Space: What Now? Blog
About Tom Hill
The Book
Favorite Links
Space: Read Now
Other Topics
Contact Me

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

Archive Newer | Older

Thursday, June 30, 2005

On for the 13th!
It's official. Discovery is slated for a launch attempt on the 13th of July. has the tale.
8:05 pm est

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Move and a Reason
The SpaceX's Falcon booster will not make its first flight from Vandenberg (page down the to June 27 entry). The vehicle is ready to go, but geometry got in the way. If you refer to this diagram of the launch base, you can see that Space Launch Complex (SLC) 3 is north of SLC-4, and the Falcon will fly south as it leaves the pad. SLC-4 is where the Titan IV launches from. Since the Falcon is on its first flight, there are likely concerns that its flight path carries it too close to the Titan IV, and if the new booster got destroyed, it may take the Titan with it. The easiest way to protect the Titan is to keep the Falcon on the ground. This is something that Elon Musk and SpaceX need to keep in mind if they intend to fly from Vandenberg in the future, because even though the Titan IV flights are ending out of the West Coast with this flight, future government launches will take place from SLC-6 (and SLC-3's west pad, but that's an issue for another day). If you look at the map again, you'll see that SLC-6 is also south of SLC-3.
8:13 pm est

Monday, June 27, 2005

Good Words from the Bad Astronomer
If you're asked to say something at a science fair, keep these words in mind.
8:20 pm est

Global Ringing/Tempel pre-Blast
Back in the "Days of wine and roses" as described by Opus, he was shipped a whole bunch of cash to come up with a missile defense system. He got the local scientist, Oliver, to work on the project who came up with the idea of surrounding Earth with all the dollar bills he'd been shipped. Well, now something similar is being proposed to fight global warming. By creating a ring around Earth, a la Saturn, we'll cut the solar input to our planet and cool it.

Sounds sort of good in theory, but there are some issues, like cooler winters with unaffected summers in the opposite hemisphere. Of course, depending on where you fall on the impact humans have on our environment, this could be an "undoing" of some damage.

Also, Comet Tempel has possibly given a preview of the show we'll see on July 4th.
8:16 pm est

Looks Like it's a "Before" and "After" Thing
According to the Slooh User Group email list, here is what's going on related to the Deep Impact impact:
Slooh's first coverage after the Deep Impact event, will be 5PM - 8PM EDT on Monday, July 4. Slooh will broadcast a special Slooh Radio broadcast during that time, in addition to our regular scehdule 8PM -10PM (with James Wallace and Bob Berman).
Guess we'll have to rely on news coverage for the actual moment of impact.
3:45 am est

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Clouded Out
Missed the planetary show this weekend due to clouds in the west. D'ooh.
8:16 pm est

Comet Impact Viewing
In case you haven't heard, The Deep Impact mission will lead to first human-made impact with a comet. I'd understood that this site would allow viewing of the impact, but according to this article, the Eastern Hemisphere (where Slooh's telescope is located) will be in daylight at collision time. Their site maintains that they will show the collision. Maybe they have another 'scope planned for monitoring the collision. I'll check on it, and post here with the answer.
12:47 pm est

A Couple Good Saturn Images/ Mars Update
I recommend occasional visits to the Cassini web page. They update it with noted pictures fairly often, and most of the discoveries don't make the mainstream news. Some good ones today include:The thing to remember is that even though these pictures are awesome, most of the science data from the mission comes from the other instruments onboard.

Remember that the Mars Rovers are still out there, too. Don't miss the sunset shot.

Also, in the "Big News" column, is the fact that the European Mars Express spacecraft just unfurled its active radar antennas. It's active scannIng that provides our best data.

In just a couple months (actually, 45 days at this writing), another craft will start its journey to Mars. Of course, it won't arrive until next year.
5:16 am est

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Please List all the Unkowns we don't Know...
It looks like Discovery may fly on July 13th afterall. This article points out that many reviews remain, but that things are moving forward. It goes on to cite some uncertainty in debris modeling, which makes sense.

July 13th would work well for me and my family, as we'll be in South Carolina then and, given proper conditions, could see the craft going into orbit.
1:30 pm est

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

It's up...but is it Running?
Cosmos 1, the first attempt at orbiting a solar-sail-propelled craft, was launched today. Unfortunately, nothing has been heard since. There's still hope, but after a couple more passes through the night Tues-Wed, that hope will fade fast.

The Planetary Society is running an update blog. Check there for the latest.

I wish this flight well. Solar sails have a lot of potential for use in space, although not typically in the ways described.
6:09 pm est

The Passing of a Space Legend
General Bernard Schriever has died. people talk about heroes, both sung and unsung, of the space age, but Bernard Schriever was one of them. In his efforts to quickly build ballistic missiles for the United States, he gave industry a trial run for what they'd later be asked to do in taking Apollo to the moon. While some of his satellite work has been declassified, it will be a long time, or possibly never, before we know all the programs that he brought from concept to fruition.

I met him once, at Maxwell AFB, in an event called A Gathering of Eagles. General Schriever was the one I wanted to hear the most, because of his experiences, but he was the quietest (and likely oldest) of the bunch. His name was taken by an Air Force Base while he was still alive, which is a rare honor in Air Force history. In my opinion, Los Angeles Air Force Base deserved his name, because it's where he did most of his most notable work.
5:16 pm est

Monday, June 20, 2005

All Engineered by one Person?
Episodes 1-3 of the Star Wars saga surprised me that the entire downfall of the Old Republic was engineered by one person. That's fiction, of course, but if an article in this week's TheSpaceReview is correct, one person may have been the cause of the rise (and fall) of the space program.

According to this week's article, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson created the idea of the "Space Race" to win political points against then-President Dwight Eisenhower. Early reports used hyperbole to stoke fears of what mastery of space could do, and forced Ike to act. This philosophy carried forward nicely as LBJ moved into the Vice Presidency next to JFK. Next week, Alan Wasser will go into his change of heart, and decisions forced upon him, as President, to start the gutting of the space program right as it was reaching its pinnacle.
7:49 pm est

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Movie with the Right Idea
Admittedly well out of sync with when I should have, I just saw GATTACA last night. In it, a lot of big/up-and-coming stars tell a tale of a not-too-distant future where genetics is all that matters for success, or at least it's your ticket in the door. Ethan Hawke plays an "In-Valid", who doesn't have the genes, but has the will to try and make up the difference.

Saturn features prominently in the movie promos, and the reason why comes out in the movie, but the references to space are largely through slight of hand and distant views of rocket lift-offs. It's casually mentioned that there are approximately 12 flights every day. Now that would be a launch rate that would allow us to get the cost of launching down! Of course, I don't condone limiting flights to people of perfect genetic makeup...
6:45 am est

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Couple'a...Negative...Space Posts
A group with one of the worst acronym's I've ever seen, the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), have an opinion on the Moon-Mars initiative. Of course, few people publish anything that equally weighs both sides of something today, and based on the title of this post, you can probably guess which way they lean. Likewise, The National Review Online has this piece, which I'd call negative.

Plenty of folks have taken the time to answer at least one of these pieces (here, and here [page down], for example) and a friend of mine challenged the author of the first to a debate. I won't take the time here, except to say that I disagree with the assertions, and believe that with a narrow enough viewpoint, or a predetermined conclusion, one can form an iron-clad opinion on just about anything. I believe that humanity's future is brighter with space included in it, even though I can't argue down every point that someone brings up against space efforts.
6:59 pm est

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Budget Victory, with a Caveat
The House of Representatives passed NASA's budget for 2006, winning praise from The Administrator (email received, no web page to post to at type time). As Jeff Foust points out, there's an amendment that curtails part of The Patriot Act. Of course, the debate of including policy on spending bills is one for another day, but President Bush's staff indicates that such an amendment would cause a veto by the man in the big, white house. It'd be a first, but it could happen. I think it'll all sort itself out, by the time things go through the Senate and conference, but it's too bad that we couldn't just have a victory.

Also, if you're a big fan on NASA's artist-in-residence program, it didn't fare well in this round of negotiations.
7:44 pm est

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Space Testimony and a t/Test
Well, the Congressional testimony from space turned out to be more circus than substance. Big surprise.

Although the test was successful, and I've seen their philosophy on the matter, I'm not convinced yet that there's a positive risk/benefit tradeoff for this launch mode. The guys from t/Space seem to be aces on building some form of hardware, and I'm hopeful for the rest of their plans. I look forward to seeing how it all pans out.
7:32 pm est

Sunday, June 12, 2005

No Surprises Here
This post was originally going to be longer, but I hit some browser problems and got frustrated. Northrop Grumman's design for the CEV, Spiral 1. is out. There's some discussion on it here. Apparently, it's been out for a while, but didn't get the fanfare that Lockheed Martin's got.

In trying to read the tea leaves, neither design is what was wanted, but NG/Boeing is closer.

Of course, there's the other CEV design, pictured here, from t/space.
1:24 pm est

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Another Space First
When the space program started, the "firsts" that took place were definite stepping stones to something greater - first spacewalk, first rendezvous, first docking, etc. It's definitely a sign of something changing when there's a press release about the first congressional testimony from space. It's unclear to me how this is a stepping stone to something greater...
6:32 am est

Friday, June 10, 2005

Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group Reports
A group of folks, asked by NASA HQ to plan the scientific exploration of Mars, has issued its latest report (June 2005). They've got some interesting ideas about the things that need to be done before humans can land on Mars. It appears to be pretty thorough, as they compared long-stay and short-stay missions on Mars, and also compared the cost-benefit of validating the technology before sending humans. I haven't finished it yet, but I like the approach. Here's the summary of items that need to be addressed. It's from the executive summary, so it doesn't list the further analysis. I'm summarizing:

  1. These items can't be separated in their importance according to the report

    • Determine the effect Mars dust will have on machinery
    • Determine the impact that Mars winds will have on landing and takeoff of large hardware
    • Try to find a landing site free of biohazardous lifeforms within reach of what the explorers will reach
    • Find a landing site that will allow access to water if ISRU is to be used (Note: These last two items may be in conflict)

  2. Discover possible toxic effects of Mars dust on humans
  3. Characterize atmospheric electricity and how it would impact takeoff (this is a new one for me)
  4. Determine how well and how quickly human-generated biowaste will be broken down by the Martian environment, then determine its impact on future science
  5. Characterize the radiation environment on Mars' surface
  6. Determine the traction characteristics of the Martian soil
  7. Determine the impact of dust storms on humans on EVA
8:15 pm est

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Solar Power to Jupiter?
A new mission to Jupiter has been announced in its early planning phases. It's called Juno. The first thing that struck me is the solar arrays. Previous missions to Jupiter and beyond like Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini were/are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators. Up until now, the furthest out I knew a solar array-powered craft planned to go was the Dawn mission to the asteroids.

Jupiter gets about 4% of the solar power that Earth gets. So, a craft orbiting Jupiter needs solar arrays at least 25X the size of a craft orbiting Earth using the same amount of power. Another factor is that with the sun so dim, the heating requirements are a lot higher. One potential saving grace, that may make the whole thing work, is that the mission will orbit the poles. If Jupiter is approached from the right direction, the craft may always stay in the sun.

If this mission flies, I can hear the song of the no-nukes-in spacers: "That mission could fly with no nuclear power, so there! No missions should fly." That would be a very narrow line of reasoning, but I don't hold their reasoning powers as being very broad. I hope that this can be handled correctly so that future nuclear missions, which will do amazing things including supporting humans missions beyond LEO, can still take place.
7:55 pm est

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Two Books Underway
I had a long drive over the weekend, so I picked up a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey on CD for the trip. Hadn't read it in a long time, and I'd never listened to it. There's a pretty good foreword by Sir Arthur himself, where he talks about a lot of things that have happened since. Two he didn't mention that happened in the book are asteroid impactors and Jupiter atmospheric probes. If you haven't read it in a while, or only saw the move, I recommend it.

The other book I'm reading is Flight by Chris Kraft. Definitely a different viewpoint of early space efforts from someone who transferred from NACA to NASA. A couple of heads up: he's not fond of the Germans (at least up to the point I'm at), and definitely has strong opinions about some of the astronauts that he worked with. In one case, he'd worked with the astronaut in an earlier job and things didn't go...well.
8:26 pm est

Mars Meteor Watchers, Look for the Cepheids!
I'd toyed with an idea for a sci-fi book chapter where a group of people on Mars came across an unexpected meteor shower. To try and give it some realism, I looked through listings from the Minor Planet Center, trying to find Mars-orbit-crossing comet. Well, it looks like the Mars rover Spirit beat me to it, making my sci-fi idea less "fi". The researchers in question even found the comet responsible, and can predict that the next big shower will be on December 20, 2007.
5:40 pm est

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

A Mars Woodstock?
At ISDC 2005, Bob Zubrin said that 8th annual Mars Society Conference would be the "Woodstock of Mars." If the increase in attendance from my local group is any indication, he's probably right. With upcoming NASA reorganization announcements and a plan for Moon, Mars and Beyond expected in the next month or so, there's likely to be a lot to talk about in Boulder. Hope to see you there.
8:20 pm est

Monday, June 6, 2005

An Idea Whose Time has Come?
There's a relatively large amount of talk on blogs and essay sites about a space journalism organization. Rand Simberg talks about some issues, while Clark Lindsey brought up a reason that it might be necessary (UPI dropping their space reporters). Sam Dinkin proposed something similar about a month ago, right after awarding his Space Journalism Prize.

I don't know how such an organization could organize or pay for itself, but it seems to me that a lot of organizations are partnering with right now. There may be interest in another voice.
8:18 pm est

Friday, June 3, 2005

More Signs of Change at NASA or...?
SpaceX has just come off it's first successful held-down test firing. They're following it up with an announcement that NASA announces they've contracted with SpaceX to "research strategies for future human spaceflight systems for exploration missions and commercial space access." On the SpaceX website, the hotfire announcement is immediately preceeded by the $100M Air Force Award press release.

So, is the government putting their stock in what they see as a bright prospect, or is SpaceX realizing that they need government support? Probably a little bit of both. It appears as though the company's already come to a bit of a reality check, in that their projected December, 2003 launch didn't happen and still hasn't. Elon Musk's goal all along has been crewed spaceflight. This is going to be fun to watch.
12:39 pm est

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Better Prediction for Solar Storms
Radiation is one concern we're going to have to deal with as we leave Earth. It looks like the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, has come up with a new way to predict solar storms. The structures appear to only be visible from the side, however. Therefore, we'd need satellites all the way around the sun to be able to predict a storm in any particular direction.
6:27 am est

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Earth/Moon Portrait, Political Support for Moon/Mars
I like it when a spacecraft flies by Earth and takes some pictures of its original home. MESSENGER is on its way to do just that. The first released Earth/Moon picture can be found here.

Mike Griffin was in Houston this week. Not suprisingly, he and Tom Delay had some positive things to say about NASA's new Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative.

Looks like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has some issues with NASA's previous analysis of options for resupplying the ISS. Luckily, the space agency is re-thinking the previous plan.
9:16 pm est

Archive Newer | Older

Space: Search Now! with Google

Tom and Discovery
Taken During a Tour of KSC on 6 Oct 2010

TEMPOł Update
Click on the picture to go to the Mars Society TEMPOł Page

Solar System Ambassadors
Click on the image above to see Tom's SSA profile

Email Comments to tom [at]

Latest book! Click on the cover to purchase
I Want to go to Mars is a picture book for beginning readers

More information on I Want to go to Mars can be found in the devoted section of this web site.

Join the Space:What Now? email list for updates on book events or articles published by the author. Email addresses will not be shared.
I kind of wrote this off, thinking I was being spammed, but I'd like to know if people are really signing up. Please enter the text you see below in the second line, and I'll get a warm, fuzzy feeling that people are actually reading and signing up for mail!


Email address:
Text Code:

Now Available!
Clicking here will take you to purchasing options for SWN

Get your SWN Gear!
Image of a Space What Now golf shirt
Powered by CafePress

Space science news
Headlines provided by Moreover


The Updated Past, Present and Possible Futures of Space Activity