Spaceflight Insider

Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait tours ULA’s facilities, talks state of space, science at Florida Tech

Phil Plait and FIT visit ULA Facilities

"Bad Astronomy's" Phil Plait visited United Launch Alliance's SLC-37, SLC-41 and ASOC on Thursday, Feb. 26. Photo Credit: Michael Seeley / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla —  Phil Plait, “Bad Astronomy ” blogger, science communicator, and astrophysicist, visited Florida’s Space Coast for a talk at Florida Institute of Technology with Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi and host Dr. Daniel Batcheldor about current events relating to space exploration and science such as the plumes on Mars, the BICEP2’s prediction on inflation, United Launch Alliance’s efforts to send payloads and crew aloft and the meteors flying over parts of Florida. Before Dr. Plait gave his evening discussion, he took the opportunity to explore various launch sites at Cape Canaveral, which would help set the theme for the rest of his day.

Starting out at 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT), Plait left his hotel, grabbed a cup of coffee, and visited the launch sites of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. First, he visited the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center or “ASOC” control room for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Department. This control room was used for monitoring the Atlas V launches at Kennedy and was featured in a scene of the recent film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, directed by Michael Bay.

Phil Plait and FIT visit ULA Facilities

Plait was provided with a tour of ULA’s launch center by the company’s Director of East Coast Launch Operations — Tony Taliancich. Photo Credit: Michael Seeley / SpaceFlight Insider

Continuing his tour, Plait visited the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF ) for the Atlas V, which was unfortunately closed at the time due to weather, and was able to review SLC-41, the launch site of the Atlas.

“Seeing these facilities, seeing what goes into them, just makes my space-dork heart ‘sing’,” Plait said after his tour had drawn to a close.

On the ride to the next destination, he saw SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket which was a surprise sight. The booster was raised in the vertical position as it was prepared to send its dual payload of the EUTELSAT 115 west B and ABS 3A spacecraft to orbit a few days later on March 1.


The Falcon 9 booster, which would carry out the ABS/Eutelsat-1 mission, was also at the pad being prepared for launch during Plait’s tour. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen / SpaceFlight Insider

The last stop on Plait’s Canaveral tour was the Space Launch Complex 37, which greeted Plait with another rare site — a Delta IV Medium+ 4,2 rocket undergoing Wet Dress Rehearsal in preparation to send its payload of the GPS IIF9 navigation satellite to orbit.

“The tour today was fantastic, it’s not everyday that you get to see a place where they launch rockets. That, in and of itself, was petty cool, to be able to get as close as we did to a Delta IV…very, very cool to be able to see it sitting there on the pad,” Plait said.


Plait and ULA’s Tony Taliancich share a laugh at Space Launch Complex 37. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen / SpaceFlight Insider

After his morning tour, Plait had lunch at a destination many locals know all to well – Shuttles Restaurant and Bar. While there, he discussed his experience and motivation to become a science communicator. As one of the first major science bloggers, Plait discussed that the use of social media has allowed science communication to become more natural and it is easier for communicators to gain knowledge and, in turn, share it with the public.

“There seems to be a more natural intake to science communication. People are on Twitter, they’re on Facebook and want to talk about the stuff they’re doing,” Plait stated.

Plait talked about the importance for explaining science to the public in a method that can be easily understood because society is based on science, whether that is engineering, the economy, medicine, or education. He informs the public on general science knowledge so that there is an understanding of the science that occurs every moment and the science given by scientists.

“The more the public understands how science works, then it’s not just accepting what scientist say,” Plait said.

He is able to grasp the attention of the public in his “Bad Astronomy” blogs and his new YouTube series “Crash Course Astronomy ” through his excitement and passion for science.

Phil Plait and FIT visit ULA Facilities

The Delta IV Medium+ 4,2 is being prepared to launch the GPS IIF9 navigational satellite to orbit. Photo Credit: Michael Seeley / SpaceFlight Insider

That evening, Plait used his excitement for science and gave a witty, informative, and exciting talk on recent events of space science with Dr. Oluseyi. Through multiple explanations and side jokes, Plait and Oluseyi discussed the plumes on Mars, the possible proof of inflation, and the meteors flying over Florida. Plait discussed that the plumes on Mars are not actual plumes since they are only visible from side views and are possibly auroras. Later, they discussed the data from BICEP2 on inflation which was recently announced to be just dust and not evidence for inflation.

In response Plait says, “This doesn’t disprove inflation, we just have to do better next. It will be hard because if it was easy it would be done a long time ago”.

Plait discussed the types of meteors that flew over Florida. In the final part of the discussion, Plait and Oluseyi discussed the importance of science communication.


Plait gestures as Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, famous for his appearances on Outrageous Acts of Science, looks on. Photo Credit: Michael Seeley / SpaceFlight Insider

With the days events drawing to a close, Plait touched on the events that had transpired earlier that morning. The blogger noted that it is beneficial to have companies, such as United Launch Alliance and SpaceX,  building the vehicles that enable space exploration to take place.

“Learning more about the universe, whether it’s our immediate neighborhood or reaching out as far as our most powerful telescopes can see, is part of being human, being curious; I think its one of the most important things we do, so I’m thrilled that there are companies out there who are exploring space, because that’s our future,” Plait said.

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider with elements provided by United Launch Alliance



Amoree Hodges Florida Institute of Technology image posted on SpaceFlight InsiderAmoree Hodges is a SpaceFlight Insider Launch Correspondence intern from the Florida Institute of Technology, where she is currently working on obtaining her Bachelors degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Amoree loves telescopes and all things that are related to space, and NASA.

Hodges is planning a career in public science communications, and will be using her internship with SpaceFlight Insider to get great science and engineering communications experience while she works on completing her studies. In her capacity as a volunteer, Ms. Hodges has not only produced written content for SpaceFlight Insider – but has also served as the co-host for one of our live webcasts.



Founded at the very dawn of the Space Race in 1958, the Florida Institute of Technology is the only independent, technological university located in the Southeast. Times Higher Education ranks Florida Tech in the Top 200 Universities in the World. The university has been designated a Tier One Best National University in U.S. News & World Report, and is one of just nine schools in Florida lauded by the 2014 Fiske Guide to Colleges. The university offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Fields of study include science, engineering, aeronautics, business, humanities, mathematics, psychology, communication and education.

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *