Space Shuttle Endeavour Launches on Last Mission

About three hours ago, Space Shuttle Endeavour launched for its last mission in space and to the International Space Station. The NASA press release describes the liftoff:

“Space shuttle Endeavour is officially on its way to the International Space Station on its STS-134 mission and final flight. Endeavour lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on time at 8:56 a.m. EDT, soaring through a few clouds, after a relatively smooth countdown.”

Read more here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

Godspeed, Endeavour! I wish that I could have been there to see you and your crew off.

Aftermath Series on National Geographic Channel

The National Geographic channel’s Aftermath series is an interesting and engaging speculation on humanity’s future. Part fact and part extrapolation, Aftermath presents a different vision of the future in each episode: doubled population or no more oil for example. Each episode presents a message of warning and a message of hope. The episodes that I saw should be broadcast on the big networks to get more people thinking about the ramifications of their choices and daily practices.

Miles O’Brien is Video/Live Blogging the Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134 launch on BoingBoing

Today is a good day. William and Kate got hitched earlier this morning, and later this afternoon at 3:47pm, Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to lift off on its final mission into low Earth orbit. A bunch of Twitter followers of NASA have front row seats, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle will be there, too.

Science and technology reporter Miles O’Brien is live blogging the launch on BoingBoing here: Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134 launch: BB liveblog on-site, SpaceFlightNow webcast with Miles OBrien – Boing Boing. I hope that the launch will be successful today, but there are some concerns about the wind. According to O’Brien: “The weather is the story out here today, and specifically: they’ll be watching the wind. Gusts are so forceful out here that my Mac Air just blew right off the table and hit the ground when I stepped away for a moment.” I suppose it’s good on occasion to have a computer with heft!

Y and I are watching a replay of the royal wedding while NASA prepares the shuttle and crew for launch.

Morgan Freeman, Science Education, and Science Fiction

This morning, I watched several episodes of Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. I believe that it was during the “Are We Alone?” episode about alien life in the universe that Mr. Freeman says that he read science fiction when he was younger. According to this brief TV Guide interview, Mr. Freeman says in response to the question, “Where you always a science geek?” that, “No, I was playing sports. But in my twenties, I got into science fiction.” I wonder what kinds of science fiction did he used to read. Who were the authors of those stories? Does he still read science fiction, and if so, what are his favorite recent stories or novels?

Mr. Freeman’s foray into science programming is a welcome one. Considering the cultural cache and prestige that movie celebrities receive, it is refreshing to see such an important film actor as Mr. Freeman host and executive produce a program about science. By doing this, he demonstrates that it is perfectly acceptable to entertain an interest in the wonder of the universe. His curiosity comes across as ernest and respectful. Additionally, he lends his own stature to the subjects that he explores with the help of leading scientists. Perhaps this will be a hallmark program for a generation of young people today who I suspect desire more science education than they may be receiving in increasingly anti-science local and state school systems in many parts of the country.

I applaud Mr. Freeman’s efforts, and I look forward to seeing more of his Through the Wormhole program.

Second day of Spring Break, Watching Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking

Today is the second day of our Spring Break at Kent State University. So far, this has been a good rest bit.

Last night, Y and I had a long conversation with our friend Masaya in Japan thanks to AT&T’s offer of free U.S. to Japan telephone calls.

I also stayed up late building Star Wars Lego set 8038 The Battle of Endor.

Today, I had another fun run around Kent since the weather has significantly improved. Again thanks to AT&T, I was able to listen to NHK World on my iPhone, because I have an unlimited 3G data plan as long as I keep my current contract.

And now, I am watching Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking on the Science Channel. The topic of tonight’s episode is aliens. I have never seen this program before but I am impressed with the cgi visualizations and explanations provided by Prof. Hawking. I will have to add this show to a reminder so that I can see what the other episodes examine.

Learning Brain Anatomy, the Hands-On Way

IMG_7109, originally uploaded by dynamicsubspace.

I tend to learn things better when I can pick them up, turn them around, and take them apart. Since the human brain is such a big part of my dissertation, I wanted to apply this hands-on approach to better learning and understanding brain anatomy.

If you click through the picture above, you will be taken to my set of photos on Flickr of my human skull and eight part brain model. It is approximately life-size, and it can be disassembled.

The skull’s jaw is hinged and restrained with two springs, and the skull cap or calvaria may be removed to expose the brain case and brain. The brain is made out of a transparent and soft plastic that can be taken apart into eight pieces representing the major externally noticeable features of the brain.

For less than $40 on ebay, this model serves its purpose at a great price.

In conjunction with the model, I have found PBS’s Secret Life of the Brain website to be very useful for studying brain anatomy. If you have Adobe Shockwave installed, you can access that site’s interactive 3D brain viewer: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/3d/

Missed Discovery Landing Because I Was Dreaming of Mars

I had to watch Space Shuttle Discovery’s landing online and after the fact, because I was watching Mars Rising, a program about a hypothetical future mission to Mars narrated by William Shatner, on the Science Channel. I am glad that Discovery’s final crew made it home safely, but I hope that we can begin setting our sites on bigger game in the solar system with a public space program rather than something privatized. You can see Discovery’s final landing here: NASA – Multimedia – Video Gallery.

Judith Warner’s “Fact-Free Science” in the New York Times Magazine – Must Read!

If you missed it, as I had, you should make a point to read Judith Warner’s “Fact-Free Science” in the New York Times Magazine. I saw it linked today from a discussion on Slashdot.org, which you can find here. It bears noting however that I am not entirely sure whether the original Slashdot poster G3ckoG33k meant to employ hyperbole or not when he linked to Warner’s article as “describing the latest chilling acts of the socially relativistic, postmodern loons.”  Nevertheless, Warner’s article charts, in broad strokes, how the attack on scientific truth shifted with the political winds from the radical left to the radical right. It is useful to thinking about how we find ourselves in the current anti-scientific malaise.