Photography Update

11 Nov
November 11, 2013

It is finally done!

I’m now ready to announce that the majority of my photograhy is now online and available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/afitchphotography/sets

I encourage commentary on how I’m doing. Since I can only improve with input.

Photos Updates

20 Jul
July 20, 2013

I am in the process of getting my launch photography uploaded to Flickr, and want to make sure I do it right the first time. So I have been going launch to launch and slowly getting them online. Stay tuned at my flicker page http://www.flickr.com/photos/afitchphotography or hit the flickr button on the right. For now I just have the Atlas V carrying AEHF-2 up, but hope to get the rest of them online in the coming weeks.

NASA Tweetup/NASA Social Rollup

15 Apr
April 15, 2013

I have been neglecting to write about my many experiences from my NASATweetup and NASASocial experiences. First, as a refresher a NASASocial is an event where individuals involved in social media apply, and are randomly selected to participate in an experience at a NASA Center (it differs from place to place, but I’ll explain that in a bit). Often times this involves getting the VIP tour at that center, meeting astronauts, and doing things that the general public doesn’t get to do.

I have been to several different events, below is a list of them, followed by a brief summary of each event. 

I could write on and on about the different events, their impact on my life and the cool people I’ve met. So I’ll be brief with a summary of each one, and what I vaguely remember from each one.

During the first event I was really impressed to see what mission control was really like. Everyone sees the different views of mission control of TV and in movies, but being able to be in the observation deck and see operations going in in front of me was impressive. At the time there were several spacewalks going on to replace a part of the International Space Station (ISS) that had failed. This was the beginning and my introduction to Twitter and the power of the platform. 

During the second event the tweetup for the GRAIL mission this was my first launch tweetup after being met with “we’re sorry you haven’t been picked for the Space Shuttle tweetup” many times. I was so excited to get close to a launch vehicle. We were introduced to many of the main program scientists, the principal investigators, and a few “science celebrities” (such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jim Adams). In between the presentations we were treated to a tour of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the general area of Kennedy Space Center. Then we saw the rocket launch from KARS park.

For my third event, which was the first of the rebranded NASASocial events we were given a tour of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. We were given an up close tour of the many different things that go on at this facility. They launch sub-orbital research rockets, and also launch orbital vehicles in cooperation with Orbital Sciences. They do high-altitude balloon programs and education and public outreach. It was interesting to see how they do almost all of their stuff in house. They design, fabricate, build, test, verify and launch their rockets on site. The do control systems and software for these rockets. They design and build high-altitude balloons and sometimes help build the science payloads that go on these “launch vehicles.” It was really impressive to see them doing so much without replying on outside contractors to do a lot of work. After that we were given a tour of the Horizontal Integration Facility that is used by Orbital Sciences and their Antares Rocket.

For my last NASASocial event I attended the SpaceX Falcon 9 COTS 2+ (COTS 2/3) mission at Kennedy Space Center. This event was punctuated with meeting many with the NASA Commercial Program office, Gwynne Shotwell the President of SpaceX, and other members of various teams around Kennedy Space Center. We were then treated to seeing the launch at the KSC Press Site. However, this launch wasn’t without its issues, and had a three day delay. 

While this is just a brief overview of the events, more information can be found below. And it is impossible to mention all of the people I have met and formed lasting friendships with, it just amazes me how these events bring together people who are so interested in spaceflight in its various forms. As a result of meeting some of these people I have become involved in several project that are extremely worthwhile for outreach, such as RocketSTEM and SpaceUp Houston

You can find more information about these various events  and how to sign up at the official NASASocial page and at a community owned and operated Wiki page. And you can find me at my various social media outlets on the right.

Another thing worth mentioning that is extremely important. I will not be attending any more NASASocial events, at least not at the same NASA centers simply because part of the goal of this program is to share the experience with as many people as possible. So since I have participated in several of them my time has come to not take the spot from another person. Best of luck to any person who applies to them in the future, it is very well worth the expense of getting there.

Side note: NASA Public Affairs changed the name of the events from NASATweetups to NASASocials in order to include more social networks such as Google+ and Facebook.

AT&T Banning Profane Passwords, Worse Than You Can Imagine

05 Apr
April 5, 2013

So at&t recently updated their password policies to ban profane passwords. There is a lot of rage going around that how dare at&t say what you can and can’t put in a password, that it would make it less secure to only consists of certain phrases. The thing is THEY ARE ALL MISSING THE POINT.

Let me back up a bit. When going to a website and signing up and creating an account the following steps should happen. Enter username and password for the account, and then any necessary personal data. When the password is put in it should go through the following steps: Password is input into the character field, that character data is run through something called a hashing algorithm (also called a one-way function). The password is then turned into something that when given the output of it, it is mathematically infeasible to re-create the source. You can find more information here (with a much better explanation). So the only way to prove the user is who they say they are, is for that user to input the password back in, run it through the hashing function, and compare the end result with the stored data.

So while people are getting angry, they are getting mad at the wrong thing. What they should be mad at is that their passwords to their at&t accounts are being stored in the clear on their servers. What happens if you used the same email and password for your at&t account as say your bank? Well an at&t rep/administrator/IT employee now has your login credentials to your bank. (ignoring the fact that using the same passwords anywhere is a horrendous idea). Or what would happen if their password database was compromised, then your password is now in the clear on the internet. What happened if you saw “monkey33” plastered everywhere? (Odd anecdote, monkey is one of the most popular single word passwords). One only needs to look at all of the password database breeches that have occurred recently: Linked In, Zappos, RSA Security, Gawker Media, and on and on and on….

So if getting angry, be sure you are getting angry about the right thing.

25 Mar
March 25, 2013

Here is the video of my presentation of Kerbal Space Program at SpaceUp Houston 2012. This game make the complexities of spaceflight accessible to everyone. It uses actual physics with interchangeable parts to build whatever the designer wants. It has open world/sandbox play-ability where it is up to the person to design and layout their goals. 

There are some things I said during my presentation that are now either incorrect or slightly changed. Such as Kerbal Space Program is now available on Steam. There are now re-entry effects available and effects for high-speed atmospheric flight.

You can find more information at their website: http://www.kerbalspaceprogram.com

Inspiration Mars, A Pipe Dream?

28 Feb
February 28, 2013

Today during a press conference Dennis Tito made an announcement that he was forming a group called Inspiration Mars to plan a manned flyby of Mars (similar to the Apollo 8 mission). This mission would calls for a crew of two, a man and a woman, this mission would be on a free return trajectory so they would do their boost of speed in low earth orbit and then automatically be on the way back home.

The press conference today was basically here is ten minutes of engineering plans and then lets spend the rest of the time pulling at heart strings without answering the core questions. Then a reporter from the associated press basically asked the question how are you guys going to pull this off? The question fell on deaf ears when they basically just reiterated what was said earlier. So was this reporter not paying attention? No.

Here is a breakdown of what the mission requirements are, by the flight in 2018 they want to: Fly on a Falcon Heavy, the crew will fly to orbit in a Dragon capsule, there will be a Bigelow inflatable module for the crew to have some extra space in, and the radiation shield will be the Trans-Martin Injection stage. There are a few problems with this:

  • The Falcon Heavy slated for its maiden this year (2013). Which is fine, but the pad that the Falcon Heavy will be launching isn’t finished yet. Granted they have 10 more months (as of this writing) but finishing the pad and a flight seems like a long shot.
  • The Dragon capsule hasn’t even been rated for manned use yet (even though it is pressurized and undergoing that testing at the moment).
  • Bigelow inflatable modules haven’t even been lofted into space yet, but that is planned. [Correction, Bigelow modules have flown, but they were unmanned]
  • Designing the rocket stage to do the Martian injection burn.

So with this information it seems to me like there is one of two things that could be going on:

  1. They actually have a possible plan for doing everything they have announced. They know the hardware is in the pipeline and will have everything completed.
  2. This project will go the way of ATK’s Liberty rocket and platform. They make a grand presentation, stir up the fervor of the media with promotional videos and presentations, and nothing happens with it.

So while it is too early to make a complete judgement call, and more information is coming out about it. Right now I am leaning toward this is a pipe dream.

EDIT:

But perhaps my biggest issue with the whole situation is when asked if they were going to test the hardware, they seemed to indicate they were going to fly it based on minimal testing, citing Apollo. Umm, no. Apollo had many check out rides to vet the hardware. Please check facts before citing them in a press conference. So they are going to send two crew members on a 501 day mission to the moon and back WITH NO ABORT PROFILES on untested hardware. If I may be so blunt, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Another Day, Another Launch

26 Feb
February 26, 2013

Tomorrow morning I set out to chase another rocket launch. This time, I’m going after the SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying their Dragon capsule and the associated unpressurized cargo section called the trunk. I’ll be photographing this launch on behalf of the RocketSTEM Media Foundation. This will mark my second launch of the Falcon 9, and one of many launches I’ve been able to witness. I have quite the backlog of posts to make, and I look forward to writing again. I’ll be blogging and tweeting on my twitter account @anthonyfitch

04 May
May 4, 2012

It appears that the SpaceX Falcon 9 has been delayed once again. However, even though that rocket is being delayed doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to see one launch (hopefully). The original plan was to see both the launch of the ULA Atlas V and the SpaceX Falcon 9 during the same week long time frame however issues have intervened in that. So now I am just down to see the launch of the of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and will have to come back at a later date for the launch of the Falcon 9. This was also my first event where I was able to represent Spaceflight Observer as a reporter for a launch. It has been a pleasure to work with the Observer team and I look forward to being a contributer as much as possible. Since I was credentialed as press I was able to get inside of the perimeter fence while the rocket was on the pad to setup a remote camera. This remote camera is triggered by the sound of the rocket engines and is supposed to grab shots of the rocket leaving the pad. This is all assuming that everything works right. It was incredible seeing a rocket that is over 197 feet tall just sitting attached to its launcher platform. Then there is me standing here around 200 yards or so away from a partiall

Since my camera was already setup as a remote before I took these shots they had to be shot by a much lower resolution camera. I have better pictures in the SD card in the camera that it setup but Ihave to wait until after launch to go retrieve it.y fueled rocket with its payload completely integrated. These vehicles are huge! It is easy to forget how big they are just watching them on TV or online.

The NASA Social (formerly NASA Tweetup) is on hold pending the new dates for the launch of the Falcon 9 I will come back and post information leading up at and from that event.

You can also find the first article I’ve published for Spaceflight Observer soon.

So You Are Going To A Tweetup/Social

23 Apr
April 23, 2012

Since I am part of the #SpaceX #NASATweetup ahem #NASASocial (it is still and will forever be tweetup in my eyes) I started a list of tips and suggestions for the KSC area and alunch tweetups. I though this list would be worth reposting here since it has become richwith general information.

General Information:

  • I use Kayak to find the best combination of fights of price vs date and time.
  • With this type of event if you deeply care about being there for the launch to buy two one way flights so you have some flexibility.
  • I would HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST getting a round trip ticket unless you can easily change your return ticket because launch schedules can be extremely variable. The last thing you want to do is have to leave for home just because you don’t want to eat $150 on a ticket and miss the launch.
  • If you do have to schedule both ways at the same time whether that is required or preferred then allow 3 days of flexibility in you return flight. This is because if they miss the first shot of launch the next attempt will be om May 3rd.
  • The general activities of tours, presentations and other things will be the day before launch (I don’t know for sure but that is always how it has been).
  • I know this should go without saying but be real careful about drinking and driving (even a little bit) because Florida State Police will pull people over really easy. This also goes speeding or any other kind of traffic violation. Just be really careful.
  • Either stop and purchase or bring insect repellant with you. 
  • We will probably be required to wear closed toe shoes for the tour. Also, you’ll want it for the launch viewing site so you’re not standing in wet grass with aforementioned insects eating your feet for lunch.

Food:

  • Dixie Crossroads is pretty much a mandatory place to eat, I plan on eating there so much in this trip I’m sick of seafood.
  • If beer is a foodgroup (which I would argue it is) you have to go to the Cocoa Beach Brewing Company.
  • Paul’s Smokehouse right on the bank of the bay in Titusville has some really good Steak and Seafood and a nice view of the VAB and KSC/CCAFS area.
  • Bonefish Willies in the Melbourne area (there likely won’t be a gathering there but if you are in that area with a hotel it is a good option). Really good scallops.

Hotels:

  • The Space Shuttle Inn is a good hotel really close to KSC. I plan on staying there myself once I get my dates figured out. (Although I may be interested in a house if anyone is going that way).
  • I’ve also stayed at the Americas Best Value Inn in West Melbourne, but it is a really long way [a little over an hour] away from any group activities that will happen outside of formal stuff they have scheduled for us.
  • I’ve also stayed at the International Palms Resort and it is higher than ones in Titusville and the rooms are a little dirty but no bugs or anything like that. It is right on the beach so that may be worth it to you depending on your personal preference.
  • STS-130 I pricelined Cocoa Beach Crowne Plaza for about $80, and it was really nice. 

Airports:

  • You have several options here, I’ll post my experiences along with the two that I have flown into.
  • MCO/Orlando: A good airport but it isn’t the only option is you are willing to look around. Relatively speedy security and nothing else to say other than it is a nice airport. It is about 45 minutes away from Titusville/KSC area.
  • DAB/Daytona Beach International: A good alternative to consider. It is a smaller more regional airport style location (even though it is an internal one). It would have really quick lines and from what I’ve seen the staff is really courteous. It is about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half from KSC area.

Transportation:

  • No public transit is available in the area. The only type of non-rental car transit is shuttles you can buy but they are pricey and that is a one way arrangement anyway. Your best bet is to share a rental with someone else or rent a car yourself. Unfortunately there isn’t any way around that.
  • If you rent a car from MCO, many of the rental companies require proof of refueling within a 5-10 mile radius of the airport.  The surcharges are insane, so get most of your gas well before you get back to airport, and then stop and top it off.  You’ll pay $5.00/g and up at the stations near MCO.
  • An adendum to above, there is a 7-11 or Speedway (I can’t remember) west of the airpost but within the 5 mile radius required by rental companies. 
  • The main and fastest route from Orlando to Titusville is a toll road.  Do not buy the toll pass from the rental car company bc you get gouged. The tolls are relatively inexpensive, just make sure you have cash. 

Must See Places:

  1. Depending how long you are staying after the tweetup it will likely br worth your time to go see the Air Force Air and Space Museum. I haven’t been there myself but I hear it is mandatory and I plan on it this trip!
  2. Go see Space View Park if you can, it is a walk down memory lane for the space program. There is also another gem in the area (assuming it is still open) but there is a little museum really close to Space View Park that has a lot of memorabilia from the space industry in general.

The Ice Tube Clock

13 Apr
April 13, 2012

For a while I’ve needed a desktop clock. Through college I just used my phone as an alarm and a general clock but I’ve wanted a desktop clock. But being the geek that I am and the electronics and programming background I have I didn’t just want a cheap clock that I could just go out and buy. I wanted to build something! I looked at some projects from across the web and many different electronics websites and saw many different existing projects. I considered building my own using an Arduino or some other microcontroller platform and writing my own code. I thought that pairing an Arduino with a Real Time Clock (RTC) shouldn’t be too difficult. I then looked into the display and realized it was going to be a lot of brute force work wiring and soldering the LEDs and the various needed controllers. So rather than do this work by hand I went with a plan B.

In my search for hardware and the necessary software I came across a project by the group at Adafruit called the Ice Tube Clock

So I went with plan B; the Ice Tube Clock.

This is a unit that stands on its own as far as uniqueness and wow factor. Instead of using a 7-segment display or a group of LEDs arranged in the fashion to resemble digits it uses a vacuum tube. Inside the vacuum tube there are eight 7-segment displays that are powered by phosphorous excited by high voltage. The package itself is an open platform using the ATMega 168 microcontroller and the company that distributes these kits has very clear and easy to understand how-to guide. They include tips and tricks on how to troubleshoot any mistakes that are made as well. The platform they provide has more expandibility but adding a light sensor as well as grabbing GPS timing (I installed this option). The circuitry itself consists of a voltage regulator then it is split into two paths. One side of the voltage regulator output goes to the microprocessor and into the control side of the boost converter. The second side is fed into the operational side of the boost converter where it is stepped up to the voltage to drive the vacuum tube.
 
The original code was written by the team over at Adafruit but it has been released under the MIT license. There have been many different revisions of it but in my opinion the best version to download and install can be found here (internal link, used with permission). It was written and modified from original source by William Phelps and his GitHub page has the constantly updated source. Below are a few pictures of the build and more can be found on my photo gallery.