Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain


Although Olympic focus has been trained on Rio, the gringa would like to take the dear reader back in time and to the other side of the globe to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When China was preparing to host this historical event, pollution was high on the list of problems to solve. Although everyone is probably familiar with the tactic of temporary bans on driving & factory operations as drastic measures to help reduce smog. What many may not be aware of is China’s ambitious plans to control the weather, a $30 million dollar plan that they are still working on today. A plan to shoot into the heavens special “bullets” filled with salt and other minerals. What in the world are those crazy Chinese scientists up to? Apparently, nothing new! They’re just trying to make it rain.

Officially called “weather modification”, China helped clear their smog-filled skies during the Olympic games by making it rain, rain, rain. They are not alone in being rainmakers. Fifty-two other countries have developed their own rainmaking strategies. Ten of these countries joining the rainmaking team only five years ago. Rainmaking countries include: Canada, United States, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Australia, India, Senegal, South Africa, Russia and the list goes on. You can see the map created by the World Meteorological Organization to see who all is in on the rainmaking game.

The gringa is rather ashamed to admit that as for the United States, the origins of its weather modification program is not as noble as China’s. For the U.S., it all started with Operation Popeye which was a top secret program that weaponized weather during the Vietnam War. Although I’m sure the scientists who worked for General Electric had noble intentions, they probably had no idea that the U.S. government was going to take their technology and rain down silver iodide on the poor Vietnamese people.

But I digress. Back to China. In addition to creating rain to saturate polluted air and get rid of smog, they also wanted to prevent rain from spoiling events taking place in the stadium that was dubbed the “Bird’s Nest”. To achieve this amazing god-like feat, the Chinese implemented a 3 stage weather modification strategy:

  1. Officials tracked weather patterns with satellites, planes, radar and supercomputer.
  2. 2 aircraft, 20 rocket launcher & artillery sites sprayed silver iodide and dry ice into remote cloud systems that might approach the stadium so they would dump their rain before arrival.
  3. Nearby cloud systems filled with rain were seeded with chemicals that shrink the water droplets thus ensuring that the clouds would have time to pass over the Bird’s Nest without dropping their rain.

Now was all of this really necessary? The Beijing Olympics were held in August which is a high precipitation season for China so, yes, the gringa supposes that it was necessary. Consequently, China’s success in being a master rainmaker or rainstaller has resulted in China being the world leader in the weather modification sciences. They have more than 1,500 professionals devoted to all things necessary in controlling the weather: scientists, pilots, flight crews. Also proudly serving in the program are tens of thousands of peasant farmers who are more than happy to help their government blast away a cloud when crops have been inundated or have clouds seeded during times of drought. Peasants are on call to operate more than 7,000 aircraft guns and almost 5,000 rocket launchers when called to report to rainmaking duty.

The gringa is not too sure what to make of all this. For the most part I am the type to believe that the less we interfere with nature, the better. However, considering how bad mankind has screwed things up where climate change is concerned, it may just be that Mother Nature could use a few rainmakers. So, I say to the Chinese:

Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.

 

Sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.wmo.int

uspto.gov

fas.org

wikipedia.org/OperationPopeye

Image Credit:  cloudfront.net

 

 

Drones, UFOs, and Saving The Planet… They Are ALL Connected


UFO enthusiasts got a thrill recently when news agencies all over the United States were sounding the alarm of a strange light seen hovering, then moving about, near the famous St. Louis Arch. The YouTube video posted below, sourced from streetview citycams, begins by speeding up the video 1000 times so as not to bore the viewer with several minutes of nothingness. Throughout the hi-speed progression lightning can be observed. As viewers watch, they can see the light dim and sometimes disappear because of cloud cover. The video records a strange light approach the Arch from the left side of the screen and do some interesting acrobatics. The gringa has provided a play by play script to refer to as the dear reader views the video.

Video begins 2:19:49 streetcam time (SCT)/0:00 YouTube Time (YTT).

2:25:13 SCT/0:15 YTT First arrow indicates the appearance of the light in the top middle portion of the screen with light becoming visible at 2:25:19 SCT/0:17 YTT and approaches the Arch.

2:26:20 SCT/0:39 YTT Light appears to hover over the Arch, “wink out” a couple of times only to reappear in relatively the same place, indicating it was hovering the entire time.

2:26:41 SCT/0:46 YTT Light winks out.

2:28:06 SCT/0:52 YTT Light reappears as indicated by arrow and seems to be in same position above the Arch which would make it seem that it was hovering the entire time it was not visible.

2:28:54 SCT/0:56 YTT Light appears to be hovering above the Arch.

2:29:36 SCT/1:00 YTT Light winks out.

2:30:01 SCT/1:02 YTT Arrow directs attention to higher point above the Arch, indicating that the light has climbed higher. However, it is not visible.

2:31:00 SCT/1:08 YTT Another arrow indicates the light to be in the upper left corner of the screen but the gringa does not see it appear.

2:31:18 SCT/1:14 YTT The gringa begins to click through each second at the rate of 2 clicks per second so I get to see half of a second in each frame. I see a flash of the light at a higher point above the arch as I begin my second click of 1:15 YTT, going into my first click of 1:16 YTT. There is no arrow used in the video here to direct you to the flash of light. If you are not prepared you will miss it.

2:32:08 SCT/1:22 YTT Arrow again indicates that the light is seemingly flashing in the top left corner of the screen. Then there is a clear winking on and off of a light in the far left top corner of the screen as the light begins a rapid descent, disappearing behind cloud cover, but can clearly be seen descending.

2:32:25 SCT/1:28 YTT The arrow draws the viewer’s attention to the light whose rapid descent has been abruptly arrested and it once again begins to hover.

2:32:39 SCT/1:33 YTT Light brightly blinks out after a short rapid descent. If you begin once again to click through frames, 2 clicks per second/frame, the light can be seen faintly descending, angling off to the left, then hooking sharply right and descending quickly and can be viewed practically all the way to its landing on the ground in the lower left portion of the screen, its final landing at about 2:32:47 SCT/1:36 YTT.

Summary of the mystery light’s activity:

  • About 45 seconds of hovering above the Arch.
  • For about 1 minute the light continues to climb and hover above the Arch.
  • Within about 50 seconds the light manages to travel the distance in the view screen from seeming to hover above the Arch to the upper left corner of the view screen.
  • Within 30 seconds light makes a rapid descent that includes a brief hover before two radical left/right maneuvers, like a zig-zag, and appears to land on the ground.

So what was it? The gringa believes it was a drone, not an extra-terrestrial vehicle. It is pretty obvious by the final descent and apparent landing on the ground that it is a very small vehicle and very much Earthling technology. The gringa doesn’t know all the details on speed and distance relative to the camera and the Arch, but that doesn’t change my mind that it is a drone. And the gringa warns her dear readers to be on the lookout for many more videos and hoaxes to come with drone technology becoming more and more affordable for technology enthusiasts.

Other than making interesting UFO hoax videos, what are some actual practical uses for drones? Well, for one thing, drones may very well help save the world, and the gringa’s not talking about how military personnel are already putting them to use in battle. Using them to target and kill fellow human beings is not the gringa’s idea of saving the world.

Using them as a research tool to monitor dolphin and whale populations is more what the gringa considers saving the world. And that is just what marine biologists are doing in Hawai’i. Ocean Alliance is taking advantage of how drones can monitor wildlife without intrusion by humans. With drones capable of being equipped with high resolution cameras, researchers can get close up views and real time video of what dolphin pods and whale families are doing. Even if weather is bad and ocean conditions rough, the drones can still go out and do their job when a human outing would otherwise get postponed.

Drone technology has allowed researchers to compile a more accurate catalog of whale groups and monitor their health conditions with more detailed analysis. Results from boat-based surveys simply do not compare and marine biologists are excited to go even further with drones.

Now, while some people may be excited at the thought of drones delivering pizza or their mail order of retail goods, the gringa is more excited about drone delivery of medicine to hard to reach vulnerable people around the world.

With successful deliveries to earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2012, Doctors Without Borders were inspired to test drone delivery of  a group of dummy TB test samples in remote villages in Papua New Guinea. The Mayo Clinic recently announced that drone medical delivery is poised to take off and revolutionize healthcare for people around the world where access has continued to be a problem.

So what might be the niche technology career of the future for our youth interested in STEM? Development of drone technology and drone piloting. So, don’t get left behind! Get on board to save the world with a joy-stick, a laptop and a map! That’s all you need today to be a superhero!

Sources:

www.whale.org

www.yahoo.com

www.mayoclinic.org

Image Credit: 1.bp.blogspot.com

Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist


If the gringa were to attend a NASA recruitment conference, she would be sitting front and center. When the question was asked who would like to work for NASA the gringa would be the first to raise her hand and wave it like a madwoman. When the next question was asked, which would most certainly have something to do with appropriate qualifications and credentials, the gringa would then have to shamefacedly shrink into the background. No prestigious college degree here. But do all of us science fans have to live a life of utter disappointment and complete disenfranchisement of being a contributor to the world’s bank of scientific studies? The gringa is happy to announce that, no, we science buffs who, for whatever reasons, never achieved the glory of a diploma can still participate. NASA has many “citizen scientist” programs from astronomy observances to laboratory inventions of innovative technology. Take your pick. And, if you happen to live in the northeastern United States, you can be a part of a program that monitors algae blooms that develop in Lake Erie.

Your point of contact would be NASA’s senior scientist, Dr. Rafat Ansari. As the originator of the citizen science campaign, Ansari, along with airplane pilot Terry Schubert, work to mobilize citizen volunteers to monitor Lake Erie’s water quality as well as its coastline and conditions in related tributaries and waterways.

The goal of the program is to alert the coastal communities surrounding Lake Erie of conditions that contribute to algae blooms when they are in the early stages of development. Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

  • Pilots
  • Folks handy with a GPS
  • People who can operate wing mounted, infrared cameras
  • Detail whizzes that can collate data
  • Computer savvy geeks for uploading data
  • Anyone who has a cellphone with a camera and likes to take nature walks

Who, in particular, uses the data collected from the images?

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Water quality experts
  • Legislators

What’s the point? I mean, the gringa likes to look at cool pictures and read interesting facts and trivia, but how is the data actually useful?

  • Determine quality of a community’s water source
  • Predict if fish and game need protective measure to be taken to preserve environmental integrity and their survival
  • Alert the public if water conditions are unsafe for recreational use

Why is a citizen scientist program preferred to the amazing technology of satellites in orbit? The real time factor is the main reason. It takes data about three days to travel from satellites to Earth. Then there is more time involved in disseminating the data into usable information. Citizen scientists in low flying aircraft and on the ground can provide usable information within hours. They can also obtain images at lower altitudes that escape the abilities of orbiting satellites. Volunteers can also reach areas in rivers and streams that are simply not on a satellites “radar”, so to speak.

So, if you feel the need to contribute, this is a great opportunity. Even if you are not a pilot and don’t know any pilots to partner with, if you have a cellphone with photo capability, you are sufficiently equipped to engage. If you have snorkeling or scuba gear along with an underwater camera, that, too, is an angle of participation. For more information visit the NASA page for this program. Dear readers can take their time and read all the interesting information posted and then scroll down to the bottom for contact information to begin your new adventure as a citizen scientist.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

The Moon Balloon


There is a former NASA astronaut who is partnering with a private company to bring the concept of hot air ballooning to a whole new level. And the gringa is fascinated. If any of my dear readers are familiar with the annual hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, think of that but on steroids.

Former astronaut Ron Garan and spaceflight company, World View, want to provide the ultimate thrill ride out to the edges of space with passengers gliding peacefully into the heavens aboard a giant space balloon. Garan, of course, is the ace pilot of the airship.

When Garan left NASA almost three years ago, it was for just such a purpose as this. He wanted to share space travel with regular folks on a full-time basis. And what a way to make his dream come true! He will be the first pilot ever to achieve such a mission. But why is he doing this? Is it for glory? Well, actually, Garan has more philosophical reasons behind his career move.

Garan believes that such an experience changes a person’s perspective. He believes he can help contribute to changing the world for the better by providing an experience that changes individuals for the better. The gringa quotes Garan’s own words:

“I left NASA… for really one reason. That was to share the perspective that we have of our planet from space and to do that full-time… I truly believe that perspective has profound implications for how we tackle the problems we face, how we deal with each other, politics, for every aspect of human life.”

Now his sentiment may sound rather lofty, but there is actually medical evidence that supports his reasoning. It’s called the “overview effect” and is defined as being a “cognitive shift in awareness” that occurs when an individual observes Earth from orbit. This causes a person’s perspective to change from seeing people categorized by national boundaries to seeing that mankind is one united race, the human race, and Earth is home to us all.

Passengers of the “moon balloon” (the gringa understands it doesn’t really go to the Moon, but, the name is catchy so please humor me, dear readers) won’t have the weightlessness experience of those who have a suborbital ride. It will be a gentler experience, a quiet ride above the Earth’s atmosphere. From take off to touch down, the ride will last about five to six hours, two of those hours being a cruise at maximum altitude for the viewing pleasure of the crew and passengers.

A test flight without paying passengers has already been successfully staged. Although the opening date has not yet been set for tourists to begin booking a seat, that may be good news. It will probably take folks a bit of time to set aside the $75, 000 a ticket will cost.

In addition to space tourism, World View also wants to engage in the science and technology of Earth observation, weather models and using data to help prevent devastating wildfires. This can be done by incorporating a satellite system into the balloon vehicle model being used for passenger payloads.

$75,000 is a bit steep for the gringa to think she’ll be floating in the atmosphere anytime soon. However, I always try to look on the bright side so I’m holding out for a coupon.

 

Source & Image Credit: www.worldviewexperience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Houston Space Center Fun


Space Center Houston is only about an hour south of the gringa’s little barrio apartment. With the caveman and myself being empty-nesters, it has actually been awhile since we’ve visited. In the past, the ninos always had a wonderful and awe-inspiring experience (mamasita, too) whenever we would visit.

Today’s activities and programs offered that are designed to appeal to kids has some massive appeal to a grown-up gringa as well. I may have to take the time to make a visit.

This month Independence Plaza has its grand opening.  Visitors enter a replica of shuttle Independence that is mounted atop the original NASA 905 shuttle launch aircraft. It is the only shuttle in the world the public is allowed to enter and explore.

When I make my plans for a return visit, the gringa wants to make certain it’s on a Friday. Every Friday at 11am  and 1pm it is “Meet an Astronaut Friday”. Astronauts make a presentation and are then available for a question and answer session with the public. And, if you are so inclined (the gringa is), “Lunch With an Astronaut” offers an interesting cosmic dining experience. It’s casual, no spacesuit required. Fare is catered by NASA (wondering if freeze-dried ice cream is for dessert?).  Astronauts featured for February:

  • Tom Jones, February 5
  • Mike Foreman, February 12
  • Brian Duffy, February 19
  • David Hilmers, February 26

If you want to dine with some stars from the stars, NASA advises that you order tickets early because it is first come, first served. If you arrive early, or stay a bit longer, after lunch, you can enjoy the “Meet an Astronaut Friday” presentation.  Don’t forget your camera and let NASA know in your reservation if you have any special dietary requirements.

And, if that doesn’t sound fascinating enough, the center opens a new exhibit February 13 that was designed by Scitech of Australia fame. This is the public’s big chance to pilot an airplane or drive a hovercraft. There are other interactive things to do in this exhibit but the gringa mentions her two favorites. Visitors are invited to explore travel and transportation technologies that have been around for years as well as new, emerging technologies.

And, if that’s not good enough for you, you can go on the Level 9 Tour as a VIP. The gringa believes she definitely ranks VIP status. VIPs get behind-the-scenes access on this five-hour tour which takes visitors through the astronaut training center and mission control for the ISS. Tickets for this tour need to be made in advance because only twelve people daily are allowed.

The gringa’s birthday is coming up and I’m pretty sure tickets for lunch with an astronaut and a Level 9 Tour are at the top of my birthday to-do list. The caveman may have quite a pout if he has to compete for my attention over lunch, but, my outer space madness is just all part of my charm.

Source: spacecenter.org

Photo credit: www.collectspace.com

So You Wanna Be An Astronaut


The gringa is excited over a recent news release from NASA. Can my dear reader guess what that would be? No, they didn’t offer me an astronaut training slot. They did, however, announce that they will soon be accepting applications for astronaut candidates. Anticipating future plans of more humans involved in space travel means training future astronauts. Never before in America’s history has spacecraft development been on the scale that it is now.

If the thought of living in the tropical paradise of Florida’s beaches during on-world missions and hurtling through the atmosphere as you launch into your off-world missions appeals to you, it is time to update your resume! Applications will be accepted from December 14, 2015 until mid February of  2016 with selected candidates being announced in the summer of 2017. Applications and resumes can be submitted for consideration at www.usajobs.gov.

The next generation of U.S. astronauts will serve on four different types of spacecraft: the International Space Station, two types of commercial spacecraft, CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, developed by private U.S. companies, and the Orion deep-space exploration vehicle. The days of the shuttle are pretty much over and we are entering into a completely new mode of space travel.

These new modes of space travel also enable larger crews. This will result in NASA being able to double the amount of research time in space. This will naturally result in more technological developments being accomplished within shorter periods of time. We may be slowly marching at the moment, but very soon it will feel as if we are sprinting through the annals of progress.

Who is it that NASA is looking for as future astronauts? They need pilots, engineers, scientists, and doctors.  They want these candidates to come from the diverse citizen class of Americans, not the military. Yes! Regular folks will eventually be puttering about the Red Planet!

Future astronauts will participate in six month and year long missions. They will join the 300+ astronaut roster that currently fulfill challenging missions that not only further progress in deep space exploration but also benefit mankind that is still Earthbound. Right now there are almost fifty astronauts that are active. To achieve future goals many more are needed.

What kind of qualifications do you need? To start with, you need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, bio-science, mathematics, or physical science. You also need three years of experience in your field that shows steady progress toward a professional level. And, you need at least 1,000 hours of pilot command experience flying jets. If you can check all of that off your list, then get yourself in the best shape of your life because qualified candidates will also have to pass a grueling spaceflight physical.

Interested? Then check out this link… www.nasa.gov/astronauts.

And, if you apply and get a chance to fly with the big boys, you absolutely MUST drop the gringa a line. I want to know ALL about it!

The “REAL” Martian Story


The recent film, “The Martian”, was a big hit at theatres. One reason it turned out to be one fabulous work of cinematic science fiction was because NASA actually collaborated with the filmmakers. With such expert technical advisement, how could it fail to succeed? The gringa would like to know just how similar the technologies featured in the film parallel actual technologies NASA is developing for the future Mars mission.

One of the technologies in development is a habitation module so astronauts can slip out of their dusty spacesuits and put their feet up for a well deserved break at the end of a long day exploring the Red Planet. The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) is just the place where this happens. This artificial living habitat is a self-contained environment used for training at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. It simulates what will be the primary living quarters in deep space. Included in the two-story floor plan are workspaces, a bathroom, technically called a “hygiene module”, and an airlock.

Unlike the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), Mars mission astronauts will not enjoy food delivery from Earth on a regular basis. Even a hotshot rocket pilot would need at least nine months for an express delivery service. So, if astronauts want to bite into a delicious red apple or sip a glass of fresh orange juice or munch on a salad of crispy fresh leafy greens, they are going to have to grow their own.

So far, astronauts have proven successful farmers where lettuce is concerned but it’s going to take more than arugula to keep them from getting a case of scurvy.  What is being experimented with on the ISS is a vegetable growing system called “Veggie”. This system grows plants in pillow like structure and small bags that use a wicking material that contains the growing media and fertilizer. After the success of growing “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, the farming operation has been expanded to include other crops that are important nutrition resources for future astronauts.

Not only will the astronauts need water to drink and use for personal hygiene, but the plants will also need fresh, clean water in order to grow. Although water has been discovered on Mars, there is still as yet no way to access this precious resource. When astronauts arrive, they will need to be supplied with their own water recovery system. Such a system is used on ISS. For years, this system has been tweaked and perfected to the point that not even a teardrop is wasted on ISS. Every drop of water produced in any way is recovered by the Environmental Control and Life Support system and recycled.

Reclaiming and purifying water for re-use sounds pretty simple. I mean, after all, we do it all the time all over the place on Earth. The major difference is gravity. Gases and liquids don’t separate the same way in micro-gravity so rather than use something like a steam distillation purification system or a process that requires gravity to pull unclean water through a filter, a centrifuge is required in space.

Since free-flowing saltwater exists seasonally on Mars, one thought is to construct new technologies for brine water recovery and purification. Water recovery from urine is already successful at separating salts and minerals from pure water on ISS. This technology simply has to be experimented and perfected for use on Mars.

And NASA is not stingy with their technology. Their work extends to vulnerable people all over the world in order to help provide them with clean drinking water. The gringa is proud that NASA considers humanitarian efforts as part of their mission.

Now, in the Mars movie the astronauts carried their oxygen supplies around wherever they went on Mars. Their oxygen supply was created by using carbon dioxide from the fuel generator in the ascent vehicle. In real life, how will astronauts have a regenerative supply of oxygen? We can again look to the ISS to see this technology already successfully in use. Breathable air is continuously made by splitting water molecules. After all H2O is a blend of hydrogen and oxygen. Work is underway to advance the existing technology to recover oxygen from any byproduct that may exist in the atmosphere and collected not only on Mars but also along the journey to Mars.

Now what about Matt Damon’s fashionable spacesuit in sporty orange? How real is that? Well, any astronaut is going to have to wear a protective suit to explore Mars. There is not enough breathable air for them to survive in and the cold would definitely wipe them out pretty quickly. After looking at photos of the Z-2 prototype spacesuit NASA is developing, the gringa is a bit disappointed after the high bar that Hollywood set with the sexy, Matt Damon spacesuit. NASA’s focus is not on a brilliant fashion statement. They are more concerned with creating a functional survival outfit that will remain comfortable to wear even after six or eight hours trekking about the remote wasteland of Mars. The trick is to design a spacesuit from a flexible material that is highly durable. Oh, well, if NASA decides to let the gringa tag along, I will just have to smuggle in my BeDazzler.

And just like the spacesuit let down, the gringa is a bit miffed that the real Mars rover design is not as sporty as depicted by Hollywood. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. Noone in Hollywood has any grip on reality, after all. It’s like living on another planet in that city! Maybe astronauts could spend some time there to practice what first contact will be like when they encounter their first alien species in outer space.

To go where their feet can’t take them, astronauts are going to have to have a vehicle that is sturdy and filled with all sorts of gadgets. The name of such a craft is the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The first real space mission this vehicle will be used on will be the upcoming asteroid mission that will precede the actual Mars mission. This little baby is still under development so the gringa doesn’t really have any specifics other than the design has to be extremely versatile in order to be prepared for just about anything that could happen on the Martian landscape.

The Mars journey will be one of the most dangerous undertakings NASA has tackled yet. Because safety is the primary concern, there is no big rush to get there. Zero margin of error is the mission standard. We have accomplished much on ISS that has helped get closer to accomplishing the ultimate goal of landing a crew on the surface of the Red Planet. The next stage of the game is to lasso that damn asteroid and start staging Mars rehearsals. The gringa just can’t believe that this may all happen within her lifetime!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov