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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Galaxy 15 can now Contact the Office
More importantly, the office can contact it. Galaxy 15 took a hit from a solar event early this year, and started drifting within the geosynchronous belt. The issue came as it approached other satellites and had the chance of 'hijacking' their signals. The satellite held Earth-lock for much longer than anyone expected, but recently got down to 'zero' power which reset its communications system.

Note to Between my browser occasionally telling me that your site contains malware, and the new 'automatic' movie ads, I may have to reconsider linking people to your articles.
9:46 pm est

How Many NASA Engineers...?
Lots of good discussion here continuing the previous discussion.
5:57 pm est

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Would Elon Do?
This article touches on a lot of good points, and while commenters bring up a couple (for example, Elon using the TDRSS system, which he didn't have to develop), but quite simply, I may hug the first NASA person I see wearing the T-shirts described in the article.

My consistent problem is that I can see valid points in both sides of most arguments. For example:

New Space Arguer: SpaceX built an entire launch system and capsule for a little more than it took NASA to build a launch tower.

Counter: NASA's tower had to be flexible, ready to handle the Ares I rocket as well as the not-yet-designed Ares V. It also had to be ready for crews when launching an Ares I.

Counter-Counter: A beefed-up strongback (the structure used to place Falcon 9s on the pad) that can hold people will not cost $500M!

Maybe I'll have more to say later.
5:14 pm est

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mars Movies
The rovers are still filming.
7:49 pm est

WISEr Decision?
The WISE Spacecraft has gained approval for mission operations through January. This will allow continuation of its all-sky survey for NEOs. No mention about continuation past January, other than saying that the instruments are still warming up, it costs $400k/month to operate, and no one has requested a further extension yet.

If the instrument stabilizes and still produces good data, I think a 'lean' operations concept that cuts costs would be a good approach.
7:44 pm est

Life Aboard Station
Popular Mechanics gets the details. I hadn't heard about disorientation that the astronaut refers to, keeping him from 'feeling fully competent' operating a car for 2-3 weeks after returning. I wish the interviewer had pressed for more details on that. I also thought that the flashes he referred to only happened outside of Earth's magnetic field. It's the first mention of the effect I've seen by an astronaut other than an a moon traveler.

I have no doubt that there are things we need to learn before we travel long distances in space. Where I differ with many scientists is that I'm sure we could get most of the answers during engineering testing of spacecraft designed for the job. For example, we could do a 'deep soak' mission at Earth/Moon L1 testing systems for a six months mission further out. The crew would only be three days away from Earth in case of a problem, and we'd learn many things at once.
11:30 am est

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Eclipse/Solstice Coupling
I hadn't been paying attention to the fact that the lunar eclipse takes place on the Northern Hemisphere Winter Solstice. I'm sure there was lots of significance attached to such a happening in ancient times, and now there's some (don't search for it, don't search for it) today. Turns out, these things happen every 456 years or so.
6:31 am est

Saturday, December 18, 2010

But What of LRO?
There's a total lunar eclipse on December 21st. It will be a spectacular show for most of the world, who gets to see the moon turn to blood (actually a coppery color as light from the sun bends through the atmosphere), but for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it will be a challenge. See, LRO spends part of most orbits in darkness, and it has batteries on board that charge when the sun shines on the spacecraft's solar arrays. The problem comes that totality lasts about an hour and a half, during which there's no sun to speak of. That whole time, LRO is using its batteries. How low can they go?
3:31 pm est

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Channel your Inner Astronomer
Crowdsourcing is really catching on in the astronomy community. What tens of grad students used to do is now done by tens of thousands of volunteers. Only the volunteers don't have to pay to work! The folks at zooniverse have a new project out using the data from the Kepler spacecraft. In it, you look for planetary transits. I've done a couple (hopefully right) and it's kinda cool. Try it out here.
9:12 pm est

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Better Sooner Than Later
The Air Force is considering releasing data on recorded bolide events. That would be a good thing.
11:38 am est

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Era in Space Flight
Congratulations, SpaceX! Second flight of Falcon 9 was successful, and the first flight of Dragon was as well, completing nearly two orbits and recovering a privately-built spacecraft from orbit for the first time. Some interesting insights from Elon here. Through an odd coincidence, I actually got to monitor the flight as part of my job today. Quite cool.

I'm inspired, and may build a model to commemorate this...
9:49 pm est

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another Couple Days to Wait...
SpaceX will take a couple days to swap out a 2nd stage engine nozzle before making their launch attempt. As Rand says, a two-day swap out is pretty impressive, and that such a repair would take weeks for NASA to do. That's true, and I think there are a couple things working in Space-X's favor due to their operations approach of integrating the rocket horizontally. Also, since the 2nd stage nozzle is radiatively cooled, it's a relatively simple matter to swap it out. So, they've learned lessons from others' mistakes.

Update: Looks like Wednesday is the day.
10:26 pm est

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Alien Life on Earth
While this news isn't as big as some have made it out to be, the idea that creatures can live in a high arsenic, low potassium environment that we hadn't considered before is quite interesting.
3:28 pm est

Interesting Thought Experiment
Trent Waddington has put together a scenario where one person could fly a Dragon Capsule on the Apollo 8 mission, orbiting the moon for a while and returning. The big news, if his numbers are correct, is that it would only require one launch with a Falcon 9. Previous looks at this type of mission required multiple launches. More discussion here.
3:19 pm 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