All posts by kellycalagna2017

Christmas comes early at the Chicago Cultural Center

By Kelly Calagna

The Chicago Cultural Center came alive Sunday with the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker.  About 500 little ballerinas took over the grand ball room in a free public event made possible by the volunteer efforts of Ballet Chicago and the Lakeside Pride Symphonic Band. The tutu’ed participants received a ballet lesson, then took their new moves to the dance floor as snow fell outside the windows looking over Grant Park.

Christmas Comes Early at the Chicago Cultural Center from Medill Reports on Vimeo.

Photo at top: Little ballerinas learn to the moves to take The Nutcracker to the dance floor. (Kelly Calagna/MEDILL)

Revolutionary weather satellite to aid in earlier warning of severe storms

By Kelly Calagna

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NOAA’s revolutionary weather satellite successfully launched Saturday from Cape Canaveral at 6:42 p.m. EST.  The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) means earlier warnings, expected to save lives from severe weather situations.

GOES-R, called GOES-16 as soon as it detached from the booster,  is the first in a series of next generation satellites for weather monitoring set to replace the current NOAA GOES network. “It’s going to be like instead of seeing black and white television, HD,” said Joe Pica, director of the Office of Operations at the National Weather Service in a mission briefing at the space center on Thursday.

Hurricane Matthew delayed the weather satellite’s launch twice due to damage to space center facilities and equipment last month, as well as a minor booster issue. But with clear conditions and all units go, the United Launch Alliance (ULA)  Atlas V rocket finally got the spacecraft off the ground in a NOAA and NASA partnership.


The geostationary satellite will be able to monitor a vast swath of the the Western Hemisphere longitudinally from the east coast of New Zealand to the west coast of Africa and from latitudinally from Canada to Chile. With three times more channels than current weather satellites, it will track severe weather with intensified accuracy, giving immediate updates and more reaction time with warnings about hurricanes, typhoons, lightning, wildfires, tornadoes and even rough flight conditions. The imaging resolution will be four times as powerful as what is available now, so advanced that it will be possible to see the waves in the clouds that cause turbulence.

“We will see features with GOES-R that we have never been able to see before,” said Steve Goodman, GOES-R program scientist with NOAA.

Spectral images of Earth will occur every five minutes and can be taken up to every 30 seconds in areas of interest, which is five times faster than the capabilities of current satellites. This frequency in information helps agencies such as FEMA and NOAA better plan for evacuations and quickly get grounds crews where they are needed most. “We are excited for GOES-R because it is going to help us do our jobs better,” said Pica.

The ability to more accurately map lightning aids the organizations in predicting the behavior of a hurricane, technology Goodman said would have greatly assisted the Caribbean in preparing for the rapid intensification of Matthew just last month. Goodman also said that the use of the imaging could help the people see “that the risk is real and the storm is coming at them, and they will maybe be more likely to take action. And that is what we need, people to take action to be safe.”

Additionally, GOES-16’s environmental monitoring programs will aid in documenting the effects of climate change on extreme weather. “Right now we don’t know what the [normal] variation for extreme weather is,” said Godman.  But the 20 years of data GOES-16 will be collecting will extend the 17 years of data from the NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), creating a sound climate data set “and we can look for those variations,” said Goodman.

GOES-16 will also be keeping an eye on the sun. Its six instruments are designed to be Earth-pointing, in situ-pointing (near environment), or solar-pointing. The solar-pointing instruments will be able to detect solar flares, intense radiation blasts from the sun that can impact telecommunications satellites and electric power on Earth. When necessary, the satellite can send out warnings to shut off power grids to protect them from being destroyed from electromagnetic disturbances.

It will take GOES-16 nine days from its launch date to position itself in its planned orbital route and about five months before it is fully operational. News and updates on the satellite are available at

“Accuracy turns into time for us, and the one thing you can’t get back during a response to an emergency is time,” said Damon Penn, assistant administrator of the Response Directorate at FEMA, “Our relationship with NOAA and the kinds of products NOAA provides for us are critical to what it is that we do.”

GOES-R from Medill Reports on Vimeo.

Photos and video by Kelly Calagna/MEDILL

Innovation on the launch pad: How media capture a NASA rocket launch

By Kelly Calagna

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Duct tape, bubble wrap, aluminum foil, plastic bags, ground stakes, bungee cords, squares of plywood and plastic storage containers are just some of the sophisticated tools adapted by journalists and photographers as they set up their remotely activated cameras at Saturday’s GOES-R weather satellite launch site at the Kennedy Space Center.

There is no “standard equipment” when it comes to protecting a camera from the intense exhaust of a space rocket, so each individual must MacGyver his or her own unique contraption for the job—that’s where the storage containers come in.

“You get anything out here from a plastic bag to a homemade box. You can’t go down and buy a box. You make it,” said Julian Leek, a freelance photographer who has been shooting NASA launches since Apollo 7 in 1968.

These launch camera contraptions are the products of a unique need met by individual ingenuity. Each is a work of art, and like snowflakes, no two are the same. Those that survived and successfully triggered during Saturday’s launch captured stunning images of the most advanced weather satellite’s last moments on Earth.

Most launch camera setups involve a box of sorts made of plastic or aluminum that house a camera and a remote device, which activates the shutter by either sound or a timer.


The box is then placed atop a tripod that is either staked into the ground or otherwise attached to surrounding anchors, like nearby rail ties or stationary structures close to the launch pad. The goal is for their cameras to survive the rocket’s blast without damage from debris or being blown over.

In addition to the danger from the rocket, the cameras are also at risk of damage due to any form of precipitation. From the morning dew to Florida’s humid climate, the journalists and photographers have developed ways to keep moisture out.

“I’ve had lenses that got waterlogged because of rain—two of them,” said Ken Kremer from Universe Today. To prevent this, many wrap their devices in plastic bags or tape their camera containers to be airtight.

Leek even developed his own lens heaters to dry up any condensation in his lenses. “It’s a ring that goes around. It’s got Velcro on it, it’s got tape on it, it’s got cables on it, it’s got a timer on it, it’s got another battery on it. And you set that timer two hours before the launch and the heater comes on and it heats that lens up … and goes ahead and dries it out.”

After the rocket is well on its way, the journalists and photographers return to the barren launch pad to collect their machinery  or — in some cases, what’s left of it — and anxiously check to see how their contraptions performed in capturing the event.

“No matter what launch you do, you look at it as an experiment because you never know what’s going to happen. Things just happen,” said Lane Hermann, author and freelance space journalist, “You get what you get, and if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”

The launch occurred at 6:42 p.m. EST and within a few hours NASA’s Pam Sullivan, the GOES-R mission director, confirmed the craft had successfully deployed its solar arrays. However, it will take GOES-R,   now called GOES-16 after deployment, nine days to phase into its planned orbital route and about five months before it is fully operational.

Saturday’s GOES-R launch activities can be viewed on NASA Television, and further updates and information can be accessed at

Photographrs set up their cameras to protect gear for impact of remotely-triggered launch close-ups.

The long road to Chicago: L.A. runner returns for his 59th marathon

By Kelly Calagna

Blue Benadum, 36, took to the streets of Chicago last weekend to attempt completing his 59th marathon. Benadum, a Los Angeles resident, has been competing in the Chicago Marathon for the last four years. But, in 2015, his race was cut short. Benadum had to pull out mid-race due to an injury—the first forfeit in his substantial career. This year, he was back for redemption.

Photo at top: Blue Benadum at the finish line of his 59th marathon. (Kelly Calagna/MEDILL)