pirates and space

Two videos and a picture from the week….

And here’s a pretty neat video of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank falling to earth. Unfortunately, jettisoning the tank and allowing it to burn up in re-entry shows off one of the problems with NASA- the tank may not be nearly as valuable or clever as the shuttle, but it’s a pretty substantial piece of construction. Lots of people make noise about how useful the tanks would be in orbit- empty tanks could serve as structural elements for habitats or even (so they say) smaller spacecraft that don’t have to enter the atmosphere. This sounds like a good idea, but I’m not really a rocket scientist. Even if it doesn’t work, however, the mentality of disposable resources should have gone out with the cold war space race.

Oh, another NASA problem is boring announcers.

(by way of NASA Watch)

And finally, this. You should click for the full-sized picture.

NASA news

NASA still doesn’t have a director. I read a rumor somewhere that Obama was waiting for Bill Richardson to be cleared in whatever investigation he’s under, but that was unsourced and unverified. Meanwhile…

It’s always worth posting the NASA Watch entry instead of whatever article it links to:

“Apparently, the view of NASA’s acting Administrator is that the Moon is a box to be checked-off on the way to Mars. Hence, we don’t really need to establish an outpost because we’re just satisfying a political requirement in implementing policy, not conducting a technical experiment to use the Moon to prepare for journeys beyond.”

And today’s news:

NASA trouble

This first story is a week old, but still totaly accurate:

NASA is facing a critical deadline on whether to retire the space shuttle fleet, however, it still lacks an agency chief to make the $230 billion decision.

According to one presidential expert, NASA is so far off the White House radar, it might as well be on Pluto.

“As each day goes by, the need for these decisions becomes greater and greater, and the absence of an administrator becomes more and more an issue,” said John Logsdon, a member of the NASA Advisory Council and former Obama campaign advisor.

And more problems ahead:

So let’s look at some of the decisions that are (or aren’t) being made in  this climate:

“It is time to reconsider whether we want to go ahead with the Constellation program to place a base on the moon. Many of us in the space community would be eager to recreate the thrill of Apollo. However, from the public’s standpoint, going back to the moon in 2020 would not invoke the same sense of awe and inspiration it did 51 years earlier when it was a seemingly impossible task.”

The old men who run NASA are still stuck in the Apollo mentality. We’ve already gone to the moon out of hubris once, and after planting a flag and hitting a golf ball around, we couldn’t remember any good reason to stay there. Now they propose skipping the moon in favor of thrills and out-of-touch notions of inspiration.

Building a spacefaring civilization takes more than thrills and flag-planting. It takes the hard work of learning how to live and work in space. We’re not getting anywhere else for any useful purpose if we don’t use the moon as a stepping-stone.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on NASA alone.

pictures and video from spaaaace!

Backdropped by the blackness of space and the thin line of Earth’s atmosphere, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation.

By way of NASA Watch, here’s the shuttle flying around the ISS:

Jane Poynter and husband Taber MacCallum, Paragon CEO, are well known experts in the closed biological systems communities, and were themselves experimental subjects within a sealed ecosystem as resident scientists in the famous Biosphere 2 project of the early 90′s. Spending two years living with six others in a 3.2 acre greenhouse type structure in Oracle, Arizona, the largest closed system ever built, they emerged as a couple with a newly created company.

Growing the first plant on another world has enormous symbolic importance as well as important scientific research value for creating self contained lunar outposts and eventual settlements. “Plants have been grown in essentially zero gravity and of course in Earth gravity, but never in fractions of gravity,” said Dr. Volker Kern, Paragon’s Director of NASA Human Spaceflight Programs who conducted plant growth experiments in space on the US Space Shuttle. “Scientifically it will be very interesting to understand the effects of the Moon and one sixth gravity on plant growth.”

No pictures for this one, and all the better, really:

space roundup

Here’s a week’s worth of news from space:

Population in Space at Historic High: 13

Here’s the baker’s dozen breakdown of the three spaceships in orbit today [last Thursday, in fact- jfb]:

* Soyuz TMA-14: Three people aboard, including space tourist Charles Simonyi and the new Expedition 19 crew for the station which numbers two, a Russian and an American. Launched Thursday and will arrive at the station Saturday morning.
* Space Shuttle Discovery: Seven people aboard, returning from the space station after delivering the last pair of U.S. solar wings to the orbiting laboratory, boosting it to full power during their STS-119 mission. The shuttle is due to land Saturday in Florida to end a 13-day spaceflight.
* International Space Station: Currently home to three astronauts, one each from the United States, Russia and Japan. Two will return home April 7 with Simonyi to end their Expedition 18 mission.

Half an hour after Prometheus tore into this region of Saturn’s F ring, the Cassini spacecraft snapped this image just as the moon was creating a new streamer in the ring.The dark pattern shaped like an upside down check mark in the lower left of the image is Prometheus and its shadow. The potato shaped moon can just be seen coming back out of the ring.

politics, crime, collapse and space

This story hasn’t gotten much play. It may fizzle, it may explode, but it’s bound to be interesting either way. Maybe it’ll even work. It’s certainly going to be closely watched by many people, although not the American media:

Worried about the collapse of civilization? Concerned that Kyoto is too little, too late? Overwhelmed by feelings of doom and gloom? Here’s a new take on the standard story of humans consuming themselves to death:

“Societies don’t just go into a tailspin and self-destruct,” says Stevenson, an archaeologist at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “They can and do adapt, and they emerge in new ways. The key is to put more back into the system than is taken out.”

While evidence suggests the Rapa Nui people cut down 6,000,000 trees in 300 years, for example, they were also developing new technological and agricultural practices along the way—such as fertilization techniques to restore the health of the soil and rock gardens to protect the plants. As a result, every rock on Easter Island has probably been moved three or four times, Stevenson said.

What they don’t say is that it’s any fun to live through this sort of adjustment. I wouldn’t take it as an excuse to let things go to shit.

Here’s someone with some political courage. It’ll be interesting to see who attacks him for this:

How does all this stimulus money affect things I care about?

Tales of crime:

Things that fall from the sky:

And things that go up into the sky:

NASA Day of Remembrance

The arrival of a new year reminds us that life is a journey, one that takes us on many unexpected paths. NASA’s role is to pioneer journeys into the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Along the way, we sometimes experience tragedy instead of triumph.

Today, we pause to reflect on those moments in exploration when things did not go as expected and we lost brave pioneers. But what sets us apart as Americans is our willingness to get up again and push the frontiers even further with an even stronger commitment and sense of purpose.

On this Day of Remembrance, we remember the sacrifices of those who dared to dream and gave everything for the cause of exploration. We honor them with our ongoing commitment to excellence and an unwavering determination to continue the journey on the path to the future.

President Barack Obama

(Trevor will be pleased Obama found no need to mention god.)

This list courtesy of the director of the Johnson Space Center:

-Apollo 1 (January 27, 1967): Astronauts Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Edward H. White, Jr.

-Challenger (January 28, 1986): Astronauts Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and S. Christa McAuliffe.

-Columbia (February 1, 2003): Astronauts Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

And let’s not forget the four cosmonauts acknowledged to have died in spaceflight (as well as an unknown number of other hypothetical cosmonaut deaths), training accidents, ground crew and bystander fatalities, and two search and rescue deaths in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion:

Fallen Astronaut and plaque
Paul Van Hoeydonck, 1971
aluminium, height 8.5 cm, 3 in
Hadley Rille, Moon

more news from the science-based community

And NASA Watch has got the right angle on that:

The Obama administration is just now naming interim leadership at NASA, after a whole lot of drama from the outgoing boss. The new boss, whenever they arrive, will have to lead NASA through a lot of important decisions: do they proceed with developing the Ares rocket or modify an existing model? What’s the balance between science and exploration? Between human and robotic missions? Between the moon, Mars and other places? NASA needs to get it together in the next 4-8 years, or else get out of the way.

And to bring it back down to Earth:

My analysis of news articles published in national and regional newspapers, wire services, and newsmagazines between December 2007 and June 2008 suggests that for most reporters covering this story, the default role was that of stenographer — presenting a nominally balanced view of the debate without questioning the validity of the arguments, sometimes even ignoring evidence that one side was twisting truth. Database searches yielded a sample of 40 published news and analysis stories that explored the cost debate in some de-tail (see appendix). Of these, seven stories were one-sided. Twenty-four stories were works of journalistic stenography. And nine stories attempted, with varying degrees of success, to move past the binary debate, weigh the arguments, and reach conclusions about this thorny issue.

And finally, I’ve failed now in three efforts to grow an indoor moss garden. The lack of humidity is always the problem, and growing it in a closed container just seems to promote the growth of mold that quickly chokes it the moss. I’ve thought about keeping it in the bathroom, but space has always been an issue. Here’s a solution that never occurred to me:

They also grow it on foam instead of soil, which probably helps a lot with the mold. Still, I’d rather try it in a dish than on the floor.

assorted news

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response — a nearly sevenfold increase in five years — “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted “a fundamental change in military culture,” he said.

I posted an earlier development of this a couple of months ago. I warned people then not to be stupid- this didn’t mean martial law. The reason for that warning was that the paranoid left was going through one of its occasional panics about martial law, canceled elections, etc. that never seem to pan out. I think these panics are a symptom of ignorance, and more effort needs to be made to educate people on the practical matters of politics.

But this shouldn’t obscure the fact that we have a creeping authoritarianism in this country that has its roots before 9/11, and is unlikely to get turned around if we don’t take action against it.  I’m wary of terms like fascismmartial law and police state, because they have specific meanings that don’t necessarily apply the way people use them, but I’m afraid that by shunning the terms, I lose the ability to talk about what’s happening in a way people understand. I suppose we need new ways to talk about these things that reflect today’s world, much like most of the rest of our political vocabulary.

And now, pirates!

Several of these stories indicate pirates attacking in greater numbers than before, or going after new types of targets. I’d suggest this is a tactical response to the increased presence of foreign navies in the region. It may mean the pirates will be able to respond to changing conditions and will not be suppressed as easily as some people expect.

The rare white lemuroid possum hasn’t been sighted for the past three years. Scientists are concerned it might have the ignominious distinction of being the world’s first mammal sent to extinction by global warming.

This contract is good news, in a sense. It means we’ll be using the Soyuz to send astronauts to the International Space Station, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that we stop going up there. But what’s up with having to rely on the Russians? Once the shuttle is retired, we’ll have no capability to put humans in space. Not until the new system is up and running, and who knows how NASA will fare over the next few years?

earth and space and rock n roll

As Taboos Ease, Saudi Girl Group Dares to Rock
myspace: The AccoLade

When I visited their myspace this morning, they had 14 friends. Now they’re up to 584 after being in the NY Times all day. 585, actually, now that I friended them. I’ll be curious to see if some myspace exposure offers them any protection. There should be an Amnesty International campaign devoted to defending the right to rock in oppressive countries.

Such new initiatives should include dramatically amplifying our capability to monitor the changing Earth in every form, from climate change to land use to the mitigation of natural disasters. Such an effort should also accelerate much needed innovation in aircraft and airspace system technologies that would save fuel, save travelers time, and regain American leadership in the commercial aerospace sector. And it should take greater responsibility for mitigating the potential hazards associated with solar storms and asteroid impacts.

So, too, a more relevant NASA should be charged to ignite the entrepreneurial human suborbital and orbital spaceflight industry. This nascent commercial enterprise promises to revolutionize how humans use spaceflight and how spaceflight benefits the private sector economy as fundamentally as the advent of satellites affected the communications industry.

With the pick of Bill Richardson for Secretary of Commerce, this article suddenly becomes very relevant. Commerce has a lot to say about the development of a non-governmental space industry.

And rounding it out with a fresh assortment of enviro stories:

Obama said that will “start” with a federal cap and trade system to reduce global warming pollution, an approach that could create millions of jobs in the U.S.

If you’re wondering what those jobs are, how will they be created, and who will get them, check out a just-released report from Duke University that for the first time pinpoints the direct link between climate change solutions and U.S. workers.

There are plenty of criticisms of emission trading, by the way, but I plan to read up on it before I start pontificating. Half the criticisms I can think of are ideological in nature, and therefore suspect. Most of the rest are practical, meaning they may be answered empirically.