Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hazardous Journey (WW105)



This week's guest, Melissa Battler, was our CAPCOM on the Barringer Lunar Analogue Mission (BLAM). As the main link to the astronauts in the field she fulfilled a vital role and one very much appreciated by myself as the Flight Director (FD).  You can see a photo taken from that mission above in which Melissa is wearing her trademark headset (top) and below at her station, situated right next to the FD.

Some might be tempted to wonder, why have a single person dedicated to speaking with the astronauts at all? Why can't the flight director or Mission Control as a whole just speak to the astronauts? Well there are a couple of reasons. First, it makes sense for there to be a single point of contact with the astronauts, someone with whom they can build up a rapport. That way, they always know information is coming to them through a single channel - this removes the potential for conflicting instructions. Secondly, mission control can be a bit of a crazy place, even with the FD directing traffic, and it takes a special skill set to be able to filter through all the information passing back and forth. A stellar short term memory and an ability to understand what directives are simply proposed and which have been decided is definitely a requirement. I stepped in when Melissa had to leave the room and I can tell you - her job was not an easy one!

There is another more subtle reason that the CAPCOM role exists, by having a person dedicated to communicating with the Astronauts, they gain an advocate at Mission Control. It is for that reason that CAPCOMs are typically current or former astronauts themselves. They can put themselves in the shoes of the astronauts who, in turn, know that the CAPCOM understands their plight. Melissa was an excellent candidate to fulfil that role precisely because she has had so much experience simulating Mars missions in the past. That exploration is part of what makes her interview with Alyssa Gilbert so memorable.

But you can't forget about the science either, and Melissa was kind enough to share with us - and with you - her expertise with extremophiles that live in the high arctic in complex chemical environments. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. If you didn't have the chance to listen on Monday over at Astronomy.fm you can download a copy over at the Western Worlds webpage. And as always, my intro is under the cut.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Watcher of the Skies (WW104)

Tonight's WW features an interview with UWO's very own Paul Wiegert, an celestial dynamicist and asteroid hunter. Incidentally, he is the discoverer of Asteroid  172996 Stooke whose namesake we featured on last week's program ("The Map is the Tale"). Tonight's show also marks the debut of a new interviewer, Tyler August. Tyler is one of Paul's graduate students so he was really able to get into the meat of Paul's new discovery and his work. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I did!

As always, the intro is below the cut and don't forget to check out the WW page for links to past episodes and the audio of this one once it becomes available.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Map is the Tale (WW103)


Our third episode airs this Monday evening on AFM and features an interview with Phillip Stooke who sat down with producer and co-host Alyssa Gilbert. Stooke is one of several members of the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration who is distinguished by having a namesake in orbit around the sun, asteroid 172996 Stooke. Stooke, a professor in the geography department at Western is known largely for his cartography. In particular, he enjoys combining his map making with a historical perspective, hence his 2007 map of lunar exploration and an upcoming map of Mars exploration, tentatively titled "From Spirit to Curiosity" with an anticipated release date of 2015. I'm very hopeful we can make his title a reality this summer with a successful landing of MSL!

It may surprise you to learn that Phil was the first professor at Western whom I met when I first showed up in December of 2010. When my supervisor was delayed by a meeting, I decided to go over to a lunch-time gathering to discuss images from other planets. I brought a couple of photos taken by Cassini of Iapetus with me that fooled a number of the other students there. They really do look a lot like a frosted Mars. But very little gets by Phil and he correctly identified the moon with his first guess.

Later, he was the subject of a very interesting PSERF where he discussed ancient mapmaking on the Earth. Many of the so-called T-and-O maps showed landmasses that didn't actually exist. The reason for this? An ancient greek belief that the moon was a mirror that reflected the geography of the Earth. Hence my title and quote for this week in which I emphasize the storytelling role of mapmaking. If ever you need proof, just walk down the street and think about what those names on the street signs represent.

As always, Phil tells a fascinating story and his interview is no different. I'll leave you with that and my  recollection above to whet your appetite. As always, my introduction can be found beneath the cut.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Our Coy Mistress (WW102)


Tonight's guest on Western Worlds is Paul Delaney. This time around, I had the pleasure of speaking with Paul in person. He and I go back a fair ways to the summer of 2009 when I was working at Environment Canada. At the time I didn't know if I would ever work in Planetary Science or Astronomy again, and I was beginning to lose my connection to the field in which I was trained. So, I decided to see if there was some way in which I could use my PhD to engage with the public and rekindle my own passion for planetary. 

I emailed around to various departments, planetaria and observatories to see if there was some way I could be of use. As you might expect, most chose not to reply while others told me that they were doing well and needed no help. But Paul got back to me, invited me out to the observatory and the rest is history. Today I have a very fruitful collaboration with the York University Observatory that is almost three years old.

It was also Paul that gave me my introduction to the world of AFM. I started out as a guest on "Live from York U" (the precursor to "York Universe"). When that went well, I was asked to become a regular co-host on the program. But with the move to Western, it was time for me to strike out on my own. Again, I had the full support of Paul and he midwifed the pitch that Alyssa and I made to AFM that was ultimately accepted as "Western Worlds."

The title above for this particular episode is fitting for several reasons. As a dear friend of the show, we mean to evoke Paul's quiet contribution. But the title is also meant to pay homage to my WEaT speaking tour on which Paul got me started last year. That was an especially successful endeavor in which I learned that I could really enjoy sharing my enthusiasm and expertise with the public. The closing words of each show will continue this tradition.

So won't you join us tonight? I'll be there at 10 PM ET, 3 AM UTC on Astronomy.fm along with a friend who helped to make it all possible. You can find the text of my intro is behind the cut.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Western Worlds off to a great start!

This past monday, we had our big debut and I need to thank you all for listening in. Our producer over at AFM crunched the numbers today and estimates that our first episode had a listenership of nearly 20,000 people! That astounds me - I can barely believe it! So thanks for listening in. And thanks again to York Universe for their great lead-in! I, and the rest of the WW team, will do our best to continue to provide you with an engaging look into planetary science and exploration along with the people who practise it.

If you missed our first episode, you can download a podcast of WW101.

Wondering what the first one was all about? Well wonder no more! My introduction can be found beneath the cut. Don't miss us next week on Monday when we'll have Paul Delaney on the show.