Monday, November 25, 2013

X PRIZE Challenge: Got Pon Farr?


Star Trek Convention Time! After all the gushing I did over the last one, I shall spare everyone (I met William Shatner) the blow-by-blow descriptions, bypass the tons of videos (but I totally got a picture with William Shatner), and the lively, comedic stage presentations (Did I mention I met William Shatner?) over three days of Trek Awesomeness.

Also, I met William Shatner. 

Got Pon Farr?

The highlight of the vendors and presenters this year was the splashy, spirited presence of the X Prize Foundation representatives, who were taking photographs of all the costumed Starfleet officers who had come toTrek the Halls of the San Francisco Hyatt.

They came to spread the glorious gospel of the X Prize, and I am their dedicated new missionary!

 As ever, the goal of all the many X Prizes, past and present, is to MAKE THE IMPOSSIBLE... POSSIBLE. And the new life sciences challenge is perhaps one of the most ambitious I have seen in terms of technological advancement.

On any planet:

 It is the Qualcomm TRICORDER X Prize! You read that right. Inspired by the science-fiction medical devices, the competition kicked off last year following all of the Star Trek series' captains (together on one stage in London!) promoting how their space shows inspire real-world innovation.

So says the challenge, "Imagine a portable, wireless device in the palm of your hand that monitors and diagnoses health conditions. That’s the technology envisioned by this competition, and it will allow unprecedented access to personal health metrics. The end result: Radical innovation in healthcare that will give individuals far greater choices in when, where, and how they receive care."

Thirty-four organizations in the USA, Britain, Canada, The Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Slovenia, Taiwan, India and South Korea have submitted medical teams to compete in developing digital healthcare options, hoping to transform the medical industry.  A real-life tricorder, imagine it!

See the official website to see the registered teams, review competition guidelines, follow the prize schedule, explore the FAQ, and download the myriad of comprehensive press kids from Qualcomm, X Prize Foundation, and the son of Gene Roddenberry.

Sign up for the TRICORDER X PRIZE newsletter to keep up with the teams, or hey -- just go to a Star Trek Convention to see their materials and hilariously fan-friendly ad campaigns.

To see other fun photos of the Trek Convention (Yo, I met William Shatner!), see the Trek Con photo album at the Pillownaut Picasa Galleries.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Something To Write Home About


So, I was driving around New Jersey. Yes, people do that. And something utterly delightful happened.

My epic spacey road trip took me through 9 states in 22 days, seeking the Carl Sagan trail, the Space Shuttle, and three awesome scale solar systems. The entire trek was very well-planned in advance, and encompassed many scheduled stops at science museums and friends' homes in various cities. Sometimes, however, the most fun events are those that occur spontaneously!
Buzz Aldrin's Boyhood Home

Anyway, back to Jersey. Did you know there are eleven astronauts from New Jersey? Schirra, Buzz, Schweickart, Sullivan, Zamka, the Kelly twins -- every major NASA program through each era is represented by New Jersey, as all of these men and women have served in Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttles, and the ISS.

Astonishingly, there is only one small plaque for a single astronaut in all of Jersey. But, not so astonishingly, it belongs to a moonwalker.
Click to embiggen and read the writing!

If you are ever in Montclair, definitely swing quietly and respectfully by 25 Princeton Place -- a truly lovely, leafy neighborhood just beside Anderson Park.

The home is no longer inhabited by the Aldrin family, but it is definitely inhabited. The current owners are tolerant of passers-by, but my friend Barbara and I made our visit swift, and hopefully unobtrusive, nonetheless.  Thanks to her camera for this great photo of the commemorative plaque!  And also thanks to the two men exercising who stopped to take our picture.

Now, here's where the fun begins. Just after this, Barbara and I went to the nearby "Main Moon Cafe" (seriously) for lunch, then parted ways so I could head to New York. But, I checked my Twitter feed, and saw a note from another New Jersey astronaut who seemed displeased I had left him off my touristy to-do list that day:

Garrett Reisman Twitter
The Unexpected Tweetstorm

Garrett Reisman is, of course, a Space Shuttle veteran (Endeavour STS-123, Discovery STS-124, Atlantis STS-132), a survivor of a 95-day stay in orbit, a NEEMO aquanaut, and holds the distinction of MOST EPIC INTERVIEW ever seen on The Colbert Report, when he provided a live feed to Stephen Colbert from the International Space Station.

Reisman is now the Crew Development Program Manager at SpaceX, and I had the pleasure of breathing the air molecules beside his at Cape Canaveral-slash-Kennedy in summer 2011, where he explained the historic Dragon Capsule #3 to the media. (I called my Nana that night and told her I had a new favorite astronaut because he was my size, har har.)

Garrett Reisman's Boyhood Home

Ah, the whimsical ups and downs of the American road trip! Parsippany, New Jersey is also just as beautiful as can be -- particularly when the autuman foliage is in full electrical color.

You just can't plan this stuff -- it's awesome and funny and worthwhile because it just jumps into your path and dares you to take the adventure!  So, again, if you're ever in NJ, swing quickly by 222 Lancaster Drive (please be polite when representing the almighty Spacetweeps, as it is also still inhabited) to see the Reisman residence.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Carl Sagan Day in November


Happy, happy Fifth Annual Carl Sagan Day!

This year's theme is "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future", and once again, Florida's Broward College has planned awesome lectures, planetarium shows, children's activities, educator workshops, COSMOS episodes, telescope instruction, and star-gazing.  The celebration includes a fundraiser dinner to honor what would have been Sagan's 79th birthday.

Most folks recognize Carl from COSMOS in the 1980s, the most widely watched program in PBS history! I've blogged numerous times about my idolization of his highly-quotable written material, my great love for his part in the Voyager Golden Records and their longevity, and this year, I was so pleased to visit a major bucket list item, the Carl Sagan Planet Walk scale solar system!

He taught at Cornell and Harvard universities, and worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Other titles included technology officer of the Icarus planetary research journal, Planetary Science Chair at the Astronomical Society, Astronomy Chairman at the Advancement of Science Association, and Co-Founder of the Planetary Society, the Earth's largest space-interest group.

Carl Sagan passed away in December 1996 at the age of 62, and was buried in New York (Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca) right beside his parents.

An astronomer, philosopher, professor and NASA consultant, Carl Sagan won 30 public awards, published over 600 scientific articles and authored or co-authored 20 books. I’ll never weary of recommending Pale Blue Dot to anyone who will listen!  The unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

Sagan was instrumental in the early Mariner missions to Venus, determined landing sites on Mars for the Viking Lander probes, and also assembled the first physical messages sent into space.  He was instrumental in establishing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence(SETI), urging the use of radio telescopes to detect signals from other intelligent life. Along with Frank Drake, he also composed the Arecibo message, beamed once into space in 1974.

He's one of those people who makes you scratch your head and think, "What the heck have I been DOING with my time?!"

Carl had the ability to make space "knowable" to audiences of all ages. He was known for popularizing  science in a way that inspired people to understand both our insignificance in the larger universe, but also, paradoxically, the absolutely precious nature of our enormously unlikely existence.

Follow me on Twitter today for #TriviaThursday, all day today, which is all about Carl Sagan's life, works, activism, and scientific accomplisments!  Speaking for space geeks everywhere... thanks a billion, Carl.