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December 22, 2007

Welcome home

Earlier this week I packed up my father's pickup truck and headed north from Florida to my hometown, Winston-Salem, North Carolina...for the last time. It's good to be back in a place with hills, colored leaves, and cold weather during the winter months. The next several weeks will be spent tying up some loose ends with my thesis, applying for graduation, and looking for a job somewhere in the state.

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Posted by Will at 12:10 AM

December 08, 2007

Scrubbed

Atlantis_upright,_August_29,_2006.jpgUpdate 9:30 am Sunday: The launch of Atlantis STS-122 has been delayed until January at the earliest (more from MSNBC). Fortunately, my ticket is still good for regular admission so I'll probably go tour Kennedy later this week. Plenty of photos to come.

Update 7:25 am Sunday: I was up at 6:20 am this morning in order to arrive at Kennedy Space Center before they close the gates. I've been monitoring the NASA control center audio feed and after announcing that one of the four fuel sensors has failed during fill a little after 7 am, they have scrubbed today's launch. The revised rules required that all four sensors work properly for a launch. More from CNN.

Every once in a while I'll come across something that almost makes living in Florida worth it. This time it's the space program two hours east of Tampa over at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. On Thursday, Shuttle Atlantis (STS-122 in NASA terms) was due to launch in order to deliver a European-built science laboratory called Columbia to the International Space Station (Atlantis is shown in the photos). The Thursday launch was scrubbed because two of the four fuel level sensors failed prior to launch. From what I can gather, it would be like driving your car on a road trip and you can't tell when your gas is getting low because the indicator is broken. Except with Atlantis the malfunction could mean disaster. The Atlantis rocket has four such fuel sensors and the program currently requires that three of the four work properly.

I found out yesterday that NASA was aiming for a Saturday afternoon launch so I decided to buy a ticket to be able to watch from the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex. As is my luck, a few hours after I bought my ticket online the launch was scrubbed again and moved to Sunday afternoon. My ticket is still good though and unless something else happens I'll be driving over to Cape Canaveral to experience a once in a lifetime thing. If it's scrubbed again, the team has until December 13 to launch before it has to wait until next year (when I'm long gone). Worst case scenario my ticket is still good for the whole Kennedy Space Center tour.

Point of the story, I've become a space junkie literally overnight and while I don't know how long it will last I'm hoping I get to see a shuttle lunch in my lifetime. No telling the future of NASA and the space program, or how long we'll have an non-militarized space to launch in to.

Here are some links I've been visiting frequently.
NASA Shuttle page (latest official info)
Kennedy Space Center
Spaceflight Now (really up-to-date info about the launches)
A photographer's website about viewing launches
Read about the crew in this NY Times story.

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Posted by Will at 12:58 PM | Comments (3)

December 03, 2007

Rare Maya "Death Vase"...sort of

There's an article on today's National Geographic News website about a marble vase that was excavated where I work in Honduras in 2005. In 2006 I excavated the structure where it was found. It's an "interesting" article:

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An extremely rare and intricately carved "death vase" has been discovered in the 1,400-year-old grave of a member of the Maya elite, scientists say.
The vase is the first of its kind to be found in modern times, and its contents are opening a window onto ancient rituals of ancestor worship that included food offerings, chocolate enemas, and hallucinations induced by vomiting, experts say.
Archaeologists discovered the vase along with parts of a human skeleton while excavating a small "palace" in northwestern Honduras in 2005. (The dig was funded by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)
Soil samples taken from in and around the vessel were found to contain pollen from corn, cacao, and false ipecac, a plant that causes severe nausea when eaten.
These traces suggest the vase may have been used in ancient rites the Maya practiced to produce trancelike states through intense physical purging, said Christian Wells, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida who lead the excavation.
"The way to have contact, to communicate, with ancestors is to have visions," Wells said of the Maya rituals.
"And you have a vision either by cutting yourself and bloodletting—which there's really no evidence for in this case—or by having some very powerful chocolate enema, or by drinking your brains out and throwing up.
"We think this beverage [in the vase] may have contained ipecac, which would have made the person who's drinking it throw up—a lot. Then, by throwing up a lot, they could've had visions that would have allowed them to talk with the ancestors."

Read the full story here.

Posted by Will at 12:20 PM

December 02, 2007

Red ink and more caffeine

After a much needed Thanksgiving break in North Carolina I returned to Florida refreshed and ready to enter the final turn. I received my first set of revisions back from my advisor and was relieved to learn I had turned in an "excellent" first draft. I'm estimating that only one half to 2/3 of a red ink pen was harmed in the reviewing process, which is less than I expected. Ironically, the chapter I was worried about the most, the theoretical framework, turned out to be my strongest. This makes my second go at it that much easier as I only have to beef up some of my discussion chapter. In a little over a week the countdown to the left will be in single digits and soon after that I'll be on the road yet again.

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Posted by Will at 02:11 AM | Comments (1)