My First Video with One Million Views

Early last week I considered traveling south from Cairns, Australia to Canberra, Australia to attend a big party for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

The rover had been en route to Mars for more than 8 months and was scheduled to land on Monday, August 6th. The party was to take place at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Canberra, Australia, the first place on Earth that was to receive the signal from Mars (the data was then transmitted to NASA’s JPL in California).

However, when I learned that no Internet access or even mobile phones were going to be allowed inside (they didn’t want to risk interference with the transmission from Mars), I decided to stay home and watch the event on my laptop using NASA TV and Eyes on the Solar System (a browser-based simulator that allows you to fly around the solar system and track real spacecraft using live telemetry data).

The last time I planned to watch an event this way, I ended up accidentally missing it by a few minutes. I immediately searched YouTube afterward hoping that someone had recorded and uploaded a screen capture for replay but unfortunately it was days before I found anything.

This time I decided that I would record the event myself as I watched it on my laptop and then upload it to YouTube for others to watch. 

The ScreenFlow app was already installed (an app that allows you to record videos of your desktop), but I didn’t realize that the app needed to install special drivers to capture audio coming from the computer. 

With less than 10 minutes before touchdown, I rushed to install the drivers, finishing with only 6 minutes until landing.  I pressed record, sat back, and tried not to fiddle with anything (in the video you can see me start moving my mouse and then suddenly stop when I realize I should leave it alone).

My biggest worry was that the NASA TV stream would freeze up because the only Internet connection that I had available was the 3G connection on my iPhone, which I was sharing to my laptop via Bluetooth. 

It was slow at first, but once it started streaming, everything worked beautifully.

I felt like I was right there in the mission control room as they received confirmation of the landing, and then a few minutes later images from the surface of Mars. (If I had the microphone on, you would’ve heard me cheering with the engineers when the rover touched down; I still get goose bumps watching them receive the first images.)

A few minutes later, I stopped recording, processed the video, and then uploaded it to YouTube. I’m using a pre-paid Internet connection, which costs me $1 for every 100mb, so I’m very careful about what I upload and download. However, I had a feeling that uploading this video was going to be worth it. (It ended up costing me abut $2 to upload and test the video.)

Within a few hours, the video already had 17,000 views and as of writing this—only a few days after Curiosity landed on Mars—the video is at 975,000 views. By the time you read this, it will likely be over 1 million.

I take absolutely no credit for those one million views; all the credit goes to the NASA engineers and everyone else who made this landing on Mars possible. I’m incredibly happy that I was able to play a tiny part in helping one million people relive such an incredible experience 

As I said in my previous essay, this isn’t just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species has been asking for thousands of years.

If you haven’t already watched the video, I highly recommend taking 15 minutes and watching it. I’m embedding the video below, but you can also watch it on YouTube.

Toward the Stars in Search of Answers

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk around on another planet?

Imagine building a machine, placing it on top of 600,000 lbs of liquid oxygen and explosive rocket fuel propellents, then launching it into outer space and guiding it for more than 8 months and 350,000,000 miles.

Well, that's exactly what NASA has done and their little robot, Curiosity, will be landing on Mars today.

This isn't just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings of this generation, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species have been asking for thousands of years.

And you can watch it all for free, from wherever you are (thanks to another wonderful invention by our species), using nothing more than what you're using to read this. Tune into NASA TV online today, August 5th, at 11pm EST / 8pm PST / 3am UTC. The rover has successfully landed! In case you missed it, I recorded the whole thing. You can watch it on YouTube or see the embedded video below.

Travel Notes: Conclusion to my 2012 Road Trip

After watching Space Shuttle Discovery take off from Cape Canaveral (video), I drove nine hours to Georgetown, SC where I met with a friend for dinner and spent the evening in my first Bed & Breakfast; the house was built in the early 1800s, but it was in fantastic shape (video).

From there I drove 4 hours north and stayed with a friend just outside Raleigh, NC, where I had a delicious home-cooked vegan dinner and enjoyed a relaxing evening. The next morning I drove another 4 hours and met a friend for tea just outside Richmond, VA.

The thing that I noticed about South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia was the sheer number of trees that seemed to be everywhere. And these weren't just any trees (pic); they were huge! Most of them were three times the height of telephone poles (i.e., several hundred feet tall).

A few months ago when I drove from New Hampshire down to Florida by going through Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia, I remember thinking to myself over and over, "Wow, this country is huge!".

The same exact thought occurred to me again going from Florida back up to New Hampshire, only now I was realizing what a rich country this was (both its manmade buildings and roads, and in its huge quantity of natural resources).

I'm also blown away by the fact hat after all the driving I've done in the past two months, I've barely scratched a third of the continental United States!

On Thursday I drove into Washington, DC, met a friend, had dinner, and then attended my first real stadium-style sports game: a hockey game (pic) between the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals. The noise was incredible: there was a meter that showed the noise and it reached 120db a few times. Several people were removed from the stadium by security guards for causing trouble.

When the Capitals finally won and we left the stadium, the noise and rowdiness followed us out. We were on the highway in traffic leaving the city and there were still people beeping their horns to the Capitals chant.

Several times I was warned about the terrible Washington, DC traffic, but having never driven in DC I had no first-hand experience. I can tell you now, it holds to its reputation. At one point it took me 45 minutes to travel 5 miles. No matter what time of the day or night, there always seemed to be a huge volume of cars on the road.

Several expressways have automated systems for catching speeding cars: radars with cameras that clocked your speed and took a photo if you were speeding; a ticket is automatically mailed to you several days later.

I spent Friday visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air & Space Museum and getting a members-only preview of Space Shuttle Discovery (photos). 

I watched Discovery launch into space last year. Standing not more than five feet away after seeing her fly over my head only a few days earlier on the back of a Boeing 747 was absolutely breathtaking.

Several friends that I had made during the NASA Tweetup last year came down for the special event and it was really nice reconnecting with them. One of them who happens to live just outside DC let myself and several others stay at her house for a few days. I was reminded yet again how some friendships never die. Relationships forged by a mutual appreciation for something greater than the individual seem to breathe a life of their own.

On Saturday I dropped a friend off at Dulles International Airport. When I took the wrong exit out of the airport (and paid a $4 toll), I decided to take advantage of my "mistake" and choose a longer, but more scenic route back to New Hampshire. 

I drove through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts on US-15, I-81, I-84, and I-90, avoiding entirely the more common, and far more mundane, I-95.

In fact, I enjoyed this alternate route so much that the 12-hours of driving was probably my favorite stretch of the entire road trip. I passed so many farms with horses, cows, and cattle, drove through many different types of forests, over huge rivers, and across mountain ranges. On top of all that, the weather was perfect the entire day. (Road trip photos here.)

By the time I arrived at my parents house in New Hampshire, I felt like I was in a trance, as if my mind and body were one with the vehicle. When I arrived back in familiar territory in Massachusetts, it was hard to believe that I had been in Florida only a few days earlier; reality felt unreal.

I also began to realize that I probably won't be driving through any of the states I just went through for a long time. While I enjoy driving (perhaps even long-distance driving the when the scenery is enjoyable), I think it's an incredible wasteful form of transportation, both in terms of time and fuel.

On my way down to Florida, I drove 2,498 miles (4,020 km), using about 100 gallons (378 liters) of fuel which cost me around $375. On my return to New Hampshire, I drove 1,679 miles (2,702 km), using about 65 gallons (246 liters) of fuel, which cost me around $250.

In total, I drove 4,177 miles (6,722 km), burned 165 gallons (624 liters) of fuel, and spent about $625.

But more importantly, I spent about 100 hours of my life sitting in a chair, staring out the window, and causing my body physical and metal stress over controlling a several-thousand-pound hunk of metal.

Driving is, without a doubt, a job best handled by a robot and I for one cannot wait until the day when we can all step into a vehicle, tell it where we want to go, and then spend our time being productive, calm, and enjoying our humanity.

The state of Nevada recently became the first state in the world to offer a driving license for a robot. They haven't issued any yet, but they have issued several learning permits.

Love is Enough

Love is Enough, seen in a remote Himalayan village in Nepal

"Who's that Buzz guy?"

"Buzz Aldrin? He was one of the first people to walk on the moon."

She was surrounded by space geeks, asking questions about space history that must have seemed trivial and obvious to everyone around her. But she wasn't judged. She wasn't laughed at, criticized, or looked down upon. Instead, her curiosity was enthusiastically embraced and nurtured.

Five people stood around the kitchen and took turns answering question after question. Five people who only a few days earlier were total strangers. This, I realized, is why love and passion are so important to humanity.

Their voices began to blur and their outlines became fuzzy as I began daydreaming of a world where every person was just as compassionate and caring. A world where strangers would regularly come together to share knowledge and exchange ideas. A world where what mattered wasn't power or prestige, but pure, simple, love.

But let me back up a little and explain how this group of strangers, including myself, came to be living together under the same roof. Continue reading