Tomorrow marks the first launch window for the Juno mission, NASA’s latest New Frontiers space probe. After a five year trip through the inner Solar System, including an Earth flyby in 2013, Juno will arrive at Jupiter in 2016. While there the spacecraft will measure properties related to the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic field, and gravitational field. Ideally this information will lead to a more complete picture of how Jupiter formed, which in turn helps astronomers understand the Solar System formation as a whole.
Besides a multitude of instruments, the mission will also carry three very special stowaways, LEGO minifigures of the Roman god Jupiter, his sister/wife Juno, and the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei.
As the story goes, NASA scientists are big fans of LEGO and so they approached the company about doing something special for the mission. In response LEGO came up with these three, one of a kind minfigures. What makes these minifigs special is that while they’re the same size as normal LEGO figurines, these ones are made of aluminum so they won’t interfere with the instruments. The reported cost for each minifig, $5000 which was taken care by the LEGO corporation. Don’t worry American tax payers, NASA didn’t pay for these.
If LEGO stowaways aren’t cool enough, the final maneuver for the Juno mission is to plummet into Jupiter. This means that the final resting place for our three fearless minifigs will be in the belly of the king of gods.
The official NASA story, Juno Spacecraft to Carry Three Figurines to Jupiter Orbit.
I know, I know, those LEGO trophies are awesome! But much more important than the trophies are why these three girls are holding them. They are the winners of the first Google Science Fair.
Earlier this year a panel of teachers reviewed over 7,500 entries from 90 countries into Google’s science competition. After identifying the top 60 semifinalist, voting was opened to the public to identify a People Choice Award. Simultaneously, the same 60 semifinalist were reduced to a field 15 by Google panel of judges. The finalist were then invited out to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA to be judged by a panel of science and technology experts. Although the competition was strong and vast, the three winners: Lauren Hodge, Naomi Shah, and Shree Bose were able to rise above the competition to wow the judges with their original scientific research.
From the NY Times article, First-Place Sweep by American Girls at First Google Science Fair,
Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist and one of the judges, said that gender did not play a role in deciding the winners. “This was a gender-neutral evaluation of all the work that was done,” he said. Nonetheless, “I was secretly very pleased to see that happen,” Dr. Cerf said. “This is just a reminder that women are fully capable of doing same or better quality work than men can.”
One of my biggest gripes with human history is how much certain ethnicities and one gender has been suppressed and often at times prohibited to contribute to the progress of society. Think how much further along we would be as a civilization if half the population—that being women—were always treated equal. Even of the half that have not been marginalized, only a smaller contingency has been granted the opportunities to play a role in progress because they were born on the right piece of land, of the right ethnicity, and even into the right socioeconomic status. The prevention of a proper education and equal opportunities to everyone, is an unfortunate black mark on human history.
This is why when I see stories like the results from the Google Science Fair I find a little comfort that things might be heading in a better direction. Science needs more women and minorities, not because they are women and minorities, but because they’re more minds working together for progress.
Before I jump into the main content of this blog entry, I want to apologize to my one regular reader. The intent of this blog is to discuss topics related to astronomy, science literacy, and the teaching of each. You will find some of this below. However, I recently took the family on vacation to Disney World. While there I tweeted various observations and just a few other things that came to mind. Those tweets were posted using my “personal” twitter account lrubbo, which I distinguish from my “professional” account, ScienceInTheSky. Those tweets were also posted on my Facebook page. I guess some people enjoyed what I had to say. In fact, it was requested that I gather up my tweets and post them on a blog somewhere. Since this is my only blog, here they are. So again I apologize that this posting deviates from my normal topics to something completely tangent, but all the same, I hope you enjoy my tweets from Disney World.
This trip was a long time coming. Ever since our honeymoon to Disney World, my wife and I wanted to return some day with our kids. When our oldest was born over ten years ago, we were one step closer but then our second came along four years later. Although we desperately wanted to go to Disney, we also realized it was only worth going when the kids were old enough to not only remember it, but to appreciate it as well. Now that the boys are six and ten respectively, it was time.
Our original plan was to casually drive from Myrtle Beach to Orlando, stopping as needed. However, it also happened to be Coastal Carolina’s December graduation day and a few students requested that I be there. This meant a busy day and a rushed drive to Disney World instead.
Busy, busy day. Coastal Carolina graduation ceremony then heading down to Disney World.
After arriving late the night before, today was our first full day at Disney World, which we spent at the Magic Kingdom.
Once again I find myself in Florida, also known as America’s wang.
This was a reference to the Simpsons for those that missed it.
I took $1.50 to the vending machine thinking it would be enough for a 20 oz Coke. I was short by $1.25.
Throughout our stay I would end the day by making Observations from Disney. These observations were summaries of what I learned about vacationing at a famous resort that draws in people from all over the world. What follows is the first in a series of Observations from Disney.
Observation #1 from Disney: A substantial number of people require a motorized cart to get around, most because of their obese weight.
Observation #2 from Disney: Bad car drivers seems to correlate to bad stroller pushers.
The place was a sea of strollers and Rascals and nobody knew how to drive either.
Our second day on the property was dedicated to Epcot.
Holy Epcot ball, it’s cold today.
Unfortunately there were record low temperatures in Florida at this time. To make things worse, a brutal wind lowered the windshield temps to the teens. But this didn’t deter us. In retrospect I think it made things better because there was no waiting for anything.
I just saw a woman crash a stroller while talking on a cell phone. I can’t imagine what she’s done behind the wheel of a car.
I think each one of us was hit by a stroller at least once on the trip.
Observation #3 from Disney: Contrary to popular belief it can get cold in Florida. Very cold indeed.
Observation #4 from Disney: After riding Mission Space I’ve reaffirmed that I have no interest in personally traveling to space.
I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to rides. I don’t like heights. This particular ride was a tightly enclosed, moving flight simulator that seats four—a seat for each member of our family. Between the visual effects and the motion of the ride I didn’t care too much for Mission Space. My youngest, however, loved it and wants to go back to Disney World for nothing else but to ride this one again.
Jupiter and the Moon pictured above the IllumiNations fireworks show at Disney’s Epcot Center. http://yfrog.com/gyfkqyij
IllumiNations is Epcot’s closing fireworks show. As an astronomer, we had a perfect viewing location. Just above the centerpiece—a huge television in the shape of an Earth globe—was Jupiter and a waxing gibbous Moon.
Observation #5 from Disney: The Disney dining plan is well worth the money. Also, making reservations at sit-down restaurants is a must.
I can’t stress this last one enough. Eating at Disney World can be very, very, very expensive. But if you plan ahead and invest in the meal plan, there are some nice restaurants to enjoy.
Onto Animal Kingdom, the third of our four Disney parks tour.
Observation #6 from Disney: Animal Kingdom can easily be done in a single day.
Animal Kingdom isn’t quite a zoo. It isn’t quite an amusement park. It’s somewhere in-between. It’s in entertainment purgatory. That isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves. There were some fun rides and attractions, just not enough to demand a lot of time.
Observation #7 from Disney: A ride doesn’t have to move fast or have large drops to scare a 6 year old as we found out riding Dinosaur.
Heading into the vacation I thought my kids would love Dinosaur. In concept it’s a simple ride. You’re put into a Jeep-like vehicle with overdone hydraulics that takes you through a sequence of scenes filled with animatronic dinosaurs. The problem with the ride is that it’s dark and very loud. It was enough of a discomfort that none of us wanted to ride it again.
Observation #8 from Disney: Even though ESPN is the world leader in sports entertainment, ESPNzone’s sports arcade games aren’t entertaining
Since Animal Kingdom didn’t take a full day we wandered over to Disney’s Boardwalk which has an ESPNzone restaurant. The food was sub-par (since we weren’t playing golf this means it was bad). Worse yet was that the sports related games didn’t work. Moreover, I had the intent of buying all kinds of ESPN souvenirs, but there was very little to be found.
The only park left, and our visit for today, was Hollywood Studios.
Observation #9 from Disney: For as much as we paid for this hotel room you would expect free internet. Sadly no. It cost $9.95 per day.
During our week at Disney we used 80% of our monthly internet time on the iPad. This is in addition to our iPhone usage. Luckily the 3G signal was reliable most of the time, which was good because there are some helpful Disney related iPhone apps: Disney World Park Hours, Disney World Maps, and Disney World Dining.
I’m torn, do I pay $350 for a rare painting of Goofy as Darth Vader?
The Star Wars themed store had a painting of Goofy as Darth Vader. It was made for a recent Stars Wars convention and was #14 of 95. As a huge fan of Star Wars and Goofy I wanted it so badly. Unfortunately my Jiminy Cricket told me it probably wasn’t the wisest investment so I didn’t get it. I still dream of that painting today.
All lines and no rides makes Jack a dull boy.
After days of no lines, the weather was getting nicer and we actually had to wait more than five minutes to get on a ride.
Observation #10 from Disney: If your 6 year old says it was worth waiting an hour for a five minute ride, then it was truly worth the wait.
By far and away the longest wait we had to deal with was for Toy Story Mania. We waited 70 minutes to get on the ride. I blame his wait for why I didn’t get the Goofy Darth Vader painting because I had enough time to listen to my conscious. In the end, my son said he loved the ride and didn’t mind the wait. Enough said.
Observation #11 from Disney: it’s not MGM Studios it’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
I spent the entire vacation calling it MGM Studios, but its name has changed.
Observation #12 from Disney: My feet hurt. Bad.
Bonus Observation from Disney: We actually witnessed a mother try to bribe her kid’s way into a full attraction (the Jedi training).
This blew our mind. The Star Tours ride is closed for renovation. Instead they have the Star Wars: Jedi Training Academy going on. Unfortunately, to get in the show you have to sign your kid up, and with limited availability, this means signing up first thing after the park opens. Fortunately we realized this and were able to get our youngest into the 4:45 show. When the time came, we returned to the Jedi training academy and waited a few minutes for the show to start. While we were waiting, we watched a mom first plea with the Disney employee to let her son into the show. When that didn’t work she moved on to attempting to bribe him. Thankfully the employee, who boastfully told everyone he was from New York, turned the lady away.
Having spent the previous four days visiting the four different Disney parks, we used the fifth day to repeat anything the boys really enjoyed. This meant spending the first half of the day at the Magic Kingdom and the second half at Epcot.
As the heard of humans moves toward the gate I have the urge to bellow out “Moooooooo”
WTFSM, don’t all these people have jobs to be at? And what about the kids, shouldn’t they be in skool?
I purposely misspelled “school” because we had pulled our kids out of school for this trip. By the way, WTFSM means “what the flying spaghetti monster”. The rest is up to you to figure out. I had meant to put OMFSM.
I just found out that the Pluto parking lot at Disney World has been demoted. You’re now only allowed to park motorcycles there.
For those that don’t get it, a few years ago the planet Pluto was demoted to what is now known as a dwarf planet.
I wonder how many chicken nuggets Disney serves per day. Using my kids as a measurement and extrapolating, I would estimate a gazillion.
My youngest would only eat chicken strips and even my oldest often defaulted to them as well. Fortunately for us our kids liked Disney’s chicken. They’d better for as much as the food costs at Disney.
Observation #13 from Disney: I wouldn’t have the patience to be a Disney employee. I couldn’t handle the complaining, obnoxious parents.
For the most part, we didn’t see any outrageous behavior. But the few times we saw something, it wasn’t a kid acting out. It was an adult. Amazingly almost every Disney employee wore a smile on their face and were warm and welcoming. I just couldn’t be like that.
Observation #14 from Disney: Damn this place is expensive.
Observation #15 from Disney: It’s funny how 2 days earlier we could walk onto almost anything but those same rides today had a 1 hour wait.
My oldest really enjoyed Test Track and so this was his choice for repeating a ride. During our first visit to Epcot there were no lines in the evening. We literally got off Test Track, went around, and immediately did it again, at most with five minutes between rides. This day was much warmer and the lines were correspondingly much longer. Using the FastPass approach we were able to get in a couple of more trips around the track but nothing like on that first day.
Observation #16 from Disney: This has been the best family vacation ever.
So, so true.
Check out wasn’t until 11:00 so we started the day by having breakfast at the Grand Floridian, our favorite Disney breakfast place. Afterwards we spent the day at Downtown Disney, shopping and playing at DisneyQuest.
It’s time to check out and pay the Disney bill, which means I have to tell Joey the only way we could afford this was to sell my first born.
What’s the deal? These pants weren’t so tight when I packed them a few days ago.
The food was so good. I can’t tell you how much I ate.
There are four sad faces sitting at the breakfast table this morning.
Everyone of us had a blast. We can’t wait to go back.
I feel like an AFOL in a LEGO store. Oh, wait. I am an AFOL in a LEGO store!!!
Downtown Disney has a LEGO store. I remember during our previous visit on our honeymoon, my wife and I spent so much time there. By the way, AFOL stands for “adult fan of LEGO”. If you knew this the tweet made sense.
We just sprung a last second surprise on the kids, two days at the Nickelodeon Resort.
Oops, our bad. This turned out not to be a highlight of our trip.
Observation #17 from Disney: Although DisneyQuest costs two arms and one leg, there are some pretty cool arcade games there.
First off, DisneyQuest is a giant, five story arcade. It has everything from classic 1980′s games (of course it has Tron, which I played) to some high-tech simulators. Not only that, all the games are free, that is, after you pay about $40 per person to get in.
Observation #18 from Disney: I love LEGO stores and the one in Downtown Disney does not disappoint. http://yfrog.com/gzpt4ij
Observation #19 from Disney: Downtown Disney almost deserves a dedicated day to itself (and needs a lot of spending money).
Observation #20 from Disney: The Nickelodeon Resort is no Disney Resort.
After Disney we stuck around in the Orlando area to visit family. We thought we would stick with the kids resort theme and stay a couple of nights at the Nickelodeon Resort. Had we been on any other vacation, then the Nick hotel would have been great, but coming out of a stay at Disney, it wasn’t so great. It made use realize how the little touches Disney includes in their product actually mean a lot enjoying Walt Disney World. The Nickelodeon Resort was so disappointing that we left a day early.
Our last day of vacation was spent driving ten hours home to Myrtle Beach.
On the road again
Home sweet home
It’s funny that we spent days in the Disney parks at the same time as @Nytemare88 and we only ran into each other once.
A friend of mine was at Disney World the exact same time as we were. We ran into each other first thing on the first day of their visit, but after that we never saw each other again.
A nice consolation prize for coming home from an awesome vacation is having Christmas only a week away.
For the first time in Rubbo family history we went an entire vacation without eating McDonald’s.
This last one is a huge accomplishment. We were actually about two hours away from being home when my oldest was begging for McDonald’s. We stuck to our guns and made it h0me where we had Domino’s Pizza instead.
Overall, this was a great vacation. Our family is already talking of a return visit in a couple of years. We’re also talking about taking a Disney cruise, maybe to Alaska. That would be cool.
Have you heard the really cool news? LEGO and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement. (If you’re not into all that legal mumbo-jumbo here’s the press release.) Over the next three-years these two icons of inspiration will partner together to encourage today’s youth to participate in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The partnership is a bit of a no-brainer. NASA has inspired kids for a number of generations with their cutting edge technology, distant travels, and amazing discoveries. LEGO building blocks have been around for only slightly longer than NASA, but has played a very similar role. LEGOs have that certain appeal that originates from their seemingly endless possibilities. There is no right or wrong way to build with LEGOs.
As if the NASA/LEGO alliance wasn’t the coolest thing ever (at least it is in my world), the kickoff event includes launching LEGOs with the next shuttle launch. The crew of the STS-133 mission will carry with them two miniature space shuttles. Originally the mission was to launch at the beginning of November, but due to cracks in the shuttle’s tanks, the launch has been pushed back to mid-December at the earliest and maybe even to February of 2011. Personally I’m hoping for the current listed launch date of December 17 because I’ll be in the area on vacation. If the launch is a go, the family and I have made contingency plans to watch the liftoff in person.
Besides carrying a LEGO space shuttle onboard a real shuttle, LEGO will release four new NASA inspired products to be incorporated into the LEGO city theme next year. Some of the sets will be simple while others will be aimed more at the big kids, like me. Each kit will include educational material. I wonder if this means I can purchase these LEGO kits and consider them a tax write-off as a work expense?
If that isn’t cool enough, the STS-134 space shuttle mission (to be launched in early 2011) will carry LEGO sets to the International Space Station. The point here is to have children on terra firma build the same sets as what astronauts will build on the ISS. In the process students will realize how difficult it would be to build standard LEGO sets in a microgravity environment. I immediately have this vision of an astronaut tearing into a bag of LEGO parts and having them fly about in the interior of the space station much like Homer’s potato chips did. Actually the sets will be built inside a see-through box so that the parts don’t get lost randomly throughout the space station.
I’m very envious of the astronauts that get to build LEGOs in space. I’ve always said I wouldn’t like to travel to space because I don’t think I could mentally survive the launch, but for LEGOs, maybe I could.
If it sounds like I’m gushing for LEGOs it’s because I’m an AFOL (an Adult Fan of LEGO). In fact, we recently had an incident at my home where one of my boy’s friends came over and commented that my son has a lot of LEGOs. I had to interject and make the correction that they are my LEGOs, not my sons.
If this is something that tickles your fancy, keep an eye on LEGO’s dedicated webpage for the partnership at http://www.legospace.com/.