A Life Entangled with NASA


Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Out o’ the cold an’ the rain, sergeant,
Out o’ the cold an’ the rain.
‘Oo’s there?

A man that’s too good to be lost you,
A man that is ‘andled an’ made –
A man that will pay what ‘e cost you
In learnin’ the others their trade – parade!
You’re droppin’ the pick o’ the Army
Because you don’t ‘elp ’em remain,
But drives ’em to cheat to get out o’ the street
An’ back to the Army again!

Staying on Terra Firma


For many years, a main goal of NASA has been to send a man humans to Mars. In fact, it seemed right after the moon landings to be the next logical step in space exploration. I was a youngster when the Gemini and Apollo missions were big news. I watched the first moon landing live on television. I remember the drama of Apollo 13 (as well as the movie).

I watched the original Star Trek series when it first aired, and went to the movie theater twice to watch Star Wars when it was first released. It seemed like anything was possible. We were going to invent Warp Drive and go faster than the speed of light! The universe was ours to explore!

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Farouk El-Baz, retired research professor and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. They discuss his remarkable, varied, and pioneering career in the sciences, surveying both the heavens and the Earth, and key teachers and scientists who have influenced him. Dr. El-Baz shares what it was like serving as supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo program, and working on the world-changing project of putting a human on the Moon. He describes what the Apollo program needed to know beforehand to map the Moon in order to select the landing site, and the key scientific facts about the Moon that NASA needed to gather to ensure the mission’s ultimate success.

In the second phase of his career in science, Dr. El Baz used remote sensing and space images to explore for groundwater in the largest deserts on Earth. He explains how surveying the Moon informed this work, and the most significant and surprising discoveries he has made with remote sensing. Lastly, they talk about the mathematical and scientific background knowledge that best prepares students for careers in STEM fields.

This week on JobMakers, host Denzil Mohammed talks with Sandro Catanzaro, who started several businesses in his native Peru but had no idea he’d end up helping NASA go to Mars, or that he’d use that same technology to plan and buy video ad campaigns. Now Head of Publisher Services Strategy for Roku, which acquired the company he founded, dataxu, in 2019, Mr. Catanzaro is an emblem of ingenuity and inventiveness. His demand-side platform, device graph technology and analytics platform help accelerate Roku’s ad tech roadmap and ability to serve a wide array of advertisers. But he’s not done yet!


Harleen Kaur is a former NASA space engineer and current CEO and founder of Ground News, the world’s first news comparison platform. Ground News aggregates news stories from around the world, shows you how they are being covered by different media outlets, and helps you identify the media bias on the different coverage. Harleen founded the company to solve a problem she herself had, when it came to identifying media bias and putting news stories within a larger global perspective. She and Bridget discuss how revenue models are ruining journalism, the advantages of traveling and living in several different countries, the perspective working on a probe to Pluto can give you on the achievements of humankind, and how challenging yourself with information that competes with your world view teaches intellectual resilience.


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Here’s an updated version of a piece I originally published on Election Day. Since Presidents set policy directions for agencies like NASA, and Congress is tasked with funding these institutions, citizens should be informed about these programs and some history behind previous space policy decisions. Read on below for a brief, non-partisan look at Presidential policies […]

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Happy Birthday, Terra


Twenty years ago Wednesday morning, I sat on a hilltop overlooking the northern part of the firing range at Vandenburg Air Force Base. In a pre-internet era for monitoring the umbilical data from what was going to be the first of three climate-research satellites, my go/no duties were completed around 6 a.m. It was just in time to head out of the “blockhouse” (no they don’t really exist anymore) to watch sunrise wash over the SLC-3 launch pad.

Despite this area technically being southern California, it was breezy and bitterly cold. I silently prayed that we would not get scrubbed for the third time in this six-day campaign window. Two days prior, it was from some idiot flying his ultralight around the pattern at Lompoc airport, which is in a temporary air-restricted zone during launch periods. This forced a stand-down after our 30-minute launch window closed.

A Clueless Bozo.

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America discuss polling revealing 51 percent of Americans support ICE deportation raids compared to just 35 percent who are opposed. They once again dive into the controversy involving Donald Trump, Ilhan Omar and theTrump rally chants of “send her back.” And they shake their heads as the Washington Post and The New York Times suggest the Apollo 11 moon landing was a giant leap for only white men.

Ice After Fire: The Outpost Tavern


In the 1960s there was no hotter job in Texas than that of astronaut. If you were one of that elite crew, you were conquering space, getting there by riding a column of fire. With a job that hot, you needed to cool down after the workday was over. Fortunately, the astronauts were based in Houston and did most of their work there. They could take advantage of a Texas tradition: the ice house.

For those of you from more benighted regions, a Texas ice house is not just a place where you buy blocks of ice or which manufactures or stores ice. That is what folks mean when they talk about an ice house in some parts of America.

Maybe that is all they once were in Texas way back when artificial ice was new. But it did not take long before Texas ice houses began selling stuff that was better on ice, milk, and eggs, sure. But more importantly, beer. Lots of beer. On ice. In a Texas summer. (In Houston summer starts mid-April and ends two weeks before Halloween.)

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday. Book Review ‘Houston: Space City’ combines history, science and culture By MARK LARDAS […]

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An Extra Credit Question


Years ago, I was beginning as a student teacher in a middle school in Westchester County, New York.  It was exam week for the kids, and since I was new in town, I was given the task of coming up with an extra credit question for the 8th grade American History class.  It was about 11:30 a.m, almost lunchtime.

I came up with this: “Who is Christa McAuliffe?”

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The New Horizons will flyby Ultima Thule in three days.   NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by a distant “worldlet” 4 billion miles from the Sun in just six days, on New Year’s Day 2019. The target, officially designated 2014 MU69, was nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the […]

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Mars Society Telecon: Support Jim Bridenstine’s NASA Nomination


The Mars Society is calling on all Americans to urge their members of Congress to support the nomination of Jim Bridenstine as the next NASA administrator. A telecon to coordinate the campaign will be held today (Wednesday, September 20) at 8:30 pm EDT (5:30 pm PDT).

Those interested in participating in the Mars Society telecon can call in at (563) 999-2090 and offer passcode 438709# when prompted on their phone or visit our website’s telecon page a few minutes in advance of the starting time.

After leaving the post of NASA administrator vacant for eight months, President Trump nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to the post in early September. In view of Bridenstine’s long-time interest in and support of the space program, the Mars Society is urging approval of his nomination.

One Small Step for Crew, One Giant Leap for Crewkind


I should write a technical post on the emerging post-Shuttle age of manned space flight, but I’ll leave that for Rand Simberg, James Gawron(?), anonymous, and the others who are more knowledgeable. Instead, I’m going to bring up a NASA language peeve: The tendency to misrepresent the meaning of “man” and “manned.”

NASA, depending as it does on public relations, has probably always been a PC kind of place, at least in the public face it puts on. There is a great Bloom County cartoon satirizing the tendency to promote “firsts” in space by race, sex, and ethnicity. Those of you old enough to remember the Apollo days or earlier will no doubt recall discussions of “manned spaceflight.”  But since at least the 1990s, and I suspect the 1980s, the term “manned” has been suppressed in NASA use in favor of the clunkier “human spaceflight.” Today, that inelegant phrase is increasingly replaced by the unfortunate-sounding “crewed.”

If it were just confined to PC-ness at NASA, I’d roll my eyes and not worry.  But I’ve seen science outreach types scold people on Twitter and Facebook for using the traditional English, so it’s come into the realm of the social media pile-on. I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself, from a friend who referred to women being “oppressed” by the word.