Monday, April 18, 2011

More on LISA & Giving Public Tours with My Hubby

Since I've last posted, I've gotten to work with my husband (Derek) on two public tours of LIGO.  That's something that doesn't usually happen since he doesn't work with visitors on a regular basis.

1:  The first tour was on the 9th to the local chapter of the AIAA (to which my husband is a life member) based out of Stennis Space Center in MS.  I took the engineers and their families around the site and answered their science questions while Derek discussed his work at LIGO and his dissertation work (helicopters).

2:  The second tour was the monthly Science Saturday open house this past weekend.  The theme this month was "Rockets" in honor of the 50th anniversary of humans in space and the last shuttle launch later this year.  Since Derek is an aerospace engineer, he was recruited as our local "rocket scientist" to interact with the visitors.  I helped find some interesting footage of rockets for him to discuss during a short presentation which he presented wonderfully (yes, I am a proud wife).  As usual, I took visitors on tours of the site, but you are probably getting tired of listening to me go on about that :).  Below is a super-slow motion video of the Saturn V rocket for Apollo 11.  It was filmed at 500 frames/second over a little more than 30 seconds.  This video is over 8 minutes with commentary on what is going on.  It's awesome (and even better in full screen)!

If you want to see it in real time, it's here (with corny music):

In my last post, I discussed LISA, what it is and how NASA had recently withdrawn its partnership with the ESA (European Space Agency) in this project.  Below is the official statement from the Albert Einstein Institute on the ESA's response.  The original document can be read here, but since it is a PDF, I copied the text below for your easy reading:
NASA withdraws from partnership with Europe. ESA Science team begins to rethink LISA design.

It was just in February this year that ESA kicked off the process of picking the next major mission in its Cosmic Vision program, with presentations at a meeting of Europe's astronomers and planetary scientists in Paris. Among the favorites was the first gravitational wave observatory in space, called LISA, which had already been given a high scientific priority in the USA by NASA's 2007 Beyond Einstein review and by American astronomers' 2010 Decadal Review of Astronomy. But now NASA has admitted that cost overruns on its James Webb Space Telescope mission will remove so much money from its program that it cannot commit to being an equal partner with ESA on any major science mission in the near future.

ESA's management has reacted swiftly to this news because it must still find the best use for the whole of its space science budget for the rest of this decade. The LISA project team, as well as those of the other two missions -- IXO (a proposed space X- ray observatory) and JGO (a proposed mission to explore Jupiter's moons) -- have been asked to rethink their designs and scientific objectives to see if they can fit within a European-only funding envelope and still return good scientific results. Over the next year it is expected that ESA will officially adopt a new strategy in view of the NASA withdrawal, and then decide which of the three missions will best fit that strategy. Meanwhile, ESA scientists and engineers are supporting the science team of LISA as well as the other missions so that they arrive at the best possible redesign in a very short time.

The Albert Einstein Institute, as the world's largest research institute dedicated to exploring all aspects of Einstein's theory of gravitation, general relativity, is a major contributor to the LISA mission. “The European LISA team is working hard on the redesign now. We are optimistic that we can fit the new conditions and still deliver outstanding science by opening the gravitational wave window in space”, says Karsten Danzmann, European Mission Scientist for LISA and director at the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany. “We hope that NASA will at least become a minor partner in a redesigned, smaller and less expensive LISA mission, and meanwhile we are benefiting greatly from the input of our US colleagues, who want to see LISA fly and do its unique science even if they do not get full partnership in it."