Saturday, 20 July 2013


Visiting NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and SpaceX were the highlights of my trip. Remember that room where the Curiosity rover landing was filmed last year and you saw Bobak Ferdowsi a.k.a Mohawk guy?  We were lucky enough to sit in those very seats! (I even caught a glimpse of Mr. Mohawk but I'm unsure he wanted more attention drawn to that fabulous hair). SpaceX was inspiring. A dream machine, entrepreneur and founder Elon Musk defintiely is the real life Tony Stark. He simply employs people that can build. No need to be a rocket scientist, I saw men and women from all backgrounds building the Dragon capsule that takes both cargo and humans into space and stages of the Falcon 9 rocket. 

LA is beautiful both in the day and night. The bubblegum pink sunsets and paradise-like Venice beach have now given me an obsession with palm trees...if only the UK was warm enough. Guess I'll have to make do with the good old Oak tree. I was a standard tourist and visited Hollywood Boulevard. Shamelessly celebrity spotting in the Hollywood Trader Joes, I saw zero famous faces but did spot the Moon Landing plaque outside commemorating Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin (Buzz Aldrin to you and me)  & Michael Collins for orbiting, landing and walking on the Moon for the first time in human history 44 years ago today.

After watching another stunning LA sunset at Griffith Observatory  I took the obligatory Hollywood sign photograph before heading back on the 7 hours drive up to San Francisco. It's very different here in NorCal, I personally prefer the cooler weather of SF but I'd definitely recommend visiting SoCal and all the palm trees it has to offer!


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

If I had a superpower for a day... (why I think the Mantis Shrimp is a little bit cool)

To have a superpower is to possess an ability that is superhuman. Something that is not biologically, physically, chemically and psychologically possible for us do in our natural Homo sapien state. 

Therefore, if I were to have a superpower for a day, it would be the ability to view the world through the eyes of another living organism, in particular, the mantis shrimp. Our human eyes have millions of light sensitive photoreceptive cells called rods that enable us to see light & motion, and cones which provide us with color vision. Dogs have two types of color-receptive cones, green and blue which allow them to see these colors plus some yellow. We have green, blue and red cone types which enable us to see not only red but all the colors that derive from red such as orange and purple when mixed with yellow and blue. However, the mantis shrimp has a phenomenal sixteen types of color-receptive cone cells. It is mind-blowing to imagine what an ordinary rainbow that we see with three colors looks like to a mantis shrimp. I would like to see the world through the sixteen cone photoreceptor celled eyes of the mantis shrimp. 

This superpower will provide me with a window into the plethora of undiscovered perception that exists in everyday life. I would like to find out what other colors exist and whether they would exist at all, being something invisible to human eye. Not only this, but I think it's important as Earthlings to attempt to fully understand the species we share the planet with before exploring other worlds. After this day, I would then attempt to describe and possibly code what I saw so that others may experience the mysterious and extraordinary world of the mantis shrimp. I find this to be one of the most intriguing areas because the translation of the enriched vision of the mantis shrimp will be difficult in the three-coned eyes through which we see the world.

I chose this superpower since I believe other species and other adaptations are in fact the superpowers that humans crave. We are not the fastest, the most efficient, the largest or the most agile however, we are the best tool-makers on the planet. As opposed to being limited by the biology that we are born with, we invented and built our way to become the leading species. However, I think it is important to learn from the greatest inventor of them all, natural selection. Biomimcry in technological advancement will enable humans to truly become superhuman.

(I submitted this into a creative writing competition for NASA interns to win a trip to Google HQ. I didn't win but I thought I'd share it here for you guys to see how geeky I get about the wonders of Biology)

To see where I got my inspiration from check out 'The Oatmeal':

- Nikita

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Making Space Accessible: NanoSatisfi

They say that when you love your job, you never work a day in your life. That's exactly what the guys at revolutionary space company, NanoSatisfi strongly believe in. Nestled in the heart of San Francisco, three International Space University graduates (like myself) work towards making space more affordable and accessible for everybody. Together, Peter Platzer, Jeroen Cappaert and Joel Spark juggled ISU exams, lectures, team projects and summer internships with creating a business plan and running a Kickstarter campaign. This all took place in 2012 and now, a year later the company has achieved great success with their main products, miniature cubic satellite ArduSat and ArduSat Academy. I visited NanoSatisfi HQ to learn more from the guys about their journey and what they think is the key to unlocking both happiness and success.

Based out of a collective workspace provided by tech incubator Lemnos Labs, CEO Peter Platzer treated my friends and I with a breakfast array of coffee, pastries and orange juice, before taking a seat on the office floor (there were 12 of us!) and answering our questions with Jeroen and Joel. We were keen to find out how exactly they succeeded at both university and starting a company and they provided us with a great deal of advice towards achieving our dreams, no matter what. Using the example of the 4 minute mile, Peter described how something can only be achieved when you believe it can be. Simply because it is thought to be impossible, does not make it so. The fact that this is merely a state of mind signifies a gap in the market and consequently an opportunity for you to change this thought process.

NanoSatisfi CEO, Peter Platzer holding a prototype of the ArduSat payload package (Source: Space Fellowship)
NanoSatisfi co-founders, Jeroen Cappaert and Joel Spark

Beginning his career as a high-energy physicist at CERN, Peter completed an MBA at Harvard before heading to Wall Street. However space exploration called. I asked Peter what NanoSatisfi meant to him personally & professionally: 

" NanoSatisfi is the culmination of my personal mission statement to have an positive impact on the world, and professionally it is a happy return to my early career aspirations as a physicist and to my passion for space exploration.  These were put on hold for 15 years while I worked in business and waited for a time when the commercialization of space would make it possible to do something impactful without relying on the whims of government budgets.  NanoSatisfi has allowed me to do that, and I am lucky that both personally and professionally I have found a way to be doing something that I love and exactly what I am meant to be doing at this point in my career." - Peter Platzer, CEO NanoSatisfi

Together with aerospace engineer Joel and mechanical engineer Jeroen, the team are driven to  providing regular people with affordable, convenient and on-demand access to space. Their two main products include ArduSat, which allows the public to buy time to run their own experiments, games or applications on board the satellite for as low as $250 a week. Their ArduSat Academy offers training on program design and building, bringing the magic of space science closer to people like you and me. 

ArduSat illustration (Source: Science Business)

Meeting people that exactly a year ago were in my position as an ISU Masters student on their summer internship gave me a strong sense of motivation to achieve similar success. I left NanoSatisfi feeling as though I can and will accomplish anything that I put my mind to. And it really is as simple as that. 

Follow @NanoSatisfi for fun space facts, updates and all-round entertaining140 retweet-worthy characters

- Nikita
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