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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, March 31, 2008

Amazon Shenanigans
It looks like Amazon may be taking a step into the big world of (more) monopolistic practices. Here is a story (with multiple updates and comments) about their efforts to consolidate production of print-on-demand (POD) titles within their own company. Any publisher that doesn't comply with the 'request' has their titles removed from standard Amazon ordering (such as the 'buy now' button and eligibility for free shipping).

Space: What Now? has been effected. I'll be monitoring the situation over the coming days, slowly decreasing my reliance on Amazon. I've really liked them in the past, but this seems to cross a line somewhere.

Barnes and Noble link for SWN is here.
8:33 pm est

Saturday, March 29, 2008

History Lesson
While I was awaiting my active duty orders for the Air Force, I worked as a civil servant at the Air Force Astronautics Laboratory, taking up a corner of Edwards Air Force Base. It was a cool experience for a fresh out of college, newly-minted second lieutenant. Where else can you see space shuttle landings on your way to work, followed by 747 piggyback (be sure to check out the instructions on the orbiter mount) flights. I also got one of my best pictures ever during that year (shown on the right, archive version here). It shows Endeavour leaving the Palmdale facility where it was built. The most exciting event, however, was the explosion of a test Titan IVb solid rocket motor. I can't find a picture of it on the web with a quick search, though I took a roll of film and ordered hundreds of picture reprints for people in the office. Oh yeah, I guess there were some cool aircraft to, like the B-2, YF-22 and YF-23

Anyway, I got a bit nostalgic last night, looked for some history on the old lab, and found it.
5:18 am est

Friday, March 28, 2008

Can't Stop the Thunder
SpaceX continues to ramp up their testing efforts on the Fallcon 9 booster. Here is their latest update, with video of a three-engine test. Only two more tests to go: the fiver and then a niner! Shipment to Florida scheduled by the end of 2008.
3:57 am est

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Creepy Robot
I found this amazing to watch. The concept is a 250 pound vehcile that can carry 350 pounds of equipment and follow an infantry group around varying terrain. To watch this four-legged 'thing' maneuver up snow-covered slopes, slip on the ice and recover, and remain standing after someone kicks it brings home once again how amazing robotics are getting. Of course, if you add a person, you get something much more maneuverable.
7:42 pm est

Pupil Outdoes the Teacher
While I make no claims to great fame, I've enjoyed my time so far writing books and articles for the space community. A buddy of mine, John Overstrom, is big into electronic tinkering. We used to work together and I'd bore him with my latest articles. Well, he's started to document his own activities, and his first article will be the cover feature in this month's Servo Magazine! Congrats, John!

Oh, and this post is even somewhat space related, since his article details his GPS-guided kiddie car.
7:37 pm est

All These Worlds, Part II
"Hot" on the heals of the recent Titan news comes the story that Enceladus is spewing complex organic molecules (like formaldehyde, propane, stuff much heavier than the expected methane) from a warmer-than-expected subsurface ocean. This holds great promise for the potential for life there.

According to the Wikipedia article, there are several more close encounters with Enceladus scheduled, so the fun is just beginning. What an amazing place our solar system is turning out to be!
4:04 am est

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Orbit@home Online for Alpha/Beta Testing
Earlier, I commented on Orbit@home, an effort to do tedious NEO impact predictions using the BOINC distributed computing platform. According to their website, you can sign up now, but they're working through initial bugs. I've signed up, but haven't received a work unit yet.

I'm going to suggest that, as an extension, they look for low delta-v mission opportunities as well. Something tells me that, once this takes off, they'll be amazed at the computing power they've tapped into.
5:56 pm est

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Guess you had to be Looking at the Right Time
CNN is reporting that there was a gamma ray burst, whose light reached us on Wednesday. According to astronomers, it came from 1/2 way across the universe (in whatever Einstein reference frame you choose to look in) and would have been visible in daylight. No one reportedly saw it, but it would've been cool.
12:22 pm est

Where no LEGOTMhas gone Before
To me, the LEGOTMDigital Designer software has revolutionized the conceptual modeling of new spacecraft. My latest creation is pictured on the right, (archive version here) and shows a manned spacecraft approaching the asteroid 1998 KY26. The light image shows more detail of the craft, while the dark image is more like what the scene would actually look like. A CEV is attached at the top, which is connected to an expanded living area and a boost stage. I'm working with a friend to determine when some of the best windows open for exploring local asteroids, and what kind of delta-vs are necessary for those missions.

For the record, 1998 KY26 is spinning so fast (1 rev every 10 minutes or so), it's unlikely that anyone could do serious research or research extraction on its surface as things stand. That said, it is a carbonaceous chondrite, meaning it is made up partially of water. That would make it a useful target, though I think its rotation rate needs to be altered first. Another possibility might be placing a big net around it.
7:21 am est

Friday, March 21, 2008

Historical Inaccuracy?
Yahoo movies has a list of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time. I agree with nine of them, but when they listed 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had to call foul. Saying that William Wallace wore kilts 300 years before they came into vogue is one thing, but not predicting correctly more thirty years in the future is a whole different story!
5:32 pm est

All These Worlds are Yours...
The list of fascinations about fascinating moons continues to grow. It turns out that Titan has an underground liquid ocean. The press release goes as far as saying that the ocean is made up of water and amonia, but there's no mention of the technical measurement that led to that conclusion. I will stick with 'liquid' (accepting that it may be water and amonia) until further study comes through. In my discussions with people of different viewpoints, they've (rightly, in my opinion) pointed out to me that we tend to get too specific too quickly on new discoveries.

The discovery was made because surface features on Titan have shifted by up to 30 kilometers over time since Cassini started taking radar measurements. Therefore, the surface of the moon is not attached to its core.

For those who didn't recognize the title of this post, it's in honor of the recently-passed Arthur C. Clarke, from his book 2010: Odyssey 2, and even the movie included this part of the quote, though the quote's end was altered.
6:00 am est

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Think you own a Meteorite?
I have a couple rocks sitting around the house that looked weird when I picked them up. I always thought they were meteorites, but never knew who to ask. Thanks to the miracle of the web, there are a few tests you can run at home to find out if you own a piece of primordial solar system junk. The tests boil down to:
  • is the rock magnetic? (most meteorites are)
  • Does it leave a mark when rubbed on rough ceramic? (most meteorites don't)
  • Does it have small flecks of material within it? (most meteorites do)
  • Is it heavy for its size? (nearly all meteorites are)
If your rock passes these tests, the linked web page gives you information to contact them for further consultation. In my case, the rock I tested appeared slightly magnetic, parts didn't leave a mark on rough ceramic, I dulled a file trying to look for flecks internally, but its density (measured as 2.08 g/cc) didn't fall into any of the meteorite categories. It still looks cool on my shelf. I may try a grinder on it next time I head to my mom's.
8:45 pm est

Quite a Question
I'm not sure what all this is about, but the topic of discussion catches the eye:
Are there any qualified individuals who would be willing to travel to the Moon or Mars in an “austere” craft and face dangers comparable to those faced by the Apollo 11 crew, by Charles Lindbergh, and by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on Mount Everest?
It sort of reminds me of Shackleton's call
Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.
Reading on, it's posed as more of a thought experiment, but thought experiments lead to some pretty cool things!
4:16 am est

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Silence all Satellite Communications for a Moment...
The first person to popularly suggest them has died.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the creative force behind some of the best science ficiton of the 20th century, has gone the way of the star child and left his Earthly body behind. His wrote some of the first scifi I read, and he remained my favorite writer.

I just wish that he could have lived long enough to see Maelstrom II become a movie.
8:06 pm est

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little History I've (Virtually) Touched
Here's an article on Vanguard 1, America's second successful satellite. It's still in orbit, circling as it has for now 50 years. The article discusses some possibilities for recovering the spacecraft, as well as what we could learn from it and some ways that a mission to recover the craft could be paid for.

What's my part of the story? When I was overseas at Pirinclik Air Station, Turkey, it was my job to track space debris and some active satellites for the Air Force. We'd receive requests from Cheyenne Mountain to update orbits for specific satellites, and one time a task came to track Vanguard 1. It wasn't any different than tracking our other objects, except that I grinned.
7:49 pm est

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More Detail, Please!
The meteorite that fell in Peru last year has some researchers confounded. According to previous models, the meteorite in question shouldn't have made it to Earth. Looks like it's time for some new models! I do wish the article covered a little more ground, though. More articles are out there, though. Update: More theories are discussed here.
1:47 pm est

A Debatin' we will go...
It's unlikely that I'll ever mention political favorites on this site, just because I think it clouds any other issues. I do understand the role politics plays in space, as much as I hope that role will decrease in the future.

In the 'generic politics' category, the (likely) upcoming Science Debate 2008 seems to be catching on. Alan Boyle has some background on how the debate became relevant, and more (though not very) likely. It has the potential to be the first time that the three candidates all appear on the same stage. If other scenarios had panned out, it would have been more likely to be held after each party's candidate was established.
5:32 am est

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mars Needs What?
Some cool discussion over at Space Politics about setting proper priorities in research to prepare for sending humans to Mars.
7:41 pm est

Friday, March 14, 2008

This is big
News release from NASA:

WASHINGTON - NASA will hold a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 19, to report on the first-ever detection of the organic molecule methane in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star.

Though the planet is too hot to support life as we know it, the finding demonstrates the ability to detect organic molecules spectroscopically around Earth-like planets in habitable zones around stars.
Even though this planet isn't a likely place for life, proving that we can find methane (a good indicator of life potential, under proper circumstances) bodes well for the search.
4:55 pm est

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Nice Eyes!
The Large Binocular Telescope released its first light image. This telescope uses two 8.4 meter(!) telescopes working together to act like an 11.8 meter telescope. The website says they're going to be looking at extra solar planets and peering back to the beginnings of the universe, but they could also help find some NEOs I'm sure. Of course, the big 'scope for that will come on line in 2010
6:38 am est

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Vesta and Ceres Primer
Great article on Dawn and its targets: the asteroids Vesta and Ceres. I look forward to this mission returning data.

There's a cool, but silent, movie about the Vesta portion of the mission here.

Also, I heard that, depending on when the craft was launched, visits to other asteroids were possible. Nothing heard though since launch.
9:21 pm est

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jules Verne Flies
I just recently learned that the European ATV was designed to be human-rated (in whatever passes for that nowadays...I probably need to have a standard disclaimer to link to for an explanation on this, but Rand Simberg says most of what I'd say) for eventual addition of a crewed capsule. The fact is mentioned here, in the configuration description. If I'd seen that it has 32 thrusters, I probably would have guessed about future plans.
5:09 am est

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Good Discussion
Going on at Space Politics. The talk is about John Marburger's recent comments about the Vision for Space Exploration, the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, and the recent Stanford workshop, meant to be a 'second look' at both.
4:28 pm est

Friday, March 7, 2008

Shuttle Reference
Found an old shuttle reference guide. I'm sure I'm not the first to find it, but a way to get to it through the main shuttle web page wasn't obvious. It would be better if there were some images.
5:55 pm est

Four days and out
Good discussion over at Transterrestrial Musings about what looks like the new approach for an Ares-based moon launch: launch the crew first, then try and launch an Ares V within four days so the propellant isn't lost. Sounds a little nuts to me...
1:21 pm est

Maybe not so Mysterious
Related to this post, I spoke with a friend who's knowledgable in such things last night. He says our understanding of Earth's masscons (mass concentrations, basically the things that make our Earth a non-sphere) is incomplete enough to account for the flyby anomaly.

This would explain why the effect is inconsistent, because it would rely literally on exactly where each probe flew over the Earth. For example, in one flyby a craft may be closest to Earth over North America while in another the craft might be closest to Earth over Africa. Different masscons would accelerate the spacecraft differently, though only slightly.
6:41 am est

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Quinella for MRO
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) project just released two big pictures. The first one, avalanches on Mars, shows a much more active world than the scientists were expecting. They'll be monitoring the same spot for a while to see how it changes with time. The second one shows our home as seen from Mars (when you have a really big camera).
5:07 am est

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Direction for The Mars Society
The Mars Project Challenge is a new approach for the Mars Society's next project. Members can submit ideas that then get forwarded to the Society at large to vote at the conference.
9:34 pm est

I'm Sorry Dave, you're an Accessory to Murder
Watching an old Law and Order episode tonight, I thought I recognized an elder-statesman looking actor. A quick trip to IMDB confirmed my suspicions that the character was being played by Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Great to see him again.

Ugh. Twist in the story just made things ickier for 'ol Keir.
9:00 pm est

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Delayed Mars Science Lander?
I'm seeing more noise in the press about a potential delay in the Mars Science Lander program. No idea whether it's because the chance of delay is actually increasing, or there's a feeding friendzy over one morsel about a potential slip.

If cost is the issue, a delay of two years will only increase the problem.
6:33 pm est

Obesity or Zero-G Illness?
Just saw an old article about the new Pixar film Wall-e. In the review, they say that the movie shows humans 700 years from now, living in space and essentially morphed into giant couch potatoes. The article claims that Pixar is trying to "focus group" the movie to see if people respond to the idea that we will look like that if we don't spend more time on the treadmill (I'm kidding...going outside would obviously be better).

My thought is that even if were weren't couch potatoes before going into space, we would become that way if we lived in zero-g for a long period of time, especially if we bred in space. On Earth, we can avoid the couch potato syndrome by exercising. In space, you can avoid it by generating artificial gravity.
6:31 pm est

Saturday, March 1, 2008

For Those who say we Think we know it all...
Here is more discussion on the Pioneer Anomaly as well as the Flyby Anomaly. It looks like additional information was gathered, in that the MESSENGER flyby was almost exactly symmetrical around Earth's equator, and no anomaly in its velocity was found.

Side note: if you check the MESSENGER page today, you'll see that we're 1111 days to orbit insertion. A meaningless number, I know, but it looks cool nonetheless.
6:51 am est

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