Adventures in Space

Rocket falling over from above the launch pad.

One of my early attempts into orbit, achieving a spectacular fall after a 35 meter ascent

I’ve been playing around with a video game. I have spent, by far, more time with this game than all video game play in my life prior to retirement. And I’m feeling a bit guilty for it. All of my tech work has always been for production, since teaching my self to program TRS-80 (Radio Shack Model I & III) computers in 1982 so that I could write programs for my students (the school system having appropriated $0 for software). With these machines that have so changed my life, I have spent nearly all of my time coding, writing or preparing slide decks for my presentations.

Astronaut, flaming out, after locking his keys in the spacecraft during an EVA.

At about 26 Kilometers, my Kerban pilot decided to do a space walk. Alas he locked his keys in the capsule and burned up during the descent.

I’ve had a professional interest in video games, however, especially as research was starting to reveal the powerful learning taking place as kids were playing these games. World of Warcraft (WOW) and Minecraft were especially interesting to innovative educators. A friend of mine started a special class for at-risk high schoolers where he gave them missions or quests to perform as teams in WOW. Then they would debrief with discussion of strategies, not just in achieving the mission but also how they collaborated with each other. The students also wrote reports, as newspaper reporters, about their various missions and their strategies and methods. They were developing skills in math, problem solving, communication and more by actually using those skills in meaningful ways.

A nearly successful orbit

These three Kerbans made it into an orbit whose apogee was around 1.4 million kilometers and perigee was somebody’s basement on the far side of Kerbal.

Authentic Learning” (an instructional approach that allows students to explore, discuss and meaningfully construct their own learning within meaningful contexts) was a term being used a lot among education leaders, until No Child Left Behind corrupted public education, shifting emphasis to rote memorization over functional understanding.

I am thoroughly enjoying the experience learning to play Kerbal Space Program (KSP). Its Wikipedia article defines the game as:

“..a space flight simulation video game developed by Mexican developer, Squad. In the game, players direct a nascent space program, staffed and crewed by green humanoid aliens know as ‘Kerbal.’ The game features a realistic orbital physics engine, slowing for various real-life orbital maneuvers such as orbital rendezvous.”

The first time that I explored KSP was in 2013, preparing for a keynote address at a conference for the National Science Teachers Association. I wanted to use the game as an example of an educational science simulation. Sadly, with only a few days to acquaint myself with the game, I was able to compellingly demonstrated how a rocket can blow up on the launch pad.

Today, after much learning and practice (orbital mechanics is hard), I can finally establish a good circular orbit around the planet, and even loop around the moon. But there is much more that I can’t do you.

Rocket is in orbit.
Almost ten years later, I’m in orbit, finally figuring out how to use the orbital maneuver tool that helps you aim your rocket in the correct direction, know when to start your burn and how long to burn, in order to achieve your desired outcome.

More to come!

1 Wikipedia contributors. “Kerbal Space Program.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Sep. 2022. Web. 15 Sep. 2022.

A New Tech Wave?

Sinclair Research’s launch advertising for the ZX81. High-profile advertisements such as this were used to promote the benefits and value for money of the ZX81.

After I had taught social studies for a few years we started to hear talk about personal computers. They could fit on your desk, were fully programmable to perform a multitude of functions and could be had for prices ranging from a few hundred to a thousand dollars and more. Their practical applications were hardly imagined and were noticed only be a subset of a subset of nerd types.

I am starting to wonder now if we’re on the verge of a new emerging and equally surprising technology, do-it-yourself satellites. That’s right, satellites in low earth orbit, built with commercial off-the-shelf components and designed for scientific research.

nCube, 10cm CubeSat created by University students in Norway.
nCube, 10cm CubeSat created by University students in Norway.

They are called CubeSats, typically about 10 centimeters cubed and weighing about 3 pounds. They can be launched as part of the payload of commercial rockets or deployed from the International Space Station.

There are three reasons why I believe that they may be coming to a high school (or middle school) near you.

  1. Our exploration of space has continued with NASA’s exploration of the solar system with robotic space craft and the successful rocket launches by commercial interests including SpaceX and many others. Our interest in Space exploration remains high as shown in a June 2018 Pew Research report which reports that 72% of surveyed believe that U.S. remain a world leader in space exploration. Also indicating increase is a survey reported by Centauri Dreams, that Americans believe that space exploration is a good investment, increasing from 49.5% (1988) to 59.3% (2007) to 69.1% (2018).
  2. Increasing commercial interest in mining asteroids for precious metals and iron, cobalt and nickel for space construction; and weightless manufacturing.
  3. A probable increase in the demand for professionals with knowledge and skills related to a space industry, including: electronics, computer science, geology, chemistry, astronomy,exobiology, engineering, astrophysics and philosophy.

Some high schools have already started designing and constructing CubeSats, some already in orbit. Here is a list with launch dates from

  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [LD:2013-11-20]
  • Max Valier Technical High School [LD:2017-06-23]
  • Woodbridge High School [LD:2018-11-11]
  • University High School [LD:2018-12-03]
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [LD:2019-10-19]
  • IRIM – Croation Makers (Croatia) [LD:2020-12-31]
  • Ithica High School [LD:2020-12-31]
  • Raisbeck Aviation High School [LD:launch canceled]
    First high school team to design, fund, build, test, launch, and communicate with an imaging CubeSat and a 3D-printed chassis—using polyether ether ketone, PEEK.
  • Palos Verdes High School [LD:2020-12-31]
  • University High School [LD:2021-12-31]
  • Arnold O. Beckman High School [LD:launch canceled]
  • Valle Christian High School [LD:launch canceled]
  • University High School [LD:2021-12-31]

Alphabetical Index for My Book

Small Book Image
Click to visit the book’s web site.

During my first semester of college I took a course that helped to prepare me for taking higher ed courses. One of the tips that I have carried through the decades was reading the the table of contents upon purchasing the textbook. This would give you a structural sense of the topic of the course. Scanning the index was another way to delve deeper into the what and who of the topic. Several days ago I posted the table of contents of A Quiet Revolution. Here, I’m providing the entire index, clickable to specific letters.

I’ve also compiled a list of the items that occurred at least ten times in the book, in descending order (Wikipedia appears 71 times).

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Internet
  3. Apple Macintosh Computers
  4. Math (Subject)
  5. World Wide Web
  6. Science (Subject)
  7. Blog, Blogging, etc
  8. Art (subject)
  9. Apple II Computers
  1. Literacy (Subject)
  2. Social Studies (Subject)
  3. History (Subject)
  4. Video Games
  5. Google
  6. NCDPI
  7. Reading (Subject)
  8. English (Subject)
  9. Internet Archive (Website)
  1. NCLB
  2. Donovan Harper
  3. Al Rogers
  4. Virtual Environments
  5. FrEdMail
  6. Twitter
  7. Writing (Subject)
  8. America Online (AOL) (Online Service)

If you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that your name will appear in the index.



2016 TV Series produced by National Geographic

I finished a two-season TV show last night, “MARS.” What’s most interesting about the program is its play between documentary and drama, separated by 17 years. The drama is a mission to the red planet, the intent of which is starting a colony. There are no return tickets. They will either find water and protection from solar radiation or they won’t, and will perish. With two seasons, the outcome of is apparent.

Season one is on Netflix and season two on the National Geographic Channel

The documentary part is mostly interviews with persons involved in planning, designing and testing for future exploration and colonization of Mars. They include  Elon MuskAndy WeirRobert Zubrin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Eventually the science colony, which is supported by the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), a multinational funding and governing organization, is joined by a second colony, Lukrum. A resource extraction corporation, Lukrum has powerful interests in nearly every country represented in IMSF, and they use that leverage to promote and prioritize their mining activities on Mars.

The miners are all likable characters as are the scientists (with one exception) and they get along together gangbusters, as one would expect for people who are ultimately isolated from Earth for years. It’s only when commercial activities collide with scientific discovery that things break down. Even at that, the personal fondness and even trust between the commanders and their crews mostly continue.

Of course, the 2016 interviews and documentary footage shifts its focus to our planet’s ongoing competition between corporate interests and the common good, and that there is little reason to believe that the same will not happen as we become an interplanetary race. These points may be handled a bit heavy-handedly by the show, though I don’t dispute the sentiments, especially considering how much space exploration is being promoted today by commercial organizations.

The show ends on a positive note, especially as one of my favorite characters survives, a short-tempered Spaniard who leaves every conflict spouting rapid Spanish exclamation, Ricky Ricardo style.

Klaatu Barada Nikto

Novelty UFO at the visitor's center in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada.

Novelty UFO at the visitor's center in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada.

When I was out in the world promoting modern ideas about education, I frequently suggest for several reasons that students should be studying science fiction literature in English classes along side Milton, Melville and Faulkner. But This was not one of the reasons:

I had a chat yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster (Centauri Dreams), who is an expert on all things outer space, and especially the latest that is known or suspected about the nature of the universe. He was telling me about ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object (not from the Solar System) that we have detected passing through the Solar System. It was discovered with the Pan-STARRS telescope, which is the only instrument on Earth that could have seen it. Pan-STARRS first came online only eight years ago.

Our classification of the object has changed as astronomers have learned more about it, ruling out various theories. One of the few speculations that has not been disproven is that ‘Oumuamua is some sort of autonomous space craft, built by a technologically advanced civilization, and sent out to encounter star systems and gather data about their planets and moons, perhaps to be “phoned home.”

Personally, one of my favorite moments in movies is from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” when Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie, not Keanu Reaves) lands his flying saucer on a baseball field in the middle of Washington, DC. Are we ready to meet our neighbors? What’s the etiquette?

This, and other discoveries, have more and more scientists suggesting that we should be making people, our Earth’s inhabitants, ready for the possibility / probability that we may well discover hard evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations in the near future.


Paul’s Centauri Dreams blog article about ‘Oumuamua –

Wikipedia article about ‘Oumuamua –

Opening scene from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) –

Gilster, Paul. Personal interview. 9 Jan. 2019.

The Things that Catch my Eye

Google Street ViewNow this knocked me off my seat. Ever notice the automobiles people drive in your town or neighborhood? Using the same concepts that enable Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant to understand what they hear you say, scientists are designing computer systems that can understand what they see. It’s called “Deep Learning,” and it’s a form of machine learning, which falls under the broader umbrella of Artificial Intelligence.

Anyway, scientists from Stanford, Baylor and Rice Universities and the University of Michigan used images from Google Street View, 50 million of them, to infer the answers to questions about their communities and neighborhoods such as income, race, education and voting patterns. Specifically, they identified cars parked on the streets photographed by Google Street View cars and matched that with existing census and other survey data. The hard part, that required “Deep Learning,” was getting the technology to identify the make, model and year of all motor vehicles encountered.

One thing that they learned is that a neighborhood where pickup trucks outnumber sedans is 82% more likely to vote for a Republican in the next presidential election. Where sedans outnumber pickup trucks, 88% more likely to vote Democrat. So what do SUVs mean? ..and what about people with garages? ..and what television networks run the most pickup truck commercials?

I’ll be really interested when their computers can identify bicycles. 😉

Source: Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (

If no NCLB, then what?

So What!I have decided to elevate my response to Benjamin Meyers’ recent comment to a blog post.  He mostly agreed with my sentiments over the demise of No Child Left Behind, with his personal experience of test-prepping high school students for the ACT.  It was his first teaching job and it was what he was hired to do.

I certainly found incredible resistance and boredom from the students. It seemed like the harder I tried to teach the test to my students, the more they hated the subject of science. Indeed, high stakes’ testing has a nasty way of creating negative feelings toward school in students.

Indeed, it seems that the more we seem to care about our children knowing the answers, the less they seem to care about the questions.

But then, Meyers put forth a relevant challenge,

NCLB was created for a reason. Our schools seem to be lagging behind in performance compared to the rest of the world. This in spite of the amount of money that we spend on education and the number of hours that our students spend in the school building. If we are not going to improve education through legislation such as NCLB, then what is the best policy adjustment that our country can make that will actually make a difference?

But were our schools lagging behind?  The scientific research that we never saw was the proof that a generation who could pass tests could, as a result, prosper in a world and time of rapid change.

Were the the countries that were out performing us on tests, also out performing us in the real world?

Of the 32 countries who topped us in the Science PISA test, in 2012, only 7 ranked above the U.S. in the “World Happiness Report,” compiled regularly by an international team of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians.  They were Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark.1

I’m not saying that our schools were good enough in 1999.  They weren’t, and they left many, many children behind.  But to improve education in the U.S., we need to rethink what it is to be educated.  Being an educated person is no long based on what you know, as much as it is what you can resourcefully learn and what you can inventively do with what you can learn.  The job of the science teacher is to help students learn to think like scientists and to care about science – and even want to become scientists.  The same for other disciplines.

Once we understand what we need to be doing for our children, as a society, then we need to pay for the very best ways of accomplishing it.  Personally, I don’t think we’re paying enough to our teachers and for the infrastructure required to prepare our children for their future.  I also do not believe that our children need to spend as much time in classrooms as they do.  Learning is not as place-based as it use to be.

Four hours in school a day and redefine homework.

1 Brodwin, E. (2015, April 23). The happiest countries in the world, according to neuroscientists, statisticians and economists. Business Insider. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from

Two Reasons I Won’t Use My Typical Opening Today

For the last several years, I have been opening my keynote addresses by describing something that I’ve learning in the last 24 hours. It was usually something that I’d run across on my iPad (Flipboard), or a conversation I’d had, or some other striking something that caught my eye.  Today, it would likely be the Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant just brought on line in Kenya with the assistance of Germany’s continued development of green energies.  I first learned about the plant from the Kenyan cab driver who took me from the St. Louis airport to my hotel yesterday.

But no story today.  The first reason is trivial though not insubstantial.  It’s time.  I’ll only have 45 minutes for my opening talk.  It’s usually closer to an hour.

The second reason is more important.  It is my audience; school librarians, students of library science, and supporters and administrators of school library programs.  I’m not launching into a demonstration of personal learning because librarians and their libraries are almost entirely about person learning.  Their patrons explore, examine, experiment and discover – in much the same ways that we all conduct our essential learning outside of school.

These authentic learning experiences are way to rare in the classrooms of our schools, and this is due not to the best intentions, reflections and inventiveness of our teachers.  It is my country’s continue obsession with market motivated and industrial methodology of public education.

Engineering and Curiosity

What of these complex machines do you use in class? What complex machines do you and your students use every day? How will you use these machines to teach your students? One idea for teaching your students over the course of a year could be the development of discoveries from the simple to the complex. […]

What of these complex machines do you use in class? What complex machines do you and your students use every day? How will you use these machines to teach your students? One idea for teaching your students over the course of a year could be the development of discoveries from the simple to the complex. Helping your students understand the development of discoveries over time, and allowing them discover them in an accelorated manner may help them understand the significance of modern science.

The end of video shared that there are more discoveries in the universe. In modern era, sometimes we cannot see what is undiscovered. The majority of the world has not only been explored, but much of it is lived on. While it simply requires a look up into the sky to see what has not been discovered, it takes money to get up there. Fortunately for us, despite money, people were able to get across the Atlantic Ocean to discover and settle America. Encourage your students to not let money stop their dreams. Education is a valuable form of currency as well.