LSA Technology Services supported a special Saturday Morning Physics event with NASA astronaut and physicist Josh Cassada last January 14, in the Central Campus Classroom Building (CCCB) auditorium (1420), with overflow seating upstairs in the Classroom in-the-round. Josh Cassada answered questions live from the International Space Station while former NASA engineer and university alum John Foster provided commentary. Foster is a Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences as well as a Professor of Aerospace Engineering. The event was live streamed on YouTube and is available for viewing.
LSA Technology Services’ involvement started last December. Carol Rabuck from Saturday Morning Physics emailed Jesse Miller, media consultant lead, to help with this conversation from the International Space Station. He had experience with the people and technology hosting the event from the get-go. For one, he had helped with the department’s commencement several times. Additionally, NASA uses older, tried and true technology that used to be the bread and butter of the videoconferencing team. He told Carol to reach out to Monika Dressler, Academic Technology Services Director, and the rest is history. Miller’s team was tasked with facilitating communication with Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA TV, to then pass the signal to the International Space Station. The videoconferencing team had two months to prepare for this entire event, completing it on a sped-up time scale. A lot of initial testing was done with NASA before January because everything needed to go smoothly the day of the event. Jesse shared that unique challenges presented themselves along the way: “We were dealing with factors we never had to deal with before. We had a delay with one test because a space walk went wrong.” This was because the time window of the event was based on where the space station was in orbit over the earth. Even with this limitation, he says, “All in all, I felt very confident about things.”
In addition to preparing behind the scenes, several members of the organization from multiple teams were present the day of the event to ensure it ran smoothly, from Sight and Sound Operations to Videoconferencing and the Navigation Desk team. Todd Austin, technology consultant, operated the call with NASA. Kevin Mulrooney, audio-visual (AV) technician, monitored and managed an overflow feed if the event was over capacity. He also served as a stagehand who helped with setup and lighting transitions (e.g. cueing people). Miller was the stage manager and managed the lighting transitions. The special Saturday Morning Physics event could not have been put on without the collaboration of several units in LSA that day, however. The organization took advantage of LSA’s disability accommodations initiative for this event. Closed captioning was provided for the live stream and a transcript was made available to the audience in real-time. LSA Disability Navigators covered the cost so money was not a consideration. LSA Technology Services worked with Michigan Media to include an ASL interpreter who was included in the broadcast. In addition, while Michigan Media usually handles recordings of Saturday Morning Physics, LSA Technology Services recorded the event this time. The videoconferencing team also worked with Michigan Media for this event to leverage the decades of experience that Michigan Media had. The videoconferencing team was easily able to provide a feed from LSA Technology Services' projector and audio systems to Michigan Media's YouTube broadcasting and recording services.
While LSA Technology Services doesn’t support the physics department’s day-to-day events, it does support foundational events in Weiser Hall by making sure they have the technology they need. For example, the AV system in Weiser Hall was recently upgraded and led to copper coverings being changed for fiber instead. This was to shield all of the equipment that was generating electromagnetic impulses that knocked out their connections, which happens in the physics lab. Despite Weiser Hall not being a focus of the support that the videoconferencing team provides, this special Saturday Morning Physics event was an exciting experience that allowed LSA Technology Services to flex a wealth of knowledge it has accumulated. The CCCB was chosen to host the event because it was designed with videoconferencing needs in mind, unlike the older Weiser Hall location normally used. It was also able to accommodate the larger than normal amount of attendees to Saturday Morning Physics. Miller knew it would be the perfect room for the live stream. He described it as “one of the first times that the space was used as it was designed, taking advantage of all of the installed systems.” The opportunity provided a high point for the videoconferencing team: “Everyone felt how important this was. The first question came from a 3-year old girl wearing a spacesuit. It was just such a great, rewarding experience to see her talk with a real live astronaut. Definitely a highlight of my time at the university so far.”