Archive for December, 2007

DIY Friday: Build Your Own iPod Dock

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Us rocket scientists — and particularly Rocco — love our iPods. In fact, Rocco’s been waiting for the Apple patent/trademark filing from 2006 to come true for years now.

We like iPod docks, too. At the top of Rocco’s Christmas list is a nice, clean iPod dock that will deliver a quick charge and sync.

Let’s just say that Rocco’s been pretty good this year, and so Santa is looking. There are a lot of options to consider.

This miConnection Zork Alien iPod dock seems appropriate for Rocco’s obsession with SETI, and it’s only $23. Or we could go with something more "professional," like this basic unit for $40 or this sharp KefDock, which is designed to integrate your iPod with your home theater system.

Of course, what Rocco really wants is a dock with integrated speakers, one that will charge and sync while thumping out some heavy bass.

We could harken back to Rocco’s memories of the sock hops he attended as a lad with this jukebox, but it’s $289, and, in truth, Rocco hasn’t been that good.

So what to do? Well, Santa does have some elves, so why not a DIY or DIE ("Do it, Elves!") project, since it is the penultimate Friday before Christmas?

Simple Simon made a nice, minimalist iPod dock by building it into his desk:


LinuxMatt added some child-like style to his DIY dock by using LEGOs: 


Or, if you want really simple — or to broadcast your green, recycling machine lifestyle — you can build a dock using the packaging material that came with your iPod. 

For ourselves, however — having a nearly unlimited supply of elves — we’re going to go with the start-from-scratch, design-it-yourself iPod super dock project recently posted in four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Get busy, elves. 


Heading North for the Ursids

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Normally the Ursids meteor shower isn’t that spectacular, and when it peaks this year around the 22nd of December, a bad moon will make viewing it difficult in Europe and Asia, and it will be daytime in North America. So why is  Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer at the Carl Sagan Center and SETI Institute, travelling all the way to the North Pole to view it this year?

Peter explains that it’s the presence of Comet 8P/Tuttle (pictured above) within the shower, and a long-standing mystery or the Ursids’ outbursts, that are bringing him high over the North Pole: 

We are preparing to visit the North Pole on December 22, to see an unusual meteor shower called the Ursids. This meteor shower radiates from the constellation known as the Little Dipper: Ursa Minor. This minor shower is quite unremarkable in most years, but this year the parent comet 8P/Tuttle is approaching, and it has a strong Perseid-level shower in store for us. We think. We predict a peak time around 20 – 22.2 Universal Time and a width of 5 to 8.5 hours at half the peak rate.

Unfortunately, that means that North America is not a good place to be, for our purpose. The outburst will happen during our daytime. Best viewing will be in Asia and Europe. Even from those locations it won’t be easy to see this shower, because of a bad moon that night, and frequent bad weather in December…

The Ursid outburst is too rare an opportunity to miss, though, because the comet returns only every 13.6 years. This time around, the comet comes closer to us than ever before, at least since it was discovered in 1790, passing at only 0.25 AU on January 5….

The Ursid outbursts are somewhat of a mystery. They have been heard, more than seen, in the years around past returns of the comet, by people listening for distant radio stations. Each time a meteor appeared in the cold winter sky, it would create a trail of ions, which reflected radio waves to the observer. They would hear a brief "ping". While counting those pings, it was clear to those listeners that something unusual was happening on December 22 in some years.

In collaboration with Esko Lyytinen of Helsinki, Finland, and Jeremie Vaubaillon of Caltech, I investigated these reports, and we discovered that the dust may have been ejected by comet Tuttle around AD 300 to 900, or perhaps earlier. Results will be published in the upcoming December issue of the Journal of the International Meteor Organization. It takes a long time for the dust to move from an orbit similar to that of the comet into an orbit that can hit Earth. Close encounters of Jupiter near the ascending node of the comet orbit seem to play an important role, especially when they occur shortly after the dust has been ejected and is still concentrated in space. The dust itself is most affected when its motion around the sun "rings," or resonates, with that of Jupiter.

The upcoming outburst is a great opportunity to test this model. When the Earth travels through the stream of dust, we may hope to see the dominance of some particular returns of the comet in the past, when all the dynamics worked in our favor. This could cause a particular peak time and rate profile of the shower.

To investigate this, we are hoping for an opportunity to observe the outburst from a Gulfstream V aircraft in a mission similar to our campaign to study the September 1 Aurigids. If approved, the Ursid flight will be a long 16-hour mission, involving one aircraft, departing from NASA Ames Research Center in the early morning of December 22nd. The plane will fly north-west towards Alaska, land in Anchorage for a refuel stop, and then continue on to follow the Earth’s shadow, fly over the Arctic and turn towards Canada to return at Ames just after sunset. We don’t need to fly all the way to the North Pole, just far enough north to stay in darkness all the time. The aircraft will follow the Earth’s rotation, making the meteors fall from a radiant high in the sky throughout the mission. The moon will stay low on the horizon on one side of the plane.

16 hours? That’s a long flight in a cold place. The flight path of Jenniskens’ Gulfstream V can be found here and here; the Federation des Astronomes Amateurs du Quebec also has some good finder charts here. Finally, for spotting Comet 8P/Tuttle, this finder chart is helpful.

Happy comet and meteor gazing! 

X-Prize Contestant for Moon 2.0

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007



Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a-Jupiter and Mars


That’s how the old Bart Howard song begins, popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1964 (it’s been used as a water fountain show tune at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, too). Funny how this popped into my head right on Sinatra’s birthday. The U.S. Postal Service chose to introduce the new postage stamp commemorating "Old Blue Eyes" in Los Angeles this afternoon:

Art director Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, AZ, worked with stamp artist Kazuhiko Sano of Mill Valley, CA, to create the image based on a 1950s photograph of the entertainment icon. The stamp depicts Sinatra’s charismatic smile, trademark fedora and cobalt blue eyes that earned him the nickname “Ol’ Blue Eyes.” Sinatra’s autograph also appears on the stamp.

In a 50-year career studded with accolades, Sinatra won several Grammys, received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1971, and was recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983. Sinatra gave generously to many charities and was noted for his philanthropy. President Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. Sinatra was born in Hoboken, NJ, in 1915. He died in 1998 and in 2002 the Hoboken Post Office was renamed in his honor.


This song came to mind recently when I read the piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Google Lunar X-Prize, for which they found a contestant:


Out of 375 inquiries from more than 40 countries, so far only a company called Odyssey Moon has completed the registration process to become an official contender, Diamandis said at a conference about space investment on Thursday in San Jose.

Among the commercial possibilities of such a mission: robotically mining the surface of the moon to extract silicon that could be refined into chips to create solar arrays on the moon that would eventually – by means as yet unspecified – beam power back to Earth.

Gregg Maryniak, executive director of the XPrize Foundation, began the presentation by showing a futuristic video depicting the moon as "a natural storehouse of resources that we can use to enhance life on Earth and explore our universe."

Maryniak likened the Google Lunar XPrize to the Apollo challenge issued by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

"Now there’s a new moon race," Maryniak said, calling this "Moon 2.0" effort "a race to bring Earth’s offshore island, the moon, into Earth’s sphere of economic activity."

Odyssey Moon’s leaders include Robert Richards, a co-founder of International Space University, and Ramin Khadem, former chief financial officer of Inmarsat, a nearly 30-year-old satellite firm publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange. Officials said the company is based on the Isle of Man to take advantage of space-friendly tax policies and regulations.


Based in the Isle of Man, ey? We blogged about that space-friendly place in the Irish Sea before. Read more about Odyssey Moon. Will they be the next "giant leap for mankind?" Here’s that clip from July of 1969:




The Olympics, Received on the Go

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Yesterday we wrote about how FOX News is pushing the envelope in truly mobile broadcasting for the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

But if networks are broadcasting on the go, are viewers receiving with the same mobility?

The answer, of course, is yes. 2008 should see increasing growth in mobile TV delivery. For example, the Echostar affiliate in Hong Kong is in on the Beijing Olympics mobile broadcast:

 Siano Mobile Silicon has signed a collaboration agreement with CMB Satellite, the Hong Kong based affiliate of EchoStar Communications Corporation and Huaqi,  to provide advanced solutions for China’s up-coming mobile TV service known as CMMB, or S-TIMI, starting at the 2008 Olympics.

CMMB (or S-TIMI) is the technology developed in China and selected by the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) as the main platform for delivering TV services to mobile devices. The CMMB network will use both satellite and terrestrial signals to obtain effective coverage both in densely populated cities, including indoor reception, as well as in sparsely populated rural areas. The commercial launch of mobile TV in China is anticipated to coincide with the Beijing Olympic Games.

CMB Satellite, a Hong Kong-based affiliate of EchoStar, is the primary provider of S-band satellite capacity for China’s CMMB mobile video system.

Will the Aigo-branded MP4 player factor into the Olympics plan? Possibly. Here’s a demo of the product from generationMP3 on YouTube:

Another mobile TV receiver that may become a hot item is the Siano DT501HS. The chipset is capable of multiple reception (DVB-H, DVB-T, T-DMB and Enhanced Packet Mode DAB):

The DT501HS, which was launched last month in Italy, is the world’s first commercial DVB-H product for PCs. This USB card combines DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast for Handhelds) mobile TV technology with HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) 3.5G cellular technology, for the PC and notebook markets. The TV/modem card provides end users with on-the-go access to a wide range of high-quality multimedia and data communication applications, like movies, music and sports and allows consumers to use their PC’s and notebooks as the centre of their multimedia and data communication applications. Onda Communications co-developed the pioneering card with Siano Mobile Silicon, and software vendors CyberLink and NagraVision. The DT501HS is currently marketed by TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) in Italy, for its DVB-H and data communication networks subscribers.

Unlike other DVB-H products in the market, the slim DT501HS does not have an external antenna that sticks out. Instead, it uses Siano’s CES Innovations 2008 award winning tiny antenna chip, the SMS8021 (co-developed with Vishay), which is mounted on the internal PCB and exhibits high performance gain over the entire UHF spectrum.

The Siano would be competing with a new player from Korea, the Tomato D18. (Here’s an English site in the works.) Three things are amazing about this little fruit: it’s 8.5 mm thin, has an incredible 60GB of storage, and costs just $100.

If sales of the PocketDish are any indication, consumers are eager to get their hands on cool mobile TV devices, and the market is primed for some explosive growth. 

The Election, Brought to You on the Go

Monday, December 10th, 2007

The New York Times has an article today on how the Fox News Channel is using satcom on the move to report on the presidential primaries:

As the beginning of primary season approaches, Fox News Channel is introducing a pair of satellite reporting units capable of broadcasting live video while on the move. The vehicles, two retrofitted sport utilities, had an early debut on Nov. 30 during a hostage incident at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign office in Rochester, N.H., and are already raising interest and questions about their potential influence on live television news reporting.

When Leeland Eisenberg, the suspect in the incident, walked into the office and claimed to have a bomb, Fox News saw it as a perfect opportunity to try out its Election Link vans, which can stream live video while moving. Carl Cameron, Fox’s chief political correspondent, jumped into one of the vans to drive to the scene, giving Fox News viewers alternating views of his torso buckled into the passenger’s seat and shots of New Hampshire roads rolling past.

“This is exactly why the Election Link vehicles are going to be deployed by Fox News in New Hampshire and Iowa,” Mr. Cameron said on the air. “The breaking aspect of the politics and the shocking types of events that can happen when presidential politics are in play.”

The vehicles will be sent to Iowa and New Hampshire for campaign coverage before the first caucus and primary, and theoretically will allow Fox to broadcast live video as primary season proceeds. The three-person vans have three cameras: one on the roof, one on the dashboard and one that can be removed from the vehicle and transmit back to it from a distance of up to a quarter-mile.

According to Brian Wilson, Washington bureau chief for Fox News, the vans do have a few technical limitations. “The signal comes in at just a hair short of broadcast quality,” he said.

He said that the vehicles were much less expensive than a traditional satellite van, however, and would be used when mobility and speed, rather than high-quality video, were most needed.

The Times doesn’t go into great technical detail on the roving reporting SUVs, but they could be using ViaSat’s ArcLight platform, as was first demonstrated last year during the Race Across America (and which is being used again in 2007). The Race Across America is billed as "the world’s toughest bike race":

We watched the Race Across America through the ViaSat Web site in 2006, and it was very, very cool, with live, uninterupted video with no "buffering." True, most of the time you would just watch some cyclists pedal away, but the video quality was remarkable.  

While Fox News and the Race Across America are two examples of how satcom on the move can be used, a big part of ViaSat’s market is the federal government, particularly defense

ViaSat’s Mobile Satcom system uses ArcLight® technology to provide affordable, 2-way,"always-on", "cable-like" broadband IP access via satellite to ground, airborne, and maritime platforms while on the move. This Comms On-the-Move system allows commanders, sensors, and weapons systems to interact seamlessly to establish a real-time view of the battlefield and allocate firepower as effectively as possible. The system enables the IP-based capabilities such as live video conferencing, streaming video, and C2PC Situational Awareness.

Americom Government Services also sells the platform, which will also be used for maritime broadband on the AMC-21 satellite that is scheduled for launch in mid-2008.

DIY Friday: Rockets!

Friday, December 7th, 2007

It’s hard to believe we haven’t presented this before, given that we are rocket scientists and all.

Nonetheless, it honor of our profession and our blog’s name, we present today’s DIY project: build your very own model rocket!

If you’re like us, your first hand-on experience with rockets probably came through an Estes rocket kit. Sebadoh used to launch these from an empty lot in Scottsdale, Arizona, and lost at least half a dozen of his creations to neighbors’ roofs and trees throughout the neighborhood…. and Rocco’s first D engine, in a Big Bertha, was never found, and is still lying somewhere around Lexington, NY. (If you find it, please drop Rocco a line.) 

Estes is still making rocket kits like this one. (We confess that we assumed they had gone the way of lawn darts, honestly.) And if you’re really into model rockets, the Amateur Rocketry Society of America is the place to be.

But if you’re not into just purchasing your solid fuel engines, why not take rocketry to the elemental DIY level, by building a water-powered rocket? Here’s one that uses jet foaming: 

Check out the Water Bottle Rockets blog for instructions on how to make your own. But be warned: model rocketry isn’t all fun and games. There’s some serious competition out there, as this video of the world-record flight of 1,821 feet demonstrates.

If you’re going to compete, you’d better document your launches. Here’s how to make a rocketcam to prove that you’ve broken the surly bonds of earth by a country mile.

Happy flying! 

Green Flags for Shuttle Launch Today

Thursday, December 6th, 2007


Is this the sportiest shuttle mission ever?

When the Shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Kennedy Space Center today at 4:30 pm, its payload and crew will give two nods to the history of sports.

The first nod is courtesy of the Daytona International Speedway, with a small addition to the payload:

In conjunction with the historic 50th running of the Daytona 500 scheduled for Feb. 17, 2008, and the 50th anniversary of NASA in 2008, the orbiter will carry three green flags into space to celebrate the two milestones.

“We’re excited to be able to partner with NASA on this exciting project,” said Speedway President Robin Braig. “Stay tuned as we’ll have other exciting things to announce in the coming weeks.”

The flags will travel more than a million miles at 17,500 mph during the 12-day mission to deliver Columbus, a science research module to the International Space Station. The shuttle is scheduled to lift off at 4:31 p.m. EST.

Once back on earth, the winner of February’s Daytona 500 will take home a flag; one will hang in the Daytona 500 Experience and the final one will go to NASA.

(Want to relive the 49th annual Daytona 500? Check out the last 2 laps of the 2007 race, with a spotter talking to a driver, in this YouTube video.)

The second nod to sports is actually a member of the Atlantis crew: Leland Melvin, the former University of Richmond football star who was drafted as a wide receiver by the Detroit Lions in 1986. In 1988, while trying out for the Dallas Cowboys, a hamstring injury on the practice fields ended his football career — but began his career toward becoming an astronaut:

Melvin credits football for helping him train for the trip he’s about to take.

"I can remember with sports, there were times when my coach (at Richmond), Dal Shealy, would come into our room the night before the game and tell me to close my eyes," Melvin remembers. " ‘Leland, you are in the end zone, pulling the ball in, pulling it to your body for a catch to win the game.’ … You’re going through the mechanics of what you’re doing, and when you visualize it and sleep on it, when you wake up the next day, you’ve already done it. So doing it is really second nature to you. It’s in your subconscious."

The repetition, the visualization are all part of the training for Melvin’s primary job, which is operating the 58-foot robotic arm on Atlantis that will deliver the 22-foot-long, 13-ton Columbus Laboratory to the International Space Station on Day 4 of the 11-day mission. The procedure will take about 2 1⁄2 hours and will include carrying German astronaut Hans Schlegal on the mission’s first spacewalk. The time and distance are exact, and are calibrated in minutes and centimeters.

Live coverage of the mission launch should begin at 11:30 am EST on the STS-122 Launch Blog. NASA TV will also carry the launch via live webstream — or you can catch it in HDTV on HDNet beginning at 3:30.

Master Satcom

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

The original vision by Sir Arthur Clarke was you could cover the world with three satellites. There are lots of satellite channel distributed worldwide today. Came across a new one today: a press release about Supreme Master TV being distributed worldwide by RRSat of Israel. What’s all this "supreme master" then? Believe me, it’s got noting to do with hip-hop pioneer Grand Master Flash:

The Supreme Master TV Channel is a free-to-air satellite channel broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a variety of programs in English with over 40 languages and subtitles.

As part of the agreement, RRsat started broadcasting the channel at the beginning of November 2007, reaching North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, including over such prominent satellites as Galaxy 25, Hispasat 1C, Intelsat 10 and Optus B3.

Lily Able, Director of Programming of Supreme Master TV commented "It’s inspiring in that there is a tremendous appreciation for uplifting news and programming. Viewers worldwide have enthusiastically responded to Supreme Master Television in their countries. We’re very pleased and honored to bring positive media to all cultures around the world. RRsat, through its global network of 29 satellite partners is ideally suited to help spread the Supreme Master TV’s positive media around the world, by bringing the channel to millions of new households worldwide."

The channel is available on 12 satellites, so you can’t miss it. So what’s the "uplifting news" like? Here’s a clip from earlier this year:


Now, who is this "supreme master?" The person behind this global television service, broadcast from Los Angeles, is Supreme Master Ching Hai, a Vietnamese vegetarian who advocates meditation:


Master Ching Hai initiates sincere people longing to know the Truth, into the Quan Yin Method. The Chinese characters "Quan Yin" mean contemplation of the Sound Vibration. The Method includes meditation on both the inner Light and the inner Sound. These inner experiences have been repeatedly described in the spiritual literature of all the world’s religions since ancient times.


I was hoping this new channel was about Big Business and CEOs — a "captains of industry" channel of sorts. Or perhaps a channel from Grand Master Flash himself featuring today’s hip-hop innovators such as the "Doggfather of Rap" himself, Snoop Dogg. Or why not both? CEO programming during the day time, hip-hop programming at night. Hey, it’s not that far-fetched. Remember Snoop Dogg and Lee Iacocca getting together to shoot the Chrysler TV spot a couple of years ago? I remember reading the inside account in the Detroit News:

They traded lines like it was the most natural thing in the world that a 6-feet-4-inch, goateed rapper would be teeing it up with a grey-haired corporate big-shot.

Their off-camera moments were priceless. In one scene, Snoop drives a pimped-up golf cart with spinner wheels and white leather seats, with Iacocca sitting next to him. When Snoop gunned the cart down a steep hill, Iacocca held on tight.

"How are the brakes on this thing, Snoop?" he said.

"I got you baby," Snoop replied. "But that would be a funny commercial if I tipped over with the boss in here."

"Yeah," Iacocca huffed. "That’s funny alright."

Getting back to Grand Master Flash, here’s an original video of his showing a snapshot of New York City in the early 80’s:


Choices, Choices: Triple Play or HDTV?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007


It’s not just the holiday season. With just more than 13 months to go until U.S. broadcasters shut off the analog, and with the increasing proliferation of HDTV broadcasting, the race is on between cable and satellite television providers to convince consumers that their product will give them the most bang for the buck.

One of the primary selling points has been offering HDTV and DVRs, long favored by the satellite TV marketers as their value-added proposition. Cable has been favoring "triple play" — bundling digital TV, IP phone, and internet into one package.

For the time being, it seems that cable/sat TV divide is likely to remain in place, as the new owners of DirecTV believe the period of rapid growth for triple play has passed: 

 Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said Monday that DirecTV Group’s strategy of concentrating on video services – primarily HDTV – apparently seems to be working and when his company takes over control of the satellite TV giant later this year, there won’t be a big change in strategy….

When LGreg Maffeiiberty agreed to take control of the satellite TV giant, there was speculation that the Denver-media conglomerate would invest heavily in bringing a wireless high-speed data product to DirecTV. But at the UBS Securities Media & Entertainment conference Monday, Maffei seemed to downplay the need for a high-speed Internet play.

Maffei credited DirecTV’s current management team, which has differentiated the product from cable and telco offerings by focusing on HDTV content and high-end digital video recorders. Their success was proven in the most recent quarter, where DirecTV added about 240,000 customers.

While Maffei admitted that the triple play bundle of voice, video and data may have hindered DirecTV’s subscriber growth in the past, that time appears to have gone by. That, he said is backed up by the recent basic subscriber losses at the larger cable companies.

“Most of the growth in voice and data has already occurred; that is why you’re seeing slowing growth rates for the cable guys,” Maffei said. “By concentrating and differentiating around content and HD and the TV experience, DirecTV has been able to find a customer set that enjoys that product and reaches for that product.”

The early adopters, it seems, have all chosen their path; now the marketplace is focusing on picking up the rest of the subscribers — and the competition is fierce. DirecTV and Dish are matching each other’s offers, though DirectTV has a leg up in its HDTV offerings, providing 85 HDTV channels to Dish’s 34. (On the cable side, the score is this: Cablevision has 42 HDTV channels, including all New York Metro local sports in HD for free, while Comcast has 44 and TimeWarner offers approximately 30.)

Another channel sparking demand for direct-to-home satellite TV is RFD-TV, which bills itself as "Rural America’s Most Important Network" and is the new home of the "Imus in the Morning" video simulcast. RFD-TV is one of the 285+ video channels available on IP-PRIME, the IPTV service built for small and mid-size telcos. 

Meanwhile, the cable guys clearly disagree with Maffei’s observation that triple play’s heyday of growth is behind them; they feel triple play remains underpenetrated

But will a new "quadruple play" — adding wireless cell coverage to cable’s triple play offering — shake up the marketplace? TimeWarner and Comcast are opting out of bidding for the new wireless spectrum being made available by the end of analog, but Cox is in:  

Cox Communications Inc. said Monday it plans to bid in an eagerly anticipated auction of wireless spectrum, likely making it the lone major cable operator to take part.

Parties must indicate Monday if they want to participate in next month’s auction for wireless spectrum, which can be used for cellphone service or new mobile-Internet technologies.

Companies such as Google Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are expected to bid billions of dollars to capture the valuable slices of airwaves.

Cox… and characterized the move part of its push towards mobility and convergence of its services. "We like having options," said David Grabert, a Cox spokesman. With other cable operators, Cox bought wireless spectrum in a separate government auction last year.

The company, a unit of Cox Enterprises Inc., has more than 6 million customers nationwide.

So in the end, how will it all shake out? Will one bundle become the VHS to another Betamax? Unlikely, but time will tell.

NASA 2.0

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

The NASA website has gone 2.0:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, concerned that people in the social networking generation have not shown enough interest in its work, has renovated its Web site to appeal more to the 18- to 25-year-old set.

The site, introduced over the weekend, has new blogs and widgets and more ways for people to view and manipulate content. A MyNASA feature has a “top playlist” that lets people watch clips of the space shuttle Discovery’s return to Florida or the California wildfires viewed from orbit.

The site, which has not had major overhaul since early 2003, still has information for policy makers and the media, but also more diversions. It is meant to compete with sites like (run by a company called Imaginova) and CNN, both of which have had more sophisticated presentations on space exploration.

“Younger folks look at the Web a different way,” said Brian Dunbar, Internet services manager for NASA. “They want to be able to pick and choose.” He estimates that the NASA site gets about a million unique visitors a month.

Many of the new features, like better feeds to users of aggregation sites like Digg, were made with young adults in mind.

NASA’s been providing great content for years now, but the addition of widgets and features like MyNASA will make the site even more user friendly, and allow users to stay abreast of favorite missions or research projects.

The more prominent use of blogs will also make highlighting NASA’s rich history even easier. For example, Shana Dale’s blog post reminds us that the first A in NASA stands for aeronautics:

NASA evolved from its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed by Congress in 1915 to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research.  During the past 50 years, NASA’s aeronautical research has provided breakthrough concepts, tools, and technologies to make air travel more safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly….

Today, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate builds upon this legacy and continues to develop new concepts, techniques, and technologies that will enable revolutionary capabilities for future aircraft as well as the airspace in which they fly.   Much of our focus is on the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or "NextGen," a wide-ranging initiative involving six U.S. Government departments and agencies, as well as numerous industry and academic partners. The goal of NextGen is to transform our nation’s air transportation system so that, by 2025, it can handle the predicted two-to-three times increase in demand while maintaining safety and protecting the environment.  NASA aeronautics programs conduct fundamental research for NextGen in areas of safety, air traffic management and the environment

There is a great link on the NASA aeronautics website where you can click directly on sections of a commercial plane to learn more about NASA’s contributions to aviation design and safety: NASA Aeronautics Research Onboard