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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Press Releasing the Obvious
This week, NASA put out a press release saying "NASA's Mars Global Surveyor May Be at Mission's End." I hope that there will be a later report on what happened to cause the spacecraft's demise, though I don't hold much hope out. This failure wasn't spectacular enough to create a sensation (partially because the spacecraft was beyond its lifetime and partially because it wasn't in the news very much) to spark an independent investigation, and that sort of independent investigation would likely be more public. As a less spectacular failure, the discussion will likely take place internally, definitely to the agency and more likely to the MGS team. The root cause may simply be a degraded unit (the solar array drives went bad and their backups were also bad due to long-term exposure to space), but failures that take place after ground commanding usually are somehow related to what was changed.
6:32 am est

The golf shot off the ISS doesn't upset me, neither from the scientifically-based, "it creates more orbital debris" point of view, nor the literary, generally critical form of "gosh, this is a silly thing to do and besides George Bush proposed a new direction in space to distract us from Iraq"

I don't deny we have an orbital debris problem, but exploding rocket stages are a much bigger problem than this tee shot will ever be. Yes, the act is a little silly, but until we stop treating space as an item of "national pride" and space takes its place as part of our (inter)national economic engine, many of the acts that take place are silly on some level.

So I wish we were exploring and exploiting new lands rather than _________. Today, the blank is "hitting golf balls off the ISS"
6:21 am est

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mars Global Surveyor Update
Discovery News has an update on MGS. They go into a little more detail on some of the options that JPL's looking into to save the silent spacecraft. As I said earlier, the biggest key to getting the craft back is going to be whether or not it has power, and indications to me (based purely on media reports) are that MGS does not have power.

One nit in the coverage. The article mentions that another rover is launching next year. That is incorrect. There is a lander called Phoenix scheduled to fly next year, which will not move once it lands. The next rover to fly is the Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled for flight in 2009.
6:25 am est

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Set Phasers on Cool
I just saw my first Star Trek: TOS (The Original Series) with remastered digital special effects. Here's a schedule of when the shows are due for release. (Q&A with some of the project folks here.) When I heard about it, I was a little skeptical, but I have to admit that watching the show with the updates made it pretty cool. Part of the reason I think it's a good idea is that when I showed the episode to by (then future) wife, one of the first things she said was "Nice special effects!" My response was to look at her and say "You weren't born yet!" Gutsy, to be sure, but we did get married. I've got the TiVo set to record the others as they come out.

Note: I realize that the title of this post makes me sound like a real geek, but so be it.
8:35 pm est

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New Job, Visualized
I'm ramping down activity on the GOES satellite and moving over to Landsat, where I'll be serving as the flight segment operations manager. If you want an idea of what Landsat does, check out this site. Of course, as my policy has been, I'll comment very little on the area in which I work.
9:12 pm est

All's Quiet on the MGS Front? and The Bad Astronomer are reporting that Mars Global Surveyor has gone quiet. The longer the silence, the more ominous it grows. BA has links to some cool ideas they're going to use to try and contact the wayward craft, but the story that controllers were working with a solar array just before the contact loss has me concerned. It's possible that the solar array, stuck in an unexpected position, prevents the craft from charging batteries even in a "safe" mode. Some spacecraft, likeSOHO have come back to life after long periods of silence, as the solar panel on a spinning craft lines up with the sun once again, so we'll see.
9:03 pm est

Mystery Impact in 2036 Ruled Out?
Earlier, I wrote about a poorly written article describing an asteroid threat in the year 2036, without mentioning the name of the asteroid in question. Well, a later article says that an asteroid (1999 KW4) is no longer a threat, and listed the same impact year as the initial story. So, I'm hoping that the new article is about the same asteroid. I took a look at the orbit of this space rock, and it would whack Earth heartily if it ever strikes us. Turns out that the low point of the asteroid's orbit is inside Mercury's orbit, and the high point is right out near us. That means that the rock would be practically standing still relative to the sun as Earth came racing by at 29km/sec. Ouch.

In the "General Interest" category of asteroids, has some info on people thinking about a crewed asteroid visit.
8:50 pm est

USGS just activated a new site that lets you see views of the Earth as they're downloaded from Landsat satellites. When there isn't an active pass, recent ones are replayed.
7:48 am est

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Light Posting
Going through some changes around here. I'm moving to a new position (same company), and taking on some duties with Cub Scouts. While the adjustment takes place, I probably won't be posting as much as I was.
9:24 pm est

Stickin' it to...who?
There's a lot of buzz (sampled here)out there about Ares I, also known as "The Stick" (or, less complementarily, "The Shaft"). Word has it that the performance isn't there as designed, and either the Orion capsule/service module needs to be scaled down or some lame additions need to be made to Ares I. Well, I consider the idea of adding strap-on solid boosters to a solid rocket motor lame, though I understand there's not a lot of technical umph behind that pronouncement. I'm pretty sure that enough engineering muscle applied to this project will get Ares I to fly. I'm not sure how Ares I will be viewed as far as its role in opening the cosmos to humanity.
9:19 pm est

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Mars Underground now Available in US
I'd heard that the producers of The Mars Underground were trying to find a TV outlet to show their documentary over before selling it on DVD. Looks like they were unable to find one, and DVDs are now available in limited distribution at the movie's website. It's too bad they couldn't find a broadcaster. I've seen the video and thought it was pretty entertaining.
5:53 am est

One of the Biggest non-Announcements in History
Well considering the amount of prep work done (including an update to the dedicated web page, though the overall web presence has changed since Tuesday). NASA's announcement yesterday about pressing forward with the next servicing mission should have come as a surprise to no one. I've always been kind of squishy on the subject, even though I'm glad they're going. The comment that struck home with me the most pointed out how silly it was to think that an organization that won't send a 5th mission to Hubble would send a first mission to Mars.
5:47 am 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