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What Facebook “likes” reveal about the candidates

A review of the number of Facebook “likes” obtained by the Republican presidential candidates illustrates again that the grassroots strongly desires something different in 2016.

Candidates perceived as part of the “establishment,” such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki had surprisingly few followers considering their name recognition and experience. My initial research revealed Jeb Bush had the most followers amongst the establishment candidates -right at 280,10 at that time. Comparatively, Dr. Carson, was leading the pack among the “outsiders.” He had 3,821,488.

However, all of those considered outsiders, including Trump, Carson, Cruz and Fiorina, as well as those considered a bridge between the outsiders and the establishment, like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, were faring better on Facebook and Twitter than their establishment counterparts. Santorum had the lowest number of Facebook Likes, at 265, 810 followers – not far off from Jeb Bush. If presidential candidates were decided exclusively based upon grassroots support, without major donors to prop up establishment candidates, they’d be in trouble.

The article also notes how some of these outsiders, such as Ben Carson, actually increased the number of their “likes” immediately after they has said something that the press had called a miscue or a mistake and which they thought would end their campaign. Instead, they gained strength on Facebook.

As I’ve said for months, as soon as the real voting begins Jeb Bush will vanish. The Republican voter does not want another Bush, no matter how much money and organization he has. They also do not want a Kasich, a Graham, a Christie, or a Pataki, all of whom have demonstrated their willingness to abandon conservative ideas at the drop of a hat. Instead, the voters want someone not part of the Washington machine who will be willing to change things there. These data makes this fact quite clear.


Curiosity’s future path

Looking up Mt Sharp

Cool image time! The Curiosity science team has produced another panorama of Mount Sharp and the regions that the rover will soon traverse.

This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA’s Curiosity rover. In the foreground — about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover — is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. The Curiosity team hopes to be able to explore these diverse areas in the months and years ahead. Further back in the image are striking, light-toned cliffs in rock that may have formed in drier times and now is heavily eroded by winds.

They have adjusted the colors, adding blue, so that things look as they would on Earth, in order to help the geologists understand what they are looking at.

Be sure and click on the link. The full resolution image is quite amazing. Like mountains on Earth, from a distance things look a lot simpler than they do once you get there. The slopes of Mount Sharp are complex and rugged, and will be a big challenge for Curiosity to traverse.

Moreover, this rough terrain illustrates that the Martian surface has, like Earth, been significantly shaped by erosion. The surface we see here is not the surface produced by the impact that produced the crater. It has been reshaped and eroded over many eons by many later processes, including wind and water.

Republicans investigate global warming scientists who demanded skeptics be prosecuted

Turnabout is fair play? The lead signer of a letter from global warming scientists demanding the Obama administration investigate and prosecute corporations and scientists who express skepticism of human-caused global warming are now being investigated themselves.

Last week, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the chairman of the science panel of the House of Representatives, announced plans to investigate a nonprofit research group led by climate scientist Jagadish Shukla of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He is the lead signer of a letter to White House officials that urges the use of an antiracketeering law to crack down on energy firms that have funded efforts to raise doubts about climate science.

In a 1 October letter, Smith asked Shukla, who is director of the independent Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) in Rockville, Maryland, to preserve all of the “email, electronic documents, and data” that the institute has created since 2009. Smith’s panel soon may be asking for those documents, the letter suggests.

This is not good news and illustrates the truly poisonous culture we now live in. The original demand that skeptics be prosecuted was horrible. To respond by considering prosecution of global warming scientists is just as bad.

The solution to the debate about climate is to do research, to openly challenge the theories and claims of either side with facts. Attacking those with whom you disagree gets us no closer to the truth, and in fact hinders that effort significantly.

Facebook to provide internet access to Africa

The competition heats up: Using an Israeli communications satellite built by the European satellite company Eutelsat and slated to be launched by SpaceX in 2016, Facebook will provide internet service to the African continent.

Under a partnership announced Monday, Facebook and European satellite operator Eutelsat will buy all of the broadband capacity on the AMOS-6 satellite owned by Israeli company Spacecom. The mission has no confirmed launch date, with SpaceX still recovering from a Falcon 9 launch failure in June, but the partners expect the satellite to begin service in the second half of 2016, according to a press release.

What I like about this is the number of companies involved, all trying to make money, with Facebook the newcomer to the space industry. And the more the merrier, I say!

School officials ashamed of the U.S.

Insane: High school administrators Wyoming canceled the annual “America Pride Day” celebration because they thought it would offend some students.

Jackson Hole High activities director (and assistant principal) Mike Hansen said he favored canceling “America Pride Day” because some students may not feel American and, thus, could feel “targeted and singled out by this day.” “Maybe they moved here last week. Maybe they moved here last month,” Hansen told the News&Guide, referencing the students who enjoy free education and much else in the shadow of a world-class ski resort. “We’re trying to balance many different things here,” the activities director added. “We’re trying to be inclusive and safe, make everyone feel welcome.”

What makes this story even more interesting is that the student body revolted against the decision.

In response to a decision by school officials to replace a previously-held “America Pride Day” with “College Day” as part of this year’s homecoming festivities, a large group of senior students and some juniors protested by bedecking themselves with American flag capes, American flag headbands, American flag shorts and all manner of beautifully and garishly patriotic American flag ornamentation. After school, one kid also drove a diesel truck around the parking lot with a bunch of American flags waving in the breeze.

The goal of school administrators is to make new immigrants feel welcome in America, not to be ashamed of their country. There is a reason immigrants are here, and it is too enjoy the blessings of freedom. To be embarrassed by this suggests that these school officials should find another job.

Government overpayments going up by billions

Government marches on! A GAO report has found that since 2003 the federal government has wasted almost a trillion dollars in improper overpayments, with the numbers increasing by 20% in 2014.

The GAO said three programs were most at fault: Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These three government programs were responsible for a full three-quarters of the nearly $19 billion in erroneous payments the federal government made in fiscal 2014, the GAO said. “Improper payments remain a significant and pervasive government-wide issue,” the congressional watchdog unit warned.

The Earned Income Tax Credit program was the worst offender. The Internal Revenue Service estimated that the program erroneously handed out $17.7 billion worth of “improper” payments. That amounts to a whopping 27.2 percent of the total $65.2 billion in EITC refund checks that the IRS sent out in fiscal 2014. And that means the federal government is now fast approaching the day when one out of every three earned income tax credits is erroneous.

Medicare was nearly as bad. The program, which covers about 54 million elderly and disabled beneficiaries, incorrectly doled out $59.9 billion in fiscal 2014, which is about a tenth of its $603 billion budget. So, one out of every $10 that Medicare spent last year was erroneous, the GAO found. Medicaid made $17.5 billion in mistaken payments out of its $304 billion budget, for a nearly 6 percent error rate.

It is obvious that the solution to this government problem is to give the government more power and money. How else can they reduce this waste but by spending more money!

A list of all smallsat launch rockets

Doug Messier has compiled a very interesting table showing all the known smallsat launch vehicles presently under construction or in operation.

Most of the operational rockets, such as Orbital ATK’s Minotaur, have turned out to be too expensive for their small payloads, and have not been very profitable. The new generation of rockets, however, have the chance of success, as they are all working to reduce the cost significantly. Keep your eye especially on Rocket Labs (which just signed a contract with Moon Express), Swiss Space Systems, Firefly Space Systems, and (dare I say it?) Virgin Galactic.

France considers developing reusable first stage

The competition heats up: Two French government aerospace agencies have announced that they are researching the development of a reusable first stage.

It is very unclear how this research will be applied, since Europe’s replacement for the Ariane 5 is being built by Airbus Safran and they have made it clear that they only intend to recover their rocket’s engines, not the entire first stage.

ULA completes its 100th successful launch

The competition heats up: In a rare private commercial launch, ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket put a Mexican communications satellite in orbit on Friday, the 100th successful launch for the company.

The company still faces the same problems it did before this launch: It is running out of Russian engines for the Atlas 5, Congress is not willing to give them permission to use more, and the cost competition from SpaceX is not going to let up.

Lockheed Martin eliminated from ISS cargo contract competition

The competition heats up: NASA has eliminated Lockheed Martin’s bid for the second round of ISS cargo contracts.

This leaves SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Orbital ATK in the running. While dropping Lockheed Martin reduces the number of competitors for the contracts, it increases the competition between them. The decision is now expected in November.

Moon Express buys launch contract

The competition heats up: The leading private effort to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has signed a contract with the smallsat launch company Rocket Labs for three launches.

Mountain View, California-based Moon Express plans to use the launches to send to the moon new, smaller versions of its MX-1 lunar lander. Two of the launches will take place in 2017, with a third to be scheduled. All three will use Rocket Lab’s Electron small launch vehicle, whose first flight is scheduled for no earlier than late 2015 from New Zealand. – See more at:

Rather than piggyback on the major launch of big payload, which would deny them any control over launch dates, they have signed with a new and as yet unproved small rocket company. The result? Not only do we have the chance of getting our first privately built lander on the Moon, the contract jumpstarts a new rocket company designed to put small payloads into space.

It wasn’t just an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs

Scientists have now obtained enough solid data to confirm that the large extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was caused not just by the Yucatan asteroid impact but also by the gigantic volcanic event in India called the Deccan Traps.

The researchers said the asteroid strike occurred 66.04 million years ago, plus or minus about 30,000 years. They said eruptions in a region called the Deccan Traps were already underway at a lower intensity but dramatically accelerated after the asteroid strike as if the powerful impact triggered it. The dating method they used found this acceleration began within 50,000 years of the impact, but it could have been in the mere days, months or years afterward. “Within measurement error, they’re simultaneous,” said volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen of Philadelphia’s Drexel University. “The two processes in tandem caused the extinctions,” added Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and a University of California, Berkeley geologist, who led the study in the journal Science.

Though many planetary scientists have discounted the Deccan Traps for decades, paleontologists have tended to favor it as a major factor in the extinction. This new study suggests that both were involved, which was the theory held by most of the more reasonable scientists in both fields. While many liked to push one or the other theory in the press, the better scientists considered both a possible factor and have been working to determine this possibility.

Charon in color


The New Horizons science team has released new high resolution images of Pluto’s moon Charon, including the global enhanced color view on the right.

High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14, and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator. This great canyon system stretches across the entire face of Charon, more than a thousand miles, and probably around onto Charon’s far side. Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon’s past. “It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open,” said John Spencer, deputy lead for GGI at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “In respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars.”

The team has also discovered that the plains south of the canyon, informally referred to as Vulcan Planum, have fewer large craters than the regions to the north, indicating that they are noticeably younger. The smoothness of the plains, as well as their grooves and faint ridges, are clear signs of wide-scale resurfacing.

In many ways these images remind me of an upside-down Mars, with the smooth lower plains in the south instead of the north. Obviously, the causes on Charon are going to be significantly different than those on Mars.

Vostochny launch building built to the wrong size

Government marches on! The Russians have just discovered that their Soyuz 2 rocket does not fit in the building just finished at their new spaceport at Vostochny.

The cutting-edge facility was meant be ready for launches of Soyuz-2 rockets in December, but an unidentified space agency of a of a told the TASS news agency of a of a late Thursday that the rocket would not fit inside the assembly building where its parts are stacked and tested before launch. The building “has been designed for a different modification of the Soyuz rocket,” the source said, according to news website Medusa, which picked up the story from TASS.

The rocket had just been delivered to Vostochny for assembly, so this report, though unconfirmed at this time, fits well with current events.

NASA pulls funding from private asteroid hunter

Because of a failure to meet its developmental deadlines, NASA has cut its ties with the privately funded Sentinel satellite, designed to spot 90% of all near Earth asteroids that might pose a threat to the Earth.

The problem for the B612 Foundation, the private company committed to building Sentinel, is that they haven’t clearly laid out a way any investors could make money from the satellite. Thus, they have so far raised only $1.6 million from private sources. They need almost half a billion to build it, according to their own budget numbers.

Congress places additional limits on Russian rocket engine use

Bad news for ULA and the Atlas 5: A defense bill approved by the Congressional negotiators has placed further limits on the number of Russian rocket engines ULA can use in future Atlas 5 government launches.

The bill, which still faces an Obama veto, only allows ULA to use 9 more Russian engines. The company however says it needs to have at least 18 available to keep its ability to launch government payloads while it develops its new Vulcan rocket.

Read the whole article. The political complexity of this whole situation does not bode well for ULA or its Vulcan rocket. Too many players with too many conflicting goals appear to make it difficult for the company to push the development forward efficiently.

Smallsat company buys its own Falcon 9 rocket to launch 20 satelites

The competition heats up: Spaceflight Industries has purchased a single dedicated Falcon 9 rocket launch to launch 20 small satellites sometime in 2017.

Buying a dedicated launch, rather that seeking excess capacity on other launches, provides Spaceflight with more than just additional payload capacity. Secondary or “rideshare” payloads are subject to the schedule of the primary capability, and can be bumped off the launch if the mass of the primary payload grows. With a dedicated mission, Spaceflight is in greater control. “It helps us establish a regular cadence of launches,” Blake said. “We can book all kinds of rideshare passengers onto something that is going to be there at a certain time to a certain orbit.”

This purchase also indicates the growing strength of the smallsat industry. These companies are beginning to gain the investment capital to buy their own launches rather than fly as secondary payloads.

Development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine moves forward

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has completed more than 100 development tests of its new BE-4 rocket engine, being developed for ULA.

Much of this announcement sounds like public relations blather. However, it contained this nugget of information that is crucial to understanding why this engine is likely to get built quickly:

The BE-4 engine is also the leading candidate to be used in the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan vehicle. Speaking to reporters after the Sept. 15 Florida event, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said that while he was aware of competing engines for the Vulcan, like the AR-1 under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, he was focused on completing the BE-4. “We’re going to build the best 21st century engine that we can for ULA,” he said. “Ultimately they will make the decision about what they want to do.”

Bezos also noted that, unlike the AR-1 or other concepts, Blue Origin was not seeking funding from the U.S. Air Force to help pay for development of the BE-4. “The most unique feature of the BE-4 engine is that it’s fully funded,” he said. “It’s not something you see in rocket engine programs very often.” [emphasis mine]

Aerojet Rocketdyne wants the government to pay for its new AR-1 engine. To get that done, they need to lobby Congress for funds that are simply unreliable in these days of budget-cutting. Moreover, it means that Aerojet Rocketdyne is not fully committed to the engine: if the funds don’t arrive they won’t build it.

Blue Origin is going forward, fully committed, and will likely deliver, if only because they can’t get their investment back until they do.

Creeping towards commercial and private weather satellites

Link here. The editorial at Space News outlines the effort in Congress to force NOAA to buy weather data supplied by private commercial satellite companies rather than build its own satellites. It also outlines what might be the major reason private companies have never been able to make a profit in the field:

The agency [NOAA] is obliged as a member the World Meteorological Organization [WMO] to share weather data openly and freely with other nations. If that obligation applies to commercially procured data, as NOAA insists, it could dramatically shrink the addressable global market for commercial weather data — to the point that it could shatter business models. – See more at:

In other words, private companies can’t sell their data because of the U.S.’s membership in the WMO, which requires that data to be made available for free. To make the commercialization of weather work, the U.S. is going to have to pull out of WMO, something I think will be difficult to sell to Congress.

Virgin Galactic tests new rocket engine

The competition heats up? Virgin Galactic has released video of a test burn of a new engine designed to work with its LauncherOne rocket.

I put a question mark above because I have become very skeptical of any press announcements out of Virgin Galactic. They might have made progress on this new engine, and it also appears that they are doing engine work first for developing LauncherOne, a wise plan. However, their track record with SpaceShipTwo makes me doubtful about their ability to follow through. They need to produce to make me a believer once again.

Back from the Grand Canyon

Diane and Gang on the Tonto Plateau

Diane and I just got home and are in the process of catching up. Posting shall resume this weekend, maybe tonight! Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised that even with my absence, my thoughtful readers (even ones I sometimes disagree with) have been keeping things lively here with some intelligent debate. Kudos to you all!

And as always, the Canyon was what it always is, magnificent and awe-inspiring. The picture on the right shows us hiking on the Tonto Plateau, about 4000 feet down from the rim but above the Colorado River 1000 feet below. If you look real close you can see the tiny figures of Diane and others on the trail.

Back to the Grand Canyon

Hiking in the Grand Canyon

Diane and I are about to leave for our annual hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Though I might be able to post during the drive north today and from the hotel on the rim tonight, from Tuesday until Thursday I will be out of touch with the world of computers, a welcome break that I do need periodically.

Unlike previous trips, this time we are going with a bunch of friends. Last year I obtained a reservation for a 10-person cabin at Phantom Ranch in the Canyon so that we could all be together. Should be a lot of fun!

SpaceX test fires its Falcon 9 upgraded first stage

The competition heats up: SpaceX has successfully test-fired its Falcon 9 upgraded first stage.

The link shows the video of the test. Though not confirmed, I am pretty sure this upgrade will be used on the next Falcon 9 launch in November, which will put an communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit while also attempting to vertically land that first stage on a barge.

Comet 67P/C-G was formed by a soft collision

Scientists, using data from Rosetta, have concluded that Comet 67P/C-G’s double lobed shape was caused by the slow-motion collision of two distinct comets.

By using high-resolution images taken between 6 August 2014 and 17 March 2015 to study the layers of material seen all over the nucleus, they have shown that the shape arose from a low-speed collision between two fully fledged, separately formed comets. “It is clear from the images that both lobes have an outer envelope of material organised in distinct layers, and we think these extend for several hundred metres below the surface,” says Matteo Massironi, lead author from the University of Padova, Italy, and an associate scientist of the OSIRIS team. “You can imagine the layering a bit like an onion, except in this case we are considering two separate onions of differing size that have grown independently before fusing together.”

While erosion continues to eat away at the comet’s surface, changing its shape, the two lobes formed separately, though in much the same way.

The dark streaks on Mars are water

New data strongly suggests that that the seasonal dark streaks scientists have imaged running down crater slopes on Mars are heavily salted water.

The salt allows the water to flow by lowing its freezing point. The new data has confirmed the presence of those salts, strengthening the theory that the seasonal streaks are water, possibly seeping from beneath the surface or condensing out of the atmosphere.

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