That time again: Don Pettit returning to Space.
Image by NASA courtesy NASA
Archive image: HumanTechEdge CEO Tom Sjogren and Don Pettit.
courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
A keen Astrophotographer, Don shot this image of Everest from space. The image was not transmitted over Contact but NASA's dedicated link from the space station. Don however used Contact when hunting for meteorites on Antarctica last year. Image of Everest from space, courtesy of Don Pettit/NASA. (Click to enlarge).
The date was May 3, 2003 - just about one year after we - two founders of ExplorersWeb - had struggled our way to the North Pole without outside assistance. Image ExplorersWeb (click to enlarge).
File image of Don Pettit (friend to ExWeb founders TT Sjogren) shooting pics of Everest from Space.
Don and Tina, no we're not weightless - it's just Tom at the camera.
Tom checking out the inside of the space station...
...Don working in the real thing - the ISS is almost entirely controlled by computer software.
Don and Tom training a more lightweight version of tech (Contact 4.0).
Interplanetary travel next? Tom trying out the Shuttle cockpit in Huston, Texas.
Painting in 0g: Green, blue and yellow food coloring were added making the film look like an abstract canvas: "I wonder what someone like Matisse could do with this ephemeral medium?" pondered Don. Image courtesy of Expedition 6, NASA.
Symphony of Spheres experiment: Creating a miniature solar system in a soap bubble while taking a weightless shower; Don dispatched: "Of all the things on orbit I have seen to date, this is by far the most amazing," Image courtesy of Expedition 6, NASA.
"If Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, had a sister she would be the goddess of Aurora. Aurora is nothing short of occipital ecstasy," Don wrote at one time when the Space Station flew right through an Aurora burst. Image courtesy of Expedition 6, NASA.
In zero g, everything is held in place by Velcro. For this reason, Don invented the above chess plan. Image ExplorersWeb.
There is no real science made at the space station yet, the current crews are there mostly to maintain the structure. But Don does science anyway, his way, using what he has at hand, and observing Earth below. Image courtesy of NASA.
After a long day at the Houston Space center, Don took us home. Image ExplorersWeb.
The battered Expedition 6. Image courtesy of NASA.
ExWeb Special: Don Pettit, "If the dinosaurs had explored Space, they would be alive today"

Posted: Nov 03, 2006 01:18 pm EST
( When Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry February 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard, UA Alum Don Pettit was one of the three crewmembers aboard the International Space Station. Further shuttle flights were cancelled, and Don - scheduled to return to Earth the following month - realized his ride home had been scrubbed.

After logging over 161 days in space, including over 13 EVA (spacewalk) hours, the Expedition-6 crew finally returned to Earth on a Soyuz TMA-1; nearly crashing on the Kazakhstan tundra. Puzzled, ground control watched empty skies while miles away from targeted landing site - three men donned in survival gear sat in a tent by a capsule scorched black from a slightly uncontrolled descent. 5 hours later, they were located - and at last, Don could go home. <cutoff>

<b>Explorers crossing paths</b>

The date was May 3, 2003 - just about one year after we (two ExWeb founders) had crawled over towering ice to the North Pole.

Don did live blogs from the space station, while we did the first live expedition dispatches from the ice - using <i>Contact</i>; a light-weight tech setup we had been forced to create for the purpose. Little did we know then that our paths would cross but last Friday, we met with Don Pettit in Houston - to deliver a Contact 4.0 kit to NASA - for Don's meteor hunting expedition at Antarctica next month.

<b>A special case</b>

These days, Contact is used not only by explorers around the world but also by the military, journalists, relief workers - or just about anyone who needs to communicate easy (or as easy as it gets) from tough places offering little shelter. Crew HumanEdgeTech never does field support visits; this however, was <i>a special case.</i>

"Look forward to meet with fellow explorers," Don said on the phone. Dude, you're an astronaut - <i>we</i> are the explorers, we thought to ourselves but soon enough, we'd find out what Don was talking about.

For hours, Don showed us around his work place at the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Being an Astronaut is not a desk job: We squeezed into a shuttle cockpit, tried out an ISS sleeping closet, pondered the next generation space "vehicle" and petted jet planes. We met Sally Ride in the cafeteria and at the end of the day, we visited Don's home - complete with a workshop where seemingly anything could happen. Don showed us his pics from space, his experiments, his inventions (including a hatching shelter for deviated Monarch butterflies) and - his space blog.

<b>Everest climbers: Ask not when - but <i>where</i> does the bad weather end?</b>

Astronauts are often like any adventurers; they go to altitute, bag a summit, and go home. Turned out, Don goes to strange places in search for unusual things, even if it means plummeting to earth in a torched rocket-head; and he has an urge to understand, connect and share what he discovers: That makes him an explorer - only this one is a bit smarter than most we know.

In his dispatches from the Space Station, Don described the Universe - and the Earth - like few. The entries resembled Carl Sagan's; the very man for whom Contact tech was named.

Don's observations spanned everything: Storm-weary Everest mountaineers might find it interesting to know that from Space, Don not only shot pics of the Himalayas but also dispatched that weather as we know it ends where the stratosphere begins at about 10 km (35,000 feet) - or not too far above Everest summit. Don even watched the thunderheads poking their noses up into the outer reaches of this zone.

If you are a summiteer you might have noticed how the sky changes a darker shade the closer you get to the top: Don confirms that at the edge of the stratosphere the outer most blue layer quickly fades from a narrow fuzzy zone into blackness.

<b>Polar skiers: Look up for Mystery clouds</b>

Antarctica season is kicking off and polar skiers should look out for Noctilucent Clouds - located on the fringes of space and shrouded in mystery. Hard to spot, sunset and sunrise in polar-regions are their few viewing places on Earth.

Believed to be tiny water-ice crystals they form layers a few kilometers thick at altitudes of 80 to 82 kilometers (in the mesosphere). From where this water comes from to form these crystals is a mystery. There is no known transport mechanism that forces water from the lower meteorological layers of our atmosphere into these altitudes.

<b>The smell of Space</b>

Others might want to know the Smell of Space. Yes there is such a thing and it will sit in your clothes and other gear long after a space walk. "The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation," says Don. "It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space."

Americans might be interested to know, that our continent is easy to spot from above - even in cloudy conditions: "If you see a crisscross of jet contrails, glistening in the sun above the clouds like the shiny paths left behind in the wake of garden snails, you know the most probable place is America."

<b>Blowing soap bubbles in zero g</b>

Don is a brilliant genius and a mad scientist all at once. A true renaissance man, he can't even take a shower in space without it turning into a major project of discovery.

In his space dispatches, he describes how he tries to grow plants constructing a planter of Russian toilet paper and old underwear (the ISS crew get to change every 3-4 days so the used underwear provided "nutrients").

Don makes watery thin films in 0g using the book <i>Soap Bubbles</i>, first published in 1911, "still a wonderful treatise on thin films...I figured that one should not be on space station without a copy," he states.

Don commented his water-bubble space experiment: "To my amazement, when the loop was withdrawn, a thin water film clung tenaciously to the loop. I have never before witnessed such a large-scale thin film of water." 0g water bubbles are sturdy, too; "blowing on the film created ripples that quickly dampened when the perturbations ceased. These films proved to last over 12 hours if left undisturbed."

<b>The true color of the Universe</b>

An artist at heart, Don used a drop of red food coloring, ("left over from frosting our Christmas cake") to color the water film and discovered that when blowing on the red spot, the food coloring could be moved around within the confines of the film much like finger-paint can be spread by the fingers of a child.

Green, blue and yellow food coloring were added making the film look like an abstract canvas. "I wonder what someone like Matisse could do with this ephemeral medium?" Don wrote. "Eventually, all the colors blended together yielding a rather dull looking green, perhaps the true color of the universe?" Don pondered at his orbital altitude of 388 km.

<b>Jungles are the darkest land features</b>

"If Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, had a sister she would be the goddess of Aurora. Aurora is nothing short of occipital ecstasy," Don writes at one time when the Space Station flies right through an Aurora burst washing the windows electric red.

There is no real science made at the space station yet; the current crews are there mostly to maintain the structure. But Don does science anyway, his way, using what he has at hand, and observing Earth below.

"Nature often gives us clues on how to do things if we are only willing to listen," he says.

We all know that we shouldn't be cutting down our rain forests - Don has seen the proof with his own eyes: "Jungles are about the darkest land features you can observe in full sunlight. The multi-layers of abundant jungle life seem to suck up every photon that falls into the area."

"This is exactly how things should be if you want to efficiently use light for photosynthesis. Any ray of light that escapes the jungles is lost energy for growth, hence, life. When you pass over farmland, rich with vibrant crops, you see something different. Farmland is bright, much brighter than the jungles. About four times more light leaves our farmlands than jungles."

<b>About Exploration: "The more you know, the more you see"</b>

Don ponders everything - art, science...and exploration: "Nature's imagination is far more creative than man's and we will only discover what nature has in store by seeking it ourselves. Sometimes these opportunities are tangible, like the weightlessness of orbit, sometimes they are intangible, like creative ideas spawned from observing our planet from a new perspective."

"Both plant seeds for future revolutions. Scientific efforts legitimize the exploration; without that, you are simply wandering around. However, there seems to be something else deep-rooted in exploration, something more than just places to live and resources to use. Exploration is instinctively about survival of the human species. If the dinosaurs had explored space, if they had colonized other planets, they would still be alive today."

Don stresses that it's important to explore with an open, well-educated mind, "The more you know, the more you see."

<b>Exploration, take 2: "Leaving with more questions than answers"</b>

But most old explorers were not scientists and Don too has had his bouts with unstructured discovery.

In his Symphony of Spheres experiment, he writes "Once again, I set out to explore one thing and discovered another. And what was discovered was more interesting than the prosaic task I had planned."

Creating a miniature solar system in a soap bubble while taking a weightless shower; "of all the things on orbit I have seen to date, this is by far the most amazing," Don summarizes: "Left in the wake of these observations were more questions than answers and a mind full of wonder. I have found that this is not unusual for someone engaged in exploration."

<b>Exploration, take 3: "Entering the realm of the unknown does not require a practical application"</b>

And finally, there is the question if exploration must serve a purpose, other than exploration, after all? Watching his bubble universe, Don writes. "Will anything practical come from this? For my symphony of spheres, perhaps not. Will this discovery tickle our imaginations and enrich our minds? Most definitely, yes. Will it incite new ideas for future discoveries? Maybe. My personal reward for undertaking new explorations is simple and does not require a practical application."

"When you enter the realm of the unknown, you see things in a truly naive state where prior knowledge is of little help; you can once again see the world through the wondrous eyes of a child."

<b>Back on Earth - at Don's workshop in a Houston suburb</b>

Back on Earth, at his workshop in a Houston suburb, Don showed us his plans for the upcoming polar trip. NASA grease rated down to 50 below (great for Arctic shotguns) lay beside weird funnels of Don's own making. At Antarctica, Don will hunt meteorites, but also try out a bunch of new tech he has been working on - such as utilizing wind power through devices fastened on a backpack.

He'll use all his brilliance, NASA resources and the harsh environment - to contrast exploring space with exploring on Earth, and try to come up with things that could make life easier for the rest of us. And as usual - Don will do dispatches - to let us know how it goes.

<i> Don says that nature has such a vivid imagination, more so than human beings will ever possess, and the only way to discover what nature has to offer is to seek it ourselves in the wilderness of the unknown.

But what is it like to...come home...from Space? Here goes Don's final dispatch from the Space Station:

"The feeling of being home is directly proportional to how far you have traveled. When you go out to dinner, you feel home when you pull into the driveway. When you go for a drive to a state park some distance out of town, you feel home when you enter the outskirts of your city. When you drive across the United States, perhaps on one of those memorable family vacations, you get this warm feeling of being home when you cross over your state line. When you go on international travels, particularly when returning from places with radically different cultures, you feel home the first place your airplane lands on U.S. soil. You may still be 2,000 miles from home, but you have this wonderful sensation in your heart that speaks out to you."

"After having been on Space Station for nearly six months, we will be returning on the Soyuz spacecraft and be landing on the desert plains of Kazakhstan. When our capsule goes thump on those desert flats, we will be literally on the opposite side of the world, nearly 12,000 miles from home. Yet once normal breathing resumes, we will have this warm sensation inside that we are home. I can picture sometime in the future, a crew will be returning from Mars and after inserting themselves into low Earth orbit, perhaps from an aero-braking maneuver, they will look down from their orbital vantage point at this blue jewel circling below and say, 'We are home'."</i>

#Tech #Space #feature