With my Spartan medal and probably a few pounds of mud.

The CrossFit Bridge Over Obstacles

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” – Miyamoto Musashi, “A Book of Five Rings”

Imagine a race inspired by the film “300” and then it shouldn’t be so surprising that barbed wire, fire pits, chilly creeks, heavy objects, uphill running, climbing and even spears await.

The Spartan Race is on the leading edge of a rapidly growing industry built on some of us having the inner need to run through mega obstacle courses.  Think of it as a blend of cross country running with some Army/Marine Corps like training tossed in around every corner. As they say on their website, Many will arrive, but few will leave” or more eloquently “You may die” (the motto of the most hardcore of Spartan Races known as the “Death Race) ought to discourage the more rationally minded individual.  Or you may find yourself looking at it as the ultimate challenge of mental and physical fortitude.

My journey to become “Spartan strong” began earlier in the Summer with my first taste of a CrossFit – an increasingly popular version of fitness with roots in endurance training, weight lifting and some gymnastics for good measure.  If you want to get faster and stronger beyond everything else you’ve tried before…you just might find yourself here.

When I get asked, “What is CrossFit?”  I always have a tough time explaining it.  Usually I’ll start my answer by sending over this YouTube clip showing this year’s Reebok CrossFit games.

They look like Spartans don’t they?  I know I sure as heck didn’t.  I was (and never will be!) a Rich Froning.  I had much more in common physically with Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.  I doubt I could’ve even lifted the single, individual weights that would’ve been placed onto the barbells.  That said, I was still intrigued enough to give it a try when asked by a friend to join in on a free session.  I finally stopped with the excuses and made it into the arena… er, Combat Sports Academy in Dublin, California.

CrossFit 101

My goal was merely to “survive” my first class, a 60 minute “WOD” aka Workout Of the Day.  Its not as easy as it sounds, as most warm ups in CrossFit before the actual WOD are worse than your average gym routine.  Be prepared to jump rope for 5-10 minutes straight, run a mile, do a few dozen sit-ups, pushups or burpees along with some stretching to get you ‘ready’ to do the real work.  Some of that ‘real work’ might include a routine like “McGhee” doing five 275lb deadlifts, 13 pushups and 9 box jumps to 24″.  Sound simple?  Oh wait, its an “AMRAP” routine meaning As Many Reps As Possible.  You get to do that fun for 30 minutes and see how many times you cycle through that list.

Google search “CrossFit WODs” and you’ll find a limitless variety of way to push your body to the extreme.

Another WOD (one I do actually enjoy) is known as “Fight Gone Bad”, originally created for MMA athlete B.J. Penn as a means to condition his body to endure through 3-5 rounds of fighting.  “FGB” is simply EMOM or Every Minute On the Minute of: wall ball shots (tossing 20 lbs 10 feet to a target over your head, catch and toss again), sumo high pull (bringing a 75 lb barbell from the floor to your chin and back), box jumps to 24″ (jump up then off, repeat), push press (toss a 75 lb barbell over your head back to your shoulder rack position and back over your head), and finally the rowing machine counting calories earned.

In my case I simply wanted to finish and not throw up.  So what happened?

IMG_7681

I survived!

Though I was the slowest and easily the weakest in class, it felt good just to be standing at the end.   That was mission accomplished for me.  There was no puking, no complaining and not much breath left but I’d made it.  End of story, right?  Not exactly.  And I blame the USA Olympics team for that.

Thanks to my job at NBCBayArea I got to see first-hand the world’s most elite athletes at the USA Olympic Gymnastics trials in San Jose.  It struck me how much of what I was seeing there with warm up exercises and even some routines definitely had similarities to CrossFit.  My interest was piqued even higher.  Of course I had no aspiration to join the “Fierce 5” and no way in a dozen more lifetimes could I have been an elite gymnast.  But there was that competitive part of me that wanted to get in good enough to shape to work on the rings, maybe hold steady on a pommel horse or work into a full handstand.  Any of those would be pretty epic to try for the first time especially after the age of 40.

Or maybe its just plain crazy?  Considering I’ve bungee jumped out of hot air balloons, been skydiving, rode above the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway cable car rig and have chased down supercell thunderstorms…CrossFit actually felt more like a safer and saner solution to my outdoors pursuits.

And so my CrossFit journey began in late August and September by taking on full time sessions.  I was pushed forward with a goal of not just competing in the Spartan Race but excelling at it.  So I began training, adjusting my diet skipping lazy days at the gym with multi-minute breaks into these super power sessions with hardly any rest.  We worked combos of power cleans, squat thrusts, clean & jerks all variants of thrusting large barbells over your head.  Then came the agility drills straight out of football training camp with sprints, lunges and runs enhanced by adding weights to carry along.

There were also those “tabata” workout days.  These were sets of exercises timed to run 20 seconds of intense work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, then another and back again and again, etc.

comp

The benefits slowly started to emerge.  I could run faster, jump higher, lift more weight and do all of the above without losing my breath as easily.  I wasn’t finishing dead last anymore but moving into the middle of the pack in classes.  Perhaps the first real world test really surprised me.  I could scale small rocky peaks in less than half the time I used to in my much younger days.

It was a bizarre almost “Batman Begins” like moment when I realized how all that training had prepared me to scale, climb, jump over obstacles that seemed otherwise impossible before.  As crazy as it sounded, I knew I was finally ready to take on the Spartan Race and whatever Gerard Butler clones who might be there to try to intimidate me.

THIS IS SPARTA-N!

“X”-Fit Marks The Spot

I finished my first Spartan race in close to 90 minutes and managed a near top 100 finish for my age group.  What surprised me most was the fact that afterwards and even the next day I really wasn’t that sore from the experience.  To me that confirmed what I’d been believing all along that my CrossFit WOD’s on most days test your resolve, endurance and strength more than an obstacle course race can.  CrossFit had proven to be the perfect training partner to prepare for events like this.

My first few months with CrossFit have been quite a wild ride and I’m looking forward to getting a full year into my system to see where it can take me.  My life odometer says I’m now approaching my mid 40s, but thanks to CrossFit I know I’m entering the best shape of my life.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m excited for the possibilities.

By robmayeda

5.20.2012 Solar Eclipse (Photos Included)

Here are some photos taken from NBC Bay Area during our newscast and just outside our studios as we caught some images of multiple crescent shaped “mini-eclipses” cast in the shadows from nearby tree branches.

Near max coverage in the Bay Area just after 6:30 pm on Sunday, May 20th, 2012.

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What makes this event especially unique (and the first of its kind seen in the US since 1994) is the particular placement of the Moon as it crosses between the Earth and Sun.

Courtesy: Space.com

With the Moon slightly further outward on its orbit around the Earth, the Moon doesn’t entirely cover the Sun’s surface.  This creates what is sometimes referred to as a “ring of fire” around the Moon, the “annulus” to the “annular” name of this type of solar eclipse.

Courtesy: Space.com

Courtesy: Space.com

There is reason to hope for nice weather for next weekend, as this type of event will not be seen in the Bay Area again for many years.  In fact its looking like 2028 for the next, less impressive partial view of the solar eclipse and not until 2045 or 2046 will be closer to the path of totality again like we will be seeing on May 20th this year.

FRIENDLY REMINDER FOR FUTURE ECLIPSE VIEWING:

Since we don’t get these often, it may sometimes be easy to forget that unlike Lunar eclipses we can easily view with no problems at night – attempts to view a solar eclipse can damage your eyesight permanently.

Here’s a very cost friendly and very effective solution – find two index cards, pieces of paper and card board and punch a pinhole through one and use the other as your focusing screen.  

The net result is a miniature “projector” where the Sun’s image will be cast through the hole onto the second panel.  During most eclipses you see a “PacMan” or “Apple Logo” like feature and with next Sunday’s eclipse expected to cover 70-85% of the Sun the effect should be fairly interesting.  Some enterprising photographers have been known to set up multiple versions of this to create a field of “cut out suns” across the ground in photography (editor’s note: As seen in the slideshow above – yes!)

Next up will be a Lunar eclipse on June 4th and a transit of planet Venus over the Sun around sunset on June 5th!

By robmayeda

Sierra Meteor (UPDATE): 1/3 the Power of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb, Remnants Possibly Found

Courtesy JPL: Fireball image by Lisa Warren as seen from Reno on April 22, 2012

So that sonic boom heard from Boomtown to Bakersfield and beyond did indeed have out-of-this world origin as “a large meteoric event” according to NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

Even that may be an understatement!

Scientists now estimate the blast measured in near 5 kilotons or roughly 1/3 the power of the 15 kiloton atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima Japan during World War II.

Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., estimates the object was about the size of a minivan, weighed in at around 154,300 pounds (70 metric tons) and at the time of disintegration released energy equivalent to a 5-kiloton explosion.

“Most meteors you see in the night’s sky are the size of tiny stones or even grains of sand and their trail lasts all of a second or two,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Fireballs you can see relatively easily in the daytime and are many times that size – anywhere from a baseball-sized object to something as big as a minivan.”

The Associated Press is reporting that possible remnants from the blast are now being found near the Sierra foothills just east of Sacramento.

Tiny meteorites found in the Sierra foothills of Northern California likely were part of a giant fireball that exploded in daylight.

The rocks each weighed about 10 grams, or the weight of two nickels, said John T. Wasson, a longtime professor and expert in meteorites at UCLA’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.

Courtesy: Elizabeth Silber, Western University and SpaceWeather.com

This map shows the possible location of the meteoric explosion with any remaining meteorites likely fanning out over a wide area, most likely to the east of Stockton and Sacramento.

The event that rattled windows, set off car alarms and glaringly bright enough to be seen in early morning daylight was also recorded via the Nevada Seismological Laboratory as the sound wave (sonic boom) passed across the ground from seismological station to station in Nevada.

Courtesy: Nevada Seismological Laboratory

Based on initial reports, University of Nevada Reno astronomers believed the likely cause was in fact an exploding meteor, also known as a bolide roughly the size of a washing machine entering the Earth’s atmosphere at a high rate of speed.  Bolides are known for explosive ends to their brief journey through the atmosphere as intense heating and deceleration forces can cause the object to explode, with a field of smaller meteorites sometimes reaching the surface. (see images from NBC Bay Area’s newscast)

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Scientists now believe the object may have been possibly larger, therefore packing more potential energy proportionate to its speed and size.

“The fact that sonic booms were heard indicates that this meteor penetrated very low in atmosphere, which implies a speed less than 15 km/s (33,500 mph),” Cooke said to SpaceWeather.com  “Assuming this value for the speed, I get a mass for the meteor of around 70 metric tons. Hazarding a further guess at the density of 3 grams per cubic centimeter (solid rock), I calculate a size of about 3-4 meters, or about the size of a minivan.”

Based on these many eyewitness reports on the American Meteor Society’s website, the event was possibly seen over several states, the object may have remained largely intact for awhile before finally exploding in a dazzling if not ear-numbing finish.

But was the item’s origin related to the Lyrid Meteor shower that was occurring at the same time?  Based on what is known of most meteor showers, it seems unlikely and more of a unique coincidence.

Meteor showers caused by the Earth passing through the path of a comet, such as in the case of the Lyrid Meteor shower where the Earth is moving through Comet Thatcher’s debris field, often involve sand grain to pebble sized objects that enter the atmosphere at speeds sometimes exceeding 100,000 mph.  These tiny objects burn up in a brief flash of light we see as meteors in the night sky and rarely are large enough to actually reach the ground.

As comets are made out of a varying combination of ice and rock, they  like “dirty snowballs” thought to be left over remnants of the earliest formation era of our solar system.  As these object swing past the Sun, ice and rock is vaporized, ablated off the surface of the comet which the Earth later will sometime come into contact with as the planet revolves around the Sun.  This is the case with all meteor showers such as the more well known Perseids, Leonids and Orionids.

So what was the source then for Sunday’s Sierra meteoric blast?  Cooke has a theory.

“This meteor was probably not a Lyrid; without a trajectory, I cannot rule out a Lyrid origin, but I think it likely that it was a background or sporadic meteor.”

And just how rare was Sunday’s event?  Its close to a once in a year occurence and rarer still it happened near a populated area.

An event of this size might happen once a year around the world, said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “But most of them occur over the ocean or an uninhabited area, so getting to see one is something special,” Yeomans added.

Thousands of people from the Sierra to the sea would likely agree with that point of view.

Sources:  Jet Propulsion LaboratorySpaceWeather.com, NASA Meteoroid Environment Office, Neveda Seismological Laboratory.

By robmayeda

Living With Lupus Update: Meet Dr. Sarah!

The last entry in this personal blog talked about my wife’s personal battle with and PhD research on lupus.

I’m happy to announce that as of last Friday, Sarah is now officially “Doctor Sarah” having successfully defended her dissertation as her last hurdle in obtaining her PhD in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Health Psychology.

The early results from the Lupus Activity Scale (LAS) validated patients’ abilities to accurately self-report symptoms in ways that can hopefully improve more immediate and effective medical and psychological research for patients.

Sarah is still looking to add more data associated with the LAS, and if interested you may participate in the brief survey here:

LAS survey link or contact LupusStudy@gmail.com

Look for some of the core findings soon in some peer-reviewed journals, plus Sarah will also be the featured columnist soon for the Lupus Foundation of Northern California’s newsletter in May.

Let me say a huge thank you for all your support and assistance, and we’ll hopefully be sharing the survey results and graduation photos with you in early June! – Rob

Original Article – Living With Lupus: Not Just Another Birthday

By robmayeda

Living With Lupus: Not Just Another Birthday

Sarah celebrated her 23rd birthday again for the 9th time last week.

All kidding aside her youthful looks mask what has been an unfair roll of the genetic dice for the rest of her life.

My wife suffers from Lupus and has known this since childhood.  Even back then the prognosis for those diagnosed at an early age is generally unkind. Some may see little to no improvement from symptoms even with heavy medication. Nearly an equal percentage can see a downward spiral into worsening health.

This is why birthdays can’t be taken for granted for anyone suffering from lupus/SLE or any other potentially deadly illness. But this year perhaps more than most. Sarah is nearing the completion of the capstone project for her PhD program – new research that will hopefully redefine how lupus patients can better communicate their symptoms through self-assessment for with improved treatment practices. Before I talk more about the future of this survey, I need to do my best to tell you what its like to live with lupus through someone else’s eyes.

I found out about my future wife having lupus on our second date.  I didn’t fully realize how lupus really could be a killer disease.  I simply saw how healthy she looked and couldn’t believe her condition could possibly be as bad as what I read online. What you will find when you ‘Google’ lupus is find a definition that includes a ‘butterfly-like’ rash on the face and as a chronic autoimmune disease…it can be fatal.

It was a small relief to find out her condition was considered a ‘mild’ case, though she was still prone to flares.  These are times where the disease ramps up its attack on your own internal organs and tissue.  This can and often will lead to hospitalization and/or aggressive chemotherapy treatments.

I remember Sarah telling me in so many words what it was like to have lupus:

“The most limiting is the exhaustion and fatigue.  Imagine you have the flu, every day with a feeling of fever, body aches and joint pain.  Now imagine you also have other elements of Lupus such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reynaud’s disease, occasional mouth ulcers and skin rashes due to stress or too much exposure to the Sun.”

Since she was first diagnosed, my wife takes 12 pills daily for a variety of symptoms as complex as the disease itself.  She carries a positive spin on things despite as she says, “even though you have this disease that’s trying to kill you, you can’t simply become a grouch about it or feel sorry for yourself.  Because you live in pain, doesn’t mean you have to become one.”

And that’s for a typical day for a ‘mild’ case of lupus.  I’m still floored thinking about it and saddened to type it.

As is the case living with any terminal illness even the ‘mild’ variety, there’s the always very real possibility of the situation worsening and doing so on a timetable you’re never prepared for.

“Carpe Diem”

That phrase may sound a little cliché, but its a motto we find ourselves sticking to when the medical odds are stacked against you. I’m happy to say in the seven years we’ve been together, we’ve certainly found time to love living life.

From the shores of Venice to Hawaii…

Here are more snapshots from our wedding day to traveling around the world from Europe, Alaska and most recently our trip to the Caribbean.

These best of times that are counterbalanced with those other times that seem to have become a little more frequent of late.  Those are the days where we simply stay at home as Sarah goes to bed taking another round of pill-based chemotherapy treatments.  Its on these treatment days when vacation and happier times are the furthest thing from my mind.  But not Sarah’s.

Suffering from lupus has yet to get in the way of her childhood dreams. She wanted to travel the world.  Check.  She wanted to stay close to friends and family through the years.  Check.  She wanted to become a college professor, succeeded and was quickly promoted to Dean of Academics in less than 3 years. Check.  She wanted to complete her PhD program, several times delayed by lupus-related flares that make simply picking up a book too hard on her limbs.  As of next August- check.  She wanted to be treated well by a decent man, and hopefully one day have a family of her own.  I can’t vouch for the former, but hopefully we soon will be working on the latter.

This is why I value birthdays far more now than ever before.  It isn’t a milestone that’s simply passed by, this is a very real celebration of life.  Or at least that’s what it should be.  This perspective I would’ve never known or fully appreciated until I met my wife.  Through the eyes of someone facing down a potentially deadly disease, now I find myself appreciating more every moment, every minute of life and even the pauses in between.

“…In sickness and in health…”

With her wedding band in view, this photo reminds me of my life’s oath to stay by her side no matter what comes our way. Also in view is a delicious dessert (one of our favorites creme brulee) reminding us to savor the moment while living one day at time with lupus.

Her perspective living with the disease has become the basis for her research to develop a more accurate symptom assessment scale for lupus. Sarah hopes the development and validation testing of her research will provide patients with a more accurate measure to communicate what ails them and what pains them daily, known as the Lupus Activity Scale (LAS).

LAS– potential for lupus patients to self monitor their flares and symptoms, empowers the patient to be active in their treatment and will help speed up research as it allows studies to monitor the disease activity cost effectively, non evasively and in a timely manner, no need to wait for lab results.” 

With any luck, by creating this measure of self-reporting symptom activity, Sarah will be providing a new tool for doctors and care takers so that other children and adults getting diagnosed with lupus for the first time hopefully won’t have to experience the weeks, months and years of medicine roulette and missed diagnoses.

I am amazed that she’s able to do this while taking chemotherapy for the very same disease she’s doing research on to benefit present and future patients.

Then again this is wife I’m writing about, I would expect no less from someone who lives life to the fullest no matter the odds.

Sarah’s Research Project and Survey Link – please forward to those you know who suffer from Lupus.

Helpful Links:

On Facebook: The Lupus Activity Scale support page
Lupus Foundation of Northern California
Lupus Foundation of America
Center for Clinical Trials Education (development and validation of the LAS study under the “psychosocial” section)

By robmayeda

Fighting Wildfires With Science – NBC Bay Area Report

Our NBC Bay Area report on San Jose State’s really very interesting fire weather research project using SODAR, LIDAR and weather balloon launch wind profiling to better understand wildfire behavior. This type of technology may be more accustomed to being used in various storm chasing applications you might’ve seen on Discovery Channels “Stormchasers”. In this case, the team is using LIDAR to see inside fire plumes, gain better data sets to build more accurate weather forecasting models. This clearly could be a tremendous help to firefighters in real-time working the fire lines and forecasting for wind shift events that are often the biggest threat to fire crews fighting wildfires.

By robmayeda

How the Space Shuttle Launched A Career in Science

You’re looking at a child of the Space Shuttle generation.

That’s me with my 5th grade science project on “Space Transportation: Space Shuttle” I took tremendous pride building these scaled models of Shuttle Columbia and the full launch vehicle complete with twin solid rocket boosters, external tank and launch pad ‘crawler’ vehicle.

Of course I’ll admit that paint job wasn’t all mine, it certainly helped to have a Walt Disney Imagineer and movie poster artist as a Dad. Thanks Dad!

For those of us lucky enough to have grown up with the Space Shuttle, its been an inspiring force.  With the very first Shuttle flight I know my interest in science reached full ignition and has never looked back.

And here’s where it began.

Like many kids growing up in the ‘Space Shuttle’ generation, I had my eyes glued to the TV watching an incredible rocket ship with wings on April 12, 1981.  Indeed it was the first winged spacecraft to reach space and return to Earth much like an airplane.  Shuttle Columbia’s rocket-powered ride into space was broadcast with an excitement for space travel not seen since the Apollo era.  This was followed by the most dramatic return of a spacecraft in history, gliding back to Earth, dropping down landing gear and rolling to a stop at Edwards Air Force Base.

With the July 2011 final flight of Atlantis, the Space Shuttle program now follows the programs before it like Mercury, Gemini and Apollo into the history books. What I will remember most about the Space Shuttle program isn’t what I saw on TV, it’s what I experienced first-hand living in Southern California’s ‘Shuttle Country’ and how it inspired me to follow a career in atmospheric and planetary sciences.

The home where I grew up sits on the west end of the San Fernando Valley, facing the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.  As a kid I remember the sound of rocket engine tests and rising steam plumes from the western hills.  All that noise erupting from the hills could’ve easily been confused for a volcanic blast.  The steam plume and roaring sound was very similar to watching one of Space Shuttle’s main engines come to life moments before liftoff.  Considering that was just *one* engine tested per time, it meant what I saw was only a small taste of the full power needed to reach escape velocity and break free of the Earth’s gravity.

Despite this incredible front-row view to rocket engine testing, I can’t get too nostalgic about the Santa Susana Field laboratory as it’s not really a place I’d recommend folks try to visit.  Today the area is best known for its 1950s partial nuclear meltdown, liquid metals research and spillage, sodium burn pits and other assorted pure environmental contamination that is still being scoured out of those hills.  I’d like to remember it more though for its rocket engine testing, which did offer this valley boy quite a sight to remember.

The other more dramatic and long-term experience from Space Shuttle missions landing in California was a rather unique sonic blast that immediately told you “Shuttle is here!” every time you heard it.  To use comic book sound effects it sounded like…. “BOOM!!…B-BOOM!”  That would be sound of twin sonic booms that were often loud enough to rattle windows at our house.

Here’s an example from site not too far away from my folks’ place courtesy of Steve McIntire from Stevenson Ranch, CA.  Listen around :12 seconds into the clip and the reaction!

I’d later understand this interesting sound effect was from two shock waves formed both at the nose and tail section of the Space Shuttle as it travels over Southern California heading for Edwards Air Force Base.  As NASA’s John Haberman from the Goddard Space Flight Center explains it, “The nose and tail shock waves are usually of similar strength. The time interval between the nose and tail shock waves is primarily dependent on the size of the aircraft and its altitude…the interval between nose and tail shock waves on the Space Shuttles, which are 122 ft long, is about one-half of a second (0.50 sec), making the double boom very distinguishable.”  So that’s the science of it, and let me tell you it was always super cool to hear it.

Many Space Shuttle missions followed, each slowly moving from the extraordinary with non-stop TV coverage into an event that was on TV briefly only at launch and landing.  The “Space-Transportation-System” was slowly becoming more and more routine.  It the eyes of most of the TV-viewing public the Shuttle wasn’t a space liner anymore.  It was more like a bus in space tossing up satellites and sending a few pretty pictures back to Earth.

For me it was always different, I still kept a vigilant interest in every mission.  I also gathered an expanding collection of Space Shuttle mission patches, photos and books like this one that detailed America’s amazing space machine.

One of my favorite books growing up – “Space Liner” by William Stockton and John Noble Wilford.

It could be argued that shuttle program’s nearly perfect record of launches and landings became too routine, even to those responsible for the safety and security of the missions.  This led to the next major milestone in the Shuttle program which is still to this day perhaps the saddest.

America’s “Teacher in Space” competition could have been considered the first ‘reality television’ event in history.  More than 10,000 of the fittest and the brightest of America’s science-driven school teachers yielded a top candidate in Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from Concord High School in New Hampshire.  McAuliffe’s space-based lessons were to be broadcast via Challenger as part of what she called the ‘ultimate field trip.’

Among the lessons McAuliffe hoped to teach was on the benefits of space travel, “Where We’re Been, Where We’re Going, Why”

All of us who were in class on January 28th, 1986 will never forget what we learned that day.

STS-51-L

“Please pray for the families of the astronauts of Challenger which crashed this morning after launch.” – Chaminade Junior High School intercom during morning announcements.

We crammed ourselves into the student library on break to watch the live-coverage of the “Challenger Accident”.  One look at the video made us all keenly aware there was no hope for recovery.  We learned a lesson that day more powerful than any science, engineering textbook could illustrate.  Any attempt to reach orbit strapped to a massive volume of liquid oxygen and hydrogen was an incredibly complex challenge and one that could never be underestimated or ever seem ‘ordinary’.

President Reagan’s speech to the nation following the Challenger accident.

STS-26  September 26, 1988

Nearly three years later came our return to space via Discovery.  The Shuttle patch here commemorated the seven Challenger astronauts with the “Big Dipper” Ursa Major constellation.  Clearly, everyone had the “Challenger Seven” on their mind as Discovery lifted away from the launch pad.  We watched nervously again, counting the post-launch seconds one after the other.  We waited until we heard those familiar launch command words, “…Go At Throttle Up” at roughly the same time that doomed Challenger before.

Shuttle Discovery passed that mark with the cool words of Commander Frederick Hauck, “…Roger, Go!” and with solid rocket booster separation we could all breathe a huge sigh of relief.  The crew of STS-26 successfully picked us all up again for that incredible ride into and back from space.

Discovery returns the Shuttle program to space:

In the next years, the Space Shuttle’s incredible versatility was on full display from rescuing failing satellites to building out the now quite massive International Space Station.  Many missions later, the age and inherent design flaws of the space transportation system manifested itself again with the loss of the original Space Shuttle Columbia during re-entry on Feb. 3, 2003.  This time it wasn’t failed booster rocket O-rings that doomed Columbia, rather a new fatal flaw in the form of cracked and compromised heat shielding along the left wing.  Sadly, another seven astronauts lost their lives.

Losing a second Space Shuttle and crew to an entirely new catastrophic flaw renewed skepticism on the Space Shuttle program as a viable space transport system as well as NASA’s increasingly apparent troubles with safety control.  As incredible a machine the Space Shuttle program had proven to be, the aging fleet of Shuttles branded with a “1-50 to 1-100” catastrophic failure rate (or as high as 1-25 odds by some engineers) was really the beginning of the end for the Shuttle program.

Simply put, there would not be another 50-100 missions again before another ‘catastrophic accident’ could occur for a third time.  With the International Space Station largely complete and shuttle mission costs skyrocketing as fast as main engine ignition, we find ourselves where we are today as we watch the final flight of this flawed yet fantastic flying machine.

STS-135 July 8, 2011

This leads us to this final mission patch for the Shuttle program for STS-135.  Atlantis is expected (weather permitting as always) to launch and land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  That said there’s a part of me that is hoping for some kind of weather delta or anomaly in NASA-speak, that will bring this last mission back to Edwards Air Force Base again one more time just like the first Shuttle mission some 30 years ago.  I would love to hear that distinctive double sonic boom one more time as the shuttle slices through the sky over my parents’ house on its way to Rogers Dry Lake bed.

Watching this last Space Shuttle mission brings back many memories like those I’ve shared here, but it did more than that.  It changed me.

Many years ago I was a kid writing to NASA looking for help and input on his 5th grade science project.  NASA came through for me with photos, slides, and brochures on the space program, including the Space Shuttle that were otherwise impossible to find an age without the internet.  I never forgot the personalized letter I received and how years later as I studied air composition, planetary sciences, thermodynamics and all aspects of meteorology I can still trace my path back to that day I received that NASA envelope in the mail.

I’m still very grateful for the NASA team with all its scientists, astronauts and engineers past and present for inspiring my generation of school kids through triumph, tragedy and triumph again into careers built in science.  I chose a path that blessed me with a wonderful career as a broadcast meteorologist and a part-time Geosciences (and Planetary Sciences) lecturer for Cal State East Bay.  Though there were times I wish I could’ve trade it briefly, maybe for 7-10 days to fly as a mission specialist on a Shuttle flight.

Of course there won’t be that opportunity as the Shuttle program is ending.  Though for America’s space program I hope this end is really only the beginning.

With the Shuttle’s eventual replacement Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle not ready for launch for a few more years, I hope that today’s young generation of aspiring space scientists don’t lose focus.  May students with dreams of traveling beyond Earth’s orbit find science and space travel just as compelling as it was for me.

I know they will, on the very moment they watch the next great space liner fly farther into space in ways not thought possible before.

Thank you: NASA

By robmayeda

Green Lantern’s Failure to Fly

And with that poster you see to the left, I knew even many, many months ago this project to take Green Lantern from my childhood comic books into movie theaters was doomed.

You might say I’m an expert on the topic after all as my parents will attest, I collected nearly every Green Lantern and Green Arrow comic as a kid and teen and could practically recite the Green Lantern’s oath in my sleep.

This is why it was so utterly disappointing for me seeing the film-version of this character that was so detached, focused-grouped and plot-bombed from its true source material that is more in line with Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight”-styled Batman approach than this whatever you call it that hit theaters this Summer.

Let’s get to the facts which the movie did a decent job attempting to stage.  Hal Jordan was a test pilot, in the Chuck Yeager sense – not so much the “Iceman” from Top Gun sense we saw on film.  Hal struggled with issues ranging from personal demons, yet powered by a true to the core devil-may-care fearless attitude that set him a breed apart from the rest.  He was like no other man this side of Superman or Batman.  *That* by the way is the reason why the ring chose him, most certainly not “Anyone…Can Be Chosen” brought to you by Warner Brothers’ marketing dept.

The film again attempts to set the character up with the death of Abin Sur, one of the greatest of the Green Lantern Corps – though this is hard to believe given the film shows him utterly clueless and getting blasted by this awful space barf (sorry special efx called “Parallax”).  What might be even worse is the treatment of Hal Jordan’s character – into a wisecracking, __*&^5 that is no fault of Ryan Reynolds who really surprised me in how obviously hard he tried to keep this movie from sinking under the weight of its monster budget and swiss cheese script.

For those who didn’t read the comics – you might say Hal Jordan if ‘type-cast’ would fall under the likes of a Jon Hamm from “Mad Men”, or even Sam Worthington from “Avatar” or “Clash of the Titans”.  So when Ryan Reynolds was cast for the role and the first images of his ‘costume’ looking more like an electric leotard hit the magazines – we fanboys cringed and wanted to toss our mice from our desktops.

(Note:  Jon Hamm or Ryan Reynolds – who would you choose?)

Now about the movie, I did finally have time to watch it this week and went in with lowered expectations since Peter Travers of Rolling Stone had referred to it as “…comic book hell.” LMAO!

Truth be told, it wasn’t really *that* bad, if we were talking about a film with an average budget.  However with a rumored 200 million dollar budget this really was an incredible failure of intergalactic proportions.  How can a film that cost more than “Avatar” to make have even worse special effects than “Fantastic Four”?  At what point when watching the progress in post-production wasn’t there a red flag…er, green flag raised?

As far as the acting goes, Blake Lively is manageable as Carol Ferris, Hal’s love interest and in the comics his equal in many ways and not a former flame childhood buddy as she came across on film.  Peter Sarsgaard was surprisingly good as Hector Hammond even though his lines were relegated to some of the worst dialogue in modern film-making.  Mark Strong was probably the one correctly cast character in the film as Sinestro – Hal’s one time mentor turned mega villain early on in the comic series.   Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush voicing Kilowog and Tomar Re were nice touches, but again mainly given impish lines straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon show on Qubo.

And then there’s Ryan Reynolds who I had every expectation would be the worst element of the film.  I was wrong.  Reynolds actually did a pretty solid job being Ryan Reynolds (not so much Hal Jordan) which was probably the better parts of the film.  One must also realize that the actors were running around in leotards and ping pong balls straight out of an EA Madden Sports shoot most of this film due to the nearly exclusive use of CGI throughout.  I’d imagine if an actor can’t even *see* the uniform he’s wearing or the fantastic galactic worlds he’s traveling to – that makes life extremely difficult.  Ryan Reynolds’ attempts to save the movie with a terminal script were almost… heroic, very Hal Jordan of him.

The Script.

This is by far the most upsetting part of this whole mess.  Apparently 200 million in Hollywood can’t buy you a decent script!

I’ll let you in on a little secret that could potentially ‘spoil’ a Green Lantern trilogy if there ever was one.  Given how badly this movie has performed I think I’m safe in telling you the rest of the story since I’m pretty confident there will be no more Green Lantern films after this…

In the original tale – as stated above Hal Jordan is indeed selected as being a man without fear and the potential to be one of the greatest GL’s of all time.  Sinestro quickly takes a spiteful, jealous turn (his name does after all give it away, doesn’t it) all the while behind the scenes Sinestro uses his power ring to incite fear and worship of himself on his home world.  It is Hal Jordan who confronts him on this issue which eventually leads to Sinestro becoming outcast from the Corps.  Which is what makes this film more mind-numbing that its Sinestro who gives Hal his biggest salute at the end of this film only to do a smash/grab of the yellow power ring about 3 minutes into the closing credits.  Whaaaat?  The same guy who was the tough drill instructor, “Braveheart” rally speaker to the rest of the GL decides to switch sides after Parallax is beaten?  Nevermind all of the silly banter of “Van Wilder” moments of Hal and his best buddy cracking jokes about what to do with the power ring.  Mindless.

And the effects for the price tag were pretty inexcusable – let’s just leave it at that.

The creators of this film state “…we made Green Lantern with a trilogy and hopefully more in mind…”  This film’s epic 200 million dollar flop has likely killed any chances of movie sequels (which may be doing us all a service).  Sadly by lunching this Joel Schumacher “Batman” + Halle Berry “Catwoman”-inspired project into theatres this Summer – the only new chapters in the Green Lantern story will be found on The Cartoon Network.

On second thought – a series built by writers who know and write comics might be the best thing to ever happen to Green Lantern.  But another movie?  Show me someone who is worthy to write a good story because clearly “anyone” can’t be a great screenwriter no matter what the movie budget.

By robmayeda

12.21.2012 “The Mayan Myth” Trailer / Promo

One of Tulum’s most fascinating features – that notch in the building above aligns with the sun on both the Summer and Winter solstices – with a ray of sunlight shooting through the building. Similar to how Chichen Itza has a snake shadow ‘run’ down the staircase of the Temple of Kukulkan only on the Spring/Autumn equinoxes. Given the significance of the Mayan Calendar ending on Dec 21, 2012… my guess is there will be a large crowd at Tulum watching the sun pass through this building as the first Mayan Calendar that began 13 August 3114 BC ends. Various wild stories have been attached to the 12-21/22-2012 date, but locals insist that date is merely a transition to the next Mayan long count calendar…nothing more or less. What do you think?
Wild images on the walls – red handprints still mark the temple walls along with other very time and astronomy-centric imagery. If ever in Cozumel…check this site out for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Just bring plenty of water, light fitting clothing and be careful not to step on any big-uanas.

By robmayeda

What We Did This Summer… origin of “On Thin Ice” news special

In Alaska, not only is climate change real, its happening really fast. Our trip from Seattle to Skagway took in many wonderful views seen here with help from guest videographer and my lovely wife Sarah. The line on the horizon here still shows ice, but some glaciers here are retreating by a couple miles per decade. That kind of change in such a short amount of time was stunning to see up close.

What we saw in Alaska inspired a closer look at climate change occurring near the Arctic and closer to the Bay Area in our NBC Bay Area news special, “On Thin Ice”.

To get to know more about the human element on climate change: check out – http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaig…

By robmayeda