A Decade Ago, the Space Station Unfurled Its Wings for the First Time

[READY-DO NOT RESCHEDULE!] A Decade Ago, the Space Station Unfurled Its Wings for the First Time

Exactly ten years ago, the International Space Station unfurled its second set of wings for the first time.

A decade ago, the beloved space station was just a fledgling in orbit, not yet equipped with all the goodies current astronauts take for granted. The crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis installed a brand-new set of solar array wings to the P3/P4 truss on September 12th. After passing tests with flying colours, the wings fully extended for the first time on September 14, 2006 at 8:44 am eastern time.

The wings are 35 meters (120 feet) long and 11.6 meters (38 feet) wide, paired to create an array with a wingspan over 73 meters (240 feet) long. Each solar array wing is a long mast with a pair of retractable “blankets” of solar arrays on either side, with nearly 33,000 individual solar cells.

The arrays track the Sun, spinning along the alpha gimbal to follow primary rotation, and the beta gimbal to compensate for the space station’s angle with respect to the ecliptic. Different tracking modes are used to maximize solar power (full Sun-tracking mode), to reduce drag (Night-glider or Sun-slicer modes), or even to maximize drag if the station needs to shed altitude.

It is still in use today as one of eight solar array wings on the space station, generating a combined total of 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity from 262,400 solar cells. About 60% of that energy is used to charge batteries to keep the station going when the arrays are in the shade.

Image credit: NASA

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Go on, Embrace Your Inner Bear-Voyeur

It’s that time of year again already. You can’t make your way to Alaska to ogle coastal brown bears as they emerge from their winter’s slumber, and you just don’t know where to get your fix. Don’t worry: Katmai National Park has your back with delightful bearcams.

About 20,000 people visit Katmai National Park each year, cruising the boardwalks and viewing platforms to bask in wildlife frolicking in their natural environments. But what about all the rest of us stuck far away? Thanks to a grant from Explore.org, the park runs a series of webcams mounted on existing infrastructure and pointed at the places most frequented by their 2,200 bears. These bearcams are easily a highlight of the emerging spring.

If you spend enough time watching the bearcam (and really, why haven’t you?), you’ll quickly identify that the bears engage in a whole range of fishing practices. The most dominant bears get the prime spots—sitting and waiting in plunge pool jacuzzis at the base of the falls waiting for salmon to swim past. Patient bears just below them in the hierarchy find a good spot at the top of the falls, brace their paws, wait for salmon to jump within reach. If the bear doesn’t have enough clout to edge out their own space, they need to resort to the energy-intensive dash and grab attempting to pin fish to the river bottom. Near the end of the salmon run when dead and dying fish litter the river bottoms, bears might snorkel to look for them, or even dive.

Not every bear is a capable fisher. Some bears steal fish from their kin, pirating them. Smaller bears will sometimes run away with their fish into the forest to protect against pirates. While bears don’t share food willingly, that doesn’t keep some bears from begging by loudly vocalizing like a bawling cub. Rarely, they’ll succeed in getting their most tolerant dominant bear-friends abandon the leftover entrails, gill plates, and mandibles for them.


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Bask in the Warmth of a Valentine From the Heart of the Earth

[READY-Valentine's AM] Bask in the Warmth of a Valentine From the Heart of the Earth

A collapse in the crust of this lava flow reveals a searing hot heart-shaped skylight, a Valentine straight from Mother Earth.

[READY-Valentine's AM] Bask in the Warmth of a Valentine From the Heart of the Earth

Top image: A skylight in the West Kamokuna lava flow with geoscientist for scale. Credit: Laszlo Kestay/USGS

Lava in Hawaii has just the right viscosity to form enclosed tubes within hardened shells, hidden highways for lava to flow across the landscape. As theUS Geological Survey explains:

Along the same vein, lava tubes are essentially channels that reside underground and also allow lava to move quickly. Tubes form one of two ways. A lava channel can form an arc above it that chills and crystallizes, or an insulated pahoehoe flow can have lava still running through it while outer layers freeze. Lava tubes, by their nature, are buried.

Sometimes the crust collapses, producing a skylight and exposing the lava within. Skylights usually don’t last long as heat lost through the hole is enough to cool the lava, solidifying the flow and infilling the hole. The cooling can even be enough to block the tube entirely, cutting off further flow. Alternately, the collapse can spread, exposing the former tube as a channel open to the surface.

Top image: A skylight in the West Kamokuna lava flow photographed in April 2, 1996. Credit: Laszlo Kestay/USGS

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Heart Rock is the Greatest Grumpy Valentine

Love is like this boulder: unwieldy, needlessly symbolic, and slowly eroded by the inexorable march of time. Happy Valentine’s Day to all you curmudgeonly misanthropes who just want to get on with the eventual heat-death of the universe!

Heart Rock. Image credit: NPS/Brad Sutton

Joshua Tree National Park is home to far too many holiday-thematic boulders, with Heart Rock joining the creepy naturally-carved sandstone of Skull Rock. We don’t know how many more festivities are hiding in the hills, but it’s starting to get unnerving.

Top image: Heart Rock near White Tank campground in Joshua Tree National Park. Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton

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Bring Out Your Favourite Natural Valentines!

[READY-PreValentine's] Bring Out Your Favourite Natural Valentines!

Give me your hearts! What are your favourite photographs of naturally-occurring hearts around our lovely, complex universe? Valentine’s Day is lurking around the corner, so let’s pull together our best evidence that the universe loves us and wants us to be happy.

Top image: A heart-shaped atoll. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

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It took twelve years, but the Opportunity Rover has climbed up the edge of Knudsen Ridge on Mars. The view is great — steep ridges, a dramatic slope, and the far lip of Endeavour Crater shaping the horizon. The rover is … Continue reading

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From the Field: Behind the Scenes on SpaceX’s Launch of the Jason-3 Satellite

What was happening out-of-sight during Sunday’s SpaceX launch of Jason-3? These are my stories from reporting live on white rocket engulfed in a fog bank but without the internet connectivity to actually update in real-time.

Falcon 9 blasting off with Jason-3 aboard on January 17, 2016. Image credit: SpaceX

Falcon 9 blasting off with Jason-3 aboard on January 17, 2016. Image credit: SpaceX

Find your way to a rocket launch at sometime in your life. The overwhelming power of a rocket’s bone-rattling jar as it surges free of the bounds of gravity is like nothing else, impressive even when weather smothers any chance of seeing the licking flames. But what happens on base during a launch, out of sight of the webcasts and cut off from public access?

I was at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this weekend to cover the Jason-3 launch. This is the story of what I experienced.

At least it’s a very pretty rocket? Image credit: Mika McKinnon

At least it’s a very pretty rocket? Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Saturday afternoon, a pack of photographers from news agencies around the country gathered at Vandenberg’s south gate. We were wrangled by an unshakeably cheerful yet authoritative Air Force technical sergeant, Tyrona Lawson, into a convoy of vans. The vans bounced through the vegetated dunes of Vandenberg, slipping past unoccupied pads until reaching SpaceX’s west coast home.

We unloaded on a bluff overlooking the pad, the Pacific Ocean providing a stunning natural backdrop for the towering edifice of scaffolding and rocket. Photographers piled out to claim spaces for their remote camera setups. We spread out, but only a little bit — the headland is bounded by fragile endangered species, and more threateningly, by rattlesnakes and unexploded ordinance. Spaces claimed, photographers made their best guess about the next day’s weather and launch timing to set up their cameras for the hopefully-perfect shot.

This was as close as we got. At more than half a mile away and lacking the powerful zoom lens of a professional photographer, any chance I had of ogling the Falcon 9’s landing legs were utterly dashed.

Rocket!!! Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Rocket!!! Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Unexpectedly, representatives from NASA, NOAA, and the National Weather Service (NWS) joined us on the hill for a final prelaunch question session. I seized it eagerly, having been unable to attend or even tune into Friday’s press conference live due to scheduling conflicts.

It’s hard to frame the Jason-3 satellite as an exciting mission. By design, the ocean topography monitor isn’t cutting-edge technology. It carries variations of the same altimeters used since 1992 by TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, and Jason-2. But it’s critically important to providing data for daily marine operations, improving forecasting models, and tracking long-term change.

Data from the Jason mission is used in daily operations in everything from commercial fisheries to search and rescue. But it’s also used to improve forecasting models, and increasing our understanding of hurricane intensification.

Kevin Cooley of the National Weather Service answered our questions while admiring the view. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Kevin Cooley of the National Weather Service answered our questions while admiring the view. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

“Before you had the ability to apply radar altimetry, you were dealing with just the temperature of the top surface of the water,” NWS Director Kevin Cooley briefed me. But hurricanes don’t stick to just the top surface, instead churning the entire water column and incorporating that heat, too. That little extra bit of data makes a big difference. Coolie continued, “The Jason missions have provided about a 20% improvement in forecast data for hurricane intensity over three days.” This is especially important in a world where hurricanes grow stronger and more quickly than we’ve ever seen before.

As far as the large scale implications of the Jason-3 data, NASA project scientist Josh Willis maintains NASA’s no-nonsense approach to the political hot-button of climate change. “As human-caused global warming drives sea levels higher and higher, we are literally reshaping the surface of our planet,” he said in a press release. “These missions tell us how much and how fast.” Since the start of the sea height monitoring, researchers have seen global sea level rise of 2.8 inches (70 millimeters).

Even less sexy than long-duration climate records is data continuity, but that’s key for the Jason mission. Despite being beyond its design lifespan, Jason-2 clung on long enough to still be operational as Jason-3 launches.

In an email, NASA Communications Director Steve Cole explained that Jason-3 was injected into an orbit about 15 miles (25 kilometers) below Jason-2, and will gradually climb until they match. Cole wrote, “The two spacecraft will fly in formation, making nearly simultaneous measurements for about six months to allow scientists to precisely calibrate Jason-3’s instruments.” For the next six months, the two will share an orbit only minutes apart to collect data at as close to the same space-time coordinates as possible to cross-calibrate the satellites. When science operations begin, Jason-3 will stay in this same orbit while Jason-2 peels off. The older satellite will move to an interleaving orbit, operating in a support role to boost data resolution.

So many people, yet even more cameras. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

So many people, yet even more cameras. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

It wasn’t all press, public affairs, an scientists at the pad. As temporary visitors on a military base, we had our camouflaged escort/drivers. Many were in the media corps, and would be covering the launch themselves the next day. When chatting with a chat with staff sergeant Ross Whitley, he explained the best part of working in as an Air Force broadcast journalist was the diversity of experience he got. Instead of just focusing on one aspect like lighting or post-production, he does it all. “One thing I love is that I get a wide breadth of experience,” Whitley told me. “I’m a one-man show. I do everything from start to finish.”

After time for a few quick rocket-selfies, time was up and we were herded back into our vans. The newest, least experienced airman had brought up the tail of the convey on the way out, leading to a awkward pause on the way home as he was suddenly the first one out and uncertain of his destination.

NASA set up trucks above and below the launch pad with their fancy camera rigs. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

NASA set up trucks above and below the launch pad with their fancy camera rigs. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Once on the road, all the cameras came back out as photographers snapped wildly out the windows trying to catch last clean shots between hills and telephone wires. Veteran photographers lamented the limited setup locations. Their rookie kin tried to calm nerves they’d made a mistake.

Beautiful, but unlikely to reveal a rocket any time soon. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Beautiful, but unlikely to reveal a rocket any time soon. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Unburdened by a remote setup to fret over, I headed to the public beaches to try to catch a distant glimpse of the pad. California’s notorious coastal fog quickly set in, shrouding the launch site in aesthetically-pleasing but functionally-irritating wisps.

Disgruntled, I found seabirds instead.

Rockets may hide, but seagulls are forever. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Rockets may hide, but seagulls are forever. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

The next day dawned brightly, but my drive back to base kept dipping into ominous pockets of valley fog. My fears were confirmed once reaching Vandenberg’s main base — even trees were hiding in the mists.

The media swarm had expanded from the day before, grown to include straight reporters and even more photographers. Yet a few familiar faces were missing, betting on the foul weather to obscure the launch so choosing to stay on reliable internet and report from the webcast instead. Those of us braving the fog passed the time swapping stories of launches past, comparing gear, and speculating on the odds of the fog clearing.

So… the rocket is over there? Image credit: Mika McKinnon

So… the rocket is over there? Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Lawson was on-hand once again to corral unruly reporters, checking IDs and distributing coveted base passes from Space Command. She hustled us onto our bus, a repurposed school bus painted white. Photographers filed in, seizing window seats to render the bus half-full with every aisle seat free. Once again, we bounced along base roads, but this time in flatter, more open grasslands.

Rumbling to a stop, involuntary laughter broke out as we quickly realized the only way to even find the rocket was to take it on faith that NASA’s cameras were pointed in the appropriate direction. Even more amusingly, the location portable was labeled “Kennedy Space Center – Expendable Launch Vehicles.” Our SpaceX representative quickly objected, quipping, “Hey, they’re reusable!”

I’m more than slightly skeptical considering we’re at Vandenberg Air Force Base for the launch of a theoretically-reusable Falcon 9 rocket. Image credit: Kevin

I’m more than slightly skeptical considering we’re at Vandenberg Air Force Base for the launch of a theoretically-reusable Falcon 9 rocket. Image credit: Kevin Lachance

We surged out anyway, photographers setting up tripods parallel to NASA’s rig set to track the rocket if the fog cleared. Reporters paced around, darting in front of the group to snap picks of the ridiculousness, or collect selfies with either the misplaced trailer or the absentee rocket. Looking for a white rocket in a fog bank might not be particularly effective, but it is fun.

Surprisingly, the media area not only lacked a wifi hotspot or a livestream broadcast, it didn’t even have a loudspeaker relaying the mission countdown audio. Instead, we called into dedicated numbers for NASA or SpaceX to hear the pre-launch chatter. Yet once again, our lack of service caused nightmares of dropped calls, stolen signals if reporters with the same carrier drifted too near each other, and busy signals when calling back in.

A few people had that elusive single bar, enough for brief Twitter updates if nothing else. I managed to log onto our content management system, and even get the editor open, but kept timing up when saving updates. Soon, I couldn’t get online at all and had to trust in my colleagues to pick up coverage.

For the next hour, we paced around restlessly, alternating between peering into the mist and searching for that elusive single bar of cellular service. Without a local relay of the launch countdown and no visual confirmation, we were blind. Without connectivity, we were unable to report out anyway.

Liquid nitrogen is the coolest thing in the press area. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Liquid nitrogen is the coolest thing in the press area. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Seeing only my imagination reflected back in the mists, I turned my attentions to a media crew with a full computer setup for their infrared cameras. Minutes before launch they filled up with liquid nitrogen to cool the sensors in order to better detect the launch through the fog. One of the cameramen walked out in front to test detection, the screen echoing his motions with a hot human silhouette waving his arms in false colour.

Only the infrared camera setup had a hope of catching the launch through the fog. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Only the infrared camera setup had a hope of catching the launch through the fog. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

The press representative from Jet Propulsion Laboratories circulated, handing out stiff tagboard flyers outlining the timeline counting down to launch, and up to the events afterwards.

Our SpaceX representative emerged with a box filled with swag bags, swarmed as we descended on him like a folk of vultures. Peering into his silver plastic bags emblazoned with the SpaceX logo, the reporter next to me pulled out and inspected in turn a black SpaceX ballcap, a reporter’s notebook baring the company logo, and a sticker. Later on the bus home, he’d give us each a mission patch.

Waitin’ around, hoping for the fog to lift. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Waitin’ around, hoping for the fog to lift. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

Unlike most launch companies, SpaceX uses autonomous countdown sequences that proceed in real-time without prescheduled holds. NASA’s News Chief Michael Curie told me in an email, “SpaceX performs its countdown sequentially and begins key activities with buffer time to enable them to reach T-0 without any holds.” That means clock-time (t) and real time (l) match.

At thirteen minutes out, SpaceX entered the final countdown. Without any audio, I missed the rapid-fire final checks and cascade of excited “Go!”s building anticipation for a rapidly-approaching blastoff that I love so dearly.

I plopped down to sit before the row of tripods, and tried to accept I’d be attending a launch solely for the growling roar of the rocket.

So many reporters with nothing to see. Image credit: Mika McKinnon

So many reporters with nothing to see. Image credit: Mika McKinnon


Taking pity on us, our Air Force escort Lawson cranked her radio so we could hear the final countdown. She cued us with a loud “SEVEN!” and like excited schoolchildren, we gleefully joined to count down together. Through her radio, we heard reports of successful engine ignition and stared intently into the mist, desperate to see any glimmer of glow.

Time stretched out to a condensed infinity — more successes from the radio, and not a trace of the rocket right in front of us. Finally, the roar arrived, the speed of sound disconcertingly lagging light but undeniable in its force. I fought against closing my eyes and sinking into it, still hopeful for a miraculous break in the clouds. Painful seconds later, the Falcon 9 rose broke free of the cloud deck, finally visible as a streak of light rapidly dashing off into the distance.

Around me, media howled in glee, relief and joy exploding in mixed laughter and exclamations as they swung cameras around to track the blip. Then just as quickly it was gone, the rocket’s roar fading as it disappeared into the sky above us.

We turned again to the handheld radio, an intense circle focused on disembodied voices reporting maximum thrust, transonic speeds, stage separation, jettisoned fairings. The several-minute coast of both stages hit right as the infrared camera teams started cleaning up their gear, and I ducked over to marvel at the tiny storm of discarded liquid nitrogen dancing in grass.

My bright teal nails caught the eye of another photographer. I obliged his vision, pausing with the mission timeline in my hands so he could grab the shot. I made it back to the circle just in time for the first stage engine to make its landing attempt. At the most critical of critical junctures during the stage one landing attempt, the SpaceX feed glitched, going offline. We wrote it off as our terrible, intermittent connectivity, and hustled to board the buses and get back in stronger coverage areas.

Later, I’d learn between the distance and weather, SpaceX had simply lost signal with their remote camera setup on the droneship. Their camera froze, leaving media, the general public, and even remote SpaceX staff clueless about the fate of the Falcon 9 rocket. Slowly the rest of the story came out. The rocket landed hard, but upright. A lockout failed to latch, possibly coated in ice from the omnipresent thick, cold fog, the leg strut collapsing and toppling the rocket. The rocket was toast, but didn’t explode as badly as last crash and left behind substantially larger pieces than usual to tow home.

As soon as we got off base, I retreated to a local coffee shop to soak up the ambiance. Outside, a visitor interviewed his friend in an “Occupy Mars” T-shirt from behind a tiny videocamera. Inside, SpaceX sweatshirts and ballcaps were near-ubiquitous. The table beside me hosted a quartet of photographers lamenting their lack of a good shot this morning. Behind, a grizzled old man didn’t even try to hide his enthusiasm for the technological marvels of a vertical landing. The baristas offered a near-constant string of apologies for running out of bagels, breakfast burritos, orange juice, bananas, their stock heavily depleted by the temporary launch-induced population boom.

My phone pinged with a friend reporting on his experience in the public bleachers. “Sounded great!” he exclaimed, a veteran of too many launches to be disappointed. “It was fogged out,” another friend reported from her spot 4 miles out from the pad. “The sound was incredible!”

That was a rocket we saw, right? Image credit: Mika McKinnon

That was a rocket we saw, right? Image credit: Mika McKinnon

As a reporter, this was an awful launch to cover for reasons beyond our control. Site access was heavily limited, and weather the day-of made it impossible to make first-hand observations. Limited connectivity cut me off from the office, and thwarted my every attempt at updates. It was frustration writ large, exclusives missed and answers left unposted.

But as a scientist, this launch was everything it needed to be. The satellite arrived in the right orbit and in good health, powering on and ready to start running through instrument checks. And the rocket reached the barge, even touching down. It failed, but it failed in a new, different way than previous failures, giving SpaceX a new challenge to overcome. Even the post-topple explosions was smaller, leaving them bigger pieces to mull over.

And as a tiny, frail human faced with the power of a rocket, it was, as always, incredible.

Here’s a toast: to space, to data continuity, and to observing more so we can better understand this wild, complex world of ours.

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The Latest Casualty of Weird Weather? Frozen Turtles

This is a terrible record to break: Largest number of turtles relocated due to hypothermic shock from a single event. These poor reptiles are even more confused by this year’s winter weather than we are!

If all goes well in the world, turtles migrate to stay in comfortably warm water year-round. But sometimes cold water catches them out of position, sending them into hypothermic shock. Shannon Kemp at North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls Shore explains:

“When the water gets colder gradually, the turtles know to get to warmer waters but when it happens really fast like this they move slower and don’t have time to get to warmer waters. Air gets trapped in their GI tract and then they float to shore by the wind and wave action.”

Every year, national parks and aquariums coordinate rescue efforts to relocate the the turtles. The numbers are usually small–a dozen here, a few dozen there, always in the single digits for daily rescules. But this year’s unseasonably warm weather followed by a cold snap disoriented hundreds of turtles off the coast of North Carolina.

Statewide, approximately 600 turtles were rescued over two days. This is both the largest number of turtles incapacitated by a single event, and the largest number rescued in one day. Sea turtles are fragile species–the stranded turtles were mostly endangered green turtles and a few critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys. Most were juveniles between 2 and 5 years old, who are vulnerably small and lacked the experience of their older kin to head south before the winter.

The National Parks Service coordinated with the Coast Guard to release the 217 healthiest turtles into warmer waters by the South Carolina/Georgia border. Jacob Reisener, a crew member on the Coast Guard cutter Cushing that participated in the rescue, mused:

“Not every day you get a chance to rescue sea turtles in extreme, hypothermic conditions. […] Once out to sea, the turtles all swam away in warmer waters and seemed happy.”

The remainder of the turtles are undergoing care at aquariums with hopes to release them in the next few weeks.

[Coast Guard | Coastal Review]

Top image: Rescued turtles in hypothermic shock on the cutter Cushing. Credit: North Carolina Coast Guard

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The Montreal Massacre

Today is December 6th. In 1989, women were targeted, shot, and killed for being engineering students. Today is a day to honour women scientists and engineers living and working in Canada.

Fourteen women were killed and another ten women and four men injured during the attack at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. Today is a day to rememberGeneviève Bergeron, a civil engineering student; Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Sonia Pelletier, Anne-Marie Lemay, and Annie St-Arneault, mechanical engineering students; Anne-Marie Edward, a chemical engineering student; Maud Haviernick, Maryse Leclair, Michèle Richard, and Annie Turcotte, materials engineering students; Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, a nursing student, andMaryse Laganière, a budget clerk at the university.

In Canada, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre is a national day of remembrance and action. Almost all these women died before they could complete their training, and before they could contribute to science and engineering in Canada. Instead of given attention to their killer, I chose to honour these women by sharing the stories of women who have had a chance to work. Here are a few women working in science and engineering in Canada:

Roberta Lynn Bondar is an astronaut from Sault Ste. Marie. She flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery, becoming the first Canadian woman in space. She later co-anchored Discovery Channel coverage of launches, and current uses landscape photography to support her environmental advocacy charity.

Elizabeth Cannon is a geomatics engineer from Charlottetown. She developed developed satellite techniques using global positioning satellites, starting with techniques for precise positioning of aircraft using semi-kinematic differential GPS.

Dusanka Filipovic is a chemical engineer who emigrated from Yugoslavia. She is co-inventor of “Blue Bottle” technology to safely recovery halogenated hydrocarbon compounds for re-reuse.

Charlotte Fischer is a mathematician who emigrated from the Ukraine. She developed atomic structure models to successfully predict the existence of negative calcium ions.

Ursula Franklin is a metallurgiest who emigrated from Germany. She applied material science techniques to archeology, developing the field of archaeometry, and contributed to early efforts to track the impact of nuclear weapons testing fallout.

Charlotte Keen is a marine geophysicist from Halifax. She was the first woman to work a Geologic Survey of Canada research cruise (by smuggling aboard), going on to participate in the massive LITHOPROBE project to map Canada’s tectonic structure.

Geraldine Kenney-Wallace is a physicist who emigrated from England. She opened and operated the first ultrafast laser lab in a Canadian university, reaching time scales of 6 x 10-14 seconds for research on molecular motion and optoelectronics.

Cathleen Synge Morawetz is a mathematician from Toronto. Sheadvanced the field of nonlinear partial differential equations, leading to applications in acoustics, aerodynamics, and optics, including her improving aerodynamics of supersonic aircraft.

Julie Payette is an astronaut from Montreal. She flew on Space Shuttle Discovery for the first manual docking at the International Space Station, also becoming the first Canadian on the station. She returned on Space Shuttle Endeavour when 13 astronauts from 5 nationalities gathered at the station, marking the first time when two Canadians were in space.

Alice Payne is a mining geologist from Edmonton. She persisted in demanding access to field work for women. Despite laws barring her from underground site visits, she successfully advised mining operations for years.

Veena Rawat is an electrical engineer who emigrated from India. She worked in public service, advancing telecommunications and managing spectrum management.

Frances Wagner is a micropalaeontologist from Hamilton. She was one of the first women (along with Keen) permitted to do fieldwork with the Geologic Survey of Canada, going on to work on research cruises through the northwest passage.

Mary Anne White is a materials scientist from London (Ontario). She developed a new class of heat-absorbing materials with applications to absorbing waste heat, insulation, and heat storage.

This is just a handful of incredible women working in science and engineering in Canada.

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Zombies: A Seismic Defense

A farewell note to a former coworker, inspired by John Rennie at PLOS:

As trained geophysicists, we’ve kept the office mercifully zombie-free since the Apocalypse, even maintaining a rigorous field schedule. A global catastrophe of undead hordes roaming the streets is no excuse to fall behind on contracts, after all.

No one is better at blending the roles of Crew Chief with Zombie Exterminator than the ever-calm Seismic Blaster Jeff “Stallone”. In his methodical manner of mixing high-quality data collection with utter mayhem, he’d direct the planting of geophones and burial of charges at the off-ends and evenly spaced along the lines. After squeezing the air-horn and issuing a radio call warning of imminent detonation to any living locals, he’d wait for the noisy announcements to serve their secondary purpose: drawing hordes of brain-starving creatures into his blast zone. For endless months at countless jobs, Jeff continued to collect seismic reflection and refraction data, determining depth of overburden and characterizing bedrock velocity profiles while decimating the zombie population in the outback bush of Beautiful British Columbia in dynamite explosions of dismembered, decaying limbs.

One day came a radio call I’ll never forget. His slow drawl sounded out, scattered with static but stress-free: “Yeah, so we’ve got a zombie coming down the line… a big one, probably from the old diamond drill rig up the hill. We’ve already fired that end of the spread, so we’re just going to move on back to the far off-ends…” A few moments later, he continued, “It looks like we’ve got undead loggers coming up the line, between us and the undetonated charges. We’re just going to stay put for a while, see how this develops…”

No further check-ins came, but when the crew-change helicopter arrived at the pickup location, they found Jeff and his team relaxing, unruffled by their close encounter. Asked about his day, Jeff replied they’d finished the spreads.

Goodbye, Jeff, and good luck in the flatlands.

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