This has been quite a week for weird Russian space news.  The highlights of three stories are below.  Although I doubt these proposals will be realized, it's interesting to consider what would happen if they did.

Moving Apophis?

Apophis is a near Earth asteroid that caused a stir a few years ago as initial predictions indicated small but difficult-to-ignore probabilities that it would strike the Earth or Moon on April 13, 2029 or April 13, 2036.  Continued studies by NASA's Near Earth Object Program have ruled out any significant chance of an impact.  Thus, today's announcement by Anatoly Permino, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS), came as a surprise.  In an interview today on the Voice of Russia radio, he said the agency is considering sending a spacecraft to Apophis to move it in order to save the world.  He didn't give many details on the plan other than there would be “no nuclear explosions” and that everything would be done “on the basis of the laws of physics.”  This may imply it'll use the gravity tractor approach.
Five years ago a tremendous tragedy fell upon people in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. I'm referring of course to the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami that claimed over 230,000 lives. Today I will reflect upon the event and how far we've advanced since then with an emphasis on how space technologies can aid in tsunami warning.  Currently, tsunami warning systems do not rely heavily upon space technologies other than for communications, but there are several promising new techniques that could dramatically improve our tsunami detection capabilities in the future.

The massive 2004 earthquake occurred at the Sunda Trench, which is a subduction zone about 300 kilometers west of the Sumatra, Indonesia where the Indo-Australian Plate slides beneath the Burma Plate in the eastern Indian Ocean.  The shaking from the huge earthquake lasted nearly 10 minutes (the longest ever observed), and the fault ruptured along an area spanning almost 1600 kilometers (also the longest ever observed).  As the image to the right illustrates, seismic waves were detectable crossing the planet twice over.  It was either the second or third largest earthquake ever recorded, depending on how you compute its size. At magnitude 9.5, the great 1960 Chile earthquake reigns supreme, but the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman event was either slightly larger (9.3) or slightly smaller (9.1) than the runner up magnitude 9.2 1964 Alaska earthquake. Both the 1960 and 1964 earthquakes produced deadly ocean-crossing tsunamis that led to the formation of the international Pacific Tsunami Warning System, with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (where I work) as its main operations center.

I finally managed to watch the inaugural episode of This Week in Space with Miles O'Brien and would like to share it with you as well. Produced by, the weekly microcast promises to "keep space lovers up to speed on the stories and issues making news off the planet" and "fill the mainstream media space gap." Without further ado, enjoy the show:

It was good to see Miles O'Brien reporting on spaceflight again a year after he left CNN. I was very impressed by the guest lineup on the new show with such big names as Mike Griffin, Leroy Chiao, and Nicole Stott. The main focus of discussion this time was NASA's future following the Augustine Commission recommendations since rumors suggest that Obama may have a big announcement in the works. The episode also features segments on SpaceX, MRO, Spirit rover, SpaceShipTwo, WISE, Hubble's WFC3, and ISS science.

You can follow This Week in Space on Twitter or watch it on Vimeo, YouTube, or iTunes.

Also in space news this week, the Astronaut Half of Fame announced its 2010 class of inductees, and a stunning video on "The Known Universe" made the rounds on space blogs.

I've had a busy AGU Meeting. The week has passed as a blur of meandering through the maze of posters, dropping into and out of oral presentation sessions, and plenty of bumping into people whom I've known over the years. In this post I'll highlight some of the things I found interesting.

Day 1   |  Day 2   |  Day 3   |  Day 4  |  Day 5

Day 1: Monday, December 14

As I reported last time, I presented a poster about FMARS on Monday. I'm happy to report that it went very well, and I struck up some good conversations with people about the analog Mars research project.  The question I got asked the most was how we tracked traffic on our website or followers in social media.  My answer was that we didn't but will next time.  My poster was next to one from the Exploratorium on their Ice Stories project, which I have been following with great interest for the past year.

I spent the afternoon cruising posters and talks.  One very popular poster was titled "OMG, Earthquake!" and was about the USGS Twitter Earthquake Detector. It even had a press conference that resulted in some media attention. I finished the day listening to some interesting talks about Hubble Space Telescope observations of the July 2009 impact into Jupiter.

I am privileged to be spending the week in one of my favorite places: San Francisco. The city is famous among geeks for being more than the future home of Starfleet Academy; it also hosts the annual American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting (AGU). This is my fifth time attending the meeting in the past nine years, and each time I come back it feels like returning to a familiar home.

The conference is the world's largest gathering of earth and space scientists. According to the AGU Fall Meeting Blog, more than 16,000 attendees will descend upon the Moscone Center to give 15,516 presentations in 1,293 sessions this year. Topics range widely from aeronomy, atmospheric sciences, biosciences, climate science, cryosphere science, education, environmental change, geochemistry, geodesy, geology, geomagnetism, geophysics, heliophysics, hydrology, informatics, minerology, natural hazards, ocean sciences, planetary sciences, public affairs, rock physics, seismology, tectonophysics, public affairs, and volcanology.  Most of the presentations are in poster form rather than oral talks. With that firehose of information overload, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Luckily, the website has a handy meeting planner, or you can view the whole program PDF form.
Things are shaping up for my second mission to analog Mars. This time I'll be headed to the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah for a 2-week expedition from 23 January to 6 February 2010. I will serve as Commander with a crew of five other highly capable and talented scientists and engineers.  We will be the 89th crew to inhabit the MDRS since it's founding in 2002.
  • Brian Shiro, Commander / Geophysicist
  • Carla Haroz, Executive Officer / Engineer
  • Mike Moran, Crew Astronomer
  • Darrel Robertson, Chief Engineer
  • Luís Saraiva, Crew Biologist / Health and Safety Officer
  • Kiri Wagstaff, Crew Geologist / Information Officer / Journalist
Kiri has set up a crew website where we'll maintain a blog. Of course, we're also on the major social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.  As with all MDRS crews, our daily reports and select photos will be posted to The Mars Society's website. Luís designed our crew patch, which I think looks very nice.  It incorporates most of our research themes.  We may still tweak it a little more before finalizing the design.

As I gear up for my MDRS mission, one of my priorities is ensuring that I'm physically fit to handle the rigors of living on analog Mars.  The XTERRA Trail Running World Championship Half Marathon was the ideal challenge for me.  I competed in the 2nd annual race this past weekend at Kualoa Ranch on Oʻahu's windward coast. Billed the "most scenic half marathon trail race on the planet," the course snakes through dense rainforest and broad valleys on secluded singletrack trails and dirt roads along dramatic knife-edged mountain ridges. According to the XTERRA news release, more than 1,000 runners from 35 states and 9 countries participated in the day’s 21k, 10k, and 5k races, which raised money to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Hawaii.

I've run hilly races, half marathons, and trail races in the past, but I've never done all three at once. The XTERRA course advertised 2,900 feet of elevation change (although my Garmin Forerunner GPS said 1,900 feet) weaving up and down the verdant cliffs of the Kaʻaʻawa and Hakipuʻu Valleys. We crossed several streams and had to negotiate some slippery muddy slopes.  It was a hot, sunny day at Kualoa Ranch, whose beautiful landscapes have attracted a number of movies like Jurassic Park and TV shows like LOST. The race course supposedly passed eight different movie locations, but I didn't notice (I guess I was too focused on the trail.). This is the same place where a film crew documented my ATV training prior to the 2009 FMARS mission.

Today Virgin Galactic unveiled SpaceShipTwo to a crowd of 800 guests at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California.  Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites named the ship "VSS Enterprise" in honor of the famous starship from Star Trek.  The world's first commercial spaceliner will undergo extensive safety testing before it offers its first flights perhaps as early as 2011.

These look like great educational resources from the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences for introducing students to recent discoveries in the planetary science. Check them out here.

The DPS Education Subcommittee announces the 2nd release of "Discoveries in Planetary Science" Classroom Powerpoints, covering six
new topics:
- Discovery of a Rocky Exoplanet
- Lunar Water
- Jupiter Impact Event
- Oceans on Enceladus
- The TC3 Meteorite
- 2012 Doomsday Rumors

These are succinct summaries of discoveries too recent to appear in "Intro Astronomy" college textbooks; each set consists of just three slides to be shown: the discovery itself, a basic explanation based on good planetary science, and the "big picture" context. Another page for further information is provided as well. Powerpoints and PDFs can be downloaded from

Feedback from the community on how these slide sets are used and received is welcomed, and will be used to improve future releases. Planetary scientists with recent or upcoming results of broad interest are encouraged to submit them for consideration by providing an initial draft using the template provided on the website.

For more information, contact

Nick Schneider and Dave Brain

To paraphrase the great Forrest Gump, "UND and ISU go together like peas and carrots." Now this is more true than ever. One of the most popular posts on this blog was my detailed comparison of the Space Studies educational programs at ISU and UND. I even went on The Space Show to talk about it. I'm happy to report that UND can now accept ISU transfer credit. Like I suggested, UND will accept transfer credit from the ISU Summer Session for it's 501 and 502 courses. You can read the full announcement below:

Transfer of International Space University’s (ISU) Summer Session Program Credits towards Space Studies Masters Program at University of North Dakota

4 December 2009

It gives me great pleasure to announce that, starting spring 2010 admissions, the University of North Dakota will accept transfer of ISU’s Summer Session Program credits as equivalent to six credits towards our Master’s Program in Space Studies. In order to be eligible for transfer, the ISU Summer Session Program credits must have been earned within the last seven years of admission to UND, with a score of “good” or higher. The students admitted to the Space Studies Master’s Program at UND must meet our standard admission criteria (see and must be admitted either on qualified or approved status in order to be eligible for the transfer of credits. The transfer credits will apply towards UND’s core courses SpSt 501 and SpSt 502, and will be effective after the student has completed nine credits of graduate level UND Space Studies coursework, at least six of these must be at 500 level.

The International Space University in France offers a curriculum similar to UND’s Space Studies Masters, with a broad based introduction to space sciences, engineering and applications, planetary sciences, Earth system science and global change, space history, business, commerce, policy and law. The 10 week long ISU’s Summer Session Programs are intensive, interdisciplinary, taught by leading experts, and are of very high quality. By recognizing the value of ISU’s Summer Session Program in meeting the core requirements of our M.S. program, we not only hope to meet the long standing request of many of our potential students, but also foster an atmosphere for future collaborations between the institutions.

Santhosh Seelan
Professor and Graduate Director
I'd just like to take a minute and recognize some other bloggers who cover similar topics as Astronaut for Hire. We share our personal experiences as we try to become astronauts or advance human space exploration in our own ways. Damaris Sarria deserves credit for starting one of the first blogs of this sort back in 2005. There are doubtless many other bloggers who strive to be astronauts (like most Space Tweeps), so if I missed anyone on this list please let me know.

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