Monthly Archives: November 2010

NASA’s human spaceflight program is ‘adrift’

The space war over NASA continues. NASA’s human spaceflight program is “adrift,” according to John Karas, the general manager of Lockheed Martin’s human space flight division. Key quote:

“Everybody’s arguing, debating. We are in this giant storm with no direction, and more than likely we’re gonna get hit with more waves of money cuts. So we have to have some future plan here; some future direction — or we’re just going to get capsized,” he said.

The use of the word “adrift” is ironic, as this was the very word that President Obama used to describe NASA’s state shortly after taking office. It seems to me, however, that under Obama things are far more confused and chaotic then they ever were under Bush.

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The IPCC and the UN is planning to re-engineer the Earth to save it

What could go wrong? Railroad engineer and head of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri announced at the Cancun climate summit today that he has decided that the threat of global warming is so great that the IPCC is going to recommend in its next report (AR5) that actions be taken to re-engineer the climate. Key quote:

“The AR5 has been expanded and will in future focus on subjects like clouds and aerosols, geo-engineering and sustainability issues,” [Pachauri] said.

Later this year IPCC “expert groups” will meet in Peru to discuss geo-engineering. Options include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight or covering Greenland in a massive blanket so it does not melt. Sprinkling iron filings in the ocean “fertilises” algae so that it sucks up CO2 and “seeding clouds” means that less sunlight can get in. Other options include artificial “trees” that suck carbon dioxide out of the air, painting roofs white to reflect sunlight and man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun’s rays back into space.

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NASA engineers struggle to analyze cause of cracks in tank

NASA engineers continue to struggle to analyze the cause of the cracks in Discovery’s external tank. Key quote:

Forty-three tanks have been constructed with the lighter alloy, requiring just more than 4,600 stringers. So far, 31 cracks have been found, including those on Discovery.

“All of those have been known assembly issues,” Shannon said of the previous cracks, which were traced to misalignments of the stringers as they were fastened to the tank or to mishandling in which the fragile stringers struck or were struck by other hardware. Discovery’s cracks were the first found and repaired at the launch pad using techniques previously employed only at the production plant.

The ongoing detective work is immune to schedule and budget pressure, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.

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A hint that the Republicans might be wimping out again

It’s stories like this that fill me with dispair: House Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) says that Republicans will keep some provisions of Obama’s healthcare law intact. Key quote:

Provisions that Republicans will seek to retain include the barring of insurance companies from refusing coverage to patients with a pre-existing condition and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

You would think the numerous demonstrations, the loud townhall protests, and finally, the election results themselves would have given Cantor a hint of what the public really wants: total and complete repeal of this stinker of a bill.

Cantor’s desire to keep the pre-existing condition clause will only make the entire insurance business unprofitable. When I lived in New York and the state legislative passed a similar bill, more than half of all insurance companies immediately abandoned the state, as they understood that no one had any reason to buy health insurance, until they actually got sick. And without the premiums from healthy people, the companies knew they would have no resources left to pay the expenses of those who were sick. (See my 1994 article on this subject for the magazine The Freeman.)

As for the clause allowing young people to stay on their parents’ plan until 26, all this will do is force insurance companies to drop all coverage for children, as this union did in New York.

Either way, what gives Eric Cantor and the Republicans (or the Democrats before them) the lordly wisdom to determine how this particular business (or any) should be run? Freedom demands that these business transactions should be left to the market, the insurance companies, and their customers, not to the whims of politicians.

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TSA security harasses a mother over her breast milk

TSA security in Phoenix harassed this mother over her request that her breast milk not be sent through the x-ray machine, as per TSA’s own regulations. Though eventually backing down, the security personnel make her wait so long she misses her flight. The whole event, recorded on surveillance tapes that the woman demanded and got from the TSA, is so outrageous you have to watch it, even though it is long.

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The unimaginative Union of Concerned Scientists does it again

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the reusable X-37B — in orbit at the moment and expected to return to Earth in the near future — has no compelling use.

“It’s hard to think of what could make that mission compelling,” [UCS scientist Laura] Grego told SPACE.com. “It doesn’t protect you from antiaircraft fire, and the element of surprise doesn’t really work in your favor if you’re launching on Atlas V [rocket].”

In reading this article, it is fascinating how completely unimaginative the scientists from the Union of Concerned Scientists seem. Nor do I find this surprising. For the last few decades this organization has opposed almost every new aerospace engineering project that might actually have made possible the human exploration of space. It’s as if these scientists feared new ideas and grand achievement. Sadly, the UCS had great influence with policy makers in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and thus helped limit the American government’s space program capabilities during that time period.

Fortunately, the UCS’s influence has waned in recent years. Though the American government space program might be dying, it is because of budget limits and a lack of leadership by the Obama administration, not the unimaginative thinking of the UCS. Furthermore, their lack of imagination — which once seemed so culturally dominant — seems to no longer influence the rest of society. The happy result is the creative innovation coming from many new private aerospace companies.

The UCS meanwhile reminds me of an old curmudgeon, who won’t keep quiet but everyone still ignores.

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Martian stream gullies

The image below from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows gullies remarkably similar to gullies formed on Earth by flowing water, thus providing striking evidence that at some time in the past liquid water did flow on the Martian surface, something that is not possible now. Key quote from the caption:

The gullies shown in the subimage (approximately 710 x 1100 yards) have well developed alcoves, deeply incised channels, and large depositional fans, and are similar to terrestrial landscapes sculpted by surficial water.

The gullies shown in the subimage experienced several periods of activity, as evidenced by older channels cut by younger ones or by their deposits. The current and recent Martian temperatures and atmospheric conditions would not allow for water to be stable at the surface for extended periods of time: it is so cold that the water would freeze, and then it would sublime quickly, because the air is very thin and dry. These gullies could have formed under a different climate, or maybe by repeated bursts of transient fluids. Current leading hypotheses explaining the origin of gullies includes erosion from seepage or eruption of water from a subsurface aquifer, melting of ground ice, or dust-blanketed surface snow.

gullies in Sisyphi Planum

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Deficit commission rewrites its recommendation, but keeps it

Jeff Foust has noticed that the Obama’s deficit commission has rewritten its recommendation that the NASA subsidies to commercial space be cut. The rewrite doesn’t really change the recommendation. Instead, it merely corrects the language to more accurately describe the subsidy program.

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