Category Archives: Points of Information

Plumbing repair scheduled for ISEE-3

The ISEE-3 team will attempt a plumbing repair on ISEE-3 on Wednesday.

They say that further details will follow. If it works, however, they will immediately try to fire the spacecraft’s thrusters to get it into the right orbit for future science operations.

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The House slashes IRS budget

The Republican-controlled House has slashed the IRS’s tax enforcement budget by 25%.

The cuts reflect GOP outrage over the agency’s scrutiny of tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status and frustration over the agency’s failure to produce thousands of emails by Lois Lerner, the official formerly in charge of the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status.

“The use of a government agency to harass, target, intimidate and threaten lawful, honest citizens was the worst form of authoritarianism,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., author of an amendment to cut the IRS tax enforcement budget by $353 million. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., followed up with an amendment to cut $788 million more.

The Democratic floor leader on the funding bill, Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, opposed the amendments but opted against demanding a roll call vote. [emphasis mine]

This is the right way to deal with the IRS abuse of power. Cut their funds. Use the power of the purse. I also highlight the Democratic position because it illustrates several things:
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DARPA awards contracts for XS-1 spaceplane

The competition heats up: DARPA has announced contract awards to three companies for the construction of its experimental XS-1 spaceplane, designed to take off and land like a airplane.

The contracts go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems, and have them each respectively partnered with Blue Origin, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. More details on the Boeing contract can be found here.

The description of the XS program is quite exciting:
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Sixty science papers retracted

The uncertainty of peer review: An internal investigation has caused the retraction of sixty peer-reviewed scientific papers that were published by a single journal, the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC).

The network of JVC papers that emerged was incestuous, with the same small group of authors reviewing each other’s work and appearing together as co-authors. By the end of the year, the investigators had a list of 130 e-mail addresses associated with 60 papers, with one scientist as co-author on all of them: Chen-Yuan Chen of NPUE, who goes by “Peter.” When SAGE sent an e-mail to all 130 e-mail addresses requesting that the authors confirm their identity, none responded. “The authors were contacted again by SAGE in May 2014 to inform them that their papers would be retracted in the July 2014 issue,” says Sherman, but again none responded. According to SAGE’s official statement, Chen resigned from NPUE in February. Neither Chen nor officials at NPUE responded to e-mails from ScienceInsider

How was it possible for a scientist to become the sole reviewer on dozens of his own papers? The answer appears to be that Chen was allowed to nominate his own reviewers, who were not vetted by JVC,

Chen apparently created fake gmail accounts for both real and non-existing scientists and then chose these scientists both as his co-authors as well as his peer-reviewers.

Great Britain’s proposed suborbital spaceport locations

The competition heats up: More information was released today describing Great Britain’s suggested spaceport locations.

These spaceports are specifically aimed at the suborbital space tourism market, for American companies like Virgin Galactic or XCOR, or for the developing British company Skylon.

It is interesting that 6 of 8 are located in Scotland, which might very well not be part of the United Kingdom after a vote on separation this fall.

An illegally destroyed hard drive blocks an investigation into a collegue of Lois Lerner

Obstruction of justice: The investigation of April Sands, a subordinate of Lois Lerner when both were at the Federal Election Commission, was stymied because the agency destroyed and recycled her computer illegally.

The FEC’s Office of Inspector General sought to conduct a criminal investigation into Sands’ activities but were stymied when they found that the agency had recycled her computer hard drive. “Therefore the OIG was unable to show that Ms. Sands’ solicitations and political activity were done from an FEC computer,” reads the letter. Because of this, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia declined criminal prosecution. “The FEC’s failure to retain Ms. Sands’ hard drive prevented the FEC OIG from fully pursuing appropriate criminal sanctions for Ms. Sands’ admitted violation of federal law,” wrote Issa and Jordan.

Sands was under investigation for using her position in the government for partisan purposes. In other words, though she was being paid to work for the Federal Election Commission, she was actually working illegally for the Democratic Party instead.

A request in connection with Genesis

Since a new ebook edition of my first book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, was released in the summer of 2013 the reviews and sales have been excellent. However, in changing distributors in late June, causing the kindle price to rise, the reviews on amazon.com have temporarily disappeared. We are trying to get them back, but I would be very grateful if any of my readers who read and enjoyed Genesis would take the time to go to amazon and post a review of the book there.

I am not asking for good reviews. I am asking for honest reviews. I am quite confident that the quality of the book will make those reviews good reviews, without my asking.

The darkest material ever made

Scientists have developed a material so dark it is difficult to discern the shape of any object it coats.

The material absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of light, a new world record, and is so dark the human eye struggles to discern its shape and dimension, giving the appearance of a black hole. Named Vantablack, or super black, it also conducts heat seven and half times more effectively than copper, and is ten times stronger than steel. It is created by Surrey NanoSystems using carbon nanotubes, which are 10,000 thinner than human hair and so miniscule that light cannot get in but can pass into the gaps in between.

The pictures at the website are especially amazing. They coated half of a sheet of aluminum foil with the material and then crinkled the foil. You can see the crinkles in the uncoated material, but the coated material just looks black.

This will be very useful for astronomical instruments, as well as many other technical applications. For example, if you coat the body of your telescope with this material it will help eliminate stray light, which means that you will increase the efficiency of your observations.

Falcon 9 launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has successfully launched six Orbcomm commercial satellites into orbit.

The six satellites still must be deployed. We will know if this is successful sometime in the next hour or so. Also, no news yet on SpaceX’s effort to recover the rocket’s first stage after a soft splashdown in the ocean.

Update: All 6 Orbcomm satellites have successfully deployed.

Update 2: From Elon Musk as to the first stage recovery: “Rocket booster reentry, landing burn & leg deploy were good, but lost hull integrity right after splashdown (aka kaboom).”

CDC suspends shipments of dangerous pathogens

Due to a series of recent errors and mishaps in the shipment of dangerous pathogens such as anthrax and influenza, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has suspended future shipments while it conducts an investigation.

After news of the anthrax exposure broke on 19 June, the CDC began investigating why its lab workers did not follow proper procedure to inactivate Bacillus anthracis spores before shipping them to another lab on the agency’s Atlanta campus. The receiving lab was not equipped to handle the pathogen, and once the mistake was discovered, more than 70 people were pre-emptively treated for anthrax infection. The CDC now says that the lab never needed to work with B. anthracis in the first place; another bacterium would have sufficed to test the diagnostic equipment that the lab was evaluating. The good news, Frieden says, is that the CDC now does not believe that anyone was actually exposed to anthrax spores.

But the agency’s ongoing investigation has revealed more bad news: on 12–13 March, the CDC’s influenza lab contaminated a harmless flu strain with the highly dangerous H5N1 variety, and sent it to a laboratory operated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Athens, Georgia. The mistake was discovered on 23 May, but Frieden says that he was not notified until 9 July. “Why it took six weeks for that to be made apparent, I can think of no valid explanation,” he says. The USDA lab was equipped to handle highly infectious agents, and the agency is confident that there were no exposures.

A spaceport for Great Britain?

The competition heats up: The government of the United Kingdom today outlined its intention to build its first spaceport by 2018.

The announcement listed eight potential sites, six of which were in Scotland, which is presently threatening to break away from the United Kingdom. This announcement I suspect is less a call for British space exploration and instead a political effort to encourage Scotland to remain in the UK.

Surprising support for Israel against Hamas

If true this is very good news: In the present conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Israel is getting either support or fair treatment from a number of very surprising sources both internationally and inside the Arab community.

These sources include important leaders in Egypt, France, Lebanon, the United Nations (!), and even the press. As the author notes,

In large part the coolness toward Hamas results from the belated realization that Islamists pose a greater threat than Zionists. But media sobriety suggests that, in part, it also follows from a weariness of Hamas’ vile tactics and revulsion against its hideous goal of destroying Israel. As Hamas’ goal in this war is political, this lesser support is of supreme importance to it.

The New Nazis have arrived.

The religion of peace: Muslim protesters in Paris today chanted “Death to the Jews” while attacking Jewish businesses and synagogues.

The firebomb went off Friday night at the entrance to the synagogue of Aulnay-sous-Bois, a northeastern suburb of the French capital. A Middle Eastern man assaulted a Jewish 17-year-old girl on a Paris street near the Gare du Nord train station by spraying pepper-spray on her face, shouting: “Dirty Jewess, inshallah you will die.”

In Belleville, an eastern suburb of Paris, a demonstration Saturday by a few dozen people against Israel’s attack on Hamas featured calls to “slaughter the Jews,” according to Alain Azria, a French Jewish photojournalist who covered the event. The crowd also chanted “death to the Jews,” he said.

These stories are only a sampling.

Cygnus launch

All is go for a 12:52 pm launch of Cygnus’s second operational cargo flight to ISS.

If you live on the east coast of the U.S. you should be able to see some part of this launch when it happens.

Cygnus has lifted off.

The main engine has cut off and the first stage has successfully separated.

The second stage has ignited successfully. It has now completed its burn and has separated from the spacecraft. Cygnus is in orbit.

A conservative town rallies to support their gay police chief.

They might be strongly against gay marriage, but they also don’t like bigotry.

When openly gay police chief Crystal Moore was fired by a mayor who condemned her lifestyle as “questionable,” she feared her two decade career in law enforcement in this town was over.

Then, this conservative, small town rebelled.

The people of Latta, who voted overwhelmingly for a state amendment banning gay marriage eight years ago, turned against the mayor, stripped him of his powers and the town council rehired Moore. They said her dedication to the town mattered more than her sexual orientation.

This story illustrates how shallow the debate over gay marriage has become. It is entirely possible to oppose gay marriage (which I do) without a hint of bigotry in your heart.

“Imagine 80 percent of your citizens in bomb Shelters.”

Guess who said it? More:

“I just want your viewers to imagine the United States being bombarded, not in one city or two cities, but in every city between New York and Colorado.

“Maybe 20% of the United States would be exempt from this,” he said, “80% of your citizens would have to be in bomb shelters or ready to go into bomb shelters within a minute to a minute and a half max. No country can accept that, we can’t accept it, and we’ll take the necessary actions to stop it.”

But they should exercise restraint! They are only Jews after all. And we mustn’t offend any Muslims!

Curiosity’s journey continues

After more than a full Martian year, Curiosity has finally traveled beyond the area of its initial landing zone.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover has now cruised out of its landing ellipse, the area — about 4 miles wide by 12 miles long (7 by 20 kilometers) — regarded as safe ground for its August 2012 touchdown within Mars’ huge Gale Crater, NASA officials said.

The interesting factoid from this article is how much smaller this landing zone was for Curiosity compared to all other previous landers, illustrating how the technology has advanced during the last four decades since Viking.

TSA backs down

The furor over TSA policy to allow illegal aliens to fly without identification has forced the agency to change its policy.

TSA employees at Laredo International Airport notified Border Patrol agents last night at 11 p.m. local time that a new policy was in place that would not allow illegal aliens to fly solely using an I-862, otherwise known as the Notice to Appear form. TSA employees stated they will allow illegal aliens who had been released on their own to travel with a foreign passport or ID in addition to an I-862.

The TSA continues to deny they ever had a policy in force that allowed illegals to fly without identification, but the fact that they have announced “a new policy” proves that denial is an outright lie. Moreover, so does the willingness of many Border Patrol agents to testify to the earlier policy, under oath, which also probably contributed to forcing the TSA to quickly change its policy.

From my perspective, this entire story proves once again how completely worthless the TSA is. We would be better off without it entirely. At least then we wouldn’t have to be subjected to sexual abuse whenever we boarded an airplane.

Venus Express is coming up for less air

After spending a month dropping down deep into Venus’s atmosphere, engineers are now raising Venus Express’s orbit.

Thus routine science operations concluded on 15 May, and the spacecraft’s altitude was allowed to drop naturally from the effect of gravity, culminating in a month ‘surfing’ between 131 km and 135 km above the surface. Additional small thruster burns were used to drop the spacecraft to lower altitudes, reaching 130.2 km earlier this week. Tomorrow, it is expected to dip to 129.1 km.

After eight years orbiting Venus, the mission is finally ending. They will use the spacecraft’s thrusters to lift it back up to almost 500 kilometers, where they will then allow its orbit to naturally decay, eventually ending the mission when it burns up in the atmosphere. There is also the chance they will run out of fuel during these last burns, ending the mission slightly sooner.

Air Force certifies Falcon 9

The competition heats up: The Air Force today certified that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket had completed three successful flights.

This certification is a preliminary okay before the official certification. What it means is that the Air Force is agreeing that the Falcon 9 is capable of launching its satellites, which also means that the official certification is almost certain.

Second judge demands explanation from IRS

A second judge has now ordered the IRS to explain under oath how it lost Lois Lerner’s emails central to the agency’s harassment of conservatives.

The article does not tell us if this second judge has put a deadline on his demands. I expect we will learn more by the end of the day.

Update: This article provides more information. It appears he wants his answers fast, but is also willing to defer to an IRS inspector general investigation into the lost emails that is ongoing.

At a hearing Friday, [U.S. District Judge Reggie] Walton warned government lawyers that he wanted a quick turnaround on that information, saying he would likely require it by the end of next week. Walton said he expected to officially make his order by the end of Friday, but also suggested that he was willing to defer at least somewhat to the inspector general’s investigation and to the multiple congressional inquiries into the IRS. “I am one of the judges that believes the judicial branch has a limited role” in these sorts of cases, Walton said.

TSA joins Obama adminstration in opening the borders

Does this make you feel safer? The TSA is allowing illegal aliens to fly on commercial airlines without valid identification.

“The aliens who are getting released on their own recognizance are being allowed to board and travel commercial airliners by simply showing their Notice to Appear forms,” NBPC’s Local 2455 Spokesman, Hector Garza, told Breitbart Texas. “This is not the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] or another federal agency renting or leasing an aircraft, these are the same planes that the American public uses for domestic travel,” said Garza. “This just adds insult to injury. Not only are we releasing unknown illegal aliens onto American streets, but we are allowing them to travel commercially using paperwork that could easily be reproduced or manipulated on any home computer. The Notice to Appear form has no photo, anyone can make one and manipulate one. They do not have any security features, no watermark, nothing. They are simply printed on standard copy paper based on the information the illegal alien says is the truth.”

Spokesman Garza continued, “We do not know who these people are, we often have to solely rely on who they say they are, where they say they came from, and the history they say they have. We know nothing about most of them, ICE releases them into the American public, and now they are boarding aircraft at will with a simple paper document that anyone can easily alter or reproduce themselves.”

I am really speechless. Even as the TSA continues to force Americans to jump through hoops to simply board an airplane, it is allowing illegals to pass through without documentation. How insane is this?

India’s space program gets a huge budget boost

The competition heats up: The new budget of India’s new conservative government under Narendra Modi has given its space program a 50 percent increase.

It appears that there were increases across the board, including a gigantic increase for their GSLV rocket as well as their manned program.

It also appears that Modi is following in the path of George Bush, at least when it comes to space. He might be a conservative, pro private enterprise and anti-big government, but his approach to building a space industry is decidedly Soviet in style, pumping funds into government agencies so that they can build the rockets and spacecraft. For the moment at least, private companies will be the servants to India’s government space program, not the masters.

In the U.S. and Russia this approach worked for the first generation of rockets and spacecraft, but then ended up a lead weight for later generations. I suspect we shall see the same history play out in India.

Russian Soyuz launches commercial satellites for Arianespace

The competition heats up: A Soyuz rocket successfully launched four communications satellites from French Guiana yesterday.

I know that I repeatedly pound Arianespace for its high costs and lack of profits, but anyone who thinks this European company, in partnership with the Russians, is going to let its competition grab its customers easily is in for a surprise. They are going to fight back, and have the resources to do it.

The battle is on! It should be a lot of fun to watch over the next decade.

ISEE-3 reboot team has a solution

The private group trying to resurrect ISEE-3 has come up with a plan of action to get its engine working.

We spent all day yesterday with space propulsion experts. We have identified a series of options including hydrazine tank heating and a long series of pulse attempts to (possibly) clear the lines.

They have not yet said when they will try this, but stay tuned.

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