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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, January 30, 2006

Commentary on Loss of Methane Engine
Rick Tumlinson of The Space Frontier Foundation had a few comments about the recent drop of a requirement for methane-powered engines on the CEV. I think it's safe to say he feels that dropping methane was a dumb idea, and I agree it's a penny-wise pound-foolish sounding plan, but it's likely that there's more to the story. I'm sure that, given a greater budget, NASA would prefer to have the methane/LOX engine, they just can't fit the stuff they have into the sacks they have.

He starts the article off saying how there was more focus on the Battlestar Galactica premier and awards shows than the future of human activity in space. Now I just have to check my blog to make sure I commented on methane engines while I was talking about Battlestar Galactica. I knew about the change, and posted a story about it to an email list I post to frequently. Fingers crossed...

Update: Dang! No sign of a posting on the methane engine. I guess I got distracted.
8:20 pm est

Griffin Dodges Irrelevant Headline
Found this interview transcript today. In it, Mike Griffin talks with a reporter about all sorts of things related to shuttle, Hubble, returning to the moon and such things. Then, at the end, there comes this zinger:
As you know, there is a big debate in the United States today about the role of religion and creationism and science and the things researchers are doing to find answers to these questions. As the administrator of NASA, what do you think about these issues? Should you be mindful of things like intelligent design or is that something that you as a scientist and NASA as an agency should not be mindful of?
Unlike publicity-hungry people given such an opportunity to spout "what they believe" as opposed to "what they know enough to talk about in public," Mike defers:
When I was very young, I was told that a gentleman never engages in public discussions of politics, sex and religion. And I think Iíll stay with that advice and not go beyond where I was, which is: my objective as administrator is to carry out the instructions Iím given by our elected representatives on behalf of the American people.
Well done. If he hadn't dodged it, something about Intelligent Design probably would have been the headline. Ah, our media outlets.
8:11 pm est

Sunday, January 29, 2006

WaPo on Roving Mars
They like it. (Free registration required)
9:16 pm est

Marking an Anniversary
Spent yesterday's 20th anniversary of the final Challenger flight at the National Air and Space Museum. I got lots of questions about why the US has lost most of its astronauts during this one week period between the 27th of January and the 3rd of February. Other than Challenger, the other two were pretty much just dumb luck. The loss of STS-51L was attributed to the weather, being the cold that cause O-ring failure and loss of vehicle and crew.

My own memories of the day are pretty clear. I was a senior in high school, getting ready to go to Penn State as an aerospace engineer. Someone came in from lunch and told me that the space shuttle had exploded (I was well known as having more than a passing interest in the subject). Now, 20 years later, I am a husband and father, as well as an aerospace engineer. Many dreams were shattered on that cold day in January, 1986. Mine have come true. Now, if only I could get up there...

Other rememberances here and some myths are exposed here.
3:24 pm est

Friday, January 27, 2006

Roving Mars...Excellent Movie
I saw Roving Mars this week, in preparation for its opening today. Seeing some now well-known images in IMAX was incredible, and the launch/landing sequence was a lot of fun as well. The ending felt a little odd to me, likely becaue it had to be re-written when the rovers kept going beyond anyone's guess. The original ending had them dying for a finish. More to come if I get the chance.
3:01 pm est

Buzz Back on the Stump
I've seen a resurgance of articles on Buzz Aldrin's Tradewind Theory. Here (Popular Science) and here (The Sun) are a couple samples. Essentially, the plan boils down to placing a space station in solar orbit, with small "taxis" taking the crew from Earth to the station, and then from the station to Mars. The latest versions of the plan use the CEV as the taxi. I have a soft spot for this one, because it inspired me to my first media production, a planetarium show at the Air Force Academy titled The Tradewinds to Mars. I ended up meeting Buzz through the effort, which led to his doing the foreword for my book.
2:54 pm est

Big Russian Space Plans...Reported by Al Jazeera
According to this article, Russia's going to be mining the moon for Helium-3 by the year 2020 from a permanent base they plan to build by 2015. Helium-3 will be a useful product that could be shipped from the moon, but it requires nuclear fusion reactors to be viable. I'll call the announced plan and timeline "ambitious" and leave it at that. As to the reporting're on your own.
2:48 pm est

Monday, January 23, 2006

Potential Squyers Interview
In conjunction with the movie Roving Mars, I may get the chance to interview the Principal Investigator, Steve Squyres. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask, I consider them. If I have time to ask them, I'll email you back the answer.
8:43 pm est

Book Signing Times Ironed Out
Earlier, I mentioned that I was on for a book signing this Saturday, the 28th of January as part of the Apollo Family Day at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. I have the times now when I'll be in: from 11:00 to 11:30 and from 12:30 to 1. No details of where I'll be, but check near the bookstore.
8:29 pm est

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Invasion of the Email Spammers
Traffic to the site appears to have gone exponential in the last couple days. Given that I haven't updated it, and the content hasn't changed, I'm forced to the opinion that it's likely spam action (verified through Urchin, they're spamming the board that I posted for a while, but took the link down due to spam. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to get rid of the board for good). The hypothesis is backed up by a spike in "comment" emails I've received which are spam. I'm not sure what the answer is, but it's another symptom of the decreasing utility of email. Grrr.
8:00 am est

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Not a Collision, But...
Here's another indication of asteroids having some sort measurable effect here on Earth. Looks like some dust from a broken up space rock came to Earth about 8.2 megayears ago.
8:37 pm est

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Now That's a Conspiracy Show!
Just caught part of National Geographic Channel's special on lunar conspiracy theories. Unlike others, this show presented both sides of the arguments, pretty much back-to-back:
Conspiracy Theorist: The shadows aren't parallel
Show Narrarator(voice over pictures of common Earth scenes): Neither are these.
I think my favorite part was near the end when Jim Oberg compared moon conspiracy mongering to spray painting the Mona Lisa or carving one's initials into a great sculpture. It'll be on a couple more times in the next week. I only caught the last 2/3, but I recommend it.
9:02 pm est

Monday, January 16, 2006

Space and Popular Culture
That's the title of chapter 4 of Space: What Now?. My original plan for the book was to have an illustration lead in each chapter. Unfortunately, that layout wasn't specified in my contract, so it didn't happen. The graphic I had in mind for Chapter 4 was a Google illustration showing the Mars rover Spirit rolling onto the surface. That illustration is in the hall of fame (scroll down to the January 15th entry) now. I had approval to use it in the book and everything. Oh well.
8:40 pm est

What if Someone Threw a Protest...
...and only thirty people showed up? There's no where near the concern about New Horizons compared to Cassini a few years ago. Some of the quotes from the activists sound a little weak, though.
8:25 pm est

Sunday, January 8, 2006

On Again for a Book Signing
The National Air and Space Museum is having a family day on January 28th celebrating the Apollo missions. I'll be there signing copies of Space: What Now? I'll post details when I have them.
3:48 pm est

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Frackin' A!
Battlestar Galactica roared back last night. My wife and I are hooked on the show, along with a lot of friends of mine (normally, since I work in the space field, I'd consider this unremarkable, but some friends of mine who typically are not into science fiction have also mentioned their fascination). For those who haven't seen it, this is not your 1970s Battlestar Galactica. The characters are much more nuanced and the stories are great. Given the revolution underway in media, if you want to get caught up on the show, several options exist:
7:42 am est

Hyperdrive? Theoretically, with a lot of Assumptions...
There's plenty of talk out there on a paper that proposes the possibility of faster-than-light travel. Reading some media reports, you might think we're "on the brink." A little more realistic discussion can be found at:Be sure to check the comments, where they're made in the blogs. The bottom line is that yes, it may be possible to do some of the things described, but it's more likely that a greater understanding of the concepts will lead to a discovery that the idea is fundamentally flawed in its theory, or that some physical limitation will prevent its implementation.
7:26 am est

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Popular Pluto
On the space scale, Pluto is getting a lot of press lately. Here's a sampling:
  • A article about Pluto being colder than expected. The theory has it that there's some sort of "reverse greenhouse effect" going on.
  • Another article about nailing down the diameter of Pluto's moon, Charon. A group of astronomers used a rare astronomical event (Charon passing in front of a distant star) to determine the moon's diameter with an accuracy of single-digit kilometers. They also found that the moon has no atmosphere.
  • Over at Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait talks about where Pluto's moons came from.
8:01 pm est

Monday, January 2, 2006

Student-Built Experiments
Apparently, the first student-built experiment to fly on an interplanetary mission will fly on the New Horizons mission when it launches in mid-January (we hope). The Student Dust Collector will search for clumps of dust throughout the mission. It is great that students can get involved in such a mission, but this quote brings an important fact to light:
"We expect that several generations of CU-Boulder students will be involved in the mission during the next two decades," Horanyi said.
Depending on when the craft launches, it will take seven or more years to reach Pluto. The instrument has been in development for years, so while a bunch of students will get a chance to "work with" the SDC, some will build it (most of them are ready to move on), while the vast majority of them will be counting the dust impacts on their collector. Unfortunately, this is a very realistic view of how work in the space field is. Until some sort of regular, common flight schedule starts happening for interplanetary spacecraft, snatches of experiences in the lifetime of a sensor is all that people can look forward to.
12:27 pm est

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