Shrimp with a Side of Space History: Visiting Lovell’s of Lake Forest

It’s safe to say the Apollo 13 mission has defined my space reporting life. Watching the movie in 1996 as a teenager first got me interested in space. I subsequently devoured astronaut Jim Lovell’s and journalist Jeffrey Kluger’s account of the mission in just one day, which set off hours of reading into the Apollo missions and NASA. Apollo 13 is a topic that I frequently return to and read about even two decades later.

So imagine my delight when last week, I walked into Lovell’s of Lake Forest — a Chicago-area restaurant owned by Lovell’s son, Jay — and discovered several floors of Apollo 13-themed memorabilia.

In the “special requests” section of my reservation, I had alerted staff ahead of time of my interest in the mission. They kindly sat me right in front of a large display case in the basement dining room (dubbed “Captain’s Quarters”) that contained several shelves of priceless memorabilia.

While I munched on french onion soup and shrimp creole, my eyes wandered among the shelves. Awards, models of spacecraft and aircraft, a moon rock … even the Apollo 13 lunar lander plaque that was supposed to be left behind on the moon were in full view inside the glass.

 

After dining in this virtual museum, I asked the staff about the building. Constructed in 1999 by R.M. Swanson and Associates and Kauer Inc., the restaurant features several rooms for different kinds of crowds, ranging from receptions to wine afficionados. One room is called the “Odyssey” room, after the command module part of the spacecraft in the Apollo 13 mission.

Since I was dining early, the rest of the restaurant was fairly empty and the staff invited me to stroll up the stairs. It’s clear from the pictures on the walls that Jim Lovell is very proud of the movie and his role in it, both as an adviser and as an appearing actor in the end, when he greets the crew dressed as a naval captain. Memorabilia ranging from laser discs to pictures to articles about the movie graced the stairwell. Additionally, Lovell had a nod or two to his Gemini VII mission.

All around it was a great experience; this entry just touches on the number of artifacts available in the restaurant for viewing. Quite the space history gem hidden just north of Chicago.

All pictures by Elizabeth Howell.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Captain Kirk’s Future Small-Town Beginnings

Captain Kirk's birthplace

In Riverside, Iowa — population less than 1,000 in the last census — getting your hands on future space history requires an adventurous spirit.

Visitors to the town must keep their eyes peeled on the main road for a subtle banner pointing in between two buildings. Wedged in the backyard is a special stone marking what townspeople say is the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk.

Commemorating the famed Star Trek captain’s beginnings dates back to 1985, when the town was looking for a theme for its annual festival. Now dubbed Trekfest, the festival draws legions of Trekkies to the small town every year during the last weekend of June. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry once wrote a book saying Kirk was born in a small town in Iowa, and the Riverside City Council unanimously passed a motion proclaiming itself to be the future birthplace of Kirk.

The marker for Kirk’s birthplace, according to Trekfest, had the blessing of Roddenberry, and William Shatner himself visited Riverside in 2004.

Past performers at Trekfest include Five Year Mission, a band that aims to write one song based on each of the original Star Trek episodes. (Two albums are finished so far). The town is also home to “The Voyage Home” gift shop and a moveable mini starship, which was on tour during Universe Today‘s visit last week.

Lead image by Elizabeth Howell.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Captains, Cylons and Wizard World Chicago

After years watching from the sidelines, I’m fast becoming a comic convention convert. It seems there is something at cons for every geek, whether you enjoy meeting celebrities, hearing illustrators talk about tricks of the trade, or browsing the show floor in search of posters, T-shirts and comic books.

This past weekend I briefly attended Chicago Comic Con Wizard World Convention, which typically draws tens of thousands of fans — including friends of the space genre, judging by the T-shirts surrounding me. I was there to line up for a brief photo op with three Star Trek captains (Kirk, Archer and Sisko), and I have to say my whole time there was a pleasant experience.

I’ve been to two other comic cons that were an organizational mess, with fans lining up for autographs and photo opportunities, waiting hours for late celebs. One con was so crowded that the fire marshall had to prevent people from coming in.

While I admittedly was at Wizard World at a slower time (Friday afternoon), the relaxed pace was a welcome change from other cons. Lineups were very short, allowing me time to have a quick chat with Dean Stockwell of Battlestar: Galactica fame. I also got a quick picture of him on my cell phone.

My favourite part of each con is looking at funny T-shirts and posters. Some of the jokes are rather obscure, but I usually can figure out what the space-related ones mean.

As for the Captains, they were there at the appointed hour. I had about 15 seconds for the photo op — just enough time to shake hands with Scott Bakula, agree with him that Chicago is a beautiful city, smile beside him and William Shatner and Avery Brooks, then scoot out of there to make way for the next person.

My goal is to meet all of the starring Star Trek captains. As of this con I’ve seen all but two. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) actually was supposed to be at Wizard World, but had to back out due to another commitment. The other I’m looking for is the new Captain Kirk (Chris Pine). Guess I’ll be saving my money for next year.

All pictures by Elizabeth Howell.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Rocket Run: Compete in a Unique Triathlon at Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center will shift from rockets to races in an historic event taking place May 5, 2013.

For the first time, the famed space complex will open its doors to a public sporting event: the Rocketman Triathlon.

The rigorous event (which includes swimming, biking and running components) will include lengthier bike rides than the standard to loop near the historic 39A and 39B launch pads. These pads were the starting point for all 135 space shuttle missions as well as many other flights, including those of the Apollo program.

“The KSC portion of the bike ride is more than 15 miles long and is sandwiched between equally beautiful scenery of the remainder of the route on the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge,” the event website reads.

Participants will also swim in the Indian River Lagoon and run in nearby Titusville … making sure to include the city’s Space View Park, of course.

This triathlon video advertisement is guaranteed to give NASA Tweetup launch attendees pangs of nostalgia:

Event organizer Smooth Running bills itself as ” the producer of several of the most prestigious and unique endurance events in East Central Florida.” The company is no stranger to space-themed running events, having hosted a five-kilometre race — dubbed Saturn 5K — at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Additionally, Smooth Running founder Mitch Varnes was named a 2011 Business Leader of the Year by Space Coast Business Magazine.

Registration for the Rocketman Triathlon opens Sept. 1 and full course maps will be released in 2013.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Chasing The Little Prince in New York City

“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

I didn’t expect to find a story about a stranded aviator and a cosmos-travelling boy in the United Nations bookstore in New York City.

Yet there The Little Prince was, prominently displayed on a table near the door – an easy find in a bookstore dominated by tales of war, genocide and oppression of minorities.

Is there a special reason why Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s message – of hope, of learning to judge yourself before others, and of keeping a childlike wonder about the world – is embedded in such a place, I wondered?

Purchased book in hand, I turned to the Internet for answers. Turns out the famed author and aviator lived in New York City for a time after escaping from occupied France in 1940. While there, he worked on three books, among them The Little Prince.

As a long-time fan of the book, I decided to go on a self-guided walking tour of his haunts. I only had about a day of tour time available and focused on two places: a restaurant and one of his homes.

 

La Vie Parisienne (3 East 52nd St.)

On the exterior of the second floor of a Midtown building rests a plaque commemorating Saint-Exupéry. In French and English, the plaque says several chapters of The Little Prince were written in a studio at 3 East 52nd St.

The studio actually was being used by Bernard Lamotte, a Parisian painter. It is said that his circle of artistic friends included luminaries such as actor-sketch writer Charlie Chaplin, actor-singer Marlene Dietrich, and of course, Saint-Exupéry.

Accounts say Saint-Exupéry was a writer who took to the skies to support his talents at the pen. Additionally, he drew on his experiences as an aviator in many of his writings, such as Southern Mail, Wind, Sand and Stars and Flight to Arras.

On the ground floor of the building was La Vie Parisienne (The Parisian Life), a French restaurant. Today, patrons can take in fine French dining at the same location courtesy of the restaurant La Grenouille (The Frog). The plaque is reportedly below where Lamotte’s table sat.

 

Saint-Exupéry’s residence (240 Central Park South)

Saint-Exupéry actually lived in three locations in the New York City area, but this one was the most accessible to me given time constraints.

Less than 20 minutes’ walk from La Vie Parisienne, Saint-Exupéry would have found the location an easy stroll from where he gathered with his friends. Just across the road from the six-decade-old building is Columbus Circle and Central Park itself, providing a respite from New York City’s busy streets if Saint-Exupéry desired it.

When Saint-Exupéry moved into the building in 1941, it was only a year old and considered to be very modern. Today, the two-tower building still looks very fresh courtesy of a renovation to its exterior a decade ago that among other things, restored the yellow-orange bricks to their former glory.

The Souvenir Français society (which honours members of the French military) initially wanted to place the plaque at this location. The owner denied them because he feared it would bring in tourists.

 

Saint-Exupéry yearned to defend his country and left for North Africa in 1943. He disappeared forever over the Mediterranean in 1944.

Still, New York City remembers him. As late as last year, a staged production of The Little Prince played at the New Victory Theatre, with the prince himself portrayed by a puppet.

 

All photos in those post taken by Elizabeth Howell. Historical information in this article, unless otherwise indicated, came from a 2001 article in The New York Times written by Christopher Gray.

Read Universe Today’s recent article on the B612 Foundation — named after the asteroid in “The Little Prince” — and plans to fund a private asteroid mapping mission.

A Glimpse of Old Cape Kennedy

I’m a child of the shuttle era, but I grew up reading the tales of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. That heady time in the 1960s was so foreign to a teenager growing up in the age of personal computers and Internet access: people glued to television sets watching space shots. Newspapers carrying pages upon pages of space content, rather than small mentions.

My favourite book symbolizing what this era was like – at least, from the starry-eyed optimist’s point of view – was This Is Cape Canaveral, a children’s book first published in 1963 and subsequently republished under the names This Is Cape Kennedy and This Is The Way To The Moon.

Writer and illustrator Miroslav Sasek portrays the crowds, era and missile-obsessed businesses with a taste of humour and a keen eye for detail. It’s attention that his audience demanded: “Detail is very important to children,” he said in a 1969 interview. “If I paint 53 windows instead of 54 in a building, a deluge of letters pours in upon me!”

I cracked open my dog-eared copy the other day to play a mini where-are-they-now game with some of the mentioned landmarks and people:

The times change in 50 years, but the good thing is there is no lack of chronicles to tell us what it was like at the time.

Lead image caption: In This Is Cape Canaveral, Miroslav Sasek wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the excitement of the early days of the space program.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Google’s 5 Most Memorable Space Doodles

Google’s one of those tech companies that makes a big deal about space exploration.

There’s not only the Google Lunar X-Prize, or its maps of the Moon and Mars, or memorable April Fool’s pranks such as the lunar Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.)

The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant often puts space front and center in its periodic “Google Doodles”, which are variations of its logo shown on the site. Google’s been pencilling those since 1998. Over the years the sketches have become more elaborate – and sometimes animated!

After reviewing the space doodles featured on Google’s Doodle site, here are five of the most memorable of them:

May 1-5, 2000 – Google Aliens series

 

This appears to be the first set of space-themed Google Doodles. The drawings are simple – for the most part, they show a UFO flying past or landing on the Google logo. Still, running them in a series over several days was smart, as it encouraged Internet users to visit the young search engine several days in a row to see what was happening next. More eyes on the page is always good for advertising.

Jan. 15, 2004 – Spirit lands on Mars

Mars landings are always big media events, and NASA was in the midst of a bonanza of attention in 2004 as both Spirit and Opportunity successfully touched down on the Red Planet. Thousands of Google users would have been searching out the rovers’ latest exploits. Commemorating Spirit’s landing in a doodle, just as that excitement was at a fever pitch, was a great way for Google to highlight the ability for users to seek out information about the rovers on its own site.

Aug. 9, 2010 – Anniversary of Belka and Stelka spaceflight

The best Google Doodles are those that show you what you don’t know before. In this case, few outside the space community are likely aware of who Belka and Stelka were, and where their spaceflight fits in history. (They were among a series of animal flights flown in the 1960s to determine the risks of space travel to humans.) From Google’s perspective, running a doodle one needs to learn more about encourages users to click on it, generating more page views.

June 15, 2011 – Total lunar eclipse, featuring Slooh

This is a brilliant example of cross-promotion. Astronomy geeks are well-aware of Slooh, a site that turns telescopes to celestial events such as the recent Venus transit of the sun. Google brought the site to the masses through promoting Slooh’s June 15, 2011 lunar eclipse feed right on the home page; the colour of the moon in the logo changed as the eclipse progressed. Google also showed the eclipse on its YouTube channel and on Google Earth, and promoted the Slooh Android app (also hosted by Google.) Slooh mentioned Google’s participation on its own website, too.

Nov. 8, 2011 – Edmond Halley’s birthday

Commemorating Edmond Halley’s birthday is not unique in itself, as Google has singled out other astronomers for the honour – see Ruby Payne-Scott and Johann Gottfried Galle, for example. What makes this sketch memorable is you can barely see the “Google” logo in the doodle. This is a company that is so confident in its brand that it is willing to let its readers fill in the blanks by imagination. (Astute readers will notice Scott’s doodle follows the same principle, but Halley’s doodle did run first.)

What other doodles should Universe Today readers check out? Share your thoughts in the comments.

All images are from Google’s Doodle website.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Red-Shirt Risk: How Likely Is It That You’ll Die?

Remember that moment in the movie Star Trek (2009) when James T. Kirk, Hikaru Sulu and the red-shirted Engineer Olson don spacesuits, and free-style plummet from orbit to a giant machine threatening the planet below?

For those who didn’t see it: We hate to ruin the surprise for you, but … Olson didn’t make it. It was an homage to an old joke stemming from Star Trek‘s original series (1966-69). In that show, anonymous crew members in red shirts frequently died to demonstrate how risky a certain voyage was to the main cast.

How statistically accurate is that assertion of red shirts dying more often than others? One Star Trek geek – who happens to deal in analytics for a living – put it to the test.

His analysis says 73% of deaths in that series were red-shirted crew members. If you’re gonna die, he adds, there’s a better-than-even chance that will happen if you’re a part of a landing party.

“Besides not getting involved in fights, which usually proved fatal, the crewmen could avoid beaming down to the planet’s surface, which is inherent to their end,” wrote Matt Bailey, president of SiteLogic, an online marketing consultancy based in Ohio.

So the answer is simple, it appears: Refuse to leave the spacecraft. But in Star Trek‘s military-like universe, it’s not that easy. “That could result in a court-martial for failure to obey orders,” Bailey added.

So it’s jail, or death. Quite the choice.

Bailey then continues his analysis on the best chances for red-shirt survival (hint: it has to do with Captain Kirk’s frequent romantic dalliances – which raises the survival rate by 84%) and how best to present the data on Star Trek deaths.

Bailey’s post is more than five years old, but still an entertaining read for Star Trek fans and statistics geeks alike.

Lead image courtesy of Star Trek Inspirational Posters.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

The Most Epic Curiosity Countdown Clock

If you can’t get to a Mars Science Lab landing party, one website aims to bring the party to you.

Explore Mars, a not-for-profit, has joined up with several space-faring organizations and firms to create Get Curious. It’s a one-stop shop for all things concerning Curiosity, the centerpiece of MSL.

“Curiosity will rock the world” proclaims an all-caps banner at the top of the website as an animated picture of Curiosity dangles beneath a jetting shell.

Below the banner sits a large clock, counting down the seconds until Curiosity’s wheels touch Martian ground.

You can simulate the touchdown on this website simply by scrolling down – the animated Curiosity picture slowly lowers to a picture of what looks to be Martian rocks and soil. (The animation actually falls past the surface instead of touching down, but you get the idea.)

Explore Mars’ aim is to drum up interest for its Human-to-Mars Summit next year. Delegates, including several senior NASA scientists involved with MSL, will gather in Washington, D.C. April 6-8, 2013 to discuss how to get humans on the Red Planet by 2030. The George Washington University Space Policy Institute is a co-sponsor of the conference.

“The mission of Explore Mars is to make humans a multi-planet species,” the Get Curious website states.

“Our programs are aimed at making that happen within the next 20 years, while being safe, well-planned and relatively comfortable for the humans we send to Mars. To accomplish this, Explore Mars runs technical challenges to stimulate the development and/or improvement of technologies that will make human Mars missions more efficient and feasible.”

Included on Get Curious is a list of MSL landing parties (compiled with help from Yuri’s Night), a summary of Curiosity’s objectives, and pictures and videos of the mission.

Additionally, several cities – such as Detroit, Houston and Atlanta – agreed to display gigantic simulated Mars rocks between July 26 and Aug. 9 (dates vary by city) to promote Explore Mars and the website.

The list of participating entities in Get Curious includes Aerojet, Explore Mars, National Geographic, Phillips & Co., United Launch Alliance and Yuri’s Night.

The car-sized Curiosity is expected to reach Mars Aug. 6. It will dig for signs of habitable conditions in Gale Crater.

Lead image caption: A screenshot from Get Curious website.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Happy Birthday Johannes Kepler!

smallkepler.thumbnail.jpg

December 27 is a day to celebrate the life of astronomer Johannes Kepler, who was born on this date in 1571, and is best known for his three laws of planetary motion. But also, coming up in 2009, The International Year of Astronomy (IYA) will celebrate the work of Kepler as well. Not only did Galileo begin his observations with a telescope almost 400 years ago in 1609, but also in that year Kepler published his book New Astronomy or Astronomia Nova. This was the first published work that documented the scientific method.

Kepler’s primary reason for writing Astronomia Nova was to attempt to calculate the orbit of Mars. Previous astronomers used geometric models to explain the positions of the planets, but Kepler sought for and discovered physical causes for planetary motion. Kepler was the first astronomer to prove that the planets orbited the sun in elliptical paths and he did so with rigorous scientific arguments.

An offshoot of Astronomia Nova was the formulation of concepts that eventually became the first two of Kepler’s Laws:

First Law: The orbit of a planet about the Sun is an ellipse with the Sun’s center of mass at one focus.

Second Law: A line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas in equal intervals of time.

And Kepler’s third Law: The squares of the periods of the planets are proportional to the cubes of their semi-major axes.

Kepler was also instrumental in the development of early telescopes. He invented the convex eyepiece, which allowed an expanded field of vision, and discovered a means of determining the magnifying power of lenses. He was the first to explain that the tides are caused by the Moon and the first to suggest that the Sun rotates about its axis. He also was the first to use stellar parallax caused by the Earth’s orbit to try to measure the distance to the stars.

While Kepler remains one of the greatest figures in astronomy, his endeavors were not just limited to this field. He was the first person to develop eyeglasses designed for nearsightedness and farsightedness, the first to investigate the formation of pictures with a pin hole camera, and the first to use planetary cycles to calculate the birth year of Christ. He also formed the basis of integral calculus.

Kepler’s many books provided strong support for Galileo’s discoveries, and Galileo wrote to him, “I thank you because you were the first one, and practically the only one, to have complete faith in my assertions.”

Original News Source: The Writer’s Almanac