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

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!