Saturday, May 31, 2008

Movies and a Book

While traveling around I finally had time to read a book for fun (yay, summer vacation!) and watch a few more movies. Here's what I've got:

Water for Elephants
This is novel about a man who works on a circus in the 1930's. It's a fairly dark book, but reads quickly and is interesting. The author actually did a good amount of research into circuses and into the time period in general, so there are some situations pulled from real life - I recommend reading her notes on this, which are included at the end of the novel. Good summer read. (Another interesting thing about this book is that my copy had a mis-print so the first 25 pages or so were printed upside-down, which mean everyone around me at that time thought I was a complete moron...)

Judge Dredd
This movie takes place in a dystopian future and stars Sylvester Stalone - do you really need to know anything else about it? He's a policeman/judge that can catch a criminal and sentence him immediately, but you'll never guess what happens... he gets framed and he gets sentenced! So then he has to escape, clear his name, and save the world from the person who framed him. If you like campy scifi and over the top action (which I do), you'll love this movie.

Heartbreak Kid
Ugh. Don't see this. Starring Ben Stiller, I expected it to be a vaguely funny, stupid slap-stick comedy, and even that was expecting too much. It's not even that some of the jokes aren't funny, it's that there are long spans (in a pretty short move) that don't even attempt to be funny. Many of the situations are just sad - a woman with third-degree sunburns, a guy cheating on his honeymoon. Other situations with the potential to be funny, like Ben Stiller trying to escape Mexico by crossing the boarder illegally, are just drawn out and boring.

I wasn't sure what I thought about this movie when I first finished it, but it's beginning to grow on me. It was another movie set in a dystopian future with a fight between robots and humans. It stars Harrison Ford, the best robot-hunter (bladerunner) around, and it stars Rutger Hauer as the leader of the escaped robots. It had a familiar theme - robots rebel against humans, humans ruthlessly hunt robots, not all robots are evil, perhaps the humans are the bad guys, etc. (though perhaps in the 1980's when it came out this was all new). <> One thing I've decided I like about it is that though the robots are perhaps not actually bad, and mostly are just wanting to live, Harrison Ford (the hero) hunts them down anyway. Just an interesting twist that keeps the movie from being tied up too neatly.

L4yer Cake
This is a British Movie starring Daniel Craig (James Bond from Casino Royale) as a cocaine dealer. It has lots of characters and interesting plot twists, which keeps it interesting. It reminds me vaguely of a mix between Snatch and Pulp Fiction, which are both movies I enjoyed quite a bit. The only thing bothering me is that I still don't get why the A in the title was changed to the number 4. (Adam, I don't think the fact that 4 and A look similar is a good enough reason to just switch them whenever you feel like it...)

Summer Space Seminar - Washington, DC

The third and final leg of the Space Seminar was in Washington, DC.

Udvar-Hazy Center
The Udvar-Hazy Center is a Smithsonian Museum near Dulles Airport focused on air and space. Even though I live in DC and am an aerospace engineer, I've never been there before, because it's difficult to get to without a car. It was a very cool museum. It's basically a huge hanger full of real airplanes and model space items - like a Space Shuttle that was used for testing purposes, and full-size models of satellites and rockets. Our tour was led by Roger Launius, who is the senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum. It was a really interesting tour, and I'd highly recommend making your way out to the museum.
Space Shuttle Discovery

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Goddard is another location that, despite living in DC and working at NASA Headquarters, I have never visited. It was interesting to see how they are organized, and what projects they work on. I was surprised at how large the facility was. We went on our final tour of a high-bay while we were at Goddard, which is ok, because now I think I have a well-rounded understanding of high-bay design and function. They also had a fun visitor center, well set-up for fun space pictures.Mariel the Astronaut.

Adam and Eric are ready for space.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
We also visited JPL, which does a lot of work on satellites and other advanced space programs. We heard about how they were organized and saw their operations center, where two satellites were being monitored. Their campus reminded me somewhat of JPL, since it was spread out and structured more like a university.

Space Policy and Law Round Table Discussion
One of the mornings in DC, we met at GWU for a discussion on space policy, featuring a number of interesting speakers, including Dr. John Logsdon (Space Policy, GWU), Dr. Joanne Gabrynowicz (National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law), Dr. Peter Hays (National Security Space Office), and Dr. Annalisa Weigel (Astronautics, MIT). This is the area that I am currently studying, and it was interesting to hear these speakers summarize and discuss the major space policy issues.

NASA Headquarters
I've interned at NASA Headquarters twice - once in the office of Biological and Physical Research and more recently in the Space Station Office. I really enjoy working there, and was interested to see what would be covered in the presentation. We learned a lot about the Project Analysis and Evaluation Office, which I didn't know much about before. I'm very interested in economics, cost-benefit analysis, and how these concepts apply to space programs, and it seems that this office is the closest to looking at these issues. We also heard from people about space science at NASA, which was interesting and different from the work I had been involved in.

Space Policy Executive Round Table
The final event was a round table discussion with space policy officials from the executive branch. There was a representative from the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the State Department Office of Space and Advanced Technologies. This panel aligned very well with my interests - I love the idea of working with the State Department and focusing on international cooperation in the area of space. I'm now looking into getting an internship in one of these offices to learn more about what they do.

Around DC
Being from DC, I didn't feel as much of a need to do tourist things. However, since I have already sub-let my apartment (I'll be in Spain most of the summer), my friend graciously allowed me to stay at her place, and I ended up spending time in a neighborhood I'm not usually in. This allowed me to check out some new stores and restaurants, and was a fun thing to do in my last few days in the city. Also, Stephanie hosted a party on her roof on the second to last evening of the seminar. This was a really great chance to see everybody before people started heading off, and to discuss informally the experience we had over the previous week and a half.Mike, Stephanie, and I enjoying the roof.

Summer Space Seminar - Colorado

The second section of the Summer Space Seminar was in Colorado - Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder.
Becca, Tanya, Eric, Joe, Brian, Stephanie, Deaglan, and I at the Air Force Academy

United States Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base
This was one of the most interesting visits for me, even though it consisted primarily of powerpoint rather than tours. I had learned about military space policy during my first year studying space policy, but I had never had the opportunity to see the policies presented by the people who develop and work with them. It was really interesting to get their perspective on whether space is contested - i.e. do we need the capability to fight in space, and on the concept of space superiority and space control - what those terms mean and how they're interpreted by others. There was an overview of Space Law that I enjoyed, mostly because the level of familiarity confirmed to me that I really had learned a lot in my Space Law class at GW.

United States Air Force Academy (USAFA)
The second half of our first day, we went around USAFA, saw the campus and engineering buildings, and learned about their curriculum. As part of their undergraduate education, the astro majors actually get to participate in the design, build, and launch of a satellite - Falconsat. It seemed like a very cool way to get hands-on experience. The USAFA visit was also really interested because a couple good friends in the Space Policy program attended the academy and had lots to tell us about what life was like there. All of that was very new to me, and really interesting to hear about - though it's still hard to imagine since it's so different from my undergraduate experience.
Chapel at the Air Force Academy

Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Technologies
While in Colorado, we visited Lockheed Martin in Denver. Again, we learned about the organization of the company and went on a tour of the facilities - visiting the high bay and seeing some satellites. Lockheed had just won the GPS III contract and had a big banner congratulating the proposal team. One of the speakers was from United Launch Alliance - a joint venture between Lockheed and Boeing that launches both Delta and Atlas rockets. He was a great speaker and gave a lot of insight into the industry and the relationship among the various aerospace companies. He expressed skepticism about the ability of SpaceX to live up to its image, which seemed to be very representative of the opinion of experienced launch experts. Over lunch we ate in small groups, which gave us more opportunity to talk to people from the company and ask questions.

Ball Aerospace
After visiting Lockheed, we went to Boulder, CO and visited Ball Aerospace. This was one of the smaller aerospace companies we visited, and it was interesting to get their perspective on the industry, since they are rarely the prime on big contracts, but rather specialize in components. They showed us their labs and high bay and told us about their organization as well.

Around Colorado
While we were in Colorado, we had a bit more time to see things and were starting to get to know each other better, so we had a lot of fun. We went for dinner and drinks around Colorado Springs a few times, had dinner at the Pearl Street Mall (an outdoor walking area) in Boulder, and spent a lot of timing just hanging out and discussing. We also climbed Eagles Peak - a mountain near USAFA.Eagles Peak

Summer Space Seminar - Los Angeles

The first section of the program took place in and around Los Angeles, CA. Here's a brief overview of where we went and what we did:

Northrop Grumman Space Technology
Our first site visit was to Northrup Grumman. They took us on a tour of the facility, which included a high bay where they construct and test satellites. We saw the Advanced Extreme High Frequency (AEHF) satellite while were were there - it was pretty cool to see something that would later be in space. They gave presentations to explain what programs are done at Northrop Grumman and how their company is organized.

Boeing Satellite Systems
Our second site visit was to Boeing Satellite Systems. Here they talked about the satellites that they construct and programs they run. They also gave us a tour of their high bay where we were able to see a GPS II satellite being constructed. They had just found out that they had lost their bid for the GPS III contract, and talked about why that might be. They said that (of course) believed they had the better proposal, and had the experience with GPS II, but that they believed sometimes large contracts are alternated between major companies so that neither of the companies loses too much of its capacity.

U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base
On our second day of tours, we visited LA Air Force Base. It's a very large base, though we spent most of our time in one building, learning about what operations and research are based out of the area. They deal with GPS there, so it was interesting to get their perspective on how the contract was awarded, though of course they couldn't go into much detail.

Aerospace Industry
The Aerospace Industry is a Federally Funded Research Center (FFRC) affiliated with the Space and Missile Systems Center. We toured the facility - particularly the labs. The labs there reminded me of a larger version of what I was used to during my undergraduate aerospace engineering experience. It seemed like a cool place to work - they get to do interesting research, trying to answer questions to further the field.

The afternoon of our second day, we visited SpaceX. This is the company started by Elon Musk that is trying to create a low-cost launch capability for the United States. They're designing and building the Falcon Rockets. One of their strategies is to do as much in house as possible - they deal with as few supply companies as possible and instead manufacture parts on their own. This helps them tighten their schedule considerable and avoid delays when they need to fix things. They gave us a tour of the facilities, and we could see people cutting metal for engines, and putting things together. The company is filled with young, excited engineers, and there is a sense of purpose and excitement there that you don't experience in the other large aerospace companies. They've had two trials, both with failures - though when they described it in the tour they talked about the second launch as a "successful launch until some complications many minutes into flight". That illustrates one concern outsiders seem to have about the company - that they're optimistic to the point of no longer being realistic. I think it's difficult, because they sound so confident, and so many people really want to see them succeed, that its very easy to get caught up in the excitement. Of course, being a space geek that wants to see access to space become affordable, and a young engineer full of hope, I'm a big fan of SpaceX. They have another flight coming up soon, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed.

Stephanie and I standing by a mock-up of Pheonix at JPL.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Our last stop in California was at NASA JPL. Out in Pasadena, the huge campus is what I think I imagined the cool California working style to be like. It is laid out more like a university - with buildings spread out and nice green areas and walk ways around them. It also has space stuff all over the place, which in my mind makes it cooler than most universities. We had a tour of the facilities, including another high bay and an area where nano-technology was being done. Though the nano-technology talk was a bit high level (even with an aero/astro engineering background) it was an interesting tour. One of the very cool things we got to see was the Operations Center, which is where they would be monitoring the descent of the Phoenix Mars Lander two days later. (In fact, Stephanie and I watched the landing live on TV, which consisted of watching people in the Operations Center monitoring computers, crossing their fingers, and cheering as each progressive step of the landing went perfectly.)Adam feeling very patriotic about Pheonix.

Around L.A.
Since I love traveling, it was also a benefit to spend some time seeing the area. Outside of tour time, we made a trip to Manhattan beach, which was near where we were staying. We were able to see the ocean, get some food, and start to meet the diverse group of students on the trip.
Stephanie and I on the pier at Manhattan Beach.

Summer Space Seminar 2008

From Sunday, May 18th until Thursday, May 29th, I was attending the Summer Space Seminar 2008. It is organized and run by the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies, which is affiliated with the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). The seminar was broken into three parts, one taking place in California, one in Colorado, and one in Washington, DC. The idea was to cover commercial, military, and civilian aspects of the aerospace industry.

The seminar was an amazing experience. I saw a lot of places that I was familiar with but had never had a chance to visit. I heard talks and went on tours that gave me a chance to understand the cultures of various aerospace companies and gave an overall feeling for the industry. The trips to military locations were especially interesting for me, because I knew very little about them in advance. In addition, though I've studied military space policy as part of my masters program, this is the first time I've had the opportunity to see the policies presented and explained by military officers, which really provided a new and interesting perspective. The round table panels in Washington, DC also provided good insight - I was especially interested in the executive branch space policy speakers, and am now hoping to find an internship in this area.

The seminar was really unique, and was a great way to end a year of studying space policy. My experiences over the last two weeks really changed the way I view space policy, inspiring me to look into new aspects of the field that I had known little about previously. I feel like I have a better understanding of commercial and military policy, which were weaker points for me before, and now that I understand them better, I have also discovered that I find them very intriguing, so I plan to continue to studying these areas in more detail. I have one year remaining to complete my masters in space policy, and have been wrestling with choosing a thesis topic. My experiences in the Space Seminar program have helped me to identify a topic that I'm really interested in - I'm now planning to compare and contrast strategic goals and methodologies of a variety of cooperative international space projects, including the International Space Station, the Global Exploration Initiative, Space Science Satellites, and Space Security/ Space Situational Awareness Systems.

The other aspect of the program that made it so enjoyable and interesting was the mix of participants. There were 26 students in the program, from 10 different schools: United States Air Force Academy, United States Naval Academy, West Point, University of Colorado, University of Mississippi, MIT, George Washington University, University of Bath, University of Nottingham, and University of Glasgow (three students were from the UK Royal Air Force). Spending time with students from all parts of the country (and world), with different backgrounds and widely varied future plans, really added to the program. It was interesting to participate in discussions with the group, as other students would ask questions I would not have even considered. While traveling together for two weeks, we had a lot of time to talk and learn about each other's backgrounds and current situations. It was interesting to see how our university experiences differed. I learned a lot about how the military and service academies function - something I had not known anything about previously.

The Summer Space Seminar was a very unique experience, and I feel lucky to have been chosen to take part in it. It provided me with insight into the aerospace industry that I believe will help me greatly in my future career in space policy. I'd highly recommend the program to students in the future.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Amanda's Wedding

On Saturday night Jeff and I went to a wedding in Gloucester, Massachusetts. We had a great time - it was a really fun wedding. The location was great - it was right on the water, and so during the ceremony, which was outdoors, the whole background was ocean. Inside, one wall of the building was all windows that look out onto the water.

The justice of the peace who ran the ceremony was really good, and seemed to know Mandy and Jess, so it was a more personalized service, which I really liked. It makes more sense to get married by someone who knows at least a little about you, I think.

The reception was also lots of fun - everybody was energetic and there was lots of dancing. They had a live band, dinner was served at the tables, and they had an open bar - all things I think are really nice at a wedding.
Mandy is my friend from work, so Jeff and I sat at a table with other friends of mine from work, which was a lot of fun. It was interesting to meet their significant others, and they were funny and great to talk to. Overall, we were at the wedding for almost six hours, and it flew by. We had a great time, and it was a really nice night!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Classes are over... movie time!

I turned in my last final on Monday, May 5th, and since then I've had a bit of free time. I'm still finishing up things for my part time jobs and research, but things are slower than usual. So I had the chance to watch some movies.

Born into Brothels
This movie was great, and I'd highly recommend it. It's a documentary filmed in the brothels in Calcutta. A woman goes there to film and ends up meeting all of the children that live in the brothel. She decides to teach them photography, give them cameras to use, and have them photograph things about their life. The film gives some background on each of the kids and about their situation. The woman filming the documentary wants to help get them into schools, and you see all of the administrative difficulties that make it almost impossible, not to mention the problems convincing their parents, and they give a little info on what happens after the documentary ends. It's a really interesting movie, and (being a documentary) is very realistic in showing how these children think about life and what sort of issues they deal with.

Jeff and I got Syriana from Netflix, and both thought it was ok. It follows the lives of a bunch of different people who are in some way associated with the oil industry - either because they are CIA, or energy traders, or consultants, or middle-east royalty. It's interesting and has a lot of big name actors, but I think it dragged a little bit for me, without having a clear point other than generally that the oil industry ruins nations and everything connected to it is corrupt.

Star Trek: Nemesis
I always meant to see this, but I guess it didn't get great reviews and I never made time. It's about what you'd expect as a Star Trek movie, with some space battles and Romulans. It wasn't anything special, I thought, so I hope they make another one and it's better. :)

27 Dresses
That's right - I watched a romantic comedy! It wasn't too bad - entertaining and somewhat funny - no big surprises. Which I guess is what you're looking for in a romantic comedy. It fit well with my weekend theme, though, since Jeff and I just went to a wedding yesterday.

Visiting Boston

Jeff and I flew into Boston on Thursday night and have been staying with friends at the fraternity that he was in. It's been really fun to see lots of friends and catch up on what everybody is doing. May is an interesting time to visit because they're just about to finish finals, and then people are headed off for all their exciting summer plans. The graduating seniors are going on to real jobs and getting apartments, and there is generally just lots going on.

It's funny how familiar everything is - like you never left. Though I feel like our days of staying with friends in a fraternity are soon coming to an end. Already, a quarter of the house (the freshman) are people we don't really know well. Our older friends are moving away - two of them have bought houses in the area and another two are looking to buy.

Unlike the old dinner conversation topics, we talk a lot more about renting and buying houses, getting (or losing) jobs and about friends' weddings. But its all fun and interesting, so I'm enjoying the difference.

One of our friends just got back from Iraq, so he was telling us stories about being in Baghdad. He is in the military and was protecting important people as they traveled around the city. It sounded like a pretty crazy experience, but it's good to have him back home.

We're in town to go to a friend's wedding, which is this evening, but other than that we're mostly just hanging out with people and catching up. Time to head out for brunch soon!

Friday, May 2, 2008

From Sun to Snow

I thought weather in Minnesota was pretty crazy, but Colorado caught me off-guard. When I checked the weather before I came, I saw that it was supposed to be 70 degrees on Wednesday and then 40 degrees on Thursday. Thinking there's no way you can drop 30 degrees in one day, I decided not to take a coat. Then on Wednesday - the day I went flying, it was really warm - maybe even in the 80's. And yet, the locals insisted there would be snow.

Much to my surprise, they were right. It snowed in the morning and stayed in the 40's all day.And there was basically no visibility - this picture was taken in the evening when you were starting to be able to see the mountains again. Who knew I'd get to see warm sunny boulder from the sky and then the snow-covered mountains the next day?