Space

Ohio astronomy park honors astronaut John Glenn

I’ve spent the last week chatting with astronauts and other whip smart folks who work for NASA and its international equivalents on the shakedown cruise for the new Viking Orion ocean ship that boasts retired astronaut Anna Fisher as its godmother.

Fisher was able to invite about 100 of her friends on board this cruise and I was among a small group of incredibly fortunate journalists to tag along for the adventure.

In a panel and in one-on-one chats many of the more than two dozen current and former astronauts on board shared stories about being in space and, throughout the cruise, astronauts and non-astronauts alike had a chance to check out the skies from the ship’s decks and in its high-tech planetarium.

Today I leave the ship and all the astronauts behind and fly home on an airplane – not a rocket ship. But I’ve got my eyes on the skies and I’m pleased to learn that on Thursday, June 21 – just in time for the summer solstice – a new astronomy park honoring super-hero astronaut and Ohio native John Glenn will open in rural Logan, Ohio, about forty miles southeast of Columbus.

Courtesy NASA

The John Glenn Astronomy Park (JGAP) will not only allows visitors to explore the night sky, but it will also offers daytime study with a  Solar Plaza to study the Sun, Earth and the North Celestial Pole, among other celestial features. The 80-foot in diameter Solar Plaza highlights the Sun’s orientation to the Earth as it changes throughout the year and is encircled by a low wall with notches offering framed views of the Sun on key days.  The new park also has an enclosed 540-square-foot observatory with a retractable roof  to  permit night sky viewing.

(All photos courtesy of the John Glenn Astronomy Park, except for photo of John Glenn, which is courtesy of NASA and the  planetarium photo, which is courtesy of Viking Cruises).

 

(Still) Cruising with astronauts

I’m almost at the end of a special shakedown cruise on the Viking Orion, a new ocean ship in the Viking Cruise line family that has as its godmother former astronaut -Anna Fisher,  who was the first mother in space.

As godmother for the ship, Fisher was able to invite many friends and former co-workers along for the cruise from Rome to Barcelona, and many of those friends and former co-works are astronauts.

I’ve been conducting short interviews this week with some of the astronauts on board and last night a panel of (just) 14 of the astronauts on the ship gathered for a panel moderated by Lynn Sherr, who wrote  SALLY RIDE: America’s First Woman in Space and who you may know from her many years on TV, including 20 years as part of the ABC Newsmagazine 20/20.

Pictured: Paolo Nespoli, Charles (Charlie) Walker, Anna Fisher, Richard Linnehan, Jean François Clervoy, Dominic (Tony) Antonelli, John Fabian, Lynn Sherr (moderator), Brewster Shaw, Woody Spring, Nicole Stott, Jay Honeycutt,Mike McCulley, Jon McBride, Barbara Morgan, Rick Hauck.  (Richard Richards joined the group at the end and is not pictured here).

The topics discussed were wide-ranging: everything from what it was like to be out there in space looking back at earth to some fun stuff about the cool part of being weightless: “You can put your pants on two feet at a time,” said John Fabian, who joked that today one or two of the former astronauts might have trouble putting their pants on just one leg at at time.

The panelists also talked about what they do now to encourage others to support space exploration and shared their opinions on ‘space tourism’ (mostly thumbs up).  Several astronauts also gave their stamp of approval to some movies they say got space pretty darn right, including Apollo 13, The Martian, Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My interviews with astronauts have covered other subjects, including their tips for travelers here on earth, their memories of their first airplane rides (and how that may have influenced their choice of profession) and even their stories about the food they ate in space.  I’ll share some of those stories in the next few days.

Cruising with astronauts in Italy

I’m incredibly fortunate – and very starstruck – to be sailing this week on Viking’s fifth and newest ocean ship, the Viking Orion, during its maiden voyage with her ceremonial godmother, American chemist, emergency room physician and retired NASA astronaut Dr. Anna Fisher, who brought along dozens of special guests, scientists, astronomers and more than a dozen of her fellow former and current astronauts.

The 930-guest, 47,800-ton Viking Orion is named after the Orion constellation and in honor of Dr. Fisher’s work on NASA’s Orion exploration vehicle project.

I’m prowling the decks with a print-out of the photos of the astronauts and other space experts hoping to meet them all and ask them questions about everything from travel tips learned from space travel to memories of their first flights. (Getting them to sign my press release would be awkward, right?)

Their answers will appear here and in various assigned stories I’ll share links to later, but in the meantime, here are some photos and tidbits from the spectacular naming ceremony that took place in Livorno, Italy that included musical performances, tributes to Nordic mythology, a flying ‘spaceman’ who traveled over the crowd and around the ship by jetpack and fireworks.

 

 

In Livorno, the ship was docked beside the city’s historic Medici-built Fortezza Vecchia (Old Fortress) and a special interactive exhibit was set up inside to tell the stories of exploration technology throughout history – from the Vikings’ solar compass to Galileo’s gravitational and projectile motion experiments.

Among the special features on this ship is a  26-seat planetarium-like theater called the Explorers’ Dome – showing special panoramic films about exploration, such as “Journey to Space” and “Life Under the Arctic Sky” in a fully immersive environment.

Viking Orion continues her maiden season sailing itineraries in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean this summer before heading east to sail Viking’s newest itineraries in Asia, Australia and Alaska.

Stay tuned for more.

Win a ticket for a flight into space

http://youtu.be/aiXGUDnbSqs

The folks at AXE ( a line of grooming products for men) have kicked off a contest to give away 22 tickets for a seat on a suborbital spacecraft – and they’re recruited astronaut Buzz Aldrin to help with the promotion. (See below).

Rules vary by country and market, but it appears that contestants outside the U.S. need to create an “astronaut profile” explaining why they want to go to space, gather enough votes to qualify for some sort of challenge that might win them a spot in a space camp in Orlando, Florida and from there possibly get chosen for one of the 22 slots on the flight.

Entrants from the U.S. appear to have it much easier. Just go to this site before February 3rd and fill out a form.

http://youtu.be/x7gu8WVQNOQ