The X-37B goes to Mars

After 675 days in space, the Air Force’s reusable X-37B mini-shuttle successfully returned to Earth today, completing its second flight in space.

There has been a lot of speculation about the secret payloads that the two X-37B’s have carried into space. The Air Force has been very tight-lipped about this, though they have said this:

“The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet. “Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing,” they added.

The obvious advantage of the X-37B is that it allows the Air Force to test these new technologies in space, then bring them back to Earth for detailed analysis.

However, I think the most important engineering knowledge gained from this flight will not be from the payload, but from the X-37B itself.
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A look ahead to Sunday’s comet fly-by of Mars

On Sunday Comet Siding Spring will whiz past Mars at a distance of only 82,000 miles.

The article gives a good overview of where look to see the comet if you own a telescope, as well as what the many spacecraft at Mars are going to do to both view the fly-by as well as protect themselves from it.

Virgin Galactic outlines near term test flight schedule

The competition heats up: In a newspaper interview, the CEO of Virgin Galactic has outlined the company’s flight plans for SpaceShipTwo in the coming months, leading hopefully to its first commercial flights.

“We expect to get to space altitude in a short number of flights, assuming the rocket performs as expected,” Whitesides told the Journal. “Scaled made it to space in four flights with SpaceShipOne. I believe it will be a little more than that for us, but not dramatically so.”

Once SpaceShipTwo successfully reaches space, Scaled Composites will turn over the rocket to Virgin Galactic for its commercial operations based in New Mexico. Virgin has already taken control of the mothership, which it flew to Spaceport America for some initial test operations in September. “Once we take control of SpaceShipTwo, we expect to do some more testing here in New Mexico, but that will primarily be efficiency testing rather than technology testing,” Whitesides said. “It will give pilots an opportunity to train at this airfield after Mojave to practice things like coming in on final approach.”

As much as I have expressed strong skepticism in recent months of Virgin Galactic’s promises, I truly hope this happens, and soon.

Comet 67P/C-G at 2 feet per pixel

New images from Rosetta, now about 6 miles from the surface of Comet 67P/C-G, show details as small as 2 feet across.

Go to the link to see some images. If you were hiking there, these images would see you.

In related news, the Rosetta team is asking the public to help name the landing site for its Philae lander.

As the location of the first soft landing of a human-made object on a comet, the site, currently identified as Site J, deserves a meaningful and memorable name that captures the significance of the occasion. The rules are simple: any name can be proposed, but it must not be the name of a person. The name must be accompanied by a short description (up to 200 words) explaining why this would make the ideal name for such an historic location. A jury comprising members of the Philae Steering Committee will select the best name from the entries, and the winning proposer will be invited to follow the landing in person from ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany on 12 November.

The mysterious interior of Saturn’s moon Mimas

Mimas

The uncertainty of science: Using data from Cassini scientists have found that Saturn’s weird moon Mimas might have either an underground ocean or a misshapen inner core.

Tajeddine and his team relied on pictures taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been exploring the Saturn system since 2004. They built a 3D model of the moon and found that it rotates with an extra wobble, like a misshapen top spinning slightly askew. Because Mimas is nearly spherical, the wobble hinted that something lumpy, or perhaps sloshy, lay beneath the surface. The scientists tested several models of the moon’s interior to see what might give rise to the observed wobble.

It could be the core is lumpy and not spherical. It could be that there is a liquid ocean under the crust that sloshes about as the moon moves through space. Or it could be that a massive impact, the one that produced Mimas’s Death Star look with its one gigantic single crater, could have caused the wobble.

At the moment the data is not sufficient to favor any of these theories. I guess we will just have to go there to find out.

Sierra Nevada fights back

The company that wants to build Dream Chaser has filed a lawsuit to prevent NASA from proceeding with its contracts with Boeing and SpaceX.

When Sierra Nevada had first protested the contract awards, NASA had first suspended work, then decided to allow work to go forward. This lawsuit is to prevent that from happening until after Sierra Nevada’s protest is resolved.

Here’s what I think is happening: Sierra Nevada has said it is going to submit a bid to NASA for the agency’s second round of cargo flights to ISS, proposing Dream Chaser as one of those unmanned freighters. By playing hard ball now with the manned contact awards, the company is creating leverage with NASA. Though no one can say this publicly, I am sure they are making it clear privately that if they get picked for the cargo contract, they will drop both their lawsuit and protest.

G2 survives fly-by of Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

The uncertainty of science: The mysterious object G2, thought by astronomers to be either a cloud or a star, has survived its close fly-by of Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, without telling scientists whether it is a cloud or a star.

Not only do astronomers still not know clearly what G2 is, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole continues to behave in ways that baffle them.

Things are going to get worse

Link here. Key quote:

Readers will recall my prediction that fake strategies like those used by the administration go through 3 phases: 1) the denial of the problem; 2) over-confident half measures; 3) blind panic. President Obama is officially at number 3 and has canceled fundraisers in New Jersey and Connecticut “to convene his Cabinet at the White House instead, as U.S. officials grappled with the widening Ebola crisis.”

The panic phase comes very fast because it is actually the moment when a leader realizes he’s running out of the most precious resource a manager can have, which is time. And the administration, for the past six years, has been all about wasting time; about kicking the can down the road. They thought it was clever, a big joke they could play on their Republican successor. But most of the president’s opponents on the world stage, familiar with the idea that strategy is largely the story of time, saw it for the amateur mistake that it was. They saw the president for what he was and took him to the cleaners.

Read it all. It will chill you to the bones. Even if the Democrats get creamed in November’s election the country will still be led by a man and an elite leftist community astonishingly disconnected with reality.

You doubt this? Then please explain the clipboard man to me.

Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters – You Don’t Have to Know the Language

An evening pause: From The Road to Rio (1947), with a little help from Bob Hope.

Hat tip again to Phil Berardelli, author of Phil’s Favorite 500: Loves of a Moviegoing Lifetime, which I have found to be a great reference for finding the best films from movie history.

Obama quarantines American soldiers in Africa but not Africans

Incompetence: Even as the Obama administration refuses to consider any real travel restrictions for African citizens of ebola-ravaged countries, it has ordered military officials to quarantine American troops in Africa for up to 21 days if they suspect they might have ebola.

According to CNN, “Commanders also will be given the authority to isolate their entire unit in the region for the final 10 days of a deployment if necessary. All troops will be monitored for 21 days after returning from the mission.”

Currently, citizens of Ebola outbreak countries are required to self-report their possible exposure. The “honor system” of self-reporting was violated by Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who was the first to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., when he did not voluntarily disclose that he’d carried a pregnant woman in the throes of Ebola.

The restrictions for American troops actually does make sense. The lack of restrictions for Africans, however, is the height of blindness.

Another succesful rocket launch for India

The competition heats up: India today successfully launched the third of seven home-built GPS satellites.

The head of ISRO, India’s NASA, also noted after the launch that the next test flight of their much larger GSLV rocket should occur within the next six weeks. If things go as expected, that flight will also include a test flight of an engineering prototype of an India-built manned capsule.

Three potential post-Pluto targets for New Horizons

After completing a deep search using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have identified three Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) that New Horizons can actually reach after it flies past Pluto next year.

The KBOs Hubble found are each about 10 times larger than typical comets, but only about 1-2 percent of the size of Pluto. Unlike asteroids, KBOs have not been heated by the sun and are thought to represent a pristine, well preserved deep-freeze sample of what the outer solar system was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago. The KBOs found in the Hubble data are thought to be the building blocks of dwarf planets such as Pluto.

I think it remarkable that in the vastness beyond Pluto they were able to find any objects that also happen to be within the narrow path that New Horizons must fly after it passes Pluto in July.

Democrats oppose an ebola travel ban

Incompetence: Congressional Democrats have expressed strong opposition to any travel bans from ebola infected countries.

Remember, these are the same people who conceived, wrote, and passed Obamacare, without really reading it or even considering the concerns expressed by many people about the law (all of which have turned out to be true). Thus, it is not surprising they don’t have the brains now to recognize that a quarantine is exactly the right approach to handle ebola at this time, We have a very infectious disease that hasn’t yet broken out into the general populace which we can still keep confined to a small area, where we can more effectively fight it. A quarantine, enforced by a travel ban, will accomplish this.

But these Democrats care! So what they don’t have the ability to think? Let’s vote for them again!

Houston mayor says she will reduce scoop of pastor subpoenas

How nice of her: The lesbian Democratic mayor of Houston has backtracked and promised to narrow the scope of the subpoenas her government issued to several pastors, demanding access to their sermons, speeches, and communications with church members.

She is still a fascist, as she is still going to go forward. She also has not yet specified exactly how she plans to narrow the scope of her demands, since as far as I can tell, none of her demands are constitutional or even reasonable.

40 to 63% increases in heath insurance premiums in Minnesota

Finding out what’s in it: The health insurance premiums for one major Minnesota health insurance company are expected to increase by 40 to 63 percent in 2015.

The insurer started informing brokers Tuesday about rates for individuals if they renew coverage with the company for next year, said Heidi Michaels, an agent with the Dyste Williams agency in Minneapolis. In the half dozen consumer scenarios she’s looked at, Michaels said she’s consistently seeing premium jumps in the neighborhood of 40 percent to 60 percent. Her analysis, however, did not take into account significant discounts that consumers could see by way of federal tax credits, depending on their income. “They’re going to get substantial rate increases,” Michaels said in an interview Wednesday. “I haven’t seen one below 40 percent.”

Letters with these rate increases will go out the end of October, just before election day. (The company has pulled out of the government exchange, which means they don’t have to keep their rates secret until after the election, as required by the Obama administration, the most transparent in history!)

However, these rate increases indicate strongly how high the rate increases will be across the board. They are going to be ungodly high, possibly so high no one will be able to afford them.

A reviving solar maximum

Last week NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in September. As I do every month, I am posting it here, below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

As much as I am always willing to point out the errors and foibles of scientists when they get something wrong or overstate their conclusions, I also believe it right to give credit when credit is due. I have been saying for several years now that the prediction of the solar scientist community, indicated by the red curve in the graph below the fold, had seriously overstated the Sun’s sunspot production during this solar maximum.

Well, it now appears that, as the solar cycle continues to run its course, that their May 2009 prediction is becoming increasingly correct.
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Ice photographed in Mercury’s permanently shadowed craters?

Kandinsky Crater on Mercury

Using Messenger, scientists think they have obtained optical images of the ice that is thought to exist in the permanently shadowed craters of Mercury.

Although the polar deposits are in permanent shadow, through many refinements in the imaging, the WAC [Messenger's camera] was able to obtain images of the surfaces of the deposits by leveraging very low levels of light scattered from illuminated crater walls. “It worked in spectacular fashion,” said Chabot.

The team zeroed in on Prokofiev, the largest crater in Mercury’s north polar region found to host radar-bright material. “Those images show extensive regions with distinctive reflectance properties,” Chabot said. “A location interpreted as hosting widespread surface water ice exhibits a cratered texture indicating that the ice was emplaced more recently than any of the underlying craters.” In other areas, water ice is present, she said, “but it is covered by a thin layer of dark material inferred to consist of frozen organic-rich compounds.” In the images of those areas, the dark deposits display sharp boundaries. “This result was a little surprising, because sharp boundaries indicate that the volatile deposits at Mercury’s poles are geologically young, relative to the time scale for lateral mixing by impacts,” said Chabot. [emphasis mine]

The image on the right is of the crater Kandinsky, and shows a very intriguing bright area on the crater’s central peak.

I highlighted that one word in the the scientist’s quote above to emphasize how preliminary these conclusions are. The images are intriguing, but I would not at this time bet a lot of money on these conclusions. Ice might be the best explanation for this data, at this time, but I would not be surprised at all if later research finds this conclusion to be false.

“We’re not gonna move.”

Watch the video below the fold as a string of university officials from Southern Oregon University harass several students whose only action is standing on the sidewalk and handing out Constitutions.

It made me very proud to watch these college students defy authority to defend their very clear constitutional rights. The school wanted them to move to the very small restricted “Free Speech Zone”. The students refused, noting that the Constitution and Bill of Rights essentially designates the entire U.S. a free speech zone. The students also refused to give their names to one official, noting that they were uncomfortable doing that. Since the official had no authority to take their names, the official had to back down.

In the end, the school did nothing to them, and they remained on the sidewalk, handing Constitutions out of fellow Americans. Kudos to them all! We need more Americans willing to stand up like this and not be cowed.
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The silent Obamacare protest of doctors

Faced with Obamacare’s high costs and deadening bureaucracy, doctors are finding ways to opt out.

Physicians across the country are responding to this evolution — most recently in response to the Affordable Care Act — by shielding their practices from government interference. This comes in many forms: Rejecting new Medicare and Medicaid patients, transitioning to third-party-free practices and ditching small private practices for employed positions with ever-larger hospital-owned networks.

Incompetence is incompetence, and if you are so stupid as to write an unworkable law that conservatives rightly predicted would do exactly the opposite of what you want — raise costs instead of lowering them, shrink health coverage instead of widening it, corrupt health care instead of improving it — than no one should be surprised if you exhibit incompetence in other areas as well. For example, the incompetence demonstrated by President Obama and the Democratic Party by imposing Obamacare on us is now being illustrated again in how Obama is handling the arrival of ebola on American shores: badly, foolishly, and with nothing but failure as a result.

First results back from the U.S. MAVEN Mars probe

Scientists have released the first results from NASA’s MAVEN probe orbiting Mars, designed to study that planet’s upper atmosphere.

As expected, the spacecraft has quickly found evidence of the Martian atmosphere leaking away into space.

Hydrogen appears to be leaving the planet’s atmosphere in clumps and streams that reach about 10 Mars radii into space, said Mike Chaffin, a MAVEN scientist also at the University of Colorado, who discussed the results at a 14 October news briefing. The hydrogen comes from water vapour that breaks apart in the upper atmosphere; because hydrogen is so much lighter than oxygen, it escapes into space relatively easily. “That’s effectively removing water from the Martian atmosphere,” says Chaffin.

Other images show oxygen and carbon drifting away from the planet, although these heavier atoms cluster closer to Mars than hydrogen. Deep within the atmosphere, oxygen forms ozone molecules that accumulate near Mars’s south pole.

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