InSight's instrument has several ingenious insulating barriers, including a cover built by JPL called the Wind and Thermal Shield, to protect it from the planet's extreme temperature changes and high winds.

SEIS has surpassed the team's expectations in terms of its sensitivity. The instrument was provided for InSight by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), while these first seismic events were identified by InSight's Marsquake Service team, led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

"We are delighted about this first achievement and are eager to make many similar measurements with SEIS in the years to come," said Charles Yana, SEIS mission operations manager at CNES.

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES provided the SEIS instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP. Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Photo of the Day: The Mars 2020 Spacecraft Begins to Take Shape...

An engineer inspects the Mars 2020 spacecraft after its backshell and cruise stage are attached to each other inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California...on March 26, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Taking Mars 2020 Integration Head-on (News Release - April 11)

A member of NASA's Mars 2020 project checks connections between the spacecraft's backshell and cruise stage. The image was taken on March 26, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California.

During the mission's voyage to Mars, the cruise stage houses the hardware that steers and provides power to the spacecraft. The backshell, along with the heatshield (not pictured), protects the 2020 rover and the sky crane landing system during Mars atmospheric entry.

JPL will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mars 2020 Update: America's Next Rover Continues to be Built at JPL...

An animated GIF showing components of the Mars 2020 spacecraft being stacked together at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Things Are Stacking up for NASA's Mars 2020 Spacecraft (News Release - April 18)

For the past few months, the clean room floor in High Bay 1 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been covered in parts, components and test equipment for the Mars 2020 spacecraft, scheduled for launch toward the Red Planet in July of 2020. But over the past few weeks, some of these components — the spacecraft-rocket-laden landing system and even the stand-in for the rover (christened "surrogate-rover") — have seemingly disappeared.

In reality, they are still there, tucked neatly into the entry capsule, as they will be when it's time for launch. The procedure is known as vehicle stacking and involves a hyper-detailed plan for what goes where and when.

"One of our main jobs is to make sure the rover and all the hardware that is required to get the rover from here on Earth to the surface of Mars fits inside the payload fairing of an Atlas V rocket, which gives us about 15 feet [5 meters] of width to work with," said David Gruel, assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) manager for Mars 2020 at JPL.

The first step is to place the rocket-powered descent stage on top of the surrogate rover (the real rover is being integrated and tested in tandem with the spacecraft stack). Then, when all the holes line up and everything is attached, checked and re-checked again, the back shell is lowered over them via gantry crane.

"That crane has lifted almost every spacecraft that's come through JPL since Mariner," said Gruel. "To safely lift the large pieces of the Mars 2020 spacecraft, we utilize a dozen technicians and engineers."

After the back shell is in place and everything is determined to be fitting properly, the team puts on the parachute nose cone, which protects the parachute during atmospheric entry, followed by the massive doughnut-shaped cruise stage, which will power the Mars 2020 spacecraft on its seven-month voyage to the Red Planet. Then the vehicle stack is turned on its side so technicians and engineers have access to the mating points between the cruise and descent stages to make connections. The stack is then returned to its original position (cruise stage on top) so the heat shield can be raised into position and attached.

"Stacking is an important milestone in mission development, because as good as our computer models are, we still need to put it together to show that the bolt holes line up and everything fits together," said Gruel. "It is a great feeling for the entire project when we see the stack sitting there waiting to go for the next part of its journey, which will eventually lead to a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in July of next year."

After three weeks, stacking is finished on April 3, and the spacecraft is transported to JPL's Environmental Test Facility to undergo acoustic testing. During this testing the stack will be bombarded with a thundering wall of sound designed to imitate the sound waves generated during launch. Then, after a check to make sure no bolts have rattled loose or attachment points have become unstuck, the stack heads to the thermal vacuum chamber for a week-long test that simulates the harsh environment of space to assess how the Mars-bound craft and its instruments operate under flightlike conditions.

"Nothing is static with this mission," said Gruel. "After the acoustic and thermal vac tests, the stacked spacecraft is returned to the assembly building for de-stack, then more testing and more work. Until the hold-down bolts on the Atlas rocket blow and our rover is headed to Mars in July of 2020, there is almost always something being assembled, tested or modified."

The Mars 2020 rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. Scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes and leave them on the planet's surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission.

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The (Partially-Redacted) Mueller Report Is Finally Released...

All of the pages in the Mueller Report...redacted sections and all.

"Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm fucked."
- Donald J. Trump


Here are 'some' takeaways from the Special Counsel's document, which is 448 pages-long:

- Contrary to what Attorney General William Barr stated in his 4-page summary of the Mueller Report a few weeks ago, the report explicitly states that the Russia investigation did not clear Donald Trump.

- There were 10 episodes of obstruction by Trump according to the report.

- The Special Counsel sought to interview Trump for over a year (since December 2017), but he refused to do so voluntarily.

- Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election through two operations: 1.) A Russian entity who created a social media campaign that favored Trump and "disparaged" his presidential rival Hillary Clinton. And 2.) A Russian intelligence service that hacked into computers used by members of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign.

- An example of the previous note: The Internet Research Agency, a team of Russian operatives, congratulated Trump when he tweeted about an event in Miami, Florida.

- On November 9, 2016 (the day after the presidential election), someone wrote to the head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, Kirill Dmitriev, that "Putin has won." The person who wrote this is unknown because their name is redacted.

- Erik Prince, the former CEO of Blackwater (an American private military company) and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, financed efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails.

- Though phone provider records show that former White House advisor Steve Bannon and Erik Prince "exchanged dozens" of text messages around the time of a secret meeting in the Seychelles islands (around January 11, 2017), there were no messages available for investigators to read on their phones. Both men said they didn't know why that was.

- Former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to FBI Agents—as well as Trump Administration officials themselves—about his contact with Sergey Kislyak, a Russian ambassador.

- Michael Flynn reached out to the late Peter Smith, a GOP activist and fundraiser, to help in the search for Clinton's e-mails.

- Sections discussing the Trump campaign's communications with Wikileaks are heavily redacted in the report.

- The report indicates that Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump were also at the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016.

- Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks wanted to disclose that the Russians had offered Donald Trump Jr. information helpful to the Trump Campaign. But the president nixed that idea...directly ordering Hicks to release a statement that falsified the true intent of the Trump Tower meeting.

- Donald Trump Jr. wasn't indicted by the Special Counsel because he supposedly wasn't smart enough (to put it politely) to collude.

- On June 17, 2017, Trump asked then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, which McGahn refused to do.

- The report claims that Russia's GRU intelligence agency compromised an unnamed Florida county in 2016—baffling Florida officials, who never heard of such a thing.

- Trump lied to the public about telling McGahn to fire Mueller once it was reported by the media.

- Trump didn't succeed in committing obstruction because the officials he ordered to do it (such as McGahn and then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus) refused to carry out his requests.

- Trump ordered his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask former attorney general Jeff Sessions to comment that the Russia investigation was "very unfair."

- At the direction of Trump, Don McGahn and other aides made extensive and repeated attempts to prevent Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

- Trump publicly floated pardons for former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former attorney Michael Cohen—both already indicted by Mueller—to deter them from cooperating with the Special Counsel.

- Trump and Michael Cohen continued to work on the Trump Tower Moscow deal while actively deceiving the American public as to whether Trump had business ties in Russia. He knowingly lied to the public while his former attorney worked with people who supposedly thought that the hotel and election were entwined.

- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted to the Special Counsel that she lied to the press about the nature of FBI director James Comey's firing.

- On Page 157 of the report, it is stated that Trump tried to exert "undue influence over law enforcement investigations" carrying out "one-on-one meetings in which (Trump) sought to use his official power outside of usual channels."

- Mueller says that Trump's power means that his public comments (re: his tweets) could be considered obstruction.

- Mueller concluded that the U.S. Constitution does not shield Trump from obstruction of justice charges.

- Mueller declined to indict Trump because the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the executive branch, claimed that the Special Counsel could not.

- The Special Counsel "declined" several prosecutions due to a number of individuals making the investigation difficult for Mueller's office.

- The Mueller Report conveys that criminal allegations against a sitting president should be considered by Congress, not the Department of Justice.

- There is sufficient evidence that Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings.

And lastly:

- The Mueller Report is essentially a roadmap for Congress to hold impeachment proceedings against Trump.

An impeachment trial begins in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats... (Unfortunately, Trump probably wouldn't be convicted by the Senate since it's controlled by GOP lackwit Mitch McConnell, and filled with complicit Republican senators like Lindsey Graham.)

So in other words, William Barr is sooo full of crap. You can read the entire Mueller Report HERE. That is all.

Expect 'Harm to Ongoing Matter' to be the title of a future music album...specifically alt rock.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Photo of the Day: Beresheet's Final Moon Photo and the Likely Cause of Its Lunar Landing Failure...

The very last photo that Israel's Beresheet lunar lander took (from an altitude of 15 kilometers, or 9 miles) during its ill-fated descent towards the Moon's surface...on April 11, 2019.

Earlier today, SpaceIL released the photo above that was the last-ever image that the Beresheet lander took (from an altitude of 15 kilometers, or 9 miles) during its ill-fated attempt to touch down on the Moon last Thursday. According to these tweets by SpaceIL and a Planetary Society staff member below, a likely cause of the spacecraft's main engine shutting down prematurely was an errant command that was transmitted to it from the flight team during the landing maneuver. A software glitch caused by an attempt to fix a sensor problem aboard Beresheet led to a chain reaction that eventually led to its main engine deactivating during the descent towards the lunar surface. By the time the engine was finally reactivated, Beresheet was traveling at a velocity of 500 kilometers per hour (311 miles per hour)...making a collision with the Moon's surface unavoidable.

If it was indeed a software issue that prevented Beresheet from landing on the Moon safely almost a week ago, then this is good news! This shows that Beresheet itself was physically healthy (apart from that sensor issue)...and that no significant upgrades would need to be made to the Beresheet 2.0 spacecraft to increase its chances of mission success next time. The only real thing that would need to be corrected is the flight team's vigilance towards transmitting the wrong command at the worst possible moment to the lunar lander. The same thing that befell NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 (Google this spacecraft and read about what happened to it) is the same thing that befell Beresheet: Human error. Correct this oversight next time, and Israel will finally become the fourth nation (behind the United States, Russia and China) to soft-land on the Moon. Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The USAF's Joint Strike Fighter Is Ready for Combat in the Persian Gulf...

Three F-35A Lightning II aircraft taxi down the tarmac after landing at Al Dhafra Air Base in United Arab Emirates...on April 15, 2019.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury

U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II Arrives for First Middle East Deployment (News Release - April 15)

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates -- The U.S. Air Force’s fifth generation multi-role aircraft arrived for its first deployment to the Middle East on April 15, 2019. The F-35A Lightning IIs are from active duty 388th and reserve 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

As the first deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, crews are prepared and trained for the AFCENT mission. The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, provides greater operational capability by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology.

“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”

The F-35A is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, and is intended to fuse, integrate and share data with other battlefield assets. It has one of the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor packages. It improves lethality, survivability and adaptability against emerging threats in order to maintain air superiority.

“The F-35A provides our nation air dominance in any threat,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. “When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the coalition joint force, the inter-operable F-35A is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role,” he stated.

The F-35A has previously deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in April 2017, as well as the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility in the fall of 2017.

“We look forward to demonstrating the full range of the F-35A’s capabilities while it increases the interoperability of our forces throughout the region,” said Guastella.

Source: U.S. Air Forces Central Command


An F-35A Lightning II aircraft taxis down the runway at Al Dhafra Air Base in United Arab Emirates...on April 15, 2019.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mya M. Crosby

Monday, April 15, 2019

TESS Update: A New Exoplanet Has Been Found by Kepler's Successor...

An artist's concept of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite floating through deep space.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s TESS Discovers its First Earth-size Planet (News Release)

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered its first Earth-size world. The planet, HD 21749c, is about 89% Earth’s diameter. It orbits HD 21749, a K-type star with about 70% of the Sun’s mass located 53 light-years away in the southern constellation Reticulum, and is the second planet TESS has identified in the system. The new world is likely rocky and circles very close to its star, completing one orbit in just under eight days. The planet is likely very hot, with surface temperatures perhaps as high as 800 degrees F (427 degrees C).

This is the 10th confirmed planet discovered by TESS, and hundreds of additional candidates are now being studied.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Carnegie Institution for Science analyzed TESS transit data from the first four sectors of TESS observations to detect 11 periodic dips in the star’s brightness. From this, they determined that the star’s light was being partially blocked by a planet about the size of Earth.

The star that HD 21749c orbits is bright and relatively nearby, and therefore well suited to more detailed follow-up studies, which could provide critical information about the planet’s properties, including potentially the first mass measurement of an Earth-size planet found by TESS.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Beresheet Will Fly Again!

A selfie that Israel's Beresheet lunar lander took while it was only 14 miles (22 kilometers) above the Moon's surface...on April 11, 2019.

Yesterday, SpaceIL president Morris Kahn tweeted the video below where he announced that Israel will build another lander, dubbed Beresheet 2.0, to finish what its predecessor was unable to do last Thursday. A targeted launch date obviously wasn't given, as the SpaceIL team met today to discuss preliminary details for the new project.

All I can say is, this is great news! Keep in mind that it took NASA seven tries for it to successfully reach the Moon in the early 1960s (Ranger 7 got to the Moon and intentionally impacted the lunar surface on July 31, 1964). Assuming that Beresheet 2.0 gets the necessary upgrades to give it a better chance of mission success over the first Beresheet lander (more redundancy in its systems, star trackers that aren't affected by glaring sunlight, and perhaps a different and more reliable main engine), then Israel should be back on course to become the fourth nation (behind the United States, Russia and China) to soft-land a robotic spacecraft on the lunar landscape.

An artist's concept of the Beresheet lunar lander on the surface of the Moon.

I'm tempted towards eventually tweeting to SpaceIL (like I did last year, as shown below) and asking it to allow the general public (besides the good folks of Israel) to submit their names online and have them fly on Beresheet 2.0 when it makes its triumphant journey onto the surface of Earth's closest celestial neighbor! Carry on.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Remembering Mrs. V Once More...

A collage showing photos of my 8th grade classmates posing with Mrs. Ventura (25 years ago) was displayed during a Mass at my Catholic elementary school...on April 13, 2019.

Earlier today, I attended a Mass that was held in Mrs. Ventura's honor at the church in my Catholic elementary school—which is where she taught for 35 years before she retired. Only four other former students of Mrs. V (three of whom I actually knew in grade school) showed up. But seeing as how the collage that was displayed during the Mass (shown above) happened to be the one containing photos of my 8th grade classmates 25 years ago (I'm Class of 1994), I'm really glad that I went to the Mass today.

Of course, most of Mrs. V's immediate family members were in attendance as well. May she rest in peace.