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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

50 Years of NASA by Paul B. '11

One small hack for MIT, one giant leap for NASA.

Yesterday morning, something odd appeared on MIT’s campus…

It was a hack! For those of you just tuning in, a “hack” at MIT is clever, elegant, and anonymous prank, designed to amuse and catch the attention of the MIT community (and sometimes the world), while also providing interesting physical and logistical challenges for their perpetrators. As you’d expect, hacking is one of MIT’s most celebrated traditions, and the actual hacks that result are admired by pretty much everyone on campus.

This particular hack was done to honor the 50th anniversary of NASA, which was founded in 1958 and began operations on October 1 of that year. Naturally, no one really knows for sure who executed the hack, but I figure some people in MIT’s legendary Course 16 program (Aero/Astro Department) would be a good guess.

I first heard about the hack from a few friends talking about in the morning, and I managed to catch a glimpse of it on my way to a 7.03 (genetics) exam in the morning. After the exam, I headed over to the hack, which had been put on the “Dot” in front of the Green Building. The Dot is one of the few grassy areas on MIT’s rather urban campus, so it’s a prized location for playing ultimate, having picnics, and – naturally – hacks.

The hack looks okay from the ground…

…but not incredibly impressive. Fortunately, the Green Building provided an excellent location for trying to shoot a better photo, so I took the elevator to the 18th floor…and promptly realized there were no public lounges from which I could try to to take a photo, only private offices. Fortunately, a few of the doors were open, so I picked one near the middle, poked my head in, and asked the (slightly confused) occupant, “I’m really sorry to bother you, but can I please borrow your window for a moment to take a photo?”

Happily, the grad student said yes. (See, even grad students can be nice sometimes.) I climbed up to their window, looked down, and saw this:

The Green Building was too close to the Dot for me to see the entire thing! It ended up being an okay photo of Walker Memorial, where I had just taken my genetics exam (on the left), and the Big Sail sculpture, but not quite what I was looking for. So before leaving, I snapped a quick photo of the Boston skyline, which happened to look rather foreboding at the time…

…thanked the confused but polite grad student and then headed down to find a better vantage point. Deciding that multiples of three were a good rule to follow, I tried the 15th floor first, but the view was basically the same. I ran down the 12th floor next, where I seemed to be getting closer…

..but not quite what I wanted. I did, however, see something pretty amusing while wandering around the floor, which apparently happened to be dedicated to geological research. I noticed that many of the scientists in the Building had a habit of putting interesting things on their doors – comic strip cutouts, photos, and the like – to make things more welcoming. But I have to say that this was the most amusing by far.

Finally, on the 10th floor – although not a multiple of three! -I found a view that proved much more suitable for my purposes, and I finally snapped the photo I had come for.

All in all, it was definitely a great way to spend 20 minutes between classes. I think it’s safe to say MIT is one of the few places on earth that would choose to celebrate NASA’s birthday with a hack. Just another reason I love this school.

37 responses to “50 Years of NASA”

  1. For the sake of Trollkind everywhere…

    <a >F1rst p0st!

    Excellent hack btw.

  2. Claire says:

    That is the best hack I’ve ever seen (why no, I’m not a space geek. Why ever would you think that?)

  3. Um, the text “f1rst p0st” is supposed to link here:

    so, which HTML tags can we use?

  4. anonymous says:

    hey finally you got a good photo of the hack from 10th floor(not a multiple of 3). but the logic to get a good photo from a floor that was a multiple of 3 was amazing…

  5. Ehsan says:

    Not that exciting, but still a hack!

  6. deng says:

    how would people do that without anyone seeing?

  7. Anon says:

    A hack that combines two of the most awesome institutions ever.

  8. Paul says:

    @Sets: You can use all sorts of tags. <B>, <I>, and <A HREF> are all accepted. <IMG> is not, but you can always just link to image instead of embedding it. Note, though, that to get < or > to actually show up in a blog comment (if you want to say “I < Ben Jones!” for instance), you need to use ASCII characters:

    &#60; = <
    &#62; = >
    @deng: Magic.

  9. Ehsan says:

    @ Deng
    At Night. Imagine how they put a car on their great dome without having anyone find out. Now that Paul, is magic.

  10. Piper says:

    For those interested, you can look at other hacks here.

  11. Paul says:

    Ehsan, I know people who know people who know hackers. It’s as simple as that. smile

  12. Xiaowei says:

    I love NASA too… well, I’m not sure if NASA loves me back.

    BTW, do NASA offers scholarship to freshman? Anyway, to check it out on NASA’s pages is the very next thing I will do. Haha.

    PS- I plan to apply to the class of 2013.

  13. Anonymous says:

    haha.. aren’t there people around even at night?
    it would be so cool to actually take part in one

    and my science teacher used to work at NASA! haha.. don’t know why he quit. the way he teaches is pretty funny… he murmurs all the time and most of the class doesn’t even know what he’s saying at least half the time

  14. Anonymous says:

    beautiful hack, I should like to go visit it.

    btw. I’m the dude who was on the rollerblades today, going into 3.091

    also, hi reena!

    -Matt Ferraro

  15. Ehsan says:


    I don’t know exactly but these hackers are very good at what they do. They might need to crack into security cameras, make sure theres no campus police on watch or make a distraction. But all these hacker have rules or “ethics” which you can see here!

    I definetly want to be a hacker when I’m there. And I want to do something big not like anything recent. I already have some ideas in mind.

    *nobody read that last part*

  16. Ehsan says:

    I don’t really see why it’s important for NASA to offer the scholarship. Anyways MIT financial aid will be glad to help you out.

  17. Piper says:

    What do you mean by nothing recent?

  18. Dear Ehsan,
    Your fantasies about what MIT hacking involves are interesting and suggests you might have a career in Hollywood. Unfortunately, they’re a little far from reality. Until you get a chance to experience what it’s actually like, you might want to remember the following rules:
    1) Real hackers don’t describe it in a public forum.
    2) You will get far more respect by staying quiet and listening than you will by making random guesses and showing your ignorance.

  19. Ehsan says:

    @ Piper
    I mean that there hasen’t been a super-epic hack lately. If you look at the hack gallery you wont spot a major hack in the year of 2008. Some of the hacks included students posting funny signs around the school.(Funny, but not epic)

  20. Ehsan says:

    @ Starling
    1) I’m not being “super imaginative” many epic hacks have already occurred. Like: 1 2 3 Just to name a few!
    2) I’m not looking for respect! I have a voice to use and the comments section is a perfect spot for that voice.
    3) I’m not showing any kind of ignorance in any way. (I’m sorry if you see it that way) I just have a deep interest in epic hacks not hacks that can be done in broad daylight (although they still amuse me).

  21. Piper says:

    I think it may be better to judge hacks on school year, not calendar year. The hack (or rather, group of hacks) I linked was put up last school year. This school year has barely begun!

  22. Paul says:

    @Ehsan: I think I understand where you’re coming from. Yes, it’s always great to see prospective students drawn to MIT because of the hacking culture – that’s part of the point. But the fact of the matter is that hackers pride themselves on not alerting others to their presence…and being discreet about their activities when not actually hacking.

    That said, just to clear up a few things…

    – Cracking into security cameras is definitely not something hackers would consider okay or acceptable to do in order to pull off a hack.
    – As has been said before and by many people…keep in mind that there’s a lot more to hacks than might meet the eye at first. Consider the “funny signs” hack you mentioned. A lot of those were placed in very public areas…it’s not easy to put things up and down the Infinite Corridor without being seen.
    – Yes, hacking the domes is awesome. But it’s been done many times, too. Part of the point of being a hacker is finding new and creative places to hack.

    I would listen to Starling’s advice. smile

  23. Reena says:

    See, that’s why earth science people are awesome.

    To stick on a way-overused addendum: Bet that cereal makes you lose your apatite.
    (Okay, yeah. So we need some new puns. But we’re still awesome)


  24. Ehsan says:

    @ Paul
    Sounds like a game of broken telephone to me!

  25. Ehsan,
    Those of us who have first-hand experience with this sort of thing can say with authority that Paul’s telephone is in excellent condition.

  26. Ehsan says:

    @ Paul & Starling
    Fine! Let’s say the hackers you know don’t do that! But how can you count for the other hackers out there. You can never say never if they need to pull a hack off it is possible they’ll do anything as long as they dont break the rules.

  27. Banerjee says:

    Paul, what was it exactly that they did? Did they cover up a tree?

    I think hacks not only make life more interesting of MIT students, but for MIT blog readers as well. Nice Post!!

  28. Ehsan says:

    @ Paul
    I never said that one had to keep on hacking the domes. I said that the recent hacks havent been that major – it did not make the normal MIT student say “how the heck did they do that?” by just putting up funny signs. While on the other hand a car on a dome does that!
    @ Starling
    Do/Did you go to MIT? If yes, what year?

  29. Ehsan says:

    @ Paul
    Not trying to be absurd but how do you know exactly what they do? Like Starling said hackers don’t discuss their hacks in public forums.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Ehsan, you posted the “Hackers’ Code” and you don’t even know the answer to that? Besides, hackers still tell some people, namely, their close friends.

  31. Photon says:

    The EAPS (Building 54) Department Head does a lot of space mission work for NASA. Prefrosh: use your Google-fu to find out who!

  32. intleyes says:

    Thank you Paul for recognizing this hack. I love NASA because NASA loves MIT (and especially the course 16 students). Advice to future students, look at the NASA scholarship/internship offerings. Great $$$$

  33. Ehsan says:

    @ intleyes
    Sorry to offend! But F.A. helps 95% of it’s students. It does not help according to academic skill but to need! So I don’t see why MIT wont help!

  34. intleyes says:

    @Ehsan-going back to one of your earlier comments…guess what? MIT Financial Aid doesn’t take care of everything for many students. NASA made the difference for my son. Look at the responses to your comments. Are you being thoughtful, or just saying, or just trash talking?

  35. '12 says:

    Financial aid is very helpful for lower class students, but not to middle class. They’re in the sticky situation where they’re not poor enough to get all the aid that they need, but not rich enough to fully pay for themselves. It’s not about academic skill at all; it just comes down to the numbers. Fortunately, there are private scholarships (like the NASA scholarship) floating around that are tremendously helpful for these people.

  36. Ehsan says:

    Wow Paul, Spammers love you!

  37. marcus says:

    i live right near NASA and i thought i was like the only one that realized that the place was turning 50 despite the fact that there are banners lining the streets that it resides in.

    very well done