Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

Les Paul Is a Science God

I recently attended the Time Warner STEMFest at Discovery World here in Milwaukee.  I was floored by the museum's Les Paul exhibit.  Since he is a Wisconsin native, the exhibit is a vast exploration of his life and how his inventive mind literally transformed music.

I knew Les Paul's name from his Gibson guitar line, but I had no idea that he was a true scientific inventor at heart. He grew up learning about sound by using the family piano, studying the rumbles from the nearby train station, and analyzing a record player (phonograph). He built most things that he used, from his original guitar idea that he shared with Gibson to his own recording studio.

 Distortion, reverb, and delay were all terms that Paul mastered within the musical lexicon.  He also helped launch multitrack recording, which enabled him to put different vocals / instruments on different tracks and mix them together.

Check out the pics below from Paul's exhibit and make sure to swing by if you're in the Milwaukee area! 

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track.   

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track. 

 

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

NASA Shut Down, But We Still Celebrate 55 Years

(Editors Note: Most of the NASA links are inactive because of the government shutdown. Yay Congress.) 

In the midst of the Cold War, the US government created NASA in 1958 to gain an edge in space exploration. It was partially a defensive move agains the Soviet launch of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.  NASA superseded the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed in 1915 to pursue aeronautical research.

In the past 55 years, NASA has grown beyond its iniitial goals to be part of a global initative in support of space travel and harnessing its benefits for Earth. Check out the following infographic to get a sense of accomplishments as well as future endeavours. My hope is that this blog will be around long enough to cover each of the "things to come"! For more info, click on the infographic or visit this site.

 

Some more detail is available on NASA's site:

We’ve sent 12 humans to walk and work on the moon, sent four rovers and four landers to explore Mars and sentVoyager into interstellar space.
We’ve studied our home planet, every other planet in the solar system, and the sun at the center of it all.
We’ve peered deep into the distant past of the universe with Great Observatories like HubbleSpitzer and Chandra.
We’ve built an International Space Station larger than a five-bedroom house and sent humans to live and work off the planet continuously since November 2000. 
We've flown 30 years of space shuttle missions to launch and repair Hubble, build the space station and perform science in Earth orbit.
We've developed experimental aircraft and tested technologies that make today's airplanes safer and greener
We’ve produced hundreds of innovations that enable current and future NASA missions and improve the daily lives of everyone on Earth, from life-saving medical technologies to advances in telecommunications, weather forecasting, robotics and emergency response.
There’s way too much to list it all … and we’re not done yet.
We plan to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. We're getting set to send MAVEN to Mars and OSIRIS-REx to an asteroid, and we'll be watching as Juno arrives at Jupiter and New Horizons arrives at Pluto. We’ll launch the James Webb Space Telescopeto follow Hubble in the quest to understand our universe, looking all the way back to the first luminous glows after the Big Bang.   We’ll continue looking at the home planet from our unique perspective in space, improving air travel and developing cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all mankind.

Yeah They Still Work #4: '96 Tech

This is the latest post in my Yeah They Still Work (YTSW) series, where I review my old tech that still works and brings me joy.  

In December of 1996, I was a skinny, optimistic high school junior, ready to take on the world!  I kept one of my high school papers because I wrote a front page article and I'm a packrat. Little did I know that 17 years later, it would serve as a perfect time capsule for some of the technology of the day.

Check out the video below for a journey into the ridiculous TVs, CD players, and phones of the past! 

Smithsonian #TimeNav Event: Tweets & Photos

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Below are my tweets and photos from the Smithsonian Air & Space  Museum's Time and Navigation exhibit which opens Friday, April 12th. The exhibit features navigation the evolution of navigation technology from the sea, to the air, to space, and now in our smartphones. Yesterday's preview has more detail.  Check out the photos below!

Smithsonian #TimeNav: Back Seat Drivers

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The Smithsonian National Air and Space museum is unveiling a new exhibit entitled Time & Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting From Here to There. The exhibit will focus on navigators - the folks that served as the back seat drivers for many famous pilots, drivers, captains, and others. Exhibits from famous names such as sea Captain Charles Wilkes and pilot Charles Lindbergh will be featured, as well as Mariner 10, the first spacecraft to reach Mercury.

An excerpt from the Smithsonian blog reads as follows:

Today, the navigator as a crew member has largely disappeared from most commercial and military long-distance operations, replaced by microprocessors in the form of GPS and inertial navigation systems, but from the 1930s to the 1980s, the navigator was an essential crewmember on many long-distance commercial and military flights.

Be sure to follow my on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) as I will be live tweeting the media preview this morning from 9am - 11am EST. I'll be using the hashtag #TimeNav. 

The exhibit will open to the public on Friday, April 12th - make sure to check it out next time you're in DC!

Houston, We Have A Shareef

I'm in Houston, and I'll be reporting live from another one of my favorite events - NASA socialAs usual, I'll be tweeting from @ShareefJackson using the #NASASocial hashtag - check it out!  I'll bring the latest news even though I'm surrounded by the wonders of Whataburgers and various BBQ places. I even drove past a place named Hot Biscuit ... hmmm ...

This time, I'll get to speak with the crew of Expedition 36, who will be heading up the International Space Station in May of 2013 via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Image above: Pictured on the front row are Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov (left) and Flight Engineer Fyodor Yurchikhin. Pictured from the left (back row) are Flight Engineers Alexander Misurkin, Chris Cassidy, Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg. Photo credit: NASA

Image above: Pictured on the front row are Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov (left) and Flight Engineer Fyodor Yurchikhin. Pictured from the left (back row) are Flight Engineers Alexander Misurkin, Chris Cassidy, Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg. Photo credit: NASA

I'll also get a behind the scenes view of Johnson Space Center, including Mission Control and the Robonaut lab. There are autonomous robots that help NASA with many tasks, including one on the space station itself!

Robonaut ISS Checkout

Mission Control is where they coordinate flights once they have been launched, and of course we all know "Houston, We Have A Problem"

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates!

Celebrate the Astronauts of Apollo 1

NASA established the Mercury and Gemini missions in the 50s and early 60s. These missions were designed to launch men into space in preparation for an actual trip to another celestial body, which would be accomplished with the Apollo missions. Apollo 1 serves as a great example of the courage of scientists that risk their lives daily to further our understanding of the universe.

On Jan 27, 1964, Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee were set to fly on Apollo 1 in the mission then known as Apollo 204.. Unfortunately, the Command Module caught fire during launch pad testing with the astronauts inside. The subsequent report included recommendations that helped establish the safety procedures and redundant design that saved the lives of countless men and women over the past 49 years.

Most people are familiar with Apollo 11, where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins successfully made it to the moon and back.  Tom Hanks and the movie Apollo 13 helped bring that mission involving the salvaging of a botched mission to the mainstream.  Apollo 1 should be held in the same regard, especially since the sacrifice of the three astronauts led to the massive improvements needed for NASA to achieve its job.