I’m In A Spacesuit

We went to Hamilton Standard (now Hamilton Sundstrand) where they made spacesuits. I got to try one on!

During my 26 years in Connecticut I’ve done a few things beyond weather at Channel 8. Though some folks remember me on Good Morning America, I also hosted four seasons of Inside Space on the SciFi Channel.

SciFi was a thinly watched network back then. I suspected we had more viewers for WTNH than Inside Space and Inside Space was seen worldwide!

After a while management caught on that we were SciFa not SciFi and we were cancelled. The good news is under the supervision of Executive Producer Dave Brody we put out a lot of very good stuff.

This is one of my favorite segments, one of the few taped in Connecticut. We went to Hamilton Standard (now Hamilton Sundstrand) where they made spacesuits.

I got to try one on!

Wearing The Contacts At Work

Unfortunately when I looked in the little case where they ‘live’ the left lens had escaped!

“Adorable,” said my wife. “You look marvelous,” chimed the guy responsible for me getting hired to host “Inside Space” on SciFi. “You are squinting Geoff, put on the glasses, you look better and more trustworthy,” was the word from a Facebook friend¹. They were all commenting about tonight’s test run in contact lenses. It went reasonably well.

That is the glassless me on the left. Alas, I have my father’s tiny eyes and it always looks like I’m squinting.

The lenses have been on-and-off twice today. I am getting used to sticking my finger on my eyeball. That’s gross just to say. Both lenses stung for the first 30 seconds or so but were fine after that.

I had to work tonight, covering for a colleague whose furnace started a small fire that filled his downstairs with smoke. No injuries. Hopefully no lasting damage.

It is an awful night following an awful day with enough rain to bring flood warnings and enough wind to knock down power lines and trees.

On the drive in what was noticed at home became more obvious. My distance vision is not as good as it was with glasses. I can still see well enough to drive but signs and other objects aren’t nearly as clear.

The “Fitting Guide” for the lenses, instructions for my eye doctor, have instructions to work around this problem. I’d like to try.

My plan was to take the contacts out as soon as I got home which I did easily. Unfortunately when I looked in the little case where they ‘live’ the left lens had escaped! About ten minutes later I located it on the floor. If these things are going to last for three months holding onto them will be critical.

The real question will be how this looks at work and whether viewers accept it or even care.

¹ – Let’s just think of this guy as dentist number five. The dentist who doesn’t recommend Trident to his patients who chew gum.

From Television City In Hollywood

I smiled, waved and passed unmolested back to the editing booth where my secretive friend was finishing his work.

television-city-in-hollywood.jpgI joined my friend from the secret location for a drive to Television City in Hollywood. Built in 1951 it was the first all-television studio complex built here… maybe in America. Along with CBS offices it’s also where HBO’s Real Time and Foxes American Idol are done. It was where Carol Burnett and Bob Barker worked.

I have been before, but it’s still impressive.

My friend was busy reworking a show recorded in 1967 for repackaging on a DVD. He worked in an old line analog online edit suite.

evan-astrowsky.jpgAfter noon I borrowed his car and headed into the heart of Koreatown to visit Evan Astrowsky. Evan was a producer on Inside Space, the show I hosted on SciFi. Now he’s a movie producer–one of a number of hats he wears.

I parked on the street, limiting my time with Evan. At four Wilshire Boulevard turns into a pumpkin for parked cars.

Already ‘passed’ I headed back to Television City and drove right in. Outside on Beverly Boulevard a line of mostly young woman waited for “So You Think You Can Dance.” I smiled, waved and passed unmolested back to the editing booth where my secretive friend was finishing his work.

Tonight it’s off for sushi with two friends from college.


Weird Stuff In Space

A few years ago I had a question about the Cassini space probe. I sent an email to Carolyn Porco of the imaging team, who I didn’t know. She answered my query and put me on her mailing list.

This is a great mailing list – possibly the best I’m on!

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for a while, moving in and out of the rings and past Saturn’s multitude of moons. I’d put a number, but no one really knows how many there are, plus a lot depends on your definition of a moon!

One of the latest stops for Cassini was a nice photo session with Hyperion. It’s reddish in color and pock marked with craters. Like so much else in space, Hyperion is potato shaped.

The potato factor has been constant topic of conversation between Dave brody, my former producer on Inside Space, and me. We have no idea why the natural order of space has chosen this particular vegetable to model so much on.

On most solid planets and moons, an incoming meteorite blasts into the surface, ejecting a significant portion of what was there. On hyperion, an oncoming meteorite hitting the surface would primarily compress it. Very little would be blasted back into space – even with Hyperion’s minimal gravity.

All I could think of was Styrofoam. Hyperion acts as if it’s made of Styrofoam!

Like Styrofoam, Hyperion is isn’t very dense. If you had a large enough bathtub, Hyperion would float (as would Saturn itself). Hyperion has half the density of water.

I’m getting a little jealous. It seems we know more about Saturn and its moons than we know about Earth and ours. The Cassini instrumentation is quite good and has produced tons of data.

In fact, Casini was able to measure its effect on Hyperion as it looked on from 30,000+ miles away.

To The Moon

There’s a big buzz today over NASA’s announcement yesterday that they plan to send men back to the moon – in essence establishing a colony with a permanent presence.

I’ve railed against the shuttle program and manned space flight in general, yet my initial reaction to this isn’t negative.

Certainly, I’m skeptical. Long ago NASA lost ‘the right stuff’ they had when we sent Apollo to the Moon. Our shuttle program is a foolish embarrassment, with little upside. Our greatest scientific breakthroughs have come from unmanned missions.

And, as my former producer at Inside Space, Dave Brody, said – NASA’s budget for everything else has pretty much been cut to the bone. There’s not much else they’re funded to do. They probably only have enough money to study, not build, a moon program.

Here’s one reason for skepticism, from NASA’s “Why the Moon?” page.

Six lunar exploration themes evolved from the recent Global Exploration Strategy discussions. NASA engaged the global space community to develop the themes by asking the question, “Why should we return to the Moon?”

If you think a governmental bureaucracy is inefficient, hold onto your hats for a multi-government bureaucracy!

Use the International Space Station as an example. While we play nice, attempting to build the station, Russia sells tourist flights! My sense is, in the spirit of cooperation or to hide the terrible partnership we forged, we’re subsidizing them.

I’ve looked through the objectives reached by the Global Exploration Strategy discussions. Couldn’t most of these be done better without people?

A notable exception is, “Understand the impact of extreme isolation on individual psychological health and group dynamics.” That one goal might be scary enough to keep people here on Earth.

Not every NASA proposal makes it off the drawing board. This is a big ticket item, and I’m unsure if Congress is willing to make the monetary commitment necessary.

Like I said, I’m not dead set against it, just skeptical.

Blogger’s note: The rendering at the top is from NASA. Here’s a larger version. I’m astounded they posted it, because it’s flawed in a way NASA should have spotted immediately.

On the Moon, with no atmosphere, shadows are pure black. Same thing in space. There are illuminated areas and there is total darkness. There is no mid ground.

Our ‘grayed’ shadows on Earth are caused by atmospheric scattering. There’s no lunar atmosphere, hence no scattering on the Moon.

Explosives Alkalais And Me

Back when I used to host Inside Space on SciFi, we took a trip to Boulder, CO for a series of shows. In one, we went to the atomic clock at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies.

The NIST building is Boulder was jam packed with nerds and geeks – my people. Inside, some scientists are tracking the weather on the Sun, while others are following the orbits of objects which might one day hit the Earth. Who knows what else goes on?

The atomic clock we visited wasn’t really a clock as much as an accurate counter. A small stream of cesium passed by a sensor. Since cesium has a very predictable resonant frequency, it became the calibration source for the counter&#185.

I remember the clock being more plumbing than anything else, with wires exiting at various intervals. Parts of it were wrapped with what looked like, and probably was, thermal insulation. It was definitely a homebrew device.

Dave Brody, our producer, spoke with the clock’s master. Dave wanted to know where we could set up and shoot our video?

The answer was simple. We could do what we wanted, but we had to be very careful. If we bumped the clock, the building would have to be evacuated. Of course, it wouldn’t matter to us. We’d be dead!

We got the point. This scientist was being funny, but also serious. This was one dangerous clock.

I really didn’t know much about cesium, except that it doesn’t like to be alone. When cesium combines with other elements, the reaction is explosive!

At least, that’s what I’d heard. I’d never seen cesium at work until tonight when I ran across the video at the bottom of this entry.

I am now very glad we stayed away from the clock. Very glad.

&#185 – That last paragraph was done from memory. I’m sure it’s not 100% right, but it gets you in the ballpark.

Challenger – 20 Years Ago Today

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Challenger disaster, January 28, 1986. I still have that morning indelibly etched in my mind.

Helaine and I were living in Branford. Steffie wasn’t quite a twinkle in our eye. We went to sleep late and woke up later.

From bed, we turned on CNN. I’m not sure we had any anticipation of seeing a space shot that morning, but as the set came to life, the countdown was in its final two minutes. There was no way we were going to turn away.

We watched what happened live. James Oberg writing on MSNBC today said that was the exception not the rule. I knew something was wrong right away. No one had to tell me.

Twenty years ago, the bloom was already off NASA’s rose. Few people cared the shuttle was being launched. From time-to-time on previous launches, I’d run a few seconds of tape. But really, there’s was little news value. I was indulged because it fit so well with my TV personna.

On January 28, 1986 only CNN had a live reporter at the Cape&#185.

Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire school teacher was onboard to help NASA drum up some good publicity – the mother’s milk of funding. It doesn’t seem fair, considering the risk she faced.

Should NASA have known the shuttle was in danger that cold January morning? Was there a push to launch no matter what the circumstances? Truth is, it makes no difference.

Even if this explosion hadn’t happened then, there were other dangers hidden. Everything that brought Columbia down was already in place long before Challenger. There are other hidden perils we’ll see when the shuttle flies again… if it ever does.

Challenger came before my stint as host of Inside Space. I knew a little, not a lot about the space program when I started. The more I hung out where ‘spacemen’ hung out, the more I learned. This was my first step in deciding manned spaceflight was, and is, a hugely dangerous waste of money, resources and time.

Climbing onto a missile and having someone light the fuse is in and of itself dangerous. I have commented to astronauts on more than one occasion, it’s a job that can kill you when you’re just practicing. That’s what happened with Apollo One.

Today, everything that can be done on the shuttle can better be done robotically. There’s really no need to put people at danger. Anyway, even when the shuttle was flying, there wasn’t much science being performed.

NASA would like you to think otherwise, but what I’m saying is so. Look back at what was aboard Columbia – it’s embarrassing. I’ve heard talk of metallurgy and pharmaceuticals in space for decades – but it’s never happened in a way that would lead to the promised commercial applications.

Don’t get me wrong, the astronauts and NASA’s scientists are dedicated people. It didn’t take long to figure that out. I have met more brilliant minds at NASA facilities than anywhere else I’ve ever been. They are not the problem.

Flying people into space is a macho thing. It somehow seems more significant and worthy if a person is at the controls and not a machine. Until that mindset changes we will accomplish little and endanger many.

&#185 – I’m not sure who it was, though probably the late John Holliman, a very nice guy and space enthusiast.


I woke up early (for me) Wednesday, turned on the TV and saw SpaceShipOne fly to space and back. Very impressive. It looks likely this entry from Burt Rutan will claim the $10,000,000 Ansari X Prize. That’s something I first predicted back in May – though it didn’t take a genius to come to that conclusion.

OK – it cost more than $10,000,000 to develop the ship, but that’s not the point. This venture has commercial potential beyond the X Prize itself.

I watched on CNN because I think Miles O’Brien is not only knowledgeable but he’s connected and often has information others do not. I thought sitting him with Burt’s brother Dick, an aerospace legend in his own right who piloted the first non-stop round the world unrefueled flight, was a bad idea. Either Dick’s mind was somewhere else (excusable under the circumstances) or he just doesn’t have the right makeup for TV.

The plane took off, tucked under another Burt Rutan flying contraption. In this regard it was similar to the early X-15 rocket plane, launched from beneath the wing of a B-52. At about 50,000 feet SpaceShipOne was released and within seconds its rubber burning engine was pushing it toward the heavens&#185.

A minute or so later SpaceShipOne, moving vertically, began to roll. I’ve seen a number of different figures but it was at least 16 revolutions, maybe more.

Watching the roll, I assumed I was watching a disaster in the making. I knew there was no reason for the ship to corkscrew itself into space. Any second I expected to see a wing break off or parts begin to disintegrate.

Obviously none of that happened. On the ground, pilot Mike Melville said it was probably something he had done. I don’t believe that for one second.

With the backing of Richard Branson, SpaceShipOne is the prototype for space tourism. It’s not good for business to say your rocket ship is unstable or difficult to control – but it surely is.

Rutan will figure a way to get around this problem for one more flight, win the prize, and modify this design into a more stable model for commercial work. SpaceShipOne will go to the Smithsonian before it can hurt anyone.

This is a great program. The government’s space program is so top heavy, so money laden, that it has discouraged anyone else to get into the business. Rutan and people like him will change that paradigm.

Under different circumstances I would be very upset about the post-flight claims concerning the spinning. Today, I’ll let it pass.

&#185 – I have read and like to say it’s a tire burning engine. Dave Brody, former Executive Producer of Inside Space (a show I hosted under his tutelage) on the SciFi Channel and now in a similar position at Space.com, says it actually burns condoms – a much more romantic thought.

Men on the Moon – 35 Years Ago

Yesterday was the anniversary of the first men landing on the moon. Thirty five years ago today, Neil Armstrong took that first giant leap for mankind.

I remember those two days. I was excited to be working at WSAR in Fall River, Ma. It was my first professional broadcasting job.

I was on my way to work as the astronauts landed. I had stopped in my green Volkswagen Beetle at a rest area somewhere between Boston and Fall River. People were standing around listening to their radios. It was a sultry summer evening.

It is still astounding to me that we were able to achieve this amazing journey. Even today, with technology so far advanced, our space program is far from worry free. This was really uncharted terriotory in every sense of the word.

Over the years, some parts of the experience have been lost, others aodpted as if they had happened, when in reality they hadn’t.

For instance, we’ve all seen the film of Apollo 11’s landing, with the voices of the astronauts and Houston controllers calling out flight details. That film was not developed until the astronauts returned! Sure, we heard the voices live. We never saw the pictures.

Maybe there’s confusion because we did see (with some of the poorest video ever watched) Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. That was transmitted live from a camera mounted somewhere on the exterior of the lander.

One of my favorite trivia questions concerns the first words from the moon&#185. It wasn’t “One small step…” or “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The first words from the moon were, “contact light.”

“Contact light…OK Engine stop…ATA outta detent…Mode control: both Auto…descent engine command override off…Engine arm off… 413 is in.”

Not very sexy. And, as my personal space expert, and former Inside Space producer, Dave Brody reminds me, that was said by Buzz Aldrin, not Neil Armstrong.

It is possible the greatest human achievment of my lifetime was achieved 35 years ago. That we haven’t exceeded this over that time period is a shame.

&#185 – My favorite trivia question is: “What is Lady Bird Johnson’s first name?” It is neither Lady or Bird.

I’m Not That Nice

A few months ago, Elizabeth McGuire (no Lizzie McGuire jokes, please) asked if she could interview me for Hartford Magazine. Never the shy one, I said yes.

I have just read the article, and can now guarantee, I’m not anywhere as nice as she portrayed me. I am grateful, however, she lied on my behalf.

Only part of the article was on the magazine’s website, so I retyped it to place here on my site. Other than changing the spelling of my daughter’s name, and my length of service at WTNH, I’ve left it as is.

Hartford Magazine / February 2004

WTNH weatherman Geoff Fox doesn’t mind being call a weather geek. In fact, he finds it flattering. Fox loves the scientific process of predicting and forecasting the weather. “I’m the kind of guy who does like to look at lists of numbers, charts and gr4aphs. It’s a different math puzzle every single day, and no matter what you do, you’re presented with another math puzzle the next day,” Fox says.

Day after day for the past 19 years at WTNH-TV, Fox has pored over the maps, graphs and charts; analyzed the data; and then translated the information into “plain English” for his viewers. Fox gets two to three minutes during evening newscasts to tell viewers how the weather on any given day is likely to affect them. Without being asked, he answers dozens of questions such as, “Should I wear a raincoat, start that outdoor project or cancel that backyard picnic?” Fox says many viewers listen critically to his forecasts, and they hold him accountable when he’s wrong. “Believe me, people can be tough if you are wrong – and they should be, because other than the Psychic Friends Network, there aren’t too many people who come on television and predict the future for a living,” Fox explains.

As we sit at the kitchen table in Fox’s spacious Hamden home one recent afternoon, Fox explains to me that advances in computer technology have increased weather forecasters’ ability to develop more accurate forecasts. Suddenly, Fox excuses himself and leaves the room. Moments later he’s back with his laptop computer. There begins my tutorial on weather patterns. A map with curvy lines shows barometric pressure, one with splotches of color shows precipitation, and a pretty blue graph shows, well I’m not sure what that one showed, but it sure is colorful! Though much of what Fox explains is lost on my unscientific mind, his main point isn’t: The mathematical calculations and other technical information computers offer weather forecasters are essential tools of the trade. Like blueprints to contractors, or EKG printouts to doctors, computers make it easier for weather forecasters to be correct more often. “We can get more detailed information about what the atmosphere is doing… why it’s doing it… how it’s doing it…”

But once Fox comes out from behind the computer, he is able to deliver important information in an easy-to-understand, conversational manner. And he just about always throws some humor into his forecasts, often catching his co-anchors off guard. “I’ve always been the guy who told the jokes and made funny little remarks. And I think I have good timing,” says Fox.

Fox honed his timing during his 11 years as a morning-radio personality in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Buffalo. In 1980, Fox became the host of a Buffalo TV magazine show at WGRZ-TV. That’s where he became interested in weather forecasting, applied for a weekend weather position, and got the job. Fox realized meteorology was an area in which he could use his math and science skills. Fox says he was always good in those subjects and was even on the school math team as a kid growing up in Flushing, Queens, NY.

Even though Fox says he scored higher than 700 on the math portion of the SATs, he tells me he was not a very good student, especially in college. “I was in the accelerated dismissal program at Emerson.” he jokes. In fact, he flunked out the first time he attended the Boston college that specializes in communications.

He is now, however, getting straight A’s in his course work to become a certified meteorologist. He’s enrolled in a distance learning program at Mississippi State University. But most of what Fox needs to know to get a degree in meteorology he already knows.

After years of on-the-job training and watching New England weather patterns, Fox has a pretty good track record of predicting the weather. A classic example of getting it right was his forecast for the so-called “Storm of the Century” (as some television promotion departments dubbed it) that took aim at Connecticut the first weekend of March 2001. Most of the computer weather models were indicating the strong possibility of at least three feet of snow with blizzard conditions. But Fox didn’t think they were correct. He had been using a different computer model (maintained by a major university) during the 200-2001 winter season, and it had been extremely accurate. So, Fox was pretty certain the site’s calculations on heights, temperatures and pressures in the atmosphere were reliable. He stuck with his prediction that the storm would bring mostly rain, sleet and perhaps a few inches of snow. “If you’re confident in your abilities, you have to give what you think is best, in spite of the pack,” he says. Fox’s news director at the time questioned the accuracy of his forecast but then decided to trust it. Gov. Rowland, however, put his faith in the blizzard forecasts and practically shut down the state. The “Storm of the Century” never materialized. Fox would later write an Op-Ed piece for the New Haven Register that he was “hurt” by an article in that paper, which led readers to believe that all area forecasters got it wrong.

That’s not to say, however, that Fox gets it right all the time. Even after 20 years in the television business Fox says he is still “incredibly bothered” when his forecasts don’t bear out. “there will be times when I wake up on a Saturday morning and I will be upset that it’s sunny. If I said it’s gonna rain, than a rainy day is much nicer than a sunny day.” Fox has been know to apologize to his viewers on the air when one of his forecasts has proven incorrect.

In the family room of Fox’s house, the fireplace mantel is crowded with pictures of his 16-year-old daughter Stefanie, in various stages of childhood and Fox’s wedding pictures. Fox and his wife Helaine recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. Next to the mantel, behind the glass door of his entertainment center, Fox displays his seven shiny gold Emmy awards – meticulously lined up in a row. He earned those awards for weather and science reporting. Along with his work at WTNH-TV, Fox has hosted a show called “Inside Space” on the SciFi Channel and has been a fill-in weathercaster on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Fox says he would like to do more work for ABC because the experience was “cool.” He’d also like to host a game show but says those jobs would be in addition to his work at WTNH-TV.

When Fox isn’t working, he spends his time with his family, maintains his Web site(www.geofffox.com) with his daily postings and plays Internet Poker. Fox also does charity work, and his favorite charities include the March of Dimes and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Fox sums up his feelings about the charity work and accurate forecasts this way” “Look, I’m not living in a hovel. I’m not driving a ’65 Pinto, and the reason I have whatever success and nice things I have is because of the people of Connecticut, so I feel there’s an obligation to give something back.”

Being a Pain in the Butt

There is no doubt, I am a pain. I question everything. I can be relentless. Sometimes I stick my nose where it shouldn’t be. For instance, I just found this email while looking for something else. It was sent about 3 years ago to the folks who were running NBC at the time, Scott Sassa and Garth Ancier.

NBC was considering a show called “Destination Mir” and I was petrified.

I am writing the two of you because of the recent announcement of NBC’s intention to run a show where a trip to Mir will be the grand prize.

Mir is an accident waiting to happen… a deathtrap. Up since early 1986, it’s well past its design lifetime. Many scientists feel Mir should be brought down and destroyed in the atmosphere.

As the pressure inside has varied over time, stresses have been placed on the outer walls, some the thickness of corrugated paper. It’s something like bending a paper clip back and forth, over and over again. It is widely believed that corrosion is taking place behind panels where inspection is impossible. Over the years there have been fires, computer shutdowns and problems keeping MIR stabilized in orbit. I don’t believe the damage caused by the collision of a supply ship with the Spektr module has ever been located or fixed. The Russian space agency is incredibly strapped for cash. They are desperate.

Would you step aboard an airplane or drive in a car that had this kind of history? I wouldn’t. Yet having NBC offer a trip there as a prize implies that it is less risky than it really is.

My expertise in this subject comes from years of science reporting. Five of my seven Emmys are for science reporting. I’ve been with a local ABC affiliate for 16 years, during which time I also hosted 4 seasons of “Inside Space” on SciFi.

But, please, don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself. It’s too important to go in blind. I will get no satisfaction by being put in a position to say, “I told you so.”


Geoff Fox

Of course, this show never did happen. It was killed when the Russians finally realized on their own that Mir was in big trouble. I wish I could say I had something to do with it… and my note was forwarded within the upper levels of NBC… but this died on its own. The result is the important thing.

Facilitator… That’s Me

I’m not sure what the proper term is – emcee, host, moderator? I personally like facilitator, though I can’t give you the exact definition of the word. Whatever it is, I did it today, as I shepherded a roundtable discussion on air quality at Southern Connecticut State University. I think it went very well.

This is a skill I never knew I had until Dave Brody, producer for Inside Space, had me moderate a few “Star Councils”; panel discussions on space&#185. Once, I told a panelist (I think it was Bob Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society), “I’m not calling on you until I actually see smoke coming out of your ears.”

My approach is to be the opposite of anyone I’m questioning. I don’t care what your beliefs are, I’m your antithesis, and I’ll make you justify every position you take. It really forces people to become more passionate and factual as they begin to speak.

It becomes clear from the start that no statement will go unchallenged.

Being contrary is its own reward. So, this is totally fun for me.

When I was first approached to do today’s panel, I was skittish because it looked like the panel members might be all of one mind. A lovefest with no critical thinking would be worthless. I was assured there would be diversity of opinion and I was not disappointed.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to try my hand at doing this at some tech or broadcasting convention, but I have no idea where to go or who to contact to get the ball rolling.

&#185 – I am reminded by Dr. Frank Tavares at Southern Connecticut State University, that it was he who got me to moderate my first roundtable. It had to do with the future of communications. My boss (who I never really got along with) was a participant, as was the GM of the local cable company and a few others. We pulled no punches.

It was Brody who got me to do these in quantity, with world renowned experts, on the road at scholarly meetings, with an audience of opinionated and well informed experts. And, of course, doing the “Star Councils” on-camera made them even more fun.

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