Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Hero of the Soviet Union and Cosmonaut Dies.

Hero of the Soviet Union experiments with microgravity

Pavel Popovich passed away today at age 78. He came very close to being selected to be the first man in space, but Yuri Gagarin was selected instead.

Instead, Popovich went up alone in Vostok 4 in August 1962. At the same time, the USSR launched Vostok 3 and Andrian Nikolayev. Their capsules passed within 3 miles, and they spotted each other. Popovich thus became the 6th person to orbit the Earth. His mission ended after three days when the capsule interior temperature failed. After de-orbit burn, he parachuted from the capsule as was custom for that model.

Popovich flew his second mission in Soyuz 14 on July 3, 1974. After docking with the Salyut 3 military space station, he and fellow cosmonaut Yuri Artyukhin spent 16 days performing classified military objectives. For his space adventures and service in the Soviet Air Force as a decorated Major General, he was twice awarded the Order of Hero of the Soviet Union, the USSR's highest honor.

But why focus on this cosmonaut? Well, for one, I've met him.

In October 2005, Salt Lake City was host to the XIX Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. Our staff and volunteers of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center not only attended, but were privileged to perform the International Flag parade during the opening ceremonies. Before and after the event, we were able to meet with many astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world. Did I get a slew of autographs? You betcha! After the morning ceremonies, the space explorers split up to visit Utah schools around the state. We were privileged to be visited by Pavel Popovich and Viktor Savinykh (more on him in another post perhaps).

Cosmonaut Popovich inspects the USS Phoenix simulator. Behind him
is Cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh.

Besides being able to visit our school's students, the cosmonauts also toured the Space Center and were very impressed. In one of the photos I took, you can see Pavel Popovich sitting iin the command chair of the USS Phoenix simulator soon after it had opened. SOOOO, for those of you who manage to rise to the rare command of the Phoenix, you, too, can sit in the same chair as occupied by a great space explorer and Hero of the Soviet Union.

By Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator

Yes, It Must Be Cosmic Rays! What Else Could It Be?

Hello Troops,
Well well well...... I finally found the reason for my recent sleepless spell, not to mention a few extra aches and pains that some claim are the result of advancing age. Why just today I was sitting at my desk at the Space Center when one of our 7th grade volunteers came in to pass a few minutes of his day before venturing on home to bother his parents or torment his sister. We got talking about some of my old, former students from years back. When I mentioned a few names from the early 1980's he gave me this puzzled look. I could tell he was searching his juvenile data banks to try to place just when that might have been. I saw through his eyes and read his thoughts. For a while he had me placed in the horse and buggy days but soon figured out that couldn't be. Finally he just gave up trying to place something from so long ago and just stuck the "Man you're old" band aid on it.

Anyway, after a bit of research I'm ready to pronounce my theory to explain my latest symptoms. Cosmic Rays. I've decided to share some of my reasoning with you. Enjoy the article and do try to learn something.

Mr. Williamson

Galactic cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high, new data from a NASA spacecraft indicates.

"In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19 percent beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years," said Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. "The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions."

The surge, which poses no threat to Earth, was detected by NASA's ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) spacecraft.

The cause of the surge is solar minimum, a deep lull in the sun's activity that began around 2007 and continues today. Researchers have long known that cosmic rays go up when solar activity goes down, because strong solar activity inflates and bolsters a protective bubble around our entire solar system.

Right now solar activity — marked by sunspots, solar flares and space storms — is as weak as it has been in modern times, setting the stage for what Mewaldt calls "a perfect storm of cosmic rays."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wow, This Rocket Is All Business. What Do You Think?

Russian security officers walk along the railroad tracks as the Soyuz rocket is rolled out to the launch pad Monday, Sept. 28, 2009 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz is scheduled to launch the crew of Expedition 21 and a spaceflight participant on Sept. 30, 2009. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Hello Troops,
Yes, yes, yes...... we have the cool space shuttle. It's reusable and it makes a nice sonic boom on reentry. I'll give you all that and more. Can I say BUT and add another thought? How cool is this Russian Soyuz rocket!?
There is just something about this rocket that means business. There is no denying the fact that when this baby ignites it is going to go somewhere. I mean, just count the nozzles. Look at the shape and design. To me it has sleek and style all wrapped up into one complete package - and that has changed very little over the past fifty years or so.

I had the privilege of being one of the first Americans (if not the first) invited to Kazakhstan to tour the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the late 1980's towards the end of USSR. I was a guest of the Kazak government. My nephew and cousin accompanied me. We represented the Young Astronaut Club of American at the 30th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first flight into space. Boy have I got stories to tell about that adventure. They must wait. There isn't enough bandwidth to do them justice. Needless to say, it was the trip of a lifetime.

I do remember seeing several of the rockets at the Cosmodrome. I stood beside one, close enough to touch it. It was a religious experience (even though the USSR was still a pronounced atheistic nation at the time).
It impressed me then and they still do now. The Soyuz rocket is the workhorse of the Russian space program. It is reliable and gets the job done and for that I take my hat off to this wonder of the space age.

Soon we mothball our shuttles. The government is dragging its feet on the new Ares rocket meaning the Great United States will be left without a vehicle to take men into space. Wait, I misspoke....... we can still get an astronaut into space if we use the Soyuz Rocket!!! Well, that is the ultimate irony of the whole situation. What an embarrassment for the United States and what pride it instills in the Russian soul!

Mr. Williamson

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Enemy from the Dark. Part 4.

Hello Troops,
This is the 4th installment of my new story, An Enemy from the Dark. This story takes place after the mission called "The Children of Perikoi". If you haven't read parts 1 - 3 please do so. You'll find them in the last three weekend postings to this blog.

Mr. Williamson

Part 4

Pinwheel wormholes continued to open around the McAuliffe Space Station giving birth to alien ships. The larger ships disgorged fleets of small fighters. The smaller ships launched missiles as soon as their launching ports cleared the wormhole’s event horizon. Bright streaks of orange plasma exhaust laced through the dark. A small percentage of the missiles targeted the orbiting station while the majority struck military targets on the planet’s surface. It was a full scale attack of monumental proportions.

Captain Brady Young of the USS Voyager was on Deck 12 of the McAuliffe Station struggling to find an open route to his starship docked in the station’s interior space dock. He had orders to gather the thirty or so remaining cadets from the station’s Command Training Academy and launch from the station, setting course for the Magellan station at Alpha Prime. The orders were direct and simple. Carrying them out was proving to be difficult. The station was under heavy bombardment. What was once the fastest way to space dock was impassable due to fire, debris or hull breeches.

Brady stood in the smoky corridor looking at maps of the station’s interior on a holographic wall screen. Each map stopped long enough for the computer to trace an alternate route to the docking bay - bypassing areas now impassable due to battle damage. The screen froze four maps into the search. A red line pulsated through the diagram showing a maze of still open corridors leading to the bay and his ship. Brady tapped the download button in the corner of the screen. The button pulsed then changed from yellow to green, indicating the information had downloaded into his commbadge’s memory.

Brady turned and touched his comm badge. “Screen,” he shouted over the sound of the collision alarms and distant explosions. Laser lights brightened in the ceiling over head creating a holographic three dimensional computer screen before him. He held out his hand stabbing quickly into the air touching first the recent downloads file then the map he had just downloaded. It appeared. The red directional line pulsed once again, indicating the passageway was still clear.

“Computer, hallway marker directions.” Brady ordered as he broke into a fast run.

Transparent green laser generated holographic arrows appeared in mid air before him. Each arrow disappeared as he ran through it while another appeared further ahead of him. Several times the shaking of the station pulled the floor away, sending the captain either into a wall or down to the floor. Each time he rose and continued through the maze toward his ship.


Thirty cadets ranging in age from twelve to sixteen stood in the station’s inner space dock lounge. Each had a backpack, hastily stuffed with whatever they could grab in the twenty seconds or so they had to pack. Commander’s Houston, Clegg and Powell led them to the lounge before the attack started.

Commander Clegg stood near the large rectangle observation windows watching sparks and debris move across her field of vision. Everyone else sat or stood with eyes fixated on the large wall screen bringing news from Earth. Disturbing images of devastation filled the screen. Cities burned, explosions lit up the night sky on all the planet’s major continents. Surface missiles found their incoming targets creating enormous fireballs in the upper atmosphere. Each defensive hit brought muted cheers from the students. Each surface impact brought silence.

The room shook. The lights went out. A moment later they came back on.
“That was close,” Powell said as she helped two cadets to their feet. “What’s keeping Captain Young?”

“I don’t know but we have a serious problem,” Commander Clegg said while waving everyone to her window. The lounge window framed the faces of 33 people, all looking at the gangplank leading from the docking port to the Starship Voyager’s entry portal. The gangplank was slowly moving up and down. “That motion will rip the gangplank away from either the ship or the station if it isn’t stabilized. If it goes we won’t be boarding the ship. We need to stabilize it. “ Aleta thought for a moment while trying to form a new plan.
“ Quickly, all cadets to the Voyager.” She shouted. “Sheila, you find the Captain and get his orders. Lorraine lead the cadets to the ship. I’m going to stabilize the platform. Let’s Move!”

The cadets picked up their backpacks and rushed through the double sliding doors and down the main ramp leading to the gangplanks. Commander Powell stayed behind working to open a communication link to Captain Young. The group reached the platform. A midshipman stood by the hatch tapping at several controls on the wall.

“Stop!” he shouted to the approaching group. ”This gangplank is not stable. There’s too much movement. I’m trying to stabilize it now.”

Another explosion rocked the station throwing everyone off their feet. Sparks filled the room. The gangplank’s motion became more exaggerated.
“I’ll help you,” Commander Clegg said. “We’ve got to get the cadets into the Voyager.”

The midshipman jumped to his feet and nodded. “Careful,” he said while pointing them through. The cadets started down the long waving connecting tube which joined the Voyager to the McAuliffe Station. It’s constant motion made the gong difficult but they continued ahead, step by step.

“Where’s Lorraine?” Aleta shouted while punching at the stabilizer controls. She looked behind her. Off in the distance she found her kneeling beside an injured cadet. Her hands were bloody. Aleta ran to help turning the stabilizers back to the midshipman.

“She fell and hit her head on this desk,” Lorraine said holding a cloth just above the girl’s right ear.

“There’s nothing we can do now.” Aleta said looking at the gushing wound. We’ll carry her to the Voyager’s sick bay. The station’s will be overwhelmed. We couldn’t get there anyway with all the damage.”

Each women took one of the girl’s arms and pulled her to her feet.
A deafening explosion again took out the lights, sending everyone back to the floor. A moment later half the lights came back on. Power levels were dropping. The air filled with smoke. The station’s fire suppression system was working but the atmospheric filters couldn’t keep up.

“Look,” Lorraine pointed up the ramp toward the Lounge. Commander Powell struggled against two stuck double doors. She was trapped. Aleta jumped to her feet ordering the midshipman to help Lorraine with the cadet while she ran up the ramp to help Sheila.

“Its too late,” the midshipman shouted against the sound of grinding metal. The last explosion tore the gangplank from it’s station moorings. The Voyager’s automatic clamping system detached the clamps from the gangplank’s other end when it sensed the pressure against the ship’s hull increasing past the safe limit. The corridor floated away. The cadets were on their own now. Not even the Captain could get to the ship.

(I've also updated my Cloverdale blog. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Spotting the International Space Station

While we all go about our business here on the big ol' Earth, the ISS continues its orbital sweeps around the planet. About every 90 minutes is another sunrise followed 45 minutes later by a sunset. Although they may not be making headlines, the station crew continues to perform the daily maintenance of the station equipment, and perform experiments using the station's scientific instruments.

At 8:36 pm MDT tonight I'll be going outside to watch ISS float serenely across the sky in a matter of minutes, reflecting evening sunlight off its modules and solar panels. This time I'm taking my astronomy binoculars with me.

It's 8:47 pm now, and the excitement is all over... except for me, the space nerd! I went outside about 15 minutes early (after calling a couple of friends who would be interested in spotting it). I hung my 10 x 50 binoculars from my neck and went out to the driveway for a relatively unobstructed view of the northern sky. There are several distracting streetlights nearby, but they don't bother me as much as a very bright house light across the street. Still, it's dark enough to do some binocular astronomy. In a 5-minute period I spotted 3 polar-orbiting satellites moving south-north, several nebulas near Sagittarius, and of course, the galaxy Andromeda as it rose above the top of Mt. Timpanogos.

And I spotted Jupiter... Wow. Wow. Very nice and bright in my binocs, with the bonus of spotting three of its moons very easily. The Jupiter system is fascinating to watch, and the disk of Jupiter is just big enough in the binocs that on a very good viewing night with still air I can barely make out some different colored cloud bands. And the Moon - well I can always enjoy looking at the Moon. It's in a waxing crescent phase right now, which makes it fun to watch the terminator (sun-lit edge) as it slowly picks out craters and mountains.

Then, at 8:36, right on the button, a small light started moving from the horizon. As it rose higher in the sky, it quickly grew very bright from the reflected evening sunlight. it cruised steadfastly across the sky, about 50 degrees from the horizon, and then toward the ESE sky- which is of course crowded out by Mt. Timpanogos. But before it reached that point, it reached the Earth's shadow, and... swoosh. It faded out very fast. With the binocs I could follow it until it was just above the mountain shadow. During the flight, I still could only make out a blocky shape, no details, because of the extreme brightness in my view, and the sad fact that the weight of these binoculars causes a bit of shaking. I need to invest in a binocs monopod.

Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator
From his Blog:

Water Discovered on the Moon.

The discovery of widespread but small amounts water on the surface of the moon, announced yesterday, stands as one of the most surprising findings in planetary science.

Three spacecraft picked up the signature of water, not just in the frigid polar craters where it has long been suspected to exist, but all over the lunar surface, which was previously thought to be bone dry.

"Widespread water has been detected on the surface of the moon," said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the studies detailing the findings.

While the findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, don't mean there are pools of liquid water sitting on the moon, it does mean that there is — entirely unexpectedly — water potentially tied up or mixed in the minerals that make up the lunar dirt.

"What we're detecting is completely unexpected," Pieters said. "The moon continues to surprise us."

The moon dirt would be akin to soil from an arid environment like Arizona — it wouldn't feel wet to the touch, but there's certainly water bound up in it, Pieters told

This discovery may well revolutionize our understanding of the nature of the moon's surface, experts say, and it has geologists eager to go back to the moon and dig up some lunar dirt.

"I rank this as a game changer for lunar science," said University of Colorado astrophysicist Jack Burns, chair of the science committee for the NASA Advisory Council. Burns was not involved in the new findings. "In my mind this is possibly the most significant discovery about the moon since the Apollo era."


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Final Push

An Update from James Porter. Re: Cache Valley Space Education Center, Logan.

With all that has been going on I have been able to do very little in relation to the space center and getting things moving in Logan. Luckily I am not the only one who has been involved. Volunteers such as Mr. Wall and Mr. Gee have been helping us to gather together the information and materials we need to make a presentation to the governing board of Thomas Edison. With bids gathered from moving and electric companies we are able to present the initial costs it would take to get the simulator moved and powered up. As a part of the presentation we will be making to the governing board I would love to hear what you have to say. Many of you who read this have experienced this kind of program before and have valuable insight into what can be accomplished. If there is anything that you would like to share with the governing board about experiences you have had or how the space center has touched your life, please send them to me by email ( Thank you for the support of everyone who has been involved in getting the Space Center experience off the ground in Logan.

James Porter

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Enemy from the Dark. Ch. 3.

Hello Troops,
Here is the third installment. Please read the first two chapters before this one if you haven't already. This story continues the school year story "The Children of Perikoi" that many of you did when here on field trips. Let me know what you think.
Mr. Williamson

Chapter 3
McAuliffe Station. Earth Orbit

“Please come in and sit down,” Admiral Meredith said as he led his command officers into the McAuliffe Station’s Briefing Room. Admiral Mark Daymont was waiting in the room, studying the holographs on the wall. He arrived at the Station two hours earlier on his way home for the holidays from Magellan Station. Behind Admiral Meredith were the Captains of the Lexington and Omar Bradley. Captain Young walked into the room with Admiral Williamson. The last to enter were the Captains of station's training ships; Megan Warner of the Phoenix, Emily Perry of the Odyssey and Stacy Carol of the Galileo. They each found a seat at the large rectangular table in the center of the room.

The Briefing Room of the station was located directly off the Command Deck. Along one wall were holographic pictures of military ships dating back 500 years. Large windows occupied the entire opposite wall. The vivid blues,whites and browns of Earth filled the first three windows. The other two showed the stark blackness of space dotted with diamond stars.

“Lights half,” Meredith said. The lights in the room dimmed to half brightness

“Thank you all for coming.” Meredith said as he sat at the head of the table. “You realize our situation. Farpoint Station was attacked. A surprise attack. News is coming in on the military net but very spotty at best. This is what we know. Multiple alien ships arrived through wormholes. The station had no warning. The radio traffic received over subspace was primarily battle updates. Twelve minutes into the attack the radio went silent. We assume the station is destroyed.”

Meredith pushed a button on the computer screen embedded into the table’s surface near his chair. A holographic view ring rose from the table top to a height of three inches. Hundreds of pinpoint lights appeared, emitting millions of colors around the circle. A ring of color rose slowly to the ceiling. A moment later the color condensed into a sharply focused picture of one of the attacking ships.

“This is a picture of what is believed to be the command ship. I want you to compare this ship to the one I’m about to bring up,” Meredith pushed another button. The color’s changed bringing another ship into view.
“This is a picture sent to us by the Starship Voyager. Do you recognize it Captain Young?” Meredith turned to Capt. Young of the Voyager.

“I do. It is the alien ship we engaged at Perikoi,” Brady looked surprised and concerned. The Voyager’s encounter nearly proved fatal had it not been the courageous actions of the crew of the Copernicus.

“Yes it is,” the Admiral said. “I’ve reread the report you filed. We all know the general story. Perikoi is a planet inhabited by a primitive race of humanoids. The gods they worshiped were alien life calling themselves Hellos. These false gods visited the planet every twelve years to kidnap hundreds if not thousands of children. The children were enslaved. You and the Hellos had a run in. The USS Copernicus was lost. You barely escaped with your lives. And if I’m not mistaken, the large alien ship was destroyed when the Copernicus exploded. Is there anything else you’d like to add?” Meredith looked at Brady. There was a pause while Brady reviewed all the omitted facts.

“No Sir,” Brady responded. “You covered it very well.”

“Their weapons were superior?”

“Yes Sir, very much so.”

“Thank you,” Meredith ended the conversation and turned to the company assembled. “You’ll see from this hologram that the ship destroyed at Perikoi is the same design and size as the ship that led the attack at Farpoint. They have superior weapons. They can travel through wormholes. A science we are decades from achieving. We haven’t a clue how this is done or where they get the power to open and maintain a wormhole. You realize the danger to the Federation. An attack could come without warning. That is why this station, along with all other stations, are at red alert.”

Meredith rose from his seat, turned and walked toward the windows. His hands were clasped behind his back. Worry was etched across his face as he looked down at the beautifully peaceful planet rotating below. "What did you unleash upon us at Perikoi?" He glanced at Captain Young from the corner of his eye. He held his hand up to silence a response.

“Lights full,” he said softly. The room brightened. He returned to his seat and looked at each member of his staff. “I’m not a politician so I won’t comment on the justification of the attack. I'm sure you understand their point of view. We were in their space. We interfered in their governing of Perikoi and we destroyed one of their ships. They see this as just retribution, which makes the fighting very personal. I don't fault your actions Captain Young. You were defending your ship. I only wish the outcome would have been less severe.”

Meredith rose from his seat. “We must be ready for war. We are going to institute the following actions, first.....”

An alarm sounded from the wall speakers bringing the station to battle readiness. The Admiral in mid sentence. His heart raced with a sudden rush of adrenaline. He touched his comm badge. “Command,” he said to the automatic switchboard in an unsteady voice.

“Command,” a small voice was heard.

“This is Meredith.”

“We are picking up odd energy patterns in multiple places around Earth,” the voice answered.

“Wormholes?” Meredith asked. He knew the answer before he asked the question.

“Yes Sir,”

“Thank you,” Meredith said touching the badge to close the link. He stared into the dark. Despair seemed written across his face.

“My God,” he said looking into the faces of those present. “Our fleet is still hours away. I believe they attacked Farpoint to learn about our defenses and our weaknesses. This attack will be their decisive blow.”

For a moment time seemed to stand still. Every eye was focused on the Admiral. Every ear waited for his orders. He ran both hands through his gray hair, down his face and under his chin. He looked out the windows. “It has begun. Day is turning to night. Look.”
Everyone in the room stood quickly and moved to the windows. Dozens of pinwheel lights were forming. Some were closer to the station while others far away.

“Something is coming toward us,” Stacy shouted as she backed quickly away from the window. Out in the darkness appeared several lengthening lines of glowing orange plasma exiting the nearest wormholes. Soon every wormhole in view was shedding the same orange arcing light trails. Each line trailed what appeared to be a missile. Several were streaking toward the station.

“Full Shields!” Meredith shouted into his comm badge. The station’s shield generators came on line instantaneously. Metal shielding slowly descended over the windows hiding the missiles from view. “Gibbons and Andrews to your ships and launch at once, defend the station. Go Go,” he said to the captain’s of the Lexington and Omar Bradly. They were up and out of their seats before he finished the sentence. “Williamson, get your cadets into the Voyager. We can’t use the transporters with full shields. Perry and Carroll take your ships into the Voyager’s shuttle bay. Warner, launch the Phoenix. Brady prepare the Voyager for launch. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor . One more ship won’t make a difference. I’m thinking of the safety of the cadets. Captain Young, launch and warp to the Magellan Station. Take Admiral Daymont with you. Move!” he shouted. Everyone ran from the room leaving Admiral Meredith alone, a commander at the wheel of a floundering ship. The party crossed the Command Deck and into the turbolifts.

“Deck 12,” Williamson said as the turbolift doors closed. The lift began moving. Williamson tapped his comm badge. “Command Training,” Williamson said.

“Clegg here,” came the worried voice of Aleta Clegg.

“We are on our way to you. Where is Lorraine,” Williamson asked.

“She and Shelia are helping the cadets get packed,” Aleta said. “This is bad isn’t it?” The sound of the station’s weapons was heard over the humming of the lift.

“Yes,” Williamson said. “Get the cadets to the Voyager at once. They take only what they can carry. No more packing. Hurry.... we are under attack.”

“Why don’t we beam the cadets to Earth. Won’t they be safer there?”

“The shields are up. The Voyager is the only thing we can do. We have orders to report to Magellan Station.”

“Yes Sir,” Aleta said. "Will you be joining th........"

There was an explosion. The Command Deck took a direct hit. It sounded like the outer hull of the station twisted and folded upon impact. The lift shook violently and stopped. The lights failed momentarily.

“Come on Come on,” Brady shouted as he pounded the wall. He felt moisture near his mouth. His nose was bleeding. “We've have to launch," he said looking for something to stop the flow.

“What happened to the shields?” Emily asked picking herself up off the floor. “They couldn’t fail so quickly.” There was another explosion. The sound was further away. The lift rocked again. Whatever was holding it in place dislodged. It resumed its course. The deck numbers changed. The lift seemed to be running slower.

The screen above their heads flashed ‘12’. The lift doors partially opened. Smoke from multiple electrical fires filled the lift. Williamson and Brady moved toward the blocked doors. Each took a door and pushed. The doors parted with a grind. Deck 12 was littered with debris and full of smoke. The lights seemed unsure whether to stay on or off. Sparks from exposed wiring flashed up and down the corridor like fireworks on the fourth of July.

“Go Go Go,” Brady shouted. Everyone ran from the lift coughing from the fumes. Another massive explosion rocked the station. The floor fell six inches beneath them. They struggled to regain their footing. They had to get to the Voyager. Hopefully the cadets would be waiting. The station was running out of time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sailing a Ship on an Alien Sea. Your Astronomy Moment of the Day.

We could have a capsule sailing an extraterrestrial sea as soon as 2022, if a team of researchers can convince NASA to try sailing a boat on an alien world.

Ellen Stofan, a planetary geologist at Proxemy Research in Maryland and an honorary professor at University College London is suggesting NASA do just. She is leading an effort to design and propose a low-cost mission to Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Sailing — But Not In Water

Titan is the only place in our solar system other than Earth known to have lakes on its surface, Stofan says.

The liquid isn't water, of course. Temperatures on icy Titan reach minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit. The lakes are actually liquid methane and ethane.

Here on Earth, methane is an odorless gas. But on Titan, methane acts just like water acts on Earth. Methane forms clouds in the atmosphere. It rains down on to the surface and forms rivers, lakes and seas.

This radar image taken by the Cassini Space Probe in July 2006 of Titan, one of Saturn's moons, provides evidence that it is covered by large bodies of liquid.

Titan's Great Lakes

A few years ago, the Cassini spacecraft sent back radar images of the north pole of Titan, and those pictures showed evidence of hundreds of lakes. Some of them are large — the size of North America's Great Lakes.

One of the large lakes — either Ligeia Mare or one called Kraken Mare — would be the target for a probe that would splash down and float around, according to the plan that Stofan is working on with some other Titan experts.

And that would be something new. In the past, space exploration has been done with spaceships that orbit planets or fly by them, or with probes that land on a planet's surface and maybe drive around, like the Mars rovers.

Floating Space Capsule

The "boat" or "lake lander" that Stofan is designing with her colleagues would not look anything like the ships used to explore Earth back in the days of Christopher Columbus or Ferdinand Magellan.

"It's certainly not going to look like what most people conceive of a boat looking like," says Stofan. "It'll look more like a little capsule that floats." She says it will drop straight into the sea. It will have a mast, "but that's just to hold a camera. We don't have a sail," she says.

Titan's wind will push this capsule around the lake. The probe could drift for months. It would have a small, nuclear-powered engine. And it could shout its data directly back to Earth.

There's no danger of a shipwreck, according to Stofan. Titan's lakes have waves, but probably just gentle ones — unless there's a storm. Still, even that doesn't worry her. "In fact, we'd love for that to happen, to be able to return an image showing a rainy day on Titan and to see those methane raindrops falling down into the lake," she says. "The wind might kick up a little, but nothing as violent as sort of the tropical storms and hurricanes we get here on Earth."

Eventually, she says, the ship might just run aground in a muddy beach and get stuck.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The New Galileo Arrives at the Space Center!

The New Galileo parked next to the Old Galileo as seen from the Cafeteria's Entrance

Hello Troops,
The students of Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove arrived at school this morning thinking this would be an ordinary day just like all the others since the start of the school year in August.

That feeling of samo samo was replaced with “Wow” as they entered the cafeteria for lunch. Sitting in the corner of their cafeteria was the Space Center’s new Galileo Simulator. It is reported that some students openly wept. Others fell to their knees in reverence. Still others stood still, blocking the serving line, and stared in disbelief that such a curious object found its way to their little school.
Stacy Carrol, Set Director of the Galileo, proudly shows off her new simulator.

The custodian reported that hardly a morsel was eaten. The students were in a hurry to be excused so they could touch the new simulator. Everyone wanted to get in. When told no even the best behaved appeared to be on the verge of mental breakdown. We may have to put up signs warning of electrocution of anyone touches the shiny metal outer skin but I’m afraid that won’t stop them.

The new Galileo was delivered to the school and Space Center last night by Kyle Herring, Stacy Carroll, Megan Warner, Alex Anderson and several other Space Center staff. It came in pieces on the back of a large truck. They finished assembling the ship at 10:45 P.M.

It is finally home after a very long wait. Now, what do we have to do before we open it for missions?

  1. We need to do some finish work on the exterior.
  2. We need to purchase all the Mac Mini’s
  3. We need to replace the ball bearing wheels with real ones so the ship will move along the cafeteria floor without damaging it.
  4. We need to paint the exterior.
  5. We need to put in ‘fake’ windows to make it look really good from the outside.

Alex Anderson is finishing up the computer controls. Matt Long and our Programming Guild are working on the next generation Galileo controls programmed in Apple’s Cocoa language (iphone).

Stacy Carroll is the Galileo’s Set Director and is anxious to open the ship to the public and start taking missions. Stay in touch through the Blog to know when the first missions will run so you can book your own private party in this out of this world new simulator, the Galileo!

Mr. Williamson

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Enemy From the Dark. Ch. 2

Hello Troops,
This is Chapter two of a story posted a few days ago. If you haven't done so, please read Ch. 1 before reading Ch. 2.

Thank you.

Mr. Williamson

December 22, 2321
01:10 Hours
McAuliffe Station, Earth Orbit.

Commander Williamson entrusted the briefing of the cadets to his instructors. They parted company on Deck 12 of the McAuliffe Station.
“Brief the Cadets and put them to bed. I’m going to the Command Level to get more information. Meet me in my room when you are finished. By the way, it’s OK for the cadets to place calls home if they can get through. I expect most subspace frequencies will be restricted to military traffic.” Williamson said to his staff as they exited the lift. They turned right and walked briskly away nodding to say they heard and understood. The turbolift doors quietly closed leaving Williamson alone with his thoughts and the humming of the lift as it sped through the shafts of the Station. Williamson wondered how chaotic it was going to be on the Command Deck.

The turbo lift doors opened revealing a room in controlled chaos. The atmosphere was tense as staff scurried about. It was obvious everyone was caught off guard by the attack on Farpoint Station. You could tell from comments heard in passing that more attacks were expected - it was only a question of when and where. Out of the corner of his eye Williamson saw the Command Officers of the Starship Voyager. The tallest of the pair was First Officer Alex DeBirk, recently transferred to the Voyager from the USS Francis Scott Key. Next to him was Captain Brady Young. The Voyager was once a deep space exploration ship. Top of the line in her day. One month ago Command reassigned the ship to the McAuliffe Station to assist in the training of new midshipmen from the Academy.

Against another wall Williamson found a group of very familiar faces. They were the command officers of the Station's other training ships: Megan Warner of the Phoenix, Stacy Carroll of the Galileo, and Emily Perry of the Odyssey. It looked like everyone had the same idea. If you want news go to the source. Williamson suddenly realized he was blocking the entrance to the turbolift. An officer brushed roughly against him as she rushed to catch the lift before the doors closed.

"Excuse me," the yeoman said as she entered the cubical and turned around. She glanced up giving an embarrassed look for nearly knocking him over - then she looked down to her feet. She mumbled something to the computer. The doors slid shut. The sound of the moving car rapidly faded into the hum of the busy Command Deck. A moment later Williamson recognized who she was - Admiral Schuler’s Assistant. If she was here then so was the Admiral. Williamson wondered what Admiral Schuler was doing on the McAuliffe? He thought a more appropriate place in this situation would be Central Command planetside.

Williamson stepped back from the lift entrance and attached himself to the wall. Best to stay out of the way for a moment and listen. He chose to hold his questions until he found someone that could take a minute to answer them.

"Where can we find the Station Commander?" Williamson overheard DeBirk ask the station's science officer.
"We have orders from the Commander to report to a briefing,” Captain Young said, giving a purpose for their presence.

"He is in his ready room with the Admiral." the science officer replied. "You can wait here. By the way, tread carefully around Admiral Schuler . Many of the Inland Defense Ships are on maneuvers at Centari, and that's several hours away at max warp. Right now its Earth's planetside defense grid, a few foreign starships, this station and our training ships. That's all we've got for defenses should......well, you get the picture. You all command the training ship. I expect that's why you were summonsed. Careful, here they come."

The door to the Commander’s Ready Room parted and out came Admiral William Schuler followed by Admiral Meredith - Commander of the McAuliffe Station. Again, Williamson wondered what Admiral Schuler was doing on the station at this time of night. The only explanation was the Station Christmas Party.

The appearance of Admiral Schuler was enough to make the hair on a captain's neck stand to full attention. The Admirals walked toward the turbolift. Schuler stopped suddenly when he saw Capt. Young and redirected his eyes to look directly into his. The Captain stood at attention returning the Admiral's stare. Debirk was also at attention thinking how glad he was that Young was standing closest.

“Are those Captain’s Pips?” the Admiral asked with a sound of complete disbelief. “Who are you?" he continued in his loud booming voice hardly giving Capt. Young time to answer either question. Young was wondering what was louder, the beating of his heart or the Admiral’s agitated voice.

"Captain Brady Young just appointed captain of the USS Voyager Sir!" was the young captain's shaky reply.

"The Voyager, You?............You?! How old are you? I'm expected to provide some kind of Earth defense with training ships under the command of children? What is going on?" The Admiral raged. Young looked anxious to defend his record but was wise enough to understand the Admiral wasn't asking a question but making a statement.

"Sir," came a reply from behind Young. It was first officer Debirk's voice. Young thought he was either very stupid or very, just plain stupid.

"You have something to say to me?!" Admiral Schuler said as he moved toward Debirk like a cat about to bounce on its prey.

"Captain Young is a decorated war hero from the Borg war. Why he alone was responsible for saving the USS......."

Admiral Schuler didn't let him finish his sentence. Instead he let loose a stream of profanity that slowly turned the color of the bridge's atmosphere from clear to a faint green with a slightly acidic smell. Williamson noticed the turbo lift open during the "attitude readjustment". Two junior officers stepped out, saw what was happening, and immediately did what everyone else wished they could do - disappear. They turned and shuffled back into the lift praying the doors would slide together quickly.

Brady didn't know someone could swear as artfully as the Admiral. The words seemed so well chosen and fitted together like an 500 piece crossword puzzle. The Admiral was a master of communication. His reputation was well earned. Capt. Young waited for the right moment to tell Debirk to shut up and leave it alone. He couldn’t do it while the Admiral was spewing at full gale. He waiting for an opportunity. Suddenly the Admiral’s attention was diverted to a new piece of news coming in from Central Command. The Admiral turned his back to them. Young saw his chance. He didn't want to get caught breaking attention so he had to act quickly. He turned his head and gave Alex the look - eyebrows drawn together and down word with a slight left to right shaking of the head.

Debirk’s eyes returned Young's gaze acknowledging his error in judgement. He should have kept his mouth shut. He was learning a hard lesson. Young noticed moisture droplets covering Alex’s face. It was spittle from the Admiral's mouth. Not only did Debirk get to hear the Admiral's dressing down but he got to bathe in it as well.

The Admiral turned back to his wounded prey. He drew in enough air to arm both lungs and prepared to continue his description of Alex’s genealogy when the ship's intercom sounded. The Admiral was being ordered to report immediately to Starfleet Command. He stopped in mid sentence.

“Good luck,” he said to Admiral Meredith. He snorted at Young and half marched - half walked to the turbolift. Shuler nodded toward Williamson as he passed. Williamson stayed at attention, praying he blended artfully into the wall. No one on the Command Deck moved until the lift doors closed and the Admiral was gone.

Debirk leaned against the wall for support while wiping his face with the sleeve of his uniform. Admiral Meredith motioned for everyone to follow him into his Ready Room.

"We have problems," Williamson thought as he crossed the room. His cadets and the training ships may need to step up to the plate. The Command Training Academy's curriculum would be put to a real test. Goodbye simulations. The cadets would have to grow up quickly.

Chapter 3 follows in one week.
Stay Tuned.

Mr. Willamson

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Essence of Our Own Brand of Magic.

“We have 400 of our crew dead!” Capt. Marcus shouted to the overnight crew of the Phoenix over his crackling subspace radio. His ship was hit by the full force of a supernova explosion. Somehow, by some miracle having nothing to do with the skill of the young Phoenix crew, the mighty Phoenix held together through the Tsunami of radiation.
“Well that sucks,” was the response of one of the eleven year old Phoenix officers.

I was sitting at my desk computer writing the final sentences to my Cloverdale post when I heard his matter of fact summation of the Romulan’s plight. There was something about what he said or maybe how he said it that made me laugh. His expression was so uncaring. Kind of like,
“Oops, I spilled my drink,”
“Well, that sucks.”
It was said with about the same emotion. On the Phoenix screen was a montage of disaster. Romulan bodies sailing across the screen as the warbird was tossed to and fro in the wash of hot plasma. Green blood dripped from their faces. Smoke filled their ship. Sparks from dozens of broken wires illuminated the carnage. And in all of that, our nonempathetic young crew member said,
“Well that sucks.”

I started laughing. It just caught me off guard. How British of him. You know - stiff upper lip. Can’t be bothered. Vulcan emotional steel. This youngster was the kind of person you’d want beside you in a crisis. I can see him on the Titanic.
“Sir, We’ve hit an iceberg. The ship is going down. We don’t have enough life boats for everyone. Its women and children first. We haven’t a chance!”

To which this young man would reply, “Well that sucks. Now how about a nice cup of tea?”

It was just one of those things that happen at the Space Education Center on any given day. That’s what makes working here Magic. We have our good days. We have our bad days. We have days where our crews amaze us with their intellect and others where its like pulling teeth to get them to say or do anything. Each day is the same and each day is different. Just another day in paradise at the second happiest place on Earth.

Our week at the Space Center ends. Sunday off, then back in the saddle again on Monday. I will once again take the Flight Director's seat on Monday to fly the 5th grade missions for Central School. My time away from the hot seat was necessary to recharge my batteries. So, recharged and more than ready - here I come.

"Engineering to the Bridge. Engineering to the Bridge. You've got Tex. Captain, I'm your chief engineering aboard the USS Voyager NCC 1990. I've been asked to take a minute and introduce you to some of the people that work for you aboard this ship........"

Bring it on Younglings. Elvis is back in the building.

Mr. Williamson

Friday, September 11, 2009

Shuttle Returns!

Dust from the runway swirls into the wingtip vortices.

STS-128 comes to an end as the shuttle Discovery was directed to land at Edwards AFB in California. There were two additional opportunities to land at Cape Kennedy in Florida, but weather restrictions put an end to that. Next up for the shuttle is a ride atop the ferry 747.

Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator

Busy day for Space projects

Solid Rocket Motor ignites!

It was a busy space day. Not too far from the SpaceRubble Command Bunker, ATK and NASA test-fired the solid rocket motor assembly that will be the basis of the first stage for the Ares I rocket for the Constellation program. This rocket vomits out a tremendous amount of power and flame, and it sure looked like a successful test on my side of the monitor. This would have been a great event to attend if I'd been able to.

Ares I-X being assembled in the vast Vehicle Assembly Building

Currently NASA is assembling the first actual test rocket for the program in its VAB facility at the Kennedy Space Center. This test flight keeps getting delayed. To be honest, I am not sure that there will be any test flights after this one, given the gloomy budget analysis by the government's Augustine Commission - but that's another story.

Japan's H2 rocket and HTV payload prior to launch

Meanwhile, congratulations are due to Japan's successful launch today of the HTV cargo carrier into orbit. The HTV is similar in purpose to the European ATV, which is designed to carry supplies and equipment to the ISS in Earth orbit. The HTV is scheduled to rendezvous with the ISS on or about September 17. Japan has worked very hard to get the H2 heavy lift rocket operational, and I am sure there are many celebratory parties still going on across the Pacific. This really helps Japan get in the ISS game. Remember, Japan recently had a successful satellite orbit of the Moon, and earlier this year got their astronaut Koichi Wakata back from a long stay on the ISS. Glad to see their success!

At last word tonight, two attempts at a landing in Florida for mission STS-128 have been scrubbed due to developing storms. There will be two more early evening attempts Friday, and if that is scrubbed, NASA will look at a possible landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Of course, they don't want to do that, due to the incredible high cost of then shuttling the shuttle on the back of the 747 back to Florida.

Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator
From his Blog:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Voyager Club's First Meeting for the 2009-2010 School Year!

The Voyager Club is open to all students between the ages of 10 and 14 . It meets at the Space Center once per month on either a Wednesday or Thursday evening from 7:00 - 8:00 P.M. There is no charge to attend. All students must wear their Space Center T-Shirts. If you don't have one you may purchase one at the door for $10.00.

Club Objectives
  • A place for students interested in physics, astronomy, aviation, engineering to meet together, learn and make new friends with similar interests.
  • Motivate students to study math and science.
  • Teach students the history of science.
  • Exercise imaginations and wonder through discussions of where science and math can take us in the future.
  • Let's not forget a good helping of science fiction as well because at the Space Center we believe science and science fiction can complement each other. Remember, it starts as science fiction before it becomes science.
Class Rank Hours
Now the best news for all you Space Center Frequent Flyers desperate to increase your rank. Each time you come to a meeting you'll receive a certificate for 1 class hour, and you didn't have to pay for it! Now that's quite the deal.

This club is sponsored by the Space Education Center and run by its staff. Students are expected to be respectful of the staff and each other during the meetings. Any student not able to control their actions or voices will not be allowed to return.

Well, there really aren't any except the class hours, the learning and meeting other students your age with similar interests. We can't offer discounted missions. The Space Center does not receive a yearly budget from the School District. We earn our own way and the only way to do that is through our mission and camp tuitions.

Club Notifications
You'll get Club notifications through the Space Center's Blog. The blog is the only tool we will use to communicate Club meeting times and news. So, read the blog to know what's happening. Don't call the Center. If you do you'll be told to go back and read the blog.

So here it is in a nutshell. You read about an upcoming meeting in the blog. On the day of the meeting you put on your T-Shirt and find tranportation. You participate, learn, and engage your imagination for one hour and you go home. See how easy.
Sorry, no camp outs, extra meetings or parties, however, we may do one field trip to Clark Planetarium by school bus to see their new dome show expected in February.

OK When is the First Meeting and What are We Going to Do?
  • Date: October 21
  • Time: 7:00 - 8:00 P.M.
  • Where: Discovery Room. Space Center
  • What to Bring: Wear your T-Shirt.
  • What Will We Do:
  1. Briefly discuss the latest in space news.
  2. Mr. Daymont, Magellan Flight Director and Space Center Educator will be speaking on the current Space Shuttle Program and the future of space travel in the United States.
  3. I'll have a few words to say myself. Don't know what. I'll think of something intelligent ;)
Hope to see you there. Oh, one other thing. If for some reason (earthquake or power failure or plague or pestilence or swine flu) we need to cancel the meeting, the only notification will be posted on the blog. Remember to always read the blog, especially before leaving your home to come to a meeting. If you show up and there is no meeting is will be your fault and not ours........ fair warning.

Now, Have A Good Day,

Mr. Williamson

STS-128: Shuttle Separation Complete

Beautiful NASA pic of shuttle some distance away. That's the KIBO module in the top of the frame. The shuttle performed a fly-around of the ISS before moving some distance away.

Last night I had a personal verification that the shuttle Discovery had undocked and moved away from the station. I had been attending a meeting of the Salt Lake City chapter of IPMS (International Plastic Modeler Society) in the South Salt Lake city center building. As the meeting ended, I walked out of the east doors to head to the parking garage and suddenly noticed two bright stars above the distant mountain tops. Only... they were moving.

I immediately recognized the two brilliant points of light for what they were, the brightest would be the ISS, and the other was the shuttle as it moved away from the station. It was pure coincidence that I spotted them, as it only takes about 5-7 minutes for them to cross the sky overhead. A couple minutes later, they were gone over the eastern horizon - not even enough time to run inside and tell the other modelers to come watch. Once gone, I continued to my car, knowing that I had seen one of those few moments when one of us normal citizens get to witness a piece of the space program.

You can have a chance to see it, too. Go to and look for the link to its SImple Satellite Tracker, which will help you calculate viewing times for your location. Remember, with each shuttle flight we are getting closer to the point where the shuttle will no longer fly in our sky. Don't miss your few last chances.

Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator
From his blog:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Look at What the Hubble Sees. I Stand in Awe.

When I was a child I was taught that Earth was a special place. It alone harbored life. We knew there were countless numbers of stars in the universe. We knew about galaxies, but it all seemed so far away. All we knew was what we saw, and life is what we saw - here on Earth and no where else.

I first believed life could exist somewhere other than our beautiful blue marble in space when I was in elementary school. One night a TV show about space travel aired across the country. It was called Star Trek. I was fascinated by the possibility that some day in the future, if we all worked hard enough, we could build great starships and venture to the furthest reaches of the known universe in a grand quest for knowledge to answer life’s most important question, Are we alone?

I enjoyed the episodes where the starships fought bad aliens. They were by far my favorite. The phasers and photon torpedoes were awesome. But that wasn’t the primary reason I watched the series. I watched Star Trek because it made me think about who I was as a person. The stories forced me to question the values of the 1960’s. America was involved in a bloody war in Vietnam. People I knew were dying. Every evening I watched demonstrators marching through some American city. I saw whites against blacks and rich against poor. It seemed the world was coming apart to a young ten year old in a small town in South Dakota. And then it was time for another episode of Star Trek.

I knew that no matter how dismal things seemed, every week another episode told us to stop for a moment and forget about the here and now. These stories taught us that humanity survived its adolescence and matured into a wise and caring adulthood. Of course I knew some bad alien would soon appear wanting to take everything we accomplished away. Little did they know about the power of the Enterprise. Our phasers could slice through the darkness like the sword of an avenger and our torpedoes brought justice like the lightening bolts of Zeus. It was groovy man. Just groovy.

Today I look at the new pictures released by the Hubble Space Telescope and feel those same feelings I had as a child watching my favorite TV show. I see a never ending number of galaxies each holding trillions and trillions of stars in their gravitational embrace. I know most of those stars have planets and that some of them are Earth like. And if they are Earth like with a warm climate and liquid water then life would be present. Some of that life would evolve and gain self awareness. Their intelligence would continue to increase and evolve, driving them to explore first their world and then the universe around them.

Look at all these stars. This photograph shows only a small small fraction of the stars taken in a sliver of sky by the Hubble Telescope. Each dot is a star with planets. Some of them Earth like. Some of them with intelligent life. And some of them with life looking upward into their night sky searching for answers to the same questions we ask. Perhaps somewhere in this universe at this very moment there is a child looking at a similar picture. And in this picture is a white dot - our sun. And he wonders if anybody out there.

We are shouting, “We are Here! We are Here!”

We hope someone is listening for logic demands we surrender isolationism and continue to search for life. Friends, support America's space program. Vote for representatives that will work to increase NASA's budget.

Congratulations astronauts. You did a bang up job refurbishing the Hubble. Look at what it is doing now.

Mr. Williamson

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The New Magellan

Hello Troops,
One of the blog's readers sent this comment after reading the last Blast From the Past blog post.
"I don't know what the new Magellan looks like. I haven't been in several years."

I searched my photos and found the following. Please forgive the out of focus photographs. The shaking was caused by either too many 20oz. bottles of Diet Coke or the super cheap camera I bought hoping to capture amazing HD photographs at a budget price. I guess you get what you pay for.

Thank you Ashley for the Kind Words.

I just got back from my twentieth Space Center mission, and I wanted to thank you for being amazing as always. Seriously, that place never gets boring! I'd even done Children of Perikoi before and I still enjoyed myself immensely. Thank you for all you do, and keep up the good work! I don't know the name of our flight director, but we were on the Voyager from 11:30-2:00pm and I'd appreciate it if you could pass on my thanks to him and the staff too! :) They did a really great job.
Just out of curiosity, are there any special commemoration ceremonies or medals of honor bestowed upon us overly obsessive veterans who reach 20 missions? ;)
Again, thank you so much for changing my life for the better.

Best wishes,

Thank you Ashley for the kind words. I'll pass them along to Saturday's staff. Next time you come to the Center remind me that you've completed twenty missions. I'm sure we can find a suitable pin to mark the occasion. Perhaps the pin of your favorite simulator.
Mr. Williamson

Monday, September 7, 2009

An Enemy from the Dark. A New Mission. Chapter One

Hello Troops,
This is a repost of the first chapter of a story I'm writing. It was orginally posted last Christmas. I haven't done much with it since then. I've decided to continue the story now that the school year is underway.

I enjoyed writing our school mission 'The Children of Perikoi'. I enjoy telling it even more. I've wanted to continue the story and did once several summers ago. The mission was told in the Galileo. It was OK but not what it should have been. I blame myself for that. Not everything you write is good. This is another attempt at a continuation of Perikoi using our own staff and volunteers as characters.
Enjoy and post comments. I'd like to know what you think.
Mr. Williamson

December 21, 2321
23:00 Hours
McAuliffe Station, Earth Orbit.

The McAuliffe Station’s Lounge was located at one end of Hallway 12A on Deck 12 near the Officer's Quarters.  The hallway was futuristic in design, with softly rounded corners where the walls met the holotop.  The holotop ceiling displayed a 3D sky as one would see on Earth's surface.  A holosun tracked the correct position of the Sun as seen in the sky over San Francisco.   A bright moon and stars lit the hallway a deep twilight during the evening hours.

Two brightly polished oak doors separated the lounge from the hallway. Each door had an over sized port hole with the station’s logo etched in glass. The station’s Command Training Academy (CTA) was a brisk 45 second walk to the opposite end of Hallway. The CTA section housed the staff and instructor's office's and academy class rooms. Between the lounge and academy, Hallway 12A passed several staff quarters, two turbolift elevators and a small convenience shop managed by the academy's senior class.  The shop benefited the both the senior and junior cadets.  The senior's got valuable work experience and the cadets had access to a never ending supply of reasonably priced sweets and sodas.  The hallway was carpeted in a speckled blue carpet.  Fiber illuminated lighting was stitched in the carpet, displaying the number of each room.

It was 23:00 hours. The Station’s Christmas party was in its third hour.  The sound of laughter and singing poured into Hallway 12A every time the doors slid open.  The noise didn’t matter . Two thirds of the station’s staff were at the party.  The others were on duty.

A large Christmas Tree stood on the opposite end of the room from the entrance. It was decorated with holographic ornaments. The ornaments changed color and design to match the beat of the music. False Flame took the place of traditional Christmas tree lights, giving the tree a very 19th century look.  A two hundred year old glass star crowned the tree, compliments of the station commander’s wife.

The people in the room divided themselves by choice. Starfleet Officers occupied one end of the room. They were the ones who ran the daily military operations of the station. The educational staff gathered on the other end of the room. They commanded and staffed the Command Training Academy (CTA). The CTA was a special military boarding school for gifted 13 to 16 year olds wanting careers in Starfleet.  After graduation, most CTA students found themselves at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco. Their time in the CTA placed them well ahead of their peers.  That advantage made getting into the CTA very competitive.  The majority of the academy’s cadets were on home leave for the holiday. Those who remained were looked after by instructors and the academy's house parents.

The Lounge doors slid open.  The director of the CTA, entered the room.   Commander Williamson was fashionably late. He looked around and noticed the demarcation line between the two camps. He moved toward the side of the room reserved for the CTA staff.

“Hello Sir and Merry Christmas,” Lt. Stacy Carrell said. She was the first to see the Commander. The others in her group stopped talking in mid sentence and extended their holiday greetings .

“I see you’re all having a good time,” Commander Williamson observed. He glanced around and noticed the absence of his senior officers. “Where are the old timers?"

“There were sitting at that far table. They’re gone now,” replied Lt. Bracken Funk.

“I see that Lieutenant. Anyone have an idea where they went?” the Commander asked.

“Not a clue,” Lt. Emily Perry sang as she danced rhythmically to an upbeat Christmas carol. She had a drink in her hand. Some of it spilled onto the carpet. Williamson reached out, took the cup and smelled its contents. “I don’t drink Commander,” She replied curtly while taking back the drink. “Besides alcohol is banned on this base so we make due with what ‘s available - we are drunk with joy!” she exclaimed as she picked up her prancing.

“You younglings have fun. I’ll just back away before I get hurt.” Williamson moved from the table and did another glance around the room looking for people closer to his age. His senior staff were nowhere to be found. As he turned toward the door he caught the eye of the station’s commander. The commander gave Williamson a polite nod. Williamson returned the nod and the pleasantries were finished. The Admiral was well respected throughout Starfleet.

The Commander ran the station by the book and strictly followed the chain of command. He rarely questioned his superior's decisions but strongly disagreed with the decision to place the Command Training Academy on his station. It was something else on his plate even though the school was, for the most part, self sustaining.

Williamson picked up a cranberry juice from the bar in one hand. His other hand dove into a bowl of yogurt covered pretzels . He walked out of the lounge to find his senior teachers. The hallway went quiet when the doors closed behind him. He walked slowly toward the turolift elevator. The lift opened as he approached. He stepped in. The doors closed.

“Destination?” the computer waited for his response. He thought for a moment. Where would they be? He knew they were going to the party so they had to be together somewhere. He could ask the computer to locate their comm badges but wanted to try a guess before taking the easy route.

“Observation Deck,” he replied. The lift moved upward and then sideways. Seconds later, upward again. The lift stopped and opened on deck 3. In the doorway stood two of the Academy’s students, Midshipman Aland and Midshipman Merryweather. They stopped dead in their tracks upon seeing their Commander occupying the same lift they were waiting to enter. They were caught. They were suppose to be in their squadron's common room enjoying their own party. Instead they were loose.

“Well, well, well..... what do we have here?” Williamson asked. Both boys jumped to attention. “Two cadets roaming the station without clearance. I do believe that is a violation of curfew. Please correct me if I’m wrong,” he asked. Neither of the boys spoke. Their gaze was unbroken on a spot on the wall.

“Sir, we were on our way....” Aland began speaking only to be cut off by the Commander.

“Not interested. Sorry. If I want to hear a fine piece of fiction I’ll go to the theater. Let’s see, what is playing tonight on the holoscreen? Yes, I believe it is ‘Caught in a Web of Lies’. No gentlemen - words would be a waste of breath at this point and we don’t want to overwork the oxygen generators.” Both boys squirmed every so slightly. Merryweather’s eyes rolled upward and then toward Aland. He knew it was pointless to explain a breech of curfew. He was surprised Aland had tried. “Gentlemen, you will take the next lift and go straight back to your dorm. You will report to your leader, explain what you were doing and then go straight to bed. You will bypass the party in your Common Room. Tomorrow we will sit down with your squadron leader and decide on a suitable punishment. I don’t want to make such an important decision now. This is something that needs thought. You know what I say - the punishment must fit the crime. Now step back and you have my permission to breath.” The boys took one step back. The lift’s doors closed. “Resume,” Williamson said. The lift speed off. Seconds later the doors opened. Williamson stepped out onto a solid floor. The rest of the room appeared to be open space. He was right - there at one of three tables sat his senior officers. “I thought I’d find you in the Observation Deck,” he said moving toward the table.

“Too noisy in the Lounge,” Mark Daymont said. Sitting with him were five other CTA officers. When they were alone they called each other by first names. On Mark’s left sat Aleta, Lorriane, and Sheila on his right sat Dave and Bill. The table was full of snacks all hand carried up from the party below.

“You’ve got the right idea,” Williamson said as he moved a chair out and sat down. “This view never gets old.”

“That’s why we came up here. Quiet talk and a great view,” Dave explained. The blues and whites of Earth nearly filled the sphere over their heads. Beyond was the star studded blackness of space. Their conversation wound it way through many topics. Time was spent on the students. They discussed the new simulations being prepared for the Senior Cadets. Lt. Megan Warner, assisted by several of the younger instructors, was writing a complete military campaign involving several simulations to be told in three of the station's training ships.

Two hours passed in good conversation. It was getting late. They agreed to call it a night. As they stood the station's alarm sounded. The klaxon's pitch caused some in the party to cover their ears as it reverberated around the transparent ceiling of the Observation Deck . The alarm stopped just as suddenly as it started. A second later the voice of the Station’s Commander came through the speakers.

“Alert Condition One. This is no drill. Alert Condition One. This is no drill,” his voice sounded firm and emotionless.

“We are under attack?” Lorraine asked with a puzzled expression. Everyone in the room starting looking up through the sphere into space. There were no ships. All seemed peaceful.

“Control,” Williamson said as he tapped the communicator pinned to his uniform. There was a slight pause before the call was answered.

“What can I do for you Commander?” the voice responded.

“Where is the attack?” Williamson asked.

“We’ve received word from Command that Farpoint Station has been destroyed,” the duty officer answered.

“Farpoint Station?” Williamson was surprised by the answer. Farpoint Station was the Federation’s furthest starbase, four months away at maximum warp from Earth. He wondered why the station was placed on battle alert if this attack occurred so far away.

“Farpoint was attacked by an alien race only recently encountered,” the officer answered his unasked question. “They use wormholes.” That statement made it clear. Anyone able to use wormholes could strike anywhere and at anytime.

“Who are they?” Williamson asked almost fearing the answer.

“I’m not sure what they call themselves but the Voyager and Copernicus encountered them at PCX2214. It is also referred to as Perikoi. We lost the Copernicus. They lost one of their ships. It appears they are back and in force.” The conversation ended. The room was still. Everyone knew the implications of wormhole travel.

“Well ladies and gentlemen, life is about to become very interesting.” Williamson said to the small gathering. “Let’s go to the Common Rooms and explain this to our cadets. I’m sure they are as concerned as we are.”
The group moved for the turbolift. The doors opened and closed leaving the quiet of space behind.

Past and Future. Great Ships. Great Captains. Great Stories.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Real Deathstar Could Strike Earth

Looking Right down the Axis of Wolf-Rayet 104

Hello Troops,

I watched a National Geographic Special on this cute star named Wolf-Rayet 104. Isn't it something the way it pinwheels in space? The pinwheel is actually caused by a smaller companion star. You see, they orbit each other which causes their solar winds to interact making a kind of space dust that we can see here on Earth a mere 8,000 light years away.

WR104 is soon to become a naughty star. It will blow its top in a brilliant explosion. That explosion is the problem we may have to face on Earth. Now when I saw 'may' I mean it could happen tomorrow or over the next few hundred thousand years - a mere snap of the fingers in space time but forever away from human perspective.

So we can add Wolf -Rayet 104 to the list of things that are queueing up to snuff us out. Don't know where to put it on the list? Let's see:

  1. The North Koreans may blow us up with one of their kitchen crock pot made nukes because we don't pay proper homage to their Dear Leader.

  2. Iran may do the same just because we are infidels. I don't recall ever converting to Infidelism but if they say I did then who am I to argue? Infidel and proud of it. Are there any benefits?

  3. There is always Global Warming. Of course the benefit to going this way is the chance my home on benches overlooking beautiful Pleasant Grove and Utah Lake may someday become oceanfront property. Let those Ice Caps melt! I'm taking surfing lessons.

  4. Let's not forget a Pandemic. They say somewhere in the world lurks a virus that has our names written into its DNA. Well, it will have to find me first. Let the little bugger try to get me. I'll retire (luckily I'm close enough to buy out my last few years. That will give me a monthly income) and seclude myself in my Fortress of Solitude only coming out at 3:00 A.M. to purchase necessities at the Lindon WalMart. The plan is flawless with one exception. What if this virus turns people into brain eating walking dead? Mmmmmmm. The thought of trying to enjoy an evening of pleasant TV with several former associates banging at my door and windows crying "Brains......Brains......." makes me think a different course of action may be required. I'll pack necessities and loved ones into the Battlestar and head to rural South Dakota. I own 8 acres of pine covered land in the Black Hills where the only thing I'd need to fear are rabid squirrels.

  5. Then there is the potential for an Asteroid Impact. That one is tricky. It could come from anywhere and anytime because NASA and the Feds aren't spending enough money to track all the near Earth objects that could bring Armageddon down upon us. This is one where I hope we have at least a few days warning if its going to hit anywhere near the intermountain west. Knowing the roads will be clogged with the unprepared hopelessly trying to get out of Dodge, I'll plan on driving to my favorite exercise spot - Timp Cave. I've made friends with several of the Rangers. I'm trusting they'll let a few of us into the cave to ride out the impact and ensuing fire (trusting the cave doesn't 'cave' in around us). If that doesn't work well...... here's hoping there will be a forgiving priest in the cave with us ;)

  6. Did one of you mention Alien Attack? Come on, we got that covered. I control five starships - don't I? I say "LET 'EM COME! LOAD PHOTON TORPEDOES AND PHASER BANKS." And if all else fails we can beam Admiral Schuler into their ship complete with an assortment of Slime Devils. Nothing could survive a double knockout.

  7. The Obama Administration? Are you asking me if its possible to survive the Obama Administration? Are you serious? I'm an independent. I sit on the fence with one leg on each side. Listen, if I survived Bush / Cheney then I can survive Obama / and.......what's his name?

Anyway troops, I thought this article was interesting and hope you all find space fascinating. It is the ultimate challenge to humanity and the key to our future.

Mr. Williamson


Taken from

A beautiful pinwheel in space might one day blast Earth with death rays, scientists now report.

Unlike the moon-sized Death Star from Star Wars, which has to get close to a planet to blast it, this blazing spiral has the potential to burn worlds from thousands of light-years away.

"I used to appreciate this spiral just for its beautiful form, but now I can't help a twinge of feeling that it is uncannily like looking down a rifle barrel," said researcher Peter Tuthill, an astronomer at the University of Sydney.

The fiery pinwheel in space in question has at its heart a pair of hot, luminous stars locked in orbit with each other. As they circle one another, plumes of streaming gas driven from the surfaces of the stars collide in the intervening space, eventually becoming entangled and twisted into a whirling spiral by the orbits of the stars.

Short fuse

The pinwheel, named WR 104, was discovered eight years ago in the constellation Sagittarius. It rotates in a circle "every eight months, keeping precise time like a jewel in a cosmic clock," Tuthill said.

Both the massive stars in WR 104 will one day explode as supernovae. However, one of the pair is a highly unstable star known as a Wolf-Rayet, the last known stable phase in the life of these massive stars right before a supernova.

"Wolf-Rayet stars are regarded by astronomers as ticking bombs," Tuthill explained. The 'fuse' for this star "is now very short — to an astronomer — and it may explode any time within the next few hundred thousand years."

When the Wolf-Rayet goes supernova, "it could emit an intense beam of gamma rays coming our way," Tuthill said. "If such a 'gamma ray burst' happens, we really do not want Earth to be in the way."

Since the initial blast would travel at the speed of light, there would be no warning of its arrival.

Firing line

Gamma ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the universe. They can loose as much energy as our sun during its entire 10 billion year lifetime in anywhere from milliseconds to a minute or more.

The spooky thing about this pinwheel is that it appears to be a nearly perfect spiral to us, according to new images taken with the Keck Telescope in Hawaii. "It could only appear like that if we are looking nearly exactly down on the axis of the binary system," Tuthill said.

The findings are detailed in the March 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal.

Unfortunately for us, gamma ray bursts seem to be shot right along the axis of systems. In essence, if this pinwheel ever releases a gamma ray burst, our planet might be in the firing line.

"This is the first object that we know of that might release a gamma ray burst at us," said astrophysicist Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, who did not participate in this study. "And it's close enough to do some damage."

This pinwheel is about 8,000 light years away, roughly a quarter of the way to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. While this might seem far, "earlier research has suggested that a gamma ray burst — if we are unfortunate enough to be caught in the beam — could be harmful to life on Earth out to these distances," Tuthill said.

What might happen

Although the pinwheel can't blast Earth apart like the Death Star from Star Wars — at least not from 8,000 light years away — it could still cause mass extinction or possibly even threaten life as we know it on our planet.

Gamma rays would not penetrate Earth's atmosphere well to burn the ground, but they would chemically damage the stratosphere. Melott estimates that if WR 104 were to hit us with a burst 10 seconds or so long, its gamma rays could deplete about 25 percent of the world's ozone layer, which protects us from damaging ultraviolet rays. In comparison, the recent human-caused thinning of the ozone layer, creating "holes" over the polar regions, have only been depletions of about 3 to 4 percent, he explained.

"So that would be very bad," Melott told "You'd see extinctions. You might see food chain collapses in the oceans, might see agricultural crises with starvation."

Gamma ray bursts would also trigger smog formation that could blot out sunlight and rain down acid. However, at 8,000 light-years away, "there's probably not a large enough effect there for much of a darkening effect," Melott estimated. "It'd probably cut off 1 or 2 percent of total sunlight. It might cool the climate somewhat, but it wouldn't be a catastrophic ice age kind of thing."

Cosmic ray danger

One unknown about gamma ray bursts is how many particles they spew as cosmic rays.

"Normally the gamma ray bursts we see are so far away that magnetic fields out in the universe deflect any cosmic rays we might observe from them, but if a gamma ray burst was pretty close, any high-energy particles would blast right through the galaxy's magnetic field and hit us," Melott said. "Their energies would be so high, they would arrive at almost the same time as the light burst."

"The side of the Earth facing the gamma ray burst would experience something like getting irradiated by a not-too-distant nuclear explosion, and organisms on that side might see radiation sickness. And the cosmic rays would make the atmospheric effects of a gamma ray burst worse," Melott added. "But we just don't know how many cosmic rays gamma ray bursts emit, so that's a danger that's not really understood."

It remains uncertain just how wide the beams of energy that gamma ray bursts release are. However, any cone of devastation from the pinwheel would likely be several hundred square light-years wide by the time it reached Earth, Melott estimated. Tuthill told "it would be pretty much impossible to for anyone to get far enough to be out of the beam in a spaceship if it really is coming our way."

Don't worry

Still, Tuthill noted this pinwheel might not be the death of us.

"There are still plenty of uncertainties — the beam could pass harmlessly to the side if we are not exactly on the axis, and nobody is even sure if stars like WR 104 are capable of producing a fully-fledged gamma-ray burst in the first place," he explained.

Future research should focus on whether WR 104 really is pointed at Earth and on better understanding how supernovae produce gamma ray bursts.

Melott and others have speculated that gamma ray bursts might have caused mass extinctions on Earth.