SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch AND Landing

A few weeks ago on December 21, 2015, SpaceX successfully launched one of their Falcon 9 rockets, delivered 11 satellites into orbit, and landed the rocket back on Earth, undamaged and ready to be used again. It marks the first time that a rocket has been sent into low Earth orbit 100 miles above Earth and successfully captured upon re-entry to be used again. Traditionally, rockets have been single-use equipment that crash land into the ocean. The ability to capture and reuse rockets is a great step forward in driving down the cost of space exploration by promoting re-usability.

Here is a picture posted to Twitter by SpaceX showing the launch and landing…only a few miles apart:

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing

Earlier this week on January 12, 2016, SpaceX posted a great recap video to YouTube:

Well done SpaceX! Keep up the great work! Good luck on your next launch this coming Sunday!

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ISS Above Review

A few weeks back during the Christmas holidays one of the people I follow on Twitter tweeted about something called ISS Above that flashed like crazy when the space station flew overhead which prompted her to go outside and wave to the astronauts with her kids. As someone who is trying to nurture my own child’s imagination and interest in science I was immediately hooked and I quickly found myself on the ISSAbove web site learning more about what exactly this device was (and how amazing it is) and how I could get one myself. The web site is full of great information about how the project started as a kickstarter, details on the project, how you can purchase one, and much more. I ordered one on New Year’s Eve and it arrived a few days later.

The device is rather simple, it’s a Raspberry Pi mini-computer with a PiGlow attached running custom software written in Python by the creator. It can be purchased as either an all-in-one package or the software alone if you already have the requisite hardware. Being new to the Raspberry Pi world I opted for the all-in-one package which was marketed as a “just open up the box and plug it in” solution.

Well, I’m happy to say that the marketing lived up to the hype! When my ISS Above arrived it was accompanied by some simple instructions which laid out exactly what to do and some basic troubleshooting steps if any unforeseen issues arose. Within a matter of minutes the device was up and running and projecting a beautiful HD image of the Earth as seen from the international space station.

The ISSAbove performs several actions, for one as just mentioned it live streams HD quality video from the space station when available. It also offers a built in web server that gives information about future overhead passes of the ISS, and engages the PiGlow to perform a light show depending on the duration until the next ISS flyover. One of my favorite things it does is actually twofold: 1) it tweets the space station twitter account whenever the ISS is flying nearby over your location, and 2) it posts a WordPress blog post to the site. Both of these are customizable on your device and I am hoping to write future blog posts on customizing these two features.

Below are some pictures of this amazing little device, which has not only opened up my toddler’s eyes to space but also rekindled my excitement. I would strongly recommend learning more on the official ISS Above web site and getting your own.

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NASA To Begin Construction On 2016 Mars Lander, Dubbed “InSight”

After a Mission Critical Design Review last Friday, NASA has been given approval to begin construction on a new Mars Lander, which is scheduled to launch in March 2016. NASA’s Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, making it the first interplanetary mission to ever be launched from my home state.

The InSight mission will pierce the Martian surface to study its interior and seek to understand how Earth-like planets formed and developed their structured inner layers (core, mantle, and crust). The lander will carry a robotic arm that will deploy surface and burrowing instruments, including a seismometer and magnetometer, as well as wind, pressure, and temperature sensors.


Measurements gathered during the InSight mission will provide supporting information toward NASA’s goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.

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Consumer Advertising Lifting Off To The Moon In 2015

The Verge is reporting that Japanese beverage maker Otsuka is planning the first private moon-landing mission in October 2015. The goal of the mission is to place a 1 kilogram canister filled with powdered sports drink and children’s dreams on the moon. Notwithstanding the obvious marketing undertones, the company says it hopes the publicity stunt will inspire young children to become future astronauts and one day travel 380,000 kilometers to the moon to consume the powder.


I think it’s a rather sad (and unfortunately accurate) portrayal of our society that a consumer products company will invest in space exploration for the sake of a marketing stunt, but NASA continues to face budget cuts. With the long-term survival of the human species depending on space exploration and evolving beyond our dependencies on Earth, the distant future is looking bleak.


*Images in this post courtesy of The Verge.

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Using Mathematics To Improve Running

Researchers with the French National Center for Scientific Research, or CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique), have created a mathematical model that seeks to improve a runner’s performance, weight and fitness. Their findings, which could conceivably result in personalized e-coaching applications leveraging an individual’s physiological state, conclude that runners who vary their speed are better able to conserve energy and therefore run longer.

The mathematical model uses differential equations to combine speed, acceleration, propulsion forces and friction, maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and anaerobic energy coupled with initial conditions (zero speed and fixed energy) and constraints (positive energy and propulsion force) to predict an optimal running strategy for a race. In addition to determining that by varying speed runners conserve energy and run longer, the model also allows researchers to identify which physiological factors a runner should modify in order to improve performance.

The researchers are hoping to develop software can could serve as a personal e-coach and are at the same time looking to incorporate additional parameters such as altitude and wind speed/direction into the model so that it can be applied to other sports beyond running like cycling or swimming.

I would love to see an iPhone app for this, or even better incorporation of the model into an existing app like RunKeeper. Apart from helping with training it would be great during an actual race, for example outlining the best plan to complete the second half of a marathon in which I’ve expended too much energy during the first half.

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Longhand Note Taking More Effective Than Laptop Note Taking

Are you one of those people like me who always takes notes on a laptop? I’ve been in this habit since college as a consequence of my school issuing a laptop to each student, and now in the corporate world it is rare to see anyone show up to a meeting with a physical notepad and pen/pencil. My rationale for toting my laptop everywhere I go is that I can type much faster than I can write. However, despite being able to take more notes, it turns out that taking handwritten notes is more conducive to learning.

A study from Princeton University goes a step beyond previous studies which focused on laptops as a distractor from multitasking capacity and shows that laptop usage results in shallower processing of information because students are merely transcribing information verbatim, rather than first processing the information and reframing it in their own words which is detrimental to the learning process.

Although this study was geared toward higher education I believe there is something to take away from it from a corporate perspective. Granted, most of the notes taken in meetings are decisions or actions, there is definitely a time and place where longhand note taking could be more effective than a laptop such as at a conference when trying to learn a new skill or listening to a speaker.

I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for opportunities in the future where I can leverage longhand note taking rather than laptop note taking. I just hope my handwriting is still legible…

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