Category Archives: science

The Bedroom at the End of the Universe

NASM2018-00448Over at my day job yesterday I got a sneak peak of a unique exhibit opening at the National Air and Space Museum on Sunday: an installation by artist Simon Birch that reconstructs the mysterious Louis XVI-era bedroom from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey at 1:1 scale. Because yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, I wrote a piece about it. I drew heavily from Michael Benson’s new making-of book Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, which I’ve already plugged on Pop Culture Happy Hour but which I’m glad to plug again here.

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Warp Corps: On the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, for Air & Space / Smithsonian

The September issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian, featuring the cover story I desperately wanted to call Warp Corps — because it’s about a corps of people whom Star Trek has inspired and influenced, you see — is now on sale at the National Air and Space Museum (both locations, on the National Mall and at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia) as well as at Barnes & Noble stores and the digital retailer of your choice. You can read the feature here. Also, I’d love it if you would come buy a copy of the magazine from me for a paltry one-time fee $6.99 at the Museum during its three-day celebration of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8 — the evening the Original Series episode “The Man Trap” was first broadcast on NBC. Continue reading

How to Land a House on Mars: My new feature for Air & Space / Smithsonian

A crew recovers the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator test vehicle from the Pacific after LDSD's second atmospheric test, June 2015.

I’ve got a big feature in the March 2016 issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian, where I work, about the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, which is the two-stage technology NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is working on that will one day allow NASA to deposit heavier objects on the surface of Mars intact than they have up ’til now — a problem they need to solve before any potential crewed mission could happen. Sounds pretty dry and technical, maybe, but why not show a little confidence in my ability to tell a story? My pal and editor Heather Goss already made me take all the acronyms out, upping the likelihood you’ll read this, we both hope.

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Infrared Dawn: On the James Webb Space Telescope in the July 2014 issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian

An illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope. Courtesy of NASA.

And now for something completely different, and completely intimidating — at least initially. The current issue of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine has my first-ever astronomy story, about the James Webb Space Telescope, the remarkable $8.8 billion dollar replacement for the aging Hubble Space Telescope.

As JWST orbits the Earth from a million miles away, its six-meter mirror of gold-coated beryllium will collect light that’s fainter, farther away, and billions of years older than we’ve ever been able to see, showing us some of the earliest objects that formed in the universe after the Big Bang. As with most of NASA’s flagship projects, JWST has taken longer and cost far more than NASA had said and Congress had hoped. It’s now set for launch in October 2018. Continue reading

I guess Spinal Tap will have to reissue Smell the Glove now.

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Because as Rick Weiss reveals in today’s Washington Post reported today, black is now about 30 times blacker than it used to be.

“The material, made of hollow fibers, is a Roach Motel for photons — light checks in, but it never checks out,” he reports.

Awesome. There are all kinds of mind-bending potential applications for this light-bending technology.  (Harry Potter-esque invisibility cloaks get a fair amount of play in Weiss’s front-page story).  But of course all I thought about was the scene from This Is Spinal Tap where Nigel Tufnel (I think) is trying to convince his bandmates that the censored cover to their album Smell the Glove — a pure black field of inky nothingness — is better than original, blatantly misogynistic cover:

“It’s like, ‘How much blacker can it get?’ The answer is, ‘none. None more blacker!'”

(Forgive my para-quoting. Somebody borrowed my DVD a few years ago and I haven’t seen it since.)