The Great Energy Challenge

April 23, 2011

Who knew there was a missing link between soft drinks, forests, ocean acidity, wild fires, cement production, and volcanoes? Today Mike Gunson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory talked to us via Second Life about this “carbon dioxide puzzle” and about how we know from data that humans are a piece of that puzzle.

So when we say that burning fossil fuels releases about 8.5 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere per year, what does that mean? It’s hard to really understand a word like “gigaton” because it means 1 BILLION tons. To give you a comparison, if 1 Mazda Miata weighs about 1 ton, then you’d need 8.5 billion Miatas to make 8.5 billion tons. That’s enough Miatas to circle the Earth 850 times!
 

It just so happened that the Museum had a Great Energy Challenge event this day. So after we learned about how important it was to have cleaner and more efficient energy, we went through the Museum and made some clean energy ourselves!

Generating human-powered energy

Generating human-powered energy

Becoming a human yo-yo

Becoming a human yo-yo

Blast Off!

April 9, 2011

Kennedy Space Center. This is the place where Space Shuttles and rockets are launched. The place where you can re-live the history of the US Space Program, walk under rockets that took men to the Moon, and even meet astronauts. We went for a day to Kennedy Space Center, and got to do all these things. Listening to Astronaut Tom Jones talk about the day he saw 16 sunsets and 16 sunrises from the International Space Station makes you realize how lucky astronauts are.

Outside in the Rocket Garden, we walked across a walkway, just like the one that astronauts walk across to enter the Space Shuttle. But we did it in slow motion, just like in the “hero shot” in movies when the astronauts are on their way to accomplish a dangerous, but vital, mission. Everyone has a little bit of astronaut explorer blood in them!

Visiting Space Shuttle replica at Kennedy Space Center

Driving Underwater

April 2, 2011

It was the greatest video game ever: there was a control pad, and a maneuverable object. Our control pad was a computer remotely hooked up to the Marine Resources Development Foundation in Key Largo. And our maneuverable object was a real, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in waters off the Florida Keys! Working with a scientist sitting in a habitat almost 50 feet under the surface of Largo Sound, each of us took a turn maneuvering the ROV from our lab at the Museum.

ROVs can provide tons of climate information for us, by exploring where humans can’t – underwater caves, the frozen polar regions, oil rigs and shipwrecks. They can use claws to take samples, and probes to take temperature readings, and can observe habitats without disturbing the inhabitants very much. And we were able to operate one! It may be hard to tell from the picture, but it was like a real-life game. You can see our controls on the left, and the view from the ROV’s “eye” as it follows an underwater pipe. Some took to it more quickly than others – it definitely is a skill, and not as easy as it looks!

Navigating an underwater ROV from our lab in the Museum