Saturday was Open House Day at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I’d been there for some video work in Heliophysics and the Visitor Center earlier in the week, but I did want to return to see the other facilities which would be open to the public.

Buildings 7 and 29 were the highlight for me: the Spacecraft Integration and Testing Facility with its Space Environment Simulators, acoustic bays, and massive centrifuge; the High Bay Clean Room where the James Webb Space Telescope is being assembled; and the “Cauldron” satellite tech test bed.

Explore@NASAGoddard #throughglass
Explore@NASAGoddard #throughglass

Over in Building 28 were the Flight Dynamics Facility and CAVE — a holodeck-like 3D visualization environment simulating Asteroid Bennu and the OSIRIS-REX mission. The NASA TV control center was there too, and a life-size MMS model and a climate simulation server farm.

Explore@NASAGoddard #throughglass

And of course there was a bouncy space shuttle. Or technically, a bouncy Shuttle External Tank.

Bouncy Space Shuttle

We really only got to see a fraction of what there was to see; the GSFC campus is sprawling and there are many buildings, but I wanted to leave a bit early to beat outgoing traffic. More Explore@NASAGoddard photos here.

Weekend Snaps

Some weekend photos from after our return from Europe, as we squeezed the last of summer out of the month of August.

Hersheypark Comet
At Hersheypark, playing around with the SlowShutter app while waiting in line to ride the Comet.

Hillwood Museum: Library
A panorama of the library at Hillwood, home (now a museum) of DC socialite and heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Mushrooms at Mason Neck
Wild mushrooms on the Bay View Trail, Mason Neck State Park.

Loch Ness Monster Interlocking Loops
At Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the interlocking loops of the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster.


We bought a townhouse. After 6 years in our 1BR condo we wanted to upgrade to a bigger place, but not too much bigger. Moving day was in March, and to this day we still have a few boxes left to unpack. The old condo sold to new owners over the summer, much to our relief.


The cats are happy about this, as now they have more than triple the space to run around.

Amelia #cat amidst moving boxes Martha #cat atop the kitchen cabinets

New home is a 3BR/2.5BA townhouse, near (by car) to various shopping malls and the Beltway, and walking distance from Metro, with a Metro shuttle at rush hour. It’s a good location for the price, though much less walkable than any of our previous residences. That does disappoint me somewhat, as I already suffer some middle-class suburban angst, but the location is an excellent compromise between accessibility and affordability — hard to find in this exorbitant DC-area market — and where we are is much more nature-y.

Forest trail

The cats certainly love sitting at the windows and watching the woods for birds and deer and squirrels.

Martha #cat enjoys her new view

The house is a bit older than our previous condo, but not by too much. There are a few repairs to make, and Amy and I are learning and applying some home DIY skills as we go along.

Townhouse Pano, Kitchen and Living Room

It’s still a bit strange to have things like a deck and a fence and a yard and stairs and more than one bathroom, but we’re getting used to that. More photos here.

Pluto Flyby

On July 14th, the NASA/JHUAPL spacecraft New Horizons flew by Pluto, nine years after its launch. Traveling too fast to slow down into orbit, New Horizons zipped past Pluto and its moons with cameras and sensors intensely trained on them to gather science and imagery, then turned around to beam the data back to earth over weeks and months to come, while piercing farther into deep space to explore the outer solar system.


Pluto, it turns out, is a stranger world than we thought: tinted beige by hydrocarbons, adorned with a giant heart-shaped feature (dubbed Tombaugh Regio after Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh) sporting mountains of frozen methane and carbon monoxide thrusting up from a young, un-cratered surface, all wrapped in an expansive atmosphere of rarefied nitrogen. Pluto and its moon Charon seem geologically active and surprisingly varied, a far-flung cryo-geo-chemical mishmash that is worth additional exploration, along with other potentially more fascinating worlds in the Kuiper Belt and outer solar system.

First Ever High Resolution View of Pluto's Surface
It’s a long, slow trip for the data gathered by New Horizons: 4.5 light-hours at 1-4 Kbps, so new images and observations from that short flyby interval will be trickling down for a while yet.

Stunning Nightside Image Reveals Pluto’s Hazy Skies

Also, Tombaugh Regio might not be a heart.

More from the JHUAPL Pluto site, which will update constantly over the course of the next year or so as more data trickle down from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Also see How Pluto’s most spectacular image was made—and nearly lost, and some commentary from Wired on NASA’s social media strategy for the Pluto Flyby — most notably the exclusive preview on Instagram.

Folklife Festival 2015: Peru

First and foremost: alpacas. Thanks to Andrès for informing me that day.

Hi! We're Alpacas.

Due to National Mall preservation issues, the 2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival was a slightly smaller event than previous ones: limited to one theme, Peru, set at the farther east end of the National Mall, with the Marketplace moved into the American Indian Museum.

2015 Folklife Festival: Peru #throughglass
2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival #throughglass

The reduced festival was by no means lower-key than previous ones, though, and had just as much art and craft and food and song and dance and narrative as any one previous folklife pavilion.

2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival #throughglass

More Folklife 2015 photos here.

Peacock Room Remix

We recently visited Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre, an art installation at the Smithsonian Freer/Sackler Gallery based on the Peacock Room and the related conflict between James McNeill Whistler and Frederick Richards Leyland. Core to the installation is the “Peacock Room Remix”, a twisted clone of the original Peacock Room, altered, smashed, shattered, bent and broken. I tried taking panoramas of both rooms to show the differences.

Peacock Rooms

My pano doesn’t do the Remix justice, however. It’s an immersively unsettling experience to be there — and not just because you have to be careful not to step on the broken porcelain. I think the Smithsonian should totally acquire “Filthy Lucre” for their permanent collection and just randomly swap out the original Peacock Room with the Remix at random times of year.

Marriage Equality

As a US citizen born under the 14th Amendment and as a socially liberal progressive Baptist who came around to an egalitarian view on LGBT rights, I was happy to hear of the Supreme Court’s decision on
Obergefell v. Hodges
legalizing marriage equality nationwide, for the sake of friends who’ve dealt with discrimination on this front. I won’t retread lengthy old arguments on how being LGBT-friendly is compatible with Christianity; suffice it to say that modern homosexuality is very different from that condemned in Scripture, and acceptance of equality is undoubtedly the loving act in this context. I do want to update my old links on this topic with some fresh material:

Slow Motion Metro

Inspired in part by Adam Magyar’s slow motion videos of people on subway platforms, I tried pointing my iPhone 5s slow motion camera at passing trains while waiting for transfers on the DC Metro. Mobile slow motion is nowhere near the quality of Magyar’s hardware, so there’s blurring as the train gains speed, but the scene of people standing almost still while the train is in movement gives the impression of statues going places.

I also caught the new 7000-series WMATA train on the Blue Line: