I know a real rocket scientist.

His name is Russell Sargent and the first spacecraft he worked on, called Cygnus, recently arrived at the international space station. He built the guidance and some of the navigation software for demos 3 through 5, and also helped to design the approach trajectory in the last figure shown here. The mission went very successfully, and now leaves NASA with a cheaper alternative to bring cargo into space. Very cool.

I talked with Russell about his current project: the Dream Chaser, a new commercial mini-space shuttle.  He’s building the autopilot during entry and training astronautics how to fly it  in the NASA simulator. 

Q: Is this is as cool as it looks?!
A: Yes it is!
Q: Is it designed to look like a giant whale, or is that coincidence?
A: To me it looks like a tug boat, but point taken.  It is a strange looking thing.
Q: Your company does this in partnership with NASA, right?
A: We work for a private company, Sierra Nevada Corp (not the beer company).  SNC will be payed per astronaut to go to Space Station.  Its a private-public partnership.  I work for a non for profit lab.  (My tufts roots are showing here.)  The idea is for NASA to hire companies for low Earth orbit travel to reduce costs.   Unlike my other jobs all my work will be owned by SNC when I’m done, not the government.
Q: I thought NASA was done sending people into space.
A: Nope! Two programs: the private-public partnership and MPCV Orion capsule.  This capsule built by NASA will take astronauts to asteroids and possibly the moon.
Q:  What’d you get to do as copilot?!
A: I got to be wingman (i.e. Goose in top gun) in the sim to several astronauts and teach them to fly the tug boat.  My only official function was to drop the landing gear.  I got to see what they liked disliked for my next redesign.  I work with astronautics Steven ‘Pinto’ Lindsey and Lee ‘Bru’ Archambault .  Most if them live in Houston so to the astronauts I’m the ‘Boston kid’ with the accent.

Chris has been watching math videos (huh?!), so I tuned in for a few, including this video introducing differential equations. They’re really easy to watch, follow, and learn from, and the instructor is an absolute delight. It’s impressive to see lessons that are considered ‘upper level’ math presented with such ease and in such manageable chunks. I am sad that my last math class was 8 years ago; these mini-lessons are just enough to fill that void for awhile longer!

Even if you’re not a math person, there are videos for you! The Khan Academy is an online-based nonprofit with a mission to make quality education available to everyone. They have nearly 4,000 videos on topics from biology, to animation, to finance, to history. I love the mission and the execution; two thumbs up. Now go learn about differential equations!

This Asian elephant foetus after 12 months in the womb is catching some shut eye before she takes her first heavy steps in the world in just under a year’s time. The gestation period for an elephant is 22 months. This and other animals in the womb were captured on camera by scientists for a National Geographic documentary. I think it’s really neat to see how similarly all mammals start, and an elephant that is ‘floating’ is simply mesmerizing. Check out more photos and details here.