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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, June 30, 2008

Fading Giants
I'm watching In the Shadow of the Moon for the first time. The remaining Apollo astronauts are old. I didn't even recognize Mike Collins. I hope we still have people alive who walked on the moon when we do it again.
8:45 pm est

Just in Time!
Of course, right after I talk about Jon Goff's series, he puts out part V.
8:36 pm est

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Essential Reading
Jon Goff is working on a series of essays discussing various methods for getting into orbit. They're a little long, but that length is necessary to cover all the intricate arguments and trade-offs for each. They'll make an excellent basis for a textbook someday. Four parts are complete so far
  • Part I describes air launched single stage to orbit (SSTO)
  • Part II is a primer on two stages to orbit (TSTO)
  • Part III talks about "pop up" two stages to orbit (TSTO)...this is the approach made (relatively) famous in the book The Rocket Company
  • Part IV covers glide-back TSTO
5:20 am est

Friday, June 27, 2008

Not Pixar's Finest Hour
Took the kids to see WALL E today. The space imagery was very cool, and I laughed out loud when one ship crashed through the barrier of satellites around Earth. My son asked me if I recognized any of the satellites there, and the Sputnik 1 stuck to WALL E's head was pretty obvious. Before emailing me, understand that I know Sputnik 1 is no longer orbiting. I know it's been catching a lot of guff about being overly preachy about the Earth. There's also some pretty heavy sloth imagery (imagine a human standing up to the monolith theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey). While I enjoyed the movie, I don't think it'll be one that I'll want to see over and over again. I'll be very curious to see how it cashes in this weekend.
9:06 pm est

"Treasure Trove" Delivered by Phoenix
Now all they have to do is analyze the data.
5:26 am est

Thursday, June 26, 2008

(Model) B-29 Aerobatics
Not really space related (though I'll give a little credit for the model X-1 which shows up), but I think this video is really cool.

I've said it before, quoting Dave Barry. "It's a fine line between hobby and mental illness."
7:52 pm est

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Seven Years Left
We just started showing my son the Back to the Future series. It's hard to believe that 'the future' as seen in the second part is the year 2015. We don't seem that close to flying cars, hydrators, or anti-grav in general.
8:36 pm est

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm a Little Biased, but...
It's a good thing when people who normally don't think a lot about space keep coming up to me saying things like "Water on Mars, very cool!" I'm biased in this because anyone who knows me at all knows that I'm a "Mars guy" and they'll share any news that they hear.

In case you haven't heard about the discovery, here's a link.

Also, I think the article overplays the discovery with the statement "this would be the first direct finding of that ice by a probe on the ground." It's possible the author wasn't alive yet, but Viking took a picture of frost on Mars' surface years ago. Actually, I just re-read the text nearby, and she's referring to ice underground.

Still. This is all very cool.
5:31 am est

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Not a Spaceship, but...
Here is video of the B-2 bomber crash in Guam. The first plane takes off successfully. Turns out the investigation found that some engine sensors were clogged, leading to the accident. The sad part is that other crews had faced the same problem and knew a workaround, but it was never documented.

This kind of thing will happen with extremely complex machinery. We must work to minimize it, but it will happen. Something like this is bound to happen early in any space effort, and the B-2s, with their high cost (though we won't have any sort of space effort if each craft costs $1.4B) and low numbers provide a good sample of what may be coming.
7:07 am est

Rest Stops in Space
Rand Simberg has a good discussion about the way supply depots (he actually refers to gas stations, but I've generalized the term a little more) could be the Interstate Highway System of space.
7:01 am est

The Space Review's Greatest Challenge
The Space Review has been building a series of arguments about the approach NASA is taking to implement the Vision for Space Exploration, taking into account the huge government bill coming as the baby boomers retire. Part three came out on Monday, with parts one and two in the archives. They make some very good points, and the third part in particular is comparing the current efforts of our space program to the early government-funded efforts to build a flying machine. In that case, a $70,000 plus effort made by one of the experts of the day failed, while a $1,000 effort made by two bicycle builders in Ohio during their spare time succeeded. The article's argument goes that the central-design-bureau approach isn't the way to go, but that the laissez-faire approach will take to long for an effort that has national security implications. They're saying the answer lies in between. Not saying that's a huge leap, but someone wrote that in a book reviewed by TSR. I look forward to continued discussion when part four comes out.
6:56 am est

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Big (not sure where it rates on the good/bad scale) News
The House of Representatives has voted to increase NASA's budget, mandating an additional shuttle flight to deliver an ISS component. Lots of stuff needs to happen, like The Senate agreeing, financial authorization and appropriation both need to pass, White House approval, etc, but this could be a good thing. It also brings up the specter of shuttle re-certification (if it flies after 2010), mentioned in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report.
6:23 pm est

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Opinion Piece Twice Removed
A geologist (once removed)from the US has written an opinion piece in a Canadian paper (twice removed) about why we haven't abandoned our search for life on Mars. I don't see any mention of the fact that, since the brazen "search for life" run by Viking was such a flop, recent missions have searched for previous water on the surface, which is important to both geology and biology.
5:42 am est

This Strikes me as a Problem
I'm no geologist or mineralogist, so I have no context for this, but when I read things like the last large copper deposit has been found I start to wonder about finite resources on Earth. There's plenty in space, but we need to get to them before we exhaust what we have here!
5:30 am est

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Press Pile-on over Phoenix
This Google news search of "Mars lander problem" (quotes not used in actual search) search leads to 2,136 (as of now) hits. There's an issue with the dirt on Mars' surface, and it may be too clumpy to easily get into the ovens for analysis. There are plenty of workarounds (as easy as 'tamping down' the soil before scooping it), but something tells me there won't be as many hits for "Mars lander success" in a couple days.
11:19 am est

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Another Comparison
Jon Goff has a good essay comparing the Mormon exodus to what's required for humans to move into space. Basically, he says we're nowhere near any capability to do such a thing, and the first step to doing so is to get routine and cheap access to space. He goes through a long preamble, describing where the analogy falls apart, hopefully cutting snarky comments to that effect later. He also brings up a concept I hadn't seen before: gathering oxygen from the upper atmosphere for use as a propellant. A quick Google search only led to this discussion on the topic. It sounds intriguing, but I want more background before forming an opinion.
6:06 am est

Honorary Member of the Mars Society?
I've gotten pretty cynical when it comes to politics. I understand they're what make things work on a large scale, and I have a basic knowledge of the process and the reasons why someone can rarely give a straight answer on a potentially controversial topic, but the especially-long primary season has driven me to new heights of loathing.

That's why John McCain's statement in favor of humans-to-Mars exploration here interests me, but doesn't excite me that much. Here's some of my thinking:
  • The statement was made in Florida. Pro-space statements are well received there.
  • The statement directly contradicts earlier statements about freezing discretionary funding. Yes, the discretionary funding freeze was for one year, and going to Mars would take more time than that, so 'directly contradicts' may be a bit harsh.
  • The comments made to the McCain's-man-to-Mars post bring up a lot of the reasons I'm cynical in general about politics.

Update: Rand Simberg discusses rumors about a possible NASA administrator (retired Admiral Craig Steidle) if McCain becomes president, and what that might mean for NASA.
5:45 am est

Friday, June 6, 2008

Blast from the past
I'm watching War Games. The last time I saw it was before I joined the Air Force, worked in operations centers depicted in the movie, and toured others. While the NORAD operations center was way overdone, the operations protocols (and some of the terminology thrown around) were actually better than average for Hollywood.

Between watching this one again, and showing my kids ET for the first time, it's been a flashback week movie-wise.
9:00 pm est

Friday Roundup
Busy nights at home didn't allow any posts during the week, these news items may be a little old, but the snarky commentary is fresh!
  • One small flush for man, one big relief for ISS kind. The toilet on the space station is fixed.
  • Great video of the crew right after opening the Kibo module. Watch to the end, because they put someone at a spot where they can't reach the edge, and take some time to work their way over.
  • Phoenix continues to do good stuff. Latest news has it dumping soil into an analysis oven.
6:17 pm est

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Shuttle Up, Mike Griffin Happy
Watched the shuttle launch live on NASA TV yesterday. Later, I turned it on to listen in to the press conference. Here's my favorite paraphrased question and answer to Mike Griffin:

Q: "Between Phoenix landing and this launch, NASA's had a pretty good week. How happy are you about that?"

A: "So happy that even attending two press conferences in one week can't diminish my happiness."

Another question came up about the Crew Return Vehicle, someone asked Mike Griffin if he wished the project hadn't been cancelled so it could be used today. He said basically "I wasn't part of the decision and I don't have access to the data they used to make the decision, so I'm not going to second guess it"

I don't agree with everything he does, but generally, I like Mike Griffin's style.
5:49 am est

I was at ISDC yesterday, moderating the morning NEO panel and giving my own talk at 2. Got lots of good feedback on the morning session, but the afternoon was attended a bit...sparsely. Due to a peculiarity in how the schedule was printed, it looked like the room I was speaking in had another presentation (on space solar power, a much more attractive topic as a title than "AsRAD Design") going on. I ended up giving the talk to three people, who were quite interested in the topic and it actually served as kind of a design review. Meanwhile, people kept showing up looking confused, so I'd pause and say "Space Solar Power?" They'd nod. "Out the door, turn right to the end of the hall." The talk was recorded, so the number of times I said it could be counted.

Since it was a local travel event for me, I didn't get to stick around for the usual "Hang out" period afterward. Oh well.
5:25 am est

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