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Evolution of a NASA Field Center

Posted on Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Taking a scroll over lunch, I ran into these old Moffet Field baracks that are making room for new developments at the NASA Ames Research Center. Everything in this block of military housing breathes sixties. Its almost as if the old studebakers and hoolahoops are just around the corner. There is so much history here. NASA's legacy definitely lies in the sixties. Its gonna be interesting to see how NASA re-invents itself (yet again) with the new administration coming in. And how NASA Ames is going to leverage its unique position in Silicon Valley. One great start: Blimps are back at Moffet Field. I see it taking off everyday from my office window. As if I'm living in a historic movie...full-color.













Participatory Impacting the Moon

Posted on Sunday, November 23, 2008

A probe released from Chandryaan-1 impacted the moon last week (more & images). A nice dress rehearsal for the LCROSS mission which is looking for lunar impact next year (LCROSS is developed here at NASA Ames). Didn't see any realtime coverage though. No live spacecraft images coming online as it is heading towards there is still the 'innovative/surprise factor' up for grabs for LCROSS. Like @MarsPhoenix grabbed it for the twitter platform.



DinnerTV: Web 2.0 Summit 08 Videos

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A great way to loose time (and an even better reason to loose my comcast cable subscription). All episodes. One of my favorites (on the cloud) is embedded below. And this article sums up the overall feel pretty well. Enjoy, its addictive...

None At This Time

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Every large organisation, whether government or private industry, is trying to cope with the changing media landscape around us as a result of the rapidly evolving internet. Enter NASA. Having been an early adapter of the web for its communication to the public and stakeholders, it currently faces a legacy of a widely scattered footprint of websites. Moving forward, the challenge will be to consolidate all the content that's out there, while at the same time building out a new data platform that is agile enough to be able to adapt and evolve into the future (earlier post).

Part of my daytime job at the moment is cleaning up the dead wood on (small steps towards the grand vision ;-). Going through the back-end of the system, I run into quite some interesting stuff, like above image (more on that image here) and the best dead page on yet:

Update: both links are now intentional 404's. For more information on NASA Ames, please go to

Long Now Seminar on Synthetic Biology

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another great Long Now foundation seminar in San Francisco yesterday: Synthetic biology, its promises and perils. A lengthy 2-hour presentation/debate between Drew Endy, assistant professor at Stanford's Department of Bioengineering (middle in below images) and Jim Thomas, Research Programme Manager and Writer with ETC group (left), moderated by Stewart Brand (right). Watch this rss feed for the mp3 audio file of the debate to come online. Here is Stewart's recap of yesterday's event:

"I want to develop tools that make biology easy to engineer," Drew Endy began. The first purpose is better understanding fundamental biological mechanisms through "learning by building." The toolkit of Synthetic Biology starts with DNA construction and ascends through DNA parts, to devices, to standardized systems. An organism's DNA code, and therefore the organism, can be digitally uploaded, stored, distributed, and downloaded. Life forms are programmable. So far 3,500 standard "BioBrick" parts have been developed for free distribution, and the number is growing geometrically. The number of amateur and student bioengineers also is growing geometicallly.

"There are 20,000 edible plant species," Endy noted. "At present we eat only 30." Synthetic biology can help diversify agriculture. Or how about engineering a gourd that can grow into a living house?

Endy concluded with five questions... Should teenagers practice genetic engineering? (Yes.) Should military weapons involve biotechnology? (No.) Should BioBrick parts be patented or freely shared? (Free.) Will biohackers be good or bad? (Good, if we help.) Should genetic engineers sign their work and publish it? (Yes.)

Jim Thomas asked Endy how he would defend against commercial interests locking up Synthetic Biology with patents? Endy said the best hope is building an open-source community that grows faster than businesses and out-innovates them.
Thomas began his statement by pointing out that it usually takes a whole generation to understand a new technology, so he urges moving slowly and cautiously, but Synthetic Biology is advancing at breakneck speed, and the window of opportunity to have effective public discussion and control is closing.

He cited the history of synthetic chemicals, which began in mid-19th century. The technology quickly became highly concentrated in an oligarchy of monopolistic companies, and then it was easliy commandeered by government in wartime. I.G. Farben supplied the poison gas for the death camps. "Powerful technology in an unjust world is likely to exacerbate the injustice."

Thomas said he worries when he hears comments like, "Anything that can be made by a plant can be made by a microbe." If that's played out, it means the death knell for everyone who works in agriculture, a vast economic restructuring. There's so much novelty coming so fast from Synthetic Biology, no predictive models or regulatory models can hold them. He recommends these new tools be strictly contained so there is no release of new life forms into the biosphere, and there should be no commercialization of the technology at all.

Endy asked Thomas if it's okay to make anything in a bioreactor vat? Thomas said, "Yes, beer."

For different reasons, both debaters wanted to see Synthetic Biology kept from domination by commercial patents. For Thomas, it would lead to unjust monopoly answering only to profit. For Endy, it would paralyze open-ended research.

--Stewart Brand

With me were 2 great NASA Ames collegues, Deborah Bazar (working on securing NASA Ames' role in the emerging Green Tech industry here in the Valley) and John Cumbers, a synthetic biologist himself, researching the potential of synthetic biology for sustainable space exploration (read: designing microbes that will be used for In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) on the moon, Mars and/or asteroids for the production of oxygen and other consumables required to sustain human life). John invited me for a tour of his lab here at NASA Ames so with some luck I'll be able to post some more insights later this week about this fascinating emerging technology and NASA's interest in it.






ESA on Youtube

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2008

More at (via Sebastian Marcu's message on skype)

Another Beautiful Day in SF (today's pitstop #8)

Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008

Click image to enlarge ::: location on Google maps

Autumn in the Valley (today's pitstop #7)

Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008

How big a change from autumn in Amsterdam, where its probably raining cats and dogs right now. Weather here in the Valley has been perfect today, feels like summer with beautiful trees. Below are a few snapshots I took from the Hoover Tower on Stanford campus yesterday while attending the Open Source unconference, co-organised by a former NASA Ames collegue. The view is towards Southbay, with Palo Alto on the left of the image, and NASA Ames in the middle, noticable by the big hangers (click panorama image to enlarge). More images here. Google map with locations of all pitstop posts embedded below.



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Elections Through Gamers' Eyes

Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2008



A Google For Government

Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008

A Google for Government? Ha! Why not a Google for Galaxy?

NASA Ames Does Cool Things!

Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008

Read more about it here, here, here and here (more about Lunar Orbiter here).


Dinner TV: Where Games and SETI Collide

Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As a follow up to the previous post, I just found this informal dinner talk between Will Wright and Jill Tarter organised by SEED. Its embedded below, from the looks of it in the code served to you from the servers of Amazon's Web Service... The Seed Salon

Every Full Moon in San Francisco

Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finally had a chance to go up to the city again yesterday to listen to a talk at Colab's Luna Philosophie. This time it was Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute here in Mountain View, giving us earthlings a glimpse of when we can expect to discover alien life out there. And to my surprise, he was pretty confident it would be possible within 25 years. Looks like it ties in nicely with either his remaining career (his joke) or with the timeline of the Singularity. Btw, in case you're wondering, the city really did turn pink from where I was sitting on the top of the Marriot before heading over to the Yahoo Brickhouse for the talk (click the widescreen for a full res version). Some more images are here.

San Francisco from the roof of the Marriot Hotel, click image for full size

enough stars out there to search for ET






Lunar Lander Challenge Video

Posted on Sunday, November 9, 2008

A nice minimalistic beat and distortion of the onboard camera. More on the Lunar Lander Challenge (via).

President Obama's Acceptance Speech from a San Francisco Bar

Posted on Wednesday, November 5, 2008





The Web as Platform...for the Exploration of Outer Space

Posted on Monday, November 3, 2008

Can't wait to see NASA increase government's piece of the cake here (more on the pie chart at O'Reilly Radar and the originating post entitled '1,000 Web API's' over at ProgrammableWeb). I mean, if the New York Times is able to open up their platform (see for example their Open NYT blog and their developer site), shouldn't NASA be able to do the same? There is already a lot of NASA data out there on the web, but its scattered over as many different websites. Bringing everything under one easy-to-use platform (think: developer platforms from the likes of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon etc.) would be a great achievement. And it would make perfect sense, given the nature and the amount of data NASA gathers through its sensors (images, videos, temperature readings, what have equals data equals media these days right?). NASA as a service oriented agency providing the sensors and the resulting platform of data for scientists and anybody with an Internet connection to tap into for scientific research and participatory exploration (earlier post). I can't start to think what types of innovation would result from that. The ease of availability of data (for machines) being one of the biggest 'competitive' advantages in the web3.0 [sic] years ahead. Reminds me of a hack on an image I made back in the days of my thesis embedded below.


Outer Space as an extension of Cyberspace

First Images of the Earth from Chyandrayaan-1

Posted on Monday, November 3, 2008

And quite exquisite ones as well (see earlier post). Click the images for full res. More from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at this Press Release from last friday 31st October 2008. More on Chyandrayaan-1 at its own website. (all links via)



The future is process, not a destination
Bruce Sterling

Everything is ultimately becoming information technology
Ray Kurzweil

Data is the Intel inside
Tim O'Reilly

There is only one machine and the web is its OS
Kevin Kelly

The medium is the message
Marshall McLuhan