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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, January 31, 2007

Translation: Crime Scene Investigation: Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Near Earth Objects)

I'm pretty sure that many of the scientists and astronomers involved rolled their eyes a bit, but I think that this video is awesome. It tells the tale of how Apophis rose and fell on the NEO threat level.

More of this kind of work would go a long way for public outreach. One caveat: the scientists involved have to be VERY involved throughout the process. Otherwise, small errors will appear and could cause problems.
7:07 pm est

Lost a Sea Launch booster and payload on the pad. They cut live satellite transmission as soon as the explosion started, which seems a little silly to me since the important image got out. Maybe they'll broadcast the next one on a tape delay. That will fix the public relations disaster (not). Rand Simberg suggests a remedy I agree with, though the comments get...odd, as they have been recently.
5:52 am est

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's not the Bunny Suit, it's the Site Broadcast
Any space fan paying attention to the 2004 presidential campaign knows about, and grimaced over, the bunny suit incident. In it, Senator Kerry visited a space shuttle during its processing, and, like everyone who goes into a spacecraft on a factory floor, wore a clean or "bunny" suit. The suits are practical, not attractive, and when pictures of the presidential candidate were released, NASA was accused of smearing Senator Kerry's campaign. One commentator in particular said that a presidential candidate should NEVER look like a Teletubby. Well, an investigation was conducted, and while the bunny photos were not a problem, the fact that Sen. Kerry's speech was broadcast to NASA workers using federally-purchased TVs and equipment was a problem. No real punishment will take place, since NASA asked for advice and was told that the action was OK, but it just goes to show that it's not the big stuff that draws the headlines that burns, it's the little stuff no one thought of.
5:01 am est

Captain Cook's Namesake Ship Prepped for Flight
Discovery got to fly both return-to-flight missions, and Atlantis followed the second of those, yet Endeavour sat patiently, likely being used for parts, since its last flight in 2002. A blog entry details some of its return-to-flight activities. I've always had a soft spot for Endeavor, since I got to see it fly out of Palmdale after its assembly (pictured above until 2/6) and saw it on the pad on an early trip that I took to Kennedy Space Center. Then, during it's first flight, I spotted an astronaut acquaintance of mine as CapCom, wrote him a letter saying so, then got invited to this launch, which remains the only shuttle launch I've seen.
4:50 am est

"Acceptable Reasons" and "Real Reasons"
Mike Griffin gave a speech (while standing at the same podium used by JFK to deliver his Rice University speech) describing reasons we go into space. To me, it definitely brings out some points that need to be part of the discussion. Here's the speech (Acrobat required), and here's a sample of the logic:
It is my contention that the products of our space program are today’s cathedrals. The space program addresses the Real Reasons why humans do things. It satisfies the desire to compete, but in a safe and productive manner, rather than in a harmful manner. It speaks abundantly to our sense of human curiosity, of wonder and awe at the unknown. Who doesn’t look at a picture of the Crab Nebula, synthesized from visible-light Hubble photographs and Chandra x-ray images, and say “Oh my God?” Who can look at that and not experience a sense of wonder?
4:31 am est

Monday, January 29, 2007

New Hurdle to Being a Stellar Voyager: Taxes
Think you can win your way into space with a win in a contest? Think again. Here is a story about a guy who won a contest, but couldn't pay the taxes. Result: He gave up the flight. The article mentions that Virgin Galactic prize winners received a check for $100,000 which could be used to cover taxes.

Update:, the guys I linked to as a sample of a spaceflight contest, now includes cash with many of their prizes.
6:12 pm est

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Another Hurdle Cleared?
One of the arguments that I've heard against panspermia was the likely inability for bacteria (or any other life form) to survive the shock of being blasted into space as part of a meteor impact. According to this article fragment, tests have been done exposing bacteria to explosive pressures equivalent to a meteorite impact, and showing that the bacteria can survive it.
8:24 pm est

Saturday, January 27, 2007

But my DirecTV wasn't Impacted
Here is an article about the jamming of a French satellite's signal. No word whether it's intentional or not, but I have my thoughts. The article mentions other instances, and I'm afraid that this is something we'll need to get used to happening in the future.
12:27 pm est

Worth a Click
I'm poking around at some resources at JPL, and found this page full of spacecraft concept images as well as some eye-catching mission data. There doesn't seem to be any real order to the images.
7:31 am est

Documenting a Great Adventure?
It's starting to look like someone at NASA read my article in Space Times about ways to gain public interest and acceptance of the Moon/Mars and Beyond mission. Here is a link to discussion of a "TV Special" on Project Constellation.
6:49 am est

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Ambassadorship is in
My recent change in work locations has cut my ability to participate with the Air and Space Museum's Discovery Station Program, but I plan to stay involved in "formal" space education through JPL's Solar System Ambassadors Program. My profile is now up.
6:16 pm est

Battle Room, Anyone?
In the sci-fi classic Ender's Game, children are taught battle tactics in a zero-g environment in orbit. After reading about Paraball, a sport (hopefully, eventually) which will be played using a commercially-available zero-gravity aircraft, I thought that a battle room game could also be popular. The problem was that the aircraft used in the commercial Zero-G flights would be very cramped. Enter the Dreamlifter, an oversized 747 that Boeing is using to deliver parts for 787 production. Standing inside it must feel like you're standing in an aircraft hanger, only you're standing inside an aircraft. There are a couple issues, however, one being that only three are being built, and the other that Boeing is not planning any commercial sales of the craft.

5:03 am est

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fermi Paradox Resolved?
One of the serious arguments against UFOs and extra terrestrial life in general has been the Fermi paradox, boiled down to "If there are so many aliens out there, they could fill the galaxy in a matter of millions of years. The galaxy is billions of years old, so where are they?"

This new article discusses some mathematical study that may explain the paradox. I've been unable to access the full paper linked in the article. To me, the problem is that the refutiation seems too simple, to the point where the paradox never existed.
7:58 am est

Frame Dragging Confirmed...Again?
Here's an announcement in New Scientist that Einstein's prediction of frame dragging has been confirmed via low-tech methods analyzing data from Mars Global Surveyor. To add some intrigue to the story, the article points out that this confirmation beats ou the science team for Gravity Probe-B.

This all tickled a memory for me, and I found this article describing the confirmation of frame dragging using Earth-orbiting satellites and announced soon after the launch of Gravity Probe-B. It occurred to me that using Earth satellites would make more sense anyway, because there are a lot more of them and a lot more tracking data from each of them.
7:48 am est

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Comet and Some Good Discussion
Phil Plait has an awesome picture of Comet McNaught.  Makes me really wish that the mix of clouds and obliviousness on my part prevented me from seeing it myself.
NASASpaceflight has a Q&A session with Dr. Doug Stanley about rumored development problems with the Ares boosters for the Moon and Mars.  I Googled Dr. Stanley, and the first hit on his name was this discussion, but he speaks like someone who's involved the the trade studies going on today.  This would be an interesting and (I think) excellent approach to take when such rumors surface...putting an expert "on line" to let them answer questions from people who have an interest in the topic, though with wildly different knowledge levels, and therefore wildly different gullibility levels.  Here's my favorite non-technical quote:

I will also take this opportunity to address on the record some of the alleged "issues" with the ARES 1 vehicle from "anonymous sources" that have been discussed in this forum and certain NASA-Related-Personal-Axe-to-Grind-Single-Source-is-Good-Enough-Blog sites.

2:47 pm est

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Couple Issues with this one
I usually have little comment on Jeff Bell's pieces, except to say I find few points that I can argue within them. His latest piece, while providing a penetrating analysis into the possibilities of the true goals of the COTS program, touches on a couple points that I have some personal experience with and that experience counters at least part of those specific arguments. This is the section:
Musk made a foolish decision to move his R and D program from the convenient and well-equipped Vandenberg AFB to a tiny sandbar on Kwajalein Atoll. The US military base at Kwaj is devoted to testing solid-fuel anti-missiles and has little to offer except an airstrip. The vast distance and huge time zone difference between Kwaj and California has led to inordinate expense and delay. SpaceX is actually flying in liquid oxygen by air from Honolulu to supplement the inadequate local production.

But the biggest nightmare at Kwaj is the extraordinary corrosion environment. A friend of mine who once worked at a tracking site quite close to the SpaceX facility reports that it was constantly swept by fine salt spray which required him to wash off his glasses every four hours. The main base stocked a variety of expensive high-tech greases and oils which were used to coat every metal surface - even painted or anodized parts.

SpaceX ignored all this hard-won experience and used incompatible alloys in its Merlin engine that encouraged electrolytic corrosion and led to the Falcon I launch failure. Musk has been quoted as saying that the market will allow SpaceX at most two more failures. Previous experience (e.g. Boeing's stillborn Delta III) suggests he is right.
The first point, with Elon chosing to move his operation from Vandenberg to Kwaj, is just off. My understanding is that Elon was perfectly happy to launch off of SLC 3W on the West Coast, but that the contractor operating SLC 3E didn't want "hobby rocketeers" experimenting right next to their national asset (the launch pad, along with a rocket and payload that's occassionally located there). After being forced off the base, Elon put the best face on it he could, pointing out some of the advantages of flying out of Kwaj, but that shouldn't be mistaken as the island having been his first choice.

Also, I've worked at Vandenberg, and can state that the corrosion environment there is pretty bad. I don't have experience at Kwajalein, so I can't compare the two. There are cliffs along the coastline at Vandenberg which may provide some protection from the sea spray that are nonexistent on the island. I'm not sure whether a launch from Vandenberg would have suffered the same fate as one from Kwaj, assuming the same period of exposure to the salt air there. In an ironic twist, if Elon had been able to win the argument to keep his first launch out of Vandenberg, he might have had to relocate to Kwaj after the failure. The SLC 3E contractor, would have a much stronger argument against "hobby rocketeers" with launch failure footage to back it up. This would have led to a much longer timeline between the first flight and upcoming second flight of Falcon I.
5:09 am est

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More Viking Life Discovery Controversy
There's a new slant to the arguments over whether the Viking landers discovered life on Mars. This new (at least to me) argument claims that Viking discovered, then rapidly killed, life based on a water/hydrogen perioxide mixture. This announcement led to at least one press release from a "Science-Faith Think Tank" stating that such a finding was impossible because all life started on Earth. I got suspicious of the press release when the lead-in text referred to the quotees as "renowned" and "internationally respected." A link to the press release and the group in question was witheld on purpose.
9:15 am est

Saturday, January 13, 2007

MGS Update
Looks like some scenarios are starting to get out about what happened to Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). According to the article, current thinking is that a software upload may be the problem, but The Bad Astronomer has a source saying that doesn't sound like the whole story. One comment says that it was a parameter update, not a software update. That's a pretty fine hair, given the way some satellite software is designed, but I guess the best idea is just to wait until the investigation is complete.
8:35 pm est

Looky What Someone Found in their Bathroom
An iron meteorite seems to have landed in a New Jersey Bathroom. If it turns out to be a Pallasite, it'll be worth some serious money, though if it were a Pallasite there'd probably be a mention in the article.
8:27 pm est

There's been a lot going on around here lately, one item of interest was preparation for the Disney Marathon. Well, it happened on the 7th of January, and I followed it up with just under a week in the mouse house. I finished my race with a time about 5 minutes faster than my previous marathon, and my wife completed her first half marathon, which was her goal. Anyone interested can find more pictures of the race (with some pretty cool scenery, by the way) here. Unofficial times and placings are here
7:24 am est

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Bacterial Concerns
An article at The Space Review points out reasons why we shouldn't be concerned about sending people to Mars due to bacterial cross-contamination. I've glanced through the article and agree with most of the arguments, but believe the article would have a lot more weight to it if it were written by someone skilled in infectious diseases instead of an aerospace engineer.
8:32 am est

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