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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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Monday, November 28, 2005

Maintaining the PR Blitz
Burt Rutan is featured in another article. Most of it rehashes things I've heard him say before, but one new item that I hadn't seen before caught my eye, although it's not in the quote from him portion:
Flight paths of his commercial spaceship can include over-the-ocean travel, gliding above California to a desert landing, Rutan said. "We applaud when you stop on the runway. The NASA folk applaud when they clear the tower on takeoff," he said.
It looks like I may have misinterpereted it. I read it as "flights crossing the ocean" instead of "flights originating from CA, flying over the ocean for a short period, then landing back in CA." I still want to see it happen.
12:07 pm est

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Harry Potter and the International Space Station
Looks like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the first movie out in the theaters that's been beamed up to the space station. According to the press release, the ISS has a nice DVD collection, but this is the first time a movie's been sent up electronically. This will become a common occurence once we're flying people to Mars, without regular resupply missions. For now, it's a cool novelty, and a good idea that people are thinking about how to do it.
12:32 pm est

Thanksgiving Reporting
MSNBC has an article talking about what Thanksgiving feasters have to look forward to on Mars. There's a picture of an ISS astronaut tending plants on the station, and lots of talk about how the crew will have to grow their own food.

While it's true that eventually a crew on Mars' surface will have to grow their own vegetables, it isn't a valid approach for the first mission to do so as part of their required rations. The first mission will probably bring a test greenhouse along and try to grow some plants, but they likely won't have the plantable area to supply anything more than some spices and a fresh tomato at times. There are also a lot of variables, such as knowing what fertilizers we need to use so we can grow things in Mars' soil.

In the article, the author mentions that food for the ISS astronauts wouldn't last for the time required for a Mars mission. That may be true, but it's also irrelevant-ISS food doesn't need to last that long because the station receives resupply runs many times a year. Food can easily be made to last 3 years.

There's no doubt, we have a ways to go before we send people to Mars, but first, we'll have to get our reporting of such activities straightened out.
6:19 am est

They're Going to, They Didn't, They Did!
There's a saying that the first reports out of a combat situation are invariably wrong. Well, I'm starting to think that about the Japanese Space Agency. Earlier, I talked about their reports of a landing that probably didn't happen. It turns out that the probe actually did land that day, but it didn't collect its sample. Now, reports say (with a really cool picture) that the craft has landed and done what it was supposed to do. Congrats to the Japanese! Next time, please be a little less confusing with your press releases. People tend to remember spacecraft failure news better than they remember success news later.

Ugh. I wrote the post before reading the article. There are some escape clauses in it like "apparently succeeded in landing on an asteroid and collecting surface samples Saturday." Looks like we'll only know for sure when the capsule returns. Update: The craft may be leaking fuel.
6:07 am est

Monday, November 21, 2005

It's got Graphics, but Does it Have Legs?
SpaceDev has released another study...this one on flights to the moon. The related article reports that lunar missions can be done for under $10B. The press release has additional information (be sure to note the disclaimer at the bottom about "forward-looking statements", risks, and assumptions).

One of those assumptions would have to deal with a much-lower cost to launch cargo into orbit. Not to worry, they have an idea for that, too. Note the previous disclaimer duplicated at the bottom of the page.

One of the more interesting ideas they bring up is a "rocket chair" which is essentially a seat with rockets and propellant tanks attached to it. The idea appears to be minimal-mass personnel transfer, with a passenger (who would also have to be the pilot, unless they're assuming a lot of automation) riding on the craft in a spacesuit. My first thought is that I'd like to have a little more covering me than a spacesuit in a landing on the moon. Before everyone brings it up, I know that something similar was proposed in the Gemini program.
8:09 pm est

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Without bad Luck..?
Would the Japanese have any luck at all? Their asteroid craft has taken pictures of its own shadow, but can't seem to get landed. This article describes the craft's landing status as "undetermined" which is never a good thing, although the craft appears to be OK at this point.

This is starting to remind me of their Mars Probe, which, after a series of setbacks, was silenced in the end.
8:50 pm est

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mockup Being Built
Well, it's a step past Powerpoint(tm) engineering, but we'll see how much momentum it'll build.  Found this article on CEV mockup work in Houston.
There's a great sequence in From the Earth to the Moon showing the design process used for the lunar module.  That film was the first thing I thought of seeing the article.
2:58 pm est

Friday, November 18, 2005

Supply Depots Coming into Vogue?
NASA Administator Mike Griffin had some things to say about space commercialization. One topic he brought up in particular was Orbital Depots.
8:18 am est

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

No Book Signing on Saturday
I got a call from Air&Space. The order for their stock of my books wasn't processed properly, so the book signing will be rescheduled. I'll still be around for part of the day doing Discovery Stations.
7:55 pm est

In Memoriam
My father (pictured to the right) died on the 13th of November. He was 75 years old. A longtime smoker diagnosed with lung cancer in July, he tried chemotherapy until his body could no longer take it. Then, he came home under Hospice care and faced his final days with his wife and sons.

My Dad was an engineer without the schooling. He could walk in a pressroom and know what was wrong with a machine just by the sound it made, then go home to design and build a replacement part for installation and install it on the late shift.

Robert W. Hill will be laid to rest in Dillsbug, Pennsylvania on Thursday morning, November 17th. The funeral home's web page can be found here, while his obituary, with the opportunity to sign the guestbook is here.

No postings until at least Friday.
11:38 am est

Monday, November 14, 2005

Book Signing at Air and Space Museum
I avoided posted this because of events that were outside my control. I will be at The National Air and Space Museum on the 19th of November, as part of their Family Day for SpaceShipOne. My tentative schedule includes:
  • 10-10:50 - Discovery Station (likely Touch a Falling Star in the Explore The Planets Gallery)
  • 11-11:30 AM - Book Signing, Location TBA - Delayed, New Date/Time TBA
  • 12-1 - Discovery Station (likely Living and Working in Space (near Apollo-Soyuz) or Telescope Power! (in Exploring the Universe))
  • 1:30-2 - Book Signing, Location TBA - Delayed, New Date/Time TBA
6:47 am est

Saturday, November 12, 2005

D'ooh? reports that MINERVA, the Japanese microlander, was deployed from the Hayabusa space probe.  This article says the lander may not have landed, however.  I wonder if the spring was wound too tight and sent the little probe away?
6:35 pm est

Seems a bit Tenuous to me
This article refers to a new proposed method for shifting the orbit of an asteroid.  In it, the spacecraft in question would hover above the surface of the space flotsam and thrust away from it.  The asteroid would then move based on gravitational attraction between the asteroid and the spacecraft.  There would be a force exerted by the spacecraft on the asteroid, but in my mind that force would be vanishingly small.  The article discusses canting spacecraft engines away from the space rock to prevent exhaust from cancelling out the effort, and as I envision it, only a couple particles from the exhaust would be necessary to negate it all.
3:35 am est!
It looks like lichen can survive in space.  This is cool stuff.  Apollo 12, with its retrieval of Surveyor 3's camera as well as other missions such as the Long Duration Exposure Facility proved that bacteria can survive in space, but this experiment is the first deliberate test I've heard of exposing this type of life form to space intentionally.  The article describes how the conditions on Mars are more forgiving than those in space, so this test shows that life on the surface of the red planet may be possible.  In their descriptions of radiation (including ultra-violet), vacuum, and water content, it's true that Mars' conditions are more hospitable, but there's one item they gloss over, in the chemical make-up of Mars' soil.  According to Viking data, the soil is rich in peroxides.  A separate test is required to determine if lichen can survive that exposure.
This entry got me thinking about panspermia and the oxygenation of the atmosphere.  According to this history of Earth's atmosphere, we're now enjoying Earth's third surface gas collection.  There are indications that life existed in the second atmosphere, and most of that life was driven underground when oxygen arrived.  I haven't heard a mechanism proposed for how the early, non-oxygen producing bacteria changed into the later oxygen-producing form, but a delivery of lichen, arriving on a meteor, could fit the bill.
3:23 am est

Lunar Politics
According to this article, Apollos 16 and 17 almost met a political end in the Nixon White House.  Apparently, it was considered politically disastrous to have an Apollo mission fail in the lead-up to an election.  One option discussed was cancelling both of the last missions to the Moon.  Of course, these were the missions where the exploration of the moon was really getting into high gear, so their loss would have been tragic.  Cooler heads prevailed, however, and Apollo 16 went off because it took place early enough in 1972 and wasn't considered too much of a problem.  Apollo 17 was delayed into December, however, where it could only effect an inauguration mood.
Of course, breaking into offices and then lying about what happened during a campaign are also politically disastrous, but we have no indications that delay or cancellation of such action was considered.
2:49 am est

Mars...Through the Years
The Hubble Space Telescope had its vision cleared in 1993.  Since then, it's pointed its wondrous eye at Mars each time the fourth rock from the sun made its close approach to our planet.   The result is this beautiful mosaic.
2:37 am est

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Asteroid Update
This article was posted today, but the open letter(Adobe Acrobat required) from the Association of Space Explorers came out before I posted this. So, astronauts are interested in asteroids. It's a start.
5:44 pm est

Moon in 2017, and Perfect Fuel With Nowhere to Burn it
Reuters found a Chinese scientist willing to say that they (the Chinese) will land on the moon by 2017. I'm sure it's a coincidence (ha!) that the date is one year before the US announced date of 2018. According to the article, they're going to the moon for:
The project also includes setting up a moon-based astronomical telescope, measuring the thickness of the moon's soil and the amount of helium-3 on the moon -- an element some researchers say is a perfect, non-polluting fuel source.
OK, a moon-based astronomical telescope is a good use for the moon. I'm not sure what they're getting at in measuring the thickness of the lunar soil, but it's the last item I'm most interested in. Helium-3 is found in relative abundance on the moon, and it has the potential to be a "perfect fuel." The problem comes in that we have no place to use the "perfect fuel" yet. Helium-3 would be used in fusion reactors, but I haven't seen any fusion reactors around. In fact, the term doesn't even appear in the Reuter's article, while a more thoroughly-researched article would have pointed out the problem in the argument. Perhaps, the Chinese are presupposing that fusion reactors will exist in 2017. If that's the case, it would have been a nice fact to include in the article. More likely, they're enjoying the press attention they garner every time they mention they're going to do something in space.
9:40 am est

Thursday, November 3, 2005

A Bright Flash, but no Serious Interest
Halloween night was fairly typical in the suburban DC area this year, with one twist. South of the city, a large fireball erupted, with a brightness reported to be equal to that of the full moon. Other stories here and here. I didn't see it personally (though, in the first linked article, they mention an earlier light in the sky and I may have seen that), but someone who did see it said it stayed bright in the sky for on the order of 10 seconds. That's pretty impressive, but not impressive enough to draw interest to the asteroid threat. Now, if we had a car-sized object entered the atmosphere and detonated over DC, as Pete Worden talked about happening a few years ago over The Mediteranean, with some broken glass and minor property damage, that may have gotten some more attention. Perhaps even another Congressional hearing.

In a related story, NASA told The B612 Foundation that the agency feels it's OK to wait until after 2013 before mounting any sort of effort to track Apophis. Their rationale is that we'll get time to gather more tracking data in the meantime, and this article covers it.
8:18 pm est

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Pluto + 3 Moons - Express!
Cool news from Pluto via Hubble. Looks like our first-discovered member of the Kuiper Belt has 3 moons now. Luckily, we have a spacecraft gearing up for the trip, and that little craft will haul. This article talks about New Horizons crossing the moon's orbit nine hours after launch and whipping by Jupiter 13 months after launch. Voyager 2 took 23 months.
8:52 pm est

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