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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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Friday, May 30, 2008

Did life on Mars Suffer from high Blood Pressure?
It looks like water in Mars' past had too much salt to support much life as we know it, at least at the Spirit landing site. Of course, it's hard to judge from the detail given in the article, but the article hints at the possibility of less salty water before the epoch discussed. My first thought was that the water got saltier as it evaporated.
5:19 am est

Lots of PhDs, but what they Really need... a plumber. The toilet on board the space station has broken down again. Luckily, there's a parts delivery mission scheduled to go up this week, and the repair parts have arrived. I guess the shuttle could use a new paint scheme.
5:14 am est

To Low Earth Orbit (and Back? to Stay? not Beyond Until 2020)
Kinda cool, but I still look forward to the day when stuff like this isn't press release worthy. Buzz Lightyear is going into space on the next shuttle mission.
4:46 am est

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Elon Musk at ISDC
I've always enjoyed hearing Elon Musk (president of SpaceX) talk. His delivery is so refreshing compared to what is usual for aerospace companies. Where one presenter will pound the podium saying "this will work!", Elon will say, "if this doesn't work, our cost will be X, if it does, our cost will be less." There's plenty of that to be found in this liveblogging of his speach at ISDC. Here's a favorite. When asked about SpaceX schedule problems (they originally said they'd go from founding to launch in 18 months), he said:
Statements in first 2 years of the company should be disregarded due to idiocy.
Honesty. Even I'd probably use the word "naivete" instead of "idiocy."
6:05 pm est

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

MRO's Continued Confirmation
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took a picture of Phoenix on the surface of Mars. It also captured the craft's heatshield, backshell, and parachute in the same frame.

Wait 'til the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter starts returning pictures of the lunar landings sites of the 1960's and 1970's. The Moon landing hoax-ers will have to come up with a whole new line of stories about how the hoax was pulled off!
6:18 pm est

Model Rocket Surface-to-air Missile?
This article discusses an object that came close to an airliner taking off out of Houston. The best guess is that it was a model rocket. I hope that the rest of the details come out at some point, because the article makes a lot of wild guesses about what happened, and draws some generalizations about model rocketry. In one paragraph, they claim that model rockets routinely go higher than 40,000', which is a BIG simplification. Most people who fly model rockets don't launch them over 1500'. By the time you get to 40,000' flights, you're talking high power rocketry, which usually takes place at closely controlled ranges that are nowhere near an airport. It's always possible that some rogue builder made themselves a big rocket and launched it while not following established practices, but hopefully something like that would come out in the investigation...
5:05 pm est

Monday, May 26, 2008

You know you have Presence Around a Planet...
...when one of your spacecraft can take a picture of another one arriving.

The coolness continues...
4:53 pm est

Hail Phoenix!
Watched the landing last night with the kids. I love the theater of having the rows of controllers lined up watching telemetry that's 16 minutes old. Obviously, the landing went well. Here are some headliners.
  • First color image here.
  • Raw images so far here (Harry Potter fans should take note of the name of the URL)
  • Main website here.
7:23 am est

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Big Doin's at Google Lunar X-Prize
I hadn't been following it that closely, but the GLXP appears to have drawn some real interest. There are 14 teams (the original X-Prize had more, but for this time out, there is an application fee. That cuts down the number of people who get on the web after having a couple beers and sign up) currently registered, and they had a meeting just recently.

According to this team blog entry, the team meeting was a "wake-up call." Turns out, the members of this team signed up to prove that cheap space science missions were possible, allowing inexpensive exploration of planetary moons. The meeting showed them that the true goal is:
to promote the so-called commercialization of space (which I took to mean highly impractical stuff like mining the moon and beaming power to the earth, as shown in one of GLXP kickoff videos), humanity’s future in space, etc. etc.
Do these people think that the commercialization of space rules out scientific exploration of space? I hope they put more thought into their analyses (assuming they are scientists) in their day job. Commercialization of space opens the door for scientific investigations that we haven't even dreamed of yet.

I hope they realize this and stick with the project. If not, at least there are still plenty of other teams!
11:50 am est

Friday, May 23, 2008

See you at ISDC!
I'll be at the Space Investment Summit on Wednesday, and at the main event on Saturday. I've been asked to moderate the NEO/Planetary Defense plenary panel at 9 am, and will be giving a talk at the 2 pm session on my Apophis Mission Design Competition entry.

If you're there, please stop by and say "Hi!"
7:32 pm est

Independent Navigation
Still not caught up on a few projects. Spent this afternoon after work boarding up a recently-vacated birdhouse to cut down on the droppings on our back patio.

Also found this article on navigating via x-ray pulsars. Solo navigation will be a key to true free commerce beyond Earth orbit. GPS does a great job in low Earth orbit for now, which is good enough for your boost beyond LEO as well. Another idea (potentially money-making) would be subscription-based location determination via sun-orbiting beacons...there's probably a science fiction story in there somewhere.
7:23 pm est

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Seven Minutes of Terror
On its way for Mars Phoenix as it enters Mars' atmosphere on May 25th. Great video overview of what's expected here. I have a project perking to celebrate the landing, and will announce it here when I can.
1:53 pm est

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Patient Debater that I Still Disagree with
Over at Phil Plait's place, he wrote about a NASA story comparing the tech in 2001: A Space Odyssey to today's real space program. Phil took issue (and I agree with said issue) with their comparing the massive space station in the movie to the ISS.

Discussion ensued, and one pure-blooded pro-robots in space type showed up. He was pretty patient, taking on several of us at once at times, though in the end he said we were talking past each other. In many of these cases, the discussions are similar to those about politics, where so many initial assumptions are made on both sides that, unless those are fleshed out as part of the talk, the talk isn't useful. I hadn't thought through some of the topics that came up in a while, so I'll take this time to spell some of my thinking out.
  • If you only want to learn some of the basics about the environment around our planet, you want to use robots. Robots' capabilities will increase over time as well to return information about our neighborhood.
  • Humans remain the viable option for an in-depth study of any particular body. This is especially true if the humans can analyze their discoveries on-site with time for re-evaluation. Robots can help in this endeavor, though the correct mix must be found.
  • I think that it's a good idea to have some portion of our human population live off the planet. I hope that colonization is never automated through robots.
  • Resource utilization from space, while it faces a huge barrier because of the havoc it will play on Earth markets, is one of few viable options for allowing continued expansion of our species.
  • Space efforts so far have not had the goal of developing utility or practicality. The customers (usually governmental) can accept high costs for what they believe to be high reliability, so there's been no market force driving costs down.
  • Aircraft manufacturing and operations changed radically after it started because it had a 'garage' mentality, in that many people could experiment. Space is just entering that phase.
7:03 pm est

Friday, May 9, 2008

Great Minds?
Earlier I did some analysis on good candidate asteroids for a sprint class (less than 6 months) mission. One of the best ones I came up with was 2000 SG344. If intel is correct, NASA is looking at the same asteroid for a mission. I've learned about some new tools since my labor-intensive study, like JPL's Horizons public software, and there are a few close approaches in the 2028-2029 timeframe, and though the one I discussed was the closest, others have a lower relative speed, which can make a big difference on fuel. This table lists the close-approach date, statistical mean distance (in astronautical units), and relative velocity (in km/sec):

2028 May 07.0201992.034
2029 Feb 16 .0536471.471
2029 Jul 28.0350371.189
2029 Nov 21.0452291.253
6:09 pm est

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Watching Avarice Grow From Space
Pictured at the right is a sequence of images from Landsat 7 showing the growth of the Palm Islands and the World Islands from 2002 through 2007. The last image was taken after a failure within the instrument, giving it the 'venetian blind' effect. The image will be on the front page for a week, thereafter it can be found here.

Update: I posted this while watching a good movie, and forgot to mention that I don't have a problem with Dubai's approach to spending their oil money. I think it's a very good idea to build a huge tourist mecca using the money while it's coming in. Another such project is a robotic Jurassic Park.
8:25 pm est

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dry Spell
I've got some studying to do, and spent this weekend reminding myself why I became an engineer by installing a new kitchen floor with my brother. Test on Wednesday, then a few posts in the queue.
6:08 pm est

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