R.I.P. Michael Alsbury #SpaceShipTwo

(Note: Please donate to the Mike Alsbury Memorial Fund, as he leaves behind a wife and two small children ages 10 and 17.)

It's been a rough week for space travel. First, an unmanned ISS resupply rocket launched erratically and had to be destroyed by NASA safety operators. Next, the Virgin Galactic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo suffered a mishap that resulted in the loss of life. Pilot Michael Alsbury was killed when SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert while attempting to land.

Heroes like Alsbury put their lives on the line to push forward space research. It's critical that we not take this loss for granted, and they we can continue to push forward to support what Alsbury lived for - taking space exploration to the next level.

The Guardian has a nice writeup of Alsbury's accomplishments. From that article:

Alsbury earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He was the recipient of Northrop Grumman’s President’s Award for Innovation-for-Affordability Excellence this year.

Alsbury was a “home-schooled, home-brewed” pilot who earned his way up through the ranks at the company, starting as an engineer. Alsbury had also put himself through commercial pilot school and was certified as a flight instructor.

Scaled Composite, Alsbury's company of 15 years, released a short statement in his honor

Chat with Creators of Sci-Fi Show Extant

The CBS sci-fi show Extant, which recently wrapped up its first season.  It inspired a few posts of mine about the constellation Orion, the speed of sound versus the speed of light, and the idea of being weightless. On a personal level, I enjoyed seeing a prime time sci-fi television show with a Black woman as the lead.

I was lucky enough to be invited on the Black Girl Nerds podcast to speak with Extant creator Mickey Fisher and show runner Greg Walker.  We chatted about the show, diversity in sci fi, bloopers on the set, and other shenanigans. Check it out below!

Ebola Isn't Just Fear Mongering

There have been many accusations that the current Ebola outbreak is another example of fear mongering, or deliberately focusing on the fear involved with an issue. This could not be further from the truth.  It's important to understand that Ebola is a very serious fever that is often fatal in humans. The World Heath Organizations (WHO) defines the current Ebola outbreak as "the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976." 

There has been a lot of false information flying around the news, mostly from people that are not versed in science. Check out two scientific sources below for some great facts on this disease:

From Dr. Calelph Wilson's story in Ebony:

"Evidenced-based information is critical.  Social media such as Twitter is a rapid way to access expert information and conversations on Ebola. For example, the National Science & Technology News Service (NSTNS, of which I am a member) recently hosted an Ebola Twitter chat with Professor A.O. Fuller, a virus expert from the University of Michigan. There are a host of Ebola virus related hashtags with very good information. It is critical to avoid sources that claim that Ebola is a hoax, a conspiracy or isn’t real without any basis."

From Dr. Marshall Shepherd's story in the Washington Post:

"I suspect that federal agencies like NIH and CDC have also suffered from gamesmanship. I can’t imagine that they have not been diligently thinking about the Ebola problem for years. However, I can imagine that budget cuts and other stresses on the science infrastructure and funding agencies would affect capability. "

Check them out and get educated by scientists!

#Ferguson & Chemical War Agents: Wrong

Editors note: To donate money, food, or supplies to the efforts in Ferguson, please see the following link: http://breed7910.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/campaigns-for-mikebrown-ferguson/

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

There have been protests for the last few days in Ferguson, MO, due to the unjustified shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man. I hate to say "another" but it's true -this Mother Jones article focuses on four unarmed Black men shot in the last month!  Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Ezell Ford join an ever growing list with such names as Rekia Boyd, Tarika Wilson, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo.

This is an American tragedy, and it pains me to see so many lives wasted. Protests are well justified, and police have heightened the tension by excessively deploying military grade tanks and guns acquired through the controversial 1033 program.  In addition, police are using tear gas (also known as CS gas), which is more dangerous than you may think. According to Discovery Magazine:

"Despite it’s “non-toxic” reputation, CS is prohibited for use in warfare by the Chemical Weapons Convention that was signed by many countries (including the US) in 1993. It is classified as a chemical warfare agent. However, this does not apply to domestic use of it or any tear gas, and police use of CS is legal in many countries, including the United States."

Why would it be listed as a chemical war agent? Here's a list of common CS gas effects, all of which have been mentioned on the #Ferguson twitter hashtag:

  • stinging and burning of the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin
  • excessive tearing
  • blurred vision
  • runny nose
  • salivation (drooling)
  • exposed tissue may develop a rash and a chemical burn
  • coughing and difficulty breathing, including a feeling of choking
  • disorientation and confusion, which may lead to panic

These are the effects of a chemical war agent used against unarmed peaceful protesters in an American city. Also note that these effects are much more intense and possibly deadly for someone with existing respiratory problems.

In a 2013 interview with National Geographic, Sven-Eric Jordt, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine who discovered the connection between tear gas and pain receptors, shared his view on the use of tear gas.

"Law enforcement has to weigh the risk of tear gas injury of bystanders against gaining control in a riot situation, under the assumption that rioters break the law. Governments need to put in place immediate decontamination procedures for areas, and especially residences, when tear gas is used."

Jordt emphasized that such a dangerous war asset should be used to gain control in a riot situation.  All of the footage from Ferguson indicates groups of protesters standing firm and vocalizing their frustration, even despite a few bad apple that choose to loot.  There is no sense of a loss of control. A response with tear gas is just inhumane.

So far, there has been no reporting on any decontamination procedures used by the Ferguson police department, or any assistance to the medical personnel that will be burdened with people seeking treatment.

This needs to stop. I stand in solidarity with Ferguson.

Orion and the Seven Sisters (#Extant E4)

I livetweet CBS' sci-fi show Extant every Wed night on Twitter at 8pm - check out the storify at the end of the article or click here!

On the last episode of CBS's new sci fi show Extant, Molly lies in bed with her son Ethan and discusses a very popular set of stars known as the Pleiades Star Cluster. This cluster of stars has been very prominent in the sky over human history, and many cultures have created stories around them.

A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey
Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

One of the most famous stories, which Molly shares with Ethan, is that of the seven sisters. According to Space.com:

"Native Americans thought the cluster formed when a group of women chased by bears asked a stone to help them run from the animals. The stone rose up, protecting them and forming Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The women then became the stars of the cluster.

In Greek mythology, Orion the Hunter chased the seven sisters around Earth. After crying out to the gods for help, the sisters were turned into the stars of the cluster. The gods also placed Orion in the sky after the sting of a scorpion killed him."

Tough break for the women in these culture's, huh? I guess they are always being hunted. In any case, it's pretty amazing that different cultures all have stories that are somewhat similar.  The power of the human mind.

For a recap of the complete episode of Extant (spoiler alert), please check out the Storify below!

#Extant E3: See Things First, Hear Them Later

Me and Astronaut Doug Wheelock in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the day before liftoff

Me and Astronaut Doug Wheelock in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the day before liftoff

In last night's episode of Extant, Molly (played by Halle Berry) sees a rocket lifting off, heading into space and likely docking with the space station.  It reminded me of when I attended a shuttle launch. One of the most fascinating things was seeing the shuttle launch .... in silence.  Then, 15 seconds later ... WWWWOOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSHHHHHH you get blasted by the full sound of the rocket launching from the Earth.  Why did it take so long?

In the above video, we start to hear sound about 15 seconds after we see it. Why is that? Well, the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is much, much, much faster than the speed of sound (1130 ft per second). So if something is more than 1130 ft away from us, we should see it one second before we hear it.  If it's 2260 ft away, we'll see it two seconds before we hear it. For 15 seconds, the math works out to just over 3 miles, which is the actual distance from the shuttle launch pad to the Kennedy Space Center press site that I was at.

This is the exact same reason why you see lightning before you hear thunder - if the lightning is far enough away, the light reaches your eyes way before the sound reaches your ears! You can also calculate how far away the lightning is by using the same method I used to calculate how far I was from the shuttle launch pad.

If you want to check out the livetweet of the show (watch out, there are spoilers), check out the Storify below!

#Cosmos E13 - World B Free

Well ... that's it. Cosmos is done!  On one hand, it means that I can return to regular science blogging on this site.  I am sad though - it's truly been a great experience to share this show with you and others that realize the impact that science has in your life.  Congratulations to Fox, Seth McFarlane, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, and everyone else that made this series possible.

Check out a video from the show discussing the Alexandria Library.  Below the video is the Storify live tweet that I hosted on Sunday.

#Cosmos E12 - Let's Get Free

Episode 12 of Fox's Cosmos focuses on the scientific rationale for climate change. The greenhouse effect, which was one of the main scientific endeavors of the original Cosmos host Carl Sagan, is when gas in the atmosphere traps sunlight bouncing off of the Earth's surface. Modern civilization burns fossil fuels which adds more carbon to the air, helping the atmosphere get even warmer.  Check out this video below for a visual explanation of the greenhouse effect.


Look below for more video blurbs from Cosmos, as well as the live Storify twitter chat that we held during the show's viewing.

#Cosmos E11: Eternalists

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 11 of Fox's Cosmos, "The Immortals", focuses things that stand the test of time - the first written word, stories, and organisms that can survive for millenia. All these things stand the test of time - and could possibly have extraterrestrial origins.

Early in the formation of our solar system, Earth and the other planet were slammed by asteroids and other rocks.  Rocks were flying all over the place, and organisms were along for the ride - possibly exchanging life between the planets.

Check out some video from the show below, as well as the Storify of the latest live tweet below!

#Cosmos E10: Electric Circus

Before this week's Cosmos, I was featured on the Black Girl Nerds podcast with Danielle Lee.  We talked Cosmos and other science issues - check it out the podcast below as well as the accompanying Storify!


Episode 10 of Fox's Cosmos is titled "The Electric Boy" - and luckily has no tie in Jamie Foxx's Electro from The Amazing Spiderman 2. We see how the first electric motor and generator were created based on the observations and experiments of scientists such as Michael Faraday and Humphry Davys. With the added math of James Maxwell, the world was ready to harness the part of electricity in useful ways. 

Check out some YouTube videos from Fox's channel and the live tweet Storify conversation below!