So many things…

I’ve been a bit slack updating my site of late – but it’s just because so many things have been going on. I didn’t like to write pithy pieces, but then never quite found the time to write the long pieces that I intended. Tut tut.

In chronological order, the things that have been keeping me busy of late are thus:

Getting a place on the #NASATweetup

For a window of just 24 hours, Tweeters from all around the world, could apply to be part of the next big NASA tweet-up. It’s taking place at the shuttle launch of STS-133 on the 1st of November. Given that at the time of application, there were only two shuttle launches left (a third has now been added for summer next year), and given that attendance means you get to watch the launch from the closest spot possible (3.1 miles away), it was a pretty big deal. Apparently around 3000 people applied for the 150 places. I was one of the lucky ones who got picked, meaning I’m able to experience my first ever shuttle launch in style. Brilliant. I got a bit excited about the prospect, as you’ll easily be able to tell from my Audioboo.

Warning – high-pitched squeaking! http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf

Bletchley Park Veterans’ Reunion 2010

Lancaster flying over Bletchley Park

For the second year in a row I had the honour of attending the annual reunion of Bletchley Park veterans at Bletchley Park, and it really is an honour to be able to meet and talk to these incredible people. These are the people that cracked the German codes during WWII and it is thought that their actions shortened the war by two years, and yet they are so humble about their work. No-one knew what they were doing – it was all kept secret until around 30 years later when it was finally declassified in the mid-1970s. In fact many of the veterans were shocked by FW Winterbotham’s book “The Ultra Secret” which was published in 1974 – their long-held secrets beginning to come to light for the first time.

I spent the day talking to veterans, recording their stories and taking photographs – it’s worth listening to Sir Arthur Bonsall talking about how he got recruited and eventually went on to become the Director of GCHQ and Sheila Withers-Green, who tells the story of learning to fence in the ballroom, and explains why she still keeps her promise never talk about her work, despite declassification of the information.

As well as the above links, there are some further audio links in my Bletchley Park photo set on Flickr. Bletchley Park needs your help to keep alive – if there’s anything that you can do for them, let them know. Despite its incredible history, it doesn’t get the funding or support that it so vitally needs.

TEDx London

I attended TEDx London which took place at the Science Museum. It was a fascinating range of talks looking at the Millennium Development Goals in particular, and given by a truly fascinating selection of people with some fantastic stories to tell. I’ve got a heap of notes. I really should write them up. Perhaps this is the prod I need to make me do it. Better late than never, right? It was brilliant, and Hans Rosling is well worth checking out, for his delightfully entertaining talks on statistics (no, really!).

SpaceKate.com

This is the view I would love to have some day..

Ever since I met the inspiring Dr Chris McKay of NASA, sent a camera up on a high-altitude balloon study in the Mojave desert, and watched the International Space Station fly over my house, I started tinkering with the idea of going to space. Having the pleasure of meeting some real astronauts, including Paolo Nespoli and Leroy Chiao I was convinced that I wanted to aim higher than I’ve ever aimed before, quite literally, up into space. I did my usual mad thing of plotting, planning and am now in the beginning stages of “Spacekate”. Of course it’s “impossible”, but is it *impossible*? I don’t know yet, but given my motto in life is “I don’t regret, I just tell good stories” I think it’s worth a punt.

Here’s a little introduction, and I would be pleased if you’d check out spacekate.com, the SpaceKate Twitter feed, and even “Like” me on Facebook. There’s lots to be done. I’m getting there, bit by bit, WordPress bug by WordPress bug, etc.

Google Lunar X Prize Summit

I headed over to the Isle of Man (The Space Isle) to attend the Google Lunar X Prize Summit. The basic premise of this prize, the largest internation incentive prize ever offered, is that you have to send a robot, to the moon, get it to travel for 500 metres and send back photos and video. If you manage that, you could win up to $30 million! ($20 million for the main challenge, with bonus prizes of $5 million each for photographing Apollo debris or surving a lunar night). The teams came in all shapes and sizes, from the enormous Frednet team – an global open-source collaboration boasting over 700 members, to the streamlined Rocket City Pioneers who have not only the adventage of Tim Pickens, responsible for the propulsion of SpaceShip One, which won the first X Prize, but people who worked on the Apollo programme. Wow.

I’ve a set of photos from the event, and a selection of Audioboo interviews here. Excitingly I got to meet Chris Stott, not only Space Industry ambassador for the Isle of Man, and President of ManSat, but also husband to astronaut Nicole Stott who happens to be going up on the very shuttle launch I’m going to see. I did a quick Audioboo of him, which he tells me has not only been heard by Nicole, but the rest of her shuttle crew too. Very exciting. If you’d like to join such ranks as them, you can listen to it too! http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf

I met a new NASA person, in the form of Chris Boshuizen who does very cool things with android phones and cubesats – even making it onto the front page of Make magazine this month, which is nice. Chris has a passion for making spaceflight more accessible, so that fits rather nicely with my SpaceKate project… maybe there is a way!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Michael Doornbos, of evadot.com who invited me to appear on their podcast to talk about my impressions of the Google Lunar X Prize summit. I was more than happy to, but on listening back realise I say “y’know” an infuriating number of times. Nevermind, at least it’s podcast number 42, so that’s good. It’s here if you’re interested.

Science is Vital

Science not fiction

I’ve also attempted to do my bit for democracy by joining the Science is Vital campaign. Because it is. End of. Well, not really end of – check out the campaign website, write to your MP, sign the petition, get involved. Are you a scientist? Well, this is the time to stand up for yourself and your field. Are you a science geek? Well this is the time to show your support. Are you completely uninterested? Well stop for a moment and think of everything in your life that you have to thank science for, and help us ensure that UK science (and thus the entire UK economy) doesn’t suffer from savage cuts.

If you’re bored of words, then do the easy thing and click on my photographs from the Science is Vital demo.There are some brilliant slogans that will raise a smile, and perhaps make you stop and think for a moment. I also took the liberty of recording the majority of speeches from the day – from personal testimony “science saved my life” to rousing speeches and even some comedy. Have a little listen here.

Bits and Pieces

In other news, I managed to lose my HTC Desire on the Isle of Man – d’oh, and put together an application for a grant from the UK Space Agency. I’m thinking about the idea of holding a SpaceUp London conference some time (let me know if you’d be interested in such a thing) and I also got to go up the BT Tower in London, which was amazing. So, that’s what’s been keeping me busy. How about you?

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