Monday, September 26, 2011

GRAIL Tweetup - Geeks in Paradise - The Meeting

NASA knows how important public relations are to an organization funded by tax dollars. They also know and remember how much they had inspired generations of engineers and scientists in the 1950s and 1960s, during the "space race" and the Apollo missions that culminated in the Moon landings.
NASA knows that this enthusiasm has to be rekindled in the nation more preoccupied with reality shows and flaky entertainment, the nation that's slowly loosing its spirit of exploration and reaching for the stars (in this case literally).
Thankfully, NASA also knows that the new social media, like Facebook and Twitter can be used very effectively to spread the news, ideas and enthusiasm across the globe, with very little effort on their side.
That's the idea behind NASA Tweetups, and the GRAIL Tweetup I attended a few weeks ago was the best example of this brilliant idea.
The initial part of the first Tweetup day was filled by a tour of the Kennedy Space Center facilities, with a real insider's look at the operations of the launch teams and various support facilities. The afternoon was filled with presentations and meetings with interesting people connected to the various aspects of the GRAIL mission itself and to the popularization of science and space exploration in general.
While the main theme was the mission itself and its details, the first to speak was NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

Bolden's main message was that of popularization of science and math in American schools. He stressed that the spirit of early space age needs to be rekindled to ensure that America remains relevant in the global technological race, and that we lead the space exploration that had put us on the edge in the first place.

The details of the GRAIL mission were explained with passion by the principal investigator, Maria Zuber.

All of the complex intricacies and information can be found at the mission home page.

After hearing from the United Launch Alliance engineers, and other scientists, we were treated to a brief, but to-the-point lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, and one of the greatest advocates of science in popular media today. As he described the GRAIL mission and its main objective of "seeing" into the Moon, by measuring small gravitational anomalies, he steered our attention to one of the main ideas of modern science: our senses can't be trusted, they fail us daily, just because they evolved to do so to make us survive in a complex world. However, science gives us tools to probe the world around us and to see it as it really is: complex, not always agreeing with our expectations and hopes, and yet amazing and beautiful.
The lecture proved yet again that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a great communicator of science and can keep his audience engaged and interested. Rightly so, he is planning on making a sequel to the groundbreaking Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dr. Oz - You Have a Degree in Baloney

So, Dr. Oz dropped a bomb on his program, stating that children apple juices have dangerous levels of ARSENIC!!!
It would be scary, except it is not... at least, not as much as he would like to see it to bump his ratings and bring more people to watch his show that mostly peddles unproven, crappy and unresearched (if not plainly crappy) therapies and medical myths.

FDA has something to say about it, and they have some sound science behind:
There is no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices. And FDA has been testing them for years.
Here is the consumer update: FDA: Apple Juice is Safe To Drink (make sure to check other links at the bottom of that page).

Also, worth reading:
Letter from FDA to The Dr. Oz Show Regarding Apple Juice and Arsenic (09/09/2011)

Second Letter from the FDA to The Dr. Oz Show Regarding Apple Juice and Arsenic (09/13/2011)

That proves once again that Dr. Oz can't be trusted as a source of any kind of medical advice, not only for his meddling with bogus treatments (Reiki, therapeutic touch), but also for doing crappy research.

UPDATE: Dr. Oz gets shredded to pieces on ABC News: Dr. Besser vs. Dr. Oz: Apple Juice Showdown on ‘GMA’

Dr. Oz is a quack, not to be trusted... plain and simple. He'll do anything to boost his rating and he'll sell you just about anything to accomplish that. I guess he learned well from his mentor.

Quote of the Day

I could not help myself:
As I watch the Republican debates, I realize that we are on the brink of a crazy person running our nation. I sit in front of the television and shudder at the thought of one of these creationism-loving, global-warming-denying, immigration-bashing, Social-Security-cutting, clean-air-hating, mortality-fascinated, Wall-Street-protecting Republicans running my country.

By James Carville

Tagged as "funny", but I'm not so sure about that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

10 Most Important Vaccines in Human History - Quick Overview

The site Top Online Colleges has a quick, short, and to-the-point overview of the most important vaccines in human history:

10 Most Important Vaccines in Human History

If you like "info in a pill" on this topic, the site gives you a good start.

While we are talking "vaccines", there is a great article on the "Scientific American" portal about 6 Common Misconceptions about the Flu–and Flu Shots. Since the flu season is upon us, it's worth reading as a remainder to protect ourselves.

Monday, September 12, 2011

GRAIL Tweetup - Geeks in Paradise - The Tour

Yes, that's right, last week's GRAIL tweetup was a paradise for geeks, science aficionados and all kinds of "rocket scientists" (including the real ones).
It was a great opportunity to see the workings of NASA and many people involved around every space mission. And NASA delivered, packing the first day of the event with an amazing program.

It started early Wednesday, September 7th, with the event registration in front of the Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex:

After a brief, but multiplied by 150 participants, introductions, we were off to a special tour of the facilities.

As this was my first tweetup, I did not realize how good the tour was. I was prepared to visit some of the regular sites, maybe with an extra guide. This part turned out to be much, much better.

First, we were taken the the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Normally, the KSC tour just passes by the gigantic building, but we were taken right to it. As we entered its enormous interior, we could hardly contain our awe: the VAB is big.

So big in fact, that you only realize it when you have something seemingly large inside to compare it to. Like... hmm, I don't know... Space Shuttle Endeavour:

Yes, the real thing...

Our next stop was the press site at the Launch Complex 39, the one used for the Apollo missions (Saturn rockets) and, more recently, for the Space Shuttle launches. We were able to see the press building and the famous launch clock:

After the press site, we were off to see some real rocket launch sites. First on the list was the famous Complex 39, most recently used for the Space Shuttle program:

It was very interesting not only to see it up close, but also to hear some amazing facts about space shuttle launches from our tour guide, who was extremely knowledgeable.
After a quick visit to the Launch Complex 17, which included an overview of the operations by the employees of the United Launch Alliance, and a peek at this bumper sticker that made me very jealous,

we finally arrived at the Launch Complex 41. The main attraction there was a fully stacked Delta II rocket, with GRAIL twin probes on top, ready and mostly fueled for the first launch attempt. We received an in-depth explanation of the actual Delta II stacking process, as well as numerous details on the countdown and launch process. All of them equally fascinating!

Visiting the Launch Complex 41 was the last step of our tour as our buses returned to the KSC's Visitor Complex for an afternoon of meetings with GRAIL mission scientists and other interesting guests. But that's a story for another blog post...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GRAIL Tweetup Pictures

Before I share the whole, awesome experience of the NASA GRAIL Tweetup, I thought I post some pictures from the event.

The pictures I took can be found on my photo site: Pete's Wicked Photography - NASA GRAIL Tweetup

The organizers had all of the tweetup participants in a nice group photo:

GRAIL Tweetup (201109070005HQ)

The full size version is here.

Friday, September 9, 2011


The GRAIL NASA Tweetup I participated in on September 7th and 8th is going on strong, since the Delta II rocket that's to lift up the two twin probes on their way to the Moon is still sitting on the launch pad at the Complex 17 of the Kennedy Space Center.
Due to mainly weather issues, it did not launch as scheduled on September 8th, nor it did on September 9th.
However, the chances for the upcoming Saturday are much better, so the hope is the probes will finally begin their long voyage to our closest neighbour.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the details of the two day tweetup event, as I gather all my materials and find time to write.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What's The Harm?

Believing in supernatural seems harmless, and most of the time it probably is. However, it can turn ugly, even deadly at times, and our daily tolerance of it makes it possible.
We pass by roadside psychics every day and most of us pay no attention to their shady business, but the harm, usually financial, but sometimes physical, they extend to gullible and needy people is real and can have devastating effects on individuals and families.
As an example, check this story from St. Petersburg Times:
The Florida family claimed to confer with gods, spirits and even Michael the Archangel to cure diseases and break curses, asking for and accepting jewelry, gold coins and luxury cars in return.
Whole story: Fortune-telling Florida family scammed victims out of $40 million, prosecutors charge

Thursday, September 1, 2011

GRAIL!!! Here I come

The details are in and they are awesome...

NASA has some really cool things in store for their GRAIL Tweetup participants next week.

Here is their press release: NASA Invites 150 Lucky Twitter Followers to Launch of Lunar Spacecraft

Holy Grail!!!

NASA is planning an interesting mission that's lifting off in a week or so, called GRAIL which stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.

More details (very technical) can be found in the presentation: GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), on the NASA Portal, and on the GRAIL mission site.

The fun part for me is that I was lucky enough to be picked for a NASA Tweetup for the mission launch and for some additional PR activities.

An interesting and fun part of the mission is a public and educational outreach from NASA, called the MoonKAM, which will allow students request pictures of specific spots on the Moon for further discussion in the classroom. Very cool!

I will be twitting and blogging next week about the Tweetup and all the related activities if everything goes well and as planned. More to come...