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 0

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 0

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 0

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 0

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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Launch Night!

February 7th, 2010 by Nancy 2

The STS-130 crew before heading out to the launchpad. Image: Nancy Atkinson

UPDATE: You’ve likely heard, but the launch was scrubbed just 9 minutes before scheduled liftoff due to low clouds. But enjoy the pictures of my all-nighter in the KSC press area. But here’s what I posted from the KSC press room at about 2:00 a.m.:

We’re at T- 2 hours and counting. The press corp just returned from the crew walkout, which was very fun to see in person. Lots of cheering for the crew of STS-130. It’s a cold and windy night here at KSC — I’m seeing Twitter messages that people here to watch the launch are cold out there, but are having too much fun to care. Same here. I wouldn’t care if it was snowing; although there wouldn’t be a launch tonight if it was.
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At a Quiet Kennedy Space Center

February 3rd, 2010 by Nancy 2


Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launchpad enshrouded by the Rotating Service Structure. Image: Nancy Atkinson

It was a little eerie and not quite what I was expecting. Nobody was there.

I went to the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday for my first visit as a member of the media. Driving there, I was in space-nerd heaven, with butterflies in my stomach. As I came onto the property the thing that struck me most is that everything there is big. First, when you turn onto the NASA Causeway, you drive by the Astronaut Hall of Fame with an actual-size shuttle replica out front. It’s big. Then you drive, … and drive, passing through the open expanse of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Finally you pass by the KSC visitor’s center which is huge; outside is another big shuttle replica, and actual-huge-sized shuttle fuel tank and SRB replicas, along with other rockets (big and small) standing guard.
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Flying Over the Cliffs of Bahram Vallis

January 29th, 2010 by Nancy 0

A couple of days ago I posted on Universe Today some new Mars flyover videos created by Doug Ellison from UnmannedSpaceflight.com. He now has rendered a few more, and this one is my favorite: Bahram Vallis. Hang on to your hat when you approach the cliffs! Doug is able to create these amazing 3-D flyover videos from data from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Using DEM (Digital Elevation Model)– (also known as DTM Digital Terrain Model) files provided by the HiRISE team. Since he is using actual high-resolution data from HiRISE, Doug says the terrain seen in the movies has accurate vertical scaling and is not exaggerated. You can see more on Doug’s You Tube channel, or see my post on Universe Today.

Remembering Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia

January 29th, 2010 by Nancy 0

Today is NASA’s Day of Remembrance, honoring those who have lost their lives furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.  Today falls in the middle of anniversaries of three NASA tragedies:  the Apollo 1 accident during a training session on January 27, 1967; the Columbia space shuttle explosion following launch on January 28, 1986; and the breakup of the Columbia space shuttle during re-entry on February 1, 2003.   There have been many other people who have lost their lives while working for NASA, and we remember them, as well.  There was a wreath-laying ceremony at Kennedy Space Center this morning.

NASA has an interactive feature in honor of the three crews.

Go For Launch

January 27th, 2010 by Nancy 4

Space Shuttle Endeavour is ready to go. Credt: NASA

NASA announced today that everything is go for launch for space shuttle Endeavour and the STS-130 mission.  I’m go for launch, too, and can’t wait to experience a liftoff live and in person.  I hope to share my adventures and take everyone along for the ride both here and on Universe Today.

Launch is scheduled for Feb. 7 at 4:39 a.m. EST.

Carnival of Space #138

January 25th, 2010 by Nancy 11

Welcome to the 138th Carnival of Space!  And welcome to my humble little, brand new blog.  You can read my first-ever post here to find out why I started a blog, despite my other day jobs that keep me pretty busy.  And you’re probably wondering how a website that’s only three days old gets to host the biggest, best and most marvelous Carnival on the web!  Well, it helps to have an “in” with the Carnival Master.  Thanks, Fraser!

My first attempt at putting together the Carnival of Space has been a blast, and I’ve found there are two advantages to hosting the CoS:  One, it makes it really easy to remember to send in an entry.  And two, it has made me realize what a great community of writers and bloggers we have covering space exploration, astronomy and technology on the web.  Plus, I have had the great honor of working with or meeting (if only virtually) many of the wonderful folks listed below.  So, here we go, off to the Carnival!:

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Hello World!

January 22nd, 2010 by Nancy 1

Launchpad at KSC. Credit: NASA

Welcome to my new blog! Nancy here, writing my first post on my brand-spanking new website. I’ve had a personal website for a couple of years, highlighting the writing I do for Universe Today and other sites, as well as sharing info about the other projects I’m involved with, but I have never had a personal blog. But several months ago my friend, mentor and boss, Fraser Cain — the publisher of Universe Today — casually mentioned that I should add a blog to my website. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The impetus for doing this now is that I’ll soon be off on an adventure to cover several launches at Kennedy Space Center. While I’ll be able to write about this for Universe Today, there might be other things I get to see and do that might not be newsworthy enough for an article on one of the most popular space and astronomy news websites in the world!

But I still might want to write about them. So here I am now at my own blog. I can’t guarantee that I’ll post regularly to this site, as my three jobs with Universe Today, Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy keep me pretty busy. There are still a few maintenance issues I need to do on the site, so its not quite perfect yet.

Most of the information from my old site can be found on the tabs above: links to some of what I consider my “best” articles, the various book and movie reviews I’ve written (sorry that’s not complete yet now done!), info about the Solar System Ambassador program, as well as how to get in touch with me.

After browsing through the plethora of marvelous WordPress themes, I chose this one, Desk Space, which seems appropriate since every day I sit at a desk and write about space. The permanent stain at the top of the page is fitting, since I am never without a cup of tea by my computer, usually in my NASA mug.

So, here I go. I hope you enjoy whatever I have to say!