Sunday, April 5, 2009

Space Symposium Final Report

Sorry for the delay in posting the final details of the Space Symposium but it ended up being a hectic end to the week. I think for this post I’m going to start at the end and work my way backwards. I got back to Kansas City around 11:00 on Saturday. I left Colorado Springs on Friday night because of predicted snow coming in. They were predicting anywhere between 3 and 10 inches of snow. I had driven through slick roads and significant snow earlier in the week and didn’t want to have to do that on the way back to Kansas City.

Friday was a field trip for teacher liaisons to Boulder and NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. This is where the National Weather Service for the Denver area is located, the National Space Weather Prediction Center, and Science on a Sphere. There is also a ton of scientific research about the atmosphere done here. Our tour started with going through security and then into the main building. The Knight also made the trip with me. An interesting fact about NOAA is that the national atomic clock is kept. When you buy a clock that sets itself, it is getting the signal from this building in Boulder, Colorado.

If you look closely, you can see the Knight in this picture.

Our first stop on the tour was at the Space Weather Prediction Center. This is where they constantly monitor the sun for solar flares, sun spots, and other anomalies. Space weather is important because it affects satellites, people that are on the space station, and causes the northern lights.

Monitors in this room always have a current picture of the sun.

Our next stop on the tour was at the National Weather Service. There were two main meteorologists who each had four different computer monitors and several additional ones nearby. One meteorologist is in charge of the short term forecast. He works mainly on what is going to happen in the next 24 hours. The other meteorologist works on the seven day forecast. They were very busy the day that we were there because of the incoming snow storm. One of the coolest things about the computers that they were working with is that they are so powerful they can look at multiple sets of data and overlap them to see what the weather is doing. For example, they can look at specific temperatures at locations within a few kilometers of each other. They can then overlap wind speed, or barometric pressure at those same locations. In order to accomplish all of these things, they need some high powered computers. We got to see their “super” computer. In 1992 it was the 8th fastest in the world. It is able to do trillions of calculations each second. It lives in a climate controlled room. Another interesting thing that I learned is that the National Weather Service has their own website where you can put in your zip code and look up TONS of weather data for your area. The address is:

Meteorologist at the National Weather Service

The main reason that we came to NOAA was to see Science on a Sphere. You walk into this room and literally there is a living globe floating in the middle of the room. The video I put below does not come anywhere close to doing justice to how amazing this is. Basically they take all of the data from weather satellites and other sources and put it together into models that they then project onto the sphere using 4 separate video projectors. It is flat out amazing. They have over 200 data sets that they can project including Jupiter, Neptune, the moon, and satellite weather data. One of the cooler things that they showed us was current weather data. When I say current, it literally had data from the previous day. We were able to see the blizzard that hit Denver last weekend and the storm coming in. Some of the other simulations they showed included the Asian tsunami, and all of the air traffic around the world. That one was really cool because it showed day and night and the flights slowed down around midnight local time and then starts up again around 6:00 in the morning. I wish there was a science on a sphere closer so that we could go and see it. One other thing about the science on the sphere, it is controlled by a wii remote.

3D Simulation of the Earth on Science on a Sphere video

Video Compilation of Science on a Sphere (World at Night, Tsunami, Weather, Air Traffic)

Taking another step backwards, Thursday was an interesting day. I attended a space career fair. I’m not looking for a new job, I just wanted to see what employers are looking for in future employees. I expected them to say that they needed people that were good with math, science, and technology. They did say those things but they also said some stuff that I was not expecting. For example, Space X said that they were looking for people that had a high degree of responsibility and autonomy. They want people that aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and that were able to work independently. Other companies said they were looking for people with ethics and integrity. One company said a line that I thought was really great. The company representative said, “we can train you technically – we can’t teach enthusiasm. We are looking for ‘spark’.” It was really interesting to see all of these companies that are truly in need of highly qualified employees. One company said that right now 1/3 of their employees are eligible to retire. NASA is in the same position; many of the people that helped NASA get to the moon, and start the space shuttle program are either retired, or ready to retire. Another big idea that I got from listening to these people talk was that no matter what you like to do, there is a job for you. Literally any job you can think of, someone in the space industry needs you.

After the job fair, there was a small luncheon. The main speaker was Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist. She was really interesting to listen to and she talked about education quite a bit. She also said some things about achieving your dreams. Check back to this post later, I have audio from here speech that I will be posting later.

Me with Anousheh Ansari, first female space tourist

Thursday afternoon I got to see a couple of really interesting speeches. The first was a panel discussion between the heads of the Chinese, Japanese, and European space agencies. It was really cool to see these rivals interact with one another. Today (Sunday) there was a launch of a satellite from North Korea. One of the questions asked was if these countries would be willing to cooperate with the North Koreans on space travel. There was a very awkward silence about that question. After the panel discussion I was able to get the autograph of Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of the European Space Agency.

Overall, the Space Symposium was an absolutely amazing event. It was really cool to be in the audience with generals, astronauts, and congressman and just be one of the crowd. All of the teachers had a great experience. My thanks go out to Bobby Gagnon, Bryan DeBates, Ian Probert, and Elliott Pulham of the Space Foundation. They put on a great event and even though education was not the main focus of the Space Symposium, it was definitely a major component. An especially huge thanks to Bobby, Brian, Chrys, and Lisa. I know they all worked their tails off this week and it was completely worth it!

Also, congratulations to Kayla for winning the first contest from the blog. She emailed me today and told me that she had been reading my updates. She will be getting a prize after spring break. Here is another chance. If you have read this post, and are a SVMS student, and email me you will get a prize.

Okay, I know that this is a long post but I had a chance to write down some of the big ideas I gained from the Space Symposium. I don’t really know a better way to do this than to just list them. Some of them are teaching ideas, some of them are ideas for students. They are all kind of jumbled together so bear with me.
· Rick Soria, the teacher that won the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award said during his speech an idea that I thought was great. He said, “when you go fishing are you going to use bait that you like, or bait that the fish like?”
· JPL (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) want to get the American public to share in the inspirational adventure of space exploration. I thought that was a cool mission statement.
· Voyager 1 is currently 10 BILLION miles away and is still sending back signals. These signals take 14 hours to get back to earth.
· You can follow JPL on twitter.
· There are people that work at JPL that have spent their entire careers studying one of Saturn’s rings. Talk about specialization!
· The Mars Science Lab will launch in 2011, it is a nuclear powered rover the size of a small car that weighs almost a ton.
· The DAWN mission will visit Vesta in 2011 and Ceres in 2015.
· So far there have been 343 exoplanets discovered (planets outside our solar system). The Kepler mission will look for earth size planets by looking at 100,000 stars for 4 years.
· Space missions are selected from proposals and one of the components that is used in selection is the educational aspect, how they are going to educate the public about the mission and how the information gained will be used for education.
· There is one accident for every 60 flights into space.
· General Ed Eberhart said that, “we can’t be adverse to risk. It’s not easy, it’s never going to be easy.”

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