Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Folk Life Festival

I almost missed the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival this year. They didn't advertise worth anything.

On the last day I loaded Gandolf onto my shoulder and we hiked down to the National Mall. The first thing I saw was the Texas display. Now, typically you go to these things and they have various craftsmen building boats, working a forge, demonstrating masonry techniques, etc. Texas has just two things to offer the world. They make good BBQ and they gots Opry and Country music. Granted, that's my perspective of Texas as well. They have only two things to offer the world and their music is pretty awful.

So I blew past that to the Bhutan exhibit. This focused on Buddhist monks and their crafts. They have great clay workers. There were some that took tiny clay disks and arranged them in interesting patterns. They got the disks to blend together in peculiar ways. They are Play-doh masters. There was also a piece of sand art up on a table. It was intricate enough that a fly that had landed on it the day before had left visible footprints.
I had to explain several times that the African Grey is not from Bhutan, isn't part of the exhibit, but is just my pet that I'm taking for a walk and am letting people pet.

Then came NASA. NASA made up the overwhelming majority of the show. It's their 50th anniversary this year and they're trying to publicize their new rocket program.
As I've said before, the Shuttles are retiring next year. The final schedule for the remainder of the program is now up. I just don't have the link at the moment. Originally there was supposed to be a variety of shuttles. Different ones for people, cargo, low orbits, high orbits, leaving orbit, etc. Instead they just got stuck with one all purpose SUV shuttle.
They're finally getting around to using the multiple specialized vehicles. The Ares I is shorter, thinner, and is for moving people up and back. It's heavier than the Shuttle but uses less thrust for some reason. It should be able to use a launch pad similar to the Shuttle pad but with a taller gantry. Unmanned testing for these rockets begins next spring. Manned missions are scheduled for 2015.
The Ares V (II-IV were skipped so Ares V would sound like the old Saturn V) is much bigger and heavier than the Ares I. It'll need a dramatically redesigned launch pad so it doesn't get blasted apart like the overloaded Shuttle did on the most recent launch. These rockets will be unmanned and used for hauling heavy stuff to orbit.

They had an EVA (space walk) outfit sitting in a chair with someone explaining the components. The NASA PR people got Gandolf to sit on the suit's shoulder while they took some pictures and video. I got a patch and they're gonna send me a copy of the picture. Gandolf was giving the helmet a very uneasy look.

I had to explain several times that the African Grey has nothing to do with NASA, isn't part of the exhibit, but is just my pet that I'm taking for a walk and am letting people pet.

Finally, I got to meet a man in an iBot wheelchair. You may know it better when it and the Segway were codenamed Fred and Ginger. Dean Kamen, the inventor, is a Fred Astaire fan. He made the iBot first and then adapted the tech for the Segway.
See, what the chair does is run on four wheels like normal, but then the platform with the wheels rotates up on two wheels to lift the passenger up to talk eye to eye with other people. The platform with the wheels can turn over and over to climb stairs. Kamen demonstrated by climbing the Eiffel Tower with it.

As soon as I get the picture from NASA I'll be sure to post it here.

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