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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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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Documentary not by Ken Burns
In the grand tradition of Spinal Tap comes The Old Negro Space Program. I found this very funny, even though it is EXTREMELY politcally incorrect (playing to many stereotypes) and quite vulgar at times. I really like the laurel branches at the top of the web page.
8:27 pm est

Monday, August 29, 2005

Rough Times at Michoud
The Space Shuttle External Tanks are produced in Louisiana, then barged to Kennedy Space Center for launch. Today's hurricane passed close to the facility. There's some discussion at Transterrestrial Musings about how an impact to the tank factory could impact future shuttle (and shuttle-derived) operations. One person commenting is a little...difficult.
6:57 pm est

Sunday, August 28, 2005

I look forward to seeing Beyond the Moon: Failure is not an Option 2, but my first thought is that a better name would be After the Moon, since mission control operations after 1972 never placed anyone further than low Earth orbit.
6:38 pm est

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Little Space Company that Could?
MSNBC has an interview with SpaceDev's president, Jim Benson. A quick disclosure notice: I own a trivial number of SpaceDev shares that I purchased in 1998 for $300. I don't even know what they're worth today.

The article details Space Dev's plans, moving from microsatellites and hybrid propulsion through manned lunar landings in the 2015 timeframe. While it's hard to argue with results, and I have an interest in this company's succeeding, their schedule seems a bit...agressive.
8:17 am est

Friday, August 26, 2005

B.M.O.P (Big Man on Publisher)
SWN is published by Publish America, and guess who's near the top of their "Up in Lights" section? If you're considering publishing a book, I believe that Publish America delivered what they promised to me. For other opinions, check out this article, which is linked from the Publish America site.
6:25 pm est

What's Behind the Solar Array?
I check out Bigelow Aerospace's website at times, hoping to catch more information on America's Space Prize. Today, the image on their main page caught my eye. In case it changes periodically, I captured today's here.

The concept is a Mooncruiser. As I see the image, they have one of their inflatable modules, an ISS node, and a Russian-style space station node making up the main craft. A Soyuz vehicle is docked with the craft, presumably for a taxi service, and opposite the Soyuz are some visible legs, presumably of a lunar landing vehicle. On the near side of the vehicle is a propulsion module of some sort, but given it's size the only type of propulsion that could make sense would be an ion drive.

Very cool conept art, but I'm afraid that it will take a lot of work before it moves beyond that phase. Having the Soyuz mounted off the centerline would affect the ability to use a large propulsion system (it's possible that there's a non-visible docking point at the far end of the inflatable unit, but that doesn't answer the mail for the lunar vehicle) because of the torques involved, and there doesn't appear to be enough solar panels to allow an ion engine to function with any sort of power.
6:11 pm est

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Meteorites for Sale
I don't know if I'd ever purchase one, but these guys have what appears to be quite a selection of meteorites. They even have some from Mars. I heard about one person at The Mars Society Convention 05 who bought a Mars meteorite, then ground up part of it and mixed it into his mortar for a fireplace he installed in his house. Not a bad conversation piece.

I've seen an etched iron slice personally, and have to admit that they are beautiful.
2:31 pm est

Complete Station?
There's some discussion on the web, here (in the comments section) and elsewhere about what an "essentially complete" space station would be. I'm willing to bet that NASA Administrator Mike Griffin is in the midst of some serious negotiations about what an "essentially complete" is. It's likely that there are differing levels of interest throughout the world in flying specific modules to the station. No one can come out and say, for example, that ESA is willing to forgo their launch, until negotiations are complete. So for now, we need to live with the vague term.
2:23 pm est

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Insightful Email Subject Lines?
I received an email related to this NASA press release. Anyone can receive such emails using the instructions posted at the bottom of the linked page. Anyway, the subject of the email was "-end-", obviously an email faux-pas, but strangely appropriate since another nearly one-year delay between shuttle flights will decrease the number of flights possible by 2010, and may cause a further decrease in the number of shuttle flights.
8:16 am est

NASA Conspiracy?
There's an interesting discussion going on over at Transterrestrial Musings. It has to do with whether NASA is conspiring (or has conspired) to keep private enterprise out of space. The participants talk around many of the hot-button issues I've heard about, but jam up around whether there's an actual conspiracy or whether there's simply an organization protecting itself and its interests. The entry for conspiracy refers to "An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act."

For the record, I don't believe that there's a conspiracy at NASA. The key word for me in the definition is "agreement." To me, that would mean that a group of people at NASA get together at regular intervals and say "How can we work as a team to keep private enterprise out of space?" I do believe that NASA, as an agency and individuals, is proud of what it has achieved and has developed a mindset of how that sort of work should be done. Part of that mindset is fighting strenuously for budget dollars every year by describing how important your particular project is. The same organization has been burned (Columbia, Mars Polar Lander, etc) when they do things "differently" than the etherial "right way." When asked about other people's different ways of doing things, individual NASA workers or the organization itself usually responds with something like "Gosh, that's not the way we do it, and when we do something different, bad stuff happens."

This takes different forms. I met one long-time NASA worker at The 2005 Mars Society Conference who, when SpaceShipOne came up, he pointed out that each flight had at least one thing that, if it'd going any more wrong, they would have lost the craft and the pilot. After some thought, my response was "do you mean like Gus Grissom's sinking capsule or John Glenn's heatshield?" His response got to the core of the issue, in my opinion. He said that NASA never said that they'd offer flights for paying customers (I seem to remember some half promises of such things leading up to the shuttle program), and that Burt Rutan was "arrogant" and "belittled the work of thousands of people (NASA) whenever he talked."

There's also the idea of commercial interests "filling space with bulletin boards", as entertainingly (though not completely correctly) presented in popular fiction.
6:43 am est

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Parting, Crushing Shot
The final report from the Return to Flight Task Group was released on Wednesday. I haven't read it all (probably won't, just use it as a reference), but the first part seems to be a step-by-step report on how NASA met most of the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report. In an addendum, however, seven members of the board describe how meeting the recommendations did not provide a good overall picture of progress at NASA. They cite four areas where NASA leadership has come up short: rigor, risk, requirements, and leadership, and have specific examples of each. My favorite part is where they discuss shuttle launch dates. Their sample chart can be found here, and it shows how the date was consistently "too close for concerted (well thought-through) effort", yet in the end the time between launches was over 2 years. The recommendation for future action is for NASA to start out with a realistic launch date to start, then take a well-considered course of action to get to it. I've seen this same effect in programs that I've worked on. NASA may have taken the lesson to heart.
9:20 pm est

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"A Non-Intrusive Mac User"
Thomas James at Marsblog has a commentary on Mac Users at The Mars Society Conference. His opinion was not...flattering. In his next article, he links to my Space Review Article and considers me a "non-intrusive Mac user." I consider it a compliment. I use a Mac, quietly, and shudder when people go out of their way to point out the fact that they're using one.
8:10 pm est

An Asteroid by Any Other Name
On June 24th, 2005, 2004 MN4 received an official number, 99942. That made it eligible for a name. The name chosen was Apophis, a Greek derivation of the Egyptian God Apep, "the Destroyer."
7:51 pm est

Monday, August 15, 2005

Maelstrom II Reborn
At The Mars Society Conference 2005, I attended a talk given by Jeroen Lapre'. In it, he discussed his efforts to use science fiction and the amazing capabilities of his employer, Industrial Light and Magic, to educate children about real science principles. He's turning an Arthur C. Clarke short story called Maelstrom II into a short film, using the muscle of ILM to provide a Star Wars quality in the special effects. He gives a background of how it all got started here.
This project hits a soft spot for me, because I dabbled in the same idea with the same story years ago. I'm glad to see that it's actually taking form.
8:29 pm est

Mars Opposition Baloney
I've seen emails posted related to this and been asked by one reporter about it so far, so let me answer it here for good. The following statements are false:
  • Mars will be closer to Earth in August of this year than any time in the near past or future
  • Mars will be the size of a full moon when it makes the close approach
The following statements are true:
  • Mars came quite close to Earth in August of 2003, that is close in planetary terms (~35million miles). Estimates vary in how frequent such close approaches take place, but they are on the order of tens of thousands of years. At closest approach, Mars looked like a bright star, but did not get noticably larger than a star, except through a telescope.
  • Mars will again come close to Earth in October/November 2005 (details here), but this pass will not be as close as the one was in 2003.
An easy way that usually works to remember whether a close Mars pass is coming is to remember that they usually take place a couple months after we launch a Mars probe. Snopes has a pretty good writeup about this here.
8:01 pm est

SpaceX on the Move?
According to this article, SpaceX may have to move their launch pad at Vandenberg AFB. Currently, they reside at Space Launch Complex 3 West (SLC-3W). They got the abandoned pad rather cheaply because no one was using it, and Atlas, which flies out of SLC-3E, was getting ready to end operations. Well, now Lockheed Martin is ramping up operations on the east pad again, and it looks like they may be a little anxious about a former dot-com-er with his toy rockets at a nearby pad (note: I think the idea is bunk, but I'm putting the spin on it that was likely put forward to making it move. I have no firsthand information on this development). Details are sketchy, but I think Elon should have a case for getting reimbursed for his set-up costs on SLC-3W. It looks like the government may offer him SLC-4, which will be abandoned as soon as the last Titan IV flies sometime in the future. Ironically, it's the grounded Titan IV on SLC-4 that kept SpaceX's Falcon booster from flying early, due to launch geometry.
7:50 pm est

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Mars Society Presses on
Still in Boulder, though due to return home Sunday morning. Last night, conference attendees got to see a preview of The Mars Underground. I enjoyed it, but believe that some will call it a worshipful acceptance of everything Bob Zubrin says. I believe that most of the things BZ says will bear out to be true, but don't hype it to the extent that the movie did. I may have more to say later.
8:23 am est

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Off to Boulder
I'm at The Mars Society's 8th conference until Sunday.  No posts likely until I get back.
6:07 pm est

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

M3? (More Mars Methane?)
Some new findings from Mars, made by Earth-bound telescopes, hint at a much higher production rate of methane in some areas of Mars.
5:41 pm est

"Reality" TV Moves Into "Space"
Ron Howard, producer of Apollo 13 and From the Earth to the Moon is putting together a "reality" show called Xquest. The participants won't be in space, but in some form of simulator, nevertheless, the idea sounds really cool.

No word on how to sign up, but I'm going to keep a look out.
5:29 pm est

Asking the Wrong Question
If this article is to be believed, the upcoming repair on Discovery is taking place because Wayne Hale asked the following question at a meeting:
Did we have the engineering knowledge and analysis that would, without a shadow of a doubt, allow us to be 100 percent confident the vehicle could fly safely during entry?
To me, this is the wrong question. Considering the uncertainties of repairs in space and new imagery, wouldn't a better question have been:
Do we have the engineering knowledge and analysis to prove that taking action in this situation will put us in a better situation than we're in right now?
People at my volunteer gig today asked about the wisdom of removing shims placed between tiles. I said I didn't have enough information to have an opinion.
5:18 pm est

Computer-Generated (Helped) Mars Lake
A recently-released image of a Mars lake had a little bit of help from computer technology. Basically, the picture was taken from directly above and the popular image was created using digital data and colors from that picture.
4:09 am est

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