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Northern Light
Life is Weird
An entire year since I last posted anything here.  Doesn't seem that long, I'm genuinely surprised.  That's the nature of time though; all timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly.

A few things have changed, most not.  Aliens weren't confirmed.  My friends are still occupying Iraq.  NASA is done sending people to space though, and the ISS may be abandoned in a month.

I've been through a terrible break-up, a winter of discontent, and a summer of healing.  It seems to make for the loss, I've added a new puppy and a motorbike to my life.  I love both.  I love the puppy in a more emotional way, but the motorbike has a unique thrill.  Both have been on my lists of things I wanted to add to my life for quite some time.  The time was finally right.

Autumn is a day or two away.  It is my personal season of new beginings, a fresh start.  The opening of a new year.  This one holds both threats and promise.  I will enjoy the unfolding, it's what I do best.
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Here's something you don't read every day ...

And it seems like it might be big news, but it was actually a small story in a general corner of my Google news page. No Presidents making carrier traps on live TV, no fanfare, just some troops from nearby my home in the States getting on trucks and going for a drive.

MSNBC News

"NEAR THE IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER — The last U.S. combat troops were crossing the border into Kuwait on Thursday morning, bringing to a close the active combat phase of a 7½-year war that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, forever defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left more than 4,400 American service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

The final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., began entering Kuwait about 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), carrying the last of the 14,000 U.S. combat forces in Iraq, said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has been traveling with the brigade as it moved out this week. "
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I'm really excited. If rumours are true, NASA may in a few days announce their most important message since July 1969.

Planetary scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston have been re-visiting the Mars asteroid with the de-bunked and controversial fossil evidence of Martian microbes using new technologies unavailable when they were first discovered fourteen years ago. It appears the new methods have proved very conclusively that there was extra terrestrial life on Mars.

They've found a few more asteroids, including one that sat in the British Museum in London for the past 100 years, that also display this evidence. They've even formed some pretty good hypotheses around when and how the organisms lived.

Since this is NASA, and not a fly-by-night hack looking for a big media hit, they're still checking their research before they announce that aliens have existed for sure, and might still be there. As the late Dr. Carl Sagan used to say, "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof."

But wow. Alien life proven to exist. If that announcement actually is made, it changes the world forever. Philsophically, it would be the biggest scientific discovery since Copernicus put the Sun at the center of the solar system. What an appropriate way to start off 2010.

*****

In the category of Too Soon-but-Too-Damn-Funny-Not-to-Post: A special person who loves games like L4D and movies like ZombieLand said to me yesterday ... "50,000 dead in Hati? Imagine how many zombies there are going to be!"

Forgive me.

Current Location: Seattle
Current Mood: excited excited

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The caption for this new Hubble Space Telescope image describes a protoplanetary disk in the Orion Nebula.

I'm wondering if Farpoint Station wasn't somewhere near there myself. ;-)

Current Location: Seattle
Current Mood: amused amused

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 Wow!  They actually invented the damn stuff.  Transparent Aluminum.  Life truly is stranger than science fiction. 

Current Location: Dartmouth, NH
Current Mood: amazed

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 Where have all the fireflies gone?   Do they exist anymore?  

I'm on the East Coast this week visiting in Nashua, Dartmouth, and Rochester.  Saturday, I got to the top of Mt. Washington NH, bringing to a total of seven states I've been to the highest point in.

But the most magical memory of eastern US summers, the fireflies, are missing.  What happened?

Current Mood: Low

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Today is a special day.   It was 40 years ago today Apollo 11 rocketed off the pad at Cape Canaveral with the intention of making the first attempt to land on the Moon.  I just can't think of a greater achievement of the human spirit and human ingenuity than project Apollo.  This is a good day to reflect on the pinnacle of humanity's progress so far.  And to think about what more could come next?

It's also a rare day to see orbital rendezvous, a technique pioneered by American astronauts during the Gemini program of the mid-60's, in progress.  You can actually look up in the sky and see it yourself tonight!   The shuttle Endeavor is in a tail chase with the ISS and will dock tomorrow morning.  Tonight, they'll be flying close together and are both easily visible to the naked eye on the ground a little after dark this evening in North America.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the best sighting will be about 11:40 p.m - 11:44 p.m.   They move very fast, crossing the continent in only a few minutes, and are visible only in the region of Earth that's within an hour or two of sunset or sunrise so sighting times for other regions will be very different.  You might even have a better look in your area an orbit earlier (about 90 minutes) than the Northwest.

You can find out when this extra-ordinary opportunity to see an orbital rendezvous occurs in your sky, and where to look for it, on the NASA website here:  http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/index.html

Current Mood: geeky geeky

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The first climbers of the Alpine Ascents team are on the roof of the world!!!

Just think about that, for the few minutes that I'm typing this there are people at a very special and unique place. It doesn't happen often. Cool.

I hope they get down okay, they're reporting wind now.


Update:  All the climbers have safely returned to Camp 4 and are resting there now.  They will continue down to Camp 2 tomorrow, then Base Camp the next day.   It looks like all but two of the group got to the summit, the two having wisely turned around when they weren't feeling well.

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Current Location: Newfurs
Current Mood: amazed

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Since I'd been posting about their climb, I thought I'd let you all know that the Seattle team has been climbing from the South Col for the past seven hours on their way up the last 3,000 ft. of the Death Zone.

They are well past the balcony where Hillary camped before his first successful summit with Tenzing and in the area called the South Summit. Beyond the South Summit is an appalling exposed arette followed by a short vertical rock ascent known as the Hillary Step. Above that, only a few hundred feet of snow remain before the summit.

I hope to see they are on top in the next two hours. Then it's the survival dash back down to the Col. Weather is looking good though, and the sun rose on the team about an hour ago.

Meanwhile, Scott Altman and his crew weren't able to attempt a landing at KSC due to weather today. So he's getting an extra day in space to relax and enjoy the view one last time. Their Hubble repairs were challenging and incurred problems, but were completed successfully. They'll land Saturday for sure, but whether Scott brings it into the field in Florida or on the high desert in California is a big question. Odds are California.

Current Location: Seattle
Current Mood: Dread

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It was a nice summer afternoon in Monterey when a Navy Captain strolled into my office to return to me a bit of paper I'd printed off the printer on my desk and mailed to him six months earlier. In the months since I'd seen it, it had traveled 3.9 million miles lapping the Earth 165 times aboard space shuttle Columbia.

The Captain was Scott Altman, who I'd first met in Houston a few years and space missions before. On STS-109, the last Hubble Telescope servicing mission, he agreed to take a little promotional sign I'd made into space with him to promote the school I worked for and he graduated from. Altman was the last person to successfully land the Columbia and brought the sign back along with a photo of it in space to hang in my office.

He became something of a Hubble expert commanding that flight and was tapped to command the final servicing mission to the space telescope as well and launched into space aboard Atlantis today. Ironically, the loss of his last ship, Columbia, caused him a wait of seven years to return to space today.

After Columbia was destroyed by a damaged thermal protection system, NASA decided that all shuttle missions had to be able to use the ISS as a safe haven to keep the crew if an orbiter were damaged on launch again. But shuttles don't have enough rocket power to move from the Hubble's orbit to that of the ISS. So the last Hubble servicing mission was canceled as too dangerous.

But the telescope is popular and very important to science. The mission, long delayed, was restored to the flight list as being worth the risk to the crew.

This year, the mission became even riskier when two satellites collided strewing low Earth orbit with debris. NASA calculates there is about a 1:250 chance this mission could meet with a lethal impact from this debris. To mitigate the risk, for the first time in NASA history a second shuttle is on the pad ready to be a rescue vehicle if needed.

Scary stuff. And the mission itself is one of the most difficult and complex attempted in Shuttle history. Long odds for success, high risk of disaster, and a national treasure along with seven lives (maybe nine if the rescue vehicle failed) are all at stake. High adventure. My best intentions are with Scott and his crew this week.

My guess is this will be his last space flight by choice. It must be odd knowing you are doing the last really amazing thing you will ever do in your life. Makes me wonder if I already did myself? It's not so easy to tell when you aren't an astronaut.

And in another high adventure going on in the Himalaya, I thought I'd give you a quick update of my old friends at Alpine Ascents as they progress on Mt. Everest this year. The Sherpa have got supplies all the way up to 26K ft. at Camp IV and the Sahibs have all climbed as high as 23k ft. at Camp III for an overnight acclimatization trip. That came after many progressively higher trips out of Base Camp over the past month.

The team have gone low into the Khumbu Valley, home of the Sherpa, for a few days to breath thick air, heal their injuries and seared lungs, and maybe store a little food in their bodies - all things your body won't do above Base Camp. They say the weather is appalling up high right now, so they'll wait a few more days before begining their summit attempt.

All this reporting on other people's adventures makes me want to go on one of my own again. The last was to London three months ago. I feel the need.

Current Location: Seattle
Current Mood: Anticipation

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