Archive for November, 2006

DIY Friday: Build Your Own GPS Navigation System

Friday, November 17th, 2006

Well, I know I’m a horrible driver, but my friends tell me I’m pretty decent with directions, so on long road-trips I’m usually the "navigator." In addition to my excellent map reading skills, knowledge of the compass rose, and keen sense of direction, I’m also pretty good at announcing where we should be turning, staying straight, or getting off the highway — oh my god, you just missed that exit. How could you have missed it? — just a few seconds before the necessary maneuver.

Still, while I may be pretty good at my shotgun role, I’m probably not nearly as a good as a device dedicated solely to the task. That’s why, even if you can’t afford one of those fancier devices or always have that navigating, right-hand man at your stead, you could always assemble a GPS navigating system yourself. Although the task isn’t too difficult, we found instructions over a navigadget for turning your Dell X50 palm PC into a lean, mean navigating machine with the help of a wireless bluetooth GPS a receiver and a little know-how.

And, although this might not be the most off the wall DIY Friday, just remember to thank us when you cut the time to Grandma’s house next Thursday with a little help from RRS, we’re smaller that that navigating buddy of yours and certainly require far less pit stops.

Leonid Meteor Shower Forecast

Friday, November 17th, 2006



A prediction of when to watch for the Leonids this year, from the Planetary Society:

Viewers along the northeastern coast of the United States and Canada, as well as people in Europe and western Africa might get to see a possible "outburst" of as many as 100-600 meteors per hour. This spike in activity is predicted for 11:45 p.m. – 1:33 a.m. EST on November 18-19 (4:45 – 6:33 UT on November 19).

Live HDTV from the ISS

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

This was really cool. Thank you, NASA

Images from the world’s first high definition television (HDTV) broadcast from space flashed across the screen yesterday in Times Square. On Nov. 15, 2006, NASA made history with the first live HDTV broadcasts from space, in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Discovery HD Theater and Japanese broadcast network NHK.

The two HDTV broadcasts featured Expedition 14 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria on the International Space Station, with Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter serving as camera operator aboard the 220-mile-high laboratory.

"HDTV provides up to six times the resolution of regular analog video," said Rodney Grubbs, NASA principal investigator. "On previous missions, we’ve flown HDTV cameras but had to wait until after the mission to retrieve the tapes, watch the video and share it with the science and engineering community, the media and the public. For the first time ever, this test lets us stream live HDTV from space so the public can experience what its like to be there."

Known as the Space Video Gateway, the system transmits high bandwidth digital television signals to the ground that are not only spectacular, but also valuable to scientists, engineers and managers.

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, along with both NHK and Discovery, are cooperating in this effort though a Space Act Agreement originally signed in 2002.

Image credit: Discovery Channel

Al Jazeera English Makes It to the U.S. with Globecast

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Infamous Dubai-based news network, Al Jazeera announced today that it would be making its programming availablie to the U.S. using Globecast, according to an AP story.

While we here at Really Rocket Science choose to ignore the politics have Al Jazeera’s U.S. debut, we are all about giving you access to the coordinates for the satellite should you choose to take a look. Just the same, your Al-TV is not going to be free, Globecast’s website says news from the gulf is going to cost you a a one-time fee of $179.

Al Jazeera English Makes It to the U.S. with Globecast

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Infamous Qatar-based news network, Al Jazeera announced today that it would be making its programming availablie to the U.S. using Globecast, according to an AP story.

While we here at Really Rocket Science choose to ignore the politics have Al Jazeera’s U.S. debut, we are all about giving you access to the coordinates for the satellite should you choose to take a look. Just the same, your Al-TV is not going to be free, Globecast’s website says news from the gulf is going to cost you a  one-time fee of $179.

Despite the costs and the politics, if you get a chance to to check the Al Jazeera out it’d certainly be worth your time.  While you have some differences of opinion with the news editors, there’s no doubt that the network is one of the few outlets for free speech in the Middle East and interesting way of seeing the region from the inside out.  Not sure you want to pay $179 to watching the network on your TV 24/7?  At the very least, check out the stellar 2004 documentary Control Room which chronicles the lead up to and the beginning the Iraq War from the inside of Al Jazeera.


Delta Launch From The Cape

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

Watch a Delta II launch the GPS Block 2R military navigation satellite on Thursday, 16 November. Live feed from the Kennedy Space Center

Here’s the latest from Spaceflight Now:

2230 GMT (5:30 p.m. EST)

Preparations continue for tomorrow’s launch of the Boeing Delta 2 rocket carrying a replacement satellite for the Global Positioning System, but bad weather at Cape Canaveral is threatening to delay the liftoff. Launch will be possible between 2:17 and 2:30 p.m. EST (1917-1930 GMT).

A cold front will be sliding through Central Florida on Thursday, and Air Force forecasters expect the Cape to feel the brunt of the stormy weather between 3 and 11 a.m. A severe weather watch has been issued.

Gradual clearing is predicted later in the day, but rain, lingering thunderstorms and thick clouds still pose a high concern for the mid-afternoon launch. There is a 70 percent chance that conditions will be unacceptable at liftoff time.

Mission managers will meet before dawn to assess the latest weather outlook and determine if it’s safe to retract the mobile service tower from around the rocket at pad 17A. Winds cannot exceed 39 knots for the move, plus officials must be confident of no hazardous weather looming on the horizon that could harm the rocket while it stands exposed on the pad for the final hours of the countdown.

Tower rollback is targeted to occur around 6 a.m. The retraction could be postponed a couple of hours without impacting the launch time.

Air Force officials say their strategy, assuming weather is safe enough to retract the tower, will be pressing forward with the launch opportunity. An early decision to scrub is unlikely unless the launch time forecast gives absolutely no hope of allowable conditions, they said. As of right now, there is that 30 percent chance that the storms will clear in time.

The outlook for Friday is beautiful, forecasters say.


Swedish Delicacies in Space

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

NASA is rolling out the space shuttle Discovery to the launch pad this week for a December 7th launch that will carry Sweden’s first astronaut, Christer Fuglesang, to the International Space Station for a 5-week stay.


The BBC reports on the mission, and Fugelsand’s long journey to space: 

In the thick of a complicated series of tasks to rewire the station – hopefully without serious interruption to the resident crew aboard – will be Sweden’s first astronaut, Christer Fuglesang.

He is a 49-year-old particle physicist who joined the European Space Agency (Esa) astronaut corps 14 years ago….

Fuglesang expected to train with Nasa, but found himself on a pioneering assignment to Russia instead. It was 1993 and Europe was preparing for a dedicated research mission aboard the now-defunct Russian space station Mir.

"The toughest part was to learn the Russian language," Fuglesang said. "At that time, we didn’t have any interpreters. There was no material in English. We really had to do everything in Russian."…

German-born astronaut Thomas Reiter, who currently is serving as a crewmember on the International Space Station (ISS), ended up being assigned to the Euromir flight….

Though this will be Fuglesang’s debut space flight, he will have his hands full. Fuglesang is paired with veteran Nasa astronaut Robert Curbeam for the first two spacewalks of the mission.

During the first outing, the pair will install a new external truss segment onto the station’s structural backbone. Two days later, another spacewalk is planned to begin critical work to hook up the station’s permanent electrical and cooling systems.

The ISS mission won’t be all work and no play, however, especially as the holidays approach. Fuglesang already has plans to share some of Sweden’s famous delicacies with his fellow crewmembers:

"Two products that Arla have developed have been approved by NASA and they will feature on NASA’s list of foods that the astronauts can choose from," the Danish-Swedish dairy company said in a statement on Friday.

The two products are a dried milk consisting of lactic pro-biotic bacteria and fruit-flavoured yoghurts that Arla has spent "many years" developing.

Christer Fuglesang, set to be the first Swede in space, has already selected raspberry yoghurt for the duration of the 12-day mission.

Fuglesang hopes to introduce his fellow crew members to other Swedish delights such as dried elk, crispbread and, "seeing as we’re approaching Christmas, gingerbread," the Swedish Space Agency said.

And thus, another first: this may be — as far as we know — the first serving of dried elk on a space mission. 

The Mysterious Eye of a Saturnian Storm

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

NASA’s Cassini orbiter has recorded something never before seen on another planet — "a hurricane-like storm at Saturn’s south pole with a well-developed eye, ringed by towering clouds."


(Click on the image above to play a movie of the storm.)

From the NASA press release:

 The "hurricane" spans a dark area inside a thick, brighter ring of clouds. It is approximately 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) across, or two thirds the diameter of Earth.

"It looks like a hurricane, but it doesn’t behave like a hurricane," said Dr. Andrew Ingersoll, a member of Cassini’s imaging team at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "Whatever it is, we’re going to focus on the eye of this storm and find out why it’s there."

A movie taken by Cassini’s camera over a three-hour period reveals winds around Saturn’s south pole blowing clockwise at 550 kilometers (350 miles) per hour. The camera also saw the shadow cast by a ring of towering clouds surrounding the pole, and two spiral arms of clouds extending from the central ring. These ring clouds, 30 to 75 kilometers (20 to 45 miles) above those in the center of the storm, are two to five times taller than the clouds of thunderstorms and hurricanes on Earth.

Eye-wall clouds are a distinguishing feature of hurricanes on Earth. They form where moist air flows inward across the ocean’s surface, rising vertically and releasing a heavy rain around an interior circle of descending air that is the eye of the storm itself. Though it is uncertain whether such moist convection is driving Saturn’s storm, the dark "eye" at the pole, the eye-wall clouds and the spiral arms together indicate a hurricane-like system.

Distinctive eye-wall clouds had not been seen on any planet other than Earth. Even Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, much larger than Saturn’s polar storm, has no eye or eye-wall and is relatively calm at the center.

This giant Saturnian storm is apparently different from hurricanes on Earth because it is locked to the pole and does not drift around. Also, since Saturn is a gaseous planet, the storm forms without an ocean at its base. 

 Click here to view a movie of the storm.

Get Lost?

Monday, November 13th, 2006

The Chicago Sun Times reports on a new first along the "Miracle Mile":

If you’re lost on Michigan Avenue, stop in the new Garmin store, and you won’t stay lost for long.

Billed as the world’s first GPS-only store, Garmin, the leader in the U.S. GPS market, on Saturday is opening a two-story, 10,000-square-foot store at 663 N. Michigan, featuring GPS devices for cars, fitness, camping and boating that tap into satellite signals to tell users how to get where they want to go…

[Spokesman Ted Gartner] said Garmin’s products typically are sold in electronics superstores, such as Best Buy and Circuit City, and online at But, he said, "Our GPS units in stores typically are under glass. In the Garmin store, people will be able to handle them and see how they work…."

The Garmin store was designed by Chicago-based Valerio Dewalt Train Associates Inc. A 30-foot wood wall that runs around the entire store is a dominant feature.

Is this a link to GPS’s heritage as manufacturer of devices used to help outdoors types find their way?

Architect Joe Valerio said the design is intended to be ambiguous. He said the wood "reminds you of the walls of a canyon. Or is it the hull of a boat? Or the fender of a car? It is intentionally mysterious."

The backdrop contrasts with the precision of Garmin products, which, he said, "use GPS technology to make our world much less mysterious and much more understandable."

While the Garmin store in Chicago is the first GPS-only store of its kind in the world, others would dispute that GPS makes the world "less mysterious" and "more understandable." Computing Which? magazine recently conducted a study comparing the use of GPS and traditional road atlases for navigating the cold streets of the UK:

The ‘good old-fashioned’ £8 AA map-book not only beat a sophisticated £220 sat-nav system – costing nearly 28 times more and getting the driver lost down "obscure" country detours – it also knocked the socks off a computer-based route-finder costing £45.

The low-tech road atlas also trounced the Government’s own free online ‘Transport Direct’ website, which was by far the worst, giving motorists incorrect directions, sending them miles out of their way and taking users twice as long to get to their destination.

The findings follow a series of high-profile cases in which motorists – following their in-car sat-nav systems – have found themselves diverted along obscure and unsuitable roads, stuck in fords, rivers, or impassibly narrow lanes.

Even easier, as my wife constantly reminds me, is to stop at the next gas station and ask. But homey don’t play that.

Speaking GPS navigation in cars,  the Central Valley Business Times reports on one way that you shouldn’t use GPS if you’re a car rental agency:

Fox Rent A Car really knew where you were. And charged for it, the state of California says.

The largest California-based independent car rental company illegally slapped surcharges on those who traveled outside a three-state area and unlawfully forced customers to buy liability insurance, according to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

How did it know where its customers were driving? The state says it tracked its cars with GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) devices.

Fox paid nearly $750,000 in damages and penalties to settle the consumer privacy case. It would have been cheaper to throw in an atlas.

DIY Friday: Death Ray Dogs and Other Potential Uses for your Old Satellite Dish

Friday, November 10th, 2006

If you’re like most RRS readers you probably have an old satellite dish (or seven) sitting around your place and loathe the idea of parting with perfectly good electronics. This being the case, here are some ideas…

  1. Solar Death Ray Hot Dogs

    It’s probably not the most efficient way to cook a dog, but for a brat in the desert its hard to beat.
  2. Redneck Deer Stand

    Sure, you could just make stand completely out of wood, but, come on, where’s the sport in that. Now if only we could figure out a way to use the ’82 Gremlin on cement blocks on the front lawn…
  3. WiFi Antenna

    Certainly the most useful idea even if its not the most exciting.

Anyone have any other suggestions?