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Archive for July, 2011

Tall buildings: low cloud

July 28, 1945

Few shoppers were on the streets of New York at 9am on the morning of July 28, 1945.

Those who were, braved a light rain and could see the tops of buildings were obscured by low cloud. It was a Saturday, and that contributed to light traffic as well.

The war in Europe was over, and unknown to those citizens, an atomic bomb had been tested in New Mexico and another would incinerate Hiroshima two weeks hence.

Far to the northeast, Navy Aviation Machinist Mate Albert Perna was climbing aboard an Army B-25 near Boston. He was on Emergency Leave to visit his parents, after receiving word that his brother had been killed in the Pacific, and was grateful to take the free ride home to New York.

The Aircraft Commander, Lt Col. William Franklin Smith Jr., had also been on leave. A veteran of over a thousand hours of combat time in B-17s, his whole outfit had been reassigned to Sioux Falls, to train on the B-29. His CO was waiting to be picked up for the trip west.

The airplane was a B-25D, tail number 41-30577. It bore the whimsical nose art of , “Old John Feather Merchant.” With their days as a bomber limited, a lot of ‘Mitchells’ found excellent use as squadron hacks, and VIP transports: the Lear Jets of 1945!

The third man aboard was Ssgt Christopher Domitrovich. They launched from Laurence G. Hanscom Field, in Bedford, Massachusetts for the one hour flight. The next, and only, contact was a weather request for New York Municipal Airport, (later LaGuardia.)

The weather was stinko. Significantly, the reply mentioned that the tower, “Couldn’t see the top of the Empire State Building. Smith was cleared to Newark.

There was a 2,000 foot MDA over Manhattan at the time. For some reason, the B-25 busted that. It is possible that the crew saw the East River, and thought it was the Hudson?

In any event, they dropped right into the buildings of Midtown New York. There were several near misses with famous buildings, …then their luck ran out. The southbound Old John Feather Merchant plowed into the 79-80th floor of the Empire State Building.

One engine went completely through the building and burned out an artist’s loft, across a street, and 68 stories below!

The light traffic saved lives on the streets, but the impact was a direct hit on a Catholic War relief office. The crash and fire killed 11 in the building, in addition to the three on the plane. Most were young girl office workers.

One who had a good day was elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver. She had been injured, and was put in an elevator for transport to care workers below. Unknown to all, the cables had been damaged. When it started down, it went down, …in a near free fall of about 75 stories!

The operator was killed, but the cables that collapsed into the elevator pit cushioned the crash enough that Oliver survived, …and returned to the building a couple months later.

The celestial campground–part One

An amateur’s ramblings

No. 1    22 July 2011

This part of the sky that I am about to describe is my favorite part of the night sky. I call it the Celestial Campground, for the reasons I will give in just a few moments. First, you will need to grab a pair of binoculars and head out to a location that has a nice southern horizon. Here in Florida, the Campground rises pretty high above the southern horizon but if you live at 40 degrees North or above, this area may be a bit low in the sky for you. For the sake of space and reading, I will break the articles up into several parts. For now, let us focus on the section of the sky I love to call “The Fishhook”.

Before heading out, print out this little map:


It will help you get situated.

After you get situated and are facing south, look for a large fishhook shaped group of stars located almost due south (at 10:00pm local time). This is Scorpius.  This group of stars has a bright red star called Antares (meaning rival of Mars) along with a nice pattern of blue white stars. Antares is a red giant star about 600 light years away with a radius 800 times greater than our Sun. Use this star as your staring point. On the right is an arc of  stars that form the “top” of the fishhook. In astronomy books (notably Rey’s “The Stars…”) this is the location of the claws of the scorpion. We are interested in the other direct-toward the sting.

Follow the bright stars that arc south and to your left. The formation will follow a slight curve and turn back upward to a pair of stars we call the “Cat’s Eyes”. The stars mark the location of the tail/sting of the scorpion. The brightest star is called Shaula or “The Sting” (Burnham 1978). If you are located in a darker location, you will notice that Shaula is located in a bright fuzz of stars. You are looking toward the center of our galaxy-the located if the exact center is a few degrees north of the stars we are observing. If you have binoculars, look at the Cat’s Eyes and move the binos upward until you see a two tight groups of stars. One-the uppermost–should appear fuzzy, the southernmost one should be larger and have stars resolved. What you are observing are a pair of open star clusters.

The northernmost cluster is called M-6 for Messier 6, the sixth object cataloged by French astronomy Charles Messier. This cluster was discovered by de Cheseaux in 1746 and cataloged by Messier in 1764. This little star cluster is some 1 600 light years distant, though I have seen data that lists the distance as far as 2 000 light years. This little group is called the Butterfly Cluster by amateurs. Can you see the shape?

The larger cluster to the southeast is called M-7. This group is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye from a place of moderate light pollution. The distance to this cluster is about 800 light years. At that distance, the cluster will be about 20 light years across. It was originally discovered by Hevelius in 1690 but may have been observed by Ptolemy. Messier added it to his list in 1764 (Burnham 1978).

I will stop for now. Take a look around the tail end of the Fish Hook (aka, Scorpius) and soak in the view. If you do observe this, please comment about your observations! I would love to read them.


–RV    27.45 N   81.45 W



Burnham, Robert;    Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, volume three. Dover Publishing,  New York   1978


recommend reading:

Rey, H.A.;   The Stars, a new way to see them,  Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1952, renewed 1980.

July 20, 1949

Fox Able I

July 20th is most remembered for an event that took place a quarter million miles from here.

There were 16 other important landings, on this date in 1949.

The Soviets were testing Western resolve with the Berlin Blockade. The Berlin Airlift, to relieve the city had just started.

The postwar reduction in force in Europe left little in the way of NATO airpower to confront any danger. Shipping more fighters from the U.S. meant loading them on slow ships for the trip across the Atlantic.

David C. Schilling had a better idea, that he had been promoting for some time. Events gave him a chance to use it, with the full blessing of Air Force Headquarters.

Schilling had risen to the rank of Colonel, in the elite 56th Fighter Group during WW-II. This was the first unit to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt from England. They shot down more Luftwaffe planes than any other group. Shilling himself, had over 20 Kills, five of them on a single mission.

After other duties, he was again in command of the 56th, at Selfridge AFB, Michigan.

He led 16 Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars to Germany, by air, saving the boat ride, and weeks of precious time. The operation was named “Fox Able I”. The phoenetic letters stood for ‘Fighter, Atlantic, first flight.

They flew the Pond in stages, as the F-80 had only a 900 mile range. Selfridge to Dow AFB, Maine. Then via Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England, and finally landing inGermany.

Fox Able I proved to the world, that Europe could be reenforced quickly, …a point certainly not lost on the Soviets!

It was the first combat-ready, squadron strength, deployment of jet fighters across the Atlantic, however, they were not the first jet fighters flown across. Six RAF Vampires flew the other way two weeks earlier, to provide demonstrations at airshows in Canada and the U.S.

Schilling led other long-distance fighter flights, including the first nonstop England to U.S. flight, (with three aerial refuelings,) and the first Wing sized deployment of jets from the U.S. To Japan.

A starry night

After twenty-nine years of visual and photographic observing, I think it is time to share a bit of what I know about the sky. I do not know as much as some of my contemporaries in the hobby, but we will give it a go.

If you can see the sky, you can join me on this journey. All you need is your eyes and a little bit of an imagination to link the stars into the patterns that our  ancestors invented long before the advent of radio, TV, and the internet. If you have a pair of binoculars, the journey gets even better. A telescope and we can go deep into the universe!  I will be posting tours and observations in this blog that you repeat at your leisure. I may throw in some spaceflight into the mix to keep things interesting along with some historical stuff from the history of astronomy. Lets go observing!

Next: A celestial camping trip….

STS-135 Atlantis: The Final Count Down

Through the huge generosity and kindness of NASA and their Tweetup* program, I was lucky enough to attend the final shuttle launch from the NASA press area. For those of you who don’t know, this is the closest viewing area that civilians can view a launch from and it’s right next to the huge count down clock!

Proof I was there:

NASA Countdown clock for STS-135 Atlantis

The energy and excitement that my fellow SpaceTweeps and Tweetup attendees radiated was unbelievable at the press area. It’s like you instantly made 150 new friends just by walking into the tent. Everyone there immediately felt a connection with you just because we were all sharing in this wonderful experience. It’s been said on Twitter by many: “the launch only lasts 8 minutes, but the friends you make last a lifetime!” And truer words were never spoken for anyone who has ever attended a NASATweetup.

The advantage to arriving so early to the press area (0500 showtime!) is that we had a lot of time before the launch to hear from some very awesome people! We got to listen to the STS-1 Pilot Robert Crippen speak. This man is amazing! The stories he told were one in a million in so many ways. To listen to him speak at the final launch was really quite a treat.


RRM mock up model

We also got to see a demo of the robotic satellite refueling mission that went up on Atlantis. The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) is a mockup of the real robotic refuler that will sit on the exterior of the International Space Station to run simulations and tests for the real mission. The demonstration was very informative and there were lots of questions asked and answered! The question I asked was ‘how many satellites can be refueled by one RRM?’ The answer was a simple ‘as many as we can!’ There are several variables that go into it, location of the satellites and the amount of propellent on board and things like that. Bottom line is, they will try to refuel as many satellites as they can. The RRM itself can be refueled so there is no telling how long it can stay up there once placed in orbit.

There were also several astronauts walking around the press area that were more than happy to speak to whom ever approached them. It was very nice to be able to speak with them and have them answer questions about what it’s like to be in space and how they got to be where they are today. The information is invaluable for those of us who still aspire to become astronauts one day (hint: that’s me!)

One of the main goals of the NASATweetup program is public outreach. NASA wants to get the word out to the public that despite this being the end of the shuttle launches, NASA is far from done with exploration and the space program. The term “Ambassador” was used to describe the “Tweeps” that attended the launch and I can’t think of a better term. The title really sank in for me when I realized that I was tweeting the whole morning right up until the launch. My tweets were re-tweeted by people I don’t follow or ones that don’t follow me. That’s when it hit me that just by adding the hashtag: #NASATweetup or #STS135 my tweets were reaching thousands of people. I then realized it was my responsibility and duty to tweet about my experiences for those that couldn’t be there to experience it first hand with me. It’s exciting to know that my tweets reached so many people. I had several friends tell me that they were jealous of my experience and commented on the pictures I posted to twitter. Most of these people are not a “space geek” like myself but when they saw those pictures and my tweets, they became just as excited and awed as I was. It may only last for a short time for them (it’s eternal for me) but in that short time, they loved space and I helped to inspire that in them.

The “Tweeps” also helped get the word out for NASA in their hometowns by doing interviews with local papers and news agencies. They became public figures in their own right just by being invited to the Tweetup. It became a point of pride for a person to represent their hometown or state or even country by attending the tweetup. There were several people from foreign countries there representing their entire nation. All in all the total was (I believe) 45 states and 16 countries were represented at the NASATweetup. That should tell you that NASA is not only a source of pride and inspiration for Americans but for the world over!

The events of the morning were great fun and all, but it was now getting time for the main event! There had been a concern all morning long about the weather. Everyone was near certain that there was to many clouds to launch and that it was going to be postponed. As launch time neared, the KSC Weather representative entered the Tweetup tent and informed us that there were still a few concerns about the weather but the board was GREEN and launch was still possible. The cheers and yells filled the tent and everyone was very excited. I went outside the tent about 30 minutes before scheduled launch time to get a prime viewing location just to the right and behind the countdown clock. I could still view the shuttle on the pad but wasn’t to concerned with that view as I knew as soon as the engines were ignited the shuttle was going to be climbing high into the sky. Because I was behind the clock I couldn’t actually see it counting down and I had no idea there was a hold at 31 seconds. Thankfully I didn’t have to endure that apprehension waiting to see if they were going to scrub with just a few seconds. I found out after the launch that there was a hold because the hood could not be verified via sensors that it was fully retracted. Luckily NASA has procedures in place to verify with cameras that the hood was indeed fully retracted and the countdown resumed with only a few minutes of hold time.

Less than ten seconds to ignition and the crowd starts counting down…10…9…8…7…I was getting very excited and could hardly contain myself. This moment topped every New Year’s Eve countdown I had ever heard. Finally (it seemed to take forever) the crowd yelled ONE and the solid rocket boosters ignited and the shuttle began to climb high. The flames coming out of the SRB’s was so very bright. It was like trying to look directly at the sun! At first you can only see the shuttle taking off and the flames burning, you cannot hear it at all. Then, that sound from the SRBs hits you and you can feel the rumble in your chest. The ground shakes a little bit and the crackling is all you can hear in your ears. It’s a glorious sound though and probably quite unique I would imagine. With there still being some cloud cover, Atlantis quickly moved out of sight but I was still looking up just in case I could catch a glimpse of it through the clouds.

Everyone around the press area was cheering and hollering as Atlantis climbed high into the sky. As I said, the shuttle was quickly out of sight in the clouds but everyone still hung around cheering and yelling with delight. A few minutes after

Atlantis went into the clouds the smell of the rocket fumes wafted over the press area. I knew you could see and hear a shuttle launch but I didn’t know you could smell one too! The “Tweeps” went back inside the tent to watch the live NASA TV feed of Atlantis climbing into orbit and the external tank separation. The tank separation is my favorite part to watch. I love to see it slowly

float down as the orbiter pulls away and climbs higher into orbit. It’s so graceful and majestic and I love to watch it happen.

After Atlantis was safely in orbit all the Tweeps hung around the tent. We definitely did not want the day to be over or leave all the great people behind. So Stephanie Schierholz declared an “open mic” and we all hung around and some people got up to thank Tweeps for helping out with their trips to FL, or to thank the NASA staff for being so awesome, or just stood up and asked if so and so was here because they wanted to give them a hug after all the communicating via Twitter. The generosity and kindness of Space Tweeps is unmatched in my opinion. There were several people that needed rides to airports or to houses or to the press site or any where else and Space Tweeps answered. Some people couldn’t order certain t-shirts or pins because they were overseas and other Space Tweeps rogered up and ordered the stuff for them and had it waiting for them when they arrived. The coordination and help that came out of the Tweetup was immense! And all Space Tweeps are to be commended!

I also have to take the time to thank a few people that really deserve a whole lot more than just my thanks! The woman who played a very large part in making the NASATweetup happen is Stephanie Schierholz (@schierholz). Without her a lot of things might not have happened and I certainly would not have been able to attend the launch from the press site. So a HUGE thank you to Stephanie for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. I could not thank you enough if I lived a 100 lifetimes.

The NASATweetup attendees also wanted to thank everyone involved who helped to organize the event and coordinated everything. Just so all of you know, these people did this despite having real jobs to do as well. That means that putting on a NASATweetup is not their full time job and they did all of this in addition to their daily duties at NASA. Which meant a lot of LONG days for them getting things ready for all of us grateful space tweeps! So as a small token of our thanks to them we all signed this poster for them and expressed our love and appreciation in words:

Thank you from the Tweeps!

Two more people that deserve a big thanks are Stephanie Collins (@stephonee) and Lauren (@ohlauren). These two magnificent ladies organized a lot of housing for a lot of Space Tweeps that they had never even met. They were lucky enough to attend the STS-134 (or was it 133?) Tweetup where someone had taken it upon themselves to organize housing in the area. Because of that, these two ladies decided to pay that act of kindness forward for the STS-135 Tweetup. I can only imagine the long hours and the amount of phone calls it took to get housing for everyone! And they did it without any compensation from those whom they found houses for. So this thank you is not enough but is most definitely deserved for the both of them! THANK YOU!

Again, I can’t express my feelings for being lucky enough to experience a shuttle launch first hand. Nor can I express my appreciation for all of the new friends that I have made through NASATweetups. A huge thank you to NASA and everyone involved in making this Tweetup happen. I will never forget the experience or the people that helped to make it happen for me.

Me standing in front of the Atlantis plume

Zero Days to launch!

The rest of my photos are on flickr


Live long and prosper,

-Mark T. Clemente


*A Tweetup is a gathering of twitter followers to share in a unique experience. Find out more about NASATweetups here: NASATweetups

Atlantis Final Launch!

Hello space fans!! I am both honored and thrilled to be coming to you live from the NASA Press site!! Do to some wonderful people at NASA and the power of Twitter and the NASATweetup I was able to gain access to the press site to watch the final launch. I am literally FEET away from the countdown clock!

The atmosphere is very energetic here! There are many space enthusiastic people in the TweetUp tent. Our spirits and hopes are high that the weather situation improves and we will be able to launch Atlantis on time. It is quite an experience to have communicated with so many of these people on Twitter and now to be sitting in the sane tent with them and experiencing the very last shuttle launch is both very rewarding and a little sad to know that a shuttle will never launch from here again.

The sun is starting to come up now at the press site and we are soon going to hear from some Astronaut veterans and a few of the many people who make a shuttle launch possible.

I’ll continue to update as my excitement allows!!

-Mark Clemente

STS-135 – NASA’s final Shuttle Launch

I have the good fortune and luck to be attending the final shuttle launch, STS-135. Many people are asking, what does the final shuttle launch mean for NASA? Is NASA over and done with since it will no longer have a shuttle to launch? This is both a silly and important question to ask. Of course NASA is still going to be around! But what will they be doing?

What NASA will be doing is a lot! By the end of the year NASA is launching several robotic missions to the Moon, Mars and Jupiter! And in the next few weeks a mission that has already launched will reach its destination; Vesta! The DAWN mission is quickly approaching the asteroid where it will spend a long time learning and exploring this strange little world. And then it will move on to ANOTHER asteroid. DAWN is the first mission to ever visit two celestial bodies in the same mission.

My excitement over my first shuttle launch cannot be adequately expressed in words. The inner child (and the adult) in me is jumping up and down 24/7! I cannot wait to experience everything that being at Kennedy Space Center for a launch has to offer. The people, the excitement and the uniqueness of it all. Unfortunately there is still a little voice in the back of my head that says this is also your last launch that I get to see. Which is true, this is the last shuttle launch but it is by no means the last thing to blast off from Kennedy Space Center. There are going to be a lot of rockets blasting off from the launch pads at KSC for a long time to come.

I will be tweeting (follow @mtclemente)  as much as I can from the launch to share my experience. There is also a twitter account that I co-admin (@causewaytweetup) and will be trying to tweet from as well. There is also a Twitter feed in the left column that will be posting all of the hashtags that will be associated with the launch to include; #STS135, #NASATweetup, #CausewayTweetup and #NASA. So if you are so inclined please follow along. I will also try to be posting things here and to the forums as much as I can. You can also find a link to NASA TV on the right side column where you can watch launch day activities take place.

I hope you all will join me in witnessing the final space shuttle launch and the continuing exploration of space! GO STS-135!!




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