Ever wonder what it looks like when your jet cockpit canopy flies off?

I almost died today. Or so I was told by former Space Shuttle Commander “Hoot” Gibson after it was all over. Somehow looking through a view finder on a camera makes everything less real. But let me back up — I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, I’ve been here at the Reno Air Races filming the national championship races. In case you’re not familiar with the Reno Air Races — it’s fantastic. Air racing is the fastest, most dangerous motor racing sport in the world. Imagine flying an airplane, souped up to go 500 miles per hour and racing it around pylons on a race course with up to 10 other airplanes doing the same thing. “Fly low. Fly fast. Turn left” as the saying goes. The National Championship Air Races are divided into several classes depending on the aircraft type. Biplane, Formula One, Sport, T-6, Jet and Unlimited classes all compete in a week of eliminations resulting in the final championships on Sunday afternoon. It’s really the most thrilling sport in the world. Of course, I’m biased – I absolutely love airplanes. I’m here with a skeleton crew documenting the races, interviewing the pilots, telling their stories and generally celebrating the love of flying…..really, really fast. Today I got to go on a ride along in an L-39 Albatros jet pace plane to film the jet races. Before you go up, you get loads of instructions on how to evacuate the jet in case of emergency. Basically, you learn how to open the canopy of the cockpit in case you need to escape. Although I’d really like to learn to sky dive, but I didn’t want to do it today — especially not because I had to eject from a jet. It was super exciting to be in the back seat of the L-39 Albatros jet filming the race. First all the jets line up on the runway to begin the race. (I guess I better clarify here that the race starting line is in the air, not on the ground.) So we lined up on the tarmac and then we took off one by one. My jet was first since we were the pace plane. We peeled off from the line up and started down the runway. The jet was gaining speed and we just started to rotate (lift off the ground) when the pilot’s canopy broke loose, hit him in the helmet and flew off the airplane! We were about to run out of tarmac and a very steep drop off was approaching quickly. It’s funny how time slows down in an emergency situation. My camera dropped for only a few seconds while I accessed the situation. The pilot was okay. We still had runway — and by that time we were committed to landing. We weren’t egressing, yet…. So, I thought I might as well film it. And that’s how I got close up interior footage of an L-39 jet canopy flying off a cockpit midstream – After the pilot got the jet safely stopped, we were immediately surrounded by Airport Emergency crews wearing what looked like tin foil suits. I realize it’s the hazmat fireproof suits to fight extra hot burning aviation fuel fires. The gravity of the situation barely started to sink in. Our jet was not on fire. We didn’t crash. We stopped with just short of the end of the tarmac. We were both fine. Later, I was talking with Hoot Gibson, former space shuttle commander and one of the jet pilots in that race. He came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me how close we came to a complete disaster — such as: the pilot being knocked out, the jet crashing off the end of the runway, etc. In truth, we were lucky. We were lucky we weren’t in the air. We were lucky the canopy didn’t hit the pilot any harder than it did. I was lucky that the pilot was an incredibly skilled pilot. Did I say, the pilot was incredibly skilled? I can’t emphasize that enough. His quick reactions saved us from disaster. It turns out that several canopies of L-39 jets have flown off in mid-air. It’s not uncommon. It’s a defect of the design. With my footage they were able to reverse engineer what happened when the canopy flew off, fix the problem and hopefully mitigate further canopy malfunctions in other L-39’s. As for me, I’m still waiting for my L-39 Jet ride. Check out the slo-mo of the canopy coming off….

Need a spare part for your spaceship?

Look no further.
Norton Sales is the home of Space Age Junk and Modern Collectibles. Serious rocketeers, NASA engineers, and Hollywood set designers come here for inspiration and surplus rocket parts.

It is possibly one of the coolest places in Los Angeles!

My friend Robin took me on my first trip to Norton’s one hot day during the summer of 2004. Needless to say, I was hooked. It’s filled to the brim with spare aerospace surplus from the Apollo era and before. Carlos Guzman is the owner of Norton’s and an all around good guy. I liked it so much, I pitched the story to WIRED Science and we did a segment on it.  If you’re looking for parts to build your own space ship or if you’re looking for unique art supplies, Norton’s is the place for you.



What to do if a bee hitches a ride in your submersible

We joined Scott Cassell and the Undersea Voyager Project during their kickoff expedition near Lake Tahoe. The team was exploring Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake for one month in the SEAMobile submersible. The mission included training and orientation with the submersibles and conducting underwater surveys of the lake bottom.

I’d worked on plenty of projects with submersibles such as the Titanic and the Bismarck shipwrecks and the hydrothermal vents, but I hadn’t dived in a fresh water lake or in a spherical submersible before.

As I took off my shoes and crawled into my seat, I couldn’t help but think of my old mentor, Ralph, who had more dives to the Titanic than anyone. He always said, “May your ascents equal your descents,” and I certainly hoped that was the case here. Soon after the crew locked the canopy, effectively locking us in, we started our descent. We could see everyone on the dock wave goodbye.

The sphere allows for amazing views since you’re basically in encased in a transparent bubble.

It’s exciting and kind of eerie at the same time when you start your descent in a sphere. You can still see the sky above clearly. Waves splash over the top of you. It seems like you should be soaked, but you’re not. That’s how clear is is when you look out the sphere.

We were about two feet down when we discovered an accidental hitchhiker.

A bee had gotten locked into the submersible with us! The poor thing glued itself to top of the sphere in a desperate attempt to cling to the sunlight as we dove deeper and deeper into the lake.

They say bees navigate by using a solar compass. The bee’s ability to see polarized light lets it determine where the sun is regardless of whether it is obscured by clouds. Bees also use their internal time clock to tell how far they’ve flow in relation to the sun. This is how bees navigate back to their hives and then communicate where the food is to the rest of the hive in relation to the current position of the sun. I wondered how diving under 113 feet of water would affect it.

As it grew darker the bee began to fly around the small cabin as if completely disoriented, finally landing on my leg. I like bees, however, I don’t like them on me – mainly because I’ve been stung a couple times. I particularly don’t like them on me in a confined area with no escape. I couldn’t exactly roll down the window and wave it out of the vehicle.

We could have tried to capture it or smash it, but what if that didn’t go so well?

It settled in for the ride perched on my leg. It seemed docile enough, so I let it sit.

Being in a submersible 100 feet underwater with a docile bee is one thing. Being in a submersible 100 feet underwater with an angry bee would be quite another!

I finally turned my full attention to our task at hand, which was diving to 113 feet and flying around the beautiful ancient forest that lay at the bottom of the lake. Scott was finishing up his work surveying and mapping the locations of the ancient trees. A school of trout swam in and out of the trees.

A old wooden rowboat lay at the bottom of the lake intact. I could practically see the ghostly images of people fishing from it in days-gone-by.

It’s easy to lose yourself, caught up in the tranquility and silence under the lake. Before I knew it, it was time to return to the surface and the world above. As we got closer to the surface, we could see the sunlight peeking through the water and the people on the dock waiting for our return.

Our third “crew mate” stirred and flew up to the canopy again as if the sun beckoned it home.

We popped out of the water into the full daylight and our submarine cowboy wrangled us back to the dock. The crew let us out of our little yellow submersible and our bee flew off into the daylight as quickly as possible. Unlike it, I wasn’t ready for this adventure to end.

Scott and his team are continuing their expeditions. You can keep up with their latest adventures at the Undersea Voyager Project.

How to sink a battleship

DKM Bismarck was considered unsinkable. There was quite a mystery around the sinking – whether she was sunk by the British or if she was scuttled by her own crew.   We decided to revisit this mystery and see if we could come up with an answer.  One of the best ways to fund an expedition is to make a film about it.  Discovery Channel became our sponsor for this expedition.

Bismarck was a hard film to make.  Not only were we filming at 16,000 feet underwater,  we were also pioneering new bot technologies and a new HD, 3D Camera system (it was the only one of it’s kind in the world at that point (2002).

I think it turned out the best of the Earthship documentaries so far.   I probably feel that way because my work made up over 40% of the shots in this film.   You see, I found all the archival footage which wasn’t an easy task.   I also might add that this is the documentary that got nominated for 5 Emmys winning 1. I’m not saying that had anything to do with my work…….Okay it probably didn’t, but Discovery channel did pay me an enormous complement by saying that my work on the Bismarck was the best and most thorough archival research they had ever seen.

It’s a bit like being a detective.

I spent days and days at the National Archives in Maryland. I ended up scanning hours of unmarked canisters of films that just had war dept www II markings and nothing other than that.  A lot of the footage I was looking for was seized war footage. My huckleberry was when I ended up finding an unmarked reel with a propoganda film about Hitler Youth.   Turns out it, the youth had a replica of Bismarck and they were carrying it on their shoulders.  I couldn’t believe I’d found that reel.  I also did lot’s of research on 15 inch guns which sent me to the Naval Surface Warfare Center – and where they did a lot of ballistics tests on the big guns.

I also spent numerous hours searching for footage overseas. The Imperial War Museum was an amazing asset as was the the Bundesarchiv in Germany.   I even had a search at the Moscow Archives.

224 archival shots

“It was WWII’s most fearsome ship. A ship so powerful, it sank the pride of the British fleet with a single salvo. Hearing the news, Winston Churchill saw no choice. He sent nearly the entire Royal Navy to hunt and destroy it. But what really happened to this German legend? Was she sunk? Or was she scuttled? Now Titanic director James Cameron returns to the high seas to tell the tale and search for the truth. Leading a team of explorers, historians and Bismarck survivors, Cameron examines the wreck three miles down and discovers the answers that may finally end the debate. With revolutionary production techniques and high-tech Remotely Operated Vehicles, Cameron lights up this dark world and gives us the first glimpse inside the Bismarck in more than 60 years. Stunning high-definition footage shows underwater images with cinematic clarity. Cutting-edge animation and ultra-realistic reenactments bring the survivors’ stories to life. Join the expedition and relive the dramatic final days of the DKM Bismarck.”


Launching rockets from an old oil platform

Sea Launch is one of the coolest things I’ve ever encountered. The whole concept is something I would have thought only existed in movies, not twenty miles down the freeway from me.

“Think cool as in a James Bond kind of cool.”

Imagine a derelict oil platform from the North Sea rescued by a Norwegian company and retrofitted into a semi-submersible, self-propelled floating launchpad that can be positioned for launch in almost any water in the world. Add rockets built by Ukrainian and Russian companies that were once designed to carry nuclear weapons, but are now perfect carriers for communications satellites.

Last, but not least, add Boeing as the satellite payload integrator and launch operator.

Put them together in an international partnership and you get the multinational company, Sea Launch.

Sea Launch was formed in 1995 to provide low cost commercial launch services for heavy payload satellites bound for geosynchronous orbit.  Basically, they deliver super heavy satellites into a fixed position orbit that follows the earths’ rotation.  And they launch from the equator because it has the most direct path to orbit, so it doesn’t require as much fuel to get there, saving the customer money.

The rocket is built and the satellite is integrated into it at home port in Long Beach, California. Once that’s complete, they load the rocket onto the Launch Platform which sails out to the the equator along with a support ship which serves as mission control.  Once in position, they launch the rocket, delivering the satellite into its intended orbit, and then turn around and sail back to Long Beach.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  And now you get to listen to your favorite XM Radio station in Tuba City, Arizona or wherever.  You get the idea.

Sea Launch broadcasts each of it’s launches live – either on the web or on the web and satellite TV.  That’s where I fit into the grand scheme of things.  I work as the Truck Producer during the launches.  To date, I’ve worked on 24 launches.

It’s always a bit nerve racking leading up to a launch. The rocket business is a high risk business and it’s never a 100% sure thing that a mission going to be successful. Occasionally it isn’t and makes for a very bad day at work, an explosion that would make Michael Bay green with envy, and the most popular youtube video for several days running (thanks to some rocket fan that recorded the broadcast and posted it). Sea Launch has an amazing launch record. Out of their twenty nine missions to date, twenty seven of them have been a complete success.

“It truly looks like something you would see in a movie, but it’s real.”

It’s spectacular to watch a rocket blast off from a floating platform and into the sky. It truly looks like something you would see in some action movie as part of an elaborate set, but it’s real.

How cool is that?

Want to know more about Sea Launch?


Titanic 101 – Ghosts of the Abyss

“What lay inside the Titanic? Was the interior of the lost liner shrouded in rust and silt?”


“Director James Cameron wanted to find out. He had made dives to the wreck while shooting footage for his 1997 blockbuster movie TITANIC. Over the four years that followed, he developed underwater robots small enough to go through the Titanic’s windows and into her ghostly rooms. By 2001, he was ready to return and photograph the Titanic in a whole new way.” – Ghosts of the Abyss, A Journey into the Heart of the Titanic

I wasn’t a Titanic expert. I wasn’t particularly a huge Titanic fan. I only had a general knowledge about the famous ship. I remember when Bob Ballard’s team found the wreck and when the first tourists visited. I’d seen the movie. I knew the story of the unsinkable Molly Brown. When I was a child, my aunt took me to the Molly Brown House in Denver, which includes Titanic in it’s exhibits. Every Colorado history class teaches the story of that infamous Coloradan. In fact, I found the tenacity of Molly Brown so remarkable that I named my dog after her. That was about as far as my knowledge of the Titanic went, which wasn’t very far. So I was surprised when a friend called me up and asked if I’d like to work on a webcast from the Titanic. I laughed. He didn’t even have to ask. I was already there.

What I did have was strong desire to work on the project, a background producing television documentaries and web content, a keen sense of adventure, and a dog named Molly (Brown).
[blockquote]There I was – invited to work on the most ambitious webcast ever attempted, on the most advanced technological expedition on earth, while filming the most technologically advanced 3D high definition documentary ever made about the most famous shipwreck in history.[/blockquote]

“Everything about the project pushed the limits of technology.”
This radical idea of webcasting live from aboard the Keldysh in the middle of the North Atlantic was pretty cool. It was the brainchild of John David Cameron. Earthship.tv was ahead of it’s time by several years. We were basically webcasting – video on demand – youtube style – except in 2001. Everything about the project pushed the limits of technology. It’s too bad earthship.tv isn’t a live site anymore. I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve seen on the web. Of course, I’m biased, the exploration topic gets me every time.

My job was to write and produce video packages about the expedition, specifically, the bots – those tiny robots used to explore inside the ship. The coolest thing about the bots is that they were small and could get into tight spaces. You could drive them in one entrance and exit by another without backtracking or worrying about entangling the umbilical. Tiny fiber optic threads spooled out like a spiders web from the bots to the controls. One fiber had the drive controls and the other would send back the camera image. They were brilliantly designed and built by Mike Cameron and his team and enabled us to get a good look at the inside of Titanic for the first time since she sank.

Ghosts of the Abyss was the first of a series of Titanic and underwater projects I’ve been fortunate enough to work on. The people working on these expeditions always amaze me; some of them are almost as legendary as the Titanic itself. [quote_simple]”One thing they all have in common is an unquenchable thirst for exploration, knowledge, science, technology and adventure.”[/quote_simple]
Lucky for me, these people would become my surrogate family and mentors over the next few years.

If you haven’t seen the film, do so. I’m not going to take away all the fun and give away the surprises or talk about the grandeur of what they found inside the wreck. You’ll have to explore that on your own.

Run, don’t walk to the nearest video store and pick it up. Put it in your Netflix cue. Or click on the link below for all things Ghosts of the Abyss.
All things Ghosts of the Abyss
Learn more about Titanic at the Explore Store

How to fly like Superman

Wow! Do you ever have those “pinch me” moments, when you can’t believe where you are, what you’re doing or who you’re with?

My part time job fits that description exactly.  It’s not your typical part time job.  Let’s just call it my “fun job” because  I can’t believe I actually get paid to do it.  You see, I’m a  Zero Gravity coach for Zero Gravity Corporation.  My job is to teach people how to float in the air.

How to fly like Superman!
Flying like Superman!

We take people and experiments into weightless situations in G-FORCE ONE -a modified 727 aircraft flying parabolic flights.   You’ve all seen footage of astronauts on the shuttle or on the space station where everything is floating around.  Not only do we provide research and training flights for NASA, we also make this experience possible for the general public.  Now you can float weightless the same way the astronauts train to go into space.  It’s a HUGE amount of fun!

There is nothing like floating, doing flips and flying through the air like Superman!

Read more

Ansari X PRIZE

X PRIZE Flights, X1 and X2

Early morning at the Ansari X PRIZE

I‘ve been so lucky to have had some incredible adventures lately. However, nothing compares to the last 6 months working for X PRIZE Foundation.

It was a great honor to be a part of something that was a mile marker in the history of mankind.

I had the privilege to work with Bob Weiss, Vice Chairman for the Foundation and to produce the live simulcast (TV and Web) for the X PRIZE flights. It ended up being the biggest webcast in the history of webcasts. More people logged on to watch the launches than any other live webcast. Ever. It was also big day on Discovery Network’s Science Channel, who saw a spike in their viewership as well.

But all that pales in comparison to being in Mojave – meeting the all the amazing people making history – working with an incredible crew – to not sleeping for days because there’s so much work to be done – to watching the launches – to realizing that maybe, just maybe, the door has been opened just far enough that you and I can someday experience space ourselves.

A person does not participate in something like that and remain unchanged.

In the aftermath, it’s the kind of thing that you wonder if it really happened or if it was all an incredible dream. Then you realize it’s not. It’s real. It’s very real and I am one incredibly lucky person.