I’m Writing a Book!

January 15th, 2016 by Nancy Comments Off on I’m Writing a Book!
Marker in the floor of the Mission Control room at the Space Flight Operations Facility at JPL. Image credit: Nancy Atkinson Marker in the floor of the Mission Control room at the Space Flight Operations Facility at JPL. Image credit: Nancy Atkinson

This week, I’ve been in California at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I’ve been wanting to visit JPL for years and years, and until now it has never really worked out to do so. But I’m out here for a very special reason: I’m doing interviews with scientists and engineers because I’m writing a book.

What? Wheeeeee!

I’ve been going back and forth between those two exclamations for the past month and a half. Sometimes I still can’t believe it, but I’m really excited. It’s actually just sinking in that I have this tremendous opportunity, but being at JPL has made it seem more of a reality. Plus, now that I have done over a dozen interviews the past few days, I need to start writing, and writing like crazy.

Curiosity rover model at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.Curiosity rover model at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A few details:

So, what am I writing? The book will be an overview of several different current robotic space missions. We’re still deciding on the title, but the working title has been “10 Space Missions Changing Our View of the Solar System and Beyond.” That is definitely too long and unwieldy, but it is a good description of what the book will entail. It will be geared toward young adult to adult audiences.

The publisher is Page Street Publishing. They are a subsidiary of Macmillan, and so far have published things like specialty cookbooks and various “how to” books. My book is their first foray into a topic like space exploration, so I hope I can do them proud.

What I’m extremely excited about is that Page Street uses full color images throughout their books. And what better images to share than the amazing photos our spacecraft send back to us from distant worlds and galaxies?! Just take a look at some of the books Page Street has done so far, and you’ll see why I’m so excited. Their books are beautiful, large format, and packed with gorgeous images.

2016-01-11 15.32.17

But particularly, I’m thrilled to be able to tell the stories of the spacecraft and the people behind the missions, and the journeys both have taken to make the discoveries and breakthroughs that are showing us the amazing, breathtaking Universe in which we live.

So, you might not see me much on my usual home at Universe Today over the next couple of months or even on social media, but I’ll definitely be busy. I’m humbled and sometimes a little overwhelmed that Page Street has asked me to write this book, but being at JPL has certainly been inspiring, especially their motto of “Dare Mighty Things.”

Wish me luck!

dare mighty things

I’m Going to Mars, How About You?

September 8th, 2015 by Nancy Comments Off on I’m Going to Mars, How About You?

Today’s the last day to sign up to send your name to Mars on the InSight lander, currently scheduled to launch on in March 2016, and here’s the link to where you can sign up to send your name along with the next mission to the Red Planet!

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, and the mission will send a lander on Mars to study the planet’s insides.

The mission will help us understand the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.

InSight will measure the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

Find out more about the mission here.

10 Years of Keeping Track of the Universe (Today!)

November 17th, 2014 by Nancy Comments Off on 10 Years of Keeping Track of the Universe (Today!)

Wayback machine
Today is an important milestone for me, personally and professionally. 10 years ago today I wrote my first article for Universe Today. The rest, as they say, is history.

How this English Major became a science writer is a bit of a long story, one to maybe tell another day. But let’s just say that 15 years ago, if you would have told me I’d be a writer and then Senior Editor for a well-known space and astronomy news organization, I would have said you were crazy. The path of life can be surprising and unexpected – but yet totally fulfilling — with people sometimes unknowingly influencing your steps.
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I Knew Chris Hadfield Before He was an Internet Sensation

May 13th, 2013 by Nancy Comments Off on I Knew Chris Hadfield Before He was an Internet Sensation

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield returns home today from his 5-month stay on the International Space Station. But I knew him BEFORE he became such an internet sensation, with all his tweeting and videos and complete awesomeness during his Expedition 34/35. Although I had interviewed him several times before this picture was taken on February 24, 2011, this is the day I actually got to meet him in person. I was attending the launch of STS-133 at Kennedy Space Center, and had just come back inside the KSC press center when, there he was.

It was such a thrill to meet him, but all I can say about this picture is that it was a bad hair day for me, but a good mustache day for Chris.

Fun fact: the person who took the picture was astronaut Kent Rominger, and he was nice enough to actually take 2 pictures when he noticed my eyes were closed on the first shot. (sorry, I’m not posting that one; it’s too embarrassing.)

But here’s a great shot of the launch by my friend and photographer Alan Walters:

The Complete History of Earth in 90 Seconds

November 14th, 2012 by Nancy Comments Off on The Complete History of Earth in 90 Seconds

This great video from the Symphony of Science project provides the entire history of us.

Happy Equinox!

September 22nd, 2012 by Nancy Comments Off on Happy Equinox!
Happy Equinox!

Thanks to one of our readers from Universe Today, Rick Ellis, for sharing his e-Postcard for the holiday! In the northern hemisphere, may your longer nights always be star-filled. In the southern hemisphere, as Neil de Grasse Tyson said on Twitter, Happy Spring Equinox to the 15% of all humans and 100% of free penguins who live down under.

Dancing Around the World

July 10th, 2012 by Nancy Comments Off on Dancing Around the World

I hope when future generations look back at this time in history, or if an alien civilization ever found evidence of life on Earth, this is what they’d see. All anyone ever really wants is to be happy, and sometimes dancing is the only way to express it.

This was featured on today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. You can find more information about this crazy dancing guy at WhereTheHellIsMatt.com

The Day the Music Died

February 3rd, 2012 by Nancy 1
A huge pair of Buddy Holly-style glasses along a small road is the only indication that you've reached the entrance to the crash site where musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died on February 3, 1959. Image: Nancy Atkinson

I often drive through Iowa, and have taken the opportunity to see a couple of unusual sights in the state. I previously wrote about seeing the Field of Dreams movie site, and I had also heard there was a small memorial near Clear Lake, Iowa at the site of where young rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. So last fall, I followed some rather cryptic directions I found on the internet and was able to find it, hidden in a corn field. It literally is out in the middle of nowhere. The only way I could tell I had found the right place was that there was a set of huge steel Wayfarer-style glasses along the road, the kind Buddy Holly was known for wearing. But to see the crash site, you have to walk along a fence through a corn field.

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Astronomy Photographer of the Year and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (I was there!)

October 6th, 2010 by Nancy 1

As I wrote in a recent article on Universe Today: “The Royal Observatory Greenwich in the UK was the perfect setting to announce the winners of this year’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, and I was privileged to be in attendance at the ceremony…”

Yes, I was really in London and was invited to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards ceremony in September! The video above is from Will Gater and the BBC Sky and Night Magazine, and as evidence that I was really there, at :59 seconds into the video, you’ll see me hob-nobbing with astronomers and folks from the observatory and museum complex.
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Astronomy Picture of the Day

September 22nd, 2010 by Nancy Comments Off on Astronomy Picture of the Day
My shot of the silhouette shadow of the shuttle stack up in the clouds, which made the Sept. 22, 2010 APOD.

I’m getting some new visitors to my blog today, thanks to the folks at Astronomy Picture of the Day (otherwise known as APOD) who featured a picture that I took back in March of space shuttle Discovery rolling out the launchpad at midnight, and the Xenon lights shining on the shuttle stack created a unique silhouette shadow up in the wispy clouds. I actually think some of the other pictures of the event turned out better, but this one is the easiest to see the effect. If you want to see more of these images and the story of how it happened, see my post, “Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt, the Shuttle is Gorgeous.”

Thanks for visiting! To see where I do my real work, head on over to Universe Today, 365 Days of Astronomy, and the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcasts.

And if you don’t already, you need to visit APOD every day! Thanks again to Robert Nemeroff and Jerry Bonnell for featuring my image on APOD and giving me one of the biggest thrills of my career!

The Place Where Dreams Come True

September 21st, 2010 by Nancy Comments Off on The Place Where Dreams Come True
Box seats down the third base line at the Field of Dreams.

This is Iowa.

We drive through the Hawkeye State quite often and had always talked about stopping at the Field of Dreams movie site near Dyersville. We finally went there, and eerily, it looks exactly like it does in the movie. But really, it’s pretty cool: the big white farmhouse, the meticulous baseball field edged by a field of corn, and although there were probably 25-50 visitors wandering around on a nondescript Sunday afternoon, there was an air of quiet and – almost – reverence. It really felt like Shoeless Joe or Moonlight Graham could show up at any moment.

But the only voices we heard were the chatter between parents and children having a game of catch.

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Saying “So Long” to the Space Coast

March 31st, 2010 by Nancy 2
One last look at Discovery on launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“I lived and worked on the Moon. I called the Moon home for three days of my life.” — Apollo 17 Astronaut Gene Cernan

Those words from Gene Cernan have been floating around in my mind the past few days. Although my experiences the past two months were nothing like Cernan’s, I think I can kind of understand how he felt. I have now lived and worked on the Space Coast and at Kennedy Space Center. I called Florida my home for two months of my life. But now I’m heading home.

As you’re reading this you’re probably shouting, “What! Why is she leaving? There is a shuttle launch in 5 days!” Yeah, yeah, I know. But my family would like me back home, and I had to make the decision over two weeks ago to make arrangements to try and stay or come home, and at that time Discovery’s launch was looking iffy at best because of the stuck helium valve. So, I’ll watch the launch from home, but my heart will be at KSC.

But I had some amazing experiences in Florida. I saw three launches (space shuttle Endeavour, Atlas with SDO and Delta with GOES-P), and had the opportunity to do and experience more than I ever could have imagined. I was in space geek heaven.

I won’t say “goodbye” because I hope to be back, so I’ll just say “so long.”

Panoramic view of KSC launchpads. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Up Close with Discovery

March 28th, 2010 by Nancy 1
Up close with space shuttle Discovery. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases, it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams ….
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth…”

—John Keats

I love that poem by John Keats, but if he had been able to see a space shuttle launch, he might have changed those last couple of lines to something like, “Every day, we labor so that humanity can soar out into the Cosmos.”

And that is what the technicians and specialists who work with the space shuttles at Kennedy Space Center do. Every day.

Last week, I had the chance to go ON launchpad 39A and see space shuttle Discovery up close, so close that I didn’t have to use full zoom on my camera to get the shot, above, of the orbiter’s cockpit area. Other journalists told me the press hadn’t been allowed that close to a shuttle on the pad for years, and so I feel particularly lucky to have had that opportunity. We weren’t told just how close the KSC PAO folks were going to take us, so as we drove closer and closer, we didn’t say a word — we just looked at each other with wide eyes and kept our mouths shut, hoping beyond hope that we’d get as far up on the pad as we did. Here are some more shots from that day:
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Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt, the Space Shuttle is Gorgeous

March 24th, 2010 by Nancy 2

The shuttle stack silhouetted in shadow against the clouds during a midnight rollout on March 2, 2010. Image: Nancy Atkinson

On March 2, 2010 I had the privilege to watch space shuttle Discovery’s first motion of rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to launchpad 39A, which began precisely at midnight. I was told first motion hasn’t been open to the press for many years, since the return to flight mission in 1988 and so I felt very lucky indeed to witness the event.

Especially stunning was a unique silhouette shadow of the shuttle stack that formed against the clouds as the Xenon spotlights bathed the shuttle in their glare. Art Edwards, who works at the KSC PAO, told me he has witnessed over 60 shuttle rollouts and he has never seen anything like that before. And my dinky little camera (Fuji Finepix S2000) was able to capture the effect while the guys with big cameras couldn’t. Feeling just a little smug! See more pics below.
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Catching Up

March 20th, 2010 by Nancy 2

I’ve received a few emails from people wondering why I haven’t written anything on my personal blog lately. And honestly, I was surprised to look and see the last post was a month ago. I usually use Saturday mornings for catching up with things I’ve been meaning to do — like post something on this blog — but this is the first Saturday in 4 weeks that I haven’t either been attending media events at Kennedy Space Center, hosting visitors here in Florida, or traveling hither and yon. More about the hither and yon part later. But since the initial goal of having this blog was to share my experiences of being on the Space Coast of Florida for two months, I had better bring things up to date, as my time here is quickly counting down. So what have I been doing the past month?
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Talking to Astronauts

February 19th, 2010 by Nancy Comments Off on Talking to Astronauts

Another highlight of my adventures at Kennedy Space Center was participating in the joint ISS/shuttle crew news conference on February 18. I have to admit, I’ve interviewed lots of astronauts, scientists, engineers, etc. before, but my heart was absolutely pounding out of my chest when I stepped to the mic to ask my questions! Maybe its because I’ve never done an interview live for all the world to see before. But it was thrilling to talk directly to the astronauts, and even give them a couple of laughs. You can watch the video of the crew news conference above. Below is a picture of the set-up at KSC for the media to talk to the crews.
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SDO Soars and Roars to Space!

February 12th, 2010 by Nancy 1
Animation of SDO launch. Images: Nancy Atkinson

Two rocket launches in one week! It doesn’t get any better than this! The launch of the Atlas V rocket with the Solar Dynamics Observatory on Feb. 11 was incredible! (Have I used that word before here?!) Above is an animation of the images I took of the launch, and below is a video taken by another journalist that was near where I was at the Kennedy Space Center press site. The Atlas launch was not as loud and engulfing as the shuttle launch, but still it is breathtaking. Where the shuttle guns it off the pad, Atlas rises slowly and gradually picks up velocity.
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Sunrise and SDO Rollout at Kennedy Space Center

February 9th, 2010 by Nancy Comments Off on Sunrise and SDO Rollout at Kennedy Space Center
Sunrise at Kennedy Space Center. Image: Nancy Atkinson

It was a beautiful (and early!) morning at Kennedy Space Center. I arrived at the press site at about 6:30 a.m. to watch the rollout of the Atlas V rocket which will bring the Solar Dynamics Observatory to orbit. Launch is, hopefully, tomorrow (Wed. Feb. 10) but the weather — and specifically winds — are going to be a factor. But this morning, it was gorgeous. Note the launchpad and countdown clock. See more, plus some rollout images below.
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Endeavour Lights Up the Night Sky

February 8th, 2010 by Nancy 2

The launch of space shuttle Endeavour early this morning was just absolutely amazing. I tried to express what the experience was like on my post on Universe Today, but quickly ran out of superlatives. People can tell you that a shuttle launch is going to be loud and that a night launch will be amazingly bright, but nothing can prepare you for what the experience is really like.
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Launch Night #2!

February 8th, 2010 by Nancy 1

It’s round 2 for the launch of space shuttle Endeavour for the STS-130 mission since last night’s launch was scrubbed. It’s now 2 a.m. at the press site at Kennedy Space Center, and things are not hopping quite as much as round 1 — several journalists only allowed one day for the launch and there seems to be less VIPS wandering around. We saw the crew walk out of crew quarters — again — and with the smaller group of journalists and photographers, they were able to offer some banter back and forth with us. Commander George Zamka said he thought today would be the day. Again, the concerns for launch focus on the weather. Right now, the clouds are too low to allow launch, but the weather officers are optimistic that the clouds will break up.

But its been another fun day, as I met up with some fellow Space Tweeps and Camilla the rubber chicken showed up in her spacesuit.
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