Tuesday, August 31, 2010

greetings from space, oberpfaffenhofen

so my first impression upon arriving at DLR (the deutsches zentrum for luft und raumfahrt, i.e. German Aerospace Agency) was wow, so many nerds.
my second impression, wow, they're actually quite attractive! all these young cute girls and guys with fashionable haircuts, no tattoos, who don't smoke and have good jobs! - a very stark cotrast to berlin.
3 non-stop days of meetings with aerial data experts, radar gurus, geo-physicists, engineers, 4 screens for every computer, i was a veritable child in an unbelievable candy store.
the weather was perfect, a glimpse of the alps over the tiny airport, the cafeteria simple and subsidized, i could die happy here.
the highlight however, was when my host bartered a paid lunch for some young cute girl with multiple ear piercings to give me and a colleague Martin a guided tour of the columbus center, which houses the control room for the TanDEM X mission: a new satellite was launched in June and caught up with TerraSAR-X, resulting in 2 synchronized radar satellites that collect in unison 20 minutes apart for interferometric data for detailed elevation data, as well as high resolution imagery that allows us to map cities and fences, as well as detect ships day and night pretty much anywhere in the world! and other cool stuff i won't bore you with. speaking of boring, standing at big windows overlooking the people in the windowless rather empty control room staring at computers with graphs and blinking squares was nothing to write home about. across the hall however, was a whole different story. this was the command for the ISS (International SPace Station, formerly MIR).
at 9:30 am, we just happened to catch the crew upon wake-up (slackers) - the daily schedule of all 6 astronauts displayed on a giant outlook calendar on a movie screen - every minute planned with acronyms, meeting, meals, exercise. there were black and white lines indicating when their day and night are, i guess they are in a superspeedy orbit where days are only 6 hours long. another screen showed a map of the position, somewhere in the southern pacific.
The live feed camera screen was blank, we were kinda bummed but there was plenty of other stuff to look at and talk about, like how they don't call it Oberpfaffenhofen, but Munich, for short, and how the common language on the station is russian, not english.
there was some screen with error messages which sounded scarier than they were.
some smartly dressed dudes clicked keyboards and talked into their headphones. i imagine what they tell their girlfriends at the biergarten later that evening, "yeah, i played chess with some guy on the ISS today." i messed around with a screen displaying an interactive 3D simulation of the iSS when suddently, the video feed turned on.
our guide says, yeah, i've been working here for a year and I've never seen anything interesting on the video.
a tiny speckle appeared and our faces were pressed to the glass, this could be interesting.
soon the speckle turned into a glow, and them a glimmer, and then a faint arc, with blue, clouds - dude, is this the sunrise over planet earth?
solar panels and other spacey stuff slowly showed up, first glowing red, then yellow. neat-O. our guide girl wants to stay, so we watch some of the activity below. i mentioned how my dad thinks space station science experiments are pretty much at a 2nd grade level. that didn't go over well, so then i asked about space farts.
next, another video panel went on, displaying some wall with bunches of storage and a computer.
we were on our way out, congratulating ourselves on the luck we just had when wait! i think i just saw a ponytail zoom by screen 3. we wait a few minutes more and low and behold, some buff female astronaut is talking offscreen, making hand motions while her gold chain necklace gently floats around her neck.
i ponder the conspiracy theory that maybe, she's actually just on a 747 doing nose dives above the utah desert but woah, there goes another guy, zooming through the screen like he is roller skates.
the girl comes back, her pony tail pointing awkwardly horizontal like pippi longstocking. this has to be real. a suitcase of sorts starts floating up and she bats it out of the way.
this is probably the coolest thing i've ever seen. guidegirl agrees. for the next 2 days i am bragging to everyone how i saw the astronauts and no one believes me - because no one ever sees the astronauts.
do space farts smell like earth farts?

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