PART 1: Hiccup in updates-lfs schedule
PART 2: Star census reports needed
PART 3: Creative engineering: inspiration from suspenders


Last week was not a good one for these updates. The Tuesday
message was non-existent and the Friday message was delayed
until Monday (this one). My sincere apologies. 

I expect that we will resume this week with our normal twice per 
week updates-lfs message.


We have only received a handful of Star Census reports in which
classes analyze their data and share their conclusions about the 
reasons for differing star counts. Thanks to those teachers and 
students for providing their work.  This will be placed online shortly.

For this rest of you, please consider joining us.  Complete directions 
are available online.  The quick overview of this activity is included here:

We hope that teachers will work with their students to prepare reports
from their observations which better reflect the complexities of the
star-counting task. For example, how do the following factors effect the
 - weather
 - proximity to surface lighting
 - time of night that the observations were made
 - size of the moon (if you take make observations over time)
 - etc, etc

Hopefully the class can together produce a report that includes the original
data and the conclusions that were derived from analyzing this data.
We would like to place these reports on the Internet for other classes to
see and learn from.

As an additional activity, classes can examine the other reports and
1) get ideas for improving their original report
2) derive new meaning as more data from other locations becomes available
(for example, students may learn that students in the mountains see more
stars then those closer to sea level).

We encourage classes to produce a final report that synthesizes the
information from other reports into a final summary. These reports will
also be shared online.

The format of these reports is up to the individual teachers. Graphs and
other visuals would make reports more attractive to others, if your class
can find something meaningful to graph. Charts of the real data collected
might be interesting to some. Be as creative as you can, since your
audience will be other engaged classrooms across the county and the world.
For those of you who are Web publishers, please feel free to develop your
information on the Web.  Send these reports electronically if possible to
marc@quest.arc.nasa.gov. If you are not able to send formatted reports
online, then please mail disks to Marc Siegel, NASA Ames Research Center,
Mailstop T-28H, Moffett Field, CA 94035.  (Any disks sent will be returned).
If sending the reports on disk is a problem, then send in a paper version and
we will scan it in.

When preparing reports, please include enough information so that others
can use your conclusions in their work.  Examples of this type of
information include location, altitude, description of surroundings (bright
city, dark rural area, in-between suburbs), moon phase, etc.


By Heidi Wall, Crittenden Middle School, Mt. View, CA
derived from an interview with Jim Cockrell

When you're working with the government, every penny counts.  
When NASA is on location in the southern hemisphere, every second 
equals lost cash. Jim Cockrell, an electrical engineer, was on 
his three week shift in New Zealand with the KAO. The KAO, for 
those of you who don't know, is a stratosphere-coasting plane 
equipped with loads of telescopic equipment. The NASA team was 
getting a lot of pressure from the top to make the most of their 
observing time. After three weeks the replacement engineer would 
come to relieve Jim of his duties. Deciding to seize the 
opportunity for a vacation, Jim went on a four day bicycle tour 
of New Zealand. (So perhaps some engineers are slightly 
eccentric.) When he was ready for American soil again, he swung 
by the hotel to pick up his suitcase. Little did he know that 
the mission director and his thugs were waiting for him!  "Stop, 
don't let that man get away!" Even though his shift was over, 
the plane had had a major telescope catastrophe, and he was 
needed. Thus far, two flights had been missed, and that was 
money blowing away into the wind. Jim sat down and analyzed his 

The telescope on the KAO has three motors. One is for 
elevation, or moving the telescope up and down. The second is 
called azimuth, and it moves the telescope side to side. The 
third motor rotates the telescope. A transistor for the azimuth 
engine got too hot and burned up, setting off a chain reaction 
that took out all the other transistors as well. Not a big deal, 
right? Now, the thing you must realize is that each of these 
motors is unique, hand made in 1974 out of special parts which 
probably aren't even available any more. And each one is 
different than the last. Jim's replacement had 
developed a set of replacement transistors, but they just burned 
up again. Ditto  with the second set; fried in flight. Each 
trial-and-error cost the mission two days. Well, we could try 
again, Jim thought, and if it works, great, but if it doesn't 
then we're back to where we started. What if we try something 
different?  O.K., the up and down focus is critical, as well as 
side to side. If you're not pointed at what you want to look at, 
all is lost. Compared with the other two, the rotational motor 
is almost trivial.  Think of it like holding a mirror in front of 
your face. If you rotate it, you can still see your face.  They 
decided to try cutting out the third motor, and it worked. That 
is, it didn't burn up.  The only problem was that the telescope 
kind of swiveled around loose. When it bumped against the end of 
its track, the picture jarred, marring about a third of the data.  

NASA was none too pleased with the way the mission was 
turning out. Jim was discussing the problem with one of the 
telescope operators. He was wearing suspenders. Hmm, that's a 
concept, how about suspenders for the telescope? Jim proposed 
his idea. Amidst snickers and guffaws, permission for the 
suspenders was granted. The multi-million dollar telescope was 
outfitted with bungee cords from the local general store. The 
next day the KAO scored one hundred on its flight. The NASA crew 
still looks back on that incident and laughs. Jim Cockrell saved 
the mission, and the transistor never did get fixed!

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