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Here's the latest on space, and my opinions on it...
This is the legacy site, with blog entries from November, 2004 through June, 2011.
Updates after June 9, 2011 can be found at

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

End of the Asteroid Threat...for now
2004 MN4 is no longer a threat, but it will make a fine show on April 13th, 2029. The latest data can be found here.

The sudden change was due to some tracking data from months ago used to refine the orbit. Any new warning scale needs to take the ammount of data (and the time it's been gathered over) into account before raising an alert level to unprecedented levels.

More to come on Monday.
9:13 pm est

Sunday, December 26, 2004

More Asteroid Stuff
Here is the NEO project office at JPL if you want to get straight-from-the-scientist's-mouth-without-media-flavoring information. Here's the page with the info on 2004 MN4. No update since the 24th. Meanwhile, I'm working on my own improved Asteroid Warning Scale which is still in development, but I'll add details as they come to me.

Any suggested names for the asteroid? Depending on the response, I'll either just post the suggested name, award a copy of the book (in February) and/or send it to the IAU.
4:37 pm est

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Asteroid may hit Earth in 2029, Congressional Hearings may be Required
I didn't bring it up earlier, but now this requires a little bit of notice. The asteroid 2004 MN4 (I'm sure a snazzier name is coming) was earlier reported as rating a 2 on the Torino Scale, and new observations say that it rates a 4. This is the first time that new observations have increased the chances of an impact, which now stand at about 1.6%. The big day would be April 13th, 2029 as things stand. The rock is about one-quarter of a mile in diameter, larger than the Meteor Crater impactor and the Tunguska object. This story makes for quite an ironic Christmas present!

One thing I notice about the Torino Scale is that, for this impactor, there's only two more entries, a 5 for "Significant threat of regional devastation" and 9 for "Collision capable of causing regional devastation." The interlaced ones deal with higher chances of lower-damage impacts or lower chances of higher-damage impacts. The problem is trying to report two things (chance of impact and damage from impact) on a one-dimensional scale. Maybe the upcoming media frenzy and potential government action will change the scale to something more useful.

I'm not changing my plans for April 13, 2029 yet, however.
5:34 pm est

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Not Much Digging... the heatshield impact site.

Opportunity is drawing closer to its heatshield, and the pictures are getting better. Looks like it didn't dig into the ground at all, but just broke into a few pieces.

That makes sense because the ballistic coefficient (ratio of area to mass) of the heat shield would be pretty high. The visit will be much more useful for engineers than for geologists.
1:08 pm est

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bad Fuel Mix?
The Delta IV Heavy flight is complete, and it looks like things were a little low. I have a theory, based purely on the pictures, with no additional research.

There are a lot of dynamics involved that could make this theory invalid, but the last picture on this page shows the center booster with a longer plume than the others. I thought the profile had the three engines at the same power for a while, then throttled the center one back. Described here in the 4:50 PM entries. The throttled back center engine is illustrated here.

A slightly off fuel/oxidizer mix may explain the additional plume, with some "afterburning" taking place. Given that possibility, the burn would be less efficient, and would then end early due to the depleted species of propellant. As I stated at the beginning, this is only a theory based on the pictures. I'll be curious to hear what the results are.
11:15 am est

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

So Far... good.

The Delta IV Heavy is mid-flight right now. So far, everything seems to be going OK, just a little low. The pictures look spectacular.
6:02 pm est

Monday, December 20, 2004

Numbers Going Up!
According to this article, the number of people signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic (SpaceShips Enterprise and Voyager, by the way) is up to 13,000, with people wanting to pay the whole $200,000 up front to guarantee a "low number" in the deli line. Doing the math, that's $2.6B in revenue.
9:25 pm est

Administrator Worden? has a note linking to Senator Brownback's endorsement of retired AF General Pete Worden for NASA Administrator.

Now that would be something completely different. I worked for (then Colonel) Worden at the 50th Space Wing, and can honestly say that he will change the environment at NASA. He is not politically correct, though he is usually correct. He's a long shot for the job, however, unless someone really wants to "shake things up"
6:58 am est

Open-Ended Government Contracts

Monday means The Space Review, and this week includes an interview with Mike Gold. Mr. Gold serves "many roles" associated with Beal Aerospace. The interview touches on a lot of topics, but I particularly agree with this statement:

TSR: What other space policies do you like besides prizes? Space patents? Federal open contracts like airmail contracts? R&D subsidies or spending? Good regulation?

Gold: We’re very supportive of open federal contracts. Instead of the government picking a winner they could simply put out a notice that they will pay X dollars for Y service and let the entrepreneurs and the private sector figure out the details. If done correctly, open federal contracts could operate in a very similar fashion to prizes. Good regulation is also critical. The less time entrepreneurs spend caught up in red tape and administrative/political hassles the more likely they are to succeed.

Ah, nice to see!
6:42 am est

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Not Getting Public Affairs in the 21st Century
My wife pointed this out to me. Miles O'Brien is going on the Space Station Diet (no mention of whether it's related to this) until the crew's rations arrive on Christmas Day. He's had to approximate the week's worth of food because NASA provided one day's worth.

(END VIDEOTAPE) M. O'BRIEN: All right, so it might become a big deal for me, because I'm going to go on the space station diet until that food delivery on Christmas. I asked NASA for a week's worth of food. They basically laughed at me. A little busy trying to prepare food for the real station.

First off, kudos for supporting the effort at all, but NASA is missing a tremendous opportunity to spread awareness of the space program beyond their typical constituents. Yes, this is a science reporter, but diets catch people's attention, and he's on CNN Morning reporting this. That's a much wider audience than typically watches space news.

Yes, there's a certain stigma attached to over-doing media, and scientists and engineers at NASA don't like that sort of thing, but they've got to start linking it, or even tolerating it (while acting like they're having fun) or future missions are in a lot of trouble.

Let's think about how a truly media-savvy organization would have handled this. Maybe some of this is in the works, but the initial response by NASA quoted second hand above is not promising.

I consider two truly media savvy people to be Oprah and Dr. Phil, and I'm basing this idea on what I think they would do with the opportunity. The request comes in. NASA assigns a public affairs person, as well as one of the flight doctors or dieticians (part time) to the project to prepare Miles for his experience. All the food is provided, in a representative selection of one week on board the station. The food additional expense is not that great, because it is produced in large quantities as public awareness items anyway, served as an option in The Air and Space Museum, as well as other museums around the country. The space station crew is set up to do an interview with him sometime during the week. Miles' weight is tracked, as well as the station crew's throughout the exercise, with daily updates. NASA could ask CNN for rights to talk about the project on a better-produced version of NASA TV.

The cost here would be minimal to NASA, because CNN would do the production work, and NASA would have air time for one week with a segment of the population who typically doesn't tune in.

As a side note, in the video-footage aired just before Miles talks about his diet plan, a NASA flight surgeon refers to astronauts as "elite athletes." This is likely a true statement, but it doesn't help an average American to connect with them. That's another discussion, however.
7:18 am est

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Off to Somewhere Interesting...
...If you're an engineer who's interested in eventually getting humans to Mars.

Opportunity is out of Endurance Crater, and on its way to it's heat shield (page down to the December 15th entry). This structure protected the lander on its way through Mars' atmosphere. Shields that are used only once are ablative, meaning that their structure is melted/torn away during the entry process. The payoff in not being reusable is that they're very reliable, with a 100% success rate for human flights (no reported heatshield failure has ended a crewed mission) and a very high one for uncrewed flights, though details there will be sketchy. This will be the first examination of an extraterrestrially-used heatshield post-entry. If I have the proper perspective from the image, the heatshield is sticking out of the dirt, which will give a view of the burned surface, and could allow drilling into it to figure out how much of the material burned away.

Oh, and I suppose the fact that the heatshield created Mars' most recent crater is a good thing for science investigation, too.
5:16 am est

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Science on the Mars Science Laboratory
Here is a report on the science experiments scheduled to fly on the MSL. To me, the bigger story is the radioisotope powerplant that will keep the rovers warm through the night. It will provide some new challenges for designers, pushing hardware to last longer. I maintain that the long life of the Mars Exploration Rovers shows that Mars dust isn't as big a factor as some have been talking about.

9:29 pm est

Monday, December 13, 2004

New Boss Comin'
Sean O'Keefe has made it official that he's moving on.

My thoughts are that he was what NASA needed at the time. He was savvy at the necessary congressional politics and well-connected at The White House. We'll see how the Hubble decision will play out, however.

The question is...what does NASA need now?
9:31 pm est

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Space Flight and the Obesity Crisis
Understanding that the ISS inhabitants are in a serious situation, but not iminent danger, I went whimsical on a new book.
6:26 am est

Friday, December 10, 2004

Seeing some planning documents, it looks like serious Mars plans don't start until 2023. I'll be 55, hopefully still able to help out!

2004 may go down as one of the best years ever for space efforts as far as The Congress goes, because suborbital tourism legislation passed in literally an 11th hour vote in The Senate after The Vision for Space Exploration received its funding. Now suborbital companies (and presumably orbital providers as well--if it's not specified, at least there's a precedent set) have until 2012 to refine their skills with paying customers able to take risks above those of the uninvolved public. The amazing thing to me is that legislation like this is actually required, but I suppose investors need this kind of protection in place if they're going to put their money into such a project.
4:52 am est

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Jovian Bust, Mars Underground
Too cloudy for me to get any shots of the Moon-Jupiter Show.

Check this out. It's an 85-minute documentary on Mars exploration, and appears to have a focus on Robert Zubrin. Apparently, they're talking about being on The Discovery Channel in January.
5:00 am est

Saturday, December 4, 2004

The Satellite Made me do it
Apparently, someone took the GPS navigation software seriously when it said "Turn around now." Luckily, no one was hurt too badly.
6:44 am est

Telescopes...Ready! has a good summary of the Jupiter occultation on Tuesday, Dec 7th (3-5 AM for us East Coasters. I plan to be out with a cup of hot cider, my telescope, and a digital camera. Will post any good shots to the gallery (and maybe send them to!)

Also, doing some research on a presentation on the Star of Bethlehem for church, and found an interesting website with some possible physical phenomena that were recorded at the time or are repeatable through astronomy programs.
6:38 am est

Book Complete, Official Date Changed
Wrapped up cover work this week, and the book is on its way to the printers. The release date has moved into February, however, with a date set for the 6th.
6:09 am est

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