Category Archives: Space

Ticket Alert for JPL Open House 2016!

JPL Ticket

UPDATE: 4/25/16 10AM – Many people are having trouble reserving tickets from the JPL Special Events page. Here’s a direct link to reserve tickets through JPL’s Eventbrite page for the event. People seem to be having better luck going there, directly. Good luck!


Attention fellow space enthusiasts! The 2016 JPL Open House is still a month and a half away, but if you want to attend this year’s event then you need to take action this Monday, April 25th! This year, in an effort to calm the calamity in and around JPL on the day of the Open House, they are requiring attendees to have a ticket. If you don’t have a ticket you won’t get in.

With this change in mind JPL has rebranded the event – now calling it “A Ticket to Explore JPL.” Note how they’ve punched-up the fact that you need a ticket. Very smart considering this massive change to the Open House’s structure. I guess that’s why they’re rocket scientists.

Tickets will become available this coming Monday, April 25th, at 9am Pacific Time on JPL’s Special Events page. Tickets are free, but limited – so my bet is they are going to go fast. I plan to be sitting at my computer with my finger hovering over the “Reserve Tickets” button at 8:59:59.

Oh, and there are a few catches. Each requestor is limited to five tickets AND you will be required to enter the name of each person for whom you are requesting a ticket. You will be required to choose both an attendance date (either June 4th or 5th) and an entry time. Each requestor is required to provide an email address. So, I’m guessing that the true limit will be five per email address and they’ll just hold you to your honor that you’re not requesting with multiple email addresses.

To help hold you to your honor, each person 18 or older will be required to show photo ID at the gate along with their ticket for admission. It seems like they are trying really hard to make this as fair as possible for everyone.

Well, that pretty much sums it up. Get your tickets early and prepare to enjoy another exciting – and hopefully less stressful – JPL Open House!

5 Reasons Disney Should Release a PG Version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, In Theaters

Photo by Lucasfilm
Photo by Lucasfilm

Imagine my disappointment…

Everything was going along nicely.  When I was four, my parents took me to see the original Star Wars in the theater, igniting my lifelong fandom.  Next, I was lucky enough to marry a woman who is as big a Star Wars geek as I am, or geekier (I mean, how lucky am I, right?!).  Then, with great excitement, we introduced our five-year-old twins to Episodes IV, V and VI* this fall in anticipation of taking them to see Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  And what happens next?!  The movie is released with a PG-13 rating.  As you would expect, my reaction was much like Luke’s upon learning that Darth Vader was his father… “Noooooooooooooooo-ooooooooooo-oooooooo!”

My wife and I were concerned about how much violence might be in the film for it to get pegged with a PG-13 rating.  So, we decided to do a date night on opening day and check it out before exposing the kids to it.  We loved the film, but agreed that it’s too violent for them.  We don’t even let them watch the evening news, yet – that shit’s scary.

So, I’ve decided to appeal directly to you, oh benevolent Disney Corporation to please release a version of The Force Awakens in theaters re-edited to garner a kid-friendly PG rating.  In case you’re hesitant, I’ve put way too much thought into this and come up with a five-point proposal as to why you should do it.  Here it goes…

  1. Ticket Sales

Oh sure, you might have broken all-time sales records on your opening day, but there’s no reason to let that stop you from opening up the film to a broader audience and selling even more tickets.  Think about it, my wife and I already went to see the film once and we will go again to see a PG version with our kids if you release it.  There are literally millions of other parents exactly like us.  Literally.  Millions.

  1. Toy Sales

OK, I admit that my son already has a LEGO Tie Fighter and will be getting an X-Wing for Christmas (shh… don’t tell).  But just think of how many more The Force Awakens toys he would be begging for if he could actually see the movie!  I’m sure he’s not alone.  Heck, my daughter isn’t as into Star Wars as my son, but she loves Leia and she’s bound to love Rey even more once she sees this movie.

  1. The PG Legacy

Until Episode III came along and changed the game, Star Wars had a storied legacy as being a PG franchise.  People were delighted by that fact.  Come on guys – bring the PG Star Wars legacy back to theaters.

  1. Because Disney

You’re The Walt Disney Company for goodness sake!  Seriously, the words “kid-friendly” and “Disney” are practically synonymous.  Do it for the children!

  1. You’re Going to Eventually Anyway

Someday, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens will appear on broadcast television, probably on ABC.  So, why not simply make the edited for TV version a couple years early and release it in 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX 3D?  You know you want to.

So, there it is… five compelling reasons why you should help all of us Star Wars Super Geek parents out and make a PG cut of the film now.  Let us buy our kids some overpriced popcorn and sodas and give them the experience we had long, long ago.

May The Force be with you.



*We didn’t show our kids the prequels.  Why bother?  Episode III is PG-13 and way too violent for them.  What’s the point in watching I and II without III?  Besides, they learned all the backstory they needed from IV, like their parents.

Endeavour Makes History at California Science Center

Sometimes history is made by “firsts,” like the first solo flight across the Atlantic or the first footstep on the moon.  Other times, history is made by “lasts,” such as the last automobile of a rare model to roll off the assembly line or the last space shuttle flight.  Today, the California Science Center marked an historic first and last.  A key part of a delicate operation entitled “Go for Payload” took place, which involved the instillation of a flown SPACEHAB (sort-of like an extra room that could be added to orbiters) into space shuttle Endeavour.  Go for Payload is the first time that an operational orbiter’s payload bay doors have been opened on Earth outside of either the Palmdale assembly facility or the Kennedy Space Center, and the last time that payload will be inserted into an orbiter.

Upon entering the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, it was striking to see space shuttle Endeavour – a now familiar fixture at the Center – with its payload bay doors open.

Endeavour with payload bay doors open. ©Matt Vasko
Endeavour with payload bay doors open.
©Matt Vasko

On hand for the occasion was retired NASA Astronaut and first teacher is space, Barbara R. Morgan, who flew aboard Endeavour on STS-118, serving as mission specialist.

Astronaut Barbara R. Morgan stands in front of space shuttle Endeavour. ©Matt Vasko
Astronaut Barbara R. Morgan stands in front of space shuttle Endeavour.
©Matt Vasko

After a brief introduction by Science Center CEO Jeff Rudolph, Morgan took time to reflect upon her nearly two-week-long mission aboard the orbiter in 2007.  STS-118 delivered 5,000 lbs. of equipment and supplies to the station, including seeds that had been selected for delivery by American school children.

Morgan compared floating in space to the feeling one has when flying in a dream.  She also paid homage to Christa McAuliffe, whose duties Morgan assumed as Teacher in Space Designee after the space shuttle Challenger accident, stating that she believes that McAuliffe deserves the distinction as America’s first teacher in space.

Dr. Kenneth Phillips, curator of the Endeavour: The California Story exhibition, performed a Q&A with Barbara R. Morgan, after witch, Morgan took questions from guests.  Most notably, one attendee asked what she had to say to school children who might not be interested in science, but are still interested in participating in the space program.  Morgan provided two answers.  The first was that if kids are interested in the space program they should be told that, “Every single subject matter and every single college degree you can think of – there are jobs at NASA for those people.”  The second answer (and most important in Morgan’s belief) was, “Everybody in this country [in order] to be a fully participating citizen, needs to think  mathematically and needs to be able to have an understanding of how the world works.  And more then anything you have to have that curiosity and that drive to continually learn.  And that’s where the sciences and the math come in.  So, I would say if the kids aren’t necessarily interested, then it is up to us teachers to make science and math really fun so that they can get engaged in it and they can really get a feel for the joy of exploration, discovery, research, and things like that.”

With that inspiration in mind, it was time for the main event.  A crane was used to slowly and meticulously hoist the SPACEHAB into the payload bay of Endeavour.  The following photos chronicle the event.

Technicians prepare the SPACEHAB module to be lifted into the orbiter ©Matt Vasko
Technicians prepare the SPACEHAB module to be lifted into the orbiter
©Matt Vasko
The comparatively easy first part of lifting the SPACEHAB into place. ©Matt Vasko
The comparatively easy first part of lifting the SPACEHAB into place.
©Matt Vasko
Turning the SPACEHAB while being careful to avoid obstacles. ©Matt Vasko
Turning the SPACEHAB while being careful to avoid obstacles.
©Matt Vasko
Progress was slow, but deliberate and skillful. ©Matt Vasko
Progress was slow, but deliberate and skillful.
©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB reaches the top of its ascent and is ready to be turned into position. ©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB reaches the top of its ascent and is ready to be turned into position.
©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB enters the payload bay. ©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB enters the payload bay.
©Matt Vasko
Live feed of the SPACEHAB in its final position inside Endeavour. ©Matt Vasko
Live feed of the SPACEHAB in its final position inside Endeavour.
©Matt Vasko

With the SPACEHAB safely at rest inside of Endeavour’s payload bay, the event drew to a close and the Pavilion opened to visitors for the day.  There is still work to be done, such as installing the tube that will connect the SPACEHAB to the airlock, but a major milestone in the history-making first/last event had been achieved.

JPL Open House is Back!

OK, I admit it, I’m totally geeking out…

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, is bringing back their Open House this fall!  If you are a fan of the JPL Open House then you might remember that it was cancelled last year due to the sequester.  Fortunately, that’s behind us and this important and exciting public event will be taking place on Saturday, October 11, and Sunday, October 12, 2014, from 9am to 4pm.

Not familiar with it?  Well, let me tell you, if you live anywhere near Pasadena and are even a little bit of a space geek then you will absolutely love the open house (and if you are not a space geek when you arrive, there’s a good chance that you will be one by the time you leave!).  It’s a cross between a science fair and Disneyland.  If that’s not enough to entice you, then it might help to know that admission and parking are FREE.

There is almost too much to do in a single day.  So, you might want to consider coming on Saturday so that you can come back on Sunday to catch the things you miss the first time around.  The past few times they’ve had working models of various rovers cruising over rocks right as you enter the property (the place is huge and hilly, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes).  In the building immediately to the left, there was a scale model of the Curiosity rover and a welcome video showcasing the breadth of dynamic work they do at JPL.  To the right there was an outdoor display about the work of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.  I remember spending over an hour exploring these areas alone.

That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg!  You’ll want to be sure to visit the Space Flight Operations Facility, which serves as mission control for a variety of current missions, and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, which features the clean room where everything from the Voyager spacecraft to the Curiosity rover were built.  There is too much to list, but highlights of the event include robotics demonstrations, current and upcoming mission showcases, and hands-on activities for the kids.

Here are a few tips.  Arrive early to ensure parking and shorter lines.  Bring drinking water, sunscreen, and some cash for lunch at one of the many food booths.  Wear comfortable walking shoes (as mentioned above).  Finally, not to lay it on too think, but be sure to bring your scientific curiosity and a sense of adventure!


Worthy of note:  If you’re not available the weekend of October 11th and 12th, then you might want to take advantage of one of JPL’s free public tours.