Buzz Aldrin in his astronaut days and now his dancing days.

Left: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin takes photos during training on July 1, 1969. Photo: NASA Kennedy Space Center. Right: Aldrin rehearses with dance partner Ashly Costa. A typical session in the studio is three-and-a-half to four hours. Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.

A competitive nature propelled Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63 into his career as an astronaut, and it’s that same spirit he’s taking with him on his next venture, as a contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), premiering this Monday, March 22. Aldrin has already sized up his competition, targeting none other than Olympic figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek as his most formidable challenge.

“If you take [Lysacek’s] age and multiply by three, it’s still eight years younger than me,” Aldrin says. But he’s not daunted. For relaxation, the octogenarian scuba dives and downhill skis (which he took up at age 50) and continues exploring other non-celestial worlds: Antarctica, the Titanic ruins two-and-a-half miles below the ocean surface, the North Pole on a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker. “This dude, for an 80 year old—he could probably bench-press me if he wanted to,” Lysacek told Access Hollywood.”

And let’s not forget that Aldrin brings something to the competition no other dancer does. An MIT degree. What exactly does that afford him? “Concentration, orderly thinking, memory, integrated thinking of transitions from one step to another,…an appreciation for the bigger picture” he says. “I learned all of those things at MIT.”

Buzz Aldrin dancing with partner Ashly Costa for the premier of Dancing with the Stars.

Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.

On being hip
Dancing on a reality show is not Aldrin’s first foray into pop culture. You might actually be surprised to learn how visible he is. He’s performed in a rap video with Snoop Dogg and others (view the performance or see the making-of video at the end of this post—it’s hilarious); guest-starred in episodes of The Simpsons, Numb3rs, Sesame Street, 30 Rock (airing May 6), and more; will soon release an iPhone app; launched a space brand, Rocket Hero, that’s been licensed by electronics, toys, science-edutainment, and apparel companies, like Nike for a skate shoe; is the inspiration behind Disney’s Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear; and served as the icon for MTV’s original station identification and its video music award, the Moonman (originally called the Buzzy). MTV is so indebted to Aldrin that it has given him its first-ever official endorsement of a DWTS contender, dubbing Aldrin the celebrity they most hope wins the competition.

Some of Aldrin’s many public appearances are aimed at promoting books he’s coauthored, of which there are seven, including two illustrated children’s books, two science-fiction novels, and two autobiographies. His most recent is the memoir Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon (Harmony 2009), written with Ken Abraham. (more…)

The President and students talk to astronauts.

The President and students talk to astronauts.

President Obama called the International Space Station crew—including Nicholas Patrick SM ’90, PhD ’96 and Tim “T.J.” Creamer SM ’92—Wednesday to say thanks for installing the beautiful picture window and to let a group of excited middle school students ask the astronauts some questions.

In the course of the conversation, Obama made a pitch for continued space exploration and the astronauts pointed out the value of research in space. Scientists can study the impact of gravity, for example, because they see what happens without it—flames in space are ball-shaped not tear-drop shaped and cells grow “very purely” and stay round and so it’s easier to see how they are replicated.

Kwatsi Alibaruho '95 describes his personal journey to the NASA control room.

Kwatsi Alibaruho '95 describes his personal journey to the NASA control room.

Factoid: This is the 13th time in history that two or more MIT Astronauts are in space at the same time. In fact, the lead flight director on the current mission is an alumnus as well. Kwatsi Alibaruho ’95, the first African-American NASA flight director, describes in a YouTube video how he set his goal of going to MIT when he was ten—and that successful journey eventually led him to his position at NASA.

Fewer than 48 hours ago, the space shuttle Endeavor docked at the International Space Station, bringing the count of MIT affiliates at the ISS up to three.  Nicholas Patrick SM ’90, PhD ’96, and Stephen Robinson, who was a visiting engineer at the MIT Man Vehicle Laboratory in the early 1990s, hitched a ride on the Endeavor. They joined  Tim Creamer SM ’92, who has been there since late December 2009.

Later in the week, Patrick will participate in three extravehicular activities to attach the Tranquility module and Cupola observatory to the ISS. The Cupola, which has received ample media attention recently, will function as a panoramic picture-window that will allow astronauts views of Earth, celestial objects, and visiting spacecraft.

Alumnus John Tylko ’79 attended the launch at the Kennedy Space Center in east-central Florida. Take a look at some of the photos he captured:

Credit: John Tylko

Credit: John Tylko

Credit: John Tylko

On Friday, the New York Times reported that MIT alumnus Timothy Creamer had sent the very first tweet from space. Creamer SM ‘92 has been aboard the International Space Station since late December.

As the Times put it, “It was one small tweet for man, one giant tweet for mankind.”

Creamer, whose Twitter name is Astro_TJ, wrote: “Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station — the 1st live tweet from Space! 🙂 More soon, send your ?s.”

Since Friday, he has been communicating frequently with his Twitter followers. To one follower he wrote: “1st time seeing the Earth, my thought & feelings were: how inspiringly beautiful & peaceful. All should see…”

Read more about Creamer’s mission on the space station and follow him on Twitter @Astro_TJ.

Mike Fincke ’89 dives for a blob of orange juice. Credit: NASA

Mike Fincke ’89 has appeared in Slice numerous times. There was the time he and his colleagues on the International Space Station (ISS) received a phone call from President Obama. And the time he placed a call (from space) to tell a fellow alum about his enthusiasm for this blog.

Today, we have another video of Fincke. This one he made aboard the ISS, and it features him giving a tour of the station and showing his tiny bedroom, toilet, and other modules. Check out the food demonstration five minutes in—there’s entertaining footage of Fincke eating a can of fish and big blobs of OJ.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Stay tuned for more coverage of Fincke. This summer, he and alumnus Greg Chamitoff will be back at the ISS on shuttle mission STS-134.

Alumnus Tim Creamer answers a reporter's question during a press conference held in Kazakhstan two days before the Soyuz launch.

Yesterday alumnus Tim Creamer and two other crew members arrived at the International Space Station to join Expedition 22. The crew launched aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on December 21st from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is  the first time that Creamer SM ’92 has been to space.

While at the station, Creamer and his colleagues in Expedition 21 and 22 will work on setting up and activating new research facilities. They’ll activate the new Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT); unberth the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle when its supply mission is complete; and welcome a new Russian docking module, two shuttle crews and a Progress resupply ship.

Creamer is expected to remain at the space station for six months. You can read his full bio on the NASA Web site and follow his progress on twitter @Astro_TJ.

He is expected to remain at the station for the next six months.

After an initial setback with his suit yesterday—a valve came off his drink bag but was easily re-affixed—alumnus Robert Satcher and one other astronaut set out on the International Space Station for their third and final spacewalk. The astronauts  have been on the space station since November 18th, with the mission of installing an enormous oxygen tank and setting up several experiments. Tomorrow the seven-person crew will wrap up work and depart the station. According to NASA, they are expected to land at Kennedy Space Center on Friday.

Scroll down to see images of Robert Satcher ’86, PhD ’93 as he prepared for and then began carrying out mission STS-129. All images courtesy of NASA.

Mission Specialist Robert L. Satcher Jr. is greeted by Mission Lead Mike Menard at the shuttle landing facility at Kennedy Space Center.

The STS-129 crew (Robert Satcher, far right).

Aboard Atlantis, Mike Foreman, top, and Robert Satcher are dressed in their launch-and-entry suits and strapped to their seats.

Atlantis launched at 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16.

A partial view of Atlantis' payload bay, back-dropped by Earth's horizon.

Robert Satcher used a digital still camera to take a self-portrait during the mission’s first spacewalk.

Robert Satcher and Randy Bresnik work outside of the International Space Station during the final spacewalk.

More coverage of alumni astronauts:

Shuttle Mission Twice Postponed for SEAL-Turned-Astronaut

MIT to the Rescue: Institute Astronauts Fix Hubble Troubles—Again

Alums Return to Space for Final Hubble Mission

Guess Which Blog is Read in Space

Obama Calls MIT Alums and Others in Space

Checking In with Our Out-of-This-World Alums

Dava Newman models the biosuit.

Dava Newman models a biosuit that relies on mechanical counter-pressure instead of gas pressurization.

Suborbital training is not for the faint of heart, which is why two MIT alumnae deeply involved in furthering space travel are happily headed for it in January. Dava Newman SM ’89, PhD ’92 and Erika Wagner SM ’02, PhD’07 are set to be among the first prospective scientist-astronauts to undergo spaceflight physiology training in a new private program at the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center (NASTAR).

Newman and Wagner hope to put these new skills to work. “We’re not going to space (yet :),” says Wagner, “but we are looking forward to training for the day when we can conduct science on Virgin Galactic or one of the other new commercial vehicles.”

Newman, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems and director of the Technology and Policy Program, studies aerospace biomedical engineering and has invented a sleek and flexible space suit. Wagner is the founding executive director of the X PRIZE Lab@MIT and has served as science director and executive director of the Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program.

Not everyone would count this training as fun. NASTAR promises you “sustained elevated G exposure, altitude exposure, spatial disorientation, and other physiological effects of entering the space environment.”

Inside space shuttle Endeavor, mission specialist Chris Cassidy participates in a simulated launch countdown.  Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Inside space shuttle Endeavor, mission specialist Chris Cassidy participates in a simulated launch countdown. Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The year after Chris Cassidy earned his ocean engineering masters from MIT, he and a team of fellow Navy SEALS were deployed to Afghanistan to try to take down top al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Eight years later, Cassidy is preparing for a new mission: Space.

The 39-year-old father of three will be the second SEAL in space when he takes off in the shuttle Endeavor for the International Space Station. Mission STS-127, for which Cassidy is serving as mission specialist, will last 16 days. One of the main objectives is to complete construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory.

The launch, originally scheduled for June 17th, has been delayed twice because of a hydrogen leak. NASA reported on Sunday that a plate that attaches the vent line to the shuttle’s external fuel tank is slightly misaligned, thus causing the tank to leak during fueling.

The new launch date is scheduled for July 11 at 7:39 pm EDT. If you’re interested in keeping up to date about the mission’s progress, check out NASA’s Web site for online updates, or subscribe to the NASA twitter feed.

With Tech Reunions two days away, we thought it might be nice to take a trip down memory lane. “Ashdown House: The Home Where Science and Technology Live” is a 2006 documentary created by two School of Architecture and Planning grad students depicting the dorm’s history from 1937 and the important minds who lived there and shaped history. It includes interviews with Jay Forrester SM ’45, the inventor of RAM; chemistry Nobel laureate Elias Corey Jr. ’48, PhD ’51; and Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart ’56, SM ’63, the first lunar module pilot, reminiscing from outer space.

Ashdown House was the first MIT graduate dorm and one of the oldest in the U.S. Of course, it’s no longer a grad dorm, there is now New Ashdown, aka NW35, at 235 Albany Street that houses grad students. (Undergrads will occupy W1 [the original Ashdown] after renovations are complete.) One can only wonder what the occupants of New Ashdown will go on to accomplish in their lives.

Next Page »